I never knew you

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 10:32-33 ESV)

The terror of having Jesus say, “I never knew you” to me should sink into my heart and strengthen my resolve to speak out in Jesus’ name without fearing the consequences before others. What is embarrassment and ridicule compared to eternal shame and damnation?

Jesus is offensive

Sometimes Jesus himself, is offensive to people and they will turn away. Understanding the truth, some will refuse to follow Christ.

Often ‘the church’ can say and do really stupid, even horrible, things in the name of Jesus. Individual Christians do the same. Whether by word or behaviour individuals and churches can put others off Christianity. This is a bad thing.

Yet Jesus himself offended people, he appears to have even done so on purpose:

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:60-66 ESV)

In the discourse of John 6:25-58, Jesus had spoken words of truth to a large crowd of people. What he said offended them, not because it was hard to understand but because what they did understand was offensive. Jesus fully knew it would offend them and he would lose followers but spoke the truth to them anyway. He had no problem with a huge crowd turning away from following him, leaving only twelve disciples.

We must always speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), but there will be some occasions when the words of Jesus, in fact Jesus himself, is offensive to people and they will turn away. This is heartbreaking, I don’t care how much of, or what kind of, a sinner anyone is the last thing I want is for them to be eternally excluded from fellowship with God. Yet even comprehending the truth – understanding the meaning of the words – some will refuse to follow Christ.

Theology lets us down on the topic of predestination, but Jesus makes it clear enough that unless God enables it to happen, nobody can come to Jesus. So in those awful times when somebody is offended by Christ and cannot see his beauty the most useful thing I can do is pray. I can pray fervently, desperately, that God will grant for that person to see the glory of God in Christ Jesus.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV)


Image: iStockphoto

Suppress the Santa cynic

On Sunday we took the kids to the Santa parade – the very name of it has put me off for years (yes, I deprive my kids!), but it was not as bad as I expected.
While it was very secular (only one or two floats mentioned Jesus), it was not as tacky or commercialized as I had expected it to be. Maybe living in a very small city at the bottom of the world has kept us more colloquial than I thought.

My reason for going along was for the kids – the idea of standing in the hot sun for several hours with cranky kids and several thousand other people was not really my idea of a good time. But I recalled similar parades that I went to as a child and how much I enjoyed them. This offset my self-righteous disapproval of the whole concept of a Santa parade masquerading as a celebration of Jesus’ birthday.

And it was fun, people were friendly, the floats were interesting, kids were happy and we didn’t get too sunburned. When considered simply as a representation of the Kiwi cultural norm in which Christmas is a family time with some fantasy fun for the kids to liven it up, the Santa parade is an enjoyable community event and cynical Christians like me need to extend the grace to others of accepting their beliefs (or lack thereof).

I am the odd one out in our society in that I have a very strong and deep conviction that God exists and Jesus Christ is the Son of God, born of a virgin, crucified for my sins and bodily raised from the dead on the third day – this is sheer nuttiness to most New Zealanders. I am a religious nutter and have to be comfortable with that.

Once I accept how odd I appear to most people it becomes a lot easier to enjoy the good aspects of my own culture.

Netted recently, April 16

Burmese New Year celebrations – The Water Festival
Netted recently (and not so recently):
  • I Hate Hell is a sobering reminder from Tim Challies of what most of us choose to forget.
  • What Really Matters Most: How did you live your life today? What’s your plan for tomorrow? Are you neglecting people for the sake of “more important things”? Well worth taking the time to read this post. And if you are a Dad and feel like you don’t have time to read a long post then you need to read it!
  • People in Burma believe that pouring water over each other washes away bad luck from recent years and will bring  good luck for the year to come. See pictures of New Year festivities in Rangoon(link broken). Burmese New Year celebrations were on 13, 14 and 15 April this year.
  • Religious Conversion Worst Form of ‘Intolerance,’ Bhutan PM Says(link broken): I find this article challenging –

    The first premise [of seeking conversion] is that you believe that your religion is the right religion, and the religion of the convertee is wrong – what he believes in is wrong, what he practices is wrong, that your religion is superior and that you have this responsibility to promote your way of life, your way of thinking, your way of worship,” Thinley said. “It’s the worst form of intolerance. And it divides families and societies.”

    I have to agree with him in this statement, this is exactly what Christianity claims, and it is by nature an evangelistic faith, Christ commands us to make disciples and he said himself that he came to divide homes (Matthew 10:34-39). Yet I also agree that many of the aggressive means used by some Christians (not just oddball sects) are pushing the boundaries and verge on using fear or bribery to gain converts. This challenges me to ponder what Christian conversion really means and what role the evangelist should be playing; we cannot be be completely passive or no gospel is preached, yet if too aggressive the role of faith and the Holy Spirit in ‘conversion’ can come into doubt.

Under the shadow of death

Click here for the story of this picture.

… the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.

(Matthew 4:16 ESV)

Reading this today I paused to consider the horror of living in a place which is described as “the region and shadow of death” – my heart shrinks back from even the idea. Yet, in places such as Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, Burma, Afghanistan – these could all be described as living under the shadow of death.

I suspect that if seen spiritually my own nation might be similarly described, with greater terror and horror because the death is eternal. Through the same sort of callous indifference which sends poor people to perish of hunger and disease and slaughters entire villages, I am unmoved as people I know plunge into an eternity of hell without making any attempt to warn them. Will I watch and take pictures as others perish?

Yet, there are differences between the soul-need of people around me and he starving people in the world – physically hungry people will generally eat food if it is offered to them. The spiritually starving are more like anorexics, they think they are fine and cannot see that they need to eat.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 
(2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV)

I cannot open their eyes, but I can at least abide in Christ and act in love such that if their eyes are opened by God they will see some dim reflection of Christ in me and know that he is good (Psalm 34:8).

And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire;
(Jude 1:22-23 ESV)

In order to have something to give the spiritually hungry, soul-starving people all around me I must abide in Christ and bear fruit. That fruit may be in the very words I use, spoken or written. The Word of God created the world, used rightly, our words can change the world. The light which has dawned upon those living under the shadow of death is the Word, the One who with a word can say live! and it will happen.

Complacency

Reading from the first chapter of Judges today, I came across this comment in my ESV Study Bible notes:

Judg. 1:21 Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites. A second notice about Israelite failure (see note on v. 19) previews a series of six almost identical notices in vv. 27–36. The Israelites were apparently satisfied with a comfortable home in a productive land and were not zealous to achieve God’s full purpose for their life in the land (see note on vv. 27–33).

What struck me is the bit about being satisfied with a comfortable home in a productive land and not being zealous to achieve God’s full purpose for their life in the land. In many ways this describes me – God has given the Church a task to do, I am a part of that Church but am not wholeheartedly working to achieve that task.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

If I really do think that Jesus Christ is all-sufficient and believe it when He says He has all authority in heaven and on earth, then why am I not making disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all Jesus commanded? Is it because I have become comfortable in not obeying all that Jesus commanded?

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
(Revelation :15-3:19 ESV)

I need to repent of my own complacency and become zealous for the Great Commission. I do not know the form(s) it might take on, but it is clear that the depth and seriousness of my discipleship needs to massively change.

I humbly repent of my complacency and ask God to help me live as I profess to believe.

God as a jam baron

Perhaps it was the raspberry jam on my toast that caused Jeremiah 6:20 to stick with me this morning.

While waiting for my toast to pop I had glanced at the jar of Woolworths jam I was about to use and noticed ‘Made in Denmark’ proudly displayed on the label. Which got me thinking about distance to markets, carbon footprints and how stupid economics is…

… Oh, and that although we grow plenty of raspberries in New Zealand, we would still have to import sugar from Australia or Fiji to make jam.

Then I read chapter 6 of Jeremiah while eating my toast. With jam on my face and still on my mind I considered the price of sugar (see Jer 6:20). Even though it keeps increasing, it is still cheap for us in this age and no doubt even cheaper if you purchase it by the tonne to manufacture jam.

Imagine me taking a cup of sugar to the jam factory and donating it to them as an act of appreciation for their excellent product. What would they say? Well, once they stopped laughing, would they not tell me that the best way to show my appreciation is to buy and use their jam and tell others how good it is? (Consider Isaiah 55:1-2 and Matthew 28:19-20).

Sometimes we are like the people of ancient Jerusalem, we attempt to show off to God, going to great lengths to offer Him stuff or church programmes or our best talents when these are truly trivial things to Him. Meanwhile, He is saying, “Why won’t you just do as I told you to?” (John 14:15 and John 15:12).

We are lepers compelled to share

Romans 1:28-32

Have you ever gossiped, boasted, coveted or been disobedient to your parents? Are you aware that you deserve to die for doing that?

Is Paul perhaps overstating his case here a bit? What is the point he is trying to make?

Is Paul overstating his case?

Our culture would very much like to think so, as Romans 1:32 indicates — they not only do these things but approve the practice of such behaviours.

However, despite our innate desire to have others agree that our dubious behaviour is really OK, Paul has already asserted that we actually know better. God has revealed His divine nature and eternal power to everyone so that we are without excuse — we know there at least could be a God and that if there was, He certainly would not approve of this sort of behaviour. This has been established in Romans 1:18-21.

So what is the point that Paul is trying to make in Romans 1:28-32?

To understand this we need an overview of what Paul’s purpose was in writing to the Roman Christians. Fortunately he tells us fairly plainly in Romans 15:20-24. Basically, Paul wants their support for his plans to spread the gospel to Spain.

Paul is compelled to spread the gospel into regions where Christ is not yet known and this letter to the Christians in Rome is showing why he feels so compelled. He has already stated in Romans 1:14 that he is under obligation to all people to preach the gospel to them.

Then he shows that all people have suppressed the truth about God which is revealed throughout creation. Their thinking has become darkened, they have turned away from acknowledging God to worshiping created things and the creations of their own hands. Therefore God has given people over to debased relationships, from the most intimate through to the superficial. The dysfunction of their relationships and interactions with others is the judgement of God already at work in them.

The unfolding of the beginning of this letter is like the unfolding of the book of Genesis. God creates and His glory is manifest, man reaches out in an attempt to be like God, judgement is pronounced upon man and he is cast from God’s presences yet continues attempting to make himself great with the tower of Babel. The wickedness of man is great and the thoughts of his heart are evil continually (Genesis 6:5). In Romans 1:29-31 Paul lists a sample of the ways in which the thoughts of the hearts of people are evil.

When you read this list of sins do you not resonate with the thought that at least some of these deserve strong punishment? And that all of them are undesirable, that if nobody was foolish, faithless, heartless or ruthless we would all be better off?

Excellent! Paul is wanting you to recognize that there is wrong in the world. Once you acknowledge this he drops the bomb of Romans 2:1.

Paul wants us to come to a judgement on evil and sin, and shows that in judging we also condemn ourselves. He has destroyed the validity of universalism — the notion that everyone will get to heaven, either because they are really not that bad, or because God is not so nasty as to judge and condemn anyone. Chapter 1 of Romans shows plainly that we all not only deserve judgement and wrath, but that we have already been judged and are currently under wrath, having been handed over to debased minds, dishonourable passions and the lusts of our hearts.

THIS is why Paul is compelled to preach the gospel, because it is universally needed! Nobody will get into heaven because they are naturally good or as a result of obeying some hazy understanding they have of God that they comprehend through nature — the general revelation leads to condemnation, not salvation. We suppress the truth, we don’t honour it!

Romans 1:16 clearly states that the gospel is the power of salvation, and Romans 2:8 states that those who do not obey the truth are destined for wrath and fury. Without the gospel, everyone is going to hell.

In case this seems too drastic — nasty, mean old Paul, not that gentle Jesus meek and mild also speaks much about judgement and hell. For example: In the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31, the rich man is in torment in hell; Jesus tells us to fear God who can destroy body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28); and he warns that it is better to chop off anything that leads to sin rather than to end up in hell (Mark 9:43-48).

We cannot escape the horrifying truth that all those people who do not respond to the gospel by putting their faith in Jesus Christ will end up in eternal torment in hell. This is an awful thing to consider — it is supposed to be, you should shudder in horror at the thought. Paul was desperate to ensure everyone had access to the truth that can save them from hell.

Paul said, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish“. If we think nobody ‘deserves’ to go to hell then we are the bearers of the only way to stop them ending up there. Whether those people are like us or foreign to us, whether they are atheist academics or drunken louts on the streets, the message is as simple as Romans 10:9.

…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

God has given us the book of Romans so we can be completely clear that everyone needs to be saved from the wrath and fury of God, and how to be saved, and the effects our salvation will have upon our hearts. Like Paul we will realize that we are obligated to all people to tell the truth of how to be saved. This sense of obligation is like that of the lepers who found the loot in the Syrian camp after the army had fled (see 2 Kings 7:3-9).

Paul has shown us that every soul who is alive today is under condemnation and destined for horror much worse than that awful siege and famine. Jesus has given us freely a salvation infinitely better than the feast these lepers enjoyed. If we keep this salvation to ourselves, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait till morning light (to tell the good news), punishment will overtake us.

Always prepared

I have a very good friend who is a faithful witness to Jesus. It is not uncommon for her friends to ask her about God and what it means to be a Christian.

She lives her life transparently in the community in which she finds herself. It can be hard feeling as though she doesn’t quite fit in when people are chasing their worldly values and pursuits.

Yet her friends will ask her serious, searching questions about God and faith. Her answers are honest about how trusting Jesus Christ affects her own life – the good stuff and the hard stuff.

She doesn’t recite a list of bible proof tests or prattle on about theology, rather an honest sharing of the hope that Christ gives her (1 Peter 3:15). True faith in the real world that has time for other people.