Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

 

My friend spoke on this passage this morning, which led me think on it further. The parable is often taken to imply that it’s never too late to come to faith, and the gift of salvation and eternity is the same for a lifelong, faithful Christian, as it is for someone who might be a rebel for all of their life, but just prior to dying (like the thief on the cross) comes to trust Jesus. I agree that no matter when a person comes to faith, they are saved. But may I just say that most lifelong faithful Christians are still rebels to some degree, and struggle with sin every day, at least that is how I see myself as a long term christian.

 

Anyway, these are some of my thoughts that are a little tangential to the main thrust of the parable,

 

Those workers that were hired late, where were they earlier in the day? Obviously not as keen for work as the ones that were there early. Did they take a while to realize that there was no sense loafing at home, that there is much more satisfaction in doing a job, even if it is hard. The teamwork and the achievement is more of a reward than the pay itself, it could be said.

Having no purpose in life can be soul destroying, any job is better than no job, so it was a great blessing that the landowner went out again, and again, looking for workers.

 

Also, the harvest is a time critical job, if you don’t get it done in time, the fruit will go off, and you lose your productivity, so in a way, the landowner had no choice but to go out and find the workers that he needed.

 

But if the Landowner is God, what is the rush? Surely he can decide to delay the harvest, if necessary? but if the harvest is us, then he needs his workers to bring us in, otherwise, maybe we are lost? This gives the parable and interesting angle?

 

And what of the upset workers who felt that they were underpaid? I certainly can identify with changing my “reward expectation” without a justifiable reason. Maybe those workers quickly reassessed their personal value and skill, as they watched the last workers get paid a full days’ wage, and quickly justified to themselves that they were really worth 3 or 4 days’ wages rather than 1.

 

We can easily be overly generous in our self-assessment (as well as overly critical, which is related).

It’s better to judge ourselves with sober judgement, and accept that we are probably no better than the next person, and maybe worse; God still loves us. And that days wages, if that represents salvation, well, what have we ever done to deserve salvation? Nothing.

If there are first class seats in heaven, then God will decide who gets them, but the truth is, we all fail miserably in our Christian lives, repeatedly, yet God’s grace abounds even more, and we are included in the great wedding feast with the lamb (that’s Jesus) wand we are the bride. Unbelievable.

 

As an example of a great worker, Paul was willing to work for a living (tent making) as well as serve God as a missionary and apostle.

All he wanted was for people to come to a clear understanding of who Jesus is and what a wonderful cleansing and redeeming work he has done for us on the cross. He was willing to die if necessary (yes he was probably martyred in Rome), so great was his love of Jesus and those around him. And he didn’t think he was special, he called himself the chief of sinners.

 

I don’t think he was after any reward, he was simply grateful that Jesus met him personally on the road to Damascus, and opened his eyes to the truth. In fact he was willing to be cut off for the sake of his Hebrew brothers!

 

Also, he did not count himself as worthy as the other apostles, if that is the right word to use, probably because at one point in his life he tried to destroy the church.

 

God does not make many of us famous in preaching or songwriting, or Christian social media or even in our usual jobs, but the fact that we fulfill a role in our family, community and church is a wonderful blessing, that we should not despise. We should not envy others, who appear or are more successful.

 

God is able to do much more than what we can ever ask for or even imagine. So, brothers and sisters, let’s joyfully continue serving our loving Father, in the jobs he has prepared in advance for us to do.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Prickly Pears

Prickly Pears are a delicacy from where I come from. Both my parents were born in a tiny village, nestled in foothills in Calabria, the toe of the boot in southern Italy.
COPKPS-Prickly Pear Seed Oil

They certainly are an acquired taste, but once you have acquired that taste, they are a delicacy and worth the effort.

The problem is that they do require effort, and they do cause pain.

I have a plant in my yard in rural Australia, and the plant does get covered with fruit in summer.

The fruit is not hard to pick except for the spines. Unlike the fleshy leaves which are covered in inch-long needles, the fruit is covered in many thousands of tiny almost invisible spikes, maybe 1 mm long or less, in wart-like clumps of thousands all over the outer skin. Once they are on human skin, they cause ongoing mild discomfort and are very hard to see, and hard to pull out, so they can hurt for days.
So when I was young, it was my father who would sit outside, with his pocket knife, carefully picking up each fruit with index and thumb of his left hand, holding it at each end, then carefully cutting the top, bottom and one slit between that then allowed him to peel the skin off with the tip of his knife, enough so that the eater could pick up the centre flesh in one piece with bare fingers, and put it all in the mouth in one go, no spines, only delicious prickly pear centre.
Now that my father has died, and is with our Lord, I have his pocket knife, which I treasure, and I have happily taken on the role in my family of being the peeler.
Unlike my father, I use thick gloves, and a fork or two, anything to avoid the few spines that inevitably find the skin of my hands, no matter how carefully I try. My father, on the other hand, did it barehanded, without ever complaining, only ever a smile on his face. I can still picture him vividly, sitting in our back yard with a box of prickly pears, and the rest of us gathered around, he feeding us one by one, and enjoying our pleasure.
On a side note, I needed a pair of gardening gloves for an outside job recently and quickly put them on and completed the task. I can't remember what the job was, but later that day, a familiar discomfort was in my fingers. They were the gloves I had used a year or two ago to peel the prickly pears, and the spines had survived on the outside to cause me a second wave of suffering...

Still, I love the taste of this fruit; only mildly sweet, with a powdery texture, and seeds that you just swallow without chewing, a bit like passion fruit seeds, that you must ignore to enjoy. The taste is unique, amazing and recommended by me if you have the opportunity. Every part of this experience helps me remember my father who was a great blessing to me.

I would be surprised if Jesus had not tasted this fruit during his earthly ministry.

Who would have ever gone to the trouble and pain of trying to eat a fruit that is so protected by these tiny but very annoying spines, that can cause many days of discomfort?

The parallel I was going to make, was that, in a way, we are like prickly pear fruit to God.

For God to enjoy our fellowship, and maybe also for us to enjoy each other's fellowship, we must, sooner or later, endure the prickles, to find the treasure inside.

But this is not an accurate comparison.

Unlike the prickly pear, we are rebellious both outwardly and inwardly.
There is no treasure to be found within, only more prickles, more painful, more ugly than those on the outside. If this offends you, it is not intended that way, it is a simple conclusion I reach when I honestly examine myself, even as a professing Christian of many years.
Yet God endures our rebellion and utter contempt of him, and still sends his one and only Son, who endures the cross, which truly represents our rebellion and disobedience, in order to make us part of him, part of God, washed, sanctified, justified, adopted and truly loved.

No one in their right mind would endure peeling a prickly pear in order to eat bitter, ugly, poisonous fruit within. No one, other than our Lord.





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.