Committed or Practicing?

David Cameron reportedly says that he is a “committed Christian” without being a “practising Christian”. Is that possible? There is a temptation to go with the political slant on this statement, because it would seem he is trying to please all, but satisfying none. That aside, is it possible to be committed to Christianity, but not practice your faith?

 

My first thought suggested that there could be a group of people who ‘believe’ in the major parts of the Christian creed, but don’t want to get too close because they know it can be uncomfortable and show up many faults (and there are many!). So we could have a large majority who are ‘committed’ but don’t think they have to go to church to be a Christian, at least in name, or practice their commitment.

 

My second thought was that there could be some church goers, who are actually ‘committed’ to their creed by going to church regularly, but like the others who may not darken the church doors, don’t want to be affected by the message of the gospel, so are not practicing their overt statement of faith.

 

There are the obvious examples of some groups who use the title ‘committed Christian’ to add some weight to their own program. I immediately think of the homosexual community who promote same sex marriage, who often say they are ‘committed Christians’, but do not practice what it says in the only given and accepted Word of God. Oh dear, I have used the trigger words for my internet troll friend ‘Anon’ to respond to that one, but there are others who do the same thing. I have heard it said that you can’t be a Christian and vote ( ) … you can fill in the blank. Then there are those who use Christianity to support their views on Capital Punishment, for AND against. We cannot ignore nations who go to war ‘in the name of their God’ (Christianity being only one faith group here) to prevent wrongs committed in other lands.

 

So, to go back to David Cameron, it is entirely possible that he is using (yes deliberately using) a form of words to make it appear that he is taking policies in the name of Christian principles, when in fact all such people are described this way by Timothy:


…treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. 2 Tim 3:4,5 NIV

Know Your Place

Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10

 

You must remember the old favourite Sunday School song: “J-O-Y, J-O-Y surely that must mean, Jesus first Yourself last, Others in between”. I remember singing it with gusto when I was 10 years old, little realising the theology that I was enjoying. It seems as we get older, we tend to forget the lessons of our youth, or maybe we think we know better now that we are more mature, and wiser?

 

The lesson here is simple. As the newer gospel song says, “It’s all about You my Jesus”. We need to put Jesus first, but as well as that, we need to put others before ourselves too. If you are really quick, you will see that you and I need to be last in line. The great paradox is that Jesus said “The last shall be first” so there is a reward to come for our  humility in this life.


Unfortunately, I have come across some older, supposedly wiser churchy folks who still think that the Christian life revolves around them. My concern and question is easy: who is qualified to tell them, or should they be left alone? After all, there is always the real possibility that someone could come knocking at my/your door!

Secularism?

Definition: Secularism is the concept that government or other entities should exist separately from religion and/or religious beliefs.

 

For years I have misunderstood what secularism is. I had equated it to a Godless society, where faith is rejected, and yet by definition, nothing could be further from the truth, so in the past I may have spoken out against it in error. You may be like me, so let’s set the record straight. That is why I started with a definition, and not a verse of Scripture, which will come later.

 

The USA is a prime example of a secular nation, and we have no problem with this. The nation was born out of a deep desire of the Pilgrims to escape the worst excesses and abuses of the state sponsored religion of Great Britain. Yes, the UK is still a non secular nation because the Church of England has safe seats in the House of Lords for archbishops, and so has a direct influence on government. That is the link between the state and religion. When America was setting out its Declaration of Independence, it wanted and needed separation of church and state, to protect the religious organisations (mainly but not exclusively Christian) from those state abuses which drove them there in the first place. So far so good.

 

There are other examples of secular societies, like France and Iran. Now we hit different problems, because in France where the religious majority is Roman Catholic, the rights of Muslims have been sidelined, and in Iran which is an Islamic state, no other religion is tolerated. My own problem closer to home is that the ‘Secular Humanists’ in the West have hi-jacked the very meaning and intention of secularism, and for them, and therefore us, it means a Godless society. So we are back where we started. It doesn’t really matter what the word meant initially, it now does mean that Scotland and the UK have a job on their hands to prevent secularism. The best words of advice and wisdom come directly from Jesus, and it does us well to remember, and act on them…

 

And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Luke 20:25 NKJV

 

It’s A Date

We don’t often have the luxury of knowing in advance those things which are life changing. We get no warning of personal or family accident or emergency, or our ultimate or untimely demise. There are times when we wouldn’t want to know these dates anyway, and understandably so.

 

For those who live in Scotland, or who are Scottish by birth, or who might have a grannie who was Scottish (there seem to be many categories of inclusion) you will get the chance to vote for an independent country of Scotland. This is a historic date, and the First Minister Alex Salmond calls it ‘a date with destiny’.

 

Between now and the 18th of September 2014, there will be a lot of attention and media hours given to the debate of whether Scotland would be better off, or not, as an independent nation. This is the first time in over 300 years of being a part of the United Kingdom, we will get the chance to leave, and by a free and democratic process. By the time that date comes along, I predict Scots will be fed up seeing it on the TV, and hearing it on the radio.

 

If we will talk this important subject to death for the next 18 months, can I ask why we don’t give the same attention to the date we all have to face, or maybe we don’t want to think about the certainty of our own mortality. Too morbid? Too far away? Too young? Don’t care? There are many reasons for not facing up to the fact that we will all stand before a Just and Holy God in judgement, but we cannot ignore that more important ‘date with destiny’, and it doesn’t matter if you are Scottish. Everyone will stand before God, whether they believe in Him or not… now that’s a scary thought for the unbeliever, and dare I say some believers too.

 

My suggestion is clear. Think about, and be prepared, for a date you do not know. In God’s will, the 18 September 2014 will come and go, but the real date with our destiny will determine where we will spend eternity. That’s a very long time, so shouldn’t we be wise and face up to the certainty of that mysterious date?

 

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. Hebrews 9:27 KJV


Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. Mark 13:31-33 NIV

The Leaving Gift

A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. Proverbs 22:1 NIV

 

I was privileged to hear a short, stumbling message recently, by an older man, and from a soft heart. He had been a lay preacher most of his adult life, and very involved in his local churches when he lived in New Zealand and Scotland. He has a good family, with much loved children and grandchildren. He had worked in senior positions in industry, and has much he could be proud of, if we consider that in an earthly manner.

 

The challenge was simple, but profound: “How do you want to be remembered”? In his own faltering way, and between tearful pauses and stumbling words, he gave us the desire of his heart. He didn’t care that he was successful in work, nor even in the corridors of church power. He didn’t want to be remembered for his bad humour, or his way with words in the pulpit. He didn’t even want to be remembered as a man who loved his wife and family, or even that he would go out of his way to do anything for them. No, he wanted his name to be remembered as one who loved the Lord, and the influence that love had on others. Above all else, he wanted his name to be associated with Godly good!

 

He said something else that will stay with me. “I would rather be forgotten, than remembered for the wrong reasons”. That last quote is worth reading again, and committing to memory.

 

The little meeting ended, not with the usual buzz of fellowship chatter, but by a hush. Grown men of senior years, who had seen a lot of life and church, taking a deep breath to catch their composure before speaking in hushed and almost reverential tones. Every now and then in church life, we get a collective feel that the Spirit has spoken. It was undeniable, so I leave you with a simple question, which for some lies many years ahead. When you enter the Holy presence of God to gain the undeserved rewards of your faithfulness, and look over your shoulder to earth beneath (if you could) how would you want to be remembered? I think it is worth changing your ways, so that you get the right answer. After all, the only thing we leave our loved ones, is our reputation. Our name! Like you, I know some, both in and out of church life who care, and some who don’t care. Does it matter? Just asking…..


But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Philippians 3:7-9 NIV

Credibility

There has been a wee stooshie growing in the UK, as the main political parties tried to agree a very difficult piece of law. The Lord Leveson report on media freedom while protecting individuals who have previously suffered at the hands of the press, will not happen again. At least that is the aim.

 

A number of years ago, I heard a minister on the radio describe himself as a ‘wordsmith’ and the term has stuck with me ever since. The one thing we all have in common, whether politicians, doctors, pastors, or ordinary people like you and me, in their day to day dealings, is words. With our words we can build up or bring down our fellow human beings. We can encourage, or discourage. We can heal or bruise. Sometimes we use the wrong words by mistake, and when that happens we bite our tongues, say sorry, and usually the thoughtless words are forgiven and made right. Sometimes, however, our words are deliberately chosen to make a point, and no matter what other words are used to mitigate them, the marks are left behind.

 

I am reminded of the dad who was trying to teach his son to be careful with his words, and to make the point, he hammered some nails into a tree stump, and explained that with the love and forgiveness of God, the nails can be removed. To explain that point, he took a tool and removed the nails from the tree stump, showing how God can help us make things right. His son thought for a while and in innocent wisdom said, “but the marks are still there”.

 

A certain generation will remember the Bee Gees, and their song ‘Words’ which has this line: “It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away”. My point?Let us all be careful with our words, and not only that, but how our words are spoken. We are all required to be ‘wordsmiths’ to encourage those we meet. As the Psalmist said:


Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14 KJV

Paedophilia

The archbishop of Durban, South Africa, Wilfrid Fox Napier, has stated that there are some cases of child abuse which should not be punished, because it was not necessarily their fault, since they may have been abused as children themselves. In such cases it should be treated as a “psychological illness, and not a criminal condition”.

 

I have to be honest here, and say this statement does not sit well with me. That does not mean to say that I have no sympathy with anyone who has suffered at the evil hands of an abuser, at a young age. God is able to forgive, but to find a reason, or make an excuse for their behaviour, leaves me cold. Everything in life has a consequence. Every action we make or decision we take, has a consequence, either a good one, or a bad one. If we do this for paedophiles, then it can be argued that the same principle could apply to other heinous and grievous sins?

 

The Roman Catholic church has been rocked by many cases of paedophilia and other sexual abuses recently in the UK and the USA, and it struck me that it is no coincidence that the Cardinal spoke this way, and at this particular time. Is he leaving the door open to suggest that these sinning priests were not fully responsible for their actions against minors? Maybe the best people to ask are those who suffered at their hands many years before, and have lived with the scars ever since. The evil of this sin is not an exclusive possession of the Roman Catholic church. Other churches have suffered similar unwanted publicity, although I have to admit not on the same scale. Cardinal Napier was one of those who had been mentioned as a possibility for the new Pope. Let me put it this way, I am glad the new pontiff is Pope Francis I. The apostle Luke was a medical doctor in his day, and perhaps was familiar with the suffering caused by this kind of sin, so his words are all the more significant when he records:


Jesus said to his disciples: Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied round their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves. Luke 17:1-3 NIV