The normal (Christian) journey of faith


Chapter 14: Nearing the end of the Journey.

We are nearing the end of the journey anyway. Assuming that we do not have am unexpected heart attack or stroke or other unexpected grave illness, one day we shall discover that we are not the person we used to be. We do not move as quickly as we used to; we do not remember things as well as we used to; all sorts of stiffnesses afflict us; other people don’t seem to want to use us to do things as much. We are getting old. One day, now not so far away we shall die. This raises two questions: 1) how well shall we cope with the downgrade of our life; 2) what will happen when we die. This chapter is about the first of those, the next is about the second.

There has never been a better statement of how life downgrades than that in the last chapter of Ecclesiastes. Here it is together with some explanations:

Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”— (that is when life begins to be a bit of a struggle)
before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop, (when your legs are not as strong as they used to be and your back is bent)
when the grinders cease because they are few, (your teeth fall out)
and those looking through the windows grow dim; (your eyesight grows dim)
when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades; (you hearing is not very good)
when people rise up at the sound of birds, (you don’t sleep so well)
but all their songs grow faint;
when people are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets; (you can’t take the risk you used to take)
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred. (sexual desire has faded)
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets. (and finally you die)

Isn’t that brilliant? It must be about the best poetic description of old age ever written. Unless some accident or sudden illness takes us away that is what lies in front of all of us. Modern medicine means that in many parts of the world people now live far longer than they used to and consequently experience much more of the slow failing of one’s body than people used to.

But the fundamentally important question is what does it all say to us? What is the constructive part of the message of the writer and of the God who lies behind the writer?

To ask the question is equivalent to asking what the next verse after those means: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!”, but even that is not a great deal of help because it is very hard to be sure what the Hebrew word ‘hebel’ that the NIV translates as ‘meaningless’ really means. Many translations, like the NIV, have gone for words like meaningless, or vanity or useless, which is rather odd since the writer clearly does not think that what he is saying is meaningless or useless.

Let’s go back to the basic meaning of the word which is that like a cloud on the top of a hill it is insubstantial, difficult to see through and wont last long. So now we are being told that old age is not an easy thing to get hold of, difficult to work your way through and wont last for ever – all of which makes good sense.

So What?


Looked at in isolation that all seems rather bleak. But it is different if we put it in the context the writer intended. The next few verses say:
Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
And before we got to these verses we read this in the preceding chapter:
Light is sweet,
and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.
However many years anyone may live,
let them enjoy them all.
…. So then, banish anxiety from your heart
and cast off the troubles of your body,
for youth and vigor are meaningless.”

Go for it, the writer says. Make the most of life, even when it is on the down slope. Don’t give up. Rejoice in your Saviour and all he has brought to you and promises still to bring.
Jesus said: “don’t worry about your life - what to eat, what to drink; don’t worry about your body what to wear. There’s more to life than food! There’s more to the body than a suit of clothes? Have a good look at the birds in the sky. They don’t plant seeds, they don’t bring in the harvest, they don’t store things in barns – and your father in heaven feeds them! Think how different you are from them! Can any of you add 30 cms to your height just by worrying about it? Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

So don’t worry away with your ‘What’ll we eat? ’ and ‘What’ll we drink? ’ and ‘ What’ll we wear? ’ Instead make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life and all these things will be given to you as well.”

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The normal (Christian) journey of faith


Chapter 13: Having A Balanced Worldview


It is quite possible to have the best of intentions in our thinking as to how we should be and what we should do and get it wrong. We need to balance our thinking. There are 3 areas often considered in this: Creation, Fall and Redemption, to which I would add a fourth although this is not so much a matter of balance as of movement: Progress (my name for it. It is more often called sanctification, but that is a difficult word.) If we over-emphasize or under-emphasize any one of these we can easily get in trouble.

First: Creation. It is because we know about, and understand Creation that we know how to live in our world. We understand people. I pointed out in the first of these studies how our Christian view of people is that we are made in the image of God, but fallen into sin (of which more in a moment). If we over-estimate Creation we think everyone is wonderfully good – and unfortunately they are not. Politicians, for their own benefit, often try to make out that everyone is good and all the world will be wonderful if it only follows their lead. We all know where that takes us! If we under-estimate Creation we think everyone is terribly bad – and they are not. Some preachers are so full of the consequences of sin they forget how wonderful the average person can be. We need balance.

Second: Fall. The exact opposite of the consequences of error over Creation are the results of the errors over the Fall. We must not over-emphasize the fallen-ness of men and women. To do that is to try to bolster our own self-image. The implication of what some Christians say is ‘you are fallen’, I am not’ so look how important I am! The platform or the pulpit can be a dangerous place. But if we under-estimate the effect of the Fall on men and women we make a grave mistake. This is where the creators of the great movements of human society have gone wrong. Communism in particular thought that everything would be wonderful once the situation had been initially tidied up. It didn’t work out like that and it never will work out like that. They didn’t take human nature into account.

Third: Redemption. The more obvious problems that can arise associated with Redemption occur when it is not sought. All too often people set out to sort themselves out and put their lives back on track when they should be looking for the work of the master of Redemption – the Lord Jesus. Redemption is not simply being saved from the consequences of all the sinful things we have done. The original of redemption in the Bible was the saving of the nation of Israel out of Egypt but there is no record that they had been particularly sinful before that. It was circumstances that had brought them to their sad condition of slavery in the brick kilns of that foreign country.

Similarly we may well need redemption out of circumstances that we have found ourselves in without being particularly responsible for them ourselves. Again and again when Jesus had healed somebody he said ‘go, and sin no more’, don’t keep looking back, look forward and be positive and different. This proper Redemption will only come to us from the Lord God through his Son, the Lord Jesus, not through our own endeavors. The way in which we may have too much redemption is not so obvious.

I think we can relate it to what Paul says in Romans 6: 1, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”. Can we say we are redeemed so we can go on doing what we like – the Lord will forgive me ‘that’s his job!’? Paul goes on saying ‘of course not’. So should we. We need to keep a careful balance between looking to the Lord for his forgiveness and doing our own part in it. Paul said, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”. That is a thought that links in closely with the next area where we need balance

Fourth: Progress. It is fundamentally important that we do not stand still in the Christian life. In the last of his Narnia stories CS Lewis has all the characters in the stories approaching heaven and the cry that goes around is “further up and further in!” as they race up the steep way to their destination. That is a great watchword for all of us. We cannot, we must not, stand still in our Christian lives.

To do so is condemned by Paul: “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly”; the writer to the Hebrews said: “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.”; Peter said “with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do”. In fact most of the New Testament letters are devoted to exhorting the young Christians in the young churches to progress in their faith, both in their thinking and in their actions. So should we aim to do.

So What?


Aim for balance in your developing Christian life. Balanced thinking; balanced action. The first 2, Creation and Fall, are about balanced thinking. They are mainly about our thought life, our worldview. The last 2, redemption and progress are mainly to do with our actions how we turn our thinking into the way we live. But they are as much part of a good worldview, a Biblical worldview, as the others. It is all too possible to go blindly along as a Christian, attending church, taking the sacraments, trying to be good, doing some approved right things, without really thinking out what it is all about and letting the Holy Spirit take over our thinking and actions. Only that way can we become truly Christlike. Only that way can our worldview become truly as it should be.

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The normal (Christian) journey of faith


Chapter 12: Having A Good Worldview


The time has come to ask the awkward question: what sort of a Christian are you? In particular have you slipped in to being a one and six Christian – that is a Christian of a certain sort one day (Sunday) every week and another sort of Christian the other six days of the week. The word ‘worldview’ has become associated with challenging that type of thinking. As the very word suggests it refers to the way someone, you or I, thinks about the surrounding world. We all to a greater or lesser extent ask certain questions, including: how do we fit into this immediately surrounding world?

The challenge to the Christians in the very early days of the church was to say, “Jesus is Lord”. That meant not only that he was Lord of the Christian and the church, but that he was Lord of all the world, including the Roman Empire of which Caesar thought he was Lord. That was a very dangerous thing to say – but they said it. And that awkward question is still around.

The fundamental problem that tends to lie behind that question is this: am I, are you, as a Christian any different from other people who are not; except on Sunday when we go to church, teach in the Sunday School etc. and they do not? The question challenges us at 2 levels. The lower one is this: Does the fact that we are Christian affect the way we operate at work, in the home, at our leisure? Does it affect the level of honesty with which we operate? How we complete our expenses form? How much we avoid taxation? How much we take out of the company cupboard to use for our own private purposes? What sort of reputation do we have amongst our workmates? (In one job I had I followed a Christian that I kept on hearing about. He seemed to have succeeded in annoying everybody with his witnessing. What he did I do not know but it can scarcely have been a Christ-honoiring attitude. We are told we should be in the world but not of the world. He seemed to have been against the world!) If our faith does not affect these things we need to do some serious thinking about what should happen and then make the necessary changes.

All those things are at the lower level. They are all good and worthy questions but they are all add-ons to the deepest core of what we think, and say and do. We need to move on to the higher-level challenge. Here, of course, I have some considerable difficulties in saying anything that will apply to everybody that reads or hears this from whichever part of the world and whatever sort of culture they come. It seems to me there are two particular sorts of situation you may find yourself in. If you live in large parts of the world such as most of Asia, and parts of Africa and South America there will usually be no doubt of your answer to the question ‘am I any different from the neighbors’. You are - because you are Christian and they follow some other well-defined and strong religion. There is not a great deal I can usefully say directly to you. Hopefully you will gather something of value as I go on to talk to the other sort of people – those who live in those parts of the world where that distinction is much less clear cut because their world has been Christianized. Things are much more difficult in most of Europe, the USA, and other parts of the world where Christianity provides, or provided, the dominant culture. Because of the philosophical developments I mentioned in an earlier study these parts of the world are steadily becoming more secular, less Christian, less any other religion dependant, and are drifting slowly downhill.

We should not do our workday job, merely adding to it our life as a Christian as a somewhat separate thing. Our faith should so permeate our lives that we do our jobs in a Christian way. That is all very well to say to you if you happen to be a High School English teacher. What you say to the class, the way you behave, your views on the things you have to study with your class, should clearly be different from the work of the Marxist in the next classroom. If, however, you are a mechanical digger driver working on a building site it is very hard to see how you can operate your machine any differently from the Marxist in the next machine! You should be careful how you operate it; you should not swear at lunch break time etc., but those are things extra to your actual work behavior. It is not possible to do anything significantly different.

I wrestled with this problem myself as a Mathematics lecturer. 2+2 really does equal 4 whoever you. There was no obvious way my teaching of Mathematics was any different from that of the guy in the next lecture room. It is here that the world-view question becomes really important. Because we believe Christ is Lord – not just of us, but of all the world – we must acknowledge his Lordship in everything we are involved in. All I can do here is point out that there is a potential problem and exhort you to be aware of it and to think carefully about how you act in your work environment. Christ is Lord of all, not just the church, and our behaviour should reflect that fact at all times and in all places.

So What?

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself and work out what the honest answers are:

  1. In what ways does the fact that Christ is Lord of all affect my everyday work?
  2. In what ways should that fact affect my work that it does not?
  3. If there is a discrepancy between those 2 answers – how should I change what I do to bring my answer to 1) closer to that to 2)?

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