The offense of truth

In the world of fake news, relative values and alternative facts, truth itself seems to be the casualty, sacrificed on the altar of offense. What is truth, or lie, is now subjected to whether we, or more particularly special interest groups, feel offended.

I read news articles, even from more reputable sources, that are full of condemnation for what somebody has said or done – how offensive it was. There is rarely any time given to the question ‘was it true?’. For somebody that values truth as an objective reality, I always want that question answered. It is rarely even raised these days.

I am forced to conclude that this is the culture that we live in is so unmoored, cast adrift, that even basic assumptions such as ‘truth is a good thing’ can no longer be taken for granted.

These are not mere semantics, limited to social media wars. A fundamental rejection of truth in favour of feeling can lead to such things as children affirmed to be the opposite sex, given drugs and then surgically mutilated in order to try to reinvent reality. With sadly predictable results.

Thousands of children may be abused now, but millions can die on the altar of lies. For example, the Holodomor famine of the 1930s was a result of the enforcement of collectivist ideology against reality. And there are plenty more examples of our allergy to truth.

This is nothing new. When Jesus spoke, he deeply offended the authorities, the religious figures, and even his own disciples. Only a few ever touched the question of whether His words were actually true.

This is how Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin went:

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him.

Matthew 26 v 59-67

Well, I recognise this: The Twitter mob of the 1st Century!

Jesus is still offensive to us. He didn’t just claim outrageous truths. He claimed to be The Way, The Truth and The Life. And that “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

That’s the level 1 offense we will all have to respond to, one way or another.

Is His offense so severe that we will crucify him again in our lives?
Or is his truth so compelling that we will crucify our lives in love and worship of Him?

There are no other choices.

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Seek His face

Sometimes we seek God’s hands, to see what He is doing, that we may do likewise.

Sometimes we lean on Him, not on our own understanding, submitting our ways to Him, that He might make them straight.

Sometimes we seek His heart, that our heart may beat in time with His.

All these are good – but there is more. We can also seek His face.

To seek Gods face takes a journey of intimacy to the next level. You can do all the other things while looking down, without fully connecting. But in seeking His face you expose yours. And that is not always a comfortable place in which to be.

To actively look into the eyes of the One who loves you, to see Him, how easy is it? To risk a glance, and then away in case you see disapproval, in case he sees the face hidden under your mask. In case he sees the shame, the doubt, the guilt.

As if you can ever hide from Him.

But, if you are looking away, or down, you can at least pretend. But if you really start seeking His face, looking up, well that is painful. Really raw. He sees you, really sees you. And you see Him, in the fullness of who He is, and somehow, by some cross-drenched miracle, you are not destroyed. But it does not remove the pain of intimacy, of being fully exposed, and seeing Him. We are still so often infected by the impulse to hide. Our flesh is of the stock of Adam and Eve, and that flesh is seared by His gaze.

But, and here is the truth, our new spirit comes fully alive under that same gaze. The joy of knowing Him for whom we were created. The source and very basis of our being. The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. The burning love for those once lost, now found, that can only ever be fully understood when, at long last, we begin to see His face.

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
    tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always.

Psalm 105 v 1-4
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The rage against the coming of the light

Here’s a c/p to an article that I found really penetrative. It’s the kind of food that seems harder to find these days – in fact I can’t remember the last time I heard anything about the ‘flesh’, even though that is one of the main enemies of a Christian.

It’s not good enough to come to the cross, one must come to the cross and die. The ultimate offense of the cross is death. Jesus said that whoever seeks to save his life would lose it, but whoever loses his life for His sake would gain everlasting life. In Roman times, the one thing you knew if you saw a man with a cross was that the man was surely going to die and the dying would not be easy.

The message of the cross remains the same ” I bid you to come and die.” You cannot accept the benefits of the cross while refusing to suffer and endure the agonies of it. In order to live eternally one has to die. It is a very rare thing to hear this message today. The message for the last few decades typically begins with “All you have to do.” This is not the gospel. This is some abomination. See Jesus in the garden and see the agony. For us mere mortals the flesh will not go quietly into that good night, it will rage against the coming of the light.

It will demand to remain in the darkness and there it will make its stand. Salvation is a brutal bloody thing and the flesh must be found dead upon the brazen altar. It is the work of the cross that slays it and today Satan is still selling that old lie “surely you will not die. Bow down and worship me and you will not need to die upon a cross.” Will you die that you may live or will you live this day and bow down to the world? It must be one or the other. Cheap grace has given the illusion that there is a middle ground, there is not. The middle ground is a chasm that swallows men whole. To be found there is to be engulfed in darkness and mediocracy.

In the Kingdom of God there is no ordinary, there is only extraordinary. It is your calling to rise above the clamorings of men and do exploits for God. To simply shine your light among the darkness of this world is extraordinary. To praise God from a sickbed is extraordinary. To have a thankful heart quite apart from your circumstances is to live an extraordinary life. Being joyful, being at peace, being content, conquering fears, enduring and overcoming. These are the extraordinary and the supernatural elements of our life.

All of these things, while carrying your cross, makes the foundations of hell shake. Forgiving your brother and loving your enemies makes the foundations of hell shake. The gates of hell themselves suffer defeat by an army of fragrant saints who march upon their knees with their hands raised high to heaven and their voices raised in praise. This is why the devil and the flesh rage against the coming of the light.

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True Identity

Identity is one of the hot button topics of the day. So many issues seem to tie in with this; what group do we belong to, where do we sit on the totem pole of power and oppression, how do we define ourselves? This identity often seems to become polarised and then weaponised against each other, leading to the fracturing of society.

I think I can see the shape of a hoof behind this. In truth, anybody’s identity is a complex layered matter, and resists easily labelled descriptions. Identity is not just a modern construct though; it was spoken about in the Bible.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

Galatians 3 v 26 – 28

For a Christian, a radical new identity comes to pass, one that places us all in Christ Jesus. This is an identity and a place of belonging that supersedes and holds together all other forms of identity in such a way that unites us together to a new hope and purpose. Leaving behind all old hostilities and resentments, it is a binding of love – as if we who were once cocooned as grubs in the stew of our old hates, have suddenly been released into the beauty, grace and new life of a kingdom butterfly.

Perhaps, we could take something of the letter to the Galatians and apply it to us, in this time.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Black nor White, neither gay nor straight, nor is there liberal or conservative, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

You may add your own labels there, as you see fit. For none of them stand in the light of our identity in Christ – if you are found in Him, then all other identities that used to form the foundation of who we are, of necessity fade away. Only He remains.

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Light and darkness

‘Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Isaiah 60 v1-3

Today I would like to encourage you. It seems as if the world is still gripped by the spectre of fear because of Covid, and it’s cadence can be felt in the conversations taking place and the decisions being made. No longer is the prime intent to delay the spread of the disease until the health system is more able to cope. No, rather now it is to try and squash any significant reappearance. A giant game of whack-a-mole, if you like. One in which the leaders wield the hammer of fear.

Now, this is not to diminish the disease, the pain of those who have lost loved ones, or to scorn the attempts of those dealing with it on a day to day basis. But I can’t help but notice how the goalposts have shifted, and how much appears to be driven by fear. Fear of an outcome that will claim 100% of us all, eventually. Almost as if a darkness covers the earth, and a thick darkness remains over the people. Don’t face us with our own mortality!

That’s where the Church can come in. For we can bring a Light into a dark situation, and good news to a world without hope. That’s the gift we are given. To shine His light. Because we know that death is a defeated foe, and no longer something to be feared. That in the midst of all the shifting sands of the world, there is a Rock that is immovable, unchangeable, and in whom is found a place to stand. That to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and has immeasurable power. But be clear – this is the gospel of Hope and Salvation, not the gospel of health and safety. We will get nowhere by preferring the latter over the former. We must march to a different drum. My encouragement to you today is to pause, listen, and wait to hear the beat of His heart. Then, let you heart begin to beat in the same way. In that new rhythm follow Him wherever He sends you.

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Who questions whom?

We often ask God, Why? Why do these things occur, why do good people suffer? Why have I not got what I deserved, why has he/she got something they never deserved? Why….why….why?! The Psalms speak these questions better than I ever could, and it is well – God is more than equal to our real questions and our hurting hearts.

But yet, often enclosed within is a pride in a status we do not enjoy. Job, more than anybody, had reason and standing to ask Why – and expect answers. But yet, he came to the realisation that…

‘Tell us what we should say to him;
    we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.

Job 37 v19

We cannot draw up our case, because we do not have the standing. Our darkness precludes it. Bad things do not happen to good people, because no-one is good.

All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.

Romans 3 v12

That is not to say that bad things occur to people because they must have sinned and therefore deserved everything coming to them! Don’t fall into that mistake – this is never a simple equation. But it is true that we have no rock within ourselves where we can stand to ask the questions and demand answers.

Walk with God long enough, and you will come to understand that you are the one to whom the questions are addressed. Perhaps we start by reading the Bible, but spend long enough in that activity, and you’ll find it is the Bible that reads you. And what we find in there is often excruciating. Like having a correct mirror held up to you after so many years of distortion, false coloured lenses and blinkers!

Excruciating. And also necessary. Unless you have the correct diagnosis, the prognosis never going to make any sense to you. There is a reason the Bible says

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.

Luke 7 v47

Is it because there are some who do not need much forgiveness, the very holiest amongst us? No, rather because so many of us have little understanding of our own hearts and how much we need to be forgiven. Righteous in our own eyes, we can miss the very Gift that would allow us to be reconciled with the One who sees our ways and numbers all our steps.

So, perhaps we would do well to, like Job:

Brace yourself like a man (or woman!);
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

Job 40 v7

The questioning will not be easy, it never is, but that road leads to the narrow Way of Salvation – Jesus Himself – and He is the Hope and the future that God desires for all of us!

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Location, location, location

Last week I spoke about time, the importance of living in and celebrating today, as a gift fully given by God. This week I’d like to briefly reflect on space.

In the midst of troubles, of viral pandemics, economic recession, a culture that has allowed thistles to grow up and choke the very plants we rely on for our survival, when there seems forces too big, too important, too irresistible to even begin to counter, when we seem to be marching towards the long defeat – it is tempting to despair, to be discouraged, to helplessly wait for whatever comes next.

If that’s where you are, let me bring you a different voice. You think perhaps you are little, insignificant, of no importance. Against these forces, perhaps this is true. But yet, you contain within you the pearl of great price. A mustard seed that if allowed to grow, can become a tree full of flowers and fruit.

The space you have been given may not seem like much, but it is your mission field, and you have the divinely purposed capacity to assist in remaking this garden into a new Eden, full of promise and hope. Within this world, you bear the hands, feet and heart of Christ, and through Him you have the capability of spreading his perfume within it, and literally remaking it as a foretaste of the new heavens and earth.

The world may think nothing of the little light shining through you, but do not be deceived by the world. What you do, who you are, has infinite value in the heart of God, and as His co-creator in the garden He has given you, everything you do from the heart of Christ is treasured by Him and will grow up towards eternity, ever remaining in Him.

So do not be deceived, both the day and the space in which you dwell is an essential part of His kingdom. You can’t affect the days headlines. You’re not called to. Your Father has all those things in His hands. Just tend to the garden that he has called you to steward, and do and be all that you can within those walls. It has so much more value than you can ever imagine.

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The hope of today

Recently I read a post that I thought very helpful. You can find the full thing here, and excerpts below. Mark, like me, perceives that we are at the end of an age, and that times of increasing shaking are upon us – to sift the wheat from the tares and to usher in the new age. And, this inevitably lead to the questions…

“What’s the use? Why bother planning anything? Why start any projects or invest in the future if everything is going to collapse anyway?” These are the questions some of you are asking as you begin to grasp the seriousness of the hour; as you see the fulfillment of prophetic words unfolding and examine the “signs of the times” for yourself.

What indeed is the point of investing in anything new, when we see what is coming? The answer lies in today.

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6 v33-34

As Mark says:

The “business” of being about the Kingdom of God is manifold. It is taking the “talent” that God has given you for “today” and using it accordingly. If the Lord has blessed you with finances, then use them wisely today. If God has given you a homethen repair its roof, paint its walls, and mow its grass today. If the Lord has given you a family, then tend to their needs and desires today. If you are inspired to write a book, to renovate a room, or plant a treethen do it with great care and attention today. This is what it means to invest your talent “in the bank” to gain at least the interest.

But you might say, “Why begin building a house today if the economy is going to collapse tomorrow?” But why does the Lord pour out rain upon the land “today” if He is going to send a purifying fire to cleanse it all “tomorrow”? The answer is because, today, not only the trees need the rain but we need to know that God is always present, always active, always caring, always providing. Maybe tomorrow His hand will send fire because that’s what we need. So be it. But not today; today He is busy planting.

For, after all, today is the only day we will ever have. And, if this day is good enough for the Lord to sustain, create and bless; then it is good enough for us. Tomorrow is a foreign country. We may be able to see the fig tree, and know these things are near. But we do not know the time or the hour. Precise timings and events are in His hands alone!

So, to live fully in today – whether that means a day or a season – is to live in a place of peace, trust and hope. Because this is the now, today’s manna is today’s, the sun shines today and we are invited to enter in fully – living, creating, providing and thriving.

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To be a moral chameleon?

Do you remember the previous era of free speech, when it was fashionable to say such things as “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it“?

To me, it doesn’t seem that long ago, although at the same time these days it can really feel an age away.

Now might be a very good time for those people who said that to put their words into action, even if the death is not physical, but social, economic and suchlike.

Because these days, to disapprove of what someone says is often grounds to begin a persecution of them. As long, of course, you are the one holding the ‘correct’ views.

In the age in which I used to live, speech that was banned was on the edge – calling for someones murder, or the classic of yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded cinema. Speech that would result in real harm, not just to ones feelings.

It’s not that way now. Now, anything defined as ‘hate’ is beyond the pale. Of course, it raises the question, who defines what is hate? The answer of course is – the powerful. Those who hold the social, media, governmental and increasingly commercial levers and who can impose their definition on everybody else.

Rather less than remarkably, the definition of hate by the powerful is expanded to encompass all opinions that are held to be disagreeable to the current zeitgeist. As a result, we find that we are fast losing our previously treasured freedom of speech.

This is no blessing to anybody, whichever side you find yourselves on the current cultural discussions of the day. One day you may bask in the righteousness of the mob, the next day you may find yourselves instead the subject of their wrath. The only escape is to turn yourself into a moral chameleon, which is the way of the coward.

This is the era in which we find ourselves. Much like I observed with Tolerance, Diversity and Inclusion, it is often those who are most anti ‘hate speech’, who are themselves full of hatred for others.

To be a Christian, in fact to be anyone who holds a principled moral worldview that is at odds with the latest correct opinion, is to ask for trouble. But then, this is nothing new.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16 v33 b

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A heart for the lost

I perceive the tear that runs down the face of God. The sorrow for the multitude that turn their faces and hearts away from Him and pierce themselves with so, so many griefs.

The pain for those that remain on the ship of the world as it founders, dragged nearer and nearer to a lee shore.

He does not wish it.
He does not desire it.
He would welcome us home in a heartbeat.
But many will not – and are wrecked on the rocks of sin.
Just a few turn, and find life.

Sit with Him a while today, and let your heart beat in time with His. Take on just a little of His Spirit, that you may know how much He loves you, and how much He loves the world.

His the heart that knows the Golgotha road, a road He invites us to travel too, that we might be with Him. A heart that reaches out still, to call us Home.

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