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Dec 192014
 

True meaning of ChristmasI have to admit that I get quite worn down with the Christmas palaver. It seems we say it every year that “Christmas gets earlier and earlier”. I think that’s mainly because the shops start to stock Christmas items while I’m still wearing shorts! It gets to November and all the Christmas adverts are on the tv and homes across our towns are starting to drain the national grid with their colourful (and sometimes very gaudy) light displays. It can be a very stressful time as the list to buy presents reaches its second or third page- and what to buy people? And how much should we spend? And can we afford it?

A couple of weeks ago, we as a family went up to London and experienced ‘Winter Wonderland’ in Hyde Park for the first time. It’s an impressive set-up; huge; lots of noise, sights, sounds and smells, but sadly didn’t fill me with the Christmas spirit I was hoping for. It was free to get in, but everything once you walked in was hugely expensive. The myriad of eating places (with their fantastic smells) provoked gluttony. The children (who think we are actually made of money) badger us constantly to go on this or buy that and it just left me feeling a little bit sad.

Before I leave you too depressed, I want to remind you (and myself) that this is not what Christmas is all about. It’s not about ‘winter wonderland’, it’s not about spending money we don’t have. It’s not about lots of television shows and films, or rich food or even (dare I say) spending time with friends or family.

The thing is, we really do know what Christmas is all about; we just find ourselves getting constantly caught up in all the ‘stuff’. Christmas is about Jesus; His amazing descent from heavens throne room to a smelly dirty stable; His sacrifice, commitment; the grace and His very great love. “For God so loved the world that he gave..” (John 3:16)

God is the most amazing generous giver and He calls us to aspire to His generosity.

When we think about it, Christmas is a time when we celebrate Jesus’ birthday and birthdays usually mean gifts to the birthday person. However, at this birthday everyone else gets a present except the one whose birthday it is. We of course cannot give Him a physical gift, but how about getting a little creative?

I think a nice little gift would be the sacrifice of some of our time. How about setting aside 20 minutes or so each day to pray and meditate on His word? He’d like that. Or what about singing? Christmas is a time of singing and Jesus loves it when we sing our worship to Him. It only needs to be an audience of one, nobody else needs to hear (in case you’re worried about your voice!). Another idea of a gift would be to bless His brothers and sisters, our church family. That would be like giving to Him in His eyes. So also we could provide for the poor. They are always on His heart and we have been called to be Jesus’ hands and feet. Where He is not physically present He has called us to stand in His place.

I’m sure we could be very creative with ideas about what to give Him. And as we give, we will find it impossible to out-give Him because He will ensure we receive His peace in our hearts which far outweighs all the other ‘stuff’ this Christmas.

 December 19, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Christmas No Responses »
Dec 122014
 

God of old & newOn a superficial reading, the God of the bible can seem quite different in the Old Testament as He does in the New. If you are not careful you can focus on His wrathful character, where he smites whole nations and appears; angry and vengeful and compare that with ‘nice’ Jesus who went around healing people and cuddling babies!

Modern atheists and sceptics love to seize on this caricature and focus on God’s angry aspect without any reference to God’s qualities of love and patience etc. The well known atheist Richard Dawkins writing in his book ‘The God delusion’ said “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (page 31) ouch! I don’t even know quite a few of those words but they don’t sound very nice. Now Richard Dawkins I know, has an agenda, but is there an element of truth in his rantings? Is this God of anger and wrath so different to the God of the New Testament?

The idea that it is a different God has been around for centuries. It started with a chap called Marcion in the second century, who had this teaching ‘Marcionism’ named after him. He believed, much like the Gnostics of the time that the wrathful God of the Old Testament was a lesser god (with a small g) from the all forgiving God of the New. He was denounced as a heretic and his teaching was refuted for the following reasons;

The bible is God’s progressive revelation. He dealt with people very differently throughout history. We see this in the various covenants He had with characters like Noah, Abraham and David. Each covenant building on the other, each one revealing more and more of His plans and purposes. These covenants also meant he dealt differently with people. He established and called His own people, the Israelites who could demonstrate His character to the world. This was with the express purpose of reaching these people and demonstrating mercy and grace to them, but they rejected Him outright and subsequently had to face the consequences.

To describe God in the Old Testament as only angry is a huge misrepresentation. God is amazingly loving, compassionate and faithful. This is demonstrated again and again in the Old Testament.

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Exodus 34:6)

But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf (Nehemiah 9:17-18)

For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. (Psalm 108:4)

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:13)

Any many, many other passages.

The fact is that in the Old testament, God had to jealously guard His people to protect them from their enemies because they threatened to destroy His plan of salvation for all people, for all time (God is always looking at ‘the big picture’). What has to be remembered is that God is a God of justice as well as love and the evil of His enemies could not be condoned and go unchecked. Even then he gave them ample time to repent. The Amorites in Genesis 15:16 had hundreds of years to repent and in Genesis 6:3, Noah preached for 120 years calling the people to repentance before God sent the flood. Surely enough time to give them a chance? This was not a case of God wiping out innocent people. They were all wilful in their rebellion and often engaged in very violent and barbaric practices. To not act would mean that God would seem unjust. God dealt with His own people as a father would discipline the child he loves. It’s not unloving but ‘tough’ love, designed to bring transformation, repentance and change.

The bible describes God as unchanging (Malachi 3:6) and so let’s briefly look at the similarities between the God of the Old and the New Testaments;

We mentioned that God disciplines His children in the Old Testament but He also does this in the New;

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (Hebrew 12:6)

He is still a God of righteous wrath in the New

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)

And He said some harsh words in Mark 16:16

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

And even though Jesus demonstrated the most amazing love and patience on many occasions he did still show his righteously angry side when He twice turned over the money changers tables and drove them out of the temple and when he rebuked His disciples on a number of occasions and the way He spoke to the scribes and Pharisee’s.

In summary it is very important to study the bible correctly and see that God has demonstrated His character in multi-faceted ways. It is also important to note that He is sovereign and is fully justified in whatever He does. I am so glad that throughout His dealings with mankind His mercy has triumphed over His judgement continually. He doesn’t always treat us as our sins deserve and that is why He is worthy to be praised.

 December 12, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Uncategorized No Responses »
Dec 052014
 

Second chanceI asked all my readers recently to provide me with any questions you may have that perhaps you have struggled with or wondered about as you have read the bible and I would do my best to bring an answer.

The title of this blog is the condensed version of one of these questions.

To expand it a little, the question was; “Given that God is a just God, it would seem unjust if someone died who had actually not rejected Jesus because they had never understood whilst alive. Surely they must have a chance to choose to accept or reject Him, so would they be given a chance to make that decision after death?”

A similar question would be “What happens to the people who have never heard the gospel?

That’s a great question! As you will have noticed in nearly all my blogs, I have used scripture a lot to back up what I am saying. This can be quite an emotive subject and so rather than give my own opinion, as best I can, I want to answer this question with the unchanging, eternal, word of God, whether I particularly like the answer or not. Remember as I said last week we want to get past our own opinions and hear what God really wants to say.

I know that some will disagree with me on the next point, but let’s start with the issue of salvation. Who is responsible for it? Is it God or ourselves? Some would say that it is only our choice, we are the ones who see our need to be saved and so when we realise this we repent and are saved. God provided it but the decision belongs to us. This is commonly referred to as the Arminian position.

The bible states that before we are Christians we are ‘dead’ in our sins (Colossians 2:13 and Ephesians 2:1) and the last time I noticed, dead people are incapable of making decisions! I believe that it is God who is the ‘Founder and perfector’ of our salvation as it says in Hebrews 12:2.

Ephesians 1:4 also makes it clear that God chose us. “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Jesus makes this even clearer when He said;

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide (John 15:16)

So point number one is that salvation is dependent on who God chooses, not on our own decision, even though it feels like our decision when we do receive him. We were drawn to make that decision by The Holy Spirit

So what about the question of God being unjust to people who don’t even get to choose?

The bible is clear that actually no-one is without excuse;

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

Also that no-one has an inclination to seek after God either;

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12)

The natural state of everyone is rebellion towards God, we are all the same. Even if we were given a second chance we wouldn’t take it. Many people have received amazing miracles & still rejected God. Even Jesus when He walked this earth, after performing amazing miracles and seeing the dead raised was still rejected. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 The rich man asked for warnings to be given for his 5 brothers who are still alive and Abraham responded;

He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)

The hope of a second chance is completely extinguished by the verse in Hebrews 9:27

it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.

So the answer is that when we die, everyone receives justice, we all get what we deserve. For some of us though who have put our trust in Him and who God has called, we receive the most amazing mercy. We who were once God’s enemies are declared righteous and welcomed into the family of God as His own children for all time.

If you have any other questions about the bible you would like me to look at, please let me know in the comments below. I will be looking at a few more bible difficulties in the coming weeks.

 December 5, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Salvation No Responses »
Nov 282014
 

disagree with bible 2Last week we started to look at the reasons why people disagree with the Bible. We talked about the correct interpretation of the Bible, “hermeneutics”. We also looked at the importance of interpreting the Bible based on various historical and cultural factors, original language and context in which the passage was written. This then helps us understand the original meaning, enabling us therefore to fully grasp what God is actually saying to us. We cannot simply interpret it in any way we choose, nor completely disregard certain passages simply because we don’t like them.

This week we will look at some reasons why people disagree with the Bible.

The first problem which may be encountered is the fact that the Bible is very honest in describing God as He actually is, not how we think He is. We are inclined to make God in our image rather than the other (proper) way round. If a particular Bible passage describes God in a way that is uncomfortable to our 20th century, western, comfortable sensibilities we can get quite upset. This can be heightened if we don’t truly understand the context in which the passage was written. We can get so hooked up on the fact that God is love (and He clearly is) that when we see the ‘just’ or ‘righteous’ side to His character, we recoil. We can perversely think that loving people is somehow letting them off all the time. This is not love! Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to bring discipline as correction.

As human beings, we are inclined to believe we have a divine right to live full and trouble free lives and we get upset when it doesn’t quite turn out like that. God’s holiness would truly be served if He killed us as soon as we sinned, but actually His love and mercy allow us to live many more years than we deserve, even living them in rebellion to Him. We get upset at the wiping out of entire people groups in the Old Testament, yet fail to fully see how sinful and evil these races were and how long God allowed them to continue in this state. God is so much more patient than any person on this planet and we need to remember that sometimes many years have passed between one chapter and the next in our Bibles. If we were in God’s position we would not be able to stand for the injustice witnessed for a fraction of the time that He does.

We have a tendency to seriously underestimate the holiness of God. We can be naturally accommodating of sin, especially ones we consider small. God is not like that; He is supremely holy and therefore cannot stand sin in any measure.

Even when we get past God’s character and nature, we can find ourselves feeling upset with some of the things He says. The Bible describes certain behaviours and attitudes as right or wrong, no matter what society says. This is probably the most common reason the Bible causes offence. The Bible states that “…There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).

Many things may seem right to us, but that doesn’t mean they are. Our society gets very upset when we proclaim something as wrong. They want to call it an ‘alternative viewpoint’. This is because human beings will go to great lengths to defend their own decisions and behaviour. When we uphold the Bible’s standard we are accused of being intolerant. Society doesn’t like judgemental statements. But God is our highest authority and He can say and do as He likes; this is what greatly upsets people and may be perceived as unloving: “Who is God to tell me what I can and can’t do?”. But the fact is, He knows us because He made us and He knows what is right and wrong. He says it for our own good as a loving parent, much like a parent who tells their child not to play near the road. The parent is in a much better position to see the danger than the child who thinks the parent is spoiling their fun.

So how should we approach the Bible, especially when we read bits that we really struggle with?

(1) Pray

Ask God to change your heart and desires. We live in the world and we can so easily subconsciously take on the world’s values without even noticing it. If we read the Bible with an openness to learn and a love for God in our hearts, He will help us and change our hearts. He does this because we are His children and He loves to speak to us and direct us. The passages we struggle with and the reasons we struggle with them could well be God’s vehicle to remove false idols and bad attitudes from our lives.

(2) Study

Make sure that you are reading and interpreting correctly the passage of Scripture in question. Does it really say what you think it does? Follow the principles of hermeneutics as highlighted in last week’s blog and keep digging. Get a good study Bible or a good commentary. The more we study the Bible and understand the story as a whole, the more we learn that the parts that seem hard to understand on their own make much more sense within the wider context of the whole Bible.

(3) Understand that our culture is not ‘normal’

Our culture is not to be the means by which we judge things. Actually, our culture is permanently shifting its beliefs and attitudes. Things we believed 50 years ago are very different to what we believe now and what we will believe in another 50 years time. God’s word is constant, eternal and unchanging. Be willing to look at your worldview, culture, and the values around you and understand that just because they are what you are familiar with, this does not make them right or good. As a Christian, the Bible should always be your highest authority

The most important thing is to keep reading and keep trusting God to bring clarity. Sometimes we simply have to accept that He knows best and we need to trust Him.

If, whilst reading this, particular bible passages that you struggle with have come to mind, why not contact me and I’ll see if I can provide an explanation. I enjoy a good dig!

 November 28, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Bible No Responses »
Nov 212014
 

Disagree with bibleThe Bible is undoubtedly one of the most controversial books ever written. It has been discussed and argued over for centuries and continues to be hotly disputed today.

Some claim the bible is irrelevant. However, its amazing claim to be the very word of God (2 Timothy 3:16) demand that it at least be looked at and considered. I have real problems with people who claim it to be irrelevant, and yet have never really read it properly. I find that attitude very arrogant. Usually people dismiss it and claim it to be irrelevant simply because they heard it somewhere, or read a newspaper article from some so-called intellectual, believing this person’s view to be correct due to his reputation.

I would strongly advise to check everything out personally. Never assume that worldly intelligence equals wisdom or that intellectuals know everything about what they are talking about. One day God will ask you what you made of His word and it will seem pretty feeble if we quote some atheist or sceptic who disagreed with the God of the universe!

I suspect that people who dismiss the word of God may be secretly worried that it might actually be true. This being the case, it would then mean major upheaval in their lives, therefore they don’t really want to dig any deeper. If you have stumbled upon this site and you are of that opinion, I challenge you to take more than just a cursory glance.

Since the Bible claims to be the inspired word of God we should definitely sit up and take notice of what it says. By not reading it, surely we are telling God that His opinion doesn’t count, or that we find other things more important. But even if we don’t believe in God, it at least makes sense to be open to exploring the Bible’s claims so that we can say with integrity “I’ve looked into it closely and I believe it leads nowhere”.

Even people who read and study it closely can fall into two camps. Firstly, there are those who believe it is just another ancient book, interesting from a historical point of view but not really relevant for us today. When people take this view it is very difficult to persuade them to change their lifestyle based upon what it says. Then there is the second camp of people who believe the Bible is true, that it is the Word of God, but find themselves interpreting certain parts of scripture in vastly different ways from each other. We can very easily interpret the Bible based on our own beliefs and make it say what we want it to, explaining away the difficult passages as not being relevant for today. Clever and persuasive people can twist the Bible to say anything they want to and they can often sound extremely convincing. I don’t know about you, but if (as I believe) the Bible is the inspired word of God, then I want to know exactly what God is wanting to say, not someone’s opinion of what they think He is trying to say based on their own prejudices and opinions.

So how can we work through this ‘minefield’ of interpretation?

The ‘science’ of interpreting the Bible is called “hermenuetics”. Good hermeneutics helps us to be confident that we are interpreting correctly. This process involves ‘digging deep’ and is the key to good bible study. There are such precious truths in the Bible which are not always obvious from just a surface reading. They are like gold nuggets set deep in a rock which need to be chipped away at in order to be discovered.

One of the most important principles of hermenuetics is to interpret the Bible from its main meaning, by this I refer to its most obvious meaning. This is our starting point and if it then disagrees with other passages, we dig deeper and we search for more understanding whilst still remaining faithful to its intended meaning. To get to the intended meaning we need to have an understanding of the history (culture and background). We also need to understand any grammatical nuances of the original language it was written in. Then finally we put it all into the context in which it was written.

Are there any parts of the Bible that you simply don’t understand and therefore ignore? Or is there something that you just don’t agree with and causes you a major problem? Next week we will look at some reasons why people don’t like what they read in the Bible and how we can handle our own disagreements.

 November 21, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Bible No Responses »
Nov 142014
 

What shall I doI thought I would have a break from writing a blog this week. I have been writing a weekly blog now for about 2½ years, totalling 139 blogs. If you haven’t been following me from the beginning, you may find it interesting to take a look at some of my previous blogs which can be found in my archive (see above menu). Alternatively, you could choose a subject you are interested in from the tag list on the right hand side and see what comes up.

I would really appreciate some suggestions for future blogs. Is there something within Christianity that you don’t quite understand or something from the bible that has always puzzled you? It could be that you would like me to explore a certain subject, or you may like some ideas for a talk you are preparing. Why not put a suggestion in the box below? I can’t make any promises but I’ll try and give it my best shot.

Anyway, I really appreciate you taking the time to read my blogs and I hope you have found them useful. I hope to hear from you.

 November 14, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Uncategorized 2 Responses »
Nov 072014
 

fruit of the spirit self controlThe word “self-control” indicates that there is a battle within us. This battle involves bad or wrong desires within us that we need to control. If we don’t control them, they can completely destroy us.

The bible recognises the problems that can occur when we lack self-control:

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). Especially in bible times, a city without any walls was extremely vulnerable and open to attack at any time.

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32). Having self-control is better than any temporary victory you may achieve, as self-control will keep you going long after the victory has been forgotten.

First, we need to understand what “self-control” is not: It is not having great will power; really wanting to do something bad but somehow, through sheer determination, resisting giving in to it. It is also not extreme concentration, having a sort of ‘zen’ mastery over “self”.

The apostle Paul gave an excellent example of what the word actually means. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 he says: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” An athlete goes into strict training because he has his eyes on the prize. We cannot win a race by not training; it takes discipline and practice, doing the same things over and over again. It is not just trying our hardest.

As in all the fruit we have been looking at, it is important to continually remind ourselves that this fruit comes from the Holy Spirit. So although we are working hard, it is His strength that gives us the ability to keep going. It’s important, I believe, especially with self-control, to recognise what ‘training’ we need and what actions will help us to develop this particular fruit in our lives. Let me list a few:

(1) Keep your eye on the prize

The prize is Jesus; we are running this race for Him, to please Him and to finish the race well in preparation for spending eternity with Him. When we focus on this, we can handle anything. This view of the prize also helps us when we don’t feel like praying or reading our bibles etc. We can look beyond how we feel at any given moment.

(2) Read the bible

Saturate yourself in the scriptures, they will always turn your focus back onto Jesus (see point 1). When Jesus was confronted with problems, it was clear that He knew the scriptures; His responses were automatic because He had obviously soaked Himself in the word.

(3) Be in community

The Christian walk is not individual, it is corporate. We need one another to check up on each other, to watch our backs and to be accountable. It’s called ‘self-control’ but it is actually much more than just ‘self’.

(4) Tests

Testing produces the best self-control. We don’t know how self-controlled we are until we are tested. These tests in turn throw us onto reliance upon God.

The next question to ask is, “in what areas do we need to exercise self-control?” There are a number of common areas which can make us slip up again and again. Let’s look at just a few:

  • Finance– Without self-control in our spending we can easily fall into debt. Are you the sort of person with holes in your pockets, can’t wait to spend the money you have? The money we have is a gift from God and needs to be stewarded wisely.
  • Eyes– What we allow ourselves to look at and linger on can quite easily cause us to stumble. “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman” (Proverbs 31:1 NIV). This obviously applies to pornography but also anything else which can cause us to give in to temptation. For some it could be gazing lustfully at a huge cream cake in the bakery window!
  • Speech – the book of James has a lot of wisdom about our speech: “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19); and also: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5). Our tongues can get us into so much trouble, whether with angry words, proud words or gossiping words. There’s not a better piece of advice than to ‘bite your tongue’ before we speak. We mustn’t forget that we don’t have to say what we think!
  • Our bodies – Along with the rest of our lives, our bodies belong to the Lord. Are you self-controlled with what you put into your body? The sin of greed is given very little ‘weight’ (forgive the pun) in our modern lives. It is so easy to give in to excess. Exercise is also beneficial and has some value, as it says in 1 Timothy 4:8. I believe we honour God when we pursue a healthy lifestyle in order to look after our bodies.

This is now the end of this series on the Fruit of the Spirit. We have seen how these fruit all work together and are intertwined. However, I don’t think it is a coincidence that “love” is mentioned first and “self-control” at the end, almost like two book ends. I believe that these two together make all the others effective. I like to think of it as ‘love’ being the fuel and ‘self-control’ being the motor that powers the rest of the engine. Let’s continue to seek these fruit in ever increasing measure as our lives give glory to God.

 November 7, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Fruit of the spirit, self control No Responses »
Oct 312014
 

Fruit of the spirit gentlenessWe have said all along that these fruit of the spirit are pretty impossible to achieve in our own strength and without the Holy Spirit’s help, but we could be forgiven for thinking that “gentleness” is an exception. Aren’t most nursing mothers “gentle” with their babies? This sort of tenderness would seem to come naturally. But as with all the fruit, we need to look closely at what the word actually means.

“Gentleness” is translated from the Greek word ‘prautes’ which is actually a very difficult word to translate. It has two close meanings: gentleness, which refers mostly to actions and meekness,which refers more to attitudes. When we describe our relationship with God we use words such as yielded, teachable and responsive. When we describe our relationships with people we use words like humble, gentle and respectful.

It is such a shame that “meek” rhymes with “weak” because we can often muddle the two up. Modern online dictionaries do this and have synonyms for the word “meek”, such as tame, timid, mild, bland, unambitious, retiring, weak, spiritless, broken, and wimpish. This is not the bible definition of meek. Jesus spoke of Himself as meek but we could never use these words to describe Him. He said: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”. (Matthew 11:29)

Biblical gentleness doesn’t mean simply acting in a tender and soft way, but rather controlling physical strength for the benefit of another. To be gentle is to have a humble heart and peaceful mind and to submit wholly to God’s plan. The idea is ‘strength under control’. Imagine a wild stallion who has been broken in and is now submitted to its riders will, or a work elephant moving massive logs with its trunk under the supervision of its master. Think too of water that’s under control such as water rushing through a dam turning turbines, generating electricity to light a city. Water out of control would be a flood destroying everything in its path. Or the example of a disease out of control which can devastate the body & kill its victim. But a disease under control can be used to produce vaccines & save thousands of lives. That’s the sort of idea.

The bible places great value in meekness. Jesus said: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. (Matthew 5:5)

The world will try to tell you that gentleness is not a good quality. They say that a strong person is a ‘go getter’, someone who casts all others aside. They speak of a ‘show of strength’, the ‘survival of the fittest’, all that kind of thing. But Jesus demonstrated that true strength is being in control, staying cool, thinking first and then acting appropriately – strength under control.

God of course demonstrates this attitude perfectly. After all, He’s the creator of all things, nothing and no-one is more powerful than Him, yet He controls His anger and never misuses His power. This attitude was demonstrated in Jesus who was perfectly meek. During His trial and crucifixion He could have called a halt to the proceedings at any time, He had the power to do so. But His meekness stopped Him as He knew had a higher purpose than just to show off His strength and control.

Jesus submitted His plans to the father; this is what being meek and gentle means. In 1 Peter 2 it gives various examples of those we should be submitting to and demonstrating meekness towards: governments (v13), servants towards masters (v18) and wives towards their husbands (3v1). Chapter 3 then talks about how we should speak to outsiders: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentlenessand respect…”. (1 Peter 3:15)

As in the verse above it is clear that “gentleness” in the New Testament is closely related to wisdom, spiritual growth and how we are to correct and teach each other. Two examples of this are: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…” (Galatians 6:1); “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25 NIV)

We are to submit our strength, including the strength of our convictions, to God’s wisdom. We are to teach only God’s point of view, not our own. And we are to accept that God’s actions towards us and others are the right actions, even when human wisdom thinks otherwise.

Gentleness is the spirit and attitude behind repentance. To “repent” in a biblical sense is to change one’s mind and believe that God is right. Repentance is necessary for salvation, and we need to carry an attitude of repentance in a gentle spirit our entire lives. So often our point of view can be limited, misguided, and self-seeking, but God is always right. A gentle heart will accept God’s wisdom and yield to His discernment. We can only be gentle as the Holy Spirit develops spiritual fruit in our lives. But He requires our cooperation for it to be developed fully and so we are exhorted in Colossians 3:12 to “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience..”

So how do we demonstrate more gentleness? We must keep being filled with the Holy Spirit. We must be quick to apologise and quick to make peace. We can see how all these other gifts come into play at the same time, fruit such as love, peace and patience.

I was always told, when I was angry, to count to 10. This is such a wise thing to do. It is so easy to fly off the handle and be nasty or rude and forget that gentleness is strength under control. Being gentle doesn’t mean that we should not be strong in our beliefs, but it does imply that we should be wise and loving in expressing those beliefs to others. God shows tough love and often teaches us hard lessons, but all the while being the very definition of gentleness.

 October 31, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Fruit of the spirit, gentleness 1 Response »
Oct 242014
 

Fruit of the spirit faithfulness As I was considering this subject and thinking about what “faithfulness” looks like and the qualities required, dogs immediately came to my mind. Most people who know me, know that I don’t particularly like dogs. I’m not keen on the barking, the jumping up, the licking and the general smell of them. But the one thing I do admire about them is their unswerving faithfulness. Maybe it was the Lassie films I used to watch as a child (for those of you too young to remember, Lassie was a Collie dog who got into all sorts of adventures, for example rescuing children or finding his way back home after a long journey). That dog was faithful and I have read of many more (another that comes to mind is a dog in Argentina, who after his owner died sat by the graveside for 6 years!). http://www.dogheirs.com/larne/posts/1880-faithful-dog-refuses-to-leave-his-owner-s-graveside-for-six-years

In humans, “faithfulness” has always been a rare quality. In Psalm 12:1 David exclaims in exasperation:

Help, LORD, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.”

And again from his son, Solomon:

Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6)

And the apostle Paul voiced his frustrations to the church in Philippi in Philippians 2:19-22.

I am sure that even in your church there have been people who have let you down. Nowadays it would seem that most people have forgotten the meaning of the word “commitment”. It’s a quality that nearly everybody likes and admires in others, but when it comes to working to produce this fruit in ourselves, well, that’s another matter.

Something that happens to me regularly is a lack of response (one way or another) to emails I send containing specific requests (despite receiving “read receipts). Another one Liz and I have found frustrating is a lack of response to party invitations we have sent out for our children’s birthdays over the years. I notice more and more that it’s a quality which is becoming increasingly rare in our society.

Faithfulness goes against the very essence of the ‘me’ culture. It seems that the overriding attitude in people’s minds is to consider themselves first over and above considering others, or even not considering others at all. This lack of faithfulness is probably most clearly seen in marriages where couples bail out as soon as the relationship doesn’t suit them anymore. Sadly, dogs have put us to shame.

It will not surprise you to hear that, as with all the fruit of the Spirit, faithfulness comes from the very character of God Himself. As you can imagine, there are dozens of verses in the bible which speak of God’s faithfulness. Here are just a few:

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations”. (Deuteronomy 7:9)

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”. (Psalm 86:15)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful”. (Hebrews 10:23)

God proves His faithfulness over and over again throughout every page of the bible and also in our lives. By His Spirit He is now making us faithful and the more time we spend with Him, the more we will be like Him. Jesus embodied this faithfulness by coming to earth, living as a man and going all the way to the cross. Now that is faithfulness!

In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 we see the kind of faithfulness that God is looking for. One of the key verses in this passage is verse 23 where the master commends one of the faithful servants. He says “‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” Notice that the master was not looking for success, just faithfulness. This is the same as God; He wants you to be faithful with what you have, no matter how small. Remember how Jesus commended the woman who put two small coins into the offering? That was all she had! It wasn’t about the money; it never is. God doesn’t need our money, He is constantly looking for faithfulness. That dear old lady in Calcutta, Mother Teresa, said simply “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful”.

There is so much to say on this subject but I will just touch on a few thoughts that have occurred to me:

It is actually quite useful to search for words that are similar in meaning to faithfulness, in order to give us a broader idea about this fruit. Think about words such as; fidelity, loyalty, constancy, devotion, reliable, dedication, commitment, allegiance, dependability, trustworthiness. Sounds great doesn’t it? But as I said before, the Godly way to think about faithfulness is not to look for it in other people, but to be faithful ourselves first. Our faithfulness should never depend on anybody else. God is faithful unconditionally: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

The sermon on the mount shows us that faithfulness is more than just outward appearance and nodding agreement; it is a heart attitude. For instance, the bible says not to commit adultery, but Jesus defines that as not even looking at a woman lustfully. Faithfulness in marriage is far far more than just not sleeping with other people; it’s about serving and preferring your spouse, no matter how they respond. Faithfulness is a quality that keeps going no matter how it is treated. Our marriage partner should be the person we treat best out of everyone. (I have witnessed some people treat strangers much better than they treat their partner. Treat strangers well, but treat your partner better!)

Here are just a few suggestions to help us seek God in order to increase this fruit in our lives. (We must not forget that it’s not through our own efforts or willpower; these things come by The Holy Spirit as we spend time with Him. However, we still have to play our part). So, how faithful are we being in the following:

  • Obedience
  • Studying God’s word
  • Prayer
  • Giving
  • Using your talents
  • Serving others
  • Dealing with sin

Let me finish with a sobering question for you to ponder this week: if everyone in your church was as faithful as you, what would your church look like?

 October 24, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm faithfulness, Fruit of the spirit No Responses »
Oct 172014
 

Fruit of the spirit goodness“Good” is a bit of a weak word in the English language isn’t it? It is a mundane word like “nice”. “Did you have a good day today darling?” “Yes it was good”. What does that mean? It sounds sort of average; not a “wonderful” day, just good.

If we look outside of the bible, the word “good” is a very relative term. Most people would think they were good. The ISIS terrorists in Iraq think they are doing good by wiping out infidels in the name of Allah!

As it is such a subjective term we need to find a constant, never- changing definition of what “good” is and what it looks like.

“Good” is the essence of God’s nature. Absolutely everything He does is “good”. The bible makes it clear that in our natural state before trusting in Him, we were far from good. Absolutely no-one is good apart from Him. Jesus confirmed this when the rich young ruler addressed Him as “good teacher”, replying: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone”. (Luke 18:19). The bible confirms this in a number of other places such as Romans 3:23: “….for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

The temptation is to compare ourselves with others who are not as “good” as we are, but the comparison is with God and not with others. There is a tiny crack between us and others and a huge chasm between us and God.

Therefore when the bible talks about goodness, it must be referring to perfection, or the absence of sin. So being good is far from being simply “nice”. Goodness is only achievable as we put our trust and faith in Jesus. When we do this, the wonderful fruit of goodness, God’s goodness, is added to our nature as part of God’s wonderful salvation package. Our goodness comes from our identity; we are ‘in Christ’. It’s not what we do that determines who we are (doing good deeds). Who we are determines what we do.

It is almost impossible to think of goodness in the abstract. In scripture goodness always refers to particular ways of behaving. You can’t really be good by just thinking good thoughts; it involves action. God’s plan for us involves action and that is why He has pre-ordained ‘good works’ for us to do: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

There are various aspects to these ‘good works’, such as doing good to everyone, even those who persecute us: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

This is why it is impossible to be good if we are not children of God and filled with His Spirit. This kind of goodness, humanly speaking, is impossible. Outside of God’s economy, why on earth would we want to do good to our enemies? But it is this very action which demonstrates how we take after our father who showed His goodness to us while we were His enemies. Doing good to someone who simply returns the favour is not pure goodness; it is little more than two people exchanging favours (which can even be quite selfish).

Goodness involves not only right behaviour, but also the avoidance of its opposite: evil. The choice between good and evil has been before humankind since the garden of Eden, the moment when Adam and Eve ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9). Since then God’s curse has fallen on “those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter“. (Isaiah 5:20)

God knows though that the true goodness He requires takes real effort in a sin-sick world; it’s far from easy. The apostle Paul said things like: “… And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10)

We can be so busy trying to be good to others that we forget about our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am reminded of that old song which says that “they will know we are Christians by our love.” There is something very compelling about a community who are good to one another and together take that goodness and love to a hurting world. This is why the Psalmist said: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). He then goes on to say: “…For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.” What a wonderful promise from a very good God.

 October 17, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Fruit of the spirit, Goodness No Responses »