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Friday, 19 May 2017

The Consequence of a Wrong View of God

In a previous post, we looked at the folly of those who convince themselves that God doesn’t exist. However, those of us that do believe in God often make a mistake that is just as dangerous—we think of God as a human, and try to understand Him on that level. Maybe we allow Him some extra powers and abilities, or think of Him as a bigger version of ourselves, but we still make this fundamental error which affects everything that we do.
Volunteering for Chatnow, a Christian live-chat organisation taking calls from people all over the world, I can see that this flawed way of thinking is at the root of most of our problems. We don’t really understand what God is like or Who He is, or we choose to ignore what the Bible tells us about Him.

Sadly, I have spoken to people who believe that God exists, but who have decided to reject Him because of His failure to do what they perceive to be right. People who believe that a good God wouldn’t allow suffering in the world or “send” anyone to hell. They label God as “unfair” and determine that He is either indifferent to things here on earth or is lacking compassion. Worse, there are some who decide that He is cruel or vengeful based on their assessments of His activity or failure to act.

When I point out that suffering is caused by sin that entered the world originally through people, it usually falls on deaf ears. When I comment that God doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell, and that He has provided an escape through Jesus, for those who choose it, they don’t want to know. When I suggest that an indifferent or aloof God would hardly go to the lengths of sacrificing His Son to restore the broken relationship with them, they scoff. When I warn that in rejecting His offer, they are choosing the broad path to Hell, they don’t believe it.

There are also people who believe that God exists, but reject Him the minute He fails to deliver something they have demanded.  They treat Him as a genie or good luck charm to be called upon when they have a financial, material or relational need. They quote out of context verses about health, wealth and well-being and conveniently overlook passages about cross-bearing and counting the cost of following Jesus. Again, these attitudes come back to a wrong view of God.

Some of these erroneous views have come about due to the “God is our friend” theology. The Bible does speak of God as our Father and Jesus as a friend to sinners, but this should not be taken in a casual manner. God is not our chum, buddy or mate, He is worthy of our respect and total devotion, and should be approached through Jesus with reverence due to His holiness.  We need to remember Who God is according to the Bible, when we approach Him.

Try to imagine the earth (and humans) from God’s perspective—He created it (and us), He sustains it and He is in control. Now, imagine God looking down at a load of tiny, ant-sized people, marching around the earth, shaking their fists at Him, refusing to acknowledge Him in one way or another, and seeking to rebel against His authority. 

If this seems ridiculous, it really is, but it is a good analogy in terms of our comparative insignificance. This life is short. We are just a vapour that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4 vs 14.) It is incredible that God pays attention to us at all, let alone watches over us with the kind of love and care that the Bible describes.

All of us suffer from this wrong perspective or wrong view of God, to some extent—we fail to consistently give Him the worship He deserves and we fail to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We reduce Him to a god of our own making or try to put Him in a box of our own understanding. We relegate Him to a small corner of our lives and often only pay attention to Him when we are in trouble.

As soon as we start asking “Why?” questions of or about God, we need to be careful—there are a lot of things about God that He has chosen not to reveal to us, and others that our tiny human minds cannot comprehend. The bottom line, is that God is God and He can do whatever He wants. The fact that He chooses to involve us through prayer is a privilege not a right.

We read in Isaiah 55 vs 8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

It can be difficult to use these verses when trying to help a Christian struggling with trials. They want God to explain Himself and feel that His failure to do so is due to inability or inadequacy on His part. They don’t consider that their perception may be completely wrong. 

In the Bible, Job made this mistake. He endured a lot more than most of us will ever have to deal with. He refused to curse God during his terrible suffering, even when his wife told him to! However, he did eventually ask God to explain Himself. He wanted a reason. He asked God, “why?” We all behave like Job, we want to know why bad things happen to “good” people and why things we see as unjust or unfair are allowed to continue.

We might expect that God would explain Himself to Job after all he had suffered. But, He doesn’t. He reminds Job of his comparative minuteness. God asks him whether he (Job) has the right to question the Creator of the universe and the One who sustains everything. He rebukes Job for his presumption. He details His power and greatness and makes it clear that Job is the creature and He the Creator, Job the clay and He the Potter (Job 38)

At this point, Job doesn’t say, “But you still haven’t explained yourself” or “How could you allow me to suffer in this way and not do anything about it?” or “I don’t like the decisions that you made, I’m going to serve a different god.” Unfortunately, that is how a lot of us respond when faced with trials and difficulties. We think that by walking away from or rejecting God, we can win the battle for supremacy, or somehow hurt God with our lack of allegiance or through sinful behaviour.

Pride is at the root of our rebellion, and Job, recognising this, humbled himself. In one of the most famous passages of the Bible which tells us more about Who God really is, he said, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore, I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42 vs 5-6) Job was a faithful and righteous man, but he had had a wrong view of God. He tried to reason with God on a human level and ended up in serious difficulty. 

When God revealed Himself to Job, his immediate response was repentance and humility. His view of God had been dramatically altered and it affected everything. Job’s only concern was to correct his earlier mistake, there was no longer any discussion of the suffering that Job had had to endure. He had seen who the God of the Bible really is and dared not question Him or suggest He was anything other than perfectly Holy.

As Christians, we must start with the right premise. We must believe what the Bible tells us about God. We must believe that everything He does is perfect, including allowing suffering on earth and creating a place called Hell. We must accept that God is perfectly just and that He cannot lie, that He doesn’t change His mind like humans do. God has many other attributes (for a fuller discussion read The Attributes of God by A.W.Tozer,) and all of them are consistent with His nature and character.

When our mind starts to ask why something is happening, let’s make the decision straight away to trust God.  If our brain begins to consider that maybe God has got something wrong. Let’s dismiss this immediately knowing that it cannot be true because God doesn’t make mistakes. If we wonder whether God is aware of something or whether He has forgotten us. Let’s remember the promises in Scripture—that He knows everything that is happening and that He will never leave nor forsake us.

We can be confident that all things are being worked out according to God’s sovereign purpose and that His plans are for our good. There will be many things about God that we can’t understand but we need to learn to trust Him anyway, because He is faithful. 

Let’s make sure that we have the right, Biblical view of God. It is best to assume that where there are question marks in our minds, it is either due to sin, or due to our finite minds being unable to fully comprehend a perfectly holy and omnipotent God.

Romans 11 vs 33-35
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”

Numbers 23 vs 19
"God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”

Monday, 8 May 2017

Can a Christian Author Write for the Secular Market?

As an avid reader and book reviewer with a Christian worldview, I often face dissenting opinions. I expect this, to some extent, because I try to be honest and apply critical thinking which can be sadly lacking. (Here are ten reasons for writing honest reviews.) The interesting factor in all this, is that it is often Christians who are uncomfortable with my views and sometimes they seem to be arguing from a secular perspective on behalf of the world…..

One of the biggest areas of debate is definitely what I would describe as “content issues.” Is it okay for authors to include bad language, graphic violence, explicit or detailed sexual activity, drug taking and its effects? How about a Christian author? And what about Christian authors who write for the secular market? Is there any difference in acceptable standards?

Let’s start with authors who are not Christians, those who are in the world and very much of it, who haven’t yet had their eyes opened to the saving hope that Jesus offers. What about them? 

Obviously, we cannot expect people not claiming to be Christians to behave like believers. They will live as they choose and don’t see themselves as accountable to God. The fact that they will ultimately face God on Judgement Day and give an account of their lives is not really the issue. As Christians, we cannot seek to inflict Christian standards on non-believers. It is when someone becomes a Christian that their lifestyle will change as they seek to please God rather than themselves or other people.

Can a Christian reviewer express faith-based opinions about a secular book? Yes, of course we can and should be doing this. We don’t remove our Christian hat (or head) when picking up a book, and our faith is at the centre of what we do and who we are. How can we write an honest review without including faith principles or seeking to make some kind of spiritual application?

However, when reading such books and writing such reviews, I try to keep in mind that the author is not a professing believer, and that I have chosen to select their book knowing this. My review will still detail things that may be of concern to a believer, but I would render a less harsh judgement for graphic content.

Turning to the other end of the spectrum—Christian authors writing for the Christian market. This should be an easy one. Christian authors should expect to be held to certain content standards by their readers. We are all part of the body of Christ and are therefore responsible to hold each other accountable—to offer correction, advice and a loving rebuke for the benefit of His Kingdom. I have written extensively about this elsewhere with a particular emphasis on swearing in Christian books.

For some reason, things seem to get complicated when dealing with the third category of authors. People like John Grisham who profess to be Christians, but who are writing for the secular market. Should Christians even attempt to do this? Is it a grey area? Can this content be held to different standards?

Most definitely, we need talented Christian authors writing for a wider secular audience and entering the spiritual battle-field in the process. Why should writing be any different to any other profession? We need Christians in every work-place and every corner of this world. Light needs to be shone in areas of spiritual darkness. Christians are reflecting the light of the world, or at least we should be.

Christians who have chosen to make their living as writers have massive potential influence especially with the rise of the internet. I would suggest, that those writing for the secular market have an even greater responsibility. They have access to thousands, maybe millions of people who might never set foot in a church or pick up a Christian book. These authors are effectively representing Christ to the world. Well, again, they should be.

It has been argued that it is okay for a Christian author to breach generally accepted standards of content when they are writing for the secular market. I cannot understand this on any level. Christians are Christians all of the time. 

We don’t become non-believers for a day, a month or a year when we are in the secular workplace—why should writing a book be any different? What is the point of having Christians in secular work places if they are going to conform to worldly standards. We might even ask the question—is someone really a Christian if they are going to behave like the world and there is no visible difference between them and Joe public?

The content of secular books by secular authors is deteriorating, but that is to be expected. People are becoming desensitised and are demanding more and more of what their fallen nature desires. Christians need to buck the trend and swim in the other direction whether they are writing for the secular market or not. It shouldn’t be a grey area.

Sure, Christians will differ on what is and isn’t acceptable content wise, but let’s develop our critical thinking skills. We should at least be considering whether what we are writing and reading is acceptable to God. We can take responsibility for warning others or at least making them aware of the things we observe so they can make informed decisions.

Can a Christian author really justify causing someone to lust or form graphic violent images in their mind or find themselves repeating bad language they read in a book? What about teenagers experimenting with drugs having read how to do it in a book written by a “Christian”? Maybe you think this is an exaggeration, but we all know how easily our minds can be corrupted, how quickly we fall into temptation and let’s not forget that our hearts and minds are attracted to evil in the first place.

Some full-time Christian authors may feel pressurised to increase the graphic nature of their books or to include bad language to attract a wider audience. There may be financial pressures or the need to make a name in the various genre markets. But, if someone is a true Christian, this will prove to be a false economy. God promises that He will honour those who honour Him. Conforming to worldly standards of entertainment comes back to a lack of trust that God will provide.

We must make sure we keep our priorities in check and remember that we are accountable to Him. Why don’t we use our talent for His glory and to reach out to those still in darkness with the saving message of hope. Let’s not waste the opportunities we have been given for evangelism and to represent Jesus, by instead writing rubbish, or even offensive content that might push people away from Christ. 

True Christians are serving one Master all of the time. Let’s remember Who we are living for, wherever we are and whatever we are doing!

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.  

Colossians 3 vs 23

Saturday, 29 April 2017

10 Things You Must Do Before Going to Church For The First Time

There are some things that a person wishing to go to church for the first time must know. There are requirements and regulations and accepted standards that everyone needs to adhere to. God also has a list of things that He checks when someone goes into a church building. I thought it might be helpful for you to read the list to see if you qualify;

  1.  Become a better person to ensure you will be accepted by God and others
  2.  Learn how to pray and know The Lord’s Prayer by heart
  3.  Make sure you are physically clean so that you don’t cause offense
  4. Know about the Bible and memorise some verses
  5. Buy smart clothing so that you fit in
  6. Get a baby-sitter so you can leave the kids at home
  7. Save some money so you can put it in the offering bag or contribute to the building fund
  8. Make a list of your sins so that when it’s time for confession you know what to say
  9. Learn how to smile cheerfully and to engage in small talk with strangers
  10. Listen to some worship music and remember some of the lyrics

Some of you are wondering where I’m going with this. Others are reading anxiously through the list to see which of my suggestions apply and what you personally should do. A few might be thinking that this advice is sensible. One or two might have missed the point completely and are annoyed that people could be misled. The vast majority, however, are smiling to yourselves—you get it or at least you think you do….

A church, according to Wikipedia, is a building used for public Christian worship. However, the Bible teaches us that all Christians are part of the universal body of Christ which is the church in a broader sense (Colossians 1 vs 18 and other verses.) Christians gather together in buildings in their local area to worship God—these are what most of us think of when we talk about churches. 

The big question is, who do these churches (or church buildings) belong to? Some may be partly or wholly government owned, others may be owned by a group of people with a board of trustees, still others may be privately owned and choose to operate independently. 

Regardless, all of these buildings are ultimately owned by God. He is the one who places authorities over us and He also provides the finance for buildings to be bought and sold. He owns all of our assets whether we acknowledge it or not. Church buildings and other places that Christians gather for worship are a blessing from Him.

I have heard most of the list of wrong views about church above from non-believers. A street teenager in the Philippines thought that he couldn’t go to church because he didn’t know how to pray. He also said that he was too dirty to go into a church building. Another person said that they wanted to become a better person before they could go to church. Someone else was worried about tithing and whether they would be forced into confession. The others on my list have been mentioned in one form or another in different cultures and in different church situations around the world.

We may think the list is ridiculous and the people that are thinking these things are ignorant. But these are some of the things that people are actually worrying about. To be clear, none of the above are things that anyone should be concerned about or even thinking about when making decisions about going to church. There are no requirements for attending church, at least, there shouldn’t be.

As Christians, we bear the responsibility for projecting the wrong image of our churches to the outside world. We may misrepresent them by our behaviour outside the church, by the way that we respond to a question about what church is like or by failing to correct someone’s erroneous view. We may not want that person to know the truth in case they actually come to our church and reveal who we really are to our congregation. Maybe we think that they won’t fit in due to their ungodly lifestyle. We have gradually formed rules about dress codes, cleanliness and noisy children, amongst other things….

We like formality and we don’t like disruptions or change. We are comfortable mingling with the same people and following set routines week by week. Anything or anyone that disturbs this is a nuisance. We may announce that we welcome all visitors, but is that evidenced by our actions? 

It is biblical for there to be order in a worship service, after all we need to remember Who we are worshipping. But what happens when our traditions, rules, regulations and requirements that are cultural rather than biblical stop people coming to our churches?

They are afraid that they may be checked at the door, or worse gossiped about or alienated having made it over the threshold. They fear that they won’t fit in due to the close knit Christian clique of popular people or that they may be relegated to a seat somewhere far away from the regular members. That they might be asked to move if they accidentally sit in a deacon’s usual spot. They are anxious about the potential superficiality of some of the conversations where numerous people ask them how they are doing before walking off mid-sentence because someone more interesting arrives.

They fear rejection, humiliation and most of all they fear not being good enough. They are in like company in one respect—none of us are good enough for God. That’s why Jesus had to die and why there are no divine scales measuring good and bad deeds or places called Purgatory. Our churches are full of sinful people if only we would acknowledge it. That’s why we need a Saviour. But, instead of recognising that we have all fallen short of God’s perfect standard, we add extra unnecessary burdens to people. We make them feel that they have to be good enough for us before they can enter our churches.

Let’s try to remember that God doesn’t show partiality and that we shouldn’t either (James 2 vs 9.) Let’s not be like the religious leaders who outwardly followed all of the rules but inwardly were corrupt. They were harshly rebuked not only for their own folly but for taking others down with them. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” Matthew 23 vs 13

Let’s debunk the myths and wrong beliefs about church and ensure that we are not adding extra-biblical procedures to our services. We can also take responsibility for our behaviour as members of the body and ensure we always encourage unbelievers to come to church and then genuinely welcome them when they turn up. This is not just the responsibility of church leaders or the super-spiritual, but all of us as representatives of Jesus.

It may have taken years of prayer or numerous contacts from different people over the years to get a person to actually take the first step and attend a meeting. This is especially true in Western atheistic cultures where society has shunned Christianity and church as a by-product. Let’s make the most of the opportunity to encourage, support and share the Gospel with them rather than placing hurdles in their way. Let’s be tolerant of things that might irritate or mess up our neatly arranged schedules—I never thought I’d use the word “tolerant” in a positive capacity due to rampant political correctness, but there it is!

God owns our churches and He welcomes those who are sincerely seeking the truth. He promises that those who seek Him with all their hearts will find Him. (Jeremiah 29 vs 13) Let Him be found in our churches as we seek to love people and share the Good News about Jesus with them.