RESPONDblog: Why Does God Hide?

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“If God’s there, doesn’t he want me to follow him?”

I know many people who just do not understand why my life features a God element to it. “Why do you spend so much time in churches, Stuart? I just don’t see the point…I just don’t see any evidence that God’s there.”

 

But sometimes they will go a step further. Not only doesn’t there seem to be any evidence for God…it seems to them that if He is there…God hides himself. And that just doesn’t make any sense. That’s just stupid.

“If God’s there, doesn’t he want me to follow him? To do the right thing? To worship Him?” Why would God hide himself from us? Unless the hiddenness of God is yet another reason to say that…actually God’s not hidden…he’s just not there at all?

 

What is interesting is that in the Bible, we see evidence that God does consciously hide himself. He doesn’t make his appearance too obvious to us.

 

“Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.”[1]

 

In his book, “Why Does God Allow Evil”, Clay Jones makes an important observation about this seemingly counter intuitive truth about the Christian God. He’s not hidden because He’s not there…He’s hidden because He chooses to be.

 

Why?

 

Clay offers three reasons:

 

1 – Because if He was too obvious, then everyone would be compelled to call themselves Christians.

Often the sceptic thinks this is what Christians want. Well – it shouldn’t be – because it’s not what God wants. God honours our free will.

He doesn’t want to compel anyone to follow Jesus. Why? Because God intends each of us to exercise our God given freedom to choose.

Another way of putting this is – “if God’s existence were at every moment absolutely unmistakeable, then many people would abstain from desires that they might otherwise indulge.”[2] If we are compelled to do the right thing because we are under constant supervision, then what does this mean? It means we aren’t free to do what we want to do. If there’s a fiery sword in the sky that comes down on anyone who breaks the rules – what will happen? We will have a human population that works hard NOT to get cut in half! People will feign loyalty to God as a survival strategy.

This isn’t what God wants. He wants people to choose willingly to follow Him.

 

2 – Because He gives enough evidence for those who want to know Him.

There are various instances in the Gospels where Jesus could have done more miracles to compel the people in a town to follow him. In one particular town, it was the religious people who demanded more of his credentials. Yet he refused. Why? Didn’t Jesus want to build up a crowd of followers…like the other rabble rousers in first century Jerusalem? No.

Jesus didn’t want to compel anyone. Rather, He gave enough to justify the belief of those who willingly chose to follow. But he didn’t give too much, and so force everyone else to feign loyalty….to pretend to follow on the outside, while growing in resentment on the inside.

Have you ever gone to a party unwillingly? Perhaps you didn’t know the host, or you knew them and were too polite…or dishonest…to say no to the invitation! How does that feel? Well – probably along the lines of, “When will this ordeal end?”

God gives enough evidence to nurture obedience and relationship…and nothing more. He doesn’t want anyone to miss out, but in the end he only wants people at the party who actually want to be there.

 

3 – Because if He was too obvious, people would be rendered spectators rather than obedient followers.

If God constantly intervened in the affairs of life, this would disempower us…not empower us.

Imagine you start a new job, and the boss is there to welcome you into your new position. But then – after your induction – he sits across the office and stares at you. Every email you write, every meeting you attend, every visit to the bathroom has to go through him…and he has to be there while you are doing it. What would you do?

I know what I would do – I wouldn’t stay in that job very long. Why? Because I’d start to second guess every email, every meeting…and possibly every toilet break! I’d start to say – tell you what – why don’t you write this email and run this meeting for me? Then you will get what you clearly want. If I’m employed to do something then I need to have the freedom to do it. I am accountable to the management – absolutely. But I can’t be micromanaged every step. If I am…I am disempowered. And that just doesn’t make sense.

God is not like that micromanager. He wishes to empower, not disempower. He’s wise enough to know how much is enough to get us started and moving in the right direction. But he does not smother us on the journey.

 

 

The thing about God as we find him in the Bible – is that he wants to know us. He wants a relationship based on choice and honesty. It’s not his plan to compel anyone in this. Instead, He draws us toward him. And maybe for us today…we’re not fully there yet. But know that – He is there, and He does long for you to be close with Him.

 

“I led them with chords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.”[3]

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

[1] Isaiah 45:15.

[2] Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers), 111.

[3] Hosea 11:4.

RESPONDblogs: HOPE for the Nepalese

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Sky News are reporting today that the death toll in Nepal has climbed to over 6 thousand lives. This earthquake has been incredibly severe. The death toll is mind boggling. And at Kingfisher Church – we are raising money to send to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Nepal Earthquake Appeal.

  • To help save the lives of the injured and sick,
  • To protect the vulnerable and the afraid.
  • To ensure that living conditions, food and clean water supply is made available to everyone on the ground there.

 

This is so important – and I urge you to join us by giving to the DEC Nepal Appeal.

 

And yet financial aid is not the only thing that Kingfisher is giving. We are also praying for the families who are struggling with the loss of family members…whole families…whole villages. We are praying…

  • That God would protect the vulnerable and ensure that the aid gets to where it is intended
  • For the safety of the aid workers who are battling incredible harsh conditions on the ground there.

We are praying for peace in the midst of the trauma.

 

 

Because the God I read about is one who is

 

“Father to the fatherless, defender of widows – this is God” Psalm 68:5, NLT

 

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” Deuteronomy 10:18, NIV

 

And yet one of the cynical internet memes that is doing the rounds right now…pours scorn on our prayers.

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It effectively says…why are we wasting our breath saying these prayers? Aren’t you responsible for this in the first place, God? If so…then praying to you makes no sense…and it is a waste of time.

 

As usual…memes like this one do oversimplify and miss the point entirely.

 

Why is it worth praying on behalf of the Nepalese to the God who is listening?

 

Well first…God may be responsible for the creation of the Universe and our Planet. But God is not responsible for…

 

1 – People deciding to live in dangerous regions of Planet Earth

I count myself as one of these people! Over the years, I have spent many weeks living in San Francisco. A beautiful and inspiring city. Yet one that has suffered terribly in past decades as a result of the shifting of the tectonic plates around the San Andreas Fault which passes thru the Bay there.

I guess you’ve got to live somewhere. My visits to the Bay area have been voluntary business trips. I have friends who live permanently in the Bay area themselves…and they choose to do so despite the risk. I have chosen to visit and spend time there…despite the risk.

Is this God’s fault? Not at all. It is my choice.

And unfortunately…the same is true for the Nepalese people (or at least their original anscestors). They live in an area marked by staggering beauty…the Himalayas must be a breath-taking sight. BUT – the mountain range is also testament to the very rapid movement of the plates that constitute the shell of the Planet in this region.

And they have decided to live there…despite the risk.

By the way…the science behind plate tectonics is pretty new; Lenny Esposito gives a brief rundown of it here. In summary, we have discovered that plate tectonics is part of what makes Earth habitable for humans. Earthquakes are necessary for people to survive. Further, scientists have mapped out the areas of the planet where earthquake activity is most likely…and therefore the areas which are most at risk. Some of these areas are at the bottom of the ocean…so pose no risk to humans (but do pose a risk to sea creatures). Unfortunately…other areas above sea level pose more of a risk to us.

 

 

2 – People deciding to ignore the warnings given of future Tectonic Plate activity

Geologists are not only discovering why plate tectonics is vital for life…and which areas are most at risk…they can even predict when future quakes are likely. The reality is that the predictions have been made in Nepal for twenty years. Warnings of a massive event have been repeated since the 1990s. As a Nepalese native himself…Lenny makes this point very clearly.

But the Nepalese people don’t need to examine the scientific evidence to know that an event is coming. The last devastating quake hit their region in 1934 and killed over 10,000 people. This is still in living memory for some people still alive today. Photographs exist and stories are still being told. The deadly 1934 event has now been joined by another deadly 2015 event.

Yet the Nepalese are proud of their country, and rightly so! These earthquakes…and the risk of devastation at the hands of nature…are part of Nepalese society. They are a wonderful people with a wonderful heritage…and their land is glorious to behold. The warning of future earthquake is simply a reminder to them of an aspect of what it is to be Nepalese.

 

Is this God’s fault? You cannot blame him for a tribe of people choosing to build their history on a dangerous spot on the planet. This doesn’t speak of God’s culpability; rather, it speaks of humanity’s courage and our ability to survive and thrive in a harsh and risky environment. And of people’s loyalty to the place of our birth, and our people there.

 

 

The meme is misled…God’s not responsible for this disaster.

 

 

3 – God is Responsible for Holding Out HOPE

God is – however – responsible for doing everything required to rescue mankind from a future that will lack all the blessings that we live with each and every day of our short lives.

Our world is affected by man’s rebellion against God.

Houses and dwellings in Nepal may well have been built without taking earthquake warnings to heed. Why? To make them cheaper to build…to turn a quicker profit while placing lives at risk. Sin is not just living as if God does not exist…it is also living as if other people don’t matter.

What has God done in response? Everything.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)

 

Right now we struggle and groan… “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you violence! but you do not save” (Habakkuk 1:2)

 

And yet the Bible’s answer is found in Jesus Christ…God’s Son who came to bring us an eternal future.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour”  (Isaiah 61:1-3).

 

The Bible holds the answer to suffering people, folks.

As David Robertson says…what is the alternative? Just to shrug and say…”Bad stuff just happens?” Everything is random…so just suck it up? No – it’s not good enough! People are too vital and too important to be left to the vagaries of chance. God has made a way for us to know a wonderful future…which will eclipse our lives on this beautiful though dangerous planet.

 

 

He is the God who saves. And as a Christian…I want to copy God’s example as best I can. Hence the support of the financial appeal…hence the prayers.

RESPONDblogs: Fresh Water for Africa + a Faith Upgrade for Us

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In the 13 years that Kingfisher has been visiting Africa, I have seen firsthand the devastation that dirty water wreaks on human life. Dirty water holds every manner of disease for those with no option but to drink it. The effect on human life is sobering. Suffering – hardship – sickness – death. On the other hand – I’ve also seen the joy and the health that flourishes when a fresh water supply is made available to a community of people.

 

This year at Kingfisher Church Network – we are investing in fresh water for African communities. We are investing in LIFE. We aimed at the target of helping 13 villages in Malawi and Mozambique to find their own fresh water supply. We smashed our target – so we will be able to help many more people than originally planned. This is so exciting. But you know – the background to this project is also interesting in itself.

 

Back in 2010 – the Kingfisher National Director for Malawi – Charles Mithowa – challenged us to think about how Kingfisher could enable fresh water supplies for various remote villages where a water well did not exist. The remote community of Mulanje – close to the border with Mozambique – was one such community crying out for fresh water.

 

In my naivety – I returned back to the UK with intentions to get water wells built for the folks in Mulanje. Did I have the first idea what was involved? Beyond digging a big hole and suddenly finding fresh water at the bottom? No. Not at all. I had no experience – no information – just a heart to help.

 

That heart to help led me to seek help from charities like Pump Aid and World Vision. Both of these organizations were incredibly helpful, spending time helping me understand the issues. The long and the short of it was this. They had a schedule for building water wells in Malawi. If I wanted to get on THEIR agenda – and contribute funds – I would be sure of helping many communities in Malawi. Unfortunately – the Mulanje community did not qualify. What a shame I had rashly promised fresh water to them!! Despite my disappointment – we contributed funds towards a Water Aid water pump for Malawi. Water Aid built the pumps – people in Malawi benefited. And I resigned myself to the fact that – we had failed in getting a water well built for our friends in Mulanje. Yet I made the decision to leave the problem in God’s capable hands.

 

That was a good decision because the story was not over. The end had not yet been written.

 

While I was wrestling with NGO’s and Charities…Charles Mithowa received word that his Malawian  Government was offering a practical training course in the creation of sustainable water purification systems for remote villages. The purification system uses easily accessible materials combined together in a particular way…and the Malawi Government teach key community leaders exactly how to build this purification system themsevles. As long as these leaders were willing to pay their way (in Africa – there is NO free lunch). Charles Mithowa – a wonderful and inspirational man – jumped at the chance.

 

He galvanized Kingfisher Church into action. Kingfisher Centre in Limbe allocated a field for Maize cultivation – they grew the crop, harvested it and sold it at market to raise funds. Once the funds were raised – Charles contacted the Malawi Government and informed them he could pay his way to learn how to build water purification systems.

 

Fast forward to summer 2012. We returned to Malawi. And Charles showed us how a bucket, a car battery, a filter, some sand and some chemicals could save people’s lives. I met folks whose lives had been changed by the use of this new water purification system in their villages.

 

At this point I realized that my weaknesses and my lack of knowledge and wisdom was no barrier to God’s wisdom and his plans being worked out. My limited capabilities are clear. But God’s unlimited resources make my  lack of resources insignificant. When he plans to change lives for good – it happens one way or another. The question is – will I get on HIS agenda.

 

Mulanje got fresh water – just not thru my little plan of digging them a water well. Instead today they use a filtration system that they look after and manage.

 

And the great news is that – Kingfisher Church in Malawi is working to share this basic but life changing technology to many many more villages across Malawi and Mozambique. We in Kingfisher Church UK have the privilege of contributing funds to help make it happen.

 

So where is the response to the spiritual skeptic in this blog? I think this time it might be a bit of insight into my own journey of faith…

 

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  Proverbs 19:21, NIV

 

What impossible goal are we facing? What dreams are in our heart?  If He wants it to happen – He will bring it about. He is not limited by our lack of wisdom or resources. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, He cares for the flowers in the fields and His eye is on the sparrow. But He has his own timeline and His own way of bringing things about.

 

The real question is – what about me? Am I getting past my own agenda, and aligning myself with His? This is the most sensible thing to do – because in the final analysis “it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Wouldn’t we rather be on the prevailing side, rather than on the side of our own little plans and missions in life? The things that are so important to me, yet they are here for a little while and then like an early morning mist…they are gone.

 

In my experience – in this Water project, but in many more situations besides, He is trustworthy. He is creative. And He will never let you down when you put your life in His hands.

 

Kingfisher Church is here – http://www.kingfisher.org.uk/

You can find Pump Aid here – http://www.pumpaid.org/

World Vision is here – http://www.worldvision.org.uk/

RESPONDblogs: Abortion – How Might God Feel About It?

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I was shocked yesterday to read an article published by the Independent Website, Independent Voices Page. Ann Furedi is making a case for a removal of all legislation around abortion. But her core reasoning for this change of legislation is shocking to me.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/abortion-is-safe-and-it-should-be-as-available-as-easily-as-contraception-9808803.html

 

Ann says, “Abortion should be recognized for what it is – a safe and necessary healthcare procedure that, usually, is no more complicated than many of the minor procedures carried out in general practice….Abortion is safe and it should be available as easily as contraception for women who need it….why have a law at all?”

Abortion has become safe for the mother – it is not safe for the unborn baby by definition. Why have a law? To protect the rights of the unborn baby – that is why. Do they not get a say in all of this? Do they not have any rights?

 

The response may come – the fetus does not have the same rights as the mother. Well – I think what the Bible reveals about God’s perspective may challenge our society’s perspective.

 

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” Jeremiah 1:5, NIV

 

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  Psalm 139:13-14, NIV

 

I’m sorry – but God loves the mother who is in a difficult position, the woman who has suffered unspeakable trauma and finds herself pregnant. And the mother who is caught short…and wishes she could wind the clock back a few days.

He also loves that developing person.

So the case that Ann Furedi is making seems SO contrary to God’s perspective on human life…it is breathtaking.

 

How should one respond? I think our response should be marked by two attitudes:

 

1 – Forthrightly Standing Up for the Voiceless One

God does not make a distinction between fetus and baby. All he sees is a conceived person.

And yet – I am a realist. I know the pressure on GPs today. And I know that the number of children aborted each year is climbing in the West. They are the silent suffering voiceless minority. This is the holocaust of our times.

It is important that the woman’s position is heard and understood. But that developing person has needs too. Clearly their physical needs are being provided by the woman carrying them – her body’s systems are nurturing them from conception onwards. But their right for respect and value needs to come from outside. From our society and the laws and the caring organisations that adhere to them.

Yet it’s not society that determines the value of anyone – whether it be a developing baby or a young woman. That job is God’s. And he stands up for these voiceless ones.  And I think he firmly calls followers of Jesus Christ to do the same.

 

2 – Showing God’s Grace and his Forgiveness Unconditionally to EVERYONE Involved

Perhaps we have seen the way that Abortion Clinics and their staff are sometimes persecuted by aggressive folks who seem to lack discernment or empathy for the people who work at the Clinic and visit there.

I think God’s heart for everyone involved was captured by Kathy Troccoli in a song she wrote called, “A Baby’s Prayer”. The song  cuts thru all the shouting, and all the raised emotions in the Abortion Debate. It gives a small voice to that voiceless invisible child whose future is to be cut cruelly short. It touches the heart of the God who created that child in the first place.

 

But if I should die, before I wake,

I pray her soul you’ll keep.

Forgive her Lord she doesn’t know,

That you gave life to me.

 

This is the heart of it. Life is a God given gift to each of us.  Let us do what we can to nurture and support each other through that life. Whether my life is just starting in the womb, or whether you already have some decades under your belt.