Embryonic Christians

How do you view the unsaved?

If I am honest, I have a variety of responses to them and the response that I have very much depends upon the judgment that I make when I see them or as I get to know them. Sometimes I have to admit that my reaction is not the best or indeed the most ‘Christian’ response that it should be. You see to varying degrees we all make value judgements about others, and not only the unsaved, but also our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am a long long way from having that attitude of Christ who accepts everyone even the unlovely and I can only pray that day by day I allow Him to give me the grace that I need to be more like Him.

Anyway, the reason why I am writing this is because at the men’s Bible study on Saturday morning (30th April 2016), we did a study based on the story in Mark’s gospel regarding Christ accepting the little children when the disciples was trying to ‘protect Him from them’. It was a good study, contrasting that story with the story of the rich young man that comes immediately After it. It is amazing how through studying in this manner you get really get into the meat of the word and feel really really fed. And it all just adds to the validity and continuity and deep understanding of the Bible and what an amazing book this varying collection of books, letters and oracles really is.

But back to my reason for this post, the un-saved.

As we were closing the study I had this image come to mind that I would like to share and hope that it helps you, if like me you sometimes judge the un-saved thinking them uninterested, un-saveable (how arrogant does that make me?) or simply un-worthy of attention.

The image was one of the un-saved as embryonic Christians. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a believer in the universal salvation of all of mankind, I believe that in order to be saved one has to have a personal living relationship with Christ, and that as a consequence there are those who will choose not to enter into that relationship with Christ and will choose by default the alternative which is an eternity without God.

But there is a sense where everyone born is an embryonic Christian, in that we all have the potential to become Christian’s because God has given us all the opportunity to respond to Him in faith. But as in the natural world of child birth, not all embryonic babies mange to come full term, sad as that is when it happens.

But what of this image? Well those of us who are parents will know and fully understand how protective you are of your un-born child, nestled in the safest place that they can be, it takes 9 months for the baby to grow and develop all of the organs necessary for life outside of the womb. So it is with un-saved people. Remember they are on a journey and we should not repent of any input into their embryonic development that we might have. When you come across a person who is unsaved and they scorn or reject the things you say, it could be that they are right at the beginning of that journey in finding Christ.

I look back on my journey and at the age of 15 my best friend with whom I had held many many discussions and debates with about his faith pretty much admitted that whilst he still prayed for me, he had given up. Not long after my 16th Birthday I came to know Christ myself understanding the input that my friend had given me was a key part of my rationalising and coming to the decision to become a Christian. There were of course other influences and inputs, but you see we can also carry out the smallest act of kindness towards an un-believer and that will stay with them and speak volumes over and above debates and ‘arguments’ about our faith.

So what do I think God was trying to teach me in this picture that was in my mind?

I think it was that my attitude ought to be that of a protective parent, seeking their re-birth, seeking their spiritual birth being nurturing and caring until that day that they are at their full term and are born into His kingdom. And even then it does not stop, because just as new born babies need careful attention, feeding and loving to develop into well balanced adults eventually, so our new-born brothers and sisters need that careful nurturing and loving so that they too can grow spiritually and become mature believers sharing their faith with other people who need to come into the faith.

So rather than looking at the varying mass of people that I come into contact with as un-lovely, un-saveable and even unsavoury, I think I need to adjust my mind-set and see them as vulnerable un-born Christians

Lessons from Speed Cameras

I was driving home the other day, I forget where from but that piece of information is irrelevant to this post so if you agree not to worry about it neither will I. Anyway, I passed one of those yellow boxy speed cameras and thought how many times have I being in the situation where upon approaching such a speed camera I have had need to put my foot on the brake to slow the car down to the regulation speed limit so that I don’t run the risk of seeing that dreaded double flash in my rear view mirror that tells me I will have a £60.00 bill to look forward to in a couple of weeks.

Actually the last time that did happen I was in the car with Karen and we were on our way back from a wedding reception late one Saturday evening. And heading towards Huddersfield town centre from the Wakefield road end, you know that bit where it widens out to a four lane mega highway? I was doing around 40mph and the flash of a speed camera went off. Not that I am making excuses here, but it seems that they have dropped the speed limit to 30mph on that stretch of road and I had not seen the signs or realised that they had dropped the speed limit, so anyway a lovely night out was suddenly marred by those two bright flashes of light! I need not of worried though because unbeknown to me, either the camera was empty of film, or it had just been set to trigger to send any wary speedsters into a rush for their brake pedal to slow the vehicle down (funny how we instantly react to try and put something right the moment we have being caught isn’t it?),

Anyway, turning from my digression to what I originally intended to write about, I passed this particular speed camera, you know that one I mentioned I passed whilst on my way home the other day and it got me thinking when we know the route we are taking we oftentimes, or maybe it’s just me and if so then this is my confession, know where things like the speed cameras are positioned and we adjust our driving so that as we approach them we either let the car slow down till we have passed the danger of the white markings that allow the enforcing authority to work out exactly what speed we were travelling at, or as is the case on the steep road connecting Halifax to Huddersfield, we apply the brake to purposely slow down till danger has passed.

I then got to thinking that the effectiveness of such speeding deterrent looses some of its clout through the aspect of familiarity. You become familiar with a route and you can break the speed limit with aplomb knowing just the right time to slow things down a little.

I have often thought that the speed deterrents used on the motorway through road works is a much more effective way of managing speed control than the isolated speed cameras that are ubiquitously deployed on our road network. You see as you are approaching the road works, there is more often than not a sign that declares not only that there are speed restrictions up ahead but that those speed restrictions are been monitored by “average speed, cameras”. I am sure most of you know what those are, but indulge me whilst I explain. You see unlike the isolated yellow boxy things that are the usual speed deterrence the deployed on our roads, that cover an isolated section of road and catch you out if you drive through above the designated speed limits, the type used on the motorways are much cleverer and they actually measure how long it takes you to get from one set of cameras to the next, then the next, then the next until the last camera where you usually see the national speed limit sign and everyone puts their foot down on the accelerator and speeds up, naturally to the maximum of 70mph. (Ahem).

The point is, that these cameras are spaced out so that if you get to the second one in an earlier time span than the reduced speed limit would allow you too, then you must have broken the speed limit to do so. The vehicle registration recognition software tracks every car that passes through the beady eye of the camera and when you plate is flagged up the system issues a penalty notice and three points on your licence. It all very clever stuff and the health and safety of the workers implementing the road improvements in the road works and the nature of reduced lane widths and the protection of other drivers and their passengers are all good reasons why during road works such speed restrictions are more rigorously enforced.

You see entire stretches of road are protected using this type of speed camera and it prevents the pattern of speeding up, then sudden slowing down that the other form of speed cameras would tend to encourage if they were used. I’m sure like me, you have sat in lines of traffic cruising at a steady 50mph on the motorway because this very clever type of speed camera is present. It makes me wonder why some people don’t get it. I have at time seen other drivers treat these cameras in the same way as the other camera types and they slow down as they approach the average speed camera installation, only to speed up again till the next one. I wonder how many tickets they get doing that?

So what’s the point? Well I’m glad you asked me that!

It got me thinking. How do we as Christians live our lives at times? Are we living our lives like the fist type of camera where we know that Sunday is Gods day and so he will be watching, so we put on our Sunday best, behave, go to church and even do nice things for others, but the rest of the week we, with maybe the odd exception for the evening when there is a small group meeting or other meeting at church, live our lives pretty much they way we want to not paying God much if any regard?

Or do we live our lives like the second speed camera example, where we know that our God is always there, always watching and so we do our best to please Him 24/7?

Of course this analogy breaks down at this point because the presence of the speed cameras in both examples is to catch us doing something wrong and ultimatum to penalise us for getting caught. Thank God, that His presence in our lives is nothing like that at all. Instead He wants to be there 24/7 to encourage us, the help us in times of trouble or pain, to show His continuing love for us, not to berate us or condemn us or to issue the equivalent of a spiritual fixed penalty notice and three points on our licence!

But we can and we do sometimes forget that He is there and we go off and do our own thing, putting our foot down on the accelerator of our lives with scant or no regard to God and it’s then that we run the risk of loosing control and crashing in a spectacular way.

Lessons from a fuel pump

A few days ago I was driving to work on a sunny Monday morning, which was unusual because I usually catch the bus or go into Leeds on the train. But occasionally when Karen is on holiday I get the luxury of a lift into work. On this particular day it had not been planned until the afternoon before. You see West Yorkshire metro have recently introduced a new ticketing system whereby, in theory at least, you can go to a selection of local shops and update your shiny new electronic pass with either a week pass for the bus and train or a month’s worth. Due to Karen and I having been to south Wales on the Friday and Saturday previously I had not had chance to renew my pass over the weekend, but thought nothing of it. I thought it won’t be a problem I’ll pop to one of these local shops to get my top up on the Sunday after church.

Best laid plans and all that, I walked into the local shop and asked for a week’s bus pass on my shiny new electronic pass only to be faced with a blank look by the lad behind the counter.
“Err, I’m not sure how to do that, they haven’t told me how to do it.” Was his stuttered response.
Undeterred I handed him the pass which he duly scanned and from the question he asked it was obvious that had I been trying to top up my electricity or gas meter I would not have had a problem, but the bus pass was just a top-up too far. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valour, and not wanting to loose £22.50 on a transaction that might go pear shaped I retrieved my pass and thought I’ll try somewhere else.

Getting back in the car and explained to Karen my dilemma, she made the suggestion that she take me into work and then I could go to the bus station in Leeds where at least I know what they are doing when it comes to this new-fangled electronic bus and train passes. That seemed like a good idea to me and it meant that I could steal and extra hours kip on that morning as I would not have to get up at silly o’clock to get the 07:02 bus, Always a bonus.

So there we were, something like 9:20 in the morning myself, Karen and Chris and John just pulling onto the M62 at junction 26 hurtling headlong towards Leeds when the engine died on the car!

I thank God that we had left a little later than normal (one of the benefits of flexi-time) and whilst busy, the M62 was not as busy as it would have been had we been an hour earlier. I had to quickly check my rear view mirror and the passenger side door mirror, indicate to the left and pull over to what used to be the hard shoulder, but now with this new multi speed controlled motorway was just another lane, albeit the nearside lane. Again another reason to be grateful to God, there was an ERA (Emergency Rescue Area) near to where the car had decided that it was going to go on strike, so I was able to coast the car into that and we were thankfully able to park up clear of the carriageway.

I have gone into this detail because over the past few days or so I have reflected on the events that led up to this incident and the incident itself and have concluded that God had his hand on us even in this ‘ordinary’ situation. You see, Karen and I had done a 475 mile round trip the previous weekend and what we found out had gone wrong with the car could have gone wrong during our sojourn to South Wales!

Anyway to cut an otherwise longer story than this has already been a little shorter, we were eventually rescued by a Green Flag man, who by the way was of a most generous disposition, offering us chocolate, tuna sandwiches and juice as a form of comfort and refreshment for us (a modern day Samaritan type maybe?), and we were transported eventually to the repair garage where we had purchased the car from earlier this year for it to be repaired.

What our knight in shiny green armour discovered was that we had a major fuel leak somewhere around the fuel pump which of course was not going to be fixable by the road side. So our engine starved of one of its essential nutrients, namely diesel, had taken us as far as it could on fresh air then just died.

There are two analogies which have been wrestling for attention in my mind over this situation (not including the picture of the modern day Good Samaritan, which has just come to mind as I type this). I have not known which one it most relevant or which one to run with for the purposes of this blog post, so I am going to share both with you, and I simply pray and hope that they speak to you in some small way.
Firstly, the engine dying and being starved of diesel is a little like our lives when we stifle the work of The Holy Spirit. I don’t know about you but I suspect if you are anything like me there are cracks in your life, after all none of us are perfect are we? Like our fuel pump which we discovered had developed a crack, the diesel leaked out until there was nothing left. Cracks in our life can be a bit like that with The Holy Spirit. Those cracks are usually identified by sin in our lives, not necessarily those that we are as of yet unaware of, but those that we keep perpetuating through our own force of will. If we keep perpetuating sin in our lives, cracks form and The Holy Spirit is not as effective as He would be otherwise.

The crack in our fuel pump on the car developed because the pump was under pressure. Our lives are under constant pressure and sometimes we crack and when we do we sin. This is something I think we need to guard against and I know in this that I am talking to myself as much as anyone who might read this. I want Jesus to fill me with His Holy Spirit and for the out working of the Holy Spirit to be powerful. You see, if we had realised it, we would have thought something was wrong with the car before it got to the stage of cutting out on us. Why? Because in retrospect we realised that there was not the same power there that there should have been. The right amount of fuel was not getting into the combustion chamber because some of it was leaking out and falling to the floor or evaporating off into the atmosphere. Now, with a new fuel pump on the car we can feel the full benefit of the 149bhp engine that is under the bonnet. I wonder is it like that with the Holy Spirit? Is my walk with God and the influence for good that I have on other people thwarted by the cracks in my life and the Holy Spirt not being allowed to be as effective as would otherwise be the case? Do I project outwards as much of The Holy Spirit that in His Grace, God endows me with? I find myself challenged by that thought.

The second idea that has been swimming around in the maelstrom that is my mind is the thought that something so small could bring such a large powerful vehicle to a standstill and stop it working completely so easily. Now in this I defer to St Paul who in in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12 14-31said this:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honourable we bestow the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honour to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Now this passage is often talked about in terms of the local church and rightly so, it gives good advice on the different functions needed to run a local congregation and to encourage everyone in the local congregation to play an active and vital role in sustaining that local congregation. But I think this passage can be applied to the church universal too. We all have a role to play, some are big noisy and obvious roles, many are quiet, sometimes mundane roles, but whatever our role it is vital. Our fuel pump played a vital role in getting fuel in the right quantity and at the right time into the combustion chamber of our car. When it failed to do that, the car stopped!
So my question is what role do you play and if you are not fulfilling that role are you making the car of the Church underperform or in more drastic situations stop altogether? I need to ask myself regularly am I underperforming. I’m afraid to have to admit that often the answer to that question is yes if I am brutally honest with myself, the next question that I should also ask myself is that underperformance due to the first issue I have talked about in this blog. Have I got cracks, are they due to unresolved sin in my life? These questions are painful and difficult to ask and to answer honestly, but if I want God to work powerfully in my life then they are questions that I need to ask and probably ask repeatedly.