Closing the gap between belief and practise

I am on a journey. A quest to span the gap between what I believe and how I live. ​

As a Christian this should be pretty simple – just follow the teachings of Jesus and things will be fine. ​In practise I find that within days (if not hours) of resolving to be more committed in following Christ I have stumbled into the mire of selfishness and lukewarmness.

Therefore, I am going to embark on an outrageously scary project for someone like me who has long thought that spirituality should be internal and private: I am going to write as openly as I can here about my own attempts to live faithfully as a disciple of Jesus Christ while living and working in a secular society. There will be mistakes, blunders, laziness, sin, doubts and fears. As God wills there will also be worship, rejoicing, and faith. This will not be an exercise in ‘correct’ theology or preaching at you. Consider it more like a window upon a soul stumbling in the footsteps of John Bunyan’s Christian.​

The state of my heart

My desire to live consistently according to my beliefs is a bit like someone setting out to make some healthy changes to their lifestyle (in fact it is a lot like that!). Most health programmes carry a disclaimer stating that anyone over forty years old should only begin a fitness regime on the advice of their doctor, a big concern being that someone may start exercising and collapse with a heart attack.

I am over forty, and know that I am out of shape spiritually. Therefore it would be wise to do a bit of a heart checkup as I seek to exercise some spiritual discipline in my life. ​

Just as a cardiologist will do multiple tests to assess the state of a person’s heart muscle, understanding the state of my heart before God must take into account many factors: Am I hungering and thirsting for God? ​Is my life governed by God’s Word? Am I becoming more loving? Do I delight in the Bride of Christ? Is my heart broken over sin? How quickly do I forgive?

​That is not an exhaustive list (in fact it is stolen from the book Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald S. Whitney), I am assuming that I will come across many other indicators of the state of my heart as I go on. There are also the ‘rough and ready’ indicators which we are all familiar with, and these serve to reveal the baseline of my current spiritual state, just as heart rate and blood pressure give a quick estimate of cardiac health.

WARNING: this will be disappointing!

Prayer: I currently pray very little. Days may pass completely without purposeful praying. When I do pray it tends to be while doing other things such as washing the dishes or walking to work so my thoughts wander far and wide in the process. When I timed how long I actually prayed over several days it was less than 5 minutes each day!

Bible reading: This used to be a strong point but has dwindled in the last couple of years. Some days I manage to read my target 5 chapters a day, often I read only one or two chapters and it is not uncommon for me to not open my Bible at all for several days.

Giving: Woeful (erratic and not much).

Serving: I preach about once every 6 weeks and serving as a member of the leadership board for our little church.

Evangelism:​ Nonexistent, fear keeps my lips sealed.​

As you can see, this is a picture of someone who is fat, flabby and complacent. Moving out of this state will be a challenge and is going to take time. My gut feeling is that prayer is where I need to begin, with the first battle being to make space for quietness before God. On that note I’d like to point you toward a post from a friend about exactly that:​ Learning in silence.

Suicide and salvation

I know this is likely to be a touchy topic.

Soon after the tragic death of Matthew Warren I found a list of ‘helpful links’ which included an article from the ministry of John MacArthur, Grace to You. The article is titled: Can someone who commits suicide be saved? and frankly caused my hackles to rise.

Suicide is murder of the self

As such it is clearly sinful to commit murder. God has stated unequivocally that murder is sin (Exodus 20:13), very cut and dried – perhaps we can leave the topic there?

There can be many motives for murder, summed up by author John Lescroart as: love, lust, lucre, and loathing. To kill another person is something most of us recoil from as being utterly abhorrent and we struggle to comprehend how someone could do such an act. What then can be the motive for the violence of annihilating self?

Again, there can be many motives: financial troubles, pain/illness, shame, romance problems, substance abuse, mental illness.

All sin can be forgiven in Christ

Suicide is a grave sin equivalent to murder (Exodus 20:1321:23), but it can be forgiven like any other sin. And Scripture says clearly that those redeemed by God have been forgiven for all their sins–past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14). Paul says in Romans 8:38-39 that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

So if a true Christian would commit suicide in a time of extreme weakness, he or she would be received into heaven (Jude 24). But we question the faith of those who take their lives or even consider it seriously–it may well be that they have never been truly saved.

That’s because God’s children are defined repeatedly in Scripture as those who have hope (Acts 24:15Romans 5:2-58:242 Corinthians 1:10, etc.) and purpose in life (Luke 9:23-25Romans 8:28Colossians 1:29). And those who think of committing suicide do so because they have neither hope nor purpose in their lives.

Is considering suicide sin?

The ‘Grace to You’ article claims that a person who repeatedly considers suicide is practicing sin in their heart based on Proverbs 23:7 in the NASB translation. However, in other translations, such as the ESV and NLT, the idea of “as he thinks in his heart, so he is” does not come across so clearly. I do get the point though – a suicidal person is constantly thinking of committing a sinful act of self murder so surely they are wilfully playing with sin.

The issue here is not so much about suicide per se, but a question of whether repeatedly considering any sinful act is a sin in it’s own right (i.e., is the thought of the sin a sinful act?)

Furthermore, one who repeatedly considers suicide is practicing sin in his heart (Proverbs 23:7), and 1 John 3:9says that “no one who is born of God practices sin.” And finally, suicide is often the ultimate evidence of a heart that rejects the lordship of Jesus Christ, because it is an act where the sinner is taking his life into his own hands completely rather than submitting to God’s will for it. Surely many of those who have taken their lives will hear those horrifying words from the Lord Jesus at the judgment–”I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).

So though it may be possible for a true believer to commit suicide, we believe that is an unusual occurrence. Someone considering suicide should be challenged above all to examine himself to see whether he is in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).

(I am choosing to publish this draft that I started in 2013 as it stands despite it being very incomplete. My rationale is that it maps some of my thinking at the time which I want to keep a record of [14 February 2018])

Unlived truth

I came across a statement today which got straight to the point:

Knowledge isn’t bad – but gaining it is a waste of time if it doesn’t lead to action! (Darren Rowse)

Those studying hard for exams would perhaps disagree, but it is much easier to acquire knowledge than to apply it. This is true not only for bloggers such as Mr Rowse, but for all of us in all areas of life.  In the realm of Christian faith the relative ease of acquiring knowledge versus difficulty in applying it becomes especially marked, at least for those of us living in affluence in free nations.

I have long known that my greatest need is not really to know more about God or theology but rather to live the truth I already understand.

“… the gap holding back most believers is not the gap between what they know and what they don’t know. It’s the gap between what they know and what they’re living. Many Christians are trafficking in unlived truth. They are educated beyond their obedience.” (Dave Browning)

I am not implying that theology or knowledge are bad, unnecessary or superfluous for the individual Christian or the church.

Bloodbath

A wise person once told me that in bringing up his children he allowed them to read whatever they wanted to but resolved to also read the same books and discuss the meaning of the ideas presented by the authors.

So I am currently reading “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins as my 11-year-old daughter is also reading it. The story is gripping and moves fast enough to draw me in. However, even though there is not much gore in the descriptions of the killings, the whole thing is very bloodthirsty and is messing with my head a bit.

Then, in order to bring my mind back to reality, I dipped into by Bible reading plan – Joshua chapter 11. Have a read for yourself.

Even more bloodthirsty, and currently messing with my head a bit also!

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?

God’s Mercy Seat

I have become anxious about worldly things and my divided interests have lead me away from a strong devotion to God.1 For this I feel ashamed and am reluctant to face up to Jesus in prayer when I have been such a lousy disciple. So as an avoidance tactic which at least had an appearance of being spiritual, I picked up a book about prayer2 by John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim’s Progress).

Writing while incarcerated in the Bedford goal from 1662, Bunyan addresses this very issue:

Another encouragement for a poor trembling convicted soul is to consider the place, throne, or seat, on which the great God has placed Himself to hear the petitions and prayers of poor creatures; and that is a ‘throne of grace’, ‘the mercy-seat. (Hebrews 4:16 & Exodus 25:22) …

… Poor souls! They are very apt to entertain strange thoughts of God, and of His carriage towards them: and suddenly conclude that God will have no regard unto them, when yet He is upon the mercy-seat, and has taken His place on purpose there, to the end He may hear and regard the prayers of poor creatures.2

​This is an encouraging reminder of grace. That when it comes to praying to and communing with God, He takes pains to place Himself on a throne of grace so that our prayers may come to him unhindered by the burden of sin we may carry. As I approach God in and through Christ my own very poor track record is gloriously overlaid with the perfect record of Jesus such that I am accepted as God’s own child.

So my attempt to avoid facing my shortcomings as a follower of Christ by reading something written by a great follower of Christ was perhaps not quite so deluded after all!

Now to place myself before that throne of grace.

1. See 1 Corinthians 7:33-34.
2. Prayer by John Bunyan (Puritan Paperbacks, ISBN 0-85151-090-6) p55.

Easy on the Eyes

Next time you are in the market for a new Bible consider getting a large print one (even if you don’t need glasses!). The larger print reduces the resistance to Bible reading when you’re tired and makes it a much more pleasant experience.

Having done this myself, I wish I’d made the change years ago!

Jesus is offensive

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)

Pray for your kids – Willing to work

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.(Ecclesiastes 9:10 ESV)

I guess most parents struggle when their kids are flatly unwilling to pitch in and do a fair share of work around the home. The exact expectations may vary from family to family and between cultures, but part of our task as parents is to train our children in how to work.

God values work, He set Adam the task of tending the garden even before the fall:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15 ESV)

When we work we glorify God by doing what He created us to do. After Adam and Eve sinned work became harder, but it is still part of our purpose and so does not have to be a demeaning burden. By teaching our children that work is an expression of what is good about being human and that it glorifies God, we help them to become willing to work hard.

What do I pray?

Pray your children grow into understanding a Biblical perspective on work which enables them to accept it will not be easy but that there is a purpose in all work. Ask Jesus to help them see that as our Father is working, so too it is good for us to work.

Download the prayer prompts: