Monday, December 21, 2015

Atonement

Recently, I had to deal with a complaint in our workplace.
A customer was rightly upset and wrote a strong letter.
I looked up the points that were made and discussed the issues, and realized that, although unintentional, an error was made, involving processes that could be improved, and minor misses by staff. The problem was that the letter was written directly and personally to me, although I had not personally been involved in the events, it even included the words "I should be ashamed".

It was a bad day for me, eventually I calmed down enough to make contact and write a letter. In it, I accepted responsibility for what had happened and apologized. Although I had not personally made an error, my workplace had, and I am a main leader in that workplace. I begrudgingly took responsibility.

Today I reflected on this.

Can I really be held responsible for the situation, even though I did not personally have a hand in it?

Yes.

Legally, I am culpable. Like it or not. This is the price you pay as a business owner.

Likewise, Jesus, by claiming to be our owner, is truly culpable for our actions.

We have an understanding that we have been "redeemed" by Jesus. To reclaim an item given at a "cash for items" loan center (pawn shop), a price must be paid. Once it is paid, the item is legally yours again, and it has been "redeemed". If the price is not paid within a certain period of time, the item is lost forever.

We have sold ourselves to Satan by sinning, and, unfortunately, we cannot afford the cost of being redeemed. Jesus paid the price, by his blood. Because he has bought us, he is now our owner, and is culpable for our actions. Again, he has paid the price for the penalty of our sin, by his blood.

Paying this price made us one with him, and with the Father. This is "at-one-ment", or atonement. We became his body, he is our head. He is the husband, we are the bride. He is the elder brother, we are the adopted children, He is the vine, we are the branches. He is the good Shepherd, we are the wandering sheep. He is the Saviour, we stand in awe.

Unlike me, Jesus was not reluctant to take responsibility. He loved us so much that he willingly laid down his life, knowing that this was the price he had to pay, to redeem us, and to make us his own, warts and all. And he did this before we showed any sign of wanting to belong to him. Willingly.

His incarnation, his perfect life amongst us, especially with respect to moral relationship with us and God, his sentencing to death, his dying, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God, and his coming again, is all on our behalf, and performed willingly, with his whole heart.

And his commitment to us comes out of the Father's commitment to us. Jesus did only what the Father told him, and he shared his Father's desire to redeem us. God gave us His son. He sent him for this very purpose. The Holy Spirit, equally shares in this commitment toward us. For this reason the Eunuch in Acts chapter 8 wants immediately to be baptized by Philip as he suddenly understands who the suffering servant is, and what he has done for us.  This is amazing grace.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

What can we give to God?

We really have nothing to offer God.
He is the originator, designer and maker of everything. Anything that we have jurisdiction over is already his, and already a gift from him to us.
He is not tempted by our possible riches or influence. He is not starved of relationship, such that he needs our friendship. He is not craving influence, fame or power, as he already is all powerful. He is perfectly complete in every sense. If he needed subjects, he could raise them out of stones. We ourselves are originally dust.
More serious is the fact that he hates sin. He judges sin, he destroys sin. And, unfortunately, we are amazing at sinning.

BUT

God chooses to love us. He made us, and loves us and has a plan for us, despite our total and deliberate rejection of him.

Not because he finds something about us ugly, yet interesting, nor because he can see our amazingly disappointing potential.

It's about Gods commitment.

He has committed himself to his creation.

And he can fix it. With blood, wrath and tears.

Nothing but the blood of Jesus can wash away every stain of guilt. It makes a total failure shine with purity. Even murderers, paedophiles, drug addicts, suburban pharisees and even churchgoers, as well as drunkards and thieves, adulterers and liars. Not to mention politicians and doctors.

If we belong to God, it's not because we've done something to earn it.

Not because we have dedicated our filthy lives to him.

But because he wants to own us. He desires it. He makes us hunger and then he feeds us. He makes us thirst for righteousness, then he opens our hearts and minds and lives to the cross.

We have nothing to offer him.

And after coming into life changing faith, and devoting our lives to serving Jesus, carrying our cross, and foregoing the way of the world, we have twice as little to offer him.

We really have nothing to offer God.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

It's not about "now"

Christian faith, following Jesus, can get bogged down in day to day issues;
Improving the music at church, growing the congregation, finding the next minister, turning up on Sunday's, pleasing the congregation, making our church relevant and up to date with our society,  publishing something, being successful.

Yes, it's part of western church culture.

But trusting Jesus is much more about the future, and by that I mean eternity.

I think one problem we have today, and this certainly includes me, is that we are busy making heaven of our own environments. Eternity is not in our minds.

We want a great home, a great garden, a nice car , a good income, good health, a pretty wife, a good body, great holidays, great weather, the latest technology, some degree of fame, and as few problems as possible.

The list can go on of course.

Maybe never before in history, has there been the general understanding that this is not only possible but also reasonable.

And society accepts and encourages this expectation. Church culture may also support this.

As a result, heaven and hell are not big on our agendas. Heaven is unnecessary as we achieve heaven through our daily lives. Hell is irrelevant as long as we can keep living, and our health holds out.

But it's not like this everywhere, and it wasn't like this in the past.

Many early Christians were martyred for their faith. Today, Christians are also martyred.

It's a difficult word.

Suffering.

Jesus knew where he was going. His life reflected that attitude.

And he said he was going to prepare a place for us too.

It's hard to imagine something better than suburban bliss?

It's what we see on TV, on the big screen.

But it's a bit like Jonah's vine.

God provides a worm and its gone.

Apart from greed, corruption, crime, taxes, violent weather, cancer, inflation, unemployment and other issues that interfere with our nest building, there is always God himself making sure that we are not so comfortable as to forget that this world is passing, deteriorating, groaning.

It is going to drastically change.

That is what Christians believe.

And we believe it is going to be soon.

"Soon" is ambiguous, imprecise.

The point is not exactly how long it will be but rather that the coming events are worth prioritizing for, i.e. being ready.

When a wedding is "soon" then we have to prioritize certain actions such as replying to the invitation, preparing a gift, and having the right clothes to wear.

"Soon" means we need to be prepared to meet Jesus.

He is coming.

And it's a wedding!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Not for me?

People are fearful of church.

As Christians we forget that the overwhelming sense of gratitude, love and forgiveness we enjoy and take part in when we gather on a Sunday outweighs any sense of moral obligation, or moral limitation, or moral judgement.

But to an outsider, the unspoken yet assumed moral standards can feel judgmental, old fashioned, maybe even repulsive, no matter how great the music is, or how nice the people are. "The rafters would fall on me!".

Sunday school for young children might be acceptable, but the Ten Commandments for adults, in combination with weird, unnatural Jesus language and happy-clappy smiley faces can be simply uncomfortable and off putting.

Thinking back to my own experience when I was un-churched, firstly you are confronted by your own lack of "Christianity", then you remember how normal and acceptable your own non-hypocritical, non-judgmental, non-church-going-but-still-believing and praying-when-it-counts type of life is, and that you don't want to pretend you are in love with Jesus when you're not, or impose your beliefs on somebody else, after all it's private isn't it?, and lastly, you are reminded of all your bad childhood experiences of church and "religious" people and how you prefer to do other things on a Sunday, so why give up precious rest time for something you don't really fully agree with?
So until a crisis of conscience comes, church is really for those who "need a crutch".

But for those of us who have had a crisis of conscience, who have seen something of the ugliness of sin (evil stuff) manifesting itself in our lives, and have had a deep desire to be made whole, knowing that there has to be a way to be free from the weight of guilt we feel as we remember the ways we have failed, time and again, failed to love, failed to not be selfish, failed to control our lusts, failed to control anger and violent behaviour, (sometimes we only feel our sin when we see an example of love, self control, self giving, in contrast to our own behaviour) suddenly we realize how much we lack, how inhuman we have become, and we are awestruck by the beauty of someone else's example of holiness.

In that moment God is whispering to us, "This is how you were meant to be, come to me and I will fix you up. Come and be my servant. "

And as we turn, Our Father guides us, the Holy Spirit guides us, Jesus guides us. He guides us to relationships with people who help us come into that amazing forgiveness and new life.

Church then becomes our meeting place where the overwhelming sense of gratitude, love and forgiveness we enjoy and take part in outweighs any sense of moral obligation, or moral limitation, or moral judgement.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Who touched me?

Mark 5:25-34 The woman who was healed when she touched Jesus robe.

There are so many thoughts that well up as I consider this message.

Firstly, how did this woman know she would be healed by touching Jesus' robe?

Most of the miraculous healings in the gospels took place with some form of interaction between Jesus and the sufferer.

Yet this lady seemed to have no opportunity to approach Jesus due to the great crowd. Like Zaccheus, she had to think of something on the run.

Zaccheus decided he would climb a tree.

This lady decided she would touch Jesus' robe.


Faith directed her mind.

What is this faith?

It is a special part of a human being.

We all have some faith in something(s).

No matter how talented we are, faith is needed to express or exercise that gift.

At some point we take the plunge.
To some it seems obvious, to others risky, but either way, a chance is taken, based not on scientific reason, logic or proof, only trust, or maybe a hunch. This faith is also coupled with hope. It must overcome fear and self-doubt. This implies that courage and faith are connected.

Trust may be placed in something someone else has told us, or something we understand inside our hearts.

That trust can be broken or disappointed. But true trust in Jesus never disappoints.

This lady, somewhere inside herself, in the face of realizing she would not be able to present herself to Jesus in the expected manner for someone seeking help, somewhere deep inside, she was inspired. "Just touch him. If you can just touch him you will be healed".

Was this the Holy Spirit inspiring her. Was it God the Father, Was it simply the awesome presence of Jesus himself ?
It was all of these things, and it was none.
It was in fact, her faith, which we understand is a gift from God, but a mysterious and powerful gift that is only present in it's exercise.

And so this woman somehow squeezed through the crowd, reached as far as she could, and at just the right moment, the tips of her fingers brushed the edge of his robe. Nothing very significant. Just a tiny act of faith. Unlikely to be felt by Jesus. But immediately she knew and felt in her body that she was fully healed. All the money, all the effort, all the faith she had place in her previous efforts to receive healing by more accepted ways had failed, but this little act of faith, which cost nothing but  the effort required to reach through a crowd, had achieved everything she had ever hoped or dreamed.

How interesting it is that Jesus felt power go out of him.

I used to read this in my superhero mind set, thinking Jesus had a certain amount of energy which could be sapped out of him leaving him weakened. A bit like "kryptonite".
But that is me reading Hollywood into the scriptures.

Is it not possible for Jesus to feel power go out of him yet still be full of power?

It is clear that Jesus not only "speaks healing" but imparts something of himself to those he heals. Something more than words leave his body. Something that can be transmitted through touch. Yet Jesus can heal without physically touching, as he did with the centurion's servant.

But Jesus always knows when he has healed, even if he doesn't always know who he has healed, not immediately anyway.

In the crowd he could not pick out the woman, or so it seems.

Maybe he did know. Maybe it was important for the woman to publicly acknowledge her healing.

Maybe, if she had slipped away anonymously, she would have always felt uneasy about her healing, as though she had received it illegally, without the true favour of Jesus, the Messiah.

In that moment when the woman realized she was found out, what were her thoughts?

Was she now to loose her healing?
Was she to be publicly humiliated for her impetuous action?

She fell on her knees trembling with fear. She humbly confessed her action prompted by faith; faith in Jesus.

Instead of rebuking, Jesus reassures and comforts her.
He addresses her as "daughter"( Implying "daughter of Abraham", "daughter of faith", "daughter of God")
And he explains that her own faith actually healed her. Time and again we see Jesus explaining to the healed sufferer, that it is their faith, not Jesus alone, that has healed them, or maybe even not Jesus at all?

He cheerfully dismisses her with his blessing. She is forever reassured about her own faith and the love of Jesus.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The "C" word

I'm not sure if I've already blogged about this.
It comes up in my thoughts regularly.
"Compromise".

As true followers of Jesus, I think it is something we are called to practice.

This will offend and anger many.

By compromise, I do not mean water down our faith, or turn truth into relative truth. Change the meaning of scripture, or delete passages from the bible.

Keith Green's famous biography is called "No compromise".

I love that book.

How I interpret that title is more like "Never denounce your faith, no matter what"

But compromise, to me, means doing without things that seem important but are not.

Compromise will allow different denominations to fellowship together.

Compromise is contrary to the "I'm right theologically, therefore I am better than you" attitude.

When Peter drew away from the uncircumcised christians described in Galations, he was being uncompromising in his view of circumcision. Paul confronted him about this.

Freedom in Christ means we are free to do and free not to do.

So in Christ, I am free to sing hymns with an organ even if I prefer electric guitar.

In Christ I am free to listen to a female preacher, even if I hold to Paul's teaching in Timothy.

In Christ I am free to "sign the cross" as a catholic, even if I am not currently catholic.

In Christ I am free to attend a church where I may disagree with some of the tenets of that  denomination.

In Christ, I am free to accept those who call themselves His disciples, as brethren, even if they do not see me as brethren.

In Christ I am free to save my personal sharing of the hope that I hold onto, in Christ, for that special moment when someone asks me to share with them why I am the way that I am.

 When I am feeling judged in my christian expression, by other christians, it hurts. If I listen to Christ's teaching about treating others as I would like to be treated, then I would prefer that I be accepted by other christians, as I am, and that out of love for me, they would pray for my maturation in faith, trusting that God will speak to me, from his word, from the pulpit, or privately by someone motivated by the love of Christ, to show me where I am failing.

There are so many areas we are free to compromise.
If I attend an islamic wedding, am I denying Christ?
If I pray with or for someone of a different faith, am I denying Christ?
If I only ever pray for someone else to come to a saving faith, without ever breeching theological discussion, am I denying Christ?
If I continually tell people that they are lost unless they trust Jesus, but never associate with them, unless they agree, and come to church, am I truly loving them?
If I truly believe I am theologically correct on most important matters, does that make me better than those with differing views?

By attending a church I didn't feel was my theologically ideal church for many years, I feel as though I have learned that compromise, meaning, not continually looking for fault in others views, but celebrating the truths that we share and express in different ways, and accepting that we can't see eye to eye on everything, is a valuable and good way to fellowship.

We should not force others out of their comfort zone, nor should we feel forced to do something we believe is wrong.

The Holy Spirit is powerful. More powerful than us. He has authority. We often don't.
Yes, we can quote the scriptures. So can Satan.
Our calling is in obeying the scriptures. Not pointing out everyone's faults.

I love guitars. I've realized lately, there is no perfect guitar. There are great guitars, and really great gutars, but no perfect guitars. Ordinary guitars are still able to lead a group of singers quite well.
Perfect guitars, if they exist, are kept locked away and are seldom played.

There is no perfect church or denomination. Everytime we walk into a church we are possibly compromising.

Yet those imperfect churches are still loving people and celebrating God's great news of forgiveness.

As I write this I think about some "churches" I would not attend.
And my views on marriage.
I guess there are some things I can't compromise...








Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dr Thomas

Today the lectionary was from the end of John's Gospel. A famous section describes how Thomas refused to believe in the resurrection unless he himself was able to put his finger in the nail holes and his hands in his side.
As a doctor, I treat wounds, and I have certainly put my fingers and hands inside peoples bodies.
It is not necessarily a pleasant experience for the patient, but, they are usually compliant, seeing the necessity of the examination. Because it hurts, we usually anaesthetise the area before examining it thoroughly.
What of Jesus wounds?
Did they hurt?
Were they caked in dried blood?
Religious art has usually depicted the wounds as fresh, with the redness of internal flesh visible.
But how these wounds truly appeared after the resurrection is hard to fathom. Thomas knows. The disciples knew.
Medically, for someone who survives a wound such as that caused by a large nail through a hand or wrist, assuming infection was controlled, at one week, the wound would be closing, or closed, and healing. There would still be some proud flesh, and scab, but fresh blood would only be present after physically disturbing the wound.
But what of the resurrected body?
It must be different in many ways, but it must also be the same in some ways.
We only have Jesus to consider.
Christians believe in a physical resurrection. The tomb was empty, Jesus did not leave his body behind when he rose. His whole body rose. It's not that he "recovered", implying that he somehow "escaped" death's clutches, like a calf escaping the lions claws. (If it was so, it would mean that the lion could potentially recapture the calf).
No, Jesus actually defeated death. The lion was somehow destroyed by the calf, and this destroying calf is now stronger than all lions. Jesus is no longer able to die. Death is now dead to Jesus. Jesus is resurrected. His body has completely undergone the death effect to it's full degree, whatever that implies, and has risen, conquering the power of death. Death is no longer the master of Jesus body.
After the resurrection, Jesus was still a man. He was able to talk to Mary in the garden and be mistaken for the gardener. He was a stranger walking beside the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He was on the shore cooking fish while Peter and John fished. He ate. These are all fairly normal things we do as non resurrected beings.
But he was also able to appear and disappear when doors were locked. But he made it very clear he was not a ghost. We are mistaken if we think we would be able to see through Jesus or put our hands through a shadowy figure. If we tried, we would hit solid flesh. Jesus body. Which was alive and risen, and better than ever. Jesus made sure the disciples knew he was made of flesh and bones.
He was able to rise up to heaven. And remains physically in heaven. But that does not mean he has no mass.
But what of his wounds?
Revelations speaks of a lamb that looked as though it had been slain, yet it was alive.
This could only mean that there were mortal wounds visible. This lamb is poetic for the risen Jesus.
Are we then imagining the horror movie zombies that continue to walk despite being shot through, with semi decayed bodies resembling corpses?
No, resurrected bodies must be better than our mortal bodies, by faith we believe this. Paul strongly implies the great superiority of our resurrected bodies at the end of 1 Corinthians. And John says that when we see him (at his return) we will be like him. Meaning we are transformed into resurrected bodies like Jesus. This will happen in the twinkling of an eye, meaning a sudden amazing transformation.
Yet we are still faced with the unhealed wounds of Jesus. The "Emblems".
I have no answers. Those wounds are there for us. They are one of the guarantees of our own future resurrection.
I don't think anyone else, resurrected, will have wounds. Only Jesus. Only his wounds are worthy.



Saturday, March 28, 2015

He came to Jesus at night. John 3:2

This is the account of Nicodemus, leading to the famous declaration of Jesus that you must be born again to enter the kingdom of God.

But in this comment, I want to highlight, not the point that night time suggests Nicodemus was hoping to approach and decipher for himself who Jesus was under the relative anonymity of nighttime cover, but that Jesus actually made himself available for scrutiny to someone who was not necessarily on side, at an ungodly hour.
How often do we seek Jesus at untimely hours? Times that suit us because they are our time of need, but don't necessarily suit Jesus.
I am biased. I work in a job that involves the occasional call out at ungodly hours. No matter how serious the reason for the call out, I never enjoy getting out of bed when duty calls. and if you want to taste the less savoury side of my personality, call me out at 1 or 2am and, believe me, politeness is not a priority. 

Why does Jesus bother to speak to Nicodemus? Why didn't he put the discussion off to a more reasonable hour? Was Jesus entitled to some down time, away from theological arguments? It seems that Jesus made no complaint at being approached as he was, after dark. In a sense he took the subordinate role. Although from our perspective, Jesus was superior in every sense, he was probably younger than Nicodemus, and had no recognised teaching authority as a son of a carpenter. Still, Jesus could have refused to speak with him. But he didn't. Nor does he take the easy path in dealing with Nicodemus's questions. He explains very exactly, though in words that are too deep for Nicodemus, how it is that a person can recognise the action and authority of God. Only by being born again. Nicodemus tries to demystify what Jesus says, but is unsuccessful. Yet somehow those words have an effect on him, and I have a very strong sense that Nicodemus was a true believer soon after that encounter. After all, was it not the Holy Spirit who "blew" Nicodemus into Jesus that night?

Maybe like Nicodemus, as I lie sleepless in the dark, I also want to approach Jesus, to ask him to make sense of my life and struggles, and give me peace and motivation to continue in the journey of faith in this world.

I trust that Jesus is still willing to take questions and commune with questioners, even total strangers with preconceived ideas, at hours well after dark.

By the way, I don't think anyone can clearly explain what being "born again" really means. Yes we experience rebirth, it is essential to our life of faith, but It's certainly not something we can accomplish by our own means, no more than we can accomplish our natural birth. Experiencing rebirth does not make us experts in it. Babies are definitely passive participants in the birth process, I have delivered many. Although every woman was once born herself, that does not make her less nervous giving birth. It is all in God's hands, yet we do participate, sometimes in vital ways.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Here I Am

These words are found a few times in both the old testament and the new testament.
Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, David in the Psalms, and Jesus, attributed to him in Hebrews, and in Revelations, all say these words in response to the Father.
They are words that are accompanied by action and are spoken in the presence of God.
The words are not intended simply to reveal the speakers location, like in a game of hide and seek. They are actually an announcement of a willing servant ready to listen and follow orders. Like a soldier volunteering for duty, no matter how dangerous.
When he was about to be tested and then, when he was about to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham heard his name called by the angel of God, and he replied "here I am".
Samuel was asleep before the ark of God, when he arose to his name and went to Eli three times with the same response, the last time Eli explained that it was in fact God calling, and the appropriate response was "Speak Lord for your servant is listening".
When Isaiah heard the proclamation "whom shall I send?", his reply was "Here I am, send me"
And Jesus in Hebrews as well as in the psalm states "Here I am, I have come to do your will".
Wonderful deep words that speak of the humble obedience of those who trust God.
But in reality, it is a big struggle to joyfully obey for even the most devoted Christian.
That adds to the beauty and grace of the words in Hebrews, "Here I am, and the children you have given me".
Those children are people like us. People who believe in Jesus. Who love him because we somehow have realized what a wonerful thing he has done for us by giving himself up to die on a cross.
Somehow, but without doubt, he took us up into that cross, we died with him, crucified, and have been given a full share of his obedience. He can, and does do this. His perfect "Here I am" becomes our perfect "Here I am".
This is a gift.
The gift is servanthood.
All God's children are servants.
Let us serve one another, humbly and joyfully.
We truly have a magnificent Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.