A Couple of Transatlantic Misunderstandings – Part 3

I want to pick up on something I said in the last post and give it the emphasis it deserves, and it’s my simple observation that none of us know what we are wrong about. Think about it! If we knew we were wrong about something then we would presumably make correction and not be wrong any more. A simple principle, for sure, but greatly overlooked and misunderstood! And greatly overlooked and misunderstood by Christians too!

Because flights don’t always get me where my car is there are times when I have to rent one, and because rentals are nearly-new they tend to have all the bells and whistles which I only know exist because of renting them. Indeed, after a ten hour drive in a real beauty last year I’d just about figured out by the time we arrived at the airport to fly home that I could have probably driven the whole distance just talking to it via the onboard computer. Man, there wasn’t much that thing couldn’t do pretty much completely automatically. On the last really cool car I rented I noticed that the side-view mirrors had a little symbol in the corner that would regularly light up, but I couldn’t for the life of me work out why they would or why they were there. Belinda eventually figured out though that the flashing symbols were there to alert me when any vehicle alongside but to the rear was in my blindspot. And there you have it! Just as with driving, we all have blindspots in our lives! And the thing about blindspots is that you don’t, by very definition, know what’s in them! And that means that we don’t know what we are wrong about, and that we therefore need to be open to correction from others, such correction being the equivalent of those little symbols lighting up on the side view mirror of my rental car.

One of the greatest biblical virtues is that of humility, and one of the ways in which genuine humility is revealed is through an open mind to the fact that we could be wrong about absolutely anything. As we saw last time, this doesn’t prevent us from being definite regarding to our best and honest biblical understanding of various matters, but it does preserve us from the kind of closed-minded dogmatism that is more to do with needing to be seen to be right about something (self-righteousness, in fact), rather than simply establishing from scripture whether we actually are right or not.

And it seems to me that there are two main ways in which we avoid facing up to things about which we are wrong, but about which we are determined to keep believing that we are right. The first is to simply avoid anything that might address, or present challenge to, whatever the thing in question might be. The tactic, so to speak, of denial plus avoidance! We just don’t talk about whatever it might be, or address it in any way. We keep it ‘off the table’ and avoid talking about it with anyone who might present a threat or challenge to us regarding it. This is why, for example, so many aspects of what the Bible teaches are quite intentionally never referred to, being studiously ignored, by Christian leaders and teachers and those who follow them.

The second way to avoid having to face up to the fact that we might be wrong about something is to become so entrenched in our convictions, biblical or otherwise, that instead of genuine discussion with others we are simply concerned to ‘win the argument’ and not even properly listen to any contrary thinking or ideas. Our concern should rather be, “What saith the scriptures?” with an accompanying attitude of genuinely testing ourselves to see if we are truly seeking to then conform our thinking and lives to what they say.

So this isn’t just about belief and doctrine. It’s about how  we actually live day to day as husbands and wives, as parents and children, as employers or employees and as neighbours to those who live in our street. It’s about how honest we are being regarding our sin and failure, and about then repenting of that sin and failure and putting things right both with the Lord and any others whom our sin has affected. As sinners our default state, our knee-jerk reaction, our instinctive and instant response to any revealed consequences of our own wrongdoing, is to try to deny the reality of the situation and to excuse and justify ourselves regarding it, so as to not only deny our sin but to shift the blame onto others. Humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God, as scripture commands us to do, is therefore the way in which we initiate, and continue, the ongoing process of reversing this.

In the Garden of Eden, as soon as sin entered the human domain, Eve blamed the serpent, and Adam blamed Eve and then the Lord. Humility, however, embraces the simple understanding that my sin is my fault and not yours, and that I am the only one who can repent of it and make restitution in the Lord for it. Humility also embraces the simple fact that 1) We are wrong about an awful lot of things which we aren’t even aware of yet, and 2) Without the help and correction of others we will never see much of what that wrongness actually is.

As I maintained in the previous couple of posts, we are indeed free to always think we are right, but not to ever think that we are always right! And now we must add this: When sin has disrupted my relationship with others in any way it might be entirely their fault and not mine. It might also be a case that both they and I have contributed wrongdoing to the situation. Or it might be that the situation is entirely my own wrongdoing! But irrespective of which of these three possibilities it is, the one thing I must never do is to automatically give myself the benefit of the doubt and to simply assume that the odds are that I am right, and that the wrongdoing is entirely someone else’s.

The Lord’s humility reveals itself by His willingness to be in a lowlier position than the one of which He is worthy. For ourselves, however, humility must acknowledge that we are not actually worthy of anything at all, and that also, unlike the Lord, we have ongoing wrong-thinking and wrongdoing that we need to both admit to and put right.

This is a big part of why even so many Christians who are aware of what scripture teaches regarding church life, and who have actual opportunity to avail themselves of it, nevertheless decide to either remain in unbiblical churches or just become churchless. Both options, however, avoid  meaningful personal accountability! The first because unbiblical churches are impersonal, and the latter because it excludes even the most basic commitment to anyone or anything, and even avoids scriptures command that we regularly gather together with other believers for mutual edification and spiritual growth. The former is to hide in a crowd, whilst the latter is to just avoid others completely! In strong contrast to both scripture teaches that we should embrace true life-sharing fellowship with others in which we become truly open and known.

Look, no-one enjoys being corrected! Or at least, I don’t! I really, really do understand that! Given the choice between watching some Star Trek or having someone correct me for something, guess which one I’d go for! Indeed, I’d rather watch chick-flics, which I truly can’t stand! But hey, even watching chick-flics beats being corrected by someone, eh? But like so many things in life correction isn’t meant to be enjoyable, it’s meant to be part of our walk with the Lord so as to sanctify us and conform us ever more into His likeness and character!

 

 

Christians, border walls, Brexit, politicians, hypocrisy et al!

As someone who divides his time between the UK and US, I find it both extraordinary and fascinating to see the two nations in such complete governmental chaos at exactly the same time. As America endures the longest government shut-down in its history, the British government suffers the most devastating parliamentary defeat in our nations’ political history. If, like me, political observation is somewhat of a hobby for you, this is all great fun, but it doesn’t change the fact that such events are monumental. As a result a perennial question is now on the lips of ordinary people on both sides of the Atlantic even more-so than usual, and it simply this: Why can’t politicians just be honest, open and transparent about what they believe and then behave consistently with said beliefs? Why do they have to so often be so utterly disingenuous and hypocritical?

But the question all this provokes me to ask is somewhat different, and it is this: Why are so many Christians, and especially Christian leaders, so like the politicians I have just referred to? Why can’t we, as the Lord’s people, just be honest, open and transparent about what the Bible teaches, and stop being so dishonest and disingenuous regarding the bits we keep desperately trying to avoid because of the increasing disapproval of the surrounding culture? Why can’t we just surrender to the Lord once and for all and submit to what scripture teaches irrespective of the profound changes we would have to make in our lives?

For over 40 years I have seen again and again and again that many Christians, leaders included, simply ignore what the Bible teaches regarding certain things it simply doesn’t suit them to address. Even regarding such biblically fundamental issues as the sanctity of marriage and family life, and the differing role of gender within it, believers by and large just turn a blind eye to, for instance, the fact that remarriage after divorce, with some very limited exceptions, is adultery, and that God has ordained the husband to be the head of the family, and that leadership in the church is exclusively male. Because Christian leaders know that many in their various congregations would vote with their feet if they taught what the Bible says regarding such things, and especially if biblical church discipline was being properly exercised where disobedience to such prevailed, they therefore either never even refer to such offending passages in the New Testament or, should such issues ever be raised, just summarily dismiss them by repeating the knee-jerk ‘christian’ mantra that we are not to judge, and that grace and forgiveness means we should leave anything offensive or controversial well alone and just accept whatever way things are. The fact that scripture teaches the exact opposite of such thinking is thereby also avoided, and church attenders are spared unwanted biblically-oriented teaching and thinking entering their consciousness. This is what I mean when I say that so many Christians, and especially Christian leaders, behave more like self-serving politicians than they do disciples of Jesus.

Picking and choosing which bits of the Bible’s teaching we approve of and which we don’t, thereby simply ignoring and disobeying the bits we don’t like, is hypocritical, disingenuous and utterly dishonouring to the Lord. Paul the Apostle told the elders of the  churches in Ephesus that he had taught them the ‘whole counsel of God’, yet how many church leaders and Bible teachers today could even vaguely claim to be doing that. Indeed, they know only too well that to do so would cost them not only their treasured popularity, but possibly even their salaries. Christians sit listening to sermons from their leaders week-in-and-week-out for decades without ever being taught some of the most important things scripture has to say. As a result their minds are not being continuously renewed and they therefore remain in conformity to the world and its thinking rather than living in holiness and obedience to the Lord. The New Testament refers to such believers as being carnal Christians! Genuine believers, for sure, but believers who are nonetheless utterly retarded in their spiritual growth and development. The New Testament likens such to grown men and women who still need to be breastfed. A sorry situation indeed!

Across the Atlantic Democratic politicians who just five years ago voted for funding for a wall along the Mexican border are now keeping the government in shut-down by declaring that such a wall is fundamentally immoral, and that they must therefore refuse to grant it. Irrespective of your political stance on immigration and border control, whichever way you cut it, they are being completely and utterly hypocritical! Likewise, here in the United Kingdom politicians who just two years ago pledged commitment to honouring a referendum decision to leave the European Union have since done everything they possibly can to sabotage it and are now, having seen their chance, trying to kill it off completely. Like their American counterparts they are simply demonstrating what self-serving hypocrites they actually are! And Christians who stand firm on whatever aspects of scriptural teaching they happen to agree with, yet who avoid and ignore, and therefore disobey, those aspects which don’t suit them are, equally, similarly behaving like self-serving and disingenuous hypocrites.

Remarriage after divorce, with exotically few exceptions, is adultery, and to not bring church discipline to bear upon those planning to illegitimately remarry is to disobey God’s Word. But how many believers and church leaders are exercised in insuring such a standard prevails in churches?

God has given headship of the family to husbands, and commands that wives submit to it. Likewise, in church life leadership is for men, women being barred from eldership or teaching the gathered church. Yet how many Christian leaders and believers at large are standing firm and strong against the increasing rejection of this truth amongst God’s people?

The New Testament also makes clear that we should imitate the practise of the apostles of Jesus regarding such things as how we conduct church life, how evangelism and baptisms should take place, plus numerous other things which most Christians just ignore and take absolutely no notice of.

It is simply a fact that one of the things that characterises modern Christians is that they simply ignore important and significant teachings of the very Bible – the ‘whole counsel of God’ – whilst purporting to be fully following it! Claiming, as all believers do, the authority of scripture, they then proceed to sit in judgement on it, carefully editing out whichever aspects of its teaching they don’t approve of, or which they know would be too costly and too inconvenient to have to obey.

In the Old Testament one of the constant themes of the judges, and later the prophets, was that, “Every man did what was right in their own eyes.” Having, as they did, God’s Law, they nevertheless had a ‘pick and choose’ attitude and approach to it. Through both judges and prophets the Lord called that exactly what it was, rebellion! Yet today the Church of Jesus Christ, and I mean genuine believers, continues to do much the same thing. Unlike Israel at the time of the judges and prophets we are not under the Mosaic Law but under the new covenant of Grace, yet exactly the same principle applies. We seem to think, just like Israel of old, that we have the right to just pick and choose which scriptural teachings we obey and which we don’t. As with God’s people in the Old Testament we are merely doing what’s right in our own eyes! It is, however, the same now as it was then – rebellion!

But hey! Am I being just too tough here? Is it reasonable to expect Christians to change so radically given that the Christian Church has been going against scripture regarding such things for so long? Is it fair to expect believers to implement su h profound and wide-ranging changes? But hang on a moment! Didn’t Jesus talk about His followers denying self, picking up their crosses and following Him? Didn’t He teach that we would be hated and treated badly by others precisely because our lives are so different, and therefore condemning, of the culture around us? Didn’t Paul command us to be transformed from living a worldly life to living a godly life in Christ Jesus in full obedience to Him and His Word? Doesn’t the New Testament demand that we be willing to forsake everything in order to follow the Lord?

The question for Christians who are actually disciples as well is never whether something is too hard, or too tough, or too costly! The question for them is only ever, “What saith the scriptures? How does Jesus want us to live? What does He want me to be like in every aspect of my life?”

I leave you with a principle I have sought to live by, however failingly and poorly, since the Lord brought me into His kingdom. It is simply this: If I am not standing on God’s Word and living in definite and clear obedience to it at those specific and precise points where others around me, Christians included, have rejected what it teaches, then I am not actually standing on His Word at all!

It is, of course, irrelevant to us as believers that there are politicians who are hypocrites! Of course there are! No surprises there! It should, however, be of the absolutely greatest concern to us to truly test whether or not we, as those who claim to be disciples of the Lord Jesus, and who therefore claim to be committed to be living under the authority of the teaching of scripture, are any different to them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A True Story!

Gather round and I’ll tell you a story. It’s a true story, and something of great value can be learned from it. In one sense it’s quite whimsical, but it is also very sad. So here goes…

Once upon a time there were two families who, having been part of a church for several years, suddenly announced that they had discovered together what true fellowship actually was. Having received such a ‘revelation’ of what the Christian life was really about, they had therefore concluded that everyone else with whom they had been in fellowship up to then were just hypocrites who were not following the Lord as they should. God had also, they said, shown them that they must leave the church and start a new life together living in community. So they left behind the brothers and sisters they now believed to be hypocrites and pursued their vision, making all the necessary preparations and arrangements for their new life together. Moving into a shared property they were finally free to experience together the ‘revelation’ of fellowship which they so fully believed the Holy Spirit had given them.

Three weeks later – yes, I kid you not – three weeks later they had a falling out and went their own separate ways, each family having presumably concluded that the other was another example of the same Christian hypocrisy in the church they had left to pursue the vision in the first place.

…and they all didn’t live happily ever after!

So what’s the big lesson here? And I gotta tell you, it’s a really vital one! And it’s the importance of properly understanding the simple biblical principle that if there is un-acknowledged and un-dealt with sin in our lives that we aren’t being honest about, then instead of judging ourselves and repenting of that sin, which is what we should do, we will start to see it in everyone else’s lives and (quite wrongly) accuse them of it instead.

What the two families in our story failed to realise, though it was pointed out to them before they left the church, was that the problem they thought they were identifying in others was actually in them. So when they left to start their new life together they just took the problem with them. And precisely because it was their problem, as opposed to anyone else’s, they inevitably ended up seeing in each other the same ‘hypocrisy’ which they had previously thought they were seeing in everyone else in the church.

When Jesus taught about removing the log in one’s own eye before trying to remove a speck in someone else’s, this is exactly what He was meaning. A Christian who has a tree trunk in their eye is not going to be very good at identifying a splinter in someone else’s. If a believer can’t even identify, and be honest about, their own sin, then how on earth do they expect to be able to think clearly and rationally concerning other people’s?

Many Christians seem to be completely unaware that the anger, resentment and sense of having been ‘offended’ by others which they so readily feel, is actually their reaction to, and therefore evidence of, the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, but of sin which they aren’t willing to be honest about and repent of. Many believers spend their entire Christian lives going from church to church, group to group, fellowship to fellowship, only ever settling anywhere for any length of time to the extent that their ears are being ‘tickled’ by whatever it is they want to hear, and whilst no-one is likely to advise, correct or admonish them regarding their sin. But even when no-one is advising, correcting or admonishing them regarding sin, they often still eventually fall out with those around them thus moving on yet again, because their unrepentant state means they remain spiritual babies who get easily upset and offended at things which mature believers wouldn’t even notice, let alone allow themselves to be negatively affected by. They only ever think of themselves as being the innocent victims of the wrongdoing of others, whilst never being open to the fact that they might themselves be the guilty perpetrators of wrongdoing! It is sad that so many Christians today think in such a way!

A profound change came about in my own Christian life when the Lord started to work on me in this regard, and when I started to realise that my biggest problem wasn’t other people’s sin, but my own. I started to realise that, for instance, the problem wasn’t that other people were irritating, but rather that I was irritable – and Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that irritability is not love, and therefore sin! So what was the big change? It was that I started to at last identify what the real problem was! Me! It wasn’t, as I had always just assumed and taken for granted, that other people were, for instance, irritating, but rather that I was irritable! And man oh man, what a difference that made! It was exactly the same regarding how I would so easily consider other people to be annoying! And what I saw was that irrespective of whether others were being annoying or not, the real problem was that I would so easily get annoyed. And that was because of my own self-righteousness which I was failing to judge.

This is why we need to periodically ask the Lord to show us anew just how sinful we actually are, and just how terrible our sin actually is. We so readily justify our sinful reactions by concentrating on what we perceive to be the wrongdoing of others, and in particular of whoever it is we are reacting against at any one time. I’m not saying there is never a time for legitimate anger or annoyance – as scripture says, “Be angry, but sin not!” – but let’s be clear that so much of what we would like to put down to being righteous anger is really just our own intolerance, peevishness and resentment at having not gotten our own way over something, or with having not been agreed with, or whatever!

The two families in our story got into such a terrible mess because they weren’t willing to face up to the simple fact that the problem they were struggling with was in them and not others, and that it would therefore go with them wherever they went. They were just blaming others for their own un-dealt with sin and disobedience to the Lord. It’s a bit like if someone were to trip over their shoelaces, having not done them up properly, and then shift the blame by accusing others of having pushed them.

There are so many Christians of whom it can be said that nothing is ever their fault! The sin, the mess, the division and contention – or whatever – that surrounds them wherever they go is, so they claim, always due to the wrongdoing of others, and never their own!

May we not, I pray, be numbered among them!

A Revelatory Drive!

I was out driving the other day and a most striking thing happened. It actually happens a great deal, but for some reason, probably the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, the situation spoke to me rather powerfully.

I was driving through a non-dual-carriageway section of road through the beautiful forest that surrounds where I live. The sun was shining (doesn’t happen quite so much here as this other thing I’m going to describe) and, as usual when driving on my own, I had my music on full blast. (Some wonderful old 70’s classics if I remember correctly! You know, that whole Bubble-Gum music thing!) In other words, I was as happy as Larry and having a total blast; and because that rather long stretch of road has a 40 mile an hour speed limit I was driving – yes, you’ve guessed – at a sedate 40 miles an hour.

I then noticed that the gentleman driving the car behind me was not having the same great day that I was. In fact, from his waving arms and quite un-mistakeably less than polite gesticulations – all clearly visible in my rear view mirror – he was having an extremely bad one. And it was very clear why! He was angry because he was wanting to go faster than 40 miles an hour, but couldn’t because I wasn’t going faster than 40 miles an hour and because he couldn’t, for a few miles, get passed me. I was quite clearly the cause of some considerable disquiet in his life. But let’s just think about this a bit and ask some questions as to why I was driving at 40 miles an hour and causing someone such great distress.

Was I, for instance, driving at 40 miles an hour in order to be offensive? Well, no! I was driving at 40 miles an hour because that is the speed limit on that particular stretch of road, and because it is my understanding that God’s Word teaches that we should obey the governing authorities. Might it have been because I am a self-righteous person who just wants to show everyone how well I obey the law, and who wants to oppress anyone who doesn’t see things my way? Again, no! It was because that’s the speed limit on that stretch of road! So could it be that I am just a rather unpleasant individual who takes pleasure in upsetting people? Er…this is getting boring…no! It was just because I believe I should drive that section of road at 40 miles an hour irrespective of what others think of me for doing so or how it makes them feel.

It might also be worth asking whether it might be the case or not that I have got the speed limit wrong myself on that stretch of road, and that it might be 60 miles an hour and not 40 miles an hour. after all, should such be the case then one could, I suppose – but it would still be a stretch – say that this guy then at least had a point. Doing 40 in a 60 area for some distance when it’s difficult to overtake is, arguably, a bit annoying. But my answer here is simply this: Having lived in this area for over 50 years all told, I am pretty sure that I have repeatedly seen the signs that set the speed limit of that stretch of road at 40 miles an hour.  I could, of course, be wrong. (I could be wrong about absolutely anything!) My eyes may well be deceiving me. So if anyone thinks that might be the case, and has a beef with me for driving the road at 40 miles an hour instead of 60 miles an hour, then all I ask is that they show me the evidence. Just prove to me that I am wrong! Show me the sign that has the number 60 on it and not 40! I would then be more than happy to acknowledge that I have been getting it wrong all this time, being then free to drive that stretch of road at 60 miles an hour knowing that I am within the law in so doing.

So what it boils down to is this: I made someone extremely angry because my right-doing got in the way of their desire to do wrong. For absolutely no other reason than that I was doing the right thing, someone who had been doing the wrong thing (speeding), but who had been stopped in their tracks and forced to slow down and do the right thing because I was in now front of them, got angry with me and wasn’t holding back showing it. I wonder if you can see where I’m going with this!

I cannot tell you how many times Christians have gotten angry at me for no other reason than that I simply believe, teach, live and practise things that God’s Word seems to pretty clearly teach which, for whatever reason, they don’t happen to like. I have, for example, had Christians get angry with me again and again because I believe that wives should submit to their husbands – just as I believe that husbands should love their wives to the moon and back – and that women should not be in a leadership function in the church, or do teaching to the gathered body of saints. I have also had Christians get angry with me, again and again, because I believe, teach and practise that churches should be small, home-based and non-hierarchical. I have even had brothers and sisters in the Lord get angry with me, and on a good many occasions too, simply because I make clear that I believe all Christians should go purely by God’s Word and not in any way by extra-biblical man-made traditions which go against it.

But of course the very worst of the anger happens when one has, through whatever means, become a focal point of sin being revealed in believers lives. I have been slandered to the ends of the earth and back for trying to encourage believers with whom I have had to do to be honest about such sins in their lives as greed, immorality, resentment, slander, un-forgiveness, dishonesty, lying, hatred…and so the list could go on! When put like this it is easy to see how – just as with someone who wants to break the law regarding speeding, but who finds someone getting in their way – simply doing right can cause Christians who are doing wrong to get angry, just as the same right-living causes believers who are living wrong to be convicted of their sin. The anger and resentment is because they aren’t willing to come clean and simply put their hands up, be honest and repent.

And to any who do find themselves angered by what I teach (and not just me of course, it could be anyone), or what I practise, or even perhaps anything I have ever said to you personally, then I simply say this! Just show me the road sign that says the speed limit is 60 miles an hour and not 40 miles an hour, and I will change my driving accordingly. In other words, if you think I am wrong – and about absolutely anything too – then just show me that I’m wrong from scripture. Don’t get angry and skulk off into the shadows to do the whole bad-mouthing thing about me to others behind my back, or directly sound off at me in anger! Let’s talk! Let’s reason together, just like the Lord wants to do with us! Let’s open the Bible together and ask prayerfully, “What saith the scriptures?”

One last thing! Having established that I was driving at 40 miles an hour the other day simply because it’s what the law of the land says, and not because I wanted to upset the guy behind me, or because I want to do anything to upset or anger anyone, so too with what I believe, teach, live and practise. I can assure you that I have never wanted to upset anyone. Neither have I ever desired to make anything harder for anyone than need be. Yet I have been accused by other Christians of living how I live, and teaching what I teach, and saying what I say from every vile motive they seem to be able to think of. But of course the reality is that they are just angry and resentful because sin has been exposed in their lives to which they don’t want to admit. That guy in the car behind me the other day was having a veritable fit, and I have no doubt that he was calling me every unpleasant name under the sun. But not because I was doing anything wrong, but precisely because I was doing right. I had simply, though quite un-desiringly and inadvertently, become a stumbling block to him in his wrongdoing.

Christian, the next time you find yourself angry with someone and doing that whole “How dare they say that to me! They offended me!” thing, just ponder that the odds are that it is most probably evidence that you are being convicted by the Holy Spirit of something in your life which you don’t want to recognise and own up to. In your desire to avoid the message you just want to shoot the messenger. In order to deny and wriggle out of the sin that is being revealed in you, and in order to try to justify yourself in both your own eyes and eyes of others, you are seeking to discredit the person God is using to convict you. You can then tell yourself that you don’t have to listen to someone who is so discreditable and wrong.

Just remember though that the Pharisees did this to the Lord Jesus all the time!