The Greatest Gift

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Ephesians 5:15-17 NKJV


It becomes clearer as time passes, and you get older. Probably the result of hard lessons learned in our earlier, younger, and busier life. When you are older, and have the luxury of being able to look back, things can become very clear. One of the definitions of ‘redeem’ is to ‘compensate for faults’, and we know a lot about that. How many times have we messed up, and we need to put it right, but we can’t because it is impossible to wind the clock back and relive the moment? That can bring us to our knees, if not literally, at least in our heart. Some of the saddest two words we will ever hear or utter are, ‘if only’, and none of us are exempt from situations that took us there.

However, there is another definition of the word redeem. It looks similar, but check closely. It also means, ‘to DO something that compensates for poor past performance or behaviour’. So in some cases we really do have the chance to give one of the greatest gifts we can. We can compensate. Not make the past poor actions go away, but at least make them a little less hurtful and harmful. Now that prospect should bring us to our knees literally, because this time is precious, and should not be squandered yet again. It should be grasped with both hands, because as the old song says, ‘you only hurt the ones you love’.

So, to your spouse or children or friends you have hurt by bad decisions, take a moment to redeem the lost time if you ever get the chance. No guarantees that it will make everything right, but if you do not, those bad decisions will always remain bad memories, and with no human redemption, but let’s not leave it on that note.

Isn’t it great that God treats us differently, because He always treats us in Grace. So although we deserve nothing from God, we get the greatest gift any father can give His child, and it doesn’t get any better than this verse in Romans 6:23: ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’. Yes, this really is the greatest gift!

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One Body

The Christian community divides itself up so easily by denomination. It’s a way of helping us define who we are, and to let others know and see those doctrines that separate us, even though we are one in Christ. I am in the happy situation of knowing people of other Christian denominations, and also happy to say we have never had an argument. Serious discussions yes, but no arguments.

 

However, there is a world of non church people out there who don’t care about denominational differences. Those inside ‘the Church’ are all seen as ‘those Christians’ and not always in a nice tone. It is true that we set ourselves up for a fall when we fail our Lord, and it doesn’t matter which church we may represent. Scotland is reeling at the allegations of inappropriate behaviour of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the highest Roman Catholic cleric, and one who has a vote to elect the next Pope. It doesn’t take long for the outside world to jump all over the story, and label all Christians as fake or hypocrites or both!

 

Sometimes I think we worry too much about the effects the ‘outside world’ has on the church, and we almost disregard what we do to ourselves. Every time a priest fails his calling, or a minister falls short and gets caught with his hand in the offering plate, or a pastor succumbs to temptation, and leaves his wife and family for the choir leader or organist, the church of Jesus Christ suffers much more. So much more! We are quite well prepared to know what the outside world thinks of the church, but we are never quite prepared for the evil we bring on ourselves when one of our own falls and takes precious souls with him. That includes us. You and me, so the warning is clear. To the man or woman in the street, it does not matter the denomination of the wounded or fallen soldier. The end result is that many souls are lost, who otherwise should have been able to turn to those people for counselling and consolation. We may never know the eternal consequences of these lost opportunities.


However, the Church is not doomed by our foolish actions, and we should also remind ourselves of Jesus’ words when He said in Matthew 16:18:“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Horse Meat and Sin

The scandal of finding unlabelled horse meat in beef products in the UK has now spread across the European Community. Everyone is amazed and stunned that this should ever happen, and every country is taking their own steps to test thousands of samples, and clear the supermarket shelves of contaminated products. Every effort is being made to tackle the issue head on, isn’t it? Or is it?

 

I have watched closely while nations are dealing with the effects of the contaminated merchandise. Untold food testing and stock checks do not address the root of the problem. So far, I have not seen any reports which show where the horse meat started its journey into the food chain process. Horse carcasses have to be processed somewhere, and sold on to that unknown place where it is added to the rest of the meat, and ultimately on to our table.

 

It’s a bit like sin to my mind. We are so very good at tackling the effects of the bad stuff in our society. We pass laws to try to deal with paedophiles, murderers, liars, bigamists, child abusers, extortioners, predators, stalkers, human traffickers, and the list could go on and on! However the legal systems of our so called advanced nations are not so good at seeing and tackling the source, or root cause of these issues that blight our communities. Our civilised thinking doesn’t allow for the concept of good and bad now. We are discouraged from labelling anything or anyone as bad or evil. Then since everything is relative to everything else, there can be no ultimate good, so who needs God’s Law?


We cannot find the source of the horse meat, and we don’t want to see the source of the evil in our society. There is a link to the analogy, but it falls apart when we realise that eating horse meat will do you no harm, but sin will. Ultimately and eternally. So this question remains. Is it worth tackling the effects while ignoring the source? I would suggest the source of the horse meat will be acknowledged and tackled, long before we acknowledge and deal with the problem of sin!  

What Else?

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15,16 NKJV


“Circumspectly” is a word not often used, but simply means “Heedful of circumstances and potential consequences”. Oh dear it’s that word ‘consequences’ again, and we don’t like to think of that, even as Christians.

The UK news is filled with the story of horsemeat finding its way into the food chain, when it is never listed on the label. I don’t think the problem is with horsemeat  itself, just that we are misled into thinking the main ingredient is beef. So the question I hear being asked is, “What else is going on in the food industry that we don’t know about”? Then there was the fiasco of our elected parliamentary officials fleecing the public purse by abusing their expenses. Then the same question is asked, “What else is going on”? When there is a scandal in any church involving priests, ministers, or pastors (yes it does happen) then the non church population asks the relevant question, “If they are doing THAT, what else are they doing”? What a good question, and one we should not try to sidestep. It comes down to a question of trust.

Back to the wisdom of the verse in Ephesians. Only a fool ignores the consequences of their actions, and that holds true for everyone whether inside or outside the church. The trouble comes when Christians fall prey to their own misdeeds, and the onlooking world is first to say… “What else”? Can you blame them? I can’t, because none of us are in the clear of doing things which are stupid, and where we don’t look ahead, but and it is a BIG BUT, we do untold damage when the children of the most High, behave in a way that brings disrepute to the Holy Name of God. I trust no one will be able to look at our lives and say, if they are doing THAT,“what else are they doing”?

But let me try to end on a positive note. Some consequences of our actions are good. When we do a good service, even in a small way, in Jesus name, we lay up for ourselves a treasure, although it comes with a warning. Paul said to Timothy, but it applies to us too:

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge. 1 Timothy 6:18-20 NIV

Practicing

When you visit the offices of your lawyer, dentist or doctor, you will see plaques and illuminated certificates proudly displayed, which draw attention to the fact that they are part of a ‘practice’. The name is a bit misleading, because it suggests your professionals operate on a ‘work in progress’ basis and that is not strictly true. They are fully qualified.

 

As a broadly related example, I was having lunch with some family recently, when a Christian man known to me, but unknown to the others, met us, and then started a conversation with the words: “I don’t know if you are practicing Christians” and then proceeded to tell his own church story. It wasn’t really helpful in that situation, and my family were gracious by not answering, but the incident did make me think about the way we ‘practice’ our faith.

 

I hope none of us are arrogant enough to think we have it made, or have arrived, as far as our faith life on earth is concerned, so then it is true that we are involved in a ‘practice’ of sorts as we live out our faith in a world which is at odds with our beliefs. We must be careful how we do that, as the Apostle Paul tells us to do it in fear and trembling. We are being watched, and people can be attracted to, or put off, by our words and lifestyle. What a responsibility we have!  


Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:12,13 NIV

Actors and Celebrities

The cameras seem to follow actors and celebrities, and as a nation we seem to hang onto their every word and action. They do a lot of harm by portraying characters and situations which are less than wholesome, and they get Oscars, Grammy awards, and Baftas for speaking words written for them to say. They don’t have an original thought in their ‘job’. The clue is in the name. Another well known UK soap actor, followed by millions, has been charged with serious counts of sexual abuse including child rape.

 

There are magazines dedicated to following the lives of the rich and famous, who seldom do anything to help anyone but themselves. They live in the rarified atmosphere of film studios and our TV screens, and we elevate them to positions of sainthood. Why?

 

Occasionally, an actor or celebrity will take a trip, usually between jobs, to be seen doing some ‘good’ to the underprivileged in a third world country, and we gasp in admiration and adoration at their efforts. Our hero(ine)s are actually good people. Maybe they are, but I can’t help but go back to the title of their day job. They are actors. How can I trust that they are really interested in the children they are photographed with? Or is it another case of a career needing a boost of good news before they go back to playing the seedy roles they are so good at? Where is the truth? Does it lie in their scripted words? Does it lie in their good works while being followed by a film crew among disadvantaged children? Is their concern real, or another opportunity to be seen by their adoring fans who can now relate to how kind they really are when they pay to see their next 18 rated movie?


A recent UK poll showed the least trusted professions as: bankers, politicians, journalists, and estate agents, but actors/celebrities do not figure in the top 10, so am I out of line when I ask you, “what is truth, and who do YOU trust to speak it”? If we cannot trust these professionals, who or what would YOU place your trust in? Just asking.

Gently

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. Romans 14:1 The Message


The longer we have been a Christian, the more likely we are to fall into the old trap of thinking, “they shouldn’t be doing that, or acting like they do, after all when I was their age (in birthdays or faith years) I didn’t behave that way!” (Oh really??) I will be the first to admit that I see things very differently now, than I did 40 years ago, and that’s inside and outside the confines of the church I have attended pretty much all of that time. The world has changed, the church has changed, but Jesus has not!

No one really likes change, and if you are reading this, you won’t either! It is a natural reaction to resist anything that looks different from anything we are used to. You can be 20 or 60, the same rule applies. I chose the ‘Message’ translation for the verse above, because it captures something of our nature when we see or hear young Christians behave in ways we don’t approve of. We also have to remember that ‘young in the faith’ can mean a man or woman of later years, and old habits die hard, or at least take a lot longer to die!

Paul’s advice is clear, and simple. Be gentle. Don’t criticise. Oh how we love to criticise, but we don’t call it that, we prefer to call it giving advice ‘in love’. If you are an older Christian, like me, let’s try to take care of the younger students of faith and lead them gently in the Way. We have a duty of care, and as we do, we are also reminded in Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.”