Sin – the ultimate rejection

What is sin?

In a lecture recently we as a class were told that the only answer we can ever have to that question is, “I don’t really know.”  Sin is beyond definition.

I don’t know yet if I occupy that position.  But it has made me think more critically about the nature of sin, and begin to formulate a definition of sin that I am comfortable with.  Ultimately, I may not arrive at a universally applicable definition, but I will at least form a subjective, individual one.

Someone once said that sin is mankind’s terrible capacity to misuse every good thing.  I like this – particularly for the way it also leads naturally into thought about the consequences.  Let me explain what I mean.

Many products we buy, especially tools or practical goods, come with instructions for their use.  For example, an electric drill will have a range of uses that are within its intended functions.  The drill will contain strong warnings against misuse – and the consequences if it is misused.  And a can of fly spray actually has a warning to the effect of, “Deliberate misuse by concentrating and inhaling may be harmful or fatal.”

In many cases, misuse actually damages the product and renders it less effective, or destroys it altogether.  And I think this is what sin is.  It is to take something that was designed to be good (or ‘very good’ as God described creation in Genesis) but through our misuse, to render it ineffective.

Let’s take sexuality, for example – if for no other reason than that it is, I think, one of the most damaged aspects of God’s creation.  God intended sex to be good – healthy, life-giving (in more ways than one), and fundamentally, well… good.  God knows that when sexuality is used according to His instructions, it is safe, effective, and very good.

But we misuse it.  Not all, but many of us, are guilty at some time or other, of misusing sexuality – even in small, seemingly inconsequential ways.  For men, this is possibly more of a problem – I don’t really know, since I’ve never stepped into the mind of a woman.  But many men struggle with the visual aspect of sexuality.  And I’m not even talking necessarily about pornography, although that is clearly misuse on steroids!

To look at a female with even the slightest trace of lust, or even inappropriate appreciation, is to twist God’s good gift.  We may think it does little harm, but in actual fact, it plants seeds that the enemy is more than willing to water and nurture.  God’s intention was that we would only ever look at our wives in ‘that’ way, and so when we broaden that to include other females, we damage a good gift of God.

The enemy is smart enough to know that he can’t create anything new.  Sin does not describe a category of evil conceptions – sin describes the distortion of that which God intended to be good.  And actually, the enemy doesn’t disagree – he knows that gifts like sexuality are good, and he makes no argument.  To do so would be futile.  Instead, as in his dialogue with Eve in the garden, he twists God’s intention of the good, and deceives us.  He says, “Yes, it is good – and you can have it all now, in any way you please!”

The enemy takes what is good, twists it into the ugliness of sin, and continues to portray it as good – and he feeds it to us.  For the most part, we eat it up.

At the heart of sin, I think, is our propensity to separate the gift from the Giver.  We take the gift, and seek to derive ultimate satisfaction from it for its own sake.  Rather than using God’s gifts as a means of enjoying Him more fully, we attempt to gain ultimate enjoyment from the gifts in and of themselves.

The drug ecstasy is so popular because it puts a ‘turbo’ on the glands that produce endorphins, resulting in an exaggerated sense of wellbeing.  But if you use it too much, you wear out those glands and your body can no longer produce endorphins even at a regular level.  Users find they must take more and more ecstasy to achieve the ‘high’ they are looking for, and eventually the drug brings them only to neutral.

Sin is putting a ‘turbo’ on God’s good gifts.  We eventually wear them out and they no longer produce the level of satisfaction they were designed for.

Use sexuality incorrectly, and you will find that before too long, it will no longer give you the satisfaction you crave.  You will continually pursue new ways to get your fix, and none of them will give you what you are looking for.

Eat too much of the wrong foods, and you will find that before too long, it ceases to satisfy and you will end up eating more and more, and still failing to scratch that itch.

God has given us beautiful gifts as avenues to enjoy Him, and when we restrict their use to that end, we find them satisfying because they point us to a God who loves us.  They are His means of bringing us to Himself.

Sin is rejection of God’s generosity.  Like a small child at Christmas, we gleefully unwrap the gift, immediately cast it aside, and play instead with the pretty paper God chose to wrap Himself in.  Did you catch that?  Yes, the real gift at the heart of everything He has given us, is Himself.

Sin then, is the rejection of God’s gift of Himself.  Is it any wonder He hates it so much?


The Great Fall

The following is my attempt to put Genesis 2:25 – 3:24 into poetic verse, for my third and final Genesis assignment.  The goal was to retell the story creatively, in a way that did not deviate significantly from the text, but emphasised key features of the narrative illuminated by my exegetical study.

Some of the rhyming is a bit forced, and you need to force the rhythm a wee bit at times, but I tried to avoid that as much as possible.  It’s probably better to listen to this than read it, but I couldn’t work out how to upload a WMA file!

Happy reading!

The Great Fall

They lived in earthly paradise; the first man and his bride

They both were naked, yet they felt no shame, no need to hide

Of all the creatures God had made, most crafty was the snake

He questioned “Did God say of no trees’ fruit may you partake?”

The woman then corrected him, and said “We are permitted”

“To eat the fruit of all the trees, the middle one omitted.”

“God said we could not eat of that, nor touch it or we’ll be dead”

“No that’s not right, you will not die” the serpent said

God knows your eyes will open wide, the moment that you eat

And knowing good and evil, you will both become like He.”

When woman looked she saw that this tree’s fruit was good for food

Twas pleasing to the eye, and also good to make her shrewd

She took it in her hands and raised it to her mouth to taste

She gave some to her husband too, who stood there at her waist

Like her he ate, and as they did, the realisation came

Their eyes were opened, suddenly they both felt naked shame

They sewed together fig leaves, their nakedness was now obscured

The man and wife then heard the sound, the sound of God the Lord

As He was walking through His garden, in the cool of day

And so at once, among the trees, they hid themselves away

“Where are you?” called the Lord God, to which the man replied

“I heard you and I was afraid, was naked and chose to hide.”

And God replied, and questioned man, “Who told you this was so?”

“Have you eaten from the tree, of which I told you ‘No’?”

The man then said to God, “The woman you put here with me”

“She gave me fruit, of which I ate; the fruit from the tree”

“What is this that you have done?” the Lord God asked man’s mate

To which the woman said, “The snake deceived me, and I ate.”

So the Lord God said unto the snake, “Because of what you’ve done”

“You’re cursed above all livestock, all wild beasts under the sun”

“You’ll crawl upon your belly, and eat dust for all your life”

“Between you and the woman I’ll put enmity and strife”

“Her offspring from now on will crush your head, you’ll strike his heel.”

And to the woman, God said, “It is anguish that you’ll feel.”

“When bearing child; then you’ll give birth, in painful labour too”

“You will wish for children, but your husband will rule over you.”

Then to Adam he said, “Since you thought your wife so wise

“And ate the fruit she gave you from the tree, about which I advised

“You shan’t eat of it.” then cursed is the ground because of you

For all your days, through anguished toil, you will eat its food

Weeds like thorns and thistles, this is what the ground will yield

And for your food, you will eat the plants of the field

By sweat of brow you’ll eat your food, ‘til you return to earth

You are dust, so to dust you’ll return; for from it you were birthed

Since Adam’s wife would be the mother of the living, he called her Eve

The Lord God fashioned garments of skin, and clothing they received

The Lord God said, “Like one of us, has now become mankind”

“And so he must not be allowed to reach out his hand and find”

“The tree of life, which if he ate, would give them eternal lifespan”

So the Lord God banished him from the garden, to work the ground; the source of man

After He drove the man out of the garden, at its eastern side placed He

Cherubim, and a flaming sword flashing, back and forth to guard the way to life’s tree

A relationship unearned.

I’ve been thinking lately about worth.  In particular, self-worth.  What is it?  Where do we get it from?

What is it that enables us to feel okay about ourselves?  I have a hunch that for most of us, there is a schedule of certain things we need to achieve and/or maintain in our lives in order to lock in that elusive but powerful ‘drug’ known as self-esteem.

I’m thinking specifically of Christians.  Following Jesus is a high calling – one which is supposed to take centre stage in our lives at the expense of all other pursuits.  The Apostle Paul tells the church at Philippi that there is nothing else in his life that compares to the “surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus [my] Lord…”. (Phi 3:8)  In fact, everything else in his life was considered a loss.

But I think we too often look at this and think, “Right – how do I DO that?  What things do I need to DO in order to make that my reality?”  In modern ‘Christianese’, there are definite things we need to do, aren’t there?

For example, don’t even flatter yourself to think you can be much good as a Christian without a daily quiet-time of at least 45 minutes.  And even if you do, there’s the tithing to think about… 10% of your GROSS income is absolute bare minimum.  Then of course there’s service in the church. 2 ministries at an average of 2 hours each per week will get you a pass, but the A+ grades go to those who spread themselves thin across at least 5 areas of church life, keeping you out 5 nights per week until at least 10pm.

If you can’t tick the boxes, don’t even begin to think Jesus is the slightest bit interested in you.

(At this point, I’m hoping my sarcasm above is clear!)

Even if we rightly believe that our salvation is faith-based, and not dependent on our ability to earn it, we still fall into the trap of thinking that our relationship with Jesus can be enhanced by good deeds.  “If I can be better, He’ll love me more.”  Or even, sadly, “If I’m not better, He won’t love me at all.”

A few months back, Trevor from Te Kauwhata won lotto to the tune of $26m.  The mind boggles at that kind of money and the incredible (worldly) freedom it affords.  But imagine for a moment that upon winning the money and seeing it deposited into his account, Trevor immediately moved to Wellington, donned his suit and tie, and reported for work at the Lotteries Commission.  Trevor probably paid around $15 for his ticket, and that is all he needed to pay.  But somehow he feels the need to work in order to earn the $26m.

Similarly, we have been given more riches than we can count.  The very small cost we pay is acceptance, and obedience – but in comparison to the immeasurable wealth given to us, this is pittance.  And yet, what do we do?  We immediately report for duty, determined to earn it.  Don’t we?

Both our relationship with Jesus, and our eternal life with Him, through the Spirit, in communion with the Father, are free gifts.  Not only are we not required to earn them, it would be impossible for us to do so!  Nothing we could ever say or do would be sufficient… and that’s the way it is supposed to be.

Sadly, when we attempt to work our way into Jesus’ good graces, we essentially belittle God’s generosity.  “Sorry God, I just don’t believe You’re really that good.”  Well He is.  The incredible truth is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  In our state of complete worthlessness, God took action to redeem us and declare us righteous.

Only the righteous can enter into eternal life and relationship with Jesus – and when we accept His free gift of grace, righteousness is bestowed upon us.  Free.

“Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.  However to the man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited to him as righteousness.”  (Rom 4:4-5)

A daily quiet-time is immensely helpful in getting to know Jesus – the self-revelation of our Father.

Tithing is an important part of contributing to God’s work in our communities.

Serving the church is a privilege – we work alongside God Himself.

Whatever we DO ought to flow from who we ARE.  We expend ourselves for God’s kingdom out of gratitude.

But none of this constitutes work for wages.  We work not to earn God’s favour, but BECAUSE it was and is freely given.

So please stop beating yourself up for your failure to work hard enough.  You can’t do enough… and you won’t ever do enough.  And that is not only okay, it’s what was intended from the start.  Instead, revel in God’s grace and mercy – two concepts that come alive in a personal relationship that is again freely offered in Jesus.

Phew.  That’s a relief, isn’t it!?

The Year in Review

2011 draws to a close shortly.  My good mate Martin has inspired me to write a reflective ‘Year in Review’ – by his own version of the same.  So, here are my reflections on 2011:

Moment of the Year:

Lunch at Fraser Gallop Estate – Margaret River, Western Australia.  Local produce and deli-goods such as octopus, duck liver paté, Margaret River vintage cheddar, and the best terrine this side of the black stump.  But none of this would have been quite so magnificent without the truly outstanding and internationally award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot we sipped between mouthfuls!

Woman of the Year:

Hands-down, no hesitation… Suzanna.  This has been a challenging year for me and I am certain I’ve not been the easiest person to live with as I’ve thrown myself headlong into ministry training and practice.  Suzanna deserves this ‘gong’ for remaining with me, and not losing her mind in the process.

Man of the Year:

This is a tough one.  Two men have enormous influence in my life, my father Brian, and my best mate Martin.  But Martin takes the ‘gong’ this year on account of two events – his deliriously happy wedding to the lovely Ingrid in March, and the long weekend the three of us enjoyed in the breath-taking Mackenzie Country in early September.  He continues to impress me as a man after God’s own heart, and my ‘brother from another mother’!

Film of the Year:

Another tricky one – so I have two categories.  Christian film = Courageous.  Sherwood Baptist, GA astounds me with their movie-making giftedness!  A must-see for all fathers in particular!  Non-Christian film = Midnight in Paris.  Best role I’ve seen Owen Wilson in since ‘Marley & Me’, and remarkable for its lack of sex, foul-language, and violence.  A rich tale that left both Suzanna and I smiling contentedly all the way home.

Album of the Year:

Adele – ’21’.  Melodic, anthemic, haunting, and funky… the only downside being that her unique, soulful sound has severely damaged her vocal-chords.  Great album though!

Book of the Year:

‘Loving Monday’ by John Beckett.  John is the CEO of a world-leading business and in this book, he shares how his faith in God informs every aspect of his work.  A brilliant look at how Godly business is good business, and when done to the glory of God, allows one to genuinely love Mondays!

Sporting Moment of the Year:

As much as I’m relieved that the All Blacks won the RWC, my favourite sporting moment of 2011 must be Doug Bracewell ‘rattling the castle’ of Australian test bunny, Nathan Lyon to seal an unlikely come-from-behind victory over our arch-rivals – the first test win on Australian soil for 26 years!

Drink of the Year:

Fraser Gallop Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 – winner International Bordeaux blend over 10 pounds, and deservedly so!

Location of the Year:

You’ll travel a long way to find a more picturesque location than sitting on a warm, sun-baked rock on the edge of the the ‘Iceberg Lake’ at the base of Fox Glacier.  The day was postcard-perfect; Aoraki Mt. Cook rising majestically into the cloudless sky, and Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo irredescent and glistening in the early-Spring sunshine.  My soul sang all of that day!

Purchase of the Year:

One word… Android.  Samsung Galaxy S5830 ‘Ace’ – struggling to recall how I organised my life before I had this ingenious device!

Company of the Year:

Hoyts Cinema Botany Downs – in the space of 30 minutes they went from not knowing anything about the film ‘Courageous’ to deciding to screen it twice a day for two weeks.  Just as well I called, eh!?  Good on you, Hoyts Botany!!

Getting Connected.

As part of my Pastoral Leadership training at Carey Baptist College, I recently attended a Spiritual Retreat for just over 2 days.

Apart from the opportunity to spend some time with fellow Pastoral Leadership students in uninterrupted fellowship for a few days, the retreat gave me an opportunity to stop, set aside all cares, concerns, and work, and tune into the Spirit for a concentrated period of time.

For so many years now, I’ve had a sense that my relationship with God has tended to be quite dry and cerebral.  At various times during my studies at Carey, I’ve seen glimpses of improvement – little flashes of ‘what could be’.  But overall, the major shift has yet to take place.

By nature, I’m an achiever.  I feel immense pressure (self-inflicted) to perform in everything I do.  I don’t enjoy being mediocre and strive to ensure this doesn’t happen.  However, in some areas of my life, this is quite damaging.  A combination of ‘events’ in recent weeks have shown me that one such area is my relationship with God.

In week 6 of my Spiritual Leadership class, I read a chapter from Timothy Geoffrion’s book, “The Spirit-Led Leader”, entitled ‘Connecting to God’.  The first sentence reads, “The spiritual life is above all about the quality of our connection to God.”[1]  Tell me something I don’t know.  This felt like a lead weight on my shoulders… the quality of my connection to God hasn’t been much to write home about.

For years I have strived to improve my relationship with God, and reading this chapter began a transformation for me.  Geoffrion says, “…we need to recognise that God is taking the initiative to help us develop a more vital spiritual life.”[2]  Stop press!!  That line was like a drink of cold water on a baking hot day.

More nuggets of gold from Geoffrion included[3]:

“A prime reason we get stuck spiritually is that we mistakenly think our spiritual growth depends primarily on us.”

“God is actually taking the initiative to help us grow closer to Him.”

“Taking responsibility for our spiritual growth does not mean trying harder on our own.  It means giving our conscious attention to what God is doing and wants to do in our life, and then responding accordingly.”

Reading this had something of an epiphany-effect on me.  But it was just the beginning.

I believe God gave me two pictures while on spiritual retreat.

  1.  The Water Skier

We enjoyed over 2 hours of complete silence and solitude on Monday morning, in which we were invited to read, walk, sleep, or whatever silent activity we liked.  I chose to sit on one of the huge, comfy couches and read Richard Foster’s chapter on ‘Solitude’.  Having finished this, I gazed out the window for more than an hour, across the Hauraki Gulf towards Rangitoto Island.  It was then that God gave me my first picture.

As I looked at Rangitoto, I sensed God saying that the island represented my own concept of my relationship with Him – a far off place to get to.  I have been treating my relationship with God as a goal, something to be achieved and attained.

As I sat thinking about this, I had a picture of myself on a water ski, skipping along the top of the water, frantically trying to get to the island.  And I sensed God saying, “You’re so bent on ‘getting to Me’ that you’re missing the richness and joy I have planned for you.”

As He said this, I recalled a holiday Suzanna and I took to Fiji in 2008.  One day I went snorkelling out off the coast of Mana Island and was astonished at the incredible life under the water – fish of every colour, size and shape.  It was such a beautiful experience then, and I feel God brought it back to me in the context of what He wanted to say to me at the retreat.

“You’re skimming along the top of the water, trying to get to the island.  All this time, underneath you, there is a vibrant beauty that I’ve designed for you to enjoy, and you’re missing it.  Every now and then, as one or two of the fish swim close to the surface, you get a glimpse, but almost immediately, you look back up and focus on the ‘goal’.

I long for you to get off your water ski and dive deep into the water.  Let ME take care of your destination – I know the way and I’ll make sure you get there.  But you have to trust Me with that.  In the meantime, I want you to stop striving, slow down, and just enjoy Me.”

Phew!  Such an incredible experience to hear from God like that.  And throughout the retreat, I had the words of John Piper ringing in my ears, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

Enjoy God.  Slow down.  Dive deep.  For me, the relief is difficult to describe.  And it has flowed over into the way I’m approaching life in general – assignments particularly!

  1. The Safe

During afternoon prayers later on Monday, I was sitting in silence with my eyes closed.  I ‘saw’ a small steel safe, the walls of which were several inches thick, and it had 3-4 combination dials on the door.  I was sitting at this safe, frantically twirling the dials and trying to work out the combinations.  It became clear that God was in the safe and I was in a state of panic, trying to get to him… trying every possible combination I could think of.

As I sat with this picture, it changed.  Suddenly it was me inside the safe, and God sitting with His hands poised at each dial.  I felt He was saying, “When you are prepared to stop forcing this, I will bring you to Me – I know the combinations.  But you need to trust Me with this.”

In practical terms, this experience has altered the way I approach my relationship with God – as you’d expect it would!  Instead of feeling that I need to maintain a regimented daily ‘block of time’, as important as this can be, I’m instead trying to tune into God throughout the day – listening to what He is saying through the everyday happenings of my life, and responding continually to Him.

“When we read the Bible or enjoy a delightful conversation with a friend, and when our thoughts turn to God in praise, remorse, a desire to know more, or intercession for someone, we are responding to God’s Spirit gently, or not so gently, calling to us to turn our hearts and minds heavenward.”[4]

In reality, I am permanently connected to God because of what Jesus has done and nothing in heaven or earth will ever separate me.  What I have been missing is the close, intimate experience of that connection.  All because I was trying to earn and achieve something that already is, and always will be mine.

[1] Timothy Geoffrion The Spirit-Led Leader: Nine Leadership Principles and Soul Practices (Vancouver: The Alban Institute, 2005) 41

[2] Ibid., 43

[3] Ibid., 44

[4] Ibid., 45 (Geoffrion quotes Episcopal priest and author Martin Smith)

The Christmas Crisis

Below is an article I wrote just prior to Christmas 2006.  4 years on, I’m just as sad…

The Calypso Carol hints at the enormous significance of the day we celebrate as Christ’s birthday.  Yet as I heard it on a popular, mainstream radio station this morning, I saw no-one stopping to consider what those words mean, no-one pausing in gratitude and certainly no-one smiling and singing along.

There are 17 days now until Christmas Day.  I’m trying my best to be numb to the materialism, hype and manic busy-ness of Christmas this year, trying instead to consider deeply and often, the immense implications of a King born to us, by His virgin mother and eternal Father.

You can stand back and observe what happens to people at Christmas – and it is both fascinating and quite sad.

Firstly, the wallets, cheque-books and credit-cards come out.  Spending in NZ goes through the proverbial roof throughout December in preparation of mass gift-exchanging and indulgent overeating/drinking to take place on Dec 25.  People crowd into shopping malls and supermarkets, elbowing their way through crowds as they amass their merchandise haul.  Most will have faces set in stone, teeth gritted and jaws set as they determinedly strive to get this madness over with as quickly as possible.

There is incredible pressure on families at Christmas time.  I know, it is nothing new, but the more I think about it, the more I am saddened by it.  Finance companies do a roaring trade at Christmas as cash-strapped families take out loans to pay for Christmas gifts and season fare.

Their repayments often take them through until the following Christmas and sometimes beyond, until they end up operating on a revolving line of credit – just for Christmas.

Inevitably, some families crack under the pressure , Woman’s Refuge shelters fill up, couples separate and  divorce, and the children who unwittingly become embroiled in all of this, learn that along with Christmas stockings and brightly wrapped boxes under the tree, come harsh words, arguments, violence and tension.

All, in the name of Christmas.

On the radio the other day, the DJ implored his listeners to remember what Christmas was really all about , the big guy in the red suit, delivering cheer and goodwill.

Since red suits don’t seem to be the logical apparel of a nomadic Prophet, I am forced to believe this DJ was referring to Santa Claus.  Oh the pity of it.

I try not to be so precious and jealous with Christian festivals and holidays, but it really brasses me off that the greater population can take Christmas, the celebration of hope born to mankind, and turn it into a frenzied mish-mash of busy-ness, debt, tension, drunkenness, consumerism, and materialism.

Somehow we’ve allowed ourselves to put aside the most precious Christmas gift ever given, the gift of eternal hope and extravagant love.

Like a young child sitting under the Christmas tree, we’ve unwrapped the Christ-child and immediately cast Him aside, choosing instead to play with brightly-coloured wrapping paper that will add to tomorrow’s trash.

It feels great to give quality gifts.  I can imagine the smile on God’s face as He prepared His Son for us, knowing how good indeed, this gift would be.

I also imagine that smile turn into desperate sadness as He then watches us completely miss the point and turn Christmas into the very thing it was NOT designed to be.

“And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day.”

That is the real gift.  Hope eternal, life everlasting.  I hope and pray you will all take time out to dwell on this, and experience true joy and richest blessings – to all of you and yours’, I wish a Christ-filled Christmas!

Garden – by Need to Breathe

I love the words to this song.  The chorus in particular is such an anthem for me, as a songwriter and disciple.

Won’t you take this cup from me
Cause fear has stolen all my sleep
If tomorrow means my death
I pray you’ll save their souls with it

Let the songs i sing
Bring joy to you
Let the words i say profess my love
Let the notes i choose
Be your favorite tune
Father let my heart be after you

In this hour of doubt i see
But who i am is not just me
So give me strength to die myself
So love can live to tell the tale

Let the songs i sing
Bring joy to you
Let the words i say profess my love
Let the notes i choose
Be your favorite tune
Father let my heart be after you

Father let my heart be…
For you

Let the songs i sing
Bring joy to you
Let the words i say profess my love
Let the notes i choose
Be your favorite tune
Father let my heart be after you

Need to Breathe have a great website, and I totally recommend stopping by.  All of their songs are available to listen to in full and lyrics posted too!

A Real Character

I sat in a comfortable, though very worn vinyl tub chair in the domestic terminal of Wellington Airport yesterday, munching on a good braeburn apple, and staring out the window at wind, rain, and general aviation activity.

About 4 metres away sat another traveller, who I would later find out was headed, like me, for Auckland on Pacific Blue flight DJ3003.  He was slouched lazily in his identical tub chair, chatting away to a young mother who was probably wondering how she and her 6-7 year old son could plot their escape.  It wasn’t that he was unpleasant or offensive, he was just a bit… um… unusual.

Picture if you will a man of around 30, with long dark-brown hair, a full woodchoppers beard, and a leather Australian musterers hat.  Not too unusual so far?  Right, so glance down and take in his black shirt with full blue and green tartan shawl, attached at the right lapel with a large brass pin/brooch.  The shawl is of course tucked into the back of a flowing tartan kilt, complete with the large leather sporran hanging in front.  A little further down, past the very hairy knees, are a pair of what look to be genuine Scottish Highland socks pulled as high as they will go.

Okay, so some patriotic Scots are known to wear the full kit from time to time.  I get that.  Only, they don’t usually wear huge black boots with red and orange flames painted down either side, and enormous silver buckles.  They looked like a couple of pre-60’s roadsters from Grease, racing down the empty dyke.

But more interesting to me was what he was saying to this unsuspecting young woman and her son.  Clearly an eccentric chap, he was firing questions and pressing for unwilling answers.  To which he would almost invariably reply, “No, it’s actually…”.  One such question made me start to think, to the extent that I was almost tempted to go and join the discussion.  He asked, “What is the opposite of love?”

Thinking this was an easy one, the lady replied, ‘hate’.  And he predictably replied, “No, it’s actually… fear.”  I missed what his justification for that was, as I was suddenly lost in thought.  What IS the opposite of love?  I don’t necessarily agree that the answer is ‘hate’, or ‘fear’.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I think the answer is ‘neglect’.

I think of love as a verb, ‘to love’.  Therefore, from my perspective anyway, the opposite is inaction… and where love is concerned, this amounts to neglect.  Jesus gives love as the subject of the 2 greatest commandments – love God, with all your heart, mind, and strength.  Then love your neighbour, as yourself.  If we fail to love God, we neglect Him.  If we fail to love His people, our neighbours, then we neglect them.  Food for thought…

What will you say?

Have you ever given any thought to what you might say when you finally come face to face with God? At our recent Alpha weekend, we discussed what our response would be if God asked us, “Why should I let you into heaven?”. The ‘model’ answer to that is of course, “Because of what Your Son Jesus did for me on the cross.”. That’s great – I like it. But for me personally, I’d like to be able to say more than that.

James muddies the water a little when he says in chapter 2 verses 18 and 19:

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” (NIV)

Many have been a bit confused by this. On the one hand, we are taught that grace alone saves us, and that nothing we can do will make our salvation any more or less assured. Then on the other hand, you have James here who preaches of his good deeds being the indicator of his faith.

I don’t actually find this very hard to grasp at all. There is a very natural response to grace that flows from gratitude – setting our minds, hands, and feet to work for His kingdom, BECAUSE of the faith we have from His death and resurrection.

The term ‘faith without deeds is dead’ doesn’t contradict our inability to earn our salvation through works. More, this is a statement that says, “If I truly grasp the full measure of what God has done for me through Jesus, then I will be unable to keep myself from the good deeds of serving Him. If I have faith, but not deeds, then I misunderstand salvation.”

In light of this, I return to my original question. When God asks why I should be allowed into heaven, I can’t think of a better response, than that of David:

“I desired to do Your will O my god; Your law was within my heart. I proclaimed Your righteousness in the great assembly; I did not seal my lips, as You know, O Lord. I did not hide Your righteousness in my heart; I spoke of Your faithfulness and salvation. I did not conceal Your love and Your truth from the great assembly.” (Adapted from Psalm 40: 8-10 {NIV})

Next year I’m embarking on an incredible new journey, answering God’s call on my life to serve Him in ministry. Oh that I will be able to stand before Him one day, and quote the above scripture with complete integrity, humility, and joy!

What do you want to be able to say?