Thursday, 26 May 2011

When Power & Status Doesn't Cut It

I couldn't help chuckling earlier this week when the President of the United States, arguably the most powerful man in the world, found himself grounded. Driving in an elite bullet proof, bomb proof, chemical attack proof car with the national flags flying, his journey was brought to an abrupt halt by a humble ridge on a drive-way.

Now a lady called Deborah together with a man ironically called Barak (!!) had a song of praise to God that is recorded in Judges chapter 5. The song opens by musing on 'princes' as well as kings and rulers, i.e. people of status and presumably some degree of power.

Yet look at the detail. In verses 2, 7, 9, 10 it comes across that the real heroes were actually ordinary people. People who stepped up to get on board with God's actions. The reality was that they were led by a woman (v7, probably quite an odd phenomenon back in those days). In fact v8 and v10 almost seem to mock those of status and power, with God instead achieving his purposes through mere villagers.

So Deborah and Barak can praise God that the real princes were in fact willing volunteers (v9), not those who had the fancy means of transport (v10).

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

What is Truth

So last time I talked about people's tendency to believe. Discussing this with a friend who claims to be an atheist, my friend said that while we might have a tendency to believe (in God), it would be better to only trust in what we can indisputably prove to be true.

An interesting point, I thought, and worthy of further discussion. The problem with such this position is, however, that in reality we all make decisions that are based on more than 'just what we can prove' all the time. A big example is getting married, of course. Do we do scientific tests on our partner to prove they are (and will remain lifelong) compatible before the wedding day? Well my wife had a scorecard for me (!), but it was hardly scientific.

No, our epistemology (what we accept as truth) is actually a somewhat fuzzy and variable thing, even for quite ardent rationalists. We all make decisions based on a range of factors, many of which we can't possibly know all the outcomes of. Was that breakfast cereal good for me this morning, or is it in fact increasing my risk of cancer?

So in witnessing to people who want to try and run only on the 'rational' tram-tracks, it makes sense to not request that they check their brains at the door of the Gospel Hall, but to work with them to use their brains to understand the broader spectrum within which their understanding of truth in fact works.

Who knows? Maybe they may then discover their understanding has room for God after all.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Belief in Human Nature

This article summarises a comprehensive study around the world concerning our tendency to believe in the divine and/or supernatural. It concludes that humans are naturally predisposed to believe in some kind of God.

To myself and many other Christians this of course will not be a surprise.
"God has made us that way", we would say. Yet I think it would be a mistake to point to a study like this and suggest such evidence proves there is a God. The two are not necessarily the same, so lets not claim they are.

What it does do is give evidence from large scale research (presumably conducted on a secular basis, using rational methods) that coheres with the Christian worldview. In other words, it adds up.

An atheist would hold quite a different worldview, and would have to come up with other explanations of the human tendency to believe shown by this study. Of course such explanations are likely to be speculative at best, taking them beyond the 'rational position' that they like to claim underpins their atheism.

And so the atheist is no better off or no more clever than the Christian, having in the end to adopt and hold a position 'by faith'.

Conversely whilst a Christian has to live 'by faith' each day, there is a coherent logic to their position.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Righteousness and Law

People often talk of God's standards and 'doing what is right' in terms of immutable laws, i.e. things God has decreed or ordained since the dawn of time that we are all supposed to live by.

Curiously though, the understanding of OT Law to be told to Hebrew children doesn't quite match this. Deuteronomy 6:20 - 25 spells out that the law is more about maintaining the people's identity as God's saved & covenant people, the people He rescued out of Egyptian slavery.

The law of Moses in these terms therefore would seem to be a boundary marker for who they are as a people - keep within the Law and you will be able to go on prospering as a covenant people. Their sense of righteousness is therefore 'conferred' on them by staying within these bounds: v25 says 'keep the law and God will continue to see us as His righteous people'.

Now I do believe in immutable laws myself - I think there are certain aspects of how God has created us in the universe that requires certain behaviour, both to avoid it all going horribly wrong, and to live up to the expectations and plans God has for us. Yet seeing a 1:1 mapping between these and OT laws may well be a mistake.

Which of course is what Paul effectively spells out in Romans. The OT law, he writes, was not 'bad' as such, but as an identity marker it shrinks into insignificance when compared with the righteousness that can be conferred on anyone by faith in Christ.

And so it is that the records we have of Paul & Co witnessing to the non-Jewish people show them not pointing to chapter & verse of OT law, but focussing on what is possible in Jesus Christ.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Just Say the Word

Deuteronomy 8:3 talks of learning to depend on God, looking for His every word just as physically we need daily food. We need God's word to direct us, to challenge us, as well as to nourish us.

What is interesting is that it might only take just one single word.

In Matthew 14:22f Jesus sends the disciples off in a boat, to join them later. That leads to the extraordinary episode where Jesus is walking on water. Peter seems to have some inspiration and faith that he too can defy the normal physical laws of gravity. He says, 'Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water'.

And Jesus just says one single word: "Come".

With that Peter is able to get out of the boat and do an incredible thing. It was a single word, for Peter, for that moment.

The Word of God is an extraordinary thing. It only takes one single word, but with a word directed at someone in the appropriate place at the appointed time, the normal physical laws, what we would expect to happen in the circumstances, become suspended.

Learn to depend on the Word of God. Be alert to those opportunities where faith can kick in. And when they come, look to God to just say the word.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


After years of stalling, putting off, and not getting round to it, this year I have finally done some re-decorating.

Its mostly painting the walls and ceiling, but then there's the gloss on the (fortunately quite few) bits of woodwork. Now I'm not one to strip back to the bare wood - just a bit of sanding and then a new top coat of gloss will do me, thankyou very much.

The trouble is many seem to have that same attitude regarding their faith. They are quite happy to let their belief be something that glosses over certain areas of their life. Although something much more radical - stripping back and starting over - is called for they settle for what amounts to little more than a touch up here and there.

Hebrews 4:12 says the Word of God cuts through to our innermost being. We would do well to let the Word do its work, rather than run the risk of simply becoming whitewashed on the outside, but in fact dead on the inside.