Wednesday, 28 July 2010

do feel free to say 'no'

I was talking to someone today about how we ask for things. Suppose I wanted to borrow your garage to store some of my stuff. I can ask in different ways. I can say "is it all right if I put my stuff in your garage?" But I have now put you under an obligation and if you say "no'" the process risks me feeling rejected. If, on the other hand, I say "please feel free to say 'no', but is it all right if I put my stuff in your garage?" I give you the genuine opportunity to say "no" and yet for our relationship to be whole. Is this just English reserve 'gone mad'? It may be... but it may be something else.

Do I really leave people free to make their own decisions or do I manoeuvre them into a corner so that the only thing they can do is provide the response that they know will please me.

Let's try another one. "Is it all right if I keep your hammer for another week?" Is that ok or would it be better to say "I have brought your hammer back, would it be all right to borrow it for another week?" In the first I have built in the presumption that you will say "yes", with the second I have given you a genuine free choice.

But this is not a lesson in English manners, I have Paul and Philemon in mind. The runaway slave Onesimus had been of great service to Paul and Paul no doubt would have continued to benefit from this service but Paul will not presume...
12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. Philemon

It is really remarkable how Paul refuses to put Philemon, Onesimus' true owner, under any pressure. He will not presume, he will not take Philemon's answer for granted. I wonder where he got his 'manners'.

God is almighty. He is the possessor of heaven and earth. He has every right to demand that we bow the knee to him and commit to serve him forever, but he will not presume and will not take our answer for granted. He gives us genuine choices. As with the father and the prodigal son he 'empowers' us to make the 'wrong' decisions. We are genuinely 'free to say "no"'. Or like the old story of Abraham's servant who went seeking a bride for Abraham's son. He lavishes gifts on the would-be bride and tells her of the wealth of her prospective bridegroom, but in the end it comes down to a genuine free choice; will you go with this man? Gen 24:58

In creating man God has given him the most amazing power; he is free to say 'no' to God. And because this is a genuine free choice he also has the power to say 'yes'.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Persistent Patterns

AW Tozer used to bewail that fact that so much effort was spent in schooling the saints to be workers. He had a simple conviction; teach them to be worshippers and the serving will follow automatically.

Paul makes the same connection but as a warning. Romans Ch1 details the development of the nations in their deadly slide into sin and puts all the blame on their worship. It all began, he says, when the race turned its back on the revelation of the true God and exchanged the truth of God for a lie. The consequence was that they...
...exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Rom 1:25

Do you see the pattern? They rejected truth, put the lie in its place and then 'worshipped and served'. They are an inseparable pair, worship and service. Have no doubt there is a law written into the race that we will ultimately serve what we worship and our behaviour will be the direct consequence of those first choices.

In the wilderness temptation Christ was offered a short-cut. His ultimate purpose is to bring the kingdoms of the world in subjection to the Father. 1Cor 15:24 NKJV It would only take a single short-term compromise to short-cut Calvary and 'cut to the chase'.
Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me."
Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve. Matt 4:8-10 NKJV.

There is it again, that persistent pattern... you shall worship... you shall serve...

Perhaps we need to challenge ourselves regularly to ask the question 'who (or what) am I worshipping?' Do we make an idol of the church or evangelism or mission? If so we will find ourselves 'serving our idol'. This is such a subtle temptation. In our culture we more easily reject the obscenity of bowing down to a stone god, but the subtle temptation to put something in God's place will continue to the end of our pilgrimage.
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, [even] in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. 1John 5:20,21

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

more likely than not

I was listening to a very subdued scientist on the radio today. He was declaring that scientists can never say anything is absolutely true. Science he said is constantly challenging itself and is 'self-correcting'. His topic was the hooha that has continued since the emails for the University of East Anglia were made public.

Now I am not a spokesman for either the pro-global warming or the anti-global warming camps. There is a delightful American phrase which I intend to use more and more... "I don't believe I have a dog in that fight". However this sudden rush of humility sits very strangely when we compare it to some of the assertions of Dr Richard Dawkins. He asserts that evolution is proven and that there is no doubt. We now understand the universe, he declares. Perhaps we can hope that the new mood of science spokespersons is contagious, but I won't hold my breath.

This afternoon's radio science spokesperson concluded that the most that science could really say was 'more likely than not'. How many degrees short of certainty this is were not explained. If Dr Dawkins adopts this stance we shall begin to hear that Neo Darwinian Evolution 'cannot be said to be absolutely true' but is 'more likely than not'. I won't be holding my breath to hear Dr Dawkins say that either.

Monday, 5 July 2010

human but not a person?

A recent news Times article reported that "abortion is the killing of a human being but this is less important than a woman's right to control her own life". Abortion is killing but women’s rights rule.

Over three millennia ago God enshrined universal law in a series of instructions given to the people we call Israel. The principles of the law were universal but the Exodus 20 application of it was unique to a group of people who entered into a solemn and binding covenant to keep it. We call it the Ten Commandments, although the full law contained hundreds. The Ten Commandments all deal with a very modern topic 'respect'. The first few commandments are a commentary on the fact the God has rights and that they must be respected. The remainder are based on the principle that human beings have rights and they must also be respected. (Noticeable by their omission are any commandments that deal with 'my rights to my rights'.) These simple commandments instruct me as to how I must respect God's rights and how I must respect the rights of other human beings.

There is an underlying revelation truth which is as the base of all the commandments directed at respecting the rights of others. It is staggering in its simplicity and in its implications. [color=0033FF] “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man. Gen 9:6 NKJV[/color] Human rights are derived from a very simple truth; human beings are in the image of God and that sets them apart from every other life form.

There are many noble souls who have died for the rights of other people but the only sure foundation of a right attitude to others is the truth that human beings are in the image of God. That means old human beings who no longer have an economic function. It means tiny human beings whose lives hangs by a thread. It means tiny human beings whose presence is an inconvenience to other human beings. It means damaged human beings whose bodies or brains do not function 'normally'.

As mere creatures at the top of some evolutionary pyramid human beings have no more rights than a wood louse. Their only right is their might; their traditional ability to impose their will on other life forms. But if mankind, and even the tiniest scrap of it, is truly in the 'image of God' it must transform forever my attitude to their 'rights'. For those rights are not created by arbitrary judgements of other human beings but are a God given heritage and a God given trust.