Witnessing to Jesus – but how can we in a pandemic?

It’s a trifle difficult being a visible witness to Jesus in a pandemic lockdown, where contact with people outside one’s “bubble” is not recommended. We’re confined instead to people we already know, who already know us. And to even say “Hi” to a stranger on my daily walk is not exactly popular or made easy by having to pass each other at an eight foot distance. And no chummy chats with neighbours either.

Our lives are anything but visible, therefore, unless we’re among those Christians who flout the pandemic regulations, demanding the right to meet together in church, and end up making the headlines in social and other media.  They’re a visible witness, all right, but not quite what Jesus was getting at, I would think. 

So how do – or how can – Christians witness to Jesus in a pandemic?  A snippet out of a recent letter – supported and shared by 38 pastors – was a real eye-opener for me, and very encouraging too. Here is what they wrote:

All of us are committed to obeying Christ’s command to “love your neighbour” (Luke 10:27) in and through our worship practices, which means that we will not be gathering for in-person worship on Christmas Eve.

This decision, while difficult, is consistent with the decisions of countless Christian communities across the millennia to put the welfare of others above our own wants, desires, and rights. In fact, the willingness of Christians to prioritize the needs of others during previous pandemics contributed significantly to the growth of the Christian movement in the ancient world. 

In both the Antonine Plague of the second century and the Plague of Cyprian in the third, Christians became renowned for the extreme lengths to which they would go to care for the sick, not only among their own ranks, but also those of other faiths.

In 1527, as the Bubonic Plague entered Wittenberg, the German Reformer Martin Luther not only urged his congregation to care for the sick, but also criticized those who disdained precautions in order “to prove how independent they are.” In contrast to behaviour he described as “tempting God,” Luther vowed, “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.”

So while our celebrations of Christmas will be different than we had imagined or hoped for this year, we believe they are in keeping with the Christian Church’s insistence to put the needs of others before our own. 

More importantly, we believe the decision not to gather inside our sanctuaries this Christmas Eve out of regard for the health and safety of our neighbours is in keeping with the spirit of the One whose birth we celebrate, the One who declared that he “came not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28), and instructed his disciples to “love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 13:34). End quote.

Think of all the pandemic regulations and anti-regulation protests that would have been unnecessary if at the heart of our reasoning about what we should or shouldn’t do was condensed to just that one simple statement and motive of “loving our neighbour.”  

And fortunately there are Christians and entire denominations that have made the originator of that statement a vislble and obvious witness to how simple and superior God’s way is. 

Personally, therefore, I thank those 38 kindred pastors, and would, if I could, add my name to theirs.  

Because now I have the clue I was looking for, on “How to be a witness to Jesus in the middle of a pesky pandemic.” 

“Bah humbug” to religion and all its rules and rituals

What we humans want to know is, “Do we matter?” – and if God exists do we matter to him? And for those in serious search of knowing they matter there has been one well worn road to travel on, and that’s been religion with all its rules and rituals to make our gods take notice of us.  

When Jesus turned up, however, he offered another road, an alternative route, that he was that road to knowing we matter, and that we matter to God. Or as he phrased it, he was “the way, the truth and the life.” And on the way to explaining what he meant by that he took several swipes at those pushing religion with its man-made traditions and regulations, because religion made people feel they only mattered if they followed every rule and ritual that religious tradition required.

What Jesus showed his disciples instead was proof that they mattered without the need for religion and its rituals and rules. And how did he do it? He did it through his prayers to his Father, because in the way Jesus prayed it was clear he was talking to someone he knew he mattered a great deal to.  

So in Luke 11:1 one of his disciples asked Jesus to help them experience that too. But in verses 2-4 Jesus startles them by starting their prayer with “Our Father,” using the Aramaic word “Abba” for Father, a term of affection and trust a Jewish child would use when asking his parents a question, or asking for help, or wanting to snuggle. 

To Jesus’ Jewish disciples this was shocking, because they’d been used to a God with strict laws and rituals he expected them to obey as his chosen people. But here’s Jesus saying God is an “Abba,” a Father who loves hearing from humans who see themselves as his children with free access to him all the time, no strings attached or conditions to meet. 

This would be tough for his disciples to understand, though, so Jesus offers them a hypothetical situation to chew on in verse 5: “Suppose,” Jesus says, “you have a friend you visit at midnight to ask for three loaves of bread,  because you have a guest but no food in your house to feed him with.”

The homeowner, however, replies: “Hey it’s late, buddy, I’ve locked the house up already and we’re all in bed, so I’m not getting up just to give you some bread.” The man outside, however, doesn’t give up, and clearly he doesn’t feel bad about not giving up either. 

But what made him so bold? I mean, could I do that to a friend – knock on his door at midnight asking for a tiny favour, and not stop knocking until he responded?

Well, yes I could if I knew my friend was OK with me doing it, having already made it clear I could enter his house any time without knocking, and if I’m hungry go open his fridge and help myself – because that’s the kind of friendship he wants with me. He loves a relationship with such freedom in it.   

And this is the point Jesus is getting across, that we have an Abba Father who loves that kind of relationship too. He’s not like the reluctant friend. Instead, he appreciates us coming boldly to him at any time for any request for help, and feeling utterly free to “ask” because we know, verses 9-10, “it will be given to you….For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks the door will be opened.”

Do we get the impression from Jesus’ illustration, then, that we matter a great deal to this Abba Father? And enough that we feel free to knock on our Father’s door at any time of night or day for the tiniest favour because that’s what he loves us doing, having learnt from Jesus’ prayers how much we matter to him.

So, “Bah humbug” to religion with all its rules and rituals, because Jesus made it clear in his prayers that we have a Father who loves us feeling utterly free as his children to ask him for anything we need and at any time of day or night, without having to use religion to get him to take notice of us. 

Because we matter that much to him.   

Advent = THREE salvations?

If ever proof was needed that God loves us it’s in Advent, which pictures God not only saving us once, or twice, but three times. Three salvations – past, present, and future – which tie in very nicely with the three “comings” of Jesus that Advent pictures too. 

The first coming of Jesus ties in with our first salvation, when Jesus died to save all humanity from eternal death. Jesus then told his disciples he would come back to them after his death (in a second coming), to enable them to experience a second salvation, described in Acts 3:26 as “turning each of you from your wicked ways.” Paul also talked about Jesus returning at a later time (his third coming) to begin a third salvation that would “bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ,” Ephesians 1:10.

So that makes three comings of Jesus with three salvations – the first when Christ died, the second that we’re living in right now, and the third when Jesus comes again in the future. And the purposes of all three salvations are made clear too: the purpose of the first was forgiveness; the purpose of the second is transformation; and the purpose of the third will be restoration (Acts 3:21).

The first salvation has already been done, completed by Jesus on the cross at his first coming, sealed in Jesus’ own statement, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The second salvation is a work in progress right now in Jesus’ second coming, in which those who believe in the first salvation of forgiveness in Jesus’ death “are being transformed into Jesus’ likeness with ever increasing glory,” 2 Corinthians 3:18. The third salvation kicks in at Jesus’ third coming, when, in partnership with those transformed into his likeness, Jesus readies this planet and all humans who’ve ever lived for God himself to dwell here to put a final stop to “death, mourning, crying and pain,” Revelation 21:3-4.

So that’s three salvations tying in with Jesus’ coming to us at three different times and in three different ways, or in three different roles, as Saviour first of all, as our High Priest now, and as King of kings in his full glory later. It’s no coincidence, then, that all three of Jesus’ roles were revealed very soon after Jesus was born, when foreigners from the east arrived with three gifts for the baby Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Myrrh might seem strange, because it was used as an embalming resin for dead people, but it tied in perfectly with Jesus’ role as our Saviour dying to save us from eternal death.

The second gift was frankincense, which seems like an odd gift for a baby too, but frankincense played an essential part in the high priest’s job on the Day of Atonement for the cleansing of Israel from all their sins (Leviticus 16:12-13, 30). And that tied in perfectly with the role Jesus would play as high priest too (Hebrews 4:14-16), in cleansing us now from all “our wicked ways” (Acts 3:26). 

The third gift of gold was the primary choice of gift for kings, so it’s no surprise that gold was given to Jesus, and by people who knew Jesus filled the role of a king (Matthew 2:2). So that’s three gifts for the baby Jesus that perfectly illustrated and recognized the three roles Jesus would play, as our Saviour, High Priest, and King. 

So now we have three separate comings of Jesus for three different salvations, and three gifts illustrating the three roles of Jesus. But for those who accept Jesus’ first role and first coming as Saviour, it is the second role and second salvation that Jesus brings in his second coming that becomes the all important one, because it is part and parcel of the second season of Jesus’ ministry that we’re living in right now, in which Jesus as our High Priest is there for us every second of every day to fill us with himself (Colossians 2:9-10). 

The first season of Jesus’ ministry was fulfilled in his human life and death, providing the forgiveness and clean slate we’d need for receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. It would then be the work of the Spirit in the second season of Jesus’ ministry to transform us into the likeness of Christ in preparation for the third season in Jesus’ ministry at his third coming when we partner with him in restoring “everything” (Acts 3:21) to the way God originally meant it to be. 

So we now have three seasons in Jesus’ ministry too, and each one tying in perfectly with the three roles Jesus fulfills through his three comings. And all of them picturing God’s love for us, in not only saving us once, or twice, but three times. And all nicely wrapped up for us in just one word: Advent. 

What if – Jesus had not been born?

In the original Christmas story, God comes to this planet in the person of Jesus to rescue us from the mess we’ve made of ourselves (Matthew 1:21), and to help us experience peace (Luke 2:14).

And Christmas today, in a roundabout way, focuses on both those things too. It’s a muddle of Christian and secular traditions, yes, but they allow us to put the messiness of the world aside for a while and enjoy an atmosphere of tranquillity and peace. Witness the billions of people, non-Christians included, who love the peace and goodwill that comes from giving and exchanging gifts, getting together as families, donating to charity, sending sentimental cards to each other, and greeting strangers with a hearty “Merry Christmas!”

But why would non-Christians get involved in all this stuff? It’s a blatantly Christian holiday, for heaven’s sake, with its Christian name, Christian symbols and Christian traditions, like the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, and even candy cane. And shopping malls still belt out carols broadcasting the Christian gospel. But non-Christians soak it all up too. It’s the most amazing phenomenon on the planet, that people of all faiths make a Christian holiday the highlight of their year, and don’t anyone dare cancel it either, or suggest we change its name. So how could this have happened?

Well, it happened because of Jesus. If he hadn’t been born we wouldn’t have Christmas. Maybe we’d still be celebrating the birthday of Sol the sun god on December 25th, which started back in the 4th century with its festive atmosphere, lights, decorations, and bloating oneself on food and drink, and with Sol pictured flying across the sky in his chariot pulled by griffins (later changed to stags). Dress him a red suit and change the stags to reindeer, and Sol wouldn’t have any problem being accepted today. 

But instead of celebrating Sol’s birthday, the Christian church took Sol’s birth date and said Jesus was born on that day, and rather cleverly, in maintaining the pagan traditions on that date too, the church made December 25th a very acceptable Christian celebration. But again, none of this would have happened if Jesus had not been born. 

It’s because Jesus was born that we’ve ended up with an old pagan sun god’s birthday becoming Jesus’ birthday, but few people seem worried by that, and see no need to change it, Christians and non-Christians alike. But why would that be, I wonder? 

Well, for Christians it’s the chance to celebrate Jesus’ birthday and all that his birth meant for humanity, and – as a nice bonus – be able to broadcast the Christian message once a year to a receptive audience, minus the hassle and persecution. It even puts Christianity in a good light, with Christians and non-Christians mixing happily together.

For non-Christians it’s been a bonus too, having time off, but with a little magic thrown in too. There’s something about Christmas that’s different, that no other holiday through the year even comes close to. It could hardly be called peaceful, with the mad rush for gifts and setting up family get togethers, but there is still a calm that descends at some point during the Christmas season that is truly magical.  

Our behaviour at Christmas-time changes like no other day or season of the year. What a coincidence, then, that Jesus’ birth was accompanied by a promise of peace. We have stories to back it up too, when soldiers stopped killing each other in World War 1 at Christmas time, and exchanged gifts instead of bullets.   

Jesus being born, then, has made this world a different place, or at least given us a desire to make the world a different place. Is peace where the world is going, therefore? Well, yes, according to the reason given in the Bible for why Jesus was born. He brought the life that God meant us to live. He lived that life himself as a human being, and then promised that after he ascended back to his Father he would live that life in us too. And here we are every Christmas proving that to be true, because we like living the life of peace and goodwill he lived and promised. Even non-Christians, who have no interest in Christianity or Jesus Christ, do all kinds of peace and goodwill things at Christmas-time.

There’s something definitely fishy going on here, then, because, one has to ask: “Would any of this have happened if Jesus had not been born?”

What if – male and female are only what God designed humans to be?

It was sad to read from a parent how confusing this “gender Issue” has become. Are there really more than two genders, she wonders, or maybe no genders at all? And can children really feel trapped in the body they were born with, and never be able to live a normal life unless they inhabit a different body, a different gender, or switch between two or more genders, or become genderless? 

And what if a cross dresser of uncertain gender in both looks and manner is invited to their children’s school to read books that encourage kids to question their gender and sexual identity? And what if your child then comes home demanding to become a different gender and wants surgery to make it happen? And is gender determined by feelings or biology? 

No wonder parents are confused, and worried too, that they could have their children removed from the family home if they as parents disagree with what’s being taught to their children and resist it. 

But why all this fuss and uproar about gender? It wouldn’t have anything to do with those in the past who hated being restricted by what God created, and wished to seek alternatives, would it? I ask that, because a little research soon uncovers such individuals by name, whose experiments with children and their own personal choice of lifestyle were accepted by society and promoted by school policy makers. We know the history, in other words.

But despite the enormous pressure to go along with what the policy makers have promoted, most boys like being boys and most girls like being girls, and they like being married to, and having sex with, the opposite sex. What the Bible says God originally created, therefore, is still the preferred norm.   

But did God Intend only male and female in humans, and if so, why?  

Well, wouldn’t it be great if there really is a God who loves us so much he wants billions of us, and he designed a way of guaranteeing his billions by making the means of reproducing us through male and female so pleasurable? 

Not according to Charles Darwin, however, who in 1862 wrote: “We do not even in the least know the final cause of sexuality; why new beings should be produced by the union of the two sexual elements. The whole subject is as yet hidden in darkness.” 

Well, it’s not “hidden in darkness” in the Bible. Scripture gives a clear reason for “the cause of sexuality,” and why “new beings” are produced by sex. It’s because God wants the Earth filled with human offspring created by males and females who are infatuated with each other and love having sex so much they can’t stop producing children. And that’s because every child has the image of God imprinted on his or her genes, so that through those children God’s wisdom and incredible creativity would make this planet a showroom for his genius.

It would also show what love produces. In males loving females and females loving males, that in turn creates loving children, it reveals the great secret of what has made life so eternally fulfilling for God too. Love really is what makes the world go round, for God and humans, but how would we have known that without it being so obviously visible in the love between male and female? 

And to make it visible, we males and females have lovable qualities that make us irresistible to each other. And isn’t it great knowing that, because all you have to do as male and female is be male and female and know that someone out there will find you irresistible and want to live with you and love you for life? 

Some might say they can find that with members of their own sex, which is sad because it ignores the other obvious fact, that males need females and females need males. Each has qualities that the other needs, or lacks. And for humans to successfully caretake this planet and produce children who can spread that care to the planet, both male and female qualities are needed. 

Corporations, charities, churches and governments have all discovered that when you have a balance of men and women working together “they can,” according to one article among many I read, “produce exceptional results in the workplace and even more importantly, they wind up doing the same for their personal lives and therefore for the world in general. Women benefit from working with men, and men benefit from working with women. It is symbiotic.”

The symbiosis of men and women is a fact of life, proven by experience in the real world that what God created works best. And in our billions we’ve been given the chance to discover that and prove it for ourselves. 

What if – there really were two trees to choose from?

So, what if the two trees God planted in Eden in Genesis are the vital key that unlocks why we humans exist and what life for us is all about?

I hope they are, because evolution speaks nothing to me about why we humans exist and what life for us is all about. It theorizes about how we became human, and why we turned out the way we did, both physically and mentally, but offers nothing at all as to what our purpose is, other than believing we evolved. 

But, so what if we evolved? Who cares, when we’re faced with world issues we cannot solve, and we could even be facing our extinction from a combination of disease, climate change and devastating worldwide wars over dwindling resources?

What if, though, all these issues we cannot solve can be traced back to those two trees, because of what those two trees pictured? And I say “pictured,” because I have no way of proving if the two trees were real or an allegory. Either way, though, is there something about those two trees that gives us a starting point for figuring out what life is all about and why we’re in the mess we’re in now?

Well, for a start, two trees tell me that life comes down to two choices. And through raw experience we discover that too, because we have thousands of years of human history to look back on to see what our choices have done to us – and how they’re playing out in our own lives right now too. 

I know from personal experience, for instance, that if I choose to do only what pleases me, and the driving force in my life is my rights, expectations and feelings, I become arrogant, demanding, angry, frustrated, critical, depressed and a pain and bore to live with. And when an entire culture is based on self and feeding one’s own appetites, feelings and self-image, we end up with what we’ve got now, a world so consumed with consuming that we don’t even care if we litter and destroy the planet, the only home we’ve got. 

We know from raw experience, then, that a self-centred life is a destructive one. But experience isn’t enough to change us, is it? We know, for instance, that the fashion industry is highly destructive, from how clothes are made, to the massive waste and the huge ugly rotting piles of clothing caused by overproduction by factories for profit and over consumption by individuals for self-image. But we don’t have the power within ourselves to stop it. 

On the one hand, then, we’ve been conned into thinking the lifestyle we’ve created is good, but when (at last) we realize we’ve been conned it then hits us that we’re stuck in a destructive pattern we cannot break, or if we do try to break it then millions of poor people lose their jobs.  

If we’d taken the two trees seriously, though, we could have realized this would happen, because the first tree was a warning about what putting self first would do, and the second tree pictured the power to prevent putting self first. In Bible terms the first tree pictured the “deceitfulness of sin,” describing how easily we are conned into putting self first, and the second tree pictures trust in God, as the only power that can help us resist putting self first. 

And there you have it, the cause of all our problems, and the solution. So now we have a starting point for figuring out what life is all about and why we’re in the mess we’re in now. It starts with recognizing we’re faced with the same two choices that Adam and Eve were faced with. And admitting from our own experience – and the culture we’re presently living in – how easily we can be conned into a lifestyle of putting self first, which in turn has caused huge damage to our planet home, to our personal well being, and to millions of helpless people in impossible situations. Which then hopefully leads us to humbly admitting we need help in breaking our addiction to self from the only source that can help us. 

Those two trees have decided how life would turn out through the centuries for whole empires, nations and individuals. And for me too, because I can look back on my life and see with embarrassing clarity how easily I’ve been conned, but how wonderfully I’ve been rescued too. And that tells me what my purpose in life is, to trust in the God who created me to break my addiction to self so that the restoration of the planet home he gave us can begin in earnest, in preparation and practice for whatever else he has in mind for us for eternity. 

What if – we really are made in the image of God?

Well, for a start, if we are truly made in God’s image we couldn’t have evolved from monkeys, could we? And it doesn’t matter if we share DNA with other creatures either, because if God only made humans in his image then we are unique, a creature like no other.

That being the case, it’s worth a good look at what we’re made of, because if we’ve been equipped with stuff that no other creature in the world has, then there must be some purpose to it. 

But how do you figure out what that purpose is when school doesn’t teach it? All through my school years I had no idea what my purpose in life was, other than sit for hours in dreary classes and do hours of hated homework so that one day my education would provide me with a decent job. My curiosity and imagination were hardly stirred at all. I learnt a lot about what the world was like, but never why it came into existence. And I learnt a lot about how my body worked too, but never why I had such a body in the first place.

And going to church every week didn’t help much either. I can’t remember ever  having it explained to me, in terms that set my curiosity and imagination on fire, why this planet existed – and why we were the only one creature on the planet that wanted to know why too.

What did fire me up was wondering what this amazing planet could end up looking like if we humans weren’t so stupid. What if our minds were rewired so they were more in sync with what God had in mind for us? Or put another way, what if we acted like the image of God that we are? 

Well, if I’m reading Genesis right, God gave a human the chance to do just that. And with no distractions either, like fretting about one’s self image, and exploiting human weakness to make money. It was just a raw human starting from scratch with absolutely no idea what the planet or his own amazing body and mind were for. 

And God didn’t hit this fortunate human right away with religion either. There was no mention of heaven and hell, no talk about building churches, or trying to figure out how God could be a trinity. God simply said, “The world is yours; take care of it.” 

And God never said that to a chimpanzee, despite it sharing 99% of a human’s DNA. The chimp would have to put up with being a chimp for the rest of its days, but to the human God explained face to face that everything this planet contained was for humans and their children to discover and develop, while God provided the guidance, the food supply, an exquisite garden at the junction of four rivers to live in, and the water to make things grow.  

I wish I’d been that human, because the first thing I’d notice was all the luscious fruits hanging from the trees. But God then explained what he’d put that human in this exquisite garden for. It was to see what it would produce when cared for. And to help the human in his quest God also provided animals that could be domesticated and the most beautiful, wonderful creation of all, a woman, who would be the man’s equal and marvellous companion to share his quest with. 

And there it stretched before them, a world of staggering variety in plant, animal, bird and insect, liberally sprinkled with precious metals, jewels and perfumes. What, in the care of a human sharing God’s image and nature, would this planet then reveal?

Well, we never got the chance to find out, did we? Adam and Eve got really stupid and chose what a snake oil salesman offered instead. And humans have done the same thing ever since. 

But one day, the Bible says, and a lot said about it too, we get a second chance to see what this planet is made of under the care of humans who realize they’re made in God’s image and start acting like it. It will take a thorough rewiring job on our brains to get us to the point, but God’s been taking care of that too. 

I wonder, then, what is in store for us when we have bodies that never die and we’ve got minds that love this planet as much as God does. But isn’t that why God gave us curiosity and imagination when he made us in his image? It’s to fire us up now for what he has in mind for eternity.  

What if – God really did create us?

Whether God created us or not, here we are, billions of us, some of whom can’t help wondering if God had something to do with it, because the alternative provided by the likes of Charles Darwin isn’t very exciting. 

The poor chap had a very limited imagination. Picture a bunch of kids in a classroom hearing Darwin’s idea that we all came from “a warm little pond with all sorts of… (chemicals, in which) …a protein was chemically formed.” Yawn, yawn.

Oh boy, our poor kids; how we’ve limited their imaginations. Here they are, born with an insatiable curiosity for learning, and imaginations just waiting to be ignited, and they get stuck with Darwin, whose curiosity and imagination could only come up with pond scum as the source of all that we see around us. 

But tell the kids about UY Scuti, a star so big that if they drove a car round it just once at a steady 100 kph (60 mph) they’d be driving for 8,517 years, and then tell them a superpower simply spoke UY Scuti into existence, like a magician producing a wriggling white rabbit from an empty black hat, and have a magician do just that in front of the kids to illustrate the possibility of such a power in existence, and what kid’s imagination wouldn’t be stirred? I wish someone had done that for me in school, compared to the boredom I had to endure in class instead.

No wonder kids have little interest in God. It’s because we’ve stifled their imagination. Bring God into the picture and ask the question, “What if God really did create us?“ – and what possibilities does that open up in their heads instead? What if such a superpower really does exist? Because if it does, why on earth did it create the likes of us? What was it thinking? 

Well, kids, we can find out, according to one fascinating source, which says we can actually seek out this superpower and find him, because he’s easily findable. And discover in the process that he was the one who created us, and why. Is that something they’d like to know, therefore, or would they rather just stick to getting through school to get a career to make money? Their choice. But know that others before them were willing to take that journey into the unknown and came back with amazing stories to tell.  

They tell of a power that clearly knew everything about them, because in their search for such a power it was obvious they were being led. In other words, the superpower was responding. Imagine that. It’s like people who buy all sorts of equipment to send messages out into the universe to see if other life exists, and one day they suddenly receive a message back that clearly indicates “Message received, what would you like to know?” 

Well, what I’d like to know is what I’m here for when I’m only conscious for a few years and then I’m dead. We’ve got these amazing bodies and searching minds, but at most we’ve got maybe fifty good years in us to figure things out, so please, capture my imagination as to what I’m a human for so I can, if only briefly for now, experience it. 

And those who ask for such tell of places they had no idea existed. They were lifted into dimensions that revealed a world dedicated to making the absolute most of we humans have got. Our talents are stretched, our stamina strengthened, our courage immensely increased, ouir personalities changed into something that could even be called attractive, and if not attractive, certainly trustworthy and reliable. 

We’re being made into something amazing, in other words, that makes things and people flourish wherever we go. Given the chance to live forever we would be powerhouses of love, joy and peace, and think what would happen to the planet in the care of such people.  

Well, I’d love to see what would happen to our planet in the care of such people, because that’s what the superpower made us for, to enable this planet to flourish in the care of us humans, and to bring to life and beauty all that is tucked away in it.  

It would be nice to have a taste of it now, though, so I know what the Bible says about us is true, that we are loved, cherished, stretched, expanded, transformed, and trained professionally by the great God himself to equip us with the nature and the skills we need to make life forever something for all of us to really get excited about.  

So “What if God really did create us?” But that’s the point, “What if?” Because if he did create us, then I’ve got 1,156 pages in a book he had written that tell my why he created me and how I can experience it to prove it’s true. I can go the pond scum route instead, but when I see what it’s done to the imagination of children and the awful mess this world has become, I weep.  

What if….God really does exist?

Putting aside all the usual objections to God existing, what difference would it make in a person’s life if God really does exist?

I wondered about this from a rather practical point of view, because I’ve based at least fifty years of my life on God existing, and what difference has it made in my life? And has that difference been noticeable to others who’ve known me through the years too? 

So what difference would be noticeable? Well, how about what Paul wrote in Romans 15:2-3, that “Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.” 

And that would surely be noticeable, because not pleasing oneself is hardly the driving force in people’s lives today, and certainly not to one lady who told me recently, “From now on I’m only doing what pleases me.” 

So in not making pleasing myself my priority in life I’m providing a clear comparison as to what difference a belief in God makes. And it also happens to be the one thing that would change the world if we were all able to do it. If we could all live to build each other up, rather than live to please ourselves, imagine what kind of world we’d have instead. It would be wildly and wonderfully different to what we’ve got at present. 

But isn’t this what turns people off God and Christianity, the idea that “not pleasing oneself” means not enjoying good food, not playing golf or watching movies, or not spending hours buried in a favourite hobby? Is that what Paul meant, though, in these two verses?  

No, it isn’t. In context he’s talking about “bearing with the failings of the weak,” verse 1, and who does that nowadays? It’s a traditional school sport to pick on other kids’ weaknesses, and a source of great personal pleasure to adults as well, finding fault in politicians, employers, neighbours, other races and nationalities, spouses, other people’s children, and how people dress, talk, look or treat their animals. It’s open hunting season all year round on social (more like unsocial) media unearthing people’s failings and digging for skeletons in their closets. 

Wouldn’t it become highly noticeable, therefore, if I as a teenager did not do that on social media, or as an adult I didn’t join in the character assassination of a work colleague? 

But to do that takes a power I don’t have naturally. The pressure to follow the crowd and not be seen as different is huge. To be different brings out the bully and scoffer in people, and who likes being ridiculed and picked on day in and day out? 

But we’re Christians to show how wonderfully and radically different a person’s life becomes for believing God exists, compared to what drives people naturally. And it took a whole chapter in Romans 14 to remind Christians of that, stirred by some old-timer Christians who’d been picking on new Christians for not eating meat or drinking wine, and for giving sacred significance to certain days (verses 2,5 and 21). 

So rather than “bear with the failings of the weak,” these old-timer Christians put pressure on the new Christians to get with the program and put these silly ideas behind them. But not, unfortunately, to the benefit of these new Christians, because these so-called “silly ideas” they had were matters of conscience to them. They really thought what they were doing was what God wanted. 

So Paul told the old-timers to back off if these new Christians showed even the slightest signs of distress at being picked on or pressured to change (Romans 14:15). And that’s not an easy thing to do when it’s the chance to prove your spiritual superiority and greater wisdom.

But because it’s so difficult it then becomes a grand opportunity to show what difference a belief in God’s existence can make in a person. It can turn a self-pleasing, superior-minded bully into a sensitive, unselfish peace maker. And what a proof God exists that is, because only supernatural help can do that.  

A simple question like, ”What if God really does exist?”, therefore, really comes to life in the difference it makes in a person if he does exist, and in ways that are visibly and radically obvious. And in ways so desperately needed too, in a world where pleasing oneself to build oneself up and look down on others are such a driving force behind one’s dealings with other people, and look what a mess we’re in because of it.  

Experiencing the supernatural – hopefully

In Romans 15:4 Paul writes, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”

That’s quite a statement, because in one sentence it summarizes the entire purpose of the Old Testament. It’s to give us – who are living in this world now – hope. 

But how can that be? How can a book full of “old stuff” meant for Israel provide us with hope today? We’re living in a vastly different world, with so many things going wrong in it, most of them totally unresolvable too. Hope, therefore, has to be a pipe dream, a fantasy and deception promoted by political spin doctors, clever advertisers, and propaganda artists in big business, purely to make money and keep themselves in power.  

And we know it too, don’t we? We know the reality of life in our world, that it’s geared to making the rich richer and the poor poorer, and that greed and the lust for money and power are wrecking the planet, destroying our physical and mental health, and turning us into depressed zombies or angry, negative cynical, destructive protesters. So how on earth can anyone have hope with that lot going on?

It’s understandable that hope is being replaced with despair, but here’s Paul saying in verse 13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”   

As far as God and Paul are concerned, hope is still a viable possibility, and in fact it’s meant to happen, and was even predicted to happen in the Old Testament. Paul quotes one example in verse 12 from a statement made 2700  years ago in Isaiah 11:10, that a “root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations,” the result being, “the Gentiles will hope in him.” 

But the Gentiles will hope in him for what, exactly? It’s in “the promises made to the patriarchs,” Romans 15:8, “so that,” verse 9, “the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy.” It means there’d be a time coming when people (us Gentiles now) would realize that what God promised to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be brought to life and into reality by this “root of Jesse,” meaning, of course, Jesus Christ, who’d be made “the ruler over the nations” after his resurrection. 

In other words, Jesus is ruling the world right now – and is doing so purely because of God’s amazing mercy (verse 9), in not giving up on us despite what we’ve done to him, to the planet, and to each other.  

And some “by the power of the Holy Spirit,” verse 13, see that, get it, and revel in hope because of it. Why? Well, for two reasons: first of all, that no matter what happens on this planet it still fits in with God’s plan to “bless all peoples on earth” – exactly as God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3. And secondly, “so that (we) Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit,” verse 16.

What an amazing statement, that we Gentiles have been set apart by the Spirit of God to be an “offering” to the world. In what way? In the hope that we have, because we “trust in him,” verse 13. We trust in the promises God made to the patriarchs, “so that we overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” verse 13. 

It’s what we’ve been set aside as Gentiles for, just as Isaiah predicted. Hope, therefore, in a world that has no reason whatsoever for hope, is what we carry with us, no matter what is happening in the world, or to us personally. And that’s what makes us “so acceptable to God,” verse 16, because hope is what this world needs more than anything right now. It’s what the desperate and powerless need to see and hear. It’s what the gospel is all about, and has been ever since God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his offspring. 

And Paul understood that. That’s why “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel,” verse 20, so that “Those who were not told about Christ will see, and those who have not heard will understand,” verse 21, quoting another 2700 year old verse in Isaiah 52:15. 

It is God’s intent, then, to fill us supernaturally with hope, and to make it our ambition to see others filled with hope too, “so that all nations might believe and obey him,” Romans 16:26.