Near-universal access to the internet has provided us all with many benefits – and just as many curses. There is one internet experience we all seem to ‘enjoy’ – the scammer.
It may be the email from an African prince offering to share their wealth if you’ll just help them get it out of their country – via your bank account, of course.
Or the pre-recorded phone message from the Tax Office warning you that you “tax number has been suspended and a warrant has been issued for your arrest.”
The internet should make these scams easy to see through, should make it easy to check the legitimacy, but sadly it seems to have made more people vulnerable.
To be sucked in by these scammers, deceivers and charlatans – as serious and tragic as it is – is nowhere near as serious and tragic as being sucked in by religious scammers, deceivers and charlatans.
And unfortunately, the Christian church is rife with them too. They are often immensely popular and influential too.
Where do you find your greatest delight?
That’s the challenging question Mike asked us yesterday. Is it in your possessions – your craftsman-built home, your European car, your designer clothes or expensive jewellery?
Let’s be honest, those things can be pleasurable to own. They bring us delight, in no small part because they are often beautifully designed and made to a higher quality than cheap imports.
You might have simpler tastes – or less money though. You might find your delight in your swag and your unstoppable 4WD. It matters not what our tastes are, nor how far our bank balance will take us. We can find delight in all sorts of things.
But we need to be careful where we find our greatest delight, because all these things can also aid in our spiritual downfall by distracting us from more important things.
Most Christians I know are disappointed that their family and friends aren’t Christians also. We have discovered the joy of knowing Christ, why can’t they? Why are they so uninterested, even antagonistic towards Christ and Christianity? Why can’t they see what we see in Him?
Is it our fault, we wonder? Have we been too pushy, too much of a Bible-basher, and turned them off? Or maybe we’ve been too timid, frightened to even let them know we are Christians?
Or maybe we’ve been too much like the world – or not enough like the world – to please them and get their interest?
Or how about, we don’t have enough faith to claim them for salvation? After all, doesn’t one of the Psalms say, “Ask of me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance”? Why don’t I have enough faith for that?
12 months of COVID has taught us all to sanitise. We sanitise our hands, we sanitise table tops, we sanitise the shopping trolley, we sanitise everything in sight, just to be safe.
Have we become an over-sanitised world, unable to withstand any bugs? Maybe. Certainly, we have become increasingly socially sanitised in my lifetime.
When I was a kid, it was not unusual for a school student to carry a rifle on the bus to school if he had Army Cadets after school. No one batted an eyelid.
If someone tried that now, he’d strike terror into everyone around him, he’d be pounced on by SWAT teams, and it would be front-page news.
In days gone by, it was not unusual for mum’s roast chicken dinner to start with dad carrying an axe into the henhouse. I won’t go into detail about what came next. But there was nothing strange about it.
Now, we buy all our meat in plastic trays from the supermarket. We don’t have to think about what goes into providing that meat for us.
Some even imagine that supermarket meat must be better, because “no animals had to die to provide it for us.” That’s how far removed modern society has taken us from the sometimes harsh and brutal realities of life.
So what are we to make of hymn lyrics like the ones William Cowper (pronounced ‘Cooper’) wrote in the mid-1700s?
“There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins.
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.”
It never seemed to bother Jesus that so many people misunderstood what He said. He didn’t go out of His way to explain things to His hearers. And He never chased after anyone when they didn’t like what He said.
In fact, He did the opposite. He spoke in parables for the express purpose of hiding the true meaning from those listening in. “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven” [Mark 4:11-12].
Seems so strange to us that He would do that. We try to ‘defend God’s honour’ by making excuses for difficult things, or trying to explain them away. God forbid that we should let God’s words stand as they are!
Not Jesus though. He seemed content to let God deal with the fall-out of His words. Which, I presume, is why He let everyone walk away when they couldn’t accept His words in John 6:53-66. “This is a hard saying; who can accept it?” [v 60].
Who doesn’t look into the night sky without being stirred to praise and adoration at the heavenly bodies? Even the enemies of God are struck by the beauty of the universe.
David wrote, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” [Ps 8:3].
In David’s eyes, we seem so insignificant compared with the universe. Insignificant in size, and insignificant in beauty. And yet, the wonder of mankind surpasses even the beauty of the heavens.
For all its flaws – and there are many – mankind is the pinnacle of God’s creation.
What else is there in all of creation with the creativity of mankind? With the inventiveness, the artistic flair? With the ability to learn and to grow and to think outside the box? With the curiosity to search out new lands and new technologies?
The intricacies of the human body, the unfathomable depths of the human mind; truly wonderful creations. What else is made in the image of God? In what else resides ‘the breath of God’?
Truly, there is nothing in all of creation to compare with mankind.
And yet, mankind is made “a little lower than the heavenly beings” [Ps 8:5]. Why should God care for him?
Have you ever noticed how often the Bible speaks of future events as if they’ve already happened?
One of my favourite examples of this are the couple of verses sometimes called ‘The Golden Chain of Salvation’ – Rom 8:29-30. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
It lays out the basic steps in the process of someone’s salvation: predestined, called, and justified. Now there are a few steps missing from the list – conversion and sanctification being the most notable.
But what’s obvious to anyone with their eyes open is that none of us are yet glorified. And yet Paul speaks in the same past tense as he used for called and justified.
Why would this be so? My thinking is that whenever God decides that something will be so, then it is guaranteed to happen. Therefore, if God has predestined, called and justified a person, it’s only a matter of time (and a matter of dying, of course) before that person is finally glorified.
A similar principle applies to some other Scriptures, ones that speak of future events as if they are current, not just historical. And here I’m thinking of a passage we looked at on Sunday from 1Cor 15.
When I was a young bloke, I loved camping. Getting away from ‘the Big Smoke’ with my flimsy little tent, and the most basic of equipment and supplies was always fun.
I camped on the surf beaches, I camped in the hills, I camped in the outback, and I camped by the Murray River, a particular favourite to this day.
It was always pretty rough-and-ready camping. No comfy bed, no showers, no kitchen table, no fridge, no electronic devices, not even toilet facilities. Ahh, such fond memories.
There’s a relatively recent phenomenon known as ‘Glamping’ – glamorous camping. It blends some of the benefits of traditional camping – beautiful locations, low impact on the environment – with some of the mod-cons of home – spacious, large comfy bed, maybe even an air-conditioner.
When glamping, you’ll be under the shelter of a very large and solid tent, often a yurt. Chances are, you’ll be the only people there. And the view is almost guaranteed to be spectacular.
But whether camping or glamping, there are drawbacks. Living in a tent will never be as comfortable or secure or safe as living in your own home. You’re away from familiar environments, separated from the people you know and love, with limited protection from the elements, and limited access to all the conveniences of modern life that we enjoy without even thinking about them.
Not entirely unlike living in this earthly body…
The whole concept of ‘Personal Truth’ has become popular in recent years. That’s the idea – the conceit – that you can believe one thing, and I can believe another contradictory thing, and we can both be right. What is true for you is not necessarily true for me, and that’s alright. It doesn’t matter.
So you could believe the earth is round and I could believe it’s flat, and – as nonsensical as this sounds – that’s alright too. For there is no such thing as ‘Objective Truth’ anymore.
But truth matters, it really does. What we believe matters according to the Bible. For what we believe informs and shapes and controls our actions.
Mike took us back to Ps 46 on Sunday to look a bit more at how God is our Fortress. Given the snap decision by our state government to implement another COVID lockdown, it’s timely to be reminded that we shouldn’t put our confidence in anything of the world.
People had made plans to celebrate Valentine’s Day with loved ones, or booked weekends away, all to no avail. For the world continues to be uncertain, and we can’t be sure of anything even beyond the next hour, let alone next week or next month.
The Psalmists, the Sons of Korah, remind us that – in God – we have a fortress that is a place of refuge and defence. But He is not only a place to hide and shelter from chaos or attack. He goes on the attack also.