Category Archives: Quotations

The Throne of Grace

I subscribe to the Bible notes from the UCB (United Christian Broadcasters), based in the UK. It’s a booklet of daily devotions that they will send as a free regular subscription to anyone who asks. Or you can visit their website and read the devotional yourself on a daily basis.

Generally, there are some good bits and some not so good bits, as with any daily devotional, which is partly why they are no substitute for a decent prayer life and certainly no substitute for walking with Jesus Himself. And I appreciate the amount of effort it must take for its authors to generate inspirational reading day after day. It’s a mammoth task which I can only dimly appreciate, despite writing a (fairly) regular spiritual blog myself.

I appreciate that some of my readers may already read the Word for Today. For that reason, I wanted, reluctantly, to take issue with something I read in a recent devotional, namely the one for the 31st of March.* I am writing this only to re-encourage fellow believers who may have been discouraged by something that was written in that piece, and even than I may have taken it wrongly. If so, I apologise.

The piece is entitled ‘Grace’, and, as you know, I am a strong proponent of the nature of God’s infinite Grace extended towards all of humanity. However, there is not much in there about Grace as I understand it, as being the underserved favour of God. There’s a lot about ambulances, but nothing about the extravagant, generous, limitless, wild and free favour of our awesome God! But the passage that I really want to take issue with is this, near the end:

“…. He transported us from where we were to a place that has all the grace we’ll ever need until we go home with Him. One day God will sit on a throne of judgement where there’ll be no more grace, but until that day He’s seated on a throne of grace

What?! There’ll be no more Grace? Clearly this is definitely not Grace as I understand it. Grace is part of Who God is; it’s part of His personality, it’s not just one of the ways He works. Grace is a part of God; it’s not something He does, it’s something He is. It is part of His Character. God doesn’t change, and, just like God, Grace will go on forever.

I will say that again: Grace will go on forever.

To claim that ‘there will be no more Grace’ is not only completely wrong, it is also potentially the source of much hurt, confusion and doubt, especially for new believers. It’s a very dangerous statement to say that Grace will someday end!

If there is indeed a Judgement like the one the writers hint at – one of those judgements like a courtroom where people are found ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ – then it too will be shot through with Grace. Grace will be fully in action at the Judgement Seat! But I personally do not believe that the Final Judgement will be like that. This is our loving God Who sent His Son to die for all mankind. I’ve written before about what I believe happens after death to those who do not yet believe in Him. We are so conditioned in our time to have this awful image of an angry, judgemental God that we can think of no other kind of Last Judgement than the courtroom style of judgement. But when the Bible was written, courtrooms were not as they are now; sure, there was public justice, but I am sure it was very different from our current ‘adversarial’ judicial system. In fact, it would have been different from one town to another; from one society to another. For us to assume that the Final Judgement will be anything like an episode of ‘Crown Court‘ is simply fallacious thinking.

But I digress. Jesus said that, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life“. (John 5:24, NIV) Did you see that? “He…..will not be judged”. Why? because Grace extends even –  and especially! – to the Judgement Seat – despite what our devotional writer friends might think. Grace is God’s chance to show His amazing generosity first shown to us now as Grace, but then it will also be shown also as Grace and Mercy. Grace and Mercy are both attributes of God’s Character and they go hand in hand. Nothing personal, guys, if ever you read this, but those new in Christ need to be assured of the security of their salvation, not placed in any sort of fear of the Final Judgement. Because Jesus also said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3, NIV)

So, let’s not for one moment believe that Grace will ever end. There will indeed be Grace at the Judgement – because God is the God of Grace. No matter what we’ve done, no matter how far we think we’ve fallen, those whom Jesus has called will never – ever – lose all that He’s called them to.

Grace lasts for ever!!


*The piece is reproduced here for your reference, in case the original link ever doesn’t work, with the contended passage in bold type:

“Grace

The Bible says: ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (vv. 15-16 NIVUK 1984 Edition). Dr Tony Evans says that God’s grace is like an ambulance coming to treat you when you’ve a medical emergency. First, it dispenses immediate grace to your most serious symptoms. Then they slide you into the ambulance, which is equipped with more grace – more medical facilities to deal with your problem. Then the ambulance races to the hospital where even more grace awaits. And once you’re admitted, the hospital keeps dispensing grace until your need has been addressed and you can go home again. In the words of John Newton’s beloved hymn: ‘‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home’. One day Jesus heard our emergency call: ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner’. He came to earth, found us dying in sin, and reached down to save us. And as our High Priest, He transported us from where we were to a place that has all the grace we’ll ever need until we go home with Him. One day God will sit on a throne of judgement where there’ll be no more grace, but until that day He’s seated on a throne of grace. So anytime you fail or falter, you can ‘approach the throne of grace with confidence’ and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.”

1
0

Gehenna

One of the words which we nowadays translate as ‘hell’ is the Greek word ‘Gehenna’. In the context of Jesus’s day, it was used to refer to the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem, which was situated in a place called the Valley of Hinnom; ‘Gehenna’ is the Greek translation of that idea. Gey Ben Hinnom – The Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to give it its full (anglicised) title – was used in ancient times for idol worship and vile practices such as child sacrifices, as such it was seen as an unclean place of wastage and decay. It was of course known as somewhere to be avoided!

I’m not going to go into the whys and the wherefores of the existence or non-existence of hell, or any other discussion on the concept of the eternal destiny of human souls. Today, I want to talk about hell which is present today in real life. The concept of Gehenna is seen wherever human life is wasted, wherever precious souls are consigned to the ‘rubbish dump’ as being worthless. It’s seen when sufficient value is not attached to human lives, when people are not appreciated, where people are abused, in the bondage of slavery; either real slaves, which does go on today, let me tell you – or just people who are underpaid and whose work goes unappreciated, or people who are subjected to unjust working conditions such as zero-hours contracts.

So, I think a lot of what Gehenna means is the hell of wasted lives. There’s a bloke I know, who wrote this:

Just a little context before you think I’m getting all Southern Baptist Preacher on you…When Jesus uses the word ‘Hell’ he is referring to a place called Gehenna.  This place was known and was significant to the people of Jesus’ day – it was the rubbish dump outside of Jerusalem and was known to be always smoldering away. Really horrific things had happened there in the name of other gods and it was considered cursed. This image represented destruction, wastage, oppression.

Whatever your view on faith, I can tell you Gehenna exists. If you look around – it exists and it exists in front of our eyes.

Everyday I see lives wasted.

I see people oppressed by addiction.

I see people shackled by fear.

I see relationships stifled by insecurity or scars of the past.

I see dreams put on the shelf for another day.

I see mistrust that breeds mistrust.

I see abuse.

I see bitterness.

I see lies.

I’m not being judgmental, I’m really not – in fact, if I was to ignore these things I would be lacking in integrity and compassion. I would be shying away from responsibility by sticking my head in the sand.

Where we see the existence of Gehenna in the world, we need to lean over, stretch out a hand and drag others out of the pit of wastage and into freedom, opportunity, relationship.

We should be so close to the edge that we smell of smoke!

URL for this quote is here

(It’s worth reading the whole article too; it does have some bearing on this current post.)

I personally believe that the reason Christians are on the earth (else why not let’s all just go off to Heaven now!) is to bring the Kingdom of God forward from the future into today’s life.

Let me tell you this: ‘Life in all its fulness’ is not pie in the sky when we die, it’s grace on a plate while we wait.

It’s bringing in Jesus’s healing (physical, spiritual and relational), forgiveness and just total restoration to those who are sick and need the Doctor. I’d call that Good News! I have seen this in action in our church where we minister to the homeless, addicts and those locked in vice, and to see these people’s lives restored is nothing short of breathtaking. With all the different giftings in the church, which mesh together and provide supporting and cross-linked, God-built ministry, we really are leaning over into Gehenna and plucking them out of it and into the restoration that Jesus brings.

I have personally seen addicts’ lives restored from the brink, lives transformed, people healed and restored and delivered into fulness of life. This is really happening today in my church. Gehenna is being raided and plundered and people are being rescued – for real.

Wow! It’s brilliant what Jesus does!


Note: The header picture on this post is a shot of the Valley of Hinnom as it is today.

1
0

The Ultimate ‘Bad Witness’

One of the main stipulations that was laid on me as a new believer was that I was not to be a ‘Bad Witness’. Emphasis on the capital letters, please – a Bad Witness. Oh, Heaven forbid that any of us should be seen to be a Bad Witness! A Bad Witness was, (somewhat loosely, and never adequately defined or explained), where the believer did something that those outside the Church would see that would somehow cause them to disbelieve that Jesus is alive, that He lives in His Church, in me, and that I walked with Him. So I had to be so, so careful to ‘avoid all semblance of evil’ (1 Thess 5:22)*, especially when in the presence of unbelievers, in case they saw something that was a Bad Witness!

But actually the very worst Bad Witness is seen when Christians try to portray God in any way other than in the Love of Jesus. By being all judgemental, superior and condemning, by hating gays, by looking out for sin in others, they are being a Bad Witness. (The cartoon at the top of this post sums this up rather nicely!) We are not actually called to act in this way towards people; we are, however, called to be Christ to the people we meet. This is one reason why, at least for the sake of the ‘witness’, if you like, it is so important a) to be Christlike and b) to let Him do the transforming to make us like that, not to try to attain it by our own efforts. Trying to do things in any other way except for Jesus’s way is not going to bring Christ to those who need Him. It’s going to be a Bad Witness.

So, how do Christians manage to be such a Bad Witness?

Essentially, we do it by portraying the wrong image of God. Let me quote from a book I am reading just now, called Saints in the Arms of a Happy God’, by Jeff Turner. I have included a few illustrations too which I think emphasise Jeff’s points. Be warned: some of this reads quite negatively, but there is a purpose to this.

“Jesus Christ’s life of others-centered love and forgiveness was meant to do much more than give us a goal to shoot for. It was meant to unveil God. The Grace extended to us is the Sun that rises, giving illumination to His character. This revelation, according to Paul, does not elicit some sort of plastic, pseudo righteousness, nor does it cause us to burn ourselves out with the fever of religious performance. Rather, it brings about true, lasting change in our hearts. It motivates us to real Godly living, simply because in the light of Grace, God looks way too good to run away from, and far too friendly to fight against. When we see Him in the light of Jesus Christ our fear, anxiety, terror, and trepidation all melt into pools, and we find ourselves wondering how we could have ever been afraid of such a beautiful Father.

“Grace causes us to run from the tar pits of legalism and religious slavery, straight into the arms of a Father who, despite what we’ve been told, has never disdained or despised us. We may not have the Pharisees, with their man-made additions to the Mosaic Law among us today, but we have many teachers and preachers who have rushed in to fill the vacuum left by their absence. The same misconceptions of God abound today, though they look a little less Jewish, and a little more Evangelical.

“The sad truth is that we have all inherited a portrait of God that looks far more like Mt. Olympus than Mt. Zion, and it’s an inheritance that most are too terrified to discard. In our Western traditions God is often presented as being cold, austere, distant and judgmental. We imagine Him surrounded by dark clouds, with a scowl sprawled across his angry mug.

angry-god-wtf

He’s very eager to be pleased, but, unfortunately, extremely difficult to please. He is a hermit that is notoriously difficult to coax out of hiding and even harder to keep around because the slightest scent of sin can send him bolting for the hills in a rage. In fact, one of our imagined deity’s greatest weaknesses is His sin allergy. Wherever there are humans behaving badly, you can be sure he’ll be absent. Where there are broken people doing broken things with their broken lives, God will not be present, for in our mythology human sin works like Kryptonite against him, forcing Him to retreat and separate Himself from us.

“He is mostly sad andAngryGod1 mad, and rarely, perhaps when his enemies bite the dust, glad. He is heartbroken over our lack of devotion and disinterest in prayer, but is himself quite disinterested in the everyday events of our lives. He is a demented Santa Claus of sorts, who tightly clenches the naughty list – which we’ve all landed on, by the way – and dreams of filling our spiritual stockings with the burning coals of judgment. When he looks at [a nation], he doesn’t see individual people who desperately need love and mercy, but a widespread, faceless blob of darkness, deserving judgment. He’s sickened by our lack of fervency, repulsed by our spotty church attendance records, and gets all up in arms when our summer vacation extends over a Sunday morning. To put it simply, He’s angry.

“The God that a large percentage of us imagine and pay homage to is disgruntled, disappointed, and disapproving. While some may be fortunate enough to have imagined Him in His true state, my experience has been that 9 out of 10 people, myself included, do not see Him rightly. We’ve been subjected to hours of teachings that have subtly sown into our minds the idea that He is primarily a legal deity concerned with rights and wrongs, and this subconscious programming is absolutely killing us. I would even venture to say that it is the leading cause of anxiety, fear, discontentment, and depression among Christians. In all of this fear, turmoil, and mythology, however, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, still stands in our midst, combatting these false ideologies, and seeking to shine the light of Grace upon the face of His Daddy.”

Saints in the Arms of a Happy God: Recovering the Image of God and Man, by Jeff Turner

I know that some of this sounds really negative, but I have included it to illustrate that this is in fact exactly how many people – both inside and outside the Church – see God. Isn’t it terrible? Isn’t it tragic?

So, how and why does that awful picture of God get transferred to being the way that those outside the Church see when they see certain Christians? I believe it is because those kinds of Christians portray, and represent, God in that way because that is how they believe He is, and they try to imitate Him or at least try to be His ‘representatives’, or ‘agents’ in the world. Which is, actually, exactly what the church is called to be – each of us being Jesus to those around us – but of course the actuality is a sick and twisted version of the reality that it should be. Many Christians can’t stand to see others having fun, precisely because they believe that because God is an angry fun-sucker, who is completely concerned with making sure that nobody has fun and is obsessively repulsed by our ‘sin’, then they should represent that to the world, and so of course that’s what the outside world see.

puritans

But as Jeff Turner says in my quotation above, Jesus came to show us what God is really like. He went to parties. His first miracle was to make some really strong wine, that, yes, people probably got drunk on. The religious authorities complained at Him for precisely the same reason as today’s fun-sucking religious types did: they saw His disciples having fun! In Mark 2:18-19,  we see this story: Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them”. They thought that being acceptable to God meant being all serious all the time and following strict religious observances, whereas actually we can give God no greater honour than to enjoy, and be thankful for, all the blessings He showers on us each day.

As I have shown in my post Graven Image, Jesus came to show us that the image of God we have picked up by reading the Old Testament, and that the people of His time also believed, was incorrect. The religious authorities of the time had fallen into the same trap as many of the believers of today, the trap of believing that God is angry and must be placated by us making all kinds of sacrifices, including sacrificing the enjoyment of life itself, and the religious authorities of our time too fall into the same trap. It’s all behaviour-based rather than relationship-based. God simply wants a relationship with us! However, when we persist in perceiving God as an angry dictator, we portray Him entirely wrongly.

And so, because we serve an ‘angry god’, we try to act towards others in such a way that be believe he would act – in other words, we try to point out sin, we are bigoted and intolerant, we definitely hate gays (because God says in Deuteronomy that He hates them, doesn’t He?) and we believe that anyone who believes things even slightly differently from the things we believe is destined for eternal punishment.

This, then, is the essence of the Bad Witness!

To come back, then, to the original stipulation of not being this Bad Witness, then, let’s look at what we’ve achieved so far. We don’t do things like partying, drinking, or anything else that others might see as a Bad Witness. What should be our walk of faith is reduced to a set of do’s and don’ts. But, you see, by having such a list of do’s and don’ts, which we then expect as ‘normal behaviour’ for Christians to the world around us, we reinforce in outsiders the belief that ‘Christians don’t do these things’. And so begins, and persists, the vicious cycle of legalism that puts off those people who would so love to have all the benefits of faith in Christ, but don’t want to become like us as the price of obtaining all those benefits. We live under the rules taught by other fallible men, we impose those rules on those in the Church, those outside see those rules and (quite rightly) want no part of it, and we are a Bad Witness. Isn’t it funny? Those ‘outside’ know perfectly well that we are doing things in the wrong way; we just don’t realise it ourselves!

Dont_Follow_Rules_Taught_by_Men

And so people in the world have expectations of what they think Christians should do, look like, behave like, and believe. And even then, that opinion varies from person to person. So it’s actually impossible at best, and destructive at worst, to try not to be a Bad Witness, only except by portraying God as a loving, benevolent Father like Jesus portrayed him.

It must be almost completely apparent by now that it’s time we stopped, as a church, trying to please humans. Because of all the above, you can’t please men. But if instead we please God, by displaying the qualities of Jesus to others, by being Jesus to others, then that will be the opposite of the Bad Witness.

Jesus said ‘by this shall all men know you are my disciples, that you love each other’ (Jn 13:35). Love each other. Love those both outside and inside the Church. Live a life of freedom, not of bondage to man-made rules and regulations.

This is how others will know we are His disciples. Not by our trying to avoid being a Bad Witness!


Jeremy Myers, of the blog Redeeming God, has published an article in which he frames this concept as an apology to the world outside the Church. Click the image below to go to that article:

Redeeming God logo


*Although actually the Scripture says ‘avoiding all kinds of evil’ – somewhat less useful to the legalism brigade!

0
0

The Fruit of the Spirit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
– Galatians 5:22-23

I wanted to share today about the Fruit of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. If we allow the Spirit to live in our lives, to live His Life through us, we will become more like Jesus, (2 Cor 3:18 and Romans 12:2), and incidentally we will also become the people we should always have been. (On an individual level, this means you becoming more the person you always wanted to be!) That is, good, decent people who live in the power of the Kingdom on a daily basis, loving God and loving others. In short, we exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit.

So, how do we grow this fruit in our lives? The really interesting thing is that, just like soaring on wings like eagles, it is really effortless. You only need to spend time walking with Jesus in order for this fruit to appear virtually without you noticing it. The really odd thing about this fruit is that it usually takes others to recognise it; we generally do not recognise it in ourselves, unless we one day look back at how far we have come, and how much we have changed. And even then it comes as a surprise.

C. S. Lewis once wrote a similar thing about the quality of ‘humility’ (which does not mean being all mousey and submissive, but instead means having gentleness combined with strength). Here’s what he wrote:

lewis_smDo 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

“…he will not be thinking about himself at all.” That’s the key. It’s probably why he doesn’t notice the Fruit in his own life; he’s looking to God and outwards to others, and not at himself at all.

And let me tell you something else: the Fruit of the Spirit is the strongest and most compelling evidence for the work of God’s Grace in the believer’s life. I can think of many people I know, from homeless people ministered to by our Church, to members of my own family, whose lives have been radically infused with the Fruit of the Spirit. They didn’t try for this to happen; they didn’t strive for perfection; they didn’t suddenly decide one day to start following a set of rules or adopt a certain formula. They just walked with Jesus, and the Fruit appeared naturally all of its own accord.

And that’s the way it should be. Walk with Jesus, and you will become the person you always wanted to be, and that you always should have been. And you’ll bear the Fruit of the Spirit.

Which is no bad thing….

0
0

High Flight, with FAA Supplement…

In the light of my post of a few days ago, you might like this humorous annotated version of the poem ‘High Flight‘, after the national regulatory authority bureaucrats have got hold of it (For information, the FAA is the US equivalent of the UK’s CAA)

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth(1),
And danced(2) the skies on laughter silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed(3) and joined the tumbling mirth(4)
Of sun-split clouds(5) and done a hundred things(6)
You have not dreamed of — Wheeled and soared and swung(7)
High in the sunlit silence(8). Hov’ring there(9)
I’ve chased the shouting wind(10) along and flung(11)
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious(12), burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights(13) with easy grace,
Where never lark, or even eagle(14) flew;
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space(15),
Put out my hand(16), and touched the face of God.

NOTE:

1. Pilots must insure that all surly bonds have been slipped entirely before aircraft taxi or flight is attempted.
2. During periods of severe sky dancing, crew and passengers must keep seatbelts fastened. Crew should wear shoulderbelts as provided.
3. Sunward climbs must not exceed the maximum permitted aircraft ceiling.
4. Passenger aircraft are prohibited from joining the tumbling mirth.
5. Pilots flying through sun-split clouds under VFR conditions must comply with all applicable minimum clearances.
6. Do not perform these hundred things in front of Federal Aviation Administration inspectors.
7. Wheeling, soaring, and swinging will not be attempted except in aircraft rated for such activities and within utility class weight limits.
8. Be advised that sunlit silence will occur only when a major engine malfunction has occurred.
9. “Hov’ring there” will constitute a highly reliable signal that a flight emergency is imminent.
10. Forecasts of shouting winds are available from the local FSS. Encounters with unexpected shouting winds should be reported by pilots.
11. Pilots flinging eager craft through footless halls of air are reminded that they alone are responsible for maintaining separation from other eager craft.
12. Should any crewmember or passenger experience delirium while in the burning blue, submit an irregularity report upon flight termination.
13. Windswept heights will be topped by a minimum of 1,000 feet to maintain VFR minimum separations.
14. Aircraft engine ingestion of, or impact with, larks or eagles should be reported to the FAA and the appropriate aircraft maintenance facility.
15. Aircraft operating in the high untresspassed sanctity of space must remain in IFR flight regardless of meteorological conditions and visibility.
16. Pilots and passengers are reminded that opening doors or windows in order to touch the face of God may result in loss of cabin pressure.

– From Great Aviation Quotes

stock-footage-winter-high-altitude-ice-clouds-low-light-cloudscapes-these-are-real-organic-clouds-shot-from-a

0
0

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

– John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

magee

 


During the desperate days of the Battle of Britain, hundreds of Americans crossed the border into Canada to enlist with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Knowingly breaking the law, but with the tacit approval of the then still officially neutral United States Government, they volunteered to fight the Nazis.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr., was one such American. Born in Shanghai, China, in 1922 to an English mother and a Scottish-Irish-American father, Magee was 18 years old when he entered flight training. Within the year, he was sent to England and posted to the newly formed No 412 Fighter Squadron, RCAF, which was activated at Digby, England, on 30 June 1941. He was qualified on and flew the Supermarine Spitfire.

Flying fighter sweeps over France and air defense over England against the German Luftwaffe, he rose to the rank of Pilot Officer.

On 3 September 1941, Magee flew a high altitude (30,000 feet) test flight in a newer model of the Spitfire V. As he orbited and climbed upward, he was struck with the inspiration of a poem — “To touch the face of God.”

Once back on the ground, he wrote a letter to his parents. In it he commented, “I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed.” On the back of the letter, he jotted down his poem, ‘High Flight.’

Just three months later, on 11 December 1941 (and only three days after the US entered the war), Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., was killed. The Spitfire V he was flying, VZ-H, collided with an Oxford Trainer from Cranwell Airfield. The mid-air happened over the village of Roxholm which lies between RAF Cranwell and RAF Digby, in the county of Lincolnshire at about 400 feet AGL at 11:30. John was descending in the clouds. At the enquiry a farmer testified that he saw the Spitfire pilot struggle to push back the canopy. The pilot, he said, finally stood up to jump from the plane. John, however, was too close to the ground for his parachute to open and he was killed instantly. He was 19 years old.

– Quoted from ‘Great Aviation Quotes

This poem has been the inspiration for countless pilots in the just over 100 years that powered flight has been in existence. Its verses beautifully capture the limitless joy of dancing your aeroplane among the clouds; indeed, I personally have ‘done a hundred things You have not dreamed of ‘ up there in the sky. I know what this feels like; that poem could have been written from my own heart (except that I don’t ‘do’ poetry!)

Which leads me to another great paragraph that sums up flying and a pilot’s responsibility:

The ultimate  responsibility of the pilot is to fulfill the dreams of
the countless millions of earthbound ancestors who could only stare skyward
and  wish.

-Anon

Anyway, I’m going flying right now. See ya!

IMG_0148‘Up, up the long, delirious burning blue…’ (Photo taken at 6,000 feet over Cornwall, 26th August 2013 by my daughter, with myself as Pilot in Command)

Epilogue: Pictures and videos from today’s flight

0
0

How the Church Should Treat Gay People

In the book I’m reading at the moment, ‘Disarming Scripture’ by David Flood, the author asserts that the correct way to read Scripture is to focus on the loving interpretation. If your interpretation of a passage results in doing harm rather than good, the chances are you’re not interpreting it as God intended. Essentially this is a way of interpreting ‘By their fruits you shall know them’ – (Matthew 7:16 – “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (NLT))

In few areas today is this more important than that of how the Church treat homosexual people and other folks with ‘different’ sexualities. I’ve previously posted on this matter here. And in this post I keep it simple by referring to people in the LGBTQ ‘community’ as ‘gay’. I know this is incorrect, but it’s simpler for me. My apologies.

Another bit of background before going over to Flood’s piece: Flood asserts that when modern discoveries find evidence for certain effects, such as the terrible effects of treating homosexual people badly, we should not be concerned that we are challenging the Bible. When the Bible was written, humanity simply did not have the same knowledge we have these days. To claim that the Bible holds all the answers is simply incorrect; it is simply not big enough! We need to interpret the Bible not only through the ‘lens of Love’, but also in the light of modern discoveries, both scientific and sociological. To do otherwise is to remain stuck in an unchanging past, much as many Christians accuse Islam of doing.

Right. Over to David Flood:

“I would argue that it would be more important to observe the effects that same-sex relationships have in life today, than it would be to ask what the respective views of past cultures may have been. Do we find evidence that same-sex relationships lead to harm or that they lead to flourishing? The overwhelming majority of social scientists and mental health practitioners today would maintain that there is simply no evidence that same-sex relationships are destructive or harmful in and of themselves.

“Conversely, what we can observe, as far as harm is concerned, is that statistically the LGBT community has a higher rate of drug abuse, mental illness, and suicide than the larger population—alarmingly higher in fact. The reason is quite clear: the rejection they experience.

“Being kicked out of their homes, hiding who they are, being threatened and hated, etc. can easily make a person sick, depressed, broken, and even drive them to suicide. As their voices have begun to be heard, we have seen story after story of how gay and transgender kids have felt hated, at times even hating themselves.

“That really should be a wakeup call for us. While there is no evidence that same-sex relationships are themselves harmful, there is a considerable amount of evidence that the condemnation and rejection the LGBT community faces is profoundly harmful.

“Regardless of whether we believe homosexuality is right or wrong, none of that matters much when people are dying. If we truly care about people, then the practical question straight Christians need to be asking is: Are we helping or hurting with the way we are responding to gays? Are we promoting grace or promoting harm? If it turns out that a moral stance in opposition to homosexuality is having the unintended affect of fueling this kind of rejection, leading to self-hatred and even suicide among gays, then we need to seriously re-think our priorities and focus.

“We can of course argue over what the Bible says about homosexuality, but one thing is utterly clear: Jesus teaches us to love people, not to hate them, not to make them feel hated, and not to stand by while that is happening. From the perspective of the New Testament there simply is no room for doubt on this. We know exactly where Jesus stands in this regard. He stands on the side of the least, the condemned, the vulnerable.

“Looking at Jesus, we can clearly observe in the Gospels that his priority was on caring for the welfare of people, in contrast to the Pharisees who instead prioritized the maintenance of their moral standards. We need to get our priorities straight and prioritize compassion in our witness towards gays—even if that means, like Jesus, having the reputation among the Pharisees of today of being a ‘friend of sinners.’

“Again, as stated above, if we recognize that our particular interpretation and application of Scripture is leading to observable harm, this necessarily means that we need to stop and reassess our course. Scripture, as Jesus read it, needs to lead us to love God, others, and ourselves. If we find that it is leading instead to causing harm then we are getting it wrong.”

And I would also add that surely the requirement to ‘do as you would be done by’ (Matthew 7:12 – “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (NIV)) must occur to some. Would you, if you were convinced of the rightness of your cause, appreciate it if someone came along and told you how ‘wrong’ or ‘sinful’ you were? Certainly this is no way to open a dialogue that will bear any useful fruit! But it is a dialogue that must be opened; Christians need to discuss this rationally and with a non-confrontational mindset. And do it soon. (Thanks to Rob, one of my Men of Honour, for discussing that with me this evening!)

And for those who would say, ‘Ah, but isn’t it more loving to try to correct gay people in their error?’, firstly I would say that it is by no means certain that the Bible actually condemns homosexuality, or, indeed, any form of ‘non-standard’ sexuality. Therefore we should default to ‘Love’ while we get our interpretations sorted out (see this post). Secondly, unless you are in an already existing, good relationship with that person, you should not attempt to correct them at all. See my post, ‘confrontation’, for more thoughts on this important matter.

How to treat gay people? It’s really simple: you treat them like you would anyone else. They’re normal people. We shouldn’t even have to be talking about this, but I’m writing this piece because for some Christians this is a really huge issue. Take a step back and look at yourself, study the contexts, read opinions and scholarly articles….there is reasonable doubt that Christians have been wrong all this time! God has given you a mind – use it!

In the meantime, Love. That’s Jesus’s number one commandment.

0
0

On the Interpretation of Scripture

I’ve recently been reading an excellent book on reading the Bible the way that Jesus would have done in His time with the Hebrew Scriptures – more or less what we now know as the Old Testament. It’s called ‘Disarming Scripture’, by Derek Flood. There’s a link to a review and a summary of the book here. You can also click the image below to be taken to the Amazon page for the book in all its versions (Kindle, hardback etc.)

disarming_scripture

When studying the Bible, there are several factors which most studious readers consider.

There’s the context, in which the passage is considered in its setting within the book it is part of. So, a passage from, say, one of Paul’s letters, must be read a) remembering that this is a letter to real people, and b) taking into account the surrounding verses.

Then there’s hermeneutics and exegesis, which are related terms concerning the philosphy,  interpretation and drawing out the meaning of the text.

It can get quite complex, actually. How do I know that I’m getting the ‘meaning’ I’m supposed to be getting from the Bible passage I’m reading? What if I’m reading this and getting the ‘wrong’ meaning?

I know people who have a simple faith. They don’t need deep study; they know Jesus intimately, they read their Bibles and they live their lives for him and bear fruit. They don’t need hermeneutics or anything like that; they do very well just reading their Bibles just ‘lightly’, if you see what I mean. No deep meaning, no years at Bible college. It’s simple. It’s called ‘common plain meaning’, or ‘plain reading’. You simply take in what the English (or whatever language you have) words mean as written in your copy of the Bible, and God speaks to you.

This is perfectly ok for personal faith and personal study. Simply let the Holy Spirit let you know what He wants you to get from a passage. Jesus says in John 16:13 that, “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into all truth.” And, in John 14:26 He says, “But … the Holy Spirit …  will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you”. You know that burning sensation you get in your chest when the Spirit is speaking to you? Or maybe you feel Him differently; either way, you know that feeling you get when He’s speaking, and then the things He says to you come to pass…anyway if you get that feeling when reading a particular passage, then that’s a good sign that He’s telling you something. Listen. Take in what He’s saying. No problem.

As long as what you believe from the Bible affects only you, internally and spiritually, that’s fine. When it impacts on others, though – the minute your Scripture reading affects the way you relate to others, the way you treat others – that’s when you need to be absolutely sure that you know what that Scripture means.

So, when you formulate doctrine, or use the Bible to set rules (not that you should), customs, standards of behaviour, then that’s where the second level of interpretation comes in. That’s when you really need the hermeneutics and all the other fancy words. So many Christians take what God has spoken to them and assume He means it for all – but that’s not always the case; in fact, the things that God speaks to you in your personal time with Him are almost always for you and you alone. And remember that the Scripture was never intended to be a book of rules…the times when the Bible was written were very different from the time in which we live. It did not fall from the sky as a timeless document of rules that should apply at all times and to all people everywhere and everywhen!

To try to apply the Bible as a moral map today is therefore inviting disaster if the original passages are not properly understood, taking into account the original language, the hermeneutics, exegesis and cultural and historical context, and even then we should hesitate to formulate rules or behavioural standards from it, and try to apply them to the people under our care…and especially not to the people who are not under our care.

The way to apply the Bible in a moral sense today is to take its trajectory – that is, the way it points us; its general direction – and apply the sense of it and not the letter of the law as we see it. In fact, the Bible, and especially the Old Testament, is written in such a way that the Law is in constant tension with God’s Mercy. It is actually assumed that we are supposed to wrestle with the things of God; we are supposed to grab hold of the difficult questions and thrash them out until we get God’s take on them. This is why the Bible is so full of anger and violence, and yet also of love and mercy. This is why the Bible appears to contradict itself. And, because it was written by real humans who had a different yet particular views of God, and were trying to make sense of everything they saw around them in those primitive times of violence and tribal warfare.

Over the centuries, so many atrocities have been done in God’s name precisely because what it says in English is applied as authoritative, and ignoring the hermeneutics of the passage in question. We need to apply what is called ‘faithful questioning’. Feel free to wrestle with God’s word with a clear conscience!

We must also always read Scripture through the lens of God’s love. If you feel the Bible is suggesting a particular course of action that is not also loving, then chances are it’s not what God wants. It is the responsibility of every reader of the Bible to weigh the passage in a moral sense. That way lies proper balance; that way is the way of peace – the way of Jesus.

Let me leave you with a quotation from ‘Disarming Scripture’:

The true beauty of the Hebrew Bible is that it welcomes and makes room for diversity, and for the marginal voices to be heard. We honor this by entering ourselves into an ethical reading and critical engagement with the text.

“This involves our questioning and challenging the Bible, but it equally involves allowing ourselves to be challenged and stretched by it as well. It demonstrates that truth is found in the struggle together – that questioning is the mark of a healthy faith, and the reflection of a robust character. To honour this in Scripture, we need to learn to approach the Bible not as passive readers, but as morally engaged and thinking readers. That is the hermeneutic of faithful questioning.”

 

 

0
0

“I thought my job was to stop people’s sin”

I once read in someone else’s blog, “I thought my job was to stop people’s sin.”

Actually this is much of the problem right here. Because deciding what is sin and what is not depends almost entirely upon judging. Judging others and judging their actions, their proclivities and inclinations; in fact, by inference, judging their hearts. Which of course only God can do. This is key; I’d even say it’s actually the nub of the problem.

We need to be careful, though, of judging those who judge. In the same way as we are railing against, their actions too are subject only to the judgement of God, because only He knows their hearts.

In that blog, a responder said ‘I pray our hearts join to bind up the brokenhearted and restore their hope in the Body of Christ as a place of healing, refuge, strength and joy!’ and on the back of this, I would also say that those who judge are also in need of being healed and restored. They too need to be released into the “glorious freedom of the Children of God”. (Romans 8:21)

But we certainly should not judge them – else we are just as guilty. Instead, ‘Pray for those who persecute you’.

Just as an addendum, to those who would say ‘sin is sin, and that’s all there is to it’, I would say that very often what appears right to some people might appear wrong to others. It’s not our job to decide what is sin for others, only for ourselves; indeed Scripture is (I think deliberately) not all that clear in terms of specifics – there are no real ‘lists’ of what is ‘sin’. Granted, there are lists of ‘fruits of the sinful nature’, but  that’s not the same thing; the essential right/wrong decisions are based on letting the Peace of Christ rule in our hearts. And who are we to judge someone else’s faith? We are only answerable to the Master in that regard. (Romans 14:4)

Indeed, I believe that in fact it takes a stronger faith to be openly a ‘different’ Christian – a Christian who does not necessarily agree with what everyone else believes – than it does to just go along with the masses. Because then you are really standing up for what you believe in, in the face of social and religious rejection.

Just like Jesus did.

0
0

The Call to Love

I’ve just read on another blog this excellent quote:

“It doesn’t bother me what [a well-known Christian speaker] or [another well-known Christian speaker] thinks, because I am 100% sure that after I die, no one is going to ask me why I didn’t hate more people.”

Let me tell you this: that posting was on a forum where lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and/or ‘queer/questioning’ (LGBTQ) people are affirmed.

I appreciate that many Christians feel it is their place, for a variety of reasons, to point out that being an LGBTQ person, or living an LGBTQ lifestyle, is wrong/sinful/whatever.

Actually, the Bible does not condemn homosexuality or any of these ‘different’ sexualities. There are many learned, Bible-believing, Spirit-filled scholars who consider that the ‘clobber-passages’ – the six main Bible passages used to ‘prove’ that homosexuality (etc.) is ‘wrong’ – are actually misunderstood both in their contexts and in their translation. (Click here for links to some excellent examples of such scholarliness) This means that there is realistic doubt that in fact the Bible means what we thought it meant in this regard. And surely, if there is any doubt whatsoever, we should give these people, many of whom are believers themselves, the benefit of that doubt. Default to the ‘Love’ setting; do not judge, do not condemn. We have no right even to judge others, never mind to condemn them!

You know, Jesus said that the Law boils down to only two commandments: Love God, and love your neighbour. (Lk 10:27 and Mk 12:30-31).

Most, if not all the time, people’s attempts to put LGBTQ people ‘right’, is manifested as hatred, intolerance, bigotry and downright nastiness. And I’m not just talking about Christians now (but really they should know better), but about all kinds of people in all walks of life.

Now is the time that God is calling us, the Church, to show that we are radically different from the World. We like to think we are different; now’s the time to prove it!

God’s command is simply to Love. Not to judge, not to ‘correct’, not to hate, but to Love. Love as you have been loved. Love as God loves you. Show others the Love He has given you by being like that to those around you.

Jesus came to rescue the downtrodden, the weak and helpless, the rejects of society. Today this equates to the homeless, the poor, and those whom society rejects…. including and especially LGBTQ people.

Remember, God does not call us to hate, no matter how much we feel it’s justified.

He calls us to Love.

“I am 100% sure that after I die, no one is going to ask me why I didn’t hate more people”.

True words indeed. Love them. Love them as you love yourself. That’s the commandment.

 

 

0
0