Monday, 23 March 2015

Relevance, and the Integrity of the Gospel

As Christians, once sinners, saved by Grace though Jesus on the cross, we long to see others come to know God and be saved also. Jesus dwells within us, we are his holy people and because of that we are filled with love for others and a desire to see them be given the same gift of eternal life that we have been given by God. Our true home is no longer here on earth, but we are citizens of heaven, adopted children of God. In our now relatively short time left on this earth Jesus commissions us to make disciples of all nations. So in a culture that seems to be drifting further and further away from the desired created order of God, a culture that is self serving, full of temptation, pleasures and false fulfilment -"water" if you like - that will only leave one thirsty again, how do we guide people towards Gods river of living water, which will never leave them thirsty again? (John 4:13-14)

Should we take the approach of people like Rob Bell? Mega church pastor in the US who's recently made some very controversial claims about the church and culture in regards to the issue of homosexuality. Claiming that because modern culture has moved on and changed, so should the church. He was recently quoted on Oprah as saying "I think culture is already there, and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defence”. Is this the right approach? I would strongly argue no, the bible clearly shows itself to be the true living word of God, all scripture being God breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The bible, when studied and understood is also very clear on the way God created things and the way in which man disrupts this creative order through sin, of which the wages are death (Romans 6:23) and Jesus is the only way back to God (John 14:6-7). I’ve only recently begun to study the bible for all it’s worth, understanding it’s entire narrative sweep and context. it's Reliability, authorship, relevance, authority and application and already it’s very clear to me that Scripture pulls no punches in laying out what’s holy to God and what isn’t.

So instead should we take the Westboro Baptist church kind of approach? Holding big judgemental and condemning signs up, preaching a message of Gods judgement, wrath, hatred and hell? Well no, Jesus clearly taught to love thy neighbour as thyself (Mark 12:31), that them without sin should cast the first stone (John 8:7), that it was the job of the Holy spirit to convict people of their sins (John 16:8), and for us to not Judge others (Matthew 7:1-2). Jesus was also known to spend time “reclining” in fellowship with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:10). 

So as young Christians, battling and seeking to see souls won for christ against the tide of modernity, where is the balance between relevance and integrity, popularity and truth, scriptural application and modern culture? Here’s a few things based on my experience and thought that I’ve found helpful in having meaning conversations with people about the things that matter, from good close friends, to strangers I’ve met for the first time. By no means are they gospel and I’d be keen to here others thoughts in the comments below.

No two conversations or relationships are the same, God has created everybody different for a reason and with that I think we have to always look to be sensitive to where people are at before we decide how to best show them the love of Christ through the things that we say. Things like peoples personalities, backgrounds, family life, education and current situations or struggles are important for us to gauge in order to know what is going to draw them towards Gods truth and love, and be able to avoid what might push them away all together. The level of relationship you have with that person often determines how well they are going to respect what you have to say and it’s going allow you to know what areas of their life need truth and love spoken into them. Remember that first and foremost Jesus called us to Love thy neighbour, not Judge them. He is the ultimate Judge and one day we will all stand before him and be Judged according to our sins. Those of us covered by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus will inherit his kingdom, that’s the only criteria. Jesus said “Nobody comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6). With this in mind, I believe it’s important to above all, always show love to others in the things that we say, understanding we aren’t above them because they are in sin and we aren’t, or we’re christians and they aren’t, but understand we were ALL once sinners in need of grace too. God will deal with the sin in his own time through his own means, we are called to love the sinner and that’s what leads people to want to be in relationship with God in the first place.

So does all that mean we compromise on Gods holiness? Absolutely not, The bible is very clear on what pleases God and what doesn’t, but before anything we should be seeking to apply that Holiness to our own lives through relationship with Jesus and allowing him to change and mould us to be more like him, We should remove the log from our own eye before seeking to remove the speck from our brothers eye (Matthew 7:3-5). God hates sin, he grieves when the wonderfully perfect world he created becomes warped and imperfect through the choices of his created beings to turn away from him (Genesis 6:6). But telling people about their sin that God so hates isn’t the command the Jesus has asked us to follow. That’s a job for the convicting power of the Holy spirit, not us. There’s a time and a place for correction and guidance away from sin and towards God, one I believe primarily belongs between believing christians, in strong relationship with one another, within the church.

So what does this look like lived out, in our everyday conversations? One big thing I’ve learned is that whether they are your best friend since kindergarten or you’ve just met them at the bus stop, one thing that really helps, and I can’t stress this enough, is LISTEN. Listen to where people are at, hear what they have to say, hear their opinions and views even if they may clash with our own. Do this first and you’d be amazed how much more willing people will be to hear what you have to say about the truth and love of Jesus. It’s so easy at times to just jump straight to that bible verse, or to our own views, what we believe God says about what’s right and whats wrong. I’ve learned the hard way through my years as a young christian when I was in high school that this very, very rarely, it fact pretty much never, leads to fruitful and meaningful conversations. We must also remember that the gospel message is not a pre written script, and although as I said earlier the truth of it shouldn’t ever be compromised, there is still a unique and sensitive way of sharing it for every single conversation and every single relationship. God speaks to us in our own way, his relationship with us is unique and unlike any other. Therefore the way in which God uses us to share the gospel and make disciples of all nations is unique and personal to every situation and individual too. 

With all this in mind, Above all we should pray. Pray for our friends, pray for our family that are yet to know God, pray for meaningful encounters with people and chances to show Gods love and compassion, pray for the right words to say and not to say, pray for prophetic insight and sensitivity to the holy spirit in everything we do. Pray for our nations and our Governments, rejoice with God in break through, and battle alongside him through trials. Our time on this earth is to short to waste so get out there into the fields, they are ripe for harvest! (John 4:35)

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Mystery of Suffering

One of the most mysterious topics that one may try to examine is the presence of great suffering in this world. The El-Shaddai is (wrongfully) assumed to be evil or unwilling to intervene because of such suffering. It seems apparent that a God who is omnipotent and omnipresent should be able and willing to prevent such suffering, shouldn't He?

Most suffering can be traced back to a source, and this suffering is not hard to understand. When people suffer at the hands war, evil people, or human greed, it makes sense. God gave man the ability to make his own decisions, and man has used this freedom for evil. Likewise, when we suffer persecution it is understandable as we live in a fallen world, fighting against the power of darkness which attempts to fight us back. Both of these situations make sense, and although hard and painful at times, they can be understood. But what about suffering that is easily preventable by a God who is all-powerful and in control of all things? What about those situations where God could have warned you to walk a different path and not get yourself into a mess? Or those preventable accidents we fall victim to? I'm sure we can all think of times where we think that God could have made things turn out differently to help us avoid suffering, but I am boldly going to suggest that there are times when God wants us to suffer.

Now don't get it twisted, I'm not saying that God causes our suffering or enjoys it, no good Father enjoys the suffering of His children. Jesus said that he was the perfect representation of the Father, anyone who had seen him had seen the Father (John 14:9-11). Jesus healed every person who came to him, ruined every funeral that he attended, calmed every storm he came across and restored societal outcasts like tax-collectors and adulterers. As this is the way that Jesus felt about the suffering of his people, this is the same way Father God feels about it too. It is therefore inconceivable to believe that God brings suffering upon anybody, as He is a Father who gives good gifts (Luke 11:11-13). However, it is clear that God does allow his people to suffer at certain times.

Read through the Bible and you will find that the closer your relationship to God is, the more you will suffer, in fact one of the things that Jesus did promise us is that in this world we would suffer tribulations (John 16:33). David ran in fear of his life from Saul for most of his reign as king; all but one of Jesus' disciples were martyred; Paul was stoned, flogged, imprisoned and shipwrecked; Isaiah was sawn in half and the list goes on and on. God's people suffer, and God himself suffered with them. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do believe that some things can only be achieved through suffering.  I believe that God wants us to suffer at specific times for specific purposes. God doesn't enjoy this, but He uses these times to maximum effect.  It was during David's time on the run from Saul that God shaped him into the great king he was to become. It was the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7, and the subsequent  scattering of the believers that lead to large growth in the early church. And it was through Jesus' death upon a cross that we are set free from our sin and gain adoption into God's family. It is during these hard and painful times that God moves at His most powerful - as God's power is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Some of the most dynamic and powerful moments in my life have been when God has allowed me to endure such sufferings. Nobody enjoys those times when you are walking through it, but these are the moments where God changes you in ways that He otherwise couldn't.

So whenever you come up a against a mountain, you should always pray that God moves it; it's much easier to walk in a valley then climb a mountain. Praise God if He moves the mountain for you and you do not need to suffer through it, but it doesn't always happen this way - God didn't move it for Jesus when he prayed earnestly in the Garden of Gethsemane. But if God doesn't move the mountain and you are forced to climb it, know that it will not be in vain. Suffering brings a perspective that is otherwise unseen, and gives insight unique to its circumstances. It is only upon a mountain top that a valley can be seen for what it is.

Life is not always smooth-sailing and enduring hardship is part of the path we must walk as believers. We must learn to embrace the truth that although we may not always comprehend our suffering, God will use it to bring about his glorious purposes, even though the journey may be tough. He's been doing this a lot longer than we have and He knows what He's doing, and we need to trust Him in that.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

We can't just do nothing

(Warning - contains a shameless plug for the 40 hour famine & world vision)

We live in a world full of
and often we got so caught up in these problems like,
'wheres my hairbush?' & 'I skipped breakfast and i'm hungry' & 'I lost my pen.'    And im not taking away from the fact that these problems can be REALLY ANNOYING, and can cause issues for us, but it's always good to look at the big picture, and in the sceme of things, they aren't as important as we can start to believe they are.

 We ALSO live in a world where people are lucky to get one meal a day, people who are starving and have no clean drinking water. 

45. 5 % of children in the world lack basics needs like food, shelter and clean drinking water, thats 1 billion children. 

 36% of Africans live on less than US$1 a day, 50% of the world live on less than $5 a day

1.1 Billion people living in developing countries have inadequite access to water.

& in the minute or so its taken you to read this far, 9 children have died due to malnutrition related illnesses or of starvation. 

These people are desperately in need of our help, and sometimes these issues seem like questions with no answers, & yes, you are right in thinking that there is no answer to these issues. Its very easy to solve a problem and making anothe one ten times worse in the process. But we can't just do nothing & there are ways we can make a massive & positive impact on people's lives that are so difficult now. 

The head, heart, hands theory:
The head heart hands theory is very simple. It states that your heart for a problem, your knowledge about a problem & practically what you do to help fix it. When we have a heart for something, we should bring our knowledge of the situation and what we're doing about it up to the same level. For example:
If you have a heart for young girls stuck in the sex trafficking industry overseas, you cannot just rush over to Cambodia an try & solve the problem, you will probably do more harm then good & break yourself emotionally. So a really good way to go about it is to: 

Heart: spend a lot of time praying that God will continue to grow this passion to do something about this problem. 
Hands: take oppertunities to do things in your own city or place you go to school or work to fundraise & send money to people and organisations already involved in helping the cause
Head: Research the issue, talk to people and organisations already involved and learn as much as you can. But most importantly pray the God gives you the opportunities & that he leads you where he wants you to go. 

(Here's your work vision plug)
The 40 hour famine is coming up & it's a really practical & simple way for you to make a big impact on people and children quite literally on the brink of death in Bangladesh, and we can make an impact from right here in Christchurch. My advice:

The famine is on the 22- 24 May 2015, where we give something up for 40 hours, usually this is food, but can also be technology, talking e.t.c.

A little bit of money can go a loooooong way!!
$2 can buy 50 nutrient sachets to help severly malnourished children gain weight. 
$10 can help a family of 5 start a vege garden to help grow nutrious food

Imagine 500 of those $2 coins,  500 of those $10. Imagine the differece that can make. Now imagine the difference that half a million people that do the famine raising $10 would make? The effects would be MASSIVE. So I leave you with this question:

Will you sit back and do nothing? Or will you take a stand and help change the world?

Here is where you can add yourself to the tky famine group