A Little Bit of Honest Introspection!

It was only when I reached my forties that I began to truly appreciate the sheer folly of my youth, including my early years as a believer. But now I’m in my sixties I look back on those same years with not merely shame, but abject horror at just how raw, spiritually immature and casual about unrepentant sin in my life I was. Such, I have to say, is my less than glowing assessment of my formative years as a follower of Jesus.

But I am not discouraged! Indeed, I am actually somewhat pleased by this! After all, Jesus came precisely to save helpless sinners such as I then was, and the mere fact that I looked back on myself with such honesty in the way I did 20 years ago, along with the way I now view those same years, tells me that I have grown and matured in the Lord at least in some measure over the intervening years. Not that I am no longer horrified by my sin though for the older I get the more aware I become of it’s deceptiveness, it’s sheer ability to parade itself as something other than the evil it is! But it is nevertheless a clear witness to the measure of God’s grace in me that, however spiritually dull and prone to self-blindness and deception I am, I have nonetheless grown increasingly aware of my constant need of repentance, humility before God and man, and forgiveness. Such is undoubtedly an indication of a growing maturity in the Lord.

What I am discouraged about though is that so many believers, and I have known an awful lot through the years, decidedly don’t share a similar assessment of themselves. Maybe I’m just more sinful than they are, and a poorer-than-average example of what a follower of Jesus ought to be like; but I rather doubt it. No, the problem isn’t that I’m alarmingly mega-sinful in some way that others are not, but rather that so many believers are fundamentally dishonest in their assessment of themselves and just live in denial of how sinful they actually are!

In the years I’ve followed the Lord I’ve become aware of certain underlying principles which comprise the real evidence of whether or not someone is truly growing in the Lord, or merely going through the outward motions. Whether they have a genuine ongoing actual personal closeness to Him, or merely an outward form of godliness. And one of those principles is: What do they do with their sin? What do they do when sin in their lives is revealed? And in particular, what do they do with the third parties the Lord so often uses, in whatever way, as part of that process? Do they come clean and repent? Or do they just stage a cover up, deny everything and in their minds discredit – and, if possible, discredit in the minds of others – any who are party to that sin being revealed in their lives and brought to the light?

If we are not being honest about our sin and failure before the Lord then it is difficult to see how we are being honest and upright regarding anything else that particularly matters. It’s a bit like those politicians who get caught cheating on their wives but assure us that we can still trust them when it comes to stuff like policy, governing and spending our hard earned taxes! (Trust me! I’m a politician!)

So hey, if you live your Christian life hanging on to the Lord for dear life because you dare not trust yourself but for one minute to live in your own strength, then join the club! It’s called Christian fellowship! But if you don’t really think you’re overly sinful, and that you’re doing pretty well in your discipleship, and you aren’t having to struggle daily against stuff like pride, covetousness, selfishness – it’s what the Bible calls ‘crucifying the flesh’ – then please, keep your distance. Because all you will do is get in the way of those who are more honest in the Lord than you are, and be a hindrance to those who do want to grow in godliness on their way to Heaven, and not just get there having pursued a selfish worldly life down here. Those believers who are more honest than you will, of course, sweat blood and shed tears in their attempts to love you and to serve you, and to bring you to a better place, but if you just deny the extent of your sinfulness and resist laying your life down on the altar of selflessness all the time, then what more can they do?

Nothing brings greater joy to the Father than seeing repentance in the lives of those He has created. Therefore, knowing that we are so truly known of Him precisely in all our sinfulness and depravity, yet so truly and deeply loved nonetheless, then what greater joy can there be than a life lived not having to hide from Him any more, and in simple open and honest acknowledgement of how evil we are? And I know that many Christians would resist using the word ‘evil’ of themselves; indeed, would see it as being overly negative – damaging to their mental well-being even – yet Jesus clearly said, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” (Matthew 7:11)

There is nothing negative about being honest with a doctor about symptoms that suggest a disease he can provide a cure for. And the cure for our sinfulness, for the deceit and depravity of our hearts, is the Lord Jesus, who gave His life precisely that we might be forgiven and cleansed. But growing in that truth and knowing the power of the Holy Spirit bringing it progressively to fruition within us down the years begins, and continues, with us being honest about how sinful and needy we actually are.

When I was that young man who was, quite genuinely, seeking to follow the Lord, I came across a Christian book with the title ‘Repentance, the Joy-Filled Life’. It terrified me! But only because I hadn’t come to the place of being able to just be honest about sin. I was yet insecure in the Lord’s love for me and feared it to be contingent upon good performance and on me not sinning very much. Not much joy in that, believe me! But discovering, as I eventually did more and more, that the Lord wanted me to be honest because He loved me so greatly, and not because He didn’t love me very much because I was so bad, changed everything. But now repentance, though still painful to my pride and the lingering self-righteousness that characterises all of us, is sheer relief and my very life-line to the One who has saved me. Like the kissing and making up of lovers who have spoiled their love as the result of whatever came between them – though of course it is never the Lord who causes the wrong – it is the joy of relationship renewed and discipleship restored. I even enjoy Star Trek is all the more because of such repentance, to say nothing of having an even greater life with Belinda and Bethany. After all, what fun is there to be had living with the constant gnawing of a bad conscience in denial of whatever the Holy Spirit is convicting you of?

King David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Might such be true of ourselves also!

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Talk about being in the minority…..!!!

Something that is abundantly clear from scripture is that Christians are a minority group. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) So whichever way you cut it, the majority of people throughout human history have been, and are, unbelievers, with only a few – that is, a small proportion – who are Christians and therefore saved. This means that I am, by very definition, in a minority, as is every other Christian who has ever lived.

But of course it doesn’t stop there. I suppose everyone would rather be in the majority, because that would mean, at the very least, acceptance by most, and, possibly, even actual popularity. I don’t know about you but if the choice were mine then give me acceptance and popularity over rejection any time. But for some of us it doesn’t stop at being in the minority merely because we are Christians. The fact that the Lord’s people are so divided over what scripture teaches, and that so much accepted Christian practise is based on completely unbiblical teaching and tradition, means that there are those of us who find ourselves in another smaller minority, even amongst Christians, because of our biblical conviction.

What we have here is a series of ever-decreasing circles pertaining to acceptance and acceptability amongst Christians, and it works like this: All believers, as we have already noted, are in a minority group simply because they are following the Lord. (I am obviously talking here about genuine Christians, and not those who merely erroneously identify themselves as such because of the nation or culture of their birth.) However, because I am one of those genuine believers who adheres to the teaching of scripture, as opposed to unbiblical tradition, concerning church life, and who is therefore, by very definition, outside of Christian ‘mainstream’ and the virtually monolithic ‘system’ that comprises it, I am therefore in yet another minority even amongst Christians, who are themselves a minority in the first place.

Every which way of ‘doing’ church appears to be acceptable amongst the vast majority of Christians, from High Church Anglicanism/Episcopalianism through Methodism and Baptistic Churches down to such expressions as independent Evangelical Churches and Charismatic/Pentecostal ones. Every which way, in fact, except those of us who simply replicate what churches were like in the New Testament during the time of the Apostles. Understanding a church to simply be a numerically small extended family of the Lord’s people, therefore meeting in houses, having open participatory gatherings and sharing the Lord’s Supper as a full meal, as was the case in Apostolic times is, it would appear, the one big “No-No!’ Pretty much everything by way of church life is accepted, affirmed, respected and embraced by Christians at large…except that! Those of us who simply copy New Testament church practise are, apparently, only doing so because we are weird, sectarian, rebellious, deceived, crazy or just too extreme and unbalanced to be considered acceptable. Already in the minority simply by virtue of being a Christian, I further find myself in an even smaller one amongst believers merely for being stringently biblical regarding church life. But hey, there’s more! Amazingly it doesn’t even stop there!

Although, at least in the West, house church Christians are very definitely in the minority when compared to those who attend institutional/traditional churches, there are nevertheless still enough of them to have their own minorities; and guess what…I find myself in probably the smallest one! What I saying is that endeavouring to be stringently and comprehensively biblical means that being part of a house church, and therefore outside of the ‘system’, is only one part, one aspect of the broader matter of being faithful to God’s Word in general. Most believers who are outside of the ‘system’ are not, sadly, outside of it due to biblical conviction, but rather because they just don’t happen to like what it has to offer. Meeting in homes, whilst biblical in itself, is nevertheless only a part of the biblical pattern, and any kind of unscriptural nonsense and behaviour can be practised in peoples homes, just as it can equally be in the public buildings of mainstream traditional churches. So merely being ‘house church’, and therefore outside of the unbiblical ‘system’, is not, of itself, the point. The point should be that we are being comprehensively and stringently biblical. Therefore, those I gather with in the context of biblical church life embrace scriptural teaching regarding other issues which are generally left well alone and avoided by most other believers, whether part of the ‘system’ or not. Because we adhere to scripture regarding such issues as gender differences, and therefore scriptures teaching concerning husbands being the heads of their families, as well as the resultant necessity of Christian leadership being therefore exclusively for the men-folk, we find ourselves an somewhat unacceptable minority amongst even ‘house church’ believers. Hence the ever-decreasing circles of being in a minority amongst the minority of already a minority. (And of course here in England you would have to add home-schooling to the list as well!)

It boils down to this: If you want to be accepted, loved and praised by the world, then don’t become a Christian. Or, if you do become a Christian, be a luke-warm, carnal and disobedient one. And if you want to be accepted, loved and lauded by other Christians, then remain in the ‘system’ and serve both it, and it’s Masters (pastors/ministers etc), dutifully, carefully and, of course, financially. And if you want to be accepted, loved and honoured by the majority of those who have, for whatever reason, rejected that ‘system’, then you will need to ensure that you are feministic, soft on sin overall, weak on what the Bible teaches regarding divorce and remarriage, and generally wobbly on biblical teaching concerning family life in general. If, however, you put the Lord, and therefore the comprehensive teaching of His Word first, then you will have to learn to find your peace, joy and security in the Lord whilst being rejected not only by the world (which was always to be expected), or even just Christians within the unbiblical church ‘system’, but by the vast majority of ‘house church’ believers too.

The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 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 13:12-14)

Unbiblical Christianity has it’s ‘camp’ just as surely as did Israel whilst busily rejecting what the Lord was saying to her; and Jesus, because of His adherence to the truth of Gods Word (He was the very Word Incarnate), was cast outside that ‘camp’ bearing disgrace. And as surely as we will have to bear disgrace in the eyes of unbelievers, so will the truly faithful ones of God’s people have to also bear disgrace in the eyes of those believers who live in compromise to the teaching of scripture regarding those things such as I have mentioned, as opposed to comprehensive obedience concerning them.

I thank the Lord though that, a minority of a minority amongst a minority though they be, there are still many, across the world, who have not, as it were, bowed the knee to Baal, however lonely, as Elijah discovered, it might feel at the time. One of the great themes in scripture regarding the Lord’s people is that of ‘the faithful remnant’, in contrast to the majority who, though nevertheless truly His, are compromisers living in, as the Apostle phrased it, carnality and wordy wisdom!

If what you are after is a quiet life, acceptance, popularity and the smile and praises of mere men and other believers, then you will have to be very careful not to conduct your Christian life overly biblically!

Of Aliens…and growing old!

I went to see the new ‘Alien’ film the other day (of course), though found it discouragingly lacklustre and boring. I can only hope and pray that it isn’t further evidence of what seems to be the ongoing death throws of science fiction as a serious cinematic genre! (At least there are Star Trek re-runs still to be had! So thank you Lord for that!) But I don’t say this by way of reviewing what I consider to be a mediocre film, but in order to make a serious point.

If science fiction can be said to be a major passion of mine then so, most definitely, is saving money. So I was exercised last week in establishing that our local cinema does indeed offer a significant discount for the over 60’s. But what I found so disconcerting wasn’t merely the realisation that I qualified for such in the first place, but that the two young lads who were manning the ticket booth didn’t ask to see my ID in order to verify the fact! In a similar way that for many years I prided myself as a teenager that I looked several years older than I actually was, for the last decade I have prided myself on the exact converse. That is, that most people comment that I look considerably younger than my actual age. Except, it would appear, the lads at the cinema! I found myself, as a consequence, just a little bit upset!

What, then, of my lifelong determination to never grow old? What of my promise to Belinda some thirty years ago that I would always be the strapping, virile young man then standing in front of her? Don’t get me wrong though! I’m not needing a walking frame just yet! But something has happened that I never actually, in practical terms, expected! I am actually, truly, really and undeniably getting on a bit. And I don’t like it! It hurts when I get out of a chair! (As Leonard Cohen once sang, “I ache in the places where I used to play!”) I get tired when I didn’t used to as well, and need just that little bit more rest than I did in the past!

It would appear, then, that my determination to not age hasn’t come to much! (How could it?) But what I am glad about is that something else I was determined about hasn’t been thwarted, and it is that, whereas growing old is mandatory, growing up is entirely voluntary. And I can say with, I think, some confidence that, though obviously older in years, I have nonetheless succeeded in not growing up. And the words of Jesus, that His followers should seek to be like little children, has played a major part in me not doing so.

When I think of childhood as it should be, though sadly not what mine actually was, I think of fun, carefree-ness and sheer wide-eyed wonder. And I have to tell you that, precisely because I know Him who created all things be enjoyed, fun is forever my middle name. Not that I think for one moment that life doesn’t have it’s very serious side, but that even in the midst of that seriously there is still just so much fun to be had. And precisely because I follow Him who has all things in His hands and who controls every aspect of absolute everything, I truly do have little care. Again, not that I don’t feel keenly my responsibilities, or ever fear what the future might hold, but that I nonetheless sleep like a baby knowing that absolutely nothing I might ever have to go through can take me away from His care and benevolence towards me. (The Lord taught me much concerning this through my encounter with cancer!) And precisely because I love Him who has made such an amazing and beautiful universe (Man, just what would it be like to fly Starship Enterprise-like through the galaxies and nebulae like all good Trekkies long to do?), I have never lost that wide-eyed wonder of always wanting to know what’s just around the next bend, or over the hill I am standing at the bottom of, or across whichever ocean lies before me.

And all because of Jesus! All because of Him! The life abundant He came to give His, though so much more than such things, nevertheless includes such things…thus do I live as a little child in the way that really counts! That is, being young at heart!

But let me tell you what the really incredible thing about this is! Growing old is all about the passing and the passage of time, yet once we are glorified with the Lord we will be with Him in eternity! And eternity isn’t to do with not being in a place – we will be living on a completely new planet earth in a completely new universe, so just imagine all that exploring we’ll be doing with the Lord (I always knew Star Trek was prophetic)  – it’s rather about not being constrained or limited by time! Therefore, not only do we have the possibility, as God’s people, of becoming like little children in this life, we have a guarantee that we will, without the slightest shadow of a doubt, be like them for eternity!

I cannot tell you just how much I am up for that!