Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


Leave a comment

You found me

I have thought long and hard about whether I should put this Psalm on my blog. I really don’t want people to think that I am on the edge of depression or about to lose my mind. I am not. But, at the same time, I know that my thoughts can become quite bleak and melancholy.

I was recently asked a question – “How would your life would look if I had not met Jesus?” I cannot imagine that, without Jesus, I would lose myself to a life of drugs and debauchery, but I can imagine that, without Jesus, my life would be dark, introspective and deeply negative, philosophically and spiritually. Father God gives meaning and shape to my life. Without him, I would simply be purposeless and lost because, as I look around the world, watch the news and hear the stories of people’s lives, I find little hope or relief from the state of humanity. The poor and humble are stamped on for the good of the powerful and well off. Everything is the same as it has always been. For every hopeful moment of progress there seems to be the same or more injustice and pain for the vast majority of the human race. The only real hope for the world is in Jesus.

This Psalm is the result of my cogitation based on that question. Whilst it starts quite darkly (although this is severely edited from the original 4 pages), it is not dark… it is full of hope. Read the second half first if you like.

A Psalm about being known

Without you, I stand alone,

once hopeful life becomes a howling waste.

No consolation in my own importance,

no purpose in life,

overwhelmed by the brief instant of time.

I have been overcome as I realise that,

when the music fades and my life is overtaken by reality,

there is only me for the blink of an eternal eye.

Born to breathe…

Death my inevitable end…

Dust my destination.

Remembered for a generation if I am lucky.

Subject only to the selfish ramblings of others,

using my brief flame as a justification for my own significance.

In truth there is senseless transitory breath.

Each one of us is unique, making it sadder still when we pass away.

Each person is temporary… unrepeated, forever lost.

Life is dust to blow away on the wind.

 

But, you found me.

You found me.

You know my name.

You are my Father.

You found me.

You found me.

You know me by my name.

I am not lost.

 

Insignificant no longer.

Apart from the crowd.

Chosen, called, redeemed…

I am a child of God

Uniquely made,

uniquely saved.

I have a name.

I am my Father’s son.

 

You found me…

I see you.

I recognise you…

Father.

You give life meaning.

In you there is purpose.

In your hand I was formed from dust.

Made so much more… your child.

I don’t understand,

I don’t need to.

I lay down my right

to know and comprehend.

I cannot find meaning without you,

man made boundaries just wont do.

True value is in you.

Only you!

 

I stand in your presence,

breathing deeply,

breathless in the gale of your Spirit.

I am alive!

Holy Spirit blows,

filling my lungs,

tears springing from my eyes,

breathless exhilaration in life.

I am embraced

for no other reason than love.

I am loved!

You know my name.

 

My voice cries out,

no longer lost in the vastness of the universe.

I cry out to my Father,

greeted with raptured attention.

You hear my cry

and respond in love.

My desires are reformed,

My will re-made,

More like Jesus,

No longer just for me.

Illuminated by everlasting love

Shaped by sacrifice and grace.

 

I am alive!

I have a purpose!

I have a reason to breathe,

to speak,

to write,

to live.

No longer an empty universe.

I am loved.

I am cherished.

I am given a purpose.

I belong.

I am yours!

You are mine!

My Father, Mother, Saviour, Friend,

Peace, Grace, Truth, and life.

My everything.

 

You found me.

You found me.

You know my name.

I am your child.

 

Advertisements


3 Comments

Paying the price

I wonder if, for too long, the Christian faith has been presented as an easy option?

Let me start by stating that Jesus has paid the price for our salvation, once and for all. We are saved by grace, not as a result of our own righteousness. In this way, the price that we simply cannot afford has already been paid, fully and unequivocally, and salvation is free. BUT…

However, it is not salvation that is at issue, so much as it is the life of a disciple.

To paraphrase Bill Hybels, if the Christian faith is only about salvation, why are we still breathing? Why is it that we are not, as soon as we believe, taken into heaven? What happens after salvation? It is after we are saved that God asks us to pay a price. We don’t have to pay it, but we are given the opportunity to do so over the rest of our life on Earth.

Richard Taylor, at #RMLC2014, talked about an aeroplane where the ones who are in first class are simply those who are willing to pay the price expected to upgrade from standard seating. All of the passengers are heading for their destination, but some have paid more and so find more on their journey. The difference between standard and first class is not where one travels, it is how one travels.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)

These words of Jesus do not say that there is a cost to salvation. Anyone can hear the words of Jesus, comprehend the meaning and believe in the truth. Yet, there is a difference between those who believe and those who follow. Following Jesus costs more, but it means more too.

To follow Jesus we must give up our own preferences and life choices. We must choose to submit our future to him, living in a way that is consistent with his teaching, even if it is different to what we have always known. This might mean that we strain, or even lose, relationships with family and friends who do not agree with us or understand our faith. It might necessitate a change in our priorities of time and effort. Following Jesus will almost certainly mean that we have to sacrifice our need for control over our own destiny, choosing to live by faith instead of knowledge.

Following Jesus ALWAYS leads to change. We will change, our lives will change, our relationships will change and our view of the world that we live in will change.

The Cost of following Jesus is simply that we have to follow Jesus, wherever he leads us… even when it results in derision, persecution and, possibly, death.

Why? Because Jesus Christ is the only way for the people of the world to be reconciled to the God who created them. He is the only way to be forgiven from sin and the only path into the presence of the living God. Further, the people of this world NEED to see the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. It is through the lives of the disciples of Jesus that they will find the evidence of the truth of salvation by grace. We are the body of Christ!

To be saved does not mean that I need to be a disciple of Jesus. I don’t have to pay that price. But, because I am saved, how can I not follow? How can I not dive into God? The question is this… am I willing to pay the price so that my fellow men and women of the world might taste and see that Jesus is the way to full and wonderful life?

“Where else can I go? With you, Jesus, are the words of eternal life”

End Note – This blog is the result of my thoughts following the @RMChurches Leadership Conference in Norwich (#RMLC2014).


Leave a comment

Living by Faith

I have been spending some significant time in Hebrews 11 recently. It is a remarkable chapter of the Bible that sets out the concept of faith and then uses a massive list of people from the Old Testament to illustrate it.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Hebrews 11:1-2)

This is the BIG IDEA.

When God speaks, we need to live by what He says.

This might seem obvious, but it is profound and important and it is key that those of us who are disciples of Jesus don’t just hear what this says, but live too. So I need to say it again.

When God speaks, we who live by faith need to live by what He says. Even if the world that we observe around us does not seem to conform to what God says, we must.

The writer of the Hebrews illustrates his point, time and again and here are just a few of the examples he uses…

  • Abel – offered sacrifice to God, giving the best that he had, even though he could not see the God that he was sacrificing to with his own eyes. He had faith that God existed and was worth the sacrifice.
  • Noah – built an ark in the middle of a desert to protect his family from flood waters that God had promised, even though it was not raining and did not even look as if it would rain at all. He was ridiculed and pilloried, but he had faith that God was right.
  • Abraham – left his home to travel to another country that God had promised, even though there was no certainty that it would all work out. In fact, God promised that the land of Canaan would belong to his family and he never saw the of this promise in his own in his lifetime. He had faith that God would honour the word that He had given and so lived in the reality of God’s promise.
  • Abraham – again, showed that he trusted God more than his own eyes. As an old man he was promised a son and a multitude of descendants, even though it looked impossible in reality. He had faith that God would honour His promise and Sarah gave birth to Isaac in their old age.
  • Abraham – yet again. Took Isaac, his beloved son, to a mountain top and was willing to sacrifice him according to God’s instruction, even though it clearly appeared to be categorically opposed to the word of God for a multitude of descendants. He heard the voice of God and obeyed. He trusted God over and above his own eyes and the good opinion of others.

“All of these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13)

These people lived by the words and promises that God gave to them, even when they seemed ridiculous in the eyes of the rest of the world. In many cases, they never even saw God’s promise fulfilled in their own lifetimes, but they trusted, by faith, that God was in charge and would see things come to fruition according to His word and time. They accepted that their faith was alien to the world that they lived in, but they accepted what God said as truth and lived according to it. They were willing to be derided and laughed at by everyone else, simply because God was greater than they or their situation.

SO what about us? Are we willing to live as aliens in our own world and have faith in the promises and word of God over and above our own good, preference or common sense?

Our job, as disciples of Jesus, is not to witness the fulfillment of the word of God. It might not happen in our lifetime and the story of the world is not about us to begin with. Neither is it our job to judge the word that God gives us according to our own preferences and logic. Our job is to live by faith… even when, to all appearances, the thing that we believe to be from God seems impossible or ridiculous.

We are not called to witness God’s act, we are called to be witnesses to God’s word!

By grace, it might be that God allows us to witness the fulfillment of His word in our lives but, if He does not, who are we to argue? If God is God then God’s word is true. Faith is believing this fact, accepting it and then living by it.

I would rather live by the truth of God’s word than by the understanding of the world… In all things. Because I have faith in God most High.

Of course, this stand on faith becomes problematic when what we believe is not believed, or even ridiculed, by the people around us. When the people around us do not believe what we believe or even oppose our faith choice. Just off the top of my head, the world I live in has different beliefs in areas that I believe God teaches particular truth on issues of sexuality, fidelity, marriage, honesty, creation, truth, divinity, faith, power, and so much more. The faith that get from my discipleship in Jesus is derided by our society, the people who rule the media and many of the people that I live among.

The question that I must ask is, “what does God say?” Even if God’s words is opposed to the voice of the many, I know that it is God’s voice I must listen for and, by faith, His path I must follow. Wherever that might lead.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)


3 Comments

Why do we find it hard to live by faith?

I have really struggled over how to approach new set of blogs that is swishing and swashing around in my head. I want to address the idea of faith. To look at the deceptively simple idea that we need to have the faith to stand on the word of God. I find, however, that I am simply not sure how to get it out there in such a way that my readers might understand. I am not sure I get a full grip on it myself.

The truth that I want to put across is a simple one, yet it is deeply profound. It is something like this…

We must have a faith in God’s words that allows us to live in the truth of them. Not living in the world as it seems to be, but in the world as God says it is.

I am struggling even to convey what I mean in a sentence or two.

Let me try to explain what I am getting at with a series of lists that attempt to illustrate the progress of our thoughts.

First, how it should be…

a)     God speaks

b)    We hear

c)     We live by it

Let me fill it out a bit with an example from Jeremiah 31:3 of how it should work…

a)     God speaks – He says, “I love you with an everlasting love”.

b)    We hear – and think, “I am loved”.

c)     We live – as a person who is loved, in security and peace.

Most often, however, the following is the case…

a)     God speaks – He says, “I love you with an everlasting love”.

b)    We hear – and think, “I am loved”.

c)     We live – in exactly the same was as before.

Most of us live as if we are unloved and so are insecure, defensive and lonely. This is not how God wants us to live. When we hear about the deep and abiding love of God, it is a joyful revelation. What is missing most often, however, is a real acceptance of this revelation that allows us to live by the truth of it as secure, comfortable and blessed people.

It that something happens to us that causes us to hear God’s word and then not live by it. It is not that we ignore the word of God. Nearly all Christians would be able to say, “Jesus loves me”. Rather, it seems that reality as we perceive it hijacks the word of God so that we are unable to live by it. Thus, there are countless Christians who do as follows…

a)     God speaks – He says, “I love you with an everlasting love”.

b)    We hear – and think, “I am loved”.

c)     We live – as defensive people who feel insecure and unloved.

To give the process a bit more detail, I think that what happens is something like this…

a)     God speaks – We hear, “I love you with an everlasting love”.

b)    We hear – and think, “I am loved”.

c)     We live – in a world in which we have always felt unloved and insecure.

d)    We reassess God’s word – and think, “I do not feel loved by God. If I was better then I would be able to believe and live by God’s words. Therefore, it must be because I need to be a better person. How can God love me if I can’t even believe Him?”

e)     We then rewrite God’s words – He seems to say, “I would love to love you with an everlasting love, but you are not good enough”

f)     We hear – and think, “I am not good enough for God’s love”

g)     We live – in a way that does not feel loved and secure and so we set about ‘trying’ to live a better life and feel more loved by God, yet we feel guilty when it does not work.

Our experience of the world around us and our learned behavior seems to overwhelm our faith in what God says.

It is time for a change. We do not need grace to change… we already have that. The second that God declares His love for us we are offered the grace to experience that Love. What we need is faith. Faith in the word of God.

Faith is not simply hearing and believing. It is accepting and living as if it is true even when we find it hard to believe.

a)     God speaks – He says, “I love you with an everlasting love”.

b)    We hear – and think, “I am loved”.

c)     We live – as if we are loved by God’s everlasting love even if we don’t feel like it. We are secure, valued, loved, blessed and all the rest. How do we know? Because God tells us that we are. So we live in peace and faith.

It is so easy to ignore God’s word and promises. It is so easy to justify a life of insecurity and anxiety by saying, I am human. We are children of the living God… we do not need to justify our insecurity and unloved-ness because they are simply not true! WE ARE LOVED!

Where does this lead us? To a life of faith. A life lived in REALITY as it really is… As God says it is.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1)


Leave a comment

Simon Schama’s ‘The Story of the Jews’

Whilst my blog is most often an opportunity for my theological thoughts and cogitations to be aired, there are times when I feel it necessary to make a comment on culture and the media. This week is one of those times.

I spent an interesting and enjoyable hour watching Simon Schama’s new BBC documentary, The Story of the Jews. As with all of his history programs, it was good TV and he is an engaging presenter. Since I am not an historian, I would not comment on the historical accuracy of his programmes, especially the ones that have focused purely on the history of Britain or America. Whilst I watched this one, however, I became increasingly uncomfortable.

I have a more than passing familiarity with the history of the Jews (through my theological studies) and as I watched him presented his understanding of the ancient history of the Jews I felt that it was almost unrecognizable. It took me a good half an hour to work out why.

When Simon Schama began the programme, he set out his reasons for doing so. Chief among them was his own need for identity as a Jew and his desire to belong through a shared story. Yet he very clearly avoided declaring a faith in the reality of God. In fact, he declared his solidarity with Sigmund Freud’s need for identity and conclusions as to his Jewish personhood. Freud was a secular Jew who believed that the concept of God was a projection of human need and could be reduced to an expression of the human psyche. Schama is, it seems, and Freud was, an atheist.

Schama went on to set out the ancient history of the Jewish people with only a passing reference to God and, when he did refer to God, only with the implication that God was a necessity of unenlightened, pre-enlightenment Jewry. Implying further, that a concept of God was not a necessary. Even when footage of he and his friends celebrating the Pesach (Passover) meal was shown, the impression was that the presence of God in the story of the Exodus was an incidental explanation for suffering and escape needed by an ancient people.

Simply put, his history of the Jews was God-less.

He went on to suggest in his thesis, with little or no explanation, several ideas that were very problematic. Among them were the ideas that Moses must have died at the point when the law of God was developed and that the law was simply an enactment of communal grief on behalf of the people, and that the Bible itself was changed in Babylon to make the law even more rigorous. Neither of which fit with the biblical account and both of which are only necessary if one does not have a concept of the need for God.

Simon Schama has produced a documentary, all be it an interesting one, that is not ‘THE story of the Jews’, but ‘AN INTERPRETATION of the story of the Jews’.

To leave God out of the history of the Jewish people is like leaving flour out of bread. You might still be able to cook something with the ingredients, but you are not going to get bread. Perhaps his reply to this point might be that God is only the leaven for the bread of Judaism, but I would simply say that without God there is no bread at all. The presence of the One True God is at the heart of Judaism and it is what lifts it to transcend national identity. God offers purpose and meaning to the existence of humanity in the universe, a truth that is made clearly evident in the People of God, the Jews.

I am not Jewish and can never truly understand the historic suffering of my Jewish brothers and sisters. But I am a believing, faith filled Christian and I believe that the God of the Bible (both Old and New Testament) is the meaning and purpose that lies behind the existence and life of humanity. I pray for those who believe in the God I follow, even those who do not yet know Jesus to be the Messiah, and I hope that, even as I watch and enjoy the rest of Schama’s TV series, the presence of the One True God will shine out of the story of the People of God for all to see.

As the Bible says,

Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’ (John 4:21-24)

That time has come in Jesus.


5 Comments

Why should I listen to you? (a cogitation)

I have long thought that, in the UK at least, Standup Comedians are the new preachers. They stand before an audience and, with the use of comedy, open the minds of their listeners to the ideas and theories that they talk about in their set. There is a plethora of TV and radio shows where these funny people make their audience laugh hysterically whilst sneaking in comments about society and morality.

It is entirely understandable that the Comics would use their platform to express ideas and thoughts that they believe to be of value. The specific ideas and thoughts that they express, however, cause me far more concern because, for the most part, I disagree with them.

The medium is dominated by ideas of liberal sexuality and jokes at the expense of, most often, the Christian faith. The surge in acceptance for what were once alternative lifestyles is, I believe, mostly down to the preaching of comedy. In areas of pornography, family, sexuality and faith in God, comedians ridicule the establishment and preach that anything goes because as human beings we can do what we want.

It has become the commonly accepted norm in Britain that if a person can stand up and make you laugh, then what they have to say must be true. Stephen Fry holds the position of all-knowing authority, and others too speak with authority that derives from laughter. Dara O’Brien speaks for science and against faith, Sandi Toksvig for feminism and against faith, Jeremy Hardy for anything as long as it is against faith, Russell Howard, John Lloyd, and the list can go on. It is not so much that they hold opinions and ideas that are liberal so much as that they see faith as a target for ridicule and as the root of opposition to their own views.

Please do not get me wrong, I am not against comedy. I love comedy and it has affected some really important changes in society. Racism, for example, would never have been opposed effectively without comedians who ridiculed attitudes of racism. What I have an issue with is, what gives these men and women the authority to speak into culture and society? Why is their ideology authoritative?

“By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit…” (Matt 7:17-18)

This is where things start to get uncomfortable.

I disagree fundamentally with many of the ideas that are presented on TV and radio by comedians, who are culturally leading society in a direction that is un-scriptural and un-godly. Yet, it is not enough for me to say that what they preach is wrong simply because I disagree with them. There comes a point where I have to justify why they are wrong and I am right.

At some point there has to be a line by which we can come to a judgment on the authority of a speaker. It cannot be preference, because I might be wrong or deluded or misguided. It cannot even be scripture because, whilst I hold it as the foundation of my own action and authority, many others would not agree with it at all.

As I think about it, I can think of nothing better than fruit. The visible evidence of people’s live is their fruit. The question that lies beneath any claim for authority is, “what fruit is visible in the lives of the people who tell us what to believe and think?

This is uncomfortable because it is true for all points of view. There are celebrities who speak about female equality whilst simultaneously proclaiming their passion for pornography, which is almost certainly exploiting the people that they are claiming to stand for. There are also those who preach the love of Jesus who act in the most unloving and unforgiving ways. In both cases, their fruit is not consistent with their words. Their authority is seriously undermined.

What sets Jesus apart is that he preached a gospel of freedom through submission to God the Father, and lived a life that was evidence to his words. More impressively, his preaching led millions of other people into lives of freedom through faith if the Father. The fruit of his life and teaching gives overwhelming authority to the very thing he taught.

A problem comes when human beings take the teachings of the Bible and use it to justify their own opinions rather than allowing them to shape their lives. It is no wonder that the established Christian Church has lost authority to speak into society when there are scandals of sexual abuse and investment in weapons and tobacco. The life of the Church in this case is not consistent with its teaching. No wonder the ridicule of comedians hits so hard.

The truths of Jesus in scripture, however, simply transform lives. They bring freedom and life and healing. They might not be wholly acceptable to our liberal society, but the power that they display in the transformation of society cannot be ridiculed. The gospel of Jesus is simply too powerful to be challenged by the opinions of an individual. It is the power of God and it saves.

As a disciple of Jesus, the message I preach must be true and seen to be true. I am not perfect, but the fruit of my life is evidence to the truth of my faith. If I am judged on perfection then I will always fall short. If a person looks at my life and sees no evidence of the power of Holy Spirit then there is a serious problem.

What gives a person authority to speak is not the persuasiveness of the argument, or the position they hold, or the size of their audience, or that they speak words that are agreed with… Authority resides in the fruit that they put forward. Do they bring life and freedom and transformation and light and love?

This is simply my cogitation, but what do you think?


2 Comments

Your Mission, should you choose to accept it…

I have a very simple, yet important, point to make.

The mission that Jesus gave to his disciples is VERY, VERY important!

It is so important that Jesus used the last verbal words that he spoke to his disciples to tell them about it.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20)

His disciples obviously understood the importance of the mission of Jesus, because they started the Church and the number of disciples multiplied at a fantastic rate. Further, the mission to share the message of Jesus and make disciples was so important that it was included, in some form, by all four of the gospel writers (Matt 28; Mark 16; Acts 1:7-8 (written by Luke as the follow on for his gospel); John 20:30-31).

Disciples, then and now, must understand that the mission of Jesus is far bigger than they are. That if they are disciples, it is their mission too. That Jesus gives his disciples power to carry it out. The truth is, this is not a choice for disciples. It is what being a disciple is all about.

This is not mission impossible, but mission imperative!