Who cares?

I have never understood the stance of some conservative-thinking Christians on government, particularly in the US, where a caring government that undertakes its responsibilities to act fairly for all its citizens, its taxpayers, to protect them from the interests of big corporations and banks, is seen as interfering, controlling, dictating or nannying. If they are elected by us, from our own citizens, for our own governance, and that by democratic consent, what is wrong with regulating for the balance of power to be spread more evenly for the hard-working 99.9% of us who are NOT super-rich? The sort of government advocated by the tea-party in the US and the Thatcherite No Turning Back group here in the UK, is one that deregulates to the point that nobody has any real recourse to government protection at all, and the most powerful individuals and companies wipe the floor with us.

And we will work harder and harder, for less and less pay, and more and more misery. Socialism isn’t ALL evil, you know, despite what millionaire preachers might tell you. And capitalism? Well, is it not ‘the love of money’? See 1Tim.6:10 if this is not familiar to you.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

If we allow ourselves to lose sight of how this is the only true religion we should adhere to i.e. that we simply should care and provide for the weak and defenseless, surely then we ARE becoming corrupted and ‘polluted by the world’ – I don’t believe the two sentences separated by ‘and’ are really semantically distinct; they form the same statement.

Grace be with you.

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Leaving it with the Lord?

How can I know? The young girl that I led to Christ on the dirty slum streets of Nyeri in Kenya – how is she now? I can’t even remember her name (I forget names of friends at times!). Then again, I’ve lost contact with the other two people I led to Christ.

I was 18, in my first gospel band, and we had had a discussion about whether we should be out performing on Sunday nights or in our own churches. This booking was a Sunday, for a youth after meeting in a local Presbyterian church. It was my turn to bring a short ‘word’ after we played… but I’d forgotten! Just as we prayed before going into the hall to play, someone said to me “you’re all set for the word then?”

No I wasn’t! Oh heck, I thought (or similar words, I’m not sure), what’ll I do? I flicked through my paperback NIV (the first Bible I bought at 14) and found a passage in 1 Corinthians that I had read that morning for myself. It was fresh in my mind, so I thought it might work. After our music, I stood up, read the passage, and expounded on it very briefly. VERY briefly. Then I did the usual thing of making an appeal just like I’d seen pastors do so many times, and as usual, nobody would raise their hand…….. Hold on, that young lad just did! It’s not supposed to be like that, I’m no pastor! Someone tell him to put it down again. Thankfully, I didn’t express these words out loud.

And so I found myself praying with this lad and counselling him, with the church youth leader, and felt I could leave him in the safe hands of a good church that would oversee him. I shall never forget the joy that gave me. On the way home, I happened to pull up at traffic lights alongside our church youth pastor. I wound my window down (in the days you DID wind them and not just press a button lol) and shouted over to him, words to the effect of ‘we got one tonight’ though it was much, much more than ‘getting one’, of course. The Monday night prayer meeting it was announced by our senior pastor that ‘a soul was saved through the ministry of our youth’ so the joy was shared.

The next time occurred when I was on one of my Bible College field terms in an Elim church in the centre of Belfast, playing the part of temporary assistant pastor. I joined a small group who went up to Shaftesbury Square every Saturday night to give out tracts to all those leaving the pubs and clubs around there. Though these were not the usual 4-page life stories one gets handed while out shopping, nor the type that mystifies any 21st century English speaker with titles like ‘We must needs die” – these were simple little things of genius, credit card size, with short catchy phrases to catch attention. The best (I thought) was “Religion is old-fashioned. Yes! But so is… food, alcohol, dancing, laughter, sex.” they were designed just to get people to stop and talk. And one night a young man did, and asked about our faith, and I shared, and he responded. The pastor and I went out to his house that week with a Bible and some books for him, and found he had decided to join a local evangelical church. We encouraged him, but again left him to find his own way in that church.

I would feel bad about these instances in that I was either not able, or had decided to forego any follow-up, except for my own experience: At age 14, I came to my decision to accept Jesus as my Lord and saviour at a Scripture Union camp, organized through Christian Unions within different schools. The camp leader, Ian, was the one who prayed with me and showed me the way. Four years later, in my first job, in a well-known Christian bookshop in Belfast city centre, I met him again (amidst the untidiness). He didn’t even recognize me, but to be honest I wouldn’t have either: I had grown a beard and was starting to avoid haircuts since leaving school. When I explained who I was and reminded him what had happened, of course he was very happy, but he had left me to find my own way with the guidance of the Holy Spirit within me.

Why do we think we need to establish doctrines and lifestyle rules for converts when all along, they have their own internal guide once they are born again, which tunes in with their conscience? I’m not against preaching the truth of scripture and teaching what it says, I just wonder sometimes if we don’t have enough faith to allow God to guide people His own way, that we have to intervene. Thoughts, anyone?

Grace be with you.

Kenya

A smart American preacher once said to our pastor that Africa was a bottomless pit when it came to charity. I wrote this as a presentation for our church when we returned from Kenya in 2007. A blog I started brought it to mind…

I stood at the top of the hill, looking down at the swathe of people crowding up the red-brown mud. The queue came from beyond our sight, and curled up past us into the makeshift canopy where they registered for the free medicine. I understood the meaning of the passage I had read so often, where Jesus saw the multitude and had compassion on them. But my compassion was minuscule in comparison, and overwhelmed by a sense of confusion and apprehension. Just how was I going to minister to these people? I was sure that others in our group, if not all, felt the same.

It was then that I knew, more than I had for a long time, that I was desperately in need of my Lord. I could not face this alone. A simple prayer was whispered from my lips, “Lord, use me.” I had an expectation before leaving Northern Ireland that I would be used in some way, but I should have known by then that His ways are not usually what we expect. In the midst of the melee, I met Oscar, a young man from the church keen on reaching as many of those around us as possible. His enthusiasm and desire warmed my heart as he took me by the hand. I know from missiology lectures at Bible College that in this part of Africa, men can walk holding hands quite easily, so I tried not to be perturbed. He took me, and others from our group that he could find, one by one, out to the crowds, and said, “speak, share your faith, I will interpret,” and flung us into it with gusto.

After Ivy spoke, one girl told Oscar she wished to come to the Lord. Ivy had noticed how Oscar found her Ballyclare accent difficult to understand, so felt it better for me to do the leading. I should have been dumbstruck at the suddenness of this moment, but here was a young girl seeking salvation. I opened my mouth, and said the ‘sinner’s prayer’, Oscar interpreted into Swahili, and she repeated his words. I never foresaw that that moment on a dirty track in the slums of Nyeri would be where God would use me, especially as I had not led anyone to Christ in 17 years. Praise his wonderful ways.

As we worked that day, and saw more and more people come forward for food and medicine, I said to one of my brother workers that it felt like we were only putting a drop in the ocean of poverty and need. Hopelessness was still trying to drown us. It was Friday, but on Sunday a thought came to me:

If every believer, every child of God who is called by Him, were to put a drop in the ocean, would the tide not rise?

Grace be with you.

A joke!!!

Just a wee joke that sprang to my mind, from ages ago. Apologies if you’ve already heard it but it’s to lighten the mood (though there may be a lesson in it!):

A good and faithful Baptist pastor died and found himself in heaven, where an angel welcomed him and started to give him a tour. He found himself taken into a huge hotel-like mansion with many corridors and many large rooms. The angel brought him to one door and said “This room is for the Baptists. You can worship here just the way you’re used to doing. Our Lord wants everyone to be happy and comfortable, but with all eternity ahead, you are always welcome to visit any other rooms and join in with other forms of worship. There are rooms for the Presbyterians, Methodists, Southern Baptists, Moravians, Lutherans, Quakers, you name it, you’ll find it!”

“I can see now that ‘in my Father’s house, there are many rooms’ indeed!” said the pastor with delight. “I had a Presbyterian friend, and it was always refreshing to visit his church. I’ll look forward to it all.”

“And I’ll show you now to your own room,” said the angel. “Follow me…” As they passed one room with a closed door, the angel dropped to a hush and said “one rule: you must pass this room VERY quietly at all times.”

“Why?” he whispered back. “What’s in there?”

“That’s the room for the Free Presbyterians. They think they’re the only ones here.”

Hypocrisy 2

Just as I completed the previous blog entry on hypocrisy, the fantastic news broke that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been released from prison in Iran. Those of us who wrote to the relevant authorities or lobbied for him can take comfort in knowing that our actions and prayers worked. Facing a death penalty for apostacy against Islam, the Iranian authorities finally reduced it to a charge of evangelising Muslims, which carried a 3 year sentence, just the amount of time he has already served!

In my letter to the Iranian embassy, I highlighted such hypocrisy: for a government committed to a particular faith, to have the right to institute it as a national religion, yet deny any individual a right to even just BE of another faith, let alone practice theirs…

May no Christian ever treat ANYONE of another faith with such disrespect, disregard or even double standards. Let us maintain the standard set by our Lord, who pleaded for the forgiveness of those who crucified him.

Grace be with you.

Hypocrisy

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

– Voltaire

 

This was a saying my father taught me early in life. As is often the case with quotations, it was not Voltaire’s actual words, but was attributed to him and does sum up his view. His real words were: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” How apt for a personal blog!

My father believed in freedom of speech and, even though he was agnostic, he also believed in the freedom to worship as one wished, regardless of being right or wrong. He went through what he called a ‘religious phase’ when he was younger, but that was it, as far as any faith was concerned, for him. Though he left me with a deep understanding of hypocrisy, which many see as when you ‘say one thing and do another,’ which is correct to a point. It can be defined in different ways. One of these could be summed up as: you cannot believe you have a right to do something but not extend that right to others.

A friend in my writers’ internet group, who lives in South Africa, highlighted a newspaper article from his locale that reported how there was opposition to the building of a mosque there. Objections included things like the extra noise and car parking, yet it would appear these objections were not raised as much when a nightclub was being proposed. Some feel that the basis of the objections are religious – a largely Christian community is not happy with the idea of a mosque in their neighborhood. It makes them uneasy and they can feel a sense of somehow ‘losing out’ to the growth or spread of Islam. There is a very valid point, that my friend beat me to stating: should I, a Christian, wish to move to another country, and I and my fellow Christians there manage to be able to need a building for our fellowship through growth in our numbers, would we not expect to be allowed to go ahead and build as we desire? Why would we not grant that right to those of another faith where WE live? Let us be clear in what scripture says about hypocrites:

“He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt.24:51)

I might expect reaction to this along the lines of, say, that we are supposed to oppose falsehood in belief and other faiths, therefore we could not support the building of an Islamic mosque. However, I shall go back to what our Lord taught about loving our enemies (Matt.5:39-41).

As Christians, our greatest weapon is neither our doctrine nor our arguments; it is our love (1Cor.13; John 13:34-35; 15:12; Romans 12:10; 13:8; Eph.4:2; 5:2; 1Thess.3:12; 4:9; Heb.10:24; 1Jn.3:11, to cite just a few relevant verses).