Monthly Archives: August 2017

Grace Changes Everything

Grace changes everything.

Whereas most people of religion believe – or at least, act as if they believe – that there’s something they need to ‘do’ in order to ‘obtain’ God’s favour, Grace says that we already have God’s favour! It changes the way we relate to God, and to life, and to each other. It’s huge and incomprehensible, and yet it’s also so simple. All we need to ‘do’ is accept it in order to gain all its benefits.

The word ‘Grace’ has been watered down in Christian circles to the point that many in Christian circles don’t realise its true meaning any more. Grace is in fact the completely undeserved favour of God – undeserved in that we didn’t do anything, nor do we need to do anything – to deserve it. He likes us, loves us, thinks the world of us, dotes on us, and, well, He’s just thrilled with us. Ignore anyone who tries to tell you otherwise! I’d call that Good News! It’s counterintuitive, so much the opposite of what Religion has told us for centuries. It’s free, bought, paid for and credited to our accounts.

“Grace is irrational to the thinker. It is unfair to the judge. Grace is foolishness to the achiever. It is a waste to the selfish. Grace is a mistake to the disciplinarian. It is shame to the religionist. But it is a stream of water to the thirsty. It’s freedom to the imprisoned. It is life to the dead. Grace is rest to the tired. It is another chance to the failed. It is hope to the despondent. It is a way out for the lost and a way in for those who can see the Door.”

-Steve McVey

I am spending much time in exploring Grace and what it means. Fortunately, I am in a Facebook group where we do that quite a bit too. Here’s what my friend Mo Thomas wrote recently, and also some comments from his readers:

“Cheap” grace. “Hyper” grace. “False” grace.

I’ve heard these and other derogatory terms tied to grace…fairly often in the past few years. Please note: It’s NOT grace that needs to be labeled as “cheap”, it’s the person’s cheap perspective that is evidently causing the perceived abuse.

When grace is misused, it doesn’t and can’t, in any way shape or form, lessen the Father’s heart in freely and lavishly giving it to us as the means to conform us into His image.

We sin just fine “without” His grace, after all.

Calling grace “cheap” as a result of its misuse is akin to calling electricity bad when you electrocute yourself. Think about this!

What I’ve seen most often is that we quickly agree that it’s God’s Grace that brings us to the point of salvation . . . but then we rely heavily on law, rules, obedience, sin-management, and diligent effort in order to bring us into maturity – rather than continuing to rely on His Grace to grow us up into His image. It’s the substance that allows us to live out a holy, set-apart life . . . in Christ.

Rom 6:14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

Ephesians 1:6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.

WE are the ones who attempt to cheapen grace by not allowing it to complete it’s work in us. But, our attempts don’t and can’t take away from its Eternal Value.

Selah.

Comments:

Free is too humbling and confusing for some people. Some people enjoy the pride of earning what they have. Some people resent the unfairness of free” – Maureen

The people who use those labels are just jealous ” – Anthony

They really are, [they] can’t abide the freedom we walk in” – Sara

When people talk about abusing grace my thought is – isn’t that the point?” – Al

I do think that those who oppose the current Grace thinking are offended that there’s nothing that anyone needs to ‘do’ in order to ‘earn’ God’s Grace. No amount of good deeds or observance of Rules makes us any better off before God; conversely, nothing we can do will make Him love us any the less. This is offensive to the Law-dependent believer, because it means that all their best and all their worst makes no difference, and this is a huge blow to their pride. They think they are doing so well, but actually it makes no difference at all! And that’s offensive to those who rely on their own good works. I understand that. Like I said above, it’s counterintuitive.

How to tell if you’re walking in Grace? Easy. If you’re feeling the need to ‘do, do, do’, then that’s not Grace. Grace says it’s ‘done, done, done’; there’s nothing left for you to do!

All you need to ‘do’ is to access it; accept it; agree with it. It’s yours for the taking! Don’t be put off by those who speak against ‘The Grace Movement’ as if it’s something dangerous. Also, like everything else in Christendom, the word ‘Grace’ has been hijacked again and again; the chief danger of this is that it causes people to miss its full and true impact. But I have explained in this post what it means; you have seen its hallmarks in the Steve McVey quotation above, and I’ve even given you a simple method of how to distinguish real Grace. To recap: if it relies on you having to do, conform or earn, then it’s not Grace, because Grace is by definition unmerited. There’s nothing you can do to improve on that! And that in itself is such a release!

For more on extravagant Grace, check out this article on my blog. It’s more of the same but rom a different angle. And once you walk in Grace, don’t let Law dilute it. Read Paul’s letter to the Galatians with the lens of Grace in place and see what he had to say to those people where people of the Law were trying to take away their freedom. Read it like that and it’s a real eye-opener!

Be blessed 🙂

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Paul’s Effervescence!

St. Paul is one of my favourite Bible people. Like me, he was a recovering Pharisee; freed from the shackles of burdensome religion and released to fly in the huge, vast realm of the freedom of the Spirit.

While I was trying to find a decent portrait of Paul for the header image for this piece, I found that, without exception, he has been depicted as a serious, even miserable-looking, old gronk. Not a single smile anywhere! Well, I tell you what, I don’t believe he was like that at all, at least not once he had met Jesus. It seems then that for many centuries (given the age of some of those pictures I found!) that people have thought of Paul as being a stuffy fuddy-duddy theologian who sat alone in a dark room, scribing dull, dusty letters full of law and restrictions. But nothing could be further from the truth! Remember, Paul was freed from his former life of slavery to the Law, and in Philippians 3:8 he says that he has lost all the former things – all the ‘religious’ things he tried to do to please God – and indeed considers them as dung (the Greek word ‘Copros’ is correctly translated as such in the KJV). Indeed, Paul was the Apostle of Grace; so far removed from legalism that, to him, he considered himself dead to the old ‘Law of sin and death’, and also declared to other believers that this was the case for them too (Rom 6:2; Rom 6:11)

So, then, I think that Paul’s writings have been read from the wrong point of view for so long. If people are going to read this stuff with the mindset of dour, dry religion, then of course they are going to come out with the dull, miserable conclusion. But I think that actually Paul was writing from the angle of overwhelming joy and fizzing, bubbling, effervescent Life; indeed Life in all its fulness! Here’s why I think so.

Firstly, may I suggest you try reading the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians? Here’s a link to it if you need it (it opens in a new tab). Paul’s exuberance in that passage is immense; he throws around huge dollops of it in his proclamation – maybe even his shouting (if he’d written it on a computer it most likely would have been on CAPS LOCK!) of the Good News; his heart is simpy bursting with it and it seems like he can’t contain himself. In fact, he can’t! His description of Christ’s blessings and God’s generosity flows unchecked, and you can almost hear him laughing with the sheer joy of it as he writes (or maybe dictates) the letter. What a breath of fresh air! He’s simply fizzing with it – hence my use of the term ‘effervescence’ in my title; the word simply means ‘fizzing’.

His letter to the Romans is a great example of a case in point. In the midst of his chain of logic in that letter, there is an underlying current of great joy and liberty as he tells his beloved brethren in Rome just how huge, how great and how wide is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I think that Paul’s letters are best read with the assumption that there is huge joy just beneath the surface of his writing. Perhaps if you assume he’s nearly laughing with every stroke of his pen, you will get a flavour of what he is feeling and where he’s coming from as he writes!

His effervescent joy in his letter to the Romans peaks in chapter 8. Beginning with the incredible good news,

‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of Life has set us free from the Law of sin and death…’ (Rom 8:1,2, he goes on with some more incredible, glorious truth:

“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Rom 8:11);

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children…” (Rom 8:16);

“For the creation was subjected to frustration…in hope [eager expectation] that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious  freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:20,21) [clarification mine];

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28);

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom 8:31-34) [emphases mine]

Of course, many Christians look at phrases like, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:12,13) and try to make up Rules about things. In other words, to try to live up to their calling by ‘doing’; keeping Rules, in order to be acceptable to God. But a) in its context and b) in terms of Paul’s ex-Pharisee background, this is not what it means at all. I mean, Paul has already established that the Law and the flesh work together to procude death. In this context, living by the flesh means that people try to be righteous through their own efforts, in other words, by trying to keep the Law. As if, in the middle of an exuberant chapter on freedom and lack of condemnation, Paul, the archetypical ex-legalist, is going to suddenly drop in a bunch of Rules? By no means! He’s already dealt with the Rules earlier in his letter. We have already established that the Law leads only to frustration and death; death meaning a complete lack of the Life that Jesus calls us to; the Life in the Spirit. That Life automatically enables us to put away the things of the flesh precisely because we are living by the Spirit.

And, for me, the culmination of the whole chapter is in vv. 35-39:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:35-39)

This is to me the ultimate in security. I have written before on the subject of ‘Once saved, always saved‘. But to me this is the icing on the cake, and I can’t emphasise this enough:

Nothing can separate us from the Love of Christ!

Nothing, nothing, nothing. Nothing you do or don’t do; nothing you say, nothing you believe, not death, not life, not arguments, not sin, not good nor evil, not anything in the past, present or future. Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. You are eternally, completely saved, for ever, in life and in death and everything in between. The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it like this:

Therefore he is also able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, seeing that he lives forever to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25 (KJV) )

‘Save to the uttermost’, I feel, expresses it somewhat more emphatically than the NIV’s ‘Save completely’. ‘To the uttermost’ means that there is no degree more to which we can be saved!

Saved from what? Saved from a pointless existence, saved from the fruitless toil of life, saved from a life of sin, saved from all judgement (Jn 5:24), saved for Heaven, saved and made whole (that is the meaning of the Greek word ‘sōzō’, the word we most commonly translate as ‘salvation’), saved for Jesus to live His life through us by His Spirit. I tell you, this is all good news! There is no bad news at all in the Gospel. Can God make something containing darkness? No! In Him there is no darkness at all! (1Jn1:5) No, the Gospel is 100% Good News. There’s so much more to this than what I can write here, but you can begin for yourself by reading, maybe again and again until it becomes a part of you, Romans Chapter 8.

Wow! You just need to take a deep breath after reading this, don’t you? No wonder Paul was so exuberant! This is Life, and Life in all its fulness! (Jn 10:10)

So, your take-home message is this:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? … I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:35, 38-39)

Amen!


Tell you what. In order better to help you to get that Scripture into your head, I’ll treat you to a lovely, but catchy, rendition of that Scripture. It’s ‘Who Shall Separate Us‘, from the Harvestime tape ‘Worthy is the Lamb

Who shall separate us from the Love of Christ?
Who shall separate us from the Love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress,
Shall persecution, or famine or nakedness?
Or peril or sword
From the Love of our Lord?


 

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How We Met

This entry is part 17 of 18 in the series Fiona

Today, on the tenth monthly anniversary of my loss of the light of my life, my dear wife Fiona, I thought I would share a little about how we first met.

When people ask me where Fiona and I met, I try to play silly-buggers and I usually say,

“Actually, I was sitting on my bed at the time”

Of course, this doesn’t usually go down all that well with some Christians… but there is of course a ‘proper’ explanation 🙂

Would you believe: we met on the Citizens’ Band (CB) radio. And I was sitting on my bed as I was using it. Mystery solved 😉

It was in late 1981 that I bought my first, very basic, CB radio, using some of my student grant (we still got grants back then…) Funnily enough, back then, as I was in, shall we say, a ‘legalistic phase’ of my personal faith walk, I was really doubtful as to whether or not it was ‘God’s Will’ for me to buy it. But buy it I did (oh, the sin of it!), and I installed it in my Mini car. This is the type of ‘Harrier CB’ transceiver* that I bought:

And, despite my guilt-based doubts, it turned out to be instrumental in several life-changing ways.

Firstly, and quite unfairly I thought, the young lady I was dating at the time (and had been with for seventeen months) sat in my car and used my CB, while I was in prayer meetings, to meet ‘someone else’ and then dumped me. I laugh about it now, and we are still in touch and are actually good friends!

Secondly, because I personally always had to understand how things worked, I studied radio theory and eventually qualified for my Radio Amateur’s Licence, after attending night-school and also teaching myself Morse Code. That was in 1984-85, though, after Fiona and I were married.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I met Fiona on the CB radio.

But it wasn’t on my original Harrier CB that I met her… annoyingly, my Harrier rig (CB jargon for the radio transceiver itself) was stolen from my car while I was at a Leeds United match. And I think Leeds lost too, just to add insult to injury. Someone had decided that they deserved that CB radio more than I did, and so they helped themselves to it. And Leeds came out in sympathy 😉

So I replaced the stolen unit with a more mid-range radio (with a few more controls on it)  which I didn’t really like all that much as my voice was distorted on transmission. I therefore sold that rig and invested in a top-of-the-range ‘Harrier CBX’ transceiver, with lots more controls on it, and therefore it was much more flexible. Here’s a picture of the actual instrument, which I still have:

I not only installed it in my car, but I also set it up with a device called a ‘slide-mount’ (which you can see under the radio in the picture above). The slide-mount allows you to remove your rig quickly and easily so that you can put it in the boot of the car, out of sight, where thieves won’t see it. All the connections for the power, the antenna and whatnot, are done with sliding contacts, so basically you can just pull the thing out in a matter of less than five seconds. But it’s also really convenient in another way, because you can also set up another slide-mount in your house, and take your CB indoors with you and use it at home. So I installed a decent antenna on the outside of my parents’ house, set it all up, installed the slide-mount and power supply in my bedroom, and the job’s a good ‘un. Working CB radio in both car and home.

And so, to the story. One evening in the Spring of 1982, at about the time of the end of the Falklands War, I’d had my new ‘Harrier CBX’ radio for about six weeks, and was really enjoying using it. Just before going off to Housegroup that evening, I decided to fill in the last ten minutes before I left with a quick listen on the CB.

Funny how these small actions can change your life.

Sitting on my bed, I switched on the rig, and almost immediately heard a young man calling, somewhat plaintively I thought, for a contact (the phraseology was ‘One-four for a copy!’, meaning that the guy was calling on channel 14 for someone to talk to; a ‘copy’ in CB jargon) So I thought, ‘Oh, he sounds like nobody wants to talk to him’, so I took pity on him and replied, and we chatted for a few minutes. Then he said, ‘My sister’s here, would you like to talk to her?’ And his sister was of course Fiona, and the young man was Graham, who is now my brother-in-law. She’d just that day finished her last ‘A-level’ exam at school, and had wanted to relax a little after all the stress, so Graham invited her out to their dad’s car in which the CB radio was installed. After listening for a while, she decided that she’d like to talk to me.

But, of course, after a few minutes, I had to go. So I said, “Anyway, I’m sorry but I have to go now; I am going to Housegroup”

“Oh”, said Fiona, “That sounds interesting!” Thinking she was kidding me, I said, “What do you mean?” And she replied, “I’m a Christian too!”.

“Which church do you go to?”

“I don’t have a church”

“Well you could come along to mine”, I said. “It’s Guiseley Baptist Church”

“Oh, that’s just along the road from me!”

And so, we arranged to meet up outside the church that next Sunday morning. In the meantime, I had a few more radio conversations with Graham, and even went round to meet him (an ‘eyeball’ in CB jargon) at his house, but Fiona was out.

But on that Sunday in June 1982, I met her, sitting on a bench outside the church, and it was love at first sight, for me at least. Easily the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life. I write this with tears as the enormity of my loss hits me again. My first words to her were, “Oh, is it you?” And she said, “Yes!” And so we met. She started to come to my church regularly, and we began to spend time together; to go out for walks together. And we fell in love.

Here’s the front of Guiseley Baptist Church; the flower box to the left of the gate (as we see it here) is where the bench used to be, the one that Fiona was sitting on when I met her. That is the exact spot where I laid eyes on her for the first time 🙂

We were married in that same church in January, 1984. And we had adventure after adventure in the blessed time that we had together. We were inseparable for over 34 years; half a lifetime. And the adventures continued – children, jobs, travels, worship leading, church, friends, dogs, pets, poverty, sufficiency. We learned what life is like both in plenty and poverty, on the breadline, in abundance, with mortgage, with no mortgage, in vibrant health, in inexpressible joy, excitement, and peace; with disease, heartbreak and horror, suffering and bereavement; exploration, grandchildren, holidays, cars, food,  rainy walks, dogs, well, you know. Just Life In General. We went through so much together and we were so close, and madly in love, for all that time. I count myself thoroughly blessed to have shared life’s advenures with my amazing lady. And I loved her more than life.

So, I hope that this little story shows you just how awesome God is, at orchestrating a series of seemingly random events, and in so doing to change two people’s lives forever. Our three children, our two grandchildren, exist only because I bought a CB radio, Fiona’s dad bought a CB radio, I decided to just spend ten minutes on the CB that evening, Fiona needed to relax after her exams, I decided to mention Housegroup…all those factors came together and indeed were brought together as just a small segment of God’s Grand Plan that we are so privileged to have been a part of. All the people whose lives have been touched by our music, by our ministry, by our teaching, by our wisdom; it all came about because of that series of decisions and events that shaped the future so hugely for us.

Wow! It’s simply mind-blowing!


Header picture is one of Fiona that I took in August, 1982,  and just a month or so before she went off to University in Liverpool. This is the first photo I ever had of Fiona; she is eighteen in this picture (and it was taken on a Polaroid camera) and I kept it by my bed when she was at University.


More testimony of God’s timing, including some from our early married life, is here.


*A ‘transceiver’ is a radio that is capable of both transmitting and receiving radio signals. Transmitter/Receiver, hence ‘Transceiver’.

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Fear is the Path to the Dark Side

“Fear is the path to the dark side.
Fear leads to anger.
Anger leads to hate.
Hate leads to suffering.”
– Yoda

You won’t find this in the Bible, so don’t even try to find it 😉 Instead, once again, the wisdom of Yoda, from the Star Wars saga, illustrates perfectly a life-giving principle in the Kingdom of God.

Let’s hear it from Yoda first of all, shall we:

Well now, I was sad to read, the other day, posts on Facebook from a bloke who was spouting all kinds of nasty poisonous religious stuff, in response to my friend sharing things he’d discovered about Jesus and His take on homosexuality. I came away from that with a heavy heart, because I felt sorry for the man who had said all those nasty things. It was clear to me, reading between the lines (something I normally find difficult due to having Asperger’s Syndrome, but in this case I think the Spirit was leading me in my feeling) that this guy had some serious anger issues against those who did not quite agree with his doctrinal position.

This chap kept ‘warning’ us that our thinking was ‘dangerous’, ‘idolatry’ and other such words. And, predictably, he issued threats that we were going to Hell (handbasket probably optional, although I must say he didn’t specify). To be honest, I don’t really think he knew what the words he’d used meant. But the entire thing was shot through with anger, hatred, and fear. He expressed hatred both for us and for what we believed in. It seemed that he was terrified that if he didn’t ‘point out our error’, that he too would suffer the ‘same fate’ as we would for our heretical beliefs. I don’t think that, even in my rabid Fundamentalist days, I ever thought like that, although I have to admit that I felt a lot of anger about the way that certain cults, especially the Jehovah’s Witnesses, had ‘twisted’ many, many Scriptures to make them look as if they ‘supported’ their doctrines. And so I know how it feels…

Living a life like that leads inevitably to suffering, because there are consequences to our actions. That’s what sin is and what it produces. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering because it burns us up inside. And instead of exercising our freedom and following Jesus, we once again get all tangled up in ‘sin’ – both ours and others’ when we take it upon ourselves to ‘correct’ others – just like it says in Hebrews 12:1.

So today, then, I would like to develop this idea that, indeed, “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering”. Fear has, as Yoda says, ‘Everything!’ to do with it.

You see, people in Religious circles insist on perpetuating fear-based theology, despite (and indeed ignoring) reassuring passages like 1 John 4:18, where the writer says this:

This is about as clear as the Bible ever gets. If you are afraid of God punishing you, then you will live in fear. But there is no fear in Love, not God’s Love at any rate. Those who have experienced God’s love do not live in fear, because the experience of that perfect Love drives out all fear of punishment. We know for a fact that God will never, ever punish us for anything. And so there is no need to fear God, either in terms of punishment or anything else. Once you have been made perfect in Love; once you have experienced His Love, nothing and nobody can take that away from you, and therefore you do not live your life in fear anymore. I can testify to this, in that the worst thing that could possibly happen to me has indeed happened (Job 3:25), and yet here I am rejoicing still. Because I know the Love of the Father, and fear no longer has a place in my life 😀

It is easy to see why people have a god that they fear. Quite aside from the misuse of ancient English language as used in the King James Version of the Bible, where the word ‘Fear’ is used in the context of ‘fearing God’ – where actually it refers to being in reverent awe of Him, not being scared of Him – the whole message of humankind in regards to our position before god has always been one where we should be afraid. Be really, really afraid.

And that despite the most common phrase in the Bible . “Do not be afraid!”

In my article, Graven Image, I wrote this:

“So effectively the religious authorities of [Jesus’s] time had made a ‘graven image’. They had built themselves an image of God in their minds and in their writings, and they thought that God was like that image. This image of God they had made was of course, like all graven images, completely incorrect; even in the Old Testament, God describes Himself as a God of Love, which their graven image did not reflect. They had set up, in the place of the Loving Father, a man-made, stone-faced image of a ‘nasty god’ which bore no resemblance to the loving Creator of the Universe. Ask any person even nowadays what they think of God, and the chances are that they think of him as an angry old man up in Heaven just looking for people to get radgy with. This is the legacy of the graven image that these people worshipped – and, sadly, that many people still worship today.

And tragically that’s the case for many Christians too. Many Christians are driven by a fear of ‘going to Hell fire’ if they put so much as a toe out of place. This fear is perpetuated by church leaders who fuel this fear in order to maintain control over their ‘flocks’*. And so, Christians like that Facebook contributor fear God because they believe – incorrectly – that He’s a pretty nasty piece of work. The Pharisees in Jesus’s day believed that, and look where it got them – condemned to live lives where they had to observe all the minutiae of an impossibly complex religious ruleset in order to make themselves ‘acceptable’ to God. Who wants to live like that?

It is well known that we become like that which we worship. And so, believing in a nasty killjoy god and worshipping it means that we become like it. We will be wary of having fun, and we will condemn others who have fun, in case such behaviour – or allowing such behaviour – leads us into ‘sin’. We will become harsh, judgemental and intolerant.

However, if we believe in – and therefore worship – a God of goodness, joy, love, healing, peace and wonder, as demonstrated by Jesus, we will become more like Jesus instead of more like the nasty god. And the fruits in our lives will reflect that – love, joy, peace and all the rest, and this too will manifest itself in the way we relate to others.

But this fear of God, and what they fear He will do to them if they ‘get it wrong’, is deeply rooted in so many Christians’ lives.  It appears that this man on Facebook became angry that others – especially the ‘unrighteous’, but also other believers – had got it wrong and he couldn’t stop us getting it wrong, and he was angry at us because he felt that we would drag him down, along with the rest of society with him, given half a chance.

And for that, he hates us – although he would doubtless say that he was being ‘loving’ in pointing out our ‘sin’ and ‘heresy’, but believe you me, there was nothing loving in his speech. But hate is a form of unforgiveness, and the only solution to that is to forgive us for our perceived ‘sin’; to let it go, to not worry about correcting us but to leave that up to God to correct us should He so wish.

And finally hate leads to suffering because it burns us up inside. Because it’s unforgiveness, it will eat away at us from the inside out. And thus the Dark Side triumphs in that person’s life, in that, like in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy”. He steals our assurance, kills our joy, and destroys our peace.

To illustrate how this works, I will return for a while to the Star Wars analogy. I present this as a parable; a fictional story with a meaning. Let’s take a look at the main protagonist of the ‘first’ six episodes, from The Phantom Menace through to Return of the Jedi: the young Anakin Skywalker, whom I have featured in my blog before.

For Anakin Skywalker, the progression from Fear, through Anger, then Hate and finally Suffering is encapsulated brilliantly by his transformation into the evil Darth Vader

A bit of background for those unfamiliar with the story.

I must warn you that this will be a ‘spoiler’ if you haven’t seen the ‘Star Wars’ series yet!

As a young slave boy, Anakin Skywalker was recognised as being powerful in the Force, the Star Wars universe’s equivalent of God. Rescued from a life of slavery, but sadly not being able to free his beloved mother as well, Anakin is taken to the planet Coruscant in order to be trained to be one of the Jedi; warrior-monks who use their powers in the Force to maintain peace and justice in the Galaxy. The movie clip at the beginning of this piece shows his interview before the Jedi Council, of which the wise Yoda is a member. Anakin falls in love with a young lady called Padmé Amidala; a liaison which is forbidden by Jedi laws, but Anakin secretly marries Padmé in defiance of those laws. The evil Senator Sheev Palpatine – who is a Sith Lord, a follower of the evil Dark Side of the Force – then uses Anakin’s fears  to corrupt him and turn Anakin too to the Dark Side. Firstly, his fears for his mother – who dies in his arms after being abducted by the ‘Sandpeople’, all of whom Anakin then murders in revenge for his mother’s death. His fear led to anger, his anger led to hate, and his hate led to suffering. Secondly, Palpatine then uses Anakin’s fear for Padmé’s safety to twist him subtly towards the Dark Side; Anakin’s anger flares because he perceives that his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, does not treat him fairly. And finally, that anger changes to Hate. Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side of the Force and becomes Darth Vader, his new Sith name. And his hatred for Obi-Wan spills over into his relationship with Padmé, and he chokes her almost to death. The very last thing Anakin/Vader says to Obi-Wan, before being left for dead – are the words, “I hate you!” (Be warned, this is quite graphic)

And Vader has to live with the destruction caused by that hatred – the suffering which Yoda mentioned and which, tragically, he was so correct about. “I sense great fear in you”, said Yoda, and he was right. Padmé dies of a broken heart (after giving birth to Padmé and Anakin’s twins, Luke and Leia) and Vader blames himself because Palpatine lies that Vader killed her. His anguish, in this penultimate scene of the film, is so terrible that the Dark Side of the Force overwhelms him and causes massive destruction in the room around him. As you can see from Palpatine’s face, this is all pleasing to him as Vader succumbs more and more to the horror and despair of the Dark Side of the Force.

And then the rest of the Star Wars saga is about the results of Darth Vader’s anger, fear, hatred and bitterness as they fester inside him and destroy all that is dear to him, especially the Galactic Republic that he fought for for so long; instead, it becomes the Galactic Empire and Palpatine names himself Emperor. This next picture illustrates beautifully the regret, grief and destruction that Vader contains within himself (the lady whose face is in the picture is Padmé):

For Anakin, then, his fear leads to anger; his anger leads to hate; and his hate leads to suffering – not only the loss of his beloved wife, but also the unnumbered sufferings of those whose lives Vader destroys, and that deadly, destructive regret and self-blame that feeds the Dark Side of the Force within him. He’s full of anger, hate and suffering; anger at himself, at Palpatine, and at everyone else who he feels has betrayed him. Until eventually his love for his son, Luke, compels him to save Luke from being murdered by Emperor Palpatine – albeit at the cost of his own life – but in the process, Vader comes back to the Light and dies in Luke’s arms, but as the redeemed Jedi Anakin Skywalker once more. He has let go of his hate at last.

Spoiler Ends

Now to return from that parable into real life. Quite a jump, isn’t it? Star Wars is simply brilliant….anyway, the Vader example is hopefully a slightly extreme comparison for our contributor in the Facebook story, but still it illustrates the point. Existing with a fear of God, in the sense of being scared of Him, is not a healthy place to be in at all. I don’t know why people hold so hard onto the fear aspect when all along there’s the Loving arms of God underneath (Deut 33:27), although as I said above, fear is its own vicious cycle. But it’s easy to see the chain reaction of fear-anger-hate-suffering that some of these people have, and, I hope, that they long to break free of. They don’t need to be scared of God, they don’t need to be angry with others who don’t agree with them, and they certainly don’t need to hate us. Because the only outcome is suffering. These people will never be free to enjoy the freedom of the Kingdom of God unless they first break free from this fear-induced cycle.

But that takes God’s Love. It takes a realisation, and indeed a divine revelation, of God’s Love for us. You can’t make it up. You can’t even make it happen. It’s got to be from Him Himself. But, you can ask Him for it. Ask God to reveal His Love to you. Ask Him to show you the perfect Love that drives out all fear! You see, fortunately for us, God’s Grace reaches us even in our hopelesness, darkness, blindness and despair, in our suffering, in our anger, hate and fear and regret.

And He heals us.

Fear is indeed the path to the Dark Side. It leads to anguish and suffering. But we do not need to follow that path. Don’t persecute those who believe things differently from you. Let go of your anger, your fear, your hatred and let God heal you.

Let me tell you, the relief, the sense of a huge weight lifting off you, is immense. This is my testimony:

My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee!

 


*There may be some reading this who would love to break free of that fear, but paradoxically they are afraid of what might happen – what God might do to them – if they are wrong. Well, I feel for you people, I really do. And I testify that there is indeed freedom out here, free of the chains of fear-based religion.  And it’s a safe freedom!

I would say to you, along with many other voices in the Bible: Do not be afraid!

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Love Keeps No Record of Wrongdoing

A superb and moving piece by my friend Dan Shaffer, a man of great wisdom and insight:

One of the most beautiful majestic words ever written, were from Paul:
‘Love keeps no record of wrong doing’ [1Cor13:5]

Yet Christianity strangely forgets these words when grappling with Salvation and Judgement.

We forget these words were not from a man who was the epitome of righteousness; rather a man who embarked on a murderous quest to rid the world of Christians. A man, with whom Jesus literally intervened and asked “why are you persecuting me?”

Ironically, we could ask many Christians the same question today. Those who “have discovered the error of their ways” and then enthusiastically pick up the banner of the Law and condemnation. Then proceed to rid the world of sin, or so they think.

However, Paul realized something different than so many Christians. He discovered who God really was. God was love and Grace.

You see, God doesn’t just extend love, or act in Love, He is Love. God doesn’t just extend Grace or act graciously, He is Grace. Love has never kept a single record of wrong doing, but the Law does!

Those who believe in the God of Law struggle with forgiveness and mercy.

Because the Law demands retribution as justice. It demands payment for wrong doing.

Love, on the other hand, desires restoration and completeness. Love’s agenda is to see you restored to the image of your loving Father.

This is your true identity.

Love is not interested in your past or your mistakes.


It keeps no record of wrong doing, therefore doesn’t remember your failures and transgressions.

There will be No big movie screen in the sky to judge and review your life.

When your body reaches its end, the corruptible has put on incorruptibility, you are changed in the twinkling of an eye.


Your soul and spirit are free of their hindrances.


Love has won, and your spirit reunited with it’s giver.


Love keeps no record of wrong doing.

Thanks, Dan! 🙂

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Matt Distefano on Biblical Inerrancy

Matthew Distefano is a regular contributor on the Patheos blog ‘Unfundamentalist Christians‘, where I tend to hang out if I’m on Patheos. I’ve even had a couple of my own articles published on there. I love his insights and his thinking, which amazingly (but unsurprisingly) often gels exactly with what God has been saying to me only hours before I read Matt’s pieces.

Here’s a link to Matt’s article on the problems he has found with the idea of ‘Biblical Inerrancy‘, that is, that the Bible “…is without error or fault in all its teaching”

Click here to go to the article


If you found that item interesting, you might also like Matt’s companion article to that one, ‘Jesus is the Reason the Bible is not inerrant

 

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The Weaponization of Scripture

Here’s a great post from Mo, one of my Facebook friends:

“Jesus and the teachers of the law both quoted a lot of scripture.

“The stunning difference was in the lens through which they saw it, the lens that defined its purpose and set its context.

“The Pharisees used the scriptures to condemn, to accuse, to prove guilt. Present-day people are pros at this pastime and propose plenty of proof-text piles to penalize perpetrators.

“I’ve done this too often, sad to say.

“Jesus came to show that the entire scriptures pointed to Him (Luke 24:27), the One who came to bring healing, forgiveness, wholeness, restoration, peace and Life.

“The Pharisees “weaponized” the scriptures, while Jesus came to disarm them and bring to us an entirely new way of engaging with the world. . .

“A way informed by His Love, built on
the foundation of His Shalom.

“Selah.”

I have written on this subject before. Some people see the Bible as the Word of God, and that the ‘Word of God’ is not only the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ (Eph 6:17), but also ‘…quick and powerful, cutting [really deeply]’ (Heb 4:12). I personally have likened the idea of the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ as being the ‘Lightsaber of the Spirit‘, albeit jokingly.

But I am concerned when Christians conduct what I would call ‘friendly fire’ attacks on fellow believers by wielding the Bible as a club, sword or other weapon. As I quoted in the first of the articles in the paragraph above,

“Every time [Scripture] is used, it should be used in a way that matches the heart of God. If it is not, it is being abused.”

How true that is. The great Christian theologian and apologist, C. S. Lewis, also agreed:

A-flippin’-men to that. Yes, it is Jesus Who is the Word of God (Jn1:1), not the Bible, although it does contain some of the words of God – some of the things He said. And the Bible is, as Lewis says, is one of the devices God can use to bring us to Christ. It is so sad, then, that in these days, people use the Bible as a judgemental weapon to beat up both those in the Church, and those outside it. Is it any wonder that I get so frustrated seeing, time and again, ‘believers’ hurting others with this powerful book – albeit a book that only has real power when people agree that it has. In other words, for those that do not believe in things written in the Bible, it holds no power.

Conversely, though, the Bible holds the power both to build up or to destroy those who do believe in what the Bible says. This is why the message of inerrancy  – that the Bible is always right – is so damaging, because firstly the Bible was never intended to be always right; secondly, those who have dogmatically decided that what they believe is right are the ones who batter people over the head with their own beliefs, based on their own interpretation. That there are many ways of interpreting the Bible is beyond doubt; that is why there are tens of thousands of Chistian denominations all across this world of ours.

The damage caused by this sort of behaviour is at least twofold. Here are the two principal types of damage I can think of: firstly, those who believe the Bible is an authoritative document are led into lives of slavery and misery by those who claim to have everything all ‘right’; all their doctrines lined up neatly like ducks in a row. Secondly, people outside the Church see all this theological infighting and decide, quite rightly, that they want nothing whatever to do with this sort of thing. In a very real way, the ‘gatekeepers of Heaven‘ are shutting the doors of Heaven in men’s faces by their misuse of this book which is such a precious spiritual resource but which is misused so often, as in the Lewis quotation above.

Instead, then, let’s use the Bible as the way to build people up. Let’s use it for its primary purpose, which is to lead people to the true Word of God, Who is Jesus Christ – not in an accusatory or condemnatory way, but in portraying God as Jesus portrayed Him: full of mercy, compassion and Love. When we lift Jesus up, He draws all men to Himself (Jn 12:32).

This is so much more upbuilding than causing vast spiritual and emotional damage akin to waving a razor-sharp sword around.

Or even a lightsaber…

So, to my mind, it’s about time people stopped waving this lightsaber around like that.

They’ll have someone’s arm off….* 😉


*This is a reference to how, in most of the Star Wars movies, someone’s arm gets lopped off by a lightsaber. I have heard it jokingly said that it’s not a proper Star Wars movie unless someone loses an arm… 😉

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Jeff Turner on Righteousness and Good Works

I’m sorry to say that many Christians today think that the very best efforts of humanity, to do good, appear as ‘filthy rags’ (Is 64:6) in God’s sight. I have written on the subject before, but I’d like to say that I’m not the only modern thinker that believes that this idea is utter rubbish.

In this piece, Christian writer and theologian Jeff Turner tackles this issue with his usial clarity and insight. Over to Jeff:


“Are all of your “righteous works” *really as filthy rags?

“In short, no.

“To insult a person for poor decisions or immoral actions is one thing. But to insult them for actions that are admirable is an entirely different thing. If even your best attempts are met with mockery and derision, your soul will quickly shrivel and die.

“Today’s popular form of Christianity is a belief system that comes with a message of scorn and derision, not simply to the morally bankrupt sorts, but even to those whose hearts and souls yearn only to do good. It assures them that their best attempts at being kind, upright, decent humans appear as disgusting, filthy rags in the sight of God. It humiliates, denigrates, dehumanizes, and demoralizes, even the best among us.

“If one makes a careful read of these “filthy rags” type of passages in scripture itself, though, one won’t find the God who rubs our faces even in our successes, as though they were indistinguishable from our messes. Rather, one will find that the people being rebuked in such instances have sunk to depraved lows in their behavior, and become morally bankrupt. It’s not that even their good has become bad, but that there is no good to be had, or when there is, it’s merely an attempt at hiding greater evil. Scripture does not teach that *your every attempt at being a decent human appears as filthy rags in God’s sight, but that Israel, at particular times in her history, had embraced a mode of being in which the good was almost utterly absent. This is not the same as claiming that, from birth, even the smallest of babies is counted as a sinner, and that even the most kind, decent, loving of humans is a filthy sinner in the eyes of God!

“How awful and destructive a doctrine we spread when we make these claims!

“Listen, that people believe in anything *at all is a major accomplishment in a world like ours. That people can get themselves out of bed most mornings is an act of God. That the whole lot of us aren’t tearing one another to bloody ribbons, what with the chaos and tumult our world is in, is miraculous. Let’s be honest, that most of you are still even breathing is a feat you deserve to be commended for. To look then, upon suffering people, who are simply doing the best they can to live and get by, and tell them instead that their best attempts are vile in the sight of God, is reprehensible, and so outside the character of Christ that I think it could rightly be called satanic.

“We have our issues, to be sure, but Jesus does not come to assure us that even our struggling through life just to smile and raise our families is a disgrace in God’s sight. No. That message is a disgrace. Not you. God is near the broken-hearted and present with the suffering, struggling one. And he’s present in the form of one who is for you and on your side.

“Peace”.


Brilliant piece. I have to admit that, once upon a time, I was a judgemental Christian like that too. I believed that any good that non-Christians did was worthless. It makes me feel sick to remember that I once felt like that… but thank God He gave me the chance to change. Every good deed has value, irrespective of its source. The value of the deed is to the recipient. The homeless man doesn’t care whether the hot meal comes from a believer or a non-believer; the main thing is he gets his meal. All good things come from God. What about when Jesus said ‘if anyone gives you a cup of water because you are My disciple, he will certainly not lose his reward’? He didn’t specify any required belief structure!

No, all good deeds are good; they are not filthy rags. The context in Isaiah 64:6, where the ‘filthy rags’ comes from, is about thoe who put on righteous acts for their own sake; for show. That’s what it’s about, not about secular people’s deeds being worthless. They are indeed not worthless.

This is yet another example of how the Spirit is using modern-day prophets like Jeff, to put out there these ideas that so many other believers are hearing at the same time! Truly the Holy Spirit is at work in these days 🙂

 

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Aerobatics with Lauren Richardson

The other day, I was privileged to meet Lauren Richardson, aerobatic display Pilot and former British Female Aerobatics Champion. Lauren performs her superb routine, in her customised Pitts Special S1-S aeroplane, at airshows all over the  UK, before crowds of tens of thousands of people or more.

Lauren flying her Pitts Special aeroplane in a classic ‘knife-edge’

I also got to meet her partner, Simon Wilson, who is himself an accomplished diplay Pilot,  displaying the vintage Percival Provost at airshows all over the UK.

The gorgeous Percival Provost at Torbay Airshow, flown by Simon Wilson

Lauren and Simon are well-known in the British airshow circuit for their highly professional, sparkling displays of these two classic aircraft; displays that are so different (although both aerobatic) and each riveting each in their own unique way. Apart from their immense skill, what makes display Pilots like Lauren and Simon so special is that they have to perform their displays at a low level, typically below a maximum height of about 2,000ft, because if they went any higher than that, the crowd wouldn’t be able to see them well enough. In fact, that figure of 2,000ft is only the very apex of their manoeuvres; most of the display is actually performed much lower than that. And this kind of low-level flying, and the consequent lack of time for recovery from an error, means this: there is no such thing as a minor incident in low-level aerobatics. These guys have to get it right first time, every time; there is very little margin for error. Flying like this requires a precision that is unmatched in virtually any other type of flying, with the possible two exceptions of fast-jet operations on aircraft carriers, and low-level terrain-following flight.

Lauren has recently begun publishing ‘behind the scenes’ videos of her flying, detailing such subjects as why she loves what she does, what preparation she has to do before each display and so on. She has also started doing, well, not exactly ‘how-to’ videos, because you can’t just hop in any old aeroplane and perform these manoeuvres, but at least videos showing how she personally is handling the aeroplane in each manoeuvre. I find these videos quite fascinating, so I have showcased this video today, the second in the series, with Lauren’s permission. Here it is; enjoy!

Wisely, Lauren concludes the video with a ‘don’t do this at home’ disclaimer, which is spot on and wholly correct. You can’t do this sort of thing in a Tomahawk, a Cessna 152 or a Warrior.

I would also like to point out that not only does Lauren do public airshows, but she also performs routines of up to 12 minutes for private functions too, such as weddings, corporate functions and the like. The service Lauren provides includes all the paperwork and insurance and what-have-you, so it’s totally hassle free for you. If you’re interested in booking Lauren for your event, click the image below or follow this link for further details.

 


Picture Credits:
Header photo: Hushkit.net
Lauren’s Pitts in Knife-Edge: BritishAirshows.com
Percival Provost photo: Photozone72.org.uk
Private function photo: lauren-richardson.com

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Praise Him!

I make no apology for including yet another Terry MacAlmon song on my blog, nor indeed for it being another number in which Shauna Chanda doubles the brilliance of the piece by leading with her amazing voice and obvious love for Jesus.

This one’s called ‘Praise Him‘, by Lynn DeShazo. As usual, let the song lift you as you agree with the singers (Terry MacAlmon, Shauna Chanda and Ruth Ann Johnson) and, indeed, praise Jesus for all His goodness towards you.

Praise Him, Praise Him
Praise Him, Praise Him

We have assembled to praise the One we love
We join the chorus of the angels up above, oh yes…
They sing hosannas and praises to our King
So we lift our voices all together now and sing

Praise You, Praise You
Praise You, Praise You

We are Your children, we’re here just to seek Your face
Lord we come boldly before Your throne of Grace
To love and worship You, and listen to Your voice
You are our Father, and how our hearts rejoice

Praise You, Praise You
Praise You, Praise You

We love You, We love You
We love You, We love You

I love seeing the worship responses of the different people in the congregation. Some are actively singing with their hands lifted up. Some just standing and not singing, but just receiving. Some just sitting quietly listening, one couple sitting close together and just soaking in the worship. No self-consciousness at all, in fact; they are just concentrating on Jesus, each in their own way worshipping their Lord. This is simply beautiful, and it’s at times like that that I realise how much of an honour it is to have the privilege of leading precious people like these in their worship. This is beautiful worship, with beautiful music, to our beautiful Saviour.

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