Posts Tagged ‘Nick’

21 Years and God is good – My Story

21 years ago, Nicholas Leslie Rona, was born. Not in a palace nor in a lowly stable. To be precise, Mr Rona was born in the Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton, Hampshire, to an Irish mother and a Hungarian father, who welcomed the third and final edition to their growing army of sons.

Some of you will recognise the first two names, and then wonder who Rona is. Well I can happily tell you that my surname was Rona for the first four years of my life. Though I remember very little about my birth Dad, Raymond Rona, I know he was a wonderful man, who loved God and cared immensely for his wife and children before he died in 1994.

Love

I can’t remember a time when I have never felt loved by someone, and for that I am very thankful. My parents loved me dearly as I grew up (and they’ve kept it up somehow until the present day), and I’m told that even my older brothers showed some fraternal affection for me in my early years.

I feel enormously privileged to have grown up in such a caring family (I have forgiven them for giving me the middle name Leslie). My birth father was a loving man, and my step-dad Andrew Spear has been a wonderful model of love since marrying my Mum back in 1995 and bravely adopting a trio of cricket fanatics; my two older brothers Richard and Duncan, and I.

Family relationships are great, and I am very thankful and enormously privileged to have had such a happy childhood.

However, there is one love that has been missing from the story so far, the love that really matters in my life, the love that defines who I am and what I live for. Namely, the love of God seen supremely in the man Jesus Christ.

Missed the Point

I had heard about God’s love since being a young child, but I didn’t understand it. I read fantastic stories in my children’s Bible and heard great things He had done in my parent’s lives, but still I didn’t really get it. In fact, I completely missed the point of Christianity and who Jesus was for a number of years as I grew up.

You see, morally speaking, I was a very good kid. I went to church each Sunday, I got on with my friends, didn’t murder anyone, and never stole any lollipops or bubble gum from the local newsagents. I wasn’t perfect, as I knowingly still disobeyed my parents occasionally and told a few porkies but it was nothing compared to the ‘sins’ of the rest of my peers.

And so I seemed to think that I was heading for heaven because surely my good deeds outweighed my bad ones, and I was a lot better than most people and wasn’t hell bound because hell was for really bad people like Hitler, Judas and the Devil.

But at age 13, while away on holiday, something changed. The penny dropped. Before this, I had not understood who Jesus really was. In my mind, he was a great man, who had good teachings on life, but had tragically been killed while a young man, but that somehow forgiveness was possible through his death on the cross. Or perhaps I just thought he was some kind of make believe character like Santa Claus.

But of course forgiveness wasn’t something I needed much of because in my eyes I hadn’t done much wrong.

Jesus is absolutely the only good guy in my story

The holiday I went on was a conference explaining the message of the Bible to teenagers. And for the first time I realised that God wasn’t interested with how I matched up to my peers. He was only interested in how good I was in comparison to Jesus. And because Jesus is the only perfect man to have ever lived, the odds weren’t good. I was proud of my good deeds, causing me to look down on others, and was therefore self-righteous, and I started to become a hypocrite and quite frankly thought that God was lucky to have me on his side. Jesus has stern words for people like that (see Matthew 23), calling them whitewashed tombs and vipers, whose destiny is destruction.

This message really burst my balloon. God didn’t love my good deeds, they were as filthy rags before him. My motivation for doing good was to look good to others, gain access to heaven and to feel great about myself. I realised that I had ignored God and it was ridiculous to think that my good deeds could grant me a place in heaven. What I believed is the essence of religion, that what you do earns you God’s favour.

But Christianity is not religion, it is relationship. To be precise, it is the relationship between God and people made possible only by Jesus living a sin-less life and dying the death that we deserve for the way we have treated Him.

On the cross, Jesus took all the wrong thoughts, words, actions I had thought, said and done against Him, and he died for them, endured all of God’s anger (because a good God is understandably angry against evil) and then he did something even more incredible. He didn’t stay dead!

Jesus rose from the grave! The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is compelling (read The Case for Christ, or tune into websites like http://reason.cck.org.uk/or http://www.reasonablefaith.org or look at this short article). The Bible recognises that without the resurrection of Jesus, Christians would be most pitied because they would worship a God who is dead, and Jesus wasn’t who He said He was. But Jesus rose from the dead! His resurrection proves his power of death, sin and evil. Jesus is not the meek and mild figure sometimes depicted in paintings or on television, He is God and He is capable of leading you back into relationship with the God who made you. He is awesome, and knowing God is the greatest thing.

Human beings are made for relationship, and we’re wired to look for happiness in our lives. I don’t know anyone in my life who has said they would rather be unhappy than happy. Well, in Jesus, we have the ultimate relationship that brings everlasting joy. Happiness in found in knowing the God who made you.

I want to urge you to look into this further and not to dismiss the Bible or Jesus as fiction if you are not a Christian and never considered looking into who Jesus is. To become a Christian is not a decision of blind faith, but rather a reasonable decision of faith given the historical evidence for who Jesus is and what He has done.

Christianity – the good life?

But it is a big decision. Will you stop ignoring God and start living for Him?

I can testify that life didn’t become incredibly easy when I became a Christian. I still struggle to do things for God and regularly fail to do so. Not everyone accepts my lifestyle, I don’t feel at home on this earth, and look forward one day to being with my Lord and Saviour in heaven where death, suffering and evil will have no place. I don’t always walk around with a smile on my face because life this side of heaven is hard. But there’s still joy in times of suffering, even when I am the cause of such suffering, which is often the case. I no longer dread death, and I care more about other people than I used to because my God cares about them. When things don’t go according to plan, God is always trustworthy and His promises never fail.

The Bible tells an incredible story of a loving God who seeks out and redeems people who have gone away from Him. The best thing about it is that it is true!

Lessons from Absalom

‘In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him.’ (2 Sam 14:25)

Quiet time this morning was in 2 Samuel 14, and though it is an odd chapter in some ways, it heeds some vital warnings in the person of Absalom (a murderer in Ch 13)… here’s an extract Dale Ralph Davis’ fantastic commentary;

‘Matthew Henry’s observations on this Absalom note are both concise and comprehensive:

All that is here said of Absalom is,

  1. That he was a very handsome man…
  2. That he had a very fine head of hair…
  3. That his family began to be built up…

Henry aptly remarks, ‘Nothing is said of his wisdom and piety.’ Is this leadership?

Our times insist on style over substance, cosmetics over content, manner over matter. It hardly surprises us that a president who cultivated a public image of warm, devoted family life would also, with his secret service agents, plod the tunnels under New York’s streets, flashlights in hand, on the way to a waiting sexual liaison in another hotel or apartment; nor are we surprised to learn that this was a pattern from his first day in office.

Such image-reality gaps have been the case among political leaders for centuries, but, as Jesus says to his church, ‘It is not to be like that among you’ (Mark 10:43). Yet it seems it is. Douglas Webster describes the ‘Fortune 500 pastors’ desired for contemporary American congregations as being

winsome, charismatic, executive like pastors who exude warmth and success. Known more for their humor than for their spirituality, today’s market-sensitive pastors are relationally savvy… Instead of eliciting deep feelings of guilt as the old revivalists did, these pastors lift the spirit, promote optimism and make people feel good about themselves.

By contrast, when listing some of the standards for elders in the church, the apostle stresses character over charisma and personal godliness over public giftedness (1 Tim 3:1-17). Woe to the church that falls into the Absalom trap.

Once Absalom is back (v.24) he dominates the narrative. We read of his appearance (vv25-27), his antics (vv28-32a), his daring (v32b). Absalom takes over the narrative just as he will take over the kingdom.’

Scandalous

Evangelical Christians have often been criticised for their over-the-top view on sin. But in reality, it is not necessarily the promotion of the importance of sin (though it is a fundamental of the Christian faith) that evangelicals intend to emphasise, but the forgiveness of sin, which is at the heart of the Christian gospel.

And it seems fitting that on this Easter weekend, that Christ’s resurrection is key in this most wonderful truth.

It’s scandalous, absolutely scandalous that an unholy person can be put right with God. But that is the wonder of grace. The Bible clearly teaches that the resurrection of Christ from the dead proves the forgiveness of sin.

(See 1 Corinthians 15:12-16 and Romans 4:25)

Sinful humanity put Jesus on the cross, subjecting him to an excruciating physical death and an even more horrific spiritual death as he drank the full cup of God’s wrath which we deserve. But he conquered death, and didn’t come after those who killed him for revenge but rather pours out his forgiveness freely to those who recognise their sin and submit to Him as Lord and Saviour.

There is no greater love than this! Thank you Jesus for loving a wretch like me!

Don’t be a “Christian Rambo”

Lately I’ve become more aware of the importance of church in the life of a Christian. I guess I always knew it was important but this particular doctrine is starting to take root in my heart and mind. Church is a fundamental building block of spiritual growth and of daily and weekly encouragement. Church helps to sustain the Christian through the week ahead and prepares them for a lifetime of service.

Chris, the Ministree Trainee at my church in Preston, was preaching on Hebrews 10:19-39 last week as we’ve been going through the book in the evenings. I feel very encouraged by clearly seeing the necessity and joy of being part of the local church. I am always greatly encouraged by the church around me (Church = people not buildings), spurring one another on towards love and good deeds (v24).

The writer to the Hebrews writes;

‘Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ (v25)

Hebrews is a book full of warnings – warnings about drifting in the Christian life. The people of God coming together in praise, prayer, fellowship, all under the authority of God’s Word is a great source of encouragement. This is definitely my experience too.

Church Consumerism

If you live in the UK, you live in a culture of consumerism. It’s all about ‘Number One’, what can I get out of the deal?’ Everything is about me. Christ calls his church to be distinctive in this area;

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)

Yes we will be encouraged by meeting together on a Sunday, and it is the role of the pastor-teacher to preach the Word to prepare God’s people for works of service (Ephesians 4:11-12), therefore there is definite gain by going to Church on a Sunday or by going to a midweek Bible study, but this does not advocate a consumerist approach to church. We come to serve (that’s the Christian life), to become more like Christ, the ultimate servant – who laid his life down for His sheep. There is no greater show of love than this (John 15:13).

I need to repent. Even when the Word is being read or preached in church, I’m thinking “what is God saying to me?’.” There is nothing necessarily wrong with this; God does speak to us individually through His Word. But what about the other members of my church family – I should also be thinking “What is God to saying to ‘us’ as a church?” “And what about my friend sitting over there, what could I encourage or challenge them with afterwards?”. “And how about my friend who isn’t here tonight?”.

It’s a real challenge to rid ourselves of this consumerism. But by God’s grace it is possible and we’ve got God the Holy Spirit to wage war against the sinful nature! He gives us new desires and makes it possible to say “No” to sin, and “Yes” to righteousness; we CAN become more like Christ. But this is not an individual process, that’s why God gave us brothers and sisters. Praise be to God for the family He has given me. Amen.

Further Reading;

God’s New Community – Graham Beynon

Stop Dating the Church – Joshua Harris