What to do with the coming year…

There’s a gap in our history of the apostle Paul. In Galatians 1:17 Paul himself alludes to it, but gives no more detail than the fact that he went to Arabia for a while. I don’t often speculate, but in this case I think I have fairly firm ground.

Paul was steeped in the law. He knew the Jewish Scriptures inside out. We was versed in all the prophecies. But he was wrong about how it all fitted together. My dad says that prophecy without fulfilment is like having a jigsaw puzzle without having the picture on the lid – you won’t know how it all goes together until you can see the whole picture. Paul had all the pieces, but he didn’t have the completed picture.

When he encountered Jesus on the Damascus road, Paul was given the the whole picture; he realised that Jesus was the Christ, the fulfilment of all the Law, the prophecies and promises. That left Paul with a lot of pieces to rearrange. I believe that Paul left the country until he had put all the pieces of the jigsaw together, according to the picture that he now had. It would have taken some time for Paul to take all that he had known, and make sense of it on the basis of his new found understanding. Paul speaks of this in his letters as ‘the mystery revealed’.

And so, once Paul had got the revealed mystery understood in his own mind he came back so that he could share this understanding that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s great plan, that Jesus is all the Law and the Prophets. This mystery revealed, this light bulb moment for Paul drove the rest of his life.

In his letter to the Colossian christians Paul says this:

“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:1–3”

Whatever your hopes or desires are for the coming year, this hope transcends all, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is in Christ. Paul’s desire was that all might know, and he struggled with all his might to share this understanding. For us, we should take this for our own. We have the mystery revealed, we know Jesus is the Christ. Let’s do what Paul did. Let’s determine this year to know God and his Son through the Word that he gave us. Let’s put all those pieces together in our own minds and let’s share that knowledge with anyone who will listen.

So, my goal for the coming year is to read God’s word, to prayerfully study and consider, and to put together the pieces of God’s eternal plan in my own heart, and then to pass on what I have learned, to whoever will listen.

What’s in a gift? What can we bring?

I’ve just returned from a bit of last minute shopping. It’s frantic Friday – everyone is rushing, pushing, searching, trying to put the finishing touches on the event that Christmas has become.

I was musing recently about why we give gifts at Christmas. Is it because we think of Jesus as God’s gift to us, or perhaps because the wise men brought gifts. It’s impossible to equate even the most extravagant Christmas gift with the giving of Jesus for us. Although Jesus is ours, he is never ours in the sense of a possession, something we own. He is ours, because we are his, and he is everything.

So that brings us to the wise men and the reasons for their offerings. First of all, the wise men were rather late to the party. Although they set out when they saw the star rise, it took some time to arrive at Bethlehem. Mary, Joseph and Jesus were no longer in the stable, and Jesus was an infant child, not a new born baby. But that in itself tells us something about Christmas – it was an event so monumental that the wise men were determined to pursue what they had discovered, even at such cost in terms of time and energy. I don’t know how far east they had come from, but judging by the age of the children that Herod murdered, it was some distance. This was more than curiosity, it was a conviction that the rising star bore real significance.

For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.
Matthew 2:2

Worship is a serious business, and these wise men were serious about worshipping the new king.

When they arrived at the house, the wise men did indeed worship Jesus, and they offered gifts to him. But those gifts were not toys or trinkets to be played with. The gifts themselves were an act of worship.

Perhaps we will come late to the real meaning of this party too. It may be well after the decorations have come down that we can objectively think about how we should treat Jesus, but here’s some food for thought for when you get there.

We are told that the wise men ‘offered him gifts’ (Matthew 2:11). The important word is ‘offered’. It’s quite a common word in the New Testament. We read of it when the people brought Jesus the sick and the demon oppressed. We read of it when the paralytic was lowered down from the roof. We read of it when a blind, mute, demon possessed man was brought to be healed. We read of it when the little children were brought before him.

Yes, we bring our offering of worship to the incarnate God – Immanuel, God with us; Jesus, God saves. But we come too, knowing our need, knowing that there is only one who can heal, restore, forgive. We offer ourselves not because we can give to him, but because he alone can save. And, strangely, these two, worship and petition go hand in hand with our loving God. No matter what state we find ourselves in this Christmas, know this, that Jesus welcomes all who will come and offer themselves to him. ‘I won’t reject anyone who comes to me’ Jesus would later say.

So, when you are struggling with the busyness, or the obligations, or just the whole commercial weight that is heaped on our Christmas celebration, remember the lines of the Christmas carol, and take them to heart:

Yet what can I give Him?
Give Him my heart.

And give him your heart in worship and in need. Jesus is more than willing and able to meet that need and accept that worship.

Creationism is a Logical and Acceptable Worldview

Several years ago, working as an IT Consultant I was on site with a client when a member of staff asked for assistance with a problem on her computer. The problem had defeated her, and so I was asked to take a look. I’ve long since forgotten the problem and the cure, but I do recall that I took a look at the computer, hit a few keys and walked away, saying “Done!”. I’d only travelled a few steps when the woman called out after me “But you’re a Christian!”. That may seem a disjointed conversation, but let me tell you the flow of thought behind the woman’s response.

  1. By fixing her computer I exhibited extremely logical behaviour
  2. Christians believe in Creation
  3. How could I be both extremely logical and hold to a Creationist worldview?

My response to this woman was to say that the Christian understanding of the origin of the universe is entirely logical and therefore the most natural position for me to take as someone whose thinking is logical.

Fast forward a few years and increasingly we are seeing the use of the term Creationist in a pejorative sense. Since when did Creationist become a term of abuse? I know that in every generation there are a small number of aggressive, vocal, and mindless shouters who decry anything and everything with equal vehemence and prejudice, but today’s world sees fit to universally deny the validity of the Creationist worldview with extreme prejudice and with next to no understanding of either their own position or the reasons to take a Creationist stand.

Those who have been reading carefully will notice that I haven’t yet used the word ‘believe’ – that’s deliberate. The argument below is also intended to be taken outside of the context of belief or trust in the God of the Bible. But, just for the sake of clarity, let me state that I believe the Bible to be God’s revealed word to us, and as such I believe what he says in the book of Genesis about how he brought this universe into existence. I have studied this narrative in detail and am convinced that what God intended to tell us is that he made the universe in 6 literal days. I choose to believe him.

Now, to the logic:-

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

— Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

As much as I love IT and computers, I have a healthy interest in Physics. Learning about the Second Law of Thermodynamics has been something that has grown on me over the years as I have begun to understand how overwhelming it is in terms of our understanding of the world in which we live. The quote above from Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington sums it up very well. What he is saying, in layman’s terms is this:

No matter how far back in time, no matter how far into the future, no matter how far out into the universe you go, this law holds true. And this law tells us that everything that is is tending towards chaos.

Let me expand on that a little. It is seen in the world around us, and demonstrated empirically, that everything is falling apart. Buy a new car, it begins to deteriorate from the day you buy it. I’ve never yet had a car that grows a fresh set of tyres, never mind one that acquires a Bluetooth connection for my new smartphone. Buy a new home, and watch the woodwork rot, the tiles fall off and the mortar between the bricks begins to disintegrate. Every new born child will one day wear out and die. Common sense tells us what science confirms. This observation is just the icing on the cake of a universe that is winding down. The phrase ‘entropy always increases’ describes a universe that will one day, without some sort of injection of energy and order, fail completely.

So, observation, science and our own common sense tell us that nothing improves on its own. If you want a better car, then you trade in your old rusting hulk for a new one: designed, manufactured – order and energy are put in to produce something new. When your house begins to fall apart you engage workmen (or do it yourself) to repair and restore – order and energy put in. Alas, poor humanity succumbs to the fact that you don’t get out of this world alive.

If all the above holds true then there are a couple of logical outcomes:

  1. It is contrary to the Second Law of Thermodynamics to see any increase in order in the universe. As evolution is an increase in order then it cannot occur.
  2. The order and energy that produced the closed system that is the universe must have a source outside the universe

That’s the logic, as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure anyone with a smidgen of plain old common sense can extrapolate from there.

To conclude:

No matter the pejorative stance of many who have thought less about Creation and Evolution than I have, or the statements of those scientists and individuals committed to a different worldview who fail to admit their a priori exclusions it is entirely logical to hold to a view that the universe was created. I know that this is not a full explanation, but it is logical and consistent.

So, for me, to be accused of being a Creationist is a compliment, not an insult. As a Christian, hold your head up high, not only is what you believe entirely rational, it is also what God has told us he did and is doing. Let’s continue to believe with confidence, knowing that, as we would expect, the universe we see is entirely in keeping with the facts that God has revealed.

On Opening the Door

Opening the Door

We have a sign on our front door, it reads ‘Welcome Friends’. It’s interesting the difference friendship makes to a welcome. It’s not that we’re unfriendly, or don’t welcome people we don’t already count as friends, but just think for a minute about the difference in your attitude when you are expecting a knock on the door and when you’re not.

When we’ve arranged for friends to come round we are expecting them, we are looking forward to what’s to come. We go to the door with a smile already crossing our face. But sometimes, usually when we’ve just sat down with a cup of tea, we hear an unexpected knock on the door: is it a cold caller? As we go to the door we are usually just that bit more wary, not sure of how to receive until we know who it is we are receiving.

In Revelation 3:20 there is a direct message from the risen Jesus to the Church. It’s directed at those who already know him – he’s a friend. But the shocking thing is that he’s on the outside, knocking to get in! Remember, these are Christians that Jesus is talking to!

When we invite friends round, it very often comes with the offer of a meal. As we eat together folks relax, relationships are built, questions are asked and answers given – we get to know one another.

For many people today their relationship with God is transactional. Let me explain that: we make our relationship with God a deal, an agreement, an acknowledgement of our sin and God’s forgiveness through Christ. But we leave it there. The deal’s been done, we’re saved. That’s what makes for Revelation 3 lukewarm Christians! We often use the term ‘accepting Christ’ as a description of our salvation. That somehow seems such a poor concept of what Jesus is and what he wants. He doesn’t want to be accepted, he wants to be welcomed!

Read Revelation chapter 1 through to 3:20 and try to see the risen, exalted, incandescent Jesus of chapter 1 standing outside the door to you: knocking, waiting. Try to imagine what it would be like to open that door to Jesus as the best of all friends, and to welcome him in with open arms and a laden table. Try to imagine a life spent around the table of our hearts with the Lord Jesus Christ breaking bread with us, getting to know him as he knows us. That’s a relationship, not a transaction.

Jesus is saying to each one of us in our apathy and lukewarm faith: LOOK! I’m outside knocking! If anyone opens up and welcomes me to the table, I WILL come in and share it with them!

What an incredible offer and privilege – let’s all throw wide the doors with glad abandon and welcome our Lord into our lives.

What Pervades?

What do the conversations revolve around in your home? What is it that animates you and yours? What gets your passions roused enough to discuss, debate, express yourself?

There’s so much to capture our attention these days and there are so many ways of being captured. For many people it’s the TV that sits in the corner of the room, always on, always directing our thoughts. For others it’s social media, stuffed chock full of memes and breaking news.

It’s good to have interests, it’s great to have passions, it’s healthy to be aware of what’s going on in the world. But, when these things pervade our lives then we are subject to them. This is why God explicitly tells us to deliberately determine what pervades our lives. Here’s my paraphrase of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the great ‘shema’.

Listen up, people: the I AM God, the LORD is the only One
Love the LORD with all of who you are: heart, soul, strength
Keep these instructions in your heart
Teach and talk of these things: to your family, to your friends, in the home or out and about,
First thing in the morning and last thing at night
Make these words of God guard and guide what you do with your hands, what you see with your eyes
Make these words of God the gateway to your home

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