Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Gospel

Build your house on the rock

Aug 2017 image 400pxWhen Jesus wanted His listeners to understand how important it was to put His words into actions, He chose to tell a parable…

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash (Matthew 7:24-27NLT).

Not everyone ends up building an actual house. But we all have to build a life. Which means, in a world that gets harder and more complicated with each passing year, we need to make wise decisions. Decisions about where it’s safe to live, how to earn money, who we can trust to hang out with… and lots and lots of moral decisions. For example, every day there are temptations to lie, steal, slander, be cruel or at least indifferent to someone we can help. And sometimes a terrible test comes along when we least expect it. People have woken up and, without any planning, made split decisions that have landed them in jail… or worse. We can lose our temper in a parking lot or agree to cover up corruption at work.

So, if building a life is like building a house then how do we build wisely? How do we avoid the rain, winds and floods that tear lives apart? Jesus tells us to build our life foundation on His words. When He said this Jesus was concluding the most important and world changing speech of all time – His famous Sermon On The Mount. In it He asks people to be honest with themselves and God. And He challenges people to live their lives to God’s high standard. Deep down we know these things are right.

Are you ready to start a fresh building? Considering this magnificent fact may be a help… Jesus willingly went to the cross and sacrificed His life for the sake of the world. It shows us that His words aren’t empty. On the contrary – they’re solid as a rock.

Bible Verse: Matthew 7:24 Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock”.

Prayer: Dear God, help me to start my life afresh with Jesus as my foundation.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, August 2017


God: Fill the earth and subdue it

July-17_WhenGodSaid 400pxThe earth is in trouble. Forests are disappearing. Rates of extinction for animals and plants are 1,000 times greater than before the industrial revolution. Every minute a garbage truck’s worth of plastic slips into the world’s oceans. By 2050 the amount of plastic by weight floating at various depths will equal the total amount of all fish (World Economic Forum report).

Recently, scientists have started calling our age the Anthropocene era – the first point in history in which humans have become the major environmental influence on the planet. Sadly, so much of our impact on the world is destructive of other forms of life.

Are we pleasing God? When God told us in Genesis – back in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, that we were to: Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”.  … did God want us to care for creatures other than ourselves? Did He want us to care for plants and ecosystems? Or should we just focus on increasing the human population?

The answer to these questions is found in the same chapter of Genesis. As God looked at each part of His creation He declared it to be good (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and very good (Gen. 1:31). Which means creation is not just good because it helps humans survive and thrive. It is also good in and of itself – having both instrumental and intrinsic goodness. And because we humans have been given the task of ruling creation it’s our responsibility to safeguard this intrinsic goodness. Which is terribly difficult. But then, making hard decisions is the lot of all rulers. As we balance competing interests, sacrifices will be inevitable.

Some may say that, since God promises ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ when Jesus returns, we shouldn’t be too bothered about this world. After all, isn’t it going to pass away? Yet that would be ignoring both God’s command and basic common sense. You see, since we have no timetable for Jesus’s return we must plan for both the short and long term. Indeed, our wait for Jesus could be a long time. Are we really happy to leave a toxic and treeless planet for our children’s children?

If you’ve only just realized the extent of your responsibility to God’s creation then please take action where you can. It’s your duty.

Bible Verse: Genesis 1:28 Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”.

Prayer: Dear God, please help me to be a wise ruler of your creation every day as I wait for Jesus to return.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, July 2017


Apply daily to look good on the inside

June-17_ApplyDaily 400pxWhen it’s high in the sky the sun’s beauty is fierce. Though, as it sets, your gaze can be full and frank. From a rooftop late in the afternoon, something more beautiful and more terrifying held the gaze of King David. Most men experience turmoil at the sight of a beautiful, naked woman. A primal, instinctual urge turns interest automatically into desire. Only a forceful act of the will can turn the gaze. But David kept looking. On an adjacent rooftop a woman bathed. The teller of David’s story tells us, ‘She was very beautiful’. Yet, although Bathsheba was married, David took her anyway. Then, when she became pregnant and the sin couldn’t be concealed, David organized for the murder of her husband, Uriah.

When you read the fuller version of this Bible story you’ll notice many lessons. Chiefly, that God sees who we really are. And He’s angry when we behave badly. With David, God’s anger burned. He cursed his household with evil, further adultery and the death of the child conceived with Bathsheba, promising that, ‘the sword shall never depart from your house’.

David and Bathsheba’s story also has lessons for us about beauty. Firstly, contrary to popular complaint, beauty is no modern obsession – it’s always been a thing… because every society believes that good-looking people have more worth. Secondly, beautiful people get ahead in life. Bathsheba’s husband was not an Israelite. Yet her beauty overshadowed this stigma. David simply couldn’t resist her. Later, their son, Solomon, reigned as King at the highest point in Israel’s history. Thirdly, we learn that outward beauty is no guarantee of anything nice on the inside. The Bible tells us that David was also good looking. Specifically, ‘he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome’. But God made it clear that this wasn’t the reason he chose him. He said, ‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’.

Well, as we’ve seen, David’s heart became a corrupt mess. Later in the Bible (Psalm 51) he pleaded with God for help to make him beautiful on the inside. He cried, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a loyal spirit within me.’

So now, a disturbing question remains, ‘What does God see when He turns His fierce gaze upon me?’ Deep down we know the answer. Yet when we read the Bible we discover that God is willing to help. He’s willing to forgive and to come into our hearts so that we might become beautiful to Him.

Bible Verse: Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a loyal spirit within me”.

Prayer: Dear God, please forgive those things that I’ve thought, said and done that are ugly. Please help me to be beautiful on the inside.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017


Come and join us

Lisa Pearce from Open Doors says that, “If a Christian is discovered in Somalia, they’re unlikely to live to see another day”. The question to ask yourself is, ‘Why join a group experiencing 80% of the religious persecution in the world today? Especially when, in North Africa, the Middle East and many parts of Asia, Christians are vanishing. It seems a lost and futile cause.’

… but not according to Jesus – or His followers. Jesus said to all who’d follow Him, “you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers” (Matthew 24:9). Thankfully, He also promised that nothing would overcome His church (Matthew 16:18). So, trusting in these comforting words, Christians await persecution with confidence, praying, that when it comes, they’ll be ready to stand strong and bear witness to their Lord. They know, from the promises of scripture and the lessons of history, that nothing strengthens faith like persecution unto death.

So why does God allow such persecution? Because when a lost world sees Christians preferring to die than dishonor their Lord – they see faith that’s real. And when Christians love their enemies – the world sees a miracle. Esther from Eritrea says, “As Christians we’re required to love our enemies even though it is very difficult to do that when they make you suffer, or when they harm or kill your loved ones!”

Sadly, not all Christians listen to Jesus’s commands. In every age there are people behaving badly in the name of Jesus. Even now, in the Central African Republic, “Christian” militias persecute and murder Muslims. But the unreported truth is that religious persecution is utterly one sided. The vast majority of persecution between the world’s two largest religions is from Muslims towards Christians. So, if the secular media has given you an impression that all religious people just fight and kill each other then please reconsider.

The US Center for the Study of Global Christianity (and other sources) estimates that 100,000 Christians are martyred annually – roughly 11 per hour, or 1 every 5 minutes. You can read or download a moving and tragic article about their methodology at:
https://tinyurl.com/k7822xo

The following articles are exceptions to the media silence:
https://tinyurl.com/n6keu5t                    https://tinyurl.com/mq49qa9
https://tinyurl.com/msa3wma                https://tinyurl.com/qxsg2u4

You can help persecuted Christians by supporting the Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors.

Finally, dear friend, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Jesus’s words in Matthew 10:28). Do not be deterred by reports of persecution but come and join us as we worship Jesus

Bible Verse: Matthew 24:9 “You will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers”.

Prayer: Dear God please give hearts of lions to your people everywhere that they might stand firm for you.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, May 2017


Everlasting peace

March-17_EverlastingPeace_JPG 400pxFor years there’s been a Christian conspiracy theory about the logo for the Peace Movement. Rumors have alleged that the design is a poke in the eye to Christians. A Christian cross, turned upside down, with broken arms – rejecting the Christian message and its cross as the path to peace.

Yet the truth is that in 1958 a British designer called Gerald Holtom took two semaphore flag letters, ’N’ and ‘D’, to signal Nuclear Disarmament. The resulting symbol was then used on flags and placards at an anti nuclear rally.

And further to the story, Holtom was, in fact, a Christian. Although he’d wanted to use traditional Christian symbols of peace and unity he knew they’d never be widely accepted. After all, the Japanese had recently suffered a nuclear holocaust at the hands of ‘Christian’ America and the Muslims had long memories of Christian crusades. So the conspiracy is unfounded.

But, although many Christians have sympathized with the non-violent goals of the modern Peace Movement, suspicions about other agendas have been well founded. For example, when it took off, it had strong connections to the 60’s counterculture that promoted drug taking and sexual promiscuity as well as the New Age Movement that began in the 70’s with it’s focus on alternative religious philosophies.

Over the decades the movement has struggled to survive and know what it stands for. Is it against all wars including defensive ones? And now that traditional energy forms threaten the environment, is it still against nuclear energy? Especially since it doesn’t add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere?

Christianity, meanwhile, continues to be the peace movement that’s clear and relevant to everyone. The Bible promises there will always be wars in this age as well as discord and violence between individuals. But the solution won’t be found by simply trying to be nice to each other. We humans need renovating on the inside and that comes from being back in relationship with God – blessed by His powerful Holy Spirit inside us helping us to live peacefully.

To achieve this great reconciliation, Jesus went to the cross to pay for our sin so that God might forgive us. This is why the Christian cross is, after all, the supreme and most profoundly important symbol of peace in the world today. It represents real and lasting peace with God both now and forever.

So, will you make peace with God? Will you join the movement Jesus began that never ends?

Bible Verse: Romans 5:1 “And we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Dear God, I have been your enemy. Please forgive me and help me to live peacefully with you and others.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, March 2017


The world’s most testable religion

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The “Questions from atheists” Facebook page claims that “Christianity is the world’s most testable religion”. And “There is a huge difference between Christianity and other religions”. They have posted a video online that compares the origin of Christianity against the origin of other religions. Here’s what it says:

How other religions began
– Someone had a private idea about God, or
– Someone had a private dream about God, or
– Someone had a private encounter with an angel

Then that person told the rest of the world.

This makes other religions impossible to verify because there are no eye-witnesses of the prime event.

How Christianity began
– Jesus spent three years doing miracles and teaching publicly (There were at least three Passovers during this period – Jn. 2:23;6:6; 12:1), and
– Jesus was executed publicly (Mt. 27:39-43; Lk. 23:4-49), and
– Jesus was buried (Mt. 27:62-66) and rose from a public tomb publicly (Mt. 28:11-15), and
– Jesus showed that He was alive publicly (1 Cor. 15:3-8)

Then the public told the rest of the world.

Conclusion

So, Christianity is the world’s most testable religion. That’s a good reason why the Christian Bible is the best place to look for spiritual answers.

Reference
This blogpost reproduces information on the “Questions from atheists” Facebook page, which was brought to my attention by Steve Warsa.

Written, May 2016


Looking for spiritual answers

Story of GodThe National Geographic Channel is screening a documentary series “The story of God with Morgan Freeman”. It asks big cosmological questions like; How did we get here? What happens when we die? Why does evil exist? What is the apocalypse? And, the power of miracles. The series blends science, history, anthropology and personal experience on a journey to understand humanity’s religious devotion. It tells the story of religion and spirituality, across disciplines and faiths.

Freeman played God in the movie “Bruce Almighty”. When asked about his picture of God, Freeman said, “I don’t think there is an image of God. I like the idea of rays coming down from clouds. I like the idea of seeing the Milky Way on a clear and starry night or under a full moon. That is the essence of existence. You’re there totally with the great unknown. That’s God”. Also, “The highest power is the human mind. That’s where God came from, and my belief in God is my belief in myself”.

Many people are aware of a spiritual dimension to life. They may sense a divine higher being that provides meaning and purpose and moral guidance. Or they may realize that their capacity for thinking, willing and feeling is beyond the physical realm. The fact that we need to find meaning and purpose in our lives means that we are spiritual beings.

A Google search on “spiritual answers” gives a range of responses including those based on, meditation, yoga, Christianity, Hinduism, Mormonism, psychics, mysticism, and higher consciousness. Some say that all religions lead to God and heaven. But, according to the Bible that’s not true.

True and false

When Jesus was in Sychar, He asked a Samaritan woman for water to drink from the well. In their conversation Jesus mentioned her previous five husbands. She responded by calling him a prophet and discussing places of worship. Then Jesus said, “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:21-22NIV). The Samaritan Bible contained only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Samaritans worshipped the true God, but their failure to accept much of His revelation meant that they knew little about Him. They mixed the law of Moses with idolatry and built a temple on Mount Gerizim. Consequently, Jesus condemned their ways of worship and spiritual practices, which must have been inconsistent with the Old Testament (the Bible at that time). He corrected her by saying that God’s revelation in Scripture came through the Jews (their Scripture taught that a Messiah was coming into the world) and the Messiah (who was talking to her) was Jewish.

Jesus is saying that God can now be worshipped in any place. In the Old Testament the Israelites were to worship God at the tabernacle (as it moved from Sinai to Canaan) or at the temple (in Jerusalem). But after Jesus came, there’s no one special place to worship God. Instead, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). We can worship God anywhere. And corporate worship is possible wherever Christians gather together. Also, Jesus said that He was metaphorically the new temple, the new meeting place with God – “Destroy this temple (His body), and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19).

Then Jesus said that because God is spirit, people must worship God “in the Spirit and in truth” – “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (Jn. 4:23-24).

Because truth is associated with Jesus Christ, true worship must include Jesus (Jn. 1:14; 14:6). Jesus is “full of grace and truth”. And He’s “the way and the truth and the life”. So there is true worship and false worship. There is true religion and false religion. There is true spirituality and false spirituality. This is how to test spiritual answers. Because the Samaritan worship didn’t include Jesus (as Messiah), it was a false worship. A false religion. Jesus said, “Whoever rejects me rejects Him who sent me (Lk. 10:16). If you reject Jesus, you reject the true God. This means that Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and any other religion or philosophy that does not accept Jesus as the divine Savior of the world who came to die for sinners and rise again and become the Mediator between God and humanity is false. The Bible says that only one religion leads to God and heaven – true Christianity. Despite our pluralistic, multicultural, relativistic and all-tolerant world, all other religions are false.

What about Morgan Freeman’s search around the world for spiritual answers? He said that “the great unknown” is God. Is this true or false? It’s false because God has revealed much more about Himself in the Bible. His search doesn’t include Jesus at all. And God is much more that our mind or our self-belief. What about all the religions and philosophies? All except Christianity as described in the Bible are false. They don’t include Jesus. Or if they do include Jesus, it’s not the Jesus described in the Bible.

Lessons for us

Don’t be like Morgan Freeman and look for spiritual answers in the wrong places. And the results of a Google search that don’t include Jesus as described in the Bible are wrong places.

It’s easy to be influenced by others. For example, the Israelites were influenced to worship the gods of other nations. Likewise, today we can be influenced by the news media, social media, academics, politicians, and movies. In fact, we can be influenced by anyone.

Let’s look in the Bible for our spiritual answers and not be swayed by the other false religions and philosophies.

Written, May 2016