Christian

Posts which have to do with my Christian faith.

Do not call anything impure that God has made clean

I’m currently reading through the book of Acts in the Bible, and in chapter 10 the apostle Peter has a famous vision in which God tells him to eat animals which are impure for a Jew to eat. When Peter refuses, God tells him three times

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Acts 10:15, NIV

The meaning in its context is clear. Acts is the story of God’s word spreading throughout the world, and the inclusion of Samaritans (half-Jews) and Gentiles (non-Jews) in God’s kingdom. Peter has this vision just before being asked to preach to a Gentile called Cornelius, and Peter says to him

“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.”

Acts 10:28, NIV

The gospel is now open to the Gentiles, and it is no longer important to become a Jew to be right with God. This is indisputably the primary meaning of what God said, and I certainly don’t wish to detract from that.

However, as I was reading this a few days ago, another implication of this struck me for the first time. Those of us who are Christians are made clean by God, yet how often we fail to recognise this. How often we focus on our own impurity, our sin. Yet once God has made us clean, we are clean, and we are not to call ourselves (or other Christians) impure. We are still sinners, and it’s right to fight against sin, both in our own lives and the lives of other Christians, but let’s not lose focus on the cleanliness God has given to us in Christ. We should not be despondent about sin. Instead, we can rest confidently in the God who has made us clean.

Quick Quote 5 – a three-tier distinction

When talking about homosexuality, I think it is helpful to make a three-tier distinction between attractions, orientation, and identity. … The first tier is same-sex attraction. Using this term is the most descriptive way people can talk about their feelings. This is the part of the equation they can’t control. … The next tier is homosexual orientation. When people talk about having a homosexual orientation, they are essentially saying that they experience a same-sex attraction that is strong enough, durable enough, and persistent enough for them to feel that they are oriented toward the same sex. …  The person is simply describing the amount and persistence of their own attraction, which is based on what they perceive attraction to be. … The third level, gay identity, is the most prescriptive. It is a sociocultural label that people use to describe themselves, and it is a label that is imbued with meaning in our culture.

Mark Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian

Quick Quote 4 – even dragons have their ending

There far away was the Lonely Mountain on the edge of eyesight. On its highest peak snow yet unmelted was gleaming pale. “So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending!” said Bilbo, and he turned his back on his adventure.

J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit

This is the Christian hope in the midst of pain and suffering; fire is quenched and even dragons have their ending.

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.

Revelation 12:9

Quick Quote 3 – there are no words left to express his staggerment

To say that Bilbo’s breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful. Bilbo had heard tell and sing of dragon-hoards before, but the splendour, the lust, the glory of such treasure had never yet come home to him. His heart was filled and pierced with enchantment and with the desire of dwarves; and he gazed motionless, almost forgetting the frightful guardian, at the gold beyond price and count.

J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit

When I get to heaven and see Jesus Christ face to face, even Tolkein’s description of Bilbo seeing the treasure hoard of the great dragon Smaug will be nothing in comparison to the wonder there will be. How thankful I am that there is no “frightful guardian” for the Christian to face, but a loving Father!

Thorin’s resurrection hope

For those who don’t know how The Hobbit ends, and don’t want the end of the last film to be spoiled, this would be a good post to skip. I’ll be blogging a few thoughts from The Hobbit for the whole of this week, as I’ve just finished reading it, so you might want to check back next Monday. For the rest of you, read on…

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The moral dilemma of a drug-addicted beggar

Have you ever been asked for money by a beggar, but been reluctant to give any for fear that it will fund a drug habit or some other destructive behaviour? I’m sure many of us have felt the tension between wanting to be generous and not wanting to fund an addiction. We are not the first to face this dilemma, and we can undoubtedly learn from those who went before us, whether or not we agree with their conclusions.

Charles Spurgeon, a Victorian preacher, pondered this very question. He decided that he would give money to people in need, even if he knew they would spend it on an addiction instead of spending it on food, and gave two reasons. His first reason was:

If poor people come to me, apparently starving, and I give them bread, and when they receive it, they turn it into drink, I am not to be held accountable for their wrongdoing. My present and pressing duty is to relieve the hungry, and to prevent starvation as far as I can. If men and women are so sinful as to abuse the mercy which God sends to them through me, I am not to be so wrong as to cease from giving to the poor on that account.

In other words, Spurgeon drew a sharp distinction between his responsibility and the responsibility of the poor. He was to be an instrument of God’s mercy, giving generously to others. How those gifts were used was the responsibility of the person to whom they were given.

The second reason Spurgeon gave was:

If God were to keep back from us all his mercies because we might turn them into evils, there would be very little for him to bestow upon us. There is not anything in this world, however good it may be, but may be turned to evil by the sons of men; but God does not withhold his favours because of that sad fact.

Both quotes by Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Sunlight for Cloudy Days, p77

Here we see that Spurgeon sees it as Godly behaviour to give gladly even when that giving may be misused. Notice how he identifies himself as a sinner turning blessings into evil behaviour, just like some beggars turn generosity into destructive addictions. Only from that perspective, as a recipient of God’s goodness, is he able to apply the lesson to himself and fulfil his duty, giving freely and without suspicion.

Do you agree with Spurgeon’s reasoning? What do you do in these situations?

Quick Quote 2 – the joy and tragedy of marriage

All human marriages begin with joy but end in tragedy. Whether it is divorce or death, the human bond of love is eventually torn apart. The marriage of Christ and his church, however, begins with tragedy and ends with a joyful and loving union which will never be rent asunder.

Carl Trueman, Reflections on “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?”

The Riddle of Strider

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

If you recognise those words, you probably know they refer to Aragorn, or Strider, a key character in The Lord of the Rings.

At the start of this verse, Tolkein cunningly subverts our expectations by altering a well known phrase. We’re all familiar with the saying ‘not all that glitters is gold’, and for years I thought the first line of the above poem was simply a rephrasing of this well worn proverb. But when I looked more closely, I realised that Tolkein has altered the meaning. Rather than saying that not all gold looks valuable, he says that everything that is golden looks as if it isn’t valuable. His phrase is all-encompassing. All that is gold does not glitter. Everything worth having looks worthless, and anything that looks valuable is a fake.

Aragorn is not recognised for who he really is, so he goes by the name of Strider, or Longshanks. Neither seems intended as a compliment, and the locals in Bree where we first meet him don’t trust him at all. He wanders perpetually, never settling, seemingly having nowhere to call his home. But Tolkein warns us not to be deceived by appearances. This traveller has purpose. Not all those who wander are lost.

As the story develops, we see that Aragorn’s age and experience have made him stronger, and his awareness of the past have given him an ability to resist the comings and goings of others. While others around him wither, or are destroyed by frost, Aragorn knows he is the heir of an old, old kingdom. He puts down deep roots into his heritage, the kingdom of his forefathers, and he is able to be sturdy, dependable, and above all, strong.

Having said that, when Frodo first sees a hooded man in a corner of a room, there is nothing to suggest the presence of a king, much less the presence of a long-awaited heir. Here is a man seemingly at a loose end, wandering the earth with nothing to live for, his life nothing more than ash. But from those ashes a fire shall be woken, and a light from the shadows shall spring. The man sitting hidden in a corner, hiding away from the adulation that most kings crave, will one day be the source of fiery light to many.

There is a blade which will bring this about. It is a broken blade, a useless and defeated blade, but a blade which is imbued with resurrection hope. When it is renewed, the crownless wanderer shall settle in the home he had all along, as the rightful king and the one who brings peace.

As Aragorn says, “I am Aragorn, and those verses go with that name.” But it could equally well describe another. There is another king who laid aside his crown and wandered the earth with nowhere to lay his head, but he was not lost. He was old, from before time itself, and he knew the eternal purpose for which he had come. His flame was cruelly extinguished, leaving nothing but ash, yet from that ash awoke a new flame, greater and more terrible than before. The Sun of righteousness rose from the shadow of death, and there was healing in his wings, because, as Aragorn showed, the hands of the king are the hands of a healer. The broken blade of his body was renewed, and once again the crownless is king. Now those who recognise him must follow in his footsteps, wandering the earth, yet they are no more lost than Aragorn. We, like little Aragorns, are moving towards a home where they will be given crowns and will reign. But we merely imitate the One great and true Aragorn, the man Jesus Christ. In his kingdom, the last shall be first, and although the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, in the kingdom of Christ it is certain that all that is gold does not glitter.

He loveth still

Sadly I don’t anticipate that this post will mark the beginning of a golden era of blog posts here, but I wanted to share this before I forget. Quoted below are two verses of a hymn I came across about a week ago. Take a minute or two now to reflect on the words, and what they say about God and us.

In Him is only good,
in me is only ill;
my ill but draws His goodess forth,
and me He loveth still.

‘Tis He who saveth me,
and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me,
I live because He lives.

From “I bless the Christ of God” by Horatius Bonar

Great expectations?

What expectations do you have in life? How do they affect you?

I learnt to juggle when I was around 12 years old, and it didn’t take long. Partly that’s because young people pick up new skills quickly, and partly it’s because juggling isn’t really very difficult. Over Easter I spent a bit of time trying to learn to ride a unicycle, and it was much harder. I suffered from a combination of being almost a decade older, and unicycling being a much more challenging skill to learn.

To give you an idea of the progress I made from a week of regular practice, I have progressed from sitting on the unicycle holding onto two stationary objects to being able to cycle while holding onto a wall for a few feet before falling off. It’s slow progress, but I’m happy with it. Why? Because I read on the internet that unicycling is a difficult skill to learn, and takes a lot of practice. Also, a friend who is able to unicycle told that there was no shortcut which could remove the need to practice. I started to learn with the expectation of a difficult challenge, so when I made a small amount of progress I was pleased about it.

Imagine if my expectations had been different. Imagine I’d expected to be a skilled rider at the end of the week, perhaps learning to perform basic tricks. Imagine if I’d gone to a skate park, and tried unicycling up a ramp. It wouldn’t have ended well for me, that’ s for sure! Having the right expectations was important for how I felt about my progress, and is important for how we feel about life more generally.

What expectations should Christians have of what their lives will be like? Do we expect life as a Christian to be no different from anyone else’s life? Do we expect to radically and rapidly transform into a state of joyous perfection? Do we expect some compromise between the two, or perhaps a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs?

I continually forget what the Christian life is like. I’ve been a Christian for years, but still my expectations get warped out of all reality. I typically find myself making one of two mistakes – either expecting an easy life or expecting life to be so hard I can never progress.

The Christian life isn’t an easy one. Even without any external suffering (and there is no guarantee of freedom from that) there is a constant battle with sin. No Christian is free from it, and only an unhealthy Christian doesn’t keenly feel it. When I forget to expect this, I am discouraged by my frequent failures to live up to my own moral standards, let alone God’s! But when I remember to expect it, I can turn to God for help fighting my sin. I can remind myself that it is God who works in and through me, and it is God who makes me progressively more holy. And I can have joy in the fight.

The opposite mistake could actually be viewed as the flip side of the same wrong expectation. It is remembering that there is a fight to be had, but forgetting to actually fight it! When I forget that progress is to be expected, and expect stagnation, I am essentially surrendering the fight. I despair at my sinfulness, and my helplessness to change it. But when I remember to expect change, I can turn to God for the necessary power to change. While I still acknowledge my weakness and inability to change, I can remind myself of the God who is changing me. And I can have joy in the change.

Getting the right expectations matter. They protect me from expecting too much, and the discouragement which comes when I don’t live up to my own expectations. They protect me from expecting too little, and missing out on progress God is delighted to give me. I need the right expectations. I need gospel expectations.

What expectations do you think are important in your life?

(For the articles which inspired this one, see The secret cause of discouragement and How to turn ordinary experiences into extraordinary ones, both by Joshua Hood.)