Please note that our Sunday gathering will be at 3.30pm on Sunday 15th February 2015.
There will be service at the usual time of 11.00am.
Please note that our Sunday gathering will be at 3.30pm on Sunday 15th February 2015.
There will be service at the usual time of 11.00am.
I like Stephen Fry. I find him funny, clever and real. Together my wife and I have enjoyed the eternal series QI, and we have appreciated his honesty as he has spoken about his own struggles with Bipolar disorder. That said, I do not agree with everything he says.
Last Sunday evening Gay Byrne interviewed Stephen on RTE’s ‘The Meaning of Life’. The final question put to Stephen, who claims to be an Atheist, was this:
‘Suppose it’s all true, you walk up to the pearly gates and you are confronted by God. What will you say to Him, Her or It?’
In his usual clear and articulate way Fry answered: “Bone cancer in children – what about that? How dare you! How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault! It’s not right! It’s utterly, utterly evil! Why should I respect a capricious, mean minded stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I would say.”
Fry’s response has caused no end of discussion and comment, some apparently were shocked and horrified. While I do not level the same charge at God as Fry does, I have often felt like this, if not expressed it. I have asked it when our own daughter was born profoundly deaf. My wife has asked it when her sister, who was born normal, had a number of unexplained seizures that left her permanently brain damaged and with the mind of an infant. It’s the normal reaction when we face suffering – we look for someone or something to blame. In fact what is so shocking about Fry’s response is that he has put into words what we ourselves think but dare not express in words – whatever our belief.
The Reality of Suffering
The reality is live long enough and we will experience suffering. We face it physically through disease and cancer; We face it naturally through earthquakes and floods; We face it through our own choices (poor health care) and we face it through the actions of others like war, rape, stealing and words of anger. We simply can’t avoid suffering and all of us along with Stephen Fry have faced it and deal with it personally.
Now while Stephen Fry is an atheist (Does not believe in the existence of God) it seems a contradiction to charge God with being ‘Capricious, Mean Minded and Stupid’, when he does not believe in him. But that aside lets assume he does, for many people do and wonder why God did create the world like this and why God has not done anything to stop it.
Who is the cause?
So who is the cause of all this suffering? Fry seems to think that the blame lies squarely at the feet of God – after all he made the world! Well before we blame God I think we need to look at our own lives first. In the full interview Fry retold the amusing story of stealing a mans wallet and credit card and assuming his identity and spending his money at liberty. Of course Fry had a great time – but what suffering did it cause the person involved? What were the knock on effects? Yes Fry was sorry – but it explains that we are responsible for vast amounts of suffering in this world. Wars, greed, crime, lies and acts of injustice are all done by one human being to another. Of course I’m no different to Stephen Fry, I might not have stolen a credit card – but I misuse the resources I have, spending money on more food and gadgets while the majority of the world continues to suffer through a lack of food and clean water.
But that’s not the full answer. As a Christian I believe that God created a good and beautiful world and it was given for mankind to enjoy. But through our choices and actions we have rebelled against God and sought to live life apart from him. The result has been disorder and death. The good world is now twisted and broken. We are the spanner in the works. We have caused the cogs in the wheel to grind and crunch and the result is the suffering and pain we see all around us. Yes God has allowed suffering to enter the world but the cause firmly rests with us. One of the authors Fry respects and quoted in his interview was GK Chesterton. Chesterton once answered the question: What is wrong with the world?’ with the simple response; ‘I am!’ If we are to blame anyone we must first look to ourselves.
How is it fixed?
One of the charges against God is that God should clean up the mess he has caused. If God made the world like this then he should fix it. Well history proves that mankind can’t fix the problem. The ongoing conflicts around the world, the worsening humanitarian needs, the natural disasters on the daily news remind us that with all our advancement in technology and understanding we have done very little to alleviate suffering. So we either look to man or we can look to God – even if we do blame him.
If we are to ask God to end all the suffering the obvious conclusion is that he would have to deal with us because we are the cause! If we want a God who is fair and just then we must allow this God to take action and take us all off planet earth and start again. While God is within his rights to do that – it is not the way he has acted. God himself came into this suffering and broken world to redeem this world. He came through the person of Jesus Christ. The proof? His resurrection from the dead! All suffering ends in death and it’s the one reality of life we can do nothing about. The God/Man Jesus Christ defeated death as a sign of a full redemption he will one day bring about.
The Suffering God
Fry levels the charge that God is ‘evil and unjust.’ However the opposite is true. God is a suffering God. He faced injustice, he faced the mental and emotional horrors of being executed at the hands of people like us. He knows what it is to suffer and he is not immune from our suffering. In fact he has done something about it on our behalf. The fact is God loves this broken and disordered world and he loves us.
So what can we do about the suffering? Well we can either push God further away or we can run to God and lean on him. It does not answer all our questions, it does not make the suffering any less painful but it does give us real and lasting hope.
I pray Stephen Fry has the same conversion experience as his mentor Oscar Wilde, who turned back to God on his death bed, only a bit sooner!.
John writes with the loving intimacy of a Father and the gentle care of a Pastor. Twelve times he refers to them as ‘My dear children’ (2v1) or ‘Dear friends’ (4v1) underlining his commitment to them. So what does he have to say?
Invitation into Fellowship
John opens up his letter with a wonderful invitation: ‘…you also may have fellowship with us…’ (1v3). And if we are in any doubt about what that Fellowship looks like, he tells us: ‘…our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.’ (1v3) John claims to enjoy a deep, intimate and personal relationship with the Father and the Son and he wants us to experience and enjoy that same fellowship: ‘We write this to make our/your joy complete.’ (1v4) John is making it absolutely clear that true joy is found only in fellowship with God, and the good news is we are invited to share in it.
Threat to the Fellowship
Fellowship with God is real and true and and John wants us to be sure and confident in our fellowship with God. However there are two main threats to this fellowship, that weakens our assurance and undermines our confidence. These threats come from inside of us and outside of us.
First the threat from the inside – Our sinful nature. ‘My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin….’ (2v1) John knows that our sinful habits and sinful ways can seriously hinder and damage our fellowship with God. When we sin it weakens our assurance. We begin to question if we really are in fellowship with God, and if we really are his children.
So John writes to provide a way to deal with the problem of our sinful nature. He points us back to the cross and to the finished and completed work of Jesus: ‘He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins…’ (2v2); and points us to the new life we have because of Jesus: ‘No-one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No-one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.’ (3v6) Because Christ has dealt with my sin I will seek to rid the sin that continues in my life. I will hate sin and make every effort to squeeze it from my life. I can only do this by looking to the cross each day in faith.
Second the threat from the outside – The false teachers. ‘I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.’ (2v26) John knows that there are those who come in from the outside and seek to distort and deny the truth about God. When we listen to them it can undermine our confidence. We begin to wonder if this is true and if what God has said can be trusted.
So John writes to encourage us in the truth: ‘See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you…’ (2v24) and encourages us to test everything: ‘Do not believe every spirit but test the spirits…’ (4v1) Because God has given us the truth we are not to go looking else where for more truth, we keep hold of the truth and follow in it’s way.
So we must be careful of the very real threat that comes from inside of us and outside of us.
Confident in our Fellowship
If we follow what John says, if we take seriously our ‘Belief and Behaviour’ we will enjoy confident fellowship with God. ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life’. (5v13) This has been a constant theme through out the letter, he wants us to know with absolute certainty that we have fellowship with God: ‘This is how we know we are in him’ (2v2); ‘This is how we know who the children of God are’ (3v10); ‘This is how we know we belong to the truth’ (3v19); ‘This is how we know he lives in us’ (3v24); ‘We know that we live in him and he in us’ (4v13); ‘We know that we are children of God’ (5v19).
John not only invites us into fellowship with God we have confidence that we are in fellowship with God.
The great sign that we share in this fellowship is our love for others. ‘…Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.’ (3v10) Loving others is not the way into fellowship with God it is evidence that we are in fellowship with God. ‘Anyone who does not love remains in death’ (3v14); ‘…Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.’ (4v7) ‘…God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.’ (4v16) Loving others as God loved us is the sign that we know and enjoy fellowship with God.
In summary, John writes, inviting us into fellowship with God, warning us of the threat to that fellowship and reassuring us that we are in fellowship with God.
The World of Today
It seems that the Kings and Kingdoms of this world are in an unending cycle of conflict and search for political power: wars between Russia and Ukraine, Palestine and Israel; the violent spread of ISIS across Iraq and Syria, and Boko Haram in Nigeria; the ruthless regimes of North Korea and Zimbabwe; the never ending struggles in Congo, Darfur, Pakistan and Burma; the posturing of world leaders, Barack Obama, Angela Merkle, Vladamir Putin and David Cameron – one wonders if there is anyone in control and if it will ever end?
This is the world we live in and if that’s not bad enough God’s people face the daily oppression and persecution of living in these kingdoms and under these kings – many to the point of torture and death. It’s easy to get disillusioned and discouraged, and come to the conclusion that God is absent from it all.
The World of Daniel
Well that was life for Daniel, his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah and the many thousands of God’s people, who were brutally defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar and transported off to the Kingdom of Babylon (603-586 BC. You can read the story of these events in 2 Kings 25v1-21). Here they were expected to do things the ‘Babylonian’ way, deny God and worship the god’s. The song recorded for us in Psalm 137 ‘By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept..’ helps us understand the struggle and the suffering God’s people went through during these years. They longed for God to intervene, take them back and defeat their enemy. But rather than lift them out God calls them to live faithful lives in this unfaithful world. To ‘build houses and settle down…Marry and have sons and daughters…Also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile…For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’ Jeremiah 29v4-11. In summary they were to be his witnesses.
The God of Daniel
As they made their way to a foreign land the question is; Has God lost control? The answer from the book of Daniel is this: In a world where Kingdoms clash and King’s oppress God’s people, God proves himself to be ‘The’ supreme king who rules over the Kings and Kingdoms of this world and is sovereignly building his Kingdom which will last for all eternity. Those who trust in the one true King will live forever in His eternal Kingdom.
That’s how the book of Daniel starts and ends. In 1v2 we are reminded that: ‘The Lord delivered Jehoiakim King of Judah into his (King Nebuchadnezzar’s) hand…’ From the very outset we must learn that even when God’s people are under the rule of a godless king, God is not absent but controlling and ordering the events of history for his good purpose. In 12v13, the very last verse, Daniel is told: ‘As for you go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.’ God may not take us out of the situation we find ourselves in, but he will be with us through it, working out his good plan and guaranteeing our safe arrival into his eternal kingdom.
Of course that was a lesson they would learn under seventy years of captivity and it’s the same message we need to learn and trust today. Daniels God is our God and we are called to live as faithful people in an unfaithful world, in the knowledge that he is the Ruling King with an Eternal Kingdom.
The story of God in our World
Kings will come and Kingdoms will go but they will never supersede the Kingdom of God. We see this worked out in Stories (Chapters 1-6) and Visions (Chapters 7-12)
Stories: Ruling the Kings and Kingdoms of this age
Chapters 1-6 primarily tell the story of Daniel and his friends under the foreign rule of Nebuchadnezzar ch1-4, Belshazzar ch5, (Babylonian Empire) and Darius ch 6 (Persian Empire). Here they each face the challenge of living faithful lives under an unfaithful King. Through their faithful witness God shows Nebuchadnezzar that he is the supreme and sovereign King who rules over every Kingdom rising up and tearing down as he wills (2v47, 3v28, 4v17, 34-35). The only right response is to humble ourselves before God and honour him (4v34). To refuse and reject God’s rule will only bring disaster as Belshazzar came to learn, ironically, at a party to celebrate his powerful empire (5v30). Darius maybe a new King of a different Kingdom (6v1) but he too must learn that ; ‘(God) is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and saves…’ (6v26-27)
Through their lives Daniel and his friends face the fiery furnace and the den of lions but God remains faithful and equips his people to stand strong in the face of great opposition and persecution.
Visions: Revealing his King and Kingdom to come
Chapters 7-12 primarily give us a vision of the future. Through vivid descriptions of beats, dramatic announcements from angels and curious numbers we get to see what is going on in the world right now and more importantly what is going on behind the scenes.The four beasts of chapter 7, representing the rise of empires, are scary and terrifying but they are soon silenced as the Ancient of Days slays and destroys the beast and reveals his true King the Son of Man (7v13-14 c.f. Mark 10v45). The beasts are replaced by Rams and Goats in chapter 8 representing leaders who clash with each other but also seek to destroy God’s people (8v23-25). Thankfully in chapter 9 the beastly creatures disappear but they are replaced by the curious ‘seven sevens’ and ‘sixty two sevens’! But this is not a maths test! God is revealing that while kings and kingdoms ‘strut their stuff’ he has set a time (symbolised by numbers) when he will forgive and restore those who turn to him (9v25-26). When our minds are completely fried with visions we are invited to with Daniel to look once more (10-12). It’s both terrifying and comforting as God pulls back the curtain of history: ‘Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.’ (10v14) The vision helps us to see that behind these earthy kings and kingdoms there is a greater battle between the god of this world and the Supreme and Sovereign God. The message is difficult, things will get worse before they get better, rather than expect safety we should prepare to suffer (Ch 11). As the Kingdom of God is established the battle will intensify. But victory is assured for God’s people: ‘There will be a time of distress…but at that time your people – everyone whose name is found in the book – will be delivered.’ (12v1). Knowing what is to come and being assured of God’s victory will enable us to live faithful lives in an unfaithful world.
Kings will come and Kingdoms will go but they will never supersede God’s ruling King the Lord Jesus Christ and his eternal Kingdom. We will witness the rise of rulers and political powers, we will experience opposition and persecution but God’s plans and purpose remain on track and one day the true ruling power the Risen Lord Jesus will come again and take his people to be with him forever.
The Gospel Applied 12-16
The Gospel must be announced and if we are to do that well we must be a church where the gospel is applied. In other words the church must look like the message that it preaches. So the Gospel we preach must be seen in action in the life of his people, as we love one another, grow in our unity and partner each other in mission.
Together the church is to live in response to the gospel ‘in view of God’s mercy’ (12v1). Because of all that we have received and experienced through God’s grace, (a righteousness from God through faith and adoption into his family with the hope of glory chapters 1-11) we are to live our lives in sacrifice to God (12v1) and in service to others (12v6ff).
The church soaked in the gospel will be a place of love. This love will be seen in a love for the church which has no limits (12v9-13), that crosses all barriers and reaches out to all people regardless of their background or race (12v14-16) and a love that will never give up, even if you think you have been wronged (12v17-21). But our love must go beyond our walls to those in authority. We lovingly submit to authorities as a sign of our loving submission to God (13v1-2). If the world is to see what living under God is like then they need to see his people relating rightly to those in government (13v6). The love of God also reaches out to our neighbour (13v9) and there is no restrictions to who our neighbour is. As we reflect on the blessings of the gospel, eternal life to come (13v11-12) then we will be encouraged to show that love more and more. Of course it is not easy to love others but as the spirit works in us clothing us with Christ (13v14) so we are enabled to love all those around us.
The church that has experienced the gospel and has a desire to reach out with the gospel must be united. A divided church will never reach a broken world. So we are not to be judgemental (14v1,13) because we have been accepted by God (14v3). Our aim is not to please ourselves or want people to fit in with our way of thinking, rather we are to live serving God and his purposes (14v8). We must remember that we will all have to face God’s judgement and give an account to him (14v12). Instead of being judgemental we should seek to build one another up (14v19, 15v2). Making every effort to remove any stumbling blocks or obstacles in peoples way (14v13) always watching out that use do not use your freedom to cause our brother or sister in Christ to fall (14v21). We must be careful to do what is right before God and what will be best for others (14v22). Therefore we learn to accept each other just as Christ accepted us (115v7). If the Gospel is all about God accepting us by grace we must display this attitude so that others will not only hear but see what grace is like.
A church that is united in love, is not only evidence that hey have experienced the gospel, it is a sign they are now equipped to share the gospel. Our message is always about Jesus Christ not ourselves (15v16,18) and our mission is always to those who have not yet heard (15v20). We are to be a church who is looking out to other nations and people (15v24) while not forgetting the needs of those close to home – especially the church family (15v26). This is not something we can do alone but requires the whole church in dependence on God through prayer (15v30-31) and in partnership with each other (16v1-16). God uses all the gifts of all of his people to reach all those who do not yet believe. This mission is always under threat so we are to be careful of those who are divisive (16v17) and live and teach what is contrary to the gospel (16v17-19). The church is created by the gospel and is used by God to announce the gospel (16v25) so that all nations might believe and obey this gospel (16v26). This is God’s design for the church: ‘to the only wise God be glory for ever through Jesus Christ! Amen.’ (16v27)
C.S.Lewis when talking about Jesus Christ said: ‘A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunitic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.’
It seems through reading the reliable historical accounts of the Gospels, Bono has come to the conclusion that Jesus is nothing less than Lord and God. Look at the short clip below. What’s your choice about Jesus?