About convictions

I’m almost at the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman believers. In chapter 14 of his epistle, Paul writes that when it’s not about matters of doctrine but of conscience, we should be patient with one another.


The reasoning goes something like this: for the Believer, Scripture is very clear on doctrine, how we should live, Whom we should keep our eyes on and stay connected to. All Christians should buy into that.


Some things are less clear though and where Scripture doesn’t necessarily say something, we should be guided by our Christian conscience.


So, Scripture first, then conscience second.


Now someone’s Christian conscience may come out at a different point than with someone else when it comes to things like special days, consuming alcohol or foods.


In these cases, we are to “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” (14:1 NIV)


When it comes to our conscience about a disputable matter (again, not doctrine) and when we believe something is wrong, we should follow our Christian conscience. A Believer may think something is wrong (for him or her) when it is not necessarily wrong for a stronger Believer:


“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” (14:1 – 3 NIV)

God has accepted both the weaker and the stronger brother. And we are in fact brothers so we ought not to judge but to show love to one another.


Paul writes that when it comes to issues that are debatable, that ‘nothing is unclean in itself’ (14:14) but if another brother disagrees, then for that brother it is unclean.


Okay, how does this work today?


What about alcohol? And the issue of church on the Sabbath or church on Sunday? How about tattoos? Should we celebrate Christmas on 25th December even though the calendar date coincides with a pagan feast? Should a Christian watch a Martin Scorsese film with high levels of profanity?


On matters of debate that are not critical to doctrine, we have a lot of freedom, and “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause [our] brother or sister to fall.” (14:21 NIV)


The faith of our brothers is more important than our freedom.


(Acknowledgment of sermon by Mike Winger of Hosanna Christian Fellowship: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wi1Claoj1Uk)


The year of the rat

What did we learn from the year 2020? If we look at the area which supposedly was the epicentre of our common experience of corona virus, 2020 in the Chinese calendar broadly equates to the year of the Rat.


Rat or bat, 2020 has been rodentine.


Speaking personally, my main takeaway from 2020 is that so many people in power and authority were exposed for being unapologetic hypocrites.


Saying one thing, doing another. Or saying something virtuous and leaving it at that.


Kind of like political or cultural Pharisees.


You might think the Pharisees weren’t such a bad bunch, but Jesus looked at the impact they had amongst religious people and let them have it. They kept people from truly making themselves right with God.


In the midst of a rough week, God led me to Psalm 73, a psalm of Asaph.


Asaph is a priest using his eyes to look around. He sees the arrogant, the powerful, and it seems everything is going right for them. They’re doing what they want, seemingly without consequences.


“Surely God is good to Israel” he writes. Asaph knows this to be true, that God is good “to those who are pure in heart” (73:1 NIV). Asaph is not a child, he knows that God rewards those who seek him and do what is right and yet what he sees with his eyes is that those who are wired in, chummy with the powerful in his day, seem to get away with the most outrageous behaviour.


I don’t identify with Asaph’s envy of the arrogant, but I do look around at the news and I see the prosperity of the wicked.


The guilty walk free too many times, the simple people only seen when the powerful look down to see what it is they stepped in.


God’s judgement and justice are unfashionable. “They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?”” (73:11 NIV).

Do you wanna bet?


Asaph wonders whether it has all been worth it. Is he on the right side? Is there a side? Will God blow his whistle, bang his gavel and adjudicate?


Surely God is good to Israel, to the pure in heart, Asaph writes. But surely he has sought to live a holy life in vain, Asaph continues.


It’s easy to lose perspective. Who hasn’t lost perspective many times in this year?


The powerful did what they wanted or thought they had to do. The Titanic was taking on water, like 2020 whacking into a covid iceberg, and it was every man for himself. The band played light music, and our ears were filled with pleasant untruths and media narratives.


I look around and see cabinet ministers, governors and mayors shredding the constitution, controlling the flow of information.


I see politicians issue decrees backed up by police action that strangely don’t apply to them.


I witness the media run away from truth and conform to the official narrative.


No one is held accountable for mistakes or wilful errors. No one has to resign because of lies and half-truths. Pandemic or no, the same powerful people do the same things and the same nothing keeps on happening.


Asaph is conflicted. Asaph has no answer for his doubts. “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God.” (73:16 – 17a NIV)


Spending time with God in his house lets Asaph see that what he perceives with his eyes is not eternity. Perspective. Looking through from the beginning to the end.


In the end, Asaph recommits to the Lord: “I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” (73:28 NIV).


It’s been the year of the rat, or the year of the bat, but it’s not over yet.


I need to get to the concluding point where Asaph was, and see this as the year of the Lord. To recommit that I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge, and that I will tell of all His deeds.