Misplaced confidence

Misplaced confidence #1

The people of Israel at the time of Jeremiah believed they were invincible. After all, God had chosen them, made promises to them, and brought them into the promised land. They could live as they pleased and worship who they wanted because they had something that made them untouchable. They had the temple of the Lord.

But God had a message for them in Jeremiah chapter 7:

Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”

“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?

Misplaced confidence #2

The people of Australia in 2012 believe we have a right to dominate world sport. After all, we’re the sporting nation, we hold the world records, the championships. We’re the best at AFL, swimming, cycling, tennis, rugby, shooting, hurdling, triathlon, netball, basketball, sailing, cricket… aren’t we? Even when we lose, we’re still the best! It’s our right. Of course we’re better than South African, New Zealand, England…

But maybe there’s a message for us:

2011 ICC World Cup - Australia Portrait SessionDo not trust in deceptive words and say, “We have Michael Clarke, Michael Clarke, Michael Clarke!”

Will you perform badly, fail to score tries, get out for ducks, take performance enhancing drugs, throw away privileged contracts, act like prima donnas and then blame it on a bad day, the coaches, the umpires, the poor training facilities? What gives?

Misplaced confidence #3

The religious person, the church goer, the ‘Christian’ can become confident in their position. After all, we believe in God, we go to church every week, month, at least every Christmas and Easter. We don’t think much about God at home, or at work, or when we’re out with their mates. We’ve been baptised, we have communion, we’re a member of the church. We’re decent people really and never really do anyone any harm.

Well, let me paraphrase Jeremiah’s words for a modern audience:

Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “I call myself a Christian, I go to church, I do good things!”

“‘Will you worship your careers, your wealth, your relationships, your reputations, your entertainment, your retirement plans. Will you give more attention to ‘stuff’ than you do to God? Will you trust in your basic goodness, and forget about Jesus? Will you live as you please during the week, then turn up to church, and assume God will be pleased with you?”

Well placed confidence

One place only. The promises of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ!

Check out Hebrews 10, quoting the words of Jeremiah:

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”

17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Religious crap!

Some of you might be upset that I’ve used an offensive word in the title. To which I’m tempted to apologise for using the word ‘religious’! But seriously, I needed to use an offensive word, and I can think of more offensive words, but ‘crap’ seemed a good compromise. Why use it? Let me explain.

I think the average Aussie believes that Christians are religious people who are trying hard to get into God’s good books. They think a Christian is one who keeps various rules, regulations, and rituals in order to get right with God. If it was a comparison between a drug dealer and a nun, then the nun would be seen as closer to God. The more you do for God, the more likely you are to be in his good books. The better your religious resume, the more confident you can be of going to heaven. I know not everyone thinks this way, but enough do to make it an issue. What worries me, is that people think this is what Christianity is all about. And it’s scary.

If this were true, then I reckon I’d shape up pretty well…

Born while my dad was at theological college.
Grandfather a minister.
Dad a minister.
Uncle who’s a minister.
Another who was a missionary.
Pretty good pedigree!

Been to church nearly every Sunday I’ve been alive.
Still remember feeling guilty the first time we skipped to go on a train ride.
Went to Sunday School, Christian Endeavour, and church holiday camps.
Involved in youth group and Christian Fellowship at high school.
Even paid my own way to a National Christian Youth Convention.
On track and doing well!

At university I joined a campus Bible study.
More Christian camps and conferences.
Did a lay preaching course.
Began occasional preaching.
Organised and ran Bible studies and camps.
Better than average!

After uni I did a ministry apprenticeship.
Working for a church.
Off to Moore Theological College.
Bachelor of Theology with Honours.
Trained as a preacher by Chappo.
Master of Arts in Theology.
A-Grade training!

Ministry in Canberra.
Building Christian groups on the campuses.
Founding a new church.
Growing church, growing staff team, growing budget.
Planting another church.
Training ministry apprentices.
Sending out missionaries.
A ‘successful’ ministry, surely!

Preaching everywhere.
Baptist, Presbyterian, Uniting, Anglican, Independent.
Australia, South Africa, Kenya.
Canberra, Perth, Sydney, Hobart, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane.
Only Darwin missing.
Not a bad resume!

If religious pedigree, training, and experience counts with God, then surely I’ve got what it takes. If I miss out, then only an elite few will ever get in. Surely, I can be confident that I’ve done enough? Can’t I?

NO!

In fact all that stuff is nothing more than crap, if I think God will be impressed by it. It’s worse than useless as a means of getting right with God. Let me prove this by giving you a case study.

If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.  (Philippians 3:4-9 HCSB)

The Apostle Paul had it all – pedigree, training and experience. What Sonny Bill Williams is to rugby league, union, boxing and ticket sales, so was the apostle to religion! He was the superstar. He came from the right stock, he’d worked hard, and he was perched at the top of the religious tree. Surely he could be confident of his standing with God, couldn’t he?

NO!

What he thought was to his profit, was actually loss. In fact, he says all his religious credentials are ‘filth’. The word is literally dung or excrement. The Message translates it as ‘dog dung’ and the Common English Bible as ‘sewer trash’. It’s fit for the toilet. It’s crap! Everything he was, everything he’d worked for, everything he’d achieved – all filthy. And remember it’s his religious credentials he’s describing. What would make him say this?

His knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Paul came to understand that to be a Christian was to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It meant putting his trust in Jesus rather than himself. It meant recognising that even though Jesus once hung upon a cross, God had now raised him to life and placed him in the position of supreme authority. It meant recognising that Jesus hadn’t died for his own sins (he was sinless), he’d died for Paul’s, and mine, and yours.

Paul came to recognise that being a Christian had nothing whatsoever to do with being religious. It’s not about rules and regulations. It’s not about religious rites and rituals.

It’s about having a real RELATIONSHIP with Jesus.

His religious resume was excellent, unsurpassed even. If you had to be good and do all the right things for God to accept you, then Paul would have passed with high distinctions. But once he recognised who Jesus was, and what he had done, everything changed. He recognised that it’s not about our religious performance.

Christianity is not about what we DO for God.
It’s about what Jesus has DONE for us.

So if you’re tempted to put your confidence in your religious achievements, please don’t. It’s a dead end, literally. It’s filth. It’s to your loss, not your gain. What would you prefer –  to stand before God depending on your self-achieved righteousness? Or to trust in the God-given righteousness that comes by trusting in Jesus alone? Those who suggest that being a Christian is about religious performance are peddling dangerous and deceptive lies. To suggest that being Christian is about anything other than following Jesus is absolute crap! Don’t be deceived!

If I were God I’d make myself clearer

ClearerIf I were God I’d make myself clearer. That’s a big call! Way too big for me. But I can understand the sentiment. Why doesn’t God simply prove beyond all reasonable doubt that he exists? Once and for all. No questions. No ambiguities. No contradictory evidence. Just clear, obvious, proof.

I guess the obvious question is, what would such clarity look like? What would I consider persuasive? What would it take for you to be convinced of the existence of God? And then, which God are we talking about? There are so many religions, so many claims about God, how can we possibly know which is the right one, if any of them are?

In this little book, John Dickson takes us on a pathway through the maze of ideas about God. It’s been popular for years to argue that all beliefs are really different paths to the same end. This could be for a couple of reasons. Firstly, so much blood has been spilled through religious conflict, that there seems nothing to be gained by highlighting differences that could cause more conflict. Secondly, sorting out the differences takes research, time and effort, and not many people are prepared to do this. It’s easier to stay preoccupied with trivia.

John demonstrates that religious pluralism has obvious and fatal flaws. How can Hinduism and Buddhism possibly both be true expressions of reality. Hinduism has many gods, while classical Buddhism rejects the notion of any god. Christianity believes that people are saved by the mercy and grace of God, whereas Islam argues that people are saved through ethical and ritual obedience. Christianity claims that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfils the promises made to Israel, and yet Israel still awaits a Messiah. The Koran claims that Jesus was neither crucified or resurrected, while Christianity hangs everything on these events. A quick assessment of these claims highlights the bankruptcy of pluralism. It could be that none of these religions are true, but there is no way they can each be true.

This is a scary prospect in a world committed to tolerance. However, John offers us a better understanding of tolerance.

True tolerance, then, is not my willingness to accept the position of another, it is the more admirable ability to treat with respect a person with whom I deeply disagree. A tolerant Muslim, for instance, is not one who accepts as valid the Buddhist doctrine of ‘birth and rebirth’, it is one who, while rejecting such a teaching, is able to remain respectful and compassionate toward Buddhists themselves. Again, the tolerant Christian is not one who accepts as valid the Hindu claim that there are many gods, it is the one who, while denying polytheism, is able to treat Hindus with the honour due to them as fellow members of the human race. In each case there is an informed awareness of the contrary position of the other and a generous commitment to respect and value the person who holds that position.  (p38-39)

Such an understanding of tolerance opens the way through the maze of ideas. We can be intellectually rigorous and culturally sensitive in a way that overcomes bigotry and discrimination. We don’t have to paint over differences but can be freed to respectfully discuss, and argue, and explore and persuade one another.

This book argues that Christianity is to a large extent a ‘verifiable’ religion. This is not to say that it’s true, but that it’s founded upon public, historical, evidence. It makes claims that can be tested through historical, archeological, literary, and critical scrutiny. The implications of this are important. If none of the places, dates, names or events pertinent to Christianity could be attested anywhere else, there would be good grounds for being suspicious as to it’s truth claims. If it could be demonstrated that Jesus never lived, was not crucified, or did not rise from the dead, then Christianity could hardly be trusted as the way to God. As it is, Christianity makes some dangerously verifiable claims and invites people to check them out. No tricks or mirrors – just open investigation. This is a book that invites such scrutiny.

The heart of the evidence for Christianity lies in the documents of the New Testament, much of which were written shortly after the events they describe. Consider, for example, the following incident recorded in the Book of Acts. In AD 50 the city of Athens in ancient Greece was a melting pot of ideas. All kinds of claims were made about religion, and there were many ‘gods’ being promoted. Into this confusion, the Apostle Paul sought to bring some clarity by directing people to the evidence concerning Jesus. You can read what he said and the reaction it evoked…

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.  (Acts 17:22-34)

Some sneered, some followed, and others were keen to find out more. If you’d like to find out more, this little book by John Dickson will help point you in the right direction.