I was asked a random question whilst my pretty cup of tea was being poured. “Who was the first Christian?” I knew who they were thinking about and didn’t want to get into a theological discussion so allowed them their ‘Mary Magdalene’ and left the conversation hang as a gulped my tea.
Mary was the first to acknowledge Jesus as risen from the grave so could be named as the first Christian except for a few minor details.
The term Christian was coined by someone outside of the followers of Jesus after his death as derogatory term for them, as I understand it.
If Christian means follower of Jesus then the first called disciple was the first one.
Or if it someone who suddenly has the revelation of the trinity – Father, Son & Spirit then surely it is John the Baptist.
There is the argument that we are not Christian unless baptised by the Holy Spirit and so the first Christians were indeed those seated on the Day of Pentecost.
Other say not only all of the above but in obedience as an adult we must be baptised in water.
Is it enough to stand and say “I am a Christian?”
Would it not surely be better that by our actions someone else says “Are you a Christian?”
An altogether Christian not only keeps the law in spirit and truth, does good works whenever they can, spreads the word about the Gospel etc, etc, but lives by the scripture:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God
with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”
Responding to God’s love with love for all is how we are seen as different. Every Christian is called to love as Christ loves us.
John 3:16 which I won’t quote again is how much God loves us. He loves us enough to send his only son to die. Not only do we get eternal life in that agreement but we get adopted in his family.
[pause for a few cartwheels and whoops]
To be a true Christian, according to Wesley, is also to have a sure trust and confidence, assurance of this everlasting life. We have faith, given to us as a free gift from God, faith that is in the unseen ways of God, faith that allows us to know the peace that has no earthly understanding, faith that allows us to stand up in the face of persecution and share the good news of Jesus Christ.
We can live and be a part of world and practice justice, mercy, truth, some of my relatives are upright citizens living “good” lives but with out the love of God enveloping them, without responding to his love and because of this they are not Christian (yet)
We can be part of ‘church’ and follow the ordinances of God, and do all the right things and have the outside shell of a Christian, but what of our heart?
Love is the greatest gift we can receive from the Spirit, it is one of the fruit of the Spirit and by far outweighs the other gifts and fruit. Everything else follows on from this love. Patience, kindness, gentleness and even self-control.
So if you want a heart check to see are you almost or altogether a Christian ask these and reflect :
Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?
Can you cry out, “My God, and my All”?
Do you desire nothing but him?
Are you happy in God?
Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing?
And is this commandment written in your heart, “That he who loveth God love his brother also”?
Do you then love your neighbour as yourself?
Do you love every man, even your enemies, even the enemies of God, as your own soul?
as Christ loved you?
Yea, dost thou believe that Christ loved thee, and gave himself for thee?
Hast thou faith in his blood?
Believest thou the Lamb of God hath taken away thy sins, and cast them as a stone into the depth of the sea?
that he hath blotted out the handwriting that was against thee, taking it out of the way, nailing it to his cross?
Hast thou indeed redemption through his blood, even the remission of thy sins? And doth his Spirit bear witness with thy spirit, that thou art a child of God?
“Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee.”
Over the last three weeks I have been focusing on essays I must write without actually putting pen to paper. What happened instead was an outpouring of bad poetry on each of the three themes: all can be saved, Holy Communion and reviewing a book.
Being a reader, editor and proof reader I have come across many “wilderness” books. The wilderness years of Winston Churchill and Adrian Mole (now there’s a contrast!) come to mind immediately. Blood Meridian is a novel based on real life events in the desert of the Mexican border with the States. But another one of my pastimes is film. In films deserts are sandy places not unlike Inch beach without the water. The sand scours the skin. My favourite wilderness in film from a cinematography point of view is the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Dying in a hail of bullets in a remote chapel someplace along the border previously mentioned. So desperate, so caught in a corner, that there is no place left to hide, they were hunted down and then killed.
Sometimes in our peachy happily clappy Christian life something happens that makes us doubt everything, including God’s sovereignty in it all. We are floored literally by some life event and we end up in the wilderness. Immediate desert after a time of abundance. What floors us is as individual as to how long it takes us to rise again. Some of us don’t languishing in a place not fit for human habitation, where breathing in and out is a chore that we want rid of. Not every Christian goes through this so if someone tells you we all do, we don’t. It is a specific time for specific people.
There is more than one wilderness, though. Sometimes a sin that we hadn’t brought before the Lord, by omission rather than design, rears up and causes us to enter this state. For others it is the realisation that something has got to change. Whatever causes us to enter, the losses are the same and interlinked.
The first is loss of faith, people no longer trust God, after putting all their trust in him they suddenly find they have lost their spiritual strength and have become as weak as non believers. So they lose the love. Where is the love? The love is in the connection, when we sever the connection the love is still there but we cannot feel it anymore, we are not plugged into that personal relationship. And so to joy, with no faith and no love there is no joy, not the temporary happiness that abounds at a tea party but that deeply rooted joy that comes as a gift from the Spirit. Where peace was, there is now a chasm as wide and as deep and as long as can be. Where once the person was basking in the glow of the love of God, now there is turmoil, insecurity, doubt and all measure of devilish thoughts. And finally we lose the power of Jesus Christ, that power over sin.
What does cause it? Sin committed deliberately can darken the soul in an instant. Like there is a boy who when he was eight years old I swore that when he was a grown up I’d give him a beating for all the bullying he inflicted on one of my children. He is twenty now, still walking, still has a pretty face. Why? Because in the meantime my heart was softened by the love of God until I could say clearly from the bottom of my heart I loved this boy. My clucky mother hen natural instincts supplanted by God’s love. We love because He loves.
We can quite easily wander into the desert by omitting things in our spiritual life and this is possibly why John Wesley was so diligent in this area.
Just like there are many wildernesses and deserts there is equally only one way out. It does make sense. Wesley says there are a variety of cures but I say one. The lying down of oneself at the Cross, hand it all over to Lord, ask for forgiveness and ask for the strength to forgive. Let go of the “what if’s” If it surrounds a death, be assured no one knows when the time will come for our earthly hearts to stop whether we are ninety or nine hours old. If it surrounds a sin get rid of it. A relationship, healing. Whatever is causing you to doubt God’s sovereign rule in your life, get it out of here because it is not of God.
I was once placed in the wilderness for my own good and it was a very enlightening period. I discovered lots of things about pink, I discovered a lot of things about God and me or me and God too. I was not there from doubt or fear, but I was there for a reason and I had stuff to work out before I could be brought out of the wilderness through the refiner’s fire, a shinier person than before, ready to hear what he had in store for me.
[and then I wanted to go back to the desert!] briefly before I was given tools to proceed.
Wesley speaks a lot of sense about original sin. It is that which is in us that comes from our past life before we were transformed by Holy Spirit. So overwhelming is our human nature that sometimes our first thought comes from there and not of God.
It is like driving a car with a lean to the left, you are driving forward but in order to go straight you must adjust for the leaning. If you do not adjust you end up in a ditch. And that’s what happens to us. A family member struggled with pill addiction for some time and eventually kicked the habit. One day he was invited to a friend’s house, a friend from those pill days. If he had been adjusting his steering he would have said no, but he had forgotten and bang straight into the ditch. The “friend” made tea and lined up loads of pills and said “it’s your choice.” He sat staring at these brightly coloured jewels of mind control, then his friend got some coke out and arranged it in a beautiful clear white line and then he got his own drug paraphernalia out, a spoon, some tubing, a syringe and his delightful white-ish delight. Again he said “Your choice.” And my dear, dear friend and family member succumbed to his temptation and he is living in it now.
This sermon has one of the first words I did for http://thewritepractice.com/ Antediluvian. Now I know that when you get used to a word it becomes part of your vocabulary, but although it is a lovely word I prefer to say, ‘before the flood’
Before the flood God found that everyone was wicked. Their thoughts were evil all the time. Their inward spirit, their heart was rotten to the core. I have picked my two apples this year and one was sweet and lush and the other looked good on the outside but inside was black and brown all the way to the middle, the core.
We can lead, ostensibly ‘good’ lives but our core can be a putrid nuclear waste dump. Our outside conveying to the world someone who is righteous honest and true but on the inside, yuk.
We have to acknowledge, not just mental assent, but with our hearts that without God we are like the antediluvians, we are rotten to the core. When God opens our eyes to the stinky mess that are lives are, we realise we have been living in our own strength. We don’t know God. We may or may not have heard of him. I know there is president of the united states, I know his name, I have heard him speak but I don’t know him well. I don’t know him well enough to invite him to my house. But if I did I would get the troops in to clean the place, make it spotless. I don’t know him well enough to invite him into my home as it is today, with one warm room, broken heating system, dust piling up everywhere, a spillage in the kitchen, don’t even think about the bathroom and don’t go looking in any rooms. I know it is a tip, a mess, a putrid stinky hole. I don’t know Obama enough to invite him into that. When we don’t know God or with only mental assent – we are saying to him come and have tea but let me clean myself first. Do you see that – me myself.
The Lord meets us in our putrid mess, he tells us it is a putrid mess and he gives us the tools needed to clean it up BUT he stays with us, rolls up his sleeves and gets stuck into the cleaning.
There was a historian, I so hate the experiments done to people in the name of science and this is further evidence that learned people do not consider proles to be as human as they. This historian arranged for two new born babies to be brought up in the wild by themselves to see if they developed language. They didn’t.
A child who is brought up without God in their lives will not know Him. Wesley states that to know God is not innately within us. We have to experience Him to know Him. We have to experience His love to know his love and even then we may be so full of the world we don’t notice it.
We separate God from our lives, He is there and we are here. If he had to go through what we are going through he would lie, cheat, steal, rape, murder too. We make it out that we are going through some awful thing that cannot possibly be described. But even if today we are sitting in a prison cell, being urinated on, being beaten whatever it is, we are never going to go through what Christ did.
He was blameless, perfect, without sin, he didn’t have this innate ability to veer off to the left. He had a mission, he came and saw out that mission living on earth as we do, he understood the human condition and then he died a horrific, tortured, naked, vulnerable death not for himself. He could’ve taken himself to the Father at anytime. He died so we might live. He died to atone for all our sins, he died so we might know the undeserved favour of the King, that we might know the incredible mercy and the endless pure love he has for us.
Jesus came to this world because of the Fall, and the fallen creatures – us. God knows us, knows us well, it is time for us to reciprocate, to spring clean our hearts and minds with him, because of him, only through him.
He came as a physician to heal, he meets us in our spiritual sickness and he ministers to us. He holds us in his loving arms and lets us breathe in his sweet, sweet perfume. He gives us strength to get rid of the sin in our lives. All the time, loving us to the utmost. He loves everyone, he wants for everyone to know him well. So we can invite him into our messy lives and sit with us.
Wesley concludes “Now go on further in your Christian life until your spiritual sickness is completely healed and you have the same mind Jesus had – Philippians 2:5