Monday, April 28, 2008

Making a change

Slavery. We all agree its wrong don't we? The slave trade as it was 200 years ago is totally wrong, totally anti-Christian. How could any Christian ever approve of it? Its clearly sinful.

Yet 200 years ago it was an accepted part of our culture. That was how things were. In an ideal world it wouldn't happen, but there was nothing we could do. Indeed there were many Christians who thought it was a good thing. That was the culture at the time.

Its easy to sit here and say how wrong it was, and wonder how any Christians could have approved of it, isn't it?

But hold on.

What things happen in today's world that go against the teaching and message of Jesus and the Bible, yet we seem to not be as passionately against those things as we maybe should be. Things that if the human race is still going in 200 years time, Christians will wonder how we let happen.

We don't like to think of those things. They make us uncomfortable. They might mean big decisions, being counter-cultural, giving things up.

For example:

How did we drive cars knowing they are damaging the environment that God has created and speeding up global warming?

Why did we buy unfairly traded products when fairly traded equivalents were available?

Why did we allow the trade in people trafficking to go on for so long?

Why didn't we take more action to combat homelessness?

These are just examples I can think of. I'm sure there are more. Things that we know inside of us aren't really good or right, but we don't see the direct impact now or if we can we conveniently ignore it because its easy to and we don't want to face up to what we should be doing.

Maybe we do care about these problems, I expect most Christians do. It may even just be hassles of life and the difficulty or inconvenience to us in making real change makes us apathetic and thinking nothing we do will make any difference. Maybe we don't think we have the time or money.

Jesus once said that there are some people who are like seeds which start growing quickly and powerfully, but like weeds 'the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word'. Sound familiar?

Do the worries of this life and our relative wealth in the West hinder us from making tough choices and sacrifices in order to do the right thing? I think that applies to us all in one degree or another. It applied to people regarding the slave trade 200 years ago, they were used to having their slaves and found ways of justifying it or didn't face up to it because they didn't really want to.

Only when a man called William Wilberforce came along, a man who refused to take no for an answer, who didn't just accept things as they were, was willing to look foolish in front of his peers and wasn't afraid of taking action that was counter-cultural, did real change take place. And it took decades for it to become accepted in the hearts of many people and culture as a whole.

Why should it always take a big campaign, or just one person putting themselves on a line?

If each of us makes small changes to how we live and what we do, then radical change can take place without the need for big revolution. The most powerful change can happen when individuals act together making small changes. Eventually everyone starts to do the same and suddenly what seems a small change can become huge change.

We all have that power.

Don't let the worries of this life and the trappings of Western wealth hinder you making right decisions, the little decisions that are counter-cultural and which can make a difference. If we all do it, it can turn into big change.

Then in 200 years time people won't look back and wonder why we didn't do anything about problems.Instead they will see the small beginnings of what became a big change to the culture and attitudes of society. Ones that reflect Jesus' values, not consumer values.

We won't get it perfect. But we can take little steps.

Its up to me and you to make a change.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Righteous anger - A gift

When people talk about Jesus getting angry, they always seem to bring out the same passage of scripture - overturning the money changers in the temple.

As if that was the only time He ever got angry.

Sorry, but I think that's completely wrong.

Jesus got angry. Much more than once, and more than is mentioned in the Bible I think. People have this misconception that Jesus couldn't have got really angry, being the Son of God and a man of peace and self-control.

He was the Son of God. But he was a man as well - a man without sin. Meaning that any anger He had was the right kind. Sinless kind. Justified. Controlled. The kind of anger God would feel.

Yes, Jesus felt anger.

What about the constant frustrations He expressed with His followers?

Here's some quotes of Jesus from the gospels.
"Have you been with me so long, and you do still do not understand?"
"Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it"
"Do you still not understand?"

In Mark 1 it says He was 'indignant' when the leper came to Him for healing.

Jesus got angry.

He got frustrated.

He got annoyed.

His reasons though, were righteous. He expressed righteous anger, justified anger rather than the anger we often express which is merely down to us not getting our way.

There's nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. Righteous anger is good, especially if it leads us into action . Into becoming more like Jesus. That's the real power of righteous anger, it works as an impetus for change in our lives. God uses it to change us, and when we feel righteous anger we share in the experience of Jesus and the experience of God.

Righteous anger is not sinful. Its the same anger God has. I expect God gets angry with all of us at times, but that's tempered with love, grace, mercy and the forgiveness we receive through the cross.

Selfish anger is all about us. Why aren't we getting what we want? Why are bad things happening to us? Why is our will being blocked? Its all about us.

Righteous anger is when something is wrong, when we see something unjust, sinful, or purely wrong going on in the world and react against it. When we get annoyed about things which aren't right, which displease God, things which God doesn't like. This anger isn't expressed through sin and selfishness, but through action. As we take action against injustice, against the problems of the world, we take that anger and use it as a channel for God's glory.

Lets try to cut down the selfish anger and feel more of that righteous anger - there's things which really aren't worth getting angry about, and lots of other things that are, and where we can make a difference.

We need to be in touch with righteous anger if we are going to be real agents of change in this world.

Justice, mercy, love, forgiveness, peace and grace. These are the things we should pursue. Where these things are absent, there's something wrong. Something God doesn't want. If we ask, if we think, there is surely something we can do in response too.

The right kind of anger channelled and used in the right kind of way is a gift from God, a powerful gift.

Lets not waste it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

No healing = No faith? Not the Jesus I know


A good thing, definitely. Its always good when God heals you, its a sign of His love, a sign of His power and His mercy. Its cause for worship and celebration.

What it is not, is a sign of how much faith someone has.

If you've been a Christian long enough, been to enough seminars and conferences and enough types of churches, chances are you will have heard some people talk about how someone wasn't healed because they didn't have enough faith. Or that they had 'some unresolved sin' to deal with before God would do them the favour of healing them.

Some people seem to think that God heals you on the basis of how strong your faith is, how much you know Him, how much you trust Him. That somehow you have this 'bank balance' of faith which 'pays' for your healing.

That analogy may sound shallow, it may sound materialistic and nothing like what God is like.

That's because the whole idea of being healed and not healed depending on your faith is nothing like what God is like. It doesn't fit with a God of mercy and grace.

You can't earn the salvation of Christ. You can't earn His forgiveness. You can't earn His love. None of us deserves them.

None of us deserve healing either. God owes us nothing, no matter how much we trust Him.

Everything He gives us or does for us is an act of love, grace and mercy. Including healing.

I heard a true story of three people who had the same fatal disease. All had a strong Christian faith. All were prayed for for healing.

Two lived. One died. Leaving a husband and two children.

Now can you imagine how her husband would feel. Two healed and his wife is taken. He'll be asking why. There are probably Christians out there who would think, if not say to his face that she died because she didn't have enough faith. Its almost worse thinking it at not saying it.

There are Christians who think like that.

They use the verse about 'the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well' and totally misinterpret it. Are not all prayers offered in faith? Why do Christians pray at all if they have no faith? There's no point in praying if you don't believe Jesus can heal. We all know He can, He does it in the Bible. He does it still.

Surely there's no question that God can heal us.

But if he doesn't heal us or our friend then does that mean there is no faith? That we don't know or trust God enough? That we don't love God enough? That we don't have enough 'credit' with God?

Of course not.

Some churches and Christians think if you aren't healed there is something wrong somewhere . Either you don't have enough faith, you don't trust God enough or you have 'unresolved sin'. As if they or any of us doesn't have unresolved sin.

They seem to think that God has to heal everyone who asks for it. That there is a problem if you're not healed by the next time you see them, or instantly.

Not at all. How arrogant, self-righteous, patronising and presumptuous. It shows no love, grace, mercy, or understanding. It doesn't reflect the real God. Just because someone isn't healed instantly or very quickly, or even at all, doesn't mean they don't have strong faith, it doesn't change that God loves them unconditionally and doesn't mean they don't trust God.

To think that, or to say that to someone is not, in my opinion, anything near Christ-like.

Jesus didn't heal everyone. He healed 'many'. The first thing Jesus said to the man lowered on the mat through the roof, wasn't to heal Him at all. It was to forgive Him. The healing was merely an outward sign to demonstrate His power.

Jesus shows right there what is important to faith. Its not whether you are healed or not healed., its not being physically healed at all. Forgiveness is shown as more important. Jesus shows its more important to forgive someone and to ask His forgiveness than it ever will be to be physically healed.

These bodies we have now are dying from the day we're born. Eventually we'll get sick and won't recover. We'll die.

We don't take these bodies with us, we get new ones when Jesus returns. However, what we do keep is our character. What we do keep is our faith. What we do keep is what we've done while we're here. How we've treated people. Whether we've known and believed in Jesus and asked His forgiveness, or not.

Surely that is more important than physical healing.

Jesus doesn't heal us on the basis of how much we trust Him. He heals us on the basis of grace. Its that simple. Sometimes people are prayed for and healed, sometimes they aren't healed.

That's up to God. But the really important thing when it comes down to it, is that we try to live like Jesus, and we accept the forgiveness He gives us.

His forgivness through the cross is the greatest, most important gift, most important 'healing' of all.

Everything else He gives us is just a bonus.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Just do it

People often talk to me about how best to spread the good news about Jesus, how to talk to non-Christians about God and his grace and love.

But the best way to tell it is to show it. To quote a famous sports company, just do it.

They say actions speak louder than words, they often do, especially in the age of media spin we seem to live in today, where people's words often mean nothing

I admit I'm not the best at living it out, I often get it wrong. I often treat people badly, or think and sometimes in the past I've even said cruel things about them. I often hold grudges I shouldn't. I often find it hard to forgive.

But at the end of the day I'm always reminded of the simple truth, that I need to do these things. Then I ask God to forgive me, and if necessary the person involved.

The thing is you see, that living out your faith is a much more powerful and effective way to spread the message of Jesus than simply talking about it. Its much harder to live out your faith, and that makes it more powerful when we do. Especially when it comes to forgiveness.

Doing it makes it real. It makes it true. It makes it authentic. It shows it means something to you if you actually make take some action to back up what you say. There's no point in talking about how great Jesus is, unless you show it through how you live, by what you do, by how you treat people, how you respond to people.

If you don't then people are going follow the easy route to thinking that all Christians are hypocrites and Christianity is not worth their time. And they will have every justification for doing so.

Jesus modelled practicing what you preach for us perfectly. He spoke about the greatest kind of love, of giving your life for your friends, and then went and did it for all of us. He showed us that it was real. That God's love for us is real and true and that Jesus was who He said He was. It was the greatest example to us all.

Not all of us have to die for our faith, or to prove how true it is. None of us will get it perfect all the time, we will make mistakes. But we go back, we apologise and we choose another way. We do it in private and in public. We show people what Christianity is really about.

Love. Peace. Justice. Mercy. Forgiveness. Grace. Servanthood. Sacrifice.

If people see those things in action, even just a little, they will start to see for themselves that Jesus and the Christian faith is authentic, true, real and very relevant today. We won't need to say much, the path will already be open for us to speak into

Just do it.

The rest will follow.