Thursday, September 28, 2006

... bungee idolatry

when i'm coming home at night i typically cross the street at the top of my street, turn into my street, walk past the two driveways before my own, then up my drive and footpath to my front door. before i get to the first driveway, i'm usually distracted by something shiny on the ground.

it's an old piece of tar or chewing gum or something similar, something that has been stuck to the footpath for some time, worn flat with the passage of time and pedestrians. it has a dull sheen to it which, glinting in the light from the shops behind me, makes it look like a dollar coin.

i know it's not a dollar coin. i know a dollar coin is hardly worth bending down to pick up (but a dollar's a dollar and enough of them makes you a millionaire, i suppose). i know it's just something stuck to the ground. but i check it anyway, because in my heart of hearts i hope it's a dollar.

and here's the awful truth people: i want something for nothing. i want free comfort. i want contentment without investment. i want things my way and i want them that way now and i don't want to have to wait.

now here's the amazing truth: i know that i'm wrong. it's a crock, a big crock of kobold droppings. because there is no comfort, there is no contentment - i can't have things my way and it's probably for the best.

idolatry is where people put something in the place of God in their lives. it's the thing that keeps you going, that makes you say when the rest of the world is crashing down around you, "well, at least i have that". here's a few:
* "i still have my health"
* "another $10,000 a year would be fine"
* "once the house is paid off it'll get better"
* "i've worked all year and i deserve a break"
* "it's wafer thin, monsieur!"

most of them don't sound so bad, i think, and in and of themselves i think some of them are just fine. some of them are actually good. (despite my low esteem of my own body, i think it's important to make some effort towards being healthy!) still, none of them are the best thing to have uppermost in our mind.

God is who we should have uppermost in our mind. consider:
* "so, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." [1 cor 10:31, esv]
* "and he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God..." [acts 17:26,27, esv]
* "the Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom i take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." [ps 18:2, esv]
* "when i look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" [ps 8:3,4, esv]
* "i say to the Lord, 'you are my Lord; i have no good apart from you.'" [ps 16:2, esv]
* "so i became great and surpassed all who were before me in jerusalem. also my wisdom remained with me. and whatever my eyes desired i did not keep from them. i kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. then i considered all that my hands had done and the toil i had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun." [eccl 2:9-11, esv]

worshipping God is what we are made for; it is its own blessing; all else is a chasing after the wind...

i was thinking this evening that repentance is much easier on the knees than on the heart, because bruises on the knees fade, but scars on the heart cut much deeper. we pray to God in repentance, asking his forgiveness for our inability to put him first in our minds, and thirty seconds later we're thinking while we're praying about which movie we're going to see tonight, or the aftershave of the man behind you that's slapping you about the nose, or the book in your bag you'd rather be reading than your Bible... and if we catch ourselves, we repent again and get back to the job at hand.

for me, i desire to live simply, to have a wife and family. i don't think we need to own a house and i don't think we need to have high-powered, high-paying careers. they might make some things in life easier or give us a greater feeling of security and they might enable us to give more to ministry work or missionary work. in and of themselves, they are good things. a friend of mine, though, has a saying: good is the enemy of best.

my idols are good, but God is best. i keep forgetting that, and i hope that i will continue to have people around me and God's Spirit within me to remind me of that.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

... what to say?

i've been a Christian now for about... oh, i'm practically coming up to my sixteenth rebirthday, about sixteen years now. i don't think i was a Christian before that, and if i had lost my life beforehand i imagine that i would have died "in the flower of my sins" (as the bard has it) and gone to hell.

some people i know would contest that; holding to a calvinist understanding of predestination as i do, it's somewhat of a contradiction in terms that i believe dying before my conversion would have ended with me in hell - surely if you're predestined to be converted you wouldn't possibly go to hell? i suppose my reasoning is that my predestination at that point wasn't to convert in time, but rather predestined for the judgement of God rather than for his efficacious salvation. now that i am converted from living death to eternal life, i know my place in heaven is assured; next question, please.

but what do i say to someone who doesn't think that? the text we looked at last thursday at Bible study (not last night, but thursday night last week) was on paul's second missionary journey and the events particularly in phillipi. the disciples meet lydia, they heal a slave girl of a demon, and they meet the philippian jailer, who like lydia is baptised along with his household.

i don't know if the general thinking is that the slave girl was likewise converted to Christianity but i don't think the text makes it a natural extrapolation from the narrative. it would be great if she did but i don't think it's a fait accompli that she did.

concurrent to this, i have just finished reading the New Testament, which i was reading every workday morning on the train leg of my journey to work. the revelation to john pulls no punches when it talks about who will be with God in the new heaven and who will not. john elsewhere talks about those who had seemed to be Christians but who left the church and in doing so proved that they never were Christians. did they know that the whole time? had they fooled themselves into thinking they were when they actually weren't? and what kind of God would let people think that?

these are questions that might be asked by one who has been a Christian for some time and now no longer knows why he believes what it might be expected that he believes; he questions if there really is a God at all; he hangs his future actions and happiness on the answer to a question it seems he has already decided for himself.

paul says to the corinthians that "if in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" [1 cor 15:19, esv] but until we die we have no ultimate way of knowing if our hope has been directed correctly or not! the Christian says by faith that he knows he will be in heaven; he trusts the scriptures are true; he trusts that the Holy Spirit in his heart is interceding for him when he prays; he trusts that Jesus' blood shed on the cross makes him clean before God. the Christian trusts that God has done everything for him, then lives trusting that it is so.

i say, "the Christian does such-and-such", but that is the Christian when not torn by doubt, plagued by insecurity, overwhelmed by circumstance and emotion. "the ordinary Christian" does suffer from these; some feel them more acutely than others.

does this cancel out the efficacy of that in which we have believed? by no means! rather we have moved away from God, not trusting in that which he has provided for us.

so if we will not pray, if we will not read the Bible; if we will not be persuaded by our brothers and sisters; if we will not consider our hearts from other than our own perspective; if we will not believe God, what then remains?

for me, nothing remains. my faith is literally what keeps me alive. if i do not believe, then the last sixteen years i have lived are all for nought, and i should have done what i'd planned in that bath tub so long ago. i can see no sense in the world without God, no point to this "quintessence of dust" except to eat, drink and be merry. the writer of Ecclesiastes is equally bleak about a world without God; that his words remain long after he fell away does not undermine their power, but rather proves that God's truth outlasts all things.

don't get me wrong. i'm not saying i'm perfect, or that i am the Christian who actually manages to do such-and-such. i have done more wrong after i converted than ever i did before; and yet i know that my redeemer lives - i believe God, and trust that he credits that to me as righteousness. i struggle to show my faith by my deeds.

don't we all?

(... to be continued, i think...)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

... a few things

i realise with a few guilty feelings that it's been a little while since i blogged. to be honest, i haven't really felt pushed enough by my thinking on the things that have been happening in my life. Bible study last week was good, but didn't ... provoke the same push to consider things that earlier ones had. so i thought i'd put up a short (probably longer than i'm expecting here in the first paragraph, though) post about what's on my mind right now.

i'm feeling the imminence of my time in melbourne. next month i'll be down there for a couple of weeks, sussing out living and working arrangements, and hopefully having both sorted out before i move down in january next year. i've been keeping half an eye on the weather, half an ear on news... i'm looking forward to it with a growing anticipation that is beginning to reflect what so many feel to be the enormity of this "big step" of moving south. i have a league team (the storm) that i follow, and an afl team (essendon) i also follow, so my sporting interests are covered, although i'm told that the afl tribal boundaries of melbourne are beginning to dissolve, so i'm not too worried about living in st kilda territory and barracking for the bombers.

time is flying. i turn thirty-two this year, which isn't terribly amazing in and of itself, but moving has made me a bit of a calendar watcher, and i'm aware that the remaining weekends have been filling up rather quickly. i have sixteen saturdays left before i move in the second week in january; of those, i think i have activities that fill up the saturday on nine of those weekends.

i was thinking while i was sitting on the loo earlier that all buying and selling for profit is tantamount to gambling, so is insurance, and i wonder if i can perhaps grow a little respect for people who make their livings as professional gamblers.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

... cut to the quick (long post)

tonight we looked at hebrews 10-12. it's a little bit dry but it's still interesting, and it's encouraging as well... much as a stiff drink in the face of an unwelcome chore or bad-tasting medicine in the face of dire illness.

hebrews is widely regarded as a letter of encouragement to Christians, especially those facing opposition from the world without and backsliding fellow-believers from within. i was unsurprised to hear (joseph, called) barnabas being put forward as a possible author for the book and adding him to the list of other suggested authors, including paul, apollos, priscilla, and aquila. in these particular chapters, i feel the encouragement is slightly stick-and-carrot and it feels that way to me because of the particular people being encouraged in this section - those thinking of giving up on their faith.

in chapter ten the writer to the hebrews sets forth a strong argument supporting the new covenant in Jesus over the old covenant of law - he demonstrates Christ's superiority to the angels who delivered the law; Christ's deity; his sonship; his high-priesthood; his sacrifice being of immeasurably greater efficacy than the sacrifices offered by priests in accordance with the law. in every way, Jesus is presented as being in one man everything the law should have been and could not be. in chapter eleven he gives the "roll-call of faith", people in israel's history who looked forward to the salvation that God would put forth in Christ. in chapter twelve the writer deals with the hardships that the hebrews have already dealt with, those that may be to come, and why they should persevere in the face of such experiences.

i think what makes this passage a bitter pill to swallow is that it's not just as easy as holding up under persecution. if society rounds up all the Christians and says, "right, you lot - it's time for you to go to the wall - recant or die", history seems to show that lots of Christians tend to find enough faith to say something like, "for eighty-six years i have been his servant and he has done me no wrong. how can I blaspheme against my king and saviour?" (polycarp at his martyrdom, smyrna, a.d.155)

what i think could be harder to deal with is when family, when friends, when even oneself is faced with the possiblity is recanting one's faith in Christ. i am always torn because i know in my heart that the gospel is real and true. i always have, ever since i was a small child at sunday school or in scripture classes at school. i never once thought that the Bible was full of lies - although to be perfectly honest, there have been times when i have wished it was. i have more than a few times wished that i could be free to live like everyone else, uncaring of a life after this one, unworried of how the way i live my life now might impact the health and welfare of my soul after i die. in so many ways life would be so much easier!

the temptation to give up my faith is always there, as paul says, "so i find it to be a law that when i want to do right, evil lies close at hand." [romans 7:21, esv] however, i consider it a great blessing from God that i find that temptation too obvious, too easy, too false to even pursue the thought very far. i sin - heaven knows, i sin - but when i sin i pray to God for forgiveness, for strength to resist the temptation to sin again, and for faith to no longer dwell on past sins but focus instead on future opportunities to serve him.

but that is me. when i see people falling away, what can i say? what can i do? i can encourage them, "read your Bible! pray!" i can do the same. i can "be there" for them, spend time with them, hang out with them, pray for them, do my best not to be a burden to them, give them their space to work things out. what kills me is that i can't make them change their minds, and i can't know if God will or not. it's not that i don't know if he will or not - God will, or not, according to his will, and his day-to-day will is not something he advertises on billboards. his eternal will - that all people should hear the gospel and believe - has been sent out all over the world. no surprises there. how that is effected throughout the world? loads of surprises there.

i get thoroughly disheartened when i hear that someone has turned away from being a Christian, or has "fallen away". i think so little of myself and my mean little belief that when i discover someone else has let go of Christianity, i am rocked that someone might have less faith than me or that maybe i am wrong. "if in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." [1 corinthians 15:19, esv]

such a feeling lasts only a little while, because God soon reminds me that my faith (small) has a great object (God, eternal, infinite) which gives my faith an eternal and infinite impact. God isn't about, oh, that's your last chance, no more opportunities, you've really blown it this time! God is all about redemption, saving us from our sins, saving us from ourselves - saving us for himself. those people who have turned away from God can turn back. every breath they take is an opportunity to turn back to the one who paid for their lives with the blood of his very own son. (would you let your child go to the electric chair instead of jeffrey dalmer? would you put your baby in front of the car that hoon is driving down the street if it meant that that hoon would then be able to go to heaven, pimped-up ride and everything? - God did!)

so i pray for all those who have doubts, who are falling away. i hope they can feel that they're falling, that they become worried about it, that they seek help. i hope that when i feel like that, people will do the same for me. our God is a consuming fire, so he deserves reverence and respect - we shouldn't take him for granted, even if he does promise rest from this weary life. if you're falling away, don't give in. fight tooth and nail. if you once believed in the gospel, ask what has changed for you to stop believing in it - i guarantee the only thing that hasn't changed is the gospel. and it is no less trustworthy now than it was when you first believed - perhaps you've just become less trusting?

once you were sitting on balloons in a room full of pins, moving from one seat to the next, never quite knowing when you could relax. one day you sat on a milk-crate, and for the longest time you didn't have to worry about your seat disappearing from underneath you. all anyone in that room wants - at the end of the day, in one way or another - is rest, rest from work, from worry about the future, from trying to provide for every possibility. so now that you have that rest, why trade your seat for another balloon?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

... rain

it's late and it's raining. not very hard, at the moment, but the rhythm of the rain against the eaves, the windows, the path next door... it contrives to promise downpours and storms without any evidence to back the promise up.

i've been missing the rain. i like the rain. winter this year hasn't felt terribly wet, or at least it hasn't felt so to me. one of my favourite nights was about twelve and a half years ago. i was living in north wollongong, sharing a flat with a friend from school, and a quite heavy rainstorm hit about seven or eight o'clock one saturday night. tim was out somewhere and i had been at the computer trying hard to conquer dune in westwood's game "dune 2", a fantastic precursor to the revolutionary command & conquer. i smelled the rain coming before the storm broke, keeping one eye on the screen and one on the window in case i had to turn the computer off in anticipation of an electrical storm that might cause a blackout.

once it started raining there came no indication that it might ever stop. it felt primordial, ancient, as if every droplet of rain was a tyrannosaurus compared to a front-garden skink. i stood on the verandah for a few minutes, breatheing in the coppery air. it was invigorating.

i took off my watch and glasses, shoes and socks, put on beach sandals, put the house key in my pocket and wandered out the door. i went walking in the rain for an hour or two, i don't quite recall how long for. it felt very liberating to be ambling along in the rain, taking all the time in the world, while everyone else that i passed seemed to be very keen to get in out of the rain.

we seem so strange to everyone else, i think, wandering around in the rain when everyone else just wants to get out of it. while i'm wandering in rain, i'm rarely worrying that i'm in the rain. it can't rain all the time and a time is coming (and is not far off) when it won't rain - some of us will be enjoying a city without sun or stars and a river running through it.

thunder's coming.

Monday, September 04, 2006

... grace

i'm typing this in editpad lite because typing it into the blogger page using opera can have some nasty typo side effects if you're not careful about what you're doing. i like using opera for its keyboard shortcuts and handy mouse-gesture shortcuts, but occasionally it bites if you scotch a bunch of stuff you just spent five minutes typing for what should have been a really quick post.

i was going to put up a follow-up post to my one on acts 15 but my opinions on the passage have not changed and i remain convinced that the application regarding table-fellowship is a natural outworking of the passage but not the main thrust of the passage itself.

i am going to say a few words about grace. ironic perhaps, given the vehemence of my previous paragraph, but heartfelt nonetheless.

i love that God loves me, that he sent Jesus to be punished for my rebellion against God and my inability to live up to God's righteous requirements for entry into his heavenly kingdom. i love that there's nothing anyone, not even i myself, can do to separate me from that love that God has shown in his work of salvation in Christ. i love that when i pray, my weak and distracted thoughts and words are transformed by the Holy Spirit's power and intercession into prayer that glorifies God and shows my life in submission to his will. i love that everything that makes me Christian is entirely an act of God and none of mine. it's very comforting.

relient k, in their song be my escape says, "the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair", and that's the truth because what we mere humans forget is that the definition of fair is not ours - it's God's. we say, "that's not fair!", because we feel it's not fair to us. it's like a dog barking to its owner that it's not fair that it's getting meaty-bites again!. it's not up to the dog what it eats - that's up to its master. we don't like to think of God being our master because to us, to our teensy-weensy pea-sized brains, it's not fair. do small children always know what's good for them? how do they learn? what's the best way? in the face of eternity, surely it's hubris to think that we know better than God what's good for us.

the thing i love most about the grace of God afforded those who after receiving it call themselves Christians is this: all you have to do is repent and believe the gospel. that's it. admit that you don't do things God's way, accept that Jesus' death is punishment for your sins laid on the one God chose to punish, trust that Jesus' resurrection is the preview of your own resurrection, and welcome the Holy Spirit into your heart and be changed by him.

that's it. you don't have to follow rules to become a Christian. you don't have to make some huge sacrifice. you don't have to sell your house. you don't have to quit smoking. you don't have to quit drugs. you don't have to leave your boyfriend and go back to your wife and family. you don't have to do any of these things to become a Christian. the offer is made to anyone with ears to hear and mouth to say "yes".

what you do after you become a Christian will reflect your understanding of what God has done and what he says his ideals are for your life. sometimes that means change, sometimes not. sometimes what you didn't have to change when you first became a Christian will become something that has to change as you mature in your faith. that happens in any relationship - some things you do with friends are only appropriate after years of friendship, some things you outgrow.

all the things i do that are wrong; all the things that are right that i don't do; all these things i repent of, now and for as often as you require of me, o God. search me, o God, and know my heart, test me and find all my evil, then lead me in ways that will be everlasting and i'll serve you, my God.