Archive for June, 2011

What about Homosexuality?

Posted: June 29, 2011 by Nathan in What About...
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Now here’s a subject not many people are brave enough to tackle. Not sure whether I’m brave enough or just stupid enough? Let me say from the outset that whatever I say on the subject there will be other Christians (even good friends of mine) who are bound to disagree with me. That’s OK! I’d like to say that the whole homosexual issue is very clear cut, very black and white – but unfortunately that is simply not true – there is so much grey – which is why it is such a difficult subject to tackle. So, let me start with what I do know.

God loves homosexuals. No matter what impression individual Christians give or what whole churches say – God unconditionally loves homosexuals. He loves those who refrain from sexual acts and those that partake. To go one step further if someone truly follows the teaching of Jesus they too will love anyone who is a homosexual, practising as well as non practising. I’d like to think that this is always the case and that the church has been very much misunderstood, but I know that this is simply not true. Christians all over the world have misinterpreted, misunderstood and completely gone against the teachings of the Bible, following their own agendas and using the Bible to try and justify their sinful words and actions. As Christians (as a whole) we get things massively wrong. We judge, we condemn, we hate, we sin and we are no better than anyone else. We let the passion that we have regarding our faith spill out in the wrong ways. We are, in many respects, human first and Christian second. We let our human emotions rule and things become twisted. So when it comes to the issue of homosexuality we see it as not being God’s ideal and end up giving the impression that God hates homosexuals. Fact: this is simply not the case!! God has many ideals, ideals that we as Christians fail to live up to every single day!

I can only give my opinion of what I believe that the Bible teaches and how we should live out that teaching in our lives. My understanding of the subject is open to change. If you disagree with what I say I don’t believe that that puts us at odds with each other. Each of us are on our own journey towards understanding and truth. I am always willing to learn from others and am hopefully open minded to the points of view of others. I urge you therefore to bear with me and dialogue with me instead of becoming annoyed or angry.

It is my experience that the major influence on a Christian’s theology of homosexuality is people they know well who are gay. It seems to me that a Christian who has a relative or close friend who practices homosexual acts is prone to change their theology to make sense of that relationship. Not many Christians would like to think of their child or sibling living a lifestyle contrary to that which God would desire. Therefore many Christians seem to change their theology to make things simpler, less awkward, less contradictory. It is very easily done, after all we live in an age where tolerance is at an all time high, belief is sidelined and everything is OK as long as it doesn’t impinge on someone else. However, does the church now believe that homosexual relations are OK in the sight of God or are Christians just falling in line behind a societal shift of homosexual acceptance? I believe it is the latter? I believe that the teaching of the Bible in not only what it says about homosexuality (not too much actually), but also its emphasis on family, marriage before God and man/woman relationships remains the same. Now I do believe that the church has gotten things wrong for hundreds of years in the way it has treated homosexuals. In my mind and I believe in God’s mind to, sin is sin. Why the church decided to single out the homosexual issue for more condemnation than any other sin is beyond me. I am as sinful as the next man. You are as sinful as me and I am as sinful as you. When it comes to sin, in God’s eyes we are all as sinful as each other.

So should a church welcome practising homosexuals? Of course they should! Should the church condemn homosexuals? Of course not? My view in a nutshell is this. I welcome homosexuals to my church, I love them and support them. However, if they were to ask me what they could do to draw nearer to God they wouldn’t like what they hear. I do believe that the practise of homosexuality is not what God would want for a person. I know of many people who would vehemently disagree and that is fine. I also believe though that the most important thing in the world to God is a person’s relationship with Him. I believe God would prefer someone to be a practising Christian and a practising homosexual than someone with homosexual tendencies to abstain from sex and not be a Christian. Practising homosexuals should be warmly welcomed into our churches. They are deeply loved by God and should be deeply loved by us as well. In my life I have been friends with a whole range of Christian and non-Christian people with homosexual tendencies. Of those who were Christians some having been practising, some celibate and some have pursued a heterosexual life. I hope that I have treated them all the same. When asked I have made my views clear, but I hope I have shown them that I love them whatever they do. It is easy to love and support those that agree with us and heed our advice, but we need to love people whatever! We are not here to judge, we are here to love, encourage, support, care and witness.”

Now, I know I’ve opened up a whole can of worms here, but I look forward to hearing from you. I know people will have differing opinions and as I said before that is fine, however please can we keep any discussions civil, polite and let’s understand that we are all coming from different backgrounds with different struggles and and are all on differing journeys. I will not remove differing opinions but I reserve the right to remove posts that I feel may be intended to be hurtful. That said, debate away!!!

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I used to tell a joke when I was a child that went something like this…

A vicar and a member of his church were playing golf one day. The church member was having a particularly bad round and as time went on he was getting more and more annoyed. Every time he missed a putt he would shout out “Darn, I missed!!”. As this continued, hole after hole, the vicar was getting very concerned. Again the church member missed a short putt and sure enough shouted out “Darn, I missed!!”. The vicar warned him that this was not a good thing to say and if he said it again God would strike him down. On the very next hole the church member missed a very short putt and just couldn’t stop himself and before he knew it the fateful words “Darn, I missed!!” came shouting out of his mouth. There was a huge flash and a lightening bolt came zooming out of the sky and hit the… Vicar on top of his head, killing him immediately. There was a few seconds pause and then a booming voice came out of heaven “Darn, I missed!!”

This is the view many people have of God. We don’t expect the lightening bolt but we do have an image of God sitting up in heaven just waiting for us to do wrong and punish us for it. We believe that God has set out all these rules and regulations, dos and don’t and now he sits there just waiting for us to muck up. God is waiting like a divine policeman ready to slap the handcuffs on and march us away to hell!! After all God is a God of justice and judgement so why shouldn’t this picture of Him be right? However, my understanding of the character of God is completely different. I don’t believe God sits there with lightening bolts and judgement but with plasters (band-aids) and words of encouragement. I guess it’s a little like a father teaching his child to ride a bike. He gives instruction, he tells how best to do it, he runs alongside us and he encourages us every step of the way. From the child’s point of view we won’t always listen, we’ll have our own ideas, we’ll say “dad, let go of the seat, I can do it!!” and inevitably we’ll fall off. Now, as human fathers and mothers, there is the temptation to shout and say “see!!, if you’d let me help, if you’d done it my way you would have been all right!!” However, on our good days (and God only has good days!) we pick our child up, we wipe away the tears, we put a plaster on the graze and we encourage them to get right back on the bike and try again. God is like us on our very best day, and so much more. He watches us to instruct us, to encourage us, to help us and when we do wrong, when we come of the rails, fall of our bike He is their to wipe away our tears, mend what is broken and restore us in every way necessary. He may have the right to be annoyed, to tell us that we didn’t do what he told us to do. We may deserve to be told off and be sent to the naughty step. However, God is far far more concerned with the hurt we may have done to ourselves than with our disobedience. He doesn’t sit there longing to judge and punish us but longing for the best for us in each and every situation.

 

Just as an earthly father, God has set boundaries for us. Boundaries to protect us and help us. God knows that if we break these boundaries our lives and/or the lives of others will not be as good. God doesn’t make rules so that he can punish us when we break them he makes rules so that we can live life to the full. So God says, look, don’t murder people because if you do they won’t be able to live life to the full but you won’t either. You may be consumed with guilt, you may have to become secretive and even hide away and ultimately you will probably have to spend years without your freedom in prison – now that is hardly being able to live life to the full.

 

I guess it depends how you look at it – some people see them as rules – I see them as pieces of wise advice. It’s up to us whether we take that advice or ignore it. I believe, that at the end of the day, it is us who loses out if we ignore it. God is not going to send a lightening bolt if we do wrong but if we don’t do wrong our lives will be so much better for it.

Cultivate a Heart for God

Do you find yourself increasingly desiring the things God desires? When you look to Jesus do you see yourself reflecting Him a little more than you used to? Do you find yourself now more willing to be willing in areas God is prompting you about?  Let us pray with eagerness “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Ps. 86:11).

When we cultivate a heart for God we produce in us a heart more like God’s. When our heart is more like God’s we desire that which God desires.  Our will becomes more like God’s will.

 

Pray for God’s Wisdom and Leading

If you are unsure what God’s will is in any given situation . . . ask Him! There are numerous examples of prayers for wisdom in the Bible. The following are two of them. James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul . . . Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” (Psalm 143:8, 10)

It is so easy for us to forget to ask God for wisdom in making decisions; prayer is absolutely essential to this process.

Seek Sound Advice and Wise Counsel

Let’s face it however wise we think we are we’re never as wise as we think we are!!  We might not like to admit it but in most things that are important, we need help. Not many areas of our lives are more important than seeking the will of God and His purposes in our lives and the life of His church.  The book of Proverbs is full of passages encouraging us to bring wise counsel into the process of seeking God’s will. For example: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Prov. 19:20). Here’s another: “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15).

I would say that when looking for wise counsel there are two main types to lookout for.

Biblical counsel. Who is someone in my life saturated with the Word of God who can help me discover what the Bible says about my situation?

Experienced counsel. Who is someone who has been in this same situation? Who has special expertise in the area where I need advice?

Examine Your Motives

Earlier we said that the more we mature in Christ, the more we will be able to follow the desires of our heart. But we also need to critically examine our motives, because the blinding effects of sin often keep us from seeing how selfish we can be. The prophet Jeremiah put it this way:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

It is good to ask ourselves some tough questions. Why are we doing this? Are we being selfish here? Will others benefit from our doing this? Sometimes we can become so preoccupied with finding God’s will that it becomes unhealthy. We either are presented with several options and freeze up (paralysis by over-analysis) or we walk around thinking and talking about ourselves all the time!

Ask God to reveal to you the motives of your heart.

 

One way of doing this would be to pray as David prayed in Psalm 139:23–24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Use Your Head

God created us and gave us a mind to think and to reason with. Now we are not infallible beings or anything, but we possess the ability to think critically about life’s situations. It is good to wait on God’s direction and leading. However, this doesn’t mean that weighing various options or scenarios is unspiritual—far from it! However, we need to learn to use our head wisely and learn to make godly choices in the face of other alternatives. We need to make decisions using a sound mind and this means that our thought process is being renewed (Romans 12:2) and is under the control of the Holy Spirit. It is far better than common sense.

Cultivating a sound mind is part of possessing the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15,16) as a result of God’s transforming and renewing work (Romans 12:2). We need to surrender to the direction of the Holy Spirit by faith and thus receive wisdom and guidance from God. By contrast, dependence upon man’s wisdom will lead us away from God’s best for us because it is based on self-interest with an undue emphasis on emotions and chance circumstances.

Steps to making a sound mind decision.

1. Pray for wisdom  (James 1:5,6).

2. Be sure you are walking in the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

This includes doing what you already know to be God’s will.  Why should God reveal His unknown will when we’re not even doing His known will?  This also includes being faithful in the small things (Matthew 25:21).  God may want to adjust your life and character in the smaller assignments in order to prepare you for the larger ones.  God develops character to match the assignment.

3. Determine the options in the decision and list the pros and cons for each option.

4. Search the Bible for any relevant principles and commands.

5. Collect available information and godly counsel on each option.

6. Trust God for His wisdom, evaluate the options and make a decision according to His promises in Psalm 37:23,24 and Proverbs 3:5,6.

7. Do not depend on feelings:  God promises wisdom not the feeling of wisdom.

8. Take steps to act on your decision by faith.  Sometimes a step of faith may be to wait on the Lord

Believe That God Is at Work in the Circumstances of Life

God is always at work in the circumstances of life. Sometimes His providence is imperceptible to us; but other times He will reveal His thoughts and ways . . . if we are paying attention.

Be Sensitive to the Leading of the Holy Spirit

This one makes some people nervous. Who hasn’t heard the words “God told me to . . .” and then cringed at what was said next?  We must be reminded that we should be wise as we try to discern whether the Holy Spirit is prompting us or not. We must not ignore Him in our decision-making. Even though this is a subjective process, God could be trying to get your attention; the question is are you listening and open to what He may say?

Now this principle is best understood in light of the previous ways of seeking and we should always test our “impressions” with God’s Word and with wise counsel. The Spirit’s leading is not a trump card to be used selfishly—remember to check your motives.

The disciples of Jesus asked Him how they should pray, in His reply He teaches them what we now know as the Lords Prayer. So, what is this teaching all about? These disciples ask Jesus how to pray and what they get in return is one prayer? Or do they get a template on how to pray? So what do we have? He had been in close communion with His Father and he knew the right way to approach and communicate with Him. The Lord’s prayer is a template on how to commune with the Father. So, let’s have a look…

Our Father

Approach Him with respect recognising the right relationship between God and us.

In heaven

Let’s make no mistake who we’re talking to here, we are approaching the creator God of Heaven who made all that exists. Heaven is out of sight, and a world of spirits, therefore our conversation with God in prayer must be spiritual; it is on high, therefore in prayer we must rise above the world, and lift up our hearts.

Hallowed be your name

Hallowed – to make holy. Holy be your name, Holy is your name. A statement of Worship and statement of Praise. Psalm 100 tells us that we

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. “

Basically worship, praise, thanksgiving draws us into the presence of God. If we want to get God’s attention there is no better way than to praise Him.

Let Your Kingdom come

Let your rule, your reign, commence. Have your way with me. I am your servant. I am willing to be submissive to all you want to do in and through me. I acknowledge you are the King and ruler of my life.

Let your will be done

Not my will Lord, not my agenda, but yours. I want to know your will. I want to pray that Your will in all situations, whether I like it or not, be done. Now, I think this is a massively important point and one we continually pass over. We are so busy telling God what we want Him to do for us and those we know we miss what He might be wanting to do. We come with our shopping lists asking God to heal this person and help that person and give this person money and that person a job etc. etc. and we don’t stop to ask God what he would like to do in any given situation. We need to step back, say God this is the situation, what do YOU want to do in it? Seek God for His will and then ask Him to do it. When we find God’s will and then pray that into a situation we suddenly find God answers. Funny that!!

On Earth as it is in Heaven

We long for Christ to return and for God’s perfect rule to begin. Until then we are told that the Kingdom of God is at hand and we want to experience as much of that reality as possible. We are in the world but not of the world. We live here but are not under its rule. We want to usher in the Kingdom of God, we believe it starts in the here and now and we want that Kingdom on earth to expand.

Give us today our daily bread

So much can be taken from this one little line, in fact you can take it word by word.

Give

We are asking for the kindness of God. We’re not asking for a loan or for something we deserve or have earned we are asking for an unmerited gift from God.

Us

It is a term of inclusion. We’re not just asking for ourselves but for those around us. For those we love and care for.

Today

Here is our sense of urgency. As a new day is upon us we recognise the need for God’s provision. We need God’s provision for each day of our lives whether we recognise it or not.

Our

Here we recognise that we want God’s provision for us – we do not want the bread coming from others or due for others. We acknowledge that there is enough to go round and we don‘t want more than our share. We’re asking God to help us not to be selfish or greedy but to want what God wants to give us.

Daily

Thinking not of tomorrow, but trusting God for that, we ask for what is needed for today. We are aligning ourselves with our parts of the Bible that urge us not to worry about tomorrow but to stay focused on the here and now.

Bread

Here we are asking God for what is needed. Nothing fancy, simply bread. Yes, food to sustain us but also other everyday needs. God knows what we need and He is more than willing to provide that – we don’t need to spell out all our needs we simply need to acknowledge our need of God’s provision.

Forgive us our debts

An acknowledgement of our fallen, sinful nature; that we can be forgiven, redeemed and that God is the one who can forgive us. Taken in conjunction with the previous section the implication being that this is a daily request to continuously and constantly be forgiven. When this is prayed our slate is wiped clean once again.

As we also have forgiven our debtors

A call to duty. What good is it for us if we are forgiven but cannot forgive those who have wronged us? It is a great call to hope that if we can find it in our hearts to forgive those that have done wrong to us – how much more will God, whose forgiveness is perfect, readily forgive us.

And lead us not into temptation

We’ve admitted our sin, asked and received forgiveness and so it is natural that having a clean slate we ask for God’s help to keep it clean and not to err again. We are not saying that we believe God leads us into temptation but acknowledging the guiding hand and power of the spirit to lead us away from situations that may cause us to sin.

But deliver us from evil

We’ve asked for God to guide us away from situations that may cause us to sin. Now we are asking Him for His protection from the one who hounds us, the devil and all his agents. We are also asking for his deliverance from sin itself.

For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever Amen

And so we return to praise and adoration. Telling God what He has already told us. Affirming our hope that God can do all that we have asked of Him and so much more besides.

So Jesus was asked by His disciples how to pray and he gave them the Lord’s prayer. Now I don’t for one minute think that this was something that he came up with on the spare of the moment. We’re not told but my guess is that Jesus had been perfecting this prayer for years. Moulding it, perfecting it and using it as His own.

If you look at each petition they are all petitions that will receive a YES from God. Does God want to give us what we need – YES. Does God want to forgive us – YES. Does God want to deliver us for the devil – YES. God will always answer our prayers. However He will not always answer them in the way we would want. God will usually answer with a yes, a no or a wait! The Bible teaches us that God will give us what we need and whatever we ask, according to His will He will give us. Now, many people translate this as God will give us whatever we ask. So when they pray for a Ferrari and don’t get one they become disappointed and disillusioned. Their translation misses out the important part “according to His will”. The Lord’s prayer gives us a template to use in prayer helping us to pray according to the will of God. When we sincerely pray the Lord’s Prayer God will answer us in the affirmative. God is a God who provides for our needs but not necessarily for our desires. So when we pray we need to bear in mind our needs, not our wants and also have in mind what God may will for a situation.

In any situation that we face, in any situation that we pray about it is always worth praying first to try and discover God’s will for that situation. It is all too easy for us to try to force our will on God when His will is what really matters. If we can discover God’s will for a situation we can then go on to pray with confidence and certainty that He will answer us in the affirmative. Next week we’ll look at this in a little more depth but I just want to leave you with an example to help illustrate what I’m talking about…

 Your best friend gets very ill. Now, it’s our natural reaction to pray for healing. However, God knows the end from the beginning. He knows what is going to happen and what He wants to do in this situation. If it is not God’s will to heal your friend no amount of prayer for healing is going to change his mind. Therefore, it is better to seek God’s will for your friend and pray accordingly. It might be that God will is for your friend to learn something through this experience before God heals Him. Our prayers can help our friend learn that thing quicker and then God can bring about his healing. It may be for some reason or other that healing won’t take place immediately and what your friend really needs are prayers for patience, energy, peace etc. and not prayers for healing. It may be that God, in His wisdom, knows that your friend will not be healed and will in fact die (let’s face it we all die sometime). God’s will may be for you to pray for a strengthening of their faith or for a peace of mind or for their family in this difficult time. There is no point in us continuing to pray for healing when it is not God’s intention to heal. We are just banging our head against a wall which will never move. All it will serve to do is make us disappointed and disillusioned with God. However, if we can discover His will and pray accordingly we will see wonderful results and be encouraged and strengthened in our faith.

What about the words to say in prayer?

Posted: June 1, 2011 by Nathan in What About...
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Following on from last week’s blog I thought it might be useful to give some prayers that you can follow. Just like when we learnt to write we copied from the line above so it can be with prayer. As we learn how to pray and what to say it can be helpful to copy the prayers of others. Praying is not a precise art, you don’t have to say the right words in order to be heard. These prayers are just aids to help you get started.

Father help me to focus on you. I pace into you hands all that is past and trust you for all that is to come. Help me to build a relationship with you now. Father you know all about me, you created me and gave me life – for that I thank you.

God I am praying through gritted teeth. I am so angry. I don’t understand what is going on. Why could you let this happen. Please help me in this situation. Amen.

Lord, I have had a brilliant day. I just wanted to thank you for my friends and the great time we have together. Amen.

Lord, I have no words to express how I’m feeling. Please help me! You know what I’m going through, please help me to weather the storm. Amen.

God, I’m sat here, I don’t even know if you exist and if you do whether you can hear me. If you are there please help me to believe. Amen.

God I really want you to help Mrs. X. She is really sick and I am worried about her. Give wisdom to all who are treating her and bring her back to full health. Until then please give her peace. Amen.

God, I know you are worthy of my praise. Help me to do the things you want me to do. I want to do good, forgive me for the times I fail. Amen

God, please help me when I read the Bible. Help me to undertand it and to apply it to my life. Amen.

Lord, I only have a little bit of faith, please help it to grow. Send me people to encourage me in believing in you. Help me find the right books/blogs to read to help me. Amen.

Lord, I do believe in you, help me to put my trust in you. I find this faith thing very difficult, please help me to persevere. Amen.

Father, I have done so many things that are wrong. Some of them I knew were wrong some I did not. I am really sorry for doing all these things. Please forgive me and help me not to do wrong things in the future. Amen.

Lord, I want to thank you for sending your son, Jesus, to die for me. I don’t really understand all that went on but I know he had to die so that I could be forgiven. Thank you. Amen.

God, I find Mrs Z really difficult to get on with. Please help me to have patience with her. Help us to get along better. Thank you. Amen.

Like any worthwhile relationship prayer will need working at. It is not something that you will crack overnight. As I said previously prayer is like building a relationship. It happens little by little, step by step. Some weeks you will feel you’re getting nowhere, some weeks you’ll leap forward, some weeks you’ll feel like you’re right back at the beginning. I know people who have been Christians for decades who still struggle with prayer. However, don’t let that put you off – it really is an adventure worth pursuing. In some respects prayer is about the journey and not necessarily about the end destination. With prayer don’t give up – the perseverance will be worth it.

There is a special prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. You may have heard it before, it is called the Lord’s prayer. Next week I’ll try and explain it a bit more so that it can meaningfully be used in your times of prayer.

In the meantime, if there is a situation you are facing that you don’t quite know how to pray about I am more than happy to try and put it into words for you. You don’t have to go into specifics just contact me using the contact tab above.