Tag Archives: Redemption

Trinity engraving

A Majority of One

(A seven-minute read)

(Note: I began writing this several weeks before it was ultimately published. One week before posting, the Church of England, where I’m a member, voted up a proposal to allow church blessings of same-sex marriages. It was an incredibly divisive and unhappy debate over a sensitive and challenging issue for the church. I don’t touch on that here, but the conclusions are relevant for both)

The UK’s Census 2021 showed for the first time that Christianity is not the majority religion in England and Wales.

There’s been much hand-wringing about this, and the inevitable blame-throwing, analysis and discussion. It was an Outrage Of The Week.™ But it doesn’t matter, really. God didn’t come to earth as a human to win a popularity contest, but to save us.

This news filled some podcast time, some column inches and the continuously gaping maw of the 24-7 electronic news cycle. But only for a while. It won’t change belief or impact the spiritual landscape at all. Our short attention spans have moved on.

The world pays attention to emissions from the Outrage Machine™ instead of thoughtful discourse. Let’s engage in the latter.

Why I Am Not Fussed About This

What people say and what people do don’t always match. In large parts of the public sphere, we can claim we are one thing when we may actually be something else. A personal identity statement now can trump a created identity statement. It’s the ultimate self-love. It’s narcissism writ large. Because this belief system is so prevalent, some people who call themselves Christians may actually be confused about what it even means.

If Census 2021 had asked ‘Do you take up your cross daily and follow Jesus?’ or ‘Do you put more stock in what Jesus says than what the world says?’ (with definitions) the actual number saying yes would have been much smaller. And a large fraction of those answering ‘yes’ may still have been deceiving themselves.

If who I claim to be doesn’t necessarily line up with who I actually am, that’s okay nowadays. Men say they are women, and women claim to be men. Some people insist you address them as though they were actually an animal. Some nations are enshrining laws to protect these things. Pronouns have been hijacked from the grammatical standard to be wielded as weapons of political warfare.

Some Christians suffer from a spiritual language barrier.

Who Am I, Really?

Let me use a personal example about this mis-match between who I am and who I can claim to be. In my days of being actively and dysfunctionally alcoholic, lying about my condition didn’t make me normal. Or sober. But that didn’t matter, really. It build the fiction in my own mind that I was okay, that I was maintaining, that my life was acceptable and everything was under control.

None of this changed my ultimate reality, which was that I was dying by degrees from excessive alcohol consumption.

When I eventually got sober, I regularly and religiously attended AA meetings to say, ‘My name is Alan and I’m an alcoholic.’ But wait: I was no longer drinking; I was abstinent, and yet I took the label of alcoholic on myself, even though it didn’t reflect my ultimate reality as a sober person. It spoke of who I had been, not who I was.

Taking on that false identity helped me fit in with my new set. I used the language of convenience to signal that I was acceptable to my new tribe. That, I think, is what’s reflected in these census results. It’s called virtue signaling.

What an accurate term. People signal their virtue because they subconsciously realize they have no virtue of their own. This leads them to say and do the ‘right things’ so people will believe they are the right thing.

Whatever that current thing is.

What does this worldly confusion mean for me as a self-professed Christian? It should affect nothing in my life, unless I’m also confused about what it is to follow Christ.

If I attend church weekly, donate to charitable causes and say all the right things, can I claim to be a follower of Jesus? If my weekday self doesn’t match my church-going self, am I actually a Christian? I’d say no; I’m a pretender.

The Good, The Bad and The True

The good news: there would be hope for me, because I’d hang out with those who at least profess Christian faith.

The bad news: If I don’t move in God’s direction, He won’t move in mine.1 If I don’t respond to the love and salvation that God offers through Jesus, I remain a Christian In Name Only and am deceived and in darkness.

The true news: salvation is mine, but only if I receive it. Unless I’m a Christian in Truth, I remain on the bubble. Even in receiving salvation, I still have to live it to experience it fully. That can mean a harder life than the one I had before I was saved.

Welcome to Tribulation

Christianity is not the current thing. In fact, it’s becoming more out-of-style every day. Despite this, many people label themselves Christians to claim virtue. But when the going gets tough, as it will… well, we shall see what they say then. I pray that I remain true to my Lord Jesus Christ.

All of which is to say (in my typical round-about fashion): claiming to be a Christian doesn’t make me a Christian any more than calling myself Rover makes me a Border Collie, despite any xenogender proclivities I may harbor.

Finally, the Bible itself shows that this census report (like 95% of what we worry about) is unimportant. It’s not that the UK (or the US for that matter) can or should profess to be a ‘Christian nation’ so much as whether those of us here live like it. And those of us who are will face opposition, ridicule and worse.

From this corner, it’s very hard to claim that either my adoptive home or my birth home can make the claim.

Why None of This Ultimately Matters

None of this matters, really. Nowhere is the saying ‘the devil’s in the details’ more ironically apt than when discussing the nuances of Christianity. When we insist on details, we till a field for division, and that’s where we find the devil. Where we find Unity, we find Christ. It’s that simple.

Worry and anxiety remain for many of us, especially regarding the state of the global Church.

Three things to bring you hope

1. God always preserves a ‘remnant’: In those eras where the world seems to be unusually mad and institutions crumble, there always remains a group of loyal believers. We see this throughout the Old Testament before, during and after the Exile.

Perhaps the most well known example of this in ancient times is in 1 Kings 19 where Elijah is hiding in his cave, complaining to God ‘I alone am left, and they seek to take my life’ (verse 10 and again in verse 14). God’s response? ‘Still, I have preserved seven thousand men in Israel for Myself, all of whose knees have not bowed to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him’.

We’ve seen it throughout the history of the Church as well. Even in the most oppressed nations, a remnant remains. That’s because the ones given to the Son by the Father cannot be taken from Him.3

2. Human beings cannot destroy Christ’s church: The church belongs to Christ, not humanity.

Jesus said the church is his bride; it’s not our creation. Jesus said this about marriage: What God has joined together, man should not separate.4 It’s a metaphor. Christ will return one day for his bride, for a glorious church.5 He makes no mention of what it looks like, nor how many of us might be resident in it, nor who we specifically might be.

The encouragement here is to stay the course. Let’s avoid worldly conflict about it. God has had it in hand since before the world was created. Let Him continue to handle it. Don’t grab the wheel; you’ll crash the car.

Meanwhile, engage in the Great Commandments: Love God. Love Your Neighbour.6

3. God is ultimately victorious: No matter what we see around us, we should never fear. ‘So what do you think?’ Paul asked the Roman church: ‘With God on our side like this, how can we lose?’ 7

God is, after all, a majority of One, and His vote is the only one that counts.

1. James 4:8: Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.’
2. Jeremiah 29:12-14: Then you shall call upon Me, and you shall come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.You shall seek Me and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart.I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will turn away your captivity and gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back into the place from where I caused you to be carried away captive.
3. John 6:37
4. Mark 10:6
5. Ephesians 5:27
6. Matthew 22:36-40
7. Romans 8:31 (MSG)

A heart formed of barbed wire

There I Am Also

This material was developed for my memoir Masterpiece: A Love Story but not used in the book. (A five minute read)

Who am I now, anyway?

For many years I answered that question only by comparing myself against the signposts I saw in the world. That left my identity fluid, easily distorted, and subject to my whim of the moment. I used to compromise my values in the moment for the moment, instead of faithfully investing for the long term.

This all led me through about 40 years in the wilderness, where I refused to choose God’s best for me. Everything good was relative. Victory meant I got ahead of you. Success came when you thought I was doing well. Prosperity was about avoiding lack or punishment, not enjoying a full life.

These battles were all fought on the human playing field, the one where no one truly wins for long. When I suited up for that game, I had no time for God. He was the bad guy anyway, keeping me from the things I desired. If I couldn’t reach them, it was because He hadn’t made my reach long enough.

Apparent Failure is Not the End

But God being God, showed mercy, even though I was his enemy. My loss of a moral center had made me morally destitute. But God can redeem anything and anyone, including me. And He always has His best in mind.

Sometimes I still doubt that. When I do, it means I temporarily believe one or more lies about myself, instead of the truth. My recovery program is simple. I read the prayer written by the apostle Paul for the church in Ephesus. It’s a reminder of the promises God made to those of us who believe in Jesus.

It’s powerful to read it aloud and insert my own name in place of the words ‘we’ and ‘our’ and ‘us’ and ‘you’ and ‘your’. I won’t quote the whole thing here, but here are a list of the promises it contains. The next time you doubt yourself (or the Almighty!) remember these. And if you aren’t yet a follower of Jesus Christ, well, these will be true for you as well, when you take a knee for Him.

A Few Promises

  • You are a saint
  • You are faithful
  • You are blessed with every spiritual blessing (though Christ)
  • You were chosen by God before the foundation of the world
  • You were chosen to be holy (set apart)
  • You were chosen to be blameless before Him (thanks to the sacrifice of Christ)
  • You were predestined to adoption (into God’s family)
  • God’s grace has been bestowed to you (in Christ)
  • You are redeemed (through Christ’s blood)
  • You are forgiven of your sins (through repentance)
  • God has lavished the riches of His grace upon you
  • God will make known to you the mystery of His will (through the Holy Spirit)
  • You are part of God’s eternal plan
  • You have received an inheritance through Him
  • You get to live for the praise of God’s glory
  • You have been sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit1

A little further on, Paul reminds me about the sinful lifestyle I used to live. Yes, I still wrestle with these temptations, but they no longer guide my steps, just cause an occasional stumble.

I was spiritually ‘dead’ in the sins I used to walk in, Paul writes.2 This was all the way the world and the devil said I should live – insensate. I once pursued these things with abandon, and they almost killed me. I did only what my body and my mind demanded, and I was by my very nature a disobedient enemy of God.

When the Light Changes

What changed? He met me in a seedy motel room in Vancouver, Washington in August of 2003. I was a broken-down drunk crying out for mercy. I meant my plea. He knew it. He responded. By grace I was saved.

He pulled me out of the dung heap I’d made of my life.3 Why? Because, as Paul concludes, ‘For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.’ 4

There’s a plan. I’m an important part of it, and so are you. Our success only comes by being who God says we are, not what others say we should do.

So – how does it feel to know you are part of God’s plan to save the world?

1. Adapted from Ephesians 1:3-13
2. Ephesians 2:1-3 ‘And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you formerly walked..doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind.’
3. ‘I waited patiently for the Lord, and He turned to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet on a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise to our God; many will see it, and fear, and will trust in the Lord. – Psalm 40:1-3
4. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

Christmas presents

12-Step Christmas

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

(A four-minute read – read part II here)

Collecting garbage

By my early 40s, the world of weed was just too spooky. Maintaining a respectable image while simultaneously patronizing drug dealers became difficult. The dread of being busted was balanced uncomfortably with the fear of running out of weed. I carried an intense level of denial. Eventually, the pot did run out and booze took over. It was legal, easy, cheaper.

Where marijuana was a spirit guide, alcohol was a balm, a saviour, and finally, my master: the only thing I truly cared about. Even my sense of self-preservation was subservient to the need to drink. I lived to drink, and ultimately, drank to live.

Within ten years, I crashed onto the floor of a seedy motel room and began the return to life. I had to unlearn lies before accepting truths, undo evil consequences before accepting fresh ones and unburden myself of baggage before packing a new kit.

Doing the work presented by the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was like getting through a busy Christmas shopping season. For many of us Christmas is jolly and joyful, but it can also be full of rush, pressure, expectation, a need to perform, and an undercurrent that something is not quite right somehow, as though Santa is about to drop the other boot.

12-Step Christmas

The softening of my heart was a 12-Step Christmas. It was messy and demanding, even while liberating. It centered on the greatest gift I could have given myself, the gift of forgiveness. The more time I spent drunk, the more the perceived wrongs done to me piled up.

When I got sober, I could finally smell the stink of them. They had to go.

I resisted the idea that I could only get rid of them by getting even. There’s no value in getting even, only in getting free. It’s a simple act; not always easy, but it changed my life.

Forgiveness of others can be a difficult, demanding and painful thing. I know. Some of the grudges and resentments I found myself with I’d borne for years. I needed to unburden myself.

Let’s consider them as a ‘burden’ because that so well illustrates what the unforgiving soul packs around. Unforgiveness itself is literally that: a burden, a drag, a friction. It keeps me weighted to an unhealthy past instead of releasing me for a better future.

An uncomfortable picture

To illustrate, imagine yourself walking along having just finished all your Christmas shopping in one go.

On your left shoulder is a very large bag, the long strap of which is over your head to keep it from slipping away. Your arm hangs out over its bulk in an uncomfortable arc. The hand of that arm grips another shopping bag, this one hanging low and heavy, outboard of your knee.

These stuffed satchels would have you tipping hard left if it weren’t for the oversized weighty sack you desperately clutch with your right hand as a counterbalance. Meanwhile, you’re kept from being hunched over by the giant rucksack resting heavily on your back.

That one appears to keep you above the center of balance, but it’s an illusion. In reality, it weighs you down even more, creating additional pressure.

This is the picture we need to see when we choose to bear a grudge or carry a resentment. Grudges are heavy things, and they get heavier over time; their inertia grows. It’s as though gravity increases where they are present. They are truly weighty matters.

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

Read part II here