This morning I saw a photo come up on my news feed – in the picture was a punk-looking guy holding a sign that said, You don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person.
The first thought that came to mind was simple: Christianity isn’t about being good, and I said that.
Then I started thinking about it even more.
Two verses came to mind.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ~ Romans 3:23
There is none righteous, no, not one. ~ Romans 3:10
There’s a really incorrect perception around the world – both in and out of the Church – that Christianity is defined by the actions of Christians. It’s thanks to this perception that we see God and the Church being blamed for the sinful, wrong and mistaken actions and beliefs that are perpetuated by a handful of people labelling themselves as Christians.
I’d like to step away from Christianity a moment for a timely example: This weekend the world has been shocked by a number of violent protests from Muslims after the launch of an anti-Islamic video. The fact is that these extremists who got violent are not a wide representation of the Islamic community any more than Osama bin Laden spoke for the whole of Islam when he engaged in terrorist activities.
It’s hypocritical, judgmental and (dare I use this word) discriminatory to tar all Muslims with the same brush, and it’s the same story for Christians.
You can’t define a religion by the actions of a few extreme-minded individuals.
Christianity is not defined by the actions of Christians. Even if a line could be drawn through the actions of every single Christian to have ever lived, the definition of Christianity is not what we do, but what Christ has done.
See, around 2000 years ago, God sent his son Jesus Christ to earth. The reason he did this is because we, as humans, are impure and sinful. We are not good, and therefore we cannot enter into the presence of God who is good; who is love; who is pure. Sin is like a shadow – a shadow can never be found in light, simply because, by its definition it is an absence of light. In the same way, we cannot enter God’s presence of holiness because we are not holy. We are impure. Sinful. Not good.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 6:23
With sin comes death. If God is life, then death is the absence of God – or what is defined in scripture and mythology as Hell. What Hell ‘is’ is not a question that I ever want to know the answer to – nor do I want anyone to ever find out, because even if Hell is the party that so many people think that it’s going to be, I guarantee you something: the party’s still going to be better in heaven.
Jesus was the Son of God, he was God’s spirit in a human body. He experienced life as we experience it: Temptation, pain, suffering, joy, laughter, loss, friendship and so on. He lived a human life, but in that life he did not sin, his spirit – the spirit of God was stronger than the human temptations that we go through day after day after day. He remained pure, even in the physical existence that we deal with and because of his purity, he did not earn the wages of sin – death. In spite of this, Jesus went willingly into death.
“Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” ~ Luke 23:42
Jesus’ choice to lay his life down was not an easy one, in fact he pleaded with God not to send him through the experience that was death. Yet ultimately his love was greater than his fear.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear. ~ 1 John 4:18
This is the definition of Christianity, that Jesus, the Son of God gave his own life as a repayment for the death that we as impure and sinful humans earned. I am no better than any person who does not believe, and nor is anyone else.
You say that you don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person? I say that you can’t be a good person. We can redefine what good is all we want, but ultimately, as I said above, there’s no one good, no one righteous, no one pure – none except God.
Christianity has nothing to do with being good, it has nothing to do with being right and it has nothing to do with being superior to anyone else. Christianity has everything to do with love – that God loved us, and that he wants to keep loving us.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. ~ John 3:16-17
The other day I posted a link on my Facebook to a news story about a New Zealand university Christian group who’d come up with an interesting ‘marketing’ tactic this Easter. Throw eggs at Christians!
The catch? You have to let them share the gospel with you.
I posted this through, and a friend commented to ask what coloured eggs had to do with Easter. I replied nothing, but nor did they have anything to do with the story.
But it got me wondering about something. In my past life, I used to be quite contentious about Easter, Christmas and some other minor Christian calendar events.
Why? Because of their history.
For me, at a stage in my life following paganism as a spiritual belief, there was something offensive to me about these Christians making a festival all about their God and their Jesus when that wasn’t what it was all about in the first place. The perspective was one of these Christians barging into countries who didn’t want them and taking over the place, turning the holidays into Christian holidays, and manipulating the people into giving up their own, older religious beliefs for this new one.
A little history lesson: Easter, like Christianity, does potentially have some origins based in the ancient pagan religions. There is some evidence of a Germanic goddess, Eostre (or Ostara) as being a goddess over spring in ancient times, however the first mention of her does state that the festival was already extinct, and there are some scholars today who argue that she may have been invented by Bede (the scholar who first wrote about her).
I’m not saying one way or the other, personally, because to me it doesn’t matter – and I’ll get to that.
What I want to pause and think about, really, is the whole thing about Christianisation of pagan festivals. As I stated above, once upon a time I took this as an offense, as a sort of espionage tactic by the Christians to make it easier to impose their religion on the people of another one.
I think, while it might be possible, it’s certainly less feasible than the other angle.
See, even whilst not walking with God, I still celebrated Easter and Christmas. I went looking for reasons to justify continuing to celebrate them given a lack of belief in Christianity, but I still celebrated them all the same.
Now imagine, say, 1500 years ago, whole villages and towns were coming to Christ. You become Christian in January, and suddenly April rolls around – here’s the Spring festival that you’ve been celebrating your whole life, but suddenly the gods you were worshiping aren’t the same anymore. What do you do?
You party anyway, and you celebrate with God.
If you travel around the world and stop in at Christian meetings throughout the nations, you’ll see differences in the way they worship depending on culture. The advantage of Christianity, and that we celebrate a personal relationship with God, is that there aren’t specific rituals that say you must worship in X manner. The way different cultures worship is an example of the freedom that we have in Christ to worship God and to have our relationship with Him in a manner that fits with us.
So when it comes to Easter, Christmas or anything else, then regardless of their origins, we can celebrate also. It’s not about ‘stealing’ the celebrations from the pagans; I genuinely don’t think that’s what happened. I would suggest that it was simply a cultural adaptation – they had a party last year, the year before, and every year before that too, so why not have a party this year with God?
And as for Easter Eggs?
I was surprised, actually, because this one does actually seem to have stemmed from a Christian tradition. Observation of Lent (I’m not even going there – I’ll eat steak when I like, thank you) had people not eating red meat or dairy, and eggs were included in this. So before refrigerators, they had all these chickens laying eggs, but nothing to do with them.
How rude of the chickens not to observe Lent, I say.
But hey, if you have a whole heap of eggs that you can’t eat, why not do something with them? Paint them up, colour them in and give them to one another. Still better than just throwing them away, right?
Today, we live in an exceptionally PC (Politically Correct) society. A society where PC has actually gone too far – these days, many people are afraid of saying anything for fear of upsetting or offending one person. It’s a world where everyone is ‘free’ to do, be, say or think what they please – as long as you don’t infringe upon anyone else in the process.
And this is perhaps one of the most difficult battles facing Christianity today. We know the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; we know the God above all gods – but in this PC society, we’re not allowed to say that.
When I was in Perth, I stayed at a Backpackers’ Hostel – it gave me this great juxtaposition between my days and nights while I was there. Most of my days were spent on the YWAM base, talking to Christian friends, having a wonderful time. Then at night, I’d go back to the hostel where alcohol was flowing, cigarettes and marijuana were being passed around and offered to whoever might want some, it was almost a total opposite of what I’d been experiencing during the days.
But when I first got there, I ended up talking to this English guy about God, and my relationship with Him. The difficult thing with evangelising to him was, though, that he agreed with pretty much everything I had to say! He was able to just nod and smile, and basically tell me that it was great that I believe in God; and he believes in a higher power too, and that really, it’s all about loving people and having faith and being happy.
Sure, but it’s more than that, too! God – our God – is love! Everything else is just a shadow of that; it’s a piece of the picture, but it’s not the whole picture. Mankind was created in God’s image, so yes, we know how to love – but we know how to love in our own selves, the same way someone in a tropical area knows about snow from reading a book. It’s an image, but it’s not the real thing – the only way you can really know what snow is like, is to actually go there and experience it through all five senses.
In our society, though, it’s okay just to look at the pictures. You can’t tell someone that no, they don’t know what snow is just by looking at a picture, they haven’t experienced it – because if they think they know all about it from the book, then that’s enough for them.
This is a world where people are encouraged to think freely, and to do whatever they want that will make them happy. Political Correctness to the extreme of making everything correct. Love who you want, love how you want. Be who you want, where you want, when you want. Worship who or whatever you want, and no one can tell you any different, because all that matters is what’s true to you.
Well, here’s one fact: Just because something’s ‘true’ in your mind doesn’t make it truth. I can say that I don’t believe gravity exists, but just because I say it, I’m not going to float away into space because gravity suddenly ceases to exist in my reality. It’s still there, whether I deny it or not.
The same goes for God, too. This chapter gives very stern warnings against listening to people who would encourage the Israelites to start worshiping other gods. Even if their own brother, son, daughter, wife or closest friend was to encourage them to stray from the truth of God, do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. ~ Deuteronomy 13:8
When I reconnected to God last year, he said something to me not long after. He told me that there really hadn’t been much to worry about during my time away from him; because I’d been searching for the truth, and ultimately, that search was only going to take me to one destination: God.
So to be Politically Incorrect: I have a relationship with the one true God; and he wants to have a relationship with you, too. Many people who read this will already know him, but if you don’t then might I just say – look around for him. Really look, because if you look with an open heart, you will find that one truth, too.
There’s a song that I have the most vague recollection of from Sunday School when I was a child. It was a song about loving people, about sharing the gospel through loving others.
One part of the lyrics were: How will they know, unless we show them? Or at least something like that. I’ve tried Google searching this one line I remember but can’t actually find the song that I’m thinking of – at least I don’t think I can.
Okay, I did find it! The line I was actually thinking of what “How will the people know, unless we show them.” After calling my sister, who I vaguely remembered performing this song while we were children in Sunday School, we recalled that it was the old Maranatha song called Heart to Change the World! Remember Psalty the Singing Songbook?
Now, there was a point to all of that, and it does relate back to this chapter. I was really struck, when reading this chapter, by the first seven or eight verses; where Moses stresses to the people of Israel that it was not their children who witnessed the great things that God did to provide for them in the desert. It was not their children who witnessed the plagues of Egypt.
When I read it, I missed the context. I was reading it wondering why the reference to the children. My thought was that he should have been saying that it wasn’t their fathers – in other words, it was them who witnessed all these things.
Then I read it again and realised I was half right. Yes, the point is that it was them who bore witness to these miracles and great things; but the reason for pointing it out was different. The thing that Moses is pointing out, is that their children did not see these things, so therefore they do not have the same understanding as the Israelites who were standing there at the time, listening to him.
Moses was placing the responsibility on the Israelites for their children’s futures, and their children’s spiritual growth. He was saying to them, “Look, you’ve seen all this happen, you know what the truth is. They don’t, so it’s up to you to ensure that they know God the way you do.”
He gave the Israelites a mandate, to maintain their relationship with God as a people into the next generation, and the generations to come after that also.
And this is a mandate that is on our lives, too, as those who know God.
The people of Israel were being told to teach their children on how to love God, and why to love God too. The thing is, though, as this chapter continues, Moses doesn’t tell them just to teach with words. The first thing he says after pointing out that they – not their children – were the ones who saw all of this happen, is to tell them what to do.
Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. ~ Deuteronomy 11:8
Further down, in verse 19, yes, Moses adds to teach them to your children, but the first thing he says is to observe the commands, or follow them.
It’s an age old thing in creative arts, whether it be writing, film making, dance or painting – show, don’t tell. To really get a message through to someone, it’s going to be a lot clearer if you show it. The first thing told to the Israelites, when it came to showing their children how and why to love God; was simple – follow his commands. Do what he says.
I think a lot of Christians get caught up in the telling, these days, but not in the showing. I think many consider that it’s easier to actually stand on a stage and tell two thousand people that God loves them, than it is to give a hug to a person who is down and out.
The song that my sister and I tried to remember didn’t say, “How will the people know unless we tell them?” It said show. How, exactly, will they know unless we show them?
You know, Deuteronomy is actually a really great book to familiarise yourself with as a Christian in the modern world. The analogies between the lessons being given to the Israelites throughout this book, and our walks today are so in synch that you could almost think that Moses was speaking directly to us.
Here we have some further reminding to the Israelites not to let the LORD stray from their thoughts; to remember him in everything that they do.
There’s a difference in the reasoning behind this one, though, compared to the earlier chapter of reminders to keep their eyes on God and not forget him. The promise is repeated, that they will live and increase, enter and possess the Promised Land; but as we travel through it this time it is about humbling themselves.
Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. ~ Deuteronomy 8:2
See, in chapter 6, it was all about loving God and about remembering his laws, his decrees, his commands. It was about making sure that they lived the life that God had called them to. This time, though, even though the message sounds the same on the surface – don’t forget God and you’ll “live long and prosper” there’s a difference to the part that’s required by the Israelites. It’s about humility and remembering their place in the scheme of things.
You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD yoru God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. ~ Deuteronomy 8:17-18
The same goes for us, too. We’re egocentric beings. As humans it’s actually natural to our physical bodies to claim the credit for our achievements. Our culture is one of achievements, in almost every situation that we look into.
I love cricket, in my opinion it’s the greatest game in the world, and we should see more of it. That’s just me, but in cricket, we look at achievements. Names that will forever be in the annals of cricket history include Bradman, Ponting, Tendulkar, McGrath, Warne, Muralitharan and so many more. Why? Because of their achievements. We look at great musicians and rate them by their achievements.
Achievements are great, of course. We only achieve if we’re driven by a goal, and if we’re motivated. Achieving something is a success. However what is important is remembering where the talent comes from.
In our lives there are going to be successes, in our walk with God there are going to be many successes because He walks with us, and gives us the strength and authority to do all things. What we need to remember in those moments of success, though, is where the glory should be going. It’s very easy to forget God and say, like Moses warns agains, something like, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” What we need to remember is that it is not in our strength, and it is definitely not for our glory.
Otherwise, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God. ~ Deuteronomy 7:14
It’s Christmas Day!
In Tasmania it is. Once again, Christmas eve has turned to Christmas day while I’m out with friends looking at houses decorated with lights for the season.
Which I actually enjoy. The last three years, now, I’ve spent driving around Hobart with some friends, looking at light shows, talking to people, just hanging out. It’s become a little tradition, which is good. We used to hang out all the time, but as the years have gone by things change, people start to drift apart, so it’s nice to come back to something regularly, even if it is just once a year, and actually get back together again.
With tomorrow – well, today – being Christmas, I guess there’s one particular topic to talk about. Jesus.
In all the gifts, the reindeer and santa, the lights, the food, the drink, the chocolate, the holiday and everything else that goes along with Christmas, it’s very easy to forget exactly what it is that we’re celebrating here. We have the Carols by Candlelight tradition, but how many people really pay attention to the words of the Christmas Carols? Even I struggle with this. I was waiting for a bus this evening and singing, Hark the Herald Angels Sing while standing at the bus stop, and I realised just what the words were saying.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Glory to the new born king
Peace on Earth, and Mercy Mild
God and Sinners reconciled
Not too long ago I was thinking about reconciliation. To reconcile, according to Merriam Webster means:
1. To restore to harmony or friendship
4(b) . To account for.
Today we celebrate the most amazing gift that has ever been given. The ability for us to be reconciled with God. Our sinful nature was accounted for through Jesus, and we are able to live in harmony and friendship with God, the most high and creator of all things.
I had a conversation with a colleague this afternoon; and mentioned that on New Years Eve I’ll be on air on Ultra 106five doing a countdown-type show of 20 of the biggest hits of 2010. She asked what station that was, and I told her it was the local Christian radio station. She asked me, “Oh, are you religious?”
So I said no.
Because Christianity is not about religion. What I said to her was that religion is all about what we can do to get closer to God; Christianity is all about what God did to get closer to us. I don’t follow a religion, but I do have a relationship with God; because he reached out to me. Jesus came to reach out to each one of us. That little baby, whose birth we celebrate with Christmas, was the greatest gift of all. The gift of reconciliation; of salvation; of grace; all these and more.
I know I’m going to struggle with these first few chapters of Numbers, it’s just all detail. A part of me wonders what it’s all doing there, to be honest.
But the history, the reality is always good. Sometimes the details make it all just seem a little more real. It’s easy to read the stories, and because we live in a world of movies, books, novels, fiction and so on, the reality of the story itself may not sink in. Imagine actually being there when these events were actually occurring!
We get to find out names through these types of chapters. Putting names to the people and the events that were happening just adds an element of reality. It’s easy to get caught up in the story, without actually clicking to just what God’s done as those events unfolded.
This goes into the layout of the camp. I actually stopped and went back to Genesis as I read this, because I noted that all of Rebekah’s children were camped together. Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin are all in the west of the camp – interesting, given that throughout Genesis, East had this common theme of being the direction people went when they weren’t walking or following God’s will. I just find myself wondering if there is any continued focus on the “East” in that context.
That’s me done for the night, though.
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas! Hope that it’s a wonderful and blessed day for you all!