My Journey of Faith
Although I was not brought up in a Christian family, I have always had a sense that there was more to life than we can see or hear. I can remember in primary school being inspired by the story of Gladys Ayleward's mission to China, although I also wondered if I could handle standing out from the crowd.
At age 10, I was sent to a Methodist bording school as my parents believed I would get a good academic education there, which I did. Chapel, however, left me rather cold. What I remember of the preaching was very dull with the chaplain trying to be "trendy" and expouse the latest in liberal theology. It was at this time, though, that I had, what I now think was my first direct encounter with God.
One evening I had some personal issues to mull over and went for a walk around the school grounds while I tried to resolve them. I passed by the school Chapel and for some reason I was moved to try the door. To my surprise it opened, and once inside, I experienced a deep peace and I thought to myself
"If there is a God, there is probably something he wants me to do. And if God wants me to do something, I had better do it."
So I prayed, right there:
"God, if you're there, I want you to know that I want to do whatever it is you want of me".
After that, people started telling me I had changed, but I didn't think I had, and anyway, I soon forgot about the incident in the chapel and got interested in other religions and spiritual practicies.
It was during my time at University that these events came back to me. I was hitchhiking my way accross France when I met a team of evangelists from Operation Mobilisation. There an English person explained the Gospel to me clearly for the first time and asked me if I wanted to give my life to God.
My first thought was, "I already have, in the chapel at school".
But I didn't tell him that. I prayed the "sinners prayer" with him, and started to learn about Christianity for real.
Back at Uni, I started going to church and ended up going to Holy Trinity, Brompton, just when I was getting known as a centre for charismatic renewal in the Anglican church.
Since then I have maintained my faith, with some ups and downs, attending various churches at different times, and am now involved with a very charismatic Anglican church near where I live, which you can read about on my family page.
I am also getting to re-learn the unique gift of God in Grace. Through reading books and websites such as Revival or Riots I am re-discovering the Grace of God that means I am forgiven, despite all my failings, and empowered through faith to live for Him. Something I am now endevouring to do through Faith, not by my own effort, which always seems to fail anyway.
Reward for Service
Thereís a guy in the bible I feel sorry for, well thereís lots of them actually, but thereís one thatís on my mind today.
It was during the time of King David, but just before he actually became King.† This guy had been in the army fighting alongside King Saul, Davidís predecessor.† He wasnít an Israelite, but an Amelekite, but he must have witnessed the end of the battle as he went as fast as he could to tell King David about it.
Now, the battle was lost and King Saul was injured. Seeing the situation was desperate, he asked to be killed rather than be captured by the Philistines.
His servant refused to do this, however, so in the end he took his own life.
On the way to tell David all about it, our Amelikite, thought he might be able to take advantage of this situation.† When he got to David, he said he had killed King Saul and so opened the way for David to become king.† At this King David, however, did not react the way he had been expecting.† He immediately ordered the manís execution for regicide, saying he had no right to take the life of the Lordís anointed.
In those days, any other King would have offered a handsome reward to someone who rid him of an enemy.†I can just see the messenger, on the way to David, thinking to himself, ďWell, Saul had asked to be killed.† His servant, who refused, died in the battle, anyway, so he wonít tell.† Why donít I say I killed him, surely David will reward me for getting rid of the one standing in the way of him becoming King.Ē
Unfortunately for him his plan backfired, big time.† Why?† The thing is, he had failed to take into account Davidís loyalties.† David was not looking to any human agency to establish his kingdom, but to the Lord.† God had already promised him that he would be king one day, and the prophet Samuel had anointed him King many years earlier.† So David knew that he would become king, but as God had already put King Saul on the throne, he figured that it was for God, and God alone, to remove him.
When the Amelekite, who did not have the same understanding of Godís ways, walked into Davidís tent, he could not have anticipated the reaction he got.† His thoughts were only informed by human motivations and reactions.† If he only could have seen the bigger picture, and understood what it is to have faith in God, he might then have seen that claiming to have killed King Saul was not such a good idea.
But, are we any better than the Amelekite?† Do we trust God to provide what he has promised, or do we try to get it ourselves anyway?† I know I do.† Itís a fine line between taking what the Lord has given us graciously, and taking it for ourselves.† As
Wheat and Tares
While Jesus was living with us, he told the story of a farmer who had a field of wheat. During the night, someone came along and sowed bad seed among the wheat, and when it sprouted, weeds wer growing in among the good crop. The farm workers wanted to go immediately into the field and pull up the weeds. This was, perhaps, an understandable reaction, however the farmer had other ideas and allowed the weeds to continue to grow. He then waited for the harvest before separating the good from the bad.
Traditionally, this story has been interpreted to explain the current state of the world, with evil people apparently flourishing among the good, and also to empahsise the end of evil, the weeds ending up on the bonfire whilst the weat is saved. I do not want to deny this interperetation, how ever I think there are other lessons to be learned from the story.
For instance, why is it that God thinks it is better that the bad should be allowed to grow up with the good. In the parable, the explanation is that in the process of uprooting the bad, good seed would be disturbed. Does this not show us the love of God that he does not want the good disrupted, even to the extent of allowing evil to flourish. More than that, this is a totally amazing revelation int othe heart of God. He loves the individual Christian so much that he will not allow anything, even the long term fulfilment of his will for the world, to get in the way of the Christian developing the good in himself to the maximum.
Looking at this story a little more closely. Supposing the farm workers had prevailed and entered the field to uproot the weeds. As their intention was to uproot the weeds, weeds would uppermost on their minds. Off they would go, into the fields, concentrating only on weeds, not noticing that in the process they wer trampling all over the good corn in the process.
This is a trap we can all to easily fall into ourselves. Focusing on a certain evil, we stop at nothing until every vestage of this evil is rooted out. Those innocently caught up are condemned out of hand and are, so often, lost to the Kingdom.
For example, let us consider followers of other religions. We concentrate on the evils inherent in their beliefs. When followers of that faith hear Christians denouncing their beliefs, they don't immediately see the error of their ways, as many Christians seem to expect. Rather, they, who understand their own faith better than we do, return the compliment in kind and retreat back to the security of what they know. After all, do we not tend to do the same when faced with, for example, Militant Islam. The fact that we are the ones that have the truth is not immediately apparent to everyone. If it were, everyone would become a Christian overnight!
Thank God that He is able to overcome the hostility engendered by some Christians so that some of these people are eventually saved, unfortunately this is frequently in spite of, rather that because of, the efforts of his followers.
Once a person has been converted, the potential for damage to the growth of good does not stop immediately. Other Christians, seeing the obvious sins in his life, rather than allowing the new believer to grow in his new relationship with the Lord, wade in, trampling the tender shoots of righteousness in their efforts to uproot the well established tares in his life. Jesus was well aware of this tendency in human nature. He told his followers to be very wary of judging the spiritual state of other people as it can so often appear as ridiculous as a person with an enormous plank of wood stuck in his eye, trying to help someone else remove a speck of saw-dust from thiers.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that we should not give the new Christian every help as he grows in knowledge of the Lord, but, just as God is content to allow evil to flourish lest one good corn should fail to reatch its full potential, so we should look for and encourage the good crop. We should do this, aware that God will work differently in each person and in the certain knowledge that in the process of conversion, the weed-killer has already been applied to the roots of the tares and that it will be effective.
Man and Superman.
It sometimes seems as though to be a Christian one has to be something of a superman. After all, Scripture says "be perfect, even as He is perfect." Now, we know that this is an impossibly high standard, but the exhortation is reinforced by the assurance that the Christian is "a new creation" and "can do all things through Christ".
If this is the theory, what of the practice? It often goes something like this. 'Scripture says I must be perfect, but I am manifestly short of that perfection. I continue to fail to do even the simplest things relating to my new status, so I am not receiving the strength to do "all things". Therefore, I cannot be that "New Creation" scripture so confidently talks about. I am told that God's love is given freely to all, but I do not appear to be receiving the fruits of that relationship, so I must be uniquely sinful to be missing out on God's blessing in such a spectacular way.'
So the Christian tortures himself with feelings of unworthiness. He tries to reassure himself with the thought "God loves me because Christ died for me" and " My sins are covered by the blood of the Lamb" but falls into another trap. 'If my sins are covered up by the blood of the Lamb,' he reasons, 'then God only loves the parts of me he can see, i.e. those not covered by the blood of the Lamb (the bits that are already good.) So he only loves me partially and will only love me completely when I achieve that perfection that the scripture urges me to attain.'
The logic of this position appears faultless and is subconciously believed by many. However, it must be incorrect as we know that God loves sinners. As the bible puts it, "It was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us". So God loves us, in spite of our sins and built the plan of salvation to rescue us from the consequences of our sinfulness. What then has gone wrong with our thinking.
Let us first look more closely at the word perfect. The word is usually used to mean without any blemish or stain, and it is true that that is how Christ means to present us to God in heaven. However, what we think of as unblemished can be different from what God thinks. The roots of the word perfect containthe idea of completeness. In language studies, past tenses are called perfect if the contain the message that the action described is finished or completed. Here is the first point, God's idea of a perfect person is not as an ideallised and unattainable persona, but that person, me or you, completed. I will be the perfect me, you will be the perfect you, and we will be as different from each other as chalk and cheese.
But, you may say, are we not all to become like Christ? Of course that is true. However, Jesus was a single person. A single person can only have one personality, yet each of us has a different peronality. God does not wish to change us so that we all become carbon copies of the personality of the historical Jesus. Not at all, Paul's teachings on diversity in the body of Christ should dispel that notion pretty quickly. What it does mean is that each Christian should demonstrate in his life the qualities that characterise Jesus's life.
St. Paul uses a different image, that of fruit on a tree which he calls the fruit of the spirit. (And the important thing to note here is that as fruit grow naturally on a tree, so the characteristics of the Christian life should grow naturally out of the spirit filled life.) If our lives are not demonstating the life of Christ, no amount of effort on our part can put the life of Christ back in. All we can do is bring our situation to Christ and ask him to change us.
Now we can begin to understand what Jesus meant when he said "My burden is light, and my yoke is easy". "God is at work in us to do and to will his good pleasure" so we can get on with being the new "perfect" creation that God wants us to be. We do not need to spend all our time worrying that our lives do not match up to His impossible standard. "We take all these thoughts captive to Christ," knowing, that if we do sin, and we surely will, "God is faithful and just to forgive us aour sins". We are now free to be ourselves!
Only one Talent.
Do you remember the parable of the talents? The one where one person was given five talents, another two and the third only one. Whenever I think of this story, I always feel rather sorry for the third man. He was only asked to lookd after one talend, and he did what he thought best, he put it somewhere safe so that at least he wouldn't be accused of loosing it. That the other two were entrepreneurs makes no difference, the obviously had a flair for business, each generating on hundered percent returns, but not everyone is made that way. Besides, they had more to start with, and everyone knows, the more money you have to start with, the easier it is to make more.
This story, and the example of the man with one talent, is often held up as an "Awful Warning" to Christians as wo what will happen if they do not use the gifts that God has given them and in particular do not bring as many people as possible into the Kingdom.
But where was the fault in this man?
In this respect, the answer he gave to the master when asked to account for his lack of success is revealing.
"I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you do not sow", he said. In other word, he thought God expected too much of him.
Now the trouble is, I can identify with this view of God. And this parable does nothing to remove this feeling. It does seem, on the face of it, rather unreasonable of the master to expect more than he gave out in the first place.
But this reply also reveals a deeper attitude, one of fear. The man feared both his master and the world in which he was to invest his talents. Now there is nothing more inhibiting to adventurous action than fear. When we are afraid, we expend all our energies protecting ourselves and those people and things close to us. The master expected, with some justifications, his servant to be more confident and courageous to enter the business world and trust Him that it would all work out. Similarly, God expects us to trust Him in the world and be confident and courageous, not because we are naturally so, but because he said "Do not be afraid, I have overcome the world."
Seen in this light, this parable is an encouragement to venture out into the world with the Gospel, trusting that God is on our side and will see that what we do with the talents and gifts he has given us will be effective.
The trouble with "Awful Warnings" is that they can, when the consequences of our inaction are so graphically described, make us even more afraid to step out in faith, thereby compounding the problem. I do not believe this is what was intended by this parable. It should be an exhortation to use the talents God has given us in simple trust that He will use them to fulfil His purposes. We should not be afraid, but step out into the world confident that, as St Paul said, "God is at work in us to will and to do his good purpose."
The Love of Sinners 1
As Christians, we are frequently in a dilemma. We beleive God has laid down laws regarding human relationships and at the same time, we are required to reach out to those whose lives fail to match up to that law.
Some people seem to think that all that is required is to denounce the sins of secular society and people will immediately flock to the church. In my experience, this approach has entirely the opposite effect. Most people do not like being told that what they are doing is wrong. Far from immediately seeing the error of their ways, most people, when they are told that they are sinners, return the 'complement', by which I mean they heap insults on those who would try to reform them. I don not find this surprising, although it often appears to come as a shock to those doing the preaching.
Sometimes people get hardened to this kind of treatment, attributing it to the inherent sinfulness of the people they are trying to reach. Now there is, no doubt , some truth in this interpretation, however, I think that if the would be evangelists examined their techniques, they might find new ways that would be more effective.
The passage in John Chapter four wher Jesus encounters a woman while he is resting beside a well is often used as an example of how to conduct an evangelistic conversation. The do's and don'ts have been well rehearsed, however, I always notice the way Jesus accepts the woman completely. Even when her marital status is being discussed, I never hear even a hint of condemnation in Jesus's voice when he says, "You have had five husbands, and the man you are now with is not your husband." This is simply stated as a matter of fact.
I don't think that Jesus can have been unaware of the sinfulness of the woman's life. In other places he is very clear that divorce is the result of human sin. In trying to win the woman's heart, however, He knows that it would be counter-productive to throw accusations at her. He simply demonstrates his love and acceptance of her in her current state.
As sinful human beings ourselves, we sometimes think that not to condemn sin, wherever it appears, is a sign of weakness and that the first step towards compromise with sin. St. Paul tells us that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin, righteousness and judgement. For some people, it seems this is not good enough, they have to make sure that the sinner knows his sin. Jesus, however, knows that throught the encounter with Himself, the woman will discover her sin for herself together with forgiveness through Himself.
As Christians, we are called to love sinners. Sometimes we may be called to stand against sin in society, but we must never confuse condemnation of sin with condemnation of the sinner. Jesus will be judge of all the earth. Until then we are called to love, and so draw all men to God.
The Love of Sinners 2
I have been thinking recently about the story of when Jesus met a rich ruler. The ruler was very devout, this is clear from the conversation, but he wanted one thing, eternal life.
Jesus, of course, knew this, and gently drew out of him the one thing that was missing in his life. This was his need to distance himself from his wealth.
Jesus then challenged him, saying "One thing you lack. Go, sell all you have, and follow me." This was too much for the man, and he could not agree to these terms and he walked away.
Most preachers, commenting on this passage, stress the need to put Jesus at the forefront of our lives, and not to allow other things to become more important than God. And I would heartily agree with this interpretation, although I am not sure whether I could have given the commitment Jesus demanded from this man, were I standing in his shoes or sandals.
However, I have also noticed another lesson from this passage. When the man went away, Jesus allowed him to although he was saddened that this man could not commit himself there and then.
Jesus allowed him to leave, he did not go chasing after him, saying "Don't you realise this is important! This is Eternal Life". Jesus allowed the man to leave.
I wish more evangelists had this attitude. To go on hounding someone who is not interested, or is unable to make a commitment, for whatever reason, is not only useless, in that it will not bring someone who is not ready for the Kingdom into it, it is also counter-productive.
Pressing the point, can build up such resentment in the person being approached, that any interest in Jesus, or the Church is driven out, and they start to see Christians in a similar light to travelling salesmen. This can lead to them becoming cynical and hardened to all spiritual truths.
Jesus commanded us to love sinners, as He Himself loved them. This extends to loving them enough to respect their own decisions, and giving them space to say, 'No, thank you.' Can we learn to do the same?
© Robin Barry 2013