Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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Love

In recent times I have heard of a friend of mine who is suffering from rather advanced cancer. They did not have any hint that it might be there and simply found a lump one day. Within just a few weeks, they have found themselves in hospital, too ill even for chemo therapy. My heart breaks for them and their family.

This friend has many Christian friends who have been made aware of the situation and it has been wonderful, in a melancholy manner, to witness the outpouring for love and concern for my friend. Believers have been fasting and praying, committing themselves to pursue God for my friends healing and wholeness. I too have committed myself to fast and pray for my friend, in the hope that they will be healed and we will witness a true miracle of God.

The Bible reassures us that we will see healing in Jesus’ name and there also have been many words of prophecy and encouragement for our church and for Braintree, telling us that we will see an outpouring of healing in Jesus’ name and to Jesus glory. I believe. We believe. And we pursue God for the life and the healing of our friend, claiming the promises of God. “You have said… so please, we want to see it!”

Praise God for this move and passion for healing in our church and in Braintree, and for our friend who we hold before God. It is utterly correct to do so and the outpouring of love is brilliant and fantastic to witness. More, Lord, more.

Yet… it has raised a question in my heart that is an itch that I think too serious to overlook.

What about the stranger? What about the struggle of the person that I and my friends do not know personally? How do I feel when I hear of a stranger’s struggle, illness, hurt or pain? What is my response when I am not their friend and they are simply another stranger among thousands that I see every day? Does my heart break for them? Do I feel the motivation to fast and pray and fall to my knees before God on their behalf as I do for my friend?

No. I am sorry to say that I do not.

For my friend I am driven to my knees to pray and seek God on their behalf. For the stranger… I feel sorry for them, compassion for their struggle, but no heart break or desire to fall to my knees and pray! No drive to pursue God on their behalf with the intensity and passion as I do my friend.

What about God? Does God care more for my friend than for the stranger? No. I know that the answer to this questions is a simple and resounding NO! God loves them both. Equally, sacrificially, overwhelmingly, passionately; God loves them both so much that he sent Jesus to die in their place. My heavenly Father’s heart breaks at their struggles and his love is boundless for their circumstances. When my Father God hears of the cancer of my friend and the cancer of the stranger, I believe that my Father is moved to heal and transform.

Yet, I have to admit that I have far less passion to pray and pursue God’s healing for the stranger than I have for my friend. Oh yes, I want to them to be healed because I want to see a miracle… but I am not sure I want the stranger healed out of a sense of overwhelming love for them. Who will ask for their healing and weep for their circumstances and bang on God’s door for their rescue? If not me, who?

I am ashamed to say that it is unlikely to be me, because I simply do not beat with the heart beat of God for the lives of the people I do not know. My friends and family… easy. I love them and want to see God move with a passion that overwhelms me in prayer. For the stranger… I just don’t feel it. I am ashamed that I simply do not love them as my Father God loves them.

Jesus said in Luke 12:31, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all of the other things will be added to it.”

Somehow, I have to seek the heartbeat of God for His Kingdom. I have to know God and move to the beat of His heart. Loving the people he loves, whether I know them or not. I have to pray for my friend… but I also have to pray for the stranger with the same love, passion, intensity and commitment as I pray for my friend. How? That I am not sure of, other than to seek Father God with all my heart.

If I am honest, I find it hard to write such a confession of shortcoming. And it may be that my fellow believers pour scorn on my struggle and callous lack of love for others… but I am not alone. Where is the heart of God in the people of God? If we move so closely to the beat of the heart of God… where is our self-sacrificing, passionate, overwhelming love for the people that God loves. Even those who we do not know?

What are your thoughts?

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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).


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Burned out on Religion

In my work as a funeral celebrant, the phrase that I hear most regularly is, “we are not religious”. In fact, almost all of the funerals I officiate at are understood, at least by the families whom I serve, to be non-religious. Yet they request prayers, Bible readings, a brief message of hope in the grace of God, and a hymn with words that give honour and glory to God.

When families tell me that they are “not really very religious”, they do so with a sense of apologetic determination. As if they are saying, “we are not really very religious and we are not going to be persuaded otherwise”. As I dig a little deeper during our discussions, I find that people have often been put off of the church, by their experience as children or by a kind of assumed cynicism. They may not be ‘religious’ but they have a suspicion of faith in God.

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

As I sit with them, I tell them the truth. I am not very religious either.

I believe that religion sucks the life out of faith in Jesus. To be religious is as helpful to faith as making formal rules for the conduct of love. As if a love affair can only be a ‘real’ love affair if one uses specific words, visits particular venues and involves only prescribed movements to acceptable pieces of music.

We all know that pretty much every love affair involves certain elements: words that declare love, dates where couples hold hands, sofas where they canoodle, physical touches that send shivers down the spine, all done to a soundtrack that, when one hears it years later, engenders sharp memories of a time of sweetly sharp love. Love affairs do not need to be formalized and controlled, they need to be given space and minimal boundaries.

Religion is rubbish! It is the codification of our relationship with God. Religion turns our relationship with God, that would otherwise be a love affair, into a stuffy meeting over afternoon tea. It takes all of the vibrant reality out of faith in Jesus, telling us that it is only the prescribed methods of spending time with Him that are unacceptable. Religion makes the love of God into something that it should not be… a contract.

Faith in God is supposed to be unfettered, unrestricted, and wonderfully real. We should not dread and avoid our encounters with Him. We should be excited to be early, so that we waste none of the time we spend in His company as possible. Our desire to be with God should be a reflection of the overflow of a forgiven soul. We are the recipients of His grace, welcomed into union with Him by His open arms, desperate to squeeze every moment out of our joyous time together.

Going to church, praying, singing, reading God’s word; none of these should be a bind or a chore. They should be a wonderful overflowing pleasure. And it is almost impossible to make them so, unless one has a very specific taste, through codification and formalization. My time with my beloved wife is not characterized by our prescribed words of devotion and strictly timed liaisons, but by our sheer pleasure in simple having opportunities to sit, laugh, talk, touch and love.

That is not to say that there are not boundaries in both love and faith. The boundaries of a love affair have to do with restricting the expression of passion so that it does not become destructive to ourselves and those who are witnesses to our love. The boundaries of faith expression are similar, having less to do with what we practice and more to do with what might be destructive.

I am not Religious. I am deeply, passionately, breathlessly, sincerely, seriously, amazingly, desperately in love with Jesus who, when I was lost in destructive sin and far away from my Father Creator, paid the price so that I could be reconciled and reunited with Him. I love Him. And I want to tell Him that I love Him. I want to be with Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit and close to my Father. I don’t need prescribed words and movements to do that, although there are times when it is a little help, I need space and opportunity and desire. I WANT to spend time with God, so that is what I do. Freely and lightly, as an overflow of my very forgiven, renewed soul.