All posts by Tony

This…

Here is a wonderful Christmas story from author Matt Miles. Never mind the glitz, the lights and the frantic spending – this is what Christmas is all about. Shades of Good King Wenceslas and all that…


It was Christmas Eve 1942. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn’t been enough money to buy me the rifle that I’d wanted for Christmas.

We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Daddy wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible. After supper was over I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Daddy to get down the old Bible.

I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, I wasn’t in much of a mood to read Scriptures. But Daddy didn’t get the Bible instead he bundled up again and went outside. I couldn’t figure it out because we had already done all the chores. I didn’t worry about it long though I was too busy wallowing in self-pity.

Soon he came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there was ice in his beard. “Come on, Matt,” he said. “Bundle up good, it’s cold out tonight.” I was really upset then. Not only wasn’t I getting the rifle for Christmas, now he was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see. We’d already done all the chores, and I couldn’t think of anything else that needed doing, especially not on a night like this. But I knew he was not very patient at one dragging one’s feet when he’d told them to do something, so I got up and put my boots back on and got my coat. Mommy gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I didn’t know what..

Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn’t going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We never hitched up this sled unless we were going to haul a big load. Daddy was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me. I wasn’t happy. When I was on, Daddy pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I followed.

“I think we’ll put on the high sideboards,” he said. “Here, help me.” The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with the high side boards on.

Then Daddy went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood – the wood I’d spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and then all Fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he doing? Finally I said something. I asked, “what are you doing?” You been by the Widow Jensen’s lately?” he asked. Mrs.Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight. Sure, I’d been by, but so what?

Yeah,” I said, “Why?”

“I rode by just today,” he said. “Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They’re out of wood, Matt.” That was all he said and then he turned and went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him. We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, he called a halt to our loading then we went to the smoke house and he took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left hand.

“What’s in the little sack?” I asked. Shoes, they’re out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a little candy.”

We rode the two miles to Mrs.Jensen’s pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what Daddy was doing. We didn’t have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn’t have any money, so why was he buying them shoes and candy? Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us; it shouldn’t have been our concern.

We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible then we took the meat and flour and shoes to the door. We knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice said, “Who is it?” “Lucas Miles, Ma’am, and my son, Matt, could we come in for a bit?”

Mrs.Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all. Mrs.Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp.

“We brought you a few things, Ma’am,” Daddy said and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then he handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children – sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last. I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks. She looked up at my Daddy like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn’t come out.

“We brought a load of wood too, Ma’am,” he said. Then turned to me and said, “Matt, go bring in enough to last awhile. Let’s get that fire up to size and heat this place up.” I wasn’t the same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat and as much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too. In my mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks with so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn’t speak.

My heart swelled within me and a joy that I’d never known before filled my soul. I had given at Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so much difference. I could see we were literally saving the lives of these people.

I soon had the fire blazing and everyone’s spirits soared. The kids started giggling when Daddy handed them each a piece of candy and Mrs.Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn’t crossed her face for a long time. She finally turned to us. “God bless you,” she said. “I know the Lord has sent you. The children and I have been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us.”

In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again. I’d never thought of my Daddy in those exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it I could see that it was probably true. I was sure that a better man than Daddy had never walked the earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Mommy and me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.

Daddy insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.

Tears were running down Widow Jensen’s face again when we stood up to leave. My Daddy took each of the kids in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn’t want us to go. I could see that they missed their Daddy and I was glad that I still had mine.

At the door he turned to Widow Jensen and said, “The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We’ll be by to get you about eleven. It’ll be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt, here, hasn’t been little for quite a spell.” I was the youngest. My two brothers and two sisters had all married and had moved away.

Mrs.Jensen nodded and said, “Thank you, Brother Miles. I don’t have to say, May the Lord bless you, I know for certain that He will.”

Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within and I didn’t even notice the cold. When we had gone a ways, Daddy turned to me and said, “Matt, I want you to know something. Your Mother and me have been tucking a little money away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn’t have quite enough.

Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years back came by to make things square. Your Mom and me were real excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I started into town this morning to do just that, but on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do. Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand.”

I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Daddy had done it. Now the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. He had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Mrs. Jensen’s face and the radiant smiles of her three children. For the rest of my life, Whenever I saw any of the Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered, and remembering brought back that same joy I felt riding home beside of my Daddy that night. He had given me much more than a rifle that night, he had given me the best Christmas of my life..
– Matt Miles

00

What Makes God God?

More from Phil Drysdale

Here’s a really interesting and profound set of ideas from the brilliant Phil Drysdale.


Do you ever stop to ponder the fact that God became a man?

We all know that when Jesus became a man He was still “fully God.”

But that makes me think…

Was Jesus in all places at once?
(No, He had to travel around and was limited to one body.)

Was Jesus all knowing?
(No: “Who touched Me?” “Only My Father knows the day”)

Was Jesus able to do all things?
(No: “He could only do a few miracles because of their unbelief” “Not My will but Yours, Father”)

The simple fact is Jesus gave up some huge things in becoming a man.

Now I’m not saying that God is not everywhere or He’s not all knowing or that He can’t do all things.

What I am saying is that if Jesus was fully God while on Earth then these things are not what make Him God.

Does God know all things? Sure. But apparently it is not required for Him to be God.

In the same way being all powerful and present everywhere are things God is capable of. But they are apparently not required for Him to be God.

It’s a huge thought. (And you are free to disagree as I’m sure many will. )

If Jesus was still fully God then you have to ask what attributes does God truly care about? What are the non-negotiable God-like qualities that He considers makes Him God?

I think we see them in the fruit of the Spirit.

Jesus doesn’t compromise on any of these attributes when He becomes man.

God is love. God is joyful. God is peaceful. God is patient. God is kind. God is good. God is faithful. God is gentle and God is self-control.

Why do we worship God?

Is it because He knows all things? Or because He is good?

Is it because He is all powerful? Or because He is love?

Is it because He everywhere? Or because He is faithful?

Again I’m not saying God doesn’t have these incredible “omni-” qualities. I’m merely saying they are apparently things that He does not consider essential like He does love, joy, goodness, faithfulness etc.

Can you imagine being Jesus and giving up certain God-like qualities so that you could be in human flesh and do all that He did for us. Talk about humility. Talk about love! (This makes us think of Philippians 2 doesn’t it!)

So today when we consider the God who resides in us… sure we will think about him being everywhere and all powerful. But hopefully we will remember that He values something much more than those things.

They are things that we too are fully able to walk in. Love, peace, joy, patience etc.

Perhaps we are made in His image more than we know.


Now that really is excellent. Ponder it; soak in it; build it in to your ways of thinking if it jives with you.

Be blessed!

10

On Boasting

I was always told, as a youngster, that it is wrong (or, at least, bad form) to boast. And of course, as a Christian, it was hammered into me that you MUST be humble, the reason given was purportedly because God gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud (Prov 3:34, Jas 4:6, 1Pet 5:5). But in my view, those who didn’t like people boasting were usually those who didn’t feel like they had anything to boast about themselves and were therefore threatened by it.

Anyhow, I no longer agree. If something is worth telling, boast away!

Don’t get me wrong; no-one likes a braggart; a proud and arrogant person who is so conceited that all he can talk about is himself. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

In fact I would go as far as to say that humility and boasting are actually unrelated. You can have a conceited person (someone who is really full of themselves) who doesn’t boast, and a humble person who does boast.

Here’s a post from an online friend of mine:

“I’m seeing a lot of posts about humility. And to be honest I’m feeling kinda pissed off about them. What is so awful about owning your strengths and talents? What is so unforgivable about going bold or being loud? The worst thing I could be is unteachable. So I’m going to laugh too loud and be too much! I’m going to think I’m pretty  ******* amazing because I’ve paid a hell of a price to be here! No more apologizing for who I am or what I can do or what I know. This is me! If that’s conceited I don’t give a ****.”

I replied thus:

I don’t really think humility is about not being open about our strengths and our gifts. I’m humble, yes, but I’m also brilliant at loads of things, and yes I do mean loads. But I am fully cognizant that it is God has gifted me with all this, and I think that to deny our gifts is to deny how brilliant God is at making us the way we are. Boasting in the Lord (as the Scripture apparently allows!) includes boasting about how God has made us, like David does in Psalm 139. The only people who have any right to feel bad about those who are gifted, are those people who haven’t yet discovered their own gifts. A proper perspective on God being the Giver of all that is Good takes away all jealousy, covetousness and envy of another’s gifts, and instead allows us to rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom 12:15) and also enjoy our own gifts at the same time. That’s why covetousness is so painful: because it blocks us from rejoicing in our own blessings including our gifts.”

As for what humility actually looks like,  consider what C. S. Lewis had to say about it in ‘Mere Chistianity’:

“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

“Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

“If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I like this quote and I think it’s spot on!

So, don’t be afraid to tell of the things God has done. Just remember to be sensitive to those who haven’t yet found their own giftings and, if you can at all do so, maybe help them to find such giftings!

Finally, here’s another thought. So many people these days, ‘believers’ and ‘unbelievers’ alike, believe either consciously or subconsciously that God is somehow a mixture of good and evil. He’s not. In God, there is no balance. His mercy is not balanced by His judgement, and His love is not balanced by His ‘holiness’ (as some Christians understand it, as meaning stand-offishness). No, He’s all good, and in Him there is no darkness.

Jeremiah 9:23-24 says this:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,

but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who practises steadfast love,
    justice and righteousness in the earth,
    for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

Now that’s something else worth boasting about!

Peace and Grace to you 🙂


Note: Some swear-words have been redacted in this piece for the sole reason that some people (not including myself) find them offensive, and I don’t want to distract such sensitive people from the message I am trying to communicate. Some people have the incredible capacity to become more focused on the swear-words than they do on the point of the article, and that’s why I am leaving the words out. I do not believe in censorship, because I know that most sensible people are perfectly capable of making their own decisions without being told what to think or what not to look at! For more information on this kind of consideration, take a look at this article.

00

And I’ll Give You Rest

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

Mt 11:28-30 (Message)

The way some Christians live their lives is a far cry from the peace and rest that Jesus talks about. Of course, if they really believe in Hell, then this should really be the consequence of that belief: a frantic, endless struggle to get those people ‘saved’ who would otherwise be candidates for the furnace of Hell.

Here’s a great piece by Jeff Turner, whose work I quote a lot on my blog. In it, he talks about how his struggles in this arena eventually led him to a place of peace and rest like Jesus describes:


I’m halfway to 72 (36).

I was a Pastor for 12 of those 36 years, and have been seriously attempting Christianity for about 23 of those 36 years.

For right around three years, I prayed 8-12 hours a day, and began and failed more forty day fasts than probably anyone else on the planet. I preached hellfire, brimstone, and, due to the strictness of God and extreme lostness of man, a mostly empty heaven. I “prophesied” until my face was covered in perspiration and my neck veins resembled tree roots. For more than a few years, I would toss and turn at night if I had not “preached” to at least one “unbeliever” that day, and would finally succumb to sleep only after being thoroughly exhausted by my guilty conscience. I’ve passed out enough tracts to paper the Great Wall of China, and spent a child’s lifetime awake, “petitioning heaven” at all night prayer vigils.

What I mean to say is, I gave extreme Christianity my best go. Not to sound arrogant, but I would be so bold as to say that I’ve only ever met a handful of people who were as intense as I was, and who actually backed up their intensity with actions.

I failed.

I hit a wall.

I realized that what I was attempting was impossible.

Christianity, that is. None of us can or will ever do it.

And so, more than ten years ago now, I learned that I could not become “like God.” But it was then that it dawned on me that I didn’t need to. God, in Jesus, has become what I am. He has exalted it (what I am) to the highest place, changed the rules of the game, and called the humanity which I was attempting to escape “like Him.” Therefore, when I simply am what I am, I am what he is. Since what I am has been glorified through the incarnation and ascension, to be me is to be like God.

Interestingly enough, once I understood this, all those virtues I tried so hard to attain seemed to appear in my life naturally. The more I knew I did not need to be anyone but myself, the more I naturally rose above some of the not-so-good aspects of my personality.

That’s just the way it works.

Call it Grace, or call it Frank for all I care. It works. When you realize you suck at Christianity, and stop trying to be a Christian, the more the nature of the Christ you adore will be diffused through your life.

In short:

We suck at this. So stop trying, and you’ll succeed.

Peace.

20

Simple Truth

A few weeks ago I went up to a sort of seminar thingy at a friend’s church in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. At the seminar, we were privileged to have Phil Drysdale as the guest speaker/facilitator for a whole day of discussion about the new things God is doing in these days.

Something I heard repeatedly in that session was this: “Once you have seen this, you can’t unsee it”. And that has been true for me these last few years.

The life-changing revelation that actually God is not mega-pissed with you as some people would like you to believe, but, in fact, that He loves you – and indeed likes you! – more than you know, and just as you are. He’s not looking for you to change before He will come and walk by your side.

He doesn’t stand far away from you because of how bad you might feel about yourself, maybe because of what others have told you. He’s not a right radgy miserable old grump up in the clouds clutching a handful of thunderbolts; no, in fact He is just like Jesus. For in Jesus Christ, everything about God lives in a human body, and in Him we too have been given everything we ever needed (Col 2:9-10). This is the completely one-sided, unfair, unearned, shocking, life-changing truth of the Gospel – which really is Good News. All of it.

Here’s the truth: if the god that people have told you about does not look just like Jesus, then it’s not the true God they have told you about. Period.

20

The Sermon You Will Never Hear!

Today I am going to let you into the Church’s big secret on tithing.

I’m going to share with you a Scripture that you will never hear preached on from any pulpit you can think of.

But first, a bit of background.

Like quite a few other doctrines*, the doctrine of ‘Tithing’ is a contentious one. It refers to the practice of giving to the Church, or whatever religious organisation a person is part of, a certain proportion of (or sometimes a set amount of) one’s income. Usually, this proportion is one tenth of one’s income.

It’s not only contentious within a group; it’s usually contentious outside the group as well, in that one of the big turn-offs for non-churchgoers is the idea that giving money to some random (and usually non-accountable) organisation is not something that sane people would do. They just can’t believe that anyone would want to do that, and they want no part of it. And I don’t blame them. I can still remember one time before I became a Christian, hearing that the Jehovah’s Witnesses** give a tenth of their income to their Organisation. My response was something like, “They do what??!!” And that sentiment is shared by many, both inside and outside the church.

Of course, there are many varied practices involved in this giving model, in fact probably about as many as there are churches. I have shared before on this subject, and it is probably worth reading at least this article before you read this present article, for a bit of background, and my lead-in for this other article for more. However the later part of that last article does go into some pretty heavy Biblical study and is probably best left alone for the time being.

Suffice it to say that many Christian denominations and organisations have of course abused the ideas around tithing and made it a legalistic practice instead of a Grace-filled one. Drawing on predictable bullying, carrot-and-stick, and straightforward prosperity-doctrine tactics, they have set up a whole mythology around tithing, usually promising good returns on one’s tithe by emphasising certain Scriptures and, of course, ripping them brutally out of their proper context to serve their own ends, and ignoring completely Jesus’s teaching on giving being a secret practice between God and Man, and not done for the approval of humans (Mt 6:1-3). I won’t even begin to go in to the convoluted arguments and justifications that money-grabbing religious organisations use to extort money and other things from their people. It’s sickening, though.

You have probably gathered by now what I think about this 😉

But let’s look at the two main Scriptures abused used by some Christian groups to ‘encourage’ (a euphemism, folks!) people to give the whole tithe (meaning the whole ten per cent, although I have never once heard a church moan about anyone giving more).

The first is, naturally, an Old Testament (OT) text; the OT of course being the number-one destination for preachers wanting to find a choice verse to introduce yet another Rule to weigh down their people with. You want Rules? Begin with the OT. This is simply because few people know much about the OT, its background, and the cultural references in there, and in any case it all sounds (and reads) very stern and forbidding, and the god of the OT is a right misery who is pretty pissed at most people for most of the time anyway.

Here’s the main verse used in this way. I’ll leave it in the KJV language to make it sound more authoritative and threatening. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the number one tithing text: Malachi 3 verses 8-12!

(Mal 3:8-12 (KJV))

There is so much wrong with using this Scripture in the typical combination manner it is usually used: the carrot-and-stick approach to tithing – the carrot being the ‘promise’ of blessings, and the stick being the promise of a ‘curse’. I’m afraid I’m not going to give an exegesis of this passage right now, because I’m trying to get to my point!

The second Scripture normally thrown at believers about tithing is in 2Cor 9:6-15, of which I will present just verses 6-11.

Note how the latter part of the preceding verse, verse 5, (2Cor 9:5) is always missed out (so they begin the reading at verse 6), verse 5 being the bit about not giving grudgingly (and this omission is excused because in the most popular translation, the NIV (New International Version) it comes before the ‘heading’ (inserted by the translators) of ‘Generosity Encouraged’).

When hearing this Scripture read out in public, you will also hear verse 7 (about ‘reluctantly or under compulsion’) being skipped over without emphasis, maybe even read in a quieter voice, or maybe faster so you don’t hear it. Or a combination of these tricks. (Yes, these deceptive practices do indeed go on! And it makes outsiders sick and repelled by the whole business). And this is how the context of this verse is destroyed. But again it’s the carrot approach – although this time no stick – but even then some people would in fact take the ‘grudgingly/reluctantly/compulsion’ bit and make it condemnatory: that it is the giver’s fault that they feel like that. But I have ranted enough. And you can believe that you will never, ever, hear or read me preaching on the subject of giving in this manner.

Now at last I want to share with you the Scripture you will never hear read publicly, at least not from someone who is after your money. Nor will you hear anyone preaching a sermon from it.

This is why I have called this post The Sermon You Will Never Hear’.

I’m not going to do any exposition on the passage; I will let you and Holy Spirit together form your own conclusions and applications for it. My purpose here is just to blow the secret wide open! 😀

It’s Deuteronomy 14, verses 22-27:

(Deut 14:22-27)

What do you make of that, then? 😉

Unsurprisingly, I have never ONCE heard anyone preach on that passage (not even the final sentence, because that would mean revealing the entire passage!), which I discovered more than two decades ago – when I was still a legalistic Christian! And a wise elder a couple of years later told me, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that he was sure I never would hear such preaching, either! And remember that many, many Christians do not read their Bibles (especially the Old Testament, of which this passage is a part); they only read the parts that their leaders tell them to, so how would they ever discover this for themselves?

But I had indeed discovered it, the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, and I decided to apply the Deut 14 teaching in my own life. This was my first step towards freedom from the onerous doctrine of tithing, and also my first step out from under legalism itself. That it also coincided with a complete loss of confidence in church leadership was simply the icing on the cake. Nobody ever told us that, despite our being a young couple living on the breadline, maybe we didn’t have to give as much as everyone else.

This kind of thing can only go on for so long. Twenty-five years ago, our ‘stewardship’ shifted from trusting others with God’s money, to deciding for ourselves where we wanted to place the money. We stopped ‘tithing’, and started setting aside money ‘for God’s Work’. Bottom line: I didn’t trust my church leadership to manage my giving for me. And I have never looked back. Good stewardship, then, means cutting out the middle man. And it also means being generous!

That’s not to say we didn’t continue to give; of course we did. It’s also not to say that I don’t give nowadays; I do. Naturally I’m not going to go into details except to say that my giving nowadays is done in the way it was always supposed to be done, as described in that 2Cor9 passage. It’s done liberally (that is, with total freedom); cheerfully; it’s done to bless others; it’s honouring to God; it’s done secretly (which I have always done; the idea of having to declare to the church how much we were giving ‘for budgeting purposes’ has always rankled with me!) and it’s done with great joy and motivated by the desire to bless people with the abundance God has given me, and continues to give me. And it’s not just in terms of money either. Work it out for yourself; I don’t want to be a model for anyone else’s giving, except in my attitudes.

And so I am sharing this secret with you today! The cat really is out of the bag, so to speak; ask your leadership about it and don’t let them wriggle off the hook until they have given you a satisfactory response!

Who knows; you may be the first person ever to preach on that Scripture!

Don’t get me wrong: it is far from my intention to use the Bible to set up any Rules for or against tithing or giving. I am neither a Biblical literalist nor a Biblical lawyer; I do not tell people what to do based on a document composed of books some of which are 4,000 years old. I don’t tell people what to do at all, in fact! Especially using Deuteronomy. As always in my blog, though, I am using the Bible as a tool to show that even where there are people who take the Bible literally and consider it inerrant, still there are passages that they use inconsistently and legalistically, and in some cases (like this one) they ignore them altogether.

Giving from a position of freedom is simply so liberating, I cannot imagine it ever being intended to be done in any other way.

Rejoice and be blessed, for the freedom of God’s children (Rom 8:21) is yours to use as you will. Never let anyone take it away from you!


*A ‘doctrine’ is a particular position or idea held to be true (and usually ‘essential belief’) by a religious – or in fact any, not just religious – group. And it’s usually restrictive rather than liberating!

**Not that I am singling out the JWs for special ‘naming and shaming’; just that they were the first organisation I had heard of that practised tithing 🙂

10

The Travesty Gospel

Most people recognise that the version of Christianity espoused in much of the Western world is a horrendous travesty of the message of peace, joy, love, healing, life and fellowship with God that Jesus actually brought.

On the surface, many Christians would claim to follow the teachings of Christ, while their daily lives fail to display the fruits of those teachings.

Nowhere else is this more apparent than in the way in which mainstream Conservative American Evangelical Christianity, which appears to be strongly associated with the GOP (Grand Old Party) Republican party. As a Brit, it seems to me that the two – Republicanism and Conservative Evangelicalism – have been mixed and intertwined such that their ideas are indistinguishable from each other. It is difficult to see where one begins and the other ends.

I have my own ideas as to how this fits in to Biblical ideas and eschatology (the study of the End Times), which I will not share here. But at the very least, it does appear that, as I said above, the ideals espoused by this religious/political stream are a far cry from Jesus’s original message.

Here then is a great video that lampoons that sort of Christianity (and deservedly so) by showing how so many of its attitudes directly contradict Jesus.

Enjoy!

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Deconstruction

‘Deconstruction’ is quite simply the shedding or ‘deconstruction’ of old belief systems and modifying or replacing them with something new. In many ways, the process of spiritual growth could be seen as a continuous deconstruction and reconstruction process as our beliefs change over the years.

But here’s an interesting thought. The people we refer to as the ‘early Church’ – the people in the book of Acts in the Bible, for example – were also essentially deconstructionists. They looked at their old ‘religion’ (if indeed they had one; just like people today, some probably didn’t) and they reinterpreted their beliefs, their viewpoints, and their Scriptures, in the light of the Risen Christ that they knew personally.

Today’s deconstructionsists are not all that different. We are reinterpreting the Scriptures and our beliefs in the light of what that same Risen Christ is telling us now, and not just to us individually, but to other believers like us, all across the world, and we are being told the same things.

This is nothing short of remarkable. And yet, given that we serve the same Jesus, it is also unsurprising.

And it’s really encouraging.

Think about it.

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Weddings

This entry is part 33 of 35 in the series Fiona

Twenty-five months ago today, my precious wife Fiona died of pancreatic cancer. She’d been fighting it for three years.

And in the midst of the horror, we chose hope over despair, joy over grief, and love over despondency. Four year ago, on 5th December, 2014, about eight months after her diagnosis, Fiona and I renewed our wedding vows together in our Church in Torquay.

Hope for healing (didn’t happen, at least not this side of the veil), hope for the ability to live life one day at a time and appreciate everything that each new day brings. Renewing our vows so that, no matter how long we had left together, we would publicly declare our commitment to each other and our intention to live out our time together in freedom, joy and love. Because of our faith in Jesus, Who died and then came back from the dead, we believed (and I stil do) that death is not the end. That kind of belief gives a person the power to live free of fear, and to live in the freedom of the moment. Not that fear and horror are not part of the ‘cancer journey’ – they are! – but that  the fear is not one of losing someone forever to ‘death the great divider’, but that our lives go on through the veil of death and on into a glorious afterlife with Jesus. And that definitely affects the way that we live our lives, including the ability to live in the light of that blazing truth.

Fiona and I were married in January, 1984, at Guiseley Baptist Church in Guiseley, West Yorkshire. In the same way that we first promised to ‘have and to hold, in sickness and health’, that promise became actual and real in the face of the ultimate sickness of terminal cancer.

I’ve scanned in some of the photos that were taken at our wedding. The header picture is one of gorgeous Fiona, here reproduced in colour:

Wasn’t she stunning? Like I’ve said elsewhere in this series, Fiona was easily the most beautiful girl I had ever set eyes on, and, for me at least, it was love at first sight. 😀

Happy days, eh? 🙂 I was twenty-one (nearly twenty-two) on our wedding day, and Fiona was nineteen (nearly twenty). I count myself the most blessed man to have had such a gorgeous, amazing, wise and clever lady as my wife, and we always agreed how glad we were that we had met when we were young so that we could spend our entire lives together. And what amazing lives we led. The sheer amount of adventure we packed into our nearly 33 years of marriage was incredible, despite me (at least while in Leeds) being in a low-paid job and raising a young family on a shoestring. We were so happy together.

Of course, the last part of the story was traumatic. Cancer has a way of changing one’s outlook and priorities, but that doesn’t have to be a change for the worst. The illness meant that although we had wanted eventually to grow old together, we knew this wasn’t going to happen, and that’s quite disappointing when you realise it. And yet, over the time of the illness, we were so close: we learned so much about life and death; God and others; illness; compassion; dedication and commitment. Truly, that time enriched us as people, and we certainly didn’t let it go to waste.

For some time, we had wanted to renew our vows, so what better time to declare our love for, and commitment to, each other, than in the face of a terrible terminal illness? On that 5th December 2014, then, we stood in front of our family and our Church family, and many of our relatives and old friends who had come hundreds of miles to be with us on our special day.

In the face of that evil illness, we lit a bright light of hope and joy. We had decided that we were not going to let the illness defeat us as people, nor to let it cloud what remaining time we had together. And it’s interesting, but we actually enjoyed our second wedding far more than we did our first. Which, I think, speaks volumes.

Here are some photos from our second wedding:

Look at her wonderful smile, and that despite the ravages of the chemotherapy and the cancer. Because we had such a great life together, I often find it hard to point to a specific event and say ‘that really made her day’ – there were so many such events! – but in this case I think I can safely indicate that this was one of those occasions. She was just so happy! As you can see on this next shot, with Fiona dancing down the aisle because she was so full of joy 😀

I’m so glad we did that renewal of vows wedding. And at the time of the publication of this article, it’s almost exactly four years since our second wedding, and I still look back on it as one of the happiest days of my life, mainly because my lovely Fiona was so happy.

And doesn’t that smile say it all? It compares very well with the one she’s wearing at our first wedding, in the top picture above!

This next point is quite personal. Just lately, I have had the experience of seeing elderly people living in a care home. And while the care home in question really is an excellent one, still it is less than ideal; there is little privacy, there is of necessity a regimented approach to mealtimes, the patients have no freedom, but to be honest what else can they do? If someone is incapable of looking after themselves, then someone has to look after them, whether that’s family, or, if unavaliable/unable/unwilling, the local care system. But it’s horrible to see, even though the staff are lovely and the care home is excellent. I find it incredibly traumatic to see it. And here’s my point: although obviously I miss Fiona greatly, it would have broken my heart to see her in a situation like that, should we in our old age have become unable to look after each other any longer. Or being separated from each other; some elderly couples are (for whatever reason) not together in the same care home. We would have found that unbearable; completely and heartbreakingly unbearable. It hurts to even think about it, but I know of course that I will be spared seeing her in that situation, and for that I’m grateful. And she too has been spared the pain of either being in that situation herself, or seeing me go through it. I mean, sure, the trauma of losing her, and that of coping with her having a terminal illness, was immense  for both of us. And in some ways I have already been through the heartbreak. But this is one heartache I will not have to face into. Fiona had the chance to live her last years in dignity and in freedom, and only for her last two weeks or so was she in a hospice – and even that was supposed to be temporary.** Maybe that sounds like I’m glad she died young – it’s not that; all I am doing is being grateful for ‘small mercies’, and finding another silver lining in the dark cloud of her loss. But I’m glad that I was spared that care home trauma, and of course I’m glad that she too has been spared it either way.

Anyway, with our second wedding, we effectively thumbed our noses at death and disaster. We declared by our actions that tragedy wasn’t going to have the last word over our happiness, and that was indeed how it worked out. Our last two years together were spent in joy and fulness, living the Kingdom life that Jesus gives, and being shining examples of joy in the face of adversity.

Fiona, my love, I love you and I miss you. Thank you so much for our second wedding, for what you said to me there, and for affirming once again that deep, deep love we shared.

It meant everything to me, and it still does.

I’ll see you soon, and then we’ll never be separated again.


*During our first wedding, it  was throwing a blizzard outside and this is why all our photos were done indoors.

**As she was going in to the hospice (for a closely-monitored pain control regime), Fiona did jokingly ask, “When people go into a hospice, do they ever come out again?” “Oh, yes!” said the nurses…but in her case, they were wrong! Even at times like that, Fiona thought it funny. Our sense of humour together was funny and flippant; I’m still like that (have been so since about 1980) and I would have it no other way 😀

In fact, I almost did even more dark humour and called this piece Two Weddings and a Funeral. For this purpose, I took a photo of Fiona’s gravestone, which I reproduce below to complete the ‘joke’. The Scripture quote is Psalm 116:7, Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you

Our family name has been redacted because I want my site to stay semi-anonymous. With disabled people in my family, and given the propensity of certain Christians to take exception to heretics like me, the last thing I want is for a mob of rampaging Pharisees to turn up on my doorstep brandishing King James Bibles 😉


I must also say that credit for the photos of the second wedding go to my friend Ella. Well done, chick 🙂

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