The Benevolent Benefactor

In Australia it’s very unusual to be accosted by a beggar. It’s also very confronting. When it does happen so many things go through your head. It’s not like meeting a busker, they are usually passive in their appeal. Beggars are in your face, they demand a response. When I meet a beggar I immediately wonder what has brought them to this point, are they using drugs or alcohol and will any money I give them just go to fuelling their addiction. I would certainly never expect them to have something to give me, but the reality is, each one has a story to tell.

This is the story of a beggar who lives in an impoverished country where there is no social security system to provide for the poor. Instead, the beggar scavenges through refuse bins, begs in the streets and knocks at doors looking for food. He lives from day to day on whatever he can beg or appropriate. Our story begins in a time when things have been particularly tough, the bins have only tiny scraps of food and many doors have been shut in his face. In desperate need he realises that he must find someone to help him and he knocks on a door in a neighbourhood he’s never visited before.

To his surprise the person behind the door hands him a loaf of bread, a block of cheese and some fruit. He is amazed at this bounty and he decides to return the next night where once again he is offered food and some clothing. The person behind the door also suggests that he should bring his friends next time to share in his good fortune.

The beggar goes back to the transient community where he lives and excitedly tells the other hungry people there of his good fortune and the offer that has been extended to them. He is so happy to have such good news to share, but to his surprise the response from his fellow beggars is mixed. Many laugh at him and suggest he is playing a joke on them. Others just don’t believe him. Some decide to watch him to see if he follows his own advice and returns to his new benefactor. Sadly, only one person joins him that night when he goes to the door to receive sustenance. For the rest of his life he never gives up, he continues to invite his fellow beggars to come to the benevolent benefactor.

Christians are like that beggar. We have found a benefactor and He has offered us the bread of life. He has also instructed us to go out and share this good news. It is, at first, a surprise to discover that others are often either distrustful or sceptical about the wonderful discovery we’ve made. We want to shout it from the rooftops, “We’ve found the bread of life, come and meet Him and receive the gift of eternal life.”640px-Bloch-SermonOnTheMount

Jesus began His famous Sermon on the Mount by telling His listeners:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:3)

We are all “poor in spirit,” we all need the infilling of the Holy Spirit, which imparts to us the wonderful gift of eternal life. Spiritually we are all beggars, we desperately need God to fill us with His Holy Spirit. Jesus goes on to tell those who had gathered to listen to Him on the mount:

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (Mat 5:6)

Between these two verses we find:

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the humble: for they shall inherit the earth. (Mat 5:4-5)

When we turn our eyes to eternal matters we can only mourn. If we have not yet met the Saviour we might mourn for our own spiritual poverty. If we already know Him then we mourn for the lost, who are yet to meet Him and distrustful of His offer. To meet Him we must learn humility. We are superior to none. All that we have that is of any spiritual or temporal good we have received from God. When we come to this understanding we have a humble attitude towards our Creator, and this leads us to hunger and thirst after righteousness, because it is only as we have His righteousness imparted to us that we can commune with the Father. Our awareness of our own spiritual poverty leads us to the benevolent benefactor, who fills us with God’s Holy Spirit and promises that we shall not only inherit the Earth, but that we will also find ourselves citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah also mentioned those who would be blessed. He said:

….. blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” (Jer 17:7-10)

Later Jeremiah warned unbelievers:

….. all who turn away from God will be disgraced. They will be buried in the dust of the earth, for they have abandoned the LORD, the fountain of living water. (Jer 17:13)

God the Creator ensures everyone has an opportunity to hear His message. He wants people to know that we must choose to come to Him and receive His gift of eternal life, or turn away from Him and be buried in the dust. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told His listeners there will be a judgment day, and after that day, only those who listen to and follow His teachings will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, those people who have accepted His gift of eternal life. As Christians we are compelled to share the good news of the bountiful benefactor, even in the face of scepticism and ridicule, the message He has given to us is too important to keep to ourselves.

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Don’t Mention Creation

pear tree cropesIf you really want to throw a spanner in the works, or stop a discussion amongst a group of people, tell them you believe in creation. It has traditionally been religion and politics we weren’t supposed to mention, but now, people who have not taken the time to look at it, have delegated creation science to the realm of religion and it is therefore taboo. Yet when you try to point out to them that it is actually robust science, based on empirical evidence, using an alternative set of presuppositions to those of the dominant worldview you are talking about, people tend to turn off, turn away, turn against you, do anything but give you a chance to explain why you believe there is a valid alternative to their point of view. Such a shame really. It’s a fascinating subject and would make an excellent topic of discussion on TV and radio.

I guess I’m yearning for the old days on the communes I lived on in the 60s and 70s, when we tossed around ideas without any barriers. Religion – bring it on. Politics – why not? It was an ideas free-for-all. We enjoyed examining traditional ideas and pulling them apart, while seeking out new systems of belief to analyse and try to understand. Nothing was taboo; everything was an interesting set of ideas to be examined. Some we tried and tossed aside, others we revisited when new information came to hand, while others sat in the queue awaiting deeper analysis. We were detectives of a sort, examining each claim, counterclaim and cosmology, trying to discover if they actually fit with our own understandings and experiences of reality.

Metaphysics, existentialism, the paranormal, the supernatural, spiritualism, philosophy, eastern mysticism, atheism, humanism, materialism; they all sounded as though they deserved some consideration. But in our postmodern world the dominant cultural paradigm has moved towards philosophical naturalism, so don’t mention anything that relates to the supernatural, and certainly not creation, it’s a religious subject. This cultural censorship is mind-boggling. How did people become so closed to examining different ideas? The media certainly seems to be leading the charge. The only airing they give to creation science is to seek out untrained people, with no real qualifications and ask them questions they know will result in an embarrassing lack of scientific awareness. Well trained, highly qualified PhD creation scientists are barred from the airwaves.

During the cultural drift towards materialism, evolution has been decreed to be the unbiased “scientific truth” we must accept about our origins and reality. People are dissuaded from examining its underlying, unproven, assumptions that are based entirely on philosophical naturalism, while those who break this new cultural taboo are ridiculed. The irony is, philosophical naturalism is just a different religion, another belief set, which insists there can be no supernatural agency in the creation of the universe. How did we get here? And why does a society that claims to value a rational, logical approach, refuse to examine the alternative set of robust, scientific, empirical evidence that supports creation?

In my experience most people are not really interested in questioning or challenging the status quo, but the really surprising thing is they are not even interested in defending it. When pushed, they appear to have little real substance behind their beliefs. They just trust the experts to be the arbiters of truth; the high priests of modern western society are the naturalist scientists. We are even encouraged to doubt whether highly trained and qualified people, who happen to believe in creation, can actually be scientists.

Somehow, almost all my life I have managed to be out of step with the dominant cultural paradigm. When mid 20th century culture was predominantly Christian, I was a New Age hippie seeking enlightenment and reading books from the theosophical society and novels by Aldous Huxley and Herman Hesse. With the end of the 20th century approaching, western culture moved into post-Christian, postmodern humanism and I became a Bible believing Christian. I wonder why I was born so contrary; my parents should have called me Mary.

The Dog Steps

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My dog has lost her bounce. When she first moved into our home and I made an effort to keep her in specially designated areas, I was disconcerted by her ability to leap onto couches and beds. Although she’s quite a little dog, she was able to leap up to about a metre high, and did it with ease. I had never owned a dog before and was always amazed at friends who allowed their dogs into their homes, in my way of thinking dogs were outdoor pets. That changed as soon as Monique became one of the family, now my beautiful poodle climbs into bed with me. It took her all of about a week to win me over to the joys of doggie companionship.

Monique is now approaching 15 and she’s finding it difficult to leap up onto my bed. The first time this happened she looked up at me with such a surprised and downcast face my heart went out to her. What else could I do but log onto ebay and buy her some dog steps? The day after these rather fragile plastic steps arrived, a friend came to visit and I was telling her about Monique’s reluctance to use her new steps. My friend thought she’d help things along by giving my pooch a demonstration on climbing steps. Crunch!

The steps weren’t made to carry humans, but I wasn’t too worried, I knew I could tape them up and they’d be good as new. My friend was horrified and the next time I saw her she gave me another, more robust set of dog steps she’d found on ebay. So now my beloved hound has 2 sets of dog steps she refuses to use. There they sit, side by side at the end of my bed, tripping up passers by with a sort of dumb relish. You can almost hear a little snicker coming from beneath their plush covers when yet another person kicks their toe.

I bought the dog steps to help my little fury friend enjoy her life and face the future with a better outcome, but she just doesn’t trust them, and she refuses to even give them a try. This made me think about how God has designed a Way for us that is perfectly tailored to meet our needs, even though we, as yet, have not even identified those needs. Despite the fact that He knows our circumstances better than we could ever know them ourselves, we hesitate to even try His program to enhance our future.

I often hear people talking about going to heaven, or that their loved ones are in heaven, but I know from God’s Word that this future is not guaranteed to those who refuse to use God’s steps. We don’t have the ability to bounce ourselves into heaven and the reality is that Jesus proclaimed that He is the only Way to heaven, there is no other way (Acts 4:12). Most people seem to like the idea of ascending to some eternal abode, but they find it difficult to trust God’s Word about His Way and Truth.

I’ve taken to leaving little treats on the top steps so Monique will come to see them as less threatening and merely a way up to the place she wants to go. Perhaps if Christians started actually telling those who don’t yet know Jesus the real gospel, that is, that the Father wants to give them eternal life rather than see them perish (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9), which is the default position, it would inspire more trust than the unbiblical scenario most “official” churches proclaim.

This “official” doctrine insists that the unsaved will either be eternally subjected to suffering and pain or abandoned in some outer darkness forever. The God this scenario represents at the top of the steps is not the Father I know and love, and He is not the God of the Bible. Eternal punishment (Mat 25:46) does not mean God will allow isolation, pain or suffering to go on forever, it means this punishment will have eternal consequences, and those consequences will be irrevocable.

Our Father knows it would be unendurable for people to live eternally, conscious of their fallen condition – He has made a Way for us to be changed into incorruptible people through the righteousness of His Son. People need to understand that God’s steps are for their ultimate good and the only Way to be part of God’s eternal kingdom is to use God’s revealed solution to the problem of our sinful natures.

We need the gift of eternal life through His Son to ascend God’s steps. Without the gift of eternal life the only alternative is eternal euthanasia, eternal destruction (Mat 7:14: Romans 9:22; Php 3:19; 2 Thes 1:9; 2 Peter 2:1, 12, 3:7). God has set His steps before us, we need only determine to trust Him and use His revealed program for our eternal future, because without Jesus’ gift of eternal life we can have no eternal abode.

Tolerating Intolerance

What is it that one can say to the inhabitants of a world that will pass away? Christians believe this world has a finite end. In the last book of the Bible we learn that sometime in the not too distant future, God will create a New Heaven and a New Earth and the Old Earth that is filled with pain, death and suffering will pass away (Rev 21:1). Could anyone really have a problem with the revelation that God has a plan and a program to deal with all the suffering in this world? So what can we say to our fellow travelers on this beautiful planet about God’s revelation and His plan?

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It all depends on whether we believe that those who have rejected the gift of eternal life from the Lord of Life will also pass away, or perish along with the old creation. Jesus uses the word “perish” in the famous verse from John’s gospel where He says:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
(John 3:16).

After 40 years of study I am convinced the Bible does not teach that everyone has an eternal or immortal soul. The Bible teaches God alone is immortal, and every individual who is born on our planet must “put on” immortality, just as Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians. Those who reject the gift of eternal life from the Lord Jesus Christ will indeed perish, just as Jesus warned. Therefore, what I feel is vital to communicate to people who have yet to meet the Lord Jesus, can be quite different to the words other Christians who believe everyone has an immortal soul might say.

Since the very early days, when the concept of an immortal soul was introduced from Greek philosophy, the church has almost universally incorporated this doctrine into its teachings. Some traditions that have been added to biblical doctrine are blatantly obvious and easy to identify, but this idea is subtle, and for me it finds its roots in the Garden of Eden. Satan told Adam and Eve that God had lied, they would not die if they disobeyed their Creator (Gen 3:4) and he has introduced this idea into many pagan traditions.

I find no biblical teaching for this doctrine, the Bible seems very clear that God alone is immortal (1Tim 6:16) and we must “put on” immortality (1Cor 15:53-54). Yet people who claim to be Bible believing Christians insist that orthodox Christianity must include the doctrine that every human being, whether saved or unsaved, has an immortal soul. Why? And why are believers who accept this teaching so hostile to considering this doctrine might be wrong? I have actually met with a certain amount of hostile intolerance from other Christians to the idea of human mortality.

This intolerant attitude is not unique to Christians. I cannot find any empirical evidence to show people are born gay; it seems more likely that this is a choice people make about their sexuality. I believe this because numerous people, who thought they were gay, have chosen to leave that lifestyle behind. They assert that God has spoken to them and convinced them that this choice is the product of human, fleshly desire (Col 3:5-7) and that God has enabled them to move on. However, people who insist they were born gay have a problem with exgays and people like me.

I am happy to respect the rights of other people to hold their beliefs; that does not mean I have to agree with their beliefs, but I respect their right to hold them and I try to understand why they do. This courtesy is becoming less common amongst folk who believe people are born gay; they call me homophobic and some go so far as to say I have no right to believe what I believe. I am definitely adverse to homosexual behaviour, because the Bible teaches that this way of life is completely incompatible with a life where God is central and one seeks to follow the teachings of Jesus. To my way of thinking, condoning homosexuality is condemning those who practice it to a lesser life than the one God has for them. But that’s my belief, and I would think in our modern, democratic, tolerant society I would have the right to believe this.

People who condemn others because they don’t agree with their beliefs often feel they have grounds for disrespect or violence toward those people. This sort of intolerance can come in all shapes and sizes and may be held by people with various worldviews, but they are all acting from the same spirit, the spirit of intolerance. Christians can choose to love those who identify themselves as homosexual, or people who follow Buddha or Mohammad, because that is what Jesus commands and enables us to do.

While we choose to hold to our belief that Jesus Christ is the only Way, and continue to follow His teachings and guidelines from His Word, we can love and accept others who have completely different worldviews. As I strive to live a life of love towards all, no matter what their beliefs, I am also trying to learn how to tolerate the intolerance of others.

The Great Trilemma

Many people of my generation were confronted with the proposition that the concept of absolute Truth is an archaic notion held by uneducated people who had never thought about abstract, philosophical ideas. We were told that there are absolutely no absolutes, and that truth is now considered to be relative. Whatever we might choose to believe to be true is only true now, but may change with changing circumstances.

As the writer at allaboutphilosophy.org points out:

“……suppose the statement was true and “truth is relative.” Everything, including that statement, would be relative. If a statement is relative, it is not always true. If “truth is relative” is not always true, sometimes truth is not relative.”

While some people claim that everyone’s viewpoint is just as valid as the next persons, there can be no doubt that some viewpoints are more in line with logic and observed reality. There is no sense in considering the view that black is white, when black is quite obviously black; and the concept that there is no absolute right and wrong is just as inane. Nobody in their right mind could ever consider infanticide as acceptable; it’s quite obviously, absolutely wrong.

Relativism is not an idea that stands up to scrutiny. As the writer from All About Philosophy concludes:

“We all know there is absolute truth. It seems the more we argue against it, the more we prove its existence. Reality is absolute whether you feel like being cogent or not. Philosophically, relativism is contradictory. Practically, relativism is anarchy. The world is filled with absolute truth.”

Once we come to terms with the fact that there is absolute Truth, it is often the beginning of a search for that Truth. If Truth exists and can be discovered, why not seek an understanding of just what it is? Why would one choose to be intentionally ignorant about Truth? Tolkien’s mate, the Oxford don C S Lewis, conducted a search for Truth and found he was confronted by what he called a trilemma, when he examined the claims of Jesus, who said:

“…I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. And from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:6-7)

This is an absolute Truth claim. Jesus was claiming to actually be the embodiment of Truth. This claim has enormous ramifications if it is absolutely true. In his book Mere Christianity Lewis wrote:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said, or else a lunatic, or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. God has landed on this enemy occupied world in human form.”

Although most historians are generally agreed that Jesus was an historical figure who had a profound effect on our modern culture, some now practise historical revisionism and try to virtually write Him out of our western culture. It seems today it is more popular to listen to “progressive” ideas from the latest popular celebrity, scientist or philosopher; anyone who lived more than 100 years ago is considered out of touch with reality. The teachings of Jesus are not only ignored, they are lampooned, and antiheroes have become the flavour of our age. What a tragedy. Truth visited this planet and ensured we had His teachings in our hands even today, yet people choose to remain ignorant of His worldview.

Jesus explained that His Eternal Life is a gift He is offering to everyone. After accepting that gift each person can look forward to a lifelong journey of discovering more about the Way and the Truth He embodies. Thankfully, the road is filled with fellow travelers who are prepared to share their own perspectives as we journey together. Let us hope we can yet help many more people to open their hearts and minds to the Eternal Truth.

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What is a Christian?

If I told you I was an African person would you believe me? No doubt this would greatly depend on whether you could see me. If I was standing before you, you would probably notice that I have white skin, which is not usually a sign that a person is from Africa. Of course there are people from Africa who have white skin, so you would have to look a little deeper to discover if I was telling you the truth. It would help if you yourself were from Africa. You would have a much better idea of what to look for than a non African person.

In the same way if someone tells me they are a Christian it is not always easy to determine if they are telling the truth, but it is much easier if you are actually a follower of Jesus yourself. If someone showed me by their behaviour that they were totally out of line with the teachings of Jesus, then it would be obvious to me that they are not what they claim. It stands out as clearly as the difference between my white skin and the skin of my friends who were born in Uganda or Nigeria.

The difference between an African and a European person can be something we can see clearly with our eyes, but if I was blind then it wouldn’t be quite as easy to make that snap judgment. Because they are not His followers, most people are blind when it comes to things of the Spirit of Christ. It’s not really that hard to make a judgment when you know Jesus, because you have been conscientiously following His teachings from the time you gave your life over to Him. And to do this you have been studying those teachings in the book He has carefully provided for you. It is the book Christians have traditionally died for in the thousands, and it is the book that they use to guide them and determine their doctrine. From this book it is clear that Christian people are commanded to love even their enemies.

People who claim historical figures calling themselves Christians did atrocious things have probably not read the Bible. If they had they would realise that Jesus said many things that pertain to such circumstances. He said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies. Pray for those who treat you badly. If you do this, you will be children who are truly like your Father in heaven. He lets the sun rise for all people, whether they are good or bad. He sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong. If you love only those who love you, why should you get a reward for that? Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than anyone else. Even the people who don’t know God are nice to their friends. What I am saying is that you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Mat 5:43-48)

He also said:

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but you don’t do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

And later He added:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Mat 7:12-23)

We are not Christians because we say we are, we are Christians because we follow the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, just as He has instructed us to do. It is usually quite clear to the person who has spiritual vision whether another person is following the teachings of Jesus. Do they love their enemies? Are they feeding the hungry and clothing the naked? Do they care about the eternal destiny of their family and friends? It is important to spread the gospel but as Peter said:

…… in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1Pe 3:15)

Spreading the gospel cannot be done at the expense of Jesus’ other commands, it must be done hand in hand with love, humility and respect. Never with sword in hand, that is the way of the antichrist. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:1-3)

And to the church in Colossae he wrote:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:12-17)

Christians then should be evident by their demeanour. If they are not showing evidence of these attributes they need to take stock of themselves and come humbly before the Lord and ask Him to help them change so that they are more like Him. As for the Crusaders and Inquisitor, each one must stand before the Lord of lords and it is He who will judge them. If they have been found to be protecting or defending themselves then they will have a case for violence, if it is violence they are fending off. If they are simply perpetrating violence for some perceived “Christian” goal, then I feel almost certain God will say, “Depart from me.”

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