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
I’ve been going through some old stuff of mine recently, sorting and trying to decide what I actually need or want to keep, and what is junk that’s just been following me around for years. As the years have gone by, I’ve just accumulated more and more boxes of stuff, many of which I don’t really even know what’s inside them.
What I found over the weekend, though, was some old notebooks and things like that. One of which was a collection of little notes that friends had written to me when my family moved from Launceston to Hobart back in 1998. Then, it was a really long way away, it’s funny how perspectives change.
As I was reading through these notes, though, I found myself wondering about the people. Some of them were friends who I’d been right through school with, since grade 2 when we moved to Launceston. Others had joined the class along the road, and then others were people who I only met when I started at Launceston College that year. These were the people who I wondered most about. They were in my life for such a small portion of time that some of them I don’t even remember.
One person, though, I did remember. I looked them up on Facebook and after taking a bit of a gamble, actually found them. There was a bit of head scratching at first but we found familiar memories after a couple of emails, and one email was one that said I was one of this person’s first friends at the college.
It got me thinking. Here I have a snapshot – an almost infinitesimal speck of memory of some people who were obviously important enough in my life twelve years ago for me to want to remember them; and now here I am again all those years later, wondering who they were. For one person, a nice little friendship blossomed fairly quickly; and even though we only knew each other at the time for a couple of months, there was obviously enough impact on one another’s lives to remember aspects of each other.
Don’t ever underestimate the impact you might make on someone’s life. You might only meet them for a moment, but that moment might change them forever.
See, now we’re well and truly into the interesting bits of Numbers. Funnily enough this seems to be where I’m starting to forget to do this every night. Which is surprising because I actually quite like this chapter.
So Moses picks out twelve people – one from each tribe – to go and explore the promised land. Here’s a group of leaders, ready to go and have a look around and bring back a report to say what’s been happening, what’s going on, what the place is like, how strong it is, all these sorts of things.
Away they go, they find a bunch of grapes so heavy that two of them are carrying it on a pole between them; along with pomegranates and figs.
The place is obviously quite amazing. As they return there’s comments about it flowing with milk and honey, we’ve got these great looking fruits that they’ve brought back, the place is just fantastic. So of course, Moses gets all excited! Here’s the promised land, the land God said he was going to give to his people, and it looks beyond their wildest imaginings.
But of course, what happens? Instead of looking at the great big grapes (I picture grapes the size of canteloupes) and stuff like that, most of these guys come back with reports of the people living there, who are giants and powerful. There’s all these other people there: the Amalekites; Jebusites, Hittites, Amorites and Canaanites.
I want to be Caleb in my life.
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” ~ Numbers 13:30
What belief, faith and confidence. Assuredness speaks for much, especially when going into battle. If you watch sport, then you’ll have probably witnessed what happens when a player or team’s confidence is down. They end up making mistakes they wouldn’t normally make, they don’t try as hard, it’s hard to actually get out of the rut. When a team or player is confident, though, then everything just seems to keep going right for them. They make the difficult shots, they hit the hard balls, it’s amazing how confidence just escalates our game to another level still.
It all comes down to what we focus on, though. We can, in our own lives, focus on the Anakites, these giants who are so much bigger than us, that make us look like little grasshoppers. Or, we can focus on God, and the confidence and assuredness that comes from knowing that he is on our side – and that’s when confidence grows.
Well, good morning Boxing Day.
Christmas is still going for me. I’m on the road this morning to Launceston for a family barbecue this afternoon.
Yesterday was great. Lunch with some extended family – was good to catch up with Steve, whose blog inspired me to actually undertake this epic journey through the bible as well. I owe Steve and his wife Donna thanks; too, they’ve been a very important and special part of my life over the past four or five months that I’ve been on this journey, not only through the bible but with my relationship with God, too. We’ve been in touch via Facebook and email, so it was really great to actually see them in person.
Then came dinner with my sister and her family and in-laws. Also a great night. Relationships with the in-laws aren’t always as easy to form as other friendships, perhaps because you’re sort of forced into a relationship with people you don’t really know, and in some cases might not even consider associating with if you’d just met one another on the street. Last night was the most comfortable I’ve felt with my brother-in-law’s family. It’s nice when those relationships start actually tightening and getting stronger.
I hope that everyone else had a wonderful Christmas.
And today: Day 1 of the Boxing Day test. Come on Australia!
Numbers 3 & 4:
Here we have the census of the Levite clan; who weren’t included in the previous census because their responsibility was to God.
A couple of things that I find interesting:
1. Why are there so few Levites in comparison to all the other tribes?
2. The Levites are taken in place of the Israelite firstborns.
What I really brought out of this, though, wasn’t to do with those two points. As the title of this entry suggests, what I really took from here was the idea of service in the House of God.
The Tabernacle was God’s meeting place with the Israelites. It was the place where He could come and dwell amongst them; speak with them – via Moses or the Priests; associate with them; relate with them. It still comes back to the relationship. He wanted to be with them.
The Tabernacle, though, needed to be maintained. Not only did it need to be maintained, but it needed to be taken care of; stored and packed away properly and transported properly when the Israelites were on the move. At this point, it seems, they were still camped around Mt Sinai; but they were just that – camped. They were always going to be on the move again.
The House of God, today, is not a building. Sure, we refer to it as one, and the buildings have their place, but ultimately the House of God is in our hearts.
However, the ‘local church’ is our place of fellowship, accountability, friendship, relationship, family, all those sorts of thing.
I find myself wondering how the Levites felt about their part in things at this point. They weren’t to be part of the army; their role was to look after the Tabernacle.
I think sometimes we get caught up with an image of what we consider to be a ‘good job’ or a ‘bad job’. Going back to my involvement with local churches in my youth, I remember that one of my regular duties was to man the overhead projector. In the days before computers and TV projectors, we had to use them for putting the words up on the walls. I was actually good at it – and when I say I was good at it, I mean that there were people who weren’t. I never understood how people would get confused as to which way around to put the words on the screen.
But that wasn’t an exciting job. I also would play guitar, sing, and look after the sound desk at different times too. Singing and guitar were great, overhead projector and manning the sound desk, not so great.
So I wonder if there were Levites going, “Man… Are you serious? I have to fold the curtains?!” When their job was assigned to them in service. I wonder if any of them questioned why God would have them born in to the tribe of Levi, while their friends were all, say, from Judah and got to train with swords to be part of the army. Or even narrower, I wonder if there were Gershonites wishing they could be from Kohath, so at least then they’d get to look after the holy stuff instead of just carrying the curtains.
Service really needs to be done out of a heart of love; but it also comes down to where you are, as well. Sometimes, yes, you have to start at what you consider to be ‘the bottom’ in order to work your way up, demonstrate trustworthiness and reliability before you can be released into other things. Ultimately, it comes down to if you love God, then it doesn’t necessarily matter what you’re doing – because like everything else, it comes back to Him.