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?

06 January 2012

Like light on the water

Part 11 of a series - 'The Grace Outpouring'
< Grace outpouring | Index | A royal priesthood >

Behind the prayers for blessing and the abundant evidence of the results, an inner awareness was growing of the need for grace in dealing with people. A new understanding was developing in Roy and Daphne's hearts and minds.

Blessing and grace like sunlight on the waterIn this section, Roy continues to explain the need for grace towards others. The Almighty blesses us despite our faults and we should treat others in the same way. Praying for people to be blessed is part of that.

We are called to be more like him. When we ask him to bless people we are merely asking him to do what he has already chosen to do.
We found that there is often resistance to heart habits that incline towards grace. There were plenty of Christians who told me that our practice of blessing people who were not yet Christian was absolutely wrong. We were advised that it would be much better to cry out to God to make things much worse for them. Such people were not pleased to be told that this type of prayer was like a curse.

I cannot find a home in faith houses built on judgement. My personal experience is that God has had favour on me and shown me mercy when I don't deserve it. I have been disobedient and apathetic but the mercy that he's poured out on me has taken my breath away. When we hear the testimony of a wretched sinner who has found salvation we rejoice with them and the angels. The lower they have been, the greater the glory. It is not quite as straightforward when it is someone who is already a Christian, whose life has imploded, and that has been my experience. I know that if I were God I wouldn't have given someone like me another chance.

As these understandings had taken hold in my life in the years prior to coming to Ffald-y-Brenin, I concluded I didn't want to persuade people about the veracity or non-veracity of the words in a book. I believed they could encounter the living God and that the words would come alive to them as a result.

Asking people if we can bless them is an offer that few refuse. We're not saying, 'Can we pray for you in a general way?' We're not putting a difficult burden on those doing the praying. Blessing someone is simple and easy. The Holy Spirit comes because when you bless you are reflecting something that the Father is doing and speaking words that the Father desires to be said.

God's desire to bless is absolutely outrageous. Nothing can stop him. He has set himself with immovable intent to bless mankind. His longing is that Jesus shall have many brothers. That's us. Before we knew him, he knew us. Before we loved him, he loved us. He designed us for a purpose wrapped up in blessing. Heaven, our ultimate destination, is full of blessing and we are invited to pray for the coming of heaven on earth right now.*
Let's all aim to walk in step with the Father. We have nothing to lose and a very great deal to gain. Let's not resist him in our hearts, instead we simply need to accept that he was gracious towards us, is gracious towards others, and we should act and speak out of grace too.

Blessing and grace poured out onto the people we meet are like beams of bright sunshine pouring down onto the surface of a lake. Everything is transformed.

The Father, the Son and the Spirit are one, they are abundantly alive and want us to enter into their relationship of absolute love and grace and oneness. Furthermore they want us to draw others in. It's that simple!

Read a brief review of the book (includes several ways to buy a copy).

*Copyright 2008 Roy Godwin, Dave Roberts. The Grace Outpouring published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.

< Grace outpouring | Index | A royal priesthood >

04 January 2012

The dry bones of church will live

Part 10 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< An overwhelming army | Index | No later items >

Once again Yahweh speaks, this time in explanation and application. He spoke to Israel but through them he is also speaking to us. He can reach us wherever we are and he can transform us from death to life, from dry and scattered bones to a mighty army.

A small groupAnd now that the work is complete and the army restored, Yahweh speaks once more. This time it's by way of explanation as to the meaning of the valley of dry bones vis-a-vis Israel.

Yahweh speaks - And then he told me: 'Son of man, the bones are the Israelites. They say, "Our bones are dry, we have no hope and are disconnected." So speak to them and say: "This is what Almighty Yahweh says: my people, I shall open your graves and raise you up. I'll put my Spirit into you, you'll live, and I'll return you to your land. Then you'll understand that I, Yahweh spoke and did it, says Yahweh,' (Ezekiel 37:11-14)

Everything that happened in the vision and every word that Yahweh spoke applies to Israel in captivity. But like all biblical prophecy it applies again to the church as well - it applies to us. We'll come back to that.

Israel - First of all - the bones are the Israelites. This is presented as background information for Ezekiel, it is not something he is told to speak over the people. The Israelites had been carried off from the promised land as slaves. They felt they had no hope, they were literally disconnected from the land, from Jerusalem and from the Temple.

For the Jews in captivity this would have been very significant. For most of them the thought would be that Yahweh's Presence was in the Holy Place in the innermost part of the Temple in Jerusalem in Israel. They were hundreds of miles away in Babylon therefore they were hundreds of miles away from Yahweh. There was no hope of help!

But he can reach them where they are and he has more words for Ezekiel to give them. He says that he'll open their graves and raise them up into new life! He will put his Spirit into them and return them to Israel. And then they'll understand the inconceivable - Yahweh can reach them, will reach them, and has given his word! He has spoken and is responsible for achieving it.

The church - So how does this apply to us today, also his people, also broken and ineffective. Just look at the history of the church and the state of the church in the West today. Riven by schisms and disagreements over doctrine and practice. Separated into denominations and streams. It would be easy to write out a long list of problems and issues. We usually gather with others who are like-minded and this undoubtedly isolates us from some of the differences.

Notice that the rest of the chapter (Ezekiel 37:15-28) follows right on from the valley of dry bones and covers the important matter of unity. This is not a coincidence.

The Spirit of Christ has been drawing his people together, little by little. All down the ages he's dealt with one issue after another. Much has been done, beginning with doctrinal essentials like grace in the 16th century and going right on to a pouring out of the Holy Spirit in the 20th century. But our response has often been to leave the old and start something new.

In our own day we are seeing a lot of rearranging - the bones are being fitted together. Thousands and thousands of family-sized groups have already formed, people who will love one another and love those around them. Some of these are house churches, some are small groups in the larger churches, some are CUs in colleges and workplaces. There is great variety.

Flesh and skin are covering these bodies. All they need now is refilling with breath, to stand up, and to be united into a single army under Christ as head and commander. It will not be easy, in fact it's far beyond our ability to do, our King and Commander Yahshua will have to do the work. We will need to listen and watch and do what his Spirit tells us and shows us - no more - but no less.

Like Israel in Ezekiel's day, he can reach us, he will reach us, and he's given his word. He has spoken and is responsible for achieving it.

< An overwhelming army | Index | No later items >

03 January 2012

Eaton Ford (BS) - Arrest to resurrection

< 12th December 2011 | Index | 11th January 2012 >

Paul and I met to read the last part of Mark's gospel. We began at the beginning of  chapter 15 and read section by section right through to the end. Here are some of the things that stood out for me.

A rock-cut tomb in JerusalemAs far as we know the religious authorities handed Jesus over to Pilate because they were not permitted to apply the death penalty themselves. The Romans had decreed that only they could execute a prisoner.

The charge against Jesus was blasphemy and the penalty would have been stoning to death. Stonings were still comtemplated, even carried out (eg Stephen, the woman caught in adultery) but were presumably unofficial, illegal, and overlooked.

The Sanhedrin could hardly issue an illegal order right under the nose of the prefect. So they went to Pilate with a range of accusations, none of which they could prove. They knew a Jewish religious offence would not impress Pilate, so they chose something more promising - that Jesus claimed to be a king and was therefore a political challenge to Pilate, Herod, or even the Emperor in Rome. Pilate still didn't buy it, but sent Jesus for crucifixion to satisfy the mob.

It is striking that Simon, a passer-by, was forced to carry the cross. The presumption is that Jesus, weakened by injuries sustained from his earlier flogging, was either unable to carry it or perhaps collapsed after part of the journey.

Jesus refused to take the painkilling myrrh mixture in wine. They crucified him and then cast lots for his clothes. We decided he would have had a loin cloth, a tunic (rather like a T-shirt), a cloak, belt and sandals. The soldiers were not wealthy, clothing would have been expensive, so wasting it was unthinkable.

It's also interesting that the sign on the cross read 'King of the Jews'. Pilate ordered it written in three languages, he was making it clear one last time that in his view Jesus had committed no recognised crime. Those crucified with him would have been labelled 'Murderer, criminal, rebel' or something similar.

We also discussed the Aramaic words that Jesus shouted out. 'Eloi' is closely related to the Arabic word 'Allah' and the Hebrew 'Eloh' (plural 'Elohim') and simply means 'Mighty One' or 'Almighty'. The onlookers thought he said 'Elijah' which would have sounded like 'Ell-ee-yah' or 'Ell-yah' and means 'Mighty Yah' or in full 'Yahweh the Mighty One'. (See also an earlier post.)

I had a photo from Jerusalem of a similar tomb to the one Joseph of Arimathea would have used and we looked at it (see above). It seems Jesus had a few followers in the Sanhedrin itself, Joseph was clearly one of these and bravely did what he could to help.

We covered more than these few items of course, but these are the things I feel I should mention in this post.

Next time we meet we have decided to begin the book of Acts.

< 12th December 2011 | Index | 11th January 2012 >

02 January 2012

An overwhelming army

Part 9 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Prophecy to the breath | Index | The dry bones of church will live >

Ezekiel speaks to the breath, calling it to fill the slain bodies so that they may come alive. We need breath (that is, the Holy Spirit) if the church is to be filled, come alive and function properly.

The Chinese 'Terracotta Army'Once again Ezekiel is called to speak, this time to the reconstructed bodies. They are now complete and perfect in every way yet they are still not alive. He speaks and what happens must have stunned him, even if he was expecting it!

Ezekiel speaks - 'So I spoke out as he required of me, and breath came into them, they began to live and they rose up on their feet. They were an overwhelming army!' (Ezekiel 37:10)

As usual there are a number of things we should notice. Some of them are hugely important but easily overlooked.

First, we see again Ezekiel's obedience. Yahweh has said he is to speak some particular words over the dead bodies and he does it. No argument this time, no hesitation, just obedience. Listen and obey. If only we would always do that!

Breath enters - Although he doesn't tell us explicitly, the sense is that breath comes into them immediately, perhaps even while Ezekiel is still speaking. Breath (or Spirit) is the one thing they had been missing. It is necessary that the structure of church is as the Lord requires it. But if we have the right structure yet are not alive we cannot do the work intended for us. Yahshua builds his church, yet if we don't have his Spirit within us we are not alive. This final step is essential.

We can ask what would happen if the Spirit enters an incorrectly structured church. Thinking in terms of a lifeless body will help us address this question. What would happen if an incorrectly structured body was brought to life? Either such a creation would live in pain, crippled and unable to walk or speak or see. Or else it would survive only for a short time because of serious faults in essential systems like the lungs, heart or liver.

I believe there really is an example of this in recent church history. The Holy Spirit was poured out in a major way during the 1960s and 70s. But there was something wrong with the structure of church at that time so what came to life was unable to function properly.

Why was this structure incorrect? I lived through that time and I believe we could have made ourselves available as living stones and watched Christ build his church the way he wanted it - and it would have been amazing. But instead we built church the way we wanted it and this thing that was at first so full of life deteriorated and died in paroxysms of anguish and pain.

A better structure - But today I think we have seen new bodies built to a better design and when these bodies are ready the breath of the Spirit of Christ will bring them to an abundance of life.

But Ezekiel has more to tell us, 'They rose up on their feet.' This also seems to have happened immediately. From dead bodies to living bodies. And now to upright, standing bodies. We don't stand up in order to live, we will stand up because we live.

'They were an overwhelming army.' Not just standing bodies, but a body of standing bodies, a great and mighty army. There is a oneness that transcends our oneness in the local church. There is the oneness of the church worldwide, all the local churches working and cooperating together. The army has a single commander - Yahshua (Jesus)!

What a vision Ezekiel has received. It's a vision we sorely need to understand today.

< Prophecy to the breath | Index | The dry bones of church will live >

01 January 2012

Grace outpouring

Part 10 of a series - 'The Grace Outpouring'
< The abundant results of prayer | Index | Like light on the water >

Behind the prayers for blessing and the abundant evidence of the results, an inner awareness was growing of the need for grace in dealing with people. A new understanding was developing in Roy and Daphne's hearts and minds.

Rainclouds and sunshine over GalileeAs a result of the answers to prayer, it was now becoming clear that the best way to reach people is by first blessing them. Simply confronting people with truth and correction is ineffective and even counter productive.

Roy and Daphne start to challenge the accepted norms where these involve any form of judgement or criticism.
My old ways of giving away my faith were being changed as this understanding of blessing people began to not merely take hold of our hearts but actually bear fruit in our community.

I was no stranger to the 'truth and Scripture' method. This appeal to the mind is valid, good and powerful for many. But for people who don't consider themselves particularly literate and for those who have moved to a more visual, 'discovered in life' knowledge it can often fail to stir their hearts, minds and emotions.

I had started to challenge the 'faith as normal' mindset that I felt many Christians had slipped into. I had already begun to question a culture of faith that places a high value on correcting strangers. For example, we're very good at throwing stones at politicians and the media. Christians seem very keen on petitions. I started to ask people who wanted to publicise their petition objecting to a particular broadcast, for instance, whether they had ever previously commended the broadcaster for programmes that were wholesome. Were they praying for the media or was this simply mud-slinging?

Having a heart to bless will challenge the judgemental mindset that can colour how we look at those we live with and among. We can become a 'grace first' people. We're still asking people to turn away from rebellion against God but we're seeking to be part of the revelation from the Father that his primary desire is to bless those he created in his image.

If we will let the wisdom of God inhabit our thinking, a consistent 'grace first' pattern will emerge in our actions and words. 'Grace first' prayer for healing doesn't search for wrongdoing in a person's life, which needs correcting as a prelude to a miracle. There doesn't seem to be much evidence for that approach in the ministry of Jesus. We simply ask that the power of God should touch that life.

As goodness, grace and mercy are manifest we can remind people to change their ways - they're ready to hear the words of correction when they've heard the shout of love. Jesus, for instance, saved a sinful, adulterous woman from death and then gently suggested that she 'go and sin no more'.

Think for a moment about your experience with God. Sometimes a truth enters your life and you value it. It becomes a thread in your tapestry of faith. Then a season comes when you realise how important that insight is. The idea of blessing people, already growing in our lives, took hold of me in a new way as our life at Ffald-y-Brenin unfolded, despite the attacks that it also released.*
We can all learn from Roy and Daphne's experience. They found that a 'grace first' approach and prayer for blessing is a wonderful way to capture attention, hearts and minds and open the way for Jesus. We can take this approach too.

Why not look for opportunities to bless the people you meet in your daily life? Pray for them to receive a touch from the Lord. Ask him to bless their coming and going, their homes and families and jobs and businesses. And then, when you meet them at the supermarket checkout, in the street, at a school parent's evening or the cricket club or in the local pub, pray secretly in your heart again.

Ask for an abundance of good things for them, and when they start to tell you their stories you will be able to say, 'I asked Jesus to bless your business' - or family, school, garden, or whatever. And another seed will have been sown in a heart.

If we can all change our habits just a little here and there it will make a big difference. Here is one habit I want to cultivate in my own life - to pray for a blessing upon everyone who reads one of these blog posts. It seems such a little thing, but a lot of little things add up. A little habit consistently applied can achieve a lot of bad or a lot of good.

So why not develop little habits that will bring good results? Be like your Father in heaven who pours out the life-giving rain and sun on all people.

Read a brief review of the book (includes several ways to buy a copy).

*Copyright 2008 Roy Godwin, Dave Roberts. The Grace Outpouring published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.

< The abundant results of prayer | Index | Like light on the water >

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