Archive for May, 2012

Why bother to even look into the claims of the Bible?

So you’re sat at the breakfast table when you hear the familiar plop of the morning post arriving on your door mat.  You get up and stagger, in your still half asleep state, to pick up the post which you reckon will be mostly bills. You sort through them and find one that jumps out at you.  It has the familiar embossing of your family solicitors in the corner.  It worries you at first but you open it and there inside is a letter stating that you’ve come into some money. However it’s not just a few hundred dollars it’s is $2 million.  You rub your eyes!!  You read on and discover that someone has left it to you in their will.  You read the newly deceased lady’s name several times. No, you are quite sure you’ve never heard of her before in your life.  There must be some mistake!  Strangers don’t die and leave people millions of dollars.  Especially not to you!!!  The letter states that you need to come into the local office to verify who you are and to receive the check.  But you know it must be a mistake!! You don’t know the lady!! Never heard of her!!  The claim of the letter just simply can’t be true!  So you put the letter in the bin and think nothing more of it?  The claim just can’t be true can it?  Things like this don’t happen to people like you, do they?  Wouldn’t you be just a little curious?  Wouldn’t it be worth making a quick phone call just to put the mistake right? Wouldn’t it be worth popping in to the solicitors just in case there is the smallest possibility that in might be true?  But perhaps you don’t need $2 million?  Perhaps you don’t want a bit of security for the future?  Let’s face it we live in a world where we could all do with a bit of good news.  If the claim is good enough, and let’s face it most of us would check it out for a lot less than $2 million , it’s worth checking out!!

The Bible makes some outrageous claims!!  It claims the answers to many of the things that people are seeking today.  If advertising is anything to go by we are all looking to live longer, feel better, be at peace, be more content, find the perfect person and get richer.  The Bible, believe it or not, claims to have the answer all of these things!  For centuries people have searched for the Holy Grail, the key to everlasting life.  Books have been written about it, legends built on it, films made about it and lives lost seeking it. Yet the Bible claims to hold the keys to Eternal life and not only any old eternal life, eternal life lived in perfection.  I don’t know about you but eternal life in this world may sound good but to me 100 years is looking like a very very long time!!!  The Bible claims that the eternal life it offers comes without pain or suffering or tears or sadness or hatred or loss.  Now that is some claim!!  Is that not worth checking out?

Many of us spend time in the gym to keep ourselves fit and help us to live longer.  Isn’t is worth spending a few hours investigating the claim of eternal life and so much more besides.  The Bible not only claims to offer “pie in the sky when you die“, it almost claims to offer “Steak on your plate while you wait!!”  if the claim is great enough it is surely worth checking out. Next time (in two Wednesdays time) we’ll look more at what theses claims are and why they’re worth checking out!

We live in a blame culture! When something goes wrong someone has to, not only be to blame but they have to, take the blame as well! We love to point the finger, proclaiming our innocence and somebody else’s fault!

Terrorists pilot planes into buildings and those fingers never stop wagging. We blame the terrorists; their families and friends; their religion and country of birth; we blame people in power for not stopping it; we blame airport security firms for not preventing it; we blame our government for causing the hate in the first place; we even blame emergency services for not saving more lives. All this is even before we turn our wagging fingers of blame at God!! How could He let this happen!! Why did He not prevent it? How can He love us and yet allow this to take place!!

When tragedy strikes it is easy for us to blame God. We don’t think about Him for years on end but when something goes wrong He becomes the focus of our wagging finger. It’s so much easier for us to blame something external. We blame God because He’s big enough He can take it. We blame God because that gives us some solace. Although we don’t usually acknowledge His existence when the chips are down we gain comfort from the fact that someone is in control. When our lives fall apart we want to know that someone has it all together, even if we don’t understand their actions and in fact blame them for what has happened. We may never thank God or even admit His existence in the good times but when the bad times come along God becomes a little more real in our lives even if He is just the butt of our anger and blame.

However, is it right that God be the focus of our blame when things go wrong? Well I guess in a small way it is. God created us, He brought us into being and therefore is in some part responsible for all the pain, sickness and tragedy that occurs in our life. He created the universe in which we live so anything bad that befalls us that is a result of our environment could be blamed on God as well. But do we blame our parents for all bad things in our lives just because they brought us into being? We may blame them for a poor upbringing or lack of love or a whole host of other things but do we blame them for us being born? I would say that we’re more thankful to them for the opportunity that they gave us in giving us life. Do we blame the builder of our house when bad things happen within it? Not usually, I would guess, because we have built upon the shell of the house. We have created our own environment within our homes so when we burn ourselves on the cooker it is not the builder of the house who is to blame. The same is true of our world. God created the world but man has created the environment in which we live.

Here we are not just talking about a physical environment but also an environment of greed, lust, selfishness, anger, lies, injustice, violence, hatred, pride, materialism, secularisation, power, unfaithfulness, crime and the list could roll on and on. Many of the so called natural disasters that we used to blame on God are now being shown to be man-made. Famines are no longer seen as being natural occurrences but are now seen as the greed of the few at the cost of many. Environmental changes that cause floods, droughts and other so-called natural phenomenon are now being linked to man-made causes.

Our actions have seen consequences but many unseen consequences as well. We’ve all heard of the butterfly effect, domino effect and chain reactions, these clearly illustrate that small actions can have far reaching consequences. What we do matters. What we do has consequences and we need to be aware of that both as individuals, communities and the wider populace. Many of our actions have far reaching consequences that we don’t really understand. Many time when we may be blaming God we should perhaps be pointing the finger back at ourselves. There is a wonderful saying that says that “God allows in His wisdom that which he could prevent by His power”. God had given us freewill. It is a most wonderful gift. For God to prevent many bad things happening would be an infringement of this freewill. We are free to be greedy and allow others to starve. We are free to get angry and inflict pain on others. We are free to lie, cheat and make any number of other poor choices. God loves us enough to allow us to make our own mistakes. Just as a parent allows their child to learn to ride a bike knowing that they will probably hurt themselves, God allows us to do things where we will get hurt or indeed hurt others. Would you blame a parent for allowing their child to further themselves?

Perhaps it is time for us as individuals and us as a society to stop wagging the finger of blame at each other and at God. Perhaps we need to wake up to our own responsibilities and take on some of the blame ourselves. I guess it’s an easy option to blame God, His shoulders are broad enough and it’s unlikely he’s going to come round after dark to pick a fight. But if we are going to blame God when things go wrong, if we are going to get angry at Him (and that is allowed) we also have to thank Him when things go right. He also wants us to trust Him when things don’t go as we’d like. He is big enough to take the blame (even if undeserved) but He is also big enough to care for you when things go wrong. It is at these times that we most need His help and He is there to do just that!

Having a Relationship with God

Posted: May 16, 2012 by Nathan in What Next...
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Getting the right perspective.

Many people at times fall into the trap of confusing knowing God and knowing about God. I know I’ve done it – thought I’d been getting to know God better and yet all I was doing was learning more about Him.  I even went off to Bible College with the aim of getting to know God better only to find out it was all about learning about Him and what others have said about him.  However the two things are very much interlinked. I know a little about Australia, I don’t know it at all as I’ve never been there.  However, if I were to go there I would increase my knowledge about it before I went in order to make the most of getting to know it whilst there.  What I mean is I would read up about Australia before I went to make sure I saw the best sites, visited a good range of places and saw all that I wanted to see. Likewise with God we know about Him before we know Him.  We read His word, talk to people who know Him, we are taught by our churches about Him before we get to know Him.

Getting to know about God is a lot easier than getting to know God. Getting to know about God is a case of learning, getting to know God is a case of relationship.

Knowing about God

It’s good to get to know a little about God before we attempt to get to know Him.  Why is this important? Forming a relationship with God is not the easiest thing you will do – after all relationships are difficult things. The more we know about God the easier we will find it to know Him.  If I were expecting an important business call from someone on the other side of the world I would want to know as much about this person as possible. I wouldn’t want to be thrown by them not speaking English or being an intern when I was expecting the boss.  The Bible shows us how God communicates. 1 Kings 19:11-13 tell us that God didn’t speak in the earthquake or the fire but in a gentle voice. If we do not know about God we may assume that he will speak to us in one way and miss the other ways in which he speaks.

Knowing God

As I said before, knowing God is about relationship. So how do you build relationship and is building a relationship with God any different from building one with those around us?

Keys to building relationship

1. Contact

Let’s face it it’s pretty difficult to form a relationship without contact.  It doesn’t have to be face-to-face, though that may help. The same is true with God we can’t start to form a relationship with Him unless we have contact with Him, spend time in His presence.

2. Communication

One of the main things that will help a relationship grow is good communication. With God that is done through talking to Him and listening to Him.  It’s what we call prayer and is a vital part of getting to know God.  It isn’t easy and takes some getting used to, but is worth persevering with.

3. Common ground

In most relationships that flourish there is an element of common ground.  You talk about things that interest each of you and discuss things that are important to you.  With God it is no different.  A lot of the common ground that you share is you.  God loves you and is very interested in you, what you think and how you are feeling.  God wants to know about you even more than you want to know about God.  God created you and knows all about you yet loves to hear you talk about yourself, what your worries are and what you like to do.

4. Commitment

With humans one of the ultimate signs that a relationship is going well is to commit to each other.  With a male/female relationship this commitment may take the form of getting married.  It’s a sign that both people make to show their commitment. God is wholly committed to you, so much so that He sent His Son to die for you so that you may be reconciled back to Him.  God longs for us to be committed to Him. He know our hearts and knows when we are committed to Him, but we might make an outward sign of commitment to Him by being baptised or confirmed or giving a public declaration of faith.

5. Continuity

If we had a friend who visited us every day for weeks on end and then one day just stopped coming round we’d think something was wrong. So it is with God.  He is constantly their for us but we tend to blow hot or cold.   We go through good stages where we seek him regularly but then life crowds in and we forget about him, our prayer life falters and our bible gathers dust. We need to try and be consistent in our relationship with God.

6. Compromise

In order for most serious relationships to work there needs to be some level of compromise.  Many of us like to get our own way but in relationship with others something has to give. I remember in the first few months of our relationship my wife and I had to work out what areas of our lives needed compromise. It wasn’t the easiest of things to do but we know that to work as a couple there were areas of our individual lives that we needed to change. This sounds very heavy but all I mean is that, for example, spending time with each other meant spending less time with our own friends.  We both wanted to spend time together and in order to do that we had to compromise in the times we saw others.  It wasn’t a big deal but for the relationship to work it had to be done.

With God the compromise is slightly different and can come across as slightly unfair but it is anything but that.   God is perfect, all His ways are good and just. He is all powerful and all knowing and all loving. He made the ultimate compromise in sending His son to die for all the wrong we have ever done and will ever do. Now it is our turn to respond. We have to remember that God always has our interests at heart.  Any changes in our lives that he wants us to make are for the good of ourselves.  God loves and accepts us just the way we are but for our own good He doesn’t want us to stay that way. If we want a good relationship with God there are changes in our lives that we will need to make. If you kept giving sound advice to a friend who constantly ignored it you would still love them but it wouldn’t do much to enhance your relationship.

Through all of the above we can begin to develop a relationship of love with God. It takes time and effort on our part.  It is an ever changing journey that will continue for the rest of your life.  It will, of course, have it’s ups and downs.  You will have days when you think you’ve cracked it and days when you feel like your right back at the very beginning.

So How does this Relationship Start?

Any relationship has to have a firm foundation or BASE!

B Believe in God and what the Bible states about Him, that He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and that He came to earth in human form as Jesus.

Genesis chapter 1 verse 1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

John 3: 16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Romans 10:9

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

A  Accept what God has freely offered you – forgiveness of all your wrongdoings and eternal life through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not by yourselves, it is the gift of God – not through works, so no-one can boast.

S Switch to following God’s pathway for your life

Ephesians 5: 8-9

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of Light. (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.)

E Entrust your life to Jesus Christ and His direction.

Colossians 2: 6-7

So, then, just as you received Jesus Christ as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted  and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness.

What If…there is More to Life than This?

Posted: May 9, 2012 by Nathan in What If...

Most of us spend a little of our time being unsatisfied, discontented with our lot.  When we’re were children we wanted to be teenagers, when we reached our teenage years we wanted to be all grown up adults and when we finally reached adulthood we long to be young again. The rise in the cosmetic surgery industry and the multi million dollar cosmetics industry bear witness to the fact that many people don’t like the way they look.  People who are unemployed long to have a job, those in employment long for a better job and those in top jobs long to retire.  It’s a vicious circle to which there is no end. We must remember that when it comes to the rat race, even if you win, you’re still a rat!!

Many of us live with a “the grass is greener on the other side” mentality. We’re always looking to improve our lives, earn more, look better, be happier, live longer, get married, have children and be the perfect family.  We’re constantly seeking for something else, something better. The words of U2 ring true for many people “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.  Our lives seem to be a constant search for something. Happiness? Fulfilment? Money? Contentment? Love? Peace? Success? Fame? Many people are looking for more.  Yet, even when they achieve more, earn more, gain more, find more it tends to be not enough.  John D. Rockefeller the then richest man in the world when asked once, “How much money is enough money?” replied, “Just a little bit more.”  We live in a dissatisfied state even when things are going really well.  We have a nagging feeling that there must be more to life than this, whatever “this” may be at the time.

Life can be great.  We live in a beautiful world full of wonder and grandeur and mystery.  Many of us have great family and friends and most of the time we enjoy living.  However, life can be tough, friends and family die, we lose our job, we get ill and we suffer terribly from all sorts of things. That’s not to mention the people we share our planet with, millions of whom die each year from disease and hunger.  They are born into suffering, they suffer continuously and they die. Surely there has to be more to life than this? If we believe that we began in some sort of explosion and developed from primeval slime, if we are just the evolved state of apes what is there to live for?  If we truly believe that we come from apes we will treat each other as no more than over developed apes.  Surely we as humans are more than that and indeed deserve more than that?

If you truly believed that what we see, what we can prove, what we can touch and feel was all there was to this life, how would you feel?  If there was more to life than this, something to give some meaning and purpose to our lives wouldn’t you want to explore the possibility? If you received a letter saying that you had won the lottery, even though you never entered, wouldn’t you want to do a bit of research to find if it might be true?  However unbelievable the claim wouldn’t it be worth you looking into it, just in case it was true? Millions of people around the world believe there is more to life than what is seen, provable, touchable. Millions of Christians have faith that there is more to life than this.  This faith is not a blind faith, it is a faith that says “I’ve looked at the evidence, I’ve weighed up the information, I have experienced things for myself and now I have decided”.  I am on a journey of faith, a journey of discovery. The more I search, the more I find.  The Bible tells us that if we seek we will find, if we knock on the door of faith it will be opened to us.  Is there more to life than this?  I believe so. Over the coming weeks and months our plan is to unpack this faith a little.  If there is more to life than this, what does it look like, consist of, mean to us?  We’d love for you to join us on this journey of discovery.  Feel free to ask questions and also feel free is disagree.  We’d love to hear what you find useful and what you don’t.  We hope our posts will make you think and be a springboard for you in your search.  Our hope is that you will walk a while with us and see where we all get to. Until the next What If…? Wednesday, keep seeking.

Posted: May 2, 2012 by Nathan in What If...
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A couple of summers ago we travelled back from our much needed and fantastic family holiday. We had not travelled far, about an hour, when we came to a stop at the end of a traffic jam. It became clear that there had been an accident and the traffic jam soon turned into a linear car park.  People got out of their cars and craned their necks to try and see what was going on. First police, then ambulances, fire engines, more police, an air ambulance, yet more plain police cars and finally the ominous sign of the darkened windowed cars of the undertakers filed passed our windows. We were only about 30 cars back and could see the aftermath of the accident.  It was far too close for comfort, especially with two small children in the back.

Three hours is a long time to sit in a car waiting. As I sat and prayed for those involved and for all those who were helping I couldn’t help but wonder “What if…?”  What if my wife had not taken that wrong turn?  What if my kids had not slept in so late? What if we’d been more organised the night before and packed the car then? All these questions leading to the inevitable “What if we’d have been 2 minutes earlier and it had been us involved in the accident and not them?” What if instead of sitting here in relative comfort for three hours we were sitting in agony as fire crew cut us from our car? In fact, what if it was us that the undertakers were packing into those black bags and transporting sedately away in front of the silenced onlookers?

In some ways it doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet thousands of people die unexpectedly every day of the week, every week of the year. Those six people involved in Sunday’s accident had no idea what their day was to bring. Never would it have entered their minds that this day would bring so much pain, anguish, tragedy and even death. However, it happens to people all over the world day in and day out and yet we never expect it to happen to us and never really prepare for it. When it comes to dying most peoples preparation goes as far as ensuring they have clean underwear on in case they land up in hospital.  Some people go as far as having funeral plans, life insurance and making a will.  But what about the really important thing?  Have we really thought through what would happen to us if we did die unexpectedly today? Is this life really all there is? Many people have a vague belief in God, but are we really ready to meet Him?

The Apostle Paul, in the Bible, says that to live and do God’s work on earth was great but to die was even better.  Not many of us can say that!!  I once knew an incredible lady who was so ready to die, she was an inspiration. Every birthday that came around she would say that we could wish her “Happy Birthday” but weren’t allowed to wish her many “happy returns” (a way of saying “and many more birthdays to come as well“).  She had been a missionary, she was still doing the work of God but what she really wanted to do now was to meet Him face to face, to go to heaven and start the party!!  She didn’t want to die in a sort of depressed, suicidal way she just wanted to move on to bigger and much better things. She knew she was living in a second class Kingdom and that God had so much better for her in store. She had thought through carefully the Christian faith, she had made her decision and lived it out for many years.  She was now ready to go home. Had she not spent the time and energy to explore the Christian faith she would not have been ready, she would not have had that certainty that a life trusting God can give you.

You may have made a will, got life insurance, have your family catered for and all your affairs in order but have you taken care of your spiritual welfare? You may have left details of what is to be done with your possessions and even your body when you die.  Your nearest and dearest may know if you want to be buried, cremated or even cryogenically frozen but what preparations have you made for your eternal future.  What if there is even the smallest possibility that part of you, that part that makes you you, continues in some form or other.  Some people call it your soul, some your spirit, but whatever it may be called isn’t it worth thinking through the possibilities.  No-one likes to miss out on good things.  As a Christian I believe that the best is yet to come. I believe it took God six days to create this earth.  I also believe that is has taken Him 2000 years and counting to create an eternal place for us to dwell.  That gives the magnitude of how great I believe heaven will be.

Now that is going to be some party!!  Are you ready to join in?