Cycle of Grace/Cycle of Law

My regular readers will be familiar with my strong emphasis on Grace. Grace is the undeserved, unearned favour of God; not that we don’t deserve it because of stuff we’ve done, but undeserved because we have not earned it – and indeed we don’t need to earn it! It’s entirely because of God’s Love, generosity, favour and just because He likes us that He showers – lavishes! – His Presence, His Love and His favour on us.

And this leads to freedom. The freedom of knowing that there’s nothing we need to do – indeed nothing we can do – to ‘make’ God love us any more than He does already. He already accepts us and loves us completely.

In this article, Mike Douglas explains how the ‘Cycle of Grace’ is the exact opposits of the ‘Cycle of Law’, and how it takes a mental attitude shift in order to enact this in our lives. I have heard that sort of ‘changing of the mind’ as being called ‘Repentance’; this is indeed what it is.

Click this link or the image below to go to the article:

 

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Pick Your Battles!

Previously, I have written on the subject of why I debate on the Christian forums, and also why sometimes it’s best to disengage for a while.

Today, I want to make that a ‘trilogy’ and give you (and me) permission to not engage in nonproductive arguments!

You know, in 1Pet 3:15, it says, “Always be prepared to give a defence to everyone who asks you to explain the hope you have, but do this with gentleness and respect”

And I think sometimes that many of us, myself included, take this as meaning that we are not allowed to pick our battles. Sometimes we need to say, ‘This is not a battle I should be fighting’, and this Scripture should not prevent us from saying just that.

We often think that unless we have an answer ready – and usually a shallow, trite answer will do – that we are somehow not obeying this ‘commandment’. And so we engage with every single demand that those who believe different things throw at us.

Well, let me tell you that actually that verse is not a commandment at all. St. Peter, or whoever it actually was that wrote that letter (there is apparently some doubt), was not in a position to give out commandments. Neither was St. Paul, for that matter. Neither of them was God. Anything in the Epistles that looks like a commandment, then, is nothing of the sort; they are more suggestions or guidelines or maybe just simple practical advice. Otherwise we’d all have to ‘take a little wine’ (1Tim 5:23) every time our tummy is unwell! Of course, guidelines in the hands of Legalists always turn into Rules, but I digress even more…

So, then, please remember this: you do not have to engage *every* naysayer, fake-questioner (those who ask ‘questions’ that are simply formulated to set you up), those who would question your salvation. You do not have to try to prove people wrong, prove yourself right, or indeed prove anything. Be sensitive to the Spirit of God within you; if you feel She is saying, Yes, speak a word in due season here, then do so. If you don’t get that prompt, do not engage. There are more important things to do than engaging in fruitless dialogue (or often it’s just two monologues going on).

Feel free to block people who annoy you. Civilized debate is one thing; nasty people is something else. This is not cowardice; this is sanity! I have decided that from now on I am going to block people freely – not those who disagree with me, for decent debate is great – but those who are destructive, energy-sapping and soul-destroying. To engage with these people is folly.

Don’t give dogs what is sacred (Mt 7:6), and that includes your time!

“Choose your battles wisely. After all, life isn’t measured by how many times you stood up to fight. It’s not winning battles that makes you happy, but it’s how many times you turned away and chose to look into a better direction. Life is too short to spend it on warring. Fight only the most, most, most important ones, let the rest go”.

– C. JoyBell C

 

 

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10 Reasons Why The Rapture Must Be Left Behind

The Rapture.

The supposed end-times event where millions of “True Believers” are whisked away in the twinkling of an eye, to be with Jesus. Those left behind have to pick up the pieces of a world left in chaos, and are subjected to terrible tribulations under a despotic ruler, known as the Antichrist. Then Christ returns (again) and destroys all the ‘evildoers’ left alive on the earth.

Well, it makes for good reading, and some great adventure stories. But it also panders to the religious fad of wanting to feel terror, a bit like watching a horror film. A Christian horror story, maybe.

You see, surely the Gospel is about peace and hope, not terror and destruction?

The whole thing smacks to me of money-making, fear-mongering religiosity. Many people have a dichotomy of fear: they know about a Loving God, and yet this Jesus who is supposedly so loving and turned towards sinners will suddenly become the most powerful destructive force in the Universe.

Of course, I don’t buy it. This is not the Jesus I know. Now, I have read the ‘Left Behind’ series in its entirety, and like I said, it is a great adventure story. But it needs to be left in the Fiction section of the library. The scenes at the end of the series where Jesus destroys people by shouting Bible verses at them (yes, really!) is blasphemous in the extreme (and I don’t use the word ‘blasphemy’ lightly), although if you read it as a fiction story it doesn’t feel so bad, but it’s still uncomfortable to read for someone who loves the real Jesus, not the fictional one!

The entire concept of the Rapture and what follows it is a fairly recent addition to Church theology, the earliest mention being in the sixteenth century. It does not appear to have been part of the belief system of the early Church – but it is certainly part of popular theology today and it hosts some of the most destructive, fear-mongering rubbish that it is possible to hear. The Rapture, if you really think it through with all its ramifications, is about as anti-Gospel as you can get. It omits Grace, majors on fear and worldly judgement, and paints a dreadful caricature of God as one who destroys rather than one Who heals and reconciles. Sounds more like the enemy to me.

Anyway, enough of my ranting. The book, “10 Reasons Why The Rapture Must Be Left Behind”, by Stephen D Morrison*, is a short, well-researched and highly readable book which dismantles the destructive Rapture doctrine with sound reasoning, proper Biblical exegesis, and historical and theological research. This is, in my opinion, the ‘go-to’ book on this terrible doctrine, both for people who would just like to know what it’s all about, and also the more serious theologian who wants it all set out properly.

This is not a book for people who are still in a theological rut, where you know exactly what you believe and are unwilling to change your mind (that’s called ‘Repentance’, by the way!) about things you are sure you know.

But if you have an open mind, a mind open to the teachings of Holy Spirit and also a mind for properly reasoned ideas (God likes that sort of thing!) then it’s for you.

Oh, did I mention it’s free? Ah, that got your attention… 😉 At the time of writing, the Kindle version of this book is free for download from Amazon.

Read it. Enjoy it. Live it. This is yet another book that contains pure freedom within its pages. Release from fear, release from a terrible image of god, release from the horror of the fear of the end-times. God is Good. This book states that clearly.

Click the relevant link below to go to the Amazon page for this book. If you’re not in the UK or the USA, just search ‘reasons rapture left behind morrison’ (omitting the quotes) on your country’s Amazon site. You should find it easily enough.

Link to the book on Amazon UK

Link to the book on Amazon.com


*Yes, I am sure the ‘Left Behind’ part of the title is a play on words 😉

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Wendy Francisco on the Prodigal Story

Here’s the brilliant Wendy Francisco on the Prodigal Son story:

“The story of the prodigal son is one of the most wonderful things on the planet. It asks us to have a little faith in humanity, and to think again if we feel our job is to judge and exclude. The dad knowingly provided funds for his son. His son left and the dad did not follow. When the son came back, the dad still said nothing about anything that happened. Some argue that the dad said nothing because the son had repented and come home, but they miss the point that while the son was out sowing his wild oats, the father was silent and un-intrusive.

“And then there was that other son. Are we that other son? The stay at home son wanted to exclude his brother from the blessing of his father. He was the one who cited all his brother’s faults and failures. He was kind of a hurtful jerk. And HE was the one whom the father gently corrected, for the purpose of uniting him with his wild brother (who he was probably jealous of). (In fact I like to joke that the stay at home son was probably why his brother left).

“This is a story that approaches life as if God is able to know and be God to everyone He created, without the interference of the stay at home son. It never crossed the father’s mind to reject either of his sons.

“The son who went out experienced all on his own, the poverty and shallowness of the world, and he was hurt by it to near starvation. Had the big mouth brother followed him pointing his finger as so many Christians do today, perhaps he would never have come back.

“The mistake we make is thinking that the Father is like the stay at home son. We are indoctrinated to think this, but nothing could be further from the truth.

“If the stay at home son had rejected his father’s words and summoned all the servants and proclaimed, “Whoever supports my prodigal brother and attends his party cannot stay in this household”, then that would have been the perfect mirror of the Nashville Statement article ten, a heartbreaking and terrible call to organized rejection and scapegoating. No wonder Jesus called the religious leaders of His day ravenous wolves.

“People are saying that we believe anything goes. Yes and no. When the Father handed his prodigal the funds to leave, it was anything goes. But when the people pleasing brother judged him, it was NOT anything goes.

“All of us are… both… brothers”.

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The Tyranny of Article Ten

On August 29th 2017, the grandiosely titled ‘Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’ * released a document called the ‘Nashville Statement’ **, a declaration of the position of over 150 American conservative church leaders on matters of human sexuality, including statements on morality, sex outside of marriage, and of course homosexuality.***

Rather than recite it for you, here is a link to a PDF file of the Statement (it should open in a new browser tab): Nashville Statement PDF

I respect some of those leaders (well, actually, just two whom I know of and have heard speak). I agree, would you believe, with some of what’s in the Statement, and I can understand (if not personally accept) their stance on homosexuality.

But Article 10 in the Statement came as a surprise to me. Here indeed is Article 10, screen-shot directly from the Nashville Statement referenced above:

I actually find this Article to be troubling, pretentious and arrogant. Troubling in that it places yet another burden on simple Christians trying to live out their life for Christ, and now that’s another legalistic straw placed on their proverbial camel’s back. Pretentious and arrogant in that, well, who do they think they are telling other believers that they cannot agree to differ?

According to this Article, you’re not allowed to be ‘undecided’, (whether you’ve studied all the arguments or not), you’re not allowed to sit on the fence, and you’re not allowed to agree to differ. ‘Otherwise faithful Christians’ implies ‘unfaithfulness’ but to whom or what? Jesus? Christianity in general? Fundagelicalism in particular? The Bible? Surely this is just another point of doctrine, and the freedom to agree or disagree is just as valid here as it is for such doctrines as Communion or baptism, whose practices vary widely within Christendom?

Essentially they are declaring this belief [in homosexuality being ‘wrong’] as a central tenet of the faith, without which you are an ‘unfaithful’ Christian, whatever that means and whatever threat that is supposed to convey. I would suggest, then, that Article 10 is saying that unless you believe the Bible the way in which we [the authors of the Nashville Statement; those 150+ leaders] say you have to believe it, then you’re not a ‘proper Christian’. That’s what I find troubling – but unsurprising. I suppose actually seeing it written down in black and white was what I found most troubling; they have always believed it, but maybe never actually written it down.

At its core, the Article reveals plainly the bibliolatry (worship of the Bible) of their position, in that they have essenially elevated a book – an inspired book, to be sure, but still a book – to a place above the position of the One Whom it reveals. Once again, the Bible has been given primacy over Jesus, Who alone is the Word of God. Once again, these people present a non-negotiable interpretation of a book that is neither inerrant nor infallible. The Bible is so vast and complex in its layers, meanings and teachings that I think it is true to say that none of us knows enough to say categorically that another brother’s beliefs are ‘wrong’. And so they attempt to ‘forbid’ the holding of an opinion that they don’t like, even if it’s Jesus Himself who given us that opinion. But, of course, we need to remember that these men are not the Gatekeepers of the Kingdom, no matter how much they might believe that they are! These people do not hold a monopoly of the Truth, nor of Jesus.

I think in some ways it’s also a matter of ‘Scriptural authority’. You see, some believers hold that a Christian has to believe (and enact/build into his life) all of the Bible, and that all of the Bible carries identical weight and authority. But that’s not how anyone actually lives it. You see, every Christian cherry-picks certain verses and decides that they apply, and that other verses don’t. It’s inevitable that this will happen, especially since the Bible is written by different people who all had different views.

For these people to say that affirming of LGBTQ+ people is ‘sinful’, well, I and my own conscience can be the only arbiter of that for me personally. (And it’s time they stopped their preoccupation with ‘sin’!) Paul is quite clear that what is beneficial for some is not so for others (1Cor 10:23, 1Cor 6:12). I can choose within my freedom as a Christ-follower what to consider is ‘sin’ as instructed by Holy Spirit. But I think that, deep down, and in their admirable zeal to keep their flocks ‘safe’, a lot of these leaders have a great difficulty with trusting a) God to speak to their people, and b) their people to hear God accurately for themselves. I understand that. But part of our freedom a believers is that we have been released into this freedom partly in order to learn how to hear the voice of God for ourselves. Sure, we will make mistakes, but God is gentle and patient with us in our learning curve, and He supports us all the way. In any case, the more they legislate, the more powerful ‘sin’ becomes. More Law is not the answer, because the power of sin is the Law (1Cor 15:56)!

I would also suggest that in agreeing to the latter part of Article 10, a person would be submitting his/her own conscience to the control, approval and permissions of men. And what human has that right or that privilege? And where do you draw the line? What would happen if they (or any other leaders) decided to forbid your conscience’s participation on opinions that you really do care deeply about? Sadly, I know from personal experience that such leadership does in fact exist in the church, and that sort of behaviour is part of what is known as the ‘cultic mindset’ – a mindset which is a million miles from the ‘glorious freedom of the Children of God’ (Rom 8:21), which is what Christ actually intends for us.

And there’s more to the troubling nature of that Statement. Wendy Francisco describes it as, “…a heartbreaking and terrible call to organized rejection and scapegoating”. And I have to admit that I hadn’t thought of it like that, but you know what, she’s right. It’s both heartbreaking and terrible, and saddening too.

You have probably gathered by now that I consider the Nashville Statement, and in particular Article 10, to be just so much hot air. They are saying nothing new. I also think that the Statement will soon be forgotten as yet another irrelevant Church proclamation. It’s so ‘behind the times’; it’s certainly not going to stop anyone from doing or believing what they are already doing or believing, or change their minds. But the Article 10 ‘call to organized rejection and scapegoating’ is indeed worrying. As always with these proclamations, all it’s going to achieve is to hurt and alienate people.

And the timing of the Statement’s release could not have been worse: it has been released at a time when the southern seaboard of the United States is a disaster area in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and forest fires continue to rage unchecked in northern Montana. Talk about blinkered vision…

No, this is a presumptious piece of pompous church bureaucracy that will not help anyone. All they have done is to codify what they already believe – which is fair enough, but unnecessary – and also tried to overreach what little authority they have in producing the dangerous Article 10. My friend Ken Nichols put it like this:

My greatest push back on this though is not about the homosexuality itself, but about their insistence that if you do not believe as they do on this issue, you are NOT a Christian. That should be pointed out, not to shame them or call them “sinners”, but to tell people watching on the outside that not ALL Christians believe like this.”

Well said, Ken 🙂

I would like to conclude this post by sharing a more positive outlook. My friend Julie Ferwerda (authoress of the book ‘Raising Hell‘) has made this counter-statement to the Nashville Statement:

Julie Ferwerda’s Nashville Un-Statement:

I affirm that marriage appears to be a plan of the Universe/God/Spirit to be a visible image of a loving, intimate experience of oneness. This relationship, when fashioned after genuine, Godly Love shall aim toward a physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually healthy union between people in a consentual, empowering, supportive partnership, intended to pattern the covenant love between a truly loving, non-biased God and his creation.

“I deny that God has limited such a relationship to be controlled or determined or dictated by legalistic, misguided religious affiliation based on sexual orientation, gender, nationality, ethnicity, or any other innate factor that is used as a divisive measuring stick. I also affirm that there is no such thing as “mere human” as separate from divine form. We are all expressions of God living out a unique role we have been perfectly made for, so long as we are striving toward genuine love and oneness.”

That’s a great place at which to finish, I think. For more reading on the Nashville Statement, may I recommend the following blog posts:

Susan Cottrell’s post on FreedHearts, a support site for parents of LGBTQ+ kids
John Pavlovitz’s semi-humorous ‘translation’ of the Statement into English 😉
Another excellent article by Jim Wallis of ‘Soujourners’
The ‘Denver Statement’; a ‘counter-statement’ to the Nashville Statement
Is modern Christianity ‘all about sex’? Sometimes it seems that way…
And finally, another piece on Article 10, which is very thoughtfuly written.

*I mean it’s not as if they are anything as monumental as the the ‘Council of Nicea‘ or the ‘Council of Jerusalem‘, lol. Or maybe they think they are… 😉


**Although it was called the ‘Nashville Statement’, this name was given it because the people who wrote the document finalised a draft of it in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Nashville’s mayor very quickly moved to disassociate her city from the naming, saying it was ‘poorly named’ and that it “…does not represent the inclusive values of the city & people of Nashville”. Nashville is known as being an ‘island’ or ‘oasis’ of, shall we say, ‘free-thinking’ in the midst of the American ‘Bible Belt’. I wonder if that location for the conference was chosen with this in mind? 😉


*** Although they only mentioned homosexuality (so, Lesbian and Gay) and Transgenderism, I am assuming that all ‘different’ sexualities (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/questioning and other sexualities) are also intended to be encompassed by their declarations. It wouldn’t surprise me.

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Shadow of the Earth

I love Astronomy; the study of planets, moons, stars, space and the Cosmos in general*. I am a member of my local Astronomy Society, and I have been passionately interested in this branch of science since I was about seven years old. Yes, you can blame the Apollo moon landings for that 😉

The amazing photo above is a time-lapse composite showing the Moon passing through the Earth’s shadow during a Lunar eclipse. That’s when the full Moon passes ‘behind’ the Earth and the Earth blocks out most of the light of the Sun shining on it, and so the normally bright face of the full Moon darkens and, usually, turns a dull red colour. It takes a few hours for the Moon to pass through the Earth’s shadow, so each of these Moon images in the composite shot will have been taken maybe an hour or ninety minutes apart. And you can clearly see the shape of the Earth’s huge shadow, stretching out into the blackness of space and away from the Sun. Anyone can perform this simple experiment given a suitable camera, a tripod and a clock. And also, of course, a knowledge of when the Eclipse is going to happen, but you can find this out easily on the Internet.

This, to me, is one of the reasons why I love Astronomy so much. To the naked eye, wonders like Lunar eclipses are visible manifestations of the wonders of the creativity of God. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands”. And, no matter at what level you explore the Cosmos, new and fascinating things keep being discovered. The probability of water on Mars. The chance of life on Mars, Titan (one of Saturn’s moons) or Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons). Exotic objects such as quasars and black holes; things theorised on paper and mathematically are actually being observed as realities in the depths of space. And all this created by our God, and I think this exploration is actually a picture of how we will spend eternity exploring the amazing greatness of God our Creator and His Creation.

This is not a worldview that is incompatible with Science, either; incorporating God into a scientific worldview is not a problem, provided you don’t try to factor Him into your calculations!

One of the current fads that really annoys me, though, is the recent upsurge of the ‘Flat Earth’ (FE) movement; people who believe that the Earth is flat and not a huge ball as we know it is. I am not going to even go there as to why they think that, nor am I going to do their ideas the honour of trying to debunk them. I don’t argue with these people; sadly, one of the downsides of the Internet is that anything written on it seems to carry equal weight, whether written by a real expert, or some tosspot living over his mother’s garage who knows diddly-squat.

And these people will joyfully, freely and libelliously diss anyone who doesn’t agree with them. But to me the main problem is that they believe that there is a giant conspiracy afoot – which means they are essentially accusing whole swaths of the human race of lying. This is unacceptable. Their conspiracy theory is one where anyone who not only does not agree with them, but knows for a fact that the Earth is a globe, is ‘in’ on the conspiracy and is sworn to secrecy. So, they say that basically people like astronomers, Pilots, sailors, and especially NASA, the American Space Agency, are all part of this giant conspiracy, to keep their knowledge that the Earth is indeed flat a closely-guarded secret. In other words, everyone who is in a position to know this global Earth as a fact is automatically disqualified.

Convenient, eh?

I can categorically state that nowhere in my Pilot training, any of the flying textbooks, lectures, teaching or anything else have I seen or heard anything stating that the Earth is actually flat, and that I have to keep that a secret. You simply couldn’t keep such a huge secret as that, with such a vast number of people involved. This is, in my opinion, the number-one piece of evidence that debunks their entire conspiracy theory completely flat, pun not intended.

According to these people, all the photos taken of the Earth from space are fake, as of course were the Moon landings. Satellites do not exist, neither does the International Space Station, despite these objects being visible to the naked eye. (Quite what they intend to do when next they switch on their satnav is beyond me).

Well, let me tell you, I have personally conducted experiments and observations to show that the Earth is a globe, and I have satisfied myself as to this fact. Anyone can do this, given the right methods, a bit of basic equipment, and a little knowledge. If you want to do this, just Google ‘how do I prove that the Earth is a sphere’ or something of that ilk.**

And don’t share your results with the Flat Earthers (FE’s). They will attempt to ‘destroy’ your evidence by saying various derogatory things about you, because that’s their only defence against facts. Interesting, as they often say on their sites, ‘Do experiments! Don’t believe what the Government tell you! Work it out for yourself!’ – but when you do, they don’t believe your results – unless, of course, your results indicate a Flat Earth. Idiots.

The worst thing of all is when FE’s call on the Bible and/or the Christian faith for ‘evidence’ supporting their daft ideas. Claiming, of course, Scriptural inerrancy and literalism (that is, that there are no mistakes in the Bible and the whole thing is true and literal), they claim the support of passages mentioning such things as ‘the four corners of the Earth’ and ‘He sits enthroned above the circle of the Earth’, that the Earth has ‘pillars’ for its foundations and it cannot be moved (try telling them that when there’s an earthquake!). So, why is this bad? It’s because it puts the Scriptures, and those rational believers who do not believe in Flat Earth but stil believe in Jesus, in a bad light. Flat Earthers, by calling on the Scriptures for support, not only do the Scriptures a disservice in that they were never intended to prove anything scientific, let alone a Flat Earth, but they also make the Christian faith look less credible by their actions and claims. If this is what Christians believe, says the enquiring Astronomer, then I want nothing to do with it.

This is not a new problem. Indeed, even the renowned St. Augustine noted in 400AD that there were people bringing the faith into disrepute by doing exactly the things these FE’s are doing. To quote him,

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.

“Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

“The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field in which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

“Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

[Latter quotation from 1Tim1:7; this piece about Augustine found here]

I think that’s an absolutely amazing quotation. It tells us that even over 1,600 yeas ago, there were ignorant people (in its literal meaning that they are without knowing) who were discrediting the Christian faith by making unfounded assertions about certain things, purporting to ‘know’ stuff, and supporting it from Scripture – and that in the face of the experts of the day who really did know what they are talking about. Sounds familiar?

An education on the Internet is not a proper education. You not only have to know things, but you also have to know how those things fit together. And this is the problem with the FE’s. They don’t.

I’m sorry to go on about this; it’s not intended to be an extended rant. The only pictures the FE’s have are ‘artist’s impressions’. But when I see amazing pictures like the one at the top of this post, or like the beautiful pictures ‘The Blue Marble’ and ‘Earthrise’, I think, not only, what a shame that these FE oiks prefer to think of these wonderful images as fake pictures, but also that it is far simpler to believe the global Earth than to try to invent excuse after excuse as to why the Earth is flat. Some people need to go and get a Life. And Photoshop wasn’t available in 1972 or 1968…**

Here is the photo known as ‘The Blue Marble’, taken from Apollo 17 on December 7th, 1972:

Photo is clickable for full zoom

…and the iconic photo ‘Earthrise‘, taken from Apollo 8 on December 24th, 1968:

Photo clickable for full zoom

The remarkable thing about Earthrise, one of the most viscerally moving photos in history, is that it was taken from a spacecraft which was in orbit around the Moon. In exactly the same way as our Sun comes up over the horizon every morning, so the Earth was rising over the horizon for the three men in the Apollo 8 spacecraft. Wow!

And finally, here’s the first ever photo of a rising Earth over the Moon, taken by the unmanned Lunar Orbiter 1 Reconnaisance Probe:

Photo clickable for full zoom

These are remarkable pictures and I have included them in order to finish this on, not only a positive note, but in fact an awestruck note. We began with the awe of the Earth’s shadow; we end with the awe of the whole planet.

So often in these days, we lose our sense of wonder over so much of what we see. Key to my loving being a scientist is that I have never lost my sense of wonder, and I never will. These photos have a Wow! factor unlike any other images in history – they show the crucible of the entirety of human history represented as a beautiful blue ball floating against the inky-black backdrop of deep space.

How’s that for wondrous?

I leave you with one final picture (and this time I mean it!); this one is an ‘artist’s impression’ (Like the FE’s have. Lollz). Here is what the Earth would look like from the Moon during a Lunar eclipse. The Earth would be eclipsing (covering) the Sun, in the same way as the Moon does during one of the solar eclipses that we are so familiar with here on Earth. The ground is a dull red colour because the Earth’s atmosphere transmits the red light better, and so the Moon’s surface appears red. And, seen from the Earth, as in the header image, the eclipsed Moon is indeed red. Here’s the picture:


*Astronomy, as distinct from astrology, which is essentially fortune-telling by the movements and position of heavenly bodies. That doesn’t fit with me, either as a scientist (it is simply unprovable) and as a man of faith (God controls things, not the stars)


**Oh, go on then. For a taster, take a look here. But this is not how I did it.


***Flat Earthers claim that the space photos from the sixties and early seventies, or indeed all space photos showing things they don’t like, are done on Photoshop. Which didn’t exist back in the sixties and seventies. Duh.


Comments have been disabled for this post, so no Flat Earthers can use my blog as a platform for their tripe 😉

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Grace Changes Everything

Grace changes everything.

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

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

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

-Steve McVey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selah.

Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be blessed 🙂

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Paul’s Effervescence!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing can separate us from the Love of Christ!

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

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

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

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

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

So, your take-home message is this:

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

Amen!


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

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


 

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How We Met

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funny how these small actions can change your life.

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

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

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

“Which church do you go to?”

“I don’t have a church”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow! It’s simply mind-blowing!


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


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


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

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Fear is the Path to the Dark Side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my article, Graven Image, I wrote this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bit of background for those unfamiliar with the story.

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

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

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

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

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

Spoiler Ends

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

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

And He heals us.

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

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

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

 


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

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

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