Does God Love Cockroaches?
I have a confession to make. I HATE cockroaches!
Normally, I try to live and let live.
If an insect or a spider is not in some way threatening to me, I
usually don’t interfere. If I find a bug in the house, wherever
possible I try to catch it and take it outside instead of killing
But if I spy a cockroach …
Were I to rewrite the classic story of
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I would not have the kindly doctor drink
some vile potion in order to change into the evil Mr. Hyde. No, from
my own experience, I would deem it quite sufficient for the good
doctor to find a cockroach in his study. I rather fancy that even
St. Francis might have been driven to squash Brother Cockroach,
though maybe not under a discalced foot!
Which brings me to the question. Why
did God create such loathsome creatures in the first place?
William Blake asked of the tiger “Did
he who made the lamb make thee?”
Well, I can admire a tiger … though
from a distance and preferably with a four-meter fence between us.
But would Blake have asked this question of the cockroach?
Actually, I find it hard to imagine
Blake or anyone else writing a poem about a cockroach. (I know that
there is a song about one – la Cucaracha – but somehow it sounds
better in Spanish!). But the question remains and even extends
beyond cockroaches to entities like the Ebola virus. Did God make
I once heard scientist and Christian
apologist Hugh Ross say that he is sure that God loves cockroaches.
After all, he made them and placed them in a particular ecological
niche for the benefit of the overall circumstances of life on this
planet. To us (all right! To me!), they appear revolting, though I’m
sure that entomologists have an entirely different opinion of them.
But their place in the web of life is an essential one. God does
nothing without purpose; and this purpose is ultimately the greatest
good. Not every part of the grand cosmic plan may appear to our
limited vision to be lovely, but each is essential.
Actually, cockroaches are really quite
fascinating creatures when we look at them more dispassionately.
How many other creatures can live for
several weeks after being decapitated?
How many other creatures could survive
the radiation of a nuclear bomb?
If a star within ten light years or
thereabouts of Earth turned supernova – in layman’s language, blew
up – cockroaches would probably be one of the few land-dwelling
species preserved from extinction (by the way, don’t be too
concerned about this one, as there are currently no pre-supernova
candidates that close to our planet!).
OK, so there are good reasons why God
But what about those entities which are
even less attractive, such as the Ebola or Bird Flu virus or
I think that it is important to
remember that even in God’s creation, there remains room for
corruption to occur. After all, the very basis of the Christian
gospel is the moral and spiritual corruption of the human race that
we know as sin. Personally, I suspect that the effect of this
corruption on the rest of the web of nature is far greater than is
often supposed. While I do not go along with those who say that the
very laws of nature have been distorted by human sin, I do think
that the powers inherent in our nature have been greatly diminished
by the sundering of the God-man link that resulted from our turning
to self rather than to God. We read of Jesus stilling the storm and
multiplying the loaves and fishes. These are not fables. They are
genuine records of what Jesus actually did. But I don’t think that
we are meant to believe that they were for Jesus alone. As a matter
of fact, you and I as sin-corrupted human beings cannot perform such
feats, but it is my opinion that we do have the potential and that
we could indeed exercise such influence over the natural world if we
were in conscious union with God; as Jesus was and as we – without
sin – would also be.
Maybe, diseases like Ebola and Bird Flu
have arisen because we have been rendered powerless to stop harmless
viruses from mutating into these terrible killers.
Writing to the church
at Rome, the apostle Paul spoke about the creation groaning in
travail as it awaits the appearing of the sons of God. Maybe the
real ‘nasties’ of the world are parts of this groaning, which will
be put right at the restoration of all things.
But back to cockroaches. I must
acknowledge that they are indeed God’s creatures. I even admit to
letting them pass by when I see them on neutral ground, so to speak;
on a footpath or in an alleyway not near my home.
But next time I find one in my kitchen …!!!!
Is There Just One Road to the New Jerusalem?
At the recent Melbourne Synod of the
Anglican Church, much discussion was generated by a motion calling
on the church to affirm the traditional doctrine that salvation is
through Christ alone. Not everyone, it seems, agreed, although the
motion was eventually carried in a slightly amended form.
The debate raises some interesting and
important issues. But first of all, let’s clarify a point of
The question “Can only Christians be
saved?” is really a confusing amalgam of two other questions, namely:
- Is there another way of salvation that does not involve
the Cross of Christ? And
- Is it possible for somebody who has not heard the Gospel
(or who has heard only a distorted version of it), and who is not
‘officially’ a Christian to be saved?
Looking at (i) first, the answer must
surely be a decisive “No”.
First, we have Jesus’
own words that “No one comes to the Father except by me” (Jn. 14:6)
and Peter’s words that “there is salvation in no other … there is no
other name … whereby we may be saved” (Acts 4:12).
However, even if these, and similar,
verses had not been included in the Bible, there would still be no
doubt that Christ alone is the way of salvation. In my mind, the
ultimate proof is in the Cross itself and the terrible suffering,
both physical and spiritual, that Jesus experienced. God the Father
is certainly no sadist, neither is Jesus a masochist. The agony of
the Cross would not have happened if there had been any other way!
Remember how Jesus,
on the night prior to His crucifixion, prayed that “this cup” might
be taken away if possible (Mk. 14:36)? At that point, we can have no
doubt that God the Father would have answered Jesus’ prayer and
revealed some other way of salvation if there had been any such
alternative way. But the Father remained silent. Jesus, in His heart
of hearts, knew that there was no other way, and immediately prayed
that the Father’s will, not His own, be done.
Had there been some
other way, surely the Father would have told Jesus to go and teach
the people to make regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem, bathe in the
Jordan, contemplate the sound of one hand clapping or whatever. But
His silence surely spoke volumes … and if God Himself is unable to
supply a means for Man’s salvation that does not involve Jesus’
dying on the Cross, how can anyone be so arrogant as to say that a
religious practice or moral code set up by Man himself can
accomplish this feat? Only God can save Man, and even He is
restricted to a single method!
Even the God-ordained sacrifices of the
Old Testament were only efficacious in so far as they looked forward
to the one great Sacrifice of Jesus. So even the salvation of the
saints of the Old Covenant was through Jesus, though they did not
specifically know Him during their life time.
Incidentally, perhaps we have here the
reason for something which has puzzled Christians from time to time.
Why did God provide no salvation for the angels who rebelled?
May I suggest that it is because there
IS no means of salvation for a purely non-physical being. The death
of Christ is sufficient for my salvation because His death is a
substitute for my death and for the deaths of each human being. But
how could a death – even the death of Christ – be a
substitute punishment for the sins of beings who know no death? How
could the Blood of Christ atone for the sins of a bloodless
Therefore, if there truly is no other
means of salvation, angels by their very nature must be excluded
from this hope. (I think that we can safely suppose, even if it is
only speculation, that the God who hates nothing that He has made
would not deny restoration to fallen angels if a way was available
to accomplish this, so the non-salvation of the rebel angels further
highlights the uniqueness of the salvic efficacy of the Cross of
If I may be forgiven a further
distraction, we may also see here a possible argument against the
existence of human-like physical/spiritual beings on other planets.
It runs like this: If such beings
exist, they (like us) would also have the free will to accept or
But what if they rejected Him?
Would He then destroy them?
Would not the God who went to such
unbelievable extremes to save us, not go to similar extremes to save
any similar creatures made in His image?
But, if we are correct in seeing the
sacrifice of Christ as being the only way, would this not imply that
Christ would be incarnated over and over again throughout the
universe, each time only to die a cruel death while literally
suffering the Hell of separation from the Father
as he bore the sins of many?
This possibility, as well as being
repugnant to our minds, appears to have been ruled out by Hebrews
9:26-28. (The possibility that his death on this planet somehow
atoned for the sins of every human-like being in the Universe,
though perhaps possible, seems extremely farfetched to say the least
… unless “every human-like being in the universe” is co-extensive
with the human race here on earth, which is, of course, the very
position suggested here!).
But back to earth!
We may safely conclude that salvation
is not to be found outside of Christ. But does this necessarily
confine the possibility of salvation to what we might call
“conscious Christians” i.e., people who have made a conscious
decision to follow the Christ who has been presented to them in the
Can, in other words, a person enter
into a saving relationship with Jesus without ever having heard the
name? Can one be saved by walking in the light that he has been
given, only to eventually find that the Light was Christ Himself? We
are reminded of the words of William Blake,
God appears and God is Light To those poor souls who dwell in night
But doth a human form display To those who dwell in realms of day.
The answer to this second question is
not as straightforward as the answer to the first.
To be sure, the question “How may I be
saved?” is clearly answered in the Bible “Believe in the Lord Jesus
Christ” (Acts 16:30-31), yet the same Paul who gave that answer to
the Philippian jailor could also quote a Greek poet to the Athenian
assembly as being one of their own prophets, seeming to imply that a
certain light had been given to these pagan Greeks (Acts17:28) and,
just a little later (vs.30) he told them that God had overlooked
their sins in the time of their ignorance. Although clearly calling
them to repent and believe once the Gospel had been preached to
them, he seems to be presenting the Gospel, not so much as an
alternative light to what they had already received through their
poets, but as the full illumination of what had until then been but
a feeble ray. Might that further imply that those Athenians who had
died prior to Paul’s visit, yet who had lived according to the light
that they had received (how ever dim that light may have been) would
have been judged by God as having accepted the Light that is Christ
and brought in the spiritual realm into the greater Illumination?
It is only a personal suggestion, but I
am inclined to give a positive answer to that question.
Again, we may
consider the Old Testament case of Job. Here was a ‘pagan’ man,
living quite apart from (and, quite possibly, having no knowledge
of) Israel and the Covenant, yet clearly coming to experience God’s
saving grace. Can we believe that there were not – and still are not
– other ‘Job’s’ on Earth?
Yet, in saying this, we must
nevertheless continue to keep in mind that Christ is the “One Way”
and that if anyone who is not nominally Christian can indeed be
saved, it remains through Christ and Christ alone that this is
possible. How God may do this is not our concern, but we can be sure
that (as C. S. Lewis emphasized) if a Moslem or a Hindu can be
saved, it is not by being a good Moslem or a good Hindu, any more
than a Christian can be saved by being a good Christian. The saviour
is never a religion or moral system. The Saviour is the Lord Jesus
Christ; the same yesterday, today and forever. Amen!
Does Anyone Here Know Cyrus Teed?
As far as I am
aware, two prophets announced to their followers that they would
rise from the dead. One was Jesus Christ.
The other was Cyrus Teed.
Most of the world
has at least heard of Jesus Christ. But how many have heard of Cyrus
Well, for those who
are not familiar with this person – and, I suspect, that will be
most – Teed (1839 – 1908) was a doctor who dabbled in alchemy and
came to believe that the Earth was hollow, that we live on the
inside and that what we see as the astronomical universe is really
the enormous cavity at the Earth’s centre. The ground beneath our
feet is the boundary of this cavity- universe and the centre of the
cavity is occupied by the Sun. Planets, he taught, are “spheres of
substance aggregated through the impact of afferent and efferent
fluxions of essence”. (Please don’t ask what that is supposed to
mean. I don’t have a clue. But it sounds deep, don’t you agree?).
By the 1870s, Teed
(who by then was calling himself “Koresh”) had gained a following of
“cellularists” (cavity-Earth believers) and in 1888 the “Koreshan
Unity” was formed in Chicago. Some years later, the Koreshan
community set up in Florida where they built a college to promote
their ideas and founded a magazine called The Flaming Sword
which, it is said, was later to greatly impress some of the
followers of Adolf Hitler.
Teed taught his
followers that death was not going to hold him. He would die, but
shortly thereafter he would rise again to an immortal life.
Christmas in 1908, Cyrus Teed died, apparently due to injuries
sustained during an altercation with the local sheriff. His
followers – faithful to his prophesy of resurrection – suspected
that he would come to life again on Christmas Day and faithfully
awaited the great event.
happened. In fact, the body began to decay and the Koreshans were
ordered by the local authorities to bury it before it became
unhygienic. A large tomb was built on Estero Island where, against
all the hopes of the Koreshans, Teed remained securely enclosed.
resurrection, many became disillusioned and the community dwindled.
At least, until a hurricane swept across the island several years
later and swept away tomb, Teed, and every other sign that he had
been buried there.
Had he at last risen
from the dead?
thought so, and the community experienced a brief revival. But, with
no appearances of Teed to any of his followers, disillusionment
quickly reappeared and one would be hard-pressed to find many
The contrast between
this rather pathetic tale and that of Jesus can hardly be more
striking. But it must fairly be said that there are both positive
and negative contrasts between the two stories.
In their favor, the
Koreshans certainly displayed a greater faith in their leader’s
prophecy than the disciples of Jesus did in his. It would seem from
their initial refusal to bury Teed’s corpse that the Koreshans both
understood and believed his prediction of resurrection. Not so the
disciples of Jesus, who didn’t appear to know what he was talking
Perhaps the prior
example of Jesus made it easier for the Koreshans to accept this
prophecy, but it remains true that they possessed a degree of faith
that Jesus’ followers did not initially have.
This shows itself
again in the ways these two groups of disciples initially reacted to
the death of their respective leaders.
The disciples of
Jesus were afraid, heartbroken and thoroughly disillusioned. All
their hopes had gone to the Cross with their Leader. The one in whom
they had placed all their hopes and trust had let them down.
By contrast, the
followers of Teed apparently had no doubts that he would deliver a
miraculous resurrection. Not to bury a corpse in the climate of
Florida is certainly an act of faith!
Yet, the greatest
contrast concerns what happened during the months and years that
followed the death of these respective religious leaders. Over two
thousand years after the death of Jesus, the movement that began
amongst his small group of frightened, confused and disillusioned
followers has grown to become the largest and most influential
spiritual movement that the world has ever seen. By way of contrast
the Koreshan movement, always tiny, effectively vanished within a
century of its founder’s death.
We know why the
Koreshan movement failed. True, its beliefs were (to put it mildly)
eccentric, but surely even this would not have prevented its
widespread appeal had its founder really rose from the dead. The
failed prediction – the failed resurrection – was the real nail in
the coffin for the Koreshans. It was this non-event that turned
their faith into despair and their belief into doubt.
But what about the
If Cyrus Teed’s
failure to rise from the dead was the thing that turned faith into
disbelief for his followers, then what was it that had the opposite
effect on the doubting followers of Jesus?
Surely, only one
event could have so turned them around. Unlike Teed, Jesus really
did rise from the dead and allowed himself to be seen and even
touched by his disciples. After the despair of Good Friday, it
would have taken nothing less than the new dawn of Easter morning to
bring about such a change of mind and heart. No phantom “visions” of
the ghost of Jesus or mystical illumination that their master was
somehow still alive in the spiritual world would have sufficed to
turn such a dejected bunch of people so quickly into men and women
who took on the world of their day by the fearless proclamation that
Jesus was literally alive; physically alive, though now passed into
a more glorious state. No vague sense of “spiritual presence” would
have enabled them to face torture and even death as they spread the
news that Jesus had indeed been raised. In fact, why would they have
brought down upon themselves such hostility unless they
believed the resurrection to have been a literal fact?
The conclusion is
inescapable. The one big factor that differentiates the history of
the Koreshan and Christian movements is a very simple and marvelous
fact. Cyrus Teed did not rise from the dead, but Jesus did.
Just a single fact,
but what a difference that one fact makes!
Did the Doctor Prescribe an Aspirin When the Patient Needed Brain Surgery?
Within all of us,
whether we like it or not, there is a sort of half-conscious desire
to stand in awe of something that we think of as being greater than
ourselves. This something may be as transitory as a football hero or
as exalted as God, but the urge seems to be a basic one.
At the root of this
seems to be a sense of being alone; of being separated from whatever
it is that would give our life the sort of purpose that could bring
us happiness. We long to reach out to something ultimate, but if we
cannot find this, then any substitute will do.
The great religious
teachers of the world, Zarathustra, Moses, Buddha, the Hindu sages,
Mohammed and the more recent figures, have all given the world
systems of thought and behavior that are designed to overcome this
sense of being alone by directing our ‘reaching out’ to what the
teachers consider to be ultimate truth.
All of these
teachers agreed that we have this sense of being alone and, in a
sense, lost. All of them knew that the only cure lay in a Reality
beyond ourselves. But few of them could agree about just what this
Reality was and how we could ‘reach’ It.
For some, it was a
For some, it was
For others, it was a
Cosmic Unity expressed as many gods.
For yet others, it
was a Cosmic Principle.
Then, there were the
different ideas about how to ‘reach’ it.
Some taught that
this was possible through a system of meditation.
Some taught that it
was by following a moral code.
specific types of worship.
Yet others stressed
the importance of sacrifice.
All of these schemes
‘worked’ to some degree in so far as they (at least temporarily)
eased the sense of cosmic loneliness, but the more sensitive and
serious followers of these religions often felt that something
Think of it this
A person has been
suffering from acute thirst. She visits a doctor who correctly
diagnosis diabetes and prescribes a medication. It seems to work for
a while, but then the thirst returns.
So she sees another
doctor, and is prescribed a special diet. This too works to some
degree, but not altogether satisfactorily.
Finally, she sees
another doctor who looks for the cause, not just of the thirst, but
of the diabetes. He finds that she has a tumor of the pancreas!
After he surgically
removes the tumor, the diabetes and the thirst vanish.
No more medication
and no more diet!
But had she not
undergone surgery, the tumor would have killed her. Not all the diet
and medication in the world could have saved her life, even though
it might have offered a measure of temporary relief.
systems of the great teachers are rather like the advice of the
first doctors in this story. They can offer some relief, some
measure of spiritual enlightenment, but they are not adequate to
cure the underlying problem. In the end, they fail to bring
You may have noticed
that I missed one name from the list of religious teachers.
Actually, I missed several, as the list was not intended to be a
complete one, but some may have been surprised that I did not make
mention of the Jewish rabbi Yeshua bar-Joseph, also known as Isa or
Jesus Christ. Millions of people regard this rabbi as the greatest
of religious teachers. So why did I omit him from the list?
I omitted him
because he is essentially different from the others. Sure, he was a
religious teacher. He taught about God, about how to conduct life
and about prayer. But what he said was far less radical than what he
did. Indeed, most of what he taught on these subjects could be
gleaned from many of the other teachers. Yet, he also taught things
about himself which none of the other teachers would dare to have
said. He taught that he lived before his birth and that, indeed, he
was (in some sense) God. He also taught that he would actually
become a sacrifice and that by doing so, he would free from sin all
who believed in him.
What he was, in
effect, saying was that he was to be the answer to religion. He was
not just another ‘doctor’ prescribing some ‘medicine’ (i.e. not just
another sage teaching yet another religion or religious exercise) as
a ‘cure’ for the spiritual illness of mankind. He was the ‘surgeon’,
the one (and only one) qualified to ‘cut out’ the spiritual tumor
within our souls that is slowly killing all of us. Our feeling of
being alone, our self-centered natures and the sin which binds and
spiritually cripples us are all symptoms of this ‘tumor’. The name
of this tumor is Sin. Not individual acts of wrong doing, but a
spiritual rot which has infected our natures in all their aspects.
As that great Chinese saint, Watchman Nee, said “we are not sinners
because we sin. We sin because we are sinners”.
Jesus (Yeshua or
Isa) surgically removed the tumor of sin by taking it into himself
in some mystical way which our minds cannot understand (any more
than we can understand how, for instance, an electron can be both a
particle and a wave. We accept such things, but we cannot really get
our minds around them). But by taking the sin of all of us into
himself, Jesus died on a cross that the full punishment for this sin
be met. Met in him, not in us!
On the cross, Jesus
felt our loneliness and our estrangement from God in the fullest
sense possible. But by going to his death, he overcame this sin and
by rising from death, he enables anyone who believes in him and
promises to follow him to be cured of their sinful nature and to
have access to God as if they had never sinned. He does this by
letting us share his mind and spirit, by causing his own life to
grow like a spiritual seed within us and transform us more and more
into his way of thinking and living.
Jesus could do this
because he alone is both God and human. He is, as it were, the one
and only human window through whom God’s full light (His very being)
shines. At the same time, he is the door through whom man can come
into the full presence of God.
practice can redeem us. Only the death of Jesus and his rising again
could do this. We can be quite certain of this because, on the night
before his crucifixion he prayed to God the Father that if it was at
all possible, may the ‘cup’ (having to go through crucifixion) pass
from him. He was in effect praying that if there was some other way
of bringing about the redemption of humanity (some religious
exercise perhaps?), let him escape the terrors, not just of physical
crucifixion, but of the spiritual darkness of bearing the sin of the
world that accompanied it. But no answer came. Jesus knew in his
heart that there was no ‘Plan B’. Not even almighty God can break
his own universal laws. And it is a universal law that nothing short
of the death of the Incarnation of God himself can redeem humanity.
Fallen angels cannot be redeemed, because they are not mortal. The
Son of God cannot become an angel and take on their sin, because
there is no ‘angelic death’ through which he can pass; and
redemption comes only by passing through death.
But if neither angel
nor even God himself, can provide another way of redemption, how can
any merely human religious teacher provide it through a system of
religious belief or spiritual exercises?
It is absurd to
even suggest such a possibility!
So Jesus, or Yeshua,
or Isa, is the answer to religion. All religion. Don’t fall into the
trap of making his teachings into yet another religion, for this
will take away their power. Come to Jesus himself. Admit that you
need him and ask him to enter into you and grant you salvation and
a real, living and experienced, relationship with God.
Some Thoughts on the Tsunami of December 26, 2004
What are we to say in the face of the
worst natural disaster in our lifetimes?
What answer do we give people who ask
where was God on December 26, or why God allows such things to
How do we answer those who tell us that
a loving God would never have permitted such a terrible thing to
We struggle with such questions, not
the least because a part of ourselves is also asking them. The
people who challenge us are only voicing aloud what our own doubts
whisper in our inner ears.
So how do we come to grips with this
sort of thing?
How can we answer, not only those who
challenge us, but our inner doubts as well?
Some explain disasters of this nature
by arguing that the Fall has corrupted the very fabric of nature.
Events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes and the
like are (they say) the direct result of a world put out of joint
with God either through Man’s disobedience to the Divine Will or
through the prior rebellion of a more powerful angelic being.
This may appear satisfying on the
surface, but it suffers from one major flaw. It just doesn’t work!
Too many issues are left unresolved.
For instance, we know from geological
research that there were earthquakes long before humankind appeared
on Earth and, ipso facto, eons before we rebelled against our
Maker (we don’t know when Satan rebelled, so we will speculate no
further about that).
Indeed, earthquakes are an inevitable
result of plate tectonics and we now know that this process
constitutes one of the factors that maintain our plant’s
habitability. Scientists have found that the reduction of the
planet’s crustal plates is an integral part of the maintenance of
the Carbon Cycle and that this, in its turn, is essential in
maintaining the Earth’s thermostat. If the crustal plates were to
freeze – if the process of plate tectonics were to cease – carbon
dioxide would build in our atmosphere until a runaway greenhouse
effect was triggered and our world would end up in the hellish
position of our neighboring planet Venus. All life would be
extinguished as the oceans boil away and temperatures soar to such
levels that surface rocks glow red hot.
Even worse would follow actually. Plate
tectonics acts as a sort of “engine” that performs “work”. But as we
know from both secondary-school physics and a day’s digging in the
garden, work uses up energy and in the case of plate tectonics, this
energy is supplied by the planet’s internal heat. If plate tectonics
were to stop, a major avenue of internal heat dissipation would
therefore be closed off and the Earth’s interior would just keep
getting hotter and hotter until something blew.
Once again, Venus serves as a dire
example of what would Earth would face without plate tectonics.
Scientists have found evidence that this planet did indeed “blow”
many millions of years ago. It apparently experienced such an
intense period of volcanism that its entire surface crust was
renewed; the whole planet experiencing a global flood, not of water,
but of molten lava several kilometers deep. Then, when the volcanic
phase died down, the planet was left shrouded by a dense lethal
envelope having a surface pressure some ninety times greater than
that of Earth’s atmosphere at sea level.
That would be the fate of Planet Earth,
but for the continuation of plate tectonics!
Yet, for earthquakes to cease, this is
exactly what would be required … the seizing up of the plate
In a round-about sort of way,
earthquakes are therefore essential to Earth’s habitability!
The same also applies to the ocean of
course. The very same body of water that rose up with such
destruction on Boxing Day 2005 is essential to our planet’s
continuing habitability in many ways. It acts as a major regulator
of climate, is vitally important in maintaining the food chain, acts
as a “sink” for carbon dioxide and is vital in providing sufficient
water as a lubricant for the reduction of crustal plates.
Ironically, this lubrication actually diminishes the severity of
earthquakes as well as, in the slightly longer term, preventing the
disastrous seizing up of the entire plate tectonic process.
Yet, plate tectonics + ocean =
There is simply no escaping this
God created a world in which
earthquakes and tsunamis have a right and proper place. They are not
signs of imperfection, neither are they evidence of the disruptive
effects of our sin nor of satanic interference with the processes of
If they did not occur, there would
indeed be no death, but only because there would be no life!
Well then, how are we to approach the
To begin, we may recall something that
a geologist said soon after the event occurred. Speaking on a TV
news bulletin, he said something to the effect that had a warning
system been in place, not one life need have been lost. This
was said, admittedly, before the full extent of the disaster became
known, when the estimated death toll stood at “only” 10,000 or
thereabouts. His assessment was probably wildly optimistic, yet the
point he made remains valid, namely, that even with our present-day
technology, fallen and sinful humankind could have avoided most of
But what if humankind had not fallen?
What if every human being on the face of this planet walked
perpetually in the light and guidance of God?
Would it then have been necessary for
countless fishermen to wring a livelihood from the sea and
consequently populate the low coast of the effected lands?
We may imagine God leading his people
to the places prepared for them. We can imagine him telling them
only to live in the hills, that the low coastlines were not places
for humanity to dwell. We might imagine all the people living high
above the tsunami, watching it sweep inland over uninhabited
countryside and marveling, as it swept along, at the mighty and
awesome power of the God who so constructed the Earth that humanity
may have a habitation and a home.
Not then a symbol of death, the tsunami
would have been welcomed as yet another sign of God’s great love in
preparing a place for us in this magnificent universe.
“Levels” of Obedience
It is probably helpful to see three
levels of obedience to God, a little like three rungs on the ladder
Level One is when we obey God out of
fear; either fear that He will punish us in this life or out of fear
of eternal punishment in Hell. This is often a response to “hell
fire and brimstone” preaching, but as C. S. Lewis said, even if we
come to God as an alternative to Hell, He still accepts us. What a
great and compassionate God!
Level Two is where we obey God because
we do not want to see Christ’s name dishonored by our behavior or,
conversely, because we want to be “a good advertisement for Christ”.
Even more than this, we may (and
should!) come to think of sin as in a sense hurting God. There is a
real sense in which each sin that we commit drives a nail into Jesus
on the Cross. Seen in that light, there are no ‘little sins’ any
more than there are ‘white’ lies.
In both of these levels, we still have
a degree of attraction toward sin, but we choose not to sin for the
reasons mentioned. The Holy Spirit, of course, upholds us in our
struggle with sin and enables us to walk more closely with God. But
sin (and the desire for sin) is still present.
But it seems to me that there is a
higher level of obedience, although mentioning it is likely to raise
issues of theological doctrine that can bring sharp disagreement.
This third level is one that could be
called freedom from sin, as long as that expression is not equated
with absolute sinlessness or perfectionism.
There are two ways of looking at this
The Wesleyan Holiness tradition sees it
as the rooting out of sin. The desire for sin goes, because the “sin
principle” has been destroyed. The thought is one of plucking out a
weed that is strangling the other plants in the garden.
Although this describes the experience
to some degree, the better model is probably that of Chinese
Christian mystic Watchman Nee. Nee sees the “holiness blessing” as
the death of the sinful nature, not of sin itself. It happens when
we really understand – not just in our minds, but in a deeper way
within our very spirits – the truth of being dead to sin and alive
to Christ. When Nee himself first experienced this, it is said that
he ran down the stairs shouting “I’m dead, praise God I’m dead”!
When the sinful nature is dead, there
is no longer anything in us for sin to grip on to. It is as if the
antenna that picks up the broadcasts of sin has been disabled. Sin
is still there, it surrounds us, but we have been desensitized to
Although both Nee and Wesley clearly
refer to the same spiritual state – that of being, in Paul’s words,
“dead to sin but alive to Christ” – Nee’s interpretation seems to me
to be closer to Paul’s understanding.
We must not, however, think that this
state – how ever it is interpreted – is one in which we are
completely freed from the possibility of sinning for evermore.
Moreover, it must not be misinterpreted as a spiritual condition in
which we pass beyond the reach of temptation. In this state,
it is not true that we cannot sin, and it is certainly not
true that we avoid any temptation to sin. Rather, to quote Welsh
evangelist Selwyn Hughes, it is a state in which “we need not”
sin; in which temptation to sin can be successfully resisted. The
addiction to sin, if we may so express it, has been cured.
As we mature in this stage, sin becomes
increasingly repulsive; we see the prospect of sinning as we would
see wallowing in filth.
These stages are not necessarily
successive. We may pass back and forth between them or they may even
(to some extent) co-exist.
But it is Stage Three that we should
aim for. This is the life of true holiness.
Of course, if this state is reached,
this does not mean that the time has arrived to sit back and relax
and expect to simply glide through the rest of our spiritual life.
That would be great, but it is not a very realistic prospect. As C.
H. Spurgeon expressed it, we need to be continually filled with the
Holy Spirit because we leak. Only by spending time in Bible reading,
prayer, meditation, fellowship and worship can we sustain a
spiritual walk that is so at odds with what the world considers to
be normal. But the good thing is that if we persist, sin will
increasingly become so ugly and a life of holiness so attractive,
that we will increasingly want to persevere in our walk.
Add to this the fact that it is also
God’s desire for us … and what more encouragement do we need?
Two Imaginary Stories
There was once a man
who cared nothing for God or other people. He lived for himself
alone almost relished the role of ‘self-centred sinner’ that he knew
himself to be.
At length, he passed
unrepentant from this world. As he breathed his last, a long tunnel
seemed to open before him and he soon found himself travelling free
of his body toward a golden Light that eventually expanded into a
landscape of exquisite beauty.
“They are all
liars!” he exclaimed to himself. “Those who say that when we die,
there is just nothingness; but also those who say that only the good
and holy go to Heaven. Look, I never pretended to be good and yet,
here I am in what must surely be Heaven! Seems like we can do just
what we please in life and still make it in the end with no help
from God or Christ or anyone else!”
Something (he knew
not what) drew him onward, deeper and ever deeper into the Heavenly
Land. The Light was glorious, but as it grew ever brighter it began
to hurt his spiritual eyes. Soon they were smarting and filling up
with tears. Even his new body started feeling sore, like one who had
been exposed too long to tropical sunlight. He felt that he was
blistering and longed to hide from the Light, but there appeared to
be no shadows in that Land. All was Light. Even the ground seemed to
be shining. He would have stopped walking, but found that he could
not. Like a ball on a sloping table, he could not stop moving
onward, ever deeper into that Dreadful Light.
stopped. The ground seemed to level out before something that his
mind could scarcely conceive. It was nothing less than the Throne of
God the Father Himself, and Jesus Christ was standing at His right
hand. It was now obvious that all the Light of this Land originated
in that awesome Throne. The halo of magnificence was beyond
comprehension and burnt into his spiritual body like hot metal.
All his sins, every
bad deed that he had ever committed and every good deed or kindness
that he had failed to do, paraded before his mind, exposed like
filthy shadows by the glorious Light that emanated from the Throne.
Jesus looked upon him with a look of such love as cannot be
imagined, yet this look only added to his agony. In the love of
Jesus, his own lovelessness was exposed as nothing else could expose
it, and his whole being shrank with the onslaught of an emotion that
could vaguely be called ‘embarrassment’, though this word is far
from an adequate description.
“My son”, Jesus
said, “come to Me.”
“My Lord” the man
replied “I cannot approach You. The Light radiating from You is
agony to me and should I come any closer, I will be burned away.”
“My son” Jesus
continued “it was for you and others like you that I died on the
Cross. My sacrifice was sufficient to take upon Myself the sins of
every person, but I cannot force anyone to surrender his sins to Me.
Yet even now, if you allow Me to take your sins from you, I will
carry them back to the Cross and they will become part of the load
that I bore then, for the sins I bore were those of people from
every time and place, all those who were willing to let Me take upon
Myself the punishment that they had earned”.
“My Lord” said the
man, “I cannot yield my sins to You. My sins burn themselves into my
inner being and have become part of my very essence. Though they
burn me like fire in the blaze of Your Light, to yield them to You
would be like tearing away part of my innermost being and cause me
even greater agony than I now feel. It would be like ripping the
very organs out of a physical body while it remained fully
Sorrow as well as
love now filled the Saviour’s face.
“Then, there is but
one mercy that I can extend to you. Look down at your feet.”
The man looked down,
and a pit of blackness opened up before him. From the depths of the
pit, sounds of weeping and lamentations arose.
“This” continued the
Saviour, “is the only place in the Universe where My Light does not
reach. I permit you to enter there, but once you do, all Light is
lost and no way out will ever be found. Is that what you choose?”
thought, the man threw himself headlong into the Pit of Blackness.
There was a lady who
had been agnostic all her life. Yet, she greatly admired Jesus as a
Human Being and saw a great deal of good as having arisen from His
teachings and from the selfless activities of many Christians down
through the ages. She had a friend who was a very active Christian
and there had been many times when the lady had come to her aid
against skeptics and scoffers who derided her friend’s faith. The
lady, though agnostic, also gave financial support to several
Christian charities and helped her friend on many occasions in her
work of supplying food for the needy. Many times she supported her
friend by handing out food while she (her friend) used the
opportunity to tell of the Gospel to someone who questioned her.
Eventually the lady
On the Day of
Judgment, Christ appeared with the company of His Elect, sharing the
Throne of God. Before Him the nations had been gathered. These were
the ones outside His people, but they were separated into two
groups, one on His right and the other on His left.
Christ turned to
those on is right, welcoming them to join with His Church. Those on
His left were cast into the Abyss.
To her surprise, the
lady was numbered amongst those on His right hand.
“Lord” she said,
“You must know that I was an agnostic. I never worshipped You, nor
served You in any way.”
“But you did!” The
voice was His, but it did not come from Him. It came from one of the
company gathered with Him. Looking toward the voice, the lady saw
that it was her friend who had spoken.
“What you did for
one of Mine, you did for Me” the Lord said.
“These are the ones
in whom My Spirit dwelt on earth. What you did for them, you did for
Me, because I was in them through My Spirit.”
The lady looked at
the faces of His gathered people. Many were there whom she
recognized as having been among the needy folk who had been helped
by her friend, with her own assistance. Then as she looked, she saw
that beyond their own faces, a single and glorious Face shone. It
Then she knew what
He meant when He said that what we do for the least of His brethren,
we do for Him.
And who are His
Those who do the
will of His Father; they are His brothers and sisters and mother.
And the will of His Father, is that we follow the Son.
With the redeemed,
she entered into the joy of her Master.
Don’t Be Too Concerned About Unanswered Questions
(Rather, Be Careful of Unquestioned Answers!)
When Galileo was questioned about the
apparent incompatibility of his astronomical discoveries with the
then-accepted interpretation of a few minor biblical passages, he is
alleged to have answered that the Bible was given to tell us how to
go to Heaven, not to inform us how the heavens go. Whether this
story is true or apocryphal, there is a lot of truth in these words.
Hundreds of years after Galileo, a
Christian writer made the perceptive remark that, because God has
given us curiosity and the ability to express this through
scientific investigation, he is not likely to reveal detailed
answers to specifically scientific questions in the Bible. What is
revealed in the Bible is principally information that no amount of
scientific investigation will uncover, namely, our need for
salvation and the way that a loving God answers this need through
Other things are not revealed, either
because we can find them out for ourselves (the structure of the
universe, for instance) or because we do not need to know (for
instance, the date of the Lord’s return).
These are questions left unanswered in
the Bible. Clearly, God does not consider such issues as being vital
to our salvation or spiritual development.
So why should we?
Why is there so much heat released
amongst Christians over the matters that are left more or less vague
in the Bible? Why are some saints driven to anything-but-saintly
behaviour over questions concerning the age of the world, the time
it took God to create it (whether the days of Genesis 1 are literal
or metaphorical ), whether Christ will return before or after the
Millennium (or whether there even will be a literal
These might be interesting questions to
ponder in a relaxed environment amongst folk who sincerely
acknowledge each others’ standing in the Lord, but surely
differences of opinion in such matters should not cause us to cast
doubt on another’s salvation!
The greatest danger comes when somebody
makes a pronouncement as to what the “correct” answer should be. “I
am correct in this matter, and anyone who disagrees is a heretic. My
answer is not to be questioned!”
It may not be expressed quite as
forcibly as this of course, but that is the covert attitude.
Canon Michael Green once recalled
arriving in a town in which there were two churches sharing the same
name, but clearly not in fellowship with each other. Puzzled, he
inquired of a member of one of them as to why this situation
existed, and was quickly informed that “’They’ do not believe in the
Rapture”! Apparently, they agreed on everything else, but this one
doctrine was enough to split the fellowship apart. By the way,
despite his years of theological education, Green admits that until
that time he had never even heard of the doctrine of the Rapture.
Needless to say, we can imagine how he would have felt about so
obscure a doctrine being the cause of something as serious as a
schism in the Body of Christ!
Please do not read this as implying
that all schism is bad. We know that there are situations where a
local congregation, or even an entire denomination, can wander so
far from Biblical teaching as to essentially abandon Christianity
altogether. Unless those within such a group who have remained
faithful can somehow guide it back to the path again, leaving the
group would seem to be the only option for the sake of their own
spiritual health. But here the issues are basic ones; issues where
the Bible is clear to anyone who reads it with an unprejudiced mind.
But if we really value spiritual unity
in the Body of Christ (and as Christians, this ought to be a high
priority) peripherals should remain just that – peripherals!
May God grant that we be given an
attitude of flexibility about non-essentials, inflexibility about
essentials, and wisdom to know the difference! Amen.
The Generous Millionaire
Imagine that you
really want to go to live in a lovely suburb, but that there is one
really BIG problem. The least expensive house costs $10,000,000!
That’s more money
than you could earn in a lifetime!
Then you hear some
good news. A multi millionaire has heard of your plight and has
written you a check for $15,000,000 that your desire might be
What you must now
decide is whether you will accept his gift or reject it in the
(vain) hope, either that home prices in the suburb will be reduced
in future or that somehow you will be permitted to live there
without having to pay the purchase price.
Of course, it would
be very insulting to your benefactor if you refused, but pride is
apt to overcome common sense and common decency alike in these sorts
Well, I presume that
you do not have your heart set on moving into such a salubrious
But do you know that
there really is an even more “expensive” place?
It is called the
Kingdom of Heaven, and the purchase price of a “home” there is an
absolutely perfect life. Even one bad thought, once in your
lifetime, is enough to disqualify you!
In fact, the price
is so high that only one person in the whole history of humanity has
been able to afford (been good enough for) it. That person is Jesus
That’s the bad news.
Now for the good news.
This very person has
paid for your admission. Not with $15,000,000, but with his perfect
life, which he sacrificed in a brutal execution that you may enter
the Kingdom of Heaven!
In dying like this,
he actually bore our sins and suffered the punishment that is really
due to each of us; in so doing allowing us to appear clear of any
sin in the eyes of God!
But just like our
fanciful example of your benefactor’s generous offer, it is up to us
whether or not to accept what Jesus has done for us. This is the
question which faces everyone who has ever been exposed to the
gospel. Will we admit that the price of entry into the Kingdom of
Heaven is too high for us to pay, and thankfully accept his
unspeakably generous gift?
Or will you turn him
down and let his gift to you be wasted?
If we accept Jesus’
gift, we must be prepared to let him become the boss of our lives.
This does not mean turning into a religious fanatic, but it does
mean being prepared to play the game by Jesus’ rules.
Just suppose that we
accepted the millionaire’s gift. Surely, out of gratitude alone, we
would want to befriend this gentleman or continue some sort of
relationship with him. We would not (for instance) use his name as a
swear word or do and say things that we knew would hurt him. That
would be very ungrateful, to say the least!
How much more
gratitude, therefore, should we display toward Jesus?
How much more
intense should our desire be to know this man and demonstrate our
appreciation for what he did for us?
How greatly should
we yearn to get to know him better?
But how do we do
this? How do we get to know Jesus better?
By reading about him
in the Bible, by spending time in prayer and by joining in a
Bible-believing, Christ-centred church or fellowship where we can
meet with other followers of Jesus, worship him together and listen
to sermons explaining more about his life and works and the
wonderful new dimension of life that he has opened up for us.
Not that difficult
And the benefits are
A. W. Tozer on Church and Worship
Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897 – 1963) was a phenomenon in the church of last
century. Preacher, writer, evangelical mystic and prophetic voice
against Laodicean tepidity, it has correctly been said that there
will never by another like him.
Basic to his teaching was the
conviction that the chief purpose of mankind is to worship and adore
God and in this worship and adoration to be transformed into His
likeness by the progressive inner workings of the Holy Spirit. The
church is the fellowship or community of men and women who are
committed to worship God and who are in the process of being thus
transformed. It is the “highest expression of the will of God” in
This church is a spiritual
entity of supernatural empowerment and supernatural origin. It is
not to be confused with the organizational superstructure which man
has built around it, nor with the ‘religious club’ that includes a
mixture of both members of the true church and merely ‘religious’
people who lack true spiritual commitment and whose worship, though
often sincere, lacks the dimension that alone makes it acceptable to
God. The church cannot be identified on a one-to-one basis with the
company of those who have been baptized or those who have fulfilled
the ceremonial role of membership of the visible church. The church
of which Tozer speaks is a mystical organization — indeed, not so
much an organization as an organism — that exists wherever genuine
Christians meet together in a spirit of true worship. And even this
meeting together is a direct work of God rather than an outcome of
human planning. The church exists wherever the Holy Spirit draws
together a few persons who trust Christ for their Salvation, worship
God in spirit and have no dealings with the world and the flesh.
But in another sense the church has a
wider reference. On a world scale, the Holy Spirit has also drawn
people out of the various factions of the human race and society
into one great fellowship of the people of God, the Body of Christ
in the world. This is the church universal, and it consists not only
of those alive today, but of all Christians of all ages, alive in
the world or at rest with Christ. The local ‘congregational’
manifestations of this church are not so much cells in the universal
Body as local incarnations of the Body itself. Otherwise, Christ's
Spirit would only be partially present at the congregational level
whereas in point of fact He is present without qualification where
ever as few as two or three meet together in His name. Where He is
spiritually present, it makes no sense to say that He could be
anything less than wholly present.
Tozer was convinced that the church
met primarily for the purpose of worship. The church gathers to
worship God, to pray to Him, to sing praises to His name and to come
to know Him better through an exposition of His Word. The church is
where man as a being created to worship God expresses this worship
corporately. If Christian meetings lack this quality of worship,
something essential to a true meeting of the church is lacking, how
ever doctrinally correct the preaching may be. This is not in any
way to denigrate the importance of preaching, but it is to place
preaching as just one aspect of a church meeting.
But what exactly does Tozer mean by
During the course of his writings and
sermons, he said many things about it and returned to the subject
time and again. He saw worship as being of major — indeed vital —
importance to the Christian and greatly lamented that it had been so
undervalued in his own evangelical tradition. To truly worship is to
feel something in the heart that was not there before conversion.
Worship is the expression of this in some way. It involves a
humbling and yet most enjoyable sense of admiring awe coupled with
astonished wonder and overpowering love in the Presence of that most
ancient Mystery who is God Himself. This is his basic definition of
“worship”. We can know about God to some extent through the rational
faculty, but any true knowledge of God presents us with that Mystery
before which we can only fall down in awe. This response is the
beginning of worship and in that sense we can say that worship
begins where reason stops.
But man's worship has become corrupted
and, as we were created for the purpose of worshipping God, the
mission of Jesus can be seen as the divine way of bringing man back
to his originally intended role as a worshipping being. Jesus’ life
and passion was for this; that rebels could be turned into
worshippers. We were saved to worship. Even our work for the
Lord, though it should follow from worship, remains a secondary
response to the grace of salvation.
It worried Tozer that this priority
seems lost in many evangelical churches. Too often, evangelism and,
in general, ‘the Lord's work’ is stressed with little or no mention
of worship. Certainly, this is important, but it is the wrong way
around. Indeed, unless our work proceeds from worship, we can become
dangerously proud of what we may see as our own achievements. We
work, but without humility before God. But if we lack that awesome
wonder and overpowering love which is the only right response before
the Father and Creator of all worlds, our work and even what passes
for our worship is no more than a following of rules or a response
to ‘duty’. As such, it is unworthy as a response to what God has
done for us.
Tozer traces the mechanical quality
that has crept into many evangelical churches to their loss of a
true sense of worship. Although he strongly affirmed the doctrine of
justification by faith, he worried about an attitude that made
salvation appear as a commodity to be dispensed in an almost
automatic fashion. Converts are invited to come forward and be
saved; as if salvation can be dispensed from a spiritual vending
machine! There is no sense here of the convert's being brought into
a spiritual state from which worship will issue spontaneously, or
even that the convert is being brought into a worshipping community
at all. The awe of being in the presence of the miracle of salvation
— of receiving a pardon from an almighty and all-Holy God, even
though one stands before Him as a rebel and as part of the same
human race that crucified His Son — is so often missing.
At the risk of being accused of
preaching a religion of feeling, Tozer defines “worship” as “To feel
in the heart” and to “express in some appropriate manner” that
which we feel. What is expressed , and in whatever manner it is
expressed, will be for the worshipper a sense of admiring awe and
astonished wonder that is at once both delightful and humbling. To
merely go through the motions without feeling anything however, is
to engage in sham worship.
On the other hand, worship may still be
genuine in the sense of expressing one's true inner feelings and yet
not be acceptable to God. Or, it may be acceptable to God but still
fall short of the best that we can offer Him. We are made for
worship — indeed, we are made for worship of God in Jesus Christ —
but in circumstances where the gospel has not been heard, has not
been presented properly, has been distorted or has been outright
rejected, worship will be defective to a greater or lesser degree.
First of all, let's look at what
characterizes true and acceptable worship. In the minimalist sense,
we are worshipping as soon as the Holy Spirit enters our hearts and
we cry “Abba” to God the Father. Yet, it is quite another thing to
be worshippers in the full New Testament sense.
True worship must rest upon a right
belief about God and a right relationship with Him. To worship God
correctly, Tozer stresses, we must first believe what He says about
His Son and what He says about ourselves. We must believe what God
says about sin and about one's own sinful nature and not try to
water any of this down with psychological euphemisms. In short, we
must believe what God says about five issues,
Himself. We must never ‘edit’ or water down the Biblical theology of
God if we are to know Whom we worship and if we are
to offer worship that is acceptable to Him.
Son. We must believe that Jesus is both truly God and truly Man,
that He died on the cross as an Atonement for our
sins, and we must be personally committed to Him as our Lord.
Ourselves. Each of us must believe all the bad things that God
exposes in us and all the good things that he will do for us.
Moreover, this must be personal and not general ... not ‘the bad things about humanity’
but the bad things about me; not ‘that Christ died to save humanity’ but that He died to
Sin. The concept of sin must never be watered down. There are no
‘little sins’ any more than there are ‘white’ lies. Any
sin and all sin separates the sinner (me) from God.
It is even worse than a breaking of
God's law ... it is a breaking of God's heart! If worship is tainted with sin, an
all-good and all-holy God cannot accept it because that would amount to accepting sin, and this
is something that God cannot do any more than ice can accept fire; it is something
that is against God's fundamental nature.
necessity of being born again of the Holy Spirit. The worship of the
unregenerate man is not acceptable to
God as it is a worship corrupted by unrepented sin.
To worship God acceptably, one must be
reborn by the Holy Spirit and must worship in Spirit and in truth.
If we do indeed accept all of these, we
may still not be giving of our best in worship. Worship, Tozer says,
is subject to degrees of perfection and intensity and there are a
number of factors which display this intensity and degree of
there is trust and boundless confidence in God. We must have
complete trust in God before we can truly worship Him. But
this trust must never be confused with familiarity and it is
unfortunate that an attitude of familiarity has been allowed to grow
up in the church, to the detriment of a true spirit of worship. We
must beware never to confuse communion with God and familiarity with
God. The God in Whom we place our trust is the Almighty, the Creator
of everything Who upholds the Universe minute by minute with His
limitless power. He is most assuredly not “the man upstairs”!
It is a telling indictment upon the degree to which our sense of the
awe of God has been allowed to fall by the wayside, that such
belittling expressions for God are accepted by many church people of
Secondly, there is in true worship a profound sense of admiration of
God or an appreciation of God’s excellence. This really takes up the
point made in the previous paragraph. An admiration such as this
would never allow any expression that fails to express the awe and
the dignity of God.
Man is better qualified than any other
creature to appreciate God, because we alone are made in His image,
corrupted and distorted though this image may have become through
the corrosive effects of sin. But, when we have been born anew of
the Spirit and when that same Holy Spirit shows us God as He is,
admiration for God grows and grows until the whole heart is filled
with wonder and delight.
Thirdly, there is that which Tozer calls fascination or being filled
with moral excitement; being captivated and charmed and entranced —
being awe-struck with astonished wonder at the splendor and might of
this there is adoration. This is loving God with all the power that
is within us. To adore God is to yearn for God with a desire that is
both delightful and painful. Adoration, at its best, passes beyond
all words into a state of being silently enveloped in the wonder of
God’s majesty and loveliness. This loving and adoring silence, where
the worshipper is lost in wonder at the awe and majesty of God is
really what the mystics call contemplation and is regarded by them
as the highest form of prayer. In its most extreme manifestation,
this type of prayer leads to ecstasy where the worshipper becomes so
absorbed in his contemplation and adoration of God as to be
virtually entranced as far as the outside world is concerned ...
even (in some recorded instances at least) to the extent of being
insensible to physical pain.
Adoration, contemplation, ecstasy.
These are the most profound experiences that Man can undergo, either
here or in Eternity. In my opinion, the only difference between the
highest experiences of prayer in Time and the bliss of Eternity is
one of degree not of kind, although the difference in degree will
still be a major one and unsullied by the prospect of returning to
the state of mind which earth-bound, sin-bound and time-bound
humanity calls ‘normal’. Though very few experience such profound
states of mind and spirit, it is my belief that the greatest human
joys are those which in some way dimly reflect or mimic the state of
contemplative prayer. The joy of sexual love is one instance, which
if practised within the context of married life is a good and proper
thing, but there are also the illegitimate ‘thrills’ of drug and
alcohol induced ‘ecstasy’ which are nothing more than
chemically-induced counterfeits for the real thing; altogether
lacking in the good qualities of true contemplative experience. But
the very fact that people attempt to induce such experiences in
itself shows how deep the hunger really is, even though it is not
often acknowledged and its true nature not even recognized.
Really, to say that these deeper forms
of prayer are the peak of human experience is simply to admit with
Tozer that man is made for worship. If man really is made for
worship, it surely follows that his greatest experiences will be
those of the purest and highest form of worship and that these will
be the experiences most frequently imitated by those who do not know
what true worship is or who know but are unprepared to make the
preparations necessary (i.e. to take seriously the five points
A return to worship as the central
focus of church life would restore many balances which have tended
to become out of alignment in recent decades. True worship is
humbling and spiritually cleansing and places man in the correct
relationship with God. By realizing the majesty of God, we are more
likely to see ourselves in the true light as totally dependent upon
Him. On the other hand, if ‘work for the Lord’ is given priority
over worship, it is all-too-easy for us to place our trust, not in
God, but in our good deeds for God. In other words, we can come to a
state of spiritual pride which not only grows in an atmosphere of
insufficient or defective worship, but actively works against the
true worship of God. Those who work much for God but worship little
are prone to the heretical thought that God is proud of them. But
God is never proud of us ... He simply loves us! And not until we
are brought low by either a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit
(as happens sometimes dramatically at times of revival). or by
Job-like trials or by temptations , can the proud heart be broken
sufficiently to be brought back into an acceptable relationship with
God. Then, humbled enough to truly worship God in an acceptable way,
work for God assumes its proper place. Tozer believes that God wants
us to learn more of Him in worship before we become busy for Him.
His desire is for us first to have a gift of the Spirit, an inner
experience of the heart, as our first service. From this will grow
activities of service. We could say that those who stress activity
before worship are content to do work for God whereas a true
worshipper allows God to do His work through him. The latter works
in the power of the Holy Spirit and knows that he is engaged in a
work that God will bless.
Thus far we have noted what
characterizes worship that is acceptable to God and we have seen how
worship can fall short of this standard. But there is also worship
that not merely falls short but is fundamentally unacceptable
For instance, there is outright
idolatry or the worship of something other than God, whether this is
a created object such as an astronomical body or a mountain or a
statue made by human hands. A more subtle form of idolatry is
worship of a flawed concept of God.
There is also heretical worship, that
is, the picking out from the gospel those things which we like and
allowing them to determine the way we worship, while suppressing
those features which we do not like. Tozer identifies this with the
Samaritan form of worship that was rejected by God.
There is also a type
of pseudo-worship consisting of ‘religious’ feelings induced by dim
lights, stain-glass windows, soft music and the like. One may be
helped to prepare for worship by a suitable atmosphere, but there is
a real danger that church ceremonial can induce a sense that God is
being worshipped when in fact only certain emotions are being
aroused. This is not confined to the ‘bells and smells’ of High
Church ceremonial either, although there is an especial danger of it
happening in these circumstances. But the ‘happy clappy’ atmosphere
of a Pentecostal meeting can just as easily stir up emotional
reactions which can be mistaken for true worship.
A not entirely dissimilar experience
may be encountered by certain people in the face of natural
phenomena such as a beautiful landscape. This sense of the sublime
is not worship, but can be mistaken for it by some people.
Tozer identifies a very serious form of
false worship in what he terms “Cain worship”. The error of Cain, as
he understands it, was to assume that he could worship God without
the need for atoning sacrifice (Abel, it will be remembered,
sacrificed an animal — a blood sacrifice — whereas Cain did not).
According to Tozer, this error rests on three related errors, viz.
that God does not require the worshipper to first be cleansed of
sin, that man can worship God without atoning sacrifice and that sin
is something less serious than it is revealed as being.
While all of this is true, I believe
that an even more basic error was present in Cain's worship and that
it was this, rather than the nature of the sacrifice, that made it
unacceptable to God. Abel's sacrifice was of the finest animal ...
only the best was good enough for God! Cain, on the other hand, took
“some grain” and sacrificed this to God. I beg to differ with Tozer
that the lack of blood made this sacrifice unacceptable ... after
all, Cain was a tiller of the soil, not a herdsman! But the
impression is given that he thought God would be satisfied with
anything. His attitude toward God was wrong. God did not say that
Cain had sinned by presenting an unacceptable sacrifice, only that
sin was at his door. But by getting out of step with God, he made
room for sin and by not repenting allowed it to enter his life.
There is a lesson right here I think. Unless we put on the whole
armour of God, we leave ourselves with a vulnerable Achilles heel
through which sin can enter. An unrepented sin, some part of our
life where we do not permit Christ to rule as Lord and as such do
not allow Him to protect, becomes for us a chink in the armour
through which a sharp arrow may wound us.
But back to Cain! What made his
sacrifice unacceptable to God was, I believe, the almost
‘afterthought’ nature of it. The Abels of this world are the ones
who place God before all else. When they receive their weekly pay
packet, they first of all take out the amount for the collection on
Sunday. By contrast, the Cains put in the plate only what (if
anything) is left over after all else has been paid for. Abel
maintains his weekly giving even though he may need to cut back on
something else. In Cain's budget, the weekly offering is the first
thing to be cut back if times become hard. Abel arranges his Sundays
around his time of corporate worship. Cain forgoes church if the
family arrive and want to go on a Sunday picnic. That which is most
important in our lives is that upon which we tend to spend our money
and to which we give priority in our time and talents. Abel proved
by his sacrifice that, for him, this was God. Cain equally proved by
his sacrifice that it was something else.
The full meaning of Cain worship, then,
is that it is half-hearted worship. It is only going through the
motions of worship because it is expected of one to do so. And it
does, as Tozer says, rest on a wrong understanding, firstly of the
nature of God, secondly of the need for repentance on behalf of the
worshipper and thirdly, of the seriousness of sin. Of all the forms
of false worship, it is perhaps the one to which the church of our
own day is in most danger.
A Quiet Action Call to All Christians!
The Gospel is not primarily a belief.
It is an invitation. An invitation to meet and become an intimate
friend with a Person who is both truly God and truly human and who
gave his life so that we may live in the presence of God forever.
But Jesus is not just an historical
figure; not even a unique Figure who performed something that nobody
else could (his atoning death and resurrection). He is all of these,
but he is also a very contemporary Person who stands before us now
as a living figure. Beyond the Jesus of ancient history is the Jesus
of the present moment; the Jesus who waits to come and dwell within
our spirits and through his Holy Spirit transform us increasingly
into his own image.
The Gospel is the good news that this
miracle has been made possible by the atoning death and victorious
resurrection of Jesus. It is also the good news that this same Jesus
now waits for us to turn away from a self-centered life and toward
him, by inviting him to come into our spirits in a real and vital
Christianity is not a religion.
It is a relationship.
A relationship between a man or woman
and God in Jesus. A Christian is one who has Jesus spiritually
But this relationship with God is not
something simply to be enjoyed by ourselves. We are saved and
transformed, not simply that we may become holy people and go to
Heaven when we die, but so that we may become parts of a community
of people who are similarly being transformed inwardly and who,
collectively, maintain the presence of Christ in the flesh within
today’s world. This company of genuine Christians, the church (not
to be confused with any denomination, or even with the
institutionalized church per se) is the Body of Christ today. In a
very real sense, it is the continuation of the incarnation of Jesus
down through history. Jesus Christ is the Head and the church is his
Body; his corporate Body in the world. Through the church, God is
involved in human society, just as Jesus was involved in human
society. Society is influenced by God to the degree that all aspects
of it are influenced by members of the church and to the degree that
each of these church members is surrendered to the will of God. The
healing of society and its transformation toward a holy and just
community is, I believe, a consequence of the sanctification of the
individual and the sanctifying influence of many sanctified
individuals upon the broader world.
Nevertheless, the church can only be a
unifying and transforming factor if it does not succumb to the
divisions of human society itself. Alas, this is just what has
happened. The church as a whole and the people who are its members
have lost sight of the unifying vision of being the Body of Christ
and have allowed the false gods of human society to usurp the place
that belongs to Christ alone. Christian has become divided from
Christian along the lines of race, politics, class (and sundry other
“secular” divisions) as well as the peculiarly “religious” divisions
of denomination, worship style, theological doctrine and so forth.
These become “gods” when they assume a
greater importance than the simple but profound fact of belonging to
Christ, being in him as part of his corporate Body and being indwelt
by his Spirit.
All of these false
gods must go. The church must spiritually unite, not necessarily by
merging into a single denomination, but by awakening to a single
vision … the vision of itself as it ought to be; a vision of the
church in all its sundry and diverse manifestations united in a
higher unity as the Body of Christ, indwelt by the same Holy Spirit,
with Christ alone as its Lord and Head. Differences (denominational
and otherwise) cease to be causes of division and become
manifestations of diversity within this larger unity. The church
must awaken to the vision of itself as the New Jerusalem into which
stream all the diverse strands of human society, merging there as
the single citizenry of the Holy City. It must have the vision of
this citizenry going forth into the world again, still being members
of whatever race or faction they previously were, but now with this
one great difference; that from henceforth they carry first and
foremost the badge of a citizen of the Heavenly City. Ambassadors
now of Heaven, being transformed inwardly by the continuing workings
of the Holy Spirit, in the process of being molded into the likeness
of the Man from Heaven, they enter the world again, bringing with
them the vision of humanity redeemed, of society transformed and of
a world truly reflecting the qualities of heaven.
This is, unfortunately, not what we
have today. But how do we get from today’s church to the ideal? How
can this great renewal occur? Is it just a dream?
I do not believe that it is just an
unrealizable ideal. After all, Jesus taught his disciples to pray
that the Father’s will be done on earth as in Heaven. God’s will is
followed in Heaven totally, otherwise it would not be Heaven. And
in praying what we have come to call the “Lord’s Prayer”, we are
praying for the same to apply on earth as well. Surely Jesus would
not have taught us to pray for something that would never come to
Once the holiness of God is truly
revealed to us, the full force of sin begins to be correctly
A genuinely converted person feels
inwardly drawn toward personal holiness. If one claims to have been
converted and yet delights in some deliberate sin, something is
seriously wrong. It is true that even a converted person will, at
times, commit sin and it is true that Christians continue to
struggle with sin, but it is not true that a genuine Christian can
continue to wallow in deliberate sin. Unless holiness becomes
increasingly attractive and sin increasingly distasteful following
conversion, the validity of that conversion must be seriously
questioned, irrespective of the intensity of sobs and fervour of
promises at the penitent form.
The church and all those within it must
also be clear that Jesus is their personal Lord and that allegiance
to Him must come before allegiance to anything or anyone else.
Christians must see themselves as individual members of the
corporate Body of Christ and must be submitted to the Head and work
together in the unity of the Spirit so that the will of the Head
(Jesus) is carried out through the corporate Body. We must realise
that in trying to put in motion our own plans for the way in which
we think the church should operate, we are treating the Body as our
own bodies would be treated if our limbs and organs acquired wills
of their own and started operating independently of the brain. Our
own bodies would tear themselves apart; so why should we expect any
less disastrous result for the Body of Christ?
This does not mean, however, that we
should see the existence of different denominations as an evil.
Rather, we should rejoice in the variety of ways that God provides
for us to express worship. If we were to regard membership of our
own denomination as necessary to salvation; that would be
wrong. In effect, we would be saying that our denomination, not
Jesus, is the saviour. But it is equally wrong to say that all true
Christians must withdraw from denominations altogether, as that too
would be setting up something besides acceptance of Jesus as
necessary for salvation. In seeking the unity and the growth of the
Body, we also seek the unity and growth of all the local
manifestations of the Body, including all existing groups and
denominations of Christians who have truly been set free from sin by
accepting the sacrifice of Jesus.
There are some “key” passages in the
Bible that are so filled with tremendous spiritual value that all
who would call themselves Christian should take time out, not just
to read them, but to meditate on them and ask God to illuminate our
hearts as well as our minds to their great truths.
I would ask each person reading these
words to prayerfully set aside a little time each day, for five
days, for the following meditations. This may be alone, or with a
small group of people (maybe members of your family, or your Bible
study or prayer group). The five days can be consecutive or not,
whatever is most appropriate for you, but in any case, it is only a
very small investment of your time that has the potential of
delivering a huge spiritual dividend.
As well as this set time, I strongly
urge that you frequently bring these passages and thoughts to mind
during your daily routine. This is something that you should do, not
just for five days, but indefinitely. Form a habit of meditating on
these verses; on other Bible verses too, but constantly return to
these until they become part and parcel of your mind-set. Their
message will then be ‘natural’ to you!
"Our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29).
Here we meditate on the
holiness and the power of God; we dare to expose ourselves to holy
Holy fear has somewhat
fallen out of fashion these days, and Christians are all the poorer
for that. Certainly, we have the immense privilege of being able to
approach God through Christ, but we must remember that this
privilege is one that has been won for us by the blood of Jesus and
that the God whom we approach is a God of holiness and might. We
tremble at the power of atomic energy or of an exploding star. How
much more should we tremble before the Creator of these things.
But we must also
remember that God is all-holy and all-pure as well as all-powerful.
We are impure, we are sinful. We cannot approach God in our sinful
state any more than a snowflake can sink into a blast furnace.
Before him, our greatest strength is pitiable weakness and our
greatest good is as a filthy rag! Only by his grace are we not
consumed utterly by his holy fire.
Pray that God will
reveal something of his awe and purity to our hearts this day, that
we better understand who he is and who we are.
Jesus answered, "I am
the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father
except through me." (John 14:6).
The first part of this
meditation shows us the way to the God who is a consuming fire, and
the Way is Jesus. In Jesus, the Fire wears a human body. Through
Jesus and only through Jesus can we approach the Unapproachable and
through Jesus alone, Almighty God comes down to us, not in fire and
wrath, but in the Person of a divine Human Being inviting us to come
into a personal loving relationship with Him!
Jesus is the Way ...
the way through whom each individual human being can reach up to God
and through whom God reaches down to each of us.
He is the truth ... the
truth about what God is and what man ought to be and can be through
the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
And He is the life ...
the Life of Deity manifested in human form so that human life may be
transformed and partake of the Divine Nature in and through Him.
Pray that our hearts
are enlightened to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.
"Jesus is Lord"
This is, or ought to
be, our response to this revelation of Jesus. It focuses upon the
central core of Christian spirituality. It is the absolutely
essential step that we all must take to become a true Christian.
But what does it mean -
really mean - to accept Jesus as Lord?
It means that we accept
him as the central authority of our lives. We make a definite
commitment to live the kind of life which he desires of us and we
both accept this and welcome the indwelling power of his Spirit who
enables us to live in this way.
Jesus as Lord also implies belief in his divine and human natures;
that he is truly God and truly Man. If he is Lord, he is also
Saviour, but only as both Man and God can he be Saviour. As Man he
lifts humanity up to God and as God he brings divinity down to Man.
We likewise note that
Paul also says that no one can call Jesus "Lord" except he or she be
moved by the Holy Spirit (1Cor, 12:3). Of course, this does not mean
that no one can simply say "Jesus is Lord" without inspiration (a
parrot could be taught to do this!) but, rather, no one can assert
this with conviction. Asserting and truly believing that Jesus is
Lord (which really means being a Christian) is not something that
one can do "naturally". It is quite literally a divine miracle -
dependent entirely upon the grace of God!
Once we accept him as
Saviour and worship him as our God, his image becomes - as it were -
stamped on a sensitized heart. Something inexpressible begins to
happen in our lives; our existence has a new "feel" about it which
(though very real) is not easy to pin down with words. A new hunger
begins to appear; a new desire to really surrender more and more to
Jesus and, paradoxically, the more we rise to this desire, the
stronger it becomes. If this inner change truly appears and grows,
we can say that we have truly accepted Jesus as Lord and our
Christian life has begun.
As we meditate on the
Lordship of Christ, keeping these thoughts in mind, we allow
ourselves to experience an attitude of total and complete
helplessness in the hands of Almighty God. We allow ourselves to
feel the weight of our sin and how we are as filthy rags before the
absolute purity of God. And yet, as we surrender to Him through our
acceptance of the Lordship of Christ, He washes our sins away and
looks upon us as pure with Christ's own purity!
We see Jesus as our
life, our everything. We depend totally upon God to bring us to the
point of acceptance of him. We abandon ourselves completely to God
and to the moving of the Holy Spirit.
If we have not accepted
Jesus as Lord of our life, we now face the greatest decision that we
can ever make, either here or in Eternity, for our very condition in
Eternity depends upon what we will decide. Shall we accept Jesus and
enter into the family of God the Father, or shall we ignore or
reject him and continue on a course that will one day bring us face
to face (in full awareness of our sinfulness and impurity) with the
God who is a consuming fire?
The choice is ours to
make … now.
If we have accepted
Jesus as Lord, acknowledge that many times we have acted as though
you had not accepted him and ask God to forgive and strengthen us in
our continuing commitment.
"you are the body of
Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (1 Corinthians 12:27).
As the previous
meditation concentrated upon the individual's relationship with God
through Christ, so this concentrates upon the life of the believer
as a part of the corporate Body of Christ. All who are members of
the church are "organs" in the Body by and through which Christ has
chosen to be active in the world today.
In our meditation, we
remember that the one divine life - the Holy Spirit - inspires and
guides each member of the Body and that, through each being united
with the Holy Spirit, we are also united with one another.
We remember that as we
yield our personal and self-centered lives and wills to Jesus - as
we increasingly allow him to be the one true Lord of our lives - we
yield our personal life to the life of the Body. We yield to Jesus
as Lord and Head of the church as well as to Jesus the Lord of our
We seek this deepest
life within us - a life manifested through all desires to surrender
to Christ and to follow him. We dwell upon these spiritual desires
and let all other desires fall away from us. We allow ourselves to
be drawn increasingly into the life of the group and, through the
group, into the life of the Body of Christ. As each of us allows
himself/herself to be drawn into a deepening experience of the Body
and increasingly live for the Body through his/her role within it,
so the Body itself increasingly functions as the Body of Christ. It
comes under increasing control of the Head as each of its members
more fully yields to the Divine Mind within the Body ... the Holy
This deeper inner
commitment will show itself in practical terms as increasing
involvement, increasing interest and increasing desire for
involvement in church life and witness. It will also manifest as a
growing love for other Christians ... including those of different
persuasions, temperament or background.
Pray for a growing
awareness of being a member of the corporate Body of Christ in the
have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the
image of its Creator. here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or
uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is
all, and is in all (Colossians 3: 10-11).
"You are all sons of
God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized
into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither
Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one
in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-28).
In this meditation, we
are shown three classes of division between people and we are
assured that they are overcome amongst Christians through mutual
unity within the Body.
One division is social.
Paul exemplifies this by "slave and free", but today we could also
add "employer and employee", "politically conservative and
politically liberal", "professional person and manual laborer" and
so forth. Think about this. The differences that cause so much
division both within society at large and, all too frequently, at a
personal level, melt away as we become increasingly aware of the
"Body unity". In other words, as we experience fellowship at this
deep level, we increasingly see one another as Christians first and
primarily. The tags which society may place upon us become
Another might be called
divinely instituted if we bear in mind that it was actually the sin
of humanity that made it necessary in the first place. It is the
division of Jew (the chosen of God) and gentile or heathen (Paul
exemplifies this as "Greek"). What Paul is saying is that both Jew
and gentile must leave behind their former position ... the gentile
"comes in from the cold", from beyond the people of God, and is
brought into union within the Body, but the Jew also must renounce
any thought that he is right with God simply by virtue of birth
within the Jewish nation. Both groups are now united in being
equally in need of Christ and individuals from each group can find
fellowship together if they turn away from their past condition and
become united in the Body.
Thirdly, membership of
the Body transcends natural divisions, e.g. sexual (male and female)
and racial (Greek, barbarian, Scythian). Such natural differences
include Asian and Caucasian, black and white and all of the many
innate differences between people and groups of people that can so
often be exaggerated into matters of real significance. But these
differences too melt away into the unity that exists between true
We meditate on this
fact and allow the true enormity of it to become realized in our
With this meditation we
touch the very heart of the unity that alone is adequate to bring
Christians of different theological and denominational differences
into true unity of spirit. We meditate on this fact.
But the impact of these
passages goes beyond church unity in the usual sense. We imagine the
world as it would be if all people fulfilled the potential for which
they were created and truly became parts of the Body. Imagine the
ideal; all divisions transcended by the unity of Spirit knitting all
parts of the Body together as all people reflected in their lives
the Glory of God!
Pray that the Holy
Spirit stirs up within us an overwhelming desire to see the Body of
Christ in this world truly Spirit-filled and united, having one Mind
and one Spirit – the Mind and Spirit of Christ himself – totally
surrendered to God the Father and revealing his glory to the world.
If you have any questions, comments or would just like
to share thoughts with me, you can contact me at: