Monthly Archives: June 2020

Don’t Relax Your Vigilance

I think this is the first time I have commented on current affairs on my blog, save as a means to leading into a lesson for those walking the path of spirituality. But today, this one is grittily practical and entirely to do with earthly things. It’s about our current worldwide plague.

Regarding Covid, there are very few people who know what dying by means of a respiratory distress illness actually looks like.

Of all the ways there are to die, It’s probably one of the worst ways to go that there is. There’s no family sitting tearfully by your bedside holding your hand. They’re not allowed in. No, you die alone, of suffocation; you’re trying to breathe but you can’t. Like when you’re gasping for breath after inhaling smoke from a bonfire, but it doesn’t stop. You can’t get a good enough breath to take away the overwhelming urge to breathe, and the panic sets in and still it doesn’t stop. There’s no escape, it’s lonely, it’s terrifying and it’s utterly, utterly terrible.

Maybe if you’re lucky there might be a nurse there, but you can’t tell it’s a human because they are gowned up to the nines in protective equipment, and they likely will not be allowed even to hold your hand.

My online and RL friends know me; I am by nature a bright optimist. I am unhealthily positive. I don’t take much seriously at all and my outlook on life is offensively flippant, and I live a pretty fearless life. So why am I writing a post like this?

Well, I need to tell you that this is the way it is, because these points I make can save lives. Look, this is not fear-mongering; I mean what do you think SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which is what Covid is part of) means if not an extremely distressing death? I’m trying to tell you how it is.

I mean, if only they’d put as much effort into showing what Covid deaths look like, as they do in putting photos of damaged lungs on cigarette packets, people might take this thing a lot more seriously.

The virus has not ‘gone away’. It may well be time to relax the rules a little, yes, but we must still be vigilant. Keep your distance. Definitely avoid crowds. Wash your hands. Cough/sneeze into a tissue. Stay away from others as far as possible and respect their right to stay away from you. Don’t assume that just because you feel more ‘comfortable’ about the virus, that others will too. Our Government don’t seem to be able to make up their minds about anything, so it is up to you to protect yourself and your family from others and to protect others from yourself too.

Wearing a mask may not protect you, but if you are infected – and you will have no way of knowing this – then it WILL protect others from you simply by deflecting the airflow around the back of your head. Masks are proven to be effective at protecting others, else why do you think surgeons wear them over the patient in the operating theatre? Don’t believe stupid conspiracy theories or ideas from the University of YouTube, but use your common sense. And don’t relax your vigilance.

I have worked in the medical field all my life: I have two degrees in microbiology; twelve years in medical research; and twenty-four years in the pharmaceutical industry, and even I don’t know what the future holds, nor do I know enough about this virus to make any prognosis or give any advice – except to say that social distancing works, as do hand-washing and all the other things I have mentioned. Basic precautions is why the infection rate hasn’t gone through the roof in the UK; we have done ok up until now, so we need to keep up the effort.

So, be sensible. Don’t relax your vigilance. Respect others. Let them live.

Edit: I’ve turned off commenting for this post. Reason: Some folks may not agree, and that’s fine. But I’m taking this seriously enough to know that some of the comments people could make may be capable of endangering lives, like people advocating not wearing masks, for instance. So, no comments on this one. I also won’t be accepting any emails about it either. This one isn’t up for discussion, I’m afraid. Thanks for understanding.

10

What’s So Bad About Sin?

For some time now, I’ve been working on some sort of ‘definition’ of ‘sin’ (which is why I put ‘sin’ in inverted commas a lot in my writings, because I am not sure it really exists; I am not sure how I would describe it even if it does; I feel that Religious people have an unhealthy obsession with it; I consider that it has been defeated by Jesus at Golgotha; and even if the Religious people are right and it does exist and is a major problem, still they have never been able to define it accurately and consistently.

Anyway, I still haven’t ‘got’ that definition yet. It’s an ongoing process, but without being too unhealthy 😉

So, here’s a great post on the subject by Ryan Harbidge, a piece which goes a long way towards explaining things, and also offers some interesting and encouraging perspectives:


I was brought to the hospital’s emergency entrance with a gruesome and painful injury. My left shoulder had become completely dislocated. My arm hung uselessly with my shoulder totally out of the socket and the pain was building to an intensity that was almost unbearable.

The emergency doctor looked at me with anger and disgust yelling, “What the hell are you doing here looking like that?  That is absolutely disgusting!  What makes you think that all of us here need to see that?  Did you think of me?  Did you consider what seeing that is doing to my well being?  Besides, it is against the law to dislocate your shoulder.  You will be punished for this!!!”

They gathered around and beat me.  The doctors and nurses knocked me off of the gurney and punched and kicked at me for what seemed like an eternity.

Hopefully at this point you are wondering, “What kind of a sick and twisted hospital is that?”  After all, this is not how patients are treated at hospitals.  The story is partially correct.  I did in fact suffer such an injury.  The treatment that I received at the hospital, however, was nothing short excellent, with caring staff who had one thing in mind for me:  The restoration of my body.  Repairing my injuries in order to make things right again. I told the story of this unmerciful hospital to make a point.  If you have been a part of either the Roman Catholic or Protestant Christian religion, you have likely been taught that God sees sin as the merciless hospital sees injury.

Where do we get this idea that sin is a moral failure—a coming short of following God’s laws?  Looking back at the history of religious development from primitive to modern times, there seems to be a commonality of fear, superstition and anthropomorphism at the heart of every religion.  In primitive times, people recognized the obvious design of nature and from that, knew that there is either a force or a person who is in control of, or at least influences what happens around them.

Kind of like at a hockey game where your favourite team wins and you happen to be wearing a certain shirt, you may assume that if you wear that shirt again, your team will win.  It becomes your “lucky shirt” and you wear it every time your team plays in order to bring your team good luck and influence their victory. The same thing happens in the development of religion. For example, you have a good hunting season after you have had a feast on the night of a full moon.  The assumption is made that the feast on that point on the lunar cycle  was an influencer in your good hunting season.  Superstition is born.

You recognize that people who are more powerful than you need to be appeased in order for you to live in peace and safety and the assumption is made that whatever force or being (let’s call this “God” for the sake of reference) who made the world you live in must also be like this, anthropomorphism is born.

Sin, therefore becomes something of an infraction of the expectations that this deity expects in order for us to enjoy safety, food and health.  A religious system of rule keeping and ceremony is born out of fear of this God in order for Him to provide for your needs. It’s a transactional relationship and anyone in the tribe who breaks the laws is assumed to be putting the whole tribe in danger and is subsequently punished.

We see this in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament scriptures.  There are three main words for “sin.”

-chaţţâ’âh chaţţâ’th: (An offence caused by falling short of someone’s expectations of behaviour)

-chêţ: (A crime.) This is also a subjective term, for example, in Deuteronomy 23:21,23 (NASBS)

“When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the LORD your God will surely require it of you.  You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God, what you have promised.”

The person in question only had to pay whatever he promised God because he promised it.  If he doesn’t pay, it is a “sin”, however if he hadn’t promised it, it wouldn’t be a sin to not pay it.

-châţâ (to miss)

Interestingly enough, looking at the masoretic texts, there seems to be an evolution of thought as to what “sin” is at some point for the Hebrew people.  It is châţâ and its corresponding imagery for “sin” which seems to make it into the language and thinking of the New Testament.  In the Septuagint, which came from much older manuscripts than the masoretic texts, we see a consistency of thought in the wording pertaining to the nature of sin.

In the Koine Greek language of the New Testament (and the LXX), we find two main words for the word “sin”.

-Hamartia: (miss the mark) This word has no moral implications.  It carries the imagery of an archer shooting an arrow at a target, but coming short of hitting the “bullseye”.

Francois DuToit, who is a Greek scholar was kind enough to send this definition of “hamartia” to me:

“The word hamartia, from ha, negative and meros, portion or form, thus to be without your allotted portion or without form, pointing to a disorientated, distorted identity; the word meros, is the stem of morphe, as in 2 Corinthians 3:18 the word metamorphe, with form, is the opposite of hamartia – without form. Sin is to live out of context with the blueprint of one’s design; to behave out of tune with God’s original harmony. Hamartia suggests anything that could possibly distract from the awareness of our likeness. See Deuteronomy 32:18, “You have forgotten the Rock that begot you and have gotten out of step with the God who danced with you!” Hebrew, khul or kheel, to dance.”

-Paraptoma:  This word gets rendered into either “transgress” or “trespass” in English. Personally, I like the imagery of “transgress” better.  The imagery seems to be more consistent with the Greek. It makes sense when you consider the words “progress” and “regress”. “Pro” means “forward motion” and of course “Re” is “backwards motion”.  The word “transgress” is a combination of the Latin words “trans” which means to “go across laterally” and “gradi” which is “to walk”.   Here’s the imagery that forms in my mind.  I think of a Canadian winter in which there is snow and ice covering the ground.  I am walking towards a goal.  I am “progressing” and am “on target”.  Suddenly, the terrain changes and I find myself walking along a side slope which is slippery.  I start sliding sideways, which takes me off course of my intended goal.  I have “transgressed”.

Now that we appear to have a completely different definition for what it means to “sin”, the big question becomes:  What is the mark we miss?  What is the goal that we slide away from?

I can no longer believe that sin has anything to do with falling short of Gods moral perfection. I have become convinced that it has everything to do with not recognizing our ontological worth and identity.

In the creation narrative of Genesis, we come away with one essential truth:  We as humans were created in the “image of God”.  We have divine origin.  We were declared by our maker to be “good”.  The Hebrew word used here is “ţôb” which means “complete, and as it should be”.

There is another interesting word in the Hebrew language and a corresponding word in Koine Greek which speak to human value. The Hebrew word is “kâbôd”.  Here is the imagery this word gives us:  Back before the invention of paper currency, if you wished to buy, say a cow for example, the worth of that animal would be equivalent to a certain weight of silver or gold.  Pretend for a moment that our economy still works this way. If you wish to purchase a live cow, in todays valuation, a cow would be worth approximately 1.8 Troy ounces of gold.  In other words, that cow has the kâbôd of 1.8 ounces of gold.

In Greek, we have similar imagery in the word “doxa”.  To understand this word, picture this:  You are at an auction.  A beige 1979 Plymouth Horizon comes up for bidding.  I know.  It’s unlikely that anyone would actually want to purchase this particular car and that there might even any of these in existence anymore, but work with me here.  The first bidder sees the chance of buying a cheap first car for his kid and offers $100.00. You see the car and it brings back a wave of nostalgia as you had a car just like this in high school. (True story for me unfortunately)  So, you offer $150.00. The bidding war is on!  Others, delusional with auction fever join in, suddenly determined to have this fine automobile.  At the end, the car is sold for an unbelievable $5000.00. Is the car worth that?  Yes.  Why?!?  Because someone was willing to pay that money for it.  Value is a very subjective thing.  Something has value because someone has demand and desire for it.  “Doxa” is the assessed value of something.

How are those two words, “kâbôd“ and “doxa” connected?  They are both translated into English as “glory”.

Read the words of Jesus high priestly prayer in John 17 with this imagery of “glory” in mind:

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, 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. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Note how Jesus says, pertaining to Himself: “you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”  Who has God given Him?  All people of course.  Yes, He acknowledges the loss of one person, presumably Judas.  This does not imply  a static or irreversible state of being.  For being lost simply makes you eligible for being found.

Near the end of this beautiful prayer, He says, “The glory (assessed value) that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.“

In other words:  “The assessed value that You have given to me I have given to them.”  Jesus, I believe is the perfect manifestation of the eternal Christ (the enfleshment of God) and thus possesses the same value as God the Father.  He has given us the same value!  How awesome is that?  And why?  So that there may be a praxis of unity.

Have you ever been in a crowd of people who are incredibly rich, famous or successful in some way that you are not?  There is a hierarchical social structure that automatically forms.  If you are of a low place in society, you don’t feel like you can approach people of higher position as equals. There cannot be unity if there is a perceived difference in the value of people in a crowd. Jesus levels the playing field between us and our maker by giving us the same value…or perhaps by restoring the value we have always had.

At the national mint where currency is printed, a $100 bill is given the value (glory) of $100.  That is the objective value it has.  No more.  No less.  If that bill falls out of its owners pocket and is dropped into a mud puddle on the road, becoming soiled, if cars drive over that bill, damaging it and tearing it, is it still worth $100?  Of course it is.  Neither its poor appearance or its lostness has altered its value.  Should you be so fortunate to find that bill, it can still be traded for something of equal value.  If you trade this $100 bill for something that is only worth $5, you have “missed the mark” and have not treated it according to its true value.

Each of us as humans have been made in Gods image.  We are declared to be good—complete—as we should be.  This is the assessed value given to us by God Himself!  Throughout our lives however, we are told that we have lesser value.  People do this.  Organizational systems do this to us. The church does this.  Ever heard of the doctrine of “original sin”?  You see, it’s much easier to create a social or systemic structure to your advantage if you can convince other people that they are worth less than you.  This is what we call the “sin of the world”.

That’s right.  Things we do like: murder, theft, coveting, lying, etc., are not sin.  They are symptoms of sin.  The real sin is this:  When you either give to another person or receive from a person or system an assessment of value which is lower than what God has already given you.  This is sin.

When you have a cold, you get a runny nose and a cough. The snot, phlegm and noise of coughing is not the cold.  The rhinovirus is.  The gross stuff that is offensive to everyone around you is simply the symptoms of the virus.

If you have been told and believe that you are ontologically flawed from the get-go, that you are worth nothing and are utterly sinful, that is how you will behave.  Your perceived, assessed value will ultimately be reflected in your behaviour. From your lowered sense of worth, comes “sinful” actions.  It is impossible to consistently live a life that reflects a value higher than what you think you are worth.  Ever wonder why so many religious people tend to fall and fall hard into a lifestyle of “sin”?  They live a disingenuous life with the belief that they are sinful, but hold themselves to a higher sense of morality, because that’s what they believe God expects of them.  It’s the same transactional mindset of primitive religion.  The problem is, that you cannot keep up the facade.  You will ultimately fail in your quest for a “moral” life. It doesn’t matter if you are a high profile preacher or just an average person.  The only difference is that the high profile guy gets noticed more.

The gospel has nothing to do with a prayer you must pray, a set of beliefs you must hold to and behaviour you must keep in order for God to be pleased enough with you that He will let you into heaven one day.  The gospel is the announcement that you have never lost your value. You are worth the same as God Himself.  You are as you should be. You are good.  The gospel is that we don’t have to live from a low valuation of self.

The words of Jesus in Luke 10:26-28 (NASBS):

“And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered, ‘You SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’  And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.’”

Jesus is not telling this inquisitive lawyer how to act in order to please God.  He is telling him how you act naturally when you behave from a knowledge of what you are already worth!  He is describing how to live as one who is fully and beautifully human!  Whenever you treat someone with kindness, whenever you refuse to respond to violence with violence, whenever you put the needs of someone else ahead of yourself, you are behaving in the most natural, truly human way. You are behaving from who you are. This is what pleases God. When we engage in relationship with Him, we participate in the healing of the world.

In the first chapter of the gospel of John, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and announces, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  That is indeed what Jesus started, but did not complete.  You see, it was important for God to become enfleshed as one of us, to bring back dignity to humanity and to restore our “glory” as humanity had completely lost sight of our value.  Jesus gives us permission to believe that we are good.  And because we are good, we can behave in a way that reflects who we are.  I believe that “taking away the sin of the world” is a task that needs to continue.  It is a job that each of us is called to. Each of us needs to communicate to other people that we come into contact with everyday that they too are priceless.  They too are created in the image of God and are complete and good as they are.  We need to participate with God in taking away the devaluation of humanity and restore proper worth revealing every person as equal.  It seems like a big job, but it really comes naturally when you live from your true self.

Once more…and if it seems like I am repeating myself, I am.  You are NOT morally depraved.  You do NOT have a sin nature.

You ARE good.  You ARE created in the image of God and share His value.  Your nature is love and you can only thrive when you participate in what is natural for you.

Repeat this to yourself every day. Change your mind about who you are and watch how your behaviour naturally shifts as you understand who you have always been!

– Ryan Harbidge, used here with his kind permission


Here is the link to the original article

20

The Free Gift

Here’s a superlative piece by Michael McElyea. I need add nothing:


Romans 6:23 begins by saying that “the wages of sin is death”…..and finishes by countering that with “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus”

I’ve heard that first part of the verse thrown AT people so many times as a threat; COMPLETELY void of its context, which is saying something incredibly liberating and empowering and truly good news.

As a matter of fact, if you read Romans chapter 5 and 6…FULLY and paying attention to what Paul is saying; you’ll find there’s ZERO mention of our choice or decision. Why?…because the context is the complete works of Christ which affect and will affect every person who’s ever lived.

We hear thrown at us….the wages of sin is death but Gods free gift is eternal life in Jesus, so invite Jesus into your heart (he’s actually already there) and make him the Lord of your life….or you will go to hell, to eternal conscious torment and torture in flames

IT DOES NOT SAY THAT AT ALL IN CONTEXT….CONTEXT IS KEY

What if “the wages of sin is death” is announcing the inherent consequences to our actions and what they will produce in this life as opposed to saying if we sin we deserve to die? (Remember it says death; not everlasting life being tortured in fire, it says DEATH)

I challenge you all to read Romans 5 and 6. Read what Paul is actually saying. See how he contrasts universal humanity “in Adam” with universal humanity “in Christ” as a result of the complete work of Jesus on behalf of all of humanity

What if there isn’t a judicial system in family?….Let me ask that again

What if….there isn’t a judicial system….in FAMILY

What if his name really is Abba…and He is a Father and Physician…. and not a Judge and we not his subjects and servants…but we (humanity) are his children….sons and daughters of the living God. Sons and daughters of heaven and eternity and glory.

What if the atonement (what happened at the cross) was totally void of violence from the Father altogether? What if it really was a victory over the Satan, sin and death, and an unveiling of His heart; as well as Him healing us of the delusions we’ve created and have also been deceived by….all of which manifested death in our lives and in the earth. Which was NOT on earth as it is in heaven….. and Jesus came to reverse the trajectory in order to bring on earth as it is in heaven.

What if we’ve been looking at this completely through the wrong lens.

The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God (for all of humanity) is eternal life in Christ….that is a conclusive statement.

It is finished….behold, I make all things new

– Michael McElyea, used with his kind permission

30

A Spiritual Smorgasbord

Smorgasbord
noun

– a buffet meal of various hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, salads, casserole dishes, meats, cheeses, etc.

– an extensive array or variety


“[When exhorted to] “read scripture as though my life depends on it”, [let me say that] my life does not depend on scripture … Scripture didn’t create me, die for me, redeem or restore me, Scripture doesn’t love me, or work all things for my good. Jesus, on a cross, reconciling and restoring all creation, not counting our sins against us, is my salvation, my friend, my redemption and lover of my soul.
– Jason Clark

“I got to the point of realizing that the divine plan is for us to eventually want goodness as if NO supreme being/force exists simultaneously knowing that they do. Otherwise, we are coerced and insincere as a result”
– Mike Liao

“…because purpose became more holistic than adding people to the total number of Christians…”
– Tom Boulton

It’s okay to ask questions. The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.
– Diana

A fool will continue to validate why they are thought a fool to begin with, yet never understand themselves why they are thought of thus.
– Anon

Don’t search Scriptures to find life in Jesus.
Instead, search Jesus to find life in Scriptures.
– Anon

But yes, she is entitled to her opinion, just as I am entitled to reject it, using the same rights she has to assert it, and round and round we go 😉 The minute I take away someone else’s right to hold an opinion, I take away my own right to hold a different opinion.
– Me

ALL Religions come from a presupposition that God doesn’t like you
– Rex Gaskey

Sin doesn’t really exist; The only way sin exists is when you look at the world through the lens of good and evil
– Jamal Jivanjee

Prayer is simply a way to bring one’s being into an awareness of the presence of a God it is never separated from. Pray or don’t pray. Your proximity to God will not change one iota, but your perception of said proximity will.
– Jeff Turner

If Grace means that God is for me, regardless of my faults, then it also means that He is for the other guy too, regardless of his faults. It can be no other way
– Me

The God in Exodus was a reflection of Moses. Nothing more and nothing less.
– Richard Maggio

Revenge is a confession of fear
– Jedi proverb

Next time you’re inclined to label someone a certain way and sum up their substance or lack of it based on a tiny snapshot of their life, stop yourself and remember you haven’t a clue where that person has been before you and they came into contact
– Anon

 

10

White Feather

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Faith, Calling, Action and Judgement

My last two articles have been about ideas on keeping our good deeds between ourselves and God; not having to be accountable to others about our good deeds or our motivations; about the judgmentalism of others; and about the depth of the true motivations behind our actions.

Rarely, though, in these times of online presence and social media, do we really have to pay the penalty for our silence and our refusal to be judged by others. Usually, we can simply hit the ‘Block’ button, and that’s the end of it. But in times past, in fact even up until very recent times, it wasn’t like that, because most interactions were face-to-face and so there was often no escape.

Today, I would like to give what is for me a deeply moving real-life example of a person who modestly chose to conceal his true self, his personal convictions and his motivations from his critics. He did this at the expense of being unjustly labelled as a coward in what was, at the time, the most humiliating way possible. And this despite his being one of the bravest men I have ever read about.

His name was Arnold Ridley.

Many of my readers (especially ones of my age or older!) will remember the legendary 1960s/70s wartime sitcom ‘Dad’s Army’. And so you’ll also remember Arnold as the actor who played the lovable old duffer ‘Private Godfrey’.  Yep, that’s the same Arnold Ridley.

Arnold Ridley as Pvt. Charles Godfrey

In one episode of Dad’s Army, ‘Branded‘, Godfrey declares that he wishes to resign from the Home Guard platoon because he realises that he could never bring himself to kill another person. He also reveals that he had been a Conscientious Objector (that is, someone who refused to fight for reasons of conscience) during the First World War, and because of this he is ostracised by some of the other members of the platoon. This is because Conscientious Objectors were thought to be ‘cowards’ by the rest of society, and so the platoon treat him as one; he is therefore effectively given the ‘white feather’ – the symbol of cowardice – by his platoon mates. Of course, some Conscientious Objectors may well have been ‘cowards’, but many if not most were simply people of high principles who stood firm on their personal beliefs, despite incredible outward pressure to conform. That takes courage at a level not often found in your average ‘coward’ 😉

Later in the episode, and at the risk of his own life, Godfrey bravely rescues his Commanding Officer, Captain Mainwaring, from being suffocated in a smoke-filled hut, and so the platoon visit Godfrey as he is recuperating in his bed at home.

Above the bed is a photo of Godfrey in uniform, and Capt. Mainwaring notices that, in the photo, Godfrey is wearing the Military Medal, a decoration for bravery in battle on land. Godfrey’s sister reveals that, during the First World War, he had volunteered to join the Medical Corps, and that he’d served as an unarmed stretcher bearer at the Battle of the Somme, and had recovered wounded men from no-man’s land under heavy fire. He tries to downplay the story and make light of his heroism, but his sister insists on telling his platoon mates the story as it was. He felt that wearing the medal would have ‘seemed rather ostentatious’ and so no-one ever knew about his courage*. ‘It does show, sir, that you can’t always go by appearances…’ are his words that close the episode.

That was Pvt Godfrey’s story.

What many don’t know is the very similar story of the man who played Godfrey, our aforementioned Arnold Ridley himself.

Arnold volunteered for the British Army on the outbreak of World War I in 1914, at the age of sixteen. Although, for medical reasons, he was not at first accepted, the following year he volunteered again and this time he was accepted.

He joined the Somerset Light Infantry, and fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. During the battle, he was severely wounded in the legs, head, back, groin and hand; he also suffered from severe shell-shock, and it is unsurprising that he was invalided home with a medical discharge.

Back in England, while out and about one day, Arnold was given a white feather – actually given a real, physical white feather – by a woman in the street who was obviously judging him for not being on the Western Front (or any other front for that matter) and participating in the fighting. He took the feather without comment, later explaining that, “I wasn’t wearing my soldier’s discharge badge. I didn’t want to advertise the fact I was a wounded soldier and I used to carry it in my pocket”. Not once did he try to justify himself, explain himself, or counter that woman’s action in any way.

My goodness. Words can’t describe that kind of courage.

And later, as if that wasn’t enough, when the Second World War began, Arnold selflessly volunteered again, and went to France in 1939 as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). I understand that Arnold almost immediately began to suffer a relapse of his shell-shock, and that if anything his experiences in France in 1939-40 were worse than those at the Somme. He was evacuated on the last ship out of Boulogne in May, 1940, having seen the catastrophic collapse of the BEF as the Nazis’ Blitzkrieg swept across France. He was demobilised from the Army on his return; however, he joined the (real!) Home Guard and also ENSA,** in which he helped to entertain the troops.

Do I really need to comment? People often ask if our modern soldiers would have the same sense of duty, modesty, honour and all those other things so characteristic of that generation; I would assume that they would, of course, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.

I’d say my main point is that it takes huge courage to not try to defend oneself against unjustified criticism. Courage that, in Arnold’s case, he’d already shown he had, and then some. Here is a very brave man who was thought to be a coward, but was actually a courageous war hero who just happened to be so modest that he didn’t let anyone know about his heroism.

It demonstrates very strongly to me that no-one has any right what. so. ever. to judge someone else. Especially to judge them for what actions the person judges them as having, or not having, carried out to the judger’s satisfaction. Arnold is a case in point; he was willing to suffer others’ negative judgements because he didn’t want to ‘blow his own trumpet; that sort of thing just wasn’t done back then. But at the same time he also had his own inner security of knowing what he really was. He preferred for his heroism to remain anonymous even at the price of being given the white feather. Now that’s real heroism.

What is is with humans judging each other all. the. time? It seems, as I said in my previous essay, that some people exist only to judge others. Well, no-one has the right to judge anyone, under any guise whatsoever. In my previous posts, I’ve been through the theology; this time it’s all about reasonable, decent standards of behaviour and common sense 😀

So, I’m going to adopt the practice of not doing my judges the honour of responding to their judgmentalism and criticism. I have only a set number of heartbeats to spend on this earth; buggered if I’m going to waste them on people who really have neither a clue, nor the right, to impose on the ‘real me’ their own impressions of what they think I am. And you too can choose to adopt that point of view, should you so wish.

No, I’m going to follow the example of the amazing Arnold Ridley, and not even answer my critics. Not out of pride, you understand, but just that nothing of my life is any of their business, and I am secure in who I am, because I know myself 😀

But what a brave guy Arnold Ridley was. You’d never have guessed it, would you? And you know what, I am absolutely sure that that is exactly the way he would have wanted it.

Grace and Peace to you


*Courage, to me, means being absolutely terrified about doing something, but going ahead and doing it anyway.

**Entertainments National Service Association, an organisation that provided entertainment for British armed forces personnel in World War II.


Useful Links

(All links will open in new tabs/windows)

Arnold Ridley’s page on Wikipedia

Arnold Ridley’s page on IMDB (Internet Movie Database)

Article about Arnold Ridley in the Daily Mail, featuring an interview with his son, Nicholas. Some of my material for this piece was obtained from that article, which is why I have written above that ‘I understand that…’ because the only thing I really trust about the Daily Mail is the date on the front 😉

Some of the material in this piece was gleaned from an article published in the Herald Express, February 12th 2020, written by Guy Henderson, and used here with his kind permission.

 

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Action Stations

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Faith, Calling, Action and Judgement

Following on from my previous post, in which I explain why it is no-one else’s business what we are doing for others, for God, or for the world in general, here’s another piece looking at the concepts from a different angle. Maybe you could see this as a companion essay, and use the ideas from both to help build your personal understanding.

First, a bit of background: as with my former post, this piece was written at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, and at a time of rioting in the USA over black people’s rights. And all over the Internet, the buzz-words and phrases are things like ‘Black lives matter’, ‘White male privilege’ and ‘Systemic racism’. Since I don’t talk politics, these concepts are not going to be the subject of my essay today.

As usual, people from all sides of the arguments – and like it or not, there is always more than one side to an argument, else there wouldn’t be an argument, would there? 😉 – all seem to expect everyone else to support their point of view. This is nothing new, of course, and is simply human nature. What I have noticed, though, is that there have been so many folks on the various social media ‘platforms’, from armchair warriors right up to actual activists, judging and shaming others whom they do not know and, of course, of whom they have no knowledge of their motivation and heart. This was reflected in my previous essay, where I expounded the freedom of the believer to follow the voice of God and so exercise their God-given freedom.

I have seen people judged for posting stuff, judged for not posting stuff, judged for posting the wrong stuff, judged for all kinds of things. I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing this. I have also seen people making false dichotomies; people twisting my beloved English language, which I personally wield as a precision instrument in my blog posts and other writings. To be honest, it makes me sick. One such example is some oik who proclaims that the idea of ‘not racist’ is not allowed; if you say you’re ‘not racist’, then you are in fact racist, however that’s supposed to work*. Great. So, now you’re not allowed to be ‘not racist’ without it being interpreted as something completely different from what it really means – the exact opposite, in fact. It’s getting to the point where there’s no need to have defined meanings for words anymore.

I understand, though, that most of these people are well-meaning folks who are trying to elicit change in society; change for the better. And for the believer who walks closely with Jesus, their refusal to go with the flow, to jump to others’ orders, or to have all their puppet strings pulled by people who are not, and never will be, their rightful Lord; this is always going to result in others’ disapproval and/or persecution. This is precisely what Jesus meant when He warned His followers about persecution, because it’s almost always the case that following Jesus means not following what others expect of you. My friend Joel put it like this, “…it’s like they’ve secretly given people jobs to do, and they’re disappointed when people don’t do the jobs (that they know nothing about)”. Someone else’s expectation of you is always going to be different a) from your own expectations of yourself, and b) from the expectations of the very next person you talk to. If you like, your ‘Action Station’, the place where you are supposed to be when there is any kind of battle going on, is the place where God tells you, not other humans. This is why it is vitally important for the believer to sit in the midst of the storm, maybe even ‘asleep on a cushion’ (Mk 4:38-40), in a state of rest from which all the actions that God Himself wants us to perform will flow. And the world, the unspiritual, will not understand this, nor can we expect them to. 1Cor 2:14-16 says this:

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
    so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.”

 -1Cor 2:14-16

We therefore cannot expect those who do not sit at Jesus’s feet, listening and learning by His Spirit, to understand our point of view on this, because it is completely alien to them. For the same reason, they are also not in a place where they are entitled to judge you, either, for your actions as guided by the Spirit. In fact, many if not most of your bog-standard ‘average’ Christians cannot understand this either – not because they are not ‘spiritual’, but simply because they haven’t learned how to do it yet. All in God’s good timing.

Let me give you an example. In 1981, I went to the Isle of Iona, a remote island in the Inner Hebrides just the other side of the Isle of Mull. The purpose of the visit was to spend a week there on a retreat at a Christian Youth Camp in one of the most holy places in the British Isles.

Sunrise over Iona Abbey, looking towards the Isle of Mull

I went there with my then-girlfriend (let’s call her Janet for the purposes of the story), who is of Scottish descent, and whose parents – both Christians – had suggested the retreat as a place for us to go to. At the age of nineteen (me) and nearly seventeen (Janet), it was quite an adventure for such a young couple to go to such a remote place, having been dropped off in Glasgow by Janet’s dad and essentially being left to fend for ourselves. But it was an incredible week; the atmosphere and the scenery on Iona and Mull are amazing, breathtaking, and spiritual all at the same time. This is one of those places where the spiritual world is very close to the surface; one of those places of the Deep Silence where you can enter your secret place very easily. I personally left a part of myself on Iona that summer; it will always hold a special place in my heart.

As usual, I digress. Sorry. The youth camp that year was run by a few people who were actually CND activists. CND is the ‘Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’, which needs no explanation, and don’t forget this was at the height of the Cold War. Their brief seemed to be to recruit a set of impressionable young people to their activism cause. I felt at the time, and, looking back on it from 39 years later, I still feel, that I didn’t think those people were Christians at all – although of course that’s not for me to judge. But, certainly, other than using a thin veil of ‘christianity’ (note the small ‘c’) to make it look acceptable to vulnerable and malleable Christian youngsters, they were after recruits. I’m not saying it was a high-pressure sales thing; it wasn’t, or at least I don’t remember it being. But it was intended to get us youngsters to go back to our homes fired up to effect change. Jesus was not mentioned in any of the discussions, except for when they used cherry-picked Bible verses to show that Jesus was a peaceful man or other stuff like that. You’d have thought a Christian youth camp would have had more ‘Jesus content’!

Iona Abbey with the Sound of Iona and Isle of Mull in the background

Anyway, at the end of the week, there was a plenary session where we all got together and had to state what we were going to do about what we’d ‘learned’ when we went back home. Now, Janet and I, even at that age, were very spiritual people. We’d each had a very real, and very personal, experience of God. We knew the Voice of the Spirit. And so, when it came to our turn to ‘declare’ to this intrusive bunch what we were going to ‘do’, we said “We’ll pray about it”.

This didn’t go down too well. We were told we were lazy, good-for-nothing; that we needed to ‘do more’, that ‘praying about it won’t actually do anything’. In their incredibly limited, blinkered, narrow and completely unspiritual ‘understanding’, they thought that we meant we would go and ‘say prayers about it’, such was the one-dimensional concept of prayer that these supposedly Christian youth leaders had. They had even less understanding than I did, a newbie Christian of just over a year’s standing. They thought we meant that we were not going to get up off our fat asses and actually do anything active. Their reaction was what would be the modern-day equivalent of the contempt that is shown for the idea of ‘thoughts and prayers’. (If you have a problem with ‘thoughts and prayers’, I understand that, and I recommend you read this article to be informed with regard to my attitude to it).

This was, in fact, a perfect example of the unspiritual mind having not even the remotest concept of the things of the Spirit. What we were going to do, in actual fact, was to determine exactly what God wanted us to do. That’s what we meant by, “We’ll pray about it”. Back then, I didn’t have the personal life-verse of John 5:19, of ‘doing what I see the Father doing’, but this was the precursor to that concept. (I actually picked that up later, in 1986, when my wife Fiona and I trained in Signs and Wonders with the Vineyard team). But that was what we meant.

And what this actually becomes in practice is incredibly powerful. You see, make no mistake, when you get a called believer, acting in the Father’s will and moving in the power of the Spirit, someone who really gets hold of God’s calling on their life; when they grab what God has given them to do and run with it with the commission, anointing and power of God behind them, then no power in this world can stop them, and the results are going to be powerful, life-changing and even sometimes world-changing. Your ‘Action Station’, if you like; the place you are called to be, is the best place to be in, in order for your life to be the most fruitful, the most fulfilling, and the place with the most joy.

In the case of the CND’s ‘call’, God made it very, very clear to Janet and I that this was not our task for that time. And so we did not do any of the things that the CND ‘christians’ told us we ‘should’ be doing, because in God there is no ‘should’. There is just running with His call in the power of the Spirit, which was what we did.

Later, I found that my calling – my ‘Action station’ – was, and is, as an encourager and as a worship leader. They kind-of go hand-in-hand 😉 . When I lived in Leeds, I was well-known, and indeed renowned, in the local area, as a man who led great worship. People came from all over the region to worship at our church because it was so good. And this is what happens when people get hold of their calling and go with it: it bears huge amounts of fruit and blessing for all who come into contact with them. So, you see, to follow the CND ‘demands’ would, for me, have been hopelessly wrong, and would have denied so many people so much blessing, particulary once Fiona joined me in my calling.

And so to come back to today’s problems, and the application of these lessons in today’s environment.

Basically, it’s this: Whatever He says, do (Jn 2:5). It’s as simple, and as liberating, as that 🙂

While it is the standard technique for all ’causes’, whether religious, sociological or political (and probably still including CND!) to try to gather large numbers of people to their ’cause’, this is not God’s way. The Spirit does work in society at large, but Her main way of working is through the hearts of individuals. That’s not to say that you ‘shouldn’t’ join a group of some sort, if that’s what God is calling you to do. But just do what He calls you to do. Jesus is your One and only Lord, not some jumped-up oik with an agenda to recruit as many people as possible. Doing ‘works of faith’ in the Kingdom of God is not about numbers; it’s about calling. Whereas the world’s emphasis is to be ‘seen to be doing’, the Kingdom’s emphasis is actually to not be seen doing anything. Note: I don’t mean to be seen not doing anything at all. I just mean that doing things in order to be seen doing them could be a misplaced motivation.

If you are not ‘doing what [you] see the Father doing’, then you are likely not going to be walking in the peace of Christ, because it will feel as though something is missing. Which in fact it is: you’re missing your calling and your fulfillment of that calling. Believe me, there is no place it’s sweeter to be in than right slap-bang in the centre of God’s will, walking in His Spirit and doing His works, whatever those works are that He’s called you to do. This is the path to true freedom. But you can’t make it up; you can’t pretend with this. You and you alone are the one who is capable of hearing God’s call on your life. God calls you by name, to a unique set of purposes and fruitfulness that are tailor-made just for you, incorporating your talents, your passions and your personality. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ with God and His ways.

For these reasons, your actions – or lack of actions – in any particular situation will be determined by your calling. You have God’s permission to listen to Him and to follow His promptings. You don’t need to feel guilty for not doing what everyone else wants you to do. That’s always going to be a different set of demands from person to person anyway, and so you’ll never be able to please everyone at the same time, and nor should you try to do so. You also don’t need to feel guilty for not doing what God wants you to do, either – all you need to do is just get on with it. It’ll feel right. If you feel you need to ‘do’ something, but you don’t know what that thing is that He wants you to do, then you have a couple of choices. The best option is to go with what you feel you want to do. That’s usually a pretty good indicator because, as we have already seen in the Scripture above, ‘…we have the mind of Christ’. Don’t let others understate the importance of that verse, or to deny its reality. If I’m honest, most Christians don’t actually believe that verse about themselves, much less for others. The other thing is to do something – anything – that will help someone else in some way. If you have been moved by someone’s plight, again, that is one of the ways in which God motivates us to ‘be Jesus’ to others, and you would be acting from compassion.

And so this is why it is so vitally important to follow God’s call on your life, and do what you see Father doing. You do not need to feel condemned or guilty because of what others say or think about you. All you need to do is to motivate any actions from the place of your rest in the Presence of God, and your knowledge of His love for you, which is the reason why you have that place of rest in the first place 😀

I’ll finish this on a flippant note.

Sadly, over the last week or so, the thing that has come most into focus for me is that it seems that the entire reason for some people’s existence is solely to judge others, and that usually from the safe side of a computer or phone keyboard.

Next time someone asks me ‘what’s the meaning of life?’ (and no-one ever has!) then, I will put that forward as a possible answer: The whole reason for your existence is simply to judge others. Get on and do it, then 😉

No way that’s right!


Header picture shows the US battleship USS Iowa firing her 16″ main battery in a full broadside to starboard. Note the way in which the wake shows that the recoil of the guns has pushed her sideways in the water, such is the colossal power generated in launching nine 2,700-lb shells (that’s over a ton each) with a muzzle velocity of at least 2,500 feet per second (depending on the type of shell being used). At the point when that photo was taken, her crew will have been at ‘Action Stations’ – everyone knowing what their job is, and in the right place to be in order to do it effectively. So, the Navigation Officer would have been in the chart room, the Captain on the Bridge, the damage control parties would be dispersed throughout the ship, and the seaman who is the gun-layer for Number 2 antiaircraft gun will have been in his seat on the Number 2 antiaircraft gun, and so on. Hence, my using this picture for the idea of ‘Action Stations’ 🙂


*I’d have liked to have posed this question to the person who unilaterally decided that to say you’re ‘not racist’ means that you actually are racist: I’d have liked to ask him, ‘Are you racist?’

He answers yes, he’s dog-meat. He answers no, he’s racist (by his own definition) and therefore he’s dog-meat. It’s a question to which all possible answers are wrong.

Get out of that one, sunshine…

 

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Flags, Drums and Trumpets

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Faith, Calling, Action and Judgement

You may have noticed that I don’t comment on political matters; usually there is enough of that going on on social media and news sites already. And today is no different; I’m still not going to comment!

What I have noticed in many people’s interpretations of the times we are living through at the moment, though, is that as usual everyone has an opinion and expects everyone else to have the same opinion. Worse, people’s hearts are being judged by complete strangers on the sole basis of what they write on social media. Some folks are confronting others and asking them what they, personally, are doing with regard to ‘getting involved’.

It concerns me that, once again, people’s innate judgmentalism is coming to the fore; it seems that yet another set of criteria have appeared by which people gleefully and angrily (both at the same time!) judge others. Instead of concentrating on what they themselves should be doing, they look to see if others are doing that same thing, and judge them if they’re not. The hypocrisy is immense.

As a note for posterity, this piece was written at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, and at a time of rioting in the USA over black people’s rights. But whatever the situations are; this principle of hypocrisy is timeless, and people who are moved by the prevailing situations will vary on the actions they perform to address those situations, if indeed they do perform any such actions. Different people react in different ways – and not all people choose to place their actions on show – or even ‘in view’ – for others to judge. Of course, our actions are not performed for others’ judgment anyway, nor are they performed for others’ approval. In essence, approval is simply the end-result of someone’s judgment anyway, in that others judge an action and decide if they approve.

You see, as I have explained in a previous article, the believer is above such human approval, and instead grows more and more to see things from God’s point of view. And that includes the actions that the person performs in response to any situation, whatever those actions may be.

Jesus said that showing off our ‘acts of righteousness’ before other humans was not a good idea (Mt 6:2). This was more in the context of not showing off how ‘spiritual’ we are for others’ approval, but you see that word there again – ‘approval’? It’s almost as if they were setting themselves up for others’ approval – and therefore favourable judgment – by being ‘spiritual’ and praying on street corners and such-like. But the meaning can also be extended to putting any ‘act of righteousness’ on display. It could be feeding the poor; standing up for black rights; giving money to good causes; all of which are good in themselves but can also be used as a ‘spiritual showing-off’ trick. “Look what I’m doing for [my choice of good cause]!”. In other words, it is inviting the ‘favourable judgment’ of others, in order to improve at least how one feels about oneself, and maybe also how others feel. And that was what He meant by “you have your reward already”.

So, personally, I have never cared what others think, nor have I ever placed myself on a pedestal for approval. And I have to say that the freedom from others’ opinions is simply incredible, although I haven’t really known it any other way. I suppose I am helped in that, having Asperger’s Syndrome, I have always considered others unable to understand my way of thinking anyway (it’s not ‘better’, it’s just ‘different’) and so I gave up trying to make others understand a long time ago.

For these reasons, then, any actions I perform will of necessity normally be secret. I will not tell anyone that I gave some money to a beggar;  I would not trumpet it out that I am standing up for this person or that person’s rights. It just wouldn’t occur to me. And I am absolutely sure that this is also the case for many millions of others too, who just silently and unobtrusively get on with their ‘works of righteousness’ without flags, drums or trumpets, and without in any way calling attention to themselves doing those things.

Note, though, that just because no-one else knows does not mean they are not ‘doing things’. Equally, it does not mean that they are ‘doing things’. What it does mean is that whatever they ‘do’ or ‘don’t do’ in the cause of righteousness is no-one else’s business, and is known only by themselves, by God, and (sometimes) by the people whom they may choose to bless by performing those actions.

Another thing is that not everyone is capable of doing things that others can do easily. For example, someone may have a disability that prevents them from being able to do things. I’m sure there are other things those people can do should they feel the inclination. But you see that principle can also be extended in that everyone does things in their own way. There is no prescribed way to help; sometimes it may look like someone is doing nothing, but the truth may well be very far from that. Or it may not. Part of a believer’s freedom is to not go along with the crowds and their expectations; as a believer, this freedom includes you too. I mean, I’m sure Jesus had many demands on His time too. But He did what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19). And that is the path to being free to make a difference: to doing what Father requires of you at the time. If you follow everyone else’s requirements, you’ll not get done what Father wants you to do. Remember there is no ‘should’ as far as a believer is concerned, because he lives in freedom.

Complete freedom as a believer becomes possible when one has shaken off the need to please humans, and this includes no longer feeling you have to justify your actions to others. As a free believer, you are above others’ judgment, and you are also above the politics and compulsions that drive them; they don’t have to drive you in the same way. Instead, if you need a ‘driving factor’, you can be free simply to let yourself be driven by doing what you see the Father doing, just as Jesus was. And if Father isn’t asking you to do something, you don’t do it.

Your life is not there to fulfil someone else’s wish list. And your life is not subject to others’ judgment or, following on from that, their condemnation. Don’t get bogged down in attempting to explain your actions to others, which can only lead to your being judged by them as they deceide whether or not your actions (or lack of them) are ‘acceptable’ in their own eyes.

Because, at the end of the day, the only Person you need to please is God.

And you do that, in any case, just by being you. That’s what Grace does.

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Faith, Calling, Action and Judgement

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Faith, Calling, Action and Judgement

Recently, there has been tremendous upheaval in the way we live our lives, what with the Coronavirus pandemic and all that it has entailed. Also, there has been much social change going on with ‘Black Lives Matter’, and its consequences and ramifications, being very much in the forefront of the news.

Now, I don’t comment on political things, nor do I comment on news things in general. But I am aware that these huge social changes have a significant impact on everyone’s lives. How, as a believer, does one navigate not just these changes in the world, but indeed any major crisis or change?

But God’s calling is still God’s calling; it is unique to each of us (Jn 21:22), and He knows what He would like each of us to do in these circumstances, for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Rom 11:29 (KJV) ). He doesn’t change His mind for the sake of human whims, so you have that security.

So how, then, does the believer determine the call of God on their lives, and how do we apply that calling in the face of intense pressure from other people to conform, to not conform, to act, to do, to not do? It’s a combination of a whirlwind of ideas and thoughts; truth and lies, with a minefield of pitfalls. Often, it seems like we just can’t put a foot right!

In order to encourage my readers, I wrote this series of blog posts outlining what I consider the believer’s position is with regard to these monumental events and how to cope with those who clamour and vie for your attention, your affirmation, and your vote. I believe there will be something in these posts to encourage everyone, although of course there may be some things you will not agree with.

And so I invite you to dine at my table with these articles: eat the meat, and spit out the bones. No-one will tell you that you are bad-mannered for doing so 😉 Please dig in to this series which touches on aspects of your faith, your calling, your actions, and the judgments of others. You will find ideas on how to conduct yourself in these difficult times, you will read inspiring examples, and you will find encouragement in your position in Christ and as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

And, all being well, you will find peace in the midst of the storm.

Grace and Peace to you.

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Too Good to be True?

My readers are probably fed up by now with the way in which I keep reiterating that there are Christians who seem to determined to wring every bit of Bad News that they can out of the Good News. Examples of such articles are here and here. I didn’t mean to rant, honest! 😀

Anyway, my dear friend Mo Thomas looks at this phenomenon in some detail in this post, where he explains some of it with refererence to identifying how he himself used to believe. And he’s right in his thinking.

Responding to Mo’s piece, I wrote a short prose filling out a few other points, which he liked. Together, I believe these two pieces make for some instructive reading, which I think goes to the heart of the pessimistic outlook of those Christians, from two different angles. That’s why I thought I’d share it here with you. It has certainly helped me to see things from their perspective!

Mo first:

Over-Exaggerating God’s Goodness

Why is there such massive pushback in our churches, perhaps even outrage, against an unconditionally loving and merciful God, whom we hope will eventually rescue and save all people? Do people just not want a successful Savior?!?

Well… it’s more complicated than that.

Many that fall into this category are simply trying to honor God by taking the scriptures seriously and literally. They aren’t purposely painting God as a genocidal murderer and cruel torturer and giver of death and disease… instead, they sincerely believe these are unfair and grossly inaccurate labels that atheists tend to hurl as accusations and caricatures. They categorically believe the Bible says what the Bible plainly says, which means that God can and does do whatever He pleases – even if this includes behavior that we would, without hesitation, know is evil.

This was me for most of my life.

Here were a few points of my previous, seriously literal, Biblical logic:

1. God is filled with both love AND wrath, and without the darkness of “violent OT” [Old Testament – Ed] God and “overseer of hell” God, Jesus’ radical love in the Gospels is diminished and perhaps even meaningless without the contrast.

2. The Gospel by definition is centered on a CHOICE that REQUIRES some are in, and some MUST BE out, or else why did Jesus die at all?? In this case, “out” means you will be banished to a place of endless horrifying torture, the just requirement of an infinitely holy God.

3. There was a certain security and even (unspoken) pride in knowing I was heading to heaven’s bliss because of something I had done or believed. It also provides a sense of belonging to be in the “in” group with all the “in” benefits, in STARK contrast with those currently excluded.

4. The parable of the vineyard highlights how furious the “early arrival” workers became when learning the Master paid the “late arrival” workers the exact same amount. It seems so very unfair to say that EVERYTHING depended on the character of the Master, REGARDLESS of how long or how hard or how sincerely anyone worked. I guess I really wanted, in some sense, for God to place a great deal of weight on my life-long diligence, knowledge, choices, and hard work when it came to receiving His benefits.

My unraveling began as the nameless, faceless people, in the stories I read and the sermons I heard, started to become humanized in my heart. These were real flesh and blood image-bearers who, according to the narrative, suffer at the hands of God, in gratuitously violent and soul-sickening ways that I simply could NOT reconcile with the character of Abba as revealed by Jesus.

I also saw that my theology had been mainly propped up on MY beliefs and MY works, rather than on Christ – Their beliefs and Their works and Their loving acceptance of me into Their heart long before my birth.

So I started asking questions, and I encountered the Holy Fire of Their Love that unveiled the terrifying and utterly beautiful nature of raw, unfiltered Grace.

(By the By… it’s IMPOSSIBLE to over-
exaggerate the Goodness of God…
you will be forgiven for trying)

 – Mo Thomas, used here with his kind and indeed enthusiastic permission

Of course, that post got me thinking. And, as so often happens when I read others’ posts, it helped me to crystallise my own thinking from over the last few months or so.

Here’s what I put:

I agree that they are trying to honour the ‘whole counsel of Scripture’, but of course even that depends on interpretation and on being able to see the whole arc of the story. For example, treating the OT Scriptures as if Jesus never came is a mistake that is all too common. We cannot give the same weight to OT Scriptures where they are superseded by the revelation of God in Christ.

Something else is that in our lives we are conditioned to believe that if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Maybe that hesitancy to believe that the incredible, [insert superlatives of choice] Good News really is as good as we claim, is based on that reluctance to believe that things can really be that good. Especially when we combine it with being told that God is Good, and holding that up against the crap that happens in the world. Evidence from civilisation suggests that God is not good, or at least if He is, then He’s not doing much about the bad stuff that happens.

For those who have experienced first-hand the goodness of God, there is no other way of seeing things except that God is indeed Good – and yes, that’s ‘all the time’ 🙂 But a combination of our fear of being let down (again), nature being red in tooth and claw, and shit being allowed to happen unchecked, and things being too good to be true, I suppose it’s no wonder that we fall short of allowing ourselves to bask in the fulness of the knowledge of just how Good the Good News really is.

So, there we are. Lots to think about there, and hopefully some understanding has been gained too.

Too Good to be True? Well, I think it was Kurt and Katy Adkins that said, “…if it is not too good to be true, then it is not the Gospel”

I think I’d agree with that 😀

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