|Book: Becoming a Secure Christian|
Part 1 : Setting the Scene
Part 2 : A Biblical Security
Part 3 : Personal Security
(Practice and Theory)
Chapter 17: Secure in God's World
17.1 Celebrating Life
Once I became a Christian, I found myself in the evangelical fold of the church, and later the charismatic-evangelical fold. I am grateful for those early years that majored on the word of God and the means of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing I say in this chapter detracts from that, yet when I look back on those early years, I realise that at that time (and I believe much has changed in many quarters) the faith we had, had a legalistic edge to it which I now realise made me very defensive in the face of the world.
I remember, as a young Christian, going on a week's training course for my job at that time, and being very insular. While others we're helping the Bar profits each evening and, in the case of some, building illicit late night relationships, I stood afar off, maintaining my purity – and utterly failing to be salt and light!
The fold I found myself in was in the way of ‘no drinking, no dancing, etc.'. Our lives were full of prayer, Bible Study, evangelism, meetings! Without realising it we were a subculture in our world that was as divorced from reality as you can be and, as I've said, we were defensive in the face of the world. Indeed, it may be that that is where you are today and you wonder why I'm speaking as I am in what may appear to you as a derogatory manner about this form of evangelicalism.
Please read on. Give the chapter a fair read. It's a chapter about creating or recreating awareness of the wonder of God's provision of this world, so that we can enjoy it wisely and without guilt, and be a thankful people.
Where the World is
The apostle Paul was quite specific about certain behaviours, for example:
Eph 5:3,4 among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking
Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.
Yes, this is where the world is and Western TV totally disregards the three verses above. So it is right that we as Christians DO abide by these verses!
God's Creation Abused
We'll consider God's creation more fully in a moment, but have you ever considered what Sin actually is? Yes, the Bible describes it as lawlessness (1 Jn 3:4) which is really a casting off all restraint or, if you like, taking what God has provided and using it more than it was designed for. Consider the following table:
Please notice in passing, the things that God provides are GOOD things in themselves, good when used in moderation. Food and drink are for our health AND for our pleasure (see later), drugs are to restore health, sex is for procreation AND enjoyment (see later), and material things are to help us live AND enjoy living in God's world (see later).
So what does the world do? It casts off all restraint in the name of freedom and creates a terrible world, instead of the world which God designed to be wonderful! In the part of the twentieth century that I grew up in as a Christian, much of our thinking had an ancient Greek flavour to it that separated spirit from flesh, so we saw spirit as good and flesh as evil.
A Need to take hold of the truth
But that view is not the Biblical, Hebrew view. All good gifts are from heaven above (Jas 1:17 ) but the world abuses and misuses them and harm ensues. So much of our defensiveness in the past has been because we have not appreciated the full Biblical view of God's creation. So often we have reacted against the world's abuses and failed to provide a good alternative, one that is worth emulating.
So often we have been timid in the face of the world and have not declared the truth. When Paul was instructing Timothy about being courageous in speaking out the Gospel, he said:
2 Tim 1:7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.
But this also applies to any area of the truth. We are not to be timid, which has tones of fearfulness about it. We are instead to be clear in our thinking and our understanding and not afraid to speak out the wonder of the truths that the Bible brings us. In this case the truth in question is that this is God's world, designed by Him for our pleasure (see below) and when we use it wisely and in relation to Him, then it is for our blessing and for the blessing of the world.
There is so much provision on this planet that we could easily feed the entire world's population, but instead, because of Sin, we have millions dying of hunger. If the entire world took on board the Old & New Testament teaching of “love your neighbour”, we would have a very, very different world. (Yet we have to say that a well-fed world will not be sinless this side of heaven – but that is not an excuse to care for the rest of the world!)
To recap, this world is God's world and He designed it and gave it to us for our enjoyment. A couple of years ago at a leadership Retreat, the Lord gave me a picture. In this picture, we leaders were in a theatre and were up on the stage, performing. The rest of the Christians were in the body of the theatre looking on. Suddenly there was a shaking and all the scenery on the stage started falling down. Suddenly, everyone was on the stage. And then the walls fell outwards (there was obviously no ceiling or roof falling down) and the people all spilled out into the surrounding area, and the Lord spoke to me and said, “I am taking down the walls between my church and my world, for this is my world and I'm coming to take it back through my church.”
Now don't misunderstand that. The church is still to be distinctive, holy, righteous etc. but God's intention is that His people be in His world to be salt and light as Jesus told them to be (Mt 5:13-16), revealing an alternative culture, one of which is worth being part, which gains the favour of the people (that's a radical thought!) as was seen in the revival of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:47). Yes, the enemy may rise up in reactive persecution, but God's blessing on God's people, brought favour!
Personal Testimony: An Art Gallery
I believe it's very easy to be blind to the truth of Scripture, even when we're Christians, sometimes because of the wrong teaching we've received previously, and sometimes because we over-react to the abuses we spoke of above.
A few years ago I had an experience that I can only attribute to the Lord – judge for yourself. I was on one of my earliest trips to Los Angeles and was there for several weeks. While I was there, my host provided opportunities for me to go out and about to see the sights. One of those was a visit to the Paul Getty Museum , a wonderful new building. I didn't particularly wanted to go, but didn't want to offend my host, so I allowed him to send me out for the day to this Museum, with some of the young lads from his church as guides.
When I was a lot younger, in fact before I was a Christian, I had lived and worked in London and had ‘done' the two main art galleries, the Tate and the National. I had vaguely enjoyed the experiences but could not say that art was something that thrilled me.
Now, many years later, I am being taken to this art gallery. We walked through the sculptures and I nodded appreciation but when we went into the rooms full of paintings, something strange happened. I found myself standing in front of one masterpiece muttering to myself, “Wow, that is incredible, that is amazing, wow!” I couldn't move away from it. The lads with me were showing signs of wanting to move, so I moved to the next painting, and the same thing happened. I was seeing these paintings with an appreciation that I'd never had before. But more than that, after a half an hour I was feeling drunk – simply from looking at paintings. How could these men paint like that?????
Personal Testimony: The South of England
Six months after my trip to America we were visiting relatives in the south of England and had been taken for a walk over the rolling hills above Eastbourne . The sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze. Suddenly I was aware of the same thing happening to me. As I walked I found myself thinking, “This is amazing, this in beautiful, this is incredible, wow!” and again I had that feeling of being drunk. The materialists among us may be saying, “Oh it was just the fresh air!” but you would be missing the point; it was the staggering appreciation of the wonder of the beauty of God's creation.
On both occasions it was as if my mind was enhanced – and no, there were no drugs involved! Have you ever noticed how different the world looks when the sun comes out. On a grey, cloudy, dull day, there are colours but watch what happens as the sun comes out – brightness, contrast, immense beauty. I wonder if it is like this in the way we perceive God's world. Sometimes everything seems very ordinary and then something happens and it's as if we see with new eyes. Sometimes it needs a life threatening disaster – major sickness, major accident, or whatever – for us to realise the wonder of ‘life'!
17.2 Variety & Enjoyment
Have you every wondered WHY God made things with such staggering variety? It seems to me that there are probably only two likely reasons. First, because He is a Creator-God, He simply ENJOYS variety! How can a God who is Spirit (Jn 4:24 ) create and enjoy a material world? I don't know, because I don't really know what ‘spirit' is!
Second, because we are made in His likeness (Gen 1:26 ), He has made this world like it is for OUR enjoyment! How many thousands of different varieties of fruit or vegetables are there? How many staggering recipes can we invent? Stop and think about this for a moment – some very obvious thoughts, but then we miss the obvious in the hum-drum of life!
Have you every thought about taste? God could have given us a tasteless palette, with just an urge every six hours, say, to stock up on energy. But instead what did he do? Gave us a full spectrum of taste – salty, sweet, bitter sour – and so you ‘like' some things more than others. So why do some of us feel guilty about enjoying food? Possibly because we lack the self-control we need to prevent us becoming gluttons? Possibly because we feel bad about those who are starving in the world? Possibly because we recognise we're ‘comfort eating' to make up for some other lack in our lives? Here is God's wonderful provision and we can't enjoy it because of other ‘fallen' aspects of our lives.
But don't lose the wonder of it all. If you live in the West, go and walk around a large food store and give thanks to God for the staggering variety of foods that He has given us – purely for our enjoyment!
Have you ever stood outside (or inside) a bakery while they are baking bread? Have you every stood near a machine that is making fresh coffee? Perhaps for you there are a number of other ‘super-smells' that are wonderful. Those two rate high on my smell spectrum. Do we ‘need' smell? Most of the time, no, it just enhances and makes more enjoyable the food we like. That is what is so amazing, that the vast majority of smells give us pleasure! (Oh yes, there are the unpleasant smells of life as well, but rejoice in the good ones!)
We could be creatures with little sense of touch, but no, we have an amazing sensitivity so we can distinguish between the hard smoothness of rock, the soft fur of a rabbit, the smoothness of polished wood… and so on. Again, so many of the things we feel with our hands, are for pleasure, God-given pleasure.
Then we come to that amazing sense that comes alive when our eyes are closed – our hearing. We can hear a pin drop, or a waterfall's roar, the squawk of a bird, the scream of a predatory animal, the buzz of a bee, or the incredible varieties of music. And all this is for our pleasure!
What are the colours of a rainbow to a blind man? How many shades of blue are there in the sky or the sea? How many shades of green are there in nature? How many colours are there in the country in Autumn (Fall to the Americans!)? Why so many colours to the fish in the oceans where hardly anyone sees them? To say anything about colour or shape or design is but to place a drop in the ocean.
Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt. Familiarity with taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight means we take them for granted, these senses given to us by God, mostly for enjoyment. Yes, they do have very practical purposes but the range of uses of each of them goes far beyond the purely utilitarian. The vast majority of uses of these senses bring pleasure – and people are stupid enough to say that it is just pure chance (materialistic evolution), or that God is not concerned with pleasure!
Another area that Christians sometimes feel guilty about is that of self-awareness, but the reality is that this is how God has made us! Is self awareness equated with Sin? Well yes, but only as far as it seemed that when Adam and Eve sinned, the first thing they became aware of, was themselves! (Gen 3:7) Thereafter, every single human being has that tendency, to be self aware. But is that a bad thing?
Well, like everything else it can be both good and bad. In itself it is not bad. When Paul was instructing the Romans he said, (Rom 12:3) “ Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement.” Another way of putting that might be to say, “Be aware of yourself and see yourself exactly as you are.”
Self awareness is also vital when we are being led by the Spirit. How does that leading come? It comes within our consciousness. The person who is not aware of this misses what is going on within them, or writes it off as just, ‘thoughts'.
The reality is that we rely upon self awareness all the time. We get hungry and so look for food. We get thirsty, so look for drink. We get tired, so make time to rest. We get ideas, so make plans. In all these ways, awareness of what is going on in us, prompts action.
The Psalms of David are classic examples of frequent self awareness, perhaps no more so that Psalms 42 and 43 where he speaks to himself –
“ Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? ” (42:5,11, 43:5)
It's as if he is aware of what he's feeling and basically says, “Cut it out! Lean on God!” Self awareness is good when you can identify when all is not well – as long as you then take steps to do something about it.
Self awareness, of course, should be distinguished from introspection, which is the constant dwelling on your own needs to the exclusion of all else. Introspection is another form of self-centredness which is very different from self-awareness.
Self-centredness makes self the all important thing in life, to the exclusion of God and the exclusion of other people. Self-awareness is simply the awareness of yourself but in a completely neutral, observing way.
What about the Biblical New Testament concept of “dying to self”? This is simply the commitment to put God and His will first, before your own will. Hence Paul could say that, “ our old self was crucified with him ” (Rom 6:6) meaning the old sin motivated person we once were, has died when we were born again and made new by God.
In fact the main teaching of Paul speaks about us having “ died to sin ” (Rom 6:2) and he says “ consider yourselves dead to sin ” (Rom 6:11 ). So the teaching about death is actually death to Sin n0t death to your present self. How can we say that? Because so often Christians, in this mistaken belief that they are not to think about themselves at all, just feel guilty when they are aware of themselves and, even more, they don't reflect on the wonder of who they actually are today.
Humility which we are told to have (e.g. Lk 18:14 , Eph 4;2 etc.) is a real acknowledgement of what we are like – which, as we've shown earlier in this book, means recognising our frailties, weaknesses, imperfections etc. AND how wonderful we now are as new creations of God, His children, temples of His Holy Spirit.
So, get a right balance. Self-awareness is what God has given you. Like all the other God provided good things we've spoken about above, we can over use it, which simply turns it into self-centredness which involves the exclusion of God, and is sin. But if you don't do that, rejoice instead in the wonder of who you are, the person God has designed you to be, the person you are on the way to becoming!
17.4 Invention & Creativity
One more area that needs our attention in this chapter is that of modern science and technology. Again, Christians are often very defensive about science and technology and can be negative about every new ‘invention'. Let's just pause and clarify some of these words we are using:
Science = the study of the world through observation (very simple definition!)
Technology = the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes
Now neither of those words has a moral aspect to it. Both of them are entirely neutral.
Yes, the outworking of them both in sinful hands could be both sinful and harmful. Carrying out scientific investigation by using human slaves would be morally wrong. The creation of germ warfare to harm multitudes of innocent people is morally wrong. So, yes, yet again, man can take a God-given gift and abuse it and use it wrongly for wrong.
But that doesn't make the gift wrong, the gift of creativity, of invention. Consider the staggering range of possibilities here – the ability to write, create stories, create poetry, create music, use raw materials to make other materials (e.g. cotton to make clothes, timber to make furniture), to design buildings, to invent machinery, to produce life saving drugs – the list is endless. These are just starters.
Each of these things above, are abilities given to human beings, are the things that make us human beings and distinguish us from animals, are things that bring pleasure and well-being to mankind. Does God frown on our creativity? Well when it is godless and denies Him, yes. But when it brings well-being to mankind, no.
We live on a staggering planet with incredible resources, including those of our own mind and body. Were they given by God but not to be used? Of course He wanted us to use them. In the way we do use them? Much of the time surely not. Can you imagine a world without any weapons? Can you imagine a world where drugs simply made you sick and were not addictive?
So why did God give us such dangerous potential? Because anything is potentially dangerous in the hands of sinful mankind, and everything is potential for good in the hands of the wisdom from God. But there is the problem. Because we choose to live our self-centred lives with little reference to God so we drive machines that pollute the planet, we use materials that cannot be replaced and only cause further pollution problems, and we play at genetics with little thought for the psychological consequences!
Yes, we have all these misuses of God-given gifts that make us upset, but let's not lose sight of the wonder of those gifts themselves. Let's rejoice in the wonder of the artistry of painters or musicians, the creativity of architects or landscapers, the insights of the researchers who bring health, as well as the care and compassion of those who bring health care in so many different ways.
In the midst of terrible news about train crashes, floods, terrorist atrocities, global warming warnings and sinful activities of every shade and hue, let's not lose sight of the wonder of God's incredible provision of this planet with all of its variety, all of its wonder, and all for our enjoyment.
Imagine if you will, a family of children who, at Christmas are all given wonderful presents wrapped beautifully in Christmas paper and pretty coloured string. Some of them say, “Oh we mustn't open the presents, they're just for looking at.” Others tear the paper off and cast the present aside after a few minutes. Others snatch the presents that are not theirs. Some just play with the string. And all the while none of the children go to their parents and say thank you. What an awful picture! Yet, that is not so far from what it is like sometimes with God's world and us.
If everyone else fails to appreciate the wonder of God's loving provision, may that not include us. If others carelessly use God's provision, may that not include us.
17.5 And So?
In this chapter, we sought to just get a glimmer of the wonder of God's provision for us, the wonder of ‘life'. We've also observed how sinful man abuses that provision, but it is still a wonderful provision.
We've observed that provision in terms of
At the end of it, the challenge to us must be: