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Good Friday, Death Friday

Good Friday, Death Friday

Good Friday. The day of Jesus’ death. The day an innocent man received an unjust sentence and a guilty man got off scot-free. The day a man lost his friends, his family, and his dignity. I wonder who on that day would have imagined it would ever come to be revered as ‘good’.

Of course, we see the whole event as those looking back on one day out of one weekend in one man’s life. Friday led to Saturday and Saturday to Easter Sunday. Perhaps the disciples were crushed by the moment, but the moment passed. The story of Easter, of a saviour come to rescue his people, his creation – in love – is a collection of moments, one after the other.

That Friday – Death Friday – a tribe and a city were rocked, temporarily masking the true death that day, that of death itself. When Jesus left the tomb on the Sunday and appeared to his friends and disciples, the crushing moment that was Friday was rearranged, reinterpreted, recast into the story that would compel them to leave their homes and tell it to the world. The Good Teacher had died and through his death his goodness became accessible to everyone. On that Friday the worst of us and the rest of us could be made Good.

Life comes to us in moments but is weaved together into a story. Jesus’ life is a collection of moments, points in history that happened. These moments surprised, excited, confused, scared, and angered people. And when we look at these moments in history we see the grand story rise out from them. It is a story both predating those moments and also yet unfinished.

The story of Easter is Good News. It is our gospel. We are a part of it, and we are a messenger for it. Life’s moments may temporarily obscure our view of our story and, ultimately, his story. But yet, his story remains. On Easter Sunday – A Ha! Sunday – the story swallowed up the moment. Uncertainty gave way to clarity; despair acceded to hope. The promise in the narrative is that our moments will never swamp our story. Jesus’ death and resurrection will always give us hope. Our story will be forever caught up in His story, and that story is worth talking about.

Good Friday. The day of Jesus’ death. The day a guilty man got off scot-free whilst an innocent man stood in my place. The day I was handed my friends, my family, and my dignity. Who, I wonder, could imagine a more apt name for it?

Further Demolition Squad Blogs on Easter

Gambling

Ian Bartlett kicks off his first blog on the theme of gambling and shares from his experiences about the danger it can be to us.

Growing up I never went to church and my parents were not Christians, My fathers church was the pub and the Bookmakers and like father like son I was to follow his footsteps. One day my father was at home the next he was gone. I was 9, he left a legacy
to me that I was unable to break for another 40 years, he taught me to Gamble.

From the age of 16 to 46 I was to become a prolific Gambler and a prolific thief as a consequence of my actions I spent nearly 18 years of my life in the Criminal Justice System, In and out of prison became a part of my life.

Gambling gives you a real false sense of hope, against insurmountable odds you actually convince yourself that the next throw of the dice, the next turn of a card will all fall in your favour.
Of course it might, but only for a very short period of time, and when you lose which you will, you end up chasing your losses. Gambling consumes your thoughts day and night.

Your daily life and how you interact with other people are affected, you begin to lie to Family and Friends. Your daily fix is that you have to find the money to serve your addiction, and the spiral becomes uncontrollable and you find yourself with no
where to turn.

We know that the Lord has plans to prosper us and not to harm us to give us a hope and a future Jeremiah 29 11-14

As Paul said to the Philippians 4 v 19 “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory
in Christ Jesus” and as Jesus explained in his Sermon on the Mount, we are to just trust him and not to worry about money, food or clothes.

Our Lord said that the Devil is the father of lies and if we let him, he will try to convince you that trusting is not enough and that some how we have to fix things ourselves.

Next time….’Stepping into the breech against Gambling’.

Why Doesn’t God Do Incredible Miracles Today – Part II

Why Doesn't God Do Incredible Miracles Today - Part 2

Following on from the first post on the question of “Why doesn’t God do incredible miracles today?”, this second thought builds on the fact that although we think an “undeniable” miracle would provide rock-solid evidence for faith, there is much to suggest that it would not. If our hearts are set against belief then no amount of awesome miracles will compel us to believe. Now for my second point, which is this: though we demand for God to show himself undeniably to every human being as sufficient proof for belief, it is harder than we first believe to think of a way for him to actually do this. And not only this, but I strongly question whether this is something we would actually want him to do.

When you think about it, pretty much all of the examples which we usually come up with as “undeniable” actually end up being quite easily explained if we choose to remain skeptical. How about writing your name in the stars? Would this be undeniable proof? For many seekers perhaps it would, but I think equally, for committed skeptics, this would more easily be explained by some other phenomenon, even aliens for instance, than to allow for God’s handiwork. Consider the following factors as well. If it were only you that saw this, others would explain it away as hallucination. If it were witnessed by the entire human race across the globe, this might be good enough for them, but what about the generation after them? Even if it somehow worked perpetually for every successive generation, how would something like this reveal that God is in fact the God of the Bible and not just any other “Supreme Being”?

While you might be able to think of a much more convincing “undeniable” miracle my point is that it seems very hard, if not impossible, to think of a way in which God could actually meet our arrogant demand of him. There are very, very few things that are undeniable. These are limited to laws of pure logic (i.e statements such as ‘all bachelors are unmarried men’) and laws of mathematics (i.e 2+2=4). These are things which we can know for sure and cannot be honestly denied. But as I’m sure you’ll agree, proving these is quite a different kettle of fish to proving the existence of a person–and yes that includes even proving undeniably that a person called you exists.

But let’s imagine we can think of a way, and this is all assuming that God gives us some measure of freedom to believe in him. I suppose he could simply force every single person to believe and obey him; this is after all what we are really demanding when we ask for “undeniable proof”. But the next question I’m led to is: would we really even want this? Would we want God to reveal himself to us in a way that leaves us with no choice whether to believe in him or not? Would that fit into our idea of a perfectly loving God? That would make God a tyrant, as philosopher Blaise Pascal once said, trying to achieve by one way something which can only genuinely be had by another, i.e forcing us to love him when authentic love can only exist where there is freedom.

Here is a bit of food for thought. God is love. So let’s assume God values freedom of choice because without choice there cannot be genuine love. Can you think of a way that God could reveal himself to all people, providing enough evidence for those that do want relationship to believe in him, while maintaining enough freedom to allow those who do not want relationship to refuse belief in him? Let me put it another way: how could God reveal himself effectively to all people while maintaining their freedom to accept or reject him?

Perhaps one good way would be for him to actually step into our world as a person so we could see him, making sure people knew he was coming by predicting everything that would happen, and do certain things that only God can do like control the weather and bring dead people back to life. At the same time he could make sure people knew exactly which God he was by telling them what they need to know about himself, then proving his character with miracles and compassionate love. Maybe throw in a violent, unjust death by execution followed by a predicted self-resurrection while you’re at it. This would be probably be enough evidence for many to believe both at the time and afterwards, while at the same time not forcing anyone to accept him. Those that desired relationship would have their proof, and those that did not would have their opportunity for reasonable doubt. Anyway, there’s one possibility to think about. Oh wait…

Men in Retreat

How do you get men in retreat?  Ask them to join the quilt group; teach children’s Sunday School; or bake a quiche maybe?  Seriously, I was thinking more of a spiritual retreat.

Every year in Spring, our Dutch church is a guest of a church in Surry at their men’s retreat.  It’s a wonderful time of worship, discipleship and fellowship.  This year was no different.  A relevant topic (Faith at Work) led by mature Christians from our host church and including a guest speaker; a De Vere conference hotel at GBP75 per night full board, with use of gym, pool and sauna; the latter necessary to compensate for all the chocolate, pretzels and cake available throughout the day, with not a quiche or a salad in sight!

An inspiring time where men in small groups came together to share their varied life experiences in a natural and open way for the benefit of the group members.

Two things struck me: the richness of those experiences, particularly in the older men; but also the respect and interest with which the younger ones listened (and hopefully absorbed!) the lessons learned and mistakes made over 50+ years.  Not only at the table but in the side conversations throughout the time together. Diverse backgrounds but one in Christ; sharing nourishing spiritual food.

So, how do you get men in retreat?  One way is to consider combining with another church or churches to boost the numbers, increase the diversity and reduce the cost per head.  If it’s yet to happen in your church, give it a go, it’s so rewarding.

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25

Why Doesn’t God Do Incredible Miracles Today? – Part I

Why Doesn't God Do Incredible Miracles Today?

I once asked a non-Christian friend of mine what it would take for him to believe in God. He replied that he would need to see undeniable evidence of his existence through an amazing miracle. I’ve often heard this question asked, and when pressed as to what this miracle might be, people say things like “God writing my name in the stars” or something equally spectacular. While this is a response no doubt familiar to Christians the world over, it reflects a concern shared by believers and unbelievers alike. Skeptics might state it as my friend did, but many Christians will echo a similar feeling when they ask questions like, “Why doesn’t God do incredible miracles today like he did in the times of the Bible?”

Despite there being various assumptions behind that question, such as the belief that God does not in fact do such miracles today–which many would argue he does–I believe it does raise an important issue to do with our desire for spectacular signs to support our belief in God. Isn’t it as easy as a click of the fingers for God to move a mountain or part a sea once again? If so, why doesn’t God do it? Wouldn’t it be more loving of him to show himself in miracles to everyone?

While dozens of books and articles have treated such questions with far more depth than I would be able to here, I would like to offer a couple of thoughts on this question. Firstly, arguing from an example we find in the Bible, I’ll suggest that miracles, even of the “undeniable” type, do not necessarily lead to faithful belief. Secondly, I will try to lead the question to its logical outcome by asking what particular miracle would be good enough to meet the demand.  This post will be looking at the first point, and the second will be covered in part two.

My first point is this: we think that an incredible public or personal miracle would certainly lead to unshakeable faith, but this assumption is mistaken. Although I could talk about instances from my own experience, or indeed from the life of Jesus, let’s consider the nation of Israel as seen in the biblical book of Exodus as our example. It is a familiar story how God dramatically delivered the Israelites from Egyptian slavery through a series of remarkable miracles. Not only did God send ten separate plagues and part the Red Sea to ensure Israel’s safe escape, but in the desert he led the people with pillars of fire and cloud when they were lost, made water come out of a stone when they were thirsty, sent bread and meat from heaven when they were hungry and defeated their enemies when they were under threat. All in all, I think these are exactly the kinds of fantastic miracles that come to mind when we think of something that would make belief undeniable.

But how did the people that witnessed these unforgettable miracles respond? While the second act of the story is perhaps less familiar to many–the Prince of Egypt movie didn’t go on to that part–Psalm 78, sums it up well:

“In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders…Yet they sinned still more against the Most High in the desert. They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the desert?’”

In other words the result of God working some of the most awesome, seemingly undeniable miracles ever recorded was that they continued in sin and continued to demand even more miracles. This completely contradicts our assumption that even one such miracle would provide enough evidence for belief for modern day skeptics. For the people of Israel–and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking our nature is any different than theirs–the miracles, incredible though they were, did not convince them because on the inside they didn’t really want to believe. In fact, when you read on, it was only when God took away the miracles and punished them for their rebellion that they really turned to God.

This is very revealing for the way in which things continue to work today. Isn’t it interesting that rather than in the times of peace and prosperity, it’s in the times of crisis that our culture seems to turn to God? Just think of church numbers shooting up in the wake of 9/11 for proof of this.

Perhaps the reason is this: miracles are not the basis for true relationship; desire for relationship is. If you desire relationship with God, you will appreciate his miracles and they will strengthen your faith. If you are resistant to relationship with him, then you can, and probably will, find a way to maintain your skepticism in the face of any miracle he could possibly work for you. In other words, although we think that by doing some incredible miracle God would finally convince us, the truth about the way we humans work is that there is really no guarantee that this will be the case.

Taking a Second Look?

I recently learned of something which I thought worth passing on as a helpful guidance to us men in the sensitive area of sex, lust and sexual relationships.

Our society seems to be obsessed with sexuality and lust as we are continuously bombarded with sexual imagery in advertising, TV and films and even our popular music, which often conveys sexual desire with only a veneer of love. This presents, I would say, a confusing scenario especially when most Christians are seen as going along with it all and many churches are not offering a great deal of clarity as to how we should be reacting!

Jesus indicated  the importance of the issue in the Sermon on the Mount when he said that a man just by looking at a woman with lust means he has already committed adultery! The word used for lust by Jesus was apparently ‘epithumia’ which can be translated to ‘intentionally objectifying another person for one’s own gratification’*.  In other words he is drawing a distinction between sexual attraction (a normal response) and objectification; between sexual desire and ‘epithumia’. We are made as sexual beings and therefore will have sexual attractions but if we take a second ‘leering’ look and start fantasising a sexual encounter, we have crossed over the line to ‘epithumia’.

How do we respond appropriately therefore? A diagram which may help is as follows*. Imagine a triangle with one angle at the top. The two sides rising from the base represent two aspects of a sexual relationship: one the level of commitment and the other the level of intimacy. The base of the triangle represents a relationship with no physical intimacy and no commitment. As commitment increases (which will include respecting and valuing the person) then the more physical intimacy can be enjoyed! Where the two sides come together at the top this illustrates the highest act of physical intimacy – sexual intercourse – which can only be sustained by the highest level of commitment – marriage.

Sometimes ‘epithumia’ has to be overcome and exposing it as a false and short lived feeling of pleasure can be part of the answer. So remember guys, if this is you, and you are confronted with those attractive sexual images or encounters with the opposite sex, just think of the triangle and don’t take a second look……..unless of course the thought and possibility of commitment also immediately comes to mind.

(*Material taken from The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith)

Useful link: First Man Standing (via Restored)

Ethos: We shouldn’t Know God

Ethos – part of Youth for Christ have released a new video looking at the question of morality.

This – part III – was written by Andy of the Demolition Squad.

Catch Up

Missed part I and II? Have a look here:

You are loved…

metaEarlier this week I went to bed to find our cat “Meta” curled up halfway down the duvet, clearly not wishing to be disturbed, after all he was there first.

I successfully got into bed and gradually claimed the quilt back. Meta did not complain and leave as usual but insisted on snuggling up to me, half inside the quilt.

This reminded me of a time when we still had our dog, a Stafford-beagle cross called Arnold.

I had gone for a lie down on the bed because I was not feeling too well.
I dozed off and woke up to find Arnold snuggled in to my back and Meta in to my front – I was the filling in a dog and cat sandwich.

I said to myself “What’s going on here?” instantly the answer came to me – “You are loved”.

My Heavenly Father was using my pets to tell me that he loved me.

A couple of weeks ago we watched a film – About Time, written by Richard Curtiss.

At the age of 21, Tim is told an incredible family secret by his father: all the men in his family have the ability to relive their past. He can revisit any moment in his life to try things differently until he gets them perfectly right…

…In the end, he finds that making the most of love and life will mean giving up the past and living for the moment.

One of the moments that stuck with me from this film was when the slightly potty Uncle referred to the best day of his life – it was the day when his brother-in-law told him during a wedding speech that he was loved.

[A word of caution:  While I enjoyed the film, some people may find the language used and some scenes not to their taste, it is not a “Christian” film].

From Biblegateway.com:

How do you know you’re loved?
On a basic level, we know we’re loved when someone tells us, or when they show it through their actions.
When Jesus came to this earth, he was showing an incalculable amount of love for us.
He loved us so much that he was willing to die for us.

 John 3:16

“God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.”

As you go about your daily life this week, remember that the truth is that you are loved.

 

Bible Contradictions: Part II

Bible Contradictions Part II

Here we are then, with another exciting instalment of supposed Bible inaccuracies. This week we’re looking at some of the questions posed in the book of Mark. Woohoo!

Mark 6:5 – Why couldn’t Jesus do mighty works?

Problem: If Jesus is God, ‘with all authority in heaven and earth’, why is it that he ‘could do no mighty work’? Surely that would mean He is not all-powerful?

Solution: Jesus is almighty as God, but not as man. For example, as God Jesus never got tired, but as man He did. Furthermore, the issue here is about principle, not metaphysics – which is to say that Jesus chose not to perform miracles because of the people’s ‘unbelief’. He wasn’t an entertainer or a spiritual vending machine. He deemed it a wasted effort. In modern life, too, you will find people who say ‘If God wrote his name across the sky, I’d believe.’  But when you talk to them about the odds of the universe existing by chance (link to first Ethos video) and suggest that God has, in fact, done just that, they fob you off with phrases like ‘someone had to win the lottery!’ God responds to our need for Him, not our need for tricks and wonders!

Mark 10: 17-31 – Did Jesus deny He was God to the rich, young ruler?

Problem: Jesus is called ‘Good Teacher’, which He rebukes, saying, ‘Why do you call me Good? No-one is Good but One, that is, God’. Is he here conceding His lack of full divinity?

Solution: No, He isn’t. Jesus did not deny He was God; He simply asked the man to examine the implications of what he was saying – essentially, ‘Do you understand what it means to call me Good?’ Jesus was forcing the rich young ruler into an uncomfortable dilemma – either He is Good and therefore God, or He is simply a man and therefore flawed. In today’s western culture, we have a very arbitrary idea of what ‘Good’ is. We really use it to mean ‘Nice’, but Nice does not have the same moral implications as Good. Have a think about how you personally might define good, and what reason you have to think that definition is the right one. Going back to the text, Jesus is asking this very question, getting the man to think about what he means by ‘Good’. Realistically, no Good man would deceive people by claiming to be God. The liberal Christ – a good moral teacher but not God – is a flight of fancy, and a figment of our post-modern imagination.

Mark 11: 23-24 – Did Jesus promise to give literally anything we ask for in faith?

Problem: Superficially, this verse does seem to suggest that God will grant any request we make of Him as long as we just believe hard enough. But we all know from our own lives that this isn’t wholly true – in the words of the Rolling Stones, you can’t always get what you want.

Solution: First of all, God cannot literally give us anything. Some things are actually impossible. For example, God could not grant out request to be God, or, much to my own annoyance, the real Batman. He can’t make a square circle or a married bachelor. He can’t go against His own nature and approve of our sin.

Secondly, the context in the passage indicates that it was not an unconditional offer, when the very next verse says ‘If you….’ This is the conditional tense, and so is concerned with conditions.

All difficult passages should be interpreted in harmony with other clear statements of Scripture. Paul wasn’t healed of the thorn in his flesh, though he prayed faithfully and earnestly. Jesus taught that it was not the blind man’s lack of faith that made him blind, rather he was born blind ‘that the works of God should be revealed in him’. (John 9:3) The reality – of which we all sometimes need to be reminded – is that God is not here to do our bidding. We are not cosmic wizards calling down storms like Saruman. Prayer is a means by which we serve God, not the reverse. It is not about getting our will done in heaven, but God getting His will done on earth.

Prayers do get answered, and people do get healed, but God’s greatest promise to us is himself, not signs and wonders. We must ‘abide in Him’ and ask ‘according to His will.’

Tune in next time for some more stimulating Bible-ly difficulty. Same bat-time, same bat-channel.

[For more 'Bible Contradictions' - see part I]

Church Without Walls

The fastest growing churches are the ones without  ’walls’, the New Testament church, the persecuted underground church in China, the Pentecostal church in South America and parts of Africa. They have no buildings, no institutions, no professional leadership, but they have the body of Christ involved in all spheres of life.

In Africa I have visited thriving schools, garages, barbers, markets and churches ‘under a big tree’; no walls! Jesus`s ministry had no walls.

There were as few as 25,000 christians in 100 AD but by 310 AD there were 20 million.

The Pentecostal movement has grown to about 350 million in the last 200 years.

I am using the term ‘walls’ figuratively, let’s say no formal building. In South Korea, Paul Yonggi Cho, leader of a mega church, always maintained that the real church existed in the cells and that the rest was frills.

My calling for the last few years has been to try to link the formal with the informal church and to encourage ‘every member ministry’ at the grass roots. The ‘formal’ and the ‘informal’ church need each other. We are all brothers and sisters in the same family!

What can we do? Gordon Cosby of the community Church of the Savior in Washington DC noted over 60 years of ministry, that no groups that came together around a non-missional purpose (eg prayer,worship,study,etc.) ever ended up becoming missional. It was only those groups that set out to be missional (while embracing prayer, worship, study etc., in the process) that actually did mission.

How do we become missional?

Church starts on the Monday morning, the Sunday morning session is like getting the tank filled to empower us and equip us to be God’s embassadors for the week.

We are not alone. Keep your close Christian friends up to speed, so that they can pray. Act in small teams if possible and remember that the Holy Spirit is always beside us to guide us and encourage us. We are God`s eyes, ears, mouth and hands in many situations.

‘Slow down’ was the good advice passed on to me by CVM when I started our informal men’s group 9 years ago.’

‘Relax with God and listen to God,’ is another suggestion I have followed. Finally watch where the Holy Spirit is working and join in with him.

God bless you next Monday morning!

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