Sunday, 7 May 2017

Sinking ships

On the evening of 14th April 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg. For the subsequent two hours and forty minutes, everybody on board found themselves in mortal peril. Regardless of whether they were the richest man in first class or the youngest child in third class, they all faced the possibility of perishing in the icy waters of the Atlantic. And this was a fact that surprised everyone on board. Nobody believed that the ship was sinkable and that by stepping onto this boat they were in fact stepping into the path of death and calamity. But everyone sailing on the Titanic had done just that. It didn’t matter one iota whether they came aboard by the first class or the third class entrance, they were all aboard a doomed ship.

Furthermore, there was no distinction between ability, prowess and respectability that could save them. Each passenger was utterly dependent on the provision of lifeboats and on their rescue aboard the Carpathia. The crew of the Carpathia owed nothing to the passengers of the Titanic, and the passengers in their stricken state, had little to offer them. It was surely a mercy that the survivors found themselves on the safe decks of the boat. I doubt that many of the survivors felt pride in their position, they did not think, “how good I was to have rescued myself.” No, they probably were humbled by the thought that they were so close to death but they were alive.

Now, consider that the whole of humanity had found itself on the Titanic. Everyone, from the Pope to the lowest drug-addicted murderer, were headed for death. There was no escape and nothing that we could do, but hope for rescue. For this is the eternal fate of everyone on earth. The state of the human heart, the human condition, is such that we are all doomed to die. No one is exempt from this. Everyone finds equality in this fact, that as a human we are sinners, and as sinners we face the curse of death. You could try pointing fingers, “you got aboard this boat because of this sin!” or “you are facing death because you did this!” However, it’s a waste of time as how you found yourself in this predicament is of little importance. You are on the sinking ship, whatever the reason, and you need to get off.

Just as some of the passengers found themselves on lifeboats to be subsequently rescued by the Carpathia, as Christians, we too have found ourselves in the lifeboats of grace, confident that we are to be rescued by God. I say we found ourselves, because it was through very little of our own effort that we have been rescued. The passengers of the Titanic stepped over the side of the boat, and passively sat there while they were lowered into the water. Then, for two hours after the Titanic foundered and began her final descent to the bottom of the Atlantic, they just waited. Their rescue was completely out of their control. As it is with Christians. God owes us nothing and we have nothing to offer him. We are simply sat safely in a small wooden boat, confidently awaiting our rescue.

I’m sure many of those in the boats wondered whether they were going to be rescued. Surely doubts crept in. Also, many perished because they believed they had a better chance of survival on the big ship as opposed to the flimsy looking lifeboats. They did not have faith and assurance in the lifeboats. However, as Christians, we have faith and assurance that God is our only hope. Only God can save us. And just as it was with the survivors of the Titanic, there is nothing about us that makes us anymore deserving of saving. We are just the lucky ones, humbled and grateful that we have found our chance of rescue in God.

There are some harrowing facts about the Titanic disaster, if you will allow me to draw out this imperfect analogy further, I would like to comment on. Out of the eighteen lifeboats that managed to leave the Titanic with passengers, only two returned. Those of the other sixteen were too worried of being swamped by fellow passenger or dragged down by the suction caused by the sinking vessel. Additionally, the poorer passengers on the lower decks were prevented from reaching the lifeboats. The hatches and gates were locked, and many drowned in their cabins with no hope of survival.

It makes me wonder how many times the church has failed to go back to rescue those in need. I wonder how often our fear has prevented us from helping others to safety. Or how many times the very people who should be saying, “Here, I have found safety: follow me,” have instead said, “Because you are divorced, an unmarried mother, an AIDs victim, a homosexual, a drug addict, you stay below decks.” The very people that are called to offer hope, to point the way to rescue, have often been the ones that have been locking the hatches and throwing away the key. It breaks my heart to say this, but the wider church has been responsible for a lot of condemnation. Jesus told the religious leaders of his time, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” I fear the same sentence can be given to many in the church over the last two thousand years, and to too many today.

As a church, we need to remember that we too were headed for death and we need to get involved in the rescue efforts. For this is our purpose. We need to be the ones saying, we are on the path to death and calamity. You may think that you are unsinkable, but it isn’t the case. Have hope, however, because I have found rescue. Follow me.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Lies our culture tells us

I have a constant love-hate relationship with social media. The main reason I hate it is because it is filled with superficial, twee nonsense. Sometimes I gag; sometimes it gets me angry. You know the type of post I mean. The artfully created (often misspelled) quotations or axioms that make you feel good but hold little actual value or wisdom. They're superficial, often egocentric and selfish and are devoid of any nuance. However, they often reveal something that our cultures believes to be true and important. The biggest problem for me, however, is that they often go directly against Biblical wisdom, wisdom that I believe is profound, true and helpful.

So, here are some lies you can find on Facebook, and here are the Biblical truths instead.

Follow your heart

It sounds so nice, doesn't it? Don't be constrained by the world. Be free! Follow your desires and your wants. But it's all about me, me, me. People are inherently selfish, fickle and emotional. I know when I'm tired or frustrated, my heart is rank with bitterness and anger.

Yes, God has given us all passions, and yes, these should be listen to (sometimes), but there are other ways to seek guidance.

What the Bible says

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
Our hearts aren't to be trusted. So what should we trust instead? Verses 7-8 tells us to trust in the God, and then we will be like trees planted near an ever-flowing stream.

Matthew 6:33 tells us to seek first the kingdom of God. We are to set the priorities of God before our own. The second bit of this verse is an encouraging promise: then everything we need will be given to us.

We are also told to guard our heart in Proverbs 4:23, and in Psalm 51, David calls on God to create in him a clean heart.

We are to in God with all our heart (Proverbs 3:5-6). We should use his word to guide our paths.

If they don't know your value, then you don't need to know them

The first thing is the blatant double standards that people seem to miss in posts like these. It goes along the lines of "if they don't realise how good and significant are brilliant you are, then ditch them like the trash they are." Well, I'm pretty sure that this attitude negates the value of the other person. 

It plays to the innate human desire to be admired or appreciated and respected.

What the Bible says

Our ultimate model (and saviour, redeemer, creator and much more than that) is always Jesus. Philippians 2:6-8 says
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Jesus was 'despised' and 'rejected' (Isaiah 53:3). The Christmas story is all about how the God of the universe became a baby. He was later to be rejected and put to death on the cross. If the world didn't know Jesus' value (and still doesn't) then why should we expect others to know ours?

Furthermore, Paul tells us how he became all things to all men in order to win them to Christ. He wrote, in 1 Corinthians 9, how he shared in the weak's weaknesses.

We should not be looking for our own glory or for people to admire us, but instead that God should be praised.

If they drag you down, let them go

This one is relatively similar to the previous idea. However, it suggests that if people are irritating or difficult, they should be ditched as soon as possible. I know there are some extremely difficult people out there that are abusive and cause harm, but this isn't about those cases. Those cases need particular wisdom and it's not really something that can be covered in a simple blog post.

What the Bible says

A good place to start is in Luke 6. It tells us to love our enemies and bless those who ill-treat us. Then there are the many verses on being patient with one another. It's reassuring that it was obviously a big enough problem in the early church to warrant repeated mentions, but it's also important enough that it's reiterated quite a few times. If there are people that drag you down, I'd advise that you pray, bless and build them up. Remember that you will be doing it in God's strength and not your own. He gives you the power, but also receives the glory.

Let's get lost

The idea is to escape the confusion of this world, to be free spirits and to be a reed bent by the wind. Be explorers, be adventurers. Let go of your identity; forge a new self.

What the Bible says

It's all very romantic. But "lost" is our status before our salvation. We were once lost, but now we're found. This is made clear in the various lost parables in Luke 15. We are the lost sheep, coin and son. God is the searching shepherd, the rejoicing woman, and the thankful father. We don't need to get lost, we're already very much up poo creek without a paddle. But thankfully, there's a heavenly search and rescue going on. God longs to find us and to bring us back to him.

What to do with what we read

Often we read something and think, "that sounds nice!" so we stick a digital thumb up and we share it for our friends to see. But we should always be testing these words against Biblical wisdom. If they don't agree with it, then they are wrong. We should be spreading God's truth, not the worlds.

Quick Questions

  • What do you think of these quotations you find on Facebook? Are they helpful or are the dangerous?
  • What have you seen which has frustrated you?
  • What do you think is the biggest lie our culture tells us?

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Luke 5

In Luke 5, Jesus calls his first disciples, heals some people and eats with others. He also says some stuff that I don't understand.

Simon's obedience

Jesus is doing some preaching, then afterwards tells Simon, who has been a fisherman all his life, how to fish. If some upstart preacher from Galilee came and told me how to do my job, I'd be very annoyed. Simon, however, does what he says. Simon says that he hasn't caught anything all night, but because Jesus asked him to put down the nets, he will do it.

Then they caught what I expect was the biggest load they've seen in their life. So much so, that it is seen as miraculous. At this point, Simon recognises Jesus' authority. It's interesting that Simon, in response to this, recognises his own sinfulness and failings. Jesus then calls Simon and his friends, James and John, to be his disciples. They simply follow.

The first question that popped into my head after reading this was, "What happened to all the fish?" They've just caught a huge amount, which could probably sell for a considerable amount, and they walk away from it. I wonder how many of us are that willing to walk away from what we have to follow Jesus. Without Jesus they would never had the fish; without Jesus we too have nothing. And yet we refuse to recognise it for what it is and we cling onto it.

Saints and Sinners

In Luke 5, we almost have two opposing sides: the sinful and the Pharisees (who were regarded as the saints and the holy people of their day). Simon started the theme of being sinful with his words, and this carries on through. Perhaps conventional wisdom would place Jesus on the side of the saintly, but that isn't the case. Jesus is very much on the sinners' side. He heals a leper (who would have been an outcast); when healing a paralysed man, he forgives him of his sin; and he eats with the sinners.

This verse is pretty famous, but it's so important to remember, I think.
Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’
Of course, a Christian is a sinner who has been made a saint through the sacrifice of Jesus. But, is the church good enough at proclaiming that it is there for the sinners, not the saints?


Jesus tells a parable about the old and new cloth and the old and new wineskins. I understand the practicalities of what he's saying, the figurative part is what I'm missing. If someone could let me know, please do.

Quick Questions

  • What do you find difficult to leave behind when following Jesus?
  • Where do you most often find yourself, with the sinners or with the saints?
  • What is the wineskin thing about?
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