Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Trinity (very briefly)

To speak on the Christian understanding of the Trinitarian nature of God is not a small task.

Any attempt to summarise or “put it in a nutshell” will always be inadequate.

The fact that the word “Trinity” does not exist in the old or new testament adds to the difficulty of this subject, and alienates those who cannot go beyond that fact.

Combine this with the clear Jewish teaching from the Old testament, that there is only one God, and everything now seems weak and suspicious, even to some professing Christians.

 

But, to be truly Christian in faith, we must believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Christian God, whom we love, trust and obey, is one God, and He is Father, Son and Spirit.

 

The disciples (Peter, James, John etc.) in the gospels, had no problem believing Jesus was a man, a real man, and then in faith to believe he was God’s chosen, anointed one, the promised son of David, the true prophet like Moses, and the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, but to believe that Jesus is God’s son, and is God, is the step of faith that required eye witnesses of the resurrection, and direct teaching from eye witnesses.

 

Hence the importance of Thomas’s insistence on touching the wounds of the risen Jesus, and his proclamation “my Lord and my God”. As well, the start of John’s Gospel “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word WAS God. (The word became flesh and dwelt among us, therefore Jesus was the word and WAS God)

 

So now we have a Father and a Son. If the Son is God, and the Father is God, then we already have two persons and one God. But the New testament also goes on to declare the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, and the Spirit is God.

 

 2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV) Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

 

 So, very briefly, I have shown a small number of verses that attribute deity to Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  There are many other verses.

 

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are referred to together in a number of verses, for example at the end of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus commands his disciples to baptise us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Because 'three persons yet one God' is such a confronting truth, the early church included that understanding in the earliest “creeds”. Creeds were not prayers, but rather should be considered statements of faith, even as bare minimum statements of faith, or as, “non-negotiables”. If you look at the apostle’s creed, for example, the Trinitarian understanding of God is there.

 

The Apostles' Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

 

 

How we “mathematically” or “logically” explain or fail to explain this understanding does not make or break this truth.

 

Black holes and relativity existed well before we knew they existed, and certainly before we could ever explain them.

 

But suggesting that God is some sort of theoretical complex equation to be nutted out by gifted minds would reduce God to something less than He is.  He is certainly far beyond us, and any understanding we have is completely subject to his willingness to reveal himself to us.

 

His revelation is what determines our understating. In other words, believing in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons, one God, is what we have been given by him, in his coming to us as Son, Jesus, who taught us about the Holy Father, and promised us his Holy Spirit.

 

We believe this because God has revealed himself this way.

 

The word “trinity” is simply a word we have given to summarise our Christian understanding of this revelation.

 

Some people find comfort in some easier explanations such as water being present as ice, steam and liquid, three states, one chemical. Some talk of each human being made up of body, mind and spirit, but I do not think this is at all a satisfactory understanding.

 

Personally, I find it easier to look at a husband and wife.

God uses marriage to make two separate people one body.

In the perfect marriage, the husband and wife are truly one in purpose and will.

To know the wife, is to also know the husband, so unified are they in this perfect marriage. Of course the only perfect marriage is Christ and the church, but here is another mysterious truth of Christianity which I will side step for now.

And if there is no actual comparison or model, in all creation, of "trinity" (which in reality there is not) that also does not disprove the truth of God being a Triune God. God, in actual fact, has nothing to be compared to, he is above and beyond his creation, all we have is what he reveals, and he has revealed himself as Father Son and Holy Spirit.

In my understanding of trinity, I certainly believe that the Father, Son and Spirit, are in perfect unity regarding all of the Father’s will, plan and purpose for all creation, for all eternity, and that, to me, redefines the understanding of one God. Notice I have put the Father as first in this order of three Person’s, one God.

Add to this a rich understanding of the loving perfect unity of Father, Son and Spirit: how the Father honour’s the Son, and the Son (Jesus) honours his Father, and how the Father and the Son honour the Holy Spirit, all serving one another and also serving and graciously  ruling over all creation, and over all history, being one in plan and purpose to bring creation to its ultimate goal (another topic). And we too are greatly blessed and encouraged in our lives as individuals, but also as members of families, and members of church families, and members of God’s family, and participants in God’s ultimate and perfect plan for all creation.

But whether or not I can understand the Trinitarian nature of God, or whether it “suits me” or not, I am still left with the eyewitness accounts of the gospels and the strong teachings of the new testament, as well as the consistent teaching of the early church fathers who put together the creeds.

 

So, I actively choose to align myself, as a Christian, to this teaching and understanding, and my spirit and my conscience are at peace. I encourage all who profess to love Jesus, to believe that God is one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen


Sunday, April 17, 2022

Easter 2022

Today, but not just today, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

 

That is what we as Christians believe, that a man was executed by crucifixion, and that on the third day after he died, he physically rose from the grave, alive again, in an incomparable, and to this day, unrepeated event with no scientific explanation.

 

The reason Christians meet on Sundays is because Jesus rose on a Sunday.

Sunday was the old Monday, and Saturday was, and still is the Jewish holy day, the day that commemorates Gods rest from his work of Creation. But for Christians, the importance of the resurrection turned Sunday into the day for worship.

 

So, every Sunday, is the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.

 

Today, I want to speak on the importance and implications of the resurrection

 

If we read the gospels and the new testament, I find it interesting that the resurrection does not take up a lot of space. For example, in Luke, out of 24 chapters, there are 2 chapters that detail the betrayal arrest, trial and crucifixion, (the passion) but only one chapter on the resurrection. In Mark, there are 16 chapters, and almost 2 chapters on the passion, but only a short chapter on the resurrection. It is similar in the other gospels.

 

And besides this short treatment, what I also find interesting is that the details of how the resurrection is discovered and announced vary between the gospels. Was it a group of women or only Mary Magdalene? At what point did the angels appear, was there one or two angels? Only Matthew mentions the guards and the earthquake caused by an angel.

 But they all agree that women were the first to whom Jesus appeared, that he did appear later to the disciples and Peter, (Peter is singled out, I think particularly because of his betrayal) that he appeared to the 2 on the road to Emmaus, that he ate with the disciples, and that the disciples worshipped him.

 

I know that these discrepancies are not evidence to doubt the new testament. The gospels were written retrospectively after the event, and the many details were to some degree summarised in the excitement of the truth of the resurrection.

 

This morning we read John’s version. He gives the most detail about the actual events at the empty grave, and that is probably because he was one of the 2 who ran there himself, he even mentions that he outran Peter.

 

The next point I wish to make is that the resurrection was unexpected.

No one, not a single follower, expected to see Jesus again, alive and well. Even though Jesus had told the disciples, more than once, what was going to happen.

 

It’s hard for us to see this. We have had many years of Easter celebrations, we know the story well, the ending is no longer a surprise, and that is good. But it was not like that for the disciples, they did not go to bed at peace after the crucifixion, knowing that in a couple of days Jesus would be Ok.

 

The resurrection in some ways was disturbing, and confusing. It was unexpected. It had never happened before, nor has it since.

 

Our recent pandemic was unexpected and disturbing. Although, in our lifetimes we haven’t experienced it, but we still had history to tell us of other pandemics.

 

The resurrection only happened once.

 

And briefly, I think Peter would have found this quite a difficult time, having failed so epically, in his denial, and having bitterly regretted his words and actions, having a risen Jesus to face may have brought new questions and fears. How would a risen powerful Jesus deal with his failure?

 

But the resurrection, after the initial shock, was actually the most wonderful event in all history.

 

Once Mary Magdalene realised the gardener was actually Jesus, she wanted to touch him, probably to hold on to his feet, which is how Matthew describes the women meeting Jesus. But Jesus asks her not to, he has to return to the Father.

 

Why, was the resurrection such a wonderful event? I’ll get to that.

 

The next point I want to make is that the resurrection, from my reading of the gospels, was, in biblical terms, a relatively quiet event.

 

Despite its amazing power and significance. He appeared to only a few of his followers only a few times that are recorded. Paul tells us in 1Corinthians 15:5-6 that he appeared to about 500 others, and last of all to himself.

500 sounds big, but considering the much bigger crowds that he preached to eg the feeding of the 5000, even in Jesus terms, it was small. And Jesus certainly did not appear to anyone of political importance at the time, not to religious leaders, not to Herod, not to Pilate, or Caesar. He was not risen in order to overthrow the authorities that had crucified him, it seems that that was not even a consideration. So, if nothing else I would like to say that this implies that he rose particularly for his followers, for the ones he loved. And he did this relatively quietly, and relatively privately, unlike the crucifixion, and then Pentecost, and the preaching of Peter and Paul. But without the quiet resurrection, there would be no power for Pentecost, and for the church to explode into being. The quiet resurrection is still the power that propels the church, and us as Christians.

 

 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NIV) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

 

 

 

Let’s imagine for a moment, that Jesus had simply died.

 

If we look at the state of affairs after the crucifixion, we see that things would have most likely “petered out”, for want of a better word. Peter and the others actually went back to fishing. Everyone was in a state of grief or regret. No-one was expecting Jesus to rise. There were no wise men following a star, like there was at his birth. There as only grief, regret and despair, there may have also been relief for the Pharisees and religious leaders to be finally rid of Jesus.

 

I do not believe a new religion would have started, certainly not a world-wide one.

 For example, Jewish people (I learnt recently on YouTube listening to a Jewish guide in Jerusalem) are not actively seeking others to become Jews.

 

But Jesus did rise. And after the resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples to go out into all the world, and make disciples of all people, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And this did happen.

 

And we know that Jesus actually rose, not because Christianity has spread across the globe and survived 2000 years, but because eye witnesses have recorded the events. The New Testament is a historical document. If you look at how documents are classified as historical, it includes things like, consistency and accuracy between copies and other contemporary texts, numbers of copies, earliest copies, and then style of writing etc. The new (and old) testament, when held up to strict criteria, actually fulfil those criteria in more ways than any other historical document.

 

So, what does it mean for us, that Jesus rose from the dead.

 

I am going to mention a few things that come to my mind.

 

Firstly, it means that Jesus is still alive today.

 

We often know exactly where the remains of our loved ones are. And some many famous historical people have their final resting place marked somewhere. I would love to visit the final resting places of Bach or Mozart. But for Jesus there is no final resting place. His body was not left behind, he rose physically.

 

 

When he rose, he broke the power of death over himself. Because he was fully a man, he died properly, but then came back to life in a way that has never happened before or since. He is now alive beyond death. If we think of death as a person, a powerful person, in an arm to arm battle with Jesus, death and Jesus wrestled one on one completely. It looked as though death had won, but then Jesus despite dying, knocked out death completely, and death will never be able to touch Jesus again. So that means that Jesus was alive, and still is alive today, physically, and his resurrected body can never die and will never die. So, we can say that there is a physical, living man in heaven, at God’s right hand, as seen by Stephen, the first martyr, before he died. That is truly wonderful.

 

 

 

We often think of our loved ones who have passed on, watching over us. Well the only human person I can guarantee is watching over us is Jesus our Lord, he is actually alive.

 

The resurrection means that Jesus is legitimate. What he said about himself and about God must be true. The resurrection proves his validity. All the details about what God expects of us, how we should love each other, forgive each other, trust, serve, give, pray, etc., is all valid and true and certainly deserves our attention. There is no other book we ought to read more often than the Bible.

I read many other things, but the one book I go back to over and over, is the Bible. And by the way, why do we believe the old testament? Because Jesus believed it. He rose from the dead, so what he believed and what he said must be true.

 

The resurrection also means that Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus said that about himself, I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. The resurrection validates this.

 

Jesus did not rise so that every religion would be valid, his resurrection trumps all other faiths, including Jewish faith, I say this understanding it may seem disrespectful to other faiths. This is not my intention. But to ignore Jesus rising from death is to ignore the most amazing event in all history.

 

The resurrection also implies strongly that Jesus was morally pure.

 

The moral victory Jesus had over death was his moral perfection. Death (and separation from God) was in fact the most serious consequence of sin. If Adam had not sinned in the Garden of Eden, death would never have entered into the world. If Jesus had, himself sinned, in the slightest way, morally, he could not have defeated death. His death would have been deserved and therefore, he would not have risen triumphantly.

 

The resurrection also implies that the crucifixion was both necessary and had a purpose, and achieved its purpose.

 

I will repeat this very important point.

 

 

The resurrection also implies that the crucifixion, the cross of Christ, was both necessary and had a purpose, and achieved its purpose.

 

 

What was the purpose of the crucifixion?

 

It was for the sins of the world.

 

Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. (1John 3:8)

 

Without the cross, there is no way to forgive any sins.

 

It’s as simple as that.

 

The cross is where all of our sins are atoned for, propitiated, judged, and destroyed.

 

But without the resurrection, we would not know this, there would have been a tragic death, but no confirmation of its effectiveness.  The resurrection proves the effectiveness of the cross in a powerful and irreversible way. A risen Jesus is the guarantee of his success.

But I want to take this a step further. The resurrection, proving how necessary and effective the cross was, also gives weight the seriousness of our sin before God. If our sin was not serious, God would not have sent his one and only beloved Son, to die for our sins and then rise.

 

So, without the resurrection there is no understanding that through the cross we have peace with God.

 

But because there was a resurrection, the cross was effective and we do have peace with God, and we now think differently about sin, we no longer want to sin. Notice that word “want”. It is important that we don’t want to sin. (and we no longer want to want to sin. I didn’t say we no longer sin!) And we personally consider/scrutinise the moral side of all our actions much more than we ever did before we had faith. All sin is rebellion against God, the cross destroyed our sin and rebellion, and as much as possible we want no more of it.

 

Finally, the resurrection proves not only that what Jesus said was true, but that Jesus is who he said he was. And that is, the Son of God, and more than this, God incarnate, a member of the Godhead.

 

When Thomas had finally been given the privilege of touching Jesus’ crucifixion wounds, he bowed and said “my Lord and My God”. Prior to the resurrection, the disciples did not think of Jesus as God, though Jesus implied it, for example when he told Philp, that to see Jesus is to see the Father.

 

Unfortunately, we worship many things. We are prone to this, including worshiping people, but humans should not be worshiped. Herod died a death of judgement from God when he accepted being worshiped as God, we read in Acts 12:23

 

Acts 12:23 (NIV) Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

 

But Jesus is the one man in all of history who does deserve our worship, and who we ought to worship.  Because he is the Son of God and, he is God. This is proven by his resurrection.

 

I am not going to discuss or try to explain this truth which we know as the Trinity, the triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons, one God. But it is because of Jesus’ resurrection, and the understanding of his supremacy as the Son of God, that we have this understanding. I will briefly quote the start of John’s gospel.

 

John 1:1-3 (NIV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

 

Jesus was a man, he is still a man, the resurrection proves he is also the son of God, and he was always God. He became man at one point in history, the incarnation, where Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, from then onwards he is always, and will always be, fully man and fully God.

 

So though, in my opinion, the resurrection was relatively quiet, it was powerful and unique, and proves beyond any other event, that Jesus is the Christ, and that he achieved all he set out to achieve, in particular, to save sinners like you and I.

 

To be a Christian means many things, but more than anything else, it means that we believe in a resurrected man who is also God, the Son of God, our precious saviour, Jesus.

 

He is King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords. And he is with us, and all people who gather together in his name. He actually leads our worship, and deserves our worship. He is with us by faith and in Spirit. Actually, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all indwelling us and we them!  

 

And our risen king Jesus will return physically and gloriously very soon, and this physical return will not be a private event. Every eye will see him, and every heart will know that Jesus Christ is truly Lord.


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Celebrating Repentance

 

Luke chapter 15 mentions celebration a number of times. It seems that finding a lost coin, a lost sheep, a lost son, and a lost sinner is cause for celebration both on earth and in heaven. 

But is repentance a gift or an action? 

Yes.

How does a lost coin find itself? Or a lost sheep find itself? Or a lost son? Or a sinner?

The son in the parable is described as “coming to his senses”. If we meditate on this, it implies that up until that point the son had been closed to the truth. There was a barrier. Was he blinded by his desire to spend up big? Had he imagined his wealth would never run out? Again, he was deluded, and unwise in his decision making up until that point. 

What seemed to take away the barrier, the blindness, the unwillingness to look at the reality of his situation was a severe famine, and the associated suffering, including what seemed to be a lack of anyone caring for him.

If we briefly go back to the widow with the lost coin, she lights a lamp and sweeps the whole house to find it. It seems she had decided that her best chance of finding the coin, was not a targeted approach. Her action was widespread/ universal. The whole house must be swept, the whole of the country comes under a famine.

 

The famine is an action of God, which somehow lights a lamp and allows the starving lonely son to see what he could not see before.

 

This is the gift of repentance.

 

It is possible the father knew about the famine in the far-off country and, being a person of faith, hoped that this suffering would indeed bring his son to his senses. And hence, in faith he watches for his son, and sees him from afar.

 

And then is overwhelmed with joy and must celebrate this repentance without considering the cost.

 

Every repentance costs the full suffering of our Lord on the cross.

 

Yet there is celebration before the angels.

 

Who is before the angels, celebrating?

 

Is it God the Father himself? 

 

Yes, a lamb is slaughtered for this celebration. But though once dead, this lamb is now alive, and is the author and perfector of our faith celebration.

 

There are not too many heavenly celebrations mentioned in the Bible. The angels celebrating at creation (Job 38:7), the wedding celebration (supper) of the lamb (Revelation 19) and the celebration of the repentance of sinners are the ones that come to mind. I am not trying to paint a sombre picture of heaven. It is a place of great joy, pure joy. But this joy is even greater when sinners like you and I repent.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Killing those who wish to die.

Dying.

The process of serious, irreversible, and permanent end to all earthly relationships.

 

Assisted dying.

Seeing or sensing this process, and adding pressure/ ingredients for it to occur more quickly.

 

Voluntary assisted dying.

People asking others (caregivers?) to provide the means and skill to speed the process of serious, irreversible and permanent end to all earthly relationships.

 

 

There are some assumptions.

 

Death is peaceful.

 

This is an assumption. A big assumption.

 

Post Christian western culture, with its history of an understanding of heaven, eternal rest, the welcoming arms of Jesus, or angels, paradise, clouds, softness, etc, has fed a general understanding of peace after death. How often, at a funeral, do we say or think or write R.I.P? (rest in peace). We sometimes add physical details to our hope, in the items we bury with our loved ones, and the picture we paint of our loved ones enjoying their favourite activity, be it fishing, or drinking in a pub, for endless days in a peaceful blue watering hole in the sky.

  

However, it remains an assumption.

"Rest in peace" is an expression more of hope than certainty.

 

There was a time, I believe,  maybe 100 years ago, when sudden death was considered a curse, as opposed to knowing death was coming gradually, giving the dying person enough time to reconcile with God and family/friends/enemies, making the possibility of peace after death more likely. Orthodox faith ("Orthodox", as in standard Christian belief, not a denomination) includes teaching on both heaven and hell. Hell being a place of eternal (forever, never ending, continuous, permanent) torment. Something, if true, you would certainly wish to avoid, and also, if true, occurs after death, and certainly does not imply peace. Being "right" with God, was the most important detail of a persons temporary life on earth, so fleeting in comparison with eternity. Physical suffering was not considered as serious as dying with unforgiven sins.

 

Post-christian western culture, as well as some modern Christian denominations, have held on to the "positives" and thrown away any negatives, regarding the possibility of post-death suffering.

 

As a result, the seemingly pointless suffering of a protracted terminal illness is feared more than anything that may or may not occur after death. In fact, death is welcomed, and hence the assisted dying legislation is given serious consideration.

 

And what of the act of killing, planned killing, mercy killing, euthanasia, assisted dying, first degree murder?

 

It would be offensive to some, to gather those terms under one umbrella. I do so deliberately.

 

"Thou shalt not kill", remains a well-recognised, and probably the most well-known commandment of the 10 given to Moses in the book of Exodus. The preservation and sanctity of life is held in high regard in the Jewish faith, Christian faith, Islamic faith, Buddhist faith, and others.

Yet in the face of terminal illness suffering, western culture, in Australia and other countries, is looking to make the practice of ending life deliberately, "medically" both legal and acceptable. I purposely put "medically" in inverted commas, because medical treatments are designed to be safe, life prolonging, life preserving. As soon as they are being used in lethal quantities, I believe they no longer qualify for the term "medical", but are now simply poisons.

 

To many, a "quick" end to life when faced with termianl cancer seems a "no-brainer". (Again I use the inverted commas on "quick", as I know that nothing is ever guaranteed, even the electric chair sometimes  malfunctions.)

 

And, after all, who really knows what happens after death?

 

Is there Nirvana? Re-incarantion? Annihilation?   Who has ever returned to tell the important details?

 

There are many accounts now of what people have experienced in near-death or arrest situations, even with the ability to recount details of what the doctors and nurses were doing in the emergency room or surgical theatre at the time. (Trying to bring them back, rather than trying to speed their demise...)

 

People talk of peace, and a light. But I have also been aware of people seeing flames and demons.

 

None of this is fully reliable. It is a matter of faith.

 

And Western society, was based and founded on the Christian faith. The singular, most important truth of this faith being the resurrection from the dead of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, the one person who (by faith, and by the historically reliable accounts of the New Testament) has actually died and returned, rising rising from the dead, in such a way as he will never die again, given that he has defeated death, overpowered it, and death no longer has power of him.

 

Jesus promises his followers a resurrection to eternal life. He also teaches, in the new testament, more than anyone else, on the reality of hell, and eternal judgement. His Parable in Luke Chapter 16, though an illustrative story, gives serious detail into the nature of hell.

 

As our western society runs headlong into proud, faithless, secular understanding and practice, with empty church buildings, and only the vestige of faith as a curious decoration, the process of bringing to irrelevance practices based on Christian belief is happening more and more quickly, almost inevitably.

 

And if there is an all-powerful creator God, who sits in judgement, it may be that he is actually allowing us to rush into this faithless/godless pattern of living.

 

Yet the Christian faith is in a God who is merciful. A merciful God who will bring his people to repentance, despite our stubborn refusal. But also a just God who will never simply overlook sin. In the meantime, people of faith must continue on. 

Continue in prayer and in hope, continue in serving a wonderful, Tri-une, merciful God, who loved the world so much that he sent his one and only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life. 

And we do continue on as consistently as possible, despite changes in law, even if that means ridicule and other difficult ramifications.


Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Can you be a Christian and not go to church?

Firstly, God has the right to accept or reject whoever he chooses, he is the creator, he is God, He does not have to “justify” his choices, although, due to his moral impeccability, his choices are actually morally perfect and just, and would certainly stand up to scrutiny.

Being a Christian, in my understanding, is not simply being born into a religious culture, like being born as an Australian or a particular nationality. (Being born into a particular culture has deep and strong implications, and being born into a Christian family is definitely a blessing but it does not, alone, make a person a Christian.)

Being a Christian does imply at the least, following the teachings of Jesus, but more deeply than this, actually believing in the physical resurrection of Jesus, and believing that Jesus is God’s Son, that he, Jesus, is God, and loving Him for this.

To simply respect the teachings of Jesus, would not necessarily define a person as a Christian. To love Jesus, but not have any strong adherence to his teachings would also be shaky ground, as Jesus stated “If you love me you will keep my commandments”. (John 14:15)
Apart from anything else we do or don't do, it is accepted practice that Christians meet together regularly, usually on Sundays (as a commemoration of Jesus rising from the dead on a Sunday)  for prayer, listening to the Bible, being taught from the Bible, singing, communion, and fellowship. This is called church. It is “herd behaviour”, like a flock of sheep.
To be a Christian means being part of a herd, part of “the flock”.
Now an individual sheep can spend one-on-one time with Jesus, but it’s hard to visualise a single sheep with the shepherd, and no herd in sight.

The one description of Jesus spending time with a single sheep, is when he goes out to search for the lost sheep, with the specific purpose of finding it, and restoring it to the herd.

So being a Christian is almost always being part of a community, a family of believers, being a part of a body, a flock, and this flock is called the church, and the practical way to be a Christian is to be involved with a church somewhere, somehow.

This is sometimes impossible.
Due to law, health, or other unavoidable reasons, some Christians can’t meet together. God somehow sustains us in those circumstances. There were many new testament Christians that were imprisoned. Visiting prisoners is one of the love-duties given to Christians.

But sadly, many of us who are “stay at home Christians”  have specifically and deliberately separated ourselves from meeting with other Christians. Or at least we have made a habit of staying home on Sundays.

There can be many reasons for this.

Does this mean we are no longer Christian?

No.

But it does mean we are wounded, hurting, hard hearted, angry, stubborn, worn out, disillusioned, or possibly rebellious and proud, or maybe even lost.

Which is not too different from those of us still attending church.

Maybe some have renounced their faith, and do not define themselves as Christian. Im not writing this to them, but I am writing to those who have made a decision to no longer go to church, but still do love Jesus.

I'm not suggesting that you can't hear from Jesus without going to church, I’m just saying that being a Christian means being a brother or sister to others who are also Christians, which means meeting together. More than once the New Testament tells us not to give up meeting together.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Jesus taught crowds.
Yes he also met with individuals, but he taught crowds, and today, God teaches us in crowds, usually in church.

For whatever good reason, God seems to want us together when he has something to say to us. Yes we can hear from him personally in our quiet times, but we can also hear from him clearly when we are sitting in our pews, or chairs, or standing, with other Christians around us.

In my home, when we share a meal, I find it hard to tolerate a member of my family, in my home, not being at the table. I would delay the meal until we are all present, I would take the time to sort out any issue that would prevent the gathering of all of us, including the sorting out of differences, and the reconciliation of wounded parties. Being deliberately absent from the table does sound a loud message.

As church leaders, one of our roles is to help bring reconciliation when church members are in dispute, it’s a hard one, one that often has little reward. But stronger than this is our individual commandment to personally reconcile with those who are in dispute with us.

Sometimes, we are relieved when someone stops attending, but that is simply evil on our part. How dare we exclude a brother or sister, simply because it suits our comfort needs? The older brother of the prodigal son was guilty of this.

As a church family we are asked not simply to tolerate one another, but to love one another.

Jesus new that Judas would betray him from early on , actually from “the beginning”. (John 6:64), did that mean that Jesus treated him differently, without love? No. Even at the point of betrayal, he called him “friend”.

In a way, absence from church is a failure of love, on both sides of the fence.

But there is still time. Love is stronger than our own abilities, or desires, or plans. God’s love never fails.

Let’s not stop meeting together as brothers and sisters, as God’s children, in order to serve him as we ought.

Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God. And that is who we are!

Saturday, December 11, 2021

God on Our Side

 

1. In my life

When I've faced the hardest things

Though my faith was wavering

You were always there with me.

 

Your great love

Carried me on eagles wings

Giving me an inward peace

When I’ve faced the hardest things.

 

Help me to know the wonder of your majesty.

You’ve held me strong and safely through the fiercest storms life can bring.

 

Nothing

Can separate us

Ever from Jesus 

Or from the great love of God

 

No-one

Who is against us

Can stand against us

When we have God on our side

 

2. In our lives

Though we suffer many things

God gives us the grace we need

To continue patiently

 

One day soon

He will wipe away our tears

We will know that we are his

When our precious Lord appears

 

 

 

 

Bridge

Help me to know the wonder of your majesty

It’s your enduring love that conquers all my fears.

You turn my times of turmoil into desert springs

You’ve held me strong and safely through the fiercest storms life can bring.


Sunday, December 5, 2021

Dichotomy

As insecure Christians, we are somewhat prone to enforcing our own separation between things that are not actually separate. A simple example is the “laity” and the “clergy”.

 (I have a lot of quote marks in this  passage, my use of them denotes that I don't necessarily agree with the terms within them)

I do understand the difference that is being highlighted in this distinction, but I do want to emphasize that my understanding of the new testament is that we are all saints, believers, a combined priesthood, all are called and gifted, and given to different tasks and responsibilities, yet all are one in our devotion to our Lord Jesus.

In this “division” of laity and clergy, we set up a system where, on the one hand, teaching, prayer and Christian “ministry” (and many other things) are handed over to certain people to "take care of" (the clergy) while the rest get on with their “practical” lives. A bit like being too busy to garden, or cook, or care for your children, so these tasks are handed over, or at least shared with others, who are paid for their involvement. It is a practical arrangement, but also man made.

Yes, God did set aside the Levites for the priestly duties amongst the Israelites, but it is interesting that Jesus was not a Levite, yet he is the true high priest, above all other priests.

The new testament church, on the other hand, was given its apostles by Christ, and then their leadership was handed on to elders at each geographical region of Christian gathering.

 

But leadership did not mean that the leader was responsible for all the “religious duties".

 

The gathering of Christians was actually a family gathering, with all given to all the tasks of God's purposes in our world.

 

So every believer, saint, Christian, has a personal relationship with Jesus, and is responsible to follow him in all that he has for each us, both as individuals and as members of a gathered cooperating group of Christians. (I am deliberately substituting for that well known “c” word)

 

It is interesting that some denominations, eg, the one I belong to, does “ordain” “ministers” yet accepts that the local group continues to meet and function for months and years without an “ordained minister” when none is available for geographic, financial, or other reasons.

 

So the division of laity and clergy in this situation, seems unnecessary.

 

Yes, there are some members that are less likely to attend on Sundays when no “officially ordained” minister is present. And others will only approach the minister, when a funeral or wedding is needed, so that the “religious” necessities of life are taken care of “professionally". These are examples of what I believe are sad outcomes of the presence of an unnecessary dichotomy.

 

But surely “ordination” is biblical?

 

As far as I can see, all people were prayed over, as they were sent to perform any task that was required. This is what Christians do.

Of course, with ordination, those that are in the roles of “ordained minister” are able to be financially cared for, for their role, which is only right, as per the “ox treading the grain”, yet Paul was able to support himself, and never claimed any of what was rightfully his.

 

This is not the dichotomy I intended to discuss.

 

I realised on Sunday, as we alluded to the old testament “heroes” that we are prone to hold on to images of people we think would glow in the dark with holiness. Yet these people were simply people of faith, like us. (James 5:17)

 

In saying this, I do not wish to remove any of the honour and respect we owe to these people, yet we are to honour each other in the same way.

 

Finally, I want to mention the “altar”, or “stage”, or “raised platform” or whatever “special area” we keep for the “specially gifted people”.

Often that is the place where the division of laity and clergy is clearly marked.

 

I am not suggesting we ignore the importance of acoustics, Jesus used a fishing boat to allow his teaching to reach as many as possible, but he was also pressed upon by crowds and children, and when the disciples tried to prevent them, he set them straight.

 

We are not all called to be preachers or teachers, yet we are all prepared to give an account of the hope that is in us, whenever the opportunity arises.

 

Are you laity or clergy? If you are laity, then what gift are you not using to benefit your fellow believers? If you are clergy, then are you willing to serve others without recognition? In humility, not “lording it” over others?

 

Matthew 19:6 (NIV) So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”