Friday, December 19, 2008

Silent Night

I have been promised an MP3 player as a Christmas present. I am eagerly anticipating the opportunity to listen to my favourite podcasts and music tracks. However, this prospect prompted me to consider how we do anything we can to avoid silence: 24 hour news coverage in my dentist's surgery, in-flight films, seasonal (albeit secular) songs on the supermarket tannoy, the noisy list goes on...

Silence is uncomfortable. In moments of quiet reflection, we are confronted with truths we would rather bury under decibels of noise. Yet it is often in the silent moments that God speaks to us, with His still small voice [1 Kings 19] [Dear Lord and Father of Mankind].

I'm no quaker, but the principle of silence in the presence of God is far more ancient than George Fox's Society of Friends. "Be still and know that I am God" [Psalm 46].

So, just as on the Stille Nacht of the first Christmas, the quiet shepherds received a message from heaven, I recommend we all spend some time in silence this Christmas, quietly waiting for the salvation of the Lord. As the shepherds discovered, we find salvation when we find the Saviour - Christ the Lord...

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Survival of the Unfittest

Darwin, Dawkins and Co advocate the principle of survival of the fittest. Whether or not we subscribe to this theory of natural selection, we must agree that it completely goes against the grain of human nature.

We do everything we can to promote the opposite effect - which here I call survival of the unfittest. Why else is there such outrage over species that are almost extinct? Only this week, there are reports of genome reconstruction for the woolly mammoth, long consigned to bio-history by natural selection.

Survival of the unfittest is most fiercely defended with regard to our fellow human beings. Equal opportunities effectively means positive discrimination in favour of the disadvantaged. How un-Darwinian this is! We instinctively seem to prefer Baron de Coubertin's "don't worry about winning, just take part" mentality that sees its ultimate fulfilment in the Paralympic Games.

I suggest that this compassionate equal-rights-for-all attitude springs from our "image-of-God" legacy. The Biblical creation record notes that God made man "in His image, after His likeness". Although sinful, miserable humanity little resembles the Divine Character, our equal opportunities movement is still "some feeble, pale reflection / of that pure love of Thine." [hymn]

Only God lifts beggars from rubbish tips and sets them among princes [1Sam2.8]. This is divine grace in action. He pays the price (in the sin-atoning death of Jesus Christ) to reconcile us to Himself. The price is paid for all, so the offer is available to all; even though none of us deserves it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Spiritual Detox

Here's the problem: a Christian spends some time drifting away from his Lord and His Word. Apathy soon leads to active disobedience - and that Christian is suddenly in no fit condition to act effectively for God.

Here is one solution, which involves prayerfully reading through three detox chapters of the Bible.

  1. Jonah 2 - Penitence
  2. Psalm 67 - Passion
  3. John 21 - Pardon

Penitence is first. Genuine sorrow for wrong motive, direction and/or action. Plenty of Bible passages apply, but I prefer Jonah's heartfelt prayer. He knew his disaster was entirely due to his own disobedience, and His recovery could only be accomplished by God's grace.

Passion is next. An earnest longing for God's presence, power and glory. Psalm 67 clearly cries out for this. So should we, whenever we feel its loss!

Pardon is last. With Christ's death and resurrection in mind, we know that pardon is possible in John 21. With Peter's denial and subsequent restoration, we are assured that personal pardon is bestowed by the Man who calls us, walks with us and directs us.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Combatting the McGospel Message Tendancy

I see the McGospel as a poor Gospel substitute - cheap flavour and colour, but no real substance to the message. Fast food, convenient, plenty of feel-good factor but little Biblical basis.

I think the McGospel has three vital ingredients missing. Add these in, and the message will become much more wholesome! However it becomes correspondingly more unpalatable to people who do not believe the Gospel ... "This is a hard saying, who can bear to hear it?"

  1. Repentance
  2. Blood
  3. Hell

I know, each of these themes is unsavoury at first taste. Christians who would present the Gospel are so often tempted to gloss over these points so as to avoid alienating their sophisticated 21st century audiences. I regret to confess that I am more guilty than most.

So - let's tackle each ingredient one at a time. We want to uncover what they are, why they are so unpopular and yet why they are essential Gospel elements.


The canonical example is Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son, cf Luke 15. The son spurns his father's home, wastes his inheritance and ends up lost, lonely and miserable. At his wit's end, he finally starts to think straight. He recognises how wrong he has been and is full of remorse for his faults. He thinks of his father, and decides to return to him. This is true repentance - sorrow for sin and a desire to express this to the Father personally. True repentance is always met with true forgiveness - that's a timeless truth.

Now we must consider why repentance is so unpopular in the McGospel generation. Basically, it involves bringing people to realise that they are wrong, mistaken, and far from God. Such revelation is untenable in this era of moral relativism and post-modernism. But this is God's way. It was the imperative of the first Gospel message (Acts 2), the first of Paul's two Ephesian footsteps ("repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ" - Acts 20).


Blood is live-supporting and life-saving. The Bible emphasizes this - "the life is in the blood" before any renaissance scientists like William Harvey published their (re) discoveries. The Biblical imagery of poured-out blood speaks of a life completely given in sacrifice. Christ's death brings us life, his blood brings us redemption - these are axioms of New Testament theology.

So why would people disdain such a notion today? They reject a Gospel message that presents the "precious blood of Christ" as a payment for sins (a self-propitiation on God's part, rather than appeasement from man). They reject Jesus' promise of a "new covanent in my blood which is shed for many" (a relationship with God in which all the responsibility is on his part). Blood sacrifice is deemed to be inappropriate, primitive and archaic.

God's standards remain uncompromised by regressions in human ethics and morality. Sin is always serious, in his book. Serious crime demands commensurate payment, and nothing has greater value than the life blood of his only Son. Ultimately, to refuse "redemption through his blood, forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace" is to accept full personal liability for sin against God - which brings us to the final point...


Remarkably, Jesus spoke more about the experience of hell than about heaven. Not because he had any pleasure in the contemplation of suffering, but rather because he wanted people to appreciate its stark and grim reality, and avoid it at all costs.

Today hell is ridiculed, if it ever surfaces as a discussion item at all.
How could a loving God send people to hell? God does not want anyone in hell - he would have all people to be saved. But a person who refuses God's terms and God's way effectively sentences himself to an eternity of hell.

To finish, think about this: Jesus suffered the infinite torture of hell, compressed into three hours of darkness as he was on the cross. I have accepted this personally, he is my substitute. He went through hell without me so he could be in heaven with me.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Me and You

Some people claim that Jesus' teachings are entirely egocentric. To a point, I can see what they mean. The conventional teacher explains a subject - some physical, philosophical, moral or spiritual aspect of the world around us. The teacher points his pupils to an object other than himself. But the Lord Jesus Christ was different. So often he would say "I am..." and make astonishing claims about Himself. The C.S. Lewis poached egg mad/bad/God argument is par for the course here.

However I would like to bring out a different point. In every case when the Lord Jesus made a personal claim, he always did it with a view to blessing others. When he said "I am the bread of life", He immediately offered Himself to those who were spiritually hungry and thirsty. When he said "I am the Way", he promised that those who came through Him would reach the Father. When he said "I am the Good Shepherd", he promised to give his life for those who would be his sheep.

Every supposedly egocentric teaching of the Messiah is really a "for me and thee" teaching. (ref) He explains something about himself, and then shows us how He can bless us. Is that egocentric? No, I would rather define it as his amazing grace!