Sunday, March 25, 2007

A calling we cannot ignore

I saw the film, 'Amazing Grace' today. It's about Christian and political activist William Wilberforce and his fight against the slave trade. I'm not afraid to say it moved me to tears. Yes it may not be 100% historically accurate, but the principle, the message that it sends out to people is powerful and challenging to all of us, in particular I think to Christians.

We think nowadays that we are the 'enlightened ones', that in the age of the internet, endless TV channels and information sources, that there is nothing more we know or can do. We are more cynical and apathetic to the world's problems, thinking there is nothing we can do, because we see so much of it, it seems so big and so distant.

But are we really the enlightened ones? Personally I think not. In 100 years time people will know even more than we do now.We cannot allow our own pride to blind us to the problems in this world which are totally against God's principles and plan. Now we look back at 200 years ago and wonder how Christians could ignore the problem so long or be so resistant or afraid to take action to make a change. What will people in 200 years think of the Christians' delay in acting over things like people trafficking for example?

Looking back, when William Wilberforce started his campaign few believed in him or his message. It was counter-cultural. Even God-fearing people had accepted that slavery was part of society that couldn't be changed, or could just be ignored. It was a problem that everyone brushed under the carpet because it suited their own ends and meant hard choices.

But when Wilberforce put it on the agenda, no one could ignore it any more. People could not use lack of knowledge as an excuse. One of the most powerful scenes of the film is when he surprises some upper-class folk by showing them a slave ship and making them breath in 'the smell of death'. Right then it became real to them. They were compelled to act.

The real challenge is honestly and humbly looking the world around us and seeing what things generally accepted, ignored or forgotten by other parts of society are wrong in God's sight and then make choices to change and do something about it. That is what God calls us all to do. There is so much poverty, injustice and inequality in this world and we can do something about it. There are problems which are huge which as responsible Christians we have a duty to get involved somehow. There are few excuses now. We don't have to travel abroad as missionaries, we don't have to be someone like William Wilberforce to help out. We must do what we can. Give money, lobby MP's, make changes in our lifestyle that allow others to have a better standard of life. Don't accept these problems, don't believe that you can't make a difference. What a difference it would make if all those people who thought that did something.

It's a real challenge and we can't ignore it. We can all help in our own ways but something we can all do is pray. Pray for an end to injustice, oppression, people-trafficking and all forms of slavery. Ask God to show you what you can do. This is a challenge for all of us - including myself. I know how hard is for me to motivate myself to do something, but surely all of us can at the very least pray and led practical and possibly small financial support to organisations.

For example, I am involved in a charity who raise money to pay for uneducated children in Africa to go to school. We have already started to see real results, with two children now getting an education that otherwise they would have been denied, purely through taking action. I'm not saying I'm perfect at this or that I'm better than anyone else for being involved with this, I purely use this as an example. I find it hard to motivate myself to keep going at it, stay hungry and make time to get involved and help out. But it's a choice I make and that we as Christians and human beings have to make.

It will not be easy, because it involves giving up our time and sometimes money. But it is vital we doing something. We can make a real difference and significantly impact this world for God and show people that God is against these things, that they are wrong and we will stand up for God's principles practically. As Wilberforce eventually found, if we keep believing then things can really change.

God calls us to serve Him and use what we have been given to serve others and to fight against sin, slavery, injustice and poverty With Him on our side, if we are willing to make right choices, then we can make a difference.

The question is, what are we doing about it?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Write His Name On Your Heart

I was at a talk on teaching/preaching last week, and the guy doing the talk said something that impacted me greatly. He said that we need to have God's word and His spirit on our hearts if we are to teach it authentically. We need to be walking the walk before we can talk the talk.

We are all generally pretty good at talking about ourselves aren't we? We find it really easy to do and can talk about ourselves with a a lot of passion. Why is that? Well firstly, everyone likes talking about themselves. But secondly, becuase we know more about what's going on in our lives more than others do generally. We have the experience of our lives to build up that knowledge, we have it ingrained in us just through the motions of living our lives. People also know that it's authentic. It's our own experience and no one can deny that and the things we've done and the things we've gone through are easy for us to describe as we have the experience to back them up.

How great would it be if we managed to gain the same knowledge and experience of God in our lives? We need to get more of God's heart, more of what He is saying and wanting to do, to be indwelling in us. Of course it involves committment, discipline and sacrifice, but the end result would surely be worth it. I suggest three things we need to do to help us achieve this aim.

The first of these is arguably the most obvious, yet can be one of the hardest for some. We should be studying the Bible and letting its true meaning sink in and write itself on our hearts. Reflecting on the words and teaching of the Bible and life of Christ and letting it impact our lives, medidating on it and making it real. Thinking about how it is relevant to our own lives and culture now and being willing to allow it to challenge our own lifestyle. Making time out of our busy lives to read and study the Bible properly is fundamental to writing God's message on our hearts.

The second way we can get closer to God, get to know Him more and see more of His heart is simply by spending more time wth God in prayer. By this I mean not just praying out loud but listening to God, asking God to put His spirit, His love, His word on our hearts and make it living within us. Not just something we know with our heads, but something that is living and growing in our hearts and impacting our lives. In doing this we can see what He is saying to us and what He is calling us to do or convicting us of.

The third way is to hang out with other Chrisitans, especially those with wisdom, knowldege and who hear from God. People who we can learn from and aborb things from, who give us an insight into God and set an example through their lifestyle. People who can give us guidance and advice, who can in some circumstances disciple and mentor us.

But of course none of this is worth anything without a response. We can hear all we want from the Bible, through prayer and the advice of others. But unless we are applying it and putting into action then its all pointless and worthless. It's been said that wisdom is the application on knowldege, and that certainly applies in this case. It will be hard at first. It takes time to get into good habits and can involve a sacrifice of time, or a resheduling of our daily routine. It can be hard to make choices for God in certain areas of our lives.

However, if we are letting what we read, hear and experience of God really sink into our hearts, really trusting God and allowing Him to challenge us and impact our lives, that response will eventually start to flow out much more naturally. Those things we do will start to become a joy for us, something that our day revolves around, something that we look forward to each morning.

Then the messgae we send out becomes real and true and easy to express, because it will be something that is part of our own life experience, something that is living and growing naturally inside of us. Something that is impacting in every area of our lives. Something that all, Christian and non-Christian, can see is really authentic, real and having a positive influence on our lives.

We're not all called to be preachers and teachers of course, but we all have opportunities to occasionally share our faith. Indeed, if we are living out our faith and its really in our hearts, then people won't even need us to say anything, our actions will speak for themselves. It takes self-discipline and hard work, and is a challenge for us all. I know its a challenge for me, making time for God and putting Him first.

As ever with God, the challenge is big, but the benefits for ourselves and the Kingdom will be immeasurable if we get this right, we put God right at the centre of all we do and write His name on our hearts.

Friday, March 09, 2007

"God Hates You" - I Think Not!

"You have been told that God is loving, gracious, merciful, kind, compassionate, wonderful, and good sky fairy who runs a day care in the sky and has a bucket of suckers for everyone because we're all good people. That is a lie... God looks down and says 'I hate you, you are my enemy, and I will crush you,' and we say that is deserved, right and just, and then God says 'Because of Jesus I will love you and forgive you."

This is a quote by Marc Driscoll, a well-known Christian leader, theologan and pastor in the US. Now he says that God looks down on us and sees us as His enemy and hates us. Sorry Marc, but that is not the God of the Bible.

Some of what he says is on the right lines. God isn't an old man on a cloud who's nice to everyone. He challenges us and tests us to help us grow in our faith. He asks us to take risks. But to say God hates us is fundamentally wrong. God hates our sin, He doesn't hate us. He loves us. That's why He sent Jesus. If He hated us as Driscoll alleges, then He wouldn't have sent Jesus in the first place.

What Driscoll believes is a complete misinterpretation of scriputre. It is very dangerous to go around preaching that. It's that sort of preaching which inspires people to go around with placards at Gay marches saying that 'God hates you' and 'You Will Burn in Hell', forgetting the passage saying 'He who is without sin cast the first stone' .

The Lord is not someone who is always nice to us and always gives us what we want and makes it easy for us, but He is a God who always acts out of love. 'God is love, he who lives in love lives in God'. The phrase goes 'He hates the sin, not the sinner' and that is the truth. Marc Driscoll, hang your head in shame. Congratulations on completely missing the message of the gospel.