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Monday, 23 July 2012

The Secrets of a Forgiving Heart

The Joseph of Genesis
There is hardly a character in Scripture (apart from our Saviour whom this person foretells), who displays more compassion towards those who have offended him than Joseph of Genesis. Sold into slavery at the age of seventeen by his own older brothers who should have protected him is a hard pill to swallow.

But it is clear from Genesis chapters 41-50 that his heart towards them has grown soft, by the mighty power of God. And from Joseph we learn  some of the secrets of a forgiving heart.

Secret 1: "Time heals"
Joseph did not have to face his brothers until 20 years after they had sold him into slavery. Twenty years to ponder the ugly offence. Twenty years for anger to subside. Twenty years to ponder his own role in their offence (do you really have to tell other people your dreams?) We do not often move from unforgiveness to forgiveness in one move. Normally it's through steps that move from "I can't stand them/unforgiveness" to "I like them" to "I love them". Allow yourself time to forgive.

Secret 2: Ask God for a soft heart
The very worst outcome of an offence is a hard heart of bitterness or hate. And the trouble is that unlike the physical one full of different chambers, the human heart is a single pool. One drop of bitterness can make a whole heart toxic. We know that Joseph's heart was soft, because he is often moved to tears when he hears or sees his brothers. Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life, and ask God for a soft heart towards the person who has offended you.

Secret 3: Learn not to retell the injury to others
This is a thermometer of forgiveness. On two occasions, Joseph refuses to name his brothers as the culprits (before the cup bearer and among his officials, whom he sends out of the room). You know God is growing forgiveness in your heart if you no longer tell the tale. 

Secret 4: Be prepared to do your enemies good
Joseph is bountifully good to his brothers: he gives them free food, he takes care of their donkeys, he invites them for a lavish feast. We may not get the opportunity, but if it came our way, would we be prepared and willing to love and feed our enemy? And thereby demonstrate that we are children of our Father in heaven?

Secret 5: Remember that in the good providence of God, even this offense is a servant
Joseph had begun to understand the Greater Hand that had sent him to Egypt, there to become a 'saviour'. And this helped him to take the pressure off his brothers, for it was not them, but God who sent him to Egypt. In some remarkable way, the offence will be turned around for our good, the good of others and the glory of God.

Secret 6: You have been forgiven the greater - find it in your heart to forgive the lesser.
Joseph wouldn't have seen this as clearly as we can. But in the parable of the unmerciful servant Jesus taught the logic of Christian forgiveness. The sum is this: if we have been forgiven by God the enormous debt of our sin, then we ought to find it in our heart to forgive the tiny debt (by comparison) owed to us by the offender. Perhaps, if we are struggling with unforgiveness, our root problem is that we have forgotten the magnitude of our own sins which have all been forgiven by God by the blood of Jesus Christ.

It's not that forgiveness is easy, but by the grace of God we can come to a place where it is possible.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Popular in this life - useless after death?

The good Doctor
In recent times books have come out which cast a critical eye on some of the great Christian leaders of the 20th C. For example, there is a new one about Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones, the great Welsh preacher of Westminster Chapel London which tries to view him "warts and all".

But these new biographies are generating  lots of heat. Those who were ardent followers of "the Doctor" are up in arms about anything negative. Others who never knew him and have only read his books are far less bothered about such criticism, and appreciate a biography that is more in line with the honesty of the Bible's treatment of great believers (i.e. "warts and all").

(For myself, when the first 2-tome biography came out in the 1980s, I gave up half way through volume 1 because it sounded as if the man was a saint who had never done anything wrong - and there is only One Sinless Man I will recognise. Volume 2 remains unread and gathers dust to this very day. This in spite of my great admiration of this very great saint of God.)

"Critical Distance" is the term used to describe the passage of time needed to properly evaluate a life: you can't write a proper biography in the lifetime of the person because there is just too much prejudice and guru-itis around.

Upside Down Christianity
There is surely something wrong with guru-itis. When the Bible's great saints were alive, they were not honoured or feted, instead they were despised, hated and misunderstood. They freely acknowledged themselves to be sinners - the chief of sinners in one case. Because they spoke truth that cut every which way, no-one liked them. Paul was hated in his day, and so you will find were all great Christians. It's only after they are dead that they are loved!

So we have this strange contradiction: Bible 'saints' are hated while alive, and esteemed afterwards. Modern 'great saints' are loved while they are alive......


Could it be that today's greats are refusing to say the unpalatable things that God wants them to say? Could it be that for the sake of getting  followers on their twitter accounts, they dish out easy truth and hide the difficult stuff? Refusing to tackle the idols of our day?

It seems to me that a warning bell ought to go off when any Christian leader is 'popular'. We ought to ask why such a strange thing? Instead of following them, it ought to make us suspicious of them.

Could the golden rules be:
  •      Popular in this life - useless after death
  •      Unpopular in this life - enduring usefulness "though dead, still speaking"

Monday, 9 July 2012

Higgs Boson - God Particle?

What is the Higgs Boson?
Over the 20th century, physicists discovered a whole zoo of elementary particles and a few forces along the way: particles such as electrons, protons, neutrons, neutrinos, along with some very exotic elementary particles that lasted for a moment in time, plus the forces of electromagnetism, weak force and strong force.

Now, the human mind is not happy with a disparate set of forces and particles. Something within us believes that there must be order and simplicity (where does this come from, I wonder?) and so physicists began to develop a "model" - a consistent theory - which would explain how all these particles and forces relate to each other. What emerged in the 60s and 70s was "The Standard Model", depicted in terms of the particles and force carriers - see diagram.

Everyday stable stuff around us is constructed from the first generation of matter ("I" in the diagram), with protons and neutrons made up of up and down quarks.

Unfortunately, the maths of the Standard Model, did not allow matter to have mass - a wee problem, considering our daily experience requires mass be accepted as a reality.

In stepped Peter Higgs, a clever Englishman who suggested a way out the mathematical quagmire of the early Standard Model. He suggested that if the whole universe was bathed in a field (the Higgs field) then particles could acquire mass as they passed through and interacted with this field. The maths worked too.

If the field existed then an accompanying particle, the Higgs boson, should also exist, albeit for a tiny fraction of a second. The problem was that this particle was so heavy (read energetic from e=mc2) that it would require very high energy collisions to reveal it. The kinds of machines capable of accelerating particles to such high energies were pipe dreams in the 60s.

But not any more. The Large Hadron Collider on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, is up to the job. It accelerates stuff like protons up to very high speeds, crashes them into each other and has unbelievable detectors watching out for the fragments.

And on the 4th of July, they discovered (or rather announced) they had pretty certain found the Higgs boson.

So, all the find does is confirm the Standard Model - and initiate more research. 

Independence Day for Atheists? "God particle" jazz
Was the 4th of July independence day for atheists? Not one bit. The title "God particle" is media hype and rejected by the people who know most. It does not confirm or deny the existence of God, or any such thing.

The significance?
What might be the significance of this find? I can think of four:

1) It demonstrates the amazing ingenuity of human beings, made as they are in the image of God. Ingenuity not only to develop the Standard Model, but ingenuity to build the LHC and execute the experiments. It demonstrates once more the chasm between man and beast, a chasm made by the image of God which rests upon humans, alone.

2) It demonstrates the creativity and curiosity of mankind too: we want to know more. Did you know that chimps are neophobic - they don't like new stuff? That's why they stick with sticks and don't turn them into spears or bows and arrows. But we, being made in the image of the infinitely creative God, are always interested in the creatively new, always pressing forward and onwards.

3) All the complex mathematics and technology is yet another demonstration of the folly of evolutionary theory. Why on earth would such wonderful minds, capable of mathematics, have been selected by nature, when  chimp chumps get along quite well without them?  What was the selective pressure for maths (or art, or music, etc.)? It's actually a little dangerous to divert attention away from survival to culture, and stupid to possesses a mind that can think twice about what to do if a lion is attacking you - far better stick with a brain which has only one instinctive response - run.

4) It demonstrates a first step towards an impossible goal. We will, I suggest, never understand nature at its base. This is because to understand nature at its base is to understand God. At the moment The Standard Model (which deals with the small) can't integrate with Relativity theories (which deal with the big). No-one knows how to bridge this gap and integrate them into a Theory of Everything. New theories are being proposed (string, brane, supersymmetry) but these are so devilishly complex that only a handful of souls know much about them.

It could turn out - as it has so often before - that The Standard Model is a simplified version of a more complex approximation to reality, which in turn (onion.....) is a simplified version of ultimate reality, beyond the reach of the mind of man.

(Example: Kepler's experimental equations for planet motion turned out to be a crude approximation of Newton's fuller laws of planetary motion, which in turn are a simplified version of Einstein's relativity theory.)

I find myself marvelling at and worshipping the God who has created such amazing complexity and beauty, both in the universe around us and in the human beings he created for his glory.

Surely we see a whisper of Him who is the Word; we see something, in the words of Jonathan Edwards, of the sweet effulgence of the glory of the Son in the elementary particles and forces of His majestic world.