Parable Of The Sower

Every Society has its dream of a better world. The classless society, the American dream; Utopia. Martin Luther King spoke about having a dream where black and white would no longer be segregated.

We hear our politicians when it’s coming up to election time talk about a fair and just society. The former British Prime Minister David Cameron talked about the ‘Big Society’. Not sure whatever happened to it.

The Jews of the first century were no different to us in wanting a better society and a better world. In the Old Testament, we can read from Judges on through to Kings and Chronicles all about the different rulers and kings Israel had and what sort of society they tried to create.

But as time went on it became clear that it would take an extraordinary intervention on God’s part to transform this present evil world into the sort of world where God’s people would really feel at home.

A decisive victory over the power of evil would have to be won, a victory no ordinary human being could ever achieve.

The people looked forward to the arrival of a supernatural deliverer, the one who would be anointed like the mighty heroes of the past; a new David; but greater even than David was. They waited for The Messiah.  

Don’t worry said the prophets; things look pretty bad for us Jews in this present wicked age.

But soon the Messiah will step out of the wings of history; and then at long last the kingdom of God will begin.

Can you imagine the shock that must have gone through the population of Galilee when Jesus, a young carpenter from Nazareth, started to wander around their towns and villages saying it had happened? ‘The kingdom of God has Come’. Its arrived. ‘Repent and believe the good news that I bring’. That’s what he said.

Many as we know were naturally very sceptical. They were not unfamiliar with lunatics who indulged their megalomaniac fantasies by pretending to be the Messiah.

But this man did not just make messianic claims; he cast out demons, he healed the sick, he raised the dead. He feeds 5000 plus people with a few fish and some loaves. He forgave people. And he taught. He wasn’t just all talk.

There was a charisma about him that had not been seen in Israel since the days of the greatest prophets 500 years before. There was even a rumour than he was Elijah or Jeremiah back from the dead.

The word ‘kingdom’ in that part of the world meant a great deal to the Galilean masses. The mere mention of the kingdom fired up their most fanatical zeal, and inspired their most passionate commitment.

All Jesus had to do when confronted by this vast multitude was to work a miracle or two and deliver a suitable firebrand speech and the whole of the Galilean countryside would have erupted enthusiastically for his Messiahship.

 He could easily have whipped up the crowds to march on Jerusalem. As some political leaders try to do even today.

But the extraordinary thing is, he didn’t. Instead he told them a story.

He had power greater than every nation combined together on planet earth at his disposal. But instead he tells the people a story. Can you imagine this great crowd coming to him from town after town, full of expectancy, hanging on to every word and ready to do as he commands? Then He sits down and tells them a Story.

Not a straight forward type of story; but a bizarre perplexing riddle of a story called a Parable. People are more open to stories; but not everybody; this is the strange conundrum.

Even his closest friends were utterly bewildered by this kind of approach. What on earth are you doing Jesus they asked him. What is this parable business all about?

Then he explains to them; ‘the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that though seeing, they may Not see, through hearing they may Not understand. What does he mean? These are unpopular and controversial words.

What Jesus says here clearly seems to contradict the popular view of parables as moralizing stories told to aid the understanding of simple rural people.  

On the contrary; Jesus says he speaks in parables not to make it Easier for people to understand, but to make it Harder. Though seeing, they may Not see, though hearing, they may Not understand. Whatever you make of that, its quite clear that Jesus was not as impressed by these crowds, streaming out of Galilee to see him, as we might have been, if we had been there.

Jesus was not convinced that they were on his wavelength.

You see Jesus grew up with these people; he knew perfectly well what their ideas of the kingdom of God were; and that they were as different from his own ideas……. as chalk and cheese. As day to night. He had to take a different way with them. The last thing he wanted to do was to foster their mistaken notions by courting popularity with them. He was going to make things difficult for them.

He hints in fact that he feels rather as the prophet Isaiah did, when he was told to preach to a people whose hearts would be Hardened against his words.

Yet At other times Jesus speaks to the crowds and challenges them; he who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ Verse 8. So how do properly assess what Jesus is saying here.

This particular parable acts as a type of filter. You know what a filter does. It sifts.

Among the thousands who come to see and hear him for all the wrong reasons; he believes there are Some, just some who are genuinely Open to the truth.

A tiny minority maybe, amid that vast spiritually deaf multitude; but though few, they Did have ears to hear.

His parables were like a type of Filter that identified those True disciples.

They identified those who came to Jesus looking for just a political leader, a nationalist revolutionary, or a spell binding miracle worker, they went away disillusioned. Or I want you Jesus to give me the wow factor; take away all my troubles and tribulations, then I can get on with living for myself.

They found to their disappointment a teller of stories. But those who were drawn to him by some deeper magnetism stayed. In their hearts God’s spirit was working. They were being inwardly called to follow him.

Though they were perplexed at first, just like all the others, they were also intrigued, longing to understand what he was really getting at, sensing that somewhere buried in the obscurity of his parables lay the clue to that kingdom of God for which their hearts longed.

To you he says to them; ‘the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given’. But for some you have to take it a step further.

You will never find the kingdom, or Jesus for that matter if you do not allow your mind and heart to be opened. You need to move closer to him.

This is in fact, a fundamental characteristic of all Jesus’ ministry. You don’t get to grips with his message from the safe distance of a detached curiosity.

Unlike so many orators and some preachers of today; Jesus’ head was never turned by the flattery of the crowds.

He wasn’t fooled by the illusion of success that big numbers conjure up, he saw through all that hype. Instead he was perfectly content to Invest himself in just Twelve men and the handful of women Luke names for us. Provided they were real listeners, real learners, and real disciples, he was prepared to give the whole of himself to such a tiny band.

The parable of the Sower acts as a sifting process because

 behind this imagery of the sower and the seed is the solemn and serious truth that only some who hear his words are ultimately blessed by him and saved.

You know the way when people joined the Gold Rush in America back in the 1800’s. You see the prospectors sifting through a pile of dirt and stones from the river bed as they look for gold. And then they start to gradually wash all the debris away, until there is just one or two gold nuggets left.

Though there may be many whose initial response to the gospel looks promising, the path of being a follower of Jesus proves too demanding. They can’t hack it.

Different people view the meaning of parables differently. Some feel that parables are deliberately mysterious and elusive. But by drawing us into this particular story Jesus brings home some truths that we were not aware of which can strike home and leave us uncomfortable, perplexed and wanting more.

No matter whether we understand this parable, this story; at the first or second or third or fourth attempt; it can take years; Jesus still gets his message across. He wants us to hear it; to think carefully about it; and respond to it.

The photo shows the icon, “Christ the Sower of Seeds.”

Rahab’s Faith

The children of Israel as they enter into the Promised Land, Canaan, have a few major challenges ahead of them. Their great leader Moses has died and there are a lot of people in Canaan who do not like, or want the Israelites anywhere near them. The entire generation that set out from Egypt 40 years earlier have all died, except two young men; Joshua and Caleb.

These two men had spied out in advance the Promised Land together for Moses. They had returned enthusiastically about the prospects of Israel’s new homeland confirming what God had already told them. The time was now right to enter into Canaan. The Israelites now under the leadership of Joshua are camped along the Jordan River directly opposite the city of Jericho. 

Wisely Joshua did not get his army ready and just attack. Just as Moses had done years before, Joshua sent spies ahead to gather military information about what lay on the other side of the Jordan and Jericho. The two spies head off and the first person they meet is a woman called Rahab. Was it by sheer chance they meet her out of all the thousands of people they could have met? Was it by sheer chance she would meet two very culturally different men? Rahab’s whole life and her future would soon be changed through this encounter.

What do we know about Rahab? It’s not a name that many women are called today. Many women are called after Mary, Ruth, Hannah, Lydia, Rachel, Rebecca, Sarah, Martha, Elizabeth, All biblical names. But no Rahab. That gives you a clue. Not many men are called Judas either.

The first thing we are told about her is in the very first verse; she is introduced as a prostitute named Rahab. I wonder what she looked like and what she dressed like. She was an immoral woman who had No concept of sexual purity.

She lived in a sex obsessed pagan society that was fanatically devoted to everything that God hates. This culture like Sodom and Gomorrah was on the verge of God’s judgement. Their generational descent into the abyss of moral and spiritual corruption had been intentional, and now it was irreversible.

It appears that Rahab has always been a willing participant plying her trade. Now that God had called for the complete destruction of the entire culture because of their extreme wickedness, why shouldn’t Rahab also receive the just desserts of her own deliberate sin?  Good question.

Rahab as we would say was; the dregs of society. She made her living catering to the most depraved insatiable sexual appetites. It’s hard to imagine how someone like her could ever be changed. Her house was not in some back alley of the city, but perched on the famous walls. She was in a prime location of her red-light district. We could safely assume that her trade was a financial success given the location.

Jericho was part of the Amorite kingdom which was a totally depraved and violent pagan culture. In fact, their culture was so depraved with witchcraft and child sacrifice going back to the time of Abraham that their evil lifestyle was the very reason God granted Abraham and his heirs rights to their land, driving them of it.  So, the spies enter into the city of Jericho to check it out. A bit like a Mission Impossible Team. Looking for a place to spy out the land they came across Rahab. The location of her house seems to have been the ideal spot.

The Israelite spies did not seek to take advantage of her for immoral purposes. Perhaps this being what won her trust over in the first place. They were not here to use and abuse her unlike the other men who came through the doors of her house. These men were different, they were sober and serious.  Presumably, they treated her with dignity and respect while they were staying with her. Maybe they told Rahab something about their God and the ways in which he had saved, lead and provided for them. Amazingly she was spiritually open to the way God was working through these two spies.

 Everyone in Jericho already knew that the Israelite nation was now camped across the river a short distance away. They had heard about the Hebrews escape from Egypt now they were seeing them with their very own eyes. And they were frightened. Rahab now finds herself where she could make a fair bit of money if she turned in these two spies. But she didn’t. She hid them. She misdirected the officials and saved the lives of the two spies, even though this put her at considerable risk of losing her own life.

At this point for someone who lived their life through wicked, corrupt ways it seems alien that someone like her would turn down the chance to make a lot of money, and put her own life at risk. Not only is this sudden change in her attitude unexpected, it runs counter to every instinct that normally would motivate a woman like Rahab.

What could possibly bring such a dramatic change in a person’s life, and in such circumstances. God. God is the answer.

Suddenly God touches her life in some amazing way. Over the years of her tough hardened life; had she come to realise that her life should not be like this. The lies, the perverted sex, the booze, the cheating, the brawling.

Is this the level I am at? I cannot do this anymore. I need a clean break. But how? There comes appoint in a person’s life where this awakening; this light comes on. Everybody is different. For some it’s like a Damascus Road experience, for others it’s more of an Emmaus Road experience, gradual. Either way something changes. With her new-found faith undeveloped as it was, we see immediately that it bears the fruit of action. The bible tells us; ‘faith without deeds is dead’. Rahab did something; she took the spies in, making herself vulnerable. With this act she was putting her faith into action. She not only hid them, she embraced their cause, entrusting her whole future to their God, and our God.

There is absolutely nothing but faith in God, that could have made such a dramatic, sudden change in the character of such a woman. She had heard of the mighty acts and wonders he performed with the Hebrews. Now she had met real flesh and blood people, spies, who knew him and worshipped him. She was prepared to follow them and their God.

What about you today? Have you sat maybe for years in the pews of a church, hearing Sunday by Sunday the stories of God’s mighty acts and his miracles? Listening carefully to the scriptures, and the prayers and the sermon. But that’s as far as it goes. The trust, the stepping out in faith needed; is still absent. After it was clear that the king’s messengers were gone for the night, Rahab went back up to the roof to speak with the spies. It’s really quite amazing what she says to them; ‘ I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great Fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting because of you.’

What was it that caused her in particular to trust in God? It was fear. Fear of God. Is it a bad thing to be frightened of God? No, it’s not. Our affluent western societies across the globe generally speaking have no fear of anything. No fear of the police, the courts, getting caught, libelling or slandering anyone. People generally have no fear.

A life sentence for murder is around 8 years in prison or less. You hire a barrister or better still you get the state to pay for a barrister to get you off. There is no fear of doing wrong. Knife crime in London is out of control.

Years ago, in the UK you would never have heard of a child being suspended from school; now it’s a daily occurrence. Most people have no fear of God. Afterall What’s he going to do? I; am my own authority. My rights trump everyone else. I must be allowed to do what I want to do. And the state will back me up. Right or wrong.

But they forget one thing; there will be a day of judgment for every human being who lives on this planet. That judgement will be carried out by the living God of Israel. This is what Jesus Christ says 1500 years later, after the battle of Jericho; ‘I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’

We all know what happened next. God intervened in a way that made clear to everyone in Canaan that he was fighting for Israel. He demolished the massive walls of Jericho without any military means whatsoever. On the 7th day the Israelites marched around the city 7 times, blew a ram’s horn, and shouted. Instantly the wall of the city fell down flat. All except one part of the wall.

Rahab and her house were spared. In chapter 6 we are told the two spies went into the ruins and brought out Rahab, her father, her mother, her entire family and left them outside the camp of Israel. They received the protection they had been promised.

Rahab is a beautiful example of the transforming power of faith in God. Although she had few spiritual advantages and little knowledge of the truth, her heart was drawn to God. She risked her life, turning her back on a way of life that did not honour God, and walked away from everything but her closest family members. But they too came into the community of God. We never hear of Rahab again in the Old Testament. But her name comes up in the New Testament. Her name is mentioned 3 times in Hebrews and the book of James where she is held up as an Example of faith, for both men and women. Rahab’s faith was anything but dead.

But the most amazing occurrence of Rahab’s name, though in the NT is the very first time it appears. It appears on the very first page, in the very first paragraph, of the first gospel, Matthew.

Matthew begins his account of Christ’s life with a lengthy genealogy tracing the entire lineage of Jesus from the time of Abraham.

There in the list of Jesus’ ancestors’, we unexpectedly come across Rahab’s name. ‘Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David’.

It is highly unusual for women to be named in Hebrew genealogies at all. Yet in the Bible, the greatest manifesto of human rights ever written, Matthew mentions 5 women all of them notable for various reasons; Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary the mother of Jesus. Three of them knew what it was like to be an outcast, stigmatised because of who they were. Yet God is able to work all things together for good. Rahab was saved by God spiritually as well as physically not because of her good acts like protecting the spies.

She did not earn God’s favour by any good deeds. She is not a lesson in how to better ourselves through self-improvement. She is a reminder that God by his grace can save even the worst of offenders and turn a habitual sinner into a saint. Proving there is hope for everyone.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

The photo shows, “The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies,” by James Tissot, painted ca. 1896 to 1802.

Fake Religion

The TV programme Fake Britain is usually on in the morning. It’s quite interesting to watch. The Programme is about criminals in Britain who sell things to people like you and me, that are not real; they are fake.

It used to be that police would have raided Sunday markets like the one at Nutt’s Corner in Belfast years ago, where dodgy traders were selling off videos and cigarettes that were fake. Generally, those were the two main items.

Today There is hardly any household item that cannot be replicated as a fake. Even the new £5 notes have had to have special holograms printed on them; something the criminals have not mastered …..…yet. But they will.  Everything from Christmas tree lights, to perfume, to watches, trainers, even food can be sold as counterfeit.

Everything it seems can be a fake. Including religion. With regard to religion It’s not just fake; its counterfeit. Its looks identical; the same as the real thing. In other words, there is hardly anything on the surface that separates the counterfeit from the real thing. They both look identical.

In this parable of the wheat and the tares, or the wheat and the weeds; this is what Jesus is at pains to talk about. The tare is a type of weed.

 There are 8 parables in this chapter of Matthew and the first two have to do with soils and crops and growing.

All of them though, have to do with the Kingdom of God. Jesus speaks about the Good things concerning the kingdom as well as the Bad things.

 Jesus was a country boy and he liked telling parables about what he saw going on in the countryside and the natural world.

Growing crops like wheat in bible times and today is something vitally important for us; but so is the meaning of the parable.

 We need to understand that when the farmer sows the field with wheat, almost immediately weeds start to grow up alongside the tender shoots. These weeds are called Darnel. This weed called Darnel and immature wheat look very alike in the early stages of growth. In fact, you cannot tell them apart.

 Thankfully this is an easy parable for us to figure out, because Jesus tells us what it means. The meaning of the parable stumped the disciples, so he tells them and us what it means from verse 37. It’s pretty clear. This is what it means.

The one who sows the GOOD seed is Jesus. The field is the world. The GOOD seeds are Jesus’ true followers, the true Christians.

The weeds or the Tares are the sons of the devil. And the one who sows the weed, the enemy, is the devil. It’s not God. God does Not sow the Weeds. He sows the Good Seeds. Then comes the harvest, and the harvesters are the angels. 

It’s a straight forward parable but there are a few puzzlingly things that emerge from it.

Number 1. The Devil has a family; and His family are made up of counterfeits.

 In other words, they are imitators of the true faith. The first imitator of faith was Cain the son of Adam and Eve. In the book of Genesis, we are told He had a brother called Abel and both men were religious.  What did Cain do? He killed his own brother because he was jealous of his brother’s relationship with God.

Then when God asked Cain, where is your brother? Cain lied by saying,’ I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper. Cain was a member of the devil’s family.

 If you go on and read about some of the kings of Judah and Israel you will find they are also family members. The devil has sadly, a very large family.

In the New Testament which gets much closer to the truth; who are the next group of people we discover who belong to the devil’s family? Any ideas?

 It’s……. the Pharisees and Scribes. Now you may think they are just misguided but well-intentioned people. Not according to Jesus.

Jesus susses them out right away. He knows where they stand in relation to him; and who they stand with.

 The Pharisee and scribes were the ruling religious leaders and had been around for hundreds of years. What did they think of Jesus??

 Well After Jesus healed a demon possessed man, they said; ‘it is only by the devil, the prince of demons that this fellow drives out demons. Its only through the devil he does this.

Jesus knew where the Pharisees stood; he called them a brood of vipers several times. Vipers are poisonous snakes and can be very deadly.

After a relentless war of words, the Pharisees had waged against Jesus throughout his ministry Jesus says this about them. Reading from Matthew 23.

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You travel over land and sea to win a single convert and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.’

Pretty strong stuff. Jesus does not mince his words. It’s as well the NI Equality Commission wasn’t there to hear Jesus speak.

Jesus goes on; ‘You appear to people as righteous but, on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’

Now this is important to note; NOWHERE does Jesus ever say that if you are Not a child of God, then you are a child of the devil. He never says that. The only people he says that about are……….. the religious leaders; the Pharisees.

Jesus knows where each person stands with him. These people are members of Satan’s family and they do his bidding for him. The devil comes to us the bible says; as an angel of light, always hiding his true intentions.

You see The Pharisees appeared to others as very religious people, who prayed, tithed, carried the scriptures around with them. They looked the real deal. The rabbi’s still do to this day.

That’s the first point. The Devil is real; he exists and he has a religious family. You can see why this parable isn’t preached on very often.

The Second point is this; The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.  It belongs to God; NOT the devil. The forests are his, as well as the cattle on a thousand hills. The Field in this parable is the world.

 Jesus in this parable is NOT dealing with the problem of evil in the world. This parable is NOT about evil creeping into the world.

 Jesus is dealing with a specific truth; namely and this is what this parable is all about; That wherever God plants a true child of God, the devil comes along and plants a counterfeit, who looks like the real deal. It’s a fact.

The devil is a neighbour; whether we like that or not. He lives beside us. He is in our neighbourhood.

 Jesus is the sower AND owner of the field. The earth belongs to God and the devil is a trespasser. It is NOT his world.

Many times, and with the news we hear daily we think it is. But it will never be the devil’s world and the devil knows this. And so He causes dissension, strife, wars, and rumours of wars, chaos, AND plants counterfeits. That is his MO. His Modus Operandi.

The servants wake up one day to find, weeds growing in the field alongside the good seed. Immediately they ask; ‘Where did the weeds come from.’ ‘An enemy did this’, replies Jesus.

The natural response is; the servants ask him; do you want us to go and pull them up?

 Jesus says NO; ‘because while you are pulling the weeds up, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest’. 

Surely you pull the weeds up right away; pull up these counterfeits, these distorters of the truth. You Get rid of them. Don’t you.

The fact is; Jesus is NOT worried about the weeds.

God is in control of the world. Remember the earth is the Lords. We get anxious about who will be the next prime minister, Brexit, the EU, our pension, our savings, our children, our parents, selling our home. Moving jobs.

 There will be a harvest; and it IS going to come at the end of the age. God will tell the angels Not us, to gather up the weeds, tie them in bundles and burn them.

Then HE will gather the wheat and it shall be brought into his barn. Two very different outcomes. Very Similar to how he treats the sheep and the goats later on in the book of Matthew. The sheep on his right, and the goats to his left.

The people and nations in this world are living on Substitutes. You can buy sleep and drugs, but not PEACE; you can buy entertainment but not JOY; you can buy companionship but not LOVE.

The three things the bible says are essential for living and having a good life; are Peace, Joy and Love. If you have those 3 within you; you are blessed.

People all around us are living on substitutes. They need to eat the food from God’s harvest. Instead they are eating steadily, even gorging themselves on substitutes, on counterfeits fed to them by the devil. He has blinded them to their folly.

This world for the Christian is not a playground; it’s a battle ground where we encounter all around us demonic led forces who persist in trying to deceive us and destroy us. But take heart; Jesus says; ‘I have Overcome the world’.

 Jesus is Not subject to the world; nor should his followers.

Oh, it would be great if Jesus would pull up all the weeds right now and burn them. NO; he says; but one day I will. Just Leave that to me. That’s my job.

Here’s a question for you. Why do you think he’s NOT doing it now? Why is he waiting and waiting? The time is Not right. But also…….

It’s because we have a job to do LIVING and Working among the weeds, among the tares. We have work to do for the Kingdom of God. That’s why God dosn’t pull us up and send us directly to heaven. We are to be active in the things that matter to God and not apathetic or indifferent as we live our lives. We are to be on the ball and not sleep walk into the devil’s schemes.

In his love and through his mercy he gives the weeds time to repent and believe. Some may do it; some will not. But it shows us that even with counterfeits God in his grace grants them a chance to turn from their wicked ways right up to the harvest.

God plants Christians where he wants to. He scatters them to grow for a reason or a season. You are planted where you are; in a family, in a job, in a neighbourhood, in a farm, in a church, in a village, for a reason. To live a life worthy of God. To live a God honouring life.

To grow strong and firm in faith where many around you are living on substitutes. Our lives are to be lived out differently and distinctly to those around us.

This at times can be very hard going especially when we face obstacles and setbacks along the way. Which we will. Even in our own families, as Jesus did.

Sometimes we feel like throwing the towel in. But we keep on going. We keep living among the weeds. Remember; The one who is in us; is Greater than he, who is in the world.


Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

The photo shows, “The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares” by John Everett Millais, painted in 1865.

Ways Of The World

A group of first year medical students had just completed a tour of a hospital, and the nurse who had directed them was asking for questions. Immediately a hand went up. How is it that people who work here are always washing their hands a student asked?

The nurse gave a wise answer; ‘they are always washing their hands for two reasons; first, they love health, and second, they hate germs’.

It’s more than in hospital standards where ; love and hate go hand in hand. A husband who loves his wife is certainly going to have a hatred for what would harm her and vice versa.

In this letter of John’s, he has reminded us to exercise Love, the right kind of love. Now it warns us that there is a wrong kind of love, a love that God hates. This is love for what the bible calls ‘the world’.

We need to know first of all what does God mean by the world? Well it does NOT mean the world of nature and the beauty and wonder within it. All we have to do is Look at the beauty of; Niagara Falls, the animal and insect life in a tropical rain forest, the Grand Canyon, the beach at Benone, the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest, the list is endless. God created the world of nature that we can marvel at and enjoy; our God given task is to appreciate, care for, and be good stewards of it.

The world named here as our enemy is not the natural world, but an invisible Spiritual System opposed to God and Christ. It originates of course from Satan and is driven by him. It is the very opposite of what God stands for. This system is a set of ideas, of attitudes, of activities, of purposes brought about through people, developing into a common rule or system or systems. Many wars, ethnic cleansing, persecutions, are examples but there are many more that never involve weapons.

Jesus called Satan, ‘the prince of this world’ meaning that he has a certain amount of control and influence over it which he undoubtedly has.

The devil has a highly skilled organisation of evil spirits working with him and influencing the affairs of this world which bring about certain outcomes. There are countless multitudes whether they realise it or not are energised by Satan to do his bidding and carry out his work.

But a more sinister reason why Christians are NOT to love the world is because of what the world does to us. For this world has an impact on us.

Being worldly is not so much a matter of activity, as of attitude. It is more than possible for a Christian to stay away from questionable amusements and dubious places and still love the world; because worldliness is a matter of the heart.

This is important; worldliness not only affects your response to the love of God; it also affects your response to the will of God. John clearly tells us in verse 17; ‘the world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.’

Doing the will of God should be a joy for those living in the love of God. Jesus said; if you love me, you will keep my commandments. But when a Christian loses their enjoyment of the Father’s love, they find it hard to obey the Father’s will. Put very simply, anything in a Christian’s life that causes them to lose their enjoyment of the father’s love or their desire to do the father’s will, is worldly and must be avoided.

Responding to God’s love which means your personal devotional life; and doing God’s will which means your daily conduct; these are two tests of worldliness.

Many things in this life are clearly wrong and God’s word clearly identifies them as sins.

 It is wrong to kill someone, it is wrong to lie and to steal. But there are other areas of Christian conduct that are not so clear and about which even the best Christian’s disagree on. In such cases the believer must apply the test to their own lives and be honest in their self-examination, remembering that even a good thing may rob a believer of their enjoyment of God’s love and their desire to do God’s will.

John points out that the world system uses three devices to trap Christian’s. There is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. These same things trapped Eve in the garden of Eden. ‘And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (which is the lust of the flesh), and that it was pleasing to the eye (which is the lust of the eyes), and also desirable for gaining wisdom (which is the pride of life), she took some and ate it.

The lust of the flesh includes anything that appeals to man’s fallen nature. The flesh does not mean the body as many think. Rather it refers to the base fallen nature of man that makes him blind to spiritual truth.

A Christian that is someone who trusts fully in God, has both the old nature the flesh; and the new nature the Spirit, in their lives. They both co-exist. And what a battle these two natures can wage. Let’s look at how this conflict works out.

God has given men and women certain desires and these desires are good. Hunger, thirst, tiredness, sex, are not at all bad in themselves. There is nothing wrong about eating, drinking, sleeping, or having children. But when the flesh nature controls them, they become sinful lusts.

Hunger is not wrong, but gluttony is sinful. Thirst is not wrong, but drunkenness is a sin. Sleep is a gift from God, but laziness is shameful. Sex is God’s gift when used rightly, but when used wrongly in perverted ways, it becomes immorality.

We can see where the cross overs occur and how the world operates. It appeals to normal appetites, and at the same time tempts us to satisfy them in forbidden ways.

In today’s world we are surrounded by all kinds of allurements that appeal to our lower nature. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane said to his disciples as he returned and found them sleeping; ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’. Here again we see the clash of the two natures. The Apostle Paul tells us we are to put ‘no confidence in the flesh’.

The second device that the world uses to trap Christian’s is the ‘lust of the eyes.’ Our eyes have an appetite too. ‘Feast your eyes on this’ we say. The lust of the flesh appeals to our base appetites of the old nature, whereas the lust of the eye operates in a more refined way.

In view here are pleasures that gratify the sight and the mind, sophisticated and intellectual pleasures. The Greeks and Romans lived for entertainment and activities that excited the eyes. Times have not changed very much in 3000 years.Our biggest threat today to corrupt us in what we see, comes in the form of a screen.

There are many examples in the bible of the disastrous consequences when people saw something and lusted after it. Like Achan a soldier and a member of Joshua’s army when he saw the silver and gold, and after being told by God not to take it, he took it. Which had devasting consequences.

 King David from the roof of the palace Saw the beautiful Bathsheba bathing who was already married to another man. His eyes incited his lust and he had to have her and she became pregnant to him. Once again with disastrous consequences.

Of course the eyes like the other senses are a gateway into the mind. The lust of the eyes therefore, can include intellectual pursuits that are contrary to God’s word. There is pressure to make Christian’s think the way the world thinks and God warns us against the ‘counsel of the ungodly.’

This of course does Not mean that Christians ignore education and secular learning; it does means however, that they are careful not to let intellectualism crowd God into the background. A classic example of this is Darwin’s theory of Evolution which essentially contradicts creation, neutralises God and destroys the dignity and worth of human beings. Yet is widely taught throughout the education system. 

The third device is the ‘boastful pride of life.’ The original Greek word for pride was used to describe; ‘a scoundrel who was trying to impress people with his importance’. Pride means to elevate a person’s self-esteem or self-importance.

Pride originated first of all in the devil. We are told in the book of Proverbs; that ‘before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, and ‘haughty eyes and a proud heart the lamp of the wicked, are sin.’ People since the beginning of time have always tried to outdo others in their spending and their getting. The boastful pride of life motivates much of what many people do. Wasteful consumerism is an epidemic with millions getting themselves into unnecessary debt; for what. To discard something perhaps of great value after a matter of days or weeks. All done largely to impress others for them to notice how affluent or successful they are.

Because of the pride of life, it is amazing what stupid things people do just to make an impression; even sacrificing honesty and integrity in return for notoriety and a feeling of importance.  The world appeals to us through the lust of the flesh that is anything that makes us blind to spiritual truth; the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. It is important to note that no Christian becomes worldly all of a sudden. Worldliness creeps up on a Christian; it is a gradual process. And the Christian landscape is littered with causalities.

We can read where Abraham’s nephew Lot embraced the various forms of worldliness in Sodom and Gomorrah which led to his downfall.

So how do we live in the world without being consumed by it? This is a huge challenge for us all in every generation. It’s not easy and mistakes will be made. Sometimes lines will be blurred as in the case of Lot.

But John guides us by reminding us that we are little children. Those who love Jesus and trust in him become part of his family. And the very fact that we share in his nature ought to discourage us from becoming overly friendly with the world. James in his letter writes this; ‘don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God. Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.’ It’s very clear.

But something else is true; we begin as little children; but we must not stay as little children. Only as a Christian grows spiritually does he or she overcome the world. As young men and young women who develop into fathers and mother’s and grandmother’s and grandfather’s we are to mature with the word of God. Surely no Christian who has experienced the joys and wonders of friendship with God, and of service for God, will want to live on the substitute pleasures this world offers.

The word of God is the only weapon that will defeat the advances of Satan. We need to be people to get back to reading and applying the word of God to our lives. It is the growing, maturing Christians to whom the world does not appeal because they realise that the things of this world are only toys. A Christian should never be ‘over friendly’ with the world because of what the world is and we should always remember this. The world is and continues to be a Satanic System that hates and opposes Christ. That’s why they crucified him. The world seeks to attract and snare us to live on sinful substitutes that will never satisfy.

Slowly and surely and perhaps sooner than we think, ‘this world in its present form is passing away; but the man or woman, boy or girl, who does God’s will abides forever’.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

The photo shows, “What is Truth,” by Nikolai Ge, painted in 1890.

Love And Obedience

Both love and obedience can be clearly understood, when John wrote this letter; but it is another matter entirely whether our society today genuinely wants to hear such absolute commands today.

Any absolutes which formed the bedrock of western society for generations are now going in the same direction as the Dodo. We have built a world based on free choices, not obedience. We have viewed love as attraction, which, when the feeling passes, may be directed elsewhere on a whim.

Anyone who watches the programme Love Island will soon realise that the word love does not actually mean what it is meant to mean. In fact, it means just about the opposite of what it is meant to mean. We rarely hear calls for obedience and love as work. In each case such calls may cost me my freedom. They may limit my spontaneity. They may put boundaries and restrictions around what I can and cannot do.

The groom of a couple in America who recently got married, said to the chaplain after he took the vows; sure, I’ll love my wife; but I don’t want love taking away my freedom’. I wonder if they are still married.

This attitude that flees from obedience and sees love as a passing affection is widespread today and sadly it is corrupting the minds of many young people.

It’s very difficult to get John’s message across that true freedom comes from disciplined obedience. Its like a pilot in training. A pilot is told that there are certain things they cannot do, certain things they cannot drink or smoke, what they must wear. Where they are allowed to walk. How long they are allowed to fly.

 You have to obey these rules because if you don’t you can get killed and you can kill others. It’s obedience to the rules that makes flying possible, that makes you complete your mission. But the word obey generally has negative connotations for many. Some people who have grown up in very conservative churches where obedience and righteousness were pounded home so often feel suffocated by them.

Obey we say; but God loves me; so let me simply enjoy him and live. Quite often to make the church look more grace filled, the church uses the idea of obedience in a negative way; the synagogue versus the church; Jesus versus Moses.

 Paul versus the Jerusalem legalists; grace versus law. When Jesus said; that he had fulfilled scripture, he did not mean that the ten commandments are to be now discarded and ignored. It means that all of the law has now been fulfilled and brought together in Jesus. In other words, Jesus becomes a walking and talking version of what is in the bible. What you read about in the bible; you see lived out in Jesus.

Jesus went on to say; ‘do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfil them.’

But who or what should we Obey. Naturally we will say that we obey the Lord. Which is correct; but how. We obey the teachings of Jesus found today in the bible which should be the basis of our obedience. It is the perfect place to begin. Why do we obey God? We obey God’s law to help us live happier, contented, healthier lives. We also receive God’s blessings as we do so. Obedience to God is linked with blessing.

Is the world a place today where we might be aware of God’s blessing?

 We can read in the OT how this combination of Obedience and Blessing affected the children of Israel. We can read time and time again that when the people obeyed God they were blessed, and when they refused things went against them. It came as no shock to them because God told them through Moses what exactly would happen.

 A point of warning. We need to be careful of those in authority like the Pharisees and certain Christian leaders even today, who claim that their interpretation of scripture or their application of it in the church becomes God’s rule, and absolute conformity is demanded and expected.

There is a delicate balance here with obedience that each of us must find ourselves. On the one hand we dare not compromise the doctrine of God’s grace freely given; and yet there must be a call to what it means to be a follower of Jesus that show’s his grace, has transformed a person’s life. One Absolute command that Jesus calls us to do; is to Love. This is a Christian absolute; a Christian must. It is not negotiable.

However, sometimes we speak of it so often that we have become dulled from hearing afresh its demands on us. Of course, we’re loving we say, we’re Christians aren’t we. We can use the word Love to mean the same as when we say, I love stewed prunes, or, I love burnt toast.

 But we will only understand what love means when we understand that love, light, and life all work together. You cannot take love in isolation from everything else and expect it to flourish.

Christian love is affected by light and darkness. A Christian who is walking in the light which simply means they are obeying God, is going to love his brother or sister Christian. Further on in John chapter 3 we are told that Christian love is a matter of life and death. To live in hatred is to live in spiritual death. If we know God’s love towards us, we in turn should show God’s love towards others. God has commanded us to love. He first revealed his love to us.

The commandment to love one another is not an appendix to our Christian experience or some insignificant after thought. No. It is placed in our hearts from the very beginning of our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said; ‘by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’.

Christian love has been described in the following way;

Silence; when your words would hurt.

Patience; when your neighbour is sharp.

Deafness; when the scandal flows.

Thoughtfulness; for another’s woes.

Promptness; when duty calls.

Courage; when misfortune falls.

To love one another is a command from Jesus and something we are to do rather than think about to do. Christian love is not a shallow sentimental emotion that Christian’s try to work.; so that they can get along with one another. It is a matter of the will to choose to love someone, rather than an emotion. It is a matter of determining, of making up your mind that you will allow God’s love to reach others through you; and then of acting toward them in loving ways.

A man was complaining to a missionary about missions in Africa. ‘How can you go to Africa and preach to those people about love when there is so much injustice in your own country’, he demanded. The mission leader replied; ‘we don’t go in and preach to them about love. We go in and love them’.

But a word of warning and some clarification. Do not confuse Christian love with becoming a door mat for others to walk over and use. Christians are to have humility yes; but we should never be naive about those who would hurt us or seek to dominate us.

John distinguishes carefully later on between those who are deceivers who belong to the world and Christians who belong to the family of God. In Second John v 10 he explicitly states that such people are not to be welcomed into our lives.

This teaching requires reflection and discernment since, in the interests of mission, we are called to go into the world. But at the same time, we must be warned that the world holds dangers.

What are these dangers? There are Intellectual dangers, which lure us into patterns of thinking that rob us of the simplicity and reality of Jesus.

 There are Moral dangers, lifestyles and attitudes that deal with everything from corrupt obsessions, to destructive views of sexuality. There are Religious dangers, charlatans, charismatic leaders who can out gun and out fox many a Christian minister. There are Theological dangers, ideas and ways that do not promote Jesus Christ, but rather promote doctrines and practices designed to deceive and manipulate. There are dangers everywhere and even though we should be generously open and loving, we must also be shrewdly discerning and wise.

When Jesus was sending the disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom of God he said this to them aware of those dangers; ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men.’ On this point by way of clarification I would say this. We are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves.  As we do so many think that we should somehow leave our Christian teaching our Christian values, our Christian standards on the doorstep as we enter the house of our neighbour, or when we rub shoulders with them.

  Jesus never forgot for one second who he was and why he came into the world. He did not water down his message or make it easier for people to accept. He maintained his true calling to a fallen world of many people, of many races, and many faiths. He mingled and mixed with all faiths and none yet remained true to who he was.

One of the ways today in which the church especially in the west in North America and Europe has been greatly weakened has been when the church and Christians have allowed other faiths, other trends, other minority groups, and other ideologies to take centre ground as it were. A bit like the cuckoo chick that pushes the other chicks out of the nest.

Loving others does Not mean that Christian values and the Christian faith somehow takes second place or becomes irrelevant. And that because of our love and acceptance of other races and other faiths they, then become dominant. Christians are not meant to be so subservient they abandon their faith thereby giving the impression they are then unloving. You can still love and hold firmly to the faith. Jesus told his disciples and he tells us to, ‘stand firm’.

This requires discernment. Sadly, many Christian churches have keeled over in their pursuit to love the stranger in a wreckless manner, and in doing so have abandoned their love for Christ and his teachings. This attitude does not bode well for what it means to be a Christian.

 Love for Christ, loving him with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, must always come first in the life of a Christian. All other things come after. Jesus himself is the greatest example of this commandment. He says to us follow my example. Jesus illustrated love by the very life that he lived. He never showed hatred or malice. He hated all sin, deceit, malice, and disobedience. But he never hated the people who committed such sins.

He hated the sin, but not the person. I have heard Godly people say that there have been times where God has called them to love the unlovable. A person who really is despicable. They in themselves have been unable to do it until they realise that that person despite their terrible sin is made in the image of God. And that God so loved the world that he went to the cross for them. It’s a sobering thought.

Christ’s love was broad enough to include every person on this planet, because every person is a sinner. In Christ we have a new illustration of the old truth that God is love, and that the life of love is the life of joy and victory.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

The photo shows, “The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter,” by George Percy Jacomb-Hood, painted in 1895.

The Question Of Sin

Have you ever thought what the world would be like if sin were absent? No armies, no wars, no police, no courts, no jails, no locks, no passwords, no scams, no weapons. Life would be Absolute Bliss.

The Apostle John speaks here about the age-old problem of sin. In these few verses John mentions the word, sin nine times. Why? Because it’s such a problem and it’s something that affects every person. It affects us in such a way which is detrimental to our well-being.

By speaking of sin nine times John is highlighting the fact that we cannot brush it under the carpet as if it doesn’t really matter. He brings it out into the open by talking about it.

We all live in a world where every living creature has an enemy. A caterpillar must watch out for the birds; the frog has to watch out for the snake, the antelope must watch out for the lion. The tuna has to watch for the shark.

What about people? People have any enemy as well. The enemy is real, it’s not imagined. It’s like a virus which affects everyone; and the enemy is called Sin.

As John highlights public enemy number 1; he also introduces the theme of saying and doing. A person’s Christian life is to amount to more than mere talk; we must also walk the walk, living out what we believe.

If we are in fellowship with God, if we are walking in the light, our lives will back up what our lips are saying. But if we are living in sin, walking in darkness, then our lives will contradict what our lips are saying, making us hypocrites.

The Bible calls the Christian life a walk. This walk begins with a step of faith when we trust Christ as our Saviour. But salvation is not the end it is only the beginning of a spiritual walk. Walking involves progress, and Christians are supposed to advance in the spiritual life.

Just as a child must learn to walk and must overcome many difficulties in doing so, a Christian must learn to walk in the light. God’s light. But the fundamental difficulty is the matter of, you’ve guessed it, sin.

Sin, tries to stop completely, or interrupts our walk with God. Our sin causes us to stumble and fall and sometimes not get up at all.

Of course, sin is not simply outward disobedience, sin is also inner rebellion or desire. In the second chapter of this letter we are warned about 3 things. The desires of the flesh; desires of the eyes, and about the pride of life, all of which are sinful. Sin is also the breaking of God’s law and refusal to submit to the law of God. Living in independence of God’s law is the very essence of sin.

Suzannah Wesley was the mother of John and Charles Wesley and she had 17 other children. She herself came from a family of 29. She had a huge impact on the lives of both John and Charles.

One day as a young man, John asked his mother this question; he asked her; ‘can you give me a definition of sin’? Not many children ask their parents that.

This was her answer; ‘whatever weakens your reasoning; impairs the tenderness of your conscience; obscures your sense of God, takes away your relish for spiritual things; or increases the power of flesh over the spirit; that becomes sin’. Fairly comprehensive. There is no better definition I know. If we only ever pinpoint sin; I don’t commit adultery so I’m OK; or I don’t steal so I’m OK; I’m not a jealous person so I’m OK; I don’t gossip so I’m OK. Then we become Pharisaic in our outlook.

But when we look at the big picture of how we live out our lives like Suzannah Wesley did it leaves no wriggle room. Our problem today is that we have lost the ability to define things for what they are and what they were. There are now in Western Society very few absolutes in a world instead defined by relativism. But the bible speaks of absolutes and always has. There is a clash then with what the bible says and what the world wants and desires.

Governments and people deal with issues today without any idea of definition. Because concerning the definition of a moral issue you have to draw on something or somebody from which to give you the moral compass you need.

You cannot just decide to make up a moral code, which of course is what is happening today. Today there are very few things that are labelled wrong or bad. Society today is re defining what sin is. It is being made up as it goes along and it’s a road that leads to disaster. One of the things I love about the bible is that it tells us the way it is. It doesn’t conceal bad behaviour even by the saints.

The mighty Abraham the friend of God, who had great faith; became weak in his faith when he went down to Egypt and told a series of lies to the pagan Pharaoh that his wife Sarah, was his sister. And then foolishly through his impatience married the slave Hagar in order to have a child from her. In both cases God forgave Abraham his sin, but Abraham had to reap what he sowed.

God will remove our sins, we know this because of what Jesus did, but he does NOT change the result, as many of us I’m sure can testify. No one can unscramble an egg. Moses killed an Egyptian soldier in a fit of rage; and then had to live many years of his life on the run. God forgave him his sin, but he still lived in fear. You can easily trace King David’s gradual downfall from when he had his illicit affair with Bathsheba who was married to another man. God forgave him, but his family soon after started to disintegrate. The kingdom started to break up.

The fact that Christian’s sin bothers a lot of people. They forget the fact that their receiving the new nature does not eliminate the old nature they were born with. The old nature which originates in us, beginning inside our mother’s womb fights against the new spiritual nature, which we receive once we trust in Jesus.

No amount of self-discipline, no amount of man-made rules, and no amount of self-help programmes can control this old nature. It holds to us like a limpet on a rock. Only God’s Holy Spirit can enable us to put to death the old nature and produce the Spirit’s fruit in us through the new nature.

Sinning Christians like Peter, woman at the well, Moses, Abraham, David, Sarah, Jacob, are not mentioned in the Bible to discourage us, but to warn us.

Why do you keep preaching to us Christians, about sin, an angry church member said to the minister? After all, sin in the life of a Christian is different from sin in the life of an unsaved person. Yes, indeed said the minister, it is different it’s much worse. All of us therefore, must deal with our sins if we are to enjoy the life that is real. And how do we do that you may say?

Well. we do a couple of things. One is we can decide to cover our sins. Mark Twain said; ‘we are all like the moon. We all have a dark side, we want no one else to see’. The trouble with little sins is that they don’t stay little. Light produces life and growth and beauty, but sin is darkness; and darkness and light cannot exist in the same place. If we are walking in the light, the darkness has to go. If we are holding to sin, then the light goes. That is the reality.

How do Christians try to cover up their sins; the answer is by telling lies. We want our Christian friends to think we are spiritual people so we lie about our lives and try to make a favourable impression on them. We want them to think that we are walking in the light, though in reality that is not the case.

Once a person begins to lie to others, they will sooner or later start to lie to themselves and verse 8 deals with this. The problem now is not deceiving others, but deceiving ourselves.

The scary thing is that it is possible for a believer to live in sin, yet convince himself or herself that everything is fine in their relationship with God. The classic example is of King David and his adulterous affair with Bathsheba where he foolishly thought everything was fine with God and with life afterwards. He would continue on tending his royal vineyards as if nothing much had happened. You can read about that in the book of Second Samuel.

God cannot be mocked. But the spiritual decline becomes still worse. The next step is trying to LIE to God verse 10. We have made ourselves liars; now we try to make God a liar. We contradict his word, which says, ‘that all have sinned’; and yet we maintain that we are the exceptions to the rule. We apply God’s word to others but not to ourselves. We believe the message is for someone else in the pew behind us, not ourselves. Many who lean strongly to the left in politics hold to this view.

The whole process starts out with the believer telling lies and ends up with them becoming a confirmed liar. It begins as a role they play; then it becomes a longer role and then, the very essence of their lives. Eventually their character becomes eroded. Sin is lethal. Even the smallest dose is lethal. What do we do? We can try to cover our sins or we can confess our sins.

God is light. He is pure, perfect and Holy. Therefore, it is impossible for him to close his eyes to even the smallest sin. That smallest sin has to be dealt with because it’s wrong and it offends God’s holiness. But God is love too. He wants to save sinners and fill them with his love and grace and truth. How then can a holy God uphold his own justice and still forgive sinners?

The answer is in the sacrifice of Christ. At the cross God in his holiness judged sin. But God in his love offers Jesus Christ to the world as a sacrifice to atone for our sin and become our Saviour.

God was just in that he punished sin, but he is also loving in that he offers forgiveness through what Jesus did at Calvary. Jesus finished his work on earth; the work of giving his life as a sacrifice for sin; that’s why He cried out from the cross; ‘it is finished’. But he has an Unfinished work in heaven. For he represents us before God’s throne.

As an Advocate he intercedes for us and helps us when we sin. When we confess our sins to God, because of what Jesus does for us in heaven, God forgives us. When we get to heaven we will need someone to speak up for us. Someone who is on our side. That’s what an advocate does. Because Christ our advocate lives for us at God’s right hand, he can apply his sacrifice to our need’s day by day, hour by hour.

This is where the Cross and Resurrection dovetail perfectly together. The cross is dead without the resurrection. The resurrection is meaningless without the cross. All he asks is that when we have failed, we do Not try to cover sin up. Instead in faith we confess our sins. To confess sin means much more than simply to admit them. To confess sin, means to say the same thing about it that God says about it.

Confessing is not simply praying a lovely wee prayer, or making pious excuses. True confession is naming sin; calling it by name for what it is. It’s simply being honest with ourselves, acknowledging that we are all steeped in sin from our birth and falling on God’s infinite mercy.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

The photo shows, “Christ and the Adulteress Woman,” by Domenico Morelli, painted in 1969.

Identity In Jesus

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (I John 1: 1-4)

We live in a culture that is eager for religious experience without being too Christian.

In the United States of America over 80 per cent of the population believes in a God or gods that have power over the universe. When asked further; if all the worlds religions essentially prayed to the same God, 65 per cent of the adult public agreed.

In the Christian church among those who called themselves evangelicals, 46 per cent agreed and among those who labelled themselves as being ‘born again’ 48 per cent agreed that all of the worlds religions essentially prayed to the same God. This is quite astonishing.

Within the pews of American churches, two thirds of the people do not believe in the exclusive character of the Christian message, and almost half of all evangelicals say the same.

In light of these findings both inside and outside the church, who or what is our faith based on?

At the centre and core of our faith is the entrance of Jesus Christ into world history as the complete revelation of God. This is an event which happened in the town of Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.

It is an event that cannot be thrown away. It cannot be redefined as a myth or compared with the religious revelations offered by others such as Mohammed or Joseph Smith.

Throughout the world Christians are often tempted to forge new alliances in order to achieve noble ends. This is particularly true in countries where multiple faiths coexist side by side.

In the hills of the West Bank in Israel moderate Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Christians have services in close proximity to one another and wonder what sort of unity they might build in order to construct a unified front for justice.

The same questions arise here in the West. There is difficulty when we find ourselves in interfaith dialogues that try to build unity particularly for commendable social and welfare programmes for; the homeless, or the fight against drugs and crime.

Chaplains in the services have to protect the distinctives of each faith tradition so that each worshipping community need not compromise what is essential to its beliefs.

Yet is it possible to conduct ourselves as Christians and exclude the place of Jesus Christ. Should we abstain from any such involvements?

If Christ is offensive to some, do we continue on in our ministry and deny the central event of our faith. Or do we hold fast to the scandal of what we affirm.
John who wrote this letter would say that there is no Christianity if Jesus Christ is not at the centre.

But perhaps there is another issue here for us; the more pressing question of whether it is appropriate for Christians to be silent about Jesus when meeting people of other faiths and persuasions. Roman Catholics, JW’s, humanists, Muslims.

When the time is right, when trust is secure, then the central theme of our faith, Jesus will be heard.

A college professor in a theological seminary in America chose this option recently when the University’s centre for Islamic Studies hosted a dialogue with a circle of invited Islamic leaders. Things went pear shaped when half way through; the Muslims politely dismissed themselves so that they could go out into the hall and pray towards Mecca.

The difficulty of course arises when that silence becomes no strategy at all; but a quiet concession to secularism, pc correctness, and tolerance. This is something we all need to carefully ponder.

The next question we need to consider is; should theological distinctives that is the really important parts; be set aside for the unity of the church?

Evangelical Christians often find themselves in main stream denominations or local congregations where adherence to particular orthodox doctrines brings tension. At what point does right and correct belief become more important than church unity? It’s a good question.

In June of this year The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) at their General Assembly in Belfast received criticism from people outside the church and from within, over their stance taken for those who are in same sex relationships.
The resolution passed by a clear majority; ‘those in a same sex relationship cannot be full members of the church. The children from same sex couples cannot be communicant members.’

These verses in John 1 tell us that any Christian who does not embrace the true reality Of Jesus Christ in world history, his teaching, and why he entered into the world; has departed hugely from the faith of the early church.

But someone might say what about the other issues that can cause difficulty among Christians and at the same time help to define Christian identity; like charismatic gifts, infant baptism, ordination of women, style of worship. Should the church sanction diversity within its ranks on these issues and others for the sake of a larger unity?

Whatever we make of these important points John would have our starting point with; Jesus. All these concerns and others are legitimate and important. But they are NOT central. They are not Biblical imperatives. John reminds us that the person of Jesus Christ the Word of Life is at the centre of our theological identity.

Sadly, many theologians and Christians enter into dialogue with those who uphold the trends of modern secular society. And what happens is that the church often loses sight of the larger question of Jesus Christ who straddles both the church and the world that he made. He is largely cast aside for a so called more tolerant approach. Although tolerance is usually one way.

This of course is nothing new. The identity of Jesus Christ is still the same scandal of Christianity that sets us apart from the world. Jesus is the one theme we cannot jettison, no matter what the benefit may seem, or what the temptation.

Which takes us to the third and final question. What does it mean to see, hear, touch, Jesus today? Can it happen?

John in his writing suggests that there will be a continuity of Jesus for all generations not just the first one.

In the fourth gospel John 14; Jesus promises that he will never leave his followers as ‘orphans’ and that those who love him and are obedient will become Christ’s new dwelling place.

In other words, John does not see Christ’s Ascension where he ascended into heaven as the termination of his presence among us. His spirit given to his followers is his own spirit. First John 3 says; ‘and this is how we know that he lives in us. We know it by the spirit he gave us.’

Is this a mystical experience or figment of the imagination running around inside our heads? No, John says that Jesus is real. We have heard, we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have touched him.

He goes to great lengths to let us know that Jesus is not a myth. John and his fellow disciples can say as witnesses that they lived with Jesus and studied him closely even touching him. They knew that Jesus was real not a phantom, not a vision, but God in human form.

John is at pains to try and convince us that Jesus is the Word of life and through him eternal life may be gained. If it wasn’t for people like John, Paul, Peter and others who committed their findings to paper for us to read in early manuscripts and later in the bible; possibly none of us would be here this morning.

John wants us his readers to hear this news because then we may have fellowship, both with him and with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
In effect John is a witness who testifies to these things. As we all know witnesses have a powerful effect on people. In a court of law for example the witnesses are key to a hearing.

If witnesses cannot be produced the case is often dropped. Hearing a story told by a person who was there holds much more weight than reading or hearing something second hand. It is why John is so keen for us to know that he was there, that he saw, and heard for himself.

We may not be first hand witnesses to Jesus life, death, and resurrection; but we can read from the first-hand accounts, and we are witnesses to what he continues to do in the world and in our lives today. He is still real and still alive.
Many I have no doubt can reflect on things that have happened in their own lives as a result of Jesus’s intervention.

Like the young lady who once prayed; ‘Lord, I am not going to pray for myself today. I am going to pray for others. But at the end of her prayers she added; and give my mother a handsome son in law’.

What about words from scripture that have spoken directly into my situation; a word that has helped reassure me about something; a word that has corrected my attitude. A word that has helped clear the clutter in my life.

A word that has guided me in a particular direction.

Jesus is the written word of the Bible and he is the one who lives out what is written here. He shows John and ourselves what this word looks like in reality. He is showing us what God is like in human flesh.

I have to say it’s a very good idea God came up with. I would never have dreamed up something like that.

What about reflecting on people getting Healed from sickness. The malady they had is no longer; and doctors can only conclude, I don’t understand this.

Or reflecting on lives of people that have been completely transformed. I was reading recently in the Gideon’s magazine of a former, 3 A’s person; she was angry, alcoholic, and an atheist. Now she is living for Christ with her demons behind her. How is this possible?

Or Angola; Angola is the name of the State penitentiary in Louisiana America. Its staggering to hear about what happened in that jail a number of years ago with the inmates and how hundreds of lives have been changed through the word of God.

One of the founders of Communism Karl Marx wrote; ‘the first requisite for the people’s happiness is the abolition of religion’………… John writes; ‘faith in Jesus Christ gives you a joy that can never be duplicated by the world.’ Two very different ideas of how we understand joy.

John simply but powerfully writes this letter to share Jesus with us and to testify that he has appeared as the word of life; to offer us fellowship, eternal life, and true joy.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.
The photo shows, “Flevit super illam” (He wept over it), by Enrique Simonet, painted in 1892.

Harvest And Thanksgiving

Immediately after Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden, God said to Adam; ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it, all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you.’ God wasn’t joking when he said that; as many can testify (Genesis 1: 26 – 27, & 2: 4 – 9).

Fighting the weeds is a perennial problem. I was reading recently where a charity worker and his wife moved out of their one bed flat in London in search of more space. They dreamt of having a garden to explore, digging up worms and generally getting their hands dirty. No harm in that. This couple had found a terraced house in a nearby leafy suburb with a small garden. But there was a major problem.

It had a major Bindweed (Convolvulus) infestation. For the non-gardeners Bindweed is the Terminator of the weed world. It mercilessly smothers other plants twisting itself around their stems with a vice like grip. It has a pretty little trumpet shaped white flower but that is just to deceive you.

Its roots can penetrate up to 5 meters into the ground and if even a few centimetres of the root system is left in the soil it will thrive and grow. With the roots being so long it is practically impossible to dig all the root system out and practically impossible to destroy. Anyway, this couple decided to dig the whole garden up with the intention of removing the dreaded bindweed.

After a month of toil, the couple were eventually able to sow a lawn, plant fragrant flowers, roses, and apple trees. The garden was now like, what it should have been. After this major dig the guy said; that it was the first time in his life he had ever got his hands dirty with soil.

His experience is not a one off, for we live in the most sanitised civilization in history making sure we don’t get our hands dirty. However, we tend to forget that God was the first person to get his hands dirty by forming the first human being out of dirt. ‘The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’

We are all familiar I’m sure with how God created the heavens and the earth.

In Genesis we are told that on the first day God spoke, he said, let there be light, and there was light. On the second day God spoke, he said, ‘let there be sky above the earth’, and it was so.

On the third day God spoke, he said, let dry land appear and it happened, and so on; until the sixth day. On the sixth day God spoke, and said, ‘let the land produce living creatures and wild animals’. Also, on the sixth day God spoke, and said, ‘let us make man in our image, so God created man in his own image’. God simply spoke and everything appeared. But with human kind you and me, it was different. God Created man. He didn’t just speak and it happened as with the other days of creation. When he created man, God got his hands dirty.

Nothing else in all of creation required God to get his hands dirty, except man. Nothing else in all of creation called for that degree of fine tuning and attention to detail, that depth of involvement and artistry by God. Man was the only created being on earth that was formed by God. Man was the only created being made in the image of God. Animals, or plants or fish or birds or insects were not made in the image of God.

Evolutionists teach in our schools and colleges that there is no divine in man, just dirt. They tell us that man gradually evolved from some primeval form millions of years ago. And that we are a random collection of cells and flesh. What utter nonsense. There is no scientific evidence to support such a claim. Only giant leaps and bounds of scientific imaginations. How on earth can a blue whale come from a fish. Where is the biological evidence? Because you and I are made in the image of God, each person has intrinsic value, worth, and purpose.  Each person is Not a random evolved collection of cells and flesh. Each person has a living soul.

Have you ever wondered why we are made in the image of God and why did God bother in the first place, putting us on this planet? Sometimes we may feel like the man who said; ‘I’ve got a clock that tells me when to get up; but sometimes I need one to tell me, why I need to get up’.

If people think that all there is in this life, is the material world, they will give themselves over to it and in the end all you have is yourself. It was the author GK Chesterton who said; ‘when you abandon belief in the creator God, people do not begin to believe in nothing, they begin to believe in anything’.

The Bible says there is more to life than just you or us. In fact, we are the product of a very creative and loving God.

In short, we are to reflect God’s image. That is the why bit. Why am I here; I am created by God to reflect his image. Humanity alone is made in the image of God. We are made for intimacy with him. We are to be his mind, his attitude, his hands, his heart, his feet.

Amazingly we can communicate with the God of this universe and God can communicate with us. This is why God cares More about who you are, and what you are becoming, than you do. To be made in the image of God means that we possess some of the features and qualities of the God who made us. Like kindness, love, forgiveness, peace, joy and goodness.

Yet because we are all like pools of muddy water because of our sin; instead of naturally reflecting these qualities and relating to God and loving him for who he is, and loving others, we relate much better to possessions and the material world around us. We tend to love things and use people, instead of loving people and using things. We have a tendency to find meaning in every created thing; instead of the Creator. We become what we love. We reflect what we love and serve.

God in his wisdom has made us constantly restless, in order that we can find him and reflect him to the world; which is why we are here in the first place. We can know what it means to be made in the Image of God; the responsibility and privilege that it carries. There is no greater accolade than to be known by God and to serve him. Yet, of the many downsides in the world we see today concerns that of; Self Image. Self-Image is huge; whether its connected with advertising, or celebrities, reality TV programmes or social media; its ultimately all about self; the persona of ‘Me’.

Sin in its many forms has deformed the image of God in each person. Instead of being clean, pure, unpolluted water, we are more like a muddy pool where the sediment settles and then it’s kicked up once more. Sin has deformed the image of God in each person so that we either sinfully think too highly of ourselves, or, we think too lowly of ourselves, which is also a sin. The power is always in the balance. We are both depraved and possess dignity at the same time.

On the one hand if you think highly of yourself and value yourself above others in pride, you do not love your neighbour as you should, since you don’t think they are worth loving. On the other hand, if you have a low self-image, you also will not love your neighbour, since you feel like you have nothing to give. We can elevate our dignity in sinful pride, or elevate our depravity also in sinful pride. Both are in the end; forms of pride and sin which deforms the image of God in us. And All of this is connected to self-image; who we think we are.

Some of you may have seen a bird attack its own reflection against a window pane. Time and time again the bird throws itself against the glass as if it dosnt like the image it sees. And then discovers too late, that all it was seeing was itself.

These are some of the comments taken from a female website where women can anonymously share how they feel about their bodies.

‘I hate everything about my body’.

‘I constantly compare myself to other women’.

‘I eat when I’m depressed and then I get more depressed’.

‘Sometimes when I see a woman fatter than me, I’m glad, she’s making me feel better’.

‘I don’t know how to feel comfortable in my own skin’.

(incidentally, men say the same thing)

What do you see when you look in the mirror? The image of God in each person is marred. Thankfully it is marred but not destroyed. However, the gospel made known to us through Jesus Christ allows us to be humble and confident at the same time. On the one hand the gospel tells us we are sinful and the sins we know about ourselves are just the tip of the iceberg. This humbles us, which is good. At the same time, the gospel says, we are loved and the love we know of Christ is just the tip of the iceberg. Which is very good?

Not only did God hand make us from the dirt of the ground, but he paid the price to redeem us on the cross at Calvary when we decided to live for ourselves instead of him. To know we are accepted, loved, and his love is what makes us beautiful again, gives us hope and confidence in Christ and within ourselves. When that collision, between the recognition of My sin AND the understanding of how Jesus has dealt with my sin on the cross occurs.

A new beginning happens. We can begin to properly reflect and grow in practising the image of God which we were always designed to do.

Thanksgiving is a time of giving thanks to God for his material blessings, for the harvest, the crops, the fruit, the vegetables and so much more and for the farmers and others who make the harvest possible. Despite modern agricultural advances and inventions, we are still wholly dependant on God to provide the weather and the conditions for the seed to germinate and grow and be fruitful.

We are also thankful to God for his spiritual blessings which at times we can easily forget about. There is no greater supernatural blessing than the way in which he can transform a lost life. To know God’s peace, his wisdom, and the hope of eternal life are blessings this world can never deliver. God in his mercy reached down from heaven and got his hands dirty with us.  He knew exactly what he was doing but he wanted more than anything else to talk to us, to invest in us, and have a relationship with us.

The Bindweed in the garden is a picture of the damage sin does in our lives, both on the surface, and with the roots that go deep inside. But God got his hands dirty by pulling that bindweed out of our lives and by replanting the goodness of his love and mercy in us. God is saying your self-image matters to me. You are of great worth, and you are highly valued.

An old lady was very poor. She had absolutely nothing. No shelter, no food, no nothing. She prayed to God and God gave her 10 apples. This was wonderful. Now I can get the things I need she said. She was so hungry of course that she ate the first three apples. The next three apples she traded to rent a small shelter so she could keep dry when it rained.

She exchanged the next three apples for some new clothes, so she was no longer cold at night. But then she discovered she had only one apple left over.

‘Why did you give me one apple more than I needed’, she asked God?  God replied; ‘so you can have something with which to thank me for’. All of us have a lot more than one apple left. We thank God for his provision.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.
The photo shows, “Afternoon Prayer During Harvest,” by Theodor Christoph Schüz, painted in 1861.

Jesus The Teacher

We heard recently the way Jesus shatters our illusions in how we see life and how we live it out. Where we skilfully over many years erect various types of spiritual illusions to safeguard ourselves from the real truth that Jesus confronts us with. Shattering our false illusions is part of Jesus job to get us to see past ourselves and to focus our attention on him.

Great teachers not only dispel myths and shatter illusions; great teachers make you think; whether you want to or not.

One of the qualities that many of us tend to gloss over when we think about Jesus is the fact that he was a truly great teacher.

In fact he was the greatest teacher who ever lived. He taught in ways no one had ever heard before. And what he said touched people deeply. If we cast our minds back to primary school or secondary school days whether its 5 years ago or 65 years ago I have no doubt that we can all remember a teacher who impacts upon us for good or for ill through their teaching.

In my experience some were excellent and some; well they could do much better.

In Belfast we had a French teacher who would be lying down on top of his desk with a pillow under his head, casually staring up at the ceiling, and greeted each one of us in French as we entered the room. ‘Bonjour Alain, Bonjour Henri’, and so on. Then he would go outside for a quick smoke and proceed to teach us as he inhaled on some Russian cheroot.

Or some of the art teachers. Art was great fun; because some of the teachers just let you go ahead and express what you feel on canvas. So it was all a bit random without any structure.

We had a maths teacher Mr Steele and when I think back he was more of a philosopher than a maths teacher.

Any way one day the class was misbehaving and by way of punishment he got a glass bowl filled it with water and put a pen in the bowl.

Then he told us for the rest of the period to write down 20 observations of the bowl, the water and the pen.

 

Well you can imagine for a 14 year old it was mental torture.

I have no idea how many observations I noted down. But the one thing I learnt much later on was that a persons Mind is influenced by how much they observe and understand truth.

In order for us to function effectively as Christian’s and think clearly, our Minds must be Cleansed, refreshed, and renewed so that we can receive deeper transforming truth. Jesus as the greatest teacher who ever lived was a master at mind renewal.

He knew that the mind is the gateway through which we process and apply truth. But truth is accessible only to the receptive mind. The key being; A person must be willing to learn. In other words they must be open to the truth.

An old Chinese proverb states: when the person is ready, the teacher appears.

But how do we know if we really want to learn.

Are we ready for the mysteries of God’s kingdom and what it means to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind.

Like youngsters learning to read; when will we be done with basic picture books and be instead ready for things that will stretch and challenge our minds spiritually. For many Christians we go a certain distance and then we put the blockers on and go no further.

Jesus as a great teacher used parables as mind renewing tools to stretch and challenge our thinking.

He used parables to make people think differently about God’s kingdom and to test whether they wanted to enter into his kingdom.

He knew exactly what he was saying, how he would say it, when he would say it and to whom he would say it and he could literally read a person’s mind.

He knew their thoughts and he knows our thoughts of each person in church this morning. So when Jesus spoke to the people he did so for a reason; not to confuse them; but to get them to use their minds; their logic; their powers of reasoning.

Test and see what I am saying. He said; ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked through the dough’.

‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field’.

‘Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.’

These sayings brought light and insight to the eyes of those seeking God; but cast a veil of darkness and mystery over critics and cynics. Nothing has changed. For many people their minds became dull; because their hearts have become hard.

They miss the opportunity to look beyond themselves and the obvious.

Jesus goes on to say why he speaks to people in parables.

‘This is why I speak to them in parables otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts; and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear.’

Words spoken by the great teacher in Matthew 13.

There you have Jesus message of the good news in three words;

Firstly To Understand, To Turn and be To be Healed. This is the process of how change generally speaking comes in a person’s life.

Salvation comes to those who allow their minds to be open in the first place; in order to change their heart so that they understand the message; and who turn away from their misguided illusions, to God.

So first you must ask yourself this question; am I ready for such a turning away from myself, to God?

Because when all is said and done Salvation involves belief in God and a heart felt turning away from sin.

And the point where we must all start from is being totally honest with yourself and know your failings and sinfulness.

When we do not love God with all our heart mind and soul we sin. Which means that I constantly sin against God because I do not love him with all my heart mind and soul.

I want to but I can’t, because there is still part of me that wants to do my own thing; without God. Maybe others feel the same way.

And who of us can honestly say that we love our neighbours as ourselves.

 

Is my mind prepared to be Open and then pierce through the layers of illusion, confusion, doubt and cynicism, like stripping away the layers of skin around an onion.//////

There is only one way to find out. Through your mind think carefully to what Jesus is saying; is the hidden truth breaking through.

If so will you allow it to shape your thoughts and renew your mind? And If the truth does Not appear before you and remains difficult to find; all is not lost; unless you give up the search.

My advice to you is; don’t give up the search. With Jesus treasure hunters become treasure finders.

The seeker is rewarded; but the cynic goes home empty handed.

One difficulty that people encounter is that they claim they cannot find God.

They say: I want to find him, but I can’t; or he simply isn’t there.

Well, we are told in the bible that God is omnipresent; meaning he is everywhere. So if he is everywhere why can I not find him? God of course can hide himself from us if he wants to and one of the reasons he does that is because of our sins. So we need to get that sorted out. Our sins get in the way of us growing in our faith. It doesn’t mean however that God has disappeared.

David tells us in Psalm 66; if I has cherished sin in my heart the Lord would not have listened.’ Cherished here means to aim for sin and to look forward to it. It doesn’t mean the actual presence of sin in our lives, because sin is always present in our lives at some point.

But there is a huge difference a gulf, between the element of sin and actually looking forward to sinning; cherishing and holding on to it.

Proverbs 8 tell us; those who seek me find me.

And Jeremiah in chapter 29 puts it well when he says; you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. ‘I will be found by you’, declares the Lord.

Sometimes our search for God may grow cold and we think that, that’s it. The search has ended. But then something miraculous happens. One day God taps us on the shoulder and he says; its me. I’m here now.

You were looking for me and now I’m here. So what are you going to do.?

The reality is of course that God was always there but he has chosen to come to us at this particular point and time in our lives. This happened with countless people in the bible when God turns up unexpectantly.

One such incident happened with Mary the teenage mother of Jesus.

The angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth to speak to her when she was engaged to be married to Joseph. Gabriel knew her name; do not be afraid Mary you have found favour with God.

You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus.

After listening to all this, what was Mary’s reaction when God turns up right before her eyes.

She said, I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said. God appears taps Mary on the shoulder using an angel. Mary had no idea this would happen or the full consequences of what Gabriel had outlined. God turned up unexpectedly with Mary, but always at the right time in a person’s life.

She was a good virtuous Jewish girl although she wasn’t necessarily seeking God.

As a good Jewish girl she knew of the existence of God. She knew that he was omnipresent. She knew that he was the maker of heaven and earth; but She didn’t expect him to turn up in the way he did.

This can be a very sobering moment in a persons life; God turning up and whispering your name; and you know that its him. But what happens next? What did Mary do? She accepted God at his word and believed it to happen.

She had the opportunity to keep her mind shut and convince herself that this was all a bad dream and things like this don’t really happen. But she didn’t.

In submission to God she turned to him not away from him.

Or little Zacchaeus who climbed up the sycamore fig tree to see Jesus passing through.

His situation was different from Mary’s in that he was looking for Jesus although perhaps not in a deep spiritual way; more in a casual way.

He went looking for him among the crowd of on lookers and found him. How did he react when he found Jesus; he told everyone that he would give back the money he acquired to the poor in fact he would give back four times he needed to.

I have no doubt that Zacchaeus was a happier man giving money to the poor that taking it from them; because Jesus in those few moments with Zacchaeus had turned his life around.

Both Zacchaeus and Mary had allowed the great teacher to open their minds and heart and turn towards him. The truth was in front of them; they could see it and they knew it to be true.

So whether we are seeking God like Zacchaeus or not expecting God like Mary what will be your response?

You see the scary thing is that God is still around. I think we all know that and accept that.

But what happens if and when he turns up in our lives and we know and hear him speaking the truth. Jesus speaks the truth and we know deep down he is right.

Jesus can turn up most unexpectantly. Are you prepared to allow your mind and heart to be changed by him? He may turn up just the once and give you that one opportunity.

Who is teaching you how to live your life rightly? Yourself; your boss, your friends, your family. Can they be trusted? Can they be always trusted to have your interests at heart?

Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.
The photo shows, “Christ and Nicodemus,” by Fritz von Uhde, painted ca. 1896.

Jesus The Man

Have you ever noticed how certain people seem to fill a room with their presence? They simply walk in and everyone turns their way.

Sometimes this magnetism is due to an individual’s athletic prowess, stunning appearance, wealth or great intellect.

Yes some people can captivate others just with their presence.

If you have ever been invited to a reception where a member of the royal family for example is due to appear. People are quite happy waiting, making small talk and nibbling their canapés. Then when the royal member appears all attention is turned towards them. They command your attention; they become your complete focus.

When Jesus was going around Galilee speaking to different groups of people; he also commanded attention and became your complete focus. People said of him; ‘no one has ever taught like him before.

Nor had anyone ever divided a room more quickly than this prophet from Nazareth.

It was not his wealth or beauty that people noticed, he did not have those; nor had he much money.

And Isaiah said of him he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him.

So what was it that made him stand out above all others ever born in any generation past, present or future.

Well it was many things; it was his; grace, his power, his forgiveness, his teaching, his miracles, his compassion, his unceasing love and courage.

His presence was unmistakable. People either loved him or hated him, but they Never ignored him.

Many people then and since have tried to soften Jesus’ raspy cutting edge remarks concerning the human condition.

But it cannot be done without watering down his message and ruining the picture of his true character.

Much of the history concerning Christianity has centred around domesticating Jesus and reducing his message to one that suits all tastes and one that we are all comfortable with.

But that can’t work otherwise the gospel loses its potency and power. In North America and Europe Revisionist theology is causing the church many difficulties as some seek to revise what the bible actually teaches. In other words Christianity should be so watered down that it possesses no risk of offense to anyone. Something like A benign domesticated Jesus who is robbed of his ability to disturb others from their spiritual sleep walk.

Today we live in the age of Equality. Equality is king. It is the god many worship. And equality means no one gets offended.

But the fact is that Jesus is as disturbing now as he was then. Look how many times Jesus provoked outrage amongst his listeners and many of the other disciples for that matter.

Now I am not saying that we should all become firebrand preachers there’s enough of them already; or go about being offensive to people of different faiths or no faith.

But the fact is that we cannot portray Jesus without causing some people to feel uncomfortable about the way they live their lives and their attitude to him. Truth by its very nature is exclusive. Truth cannot mean all things to all people.

The Apostle John described Jesus as, ‘one full of grace and truth’. These two words encapsulate what it means to be a Christian. We act with grace and empathy, but we also stand for truth. That is biblical truth, which is not distorted or adapted to suit trends. Nor should we be afraid to speak in the public square giving the reason for our faith.

Sadly in recent years western Christianity has retreated from speaking out for what it believes, and instead allowed confusion and distortion to take the centre ground.

Jesus has this knack of shining his light into the darker recesses of our lives, which proves to be uncomfortable because there are things there that we know should not be there.

Jesus spoke powerfully yet skilfully. He spoke with authority yet with restraint. He spoke lovingly yet insightfully.

Jesus had always something productive and effective to say. Something that would make you wonder and look at him and say to yourself; well I never thought of that before.

He also had a knack of shattering our illusions. That’s the first point I want to make this morning. He shatters our illusions.

A leading Christian academic once said; ‘what we need is more disillusioned people’. It’s an interesting comment and one worth thinking about.

Disillusioned people by right should see themselves for what they are; disillusioned.

Disillusioned with the meaning and purpose of life and disillusioned with themselves. Disillusioned or heart broken people tend to be more open to God.

We live in a world filled with illusions; some are physical, some mental, and some spiritual.

Thanks to the advances in cosmetic surgery for example; if we don’t like what we see in the mirror; we can hide it; stretch it; tighten it; tuck it; remove it, enhance it; and replace it all in the same day. We gently massage the illusions we create with fantasies of unending health; wealth, eternal beauty; but always avoiding the inner poverty of our souls. The soul is the last place we tend to. We ignore it; and we do so at our peril.

Illusions are things or states of mind that we erect in order to prevent us from dealing and grappling with the truth.

We can maintain the hoax by borrowing money we don’t have, or buy stuff we don’t need to impress people we don’t know and never see again. And so it goes on.

Our cosmetic and monetary enhancements are vain attempts to flee the real truth about life and death, about weakness and insecurity; and the advertising companies are making a fortune as they tap deeper and deeper into our insecurities.

The Pharisees in Jesus day got a lot of bad press. They were the religious zealots, the fundamentalists who viewed themselves as righteous, pure and basically perfect. They had created illusions about them selves; their role, and position in society.

But when they encountered Jesus; Jesus shook their self-righteous illusions to the core. Woe to you;

Woe to you; woe to you he said. He then went on to slate them for their hypocrisy.

You could hear people in the crowd saying but Jesus; That’s not how you address important religious leaders; but that’s what Jesus did. He had to use that particular approach. Jesus of course reached out to others in different ways. He spoke to the woman at the well in a very courteous yet penetrating way. But he shattered her illusion about happiness being found in relationships with different men.

He spoke to the rich young ruler lovingly. But he shattered his illusion that possessing wealth and being good was the key to life. He told him the truth. He did not compromise and run after him and say I’ll make it easier for you. Just give some of your wealth away.

He spoke tenderly to the woman who was caught in the act of adultery; but he shattered her illusion by reminding her that adultery was not acceptable and a sin against God. He told her the truth. He healed on the Sabbath Day shattering the Pharisees illusion about how the Sabbath Day was to be used.

Even his parables shattered illusions concerning money, faith, the kingdom of God and so on.

If the parable of the Good Samaritan didn’t shatter illusions about equality, discrimination, race, and creed I don’t know what did. A few months back I was listening to Radio 2. A man called John Lloyd was being interviewed.

His name is not particularly well known. But John Lloyd is a TV producer and the man who wrote the scripts for Spitting Image, Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, QI, and Black Adder to name but a few. It was a very interesting interview.

Lloyd spoke about his fame and fortune as a scriptwriter for many Top Comedy TV programmes. He had a lovely wife, family, home, wealth and position. He had it all. And then he woke up one Christmas Eve morning, and suddenly thought for the first time in his life; what is this all about and he spiralled into years of depression; which he has now come through.

Lloyd possessed the dream of success in the eyes of the world; but when he achieved it; he said; it meant nothing to him. There was a sense of pointlessness to it all.

He built around him the successful trappings of comfort, fame and wealth but ignored the state of his soul. He constructed an illusion. His illusion about life had been broken. King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes said the same thing.

The second point I would make is this. Jesus often used three little words to get his message across.

Jesus rarely went into lengthy discourses. He tended to keep things short and to the point. Do you know what those three little words were? When he spoke to the crowds he would often say; ‘you have heard that it was said.

hen he turned things round by saying; ‘but I say’; ‘but I say’.

Three important words that gave a whole new dimension to what he said and to what others had said before him. The people wondered; who is this who speaks to us in this way; no one has ever spoken like this before.

I don’t know if you have ever heard powerful captivating speakers. They are a very rare commodity. But once you hear them speak you will remember them and their message for a very long time. Martin Luther King’s highly charged ‘I have a dream’ speech in Washington DC in 1963 Even when I hear it on Youtube the hairs on the back of my neck still rise.

Or Winston Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons during the 2nd WW in 1940; we will fight them on the beaches; we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. But Jesus words blow all other speeches away by comparison. Jesus was a highly skilled orator even at the age of twelve he was able to debate with the leading rabbi’s of the day in the temple.

When he uttered These three words; ‘but I say’ basically he was saying; Pay attention; pay attention and listen to what I am about to say,

Because what I am about to say will turn your world upside down and give you a reality check. And you need to hear this.

Now some people were open and excited about this; others were offended. Nothing has changed. Reading chapters 5 to 7 of Matthew, which includes the Beatitudes, is a reality check for us all. It removes any man made illusions.

‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, do not murder; but I say anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.

You have heard that it was said; do not commit adultery; BUT I say anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

You have heard that it was said; love your neighbour and hate your enemy; but I say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’

Whenever we hear words like these they not only arouse our curiosity they make us think and look at things in a different way.

It should not surprise us that in Jesus’ day his words separated friends, split families and shocked his followers.

Every time he taught or preached he was sparring with the prevailing opinions of society, and was one of the reasons he got himself into trouble.

If a man takes your jacket from you, give him your shirt as well he says. ‘If someone strikes you on the check, turn the other towards him.’

‘Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you. Lend to those who cannot pay you back.’

These are words that shatter our illusions. This is the way God talks. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Whenever we read such words our automatic reaction is to justify ourselves. And we begin an analysis.

Can these attitudes and ways really work in this world; is Jesus really in touch with reality. Does Jesus not know that the world doesn’t operate like this?

Does Jesus not know, does he not realise that throwing money at people who can’t pay it back displays bad business judgement and may lead to financial ruin for both parties. And what kind of defence policy would our nation have if we took cheek turning seriously with the likes of North Korea and Russia breathing down our necks. There are no easy answers. But Jesus’ words remain.

What are the illusions Jesus shatters with you? Might some of your illusions be?

If I follow God he will always keep me healthy and strong.

God helps those who help themselves.

What goes around, comes around.

Because I go to church God will look after me.

I can manage my greed and lust on my own.

Look after number one.

I’m basically a good person.

As long as you have your health.

Don’t offend anyone.

The strange thing is Jesus never said any of those things. !!!

Do you see the difference between what Jesus says and how we think and interpret his words? The illusions we erect to safeguard ourselves which really cause us more harm than good.

Maybe you will allow Jesus to shatter or dismantle what you have erected over the years.

Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

 

The photo shows, “My Soul is Sorrowful unto Death,” by James Tissot, painted ca. 1896.