Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts

24 November 2015

Science and religion

I've written on this topic before, but I want to write again following a meeting last night arranged in Cambridge by the Faraday Institute. It was their annual reception and the first time I have taken part in a meeting. I plan to go to some of the public lectures as well.

The Faraday Institute Website
The Faraday Institute Website
The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion was created ten years ago to facilitate study and
discussion about science and religion.

It has an interdisciplinary, academic research program, but it also offers courses, lectures, seminars and conferences. Much of the material is online, available free of charge.

Last night's meeting began with something to eat and drink and a chance to circulate and chat. Then we heard Sir Colin John Humphreys, a physicist and Director of Research at Cambridge University, speaking on aspects of life as both a scientist and a Christian. He reminded us that it's important to read the Bible and pray.

Finally we had group discussions. Groups had been chosen so that people with similar scientific interests were gathered together. so my group was broadly biological.

The discussion was very helpful. We talked about the questions that people ask us, we discussed how to approach conversations rationally and non-confrontationally (being confrontational is a particular weakness of mine). And we considered the difficulties of a busy career in science and finding time for Christian actvities in the midst of it all. I was able to point out the dangers of dualism in our lives and how it's not about the proportion of our time that we spend on this activity or that, but whether we are kind to the person working beside us. In other words, do we reveal the fruit of the Spirit in every part of life; Christian ways of being and living should fill all that we do.

We heard about the opportunities the Faraday Institute has in British schools, answering questions that most concern young people. Our group's moderator was Lizzie Coyle who is the Institute's Youth and Schools Outreach Officer; she told us that the commonest questions she hears include  'Why is there so much suffering in the world', and the usual questions about evolution.

It was a great evening and I met some really good people. I would like to revisit the work of the Faraday Institute again on this blog; perhaps next time I can introduce some of the good thinking from lectures and seminars.

Useful link - The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion

25 June 2014

Pray in faith, hope and love

How do faith, hope and love work together in prayer? Should our emphasis be on whisking up fervent faith? Or should we just hope for a good outcome? And where does love come in?


Prayer focussed on Jesus
Prayer focussed on Jesus
Paul writes that faith, hope and love remain, and he adds that the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). And when we think of these three great concepts in their own right we don't have too much trouble agreeing with Paul.

But when we begin to think about faith, hope and love in relation to prayer, we may have a little more difficulty. After all, the New Testament tells us very clearly that we must pray in faith.

James says that the prayer of faith will heal the sick (James 5:15). Jesus himself tells us that if we have faith, we may pray for anything and it will be done for us (Mark 11:24). And Paul tells us that righteousness and justification are through faith in the Messiah (Romans 5:1).

So what place do hope and love have in prayer? We might imagine they have no place whatsoever. But hold on a moment, Paul also tells us that if we have faith that can move mountains but lack love, we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). The presence of love in our hearts is worth much more than the most effective prayer imaginable. It's not that we should pray without faith, but we are to pray with faith and love. And the love is greater than the faith.

Have more faith - We are sometimes told that we should have more faith. People may urge us to pray in full expectation of healing or the receiving of whatever we ask. Yet this cannot always be right. Paul asks, 'Do all have the gift of healing?' (1 Corinthians 12:29-30) In context this question clearly implies that some do, but not all. Paul himself prayed repeatedly for his thorn in the flesh to be taken from him. But in the end he had to accept that it would remain (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).

Does this suggest that Paul somehow lacked faith or was unable to believe for healing? No! We desperately need to free one another from the false expectation laid upon us by this kind of thinking. It's true that amazing healings take place in answer to prayer, but they don't depend on a mindless frenzy whipped up by wild enthusiasm or false expectation.

A gift of healing - We should always pray in faith, and in hope - but especially in love. We should not always pray in expectation of a particular outcome, but in expectancy of an answer rooted in love. If we have (or receive) a special gift of healing we will have complete confidence, knowing that we are asking what is in line with Father's purpose. But it's not always like that.

Without that gift of knowledge and faith we may still bring the prayer of love and the prayer of trusting hope as well. So pray often, pray always when there is need. Pray in love to the King of Love for the needs and cares of those around you. Pray in hope of an amazing outcome. [Tweet it!] Pray in faith when that is granted to you as a gift. Pray in expectancy, and live in expectancy until the answer is seen.

Expectancy - Expectancy knows that the Mighty One will always answer out of his great love. Expectancy always decides in advance that the answer will be good and for the very best. Expectancy will receive every answer in gratitude and great joy.

And if you have a gift of faith, or receive special faith at a specific time for any need, pray with rejoicing that your asking is already fully aligned with the intentions and purposes of the Most High. But however you pray, remember that the focus is not on you, nor is it on the person you're praying for, the focus is always on the Father through Jesus.

Questions:

  • Most of us have experienced what seems to be both success and failure in answered prayer. Do you think success or failure depends on how you asked?
  • Or might it be that our expectations lead us to a distorted view of what is successful and what is not?
  • Do you see the difference between expectation and expectancy?
  • Will you be more expectant in prayer in future?

See also:

30 May 2014

Finding Carol

Sometimes Jesus just surprises us. Sometimes we surprise ourselves. Perhaps both of these things happen more often when we are open, and actively so. Something like this happened recently to a couple of friends and, although I came late to the action, I did get to play a small part.


At the Catalyst event
At the Catalyst event
Last Sunday I had driven from St Neots, where I live, with two friends from the group that meets at Caffé Nero (but that's another story). We were day visitors at the New Frontiers' Catalyst event at Stoneleigh in the Midlands.

It was almost time for the evening meeting when Dave Devenish would be speaking.

I'd agreed to meet Kevin and John in the restaurant area just outside the meeting venue, but found them at a picnic table outside chatting with a lady I didn't know.

Her name is Carol and she had seen them there and decided to speak to them. By the time I arrived they were talking about what it means to be a Christian and she was sounding a little anxious and confused. She is a very new follower of Jesus, just beginning her journey and we talked around that idea for a while.

Hearing the call - Jesus' twelve disciples were not Christians when he called them to follow him, yet they followed [Tweet it!]. Something about him was compelling or attractive or especially fascinating. Perhaps it was his simple, yet very stretching way of teaching, or just the fact that he was a rabbi and had invited them to follow him. As humble and unlearned fishermen, tax collectors and other ordinary folk, this offer was as promising as it was unexpected.

At first they followed in ignorance, but they began to learn right away. Not only did Jesus teach them, he also showed them healing and the throwing out of demons and the need to love above all else. And he sent them out to do this work on his behalf in the surrounding towns and villages.

They probably didn't fully believe until after Jesus' death and resurrection, perhaps when the Spirit fell on them in the upper room at Pentecost. But they followed him in partial understanding, and eventually they believed, and they carried on following him and growing in wisdom and grace and love.

How do I know I'm a Christian? - I wanted to explain this to Carol. I wanted her to know that it was OK for now to be just following Jesus without understanding everything. A time will come in her journey when she realises that she believes in him and that she is eternally safe in his hands. And afterwards she will continue to follow him but with a deep understanding of what that means. But it is a journey, a process, and Jesus is both the way and the destination.

He guides us and prepares the way for us - Our time at Catalyst was a good day on many levels, but the icing on the cake (Kevin's words) was meeting Carol and having that conversation with her. Kudos to Kevin and to John who were ready to seize the moment and help Carol through her uncertainty. And thanks be to Papa, who set the situation up. He's so good at that.

As a result, Kevin and John were in the right place at the right time. They meant to arrive earlier and wait for me inside. But they got lost on the way and had to retrace their steps. Being late brought them to the restaurant at the right time. Deciding at the last moment to sit outside put them in the right place. And Papa did what he had intended to do from the beginning!

Carol, wherever you are we bless you. He will guide your steps in the same way, every day of your life. You will follow and follow, and at the right time you will realise that you believe, and you will follow and follow some more. Enjoy your journey in the company of the King!

Questions:

  • Have you noticed how the Almighty prepares things in advance for us?
  • Why is this significant?
  • Can you think of some examples from your own experience?
  • How ready are you to seize the moment as Kevin and John did?

See also:

16 October 2013

Sciencism and religiology

Sciencism and religiology do not exist for very good reasons. Neither would be an appropriate endeavour, both would be doomed to failure. It's necessary to use faith for religion and the scientific method for science. Any attempt to swap these methods would be extremely foolish.

Science and religion
Science and religion
Near the end of my previous post I asked two questions, "Why is there no widespread science of 'religiology'?" and "Why is there no widespread religion of 'sciencism'?"

I'd like to consider these questions now, and we'll start with the second one.

Why is there no widespread religion of 'sciencism'? - All religions involve believing something without tangible evidence and this is called "faith". I should be clear about what I mean by "evidence". Evidence is used in a court of law to help the jury decide whether or not a person is guilty of a particular crime. This is the same kind of evidence required in science to establish whether an assumption (called an hypothesis) is wrong.

Suppose there has been a murder or a theft. The evidence that a crime has been committed is always clear, there is a body or a missing piece of property. But the evidence that the suspect was responsible is often harder to find. It might depend on discovering fingerprints or a weapon and there may be counter-evidence. Perhaps the accused has an alibi.

Science is based on clear and reproducible methods of making observations, creating hypotheses, testing them and rejecting whatever can be proved to be wrong. In some ways this is similar to a court of law. Over a period of time, often decades, if an hypothesis has still not been disproved it may be regarded as a theory, that is, an assumption that seems sturdy and has survived every attempt to prove it wrong.

That's how science works (by means of abundant evidence from observation and experiment). Because of this there is nothing to believe, science is not a matter of faith, so there can be no religious aspect to science. The religion of sciencism doesn't exist because it is a contradiction in terms. Some people might "put their faith in science" in the sense that they expect it to explain everything leaving no room for religion. But that is a dangerous point of view.

There are areas that science does not and cannot investigate. For example, the idea that there is a Creator who brought the universe into being cannot be investigated. We can observe the universe as it is today and we can draw conclusions about its state close to the beginning. But "before the beginning" makes no sense and is open to speculation and to faith, but not to experiment or measurement.

Why is there no widespread science of 'religiology'? - Let's be clear what we mean. We can use some of science's methods to study religion, but not all of them. It is possible to count or estimate the number of people who adhere to a particular faith, their geographic distribution can be studied, so can their ethnic make-up.

However, this is not enough to make a true science. Certain elements are there, but others are missing. Studies like these are part of the so-called "social sciences".  They share careful observation and hypothesis with science, but they sometimes lack the testability by experiment that is also necessary.

Suppose you form a hypothesis, perhaps that some kind of god figure is essential in a fully functioning human society, or that any god must be a feature of human imagination and cannot be real. How do you test that? What experiment can you do to disprove hypotheses of that kind?

There is no science of religiology because religion is not susceptible to the scientific method. And that turns out to be the same reason there is no religion of sciencism. (There is, however, a Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Perhaps this goes against the argument I am making and might be evidence that my hypothesis is faulty.)

What can we conclude? - The only sensible conclusion to draw is that we need different sets of tools for the two domains, scientific tools based on observation and experiment for science and religious tools based on faith for religion.

This is why it is incorrect to claim that evolution is as much a matter of faith as creationism. Evolution is evidence-based, creationism is faith-based. We need to use the correct tools. The creationists are right about creation and wrong about evolution. Richard Dawkins is right about evolution and wrong about creation. The two camps cannot communicate because they are using different languages.

You cannot dismiss science by claiming that faith is required. You cannot dismiss religion by claiming the scientific method is required. Both stances are equally incorrect, both are equally foolish, and both miss the point.


Questions:

  • Why do you suppose there is so much heat and so little light in the debate?
  • Do science and religion threaten one another in some way?
  • Do they deal with two different parts of the human experience?
  • If so, why can't we all just accept that?

See also:

15 April 2013

What if ... creation was a myth?

April's Synchroblog asks how we'd be affected if part (or all) of the Bible was myth. I chose to consider the creation accounts in Genesis. Whether these are myth or true history does matter, but perhaps it doesn't matter as much as the division it sometimes causes in the church.

Created or evolved?
This month's Synchroblog invites us to speculate. (Other contributions to this month's Synchroblog are listed at the bottom of this post.)

Here's an extract from the instructions...

Try to imagine that some or all of the Bible narrative is not necessarily true history, but is myth of one sort or another. What sort of effect would that knowledge have on your faith? What effect might it have on the larger church? How would it change you? Would it change you and how you view the world?

Of course, a great deal depends on what part of the Bible I select. Assuming that the visit of the magi to Jesus' birthplace is a myth would make relatively little difference, but assuming that the birth of Jesus is a myth would change things rather dramatically.

I'm going to choose the creation accounts in Genesis. Let's suppose these are myths. How would it change things? I'll follow through with the questions from the Synchroblog. But first, let's have bit of a think about the idea of a myth. What do we mean by 'myth'?

Myths - Perhaps we think of anything mythical or mythological as false. A myth is an invention, imagined creatures in an imagined land - isn't that myth?

Well, no, not necessarily. Imagined creatures in an imagined land are fiction, like 'The Lord of the Rings' or 'The Narnia Chronicles'. Bear in mind that those stories contain a great deal of truth even though they are not true. But myth is more than fiction. To be precise, traditional fiction with a meaning is not a myth but a fable.

We'd do better to think of the Greek legends, the Norse sagas, or the Irish ballads. These are truly mythical. Rather than fiction they are meaningful and explanatory stories based (probably) on real events far back in time before anyone could remember and passed from generation to generation. They have, no doubt, grown considerably in the telling.

So now to the creation accounts in Genesis.

What would be the effect on my faith? - Zero, nada, zilch. There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps the major one is that I do regard the creation story to be myth. But I'm confident it's myth with a clear purpose. I was trained in biology and for many years worked as a professional biologist. I'm no more inclined to accept the creation stories as history than I am to accept that the Moon is made of cheese.

Let me distinguish between creation and the Biblical accounts of creation. I accept that the Almighty created the universe. It's really hard to think that the universe just is, that it sprang out of nothing all by itself. I am sure that it was somehow caused. It's here because it was intended and spoken into existence.

On the other hand the biblical accounts of how that happened and in what order make little sense to me. What I mean is that they make little sense as history, as an account of the process that took place. As myth, as allegory, as a description of truth, they make perfect sense. The truth is that the Almighty is the ultimate cause of the universe, he is holy, pure and powerful, his original purpose for us is that we would be in community with him, but we are weak, willful and sinful and threw away that opportunity for community.

My opinion that the creation stories are myths doesn't affect my faith in any way. I believe in the Creator, that the universe came into existence because Yahweh spoke, Jesus acted, and the Spirit hovered. The power of the Presence of the three-in-one was enough, a baby universe was born and has flourished ever since. I know that I have a sinful nature, I know that the Son came and by his death paid the price and opened the way for freedom. I know there is a place waiting for me in his kingdom, that my name is written in the Lamb's book of life and on the palm of Papa's hand.

What effect does it have on the wider church? - Now things get more serious. Part of the church thinks it makes little difference whether the creation accounts are factual or mythical. Part of it cares enough to fight a civil war over the issue. And this is a serious problem.

You see, the church that Jesus commanded, 'Love one another as I have loved you', should never, ever be at war with itself. The problem is not that I or anyone else has this or that opinion about the creation stories in Genesis, the problem is that we cannot bear for there to be more than one such opinion.

Some say 'Myth with a message' and others say 'Historical record of real events' and we think that endless argument and dispute is a suitable way to resolve it. Or rather, that our need to be proved 'right' is sometimes stronger than our urge to follow Jesus' command to accept and love.

In a bleeding, dying world we don't have time to fight a civil war. Not only that, we risk bringing the name of Jesus into disrepute. So love one another, love your neighbour, and love your enemy.

In Egypt, the traditional and non-traditional believers are fervently praying together for revival instead of discussing who is right about their many differences of interpretation. If you are an Egyptian and you believe in Jesus you are a brother or a sister. It's that simple. But don't take my word for it - watch the video.

What is the lesson here for us? The issue need not be the creation accounts, it might be ... (fill in the blank for yourself). The church is divided over many, many issues when love should surely conquer all of them.

How would it change me? - If I'm willing to avoid the divisions outlined above, then would my understanding of the mechanics of creation make any difference to me? I don't think so. Whichever way I view the creation accounts I can believe Jesus and follow him. I have a new and fuller life in him now. I have eternity in his presence. I can love my brothers and sisters fully and freely and allow them to understand creation in whatever way they see fit.

The nature of creation is only an issue if I allow it to become one in my own heart. The universe exists! The Almighty brought it into being and holds it in existence. Without him it would all vanish. What more do I really need to know?

Would it change you and how you view the world? - This is an 'over to you' question, is it not? How do you stand on this matter? And whatever you may believe, are you willing to allow it to separate you from your brothers and sisters in Jesus?

Questions:

  • How do you, personally, deal with conflicts of understanding?
  • Is truth more important than accepting one another? Always? Sometimes? Never?
  • For you, is being right essential or just 'nice to have'?

See also:


Synchroblog links:

01 April 2013

Miriam and Yoseph

Leaders in the church, Part 5
< Leading, Matthew 1:1-17 | Index | Herod and the astrologers >

Life will throw us curveballs from time to time, it's inevitable. Let's follow the example of Yoseph (Joseph) in paying attention to what we are told and basing our leadership on obedience. We may receive some explanations as well, and they can give us great confidence as we step out to lead.

A pregnant womanThis time we're looking at Matthew 1:18-25. This little section is so human, so ordinary. It's easy to read it as a family event (which, of course it is). But it's also easy to miss what it shows us about leadership.

Before we go any further let's be clear that these verses are not about the roles of men and women in the church today. They are about a Jewish betrothal two thousand years ago. There were traditional rituals and the bride and bridegroom had to play their part and follow the customary ways.

Because Miriam (Mary) was inconveniently pregnant it seemed clear to Yoseph that something had to be done. Miriam was not permitted to ask for a divorce, Yoseph would have to do that. And if he didn't do it carefully and quietly she could be stoned to death as an adulteress.

Reading between the lines we can sense his disquiet (even horror) at the possibility of her death and his desire to ensure her safety if possible. But the harder and better choice, to marry Miriam despite the pregnancy, had escaped him or he had rejected the idea. He might have done so from perfectly worthy motives.

The Almighty's messenger (the angel in Yoseph's dream) interrupted the process he planned to put in place. When he woke up he went ahead and did what he'd been told. This is obedience.

Leadership - But what has all this to do with leadership?

We need to see that Yoseph's part was to lead in this matter. This was required by tradition, social custom and the religious expectations of family and friends. He couldn't get out of it. He had to make a decision.

Let's look in a bit more detail at what he was told to do.

  • 'As he considered these things.' - It is important that we chew things over and consider our options. We must explore all the possible avenues and alternatives. It may be that the Holy Spirit will speak to us as we do so. This state of 'not yet decided' is not one we should move on from too quickly. Yoseph had 'resolved to divorce her' but was clearly still considering. As we consider, let's also pray. And as we pray let's expect guidance.
  • 'Don't be afraid.' - When the Spirit of the Most High speaks to us he will always encourage us.
  • 'Take Miriam as your wife.' - Here is some good, specific guidance. He will give us all the detail we need. Sometimes it might not seem enough, and then we need to trust him. Perhaps he will give us more once we've taken the first step.
  • 'Call him Yahshua'. - Guidance in advance, jot this down or store it in your heart. Yoseph would need this information later.

Action, not debate - Yoseph did what he was told. Notice that the angel gave him more than this; in addition to instructions he was also provided with some explanations. Expect explanation as well as instruction but do not confuse the two. Explanation may not always come, but when it does we are greatly encouraged by it and can obey with a great sense of purpose. Papa loves to encourage.

This passage shows us clearly that if we are to lead we must do so informed by what we are shown. If I lead I must do so in obedience to what the Almighty tells me. I must be prepared to hear and obey. Anyone who leads on a basis other than the will of the Father will lead others astray and undermine Yahweh's purpose. No wonder James writes that few should teach; that is a fearful responsibility indeed. (James 3:1)

Yoseph, faced with a dilemma, needed to hear, obey, and lead on the basis of what he heard. We will do well if we follow his example.

Questions:
  • When you hear from the Spirit, how do you distinguish instruction and explanation?
  • Can you think of other examples from the Bible of people who heard and then led out of an obedient heart?
  • Are there Biblical precedents for leading without hearing and obeying?
  • Is it enough to plan to the best of our ability and then do what seems best?

See also:

< Leading, Matthew 1:1-17 | Index | Herod and the astrologers >

31 October 2012

Sandy storming in

Hurricane Sandy has caused devastation and continues to bring more trouble as it heads into Canada. Why do disasters like this happen? We consider some of the common views held by people of faith and by those who see no need to believe in any deity.

Hurricane Sandy in New York
The Caribbean islands and coasts and then the north-eastern coast of the USA took a major hit when Hurricane Sandy swept in. It has now weakened to post-tropical cyclone status but continues to drop large amounts of snow and rain as it heads north into Canada. Winds, although much reduced, remain dangerous and damaging.

Our hearts and thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Sandy. Loss of life has been relatively low, things could have been far, far worse. But for families who have lost loved ones this is no real comfort. The losses in terms of property and flood damage and infrastructure are, of course, immense. Rebuilding will take a long time, countless homes and businesses are without power. There's no denying the scale and seriousness of this storm.

Global warming - We are living in changing times. Not only was this a powerful storm, it was also the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. Nothing this size has ever been seen before. The storm surge flooded considerable areas along parts of the US coastline.

What are we to make of all this?

Although no single event proves or disproves the reality of global warming and climate change, this record-breaking storm adds fresh evidence to that already accumulated. It makes it that bit harder to deny that the climate has altered, that bit harder to conclude we are doing no harm by pouring large volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Sandy should, at least, give us all pause to think and reconsider the evidence.

Considering faith - And what should people of faith make of Sandy's devastating effects? No doubt there will be voices from some supporters of Islam claiming that the storm is Allah's retribution upon  the 'Great Satan'. But most Muslims will not think of it in this way or say any such thing, instead feeling sorrow and sympathy towards fellow humans suffering pain and loss.

Atheists, on the other hand, will take the view that such things happen from time to time. It's regrettable and very sad, but it's how the world works. It's up to us to do what we can to avoid problems - don't build on flood plains, create structures that will withstand earthquakes and violent winds. Don't live at the bottom of steep slopes or close to volcanoes. Commendably, many will help to rescue and support those who are hurt or suffer loss.

But what about those of us who follow the teaching and example of Jesus? The majority may not give a second thought to wondering why such things happen. They too will feel sorrow and sympathy and many will pray for those affected by the storm. Others, however, will give serious thought to the question, 'Why?'

In particular, a common thought following any natural disaster is, 'If there is an Almighty Creator in charge of everything that happens, and if this mighty and powerful person is good, why are such things allowed to happen? Why was the world not created to be a safe place?

Some will see disasters as the consequence of sin coming into the world. Others may see it just as the atheists do - this is the way it is.

Another way - I believe we can do much better than this. I was drawn to express my views recently in a comment exchange on another blog. In the next few days I plan to take my comment and expand it as an article here. Watch this space. (Posted 2nd November, Why is life dangerous?)

Meanwhile, here's an earlier article that seems relevant. It records some thoughts we had during a meeting soon after the Haitian earthquake in 2010.

See also:

16 October 2012

Debating science and faith

Science and faith sometimes appear to be at war. But is that inevitable? A conference in Switzerland is examining these issues and draws together influential scientists, theologians and philosophers.

The Whirlpool Galaxy
A conference is underway as I write, a conference with a difference. The whole affair is very refreshing and encouraging and exciting.

It brings together influential scientists, theologians and philosophers to discuss the nature of science and faith, and focusses on the Big Bang theory and the discovery of the Higgs boson.

The conference is being held in Switzerland and is called 'The Big Bang and the interfaces of knowledge: towards a common language?' The aim is to explore questions around the interface between science and faith and whether a common framework of knowledge might be possible.

You can download the programme as a PDF file (165 kB) or read brief details online from the website of the organisers, Wilton Park in collaboration with CERN in Geneva. There's also a very useful BBC News article about the conference 'Big Bang and religion mixed in Cern debate'.

Here's the introduction from the full programme...

The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model for explaining the genesis of the universe. To date it has the wide support of the scientific community because if offers the most accurate and comprehensive explanation for a broad range of observations. It leads to a dating of the universe as 13.7 billion years old.

The purpose of this conference is to enable scientists from a range of disciplines to dialogue with philosophers and theologians from the world religions about the nature of the Big Bang Theory. What understandings might scientists and theologians share in common? How are their paradigms shaped and developed? Is it possible to develop a common framework or language?

Why is this conference so exciting? Simply because it's an unusual opportunity to discuss and (perhaps) reconcile views that are often perceived to be irreconcilable. And it's exciting because the conference involves experts who would rarely meet together. When a record of the meeting becomes available it will make very interesting reading and should spark further debate in the wider community.

We might borrow the words of Pontius Pilate and simply describe the topic of this meeting as 'What is truth?' Pilate was caught in a dilemma between religion and politics. The dilemma this meeting is discussing is quite different - it's examining two different kinds of truth.

How do you see the debate? Is it possible for science and faith to agree about anything at all? Are the two views truly irreconcilable or do they actually threaten one another? Is there an unbridgeable gulf between the two?

See also
  • Relationship between religion and science - Wikipedia, undated - Encyclopaedic article on the topic with further references.
  • Science and faith archive - Patheos, undated - A collection of links and book titles on the topic, updated from time to time.
  • Science and faith - again - Journeys of heart and mind, 22nd August 2012 - How do science and faith stack up against one another as ways of knowing the truth? Science provides truth about the physical universe while faith provides truth about spiritual things. Is there any overlap?
  • Science and faithJourneys of heart and mind, 7th January 2012 - Can I have faith and accept science too? Is that an unreasonable position to hold? Recent discussions on Jesus Creed have provoked me to write on this topic again.
  • Science and faith - war or peace? - Journeys of heart and mind, 25th April 2010 - The origin of the universe, the origin of life, evolution - these are some of the topics that seem to be endlessly debated across the science/faith divide. Why does this happen, what are the root causes of the sometimes strongly-worded arguments? Perhaps it's time to take a fresh look.
  • Science and faith: The conflict - The Telegraph, 16th March 2009 - A new film opening at the Cambridge Science Festival this evening attempts to demonstrate that the divide between religion and science is not as great as it has been portrayed.

01 October 2012

Powerless!

A power cut was soon solved once the engineer was called. At first he arranged a temporary fix, then he brought in a team to make a permanent repair. Even in this ordinary event there's an analogy for a spiritual issue.

Power engineers at work
Yesterday was an interesting day. I was working on a blog post when I became aware the laptop screen had dimmed and I'd lost the internet connection. It dawned on me that we might have had a power cut and when I checked, sure enough we had.

Donna headed off to an all-day meeting and I began work in the garden where I'm dismantling our old greenhouse. Coming back in later I found the power was still out... hmm... Nearly an hour now, on the very rare occasions that we have a cut, it usually comes back within ten minutes or so.

I went next door to ask if they had power - they did! This might be bad news, perhaps something was wrong with our distribution box. I went the other side and they told me that yes, they had lost power too. Not just us then.

I phoned the distribution company and they took my details and said they'd send someone out. The engineer quickly confirmed that the problem lay with the main supply in the street. It was going to take some time to fix so they brought a generator, set it up in my neighbour's garden, powered up the system and connected both houses. What a relief, life could continue as normal.

During the afternoon a team arrived to dig up the grass verge outside the house, after some effort they found the faulty section of cabling and replaced it. I admire the way they work with live cables - rather them than me! We were soon back on mains power and the generator was removed.

I'd also like to say 'Thank you' to all the guys involved. They came out promptly on a Sunday morning and stayed much of the day to get the problem corrected. They were friendly, efficient and worked hard. From my initial phone call to replacing the turf everything was done well.

The incident made me think about living with power and living without it. They are very different experiences! Almost everything we do in our daily lives requires electrical power, from the mains, from a vehicle outlet, or from a battery. Without electricity, modern life would simply grind to a halt.

As so often, physical truth illustrates spiritual truth. Without the power of Jesus in my life I would be ineffective in every spiritual endeavour. Like electricity, it's easy to take him for granted. Like electricity, we soon remember our need of him when he seems to be not there.

There was power in the mains cables in the road, but it wasn't getting as far as my house. Church life can be like that - the power is out there but it's not getting as far as my house. This is a fault condition. It needs fixing.

Is power sometimes missing in your spiritual life? What do you need to get reconnected? Maybe a prayer is like a spiritual phone call, maybe the first thing is to ask for help. Until I phoned, nothing was going to happen and the power would still be down. It takes an expert to solve electrical power loss. It takes an expert (Jesus) to solve spiritual power loss.


30 August 2012

Ten years in the wilderness

Responding to a post from Felicity Dale, here is my story of spending time in the wilderness. For me it spanned a ten year period and began when our friends moved on to other things but we knew that we were to stay put. It was a lonely and seemingly bleak experience.

Part of Gale Crater on Mars
In a recent blog post, Felicity Dale asked the question, 'Why do we go through wilderness experiences?' Thinking about this I quickly realised I wanted to write much more than would fit into a comment. So here goes...

I became a follower of the Way some time in the period between 1968 and 1970. I can't pin it down to a particular time or date, there was a time when I did not believe, and later a time when I did, and between the two a process of searching and growing understanding.

In late 1970 Judy (my first wife) and I began hunting for a place where we could meet other people with similar faith and a heart to follow Jesus simply and intentionally. We hunted high and low around Bristol where we had a flat, but failed to find what we were looking for. Eventually we found a little ex-Brethren meeting, Zetland Road Chapel, less than a five minute walk from our front door and we knew right away that this was home.

In 1975, buying our first house in the nearby village of Yatton, we found a similar welcome and good fit at Horsecastle Chapel.

After a few years at Horsecastle, we were very excited to discover other believers in the village with remarkably similar ideas to our own. We began meeting in our homes together and quite soon there were fifteen or so of us. We soon discovered the gifts of the Spirit and realised we were part of what was known at the time as the Charismatic Renewal.

Eventually we left the chapel to fully immerse ourselves in this new thing that Jesus was doing. They were exciting times!

But after a few years people began to join the new organisations that were beginning at this time. There was Bank House Fellowship in Clevedon, a new group in Yatton with clear leadership by a couple we knew, and several others locally. Most people were looking for leadership and structure of one kind or another while Judy and I were certain that meeting at home and led only by Jesus through the Holy Spirit was the right way to continue.

Gradually we found ourselves on our own, our time in the wilderness had begun, probably by 1980 but certainly before 1985. How this wilderness time ended about ten years later is another story. But what did we learn through the experience? Several important things, I think.

  1. We learned not to depend on other people, but to depend only on Christ. This was a valuable (if painful) lesson. It's not so much that we felt let down by people, but at first we grieved over them because we felt they had lost the most important thing.
  2. It seemed to us that our friends were following other people at least as much as they were following Jesus. I know that they did what they believed to be right and with clear consciences, but neither Judy nor I could follow them there. At first Judy was very hurt, I tried to build bridges. We learned to let people move on without blaming them and without resentment.
  3. It would have been natural to return to Horsecastle Chapel where we had many friends. But we knew that was not what we were called to do. Doing what seems natural can be the wrong thing. Another useful lesson.
  4. We learned that staying where we are can be an act of obedience. Sometimes we are called to move into new and perhaps difficult situations. Sometimes we are called to remain in changing and perhaps difficult circumstances.
  5. And above all we learned the need to listen, hear, and obey. Judy and I shared Tony and Felicity's feeling that the Lord had somehow moved on and left us where we were. Even reading the Bible and praying seemed empty sometimes, yet we persevered because the Spirit had shown us we were to meet informally, in homes, and led only by him.
  6. We learned not to confuse stubbornness and faithfulness. Stubbornness comes from wanting my own way, faithfulness from wanting Jesus to have his way in my life. To those outside the situation the two may appear very alike.
  7. We learned to respect the leading that others have, even when it is different from our own.
  8. And finally, we came to see that the wilderness is a place of value. It builds character. It teaches patience. It breaks down pride and self-sufficiency. At first it seems a place of failure and defeat, but it proves in the end to be a place of new beginnings and victory. The wilderness is a place of preparation.
See also: Related article on Felicity Dale's blog.

22 August 2012

Science and faith - again

How do science and faith stack up against one another as ways of knowing the truth? Science provides truth about the physical universe while faith provides truth about spiritual things. Is there any overlap?

Sarewitz article in Nature
Nature has just published a short article entitled 'Sometimes science must give way to religion' by the atheist and scientist, Daniel Sarawitz.

In it, he argues that there are scientific concepts we cannot really understand except mathematically. He offers the Higgs field as an example.

This field provides other fundamental particles with their mass, preventing them from travelling at the speed of light. The famous Higgs particle is associated with the field, and is the evidence that such a field does, indeed, exist.

Sarawitz is right, it is difficult to visualise such things, or understand them in the way we might understand that gravity causes things to fall towards the ground. The Higgs is not part of our everyday experience, falling objects are. But Sarawitz goes on to say that therefore faith is involved in accepting the evidence for the Higgs.

But the early comments on his article take Sarawitz to task, pointing out that this is nonsense. They argue that accepting the Higgs is not a matter of faith, it's more a matter of accepting that the scientists involved in the discovery have track records of good science, honest hearts, and deserve our trust. The conclusions are rational and are based on evidence.

I agree with them. Faith has no place in science, and evidence (in the scientific sense) has little or no place in religious belief.

My career began in biological research. I have a BSc and an MSc, I understand the principles and practices of science. I am also a follower of the Way, a follower of Jesus. It's not a blind faith, I have my reasons for thinking and acting the way I do.

I would argue that there is a knowledge of material things that is advanced by science building on what is already known, but that there is also knowledge of spiritual things that is given from above. Many people accept one or the other, some people accept both.

To me, accepting both seems the obvious and right thing to do, and I find no conflict in doing so.

I'm interested to hear  your views on this. Please scroll down and leave a comment. Are science and faith incompatible? Do you have difficulties with one or the other? How do you deal with those issues? Does science show faith to be false? Must we reject science if it appears to contradict the Bible?

See also:

07 June 2012

Sheep, goats and judgement

What does it mean to be chosen? How will we be judged? What must I do to be saved? These questions and others like them are often answered with the advice, 'Believe in Jesus Christ, confess him as Lord and Saviour.' But is that the full answer?

A way up, and a way downThis article is based on a response I made on the Koinonia Life Discussion Forum.

There had been some discussion on the topic of  'unforgiveness' and this had brought us onto the related matter of judgement.

Here's what I contributed to the discussion, follwed by some further thoughts and Bible references.

What are your views on the topic? Perhaps things are not as clear cut as we sometimes think.

Leave a comment at the end of the article.

There's one place in particular where Jesus describes the judgement process - and it's not quite how most people imagine it.

Read Matthew 25:31-46, this is clearly about judgement.

Sheep and goats in Jesus' time looked pretty much alike. People who are 'in' and those who are 'out' look pretty much alike too. But, Good Shepherd that he is, Jesus separates and divides.

The interesting thing is that it has more to do with people's care for others than anything else. Had they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, invited in strangers? Of course, it's also about obedience - these are the very things we are commanded to do.

Verse 46 is pretty clear, our eternal destination depends on how much we cared for others.

Paul puts the emphasis on faith (eg Romans 3:22), and James on actions (James 2:14); though both agree that faith without actions is dead. Paul and Peter also agree that love is greater than faith (1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Peter 4:8). John (1 John 4:8) tells us that the Almighty is love, and of course it's love that causes us to care for others.

Note that we can follow Jesus even if we don't know him. How can that be? Well, I think many who would not call themselves 'Christian' follow him by feeding the hungry, or inviting in strangers, for example. And we can fail to follow him even if we know him quite well. Are these the people who say 'Lord, Lord...' yet he says he doesn't know them?

And also note that it's what we did or did not do for the very least of these that is important here. We are called to have loving pity in our hearts for all who need, but especially for the weak, the helpless and the insignificant. We are called to be merciful. Read Matthew 5:3-12 because this passage is so closely related to the separation of the sheep and goats. 'Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.'

As I was writing I saw an opening like a trapdoor. And I realised that there's only one door through which we may go up or down. But there is no place 'in between'. If we are not in the Kingdom of Heaven we are in the place of punishment and vice versa. Heaven and hell are not places we go to from here. They are surely places we are already in right now. The prodigal son's older brother is a good example, all his life he had done everything a good son should do, yet his heart was full of jealous bitterness rather than welcoming love. And he refused to go in (Luke 15:28).

Jesus always knew what was in a person's heart (Mark 2:8, Luke 5:22). And that is why he was able to say, 'You are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven', or, 'Truly, today you will be with me in Paradise'.

Finally, remember the wealthy man who asked Jesus how to obtain eternal life (Matthew 19:16-22). Jesus told him, 'Go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and then follow me'.

You might also like to read an earlier article on sheep and goats.

07 January 2012

Science and faith

Can I have faith and accept science too? Is that an unreasonable position to hold? Recent discussions on Jesus Creed have provoked me to write on this topic again.

Tiffany window, 'Science and Religion'I've posted about this before (Apr 2010, May 2010), but a recent item on Jesus Creed brought the topic back to mind. And then I came across this earlier post where there was a more fundamental discussion and a useful reference to an article by Dr EB Davis, 'Christianity and Science in Historical Perspective'.

It's not surprising that the debate continues, there are strongly held opinions on both sides. There is also quite a bit of mutual misunderstanding. Personally, however, I continue to see no conflict between  my acceptance of science as a wonderful tool for better understanding the universe and my acceptance of a spiritual dimension that transcends the universe.

It seems obvious to me that if there is a creator he would necessarily exist outside and beyond everything that he created. How could it be otherwise?

I remain dismayed by the anger and impatience sometimes displayed by both sides, but it's encouraging to see that there is also plenty of well intentioned and good natured debate. I have friends and family on both sides and others who don't recognise any conflict. I get on perfectly well with all these people, we don't get annoyed with one another. For me, being able to differ amicably is by far the most important aspect of the entire debate.

What do you think? Here are some questions to ponder.

  • Can science and faith coexist peacefully or will the debate rage on indefinitely?
  • Is it possible that science could ever formally disprove the existence of a spiritual dimension?
  • Is there a way of explaining what is meant by 'faith' in such a way that all scientists would be able to accept it?
  • Is there anything wrong with my position that science and faith are not incompatible, or is that like trying to have my cake and eat it?
  • How should we respond in cases of strong disagreement?

12 December 2011

Brampton - Trust and faith

< 5th December 2011 | Index | 3rd January 2012 >

Beginning with a thought about the nature of the Most High, we were led to consider how he changes everything, our lack of trust in him, what it means to have faith, and the goal of one church.

The fruit of the Spirit is, obviously, the fruit of his Spirit. Therefore this same fruit will be expressed in the nature of the Father and of the Son and the fruit can be taken as a description of them. Here is the fruit again from Galatians 5:22-23 - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. That is what he is like.

A small stream
He gave us a word. 'Everything that is lost will be found, every single thing that was ever broken will be mended. Everything big will be shrunk until it's small, every small thing will become big. I'm turning everything upside down and inside out. Foolishness will become wisdom, the wise will be shown to be foolish.'

Then I saw an ant trail, but these ants didn't wander about like normal ants, they followed one another in a precise straight line. And I saw that if each ant carried a single grain of sand, given time they would be able to move a mountain. I looked up 'ant' and found it in Proverbs 6:6-8 and again in 30:24-25.

And then I saw a small ditch running along the side of a field and containing only a trickle of water. But it was joined by several more ditches and the water level increased and it became a small stream, then a river, and eventually it was a huge river entering the ocean.

Sean also had a river picture. He was in a small boat on a river and was paddling hard to stay in the same place. He explained that the Lord wants us to be swept away by the river, but in fear and lack of trust we try to stay in the same place. If we just float free we might be dashed against hidden rocks. We need to trust him, he has a purpose for everything.

He mentioned how Jesus had slept through the storm in the boat on Galilee. But worrying about an unknown rock isn't trusting! Perhaps the disciples had worked to keep the boat safe, taking down sails, strapping everything down. They didn't trust him either - he was asleep!

Together we thought about faith 'like a mustard seed'. It's not the size of our faith that matters, it's whether our faith is alive. And being together (of one mind) is important too, we need a minimum of two people if we are to agree in what we ask. We need to be one together, not one alone.

This brought me back to something that's been much on my mind recently, one church. We have to become one, it's far more important than we think. And there is no way we can achieve it, we cannot make all denominations and groups become one. But Jesus will do it!

< 5th December 2011 | Index | 3rd January 2012 >

18 November 2011

About us

Is it possible to write a short statement that captures who we are in Christ? It will need to describe much more than what we believe; instead it should outline our attitudes and behaviour in our day to day living.

An early creed
There are plenty of creeds out there, statements of what we believe. A creed tries to crystallise the main, significant and essential points of our faith. But faith is only part of the story, just as important are the attitudes and actions of our daily lives - the practical outworkings of our faith.

This is a first attempt to write out such a statement. It's not so much a statement of faith, more a statement of intended living.

I wrote a first draft some months ago, but I was encouraged to revise it and publish it by Ross Rohde's recent article on 'Viral Jesus'.

One of the problems with any written creed, and perhaps a potential problem with this statement too, is that agreeing to it or even saying it can become more important than following Jesus. Mere words can never be more important than a person, and no other person can be as important as Jesus.

Here's the current version; it would be good to have some comments. What do you think of the statement as it stands? Can you suggest improvements? Do the two main points (unity in the body and activity in the world) come over as clearly as they should? Are there other things that should be included? Would you feel able to use this statement or a similar one to describe your own life and witness?
We follow Jesus, meeting locally in a number of different places, and we recognise that we are each part of the Church in the places where we live. As far as Christ is concerned, his people are one people in every village, town, city or nation and we choose to have that same perspective because he is the Head and we are his body.
For this reason we recognise as our brothers and sisters all who have turned away from sin, believe in Jesus Christ as King, and intend to put him ahead of everything else in life. For our part we do not want matters of doctrine, tradition, understanding, personality, language, race, status or indeed anything at all to come between us and any other part of the local Church.
In following Jesus daily we want to bless the communities where we live. We wish to grow in grace and in love for one another, for our neighbours, and even for those who may oppose us. Our love compels us to share the good news about Jesus whenever we can, not only in words but also by the way we live our lives.

05 August 2011

THOUGHT: Love and other things

< The fulfilment of the law | The Essay | No later items >

This is the third post in a series on Henry Drummond's essay on love. Clanging cymbalsHere we see how he checks through Paul's list of other great things.

Paul lists eloquence, prophecy, mysteries, faith, charitable giving and sacrifice.

Although Drummond writes that these things are self-evidently inferior, he still finds some useful things to say about them.

Paul begins by comparing love with other things that were treasured in the Graeco-Roman world. I won't cover them in detail; their inferiority is clear.

He draws a contrast with eloquence. It's a wonderful gift – it can influence hearts and minds, rousing people to high purpose and holiness in action. Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” We all know why. We've all sensed the brassiness of words without emotion, the hollow and curiously unconvincing eloquence that lacks underlying love.

Drummond draws our attention to something we all know to be true, the fact that fine words may not reflect what is in the heart. Love is greater than eloquence because words without love have no depth of foundation. We have the ability to notice this and it's important that we pay attention when it happens.

[Paul] also contrasts love with prophecy, mysteries, faith, and charitable giving. Why is Love greater than faith? Because the end is greater than the means. And why is it greater than charitable giving? Because the whole is greater than the part.

What is the use of having faith? It connects the soul with God. And what is the purpose of connecting with him? So that we may become like him. But God is love, so faith (the means) is so that we can love (the end). Love is clearly greater than faith. “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

It's greater than giving, once again because the whole is greater than the part. Giving is only a small part of love, one of its many avenues. There's a great deal of loveless giving. It's easy enough to toss a coin to a beggar on the street, in fact it's often easier than not doing it. But love is often in the holding back. A few pennies buys relief from our feelings of sympathy. It's too cheap for us, and it's often too costly for the beggar. If we truly loved him we'd either do more, or we'd do less. “If I give all I possess to the poor, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Drummond skips right over prophecy and the understanding of mysteries as not requiring any explanation. Love is clearly greater than those things. But he does give some attention to faith and to charitable giving.

He argues that the end is always greater than the means and shows that faith is merely the means for reaching the Almighty One who is love in person. And if we have faith but we still don't have him, our faith is worthless. Faith gets it value from the one it allows us to reach.

And in the case of giving, he points out that it's just a part of love and the whole is always greater than a part. Giving is one way of demonstrating love. We can even give without love, an empty and meaningless act. Drummond's illustration is interesting.

The beggar in the street is still with us. But giving a few coins is a poor substitute for real love. Perhaps it makes us feel better but it won't go very far and it may be spent on something that will make the problem even worse. It would be more loving to bring a cup of tea, a sandwich, a new coat, and a listening ear. Because of the harm mere money can do it might even be more loving to give nothing at all!

Then Paul contrasts it with sacrifice, even death. “If I surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Missionaries can take nothing better to the unsaved than the mark and reflection of God's love on their own characters. That's a universal language! It takes years to learn a foreign language but from the day they arrive, a love that everyone understands will be pouring out unaware but eloquently.

It's not words that are the missionary, it's the person. A person's character is the real message. In deepest Africa near Lake Victoria I've met Negroes who remembered David Livingstone. Their faces light up as they talk about the first white person they ever saw, the kind doctor who passed that way years earlier. They didn't understand what he said, but they felt the love that was in his heart. They knew it was love even though he didn't say so.

Take that simple charm into the workplace where you plan to spend your life, and your life's work will succeed. You can't take anything more, but you need nothing less. Whatever your
accomplishments and your readiness for sacrifice, if you surrender your body to the flames but are without love, it will benefit you and Christ's purpose – nothing!

Here, surely, Henry Drummond has touched on the core of my life as a follower of Jesus - my character (yours too). It's not about what I do, it's about who I am in Christ. If Jesus doesn't shine out in my words and actions I can go to the greatest lengths and remain utterly ineffective. That is why Paul wrote in Colossians 1:27, 'Christ in you, the hope of glory'. There is no other hope, no hope in us as we are. Only as Christ expresses himself through us do we see effective fruit.

< The fulfilment of the law | The Essay | No later items >

04 August 2011

THOUGHT: Planting churches

There is a notable lack of church planting in the West and an abundance of it in parts of Asia. Are we asleep?Are we in the West doing something wrong? Are we simply being disobedient? Are we asleep, or paralysed, or distracted?

Here's a communication I had recently from an Asian country...

Hi Brother, Greetings to you name of the Christ, Thanks a lot for your acceptation my request. I am K from ... I am House Church planter. I have a small registration Organization name is "..." We have 500 house Churches, Pray for us. My email id " ...@..." God bless you. K

K's photo shows his wife and child, but I'm not going to show you the photo, give you his name, or even tell you which country he's in. There are some parts of the world where it's best not to be identifiable. We're not used to persecution here in the UK, but there are places where following Jesus is dangerous - I don't want to prejudice the safety of K or his family.

But look at his message again, he mentions 500 house churches! Wow - we need an explosion in our level of expectation! I can think of only three groups that I have helped to start in the last ten years, all are small, none have planted others as far as I know. I'm aware of other meetings and have been able to help and encourage individuals in a variety of ways.

Will you join me in praying for K and the 500 house churches? Assuming an average size of eight to ten people, that represents perhaps 4000 to 5000 people following Jesus in this Asian, mainly Muslim, society. They are all risking their lives daily so pray for their safety and for Jesus to bless them, guide them and encourage them through his Spirit at work within them. May they be wise and bold in their lives and reveal the grace and joy and peace of Christ to their neighbours every day.

Will you also join me in praying for the church here in Britain? What a lot we can learn from K and his friends. Every person in the three meetings I have helped start was already a believer. In K's case almost everyone (perhaps all of them) were not yet followers of the King of Kings.

Why am I not out there making disciples and rejoicing as Yahshua builds them into new churches? Are you more obedient than me? Are you out there, making disciples? 'Go', said Yahshua, 'and make disciples of all nations.' (Matthew 28:18-20)

One of the problems is that we have been taught for many generations that the responsibility for making disciples and building churches lies with full time evangelists, missionaries and pastors while our role is to turn up once a week, listen and live better lives. We have been misled.

Making disciples is your job and my job, building the church is Jesus' job. We are called to obey him, encourage one another and love everyone he brings us into contact with - friends and enemies alike.

There is plenty of information online about making disciples and multiplying churches. And there's a good deal more about what the church is and what it is not. Here are some starting points...

UK
Worldwide
There are further useful connections on my Links page, and also on the sites I've listed above. You'll also find plenty of good books and other resources just by browsing through some of these websites.

24 July 2011

RESPONSE: Norway and Amy Winehouse

Almost a hundred dead in Norway following a bomb and a shooting spree, and a great singer/songwriter dead before the age of thirty. Two tragedies that are not connected - or are they?

The Oslo bombingThere's no direct link of course, yet there is a common element (as we shall see) and the tragic events took place just a day apart.

On 22nd July Anders Behring Breivik set off a huge home made bomb in central Oslo and followed it up with a multiple shooting on the island of Utøya about 20 miles away.

On 23rd July Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London home.

Amy WinehouseI feel deep sympathy for the victims of both tragedies, and for their friends and families who will be struggling emotionally and in practical ways to cope with the new reality of life without a loved one. Life with an unfillable hole in it. When my wife died in the mid nineties I was aware of a Judy-shaped hole in my heart and in my life. And I knew that our daughters, our parents, and our friends also carried similar holes within them.

In time (be it short or long) the hole will mend. My prayer for those suffering loss is that as the hole eventually fades it will fill in with many happy memories. These will remain for ever - they do for me.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, explained that faith, hope and love remain. 'But', he wrote, 'the greatest of these is love' (1 Cor 13:13). In your losses cling to all three, but focus especially on love.

Lack of love (or a perceived lack of love) is always a killer. So is a sense of failure or defeat.

We read that Anders Breivik was a Christian fundamentalist of some kind. But Jesus told his followers to love the Father, to love one another, and to love their enemies. Paul wrote this description of the nature of love...

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Whatever Anders Breivik is, he clearly doesn't understand what Christ meant by love. If Jesus' love is in a person's heart, murder and harm are not among the possible outcomes. The immense harm he has done is not compatible with the word 'Christian' in its true sense.

Amy Winehouse, on the other hand, needed to know that she was loved. How can it be that a young star with a brilliant career ahead of her could throw it all away with drink and drugs? She was loved by friends in and out of the music industry and by family members. Many would have done anything to rescue her. But addiction is a trap that is hard to shrug off, even with willing help and support from close family and friends. It takes much more than human help and willpower to break free and build a new sense of worth and value.

We live in a broken and desperate world. It's a world in which anger and fear, hatred and despair, violence and loneliness are always crowding in and wanting to own us. Often they have their way with us as these two tragic events highlight.

The answer is more love, not less hatred; more light, not less darkness; more life, not less death. As with a serious illness, treating the symptoms can never cure the underlying cause.

The cure for a broken world is Jesus. Not a Jesus preached in church on a Sunday morning but a Jesus living in the lives of his people, making a difference in the world by pouring out abundant love, light and life.

Jesus said, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life' (John 14:6). The Father 'is love' (1 John 4:8).

If you are a follower of Jesus, let his light shine! Let his love and light and life pour out from your heart daily and extravagantly. Let his love pour out on good and bad alike, just as the Father does. And remember, where your ability to love falls short, his goes right on. If Jesus is living in your heart he will fill any gap caused by your own limits. Trust him!

05 March 2011

THOUGHT - Through love or by effort?

Some writers and commentators tell us that we can do nothing unless we know Christ's love for us and rest in that love. Others tell us that we must make an effort and try harder to think and act in accordance with Biblical teaching.

Bread like a stoneHow are we to square this circle? Who is right?

I want to suggest there's a false dichotomy here. Rather than a choice between alternatives we are seeing two sides of the same coin. The debate is much like those about faith versus works or grace versus law. We are invited to take sides, we are encouraged to come down on the side of faith or of works.

But of course if we have faith it will result in works because works are the evidence of an underlying faith. Faith without works is impossible, works without faith are futile. Works springing from faith are like loaves of good, wholesome, energy-giving bread. Works alone are like stones in the desert, deceivingly loaf-like but devoid of life.

It's true that 'we love because Christ first loved us' (John 4:19).

Yet Paul urges the Ephesians to 'live a life worthy of [their] calling' (Ephesians 4:1). And in verse two he explains what this means - humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love. In verse three he tells them 'to make every effort'. Paul makes it perfectly clear that there is a real bond there (the automatic part) but some level of effort is required from us. Read the entire chapter with this in mind.

How many of us live like this? It's important to make the attempt even if we seem to fail. If we truly know Christ and are really aware of his love for us we will automatically do the right things. But our conscious mind is required as well, an effort of will and purpose.

Christ descended and therefore grappled with temptation just as we do. We can see how the love of the Father constantly guided and motivated him - 'I do only what I see the Father do' (John 5:16-30). But we also see how he was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) and how he wrestled in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46). He moved in his Father's constant love and approval, but he also had to make an effort of will. Because he is both 'up there' and 'down here', he has grappled with life just the same as we do, yet he is also able to reach us with heavenly truth and love. He is in both places and therefore we can triumph in him in both places - now and eternally, in the world and in the Kingdom of heaven.

And out of his ascended bounty, in order to enable his church to function in a fallen world, he is able to give us apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. The very purpose of this is that we will all reach unity in the faith. All - not just a few, not just the majority - all!

Notice too that we are all to reach unity in two realms - the realm of faith (believing and doing) - and the realm of knowing Christ (trusting and resting). Effort and knowing his love. Our part and his part. Victory needs both!

And see the results! We will be fully mature, not tossed on the waves and blown by the wind but speaking the truth and growing into the Head. We grow from him, built in love, each of us working.

Built in love and doing our work - both!

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