More on Western Thought…

I thought it might be helpful to expand somewhat on my last post concerning the error of approaching the Bible, a Jewish book, with a Western (Greek philosophical) mindset. Various verses from the New Testament are pertinent here:

Jesus said, “If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God…” (John 7:17)

And what I want the reader to take careful note of is that to our Western way of thinking what Jesus says there  appears to us to be the wrong way round. Western thought would put the intellectual process of establishing whether or not a doctrine is biblical first, and then take things from there. But Jesus reverses that approach and says that intellectual understanding is the result, and not the cause, of practical obedience to whatever biblical truth is in view. So what comes first for Him is not the intellectual process of understanding what the Bible teaches, but rather the active determination to obey it and to actually live out whatever one comes to understand from its pages. And the difference is as wide as the world! We are so conditioned in our thinking on this but it is we, and not Jesus, who have got it back-to-front.

This Jewish/biblical/divinely-inspired thinking and approach to scripture reveals just how ridiculous, and hypocritical, the Western/Greek thinking approach to biblical doctrine actually is. The idea that to be biblically and doctrinally ‘sound’ is to do with holding correct beliefs, as opposed to how we live, is completely alien to scripture. There are some other verses we need to look at in this regard:

In his letter to Titus Paul writes: “You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Titus 2:1-10. Emphasis mine.)

And of course the thing to notice is that, having exhorted Titus to be teaching sound doctrine, he then goes on to define what he means, and he is clearly thinking of godly behaviour and not ‘doctrinal concepts’ such as the Trinity, election, atonement etc. It is Western thinking that would use the phrase ‘sound doctrine’ to denote belief systems, not scripture!

Conversely, Paul wrote to Timothy, “We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” (Timothy 1:9-10. Emphasis mine.)

Here we have the antithesis! Paul’s definition of false doctrine isn’t to do with erroneous unbiblical teachings such as universalism, salvation by works, unitarianism, or whatever, but is rather to do with sinful, ungodly behaviour. So what we are seeing here is indeed precisely what I highlighted in my last post. The whole push of scripture is that a Christian can only be said to be holding to ‘sound doctrine’ to the extent that they are actually patently and clearly living out that biblical truth, as opposed to merely accepting and believing whatever the Bible teaches. As we saw last time, Satan and his hordes do that, even though they would rather not have to.

So what does all this boil down to? Simply this: The teaching of God’s Word is that ‘sound doctrine’ is when believers lay down their lives on the altar of unconditional obedience to whatever scripture may or may not teach, and only secondarily that they then seek to fully embrace such truth intellectually. The Holy Spirit then grants supernatural revelation of scripture’s teaching, thus changing our hearts and minds that we come to actually embody in the Lord what those truths necessitate and imply by way of practical obedience and a godly lifestyle. The resultant intellectual understanding will, of course, be the same in essence as that gained by the merely doctrinal ‘tick box’ approach – truth is truth, after all, and doesn’t change – but of course the difference is that the former is correct biblical thinking, whereas the latter is mere hypocrisy. I call it doctrinalism, and it is the result of a combination of the legacy of the Greek thinking of the Early Church Fathers, plus the desire of our sinful hearts, even as believers, to live for self as opposed to making the self-sacrifice of living for the Lord and for others. It is, in effect, a sort of theological jiggery-pokery by which Christians seek to justify believing one thing whilst living another.

Think of it like this: The purpose of the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, is to cause us to live our lives on the basis of a significant and open sharing of ourselves with others in mutual love, service and accountability. It’s purpose is to reveal something of what the Lord is like in such regard, and therefore what we should be becoming like as well. However, all too many Christians are merely theorist ‘doctrinal Trinitarians’ living selfish un-sacrificed and unshared lives, in unbiblical churches which function in such a way so as to virtually guarantee the absence of any significant mutual personal openness, transparency or accountability.

The doctrines of atonement, propitiation and imputation; that is, what has been secured in order to grant the forgiveness of our sins, should lead us to understand that, as Jesus once said to a Pharisee of a repentant formerly loose woman, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”  Yet many believers, though believing these doctrines intellectually and accepting their truth, completely fail to realise just how sinful they actually are, and therefore just how much they have been forgiven, and therefore love so little as a consequence. They may well understand that the Bible teaches they are forgiven, but the true biblical heart-changing revelational impact, borne of the Holy Spirit, which leads to a life of self-sacrificial and truly practical love for the Lord and others, just isn’t there.

And as we also saw last time, there are sadly all too many Christians, church leaders included (especially, even), who, whilst completely and fully believing in the ‘doctrine’ of God’s grace, need just the slightest thing to go against them, or have someone annoy or threaten their position in some way, in order to unleash their pure ungraciousness like a godless waterfall.

So, does this mean that a correct understanding of biblical doctrine on an intellectual level doesn’t matter then? No! Of course not! I am as hot on ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’ as anybody else. In fact, a good bit hotter than many believers seem to be nowadays! But the error of doctrinalism, as I am here describing it, has plagued the Christian church now for far too long. To be a hypocritical ‘carnal’ Christian (as Paul puts it in his Corinthian letter) is one thing, but to have a so-called theological justification for being so (that is, the doctrinalism of Western/Greek thought when brought to bear on the Jewish scriptures) is just a bit sick.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:14-26)

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth….We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (I John 3:16-18 and I John 4:19-21)

I rest my case!

 

Grace is not a doctrine…

Why are so many Christians, who by very definition believe in salvation by grace, such ungracious people? I think I might know at least part of the answer! The Christian Church has made the mistake of mostly approaching the Bible, which is a virtually entirely Jewish book, with a Gentile (by which I mean, largely Greek philosophical) mindset. This has led to the attempt to understand biblical truth in a way other than the scriptures themselves ask to be embraced. The resultant error can be put very simply: in Western-influenced Christian thought ‘sound doctrine’ is understood largely in terms of properly believing the theological and doctrinal truths of the Bible, whereas Jewish/biblical thought emphasises the practical outworking of those truths which comes as a consequence. The error of Western/Greek thinking is that it defines ‘sound doctrine’ in terms of what you believe, whereas Jewish/biblical thought, as revealed and developed throughout the Old Testament, defines it instead as how you live because of what you believe. This does not in any way imply that getting our doctrine straight on an intellectual level doesn’t matter, quite the contrary, but it does mean that the historic ‘tick box’ mentality approach to Christian doctrine that has predominated historically is itself completely unscriptural.

The simple truth of the matter is that grace isn’t a doctrine to be believed, it’s an attribute of the heart that causes the one who has received grace from the Lord to be the kindest, friendliest, gentlest, most understanding, helpful and self-sacrificial person anyone could wish to meet. It is Greco-Western thinking, and not scripture, that has led to the Christian Church getting this so wrong. Biblically speaking, to believe a scriptural truth/doctrine (synonymous terms) is not to merely accept it as an intellectual concept, but to rather understand it as being the divinely-inspired truth that sets us free to precisely become it, and to actually embody whatever it is in our lives; for the simple reason that Jesus Himself lives in us, and because biblical truth reveals what He is like and how He might live through us.. How sad that so many Christians believe and proclaim so much biblical truth that their day to day lives completely and utterly deny.

Given the whole of human history throughout which they have been able to familiarise themselves with the contents of the Bible, I’m quite sure that the average evil spirit has a somewhat better understanding of Christian ‘doctrine’ than most Christians do, but so what! And of course the New Testament makes this point rather powerfully: the demons do indeed believe, and tremble! They know and believe God’s Word all too well…and hate it with a vengeance! So much for ticking all the right doctrinal boxes then!

Strange to think that on the basis of the average Christians’ perception of what biblical orthodoxy is, one would have to say that Satan is pretty much as doctrinally ‘sound’ as it gets.

 

 

A Strange but Blessed Legacy!

Folk might not get this and just conclude I’m crazy after all  (you certainly wouldn’t be the first!), but here goes anyway:

I would rather be deemed to have failed in endeavouring to help believers to live biblically than to have succeeded in helping them to live un-biblically. I’d certainly have more friends had I done the latter – though they wouldn’t, of course, be ones worth having – and I would doubtless have had a much easier life. But hey, it’s all about the Lord Jesus and what He wants, and that means living biblically and helping others to do the same, and I am content in Him!

Merry Christmas

Any honest look beyond the Christmas card image of the Yuletide season reveals something that not only the world hates to acknowledge, but many Christians too. Whenever the righteousness of God is revealed in the context of His plan to redeem a fallen and sinful humanity, the bearing of shame by the innocent is the only possible outcome. At the heart of the Christmas story, therefore, is a faithful and virtuous young woman who becomes pregnant outside of marriage, and a young man who marries her knowing he will be regarded by his family and peers as not just the man who was obviously her sad and pathetic second best, but also a fool for not preserving his dignity by just cancelling the wedding and wiping his hands of her. How few would have believed this young maiden’s story that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and not a worthless fornicator, and that Joseph was actually as honourable and righteous a young man as any could care to meet. Their obedience to the God they so loved meant that shame, indignity and reproach would follow them for the rest of their lives.

And so it is for any who truly love and follow the One those two wonderful young people brought into the world and raised so faithfully, for more than any other man in history, the Lord Jesus was born to be the bearer of shame par excellence! Not shame for His own sins, of course, for never did He do any wrong; but rather the shame of everyone for whom He died. It is as if He was saying, “If they won’t take the blame for their sin, then I will take the blame for them!”

Whenever the righteousness of God hits up against the sinfulness of man, it is forever that same goodness which gets condemned in the eyes of unrepentant sinners as being itself evil. Thus, then, did the Lord end His days on earth, nailed to a cross of shame, being considered as, at best, a deluded deceiver, or at worst, a loathed and hated blasphemer. Never has any man been as innocent as was He, yet neither has any man borne such shame and reproach.

It bothers me then that Christians, and in particular Christian leaders, place so much importance on being honoured and respected, and on being highly esteemed by society. It seems somewhat of a far cry from Paul’s declaration that he and the other apostles were treated as the ‘off-scouring of the earth’, and from the way in which he gloried in his weakness and tribulation, plus the ultimate personal rejection of being actually physically persecuted. To seek to be honoured in the eyes of men, it seems to me, is therefore completely at variance with living in such a way so as to be honoured by God. Yet so much that Christians do, and so much of the way in which the Christian Church goes about things, seems positively designed to ‘look good’ in the eyes of the world, and to secure the honour and respect the Lord Himself never received.

Jesus taught that it is a very bad thing when all men think well of us, yet it is often what Christians go all out to secure for themselves. I can only say that it is fortunate indeed that neither Mary nor Joseph thought that way. Our choice is simple: to live fully by God’s Word, thereby incurring the wrath and disrespect of those who don’t – carnal Christians included – or tone down the Lord’s truth and demands so as to make ourselves as acceptable and inoffensive as necessary in order that all men to think well of us.

The writer to the Hebrews exhorted, “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:13-14)

I love Christmas and everything it stands for and represents; but let us never forget that at the heart of the Lord’s birth, life and death – and therefore of our discipleship – is the bearing of shame and reproach for Him. If the world, and I include here worldly Christians, love us, then the chances are that it is because we are loving the world: and that, according to the epistle of James, is enmity with God.

I wish you all a merry Christmas, and a very happy and blessed New Year!

 

 

 

On Trump vs Clinton!

serveimageI have never done anything like this before but with the US Elections looming I feel burdened to encourage my brothers and sisters in the States to use their vote, as well as to clarify the situation over there for those who don’t live in America. My burden is simply that I believe it to be vital that they vote for Donald Trump, and I will endeavor to explain why.

Firstly, as an Englishman for whom America is very much a second home, I wish to say how much I love both the American nation and it’s people. Without the good ol’ US of A this world would be a very much darker and more evil place. It is indeed the last great bastion of freedom to which we can all look with hope, and it is only from this immensely respectful vantage point that I dare presume to speak at all.

In the last couple of hundred years something previously completely unheard of has become taken entirely for granted by the citizens of western nations, and it is that common folk have a say regarding who rules over them. For all its shortcomings the democratic process remains the best political system for preserving personal freedom and for holding back the evils of national tyranny; and the point I want to make is that, unlike here in Great Britain, the American people still have an option actually worth voting for.

However important economic theory and strategy may be for a nation, Christians should never vote merely from the vantage point of whichever government or administration they think is most likely to result in the greatest prosperity for themselves and their families. Though not completely unimportant, economic policy is nevertheless far from being the top priority for those who love righteousness, yet those of us here in the UK who do yearn for national godliness can now only vote for differing economic policies. It is simply too late for us regarding issues of morality and decency because there is no party that would make any difference at all to anything that particularly matters to us. Britain has reached the place of being completely without a Christian voice, our various political parties all being committed to the continued mass killing of unborn children as well as to the spread of gay marriage. Indeed, it was a Conservative Prime Minister (the UK equivalent of the Republican Party) that championed the latter, famously referring to those who disapproved as ‘dinosaurs.’ (Once the so-called ‘conservatives’ in a nation are actively pro-gay marriage then you know it’s pretty much the end of the road!)

It is, however, a completely different scenario across the Atlantic, and Christians there can still use their vote in such a way as to actually be able to prevent further evil coming upon their land, as well as even potentially undoing evil currently being endorsed. There remains a strong and vibrant Christian voice, and never has it been so important for it to be heard. And so I come to why I am urging my American brothers and sisters to vote for Donald Trump…and it is nothing whatsoever to do with him as an individual!

The reality of this election is that it is possibly the most important for generations, and for the simple reason that whoever becomes the next US President will, over the course of their tenure in the White House, appoint several judges to the Supreme Court. And depending on whether Trump or Clinton makes those appointments, America will either be reprieved from the increasing evil of the current secular liberal agenda of the Obama administration, or be thrown headlong into the most dreadful escalation of it. Simply put, States rights will diminish more and more under Clinton as the secular liberal federalists impose their agenda ever more widely, or be protected – re-instated, even – under Trump, thus enabling decent God-fearing folk to at least have a chance of stemming the tide of the intellectual fascism of the liberal agenda, protecting unborn children by slowing down the increasing rates of abortion, and even possibly undoing the immoral absurdity of the redefinition of marriage.

It is so important that Christians don’t view this election in terms of Donald Trump’s personal suitability for the job of being the President of the United States of America, but only in terms of those individuals he would appoint to the Supreme Court, in contrast to those who would be appointed by Hilary Clinton. If (quite understandably) personal distaste for Trump leads to god-fearing Christians not voting at all – or voting for Independents instead – Clinton could well be let in by merely by default. If nothing else, voting for Donald Trump will save the lives of millions of unborn children. So it’s not a question of voting for Trump on the basis of whether or not he is a personal champion of righteousness, he clearly isn’t, but simply because he will appoint Republican-thinking Judges who will decide the rule of law according to the original intent of the biblical foundation of the Constitution, as opposed to Democrat liberal-thinking ones who will do the exact opposite, and whose agenda is secularism and the ultimate destruction of Christian morality and decency.

I leave you with this simple thought: Donald Trump’s inappropriate and offensive references to women and sexual immorality, however unpleasant, won’t lead to an increase in the killing of unborn babies, but a Clinton administration will! Donald Trump’s bombastic disrespect for his opponents, however unpleasant, won’t further the destruction of family life and the public denigration of those who hold to lifelong heterosexual marriage, but a Clinton administration will! Donald Trump’s colorful and unwise language, however unpleasant, won’t lead to increased oppression against Christians and the Christian faith, but a Clinton administration will!

It’s not about Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton! It’s about the Supreme Court! It’s about Judges who will uphold decent conservative and Christian values as opposed to Judges who will rule against them! It’s about freedom of conscience versus the thought police of the secular liberal agenda! It’s about decency and righteousness as opposed to a landslide of evil and sin such as America has never seen before!

Hold your nose as you do so if you must, but whatever you do, vote for Donald Trump on Tuesday!

 

Home Sweet Home

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The travelling we do as a family is extensive, and, although a great privilege and blessing, the trips are long, somewhat arduous, and quite exhausting. They always end with long haul flights which, as anyone who does them a lot knows, are about as much fun as having your toenails pulled out. But what keeps us going at that point is one simple, and utterly delightful, fact: We’re going home! Man, we’re going home!

And just like our trips, life in this world, though comprising of great joy, and the most wonderful sense of purpose in the Lord, can be exhausting, arduous, debilitating and often heartbreaking. A fallen world is never going to be a truly fun thing, and serving the Lord, having our sinfulness dealt with, plus being opposed left, right and centre by the evil one, makes it decidedly all the harder. But what keeps us on track as the Lord’s people, and what makes it all worthwhile, is the sure and certain knowledge that, the whole time, we are actually on our way home, and that we will eventually, for a surety, most definitely get there.

Home, where rest follows labour and peace follows turmoil. Where security reigns and the vagaries and, at times, even dangers, of travel give way to the calm safety of the delight of just being at home with one’s family. Where difficulty and trial give way to freedom, fun and delight.

For Belinda, Bethany and I there is nothing quite like coming home. That we are together on our travels is everything to us and is the reason why I can accept invitations to serve the Lord’s people in such far flung places the way I do; but it doesn’t, and cannot, compare to us actually getting home once our task is accomplished. And so it is with our home in Heaven with the Lord. We will get there, and it will be everything we could possibly ever imagine – and far more! More rest, more peace, more love, more security, more freedom, more fun and joy than we could ever begin to even conceive! The whole family of God together at last, but together at last with Him!

I have, as some of you will know from my battle with cancer, faced death and looked it squarely in the eye, and although it is obviously a bit of a bummer that it usually means leaving loved ones behind (though I always knew that Belinda and Bethany would join me later), I can nevertheless confirm that there is truly is no sting to it, given what – or, rather, Who – awaits us beyond it!

So be brave, Christian friend!  Be brave and keep going! Be diligent and unstoppable in serving the Lord, battling against sin and living godly in Christ Jesus! Keep resisting the devil and his wiles and keep being the light of the Lord in this dark, dreadful, beautiful, evil and wicked world! You are headed home! You are going to get there! You are going to be so very happy and have not yet the slightest clue just how incredible, wonderful and amazing it is going to be! You will be with Jesus! You will be without sin! You will, indeed, be home at last!

 

 

 

The Joy of Repentance

I can truly say that I want to please the Lord. For all the things I am not sure of, and everything I still don’t understand and can’t work out or properly comprehend, I am nevertheless absolutely clear that I do want to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. My problem is, however, the sin that stands so distressingly in the way. I want to please Him, yet know my heart to be full of pride, selfishness, covetousness, self-righteousness and all kinds of evil. In what possible way, then, can I please a holy God? Well, there is a way; and it not only pleases Him, it utterly delights His heart:

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”(Luke 15:3-10)

And there you have it! Those verses don’t say that it is the angels who rejoice, though I’m sure they do, but that there is rejoicing going on before them. And so I ask: Who is it in Heaven before Whom the angels stand? Answer! The Lord Himself! Imagine! The Almighty God rejoices when a sinner repents. It would obviously be so much the better if I could please Him by not actually being sinful any more, and that day will certainly come when I am with Him having been freed from this body, and it should certainly be the case for all of us that we are seeing a progressive victory in overcoming sin in our lives, but it is nevertheless wonderful to know that, in the meantime, being honest about sin, and coming clean through confession when we have sinned, brings Him joy. In other words, I can’t please Him with sinlessness (if only I could), but I can bring Him pleasure and joy through ongoing confession and repentance.

Now there are those who would argue that the rejoicing alluded to in the above verses is limited to a sinner’s initial conversion; that is, when they first come to the Lord in repentance and faith, and of course it most most certainly does include that. But in the same way that a father is joyful at the birth of his child, and then joyful from that moment onwards, so too is the Lord thrilled not just when we are born again, but continuously as we grow in Him throughout the ensuing years. There is no way I can properly express the joy I knew when Bethany was born, yet that joy has increased as every year has gone by, and not in any way decreased. Whatever thrilled me about her when she was born, and she thrilled me beyond words, still thrills me all the more as each month goes by as I have watched her grow and develop. What a sad father who knows joy for their child’s birth, yet not throughout the years that follow. In fact, in becoming a father I have experienced an ongoing paradox which I’ve never been able to properly describe, though I do intend to have a jolly good go!

At whatever point in time I look back to as Bethany’s father I know that I was as thrilled to bits with her as I could have been. When she was a baby my overwhelming feeling was, “Man, this is amazing! She’s incredible! It just can’t get any better than this! Please Lord, don’t ever let this change!” Then, when she was a toddler I was thinking, “Man, this is amazing! She’s incredible! It just can’t get any better than this! Please Lord, don’t ever let her change!” Then, when she was small child I thought, “Man, this is amazing! She’s incredible! It just can’t get any better than this! Please Lord, don’t ever let her change!” Then when she got to her teens I thought…and so on and so forth, right up to this very new morning as I write!

From the moment she was born I thought she was absolutely amazing and, just as did Belinda, I fell utterly and completely in love with her. At any given moment it was completely beyond me how she could be any better, and I could only see any change as a negative and a step down. I therefore longed that she never would. Yet as each and every ensuing minute, hour, day, week, month and year passed, it was equally utterly beyond me at any one of those given moments also how this fatherhood thing could get any better, and my ongoing desire was always, at any given time, that she would never change. And yet, by definition, she was changing all the time, if only in that she was slowly, but surely, in the process of growing up. So I could never imagine how it could have gotten any better because I knew it was already as good as it could possibly be, and so I therefore didn’t want anything to change; but of course she did change, and yet I was still always, in any given moment, thinking, “Man, this just doesn’t get any better! Please Lord, don’t let her ever change” And so it goes on…

For me, therefore, fatherhood has been to live in a completely paradoxical state of being utterly unable, at any given moment, to imagine how being my daughters father could get any better, thereby never wanting anything to change in such regard, yet finding the exact same thing to also be the case at every point during the ensuing years, meaning that it was actually getting better all the time, and that she was changing and growing, even though it seemed to me at any one moment that it never could get any better or that her changing could ever be an improvement. At any given present moment I could look back on any given past moment at which I genuinely perceived that neither parenthood, nor Bethany, could have gotten any better, therefore yearning for it to never change, yet whilst still perceiving exactly the same thing in any given present moment, which, by definition, meant it had obviously gotten better, and precisely because she had changed…yet it still couldn’t have gotten any better because it was already as good as it could get…and…and…Man, life sure is strange…!!!

However confusing all this might seem it’s really just a description of what it means to love someone…and I love my daughter very, very much. She is, quite simply, wonderful, and always has been, but of course it is as much my love for her that I am describing as it is a description of her, and that is the real point here when it comes to us understanding in what ways we can be pleasing to the Lord! Because however deep and real my love for Bethany is – and it is extremely deep and intensely real – it is as nothing compared to how deep and real God’s love is for me…and therefore for you! And He loves us in exactly this same paradoxical way that I have just described in regards to my own fatherhood. His joy at our repentance, indeed, His joy at us, is not just for when we are born again and when we first come to Him in repentance and surrender, but precisely, just like our human parenting, from that point onwards. We have been born again into His family and have therefore become His children, and that in itself makes Him extremely happy; but it is wonderful in the extreme to know too that, whereas I make Him happy simply because I am His child; indeed, I can’t but make Him happy in such regard – after all, I can’t ever stop being His son – I can actually bring Him joy and pleasure on top of that by being on-goingly honest, and repentant, concerning my sin.

My joy over Bethany is therefore actually two-fold: firstly, simply because she is my daughter; but secondly, because she truly is as delightful, kind, godly and gracious a young lady as you could wish to meet. (Just ask anyone who knows her!)  And although it is wonderful enough to know that we please the Lord simply because we are His children, I for one nevertheless want to please Him also by the way I actually am; that is, by living in honesty, confession and repentance of my sins. Many Christians, I am greatly saddened to say, aren’t particularly honest about their sins or repentant of them, but at least I can be if I so choose. And that choice brings me joy in knowing not just that the Lord both forgives and restores me, but that it actually brings Him joy and happiness that I am so living.

Like my joy over Bethany, the joy of repentance is also twofold: It is joyful for the one who is penitent because of the peace and forgiveness it brings, but it is also a joy to such a one’s Father in Heaven Who finds infinite pleasure in His children being honest about their wrongdoing, and then saying sorry not just to Him, but to each other as well.

As a young Christian, before I properly understood what the Lord’s grace actually was, and what it actually meant, I was uncomfortable in the extreme with the subject matter we are here discussing, and I remember coming across a book, the title of which utterly baffled me. It was called, “Repentance: the Joy-Filled Life!” Just the title frightened the life out me, and I wouldn’t have dared read it back then in a million years. But now? Well, now I get it! And man, how wonderfully I get it too!

The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to boldly approach the throne of grace in a time of need to receive mercy and help. Firstly, thrones are usually representative of power and strength, not grace and mercy. But then Jesus sits on this throne, and so I feel safe. Secondly, I come boldly and not in snivelling fear! Why?Because I’m qualified! I meet the criteria for approaching! And thirdly, I get what I come for! That is, grace, mercy and forgiveness! And why? Because my need, every day, even as a believer – no, precisely because I’m a believer – is to have my sins cleansed and removed by the Lamb of God Who takest away the sins of the world; mine included!