But God

Written by Kate Connor

God is surprising. Which is strange, since He’s also the same yesterday, today, and forever.

I think the reason that God is so surprising to me is because a creature as flighty and unfaithful as myself cannot comprehend that kind of constancy.

At my very best – my most gracious, magnanimous, disciplined, and most faithful, I still find the persisting goodness of God INCOMPREHENSIBLE. How could anything be so unyielding? Everything bends under the right conditions: granite, titanium, diamonds.

But not God.

This is why, no matter how many times I hear it, the gospel still makes my heart beat fast. My breath still catches in my chest. I still cry all the time.

Because, really? Still?

It’s too sweet. Too much love, too much mercy – it’s too good to be true – except it’s not.

And peppered throughout scripture are two little words that that point to this astonishing constancy of God – to His, as Sally Loyd-Jones writes, never-stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.

These two words make me lean forward in my seat –into the story. They make me whisper, “Oh! This is the good part.”

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They are the surprise I know is coming. Like the flips inside your belly when you free-fall on a roller coaster: you know it, you’ve felt it, you see it coming. But then IT IS, and it thrills you again, anew, every time.
“They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them.” Nehemiah 9:17

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:7-8]

These words are carried through scripture, from start to finish, on the river of God’s mercy. They speak to both his immovability and to his great compassion. How improbable that those two qualities would coexist. But they do. But God. He is immovably compassionate.

“But God” means who He is and how He is is completely independent of who we are or how we are. Oh, you are a traitor? Adulterer? Murderer? Zealot? Racist? Christian-killer? BUT GOD.

God is the independent variable. You can change, tweak, and alter everything else – but not God. He is out of your league, literally. You can do or be whatever, fill-in-the-blank, but God.

“But God” means He can give grace lavishly because He gives it on His own terms. He loves us because He is loving, not because we are loveable. He loves us in spite of ourselves. I love the despite-ness of God.

Oh, we are rotten? But God. Oh, we were dead in our sins? But God. Oh, we are unfaithful? But God. Oh, we deserve death? But God.

“But God’s” punctuate my own life, marks of His hand, evidence of his care. My whole existence is a series of “This happened to me, but God. This is what I feared, but God. This is where I hurt, but God. This is what I did, but God.” I can’t imagine two more hope-filled words. They are full of promise. Because, no matter what horror or chaos or evil you are surviving, “BUT GOD.”

God is supreme and above and immovable. He is gracious and merciful and lavishly loving. Nothing is impossible for Him; nothing is too hard. He makes streams in the desert; He makes ways where there are no ways.

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” [Ephesians 2:3-5]

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” [Genesis 50:20]

“Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean.” [Acts 10:28]

“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.'” [Luke 18:15-16]

“My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” [Psalm 73:26]

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” [Matthew 19:26]

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 6:23]

It should not surprise me, but it does. Every time. BUT GOD.

Written by Kate Connor, March 26, 2014

http://www.kateelizabethconner.com/blog/but-god

I do not own this.

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The Seed

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The Parable of the Seed Growing

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-29

I went to church last Sunday, asking God for some sort of encouragement, something inspiring. And I left so grateful I had asked Him.

Jesus’ parable of the seed growing was a wonderful reminder to me that while I may not saw an obvious, immediate outward change towards the gospel, the heart is slowly changing. Jesus likens the planting of a gospel in someone’s heart to a seed on the ground. The man simply scatters the seed and lets God do the work. He carries on living even as the seed germinates, grows and bears fruit.

It is a reminder that it is not us who grows and nurtures the seed.

Let God do His work. We are simply to scatter the seed. Once we have shared the gospel, it is not our responsibility or burden to see that they accept this. The Holy Spirit convicts, so let go and let God.

No matter how much evidence you put before a person, no one and nothing will convince them accept Jesus.

It takes time and patience.

We know not when, but we must have faith and prayerfully ask that the seed in a friend’s heart will continue to grow. It may takes weeks, months, years, decades. But what is more important is that at the end, it bears fruit and grows into a tree rooted in the Lord and gospel.

Let us always be reminded that as Christians, our mission is to scatter the seed, and God’s mission is to watch over the seed.

Change of Strategy

Dear Isabel,

This is yourself speaking. You seemed a little concerned, a little perplexed at how Christians and non-Christians think so differently. You appear flustered about how others will never feel the same way you do about God and about life. You look worried that people will never see things the way you do. You say to yourself ‘Oh, if only they could feel what I feel, then they would know that God is real. If only there was a tangible way or evidence of God’s existence.

Well maybe, you’ve got it all wrong. Intellectual debate and apologetics can only go so far. What the mind knows does not necessarily flow into the heart. Many theologians have studied the bible but never felt anything in their hearts.

Maybe you should change your strategy. Stop professing and saying that God is real because of historical and scientific evidence or philosophical arguments. Start living your life as an ambassador of God. We are the only bible other people read. Shine. Be a light. Sprinkle grace in every conversation, your words should be rooted in Christ, your thoughts should be pure. Let all bitterness and wrath go. Forget your excuses about ‘Oh I’m human and I fall short. I can’t help it’. The thing is you can, and because you are human, you have a choice. You have a choice to forgive and let go. You have a choice to be loving, kind, gracious, cheerful, hopeful, faithful. You were created in the image of God, you have His likeness, His characteristics, His inner morality about what is good and bad.

So change your strategy. Erase your plans. Start afresh, this time with the renewal of the mind and of the heart.

The only way others can see God is when they see you.

Love,
Isabel

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思想 – Si Xiang

Last night at iClub as we were reading 1 Peter 3:18 –

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit

A Masters student from China came up to me and said, ‘I still cannot understand the 思想 (concept) of grace. This whole idea of Christianity is so new and unfamiliar to me.’ The idea that one man can take the whole sins of the world upon him. It’s like going to court for a crime, and your friend, who did nothing wrong, comes in to take your place, so that you can walk out free. No catch, no chains, no guilt. All grace.

He used this word –

思想

And this word made me linger. Christianity is a paradigm shift. It’s a new mindset, a revolutionary thinking.

…Evandalism?!

Probably the first real blog post I have written for awhile (sorry, I’ve been busy with Freshers week and house shopping), but I thought I’d pen my thoughts about evandalism.

Evandalism?

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Yup, that’s right. I was very reminded of it when the vicar at church yesterday talked about it. Evandalism is when we twist evangelism to the point that it no longer appeals or attracts people, but proves to be an annoyance or detrimental.

Last week, I went down to London and felt bombarded by the number of flyers that were handed to be about Christianity. Similar flyers had been given to me when I was in Singapore, and I noticed that they were all the same –

The first thing they put in big font was the WRATH OF GOD.

Really? The wrath of God? You want to give flyers to non-Christians and the first thing you tell them is about God’s anger?

Honestly, I sometimes feel disappointed and a little ashamed that I associate myself with tthem. I am not saying that we should discount the wrath of God and judgment, but I think that we must really assess the situation and context, and be more perceptive about how we portray our God.

It’s the same thing as distributing flyers about a guest speaker, and the first thing that is said about him is his wrath and judgment on all mankind. Wow. Thanks. Just what we wanted to know.

And if people do turn to Christianity because of their fear of God’s wrath, then I can firmly say that they have missed the core of Christianity: grace, love and mercy. Jesus says go and make disciples of all nations – disciples who know and love God; not servants who live in fear of God’s judgment. Moreover, we have failed as ambassadors of Christ because we have not shown what christianity and Jesus’ sacrifice was about.

Just to clarify, I’m not saying that we should not distribute flyers about Christianity to others. If God has called you to do it, then go ahead. But make sure that the content and that what stands out is not repulsive and unattractive to a non-believer who has a different set of values, paradigm and viewpoint from us Christians.

Another thing that got me a little upset was when I kindly told one of the distributors that I was Christian. He looked at me, and still gave me a flyer saying that I needed one. So much for being a fellow brother-in-Christ!

So Izzy, what do we do then?

1. Pray for people

Do everything in prayer. Don’t always try to take things into your own hands and convert them. Remember, God does the converting, we don’t. Sometimes, prayer is more powerful that walking around in the streets and trying to shove the gospel in people’s faces.

Remember that prayer is a powerful weapon. And as my church friend once said, ‘When you pray, the spiritual realm moves.

2. Identify people’s needs

The gospel is for everyone, and that still holds true! Yet, we need to tailor it to everyone’s needs. We need to identify the broken things in their lives, what is going wrong and why it is going wrong.

A person suffering from depression does not want to hear about the wrath of God. He wants to hear about the love of God and how God holds his life in the palm of His hands.

A person suffering from cancer does not want to hear about the wrath of God. She wants to know about God’s joy and peace in times of difficulty, and His companionship and healing.

I was very much reminded of this when I was decorating my room in my new house in Durham. Last week, I had been extremely excited about all the photos I had pasted on the walls and cupboards, but I began to realise that I was no longer noticing them over the course of a few days. Very soon, it just became a wall and some cupboards to me. In the same way, when we look at a person, we cannot simply view them as a person. We have to look at the photos and memories that have been pasted on their walls and cupboards. What is their life story? How have their memories and past made them who they are now? How has their past affected them? And in what can Christianity be to them?

3. Be careful of your own words and actions

Evangelism is also about living your own life in a way that is pleasing and glorifying to God. Yes, we fall short many times and I have many times. However, as my brother said ‘Sometimes, we are the only bibles people ever read.

Additionally, tell them your testimony! Everyone loves a good story and everyone is an extraordinary person. No testimony is ordinary. Our God is a personal God and we should reveal that side of Him to our non-Christian friends.

So that’s my little rant and thoughts on evandalism. Hope this has got you thinking and maybe, change the way you portray our God.

Patience For Salvation

Perhaps because this is an entirely new experience for me.

I have been to debates and have wholly defended my point. I have even refuted people’s criticism on my friends and myself with passion, but I have never ever so fully and thoroughly been so anxious about trying to convince someone about Christianity.

There were a lot of complex questions asked, and a lot of even more complicated answers that I wanted to research on in reply to these questions – but these answers sometimes required an understanding of the context, history and character of God. What perturbed me even more was my desire to try and approach the question in a non-Christian way – by trying to exclude the character of God, especially to a non-Christian who had yet to know Him.

But I am now strongly reminded by a time when I was about 13. A friend from church who had told me about how she shared the gospel with her sister. When her mum found out about my friend’s intentions, her mum told her that she was not to convert her sister.

‘Don’t worry Mum, I won’t.’ She told me. ‘And in the end, my sister became a Christian.’

As I looked at her confused, she explained, ‘You see, I don’t convert. God converts.’

And in such a time, I must remember that ultimately, God has the power to melt a heart of stone. God has the ability to probe into someone’s heart.

I just buy the soil – God plants the seed.
I buy the fertiliser – and God uses it to nourish the seed.

To me, there is a blurred boundary: enthusiasm, care, concern versus being pushy, refusing no for an answer.

For such an impulsive and vocal person like me, it’s really quite hard not to try and drive the point home. I really want them to see things the way I do; to experience things that God has so graciously let me feel; and to understand things that God has shown me. How can I not be distressed to know that one of my friends, whom I have been praying for, might have a different future from me?!

Yet, the non-Christian and Christian have different mindsets, different masters and different goals. Enthusiastic preaching may appear aggressive to non-Christians.

So in all these things, I wait and pray. As my parents and Theo reminded me, let God do His work. He is sovereign and powerful. There is a time for everything. Perhaps, that person’s journey with Christ may only start after university! Therefore, I will learn to wait and rest in God. I pray that I will not be anxious and emotionally entangled in this. It is not a battle for me to fight in, for God has already won the battle in my heart. That person’s heart is a private matter between her and God.

These thoughts also got me thinking: Why doesn’t God show Himself to us? That would really make things much easier and that would definitely sift out the unbelieving from the believing.

The answer is in Luke 16: 27-31

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them. ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

The bible is enough for us. This book is God-breathed and living. If people refuse to look at the hardcopy of God’s character, which is historically accurate, has sold billions and has been through so much academic debate, then why would they look at a supernatural miracle and believe?

If people reject the physical embodiment of God’s Word, then God’s metaphysical actions would be of no value to them. These miracles cannot be explained by science, and thus, people would be unable to see beyond their blindness.

Why I Believe

‘These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Deutoronomy 6:6-7

Just yesterday, I bought a study booklet on Mark for my friend (whom I hope is interested in finding out more!)
Her first response was ‘Why would you buy a book for me? Why would you do that for me?’

There were many things I wanted to say, many things on my heart that I wanted to sing, and many things I wanted to show her. Yet, I said nothing. For fear of ridicule? For fear of judgment and criticism? For fear that she might look at my everyday conduct and wonder whether I, as a Christian, was walking the talk?

Perhaps. Oh me of little courage. My little heart. The spirit is willing but the body is weak.

Next time, if someone asks me why I would go to all sorts of lengths to share the gospel with someone, this is my response:

“Because I believe there is a God. I believe that nothing happens by chance.

I reject the Big Bang Theory in its entirety because although Einstein and other physicists did solve the equation to the Big Bang Theory, there was a major flaw in their research – they never found the equation for the first few seconds in which the universe was created. The absence of such an equation clearly shows that either we haven’t found it yet and that everything is by chance, or that the universe existed in eternity. Either I take the dismissive and parochial view that everything happens by chance, or I take that leap of faith in my life to believe that there is something out there called eternity and an eternal higher being.

I believe that science supports religion, but science alone cannot create a whole universe. The possibility of a human enzyme coming together by random is 1 in 10^40 000 – that is more than the number of atoms in the universe. The less the possibility of chance, the higher the possibility of purpose and fate. And to ignore these pressing truths, is to live my life in ignorance and fear of something beyond the physical.

I believe that reason alone cannot create morality. I believe that man is inherently wicked, ruthless, bloodthirsty and monstrous. Hitler, Stalin, Lenin and all other dictators have shown me that when there is no God, no religion, no kindness, the darkness of a human heart smothers people with greed, selfishness and hatred. I believe that religion created morality. Religion sets the boundaries and rules so that we would learn to treat others as we would want them to treat us. And which more historically sound religion to believe in than in Christianity (derived from Judaism), which has been there since the start of recorded history.

I believe that Christian bible is coherent. It is historically accurate. The bible is itself a literature book, written by different prophets in different eras and social circumstances, yet bound together by the same message of God’s nature and the story of the cross. Prophecies in Isaiah link centuries later to the life of Jesus. To ignore such truths would be to irrational and blind.

Also, I believe that deep in man’s heart, we desire for something immaterial. Man chase after wealth and love, not solely for the material, but for the feelings that come with it. We were designed to long for something more, more and more. We marvel at beauty. When we see the mountains, we don’t look at the rocks and elements that make up those mountains. Rather, we realise that beyond all that, they are majestic towers, beautiful and astounding in their presence. I believe that in our human DNA, we are wired to see the immaterial and to long for the supernatural.

Up till now, people are still risking their lives to spread the gospel to people. They all believe that they are fighting for the truth. To show you the life of Jesus, they are willing to give up their own lives. That is why, my friend, I would go to the ends of the earth to bring you the story of God’s love for you.

If I die tomorrow and realise that Christianity was never true, I can bravely say that I would still not regret it. But I know that will never be the case, because He has revealed himself to me and to all His children. I know He is real because I not only perceive him, but I hear, see and feel Him. And at the end of the day, I know all will never be in vain.”