An Invitation to Oddity

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Photo by 童 彤 on Unsplash

“If you want a religion to make you comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” – C. S. Lewis

There is an idea abroad that faith in Christ opens up the doors to abundance, success and all round good health. We have bought into the notion that becoming a Christian is a ticket to peace, comfort, and security. Whatever we might say concerning Biblical references to prosperity, healing, or success, one thing is abundantly clear: the Scriptures portray God’s people as an odd lot.

God’s redemptive covenant, as commenced with Abraham, sets His people apart as God’s chosen family. Along with this wonderful privilege comes the stark reality that they will be a strange tribe in a fallen world. In a world which has declared hostility against God, His covenant people will be seen as enemies.

All through history, God’s elect have borne the cost of being an odd people. Abraham ‘s trust in God was in marked contrast to his nephew Lot and the surrounding cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Joseph was thrown into prison for daring to have integrity. The Israelites were detested by the Egyptians and were an odd community among the idol -worshipping tribes of Canaan. David’s childlike faith in God proved a point of envy to the backslidden King Saul. The godliness of Elijah set him against the false prophets of Baal. On account of their devotion to the God of heaven, Daniel and his friends attracted sufficient hostility from their Babylonian colleagues as to be thrown into both a furnace and a lions’ den. And what shall we say of Peter, James, and Paul, who endured not only opposition, but also imprisonment, suffering,  and death just for being believers?

No one put the issue more pointedly than Jesus:

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!” (Matt. 10:25)

And again,

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34)

The believer is odd because he marches to a different drummer. He seeks to obey God and not merely go along with the views and practices of his neighbours and family. He sees the world differently because he looks at it through God’s eyes. And this can be costly. It will cost him acceptance by society, some comforts, some freedoms, and perhaps his life. Hence the warning by Jesus above. If our message has no place for this conflict, it can hardly be the gospel which Jesus and the apostles preached.

As God calls us to be the odd one out among the peoples of the world, He promises to be our God. While we may endure the scorn of the world, we know we have His smile. The sneer and hatred of a hostile culture are more than offset by the joy we have in Christ. We may be odd, yet it is a positive oddity. To be in union with God, through Christ, is to be above Presidents and Kings.

So we invite you, dear reader, to be odd – to be positively odd.

Does your past still haunt you?

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Everyone has a past – moral failings which blot our life histories like blue ink on a white shirt. Outbursts of rage, episodes of immoral behaviour, illicit relationships, lifestyles of violence and aggression, and dark secrets shut out from the prying ears of friends and neighbours. These hang around our necks and minds, pulling our consciences below the earth.

Our sinful past sometimes stands as an obstacle from receiving God’s love and forgiveness. We wonder, ‘Can God really forgive that?’ ‘Surely, I have sinned away hope and mercy.’ But it is precisely in this seemingly hopeless situation that God’s grace shines fairest. As Paul wrote,

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8, ESV)

God’s grace is directed at the guilty. Redemption presupposes a sinful past; without a past you don’t even qualify!  And Christ clearly stated: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). It is no surprise that the greatest of his apostles, and the author of almost half of the books which make up the New Testament, was a man who described his past as ‘chief of sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15, KJV).

If there was someone who should have nothing to do with someone with a past, it was Jesus. The eternal Word, who had been with the Father (John 1:1-2), and in whom there is no sin (Hebrews 4:15). Yet among his disciples was Matthew, a tax collector. Tax collectors didn’t just have a past; they had a distasteful present. They were viewed as traitors to the commonwealth of Israel. They were instruments of an oppressive foreign government, exploiting their own kinsmen for personal gain. Yet Jesus not only met with him in his home, he enlisted him in the hallowed circle of disciples. His past was evil but forgiven. That is what Jesus does; he forgives our past and opens a new chapter in our history.

The so-called ‘Hall of Faith’ in Hebrews chapter 11 is another illustration of how God relates to our past. We would expect such an illustrious list to include the holiest of people, the Mother Theresas of the ancient world. But whom do we find? We see Jacob the schemer and deceiver; Rahab, a prostitute from the idol worshipping tribes of Canaan; Samson, the Jewish judge who was so captivated by his lust for women that it eventually cost him both his sight and his life. We also find David the great King of Isreal who had sexual relations with one of his poor subjects and killed her husband in order to conceal his sin. These were God’s heroes of faith.

What made the difference for them was the fact that their past was but a record which their faith in God had overcome (1 John 4:4). Yes, the record was there, but it was now irrelevant. They trusted in God their redeemer, and by faith, they had received forgiveness. And the same is true for us today. The Saviour of the world has shed his blood for all who believe. And their sins he will remember no more, provided they come to him in faith. If we have trusted in Jesus as Saviour, this is our privilege. ‘Though our sins are as red as crimson, they shall become like wool’ (Isaiah 1:18). Thus is the assurance of the gospel.