Jan 092015
 

hellWe are continuing in a series of blogs around the theme of bible difficulties. We have already looked at the argument that the bible is God’s word and can be trusted, but the problem is, the amount of difficult questions it raises. Last week we looked at how a good God could allow evil and suffering in the world and we saw that God has placed a high value on human beings having the ability to make choices (called ‘free will’).

This week we look at a problem which is associated with last weeks question and that is; “Why would a God who is good and loving send people to hell, which is a place of eternal torment?”

God sending people to hell, from a human perspective seems very unfair. From our point of view it is really difficult to imagine people being subjected to eternal suffering. Eternal is forever, never ceasing. Surely that can’t be right?

It’s important though that we take a balanced view. It is a very emotive subject and we need to see the situation not just from our own viewpoint. The bible helps with a number of starting points which we need to consider;

An important thing to consider is that God is holy;

for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)

Holiness is perfection, a complete absence of sin. Not even having the ability to sin. God is completely pure and incorruptible, the absolute standard. And importantly, not even allowing sin to be anywhere near His presence.

Allied to this is the fact that He is righteous

God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day. (Psalm 7:11-12)

Meaning He will only do what is right, He cannot do and accept wrong. It is against His very nature

In perfect balance with His Holiness and righteousness is His love. God is a God of love. He is the meaning of the word, it too is in His very nature.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:16)

This aspect of love is why we see that God takes no delight in people going to hell

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

If God were to only be loving He would let everybody off and in fact if He was only just, Hell would be full, including all the people who have ever existed. God has balanced his righteousness and love in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus took our sin on himself and has made, through His body, an escape from hell. Justice and love were both served on the cross of Jesus Christ.

This now brings us to the subject we looked at last week. There is a very real sense that God doesn’t ‘send’ anyone to hell. All who go there deserve to be there because that is what they have chosen, that is their ‘free will’. Sin continues in this world through the choices we make that are not in God’s plan. Choices we make to go our own way each day. You may say that they are not ‘big’ sins like rape and murder, but actually the biggest sin of all is rejecting the one who has provided a way of escape from the punishment of the consequences of our sin and those that go to hell have committed that sin.

Ok, so what about young children, babies, those who have never heard of Jesus? What happens to them? Well, our ‘human’ assumption is that they are innocent, but actually the bible suggests that we are all born in sin, we are born with a sin nature and therefore guilty.

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:11-12)

We simply don’t know enough about God’s judgements as He has chosen not to reveal them fully to us, but what we do know is that He can be trusted completely. As we have seen already He is completely Holy, entirely just and utterly loving so what He will do will be right. What a comforting thought to know.

 January 9, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Hell No Responses »
Jan 022015
 

Why would a good God allow evil to existBefore Christmas I started a few blogs about bible difficulties. I’m continuing that subject this week with a very common argument against Christianity and the existence of God. This is not so much a bible difficulty as a problem that people have with God himself, although the bible gives us plenty of clues as to why evil still exists.

The bible makes it clear in various places that God is good, holy, righteous and all powerful.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! (Isaiah 6:3)

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. (Psalm 7:11)

The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. (Deuteronomy 32:4)

It is clear that God, as the creator, has the capability to stop sin and also hates it and desires that it be eradicated completely. This raises the question from opponents that either He is not powerful enough to stop evil or He is powerful enough to stop it but is just not as loving as He says He is and chooses not to stop it. If He is both fully capable of stopping it and genuinely wants it ended, why is it still around and seemingly more prevalent than ever?

The key point in this whole argument is that in His wisdom, God has decided to allow us ‘free will’ we have ability to choose good and follow God or to choose evil and rebel against Him.

He could have made us machines that don’t know right from wrong or ones that have no ability to choose. I don’t know why He didn’t choose either of those two options, but I feel it must be something to do with the joy we experience when we worship Him freely. His giving us the choice must have been the most loving thing He could do for us.

People will still argue why God doesn’t stop the worst evil in the world, but surely, if He is going to stop some, where should He stop? Another option would be to stop all the evilest people, but if they are removed, pretty soon we are the most evilest people on the planet and we should be removed too. The bible makes it clear that we are all sinful, each and every one of us and it’s not just our actions that are evil but our thoughts as well

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

People in every generation have struggled with these very real questions, but thankfully as I said before there are helpful clues in scripture. Let’s consider 7 thoughts to help us through:

(1) Jesus was well aware that there would always be evil around

In John 16:33 He said “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” Nothing takes Him by surprise.

(2) Evil was not created or caused by God

We have already looked at that in the passage in Deuteronomy 32:4

(3) Most suffering is caused by human sin

If you analyse it, everything that goes wrong with people (apart from natural disasters etc) can be boiled down to sin; such as anger, jealousy, greed and pride.

(4) We live in a fallen world

After Adam and Eve sinned the whole creation was corrupted by the curse. The world became distorted and ‘off centre’.

(5) God will ultimately judge all evil

The reason sin is not all judged immediately is because of God’s patience and His desire for people to be given time to repent. But one day, on that final day, everything will be judged and justice will be served.

(6) God suffered too

He is not distant from our suffering, not detached from it. Jesus not only suffered it in his life, but when He died, took on the full weight of mankind’s evil

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

(7) God can bring good out of bad.

Look at the example of Joseph in Genesis where he was sold into slavery, abandoned, forgotten about and thrown into prison, but God turned it all for the good of the whole nation and his family. He was able to forgive his brothers because he recognised God’s plan in and through his ordeal. He said to them:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)

God is so good that even when evil seems to be triumphing, God can still turn it around. The greatest example of course was Jesus who won the ultimate victory in the face of the greatest evil.

In conclusion; In a world of free choices, God’s will is rarely done. Going our own way is much more common. We shouldn’t blame God for the atrocities committed on a daily basis, blame the people who blatantly ignore His commands, put there for our good. We were made for a relationship with God, but He will not force himself upon us. He is all to ready to comfort, guide and direct us, but the choice is ours.

 January 2, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Goodness No Responses »
Dec 262014
 

Boxing dayAs Boxing Day has fallen on blog day (or Friday to the rest of you) I thought I would write a short blog on the subject. I was vaguely aware what it was all about; I knew it wasn’t about the sport of “Boxing” for instance, but I didn’t know anything else for definite other than that. I must confess I don’t like not knowing things so I decided to do some research and find out the facts.

The first thing that surprised me was that Boxing Day is largely not celebrated in America. However it is celebrated in Canada, although through the passage of time many differences have developed between the way we Brits and Canadians celebrate this day.

The second surprise I had was that the more I searched, the clearer it became that nobody actually quite knows where it all started. There are a number of theories and in fact it could be a little bit of all of them…or not. The one thing that all agree on though is the date: December 26th. But hereafter the theories of the origin of Boxing Day vary. Here are the main theories so take your pick!

  • Some believe it dates back to the Middle Ages when the Church of England had ‘poor boxes’ in which they would collect money. These boxes would then be opened on Boxing Day and distributed amongst the poor.
  • It could also be the tradition of trades people such as postmen, bin men etc receiving a box of goodies or money in recognition of great service throughout the year.
  • Another possibility is that this tradition stems back to when the wealthy had servants who had to work on Christmas day serving their masters. Their masters would give them a box of gifts to take home the next day, which would be their day off.
  • A tradition I wasn’t aware of was that during the Age of Exploration, when great sailing ships were setting off to discover new lands, a “Christmas Box” was a symbol of good luck. It would be a priest (bringing a bad name to Christianity in my opinion) who would place the box on the ship while it was still in port and the superstitious sailors would put money in it hoping for a safe journey. The priest would then seal it until the journey’s end when, upon safe return, he would say a mass of thanks and distribute the contents to the poor.

In many places Boxing Day is referred to as “St Stephens Day”. St Stephen was the first Christian martyr as recorded in Acts 6&7. It says that he was “Full of grace and power and was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). He was arrested and taken before the council, where he preached an amazing sermon to the religious leaders who took exception to him accusing them of putting to death the Messiah. He enraged them so much that they took him out and stoned him. Even while being stoned he still forgave his attackers. Now he is the type of hero I would like to celebrate on Boxing Day!

On a similar heroic note, the popular Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” was set on Boxing Day (the feast of St Stephen). It tells the story of a king braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant . During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step by step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia(Modern day Czechoslovakia).

Let us take inspiration from “St. Stephen” and “St. Wenceslaus I”, continuing in the tradition of these two men, who stood strong against violent opposition and refused to compromise in the face of opposition and put themselves out to help the poor. Happy St Stephen’s Day!

 December 26, 2014  Posted by at 9:00 am Christmas No Responses »
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 »