Monday, 21 November 2011

Walking in the light

God gave me an image today of what it means to 'walk in the light'.

I saw Jesus walking along with a blindingly bright spotlight on him, which was following him everywhere he went. There was a second spotlight moving alongside which lit nobody - we have to place ourselves in that spotlight alongside Christ.

Getting to that spot requires us to repent of our sins. Without that, we cannot reach the elusive empty spotlight.

But once we have repented and been forgiven for our sins, we can take our place in that brilliant light alongside Christ, and feel God's grace warm us and light our path.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 
1 John 1:5-7 ESV

Friday, 18 November 2011

Living in this world

I was talking at church with a friend who, like me, has recently been blessed with seeing her child baptized. Her daughter, now aged 12, had been asking about baptism for more than a year, but her parents, along with the Childrens' Pastor, had wanted to make sure she fully understood the meaning and significance before she went ahead. She gave a moving testimony, expressing truths about her faith and the gospel message with childlike simplicity which brought lumps to the throat and tears to the eye.

This was a few months ago. Since then, the parents have noticed a marked difference in their daughter. Her faith is playing a much greater part in her life, her interactions with family members and others are more measured and considerate, and she is spending more time with friends from church. All in all, she is an excellent young disciple.

Her desire for holiness is admirable and Biblical. As Peter wrote:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."

-- 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV
But there are also trends which are less commendable. Along with spending more time with church friends, she is able to spend less time with non-church people, and is in danger of losing several long-term 'best friends' who have been part of her life for many years. She's turned her back on elements of popular culture because they're 'not Christian', is refusing to study set literature at school because it contains references to war or other religions, and has stopped going to soccer practice because there are no other Christians on the team. She's withdrawing from the world into a Christian bubble.

The girl's parents have had to teach her what we all have to remember - as Christians we are called to live our lives in a secular world. Whilst it's warm and comforting to be around fellow believers all the time, that's not fulfilling our calling. When the Holy Spirit first came upon them, the early disciples didn't sit around in the upper room discussing their faith, they did as Christ commanded in Matthew 28:19 - they went out to make disciples of all nations.

My friend's daughter will make many disciples during her time in this world. The biggest impact she will have is when she realises that living her Christian life amongst non-Christians is not only what Christ called us to do, it is one of the most powerful ways of spreading God's love.

Monday, 7 November 2011

If all else fails...

It distresses me how often we read that prayer is used as a last resort.

Someone in dire circumstances has run out of options, tried everything they can think of, and all that's left is prayer. And the implication that goes along with this is that they don't really believe prayer will help, but they're out of ideas and willing to try anything, however slim the chances of success.

Those of us who lead a prayerful life know that God hears our prayers every day. No problem is too small or too large to take to the Lord in prayer. We have faith that our prayers will be answered. We won't always see the outcomes, because some things are not for us to know. But we know our God listens.

We also know that trying to solve our problems ourselves is contrary to God's will. Hand them over to God and he will guide us. The answer may not come in the form of a miracle; God may simply help us to make a decision about how to approach something, or strengthen our resolve.

Prayer is not a last resort, it is a first resort. As Paul writes in Philippians 4:6 (NLT)

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

God won't dig the hole

When we pray, how do we expect our prayers to be answered?

Imagine this. You've seen the ornamental water feature that will look perfect in your garden. The garden centre truck has delivered it into the back yard.

Excitedly you read the instruction leaflet. Slightly less excitedly, you read that you need a 4-foot square hole, 3 feet deep in order to get the thing installed. That's over a cubic yard of soil to dig out - which probably weighs a couple of tons.

Wow. Suddenly the job takes on new proportions. Gonna need to put some prayer into this.

But what to pray for? The outcome you want is a hole dug. But if you pray for that, you might be waiting a long time. Miracles such as holes appearing spontaneously in the right place in your garden might happen, but they're few and far between. Even the armies in 2 Kings chapter 3 had to dig their own ditches before God filled them with water.

Better to pray for God's help in getting the job done. Pray for good digging weather - not too hot, not too wet. Pray for strength and determination to keep you focussed on the task. For neighbours to help you out, even for the loan of equipment to make the job easier.

When, with God's help, you've got the hole dug, take a photo. Keep it with you to remind you that God didn't dig a hole for you, he answered your prayers by empowering you to be the best hole-digger you can be.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Selfishness and humility

I'm reading C.S.Lewis's 'Mere Christianity'. The book consists of reworked transcripts of radio talks he gave in the early 1940s, so the historical context is World War 2. The series of talks was commissioned by the BBC to bring comfort to the people of Britain and those in the armed forces during wartime.

Lewis kicks off by establishing evidence for a Law of Human Nature, which he states is present in all of us and always had been, despite cultural and ethnic differences. It is a fundamental moral code that gives us a framework for knowing the difference between right and wrong. He acknowledges that the details may vary between cultures (monogamy vs polygamy for example), but the overall framework doesn't (by the same example, promiscuity is wrong).

But his next example about selfishness is interesting.

'Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to ... But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired'.

That leaves me wondering - is that still true today? I see examples every day in our celebrity culture that suggest that selfishness is a trait that we increasingly do admire. Reality TV programmes can only be 'won' by those willing to climb over the other downtrodden contestants to get to the top. Producers engineer conflict that can only be resolved by selfishness - and consistently high ratings and newspaper column inches show that this is what we want to watch.

A thirst for success is something to be admired, but I believe that today we've forgotten that success should go hand-in-hand with humility. Whatever we achieve in life, we do so with the gifts God gave us, and the glory belongs to him, not us. 
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 
-- Philippians 2:3-4 NIV

I wonder what C.S. Lewis would have made of Big Brother or The X Factor.