Monday, 19 August 2019

The Belief In Disbelief

This discussion is likely to become somewhat tortuous. But please hang in there. Try to follow my argument and, if you disagree, please write in and put me right.

We are at this point in time Christians. By whatever means or way we came to this point, be it cradle Christians, born and raised this way, or by conversion to Christianity, or whatever other route we took in life to get to where we are now; we are essentially Christians.

By this we mean basically that we believe in God. We believe that Jesus is His only Son, born of a virgin as a human here on earth, albeit He is/was God, He died for us, raised from the dead and went up to Heaven. And when there He sent us His Holy Spirit. These are the very basics of our beliefs.

Now some of us take these beliefs, put them at the back of our mind, and get on with our busy lives. Getting to work, raising a family, looking after our financial affairs, making sure we have enough savings for when we're ill or for old age; and we live our daily lives, shopping, cooking, taking the trash out every day ... that sort of thing. Life takes over and, although we believe, we still have to be realistic and get on with life.

Some of us, however, take our beliefs even more to heart. They are central to our lives, central to everything we do, they form and guide our every actions in life, to the point of our very existence; breathing even. Our beliefs are ourselves. We are our beliefs. We do not spend time fretting and worrying about the minutiae of life. God exists, He will take care of us, and of our needs.

Such a path of total unwavering beliefs, admirable and laudable though it is, is full of dangers and pitfalls in itself. Our total 100% reliance on our beliefs can in itself, at some point, lead one at times to question those very beliefs which have for so long shaped and formed our lives, our very existence, what we are now and what we have become.

We ask ourselves, is this all real? What led me to the point that I believe what I believe? What evidence is there for it? What proof? I believe through blind Faith; but what if it's all a fallacy, a myth, a man-made story and set of rules just to keep society in check. Our basic beliefs, the existence of an almighty god, having a son of virgin birth, his death, resurrection and the sending of his spirit are in themselves unbelievable.

That point of questioning to the point of doubts of our very beliefs, unbelievable as it seems, does occur to many of those who have followed a hitherto path of unwavering belief.

How is this so?

The devil, who does exist, make no mistake about that, takes our very unwavering belief as an opportunity to cast doubt and confusion in our mind. For he it is who, unaware by us, sheds the odd flash of questioning and uncertainty in our minds. It is he who aims to lead us astray from our beliefs and faith. After all, what is the point of him tempting those who don't believe? They are already in his camp. It's the others, those who believe, that he wants to recruit.

Usually, those who do not believe in God don't have any doubts about their beliefs. Have you noticed how unbelievers are always certain of their position? They believe they know for sure that God does not exist and are eager to prove it to you.

I often wonder about all the Saints we have read about. Were they all 100% totally dedicated to their beliefs and faith and were they all totally unwavering throughout their lives?

The answer is no. Most of them, if not all, had their moments of doubts, their moments of confusion and temptations. But they kept trying, through prayers, dedication, and perhaps outright stubbornness, they kept going on in their beliefs despite all the difficulties these gave rise too. No doubt, they were sinners too. Like you and me. But they kept on trying.

Despite their failings, their short-comings, and their weaknesses - Saints are sinners who kept on trying.

Hopefully ... like you and me.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

It's not important

What is important at one point in time may not be that important at another point in time further down the line.

But at the time, it was very important to you. That is why you argued your case, you took entrenched positions, and you had a strong point of view.

The point was that you were right, and therefore it follows that if you were right then the other person was wrong. And it was your duty to stand up for your rights. It was right that you do so and not walk away and let wrong get away with it.

It was a matter of principle. And where principles are involved it was important that you fight for them.

Eventually, the matter may or may not have been resolved. Both parties may or may not have reconciled or compromised.

It is possible that you both went your separate ways. Perhaps you never spoke to each other ever since. Maybe you have not even met ever since. You both walked away and the issue was left unresolved.

But now, years later, looking back, was it that important after all?

Was it too difficult to resolve? Are you certain you were totally in the right and the other person totally in the wrong? Was it a matter of such importance and a principle worth fighting over to the point where you both lost whatever ground there was between you?

Was what was important then still important now?

Had you known then its true lack of importance would you have fought for it just as much, believing it was more important than it really was?

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Listen to the falling rain

Listen to the falling rain,
Listen to it fall,
And with every drop of rain,
I can hear you call,
Call my name right out loud,
I can hear above the clouds,
And I'm here among the puddles,
You and I together huddle. 
(Jose Feliciano)

Listening is difficult. It requires effort and concentration. When you listen you have to hear, understand, analyse, form an opinion, formulate an answer whether you speak it or not, and act on what you have listened to.

Listening is more than just hearing. We hear many things in our daily life. The sound of the traffic outside, the dog barking or whatever other noises surround us.

But if as we drive we hear a noise from the engine, our brain changes gear to listening, analysing what the noise is and how to deal with it.

Our listening attention depends on who is doing the talking. How important they are. How relevant what they say is to your own priorites and well-being.

It is said that in a successful marriage one of the partners should be slightly deaf. Preferably the husband.

This is because, (so they say), wives tend to prattle on about this and that, what's been on TV, what the neighbour did, what the kids said about school, and so on and so forth. Sometimes the conversation is about tasks undone - taking the trash out, painting the spare room, mowing the lawn etc ... And the husband says, "Yes dear ..." and ignores what's being said. Especially if it interferes with football on the TV.

But if the wife says, "We need to talk ... (it always starts with this sentence) ... I want a divorce!" the husband suddenly listens up and takes his attention away from the TV or whatever he is doing. He knows this time it is serious and he should listen carefully.

We listen carefully depending on the seriousness of what is being said and who is saying it. Our partner, the boss, the doctor, the baby crying ... and so on.

But what if it is God speaking? How important is He? Is anyone listening?

Or is God just speaking to Himself?

Friday, 16 August 2019

How do you feel?

A phrase used often by reporters on TV when interviewing someone is, "How do you feel ... ?"

A celebrity wins an Oscar or whatever other award and the reporter puts a microphone to their face and asks, "how are you feeling right now?"

Someone or other wins a prize on the lottery and they're over-excited and the reporter asks, "how are you feeling about this win?"

There's been a tragic disaster, people have been injured or killed, and the reporter asks a crying person, "how do you feel right now?"

I guess this obsession with peoples' feelings at different times in their lives, whether happy or sad, is to bring it home to us, the viewers, the very emotions that people are going through at the very moment that it happens. We share their joys, or sadness as we see them on the screen. For a moment perhaps we touch their very souls as they undergo the emotions of the moment.

OK ... let me try this on you. Here's the microphone in front of you and I'm expecting a quick response and reaction to the question.

"You are a Christian, what is your feeling about this?"

Are you ... Happy? Joyful? Glad? Nonplussed? Nonchalant? Blasé? Sad? Worried? Fearful? Other?

What does being a Christian mean to us in this day and age? Is it something to be proud of? Something to hide and shy away from? Or just a label we use for convenience when someone asks, or when we are filling an application form or a census form or such like?

Not long ago I ran a small discussion group in our church and we were discussing a Bible reading. I asked, "If someone with a microphone asked you in the street who was Jesus, what would you say?"

The responses I got was, "He was a teacher, a wise man, a healer, He performed miracles, ... and so on."

No one said, He was/is the Son of God.

When I pointed this out they responded, "We don't say that sort of thing in public in this country. We don't talk like that about religion and things!"

Now I may have been in a cocoon these past few years. Either comatose or completely sheltered from this world. But it was not ever so.

Time was when men took their hats off when entering a church, or when a funeral cortège passed by. Women used to cover their heads with a scarf or hat when in church. People used to kneel before taking a seat in the pews. Time was when being a Christian was a good thing.

When I worked in London people there knew I was a Christian. I did not go around preaching to everyone or waving my hands in the air shouting "Praise the Lord!" Talking about religion and politics was strictly forbidden at work; but people knew I was a Christian.

I was in business, made business decisions, tough ones at times that were not palatable or popular. Often my decisions were diametrically opposed to that of others. I fought my corner and lost friends as a result. I made mistakes ... many. And was most probably as good or as bad as everyone else.

Once a colleague and I visited nearby St Paul's Cathedral at lunchtime. It was/is a tourist attraction and as we entered the huge building my friend waved his hand in the air, pointing to the ceiling and all around and said, "Tell me ... do you believe in all that?"

I replied, "Yes ... as a matter of fact I do!"

He said nothing.

I hope that if the same scenario happened today I would reply the same way. I don't know. Pointing the microphone at myself I ask, "How do I feel about that?"

How do you feel about that?

More important ... How does God feel about that?

Thursday, 15 August 2019

I am not worthy

Let us read bits from John Chapter 15, especially the bits I have marked in bold:

5   I am the vine, and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.

7   If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it.

10   If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love.

16   You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of Him in my name.

When I was young, many years ago, and lived in London, I made many acquaintances with well-to-do people. They were not friends as such, just acquaintances. People I knew and met with often. I wonder where they all are now !!!

One day, one such acquaintance said: "Let's go to my club."

"My club?" I thought, "I wonder what he means."

Moments later we arrived at this very classy building with a man at the door wearing a posh uniform. He saluted my friend by touching his cap, eyed me suspiciously, and opened the door to let us in.

It was a gentleman's club.

As we entered my feet sank into such luxurious carpets so thick that it was like walking through a cloud of feathers. Above me were chandeliers so big and so magnificent that they probably needed their own power stations to keep them lit. Around me on the walls hung the most beautiful oil paintings I'd ever seen, all originals, mostly portraits of old people in ancient type clothings. No doubt patrons of this place from years gone by. There were also a variety of full size marble statues; the kind you would find in a Roman or Greek temple or palace. I didn't know who they were, but they looked as if they belonged to these sumptuous surroundings.

We entered a very large room with similar thickness of carpets and wall-to-wall luxury. It was full of huge leather chairs placed in twos or threes around tables scattered here and there. There were already some men there, sitting quietly and reading their papers.

My friend and I sat at a table. He asked me if I wanted a drink. "No point in asking for a beer," I thought, "this place is far too posh to have something as common as beer. Or indeed, someone as common as me. I do not belong in this place!"

I asked my friend what he'd suggest and he rattled a list of wines all with fancy titles like "Chateaux Very Expensive" or "Chateaux Even More Extravagantly Expensive". He suggested that if I'd prefer a brandy they have a selection of Cognacs dating back several centuries and favourites of princes and emperors from years gone by.

I can't remember what I eventually had to drink; but I knew that I did not belong there. Had I turned up to this place on my own, no doubt the doorkeeper, or maître d’hôtel as my friend called him, would have stopped me getting in and threw me in front of a passing taxi or bus. The only reason I was there, and enjoying a luxurious drink at his expense I might add, was because I was with him. He had the golden ticket to enter this oasis in a busy London, and he had the right to bring in whoever he wants, including riff-raff like me.

When I think about it; it's the same about Heaven I suppose. We don't have a right to be there. We're not really worthy. God has invited us all to His place if we come with Jesus. "No one goes to the Father, except by me." John 14:6

And as Jesus says in the quotations above, if we remain in Him, we will bear much fruit. We will be one with Him, His followers, His friends, under His protection, and loved by Him.

And twice He promises that if we remain in/with Him, we can ask anything in His name and His Father will let us have it.

When we pray, "God, in the name of Jesus, I ask for ..." God will listen. He will respond. And in His own time, and in His own way, our prayers will be answered.

And if we stay side by side with Jesus, hand-in-hand throughout our life, no matter how difficult it is sometimes; then one day we too will be welcome in Paradise. Just because we are with Jesus.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Let's Agree To Disagree

Let's agree to disagree.

I never quite understood what this phrase meant. Does it mean that if I think something is red and you think it is blue, then we agree that neither of us is right? Surely if the choice is binary, between two alternatives, then one of us is right and the other not.

History is full of examples of people not agreeing on something. Nations have often disagreed on various issues and at times the disagreements were such that they led to wars and much suffering and death. They did not say, "let us agree to disagree", when the subject matter was of such importance that it had to be resolved one way or another. It could not be left unresolved ... for ever.

I am sure all of us in our personal lives can recall instances when we had to decide one way or another, to be on one side or another, on an important matter which at the time challenged a hard-held principle or belief.

I half-heard this sentence, "let us agree to disagree", on the radio the other day as I was reading the Bible. And it set me thinking ...

Did Jesus at any time say to His disciples, His followers or listeners, "let us agree to disagree"?

I could not find an example. Perhaps you can. Write me about it if you do.

This train of thought led me to the Gospel of St John Chapter 6 where Jesus says He is "the Bread of life" and later when He says that unless people eat His flesh or drink His blood they will not have life.

As you can imagine, this was very confusing to His listeners; even His followers and disciples.

"What is He on about?" they asked. "How can we eat His flesh and drink His blood? This is cannibalism surely. This is too much for us. We don't want to follow this guy any longer!"

They got up and left. So what did Jesus do?

He didn't say "Hey ... wait a minute. You didn't understand what I meant. This is what I really meant to say ... let me explain!"

After He explained it a second time, He did not say, "All right then ... let us agree to disagree!"

No ... Jesus let them go. He didn't try to justify Himself or what He had just said. It was as if He dissolved the unspoken contract between them. They could not accept a certain clause so He let them go.

Then He turned to His disciples and asked, "How about you? Do you want to go as well?"

As ever, Peter was first to answer, "To whom shall we go?" he asked. "We're in this for the duration, all the way, to the end". Or words to that effect, signifying that he trusted Jesus without question; albeit no doubt he had many questions in his mind. Peter accepted Christ's words without question and stepped out in blind Faith and dared to believe.

This particular Chapter in the Bible has been the cause of much debates, and arguments, amongst Christians for centuries. No doubt it will continue to be so.

The reality is, in my view, we will never understand what Christ meant by these words. Not until we meet Him face to face that is.

But God never asked us to understand Him. Only to trust Him and believe.

That's what Faith is.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Saint Peter's Assistant

You have died ... and you find yourself in Heaven's Reception Room. There, sitting at the computer is Saint Peter searching for your details and information. Standing behind him is a figure pointing at you.

You look carefully and, despite the shroud covering the figure, you recognise who it is; and your heart misses a beat and sinks to your stomach.

There pointing at you is your arch-enemy. You did not even know the person is dead. You had an almighty argument years ago and you parted company the greatest of enemies. You have never met since. What is that person doing here and pointing at you accusingly.

Saint Peter looks up from his computer and says: "Meet my assistant. You two have not met for sometime!"

Your heart misses another beat and sinks even lower to your feet. If your arch-enemy is here there's no point in going on with the preliminaries of reception to this place. He will have told Saint Peter all about you. You might as well go down without a parachute.

"My assistant has something to tell you," continues Saint Peter.

Your arch-enemy speaks. "I am so sorry I have hurt you. I never sought forgiveness nor cared much for it. Please forgive me."

There's a lump in your throat. Your heart gives up in despair unable to go any lower.

Saint Peter explains. "My assistant here had an opportunity to examine his conscience before he died. He deeply regretted the way he lived and asked God's forgiveness. That's why he is here. When he heard of your arrival he asked if he could seek your forgiveness too. Welcome to Heaven."


If you have wronged someone, seek forgiveness now. You may not get the opportunity before you die. And you may not meet again in the other life. That is unless you both meet at a place where it does not matter whether we forgive or not! 
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