Monday, January 22, 2018

Agreeing to Disagree, Graciously.

OK there are a few strands in here. This is essentially firstly about how we form opinions and perhaps disagree. Secondarily it is about what New Testament Grace is and is not. Thirdly, it is about a combination of the first and second points! How we can be gracious about our disagreements? It's also about how encouraged I am when well known Christians (not me then....) patch up misunderstanding and possible division, and do so with integrity and sincerity, with Grace and with Truth. Understanding the Bible, and the way God relates to us in Christ, is a long-term effort and investment. It is long-term because it takes a lifetime and we will still only see dimly this side of eternity. Even Paul would say;

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 
(1Co 13:12 ESV)

Understanding and living by the Bible is also of course a long-term investment concerning when the rewards ultimately kick in. But what else is as worthwhile? The long-term thing works both ways. It requires patience, yet yields 'forever' rewards.

And so on to the unfortuante fact that we don't always all agree on what the Word is saying!

Some of the assertion and arrogance we see concerning exposition of the Word is inappropriate. Who has the insight of Paul, in reality? Who has had his revelation and who has endured his suffering? Who has shown his sacrificial, selfless endurance? Very few of us. Yet often we are harsh and abrasive with one another while stating our very definite and inflexible opinions. Partly this is a product of the Internet age; 'communication' without any real relationship; talking without a full human presence to respond, know and live with.

At times even Paul was tentative in his writing. In addition to the verse above, here are two other examples of this. (I'm not pointing you to the prime meaning of the verses, rather looking at how Paul is occasionally expressing himself with a degree of self-doubt or circumspection);

I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.
(Gal 2:2 ESV)

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 
(Rom 9:22 ESV)

Examples of issues which are the subject of frequent differences of opinion among Christians would be;
-Predestination for salvation
-The operation of supernatural gifts in the present age
-The continued purposes of Israel in God's thinking
-The degree to which ongoing forgiveness is automatic for the believer
-The place of and necessity for behavioural guidelines in the New Testament
-The literality of early Genesis

There are those who have extremely strong opinions on these and similar issues. That is fine; an opinion is an opinion and in one sense you can't help having opinions. And we don't want the blandness of pretend conformity or worse, conformity enforced against the threat of rejection. Not on non-central issues. How we handle and express those differing opinions is itself an exercise in Grace and Love. I will capitalize the word 'Grace' to emphasize the fact that I'm talking about the Grace of God. His is Grace we benefit from, share in and learn to express to others.

Some things are clearcut, dangerous error. I would say that any denial that our relationship with God is vitally based on Grace through faith, faith in what Christ has done for us, is worth some serious, matter of fact confrontation. Paul thought so and wrote to the Galatians as a result. And yet, in explaining and extolling Grace, a wrong belief is seemingly held and taught by some. God, in their thinking, is completely unconcerned with the specifics of our daily relationships and actual behaviour. This, if it is truly what they mean and say, is itself clear and serious error.

So what is Grace? I don't intend to define it rigorously here. In summary, it's God giving to us what we can't earn and don't deserve. At core, the spiritual truths like justification (right standing with God), but also it means God is nice to us at a practical level. However, we cannot make Grace exactly what we want it to be. Although we are in the New Covenant, God is not wrecklessly open-ended in His giving to us. At times He will discipline us.

Sometimes people teaching on Grace have emphasized the necessity of Grace yet denied the need for behavioural standards. I think this is the essence of what some are calling 'Hypergrace'. God is gracious but he also still has ultimate standards and ideas on right behaviour, and they are not up for negotiation. They include sexuality, use of money, servanthood, diligence and many others. They are indisputably present in the New Testament. Thankfully, in a New Testament context, these standards and expectations are not enforced in an 'all or nothing or you'll be kicked out' way; but we are expected to grow into them.

I have been reading 'Hypergrace' by Michael Brown. It's a good book and forces you to think over some of these issues I listed above; the ones relating to Grace. The author gives examples of belief frameworks concerning Grace which he considers to be simplistic and exaggerated. They have an excessive emphasis on God's willingness to 'just overlook, accept and keep giving' in certain situations. I believe he has some very good points, and that certain ministies emphasizing Grace have drifted into both delusions of superiority and omissive error. Omissive error because God is also a God of clear standards and one who disciplines and corrects as well as the more palatable endorsing, showing acceptance and lavishing affection. At the same time it is true that God often decides to be incredibly gracious to us and we need to know this. And often this Grace is regarding outward things; needs abundantly met, a nice meal or holiday. We need balance, and to be aware that God is a Person; He relates and is not entirely formulaic. He is often the One who chooses what you need and when.

In addition to the fact that Michael is thoughtful and seeks to restore balance, two points strike me. One, he discusses a famous Grace preacher whom I like, Joseph Prince, in a way that is not always too favourable. Two, he rightly points out that some of the people putting forth a strong 'Grace' message are themselves sometimes very ungracious (to the point of being close to nasty) to those who they think don't get 'it'.

With all this in mind, and pained at some of the discord we see in the Body of Christ, I was honestly excited and delighted to see that Michael Brown and Joseph Prince seem to have largely reconciled their differences positively and amicably. We can learn from this.

https://www.christianpost.com/news/hyper-grace-setting-the-record-straight-with-pastor-joseph-prince-173553/

They meet and see how much they truly agree. We really need to see more of this sort of thing.

If we are to disagree, we should do so graciously on 'disputable matters' (adiaphora).

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarelling over disputable matters. 
(Rom 14:1)

Neither man is disputing the centrality of Grace in the Gospel message. We need to be gracious in the way we handle the doctrine of Grace. Generally between us it is misunderstanding of truths, not denial of them, we are dealing with. Being overly self-vindicating, for any of us, is a sign of immaturity. It could even be a way of hiding guilt instead of taking it to Him, and is probably a sign of self-righteousness.

I think we can helpfully extend graciousness in many things where we have a difference of opinion. Our differences as Christians are usually areas where some of the following apply. The disputed points are
-not critically important regarding the central truths of the Gospel, or
-largely down to differences of perspective, or
-down to how exhaustively we have looked at the subject concerned.

It is counterproductive to let ourselves be torn apart hastily and unnecessarily.

We should endeavour to be gracious, patient and understanding with one another, and not inclined to be bigoted, perhaps simplistic, zealots. Just as God most often leads and teaches us in a patient, kind, gracious way, so are we to be with one another.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 
(Eph 4:32)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Walk in the Light: The Blood

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 
(1 John 1:1-10)

Friendship with God and one another

John was one of the first disciples and he was close to Jesus in a special way. I believe John had a particularly tender heart, and found a sweet friend in Jesus. A deep rest and relaxation in the depth of the heart were a result. It is possible to have a close, emotionally warm friendship without a sexual angle, whatever the genders involved.  John here starts his first epistle by sharing his excitement at the wonder of the incarnation. For him, this meant that Jesus the man was wonderful to know and be with. 

At the end of the day, this Gospel has to be about eternal enjoyment. It is about objective redemption first, but the end purpose of that redemption has to be worthwhile, or the redemption becomes largely meaningless. That eternal enjoyment for the forgiven and redeemed is largely about fellowship. 'Fellowship' is a little quaint; dry and formal sounding, coming as it does with the baggage of church hall coffee meetings and suchlike. Well, I like coffee, and I like most of the people I talk to there. There's more to it than that though, rest assured. Fellowship is really true friendship among God and believers. these friendships are not to be overly sloppy or self-indulgent, but friendships are what they are. Indeed, they should surpass friendships outside of Christ in quality.

If righteousness and eternal life are not supremely satisfying for everyone, of whatever temperament, what is the point of pursuing God and preaching the gospel? Is it just a choice between burning or turning, but turning to a life you don't enjoy much but which at least is less painful?! It is important that we avoid hell, certainly. But the best motive is positive. John for one had this one sorted out in his mind. He did not pursue friendship with Jesus Christ to avoid hell. John's reason for writing is given in verse 4, and the reason is that our joy may be complete. The motive of Jesus is the same, see Hebrews 12 verse 2. The Gospel is about reconciliation and enjoyment. Not only that, it's the real deal for fullness of life, and not about pale, flimsy shadows of what makes for that.

John's aim is to draw people into the overflow of love and friendship which are a natural part of God's heart. To teach them to remain there, to abide. I cannot explain or justify why God should have such a heart toward us, but John reveals Him like this. It is a natural fear of fallen man to fear that God, if He exists, is distant, demanding and incapable of tender relationship with fragile, needy people like us. It is a most wonderful thing, that the Creator is also wanting to be a Friend. 

Rest and relaxation of heart do not characterize many of our human  relationships. If you have them, you have something beyond price. So John is teaching us how to find these things, both with God and then with one another. God is jealous to have our hearts, but once he has them, He does not monopolize them. We are free to enjoy friendship with one another too, see verse 3. What needs to be put in place, and what needs to be got out of the way, for these blessings, richly desired of God, and deeply needed by us, to come about? This is what John is talking about in teaching us how to abide. There are several aspects to this, and I am only looking at one here. John, who had known first hand Jesus the regular mortal man (verse 1),  begins with the Blood of Christ. That is what I want to focus on. In particular, how the Blood relates to the emotion of guilt.

The Role of the Blood in Friendship with God

I recently read a newspaper article on the burden of guilt as felt by so many western women. The writer signaled that the major decline in religious instruction and observance in the West had not dealt with it as many thought it would. It is not a solely female problem of course. We men perhaps just hide it better. Guilt is a horrible emotion; perhaps the hardest to endure. Guilt destroys intimacy and makes friendship difficult. It sours our entire outlook. You should not wish it on your worst enemy. Religion may have led you to believe something different, but God doesn't wish guilt on you or me. The secular world goes to great lengths in a futile attempt to ameliorate the guilty conscience. Psychologists seek to analyse it but they cannot really eradicate it. It is true that some guilt is false; felt but not warranted. It may be the result of blame shifting from others in authority who we implicitly thought knew best. Psychology and even blame-shifting onto those who blame-shifted onto us cannot deal with the root. We are all guilty to some extent in nearly every situation in life, and deep down we know it. 

So man cannot resolve his guilt problems. But God has an answer, praise His Name! That resolution of guilt we seek is the job of the Blood of Christ.  The presence of guilt may be a signal or warning that we are moving out of the light of His presence, or indeed that we have never truly entered it. The Blood deals with our guilt in the emotional realm (and importantly, but incidental to my discussion here, with condemnation in the justice realm of God). The Blood washes our hearts from a bad conscience. A bad conscience is a guilty conscience. This is the emotional cleansing power of the Blood. This is subjective. (The Blood also erases the record against us from God's books of justice. This is objective. The subjective needs to be based on the objective or else we are delusional!). The delightful news is that a real, objective, price has been paid for our sins; all of them, past, present, even those still to be committed. God sees a reality; our sins. He covers them and disposes of them with a higher reality; the Blood. He forgives us and He totally cleanses our conscience and His record of our sin. Hebrews 10v2 and 3 are well worth looking at, at this point. They show us what the Old Testament system of Law could not do, in order to illustrate what Jesus has done. There is intended to be no more consciousness of sin for the believer, in the sense of an injured, guilty, conscience. Hebrews 10v22 is also illustrative and gives the positive side. We are cleansed by the Blood from a wounded conscience. That is the sense of the Greek. (Some translations say 'an evil conscience'. The word translated 'evil' means more 'in anguish' or 'wounded', rather than 'evil in essence').

How do we avail ourselves of the Blood? By faith. We simply remind ourselves that it was shed for us for the forgiveness of all our sins, baring of course a failure to believe in its power. We then receive by faith the truth of a cleansed conscience. The Hebrews and 1 John scriptures carry the message that we do not even have to attempt to put things right in order to enter into His presence on the basis of the Blood. It is a wonderful paradox that as we approach our Holy God, through his designated mediator the Man Jesus Christ, that our guilt diminishes and disappears! Conscious of our received righteousness, we will be inclined to correct wrongs done previously.

The Blood has a real, practical effect at improving relationships. With one another as well as with God.

At times Julia and I are inclined to argue. Mostly my fault. I do tend to be argumentative. A lot of the arguments all of us have start or perpetuate because of defensiveness. That in turn stems usually from feelings of guilt, and our attempts to avoid, deny or deflect them. The same problems can occur in our relationship with God, though of course God is never the problem. Guilt is indeed a horrible emotion. It deadens and kills. It stifles the life out of us. It even causes further sin for a variety of reasons. One reason is that in the guilty condition, righteous and natural affections cease to appeal or suffice and our appetites wander into sin more easily. It is a subtle but powerful lie of Satan that guilt leads to righteousness. Only if it makes us come to Jesus. So what is the ongoing answer to guilt? The answer is to remain, in our heart attitude, under the Blood of Christ. That will means, 'guilty as charged, at least to some extent or other', but also 'completely forgiven and therefore free from guilt and accusation anyway.' God does not want us defensive and self-justifying. He wants us full of praise for what He has done for us. For its continuous effectiveness.

I've been looking again at 1 John 1. John did not tell us that we need to confess our sins in ongoing minutiae in order to get free from guilt. I used to think so. I used to make ham-fisted and embarrassing attempts to thoroughly confess all sin, even to other people! We are free from it already, in God's sight. Yes, all of it. Hebrews 10v19 tells us we may enter the Holiest by the Blood, and not primarily by our confession of sins. He did not even tell us here to steel ourselves to avoid further sin. Instead John is helping us to walk in the light, where there is freedom from guilt. All is seen, but all is covered. We must learn to be comfortable with that and thankful. Sometimes this will entail confessing our sin. If something is troubling your conscience, you need to confess it to God and to others if God leads. (I would counsel caution, care and prayer with the latter).

We need to learn to abide in that place where we are conscious of our ongoing need for His Mercy, but aware we are truly not guilty, simply and only because of the Gift of the Blood!. His Mercy is expressed, in efficacy and example, by His Blood. John drew very close to Jesus not because he worked hard for the Gospel, though he probably did, but because his heart understood freedom from guilt and the rewarding fellowship thereby made possible. It is that sweet fellowship which is most effective in keeping us away from sin. That fellowship satisfies us. That fellowship causes us instead to channel the righteousness of God, already in us by faith, to others. 

As Watchman Nee, the persecuted Chinese warrior for Christ, said in 'The Normal Christian Life', the Blood satisfies God and redeems us from out of being under sin. It cleanses our consciences from all feelings of guilt. And it causes God to side with us and against the Devil. Without the Blood, God is against both man and the Devil. There is clearly an enormous result when we avail ourselves of its intended power, both in our emotional lives, which is what I want to emphasize here, and in regard to our future eternal destiny. God judges us 'not guilty' because of it, and only because of it. We cannot earn and work ourselves free from it. If we believe, the Eternal Kingdom is ours. Entertaining guilt unnecessarily, when God has dealt with it, is not going to save us from anything. It won't keep us safe from Hell. It won't convince God we are serious. It won't keep us out of sin. Enjoy release from it and don't have it back. Keep looking to the Blood!


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Walls Established and Removed

Walls are part of human life on planet Earth. Supposedly, I once heard, the only human artifact readily visible in the 'daylight' side of Earth from orbit is the Great Wall of China. If I were able to fly over the ground of Heaven, assuming that is a reasonable thing to say, I would not expect to see a lot of walls.

Heaven, and redeemed Earth, I'm inclined to think, will exhibit less necessity for walls. Maybe there won't be any.

Walls, barriers, fences, veils, divisions and sections.

I once nearly wandered into a flimsy yellow/black warning barrier and very nearly over a sudden and deep rock precipice. It would probably have killed me. I was inside a very dark disused slate mine used by an outdoor adventure centre and by the British Army for training. This 'wall' was for my good and was not really strong enough.

Other walls are primarily for the protection of those inside. President Trump has promised to build one to keep errant Mexicans out of the USA. It is not there, in the mind of its architect, to protect Mexicans from the danger beyond. This type is more common.

God mandated a sectioned-off tabernacle in the Old Testament. The different areas; outer court, inner court, and Most Holy Place, were intended to keep mankind out of the manifest Presence of God. He was kept out for his own good. God is Holy, and His unmediated Presence will kill men. It will do so again, on Earth, but more significantly, bringing eternal judgement, the final second death, for the unbelieving. We need an adequate mediator. Thankfully we have an excellent one in Jesus Christ.

Whether God excludes or includes, reveals or conceals, it is always for our highest good.

Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. 
(Mar 15:38)

Jesus came to remove barriers, walls, veils. However, one final distinction and exclusion will be made first.

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: 
(Heb 9:27)

The Old Testament anticipated this. The basis of judgement was yet to be fully revealed and clarified.

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 

(Dan 12:2)

And after this last separation, those redeemed through faith in Jesus Christ are destined to be eternally united, with God and with one another. God's unity will not be a 'shotgun wedding' type unity. It will be heartfelt and beautiful.

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever." 
(Rev 11:15)

The rendering, singular or plural, of kingdom(s) here seems unclear, but we know this world consists of many 'kingdoms' or countries under independent leadership. But the Kingdom of God will be under Jesus Christ alone, he himself yielded to the Father.

God moves boundaries, physical or spiritual. He moves the parameters of relationship. Ephesians 2v11-22 tells us how God has moved the relational framework from natural Israel under law to a universally offered relationship realized and established by individual faith in the complete work of Christ.

There will be a final, God-ordained, boundary at the end of the age: Heaven or Hell. Believing or unbelieving. Repentant regarding Christ or unrepentant. Righteous through faith or having at best a worthless pretense of real righteousness. Other boundaries will diminish as creativity, purpose, fulfillment, harmony and unity prevail among redeemed men and women. A God-ordained and yet truly free community and communion will prevail. Unexpected and delightful aspects of being human will unfold, with no sting of sin or death. The remainder of humanity, those who do not respond to the revelation God now gives them, will be given over to a Godless eternity, where the unrighteous and destructive aspects of the unredeemed human heart will reign unchecked. This condition will be characterized by constant underlying regret.

In this life, our adherence to Christ can sometimes result in walls between others and ourselves, but we are not to intentionally seek to build them. Instead, we are to seek to draw men into the eternal kingdom.


Monday, January 2, 2017

Judging

We hear a lot of people saying 'don't judge me'. It seems one of the stock phrases of the times we live in. And there again, you could look for scriptural support for this statement and find it. From Jesus in fact.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. (Matthew 7v1 NIV)

Now does that mean we never evaluate a person and their behaviour, abilities and performance at all? Clearly not. It is OK to judge between two people applying for a job, for example, based on suitability parameters and your best evaluation of their character.

Does it mean we never decide whether a person should be excluded from Christian fellowship because of unrepentant and blatantly immoral behaviour or truly dangerous doctrinal error? Again, clearly not. There are many verses in the New Testament telling Christians to distance themselves from people for these reasons (Romans 16v7, 1 Corinthians 5, Titus 3v10, 2 John 1v10).

What I think it means is that we are not to judge a person's eternal worth. We are not to make an eternal judgement of heaven or hell, worthy or unworthy, good or bad, over a person. That is for God to do, and in the case of humans, He makes it based on their true attitude to Christ, not on either their apparent morality or churchgoing.

Jude is a hard book to work through, even though there is only one chapter. In the middle, people who slander celestial beings are condemned. The reader is reminded that Michael, the archangel, did not dare bring a blasphemia krisis (Greek) against Satan, a former archangel. I think the words are best translated 'sharp condemnation'. The issue being addressed in the passage is not about whether we should be harsh with the Devil or demons. Jesus was and we are called to walk as he walked (1 John 2v6), only do it in the Spirit.) It is about not exceeding our God-granted scope of authority, dominion and importance. The point in there is that we are not called or empowered or authorised to make judgments which are God's alone to make.

So I believe the call to not judge does not mean we are to be naively undiscerning and trusting at all times of all people and all experiences. It does mean we are not to make final evaluation of a person and show them no mercy because of what we see in and around them. Unless you are sure God has let you in on His final judgments over a person, don't presume to finally judge them. The worst people can change if they turn to Christ, and it may be well after your encounter with them. It may hopefully even be partly because of your encounter with them.

Mercy triumphs over judgement. (James 2v13)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Emmanuel. Families and finding God

Emmanuel 

Emmanuel means 'God is with us'. God is a wonderful Father. Jesus is a wonderful brother, a human trailblazer for releasing to us the things of God's family. The Holy Spirit is a wonderful indwelling comforter, enabler and counselor. God is One. He is too wonderful to take in. He is supremely attentive to our condition. He is supremely attentive to us in terms of fellowship, as and when it is appropriate and fitting. He has no unwarranted favourites. His presence is wonderful; totally engrossing and fulfilling without being overly intense or demanding. His attention leaves plenty of room for friendships with others. He has no failings yet He has definite character and personality; in depth. He sees our need and can meet it when others do not and even have no clue.

It is important beyond measure or description that we see and learn these things; that we know God. It is amazing beyond imagining that we can know God. Heaven is only for those who know God like this. To the others, it would probably repel them anyway. When I got saved, one of the Christian guys on my course would talk to me and something about him repelled me. But I realized the thing in me which was repelled by him was wrong.

There is a knowing God in relationship which is down to us. We have the key to the door. The key is entertaining God as Father and in fellowship as friend. From God's side, there are things even He only experiences as a knowing when you allow it, when you desire it, when you fellowship. He knows all about you but sometimes this is as a relational outsider. He does not want that. He is not satisfied with that. It was for the joy set before him that Jesus endured the cross (Hebrews 12v2). The joy was not Heaven, Jesus had that already. It was not relief at the end of suffering. That would be perverse. It was not even primarily about having dealt with human sin, though that was vital. It was, most basically, about the joy of facilitating relationship with you and me. And relationally, He is an either/or God. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish along the way....(Psalm 2v12).

His passion for us is intense. This does not mean He is perpetually intense. He is not inappropriately intrusive, though He is very determined and persistent when necessary. He knows when to give you a break. Take it.

So God came and lived among us in a way we could, and still can, relate to. He, as the Son, and together with the Spirit and the written Word, shows us what we need to know and see about the Father.

Parenthood and being a Child

Being a child of fallible parents can be a mixed bag. Parents can certainly mix up kids. They just about always do to some degree. Forgive them.

Godly parents, on the one hand, want children to see God in our behaviour toward them. On the other hand, we do not want to take His place.

It is sin to idolize your parents. It is sin for them to set themselves up as such. However good they are or were. It leaves God outside His right and due place as your real parent, who will remain in that role after your earthly family is eternally dissolved. And you human parents are never an adequate substitute for Him.

It is sin to distort parenthood, and therefore people's intuitive expectation of God, through things like neglect, carelessness, or over-burdening children with your own problems and ambitions. God is putting people with problems like this across our path. We are starting to see His hand in it. Perhaps I am only just getting to the place where we can deal with it with reasonable or good effectiveness.

Father, Brother, Child, Friend

As Rolland Baker pointed out, using 1 John and especially chapter 1, the Christian life is about fellowship, first and foremost. John the apostle grasped this better than most. He was perhaps Jesus' closest heart companion. But that was down to men and not the God-man. He wants to be close to all of us.

In God, we need to model and represent God to help other people find Him more and more themselves. This can take the form of being, for a while, a friend, brother, parent or even child. We can help bring His healing to each other. All this can be more important than some of our formal Christian meetings or titles.

Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2v11b)

This is my translation of the essence, with due cultural adjustment. Check it out yourself, it is essentially accurate.

I was very perplexed about many things two or three years' ago. I was sat on the sofa as usual. I had a sense, rather than a clear vision, of Jesus before me. He was shorter and smaller than me. He came over, sat down, and lent his head on my neck.

God is with us. We don't always notice, but He is.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Harmony and Pairings

Warning. This is not about Christian dating.

There are many dichotomies in this mortal life. A dichotomy is a 'division or contrast between two things opposite or entirely different'. With dichotomies, optimists sometimes emphasise one half and pessimists the other. Here are some word pair dichotomies which we might use to help describe a situation. Love and hate. Belief and doubt. Thought and action. Prosperity and poverty. Order and lawlessness. War and peace. Mercy and judgement. Logic and intuition. Agreement and argument. Even good and evil, right and wrong. You may differ about which pairings are opposite and complimentary but you get the point. A dichotomy can be used to produce a sliding axis of description between different or opposite extremes.

Often there is an element of both halves of the pair present in a single situation. We might detect love and hate, or faith and fear, in the attitudes present in a social interaction. We might detect both in the same person at different times. We might think that for every dichotomy represented by a word pair, that one word is always right and the other always wrong. Some pairings have legitimacy for both parts. Both parts can be correct and appropriate depending on the exact situation. Logic and intuition are both legitimate. A person may use logic at one point in a discussion, and intuition at another. This may be perfectly plausible. However, with some pairings, one commodity is always seen as right, the other, wrong. Love and hate (of people at least) is a matter of right and wrong. Love is right and hate is wrong, obviously.

Now for some pairings, both halves have legitimacy, but only for the duration of this mortal life. Let me explain. After this life, in the Christian believers' eternity of Heaven, one half of a particular dichotomy has become obsolete and unwanted. 'Harmony and contention' would be one such dichotomy. There will be no contention in Heaven, only perfect harmony. Yet in this life, contention is sometimes the correct and Godly approach to a situation. In Highest Heaven it will not be, ever. An example? To contend for the uniqueness of Christ would be a prime example of right (righteous) contention (Jude 1v3). To choose superficial harmony rather than testifying for Christ when His name is dishonoured, is probably always wrong. On the whole, though, in day-to-day matters of living, harmony and peace should be sought and worked for, even at personal sacrifice. Some errors can be overlooked in the interests of pleasantness. Situations where everyone is always contending hard for their own interests become intractable and unpleasant.

Some attributes then only have temporal virtue. There will be no judgement in Heaven. There will be mercy, or, in other words, a tendency not to become offended. So we can see that some aspects of behaviour are adopted by Godly men and women because of evil in the world. Some were adopted by Christ himself. Yet these behaviours will not be exhibited in the eternity of Highest Heaven. They would be unnecessary and discordant.

God does contend (Gen 6v3), but His aim is harmony. Paul directed elders on Corinth to exercise temporal judgement (1 Cor 5v5), but his aim was reconciliation, and the avoidance of eternal judgement.

We can see that some attributes have eternal validity and some have no eternal relevance, in the sense they will no longer be required. The supreme eternal virtue is love. Hate has no purpose in the eternity of God. It is not good to make a core identity for yourself or your organization built around a virtue that will time out. God isn't doing that and won't support it. Correction and encouragement are a word pair dichotomy. But even correction will time out. It's for earth. Encouragement will not. It's for heaven. So basically be willing to be an encourager first a foremost. Don't make your identity a corrector only. There are some Christian websites that need to take this onboard. The Bible defines God by saying, 'God is Love'. Notice it doesn't define God by saying, 'God is the One who deals with sin and can't tolerate it'. This is true, but it is not the underlying, foundational, nature of God. So negatives will time out. And yet, paradoxically, the willingness to be negative is this age is a sign of consecration to God. But only if we are being negative together with God. A continual preoccupation with the negative is not Godly. And God is negative only about that which is negative. An underlying negative attitude about everything is not Godly at all.

In school you may have learnt electrical charges and their attraction and repulsion. These too come in negatives and positives. God made all that too, but here is the Christian moral version:

God asks us to be negative only about that which is already negative to Him. In fact it is negative in God's sight to be positive about that which He sees as negative (Isaiah 5v20). God basically wants everybody to be positive about what He calls positive.

God is love. God is pleasure evermore. God is joy and peace. God is all real and all true virtue. The rest is learning to avoid what isn't. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Gender and the New Testament Church

This one certainly produces passionate reactions. It certainly needs to be seen in balance and love, but we also need to accommodate what the Bible, and the New Testament in particular, says, starting in Genesis.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 
(Gen 1:27)

Male and female are God's idea. We are not called to amorphous equivalence or androgeny. It is not a question of 'just the plumbing is different'. And 'same sex marriage' is an oxymoron. Man and women, joined in union, are intended to model Christ and the church (Ephesians 5). I have failed dreadfully as a husband and father at times, but that does not mean I should adjust the standard God sets out. Marriage, once entered, is therefore solemn and serious in terms of commitment. Today in the West we tend to shun any form of costly, or even inconvenient, commitment.

Since the sexual revolution of the 60's, and before that, universal suffrage, the Western world has seen a progressive advance in the acceptance of women in roles in public and business life. This now includes senior positions.We have had female prime ministers and a woman is within sight of reaching what is usually held as the most powerful job in this world, the US presidency. The church has largely followed suit. First female lead ministers, now same sex union leaders, are becoming normal in many church streams.

It is good for people to express their full God-given potential. But we need to know what that really is. We have potential to move into things God does not want for us. That is part of bearing the image of God; freewill. Jude 1v6 tells us that some angels left their proper abode and were judged. Maybe they thought they were following their hearts and expressing their true selves. Thankfully we are not judged like that. Man disobeyed in the garden and came into moral autonomy. It didn't do us much good (Genesis 3). What we see as strength and exercising our potential, God may see as a lack of obedience, fear of Him, and self-control. We will not be rewarded for taking positions and doing things he did not call us to, however impressive they may look to others.

Perhaps these days, few subjects are as taboo as this one of women in church. Many preachers and evangelists just won't go there, and very few churches linger on the many verses involved. People who point them out are frequently called legalists, or we are told the issues are cultural and they have lost the plot. Meanwhile members of other religions say Christians do not take their own scriptures seriously. It is true times change, and God does take this into account. Our music for example does not need to sound like Israeli music from 1400 BC. We don't really know what it was like anyway.

All this bothers me somewhat, and I am open to the fact that I may have a personal agenda; selfish ambition. I am middle-aged and male. Most missionaries, and very many charismatic Christians, are young, female and used to being outspoken. We live in a youth-worshipping culture, and a promiscuous one. We have little capacity for listening and yielding, unless it is easily digestible.

The New Testament contains advice which differentiates people groups. Paul tells Timothy to respect elders and talk appropriately to them. This very often does not happen in British schools or shops. I once heard an unemployed youth with no great gift of articulation introduce himself to the then UK prime minister on a TV questions show with the phrase 'Alright, Tony?....'. Mr Blair handled it with decorum.

The NT statements at face value are clear. Women are exhorted to be submissive, quiet, modest and supportive toward their husbands, and men in general where possible. Now some of this could be held to be cultural, I agree. However God did choose the cultural backdrop pertaining when the NT was written. And Paul and Peter have a fair bit to say on gender. There are 'work rounds' such as the position taken up by Kris Vallotten from Bethel but actually quite old. But these discourses always leave out 1 Timothy 2. To honour someone rather than to flatter them outside God-given boundaries are different things.

Women are very vulnerable to abuse by men. Men have been given leave by society to be self-indulgent and negligent with women and children. Women are angry and distrustful of men, and do not want to be overly-dependent on them. So women become assertive and self-protective, planning for the worst. They may become manipulative.

I work in a local, regional culture where young men typically have several children, very often by different girls, before they are twenty. The children are frequently abandoned at hospitals, and grandparents are expected, and often legally required, to take responsibility. Women from this culture seem to be given administrative and financial jobs more frequently than men, because they have proven more trustworthy. Women are often prime or only breadwinners and older men are often housekeepers. Men become discouraged and resentful toward women, seduce and abuse them, and the cycle continues. This is clearly not good, and to start to resolve it requires respect for how God intended things. Otherwise there is no aim point. A secular reformer will just re-write the rules and call it all normal. But it doesn't work.

So I still feel there is a call to honour one another in the ways set out in Scripture, even if it is legitimate to soften things somewhat because of culture. But Paul refers back to creation, and not culture, for the distinctive of male headship; see 1 Timothy 2.

And when men lock together in true and deep mutual accountability, encouragement and exhortation, and start to build Kingdom with the same conviction and forcefulness with which they do business, football or armed service, people who currently find church pitiful may start to take a bit of notice. Of course we should apply ourselves even more 'full-on' to Kingdom, but even 'same' would see huge changes.

(I deleted the last bit if this because it doesn't connect well and is probably out of context)