Sunday, March 8, 2020

e=mc2


e=mc2? well actually John 3:3

This last Sunday (8th March 2020), the famous passage of Nicodemus visit to Jesus was our lectionary reading.

What struck me on this reading of the passage is the initial exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and a teacher. Those he associated with were not impressed by Jesus. The Pharisees and religious leaders of the time were, if anything, antagonistic towards Jesus, discounting any possibility that Jesus could have been the Christ, or in any way favoured by God.

Yet some, like Nicodemus, must have had mixed feelings.

I simply assume that these mixed feelings caused Nicodemus some spiritual restlessness, and this at some point drove him to enquire more, and enquire directly from Jesus.
He did this at night, presumably to draw as little attention as possible to his meeting. Again, presumably, because he would suffer some criticism from his peers for entertaining any uncertainty regarding this unqualified religious person named Jesus.

His first statement to Jesus unmasks Nicodemus’ uncertainty.

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

It doesn’t sound uncertain, but in the context of the rest of the passage, it is.

I find the approach of Nicodemus very interesting.

First he addresses Jesus as “Rabbi”, meaning teacher, and, from my point of view, he is submitting to Jesus' authority with this address.

The next point he makes, to me, seems more of a question than a statement. The implied question is; “Jesus, have you been sent by the most high God?, and if so, could you show me some more legitimate qualifications?”

He might also have asked; “You perform miracles just as though you have been sent by God, but you are an ordinary, unqualified, uneducated carpenter, so how could you really be someone sent by God?”

My rewording of the statement helps to show where I see Nicodemus, and many of us also, approaching Jesus with mixed feelings.

Jesus' answer is unexpected, and deals with Nicodemus’s heart.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

This is one of those bold, original and world changing statements, to me a bit like Einstein’s e=mc2. With respect, I do not consider Einstein on the same level as Jesus.

If we take Jesus statement at face value, I want to make some spiritual deductions, if that is allowed.

Firstly, Jesus equates “teacher who has come from God” with ”seeing the kingdom of God”.

In other words, for anyone, let alone Nicodemus, to be able to “see” that Jesus is in fact a teacher sent by God, they are actually “seeing” the Kingdom of God.

I would like to repeat, to be able to “see” that Jesus is in fact a teacher sent by God, is the same as “seeing” the Kingdom of God.

The next point is the one that inspired me to write this little post.

For Nicodemus to know that Jesus is truly a teacher sent by God, then Nicodemus is in fact, already “born again”, or “born from above.”, or at least in the process.

If this is true, then Nicodemus was actually compelled by the Holy Spirit to seek Jesus out. He didn’t then have to bow down and “make Jesus Lord” so to speak, the Spirit was already blowing in his heart, directing him to this life-changing meeting. Not that bowing down and acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus is wrong or fruitless. In fact, soon, very soon, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess exactly that.

I guess, what I am saying, from a different angle is that being "born again", does not come down to a simple formula. e=mc2 is a simple formula, but putting it into practice takes incredible atomic energy.

The atomic energy of "you must be born again" is found in that seismic, all-encompassing, self and sin destroying event known as the cross.

May the Lord bless our earnest seeking of the truth..

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Question is not “Is There a God?”

Is there a hell?

Death awaits all of us. Our lives are a gift, and each of us have a number of days that only the Lord knows. Today, in the west, we have befriended death, and welcomed it as an outlet, a fitting end to our suffering, with only neutral or positive moral consequences. Euthanasia, now renamed “assisted dying”, is considered both humane and desired above the end of life suffering that is less predictable, and to some degree, out of our control.

But what of eternal judgement, and, if it is as the Bible describes it, the possibility of eternal damnation?

If there is a possibility of this, and society became appropriately aware of this, would we reconsider our cultural befriending of death?

We are very respectful of disease, particularly epidemics with life threatening consequences. These events change the way we govern our airports, hospitals, schools and other places of public gathering. Hard decisions are made by leaders, policies with strict adherence legislation are quickly drawn up and pronounced through media outlets and other channels.

But these events are usually backed up by clear evidence of danger such as morbidity figures. The particular disease is investigated thoroughly and ways to protect individuals are developed.

Hell, on the other hand, is considered only on religious grounds.

Depictions traditionally involved demons and fire, but then became the domain of childrens cartoons with fable like fictitious safety. Good for a story but not reality.

However, hell remains a part of the 3 single deity religions, namely, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is my opinion that modern versions of the first 2 would often discount the possibility of hell, and consider to some degree or other, that if there is judgement, mankind is not in danger of it.

I am unable to speak on Islamic teaching.

As a Christian, my reading of the New Testament, particularly the Gospel of Matthew, and the book of Revelations, clearly portrays the understanding of eternity, judgemnt after death, and the possibility of eternal damnation. Luke Chpter16 has a parable on an individual now in an irreversible condition of continual suffering and torment.

Popular humour depicts Hell as a place of potential wicked fun, where the lack of judgement means relationships with others free to do as they choose, albeit confined to a type of eternal prison, but one in which certain comforts remain.

Were I to seriously consider, with my informal theology as a Christian, what hell might actually be like, I imagine some of the following.

There would be no relationships, certainly no supportive relationships that might ease someone who is suffering.
There would be regret, continual regret over immoral decisions, the type of regret that would not have any consolation.
There would be guilt, both the understanding and the feeling of guilt, continually.
There would be no escape, nowhere to go, nothing to take, that would remove or ease or temporarily turn off the negative feelings. There would be no ability to, for example, kill yourself to escape, as you are already dead.
There would be pain, emotional if not physical, and this would be unrelenting.
There would not be music to soothe the soul. The memory of such music would only increase the sense of regret.
There would not be hope for a better future, a time of relief.
There would not be kindness.
There may be demons and devils and Satan, and if they were present to communicate, there would be no relief from the torment they would bring, as they themselves are in torment and would take out their pain on whatever or whoever was present for them to do so, without an angel of God to stand in the way.

And worst of all, there might be the ability to actually see what could have been, if only faith and repentance had occurred during life.

If the parable in Luke 16 has any resemblance of reality, then the person in hell can look across an uncrossable gulf, and see from a distance, the comfort of those in God’s presence. Surely this would be a bitter, bitter pill to an already intolerable  afterlife.

If there is a hell, surely a loving Saviour would do anything within his power to save us from hell?

As Christians, we believe that the cost of salvation is no less than the death of a perfect man; Jesus.

His act of self-giving, pays the full price for the sinner, bound for hell, to be freed from his deserved judgement.
We are taken from eternal damnation into eternal forgiveness and blessing.

While we still have life and breath, how can we overlook such a great salvation?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

God Can


God can rescue, God can save.

He can do exactly what he likes with his creation.

It is up to Him.

He made us, we are his creatures, in his image, but fallen.

He has chosen to save us. He decided on a rescue plan. He didn’t have to. He could have destroyed us all in Eden, before the generations happened.

We are not beyond his ability to destroy us all now.

Yet he loves us with a deep and faithful love.

He is slow to anger, and abounding in this steadfast, faithful love.

His nature and desire and plan is to rescue us, but he does this his way, on his terms.

We are simply witnesses to his action of redeeming the lost. We are of those he has rescued and continue to struggle with the living out the truth of his deep love for us.

There is a parallel world, for want of a better term, a world that lives in the now with only occasional reference to our true identity. In the west, there is the regular Christmas and Easter salute to an ever less relevant Saviour named Jesus.

That he is to reappear in power and glory, all nations, all peoples, all creatures bowing by necessity to his utter moral glory and confessing his greatness, is hardly a consideration in this parallel world. Instead, we have societies, somehow existing and functioning in the here and now, with self-determined goals, plans, projects and morality.

Economy, environment, equity and success are the call of the west, with ever a judging eye on ourselves and our neighbours, looking down on anyone and anything that does not hold to its common and morally acceptable goals.

Within this parallel world, each citizen has a role and expectation which does not necessarily include allegiance to God, does not necessarily allow time or give worth to religious practice.

So a struggle is there by necessity, for people of faith.

That God allows this bubble of humanity to persist and function as though he does not exist, is notable. It is commonly interpreted as his weakness, lack of relevance or simple non-existence.

Possibly like the wisp of steam from a long dead volcano, that no-one ever expects to erupt.

So confident is society regarding this irrelevance, that appeals are made, by those of us aching for change, apoeals to try and convince people to return to faith, appeals aided by the skill of orators and musicians, yet often with minimal result. Appeals with added bonuses such as the promises of wealth or acceptance, given by people manicured to radiate positiveness, to sweeten the message.

Conferences are held to train people in the calling of others into faith, and there are quiet moanings regarding the slow demise of the church in western society.


But God can save and he can rescue, he has  every resource at his bidding and he will choose to save or not to save, to open eyes or close them, as he sees fit. It is a sign of His judgement on such a self-confident, self- determining society, that he remains remote and absent from the life of that society.

Yet we as a society are restless and full of insecurity, which we believe we are responsible and able to correct. Global warming, currently is  our mutual albatross, our weight of guilt that we must atone for, and as the zealous blow the trumpets of reform, woe to those who are neutral or unmoved. The future demise of our globe is on their shoulders.

Existential guilt must have its object, currently it is climate change.

And guilt itself is an abandoned topic, people do not acknowledge this state or emotion, though most anger and depression are side effects of consciences in turmoil.

But when God chooses, his love will allow a flooding of the Holy Spirit to engulf our world, and nations will transform, expressing their new found gift of repentance and faith in multitudes gathering to honour God’s word and each other, to confess our sins and tear our robes in recognition of our deliberate and terrible back-turning on the unquestionable truth of the coming of our Saviour and Lord; Jesus, the Messiah.

There is only one name under heaven by which all men, all people, can be saved, none other but the name of Jesus.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The "Why' of Christmas

We are a fallen race.
The bible explains that Adam and Eve, after being created by God, were placed in the Garden of Eden. In that Garden, there were all sorts of plants, with enough variety to satisfy any person.
Also, there was the tree of life, and then the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
For reasons that are beyond our understanding, God placed that tree there with a simple warning, don’t eat that fruit, or you will die.

Sadly, after being tempted, both Adam and Eve ate of the fruit and they died.

Before they died, they had children, and each generation has died off, up to the present, which includes us.

The sinfulness that erupted with the eating of that fruit has been passed on to every generation. That is why we all sin, even when we are young. I’ve watched my children, my grandchildren, and myself. We start sinning at a very young age. Deliberate acts, biting snatching, hurting.
We need to teach our children to obey, for some reason, we don’t need to teach them to disobey.

This is called original sin.
Baby brown snakes may be cute, but when they grow up, they are poisonous.
Tiger cubs are cute, but even when they are raised in human care they can unpredictably kill, even their owners.
Baby humans are cute, but when they grow up they sin, some sooner than others. Most murders occur within family members.

If we are to have true fellowship with our maker, the creator of heaven and earth, then this problem of sin must be dealt with.

Over the years and centuries, people of faith rose up, Abel, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, the prophets.

These and others were great people, who served God and our world in outstanding ways, yet they all were sinners, and in and of themselves, they could not undo the curse that came on us in the Garden.

To do that we needed someone special, really special.

That person had to be, themselves, without sin, and without a desire to sin, like no one ever before him, or after him. They then would have to be willing to take on the sin of every other person in the whole world, willingly, even though they themselves were innocent.

This person, to represent humanity, had to be a human, a true human, fully human. Like a repeat Adam, but before the sin, and able to withstand every temptation.

The way I am describing this, is like someone trying to solve a problem of logic, like a mystery game, but in an emergency, you do what has to be done, ready or not. You do what you decided to train in and be ready for.

Jesus was not an answer to a dilemma of morals vs saving humanity. Jesus was not the missing puzzle piece that God finally worked out in order to sort out the world.

When Adam and Eve bowed to the temptation and took the fruit, God was not caught by surprise. Yes, he was sad, and upset, maybe like when a parent finds out that their child is using drugs, even though everything they’ve been taught from childhood is not to use drugs,
But God was invested in Adam and Eve and all of creation, with his whole being. So invested, that he would give up his one and only dear son, allowing the heavenly fellowship to be interrupted by our selfish, stupid sin.
           
The incarnation is the term we give to God becoming man.

Jesus was always with God, was always God, as we read from the Gospel of John, but at that moment when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, God became flesh, a helpless embryo, needing human sustenance and human care. That embryo was truly human, but was not fallen. He was wonderfully pure, without sin, and without desire for sin, as all of us should be.

The word became flesh and dwelt among us.

This is the incarnation, this is Jesus, this is Christmas.

The grace of God appeared.
If you watch some of those restoration shows, sometimes people will spend amasing amounts of money to restore say an old motorbike, or toy car or something to being like brand new, or sometimes, better thatn it may have ever been, and the money they spend seems like a total waste, except to the owner of that toy or motorbike.

Grace is the goodness and willingness of God to do something effective, no matter how expensive, to fix our inability to have fellowship with him.

Grace is God’s willingness to not just overlook our sin, but fill the deep and painful hole in the middle of our hearts, that the explosion of sin causes.

Grace is Gods willingness to tie up all the loose and smelly ends that we deliberately forget to do, not really having the abilty or desire, in our weak attempts to be godly.

Grace is God’s willingness to visit the ugliest, most repulsive prisons that are home to angry criminals intent on destroying anything good. His willingness to send an innocent child into the midst of a politically and religiously corrupt nation.

Grace is God’s immense and unrelenting love made into a man, Jesus. And God’s grace appeared at that very first Christmas.

Jesus came as an infant, helpless but pure, able to pass the tests that Adam and Eve miserably failed, and willing to take on our humanity and sinfulness and bear it on a cross until every sin and every sinner is fully judged, sentenced, and the punishment complete.

Jesus is the cure to the disease we didn’t believe we had contracted. The hereditary disease of rebellion against God.

He came into the world willingly, and gave his life willingly, rising from death powerfully, ascending to heaven, gloriously, and promising to return irrefutably as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.


Friday, November 22, 2019

If the Christian life is like long distance running

You do improve with practice
Your style and pace are very hard to change
Running when you are older, doesn't look very fancy, but still works.
Knowing the route is helpful.
Looking into the distance, and thinking about how far, how steep or how hard it will be is sometimes discouraging,
 Just sticking to a pace you can maintain, concentrating on, and enjoying what immediately surrounds you and not worrying about others running better than you helps you complete a route.
Trying to interpret a sign from a distance can give the wrong information, better to wait until you are close to it.
Speeding up too soon can wreck things.
Running with someone else can be very helpful, particularly if you care more about the shared experience than the pace.
Running usually hurts, even when you are doing well at it. 
The right clothes, shoes and temperature helps.
Getting through a run is basically between you and your body.
Walking is OK, and sometimes unavoidable.
Stopping is OK, and sometimes unavoidable. But that doesn't mean you can't start again.
Finishing doesn't feel amazing, but it is a great relief.
Running makes you sweat and stink.
There is a wholesome satisfaction once the run is complete.

 


Saturday, November 9, 2019

Not with wisdom and eloquence.

1 Corinthians 1:17 NIV For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel---not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
This verse is surprising. How much time do we preachers spend on delivery? This verse implies that the more time we spend on “smooth and clever”, the less power in the message, the message being the gospel. I suspect that Paul’s delivery was heartfelt, direct, personal and dignified, but not clever or smooth. His letters are strong, comprehensive, detailed and personal. A full reading takes time. I have no idea how long Paul would preach publicly for, though in his teaching amongst believers, he would go on into the late night, as I gather from the young man who fell asleep and fell out of the window in Acts 20:9.
 Most western church services have a time set for a sermon. This is a time of teaching, rather than preaching, yet it is appropriate, in my opinion, that the proclamation of the gospel takes place during this time, as this is an opportunity to call people into faith. Yes, our teaching ought to be clear, and a smooth delivery seems to be an expectation for both speaker and listener, but a great performance is not a mark of the Spirit. Hollywood has invaded the church. The west is so well entertained that we do not accept rough edges even in a sermon. Good sermon preparation is about seeking Gods will and submitting to his word in our own lives, as we meditate in the depths of a passage of scripture. Out of that, we will have something to share, something to confess, and a re-referencing of our thoughts and plans in the light of a God who sent his Son to bring us into the light of his great salvation. Power is a good word. It sometimes is translated to “dynamite”. But the power of the gospel is not an uncontrolled explosion. Moreover, it is the strength and wisdom to grapple with and domesticate the stubborn, unrepentant will and heart of any and every human being. The raging storm that caused the disciples to lose hope while Jesus slept in the boat, was calmed by a single strong word from our Lord. It is his word, not ours, that enters and subdues the rebel will. But he can and does use people like us.

Friday, October 25, 2019

But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.


Psalm 22:3 is a verse many of us turn to, to help justify the degree of importance we place on music in church.

So much so, that we drag out a song for 10 minutes or more, songs that do not have 10 minutes’ worth of content, repeating choruses and verses, single lines, hooks, until we reach an emotional climax, which is interpreted as the presence of God entering the building.
  
It becomes a formula. Play the right song, with the right degree of dedication and passion, for the right amount of time, and God will “turn up”.

It reminds me of Elijah and the prophets of Baal from 1Kings 18.
“They shouted all day and even slashed themselves with swords, but there was no response.”

And in Luke 18, the Pharisee who had a long and involved prayer about himself, that he offered with great skill in God’s temple, yet he was not heard.

If we pay more careful attention to psalm 22 we actually see that it is the psalm that most closely prophesies Jesus suffering on the cross. The verse that states that God inhabits Israel’s praises may be translated as; "Israel praises the Holy God who is enthroned." The bulk of the psalm deals with the author being in the midst of evil. Being forsaken. In fact, those deep, deep words of Jesus on the cross, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me” at the height of his sacrificial suffering for our sin, was not simply a cry of utter anguish as he bore the terrible sin of all mankind, but was also his quoting of this scripture, psalm 22, that he knew confirmed the reality of his key role in the salvation of mankind.

God does not need our praises to allow him to walk amongst us. Paul said he is not far from any one of us, and he was speaking to gentile unbelievers (Acts 17:27). The Tax collector in the temple did not even look up to heaven, he dared not, he simply beat his chest and confessed his need for mercy. It was not skilful or beautiful, but it was true, and God heard him, and granted him mercy, so much so that he went home justified.

I am a worship songwriter and a worship leader, I love many of the big songs, I long for the experience of hearing one of my songs sung by large congregations, I say this as confession, not because I think this is a good thing. But I am convinced that God is not honoured by techniques that are used to manipulate a crowd. And I believe that techniques are used deliberately in church for this effect. Many simply follow instruction and do only what they have simply grown up doing, it is part of their culture, others, like me, look on longingly, wishing my congregation experience would somehow transform into what I often seen on the worship videos online. But God cannot be manipulated. Even Job, in his suffering, realized his stupidity in trying to force an answer or action from God.

God is Holy. He is truly Holy. We are obliged, morally, and in every other way, to offer him all that we are, all that we have, all that we look forward to, our skills, our homes, our families, our relationships, our bodies, everything, as a gift of praise, recognizing that all that we have is from Him, and acknowledging all that He has done for us, not just in sending his dear Son, but even our day to day mercies, our being fed and housed and cared for, and our utter unworthiness, yet complete acceptance into his own precious family by the pouring out of his Spirit, the giving of his Son, and the resurrection that assures us that all of the promises he has made are true.

I realize this short word may offend some, even some I know and love.
I love music, I love my guitars, I struggle with all the trappings of music, in particular, the desire for recognition. I confess this with honesty.
But my heart is burdened with these thoughts.
May the Lord allow us to continue in fellowship.