Sunday, July 26, 2009

Son Of God...

A Radical Ransom...

"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men..."

-1 Timothy 2 v 5-6

I suppose anyone who has known Christ for any length of time knows that He was a ransom for us. So much do I know this that this is the second blog with the word "ransom" in the title. And yet something is stirring within me that I can't quite put me finger on...

I mean what is a ransom? I know Hollywood has dressed it up to be a set of demands needed by a group of bad guys in order to release hostages or to stop some sort of catastrophe from happening to a city/country... But just as Hollywood has deformed the true meaning of many things in life, the definition of ransom is one of these things it has deformed.

In a sense, they've stayed true to its meaning. A "ransom" by definition is a means of deliverance or rescue from punishment... And while Hollywood has dressed it up to a point where it comes no where near to what is expected of a real life ransom, the basis is still there...

So that begs the question; why do I still feel as if something is still bothering me? And I think its not what a ransom is, but rather the actual ransom paid for freedom...

I read a story in a book the other day that made me well up with anger. A man in his sixties, who was in financial difficulties, as well as physical sickness, shared with his pastor what had happened in his life. He had started having sex in his early teens to the point where he lost count of the number of women he slept with. Much of his time was filled by drinking excessively, so much that he struggles to remember large gaps of his life. He remembers being married several times to a number of young women who he abused physically, emotionally and sexually. He raised daughters, and at a young age, began to engage with them in a sexual way, and would constantly beat his sons to "toughen them up..."

Anyone who isn't appalled by the way this man acted, even from my brief description, has something wrong in their heads. As I read this story, I felt in my heart a rage to the point where I was nearly ready to throw the book out of my window. If I had been in the place of his pastor, there is no way I could sit there and not saying anything against him...

And then I realised something...despite everything that I wanted to believe...Christ paid the price for that man...and He paid the ransom not just for him, but for everyone...

Think about that...I mean really think...every single little sin that you've ever committed, Christ died for, to pay the ransom for you...It was because of our sins that He suffered...

"But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed..."

-Isaiah 53 v 5

Some of you reading this are going to be saying "I know all of this." And you probably do, but have you ever really stopped and thought about it? I don't mean a quick glance at it, I mean to really look down inside yourself and think hard about the suffering Christ endured to pay the price for your sin.

At Easter, I got to see for the first time a human's reconstruction of that suffering. Up until that evening at Ovoca, I had never seen "The Passion Of The Christ." What I saw brought me to pieces. It may only be a human's representation of the last days of our Lord, but if that's what a human representation looks like, to think of what the actual event looked like brakes my heart.

From the moment Christ began to suffer, all within me cried for it to stop. I couldn't bear the thought that He was doing this for me, for the whole world. Tears quickly came to my eyes as I realised that this actually happened. To think that I was the one who caused His pain and death, and not just me, but every single one who has ever lived...its unbearable...

Christ died for that man I talked about earlier on, as remarkable as that sounds. And I often look to God and ask Him why he did it. The answer I get is extraordinary...

""Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing...""

-Luke 23 v 34

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..."

-Romans 8 v 1

"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 v 16

Jesus died, and paid the price for our sin because He loves us. That's another thing that I marvel at all the time, the surpassing love God has for us, so much, that He humbled Himself, and became human, experiencing all that we go through and so much more, and in the end, redeems us through the Cross. Furthermore, Jesus through the Cross, has wiped the slate clean of anything that we have done to those who follow Him.

To think about all of this makes me awe in wonder of our king. Though we were held ransom to sin and death, Jesus died to pay the price, so that we can walk in freedom.

The question is, which way will you choose to walk? Will you stray from the glorious path God has set out for you, the one that He died for, and wander back to sin? Or, will you run the hard race, climb the rugged path, be willing and become broken, bruised and pierced, and claim the true freedom that only comes through Jesus? Will you...

Let Him be the Nexus of your life?...

"...For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many..."

Mark 10 v 45

P.S. Those of you viewing this on Facebook, welcome, I didn't really get a chance to say anything last time. I'll be putting my blogs up on Facebook as well as Blogger, just so people get a better chance to view and see them.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

You Deserve...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Awesome Atonement...

"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world..."

-1 John 2 v 2

Sometimes we take things for granted. As always, the first sentence in one of my blogs is that of an ambiguous nature. But to me this statement has found a new depth within the past few weeks. I am certain that I have taken the love my parents have for me for granted. I know that I take the education that so many people around the world wish to have for granted. I know that I have taken for granted the basic food that I eat every day. And now the new revelation that I take for granted my nearest and dearest friends has been added to that list.

I am writing this in a broken state. Things have happened in the past few weeks that have turned my world upside down. To some people, they may see these issues as very minor. To me, they are of great importance.

The other thing that I have taken for granted is the work of Jesus. You may not think it, but I have. By growing up in a Christian home, there's a part of me who feels as if the work of Jesus is just an everyday occurrence. OK, that may have been a poor choice of words, but you get the idea. I've taken for granted just how much Jesus can actually do in my life. Saying that brings to me a lot of shame, to think that I've neglected His awesome power in such a way that it has broken me.

Out of all things that I have been struggling with is trust. Trust is a big thing. I think we can take it for granted too. Especially when it comes to Jesus. If I've learnt anything the past few weeks is that faith in Jesus can yield amazing things. I'm not taking about the limp-wristed kind of faith that you see so much of these days. I'm talking about pure, true, full and complete faith. Handing everything over to Jesus is probably one of the most, if not the most beneficial things we can do today. Its also one of the scariest things that we can do.

I don't think people realise just what complete faith in Jesus is, and I also don't think that people realise how scary it is. To let Jesus be in control of every aspect of your life...just think about that...granted, you aren't exactly going to consult with Him when you need to use the bathroom...God did give us brains to tell us those sort of things.

I'm talking about the issues outside of our own control. Finance, college, career paths, family life, church responsibility, relationships, friendships... to put all of these, and probably a lot more than that which is listed into His hands. We as humans want to be in control of everything, and so to surrender up all of our control in our lives is something that I don't think anyone fully understands.

I sound as if I have put my full faith in Christ, and while I'm a lot further on in putting my faith in Him, I haven't put my whole faith in Him. The prospect of someone in control of my life, of the plans for my future still boggles my mind to the point where I'm afraid to take that final step. Granted on occasion I have put my full faith in Him, but only until something has worked itself out, or until something goes in a completely different way to how I imagined it.

The odd thing is that, despite that fear, I think every one in the world wants to put their full faith in Christ. I know I desperately want to not worry about anything anymore because I know Jesus will look after it. I don't think that comes out of the fact that it is what God has asked of us, I think, for me personally, it comes out of love for Him, and a desire to leave everything in His hands.

And like I said earlier on, faith in Christ can bring great things. Through our love, faith and devotion to Him, God blesses us each in an unique way. I was going to focus more on the next few paragraphs, but rather I think I'll take the time to say something that has really been on my heart.

The question that was posed in the chapter of the book "Death by Love" that I am reading at the moment is the following; Who did Jesus die for? On a quick glance, my answer was that of probably a common answer, that He died for everyone. But upon reading through the chapter, I found that actually what I believed turned out to be something different. This chapter was extremely complex in its thinking, so I'll try and explain it as best I can.

There are 5 main views on who Jesus died for. The first two are ones that I shan’t deal with, but to let you know what they are, their names are "Universalism" and "Pelagianism" which are both considered heretic for what they believe. Then there are the next two views. The first is called "Unlimited Atonement," which believes that Jesus died for all sinners, that His work is applied to those who believe in Him, and that those who choose Him will go to heaven, while those who don’t follow sin into hell. The second of these views is "Limited Atonement," which states that Jesus died for the elect, that the atonement was for the elect only, and that God doesn’t need to save anyone from hell, but chooses to save some.

And any of the last two views are fine. But the view that I think makes the most sense to me is that of "Unlimited Limited Atonement." Sounds like a contradiction, but in fact, all throughout my life, I think it is what I have believed in. This view states that Jesus died to provide payment for all but only in a saving way for the elect, that while God desires the salvation of all, he applies the payment to the elect, and that God doesn’t need to save anyone from hell, but chooses to save the elect.

There are bound to be those of you who believe in either "Unlimited" or "Limited" Atonement. That is completely fine. Both are back up consistently through Scripture, but here I’m giving just a slightly different view. Here’s how Mark Driscoll has summed it up; Objectively, Jesus’ death was sufficient to save anyone, and subjectively, His death was only efficient enough to save those who believe in Him and repent of their sin. While it does sound like I am saying that through that statement, there’s no point for evangelisation. On the contrary, we have no idea who God has chosen as His elect, so this gives a great opportunity to reach out to our peers and friends, and see if they too are the elect.

And that’s what I had planned to talk about. But instead, I want to talk about you guys…and by that, I mean my friends. The next few paragraphs are probably going to be the most cheesy pieces of writing my brain has ever conceived, and yet, these words need to be said.
My life so far has been full of sorrow. For my entire primary school teaching, I was severely bullied. Every single day for 8 years, all that I had to look forward to in school was a barrage of torture. I’m not trying to say that my life has been the hardest, but for the next few paragraphs, I need you to understand why I’m not so sociable. People are probably reading this and thinking "Phil, not sociable?" But its true. I can be very awkward most of the time. And if you say other wise, then I know you’re lying, because I have noticed this ever since I was a wee lad.

I’m not a sociable person. I don’t go out to parties, or stay up late with friends every evening. I’m lucky to get up to see my friends once a month. And even at that stage, I always have this feeling that I’m kinda like a third wheel…its because of how I’ve grown up, and its more than likely just my nature. When I moved to Drogheda Grammar, I was so excited to hear in out CU about Ovoca. But even there, at my very first camp ever, I was so afraid that I went home a day early. I was so desperate for people. The odd thing is that, despite not being a sociable person, I thrive on interaction with people. I’m desperate to be around my friends as much as possible.

It was the summer of 2006, and it was then that I finally started to pray the prayer that I wanted to pray for so long; I prayed that God would give me a friend, not just an acquaintance, but a true friend, someone who I could share anything with, someone I could trust completely. I talked earlier on about how putting our faith in Jesus can yield tremendous blessings, and this too would be the case that year.

I walked into my very first GAP camp with very few friends. I walked out with another 10. It seemed as if God had answered my prayer, and yet that was only the tip of the iceberg.

The friends I had made in GAP 06, while they were amazing, and some of which have become really good friends, the majority of them were the acquaintances that were not what I was looking for. It was the next year, GAP 07, where the friends that I had always longed for, finally came. I was pondering whether or not I should include names, but I think I shall. Don’t fret if your name is not on the list, I love you guys just as much, and I would be delighted to one day have a list with you on it.

This is to you, Lorcan, Damo, Mike, Bernard, Phili, Leanne, Ali, Edel, Nicole, Jane and Cat. You are the friends that I have always dreamed off, and I thank God everyday for Him giving me your friendship. Words cannot describe the joy I feel whenever I think of you, and the immense honour it is that you would even consider me your friend. Like I said, I thank Jesus everyday for you, and the new way that I have come to praise Him is to be the best friend that I can to each one of you, even if it means choosing you over my own life. I write this broken, and yet joyous for the friendship I have in each of you. I pray with all my heart that these years will be only the beginning, and that we may share the rest of our lives together, friends till the end…

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Thicker Than Blood...

Faith is something we can all relate to. Everyone has faith, you may not realise it, you may not put it into action, but we all have it. I know in my own life that I have realised that I do have faith, and that on occasion I have put it into action. But its odd that no one ever seems to talk about faith...

OK sure, big preacher guys get up and talk about it all the time. But no one ever seems to talk talk about faith. I mean, I've been a Christian for about 5 years now, and not once have I ever sat down and talked about faith to anyone...

I've just gotten back from Summer, not the one in Belfast, the one in Wexford. Actually, its been called several things; Cat's, SM, The Madness, and my personal favorite, mainly because I came up with it, The Big One. However, unlike an Ovoca camp or any other big event like TeenStreet, this wasn't organised by a bunch of people I didn't know. The Big One was organised by a group, including myself and 4 other friends.

I'm struggling to find a word to describe the time we had down in Wexford... Awesome, fantastic, brilliant, get the picture.

As with any of my other event posts, I'm going to give a run down of what happened during the week. But the run down of what happened isn't going to be the main focus of this post. I'll explain later.

So I arrived at Connolly in time for my train on Monday, and travelled down to Wexford with Mike and Lorcan. Man that train journey was...interesting...We arrived, got picked up by Cat, and made our way to her house. I'll say this now, Cat's house is huge. Granted it may not be as big as Ovoca Manor, but we were never stuck for space. We arrived, and were greeted by Jane and Fanny, Cat's French exchange student. We got the room in which we would hold the talks, and sleep in as well ready while the girls went to the shops. They returned shortly, and we settled down to a lovely roast prepared by Cat's mum. Afterwards, the rest of the evening was filled with watching the hilarious "Black Books," mini pool and general arsing about, as it was dubbed. It was then time to head off to bed.

Morning came, and everyone had a shower before having breakfast. We once again chilled out (we did this quite a lot, so I shan't mention any other occasions of this) while we waited for the rest of the "campers" to arrive. Once that happened, we ate dinner and then headed into our first talk, led by Mike, in which he layed out what we were going to try and accomplish; learn about faith, not just as individual, but also to share our faith with those around us. Evening activity was watching "Van Helsing" a very good movie, before heading off to bed once again.

Morning came, as did breakfast, and we once again headed into a meeting, this time lead by Lorcan on the disciples and their imperfect faith. Lunch came, and afterwards we continued to watch "Black Books" and take part in "sock puppet theatre," before having dinner and heading into our evening session, composed of a brilliant discussion led by Lorcan on different verses about faith, and we could take away from them, as well as a short talk. The main activity for the evening was a blind maze in which people were blind folded and were then directed to reach a goal by the other people. This turned out to be a great laugh. After that it was time for bed.

Thursday came, and it was the usual morning routine. The morning saw my first talk, on what Jesus Himself said about faith. After lunch, the MAP Team arrived (Missionary Apprenticeship Programme) and we then headed out into the town to begin a magazine dropped to help out the local church. We returned home and were treated to a fantastic meal prepared by the team. After dinner, it was time for my second talk, with a larger crowd than I had anticipated...just slightly...truth be told, I was quite frightened by the prospect...then a member of the team came up to give their testimony to us, and after that, we took part in some amazing worship. After that, we played some games out in the garage before heading off to bed...but not before making a cake for Fanny's birthday the following day!

Friday came and the usual morning routine ensued. Mike closed the camp just as he had started it. After a quick bite to eat, it was time to say good bye to the MAP team and some of our own friends. Dinner came, and after which, those who remained watched "Howl's Moving Castle," and took part in some heated discussions, and with that, we headed off to bed.

It was our final day, and after having breakfast and painting the Pulpit, we went our separate ways, with each of us taking away something special from the time together.

Normally I may have ended the blog there and then, but to me there was so much more to this camp. I myself really saw God moving, not just through my life, but through the lives of all who were there.

The time together was about faith, and after struggling with something that had been plaguing my mind for so long, I finally grasped what I needed to do; put my faith in God to take care of it. Thinking back on it now, the mornings that I got up early and prayed in the shower or else where were so special. I could really feel God's hand resting upon me as the week went by.

I also learned I'm a jealous and selfish guy. I know all people are like that at some stage, but it had never occurred to me that I was one of those people. It was such a relief to give this up to God and ask Him for healing in this area of my life...

I won't talk about the talks, because if I do, then I'll just end up writing them out again. I'll e-mail my notes to anyone who wishes to take a look. But here, I'll just talk about three things from the talks that astounded me.

The first thing is found in John 14 v 12;

"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father..."

Those of you who were there at the camp know that I referred to this verse a lot when I was speaking. To me, when I first read this verse, it was like a atomic bomb went off in my head. If we have faith in Jesus, we'll be able to do great things than He did! That's incredible! It shows just how powerful faith can be if we put it in the person who gave it all. And the only way we can do that is by giving up our lives, our whole being to Him, and letting Him have His way.

The second thing that I found amazing was during the discussion that Lorcan led. When we came to Mathew 12 v 48-50, I could not help but be so encouraged by the thoughts of my friends;

"He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

Its a verse that I've normally looked over, but in the context of faith, it is truly awe-inspiring. Here in this passage, Jesus says that when it comes to a relationship with Him, that blood does not matter. Rather, it is faith that proves to be the strongest bond. This is where "Thicker Than Blood" comes from.

Finally, one cannot talk about Jesus without at least referring to the Cross. In the context of faith, Jesus dying on the Cross gives us the greatest example of faith, that he had so much faith in His Father's Will that he gave His life to show us the perfect kind of faith. He gave it all up, as we should also;

"Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

Luke 23 v 46

It goes without saying that there must be a huge thank you to all involved. Firstly, thank you to all who came, 'cause if you didn't, then this wouldn't have happened.

Major thanks must go to the Hooper family, for even giving us the opportunity to use their home for this camp. Your hospitality has been such a blessing.

Thanks must go to the chef for the camp Jane. Thanks to her cooking, none of us caught salmonella :D Thank you so much for all the time and effort you put into preparing the meals.

Muchos gracias goes to Lorcan and Mike for preparing stellar talks. It is so clear that I couldn't have done this on my own, and even more clear that God used both of you mightily.

A big thank you goes to the MAP team for all the encouragement and enthusiasm when it came to the magazine drop, the games, and the general chilling out. I pray that God would continue to use you for His glory.

Finally to Author and Finisher of our faith, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Alpha and Omega. Beginning and End. The Lion and the Lamb. No words can describe the thankfulness that I have for your provision of strength, kindness, mercy, faith, hope, friendship, grace and love to me. It is you who I live for, now and for all my days, for there is none like you, my Jesus. Let your name be exalted on high, and may your glory touch the lives of others like it has touched mine. And may your voice, word and light be my guide for all my days. Thank you for what you did 2000 years ago, and continue to do everyday of our lives. May Christ be the centre of my life, and let all of us take up His challenge…Thank You…