Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Sermon from Matthew Chapter 4, in particular, on repentance.

Matthew 4:12-25 (NIV) 12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles—

16 the people living in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus Heals the Sick

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

 

 

This morning’s reading is from the gospel of Matthew chapter 4. It describes the start of Jesus ministry, after his baptism by John, when the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove, and heaven opened up and God, the Father spoke, “This is my son with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus was then led into the wilderness for 40 days, where he fasted and was tempted by the devil. He resisted the temptations, and on returning, it says that having heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.

 

So, it wasn’t very long after John baptised Jesus, that he was put in prison by Herod.

 

If baptising Jesus was the peak of John’s career, he was not able to “enjoy” that event for very long.

 

Now, in chapter 2 of Matthew it says that when Joseph returned from Egypt (with Mary and the child Jesus, after the first Herod who killed all the young boys in Bethlehem had died) but he heard that Archaleus, the son of the previous Herod was reigning in Jerusalem, and as well as being warned in a dream (Joseph had a number of important dreams), he withdrew to Galilee, living in a town called “Nazareth”.

 

So, Joseph had some fear of Herod’s son, as well as God’s warning to cause him to head for Nazareth, where Jesus grew up.

 

In chapter 4, Jesus also avoids Jerusalem, in the wake of John’s arrest and also heads for Galilee.

 

Was Jesus, like Joseph, afraid?

 

I don’t think so. He had just spent 40 days in the desert starving and being tempted by the devil himself, later he walked straight up to the powerful demoniac who broke chains.

But Jesus was practical, and had a mission to accomplish, so he headed for Galilee, but this time he didn’t stay in Nazareth, he probably passed through Nazareth, and went on another 50km or so, and lived in Capernaum.

 

And, apart from anything else, he was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, which stated that the land of Zebulun and Naphthali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles,

The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.

 

So this is what Isaiah said many years before (? 600 years before).

 

And here is the young, vibrant, motivated Jesus fulfilling this prophecy with all his might.

 

What is “Zebulun and Naphthali”?

 

Areas of the promised land.

 

But also, the names of 2 sons of Jacob, (who was also known as Israel, after he wrestled with God).

 

Remember there were 12 sons

 

In Genesis, Many, many years before Jesus’ incarnation, we read that Jacob moved from the promised land to Egypt because of the great famine, which Pharaoh had dreamt about and Joseph interpreted. Which led to Joseph being in command. But 400 years after Joseph, Moses, a descendant of Levi, one of Joseph’s brothers, rescued the Israelite nation from Egypt (who had made them slaves) and took them back to the promised land, and the land was divided amongst the 12 tribes, each region named after the sons of Israel, except that the Levites, who were appointed as priests and were not given land, instead they were provided for through the sacrificial system. But Joseph was given 2 allocations after his 2 sons Manasseh and Ephraim. So, there were still 12 areas. (see slide)

 

Naphthali and Zebulun were 2 of them by the sea of galilee.

 

And Jesus then lived, temporarily, in Capernaum.

 

If you look at Capernaum now, there isn’t much to see. (see slides)

 

But Jesus didn’t need much, did he?

 

He didn’t need a big shopping centre, or a car or a boat.

 

And even today there isn’t much to see, a few churches that mark certain sites, like where Peter lived, the place where Jesus gave the “sermon on the mount”, and the place where he fed the 5000.

 

So, it is ‘touristy”, but even though it’s touristy, it’s not a metropolis today, it still looks pretty sparse.

 

So, what did Jesus do there at Capernaum and Galilee?

 

He preached.

 

Both open air and in the synagogues.

 

(They have found ruins of synagogues, which is important historically.)

 

In chapter 5 to 7 of Matthew we have a pretty long sermon with lots of teaching that Jesus gave, probably not all at once. But it starts with the famous “beatitudes”.

They are the blessing announcements, starting with “blessed are the poor in spirit, because the kingdom of heaven is for them”

 

But in this passage in chapter 4 the stated preaching of Jesus is; “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Which is very much like what John was preaching.

 

So, I would like to look at what that means.

 

The Kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, is not a geographical area, though kingdoms are often defined geographically.

 

It is the place where God’s rule and authority are in place.

 

Now of course God is in authority in all the earth and in fact, in all of the universe, because he created everything, (and by the way, we heard from Hebrews and Colossians and other passages that Jesus himself, before he became man, was the creator, or co-creator with the Holy Spirit and God the Father.)

 

But the implication here is that, at this point, in this place, God’s rule was not being respected, or considered.

 

It’s a bit like the story we heard about the car being pulled up by police on the central coast somewhere and the occupants telling the police that they had no jurisdiction there. Meaning that they considered their car, a part of a different country that they ruled.

There are a few crazies out there with this type of attitude.

 Well that didn’t work, did it? Apparently, the police officer pulled out the window and probably arrested the occupants of the car because they did have jurisdiction there. God has jurisdiction everywhere doesn’t he?

 

What about in the pubs?

 

What about in a brothel?

 

Or a drug house?

 

Or a Hindu temple? In a remote part of India?

 

But this is the promised land, and both Isaiah and Matthew describe the land as living in the shadow of death, in darkness.

 

The implication is that they are actually far from God, whether by choice or other.

 

And I suggest that there was some choice in it.

 

What about Narrandera?

 

Are we in darkness?

 

Does the rule of God apply in Narrandera? In NSW? In Australia?

 

Do we follow Gods rules?

 

What about euthanasia, what about marriage? And I’m not even talking about gay marriage.

What about the name of Jesus?

 

Do we respect that name?

 

And do we respect the bible, God’s word?

 

I wonder what it was like in Galilee at the time of Jesus?

 

Jesus message was that they should repent.

 

What does it mean to repent?

 

The first answer is; “turn around.”

 

We have just had a new year, and many people do still make resolutions.

Is that repentance?

 

Sometimes repentance is simply stopping.

 

It can be really hard to stop. If I’m in an argument with my wife, it is hard for me to stop.

 

But that is what I should do.

 

But is repenting more than simply turning around, turning over a new leaf? Stopping the bad thing you are doing, maybe being sorry for doing it, and I’ve said in the past, being prepared to face the consequences of your actions, maybe even handing yourself in for a crime you have committed and gotten away with in the past, or confessing your guilt and apologising.

Yes, all of these things are repentance. But I think there is still more to true repentance. This came to me as I was preparing this, and I’ve never said this before, but I think true repentance is actually following Jesus.

 

You can decide to be good. You can decide to stop smoking or stop drinking or stop arguing or stealing or hurting others or scheming for whatever, and taking advantage of others etc, but the difference really happens when you decide to follow Jesus. I think that is what brings about proper repentance.

 

You see when you decide to follow Jesus you are saying that:

Jesus knows best,

what he says must be right,

how he tells us to behave and the way he tells us to live our lives is the right way to do things.

 

That is repentance,

 I think.

 

So, when we repent we become Christians, and when we become Christians we repent,

And following Jesus sorts out our character and our plans etc. In other words, as we mature as Christians we repent again and again, putting away old habits, and realising new habits also need to be put away.

 

What I haven’t said yet is that repentance is a gift that the Holy Spirit gives.

 

When the Holy Spirit is present he convicts us of sin and righteousness and judgement but he doesn’t leave us quivering in fear, he opens our eyes to the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done for us, and then we simply fall into place in our following of our wonderful saviour.

 

Remember the woman caught in adultery, in the end it was just her and Jesus, and he asked her, does no-one condemn you?

 

She answered no, and Jesus answered, nor do I condemn you, now go in peace and sin no more.

 

The Holy Spirit is God, and he also convicts us, but he does not condemn us, instead he shows us the forgiveness that Jesus has bought at great price for us, and we are then motivated to repent and sin no more.

 

So, in my theory, if you repent, you become a Christian, and you come to church.

 

If you repent, you love the bible

 

If you repent you love other Christians

 

If you repent, you love.

 

It’s not actually a burden, not a heavy one anyway, Jesus tells us his burden is light.

 

We may lose face, but that’s probably the best thing that could happen to us.

 

So, getting back to the passage, Jesus starts by preaching repentance, because God’s rule is coming back into importance, his kingdom is near, he is reasserting his control of our lives in this region.

 

And as he walked along the shore he saw Peter and his brother Andrew and he said come follow me. And they repented and followed him.

 

Now it doesn’t say here that they repented but if you read Luke 5 we find the story of how they had been fishing all night and then probably listening as Jesus preached from the boat, and then reluctantly they agreed to throw out their nets once more.

 

It wouldn’t surprise me if up to that point Peter had been angry about the lack of fish, and maybe about this religious bloke using their boat to preach religion, and that while Jesus preached about the goodness of God, he had been thinking that if God is so good, why won’t he make my life easier and give me some fish for a change? (Now I’ve just made all that up, but you can see what I’m getting at.) So, Jesus (who seemed to know what people were thinking) after he had finished preaching, told them to push out a little and throw out the nets once more, which they reluctantly did. But suddenly there were so many fish the boat was going to sink and they needed more boats and more fishermen.

 

Peter should have been excited, he’d never had such an experience, but instead he felt convicted in his heart of his sinfulness, which I do know because it says in Luke that he told Jesus to go away from him because he (Peter) is a sinful man.

That is repentance, confessing the truth of what we are truly like,

and then Jesus said come follow me, he didn’t tell Peter off, he didn’t care about his sinfulness, and Peter did follow, that is true repentance. He left everything to follow Jesus

 

Now leaving everything does not mean we sell our houses and leave our jobs, although it does mean that for some of us, but It does mean that everything in our lives comes second to Jesus.

 

Everything in our lives comes second to Jesus.

 

That is repentance.

 

I think.

 

Simple?

 

 

 

It is, when the weight of our sin drives us to the only one who can carry the weight of our sin.

 

Acts 4:12 (NIV) Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

 

Now in Matthew there are less details, certainly less painful details. Matthew simply states that as Jesus walked along the shore, he saw 2 brothers Simon (Peter) and Andrew, casting nets into the lake, because they were fishermen, and he told them follow me and I will make you fishers of men, and eventually(?) they followed.

 

No, it says “at once”.

 

Once you can see who Jesus is, there is no hesitation.

 

So, Jesus is in the business of “catching men.” (He tells the disciples that he will make them fishers of men.)

 

That’s what Jesus does, and that is what he is still doing.

 

By “catching” we don’t mean enticing us into some strange cult that turns us into “weirdos”.

 

No, it means we become people who love God and are willing to serve others out of love, and willing to suffer out of our love for Jesus. We love, because he first loved us.

 

He also called 2 others, James and John, and they also repented.

 

And then Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching in the synagogues, preaching good news (that’s the net) of the kingdom. And healing every disease and sickness among the people. And Jesus became famous in that area.

 

The people in darkness have seen a great light, and that light is the life of men.  Without Jesus, we have no light and no life, and no way, and no truth. No way or light or life to anywhere and certainly not to God but with Jesus we do have light and life and the way to God.

 

So, let’s all of us repent and follow Jesus.

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life!

 

 

Ephesians 2:12-14 (NIV) remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace

 

Luke 24:32 (NIV) They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

 

Sunday, December 4, 2022

A Law for Themselves (Romans 2:14)

Romans 2:14-15 (NIV) 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

 

Who is Paul talking about here?

 

Gentiles {non-Jews) who naturally obey the Law.

 

 

I remember discussing this a little when I was at bible study at university.

I imagined a tribe of Godly people in the jungle somewhere, with a high sense of morality.

 

They may well exist, but I am not aware of any definite examples.

 

But what I have become aware of as I read through Acts of the apostles, is the description of some of the gentiles (people who were not born of Jewish parents, and therefore not raised in the Jewish understanding of God) who, prior to coming to faith are described as “worshipers of God”

 

An example is Lydia as well as Cornelius.

 

Acts 16:14 (NIV) One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

 

Acts 10:1-2 (NIV) 1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.

 

It seems that there were people, non-Jews, who believed in God, prayed to him, worshiped him, and feared him, before they had any inkling of Jesus, or Paul, or Peter, or anything Christian.

 

Did they have faith?

 

Was this faith a saving faith?

 

Did Paul have to “set them straight” so to speak, because they were off track?

 

Or did God simply make sure that Peter, Paul and others found these people who would otherwise have no understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done for them (and us).

 

Do we need to already fear God in order to hear and respond to the Gospel?

 

I do think there are people whom God has prepared ahead of time to receive his word in a wonderful way, and who respond eagerly, tenderly and gratefully when they finally hear it.

If nothing else, they have a strong sense of their own sin and the holiness of God, and the dilemma that presents. I can identify, to some degree, with that description.

 

But there are also others who “kick against the spikes”. Still God speaks to them (and us) and floods them with his wonderful saving grace.

 

As followers of Jesus, we want to share the joy of full forgiveness with others. May God both direct and bless this desire.


Thursday, October 13, 2022

Was Jesus ever surprised?

    As parents, we are sometimes surprised by the things our children do or say, especially, but not only in those first few years. The first smile, the first word, the first step, they are all expected, but still a joyful and sometimes surprising event. Even when something is known and predicted to occur, like the budding and flowering of a fruit tree in spring, there is still a breathtaking joy to wake up in the morning and see that a tree is now in flower.

            It seems right that these events, programmed into creation, bring a wholesome joy to our hearts. And to not be touched by these events, says something about our own state of being. It is possible to refuse to participate in the joy of God’s handiwork as it displays his glory around us.

            So, when our children, and grandchildren, draw their first picture, sing their first song, throw their first ball, we are enthralled, though some might say this is ordinary stuff.

            And we can also experience disappointment, when our children do less than expected, or deliberately refuse our advice or instruction. This can happen outside of the teenage years. This sort of disappointment could be considered the inverse of joyful surprise. It is a painful surprise. Like finding out your wonderful friendly pet dog has just killed the neighbour's pet chicken. Ouch.

           

 

            Was Jesus ever surprised? Given his wisdom and prophetic gifts, some might say that he had no grounds for surprise. And if we look at God’s presence in the garden of Eden, was he surprised that Adam and Eve had sinned? Surely he knew. But knowing that your child has committed a crime does not take away the need to speak to your child yourself and hear from their own lips what has transpired. And surely such an occurrence, for a loving parent would bring emotional pain, even freshly, as the details are re-explained.

            As I write this I do wonder that the investment of love is what actually brings both joy and sorrow to the events that go on around us, even when we know that the events are normal or expected. And may I also add to this the joy and wonder that children openly express as they experience simple events, maybe not even for the first time, such as an infant being bathed, or a child holding a puppy.

           

I do believe Jesus experienced both joy and surprise, but also disappointment.

 

My mind turns to his response to people’s faith. Such as the centurion’s servant who was healed at a distance, and the woman with the flow of blood that touched the hem of his garment, the widow who put in her last copper coin in to the temple collection, and then his surprise at Nicodemus' lack of understanding (also faith related).

 

He was not surprised by Peter’s assertions or betrayal, nor that of Judas, but he was still moved by these events. The reason he is moved is because he loves us. If he did not love, he would not be affected.

 

We are not robots or automatons, programmed to succeed or fail by an emotionally detached and remote God. We are his children and he dearly loves us, and he is exceedingly joyful when we repent, and walk by faith, and I suspect he is also disappointed when we sin, but not to the point of giving up on us. He has provided everything we need (out of his love) so that we can continue on in his great grace and great love and great mercy. And His joy is our strength.

 

2 Peter 1:3  His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the full knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence.

           

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Election

This topic seems to easily cause heated discussion, dividing opinion and rousing difficult thoughts and emotions, and unfortunately, sometimes these discussions can highlight ugly traits of our fallen natures, including pride, arrogance, and anger. We can invest too much in being “right” about our theology.

I did not envy a minister recently who spoke from Romans 9. ( He did it well)
I'm not sure we are meant to nut out and fully resolve the mystery of election and I believe we should be careful not to draw particular conclusions despite what appears to be clear logic.
God is above and beyond our reasoning abilities. He can bring the universe into existence simply by his powerful word.
He is able to do much more than we can ever ask for, or imagine, and his goodness is deep and wide.
So I am able to find joyful security and peace in being saved and forgiven by grace alone, implying that God chose to flood his saving goodness on me even before I had a chance to show how bad, or really bad, I would turn out, or made any "commitment".
Grace is that key word that separates Christianity from all other religions.
The word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us full of  grace and truth.
Jesus is Lord and we are saved by grace through his work on the cross.
So everyone who is saved, is saved by grace, and that grace is poured out on all whom God chooses. That is election. That is predestination. Sometimes the word “limited” is used in conjunction with the word election, but my understanding of God is that he is not limited by what we think he might be. For example, five loaves and two fishes should not feed a crowd of five thousand hungry men and their families leaving twelve basketfuls of left overs.
What is not stated anywhere in my reading of the scriptures is that people are therefore predestined to hell.
It seems a logical mathematical conclusion, but we are not able to, or have any authority to make these conclusions.
We trust God in all his decisions and unsearchable judgements.
I find it interesting that in the cases of Cain, Ishmael, Esau, Saul, Absolom, Saul of Tarsus, the thief on the cross, Simon the sorcerer, Pilate, Judas, and many others, that God’s dealing with these people is more merciful than expected.
We are to carefully consider the kindness and severity of God, but do we see his kindness even to those who are actively evil and relatively unrepentant?
I am not a universalist.
I do believe in the existence of hell, and Satan and demons and evil.
I also believe that there is only one way to heaven and that is through the perfect sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. Everyone who calls on his name will be saved.
I am also familiar with the verses that speak strongly of Gods love and patience for all the world and his desire that all men (humans) should be saved.
I am well aware of the hardening of Pharaohs heart and the example of the potter having the right to decide what part of a lump of clay will be used for common and which part for noble purposes.

But in all of this, I do not see the conclusion that we need not concern ourselves with the “lost” as they are predestined for hell, nor do I conclude that there is no need to present the good news of forgiveness to others because God has already predestined people to salvation.

If I take the example of Paul, he seems to have gone above and beyond, in his every effort to present the gospel to as many people as possible. He asks his fellow Christians to pray that he would do that every time he opens his mouth. He understood that what he had to share was vital for all who heard him. He did not expect Jesus to appear personally to each person, as he had to himself. He took his responsibility in sharing the wonderful truth of forgiveness in Jesus, very seriously.

Reading through the book of Joshua, we come to the story of Rahab, the prostitute who helped the Israelite spies. As a result, she and her family are spared (saved) from the destruction of Jericho.
Who’s actions saved Rahab’s?
Hers?, the spies? Joshua’s?
Yes could be said to all the above, because all made decisions. But in the first place it was God who informed Jericho of who the Israelites were and what they had done, and it was God who gave Rahab the faith to put her trust in these spies. And it was God who led the spies to Rahab’s house, and gave them safety there. Does that nullify the faith decisions made by Rahab, the spies, and Joshua? By no means, but it does put our cooperation with God’s will in better focus. God, it appears to me, is pleased with our positive cooperation with his perfect plan, but at the same time is not limited by it. Also, his perfect justice is never threatened or thwarted by our decisions or cooperation, or lack of.

And was Jericho’s destruction predestined? Or was it the result of God’s holy judgement coming upon a nation who had gone well beyond God’s tolerance of rebellion.

Faith and Grace work powerfully to save. But the cross of Christ is the work of salvation, it is the cross that demands our full attention by faith, and the resurrection is the explosion that releases the full force of God’s grace.
God’s plan of salvation is deeper than our wills. And all of our mind, soul, strength and heart is involved in its working out.

We trust God in his perfect plan, and we are energized by hope and love for those around us, with whom we love to share the joy and hope that is in our hearts.

When we share a meal, we do not simply give our guests packets of frozen food, uncooked out of our freezers. Leaving them to do the best they can.
We share food that we have lovingly laboured over, enjoying the process of preparation, and then enjoying in the shared eating of the meal. Giving thanks to God who provided everything.

But the meal is actually prepared by God himself, in the mystery of his invisible presence with and in us.
If it relied solely on my effort, even on my willingness, or my agreement, then I would lack peace and security at my possible failure or I would be filled with pride in my success. But if it is God’s gracious will at work, then I am secure, and humble.

I trust God’s sovereign choice. I am so glad it is his will that gets me over that threshold, through the sea of my rebellion, on the firm ground of his commitment to me. I do not trust my own ability to make a life long commitment and keep it to God’s standards. Jesus often highlights the strictness of those standards, implying, for example, that thoughts of adultery are equal to adultery, that anyone who looks back after putting their hands to the plow is unworthy, that no rich person could enter the kingdom of heaven. But he also makes it clear that what is impossible for man is not impossible for God.

Trusting in God’s sovereignty, frees me to walk in the purposes he intends for my life, without the terrible guilt of failure dogging me at every turn. If God is for us who can be against us? These are powerful passages, giving us endurance and hope in times of trouble.

I believe in election, but I deliberately give no space in my mind or heart to consider or debate “predestination to hell”. I don’t see it as a topic of the scriptures, I feel no need to try and “resolve it” mathematically, or logically. I see no benefit in the pursuit of these unnecessary questions for anyone, and I know, by faith, that God’s goodness and mercy will never be brought into question. His grace is more than sufficient.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Grace vs Nice

Grace (God's grace) means that my sin is forgiven because Jesus paid the full price (with “interest”) for my debt. Debt doesn’t really cover the ugliness, selfishness, and deep rebellion of sin. If someone, in authority over me, (eg a teacher) asks me to do something (eg tuck my shirt in) and I do it simply to avoid any punishment, but as soon as the teacher is elsewhere, I pull out my shirt and use choice words to describe the teacher, then my rebellion is strong even if my sin is small.
Grace not only pays for my rebellion but changes my heart to love my teacher and want to obey my teacher. Grace causes repentance.
Grace must show me the horror of the cross (which pays for my rebellion) and the deep love of the lamb who willingly and lovingly accepted the weight of my sin. Grace highlights sin, and then utterly destroys it.

“Nice” feels sorry for my rebellion, “accepts” that I cannot change (?!), and does not ask me or expect me to tuck my shirt in. Nice believes that the love shown in overlooking my rebellion will lead to my repentance, and reform. Nice does not pay for rebellion, it sympathizes, and feels pride for tolerating and not judging. Nice thinks it effects good change, but it fails. Nice is interested in love but not grace. Repentance is unnecessary, sin is relatively benign, the cross is artistic, judgement, wrath and hell are periods of religious history long obsolete. Nice “interprets” the bible within current social and “scientific” understanding. Nice enforces no rule except the rule of tolerating and not judging human sinful nature. Nice accepts all religions except fundamentalism.

Nice is not grace, grace is not nice. Grace is amazing. Nice is deceptive. Nice is too proud for grace. Nice refuses grace.

Nice pleases men. Grace offends men. Grace saves men.

The prodigal son received grace.

Nice always looks nicer than grace.


Grace smells of blood and sweat.

Grace dies.

Grace defeats death.

 

The word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.


 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Anti-footprints?

 I was thinking recently about life and suffering.

I thought about being on a difficult journey, possibly alone, in the wilderness, and how it would feel if you thought you were lost with no chance of recovery? And then you prayed for help from God.

What if you then found the strength and resolve to go on in that journey, and this, eventually led to you finding a road and then being found by a passer-by?

 

Does God answer our prayers that way sometimes?

By “that way”, I mean, instead of sending a helicopter to your exact location, he gives us the strength to continue, on our own legs and go the extra mile or hundred miles, despite everything being against us, and our mind, body and spirit beyond exhaustion?

 

And that made me think about the animals and machines we use for transport. How we prefer our own vehicles to reach the goal of our journey, even if the vehicle is old, slow, and inefficient. We actually enjoy the function of our vintage cars (especially if we have restored them) over our modern efficient ones.

And then I thought about my elderly patients (now not too much older than me) and how small steps of recovery are so celebrated, despite their measly appearance.

 

And it made me think that God also celebrates our function even if we are old and relatively worn out. Maybe we are his vintage cars?

 

And that made me think about footprints, and how we could re-imagine that conclusion to that beautiful poem, along the lines of;

 

At those times of only one set of footprints, I was in you, giving you the strength that comes only by faith.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Christian Burn out

Burn out is something that I believe I have experienced.

Maybe I have crossed to the other side of burn out, though often I wonder if I am still emerging in and out.

 

I have been a Christian for most of my life, and I am now close to 60.

 

Burn out is something that may happen despite faith, but because I am a Christian I want to put some thoughts down that may help someone else, then again, you may not agree with my thoughts, and that’s OK, I may be wrong.

 

I do think that burn out is something that happens after many years, and may have many contributors.

 

But before I suggest what contributes to it, I want to describe what I believe it feels like.

 

The following are some of the feelings I experienced.

 

Anger, my mood would often flare.

Frustration and impatience. I found I had much less tolerance of others not doing things a certain way, or taking too long to do something that I felt should be easy to complete.

I was judgemental of others, and impatient with what seemed to me as incompetence.

I was less considerate of how my words would affect others, and more self-righteous in how I performed given tasks.

 

I was more vocal in criticizing anything that I felt needed criticism, which included work environment, church environment, and any other situation I felt I had a right to criticize.

 

I certainly had a sense of abandonment by “the system”, “the government”, my peers, and even some members of my family.

 

I also carried a strong sense of failure, in my job, my family relationships, and my Christian walk.

 

I did not stop going to church, but I was more critical and less active.

 

I surprised myself more than once that I brought fellow workers to tears, when I simply felt I was stating true facts that explained why I had or hadn’t done something.

 

I also faced situations which I could not undo, such as failing to visit someone prior to their dying, that was hoping I would visit.

 

Getting back to anger, I know I was angry that God had not “done” certain things, that I thought he would have, and I felt I deserved.

 

There are probably other things I haven’t mentioned, but you get the picture, someone who professes to be a Christian, but the mirror that I glimpsed from time to time, only showed a hard, rude, angry sinner, the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit.

 

May I also throw in at this point, that I think we generally paint a much rosier picture of ourselves than what the people around us see. Whether we are burnt out or not. And, if I am completely honest, I think we easily look down on others and consider ourselves, in general, “better than average”.

 

So now I am hinting at the things that I think can lead to burn out.

 

The biggest thing, I believe, is a wrong personal expectation of life, and of God.

 

We are motivated by many things, but if, for example, you work hard at your job, thinking that one day you will be the boss, and able to lead an easier life, yet a number of years down the track you realize, that nothing has changed and no-one is offering you a promotion, then this can change our motivation.

 

As a Christian, we may think that if we continue on in our church, serving, worshiping, leading, teaching, that the church will grow, and who knows, you might be the church that breaks out in revival, even though no-one else, “out there” expected it.

 

Maybe we will even rival some of the famous mega churches, after all, God can see the deep honesty of our faith at work.

 

But after many years of faithful service and attendance, you only see more and more empty pews, this can be disheartening, and suddenly we question our initial expectations and abilities.

 

So I am saying that we are more prone to burn out, if we have a high view of our abilities and high expectations, that are not from God.

 

This is a type of pride, and it isn’t actually from God.

 

If we go back to basics, the reason we are Christians, is because God has given us his son, Jesus, and by the cross, has taken away our sin and shame. Our forgiveness and adoption is God’s great gift to us, and everything we do comes out of that. If we spend our whole lives in thankfulness to God, joining other believers in fellowship in order to better give thanks, and we die without ever experiencing anything of our own making “going viral”, no richer, no more famous, no more considered by others, and not promoted to any position of leadership, then we are still incredibly blessed to have had all of our sins forgiven, and others to share that joy with.

 

Unfortunately, especially today, we have open access to media through internet, giving us too much fuel for envy of others, and ambition in ourselves.

 

We suddenly consider our current state as inadequate and seek to achieve something that we see as better than what we actually already have.

 

If we achieve these things, we become hungry for more, and if we don’t, at some point our motivation comes crashing down.

 

Either way, we can easily reach burn out.

 

The good news is that God’s love does not burn out, disappear, or disappoint us.

 

Our understanding of God’s love and will for our lives might need important editing, but the truth of who he is and what he has done for us because of his incomparably great love for us, does not change.

 

While we were still sinners, he sent his son to die for us, and as we continue on in our prideful religious sinning, he has still sent his son to die for us. We are not worse off, in fact we are better off.

 

To see what God has done for us more clearly, we sometimes need a good dose of humble pie, and, unfortunately, often the only way we will swallow humble pie, is when someone else has forced us into it. Thankfully, God is sovereign, and though the adversity might come through other people causing us what seems to be unfair suffering, God never allows us to fall beyond his love, and is still able to keep his promise of working everything for the good of those who love him. Unfortunately, or fortunately, what we see as good, and what God sees as good are often at odds. But what God sees as good is very good, and one day we will all agree.

 

I think as burnt out Christians, we are more ready to hear God speak to us, and also more ready to hear God not speak to us outside his perfect word in the scriptures.

 

I think “burnt out Christian” is the step before “mature Christian”.

 

And I think “mature Christian” is not much different to child like faith.

 

 

As in faith I grow older, my heart sometimes falters,
Remembering with sadness the things I’ve done wrong.

Though I may be a Christian with years of religion,

I still need His mercy and love.


More precious with time, more precious with time,

That's how God's sweet Gospel grows.
Just to know that he lives, just to know he forgives,
And that one day to Jesus I’ll go.