Monthly Archives: March 2017

Free to Love!

Today, I would like to share another excellent post by one of my Facebook friends. This is by Barry Smith, a man whose honesty and faith walk parallel mine closely. I won’t do a long introduction, so over to Barry:

At a moment of deep disappointment while attending Bible College I cried out to God and said “I will trade everything I will ever be if you will teach me one thing. How to love.” What? You attended Bible College and didn’t love? Yep.

You see I was devoted to truth. And in the battle that rages for truth sometimes love takes a back seat. At least it did for me. I had convinced myself that speaking the truth was in fact love. Some of my friends even referred to me as ‘Prophet’ not because I saw what others didn’t. But because I would boldly deliver the truth no matter how cutting or who I wounded with my harshness. I ‘loved’ you enough to speak the truth even if it killed you. I’m not proud of this, but you need to hear this. There is truth that is devoid of love. And it cuts and wounds those who need your love the most.

Being dedicated to truth I was forbidden to love others unconditionally because I couldn’t risk devaluing truth by making someone think I condoned their sin. You see, crusaders of truth must be able to judge right from wrong which so easily spills over into judging others. Every time I would do this intellectually I felt satisfied, but my heart wasn’t satisfied.

Fast forward 25 years. In this in between time I searched for this elusive love I knew I needed. Truth would comfort me at times but it was cold. It lacked the warmth that real love offers. There is truth that brings destruction. There is also truth that brings life.

I was in a predicament because I gained my authority for truth from the Bible. Yet this same Bible told me that if I didn’t have love, I had nothing.

Then one day I was asked to do something that I intellectually did not agree with. My wife was in the same place (boy do I thank God for her). My understanding of what the Bible taught me conflicted with my heart. Being a warrior for truth this was a tough place to be. Around this same time I watched a series of documentaries. The first one I saw was called ‘Furious Love’. God absolutely body slammed me. Something inside me cracked. An awakening had taken place. I could sense this was what I had been searching for. My wife and I both ‘knew’ that we had to obey the voice inside of us that made it clear “you must do this”. I put aside for the first time in my life what I knew to be truth in order to obey the voice in my heart. I did so thinking I was doing this for someone I loved. The impact it made on them I honestly don’t even know. But I was forever changed.

Obeying the voice began an avalanche of revelation in which I discovered God is not angry with humanity. He would rather die for it than condemn it. He has chosen not to hold our sins and shortcomings against us. For the first time I could not only give lip service to the fact that He is good. I knew with everything I was that He was in actuality good. When we see a ‘prostitute’ our Heavenly Father sees a daughter. We see a drug addict He sees a son. His goodness far exceeds our comprehension.

Finally for the first time I not only knew unconditional love. But I also knew how to share it. I was no longer forbidden to love others by the Bible I knew as a book of truth. I was now compelled by the Bible, and I knew it was far more interested in love than truth. I was finally free. Feeling no obligation to judge others. No longer worried if they thought I condoned their ‘sins’ or not. I was free to love and let the judge of the universe be their judge.

I also discovered that this judge who taught me how to love was the one who encouraged me to defy the truth of the Bible. His judgment was one of restoration and not retribution. Of transformation and not condemnation. I know this may make you bristle but this isn’t truth bound between leather covers. This is the way the truth and the life that explodes into humanity’s reality and offers hope. Shouts from the mountain top that God is good and thinks more highly of you than you dare to believe.

Are you hurting? There’s hope. Are you worn out? There’s rest. Are you angry? There’s joy. Have you failed to live up to others expectations? You’re not alone. Do you want to be free? You may have to let go of something. Jesus said you search the scriptures because within them you think you find life. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

If there is anything in your life that prevents you from valuing every single person you meet as someone God unconditionally accepts. Let it go! Even if it means sacrificing your own understanding of something as valuable and worthy as the Bible. If anything contradicts love, follow love. The opposition I faced as a truth warrior was nothing compared to being a love addict. But am I ever addicted… Thanks for reading. I love you all.

I Choose To Hear Grace!

One of my Facebook friends posted a blinder the other say. Here it is:

“I find that every day I open up my eyes on a new twenty-four hour slice of life, regardless of the choices others make, I am presented with essentially the same two choices: whether to think of myself as a religious person with many obligations to please God by my efforts which always brings boredom, frustration and many unnecessary problems, or I can think of myself as I truly am: one who God made free in Christ, free from all obligation to please him by my efforts, a person who he made fully alive to himself who is free to respond to his unconditional love, which always brings overflowing joy and peace from me and through me.

“I get to choose which message I will hear.

“I choose grace. How about you?”

“Sarah Smith from Golders Green”

This entry is part 8 of 38 in the series Fiona

I had wanted to write an article about my lovely late wife Fiona on the 25th of each month; the monthly anniversary of her passing. But I have today broken that pattern, because today would have been Fiona’s 53rd birthday – and I wanted to post another tribute as to what an incredible lady she was.

As I wrote in that first article, Fiona was a truly amazing lady. I know it’s customary to depict the departed in glowing terms, but Fiona really was a very special lady indeed. Everyone whose life was touched by her was affected positively in a life-changing way. Whether she was simply affirming a child rejected by her peers in the playground, or ministering encouragement to broken adults just by taking the time to listen with gentleness, or using her wonderful gift of hospitality to entertain a house full of people, Fiona enriched the lives of everyone she met. Her wisdom was deep and her compassion immense.

I have a book by C. S. Lewis (well, all right, I admit it: I have many books by him…) called ‘The Great Divorce‘ – it’s about heaven and hell, not about an enjoyable marriage breakdown! – and in it, there is a beautiful passage about a lady in heaven who, in her earthly life, had touched so many lives in a similar way to how Fiona did. I read it to her once, a couple of years ago, and explained how the character in the book reminded me of her, but with characteristic modesty she said, ‘Och, nooo, ah’m not like that’, in her lovely lilting Scottish accent. But she was. She didn’t even realise it; she was just being herself.

Now, the lady in the book was one ‘…Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green’. She was someone who was not famous in the worldly sense, and she reminded me of Fiona in that way too: modest and not famous, but making a huge difference in people’s lives just because of who she was.

Let me quote the passage from the book for you, then, and it might just give you a bit more of a picture of the person Fiona was. The scene is in Heaven, with the storyteller talking to his guide, the 19th-century Scottish writer George MacDonald:

            All down one long aisle of  the forest the under-sides of the leafy branches had begun to tremble with dancing light; and on earth I knew nothing so likely to produce this effect as the reflected lights cast upward by moving water. A few moments later I realised my mistake. Some kind of procession was approaching us, and the light came from the persons who composed it.

            First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers – soundlessly falling, lightly drifting flowers, though by the standards of the ghost-world each petal would have weighed a hundredweight and their fall would have been like the crashing of boulders. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.

            I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or crown is there as much as one of the wearer’s features as a lip or an eye.

            But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

            ‘Is it…it it?’ I whispered to my guide [George MacDonald]

            ‘Not at all’, said he. ‘It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.’

            ‘She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?’

            ‘Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on earth are two quite different things’

            ‘And who are these gigantic people…look! They’re like emeralds…who are dancing and throwing flowers before her?’

            ‘Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.’

            ‘And who are all these young men and women on each side?’

            ‘They are her sons and daughters.’

            ‘She must have had a very large family, Sir.’

            ‘Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that she met was her daughter.’

            ‘Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?’

            ‘No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.’

            ‘And how…but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat – two cats – dozens of cats. And all those dogs…why, I can’t count them. And the birds. And the horses.’

            ‘They are her beasts.’

            ‘Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.’

            ‘Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.’

            I looked at my Teacher in amazement.

            ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.’

Fiona was full of God’s life; full of His joy. This life and joy reached out and touched everyone she met, whether they realised it or not, and changed lives. The part of the Sarah story about the animals was Fiona too; she loved animals of all kinds and, although she wasn’t too keen on spiders and other ‘wee beasties’!, she quite literally would never even hurt a fly. She considered that every living creature deserved to live its life undisturbed. My lovely wife was indeed another ‘Sarah Smith from Golders Green’ – unknown by the world, but making a tremendous impact in ordinary people’s lives due to the power of God that lived within her. I wonder if she too will have a heavenly procession with her retinue, just like Sarah had in the book?

I would think so, wouldn’t you? 🙂

Did Jesus say more about Hell than He did about Heaven?

I have been told by several people that Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven. Usually, in the context of the conversation, it was stated in order supposedly to support their idea that Jesus thought Hell more important, or at least to state that Jesus thought it a really important point. This would then mean that Jesus’s ‘stern warnings’ (their phrase, not mine) about Hell would carry more weight. I think.

So I thought I’d do a simple experiment. I took my book concordance (remember books? 😉 ) for my Bible – the 1978 New International Version (NIV) – and just looked up the two words ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’.

I have some news for you. The ‘Hell-supporters’ ‘ claim is woefully incorrect. Heaven is mentioned by Jesus far, far more often than is Hell; in fact I was actually amazed to see how infrequently Jesus mentioned the word ‘Hell’. Ok, I know He didn’t actually use the word ‘Hell’; it would have been either ‘Gehenna’ or ‘Hades/Sheol’. But I’m presenting the ‘worst-case’ scenario to give the idea a fair chance 🙂

So, why did my Hell-believing friends tell me something different? I can only surmise that they were told this ‘fact’ by someone else, and that person heard it from someone else and so on. Nobody had actually taken the time to go and research their claim – an idea which would not surprise me in the least. Clichés get passed around the Church all the time, and very few people actually take the time simply to verify what they’ve been told.

Added to that, there’s the ‘Chinese Whispers’ effect. If you look in the Old Testament (OT), ‘Hell’ is indeed mentioned a lot, at least in the King James Version (KJV). I wonder if maybe someone once said that the Bible (meaning, the Bible as a whole) mentions Hell more than it does Heaven, then that got changed to ‘the New Testament (NT) mentions Hell more than it does Heaven’, and finally that Jesus mentioned Hell more than He did Heaven. It would not surprise me in the least. That’s what ‘Chinese Whispers’ does.

But I’m not sure that even the OT mentions ‘Hell’ more than it does ‘Heaven’; the OT does in fact also mention Heaven one heck of a lot, although, to be fair, probably not in the sense that we understand it today in these post-NT times. And, in the OT, the word translated as ‘Hell’ in the KJV is always ‘Sheol’ which means ‘the grave’, the ‘state of the dead after death’, or the ‘pit’. In many cases, especially when reading the KJV against a more modern and slightly more honest translation – like the NIV 1978 that I use – it is obvious in many cases that the translators got it hopelessly wrong in the KJV because, in those cases, the use of the word ‘Hell’ does not fit the context. The NIV uses instead the terms ‘grave’, ‘depths’ or the ‘Pit’, and usually clarifies in the footnotes that the word is actually ‘Sheol’. I mention this because the OT mentions Sheol a lot, but it does not mean ‘Hell’ in the sense of eternal conscious torment that most Evangelicals understand today.

So, where does that leave us?

Firstly, we need to learn to question any dubious claims we hear about what the Bible ‘clearly’ says. We especially need to question Christian clichés and catch-phrases that roll easily off the tongue and are easy to remember, because often these are simply wrong and their only appeal is that they are easy to remember and don’t require any thought; in short, they are the lazy option.

Secondly, it reminds me of a principle that I discovered some months ago: “If, like the issue of Hell, a doctrine bears damaging fruit, then the very least thing we should due is to research the crap out of it in order to find out if it is correct. Anything less is disrespectful both to the Scripture and to those who are affected by it.”

And finally, it leaves us in no doubt that Jesus did indeed mention Heaven more than He did Hell.


For more on Hell and what I think about it, visit my Hell Resource Page.

“God’s Ways are Higher Than Our Ways!”

How many times have you been in a (shall we call it a) ‘discussion’ with a Fundamentalist Christian, and they play their ‘trump card’: ‘Ah, but God’s ways are higher than our ways!’ This is usually because they have not thought things through properly, or perhaps they think that (as is so often the case in such circles) a quick, trite answer is required (which they don’t have), or maybe they just feel that they have ‘lost the argument’ and therefore this is their fall-back position; essentially, it’s saying, ‘I’m right, but I can’t prove it and I don’t want you to argue with me any more’. And then this Scripture backs them up by them essentially saying (and enforcing) ‘Who are you to argue with God?’. Maybe they just don’t know. Or, sometimes, it may be exactly what is needed – God’s ways are indeed higher than ours…but maybe not in the way that Fundies generally mean.

I read a fabulous Facebook post (yes, there are such things) the other day by Lee O’Hare, a man who has some brilliant insights which are well worth sharing, and it really spoke to me – and I learned something new that I hadn’t noticed before. And so I thought I’d share it here.

Over to Lee:


“If something is universally condemned by all civilized human society as being cruel, barbaric and unconscionable, is it OK if God does it? Does being God give Him the right to violate the very moral laws by which we ourselves are held accountable and judged, or is He exempt simply because He is God – and who are we to question His mysterious ways?”

I actually thought, and still do, that this was a very good and legitimate question. What I am addressing here is the problem I see of a dual morality, i.e., believing that something which is obviously repugnant and completely unacceptable because of its blatant inherent evil – such as torture, genocide, sexual slavery, infanticide, etc. is actually OK and acceptable if God is the one doing it or commanding that it be done. In response to posing such a “scandalous” question I was told things such as that I was “walking on dangerous ground” for daring to question God’s ways. And, as one person asked, “Who are you to question God who is so much more holy and just than you will ever be?”

The thing that I heard most often was a reference to, or quote of, the very famous passage from Isaiah 55:8-9, which I believe has become the #1 cop-out verse for fundamentalists whenever pressed to actually think for themselves. This is what it says:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,
declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (NIV)

As a matter of fact, I have heard this particular passage used so often in response to any attempt to ask hard questions about things we have traditionally been taught about God, that I felt it necessary to take a serious closer look at this famous passage and specifically to look at the actual context in which it is found, in hopes of maybe ascertaining what the true and original intent of the prophet Isaiah was in writing this.

If you actually read the entire chapter in which those two verses are lifted out of context you will find that the entire chapter is all about the overwhelming love, grace, mercy and kindness of God that is freely flowing out to all people. The chapter begins with the invitation, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat.” He goes on to talk about the “everlasting covenant” of “lovingkindness” that He will make with David, which we know is a direct reference to Jesus who is the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. In verses 4 and 5 God speaks of the expansiveness of His mercy and kindness and how David (Jesus) will be a witness to “all the people” and will “summon nations you do not know” and “nations that do not know you will hasten to you (Jesus)”.

In these verses the Lord is chastising His people for their small minded myopic understanding of His mercy and the extent and reach of His covenant faithfulness (lovingkindness). They were convinced that Yahweh belonged only to them – He was their national God and those outside of the bloodline of Israel were foreigners and aliens to the God of covenant and were hopelessly separated and cut off from the promises of God. In these verses the Lord is correcting and rebuking them for their narrow and exclusive understanding of His mercy and compassion. He is challenging their thinking by declaring His intent and desire to pour our His love upon all people and all people groups. This entire chapter goes on and on extravagantly describing the outlandish lovingkindness that Yahweh has for all. Verse 7 really sums it up, “Let them turn to the Lord that He might have compassion on them, for He will forgive them generously.”

THAT is the verse that immediately precedes the passage in question: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways.”

Rather than this being some kind of statement about how we must never question God’s ways or try to understand His mysterious thoughts because they are so high above our ability to grasp and understand, this statement is actually a reproof to them for their small minded and narrow understanding of His mercy, compassion and love for His people. When He says “My ways are not your ways” He is not telling them that He lives and operates in a separate moral universe that we could never understand and therefore have no business questioning.

So how exactly are God’s ways higher than ours? In the context of all the above the obvious and only reasonable answer is that He has outrageous love and mercy and that He freely pardons and forgives. Isaiah 55:8-9 is NOT about us not daring to ask legitimate questions regarding things that trouble us that have been passed down to us from a fundamentalist religious interpretation of the Bible. It has absolutely nothing to do with that and those who throw these verses up to defend from asking important questions about the character and nature of God are completely missing the point. This passage is ALL ABOUT the amazing, uncomprehendable and limitless love and mercy of Abba God who is fully and finally revealed to us in Jesus Christ – who is the image of the invisible God and the exact representation of His being.

– Lee O’Hare

The Commandments of Jesus

Here’s a beautiful and fascinating article on the simplicity of the Commandments of Jesus. It gently confronts the anti-Grace movement’s idea that ‘Grace is a licence to sin’ and explains why the precise opposite is actually true.

The article is beautiful because it is written so well, from such a point of grace, and with such a lovely flow about it. It’s easy to read and to understand. It’s fascinating because it draws on the tension between the earlier, ‘Synoptic’ Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and the later Gospel of John – and John’s letters (1 John, 2 John and 3 John). In particular, the later point of view of Grace as opposed to Law. I had never seen this tension before and it is most illuminating. Certainly in the early Church, the concept of free Grace took a while to become accepted; the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 illustrates this very well. It took a couple of decades for the Jewish believers to realise that they were set free from the old demands of the Law of Moses and liberated into a new way of relating to God; the way of Grace. For believers from outside the Jewish faith, it might have been a little easier as they were not generally bound by the Jewish Law system, although they may well have had their own religious ways to be weaned from. That’s what the book of Galatians is all about 🙂

But that’s all just waffle. Best read the article proper:

The Commandments of Jesus

The Apostle John was the only writer in the NT that articulates “The Commandments of Jesus.” He was also the only author among the first 4 that did not record “The Sermon on the Mount”. I believe one reason may be because John’s writings were written last. John seems to have written immediately before 70 AD, possibly after Paul’s death and definitely a decade or more after Matthew and Mark. Matthew wrote his account after only about 2 decades of meeting Jesus. John wrote his almost 40 years after he began to walk with the Lord!

How much does a person grow in the Lord after an additional 20 years of relationship? *(Some scholars argue that John’s letters were written 60 years or more after Jesus!)

The point?

Maybe John more clearly articulated the New Covenant because the time of the Old being completely removed had arrived (Hebrews 8:13-9:10 & 2 Cor.3:7-11) and the New Covenant ideals needed to me decisively declared. Maybe John understood sonship better. John clearly had a profound revelation of what it meant to be loved by the Lord because he frequently referred to himself as “The Disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Does that mean Jesus loved John more than the others or that John received Jesus’ love more than the others? I believe it’s the latter. Consider Jesus words spoken to the faithful 11 in John 15:9 (KJV) as evidence ~ “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you (plural); abide ye (singular) in my love.”

I used the KJV in this instance because it’s the only version that distinguishes the plural “you” from the singular “ye”. Jesus stated that he loved them all as the Father had loved him. Jesus didn’t love John more than Peter, James or the rest. Jesus loved all of his disciples with the exact same love that the Father had for him.

John received Jesus’ love more.

John laid his head on the Lord’s chest.

John knew how to abide.

Is it possible that John had greater faith?




Matthew, Mark and Luke all emphasized faith to an extant. However, none of them even came close to articulating the faith like Paul had.

Did you know that none of the first 3 (Matt,Mk and Lk) recorded Jesus ever saying anything like “Believe in me to be saved”? Isn’t that the foundation of the entire message? Yet, in all of their accounts of the life and words of Jesus; none of them thought it was important to declare the most basic aspect of the Gospel? Very interesting….

Yet, the “gospel” of John records Jesus’ 1st Commandment “Believe” almost 100 times! Compare that to less than 30 times between the first 3. Basically, John emphasizes belief 10 times more than the others. John also emphasized love over 100 times more!

John’s First Epistle detailed the New Covenant Commandments as ~ 1. Believe. 2. Love.

“And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment.” ~ 1 John 3:23

Because even the entire Law could be summed up in “Love”. (Gal.5:14 , Matt.22:40, Rom.13:10) However, the reality is that you cannot truly love without first believing because love believes. (1 Cor.13:7) The cart cannot go before the horse.

Faith always precedes love. We cannot love others with God’s perfect love until we believe in God’s perfect love. ~ The Holy Spirit

It’s really that simple to obey the New Covenant commandments because God doesn’t want slaves who merely obeyed for the sake of obedience; like in the Old Covenant. Paul wrote in Romans about a new obedience that he called ~ “The Obedience of the Faith”.




This is not an excuse to disobey. It’s a true definition of Christ-like obedience.

This is not a reason to neglect the writings of Matthew and the others. It’s also not an excuse to ignore the words of Jesus in the likes of “The Sermon on the Mount”. It’s merely an explanation of how.

This is how we live a “Sermon on the Mount” (SOM) lifestyle.

We can obey the letter of the SOM without believing in God’s love. But, we cannot disobey the heart of the SOM when we believe in God’s love.

One way reduces children of God to a life of slavery. The Way inspires the children of God to a life of sons!

If God’s primary objective was obedience to a set of regulations; he would have invented robots. But God yearned for relational children, so he created us!

God doesn’t merely desire us to follow a set of rules. God desires relationship.

God wants us to stay in relationship with him through in everything!

“And we know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him.” ~ 1 John 4:16

Interestingly, the emphasis in this verse does not seem to be on the Presence of God. The emphasis is on love because ~ “love is the Presence of God.”

It’s that simple and yet that challenging. Because Ephesians 3:16-20 announced that God’s love in infinitely beyond our understanding. It’s probably a good idea to pray along the lines of Paul ~

that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God.”

Profound. It seems that Paul was saying something like ~Believing and growing in the love of God increases the amount of God that we experience in life. God is infinite and so is love. Keep growing in faith and in love. The deeper you go into love, the more Christ fills your heart.

Click here to go to the original article.

Eternal Life & Life Eternal

I an honoured to be able to share here a post from my friend Dan Shaffer. While Jesus’s Resurrection does promise an eternal life after we die (“Because I live, you also will live” – John 14:19), there is so much more to the Gospel than that.

Kingdom life is about living in His Kingdom in the here and now, bringing forward into our lives now the benefits of living in His Presence.

Over to Dan; listen to what he has to say:

This is a glorious time in human history. The spirit of God is moving tremendously as a strong breeze, flowing in and through our hearts as he reveals the loving nature of God.
Whether intentional or not, religion has long suppressed the life internally given by God and revealed through Jesus.

Contrary to what many have been taught, Jesus revealed more about the here and now, than the latter. He graciously offered encouragement and hope of how to handle life, starting with what the Heavenly Father thinks about us.

Eternal life was offered as life eternal for the here and now, not for some future event after we die. Of course there is an afterlife, but that is in “tomorrow’s” that we need not worry about. (Matt 6:25)

How can I emphatically state that eternal life is now? Listen to this from the lips of Jesus in John 17:2-3 :
“For you granted him [Jesus] authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: That they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Jesus is talking about himself in the third person saying God has granted him authority to give eternal life to All as created beings of God. Jesus then explicitly states what eternal life is: Knowing the true God, and Jesus himself.

“Knowing” is the Greek word “ginōskōsin” which is the same word used when Mary was conceived by God, meaning the utmost intimacy. This is not about the afterlife, but being impregnated by God in our present life with his life and eternal spirit.

Still have doubts about eternal life being now? Did Jesus wish to take us out of the world to join him?
In the same chapter (John 17:15) Jesus says this: “My prayer is Not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from evil.”

Life that is eternal through the Spirit is offered to us right now, when we really need it.
Jesus offered this eternal life to us as an awakening and awareness journey of that which we already are – sons and daughters given of God. Jesus embraced and blessed our humanity through the Incarnation of himself, and demonstration of our path in life of knowing the true Father.

Jesus did not come to give hope of an afterlife, but the promise of an abundant eternal life now:
“I have come that they may have life, and Life more abundantly”.

God’s spirit within is eternal. When we seek the Kingdom of God within us, we tap into the spring of living water that continuously flows for eternity. We become immersed in the river of oneness, where our thirst is forever quenched.

The oneness with the Father and Jesus was offered to us as well:
“…Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)

Welcome to Eternal Life that is Life Eternally right now,
We are in it, within it, to win it.

– Dan Shaffer

Religion and Faith – There’s a Difference!

A few days ago someone asked me the question, “Are you religious?” And without thinking, I said. “Yes” – then immediately qualified it by saying, “Well, actually, no – I’m a man of faith. There is a difference”.

Now, call me pedantic if you like. And I know what the lady meant when she asked me the question. But to me there is indeed a difference.

Religion is simply humans trying to ‘do something’ – anything! in order to be acceptable to whatever god(s) they believe in. It seems to be the default setting for that part of humanity who seek after the higher purpose, deeper meaning, the Life Essence of the universe, or even the Creator Himself – whatever they call ‘god’, they feel the need to do something. (In this piece, I am not including those who don’t seek after things like this).

So whatever it is, people try to ‘do’ stuff. This involves rituals, rules/laws, behaviour patterns, conformity to some formula told to people. This can happen with Christians, or indeed any ‘defined’ faith, or it can happen with people of no set belief system. I once found a Pagan altar in the local woods where people had performed certain ‘rituals’ and carved Runes (letters made of straight lines suitable for carving on stone or wood) on the altar. I can read Runes, and they said something like ‘we worship you earth mother’. And so, this is an example of Religion based on ‘doing’.

Faith, however, is different. Faith is described in Hebrews 11:1 as, “…confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”. For me, this means that I have confidence in Jesus alone, and an assurance in the complete and total efficacy of His finished work on the Cross (Jn 19:30). It’s not about me, what I ‘do’, but about what He has already ‘done’. I am already acceptable to God by Jesus’s finished work on the Cross, however that works. I say that ‘however it works’ because I am still plumbing the depths of just what Jesus did there, and it’s vaster and more thorough than I think anyone realises. God’s Grace is undeserved, unlimited, extravagant, and indeed completely unfair. In Grace, we really do get something for nothing. It’s free for the taking!

This is poles apart from the constant workload of Religion!

In Christ, we can ‘rest’ in His finished work, knowing there’s nothing more to do, indeed, nothing more we can do, to make our salvation more sure.

This is a different thing from St. Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:24 where he says, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” This, I believe, refers to the works and actions that proceed naturally, flowing from the life lived in the Spirit. What part of Christ’s afflictions were incomplete? Only that the death of Christ on the Cross does not cater for the ‘practical’ things that the Spirit-led person does; the ‘works’ that are the fruit of faith. So, things like feeding the poor, clothing the naked, that sort of thing. And this is what still needs to be done. And so, this Colossians passage does not mean that for some reason Christ’s work is not ‘finished’, or that it is lacking any efficacy for our acceptance before God. It doesn’t mean that at all.

Sadly, though, even Christians, for whom Jesus said ‘It is finished!’ and for whom St. Paul says that we have freedom from these Rules, can (and usually do) have Religious rule patterns and expectations of their adherents. This is tragic; every time I’ve seen someone propound the vast freedom and benefits of Grace-based faith, there’s been someone else come on and state his ‘cautionary’ case. ‘Be careful of Grace; you don’t know what you might be getting into’. ‘Don’t let Grace be a licence to sin’, and things like that. This is all just the thin end of the wedge for legalism – going back to those Rules again. There’s always something like, ‘Ah, but we have to be careful that we don’t…’, there’s always some cautionary tale. ‘Ah, but…’ in fact has no place in Grace! The Spirit-led life means that we don’t have to worry about Law any more! So many people are sitting on riches they don’t know they have.

This is why St Paul said in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Slavery to Rules. Slavery to Religion.

I personally find that, because I have to get into the Legalism mindset in order to discuss these issues with those still trapped in legalistic systems, I find that I too begin to think in the same way as they do. In some ways, I need to do that, so that a) I can listen to what they are saying, and b) so that I can base my discussions on what Scriptures they are using. And it’s quite stifling, actually. I often feel the need to take time out and recharge my ‘Grace batteries’. Despite my freedom from Law being revealed to me personally by Father, the tendency to slide back into legalism in order to get alongside those still trapped in there is always insidious and present, because I have to think in the same way as they do in order to identify with them. It’s like trying to rescue a drowning man. Maybe I should wait until they cease struggling….

Sadly, many religious people, those dependent on their own works, however disguised or unrealised, tend to view ‘freedom from Law’ with some suspicion. Just like they did in Jesus’s day. The people who were most often on his back about His ‘behaviour’ and that of His disciples (they were feasting and partying instead of fasting like ‘proper’ religious people do) were the religious authorities. And so, people like Rob Bell, Joseph Prince, Jeff Turner, Paul Ellis; Grace preachers like these are constantly denigrated by the religious authorities of this day. Believers are always warned off from their messages of freedom, hope and joy, precisely because the religious authorities want to maintain control*. We can’t have believers realising their freedom, because we will lose control. Ok, so let’s ‘warn’ them about the ‘dangers’ of the ‘Grace Movement’ ** and use scare tactics like telling them that ‘Grace is a licence to sin’ and stuff like that. Actually it’s nothing of the sort; this is just used as a means of keeping people in their cages. Personally, as far as I am concerned they are wasting their time, such is the revelation of Grace I received nineteen years ago. For me, there is no going back into the cage. For others just learning the ways of Grace, my advice would be to trust the Holy Spirit within you. What He says, do (Jn 2:5). Ignore the Gatekeepers of heaven; they are actually nothing of the sort! Your freedom is yours; hold on to it!

Anyway, to sum up: Religion is always ‘do, do, do’ in order to be acceptable to God. Faith, for me, is ‘done, done, done’ and because of this I’m already acceptable to God. Wow!

“It is finished”, says the Lord!

*Actually, I am perhaps tarring some leaders with the same brush here – in the UK at least, most church leaders who have this kind of input into their members’ lives do so from a genuine desire to ensure that their members stay pure/clean/’sin-free’ or whatever. I understand that. But firstly, this is putting the cart before the horse; purity is more of a spiritual fruit than a spiritual task. It flows naturally from a life lived in the Spirit, and does not need to be either forced or policed. Secondly, this actually isn’t anyone’s job to do. It is not the job of Church leadership – or indeed any other person – to point out others’ ‘sins’. There are passages in the New Testament which might suggest that, and indeed St. Paul does give some ideas on how to deal with ‘badly-behaved’ church members, for the purpose of maintaining order in the church. But in our day this has been taken entirely out of context and also out of proportion; many people think that these Scriptures give them a licence to criticise and judge others. And this is simply not the case, from any of those Scriptures. Firstly, Jesus’s exhortation to ‘take the plank out of your own eye’ (Mt 7:1-5; Lk 6:41-42) is actually an exhortation to not point out others’ sin at all; secondly, the response of the person being criticised, if indeed any is required, is entirely between them and God. You might well point out someone else’s ‘sin’, but the response is up to them. You are not responsible to point out others’ ‘sins’; you are certainly not responsible for their actions or lack thereof in response to your criticism. Let’s not make any bones about it; you are actually judging and criticising others. Very rarely is it done ‘in love’!

(And how do you define ‘sin’ anyway; what is harmful for one person is not so for another)

**Later edit: And here I am referring not to the ‘hyperdispensationalism’ position of some Christians, but the modern move of the Holy Spirit in which God is re-emphasising salvation by Grace alone, and not ‘works’. In some places it is referred to the ‘Hyper-Grace’ movement, and is of course frowned upon by many in Evangelicalism, some of whom I have the greatest respect for. Yet another reason why I don’t like to use labels…

Praise the Lord!

Now this really is a song from my youth. Ok, I was 20, but still…

In the early 80’s, there was a Christian singer called Dave Pope, who did a cover of a song, in 1981, called ‘Praise the Lord’, by Michael Hudson and Brown Bannister. We loved it (although I never could work out the chords so that we could perform it ourselves! Worked them out last week, though, now being a much more experienced musician). Then we heard the song again at Festival 84 (a bit like the Dales Bible Week) at Staffordshire County Showground, this time performed by the Mohabir Sisters.

For years, I have tried to find a recording of that song. Have you ever tried to find a song called ‘Praise the Lord’? Can you imagine how many hits you get for that phrase on Google?

And then, only this week, one of my friends shared a YouTube link on Facebook, of a Christian artist (bearing the unlikely and quite possibly made-up name of ‘Chris Christian’*), singing the very song I have been looking for all these years. Somehow I had never thought to look on YouTube… and I found several renditions of it, two of which I have included below, including the Chris Christian version.

But I also went and looked for the Dave Pope version too, and, like I did for ‘Emmanuel‘, I found a vinyl record of Dave’s album from right back there in 1981, and I have made an mp3 copy of the song.

And here it is:

When you’re up against a struggle, that shatters all your dreams

When your hopes have been cruelly crushed by Satan’s manifested schemes
When you feel the urge within you to submit to earthly fear
Don’t let the faith you’re standing on seem to disappear.

Praise the Lord, He can work through those who praise Him
Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise
Praise the Lord, for the chains that seek to bind you
Serve only to remind you, that they fall powerless behind you
When you praise Him.

Now Satan is a liar, and he wants to make us think
That we are paupers when he knows himself we are children of the King
So lift that mighty shield of faith for the battle must be won
We know that Jesus Christ is risen so the work’s already done.

Praise the Lord, He can work through those who praise Him
Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise
Praise the Lord, for the chains that seek to bind you
Serve only to remind you, that they fall powerless behind you
When you praise Him.

Praise the Lord, God can work through those who praise Him
Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise
Praise the Lord, for the chains that seek to bind you
Serve only to remind you, they fall powerless behind you
When you praise Him, praise Him, praise Him, praise Him….

When you praise Him.
When you praise…….. the Lord.

Wonderful! As I have said in other posts, worship and praise really put a believer’s life and circumstances into their proper perspective. Praising God in the midst of any circumstances, good or bad, brings His power and presence into the situation in a way that nothing else does. Yes, I know it sounds like some sort of talisman or magic spell. But its not; what is happening is that you are bringing a consciousness, or awareness, of God’s Presence into your circumstances. You remind yourself (not God; He already knows!) that He is with you and He will never leave or forsake you (Dt 31:6; Heb 13:5). And that puts an entirely different slant on things – entirely different.

Praise the Lord!

Here are two of the YouTube videos of this song that I found. Nice arrangements with slight changes to the lyrics.

First up, the Chris Christian version, posted by someone who can’t spell ‘Christian’:

And finally, a version by the ‘Imperials’. Possibly pre-Star Wars; not certain 😉

*Chris, If by some chance you come to read this, I’m only joking 😉

But you’ve got to admit…..

The Atheistic Theist

This is my Amazon review of an excellent book by Jeff Turner, whose work I quote a lot on my blog.

The book is called The Atheistic Theist: Why There is No God and You Should Follow Him’

You perhaps think it sounds like a daft title for a Christian book? Read on for clarification!

Jeff Turner is at the same time both extremely perceptive and also very good at expressing his ideas. I’d go so far as to say that he’s one of the clearest Christian thinkers of our generation; I’d even go so far as to say that he is a modern-day C.S. Lewis.

Jeff writes here with refreshing transparency, drawing on his own personal experiences; those of others; others’ ideas; the Scriptures; great Christian thinkers throughout the ages, from Augustine through Calvin, Luther, Edwards and into the modern era. He also quotes from several atheists including (among others) Richard Dawkins, Gene Roddenberry (one of my personal heroes!) and Christopher Hitchens, whom he feels have meaningful things to say in today’s theological dialogues. Indeed, I agree; if the Church only listens to herself, the result is a vicious cycle of inbred thinking with no clear critique or accountability. Jeff uses the atheists’ points of view to hold up a mirror to modern Evangelical theology, and the picture we see is most disturbing.

The idea of the title is that Jesus and the early believers were seen as atheists because they didn’t worship the ‘gods’ of their time, and could therefore be seen as ‘atheists’. In the same way, Jeff argues, we today have lost sight of the God of Jesus and replaced Him with gods of our own; gods created in our own image.

If you are a Christian who has questions about his faith, and about the logical inconsistencies you can’t ignore, if you’re honest, then this is the book for you. Alternatively, if you are an atheist, you might like to take a look too and see how Jeff Turner has addressed some of the points made by other atheists. You may be pleasantly surprised.

I love this book. So many times I have found myself exclaiming aloud, ‘Yes!!’ while reading it. Your thinking is challenged, your assumptions are challenged, but your faith will emerge all the more strengthened for reading this book; your vision of Father God will also take on new hues of grace truth and beauty, instead of those of vengeance and terrible judgement.

If you’ve never read a theology book before, then this one would be a good place to start. Definitely recommended!

Here is a link to buy the book from Amazon UK (and no I am not on commission!)

And here is the link for Amazon USA