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?