My (current) theology of environmental action

 

 

Before I begin, let me say that this is my current theology of environmental action. Things may change, and yet, this is my best attempt to state where I stand.

Despite what you may believe about the actual origins of the universe (another post for another time…) I would contend that the Genesis story is a story that used stock creation language- that was common at the time- in order to communicate the more central purpose of telling a people about who God is- and how, in light of God- who they are meant to be in the world. As such, this post about the environment uses this story to talk about our role as human beings as it relates to the climate (and, more specifically, to climate change). From there, it will branch out to talking about theology pertaining to the end-game of creation, and from there circle back to the here and now. I touch on the prophetic texts and their application in our discussion on climate change, and then I take sometime to unpack a wider theology of how the Spirit is speaking through many people about climate action. From there, I have a few sections the go into a range of topics- one on economics, us being of the dust, and on pulling the log out of our own eyes. Hope you enjoy!

 

Being Made in God’s Image as having baked into it a call to care for creation

God made this world and said “and it was good”. “Good” in the Hebrew doesn’t mean perfect- it means God made this world good, and part of the vocation of what it means to be human is to take creation forward under the wise & loving rule of God; creation is full of wild and wondrous creative potential, and we are commissioned to take it somewhere. God told us to look after the world- that’s the actual meaning of the word “dominion”. The word “dominion” is often associated in a negative way, and as such perhaps this English word isn’t a good word in its modern usage to match the actual Hebrew meaning. Nonetheless, we’ll stick to that word, but make it clear what is meant by it. Dominion isn’t about exploiting this world, but looking after this world in flourishing ways. If we wouldn’t exploit a human being that God made, then why exploit the Earth that God made? We are to be unto creation what God is to us.

 

This vocation of taking creation forward and of looking after the world under God’s wise & loving rule didn’t cease. To understand this, we have to see the end goal. The end goal of creation is embodied in Jesus’ resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is a way of affirming the goodness of creation. In the resurrection, Jesus defeats all that pertained to his crucifixion- he defeated death, evil, injustice, by rising again against the backdrop of death, evil, and injustice putting him on the cross and killing him. Thus, Jesus’ resurrection affirms the prophetic Jewish hope that one day death, evil, and injustice would be defeated, and this hope is fulfilled as is rushed forward in time to one person (Jesus). The prophet’s hopes are confirmed in Jesus, and the future is now made certain in Jesus as his resurrection is seen as an advanced sign of future hope for all of creation and all people. In other words, what we see in Jesus’ resurrection is a foretaste of what’s to come. As such, the resurrection then points the way further forward to the eventual day where death, evil, and injustice is defeated on a cosmic level. Such belief was a given for the New Testament writers, and John gives us poetic picture of a day where the world is made right. When the New Testament writers (And the prophets of old) speak of this eventual hopeful future, they speak not of escaping this world, but the restoration of it. Jesus’ own prayer is about God’s Kingdom coming Earth as in Heaven, and Johns revelation ends with God dwelling here, not us going somewhere else- this world is our home, not only now but also in the future (For me to make a full case for this is another post for another time). In addition, the word “new” as in “New Heavens and New Earth” is about something being made new (as opposed to “newly made”); this is the language of restoration. Even verses like in Peters letters that speak of destruction, it’s always said in the context of refinement of creation, and not final destruction (whereby something else has to be made in its place). In other words, there is a continuity between what creation is now, and what it will become. The only discontinuity of creation is that it will be transformed- but such a transformation is doing away with the ways  of the old, not of creation being completely and utterly destroyed. So, we had humanity in the beginning given this vocation of looking after the world, and we have a picture that ends with the world restored. The beginning and end is about what we do with this world (including all who are in it). As a matter of fact, there is even a mysterious verse in Paul’s letter to Rome that speaks of creation itself waiting in groaning for the children of God to be revealed, as if to say that creations own redemption is mysteriously connected to the people of God being the people of God for the world itself (Or perhaps herself? Groaning is in Paul’s letter was allegorical to childbirth). To summarise, God doesn’t make something and then throw it on a cosmic waste heap (is not our God a God of redemption? Is not Jesus’ own physical body a restoration of Himself (as opposed to completely new)?) God calls this world our home. Not just now, but also in our future. Heaven isn’t the end game, heaven on Earth is. And we are called to be a people who lean into that future. We have no other world, we have no other place to go.

 

 

Reconciling New Creation with the climate data

Now, a positive hope for the future that we think will just happen (i.e. new creation) is very difficult to believe in given our current ecological crisis, and I’ll be lying if I said that the crisis hasn’t got me questioning my own positive theology of the future of the world in the mean time as it goes unto New Creation. I used to be confident that the resurrection automatically assured that- despite how bad things had gotten- God’s sovereignty will inevitably lead to everything being okay ecologically in the long-run; that not only will Christ make new creation (something I still hold onto) but that because it’s coming- though creation as it currently is will still need to be looked after (as per our responsibility)-  that things would be fine in the interim between now and new creation. The part of that belief where I now struggle with, is part where I say that we won’t have to ultimately worry about creations demise in the meantime because – as the belief goes- God will carry creation forward no matter how we act, that part of this will indeed be God somehow kick us into responsibility however with no possibility that we can royally screw it permanently at all. Now, whilst I thought that it couldn’t possibly be screwed up, I didn’t weaponise such a belief- I allowed the sure & confident hopeful reality that God will carry creation through thick and thin, to empower me to work towards its healing in the here-and-now, knowing that it will all be alright. 1 Cor. 15 still speaks to my soul, whereby Paul paints this beautiful future of God restoring creation, and then ends the section with saying “Now, work for the Lord”- Paul could of said “now relax”, but he connected God’s healing future with us being the healing presence of God empowered by the Spirit. However, people have taken the good theology of new creation and have weaponised it, and as such have used it as a way to be lazy and do nothing about climate change, out of a lazy God-will-work-it-all-out-ism. In some sense I still think things will be okay between now and the restoration of all things, but what’s changed in me is our sense of greater urgency to be the people who are the hands and feet of God in making this future happen;  I want to allow the urgency to kick us into gear, and even allow for the theological possibility that maybe we can so screw this up that we can kill ourselves before New Creation occurs. Whilst I still hold onto the hope of new creation, I am starting to reckon with the possibility that it might be possible we can kill ourselves before new creation happens; that Christ might lament in resurrecting a dead planet that shouldn’t of died. I still think we can have an interim future that doesn’t have our demise in it, but I now want to take seriously that it might be either/or, and that we need to take seriously then what we are doing in creation. Me saying what I have just said opens up a theological can of worms on the whole topic of God’s sovereignty in creation- but just to set the record straight, whilst that comes into it, I am not actually making a case on God’s sovereignty in either direction- for the lens I am choosing to use in thinking critically through this is based on the scientific data we have, which brings me to my next point.

 

In the same way evolution (our past) brought about theological discussions pertaining to Genesis (origins), perhaps the climate crisis- with its scientific possibility revealing that we can actually cause our own extinction- has opened questions about the book of Revelation’s end game. With the current data emerging, perhaps this is the churches new theological-scientific wrestle (One I which we should overcome now, not later). What does theology do with the possibility that we can kill ourselves in a permanent way? One could say that we can indeed end creation through our neglect, but that God will still raise creation (and us with creation) on the last day, but that we should do all that is in our power so that Christ will not need to raise a dead creation (with a dead people). To use a human analogy, I might die before the return of Christ, but will be raised up on the last day, and yet I do all in my power to live a long life and life-giving life. Likewise, we might be able to destroy creation before Christ returns- and yet we do all that is in our power to have creation flourishing. If you won’t light a coal fire in your home, perhaps let’s not doing it over our earthy home. A genuine ‘pro-life’ ethic isn’t about being merely ‘pro-birth’ but about seeking the fullness of life, and if I want to do unto others what I want done unto myself (have a long life) then I must seek that out as part of the vocation of being a Kingdom person in the context of our environment; in other words, creation matters because life matters, no matter how long or short such a life of creation might be. And I still believe we can have creation, and have with creation more and more of the Kingdom realised in it up and all the way till the final restoration of all things. As such, to not look after creation- despite the possibility that it might have a temporal demise if we do nothing- is not seeking the life of all. We should recognise the data, and as such fight against our possible demise, seeing the possibility of demise as an enemy to be fought (after all, Christ speaks of death as being an enemy, so how much more death of all living things?!), with the urgency being that- if we don’t act- we are not being faithful  to God and thus will kill creation, and that if we do act we are being faithful and as such being God’s stewards. Truth be told, I am still very hopeful that we will wake up to the calling to look after creation, and that God’s leading of creation being taken care of will be the interwoven sovereignty that was always going to eventually be inevitable because of God’s hand over history- and yet, I don’t want to bank on that. Our responsibility to take care of creation is ours- given by God- and so we must act.

 

 

Prophetic urgency & Prophetic imagination  

With this taken into account, let me say something about prophetic urgency and prophetic imagination. In the prophets, the pattern is “If you continue to do this, this bad thing will happen because of your actions- woe to you! Let me paint a picture of your future demise if there isn’t a change in a new direction!”, followed by “And this is the future you can have- let me paint you an imagined future that’s hopeful and will happen- but only if you change your ways!” followed by “And yet, God will have the final word, and God’s final word is hope, and yet, change! Now! Save yourself! Because woe to to you if you don’t”. When these prophetic texts are taken seriously (and in context), they are about being a people of seeking to set things right in a societal level, and the societal level being how we treat those who are often forgotten in society. The prophetic texts are often tied to dehumanising power, exploitation of the poor, twisted economics, which in turn is tied to how the people have been formed by a particular worship (typically the worship of money, sex, and power, disguised as statues, or sacred object, or in our time, ideals & ideologies, or even politicians, all often perpetuated by a *particular* version of economics & power). Given the texts used in their context, a strong case can be made that our treatment of the planet is tied directly to how we see ourselves in relation to how we do power, how we do economics, and as such how we treat the poor, and that this is part of a worship of particular ideologies (such as money, or the myth of eternal economic growth). It is said that our current climate disaster will affect the poor first (think of the low-lying island nations). As such, I think we can draw upon these texts as part of our inspiration going forward. Perhaps we need prophets that speak both a prophetic urgency and also a prophetic vision of a world that can be changed for the better if we only change for the better. Within my own context, I am thinking of someone (and others) like Greta Thunberg who is (rightly in my opinion) painting a prophetic urgency, and then documentaries like 2040 which are (rightly in my opinion) painting a prophetic hope-if-we-change-our-ways. I am not surprised that it is the children who- being aware of their possible future- are the ones schooling us grownups in our complacently. The veracity of pushbacks (by Christians too I might add…) is astounding, despite the fact that our scriptures implore us to not despise the young (1 Tim. 4:12), and remember that our children will prophecy (Acts 2:17).

 

A more nuanced theological pushback might be that it’s often those who don’t identify as Christians who are doing this prophetic work. I grant that if they had the prophetic arc of history in mind, that their imagined futures will be grounded in a story of history that’s grounded in Jesus’ work in the world- and that this in turn will generate a new found hope, and as such a new found power & energy in these movements. However, sometimes I think God just wants to get things done, and that the Spirit will pour out on all flesh and partner with those who are doing the work of restoration in the world despite where they are at theologically. This isn’t to say “anything goes” in sort of lazy pragmatism that doesn’t care about the worldview of those speaking into these spaces (after all, some of their worldview can be problematic), rather, this is to say that God might be even bigger than the worldview they have- that God’s work is being done even if they don’t know that this is what God would desire for His good world. God’s Spirit at work in the work of the those who don’t identify as ones doing the work of a God, isn’t an endorsement of their whole life- all I am saying is, is that God is doing what God wants, and partnering with those people who have stumbled upon something that is true and worthwhile (e.g. working for climate justice), despite what they may or may not believe. And yes, I would love that such people embrace not only what they have stumbled upon, but the One who lies behind what they stumbled upon (i.e. The God-revealed-in-Jesus)- after all, to know the Kingdom in its fullest and revealed ways, is to know the King of the Kingdom, and thus bring a more explicitly particularised power (cross-shaped power). And yet I am thankful that there are at least people taking seriously things that are to be taken seriously and are responding to the echoes of a King they haven’t yet fully grasped, but nonetheless taking seriously these echoes. If anything, this is an opportunity for the church to be the church- not in a ‘us vs. them’ way, but in a way that brings a more fuller & complete prophetic imagination that’s grounded in the work and present ministry of Jesus, and to bring that to the world, which in turn will add more energy, more hope, more wisdom, and more solutions in these otherwise already very powerful spaces. Such a genuine faith permeating in these movements I think will be akin to that of Martin Luther King Jr’s ways of doing the Kingdom of God in public- both with Christians, and also with those who are sensitive to restorative justice without explicitly having relationship with the King of restorative justice. In the meantime, God is partnering with whoever has a sensitivity to the things of God- whether they know that it is something that a God cares about or not, and whether it’s only a part of what’s precious to God. It’s us who have the problem in not seeking out God’s will as it pertains to our climate emergency. Rather than being discreetly jaded by the fact that others are ‘beating us to it’ (which is often what I think is psychologically really going on when we can’t fathom that maybe people without faith are doing things better than those with faith…), we should get over ourselves, repent, and get on with the work that is an ancient as time itself- that is that we look after creation.

 

 

We are people of the dust- we are part of creation

We are, after all, people of the dust. We are made of dust (literally and figuratively). In the Genesis story, that is what is told of us. This to me is also profound. Often, we think of the world as if we are somehow part of it yet also separate from it. Whilst we are commissioned with looking after the world, such commission doesn’t make us the exception of the world itself. If we are made of the dust, then we are made of the material of the world. In other words, we are part of creation itself. We are not separate from creation. And the more we reflect on this, the more we will realise that how we treat creation is how we are treating ourselves. Self-care is creation care, and creation care is self-care, for we are of the dust of the Earth. To some, this might sound like pantheism or creation worship- but it’s not. It’s good theology, and just because other worldviews might have taken this train of thought and then do something else with it theologically, doesn’t mean we have to negate what is right there within our own rich tradition. When we destroy creation, we are destroying ourselves. A people’s who understand this ancient-as-time-itself wisdom are our First Nations people. I often think to myself that our First Nations people should be the ones we go too in order to gain wisdom of the way we look after creation. I know some people might be theologically triggered by that, as they might point out that some indigenous worldviews can be pantheistic. Whilst that may or may not be true depending on the First Nations people group, I know through my own experience that their wisdom is what we need. I know of Christian First Nation leaders who speak of their people as people whom God has used (and still use) as the people who have consistently wisely looked after the land. Considering that their connection to the land has not lead to the lands exploitation but to its wise ordering, I wonder what it would mean to let those who have seen themselves as God’s people for the land to lead the conversations on how we navigate this climate crisis.

 

“For the love of money…” and the care of creation

It would be too much to say that all our lack of care for creation comes as a result of our love of money, but it’s a heck of a lot of it, as the love of money certainly is the root of all kinds of evil. Our current crisis spiked around the time of the industrial revolution, that had baked into it a paradigm that connected the wellbeing of the world with economic growth, rather than the wellbeing of a people with the people’s wellbeing themselves. To be nuanced, I want to say that it’s not economics itself but the type of economics that have been problematic. I am for people becoming economically empowered, and good economics can (and does) bring people out of poverty. Profits that seek to profit the people is loving. Having money isn’t wrong, and as a matter of fact, I want people to have capital that seeks their wellbeing (i.e. a roof over their head, food on the table, and the ability to do what will align with how God wants them to be in the world, without having to worry about losing their homes and food on the table as they do that). Yet, our current economic narrative tells us that it is dangerous to get on board the healing the climate  because our national and corporate profits will be at risk, which (according to this narrative) in turn puts us at risk. If the only reason why we can’t do something is because of our economics, then perhaps our current way we run the world economically is wrong. Such an economics may have served a purpose for a particular time, yet surely there is a way of doing economics that isn’t dependent upon a make-or-break model for not only ourselves but the very world we live in. Once again, the wisdom of Jesus is to be drawn upon. Jesus offers a model of economics based in Jubilee (which is also another post for another time); it’s a model that through community removes the basic and legitimate fears of life (having a roof over our head and food on our table) which in turn empowers us to not live in fear, but in creativity. I understand that what I am saying is a lot to ask, but (as cheesy as it might sounds…) we serve a big God.

 

 

Log out of my own eye…

All this being said, I am aware that my faith asks of me to pull the log out of my own eye first- that any response to climate justice ought not to create a new ‘us vs them’ narrative that only seeks to vilify others without first recognising where I am contributing to climate change myself. As one theologian has said, “the fault lines of evil run through all our hearts”. I know that the way I eat, the way I spend, the way I consume, the way I transport, that some of these things are in my control, and that I have to point the finger to myself and seek to live differently first. I must have a narrative that seeks to take seriously how I am part of the problem (Not in some sort of self-hating way, I might add…). Daily confession, and daily ways to seek to live differently, must start with me. This is a hard pill to swallow. Yet, to be balanced, this isn’t to say that there aren’t structures, and principalities & powers of evil in our world that are themselves the vicious cycles that we are stuck in. I want to grant that some things are not in our control, and that will take us collectively seeking a new way- societal and structurally- to go about change. The truth of the matter is, I don’t have the money to get solar panels, and so it’s appropriate in such moments to name & shame the system that makes such change financially difficult for otherwise sincere people who do want to make the change, but can’t financially do it. At this point in time, being environmental mindful in the fullest extent can at times (though not in all things…) be very pricy, and that this cost is a result of the structures in society. This isn’t an either/or, but a both/and. We need to pull the log out of own eyes, and also name the systems (and seek the change the systems…) that can often cut down the ‘trees’ and produce the ‘logs’ in the first place.

 

In conclusion

All in all, we have a vocation to be the people of God for creation, which if we are made for creation is really about us being the people of God for ourselves- us who are creation herself. We will need to listen to those prophetic voices as we seek to be the voices as well. We need to listen to those who have always had the wisdom of caring the world and seeing ourselves as connected to the world, that being our First Nations people.  We will need to listen to the ways of Jesus & the Spirit, who is calling us further up and further in. We will need to question our current economics that’s based on love of money that perpetuates our felt need to continue our climate changing practices. We will need to question current model of living- both in how I contribute to the mess, and also how structures put us in the mess. And finally, despite my theology of our current climate times being in flux based on the current science, I still hope that our future ends in resurrection of a world that had with its history a God who guided all of us beyond the impasse of our current climate emergency. I base this hope in this scandalous dark-skinned Jewish man who rose again from the dead as a signpost pointing all of creation towards its eventual renewal- no matter what. When Jesus rose again from the dead, the Gospel of John called that faithful day the “new day of the week”. Dare I suggest (as many biblical scholars do…) that what is being ushered in Jesus’ resurrection is the first day of the new day of the week: new creation. We are called to be a people who take our vocation as image bearers seriously, to become a people re-made in the messiah, empowered by the Spirit unto new creation- where the leaves of the tree of life will be for the healing of the nations. And to be a people who allow such a future to work in our hearts in the here and now, as we follow the Spirit (regardless where the Spirit is, or who the Spirit is using), and as such go and be God’s good stewards as we take this current crisis seriously. As the renowned New Testament scholar N.T Wright once said, “Jesus is coming, so plant a tree!”.

 

 

 

 

Real Treasure (Matthew 6:19-24)

The following is a transcript of a sermon I did at Sanctuary Church (https://thesanctuary.org.au/). Unfortunately, due to technical error we didn’t record it. So here is the transcript of the sermon instead…Enjoy.

 

Real Treasure (Matthew 6:19-24)

Matthew 6:19-24

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

-1 Tim. 6:8-10, 18-19

This is the word of the Lord…

 

Introduction

For the love of money People will steal from their mother. 

For the love of money People will rob their own brother.

For the love of money People can’t even walk the street

Because they never know who in the world they’re gonna beat For that lean, mean, mean green Almighty dollar, money.

For the love of money People will lie, Lord, they will cheat

For the love of money

People don’t care who they hurt or beat

For the love of money A woman will sell her precious body For a small piece of paper

it carries a lot of weight Call it lean, mean, mean green, almightly dollar. 

For the love of money…

Those were the lyrics of The O’Jays’ 1970’s hit “For the love of money”

 

In our current state of relationship to money, materiality, and private goods and lands- both on a personal level and on a societal level- Paul was right when he said “For the love of money is indeed the roots of all kinds of evil”…

Creation of new coal mines that we know damage the Earth? Greater national GDP. Companies using child labour? Cuts the costs in order to create a greater production-to-profit margin. My current meat intake that’s contributing to the damage of the environment? Unmitigated pleasure of the taste buds.

Lord have mercy.

I don’t say this to shame people. I’m not one for shame. I am however one for honest assessment, and it appears to me that, when you really stop and reflect on it, a lot of evil done in the world is done because we want to cut costs, have efficiency, and not lose out on investments. We are all in this hot mess together. It’s no wonder then, that Jesus- as well as the whole bible- speaks a lot about money. Dare I say, the sermon on the mount is a direct assault against the Capitalist mind.

 

Qualifiers

Now before I continue, let me just make a few qualifiers. Christian faith does not prohibit having money but rather decries obsession with money & stinginess of those with money (See the distinction?). Even as Paul’s instruction to Timothy where he famously says “the love of all money is the root of all kinds of evil” he goes onto say in the same letter later that more monetary well-to-do Christians are to “not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” and Paul says  “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share”. He assumes there would be Christians with money, and his critique isn’t that they have money, but of their relationship to money and as such how they use it.

 

Likewise, there is speak of private property in scripture, and the critique isn’t that they have it, but that they don’t use it for the common good (See the distinction?). You see that private property ought to be filtered through the deeper truth that God created the world for all people and as such we are to steward our resources in such a manner for all people to wisely and justly share in. The world and its goods were created for the use and benefit of all of God’s creatures, and any structures that impede the realisation of this fundamental goal are not right- so there ought to be healthy limitations to how we go about property in the world (And believe me, we need more healthy laws!). Yet once again, it’s about a renegotiated relationship, this time to private property.

 

Likewise, God made a material universe, and Jesus has a material body, and so do you, and our future world is material as well (The New Creation)- so likewise, having material things isn’t wrong, but rather that we need to have a renegotiated relationship to materiality (See the distinction?). If having material goods was so wrong, then justice-minded Christians wouldn’t fight for every person to have a physical roof over their head, food on the table, and access to things like school & education (They are material things). And why would Jesus himself feed people and heal people medically if those things were inherently wrong? The opposite of poverty isn’t riches, but it is a society where people all equally don’t go without. And so, we are to work towards a type of materiality for all people.  As sociologist professor Juliet Schor says “We are too materialistic in the everyday sense of the word, and we are not at all materialistic enough in the true sense of the word. We need to be true materialists, like really care about the materiality of goods.”

 

My final qualifier: you will hear me critique our current attitude we have towards money. I am aware some of us don’t have a lot of it, and so you might hear me talk about our over-desire for money, and make the mistake that I am shaming the normal healthy desire for money. Let me make it very clear: This is a pointed critique of those who have a very clear devotion to wealth (which by the way, includes me)- this is not to throw shade or shame those who have little money and desire more. Because there is an injustice if you don’t have enough money in order to eat, if you don’t have enough for shelter, if you don’t have enough for access to health & education. Because wanting those things is about moving out from poverty and into a just society- that is not the same as worship of mammon. That’s about desiring justice. “The valleys will be filled in, and the mountains will be brought low”; The longing for a more equalised world under the rule of Jesus is a valid desire. But, for this to be the case, making for a more just society economically under the rule & reign of Jesus, will require a different relationship to money.

 

Money, private property, and material goods are not inherently wrong. And yet, we have a skewed relationship to money, private property, and material goods. In other words, we have a skewed relationship to what Jesus calls our “treasures”- and the gospel invites us into have a newly formed and renegotiated relationship to our treasures.

 

 

The Treasures of Earth; The Treasures of Heaven

““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

So what are our treasures? Are they of earth or heaven?

We can’t actually know the answers to such things until we understand what exactly is meant by the word “treasure”, and then (for that matter) what makes treasure “earthy” and one “heavenly”. In the Greek, the word for “treasure” denotes a collection of things which are of big importance or value, and to “store up” referred to the storing up of material goods- which basically means hoarding things. “Storing treasure” then, is hoarding things that are big importance or value to us. Now, notice Jesus does not say to stop storing things which are of big importance or value, but that we don’t store up earthly things which are of big importance or value- we are to store up heavenly that which are of big importance or value. So we are commanded to store that which are of big importance or value- as long that it is heavenly, not earthy.

 

But that begs the question: what makes treasure “earthy” and the other “heavenly”? To answer that, we have to know what Jesus meant by “earth” and “heaven”. So, how is Jesus using the words “earth” and “heaven”? Is one good and the other bad? Well we know God made the world and said “and it was good”, and that he indeed “loves” the world, so we can’t preclude that the physical world is bad just because this contrast is used. So, if not that, then what? To know this, we have to understand heaven. In Jewish thought, heaven wasn’t so much about a place as it was about a presence, namely the presence of God. Heaven is only a place insomuch that that is where God is. God is what makes for heaven, and heaven is what makes for God. So it’s interesting then that the Jewish prophets long for the presence of God to be made known all over the Earth, they speak of this longing & hope by describing a world where God’s presence has flooded the place which in turn makes everything different– swords are bent into ploughshares and we make for war no more, great banquets are put before all people to share in and have joy in and no one goes hungry, even the trees dance & clap and the lion lies down with the lamb, those who were blind or couldn’t walk now walk and see, the injustices & the evils of the world are done away with- death, sin, slavery, homelessness, violence, and the like are all no more. What’s being described here? Heaven (the presence of God) on Earth. Jesus said “your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven”. If Heaven on Earth is the will of Jesus, the prophets hope’s, and what is described in John’s trippy revelation… Then when Jesus says that we are storing up treasures for heaven, it isn’t about storing up to go somewhere else but to store for sometime else- namely, God’s future, where this world is restored & all things are made right as God presence floods this place fully. In the same way, when you buy food to put in your fridge, you don’t then go and sit in the fridge to eat food- rather when the time for the feast is upon us, the food comes out of the fridge to make for a feast where the humans live. This brings us back to our question about heavenly treasure. If the word treasure is defined as “which is of importance and value” then to know what the “treasure” of heaven is we have to know what the ultimate grand, important, and valuable things that make for heaven on Earth? The answer is found in Jesus: mercy, compassion, love of God & neighbour, justice, service, hospitality, generosity, peacemaking, reconciliation, beloved community, care for each other, care for creation. These are the things that are of the most importance & value of heaven. That’s what we are to store up.

 

In contrast then, treasures of Earth has to be understood in terms of how you live in this time: are you living as if it’s all about Jesus-shaped heaven-on-Earth breaking into this world? Or are you living in such a way that those things don’t really matter?- Getting our happiness from having more & more & more. Will we believe that our treasure is what we find on the billboards about needing that bigger car? Or that Facebook ad that is essentially telling you that that all your happiness boils down to having that new Gucci bag? Or will we say that our treasure- our ultimate importance- is something else . The point isn’t to say that you can’t have a car or dress nice- the point is this: what do you think true treasure is? If all of history is moving towards a Jesus-shaped heaven-on-earth then what are the true treasures in life that will last forever? For when these things are our treasure- our heart is there

 

In the ancient world, thieves would dig holes through the walls of family homes and take the store boxes in these homes, and likewise, some families used to hide their belongings in caves or underground- but even then things like coins would eventually rust, and moths would eat through the clothes. Nothing is really new under the sun- today people break into homes, and there is a $38 billion storage industry globally. And even with our locks and keys and storage- eventually these things either get taken, and if they don’t get taken, they breakdown. These things don’t last forever. The point isn’t so much if an object goes bad or breaks down, but rather the question if there is an on-going-never-ending significance/impact in what is being seen as precious and of great importance? Are those things or can those things be used in such a way that it brings heaven on Earth? Things that are hoarded might indeed rust and break down- so how can we use such things for the common good? If you use your home like that of (for example) First Home Project, then there is an on-going-never-ending significance/impact that has been made because lives have been changed forever. The life of heaven-on-earth is being practiced, and that such practice of heaven-on-earth is making for the future treasures of the world restored and made new.

 

This tells us something: what Jesus is asking us in this passage, is for us to redefine what we mean by “treasure”. This then opens up an even deeper question: what’s most valuable in your life? What’s life all about? Are your actions, are how you use what you’ve got, consistent with the things that are the true treasures of heaven- namely mercy, compassion, love of God & neighbour, justice, service, hospitality, generosity, peacemaking, reconciliation, beloved community, care for each other, care for creation? The ethicist David Gushee says “The contrast Jesus was drawing was not between this life and the next, but between this life characterised by profound misery-causing injustice and God’s coming reign characterised by salvation, justice, peace, and joy in God’s presence. Invest your possessions generously in God’s reign of Justice and Mercy, and you will find your heart is invested there as well

 

N.T Wright once painted a picture about how the work we do in the here & now will work towards the New Creation. He says that we are like the stone masons of old who would spend their entire lifetime focusing on one small section of a cathedral, only then to die and not see the end product. But then to imagine that they all came back to see in delight the fruit of their labour- a magnificent cathedral that communicates the grandeur and awe of God. Their labour wasn’t in vein. And neither is ours. If we are asking “well, what will this heavenly treasure tangibly look like?” then I think we are missing the point. The point isn’t getting a car in the next life, the point is that our treasures are re-defined around God’s dream for all of creation, and baked into such a dream will be the reward of our labour transfigured into something beautiful that will go one forever. N.T Wright goes on to say this at the end of his book Surprised by Hope:

“What you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.”

The things that make for heaven on Earth in the here-and-the-now are the treasures of Heaven that will find its way in the end.

 

The treasure that make for heaven. Because the treasures of earth- that is, living in such a way that gets things for things sake…? Jim Carrey once said “I wish everyone could experience being rich and famous, so they’d see it wasn’t the answer to anything”. Now, it’s easy for him to say that because he’s rich and famous- right? But isn’t that the point? Wouldn’t he know exactly what it’s like because he is at the top? Madonna once said “My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me. Because even though I’ve become Somebody. I still have to prove that I’m Somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will”. These are the people who, by all definitions as per societal standards, have… Made it. But they speak of a view of life from the top whereby they realise through experience: that’s not what life is about. These are not the true treasures. I think when it’s all said and done, no one will get to the end of life and wishes that they had more things. At the twilight of life- will fame hold our hands? will fortune tell us everything will be okay? Will knowledge pat our head down? It seems to me that in the end, it’s the treasures that make for heaven- that of the love, care, and compassion around us- that will matter, and that will matter & carry on eternally. Donald Miller once said in his book “Scary Close” that “when the story of earth is told, all that will be remembered is the truth we exchanged. The vulnerable moments. The terrifying risk of love and the care we took to cultivate it. And all the rest, the distracting noises of insecurity and the flattery and the flashbulbs will flicker out like a turned-off television”. Where are we dedicating our life, time, and daydreams? In following money, materiality, fame as both means and ends? Jesus invites us into something far better and far bigger, and that which will make us truly come alive. Because the simply truth is: no one can serve two masters. No one can live a duel life of following Jesus and following mammon (and all that represents).

 

Heart & Eyes: The Practical

So how might we actually live this out? Other than the obvious of prayer and community- what are some spiritual disciplines we can learn to live this out? Because believe it or not…But this text today is extremely practical.

 

Firstly, what we do with our treasures. Heart is about that drive, that direction, that full fontal will of the whole life, mind, and intension of a person. It’s the whole self. Okay, so now we have that, notice this: when Jesus talks, notice how he doesn’t say “where your heart is, there is your treasure is also”, rather it says “where your treasure is, there your heart is also”. In other words, It’s where your treasure is first, that then pulls ourselves there. Not where your heart is, that then pulls you to put the treasures you have there. It’s not your heart that will control where you put your treasures- it’s the other way around. Your treasure, your stuff, will control your thoughts, your will, your direction. So if you care about the poor give them some of your stuff, give them your precious space. But here’s the kicker: If you struggle to care for the poor- give them some of your stuff! Give them your precious space! And when you give enough over time you will come to care…Because your heart will follow where your treasure now is. And in time, that will even transfigure what your treasures are- because their usage will no longer be that which rusts, but that which will have changed lives forever.

The band Radnor & Lee write:

Spent a life hoarding diamonds, silver and gold upon my sleeves

Yes I had the world’s biggest necklace, but one day found I couldn’t breathe

So I started shedding possessions, left all the boys and all the girls

Believing that I needed nothing I said my goodbyes to the whole world

It’s yours once you give it away, once you give it away It’s yours once you give it away

 

Secondly, what we do with our eyes.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Here’s a question: what do lights do? They light up a room and as such make it easier for you to see, which means you can walk from one side to the other- obstacles and all. Your eyes are like that torch that enables you, your body, your being, to walk- they light up the world around you and make it possible to see. Without eyes, you are like someone in darkness, because you can’t see. Now, are they good eyes or evil eyes? The word “good”, as in “If your eyes are good” is the word “haplous”; and it can mean healthy but also “single” as in singular in one’s devotion. So if your eyes have that one healthy, singular, devotion-  if your eyes are like that of a torch  pointing in the good, singular, and devoted direction, you’ll be able to (your body etc.) walk that way just fine. It’s about the focus of the torch-like-eyes. And this makes sense, because straight afterwards Jesus says “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other….”. It’s about devotion, singular torch-light lit devotion in a direction that either is about serving God or serving money. That’s why our “eyes being bad” will cause a walk in darkness- we might be shinning a light in a direction that illuminates a path, but that path is towards another type of devotion- and it isn’t towards the singular Christ- it’s towards a singular devotion and service towards serving money. One is a “good eye” that lights the way of generosity, whilst the “bad eye” is that of stinginess & greed. So, the question is, what are we looking at? What takes all our attention & focus & rumination? Is it towards service of God, or service of money? When you look at people, are you seeing how you can serve them and love them and see them as a child of God? Or is it how maybe that person will “profit” you, how they might be an “asset” (Notice even our language around such the ways we can speak of people is in terms of economics?)? In other words, what we look at and what we imagine in our minds eye does matter. As a spiritual practice, try to intentionally imagine scenarios where you use your treasures, your money, your time, your energy, in Christlike ways. If you, for example, are buying a home- see how that space can be used for the common good. Imagine what it would look like to use that space for hospitality, for love, for service- let that be what drives your final decision.

 

So now we have what we do with our treasures, and what we do with our eyes (including our minds eye, our imagination). My hope & prayer is that as you & I seek to do that both communally and also individually, we will make for a world that is the Kingdom of God flooding this world.

 

Conclusion

I’ll finish with saying this…

These passages continue into another set of passages that tell us not to worry. And I’m not preaching of them today- and yet, there is a flow on effect with these passages, because the truth of the matter is this: when we start to live like this, the later call of “do not worry” makes sense- for if we become a people who focus on investing in God’s Kingdom and Justice, then all will have their basic needs met. We will be freed to no longer worry, because when we live generously as a community, we will all have the food on the table to not worry. So, who shall we serve today? What actions do you need to take to renegotiate your relationship to treasures?

 

For in Jesus, we have one that set aside his privilege in order to come into solidarity with us, and in coming into solidarity with us, has carried, is carrying, and will one day carry this world forward to the shores of heaven-on-earth, where all that was made for heaven on Earth will find their completion in a world made new…

For the forces that make for love of money in the world died in the death of Jesus, and on the far side of this death is a resurrection unto a world being made new… A world where the true treasures are found- where neighbourly love is what lights up our hearts and makes life all the more blessed… Where moth & rust don’t destroy.

 

Amen.

Brad Jersak unveiling a better faith in “A More Christlike Way”

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Before I start this review, I need to make a confession. I arrogantly thought that this book would just re-hash what I thought I already knew. I came to this book thinking “okay, so I know God is perfectly revealed in Jesus, and so yep, that means that is God is love, and so then a faith modelled on love becomes how we embody our faith into the world- simple! And if this is what Brad is going to say (though only in a longer version) then he’ll be confirming what I generally already know”. Needless to say, the Spirit used this book to gently remind me, once again, that true knowing of Love (i.e. God) is not the type of knowing that you exhaust, or understand, or grasp (and it certainly isn’t “simple”). Rather, true knowing is relational knowing that you don’t grasp, but rather, grasps you. And when it’s the God who is Love that grasps you, you learn more and more from the Master of Love; and so you learn to love better and to love with more of oneself. And that can’t ever be exhausted or fully understood- rather that is something that we grow in over a lifetime (if only we keep our hearts open and teachable). And so, Brad’s book served as a means of God to bring about God’s gentle reminder (and my later act of repentance); for it was in Brad’s pages that I learnt more of what a more Christlike Way could be. So, as I started reading this book, Brad writings showed me again that I am (and always will be) a student in the ways of God’s abundant grace. As such, this book then immediately set the tone of it being a work that would gently rebuke and yet rebuild- and I honestly think it will serve to that ends for many…And here’s me hoping it’ll also do that to the wider church as we so desperately seek her on-going reformation.

 

And so with this, Brad sort to build on the good tone he had set for the book: that the Jesus Way is neither a call to a new form of moralism (whereby we think we bring the Kingdom, or for that matter think we have it all figured out) or us merely standing still and thus not be active in living the life of love. Instead, Brad reminds us that walking in a more Christlike way is an invitation into a graceful participation in what God is doing, has done, and will do. Brad reminds us that it is Jesus alone who perfectly walked his own walk, carving the path that we only later walk, and that following is called following– not standing still. Brad continues to return to these equal truth’s as I read this book, and as a reader I found this constant reminder a needed reminder- for it is easy to slip into the pattern of moralism that then makes one think that they have it all together (and as such have all the answers), or into a pattern of static & still faith that serves to no fresh action on our part in the world. As such, Brad is careful to avoid both the pits of moralism on one side, and a cheap grace on the other, and instead call us into the narrow Christlike way- whereby we participate in what God is doing, and to participate in this only by the power of the Spirit. So, with these good reminders throughout the pages of the book, Brad then calls us into a vision of what is a more Christlike Way.

 

Of course, we can’t start to speak of a more Christlike Way without talking about God being a Christlike God. And so, Brad is wise to set his book on good foundation by reminding us of his main thesis of his last book (A More Christlike God): that Jesus is the gateway to knowing who God is (and always has been), with the epicentre of this revelation of God being that of Christ crucified (God as self-giving and cross-shaped). However, Brad’s writing into showing us again a more Christlike God started to (by design?) lead unto the rest of the book that painted for us a more Christlike way. But here’s the question: how much have we let the true Image of the more Christlike God trickle down into a genuine and sincere Christlike way?

 

Brad reminds us that- in the post-2000 years of our faith- we have made such deviations from the central revelation of God being revealed perfectly in Jesus. And so, UnChristlike ways have sprung up with the Christian label put over the top of it like that of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Yet, even in Brad’s assessment of how we have got it so terribly wrong in our 2000 year history, Brad is once again balanced and pastoral in his assessment. He is aware that the church has indeed done wonderful things- that a rag-tag bunch of imperfect people have stumbled in doing tremendous good in the world. And so, Brad is quick not to mis-label the entire church & it’s history as pure evil. And yet, in the same quickness, he names evil’s done in church, so much so that he doesn’t merely sympathise with those who felt like they needed to leave as a result of hurts done to them, but emphathised with those who needed to leave. Brad hears & names their stories and hurts, acknowledging their need for a sojourning journey beyond the walls of the places that have caused them hurt. Brad’s balance is fair, theologically reflective, and also pastoral.

 

Our faith has been co-opted in many ways, and by many zeitgeists, that all in turn mass produce various ‘Christian’ faiths that are more made in the image of our rebellion than in the image of the God who is perfectly revealed in Christ. And we have all been baptised in those contaminated waters of these pseudo-Christian faiths. None of us come out of those waters unscathed. As such, it is with humility, that Brad’s thorough critique of these pseudo-Christian faiths is done as one pulling a log out of his own eyes first before he goes to pull the twig out of those who practice faith these ways. It was Brad’s confessional nature in these pages that helped me see that the problem isn’t merely “out there”, but also inside of me. Brad models for the readers this humility whereby he says “Lord have mercy” rather than saying “Well Thank God I am not like them”. This could have been a book about finger pointing elsewhere, but instead it was a book about humbly analysing our own hearts first in order to then be able to find the better way to be human in Jesus.

 

Brad continues to lead the humble charge of repentance as he carries the book forward into a needed section on how to actually go about this change. Change requires breaking down all the pseudo-ways we have practised UnChristlike ways. This breaking down is named by its popular term: deconstruction. Now, I can’t name too many Christian authors who tackle the topic of deconstruction by deconstructing deconstruction itself! And yet, in keeping with seeking a more Christlike way, Brad offers to his readers a more Christlike way to deconstruct in such a manner that doesn’t look like some versions of deconstruction. This to me was a real gem in the book. Such a ‘meta’ approach was welcomed by someone like me who, in being a qualified therapist, has seen the knee-jerk reactions people have had to their own painful situations (whereby in their knee-jerk reactions have caused more pain in the wake). Brad, being a qualified theologian, observes the same type of knee-jerk responses in some people’s versions of deconstruction. Brad offers a better way as he sets the navigating course of the book. One word Brad did want to question was that of the imagery of the word “deconstruction” itself, as Brad seems to think is often a violent metaphor. Whilst I see the angle he is getting at, I did wonder if Brad could see the deconstruction language as akin to like that of the un-doing of Christ on the cross? After all, Paul uses the metaphor of death & resurrection as it relates not only to coming to faith, but also that of the pattern of on-going life in faith, which to me might be a way of speaking of deconstruction and reconstruction…? Though maybe I am becoming caught up in the semantics game. Perhaps what I am trying to say then is that the words “deconstruction” and “reconstruction” don’t necessarily have to have the violent images attached to them when the words are used. That said, I understand Brad’s point too: that the underlying phenomenon behind the words can be that of violent, saddening, and painful tumbling process.

 

Out of the woods of a better way to deconstruct (reconstruct?), Brad leads his readers down an analysis on the very concept of “the way”. Way to what? Brad gives the readers a tour of scripture about how the texts gives us different ways of speaking of going down different paths. This is the next layer that Brad builds as he moves his readers further up and further into his book. Brad is careful to paint the outlines of a more Christlike Way before he fills us in with the colours. And so then, Brad is careful to make sure the reader knows that such paths aren’t about going somewhere else after death (i.e. heaven or hell) but rather frames these paths as about the wise counsel of a God that seeks the best for his children. This was important for Brad to do this, as approaching the texts he did, we can come with our minds & imaginations already baptised in toxic waters of a punitive God with either reward or punishment facing us. Brad seeks to make sure we know that- whenever we talk about paths, or ways- it’s in the context of a good Abba, not some sort of bad abusive sky dad. Brad is then quick to discern another thing a reader might bring up: isn’t all of this talk of Christlike way step into a type of pluralism (whereby those outside explicit affiliation of the Christian religion can follow in this Christlike way)? Brad- in remarkable anticipation as to how his readers would react to some of his claims- calms the theological storms by giving a precise account of what exactly he means when he speaks of someone following in The Way. To use theological language, Brad appears to be an inclusivist (Or, as one other theologian has put it- that Jesus is the way, but there are many ways to be in that one singular way). I too include myself in this camp. And yet Brad isn’t a pluralist- Brad thinks it is precisely Christ who carves this way. Brad seeks to provide an explanation on how one handles the relationship between orthopraxy and orthodoxy as one seeks to speak about The Way. Personally, I would have liked him to unpack this more (What role does orthodoxy play as it relates to being a Christ-follower?), however I understand that this might of gone beyond the scope of the book.

 

It is now that Brad adds the brick and mortar to the foundation that he has laid in his book. And it’s here that his book takes on its full force of a beautiful and gentle tour-de-grace. And is in these two main sections of the book that I found myself equally saying “amen” out loud, and also “Lord have mercy”.

 

As Brad continues with his book, he outlines some of the false faiths that have been generated in our time. He lists four major ones (Moralism, Partisan Amoralism, Retributive Factionalism and Nationalism & Civil Religion). Brad’s great analysis of what these ‘faiths’ look like was daunting. Each pseudo-faith spoke to my heart in one way or another. For moralism, the big thing that Brad brought to my attention for me was how easy it is for us to look at someone and say “thank God I am not like that person”, and that in doing so (i.e. not being honest about our own brokenness) we become self-righteous. For Partisan Amoralism, the big thing that Brad brought to my attention for me was how easy it is for us to allow our own morality- whether personal or political- to go so unchallenged by a Jesus, who wants us to give our full-fledged allegiance to Him, that it erodes Jesus into a label that we then slap onto our own agendas and coerce people into. Similarly, for Retributive Factionalism, the big thing that Brad brought to my attention for me was how we still- in our us vs. them minds- go and make political or group boxes, then go and live in those boxes, then think that the boxes of our political or group thought are always right, and as such we throw insults to those in those others boxes, and thus all-in-all missing the humanity of the political/group ‘other’. For Nationalism and Civil Religion, it was a more personal for me. Part of a family that has a history of military service, and so any talk against country can be seen as sacrilegious. And yet Brad reminds me of how Jesus himself calls us into a to a higher love– that we love Christ and His Kingdom, and then out of that place of love, seek to affirm and critique where a country is failing to be all it can be.

 

After Brad does the important task of naming such pseudo-faiths, he now draws his readers to what he sees as seven facets of a more Christlike Way: Radical Self-giving, Radical Hospitality, Radical Unity, Radical Recovery, Radical Peacemaking & Radical Forgiveness, Radical Surrender, Radical Compassion & Radical Justice. So far, the whole book has been wonderful, yet this section of the book really stood out for me. Now, I want you all to read this book, so I don’t want to spoil what Brad says by saying too much. However, I do want to leave you with a delightful taste in your mouths, and so let me just say a few words about how Brad goes about each facet:

-Radical Self-giving: To become a people who see and then embody Christ as one who set to the side his divine privilege. As Brad says, “Any privilege Jesus of Nazareth enjoyed as a Jew or a male or freeborn was offset by the scandal of his birth (in Bethlehem), his refugee status (in Egypt) and his blue-collar upbringing (in Nazareth)”. This is followed by Brad’s call to be a people who also set aside privilege and carry our cross.

-Radical Hospitality: To create space for all by calling everyone in, including those we think are out. And to do so by having the humility that we are all in this together. After all, as Brad says, “If we imagine we’re better than they are, we become exactly what we hate—it’s ironic”.

-Radical Unity: To become a people who are known by their love towards each other in mutually enriching ways.

-Radical Recovery: To become a people who follow in the way of the cross as spoken about in Jesus’ sermon on the mount, which is the way in which the Spirit transforms us.

-Radical Peacemaking; Radical Forgiveness: To become a people who, in staring into the eyes & the ways of the non-violent saviour (with his epicentre of revelation being the cross), we seek to embody the way of Jesus’ non-violence into an often so violent world.

-Radical Surrender: To become a people of a spirituality that seeks to rest in God; to be a giving-over people unto the trusting hands of a God who loves us. And so, we rest.

-Radical Compassion; Radical Justice: That as Christ so identifies with the poor, that we are to become a people whose heartbeat are for the poor.

I want to stress to readers of this review that I haven’t even scratched the surface of this section. This section of the book is richly dense. There is so much more I could say in each of these facets, but that’s what the book is for. What I can say about this section is this: my eyes were more freshly opened. I cannot stress enough how Brad’s confessional nature, storytelling form, his anticipation for pushback (and his subsequent responses to such pushbacks), his practical, and his pastoral yet deeply theological posture in this section, allowed for a rich and transforming read in how we can have for a more Christlike Way.

 

But it’s in Brad’s last chapter that made my heart rate climb as it leapt in joy for a vision of truly Good News. My knees buckled in gratitude to what God has, is, and will one day do, and I began to pray on bended and excitable knees. I couldn’t put this section of the book down. It was Brad’s wonderful articulation of Abba’s Dream for the world- and our beautiful invitation to participate in it- that was truly and powerfully poetic. Indeed, he utilised the poetry of scripture and also his own visions & dreams of God’s caring and climatic action in the world, and it was this well-crafted combination that proved this final section of his book so beautiful. It’s moments like this, that the writing grabs you in such a manner, that you are no longer just reading the text, but participating in it. And for that, I am deeply grateful.

 

Needless to say, overall this book was a wonderful read. It would be too shallow to say that it was merely intellectually stimulating, for it was certainly not the work of an ivory tower theologian, but of a theologian doing writing the way I (personally) think all theological work should be done: As part of our lived experience and on the ground. Brad’s confessional nature, his relationship with others in solidarity, and his reflected meditations on the God-who-is-Love, made for what I think is the best type of theological reflection and reading…Reading that is equally stimulating intellectually and emotionally, and in such a manner that it creates the deeper reservoir of meaning– moving the written work beyond the mere rationalism and emotionalism. Good theology must always outwork itself relationally & beautifully, and Brad has done this with great precision with this book. In reading this book, I hope that we can all learn A More Christlike Way.

 

(Available at Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/More-Christlike-Way-Beautiful-Faith/dp/1889973351/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=)

 

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The Young Man and The Wise Cleric

There was once a regular gathering of Christian university students. These young Christians would come from their respective classes and huddle together into a hired-out library room that they rented for their fortnightly gatherings. There, in this space suited for tutorial presentations, they would come together to discuss about how their faith could impact their lives and also strategies about different ways to share their faith with their friends.

 

One week, they decided to learn about apologetics, and so one of the young enthusiastic men (an avid reader in all things to do with defending the faith) volunteered to lead the session on apologetics. He got up to the front desk, with a PowerPoint ready to go, and begun his presentation. “Tonight” he announced, “I would like to share with the group an analogy on how Jesus is the only way to God, and how to convince people of this one and only truth”. Just as he was about to continue with his message, the back door to the large room quietly opened, and an old man came quietly in. The young man- already on a roll- continued to speak as this stranger came in. The old wise man, fitted with a priestly clerical collar, sat quietly in the back row of the fitted-out room, and listened to the young man speak, looking on and listening intently.

 

“Have you ever heard the fire analogy before?” said the young man enthusiastically to he group. Most of them shook their heads and begun to listen more closely. “Well” he continued, “There was once three people who awoke to find themselves in the middle of a beautiful and yet mysterious maze-like forest. It was a late night, and they thought it would be better to find the way out of the maze in the morning. As it was a cold evening, they used some of the loose timber around them- and a lighter one of the people had- and made a camp fire. After they had huddled around the camp fire, each weary person went to sleep.  As they slept, the camp fire went beyond its bounds and lit a nearby bush on fire. Suddenly, all three of the people woke up to a blazing fire that had now started too spread to the maze’s forest walls. In a dash, these three people started to run through the maze. Thankfully, the maze turned out to be more like a labyrinth and so they became confident that they would all get out alive. All three of them were running through the maze together, but eventually they hit a cross road. There were two ways to go, but now they had to make a decision as to which way was the right way out of the maze. The first person said “Well, I don’t think there is a way out. This is all a sick joke. This is all we have got, so we might as well settle in and face our fate”. The second person pointed to the first path and said, “I believe this is the way out”. And the third person said, “Hey guys, I believe all paths lead to the way out”. But then, out of the blue, came a person out from the second path and said “I am the maker of the maze and sit on top of a tower with a bird eye view of the maze, I know this is the way out, so follow me””.

 

The young man telling his parable paused from speaking- as if to force a dramatic moment- and then continued, saying, “This is what we can say to people who think there are either no God and so no ways to God, or to people who believe their faith is right but have no proof of it, or to those who think it’s narrow minded to say that there is one way to God. We can say that Jesus, like the creator and bird-eye-viewer of the maze, has stepped down into human history and has shown us the way out. How can the atheist argue with God who has shown that he is real and has a way out? How can someone of a different faith say that their way is right when we have Jesus who has stepped in to show us the way. And to those new age people who think it’s narrow minded to say that there is only one way to God, we can say to them “who are you to say that your view of reality is correct?! We have Jesus who shows us that there is a God and therefore there is only one way”. If God Himself has become a person, and this God says He is the way, the truth, and the life, well, how can you argue with that!? We have the very creator become man and shown everyone He is legit!”. As the young enthusiastic man explained his parable, the young Christian students started to yell “Amen!” and “Yeah! That’s right!” and clapped away. But there was one person in the room whose demeanour was different. In the back corner sat the old man, looking gently forward, and only smiling- though not smiling in approval or disapproval- just smiling. The young man begun to conclude his speech, saying, “And so, with all these differing religions saying that their way to God and Heaven is right, or that they are all correct, or that there isn’t any. We can show them Jesus, who shows us how to get to God in heaven”. The young man said “thank you” to the crowd and sat down appeased.

 

As the formalities of the evening died down, and the meeting came to a formal close, the students went to shake the hand of their speaker, each one paying a compliment for the parable he had told. Once all the students had left, the old man came up to the young man. The old man took the young man’s hand warmly, looked gently into his eyes, and said in a wise, peaceful, and honest voice, “You have a gift for speaking young man, and I am thankful for such energy and enthusiasm”. The young man, aware of the sincerity of this old man, said “thank you” in response. “May I offer you though, something to reflect on?” said the wise old man. Curious, the young man consented to the wise man’s sharing; “Of course- what would like me to reflect on?”. “Well…Whilst there are some good truths that your parable touches on” the wise man said, “maybe there’s an even better way of looking at the deep truths of our faith”. He paused, as if to allow the reflection to already take root, and then continued. “Suppose we start the story the same way, three people in this beautiful maze-like forest, making a campfire, and then the fire gets out of hand. They are running through what appears to be more of a labyrinth, and then they hit this cross-road. And indeed, there might be sincere confusion as to where to go now- that would indeed be a big decision! A very hard one to make indeed” he paused again, and then continued to speak. “And yet, what if now, instead of this Jesus figure coming down and offering a way out, instead he brings with him a hose, a shovel, and a bag. And what if… Instead of offering a way out, this Jesus figure starts to put out the whole forest fire with his hose that he has. He turns on the hose, and, magic! The water spreads throughout the whole forest and puts out the fire. He then turns to the fellow maze dwellers, and says to them “Well, we got a whole forest to grow and make beautiful! I would like you to partner with me in doing this”. Then this Jesus figure offers them a bag filled with seeds, and a shovel for digging and says to the maze dwellers “Will you join me in making this maze beautiful again?”. The old man pauses again, smiles, warmly holds the young man’s hands, and says “My dear friend, you are right to say that Jesus shows us who God truly is, and this is indeed an eye-opening reality against the backdrop of many theories and faiths about God or the Gods. And yes, if there is a God, and only one God, revealed in a person called Jesus, then that is indeed a scandal to the modern mind… But my friend, I wonder what it would mean to see that Jesus has already put out the fire? To see that this broken world- this world burnt out by the flames of evil, injustices, sin, death, corruption- has a healer, a gardener, who wants us to sow the seeds of a new world right in the middle of this burnt one, and is actually calling all people to follow Him in partnering with that healing project in the world- would that not be a better story to be told?”.

 

The young man- feeling slightly perplexed and feeling somewhat affronted- said “But that makes it sound like it doesn’t matter what other people from other faiths believe, or lack of faith all together! Are you saying we shouldn’t worry about those things at all?? That it’s all leading to Heaven anyway?!”. The old man gently smiled. “My friend” responded the old man gently, “The story of this world that Jesus is telling… It’s even better than we have first thought. It’s not about going somewhere else after you die- though that might be part of it- rather… It’s about Heaven coming to Earth and God making this place His home. And if that’s what it’s about, then living a new life that’s aligned with Jesus’ future for this world is indeed a big shift for someone…For if you are going to trust that Jesus is making this world new, that’s a whole paradigm shift!… And if you’re going to partner with Jesus in doing this, that will indeed start a newfound relationship with Jesus…But don’t you see? Such a trust in a better vision for this world- a better vision launched in Jesus- is much more about being part of a revolution then it is about joining a religious club- or evening having some abstract doctrines neatly articulated- that gives you the ticket out of the maze, or perhaps into the sky… The Good News is, God loves this world, and loves you too, and wants everyone to be excited with this world-wide project and partner with what Jesus wants done in making this maze alive again, or, should we say, the world beautiful again”.

 

The young man, still somewhat startled, had a confused look on his face. He paused, then, more calmly this time, said “And what about hell? This talk about the fire being put out removes any real sense of urgency. Surely we need to be worried about hell, right?” “Well” responded the old man, “When Jesus talks about hell, he is talking about a real place- although the real place he was speaking about was Jerusalem’s local garbage dump called Gehenna, or what we translate in English called hell”. The old man smiled and gave a friendly chuckle. “Their local garbage dump certainly had bad vibes to it, a bit like a haunted house, because many years before Jesus was on the scene people did used to sacrifice children there to these other deities, and so by Jesus’ time, the place had, shall we say, a spookiness to it. Not to mention, with the wider Greek & Roman culture starting to come into Jerusalem, the locals, including even the religious elite of Jesus’ day started to use the local mythology of an underworld called Hades. And some people, maybe dovetailing from the spookiness of their local garbage dump called Gehenna- or hell- started to say things like that the garbage dump was a gateway to the underworld. It also didn’t help that their garbage dump was used to burn a lot of things. Some people even theorise that maybe this garbage dump had dogs go to it, who would fight over scraps, causing gnashing of teeth. Some others even say that the oil run off from the garbage would pile down into little ponds that would be lit up creating almost a lake of fire…So you could Imagine that with all this rich imagery, that Jesus would of course use some of the local language and rhetoric to make some serious points- and some pretty eye opening parables- about what happens when you live against the grain of God’s way of being human and against the grain of how God wants to run the world… To live like this might produce a garbage of a life! And of course, on a wider societal level, not living the ways Jesus commanded could lead to all sorts of hells breaking loose. Imagine being told to live non-violently, and then you had a whole people do the exact opposite! Or if you are told to live generously, but then they all live selfishly. That will ripple out and create whole societal unrest! Some scholars even say that’s what happened literally when Jerusalem didn’t follow in the ways of Jesus…Jerusalem, who had been under the occupation of the Roman Empire, revolted against Rome in 70 A.D by the ways of the sword rather than by Jesus’ way of love, and the city becomes an extension of their own lit up garbage dump. So sure, Jesus talks about hell a lot, but maybe not in the way we think- I think he has it more focused on this world then on something next. And yep, Jesus does indeed talk about final judgement, but even there we gotta remember that- like any good Jewish prophet- it’s about God judging the world in order to make something new on the far side of the judgement. So even his judgement, even when it appears harsh in scripture, is just a classic Jewish move about God fixing up this broken messy world. And yeah, there is even harsh language about final judgement as someone not living with the grain of being the human God wants to make us to be, but even that’s about God wanting us to become a better human rather than a human turned inward towards oneself- I think a loving God would want the best for us, don’t you think?”

 

“You know” the old man continued, “There is a lot of hell already around us, and sometimes inside of us in how we live and prioritise our life- after all, money, for example, being the reason for living won’t make a person feel good in the long-run, and such a life will just bring more hell out into the people around him or her. Imagine it: living life for money but it never fulfilling, and then, in living life for money, only seeing people in terms of how you can best “profit”- you might start using people for monetary gains, or cutting corners on a big business. I think of big companies who have slave labour to cut the cost of their goods and I think, surely, that’s the love of money causing such evil there! So there’s already hell around us, and little hell’s in us. And if people don’t want to turn away from that, that can indeed eat us up on the inside, in the here and in the now. And when Jesus appears again one day fully fill this world with God’s love everywhere- where this world is fully healed and evil is no more, when all the hells around us are fully extinguished- then it will be pretty hard for someone who still seeks to live their life against the grain of how God wants them to live their life when there will only be this new Jesus-shaped world. That would be like swimming upstream! I’m not sure what it means for them, but if there is only one new creation, and there ain’t room for evil anywhere in it, I can’t see how there would be a torture chamber. And I can’t fathom a reason why God would want one in the first place! I once sat in a sauna for 30 minutes as a dare- and it was very hot after a while; now imagine God doing that to people for not 30 minutes, or 30 days, or 30 years, or 300 years…But forever. I wonder what purpose or pleasure God would get out of that? If hell is anything for anyone, it’s something that they are making in their resistance against God’s love- not something God is actively wishing upon people. But it certainly ain’t a torture chamber that God makes- I can’t square that with a God we call love. God loves all people, and wants everyone to be part of God’s new world. So, I think, God isn’t sending people to this place called hell, but instead God is sending heaven to people, and maybe God will somehow create space within God’s all-in-all creation in order to make space for those who want to live their own way- but I’m not sure what that looks like exactly. Some even say that hell is the love of God badly received on their end- like, God’s love is all around them, but they stubbornly refuse it, and so it feels just like a nagging presence to them, whereas it’s actually God’s love not giving up. Who knows! But one thing I know for sure is this: God wants even them to join God in God’s New World, and God won’t stop wooing people into a better world, and with it, a better way to be human- not now, and surely not later? But that’s up to us to want that. I certainly know people in some rough spots who want someone to rescue them, and I trust that God can be what they have always wanted, even if they didn’t know how to articulate the faith we are so blessed to have a clear picture of- maybe the Spirit can move in the wilderness of the world, and show grace and mercy to many. And equally, I do know people who are terribly resistant to love, grace, peace, kindness, and all the goodies that come with being a person re-made by Love. But, maybe instead of being concerned how God is going to sort that out, we can instead partner with God with being concerned about the only hells we know for sure: that which is currently around us, and sometimes the ones within our own hearts. We got some mighty logs in our own eyes! And there are some heavy timber that’s crushing others that we are supposed to lift off our brothers and sister who are in pain”

 

The young man paused reflectively. “I see” the young man said. “There’s a lot in what you say, and honestly there’s a lot to think about”. The old man smiled. “Well, I hope I haven’t startled you too much with this different way of looking at faith” the old man chuckled. He put his hand on the young man’s shoulder and said, “Keep up the good work, my friend”. The old man begun to leave, and as he was just about to exit the room, he turned to the young man and said, “And don’t forget to help Jesus plant those new seeds for his new maze!…Or perhaps, don’t worry about the maze bit. Just plant a beautiful forest”. The old man smiled, and close the door behind him. The young man sat leaning against the table, attempting to comprehend what he had just heard. Quickly, he stood up and raced to the door, and walked briskly through the library. The young man saw the old man about to leave the building, and so he quickly caught up to him and asked, “Where do you pastor?”. The old stopped, turned to the young man smiled as he gently lifted his finger and pointed into the distance. Over, across the road, stood and old church quaint church building surrounded by trees. “I pastor there” he said. “And you are welcome anytime”.

Jesus- The Redefinition of Power in Servant Like Love

In my study. Overwhelmed by how Jesus does Love & Power… This is a short improvisation sermon I did on the spot and randomly decided to record on my iPhone (So don’t expect studio quality). “True power looks like getting on our knees and washing feet”. Yep…Smelly feet. Be blessed.

See more at https://www.nathanforster.com or https://www.facebook.com/nathan.forster/

 

The Lord’s Prayer

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.

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Setting the Scene

I’ve never mentored someone I haven’t had a dialogue with. Well, duh right? You kind of got to talk to the person you are mentoring- there seems to be no other way. You communicate. You talk. You write. You listen. So it should come to no surprise then that we are called to have dialogue with God. That’s one of the core aspects of prayer: communication. And like with my mentoring relationships, it’s been that open communicative relationship that the person is changed (hopefully for the better!). Likewise, we see throughout Jesus’ ministry the centrality of prayer as a communicating act whereby God transforms us and transforms the world. The Lord’s Prayer is actually a prayer that Jesus Himself taught his disciples to pray. And the legacy of the prayer has carried throughout generation to generation and from church community to church community. It’s also a prayer that, when you break it down, you can see the nooks and crannies of its amazing transformative power.

 

But let’s set the scene first.

The world is a broken place, and our hope is for someone to come in order to make all things right. In this light, we can take heart that the word “gospel” literally means “Good News”, and the Good News is, is that Jesus has come into this world to bring God’s rule & reign on Earth as it is in Heaven. Jesus’ whole ministry is working towards that reality.  Jesus makes this reality known in His life & ministry, Jesus gives this reality it’s decisive victory through His death & resurrection, Jesus weaves this victory slowly throughout this broken world through His Church empowered by the Holy Spirit, and will one day make this reality everywhere when He returns. In the gospels, we see Jesus on the move showing us what it looks like when Jesus reigns as King- there are healings, there are confrontations with the current ruling powers, and of course there is His teachings about what it means to be a restored human being in God’s restored world (After all, if all of history is heading towards Jesus & His Kingdom one day being everywhere, then we are to learn in the present how to be the people we are destined to become). This is where Jesus’ prayer comes in: it’s right in the middle of his sermon that he is giving. And this prayer really shouldn’t come as a surprise- after all, if we are going to live as followers of Jesus, then we will need open dialogue with the God who can empower us into the life He has called us into. For the Lord’s Prayer is not so much a command as an invitation: an invitation to share in the prayer-life of Jesus himself. And with this, His own relationship with The Father.

 

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

We must understand that Jesus wanted his followers (and so us) to share what He had with God: that is, his own intimate approach to the Creator. He is “Our Father”. He is not just “A Father”- a somewhere off the distant deity, perhaps with a long white beard, that doesn’t really do much with Creation. Nor is there any sense that God is an impersonal force, or merely a metaphor. Any psychologist and anthropologist will tell you about the centrality of relationships within the world- it’s relationships that give us meaning, fulfillment, a life worth living. As it was said in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”. We all know this- that relationship is the heartbeat of the universe. And so, is there really any wonder that the God Jesus reveals is called Father? It’s personal, it’s intimate.

 

Bad Fathers?

Now some people have crappy dads, and these bad fatherly relationships are sometimes projected onto the text; and so, unfortunately, we can be triggered by such words like “Father” because the image we get of Father isn’t good. Some, but not all, have fathers more like that of Scar from the Lion King rather than then a wise & loving Mufasa. In fact, we live in a time in history where fatherlessness is at an all-time high. In correlation to this, is the higher degree of social problems from those who fathers have abandoned them or left them astray emotionally. Perhaps more than ever it’s important then to recognise that Jesus offers us a counter to our culture’s lack of fathers. The answer to a world of crappy dad’s or none at all isn’t to ignore the God Jesus calls Father, but rather to re-capture what true Fatherhood means in light of Jesus. When a government official comes to another country, they are representing in themselves the values, the vision, and the moral character of their originating country, and often that countries leader. Likewise, when Jesus comes on the scene he insists over and over again that he is imaging the exact representation of what God is like. Jesus Himself says that when we see Him we see the Father. And so, what do we see in Jesus? We see Love. Love not defined by the standards of the world, or by own experiences, but love defined by Jesus’ words and actions. That the images we need we see in Jesus. And so Fatherhood is re-defined in Jesus. This might not solve our qualms about the word “Father” straight away, but it’s a starting place that locates the meaning of the word father not in our experiences, but in what we see in Jesus- the one who reveals to us true Fatherhood.

 

In A Place of Authority- So relax

Now, where is this Father? He is in Heaven. Now don’t automatically think harps or anything of the like. God being in Heaven is not so much about geographical location, but more about God’s power. This is what we see all over scripture, especially in the prophets and psalms- as Heaven being the over-and-above-awe-place of power & authority over creation. This should tell us something: that the God Jesus calls us to pray to is in a place of control (not manipulation, but control nonetheless). The picture is sometimes depicted as like a throne, and thrones (both now and then) tell us that the person on the thrown rules, has command, and get’s what needed to be done, well, done. In other words, with God, we are in good hands, because the one in which we pray to is in control. He has got it all covered. My point? How much comfort is that, that God has got it all covered. So relax.

 

“Hallow be your name” was a typical Jewish affirmation of God’s holiness and majesty. For something to be hallowed, means to treat it as holy, distinct, or unique. And a “name” within Judaism reflected not just a title but displayed a deeper meaning of the essence, the character the reputation of someone. In this part of the prayer, we are declaring God as Father, but as Father in His rightful, distinct and honoured place.

 

“Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven”

“On Earth” Not elsewhere

The precise place this Kingdom and will is to be done is on Earth. Some people, when they pray this prayer, implicitly have a view of faith that’s all about escaping this world when we die as the ultimate goal of faith (And bringing many people as we can with us). In this view, we say “Yeah, we do what we can on Earth to get people to Heaven; that must be God’s will on Earth”. It’s like God’s will on Earth then, is to be a giant net that’s all about collecting people, to be swooped up into the sky; the net comes down, temporarily, to then swoop people up. But we must be informed by a larger picture of faith that takes seriously God’s eventual renewal of creation to be the ultimate goal- as depicted in final chapters of Revelation. In that sense, asking for God’s will to be done on Earth is not like being a net that’s here for a moment and swooped back the next, but about being like someone who is preparing the way of the arrival of a new Kingdom, and so in his or her preparation, is seeing what can be done in the present that will work towards, and eventually match, what the area will be like when the Kingdom fully comes.

It’s on Earth that the will of Heaven wants to be done- because one-day Heaven and Earth will be one! It’s on Earth that we are called to match the will of Heaven because its Heaven and Earth that will one day be matched together! When we don’t take this seriously, we water down our rich, transformative, and beautiful faith- a faith that’s about renewing individual lives, renewing whole communities, renewing whole cultures, and eventually renewing the whole world- we water all that down into a “get out of jail free card”, and demote Jesus from Lord of Creation to Minister of Afterlife Affairs.

This vision of God’s Will being done on Earth as it is in Heaven should open us up into new exciting possibilities! Because if it’s about the eventual renewal of all creation, then all of a sudden everything matters. Faith doesn’t go in one box and then work in another, or relationships in another. Rather, this heaven-coming-on-earth faith is like a pair of glasses with which we look through; we can ask what it would look like for God’s Kingdom to be done in the area of work, of relationships, of, well, everything! If all of reality is heading towards the renewal of all things, then all of reality can be charged with the exciting call of seeking what it would then look like to anticipate, and then enact, God’s Kingdom & Will in xyz area.

 

Whose Kingdom?

This, of course, brings us to the obvious but much-needed point: It’s God’s Kingdom is the one we are asking to come. Now, why would I say that? Because let’s be honest, we can be so concerned with our little Kingdom of One, or we can be so entrenched with how our culture defines what life is all about (In other words, the world’s ‘kingdom’). In our little Kingdom-of-one, or in following in the drama of our culture, we then define good and evil (Their will). Praying for God’s Kingdom & Will then is about pleading for a different rule & reign, a different will to be done- God’s Kingdom…God’s Will. So don’t be surprised if our own agendas are challenged, and if our own priorities are challenged. Don’t be surprised if God leaves us going “Actually, I want you to live this way”.

 

Now let’s really focus this: what does it look like when Jesus’ Kingdom comes in ___ area? What does it look like when God’s will is done in ____ area? These questions deliberately bring Jesus into areas in our life that He desires to be (Which is in all areas); to be shaped by Jesus’ vision of God’s rule & reign and not our own or our culture’s standards. Once again, this is exciting! We are asking God to shape every area of our life into something much more bigger and expansive than ourselves- into a vision of reality that will lead all the way into an eternal Kingdom!

Now an important second point to this: those questions I have just said, shouldn’t just inform us of the end’s (what it will look like at the end when God’s will is done in xyz area) but also the ways by which we achieve our Kingdom inspired ends (in other words, how it is done). Without both the means and the ends informed by Jesus’ Kingdom & will, then both will be distorted in the long run. So let’s say someone feels compelled to spread the faith into a foreign country- okay that’s all well and good. But suppose then they go in there and destroy the entire culture, enforce the new religion by law & violence, and apply the death penalty to all those who attempt to stay within their old ways. My question is, is how that anything like the Kingdom?! It’s not. There’s an end, but a Satanic means, which of course then distorts & guides the original end goal into anything but genuine Christlike faith.  Now, these same questions are questions we should also ask as a community, and as a wider culture, as we seek the good for both our neighbourhood and for our world.

 

God Bring’s God’s Kingdom

But, of course, this isn’t about us conjuring up the Kingdom and God’s will on our own (As if we are like someone on a desert Island rubbing two sticks together to make fire!)- the whole point of this section of prayer is that we are pleading that God brings God’s Kingdom; that God brings God’s will. When God’s answers this pleading section of prayer, He unleashes the reality of this prayer.

All that said, let us not think even for a second that this leaves us dormant, with nothing we can do. God does the work, and yet we are called to be people who participate in the work God is doing. It’s like a symphony, having been composed by someone else, we nonetheless play our instrument. However, we nonetheless stress the work of God. It’s God who is doing the saving. We do what He wants us to do, as participates in His saving work in the world.

 

“Give us this day our daily bread”

Food is an occurring reality that happens throughout Jesus’ ministry. The wilderness feeding stories suggest both a literal feeding and a symbolic act that demonstrated God’s power to provide for the needs of the people. The sharing of food, both actually and symbolically, was a central feature of Jesus’ life. And of course, the climax to all of this, the last supper- where food is used as a symbol of Jesus’ saving work in His own body. Bread was a sign of God’s in-breaking Kingdom, where the world would be fed, both physically & spiritually (Without division of the two!). To ask for bread is to ask to be nourished, but nourished within the context of God’s Kingdom coming in- that He would provide because His Kingdom would be a providing Kingdom.

 

The Bread of Today and Tomorrow

Like a diamond, there is actually a few different angles to this richly diverse part of the prayer. One angle is this: Some commentators think the original Greek meaning here is “tomorrow’s bread”, not daily bread. When you read it as “Give us today, tomorrows bread”, then we see that the disciples are being told to pray for the “bread of tomorrow,” perhaps referring to the banquet feast planned for the day God’s Kingdom is fully established on the Earth. In other words, It is another way of asking for God’s rule to be established now. But there is also a purely present dimension to this. Daily bread was an Israeli throwback to the time in the wilderness where God met the daily needs of His people. In other words, daily bread is also about us trusting God to meet our daily needs right now. Perhaps just like there is the Kingdom now, and also a fully established Kingdom later, there is both a longing to say “Come Lord Jesus! Bring what the world needs!” and also a petition to say “God! Help us now! For we are in need!”

 

Daily Bread As Daily Needs

Some of us have it pretty well of, and some of us don’t and therefore live from pay check to pay check, but regardless it all comes from God. That breath you just took is a need God has just fulfilled, that food you ate earlier is a need God just fulfilled, and without food or breath you are dead. The mind you use for you to work and make your living- that’s also a need God has given you. Our daily needs are what we need essentially to live! That’s why it’s a need! Of course, a humbling and daunting task is to ask what is a “need” and what is a “want” and ask God for the wisdom to discern between the two.

(Something that must be acknowledged is that Job seasons and moments do exist- we might truly need something, and we might pray and not get it (And maybe for a variety of factors). Taking the Christian life seriously is taking seriously that this does happen. However, this is not to water down an equally true reality- that God does indeed supply.)

 

Being Bread

We all need daily bread- the basics of food, water, shelter. Maybe you’re in a season where you have particular needs, such as needing someone to listen to your struggles. Another thought that crossed my mind is that maybe, like that of asking for God’s Kingdom and will for your life, God wants you to be daily bread to someone- maybe you’re just the person someone needs in their life in a particular season? After all, God uses His people to do His will. Perhaps there is so much unmet ‘daily bread’ need in the world because sometimes we aren’t doing the “Your Kingdom come, your will be done” bit. To both ask for daily bread, and be daily bread to the world. That’s stretching beyond this context, but it’s a thought I want us to consider.

 

“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”

The larger picture behind this section of the prayer is, of course, one of the main thrusts of Jesus’ Kingdom arrival: the forgiveness of sins. Part of the vision of God’s Kingdom, envisioned in the Prophets, was that of a coming time where God’s forgiveness would come to His people & to the world. Hand-in-hand with the longing for the “Forgiveness of sins” was the prophets linking “the forgiveness of sins” with the larger reality of God’s presence being over the land again. And such, Jesus’ Kingdom-coming was a way of saying “God’s forgiveness is here! And so His presence will be here!”. It’s the time of Jubilee!

 

Forgiveness: Something you need

When it comes to forgiveness, we have to remember that there is actually a need for forgiveness. God isn’t an impersonal force but a personal being- and we have been jerks to God. And if not to God, certainly to other people made by God, and to the way we hurt God’s creation, and ourselves.  We have, and do, break the fabric of our relationships with God, each other, ourselves, and creation all the time. Let’s not kid ourselves: we have screwed up. Thankfully, God is extremely gracious and forgiving. And so we need to pray this daily, as a reminder that we are not perfect, and as a reminder that our God is not an arsehole, but extremely gracious and willing to forgive us when we screw up. The whole point of being disciples of Jesus is that we are students of Jesus and His kingdom- Students fail; we fumble. But, In a world that’s often filled with tit-for-tat thinking, we have a God who eternally loves us and forgives us. We are like babies learning to walk for the first time, and learning to walk takes time, but walk we must, and the one teaching us to walk isn’t hitting us when we fall, but lifting us up and beckoning us forward.

 

“I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine!” is not how forgiveness works

“Forgive us as we forgive others” is not a type of quid pro quo declaration (A type of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”). Jesus is reminding the disciples of their need to forgive in the light of the Father’s forgiveness. Jesus is not teaching the disciples to ask God to condition and proportion his forgiveness on theirs. We often read the text like that because a lot of our theology has the undercurrents of influential theologians of Church history- and in particular to this reading- John Calvin and Tertullian. These two were theologians in church history who were also lawyers. Because of their profession, they read a lot of legal language into the texts, and then wrote a bunch of theology books that seeped into western theology (Interestingly, not eastern orthodox theology), that has been kept through history, preached upon, and carried up to today, and so we then read these texts, we sometimes read them with these legal-framework glasses discretely handed down to us, and as a result, we read what Jesus’ said as some sort of legal jargon. When our reading eyes read the Bible like a legal textbook manual you might get the impression that Jesus is saying that we won’t be forgiven if we don’t forgive- but if that was the case than it’s not real forgiveness! The whole point of forgiveness is that you don’t have to do anything to be forgiven- you are just, well, forgiven! (Now certainly forgiveness will be costly to the one forgiving us- just look at the cross! But nothing has to be done to be forgiven, rather you are just forgiven). We have to recognise scripture as the true & relational story of what God is up to in the world, and when we see it like that, then its easy to see that this section on forgiveness is deeply interconnected & flows, as opposed to sliced up and made ridged. Almost like waves at a beautiful beach is the flow of forgiveness that works too-and-fro: As we see God’s forgiveness for us, we forgive others. And as we forgive others, it opens us up more to see the beauty of God’s forgiveness for us more & more. So we go out into the world and forgive others more freely, and so our eyes open more to the beauty of God’s forgiveness for us. And so on… It just goes on, and it swells up into true life whereby we become the forgiving people God wants us to be, and the forgiving people who will match the life of heaven that Jesus is, and will, make on Earth when He returns when He renews the world by that same standard of forgiving love.

 

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

The challenge here, then, is that redeemed people live as redemption people; forgiven people live as forgiving people. Let me tell you story:

In America in 2006, a man by the name of Charles Roberts went into an Amish school and took 8 girl hostage, killed five of the eight, and then killed himself. This of course, devastated the Amish community and even the USA as a whole. However, this community responded in a powerful way: An Amish neighbour comforted the Robert’s family only hours after the shooting, and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Charles Robert’s widow and his parents. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish also made a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts’ funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims. Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbours thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.” Some commentators criticized the quick and complete forgiveness with which the Amish responded, arguing that forgiveness is inappropriate when no remorse has been expressed, and that such an attitude runs the risk of denying the existence of evil. However, the community explained that their willingness to forgo vengeance does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong, but rather constitutes a first step towards a future that is more hopeful.

That’s the power when we embody forgiveness into the world, and it’s what we are called to do.

 

But of course…

Now, of course, a few pastoral caveats to be mindful of:

-your power for forgiveness should not be used as a badge of self-righteousness

(Beckoning someone towards forgiveness is an invitation to someone to become more fully who God wants them to be by setting them free from the dehumanising cycle of revenge & hatred, It should NOT be used as a way to show someone how much better you are)

-forgiveness doesn’t mean trusting a person again

(If someone has a track record of doing evil, forgiving them doesn’t mean that person will automatically change. It might never be appropriate to have that person in your life again. Healthy boundaries might need to be developed)

-forgiveness doesn’t mean that a perpetrator shouldn’t be called out to repent

(This varies from situation to situation, however, there will be times that forgiveness will be alongside a call to the person to change their ways i.e. repent. Forgiveness doesn’t equal silence, especially (for example) there is on-going abuse where others are being hurt by those in power. Too often, Christians can use God’s call to forgive as a weapon against survivors, whereas rather forgiveness & the call for accountability can go hand in hand)

-there is a legitimate place for anger and lament leading up to forgiveness

(We need to process our pain and emotions, and we see that, in the Psalms, there was no better place than to do it in the presence of God).

Also be mindful of other things:

-Forgiveness is not saying what happened didn’t matter

(It merely saying that we can’t be beholden to what happened forever)

-Forgiveness isn’t waiting till the other person or persons is sorry; that might never come

(And if Jesus waited until we were sorry he wouldn’t of come!)

-Forgiveness will be painful, yet it will also be the ultimate freedom for both yourself and for the greater healing of the world.

 

But nontheless!

With this said, it’s still important not to lose the full weight of meaning behind forgiveness: we set healing in motion when forgiveness is present. This healing is seen on both personal level (letting go of hurt, hatred, and the rest. After all, unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies) and this healing is of course seen on a social/communal level (Think, for example, the Truth & Reconciliation project in South Africa). The call to be both people who are acutely aware of our own need for forgiveness, to then be formed as forgiving people to the wider world- we cannot lose that. For forgiveness is the battle cry of the advancement of God’s Kingdom. If the forgiving love of God on the cross set in motion the saving of the world, how can we think forgiveness in our own context won’t be central? After all, if life is all about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth than we’ll have a world full of blind toothless people.

 

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

This fits with the Kingdom agenda. Asking for the Kingdom & Will of God to be done on Earth will have, on the other side of the same coin, a plea that we would not be lead into trials and that we would want to be delivered from evil. So this part: “do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one”. The Greek is difficult here; however, we can agree that Jesus is not asking his disciples to pray that God would not play the role of “the tempter,” which is something God doesn’t do. Jesus is, rather, telling his disciples to pray that God would protect them from hardships that accompany their kingdom work. From whom would they expect such hardships? The closing line of the prayer makes it explicit: “rescue us from the evil one.” Jesus knew that carrying out the Father’s kingdom work would evoke attacks from the Evil one.

 

Whose tempting? 

I am convinced that this isn’t talking about not being near trials or God never wanting us to be in the midst of evil (If that was the case then how are we a light in the darkness or a city on a hill if we are neither in the darkness or in the world? After all, we are not called to be hermits). It’s rather that, when we are in those places, we are asking for God to make us strong that we don’t give into doing life, and Kingdom, and power the way the world does it. We see Jesus’ trials in the wilderness, we see it in the garden, we see them from people throughout his ministry bringing accusations. Trials are a central reality of Jesus’ public life. Because if you are bringing the rule & reign of God, modelled after this same God, then, of course, you’re going to have people  (and also Spiritual forces) coming up against you. You are going to have trails when you follow Jesus.  So the prayer is not so much “God, don’t let this happen” (Clearly it will!) but rather “God, when this does happen, don’t leave me there, but help get me through it!”.  It’s like marching forward with conviction towards a chosen destination, but there are tempters on the side telling us to give up and give in- we are asking for God to help us to continue to go forward! To not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil

 

The Daily Battle

This is a daily battle- here are some examples: how will we choose to treat people (Such as people who annoy us to no end? Will we give in and show hatred?), how will we consume products (Such as if we are buying clothes made by slave labour or not. Will we be mindful of these things or not even care?), will we be people who blindly support any nation or government without question (In other words, will we forget that Jesus is Lord and that Ceaser is not? Will we, of course love the nation we are in, but let our love of nation be about appreciating it’s good gifts and wanting to see a country healed of hurt and purged of our societal sins, rather than being idolatrously nationalistic and say that “Everything’s fine, and how dare you say bad things about this country!”, that which our Ceaser wants us to do?). Now let’s be clear: we aren’t perfect- we know that. And because we are students and Jesus is the teacher, we don’t have to be over-obsessed with getting it right (And as such forget grace), however, we are nonetheless called to be God’s people in a dark world, and if we are to bring the light we have to be the light and not succumb to the darkness.

 

This is our prayer, both as a community and also in our own daily lives. It covers all that to which we need to pray, and like rain refreshes us and grows green & lively world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Sermon I did on Job 9/9/17

I find that there is nothing worse than someone trying to give you simple answers to life’s hardest struggles.

Think of a time that was the hardest of times for you

In those moments when you were going through the hardest of times…

When you were screaming out to God in agony and depth of pain…

Were you after someone to knock on your door, ignore your pain, and attempt to give you a theory behind why you were going through what you were going through?

Were you after that?

Or were you after a platitude like “Everything happens for a reason” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle”?

In life hardest times, when the shit hits the fan, and there are no simple answers.

What you need isn’t someone who gives you their two pence on your pain.

You need something more than that.

Sometimes those simple pseudo answers are the most condescending of them all.

A “scripture pill” where someone gives you a memory verse because what’s in front of them is too overwhelming.

A pill shoved into your mouth because they can’t deal with your pain, and they just want to shove it under the carpet.

They don’t want to be present in it.

The reality is sometimes life isn’t simple.

Sometimes there is no quick fix answer.

Sometimes we never know the reason why we grow through what we go through

We are left in a place. Left with no answers. In the hardest of times.

 

We live in a world addicted to knowing everything.

Now learning and perusing answers is not wrong- in fact, I would argue that that is part of our creative potential that God has put into us.

But when knowing becomes an addiction- where you have to know everything or else…The result is that you will never rest, you will never be at peace.

And this is especially true when we suffer.

When we take our addiction to knowing and then apply it to our pursuit of trying to work out the suffering we have gone through- we can become angry, we can become cynical, we can become people who are never at peace.

 

Here we have this book in the Bible called Job.

It’s part of a collection of books called the wisdom literature.

Part of this library is Proverbs, then Ecclestiaies, then Job

Proverb gives us a simple cause and effect universe, that says do x and then and then y will happen.

Proverbs is wisdom we can tap into, and it’s wisdom that is, generally speaking, pretty consistent. It’s Basic. It’s Simple. Do this, and then this will happen. That’s why it’s there- there’s a lot of truth in Proverbs.

But we forget the other two books in the wisdom literature.

We have Ecclestiaies that comes along and says “sometimes there is a glitch in the system; sometimes the strict ordering of cause and effect has hiccups, and as such life is a little bit more complicated than what it appears to be”.

And then you have Job.

A lot of Hebrew scholars think Job is an existential thought experiment written to the Hebrew people who knew all to well about suffering.

An existential thought experiment exploring the question about God’s running of the universe in the middle of suffering.

It explores this phenomenon through a story of a righteous man who- as it pertains to the story- has done nothing wrong.

But everything bad happens to him.

And in the middle of his pain, his grief, his loss, Job’s friends insist that Job must have done something wrong to deserve what he got.

They had a view of the universe of a strict rule of retributive justice: if something bad happened to you, then you did something wrong.

That was their worldview. For them, Job must have done something wrong, because they couldn’t conceive of his suffering any other way

But that’s the point: He hadn’t done anything wrong.

That’s the point.

He didn’t deserve this.

But then is God in the wrong?

The answer is also no.

Then what?

Life is a little bit more complex.

 

The book of Job was not written to give us clear cut answers for our suffering.

And if you come to this book expecting clear cut answers than you will be disappointed.

Because when Job finally cracks and questions God like a lawyer might question someone on the stand, God responds- but He doesn’t answer his question about his suffering.

Instead, God gives Job over 60 questions to him.

And these questions all relate to the minute running’s of this vast universe- from the small to the big.

It’s a masterpiece of a response on God’s behalf.

And as a result, Job is humbled.

The universe is infinitely complex- beyond any reason or comprehension to make sense of it in its totality- and in the end, Job sees that.

Job comes with questions to his suffering, but instead, God invites him into a vision of complexity, so to invite Job towards a humble posture towards reality and the running of the universe.

To lead him to a humble place in the midst of not knowing all the answers

And in the end, Job exclaims “My ears have heard you, but now I see you”

And finally, in his humility, he is lead to peace.

He realises that he doesn’t have to figure it all out

He doesn’t have to know all the answers.

And he is then at peace.

He never get’s the answers he wants.

He gets something else.

He gets peace in the midst of not knowing.

 

God doesn’t explain his justice, defend his justice, he doesn’t even talk about His justice.

And Job recognises that there is more going on in the universe than we can imagine, to the point we go “I don’t get it. I will instead trust”.

 

Now some people have turned to the Heavenly scene at the beginning of the book for answers.

Let me tell you: that’s not what it’s designed for.

It was designed to set up the thought experiment:

The point is simply that God in his decision making takes seriously an opposing point of view to Job’s gracefulness, and so the thought experiment is set up.

We aren’t to think that  everytime something bad happens to us it’s because God actually goes “Oh Bob is going great and he loves me, but the accuser thinks he only loves me because I am blessing Him, well I’ll show Him!”

That’s not how it’s meant to be read.

That’s how people have read it, but that’s not how it’s meant to be read.

This scene sets up the thought experiment. That’s all.

 

Other people have instead turned to the friends of Job to get answers on their suffering.

Likewise, let me tell you: that’s not what those conversations are there for.

They are there to show you just how bad their thought patterns were.

They were thinking rigidly about justice, and the point is that justice isn’t that straight forward sometimes.

 

The book doesn’t answer the question as to why you are suffering.

But, like Job meeting God, once we meet God in the whirlwind we are invited to trust….

We recognise that there is so much more going on in the universe than we can imagine, to the point you just go “I don’t get it, I’ll trust instead”

Now let me be clear: the fact that the universe is complicated is not the answer to suffering.

I am not saying that because the universe is complex you just can’t understand the reason why God allowed your suffering and you just got to deal with it because God is either busy or doesn’t have time to explain it you to.

That’s not what I am saying.

The whole point of God in the whirlwind is not to answer the question of suffering.

It’s the bring us to a place of humility (That reality is so vast!) that we trust (instead of painstakingly trying to work it all out).

 

And that’s the wisdom of the book that I believe we are to learn:

Wisdom is reaching a place of humility & trust before God in the midst of suffering, which in turn brings peace.

You stop trying to figure it all out, you stop pouring all your emotional energy into working out why you went through a bad time, and you trust instead.

Trust won’t give you the answers, it will transcend the need for them.

Trust will bring you to a place where you learn that knowing everything, including your suffering, just won’t cut it.

You release yourself from that burden; but not in an anti-rational way, but in a transrational way.

Trust steps in where knowledge fails.

Sometimes there are no explanations to be had.

Instead, we are called to trust instead of trying to figure it all out.

To stop the game, and be at peace in a posture of humble trust.

 

It’s interesting, the Hebrew word for faith has an image of being held. Think of a trust fall…

It’s not called a cognitive ‘I have all the answers coherently sorted out so now I can fall’ belief fall

It’s called a trust fall.

That’s faith.

We don’t have all the answers, and we certainly don’t have all our shit together, and we might even be angry at God.

Trust, then, is beyond knowing the answers.

And it’s okay: we can trust instead.

Trust doesn’t have it all figured out.

Trust goes “sometimes I just don’t know, but I am going to fall into you anyway”

 

Let’s ask the tough question for all of us (myself included)

What does not trusting in God in our suffering functionally & positively do for us?

The tough answer is nothing.

We just feel like crap 24/7, we are constantly bitter with God and others, and, if we never learn to trust, we end our life deeply cynical.

Is that the life we want?

 

Now can we be angry at God, scream at God, lament before God, and even have part of your journey where cynicism is present?

You bet we can!

For better or for worst, that’s part of the journey.

That’s a normal response to suffering.

Look at Job. Just read the psalms (Especially Psalm 88). Look at Jesus crying out on the cross!

Such things are part of the journey towards deeper trust.

We do have to wrestle with God, wrestle with our emotions, wrestle with our questions, wrestle with God like Job even did.

After all, the book of Job doesn’t open up at the end of the book- it takes a lot of chapters to get to where Job got.

In our suffering, there is a journey towards trust to be had- trust doesn’t happen overnight, and I certainly don’t think we are going to trust God in our suffering even because of this message.

It takes time. All I am saying is that taking the journey is worth it.

(If there was an overall point to the message that would be it: take the journey of trust that leads to peace)

And as we engage with God in our pain we will meet God there- like Job did in the whirlwind.

Not in a fluffy light hearted way, but in a deep way.

 

Trusting God is a journey, and yet it’s because of that journey we slowly become formed as people who are actually capable of this kind of trust.

The kind that says “My ears have heard you, but now I see you”

 

We start out like Job, wrestling, screaming, and finally taking our pain to God- and as we do that we are actually on the right track.

But though it starts there, it doesn’t end there.

Now can we be angry at God, scream at God, lament before God and even have part of your journey where cynicism is present?

Yes- but to live there forever? That’s a sign we aren’t journeying forward. That tells us that we are stuck.

And sometimes we will be stuck because we aren’t perfect.

But God doesn’t want you to be stuck forever; and trust me, you don’t want to be stuck forever either!

We are called to start the journey. And it will start messy, but we are called to walk it all the way to the far side that’s called humility & trust before God.

And it will start messy, but we are called to walk it all the way to the far side that’s called humility & trust before God.

Like I said- What does not trusting in God in our suffering functionally & positively do for us?

Nothing.

We start there, but God calls us to journey towards the place where we met God in the whirlwind and say

“My ears have heard you, but now I see you”

 

In the end, we don’t get answers, we are told to trust.

Trust goes beyond knowing.

Trust goes beyond trying to get all the answers.

Trust isn’t against trying to figure things out, but it does provide us a posture towards life.

And such a posture towards God is a place of humility.

And it becomes a place of peace.

Because you stop being angry and say instead “I don’t know, but you know…And that’s all that matters”

 

Does that mean we can’t pray for God to alleviate suffering or intervene?

Of course not. I pray that God would step in all the time!

 

Does that mean there aren’t moments of pure coherent clarity that make sense of our moments (When we clearly see the hand of God)?

Of course not. There are those moments and they are amazing.

 

Does that mean we can’t search for reasons behind why certain things happen?

Of course not. There are plenty of contexts & situations where searching the answers to our questions is perfectly fine, normal, and even right.

 

This message isn’t designed to cancel out those truths, but to exist alongside those truths. A bit like how this book exists alongside the neat and easy cause-and-effect Book of Proverbs

And the truth is that there will be times nothing makes sense, and in those times we will be called to trust God in the midst of unknowing.

 

And this posture of trust & humility will lead us to peace. A type of care-free peace, one that’s perfectly modelled in Jesus.

I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

life is messy, it can seem like suffering is absurd, meaningless, no rhythm. After all, Jesus ended on a cross.

But The bigger story is to trust in God in suffering. For to humbly trust will lead us to peace- because we stop trying to agonisingly figure it all out.

To humbly trust will lead us to live more like Jesus calls us to live in His sermon on the mount. A life of peace even when we don’t have all the answers. To not worry, to trust, and then to live likewise.

 

Now Job doesn’t talk about a bigger picture to suffering other than that the world is complex- and the point of that complexity wasn’t to give an answer but to humble us towards trust in the midst of suffering.

 

But as Christian’s we have a perspective that’s worth keeping in mind:

We have a Jesus, the One and Truly Innocent Sufferer.

The true & better Job,

For Jesus meets God in the whirlwind storm of the cross- and Jesus Himself questions: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.

And He becomes for us the one who, in the midst of His suffering, saves us through His innocent death, and through His suffering brings to us and the world resurrecting power.

In Jesus- the true & better Job- we can see our story of suffering in light of His.

But like Jesus the cross, suffering won’t have the final say- resurrection will.

Now will Jesus’ suffering gives us comfort in our suffering? Sometimes, sometimes not.

But we trust anyway.

And will the resurrection of Jesus comfort us in the middle of pain? Sometimes, sometimes not.

But we trust anyway.

 

I’ll end with this quote from Anne Rice.

Anne Rice is a famous American author who wrote such books like “Interview With A Vampire” and “Queen of the Damned”.

She had a very strong atheistic worldview for a lot of her life, and was acutely aware of the suffering of the world. It was the idea of suffering that held her back from faith for so long. In one of her books she describes what she calls her moment of surrender. In this moment she came to faith in Jesus. I think her words capture the spirit of Job well after meeting God in the whirlwind. Anne Rice said this:

“In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept me from Him for countless years. I simply let them go. There was the sense, profound and wordless, that if He knew everything I did not have to know everything, and that, in seeking to know everything, I’d been, all of my life, missing the entire point. No social paradox, no historic disaster, no hideous record of injustice or misery should keep me from Him. I didn’t have to know why good people suffered agony or died in pain. He knew. And it was his knowing that overwhelmed me

 

May we journey towards trust. That we let the God of the Whirlwind- the One who knows all things more than we ever do- overwhelm us with His sense of knowing, to the point that we are humbled, to where we simply trust, and may that eventually lead us to peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Irony of Pentecostalism

I identify with a Pentecostal denomination. And like with all denominations there is the Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. One thing I love about Pentecostalism is that its practice of the body is about an integrated whole- the mind, the body, the bits and bobs of our being, that are distinct yes but in no way separate or inherently against each other, but exist in an integrated ebb and flow. So we lift our hands, or move around, or lay hands. Because humans are a holistic being, and as such so is our faith. Humans are not just minds, and neither are we just our emotions, and neither are we just our bones and muscles- we are a whole human being. But here’s the great irony: Pentecostal theology still downplays the physical body because we say “it’s all about the Spirit”, because -when we say that phrase- we are saying it with a particular (false) understanding of the Spirit’s view of the physical world. When we say “it’s all about the Spirit” we think scripture means that the Spirit is anti-body or anti-material. But that’s not what the Bible means when it emphasises the Spirit. And so we move around with our bodies, but then- with our distorted theology- we divide out our bodily movement, and our emotions, and our spirit into categories that- in some ways- we believe go against each other. And when we Pente’s do this, it then turns around and distorts our good practice. All of a sudden things like candles, and smells, and nature, and food, and sex, are “bad” because they are physical and not (As the way a lot of people define “Spiritual”…) Spiritual enough. And that’s why it’s ironic. We are the movers and the groovers, the ones who lay hands, and yet we have such a low view of the physical world because it’s not- within our understanding of the term “spiritual”- spiritual enough.  

 

Now the scary thing is, is that it is exactly the false teaching that existed in the early church that Paul goes up against. The teachings of the greek stoics- who said the body and the physical world was “evil”- was what Paul was calling false teaching. And Paul, in response, said that the physical world was good and was going to be renewed (A physical world!) and that we will have physical resurrected bodies- like Jesus’- to inhabit this new world in. When Paul uses the language of “flesh” vs “Spirit” he is not saying “Physical” vs “Immaterial” but is saying “A world currently driven by corruption” vs “A world empowered by the very Spirit of God”. As a way of analogy, if you think of a boat, we are not talking about what the boat is made out of (“Is it metal or timber?”) but what it’s powered by (“Is it powered by oars or electricity?”). That’s what Paul is on about (And a side note- when Paul says in 1 Cor. 15 that we will have a “Spiritual body” he is saying the same thing- not that we have a non-physical body, but that we will have a body empowered and made new by the Spirit…I.e. A Spiritual body).

 

Now all of this isn’t just a theological rant with no pastoral implications.  It is a serious problem that we downplay the physical. Think about it. For example, with this wrong view of the Spirit, we stop having conversations about sex because it’s “dirty” (Even though God made sex!), because (In this way of defining “Spiritual”) it’s a body thing and our bodies are “bad” because they are not “Spiritual”. Gah! We as the church should be leading the way in these conversations in a world so distorted. And it’s not just the sex. That’s just one example. We start to roll our eyes at things like baptism, and foot washing, and communion because those things are physical things. Or we downplay feeding the homeless, or looking after creation, or taking medicine seriously because they are “just” physical things in a world that we will escape from one day. Oh, and let’s not care about our “secular” work because it’s not our “Spiritual” work….Sigh. And this also works in reverse as well: If it’s all about the “Spiritual” (As the way a lot of people define “Spiritual”) then why not do what we want with our bodies? Why not sleep around, or abuse our bodies- after all “it’s only the Spiritual things that matter”. Oh man the list goes on. Oh how we desperately need to see that God’s Kingdom is about the rule & reign of God over the whole world, whereby His Spirit is about shaking the world up, not about escaping it into an immaterial la la land. And seeing that “Spirit” doesn’t always equate to “immaterial”. Rather, Spiritual is more about the orientation & direction of the God who is making all things new. So when one feeds the homeless, that can be a spiritual task. Or when one makes love to their spouse in a way that honours and serves the other to the glory of God, that can be a Spiritual task.  It’s this Spirit that shakes and wakes us up to view everything differently (Our psychology, our physical world, our work, our relationships, our priorities, the dehumanising systems we support…Everything!) and get us moving & living in a new direction towards New Creation. Jesus rose again from the dead…In a physical body. (Need we say more?!). Every action, everything- in the sense of its effects- Is Spiritual. 

 

And in terms of very specific church service practice- as someone who affiliates with a Pentecostal denomination- I find it ironic that Pentecostalism isn’t more liturgical. That might sound strange to start with, but think about it. We pentes are all about movement and grove! We are the dancers, the movers, the shakers, the one who lay hands on people. So why on Earth don’t we have more emphasis on the physical elements of Eucharist? Or the intentional actions of foot washing, or baptism? Or take seriously our surroundings and how we set up for church? Or notions of creating sacred space? Why are we against candles, and sights, and smells and say that it’s all to “ritualistic”? Certainly these things can be done in wrong ways, and certainly, it can be done in weird legalistic ways. But I am not talking about its distortions here (Which there are many!), but the inherent practice of taking the physical seriously in church services as a way to awaken people to the reality of God. And so I think Its the great irony of Pentecostalism- that we are moving & grooving people (which is physical movement) but then in our theology downplay the physical to the point that it’s somehow bad. It makes no sense.

May we see that the Spirit is for the physical world, but as the physical world renewed by The Spirit Himself (Herself?) as it’s all heading towards New Creation, with a physical Jesus on the throne, and may that inform our present lives as we live and move in this world, empowered and inspired by God’s Spirit.  

The Overcoming God in the midst of The Suffering (John 16:33)

This is some writing that I did that inspired a sermon that I preached today..Enjoy! 

P.S…Ignore the typos!

 

It was 1:00 in the morning last Sunday that I awoke. And I became overwhelmed by this deep sense of suffering in the world. The cut to foreign aid in the budget. The famine in South Sudan. The homeless in the streets of Perth. News of friends going through tremendously hard times. And I got out of bed and I just starting writing on suffering, and as I was writing I had the verse from John’s gospel come to mind: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

 

In that section of scripture, Jesus is speaking to His disciples. It’s the night before He is going to get crucified, and tensions are high.

He had shaken the very foundations of all the social and religious institution of His day- and the people behind those institutions wants Him dead because of it.  To them He was another rebel trying to start a resistant movement that sought to overthrow them politically and religiously. Now here’s the thing: this world is messed up, and we messed it up when we rebelled against God- and time has passed and the world has unravelled more and more. But the story goes that God has sent someone into the world to rescue this world from it’s own self-destruction- and His name is Jesus. And the people of Jesus’ day believed that God would sent someone to them- but they also thought that this someone would  shake this world up by violently overthrowing any nation that resisted Him, and that this person would turn to those hoping for Him and 110% affirm all their religious devotion to God. But along comes Jesus- and instead of challenging the foreign rulers in control of Israel He challenges the religious leaders of Israel. Instead of calling people to observe the Laws of God the way they came to understand them, He told them that the deeper Law of Love is what the Law was really all about, and that their skewed way of doing law observance was actually doing more damage than good. He did things like heal and touch people the religious elite considered unclean to touch- all in all completely sticking it to the man and pretty much saying “Yep, I am bringing God’s Kingdom on Earth…But it’s nothing like you think it is”. And He then tells the people that the way of God’s victory over the world won’t be through violence, but by enemy love. You can see why the religious and political powers wanted Him dead. And so Jesus is with His disciples on the night before He is killed and He is giving them His parting words before He heads to the cross. He starts speaking very clearly to His disciples: He says that the people who hated Him will also hate them, and that He will be going away for a bit and will grieve in this time, thinking that all hope is lost – but then He says these famous words: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.””.  

 

The disciples needed to hear these words, because Jesus knew how they would be between His death on Friday & His resurrection on Sunday. Filled with grief, pain, questions (How many of us at relate to that?). Believing that God can overcome all things, and then to bear witness to what looks like a failure. Imagine being one of those disiples-you devoted your whole life to this one person- and I mean you were literally all in…And then they die a violent death. Would you say “I think Jesus has overcome the world!” No! We would of felt like that all we had devoted ourselves to was a sham. Another failed Messiah who failed to bring God’s Kingdom to Earth. Now the story doesn’t end there. But the story was there- there was a Saturday.

 

How many of us can relate to the disciples Saturday experience? We look out into the world and into our own lives, and sometimes we think that things have failed. So much pain. So much grief. So much sorrow. And we ask God “Have you really overcome?”

 

I’ll be lying if I said to you that what happens in this world never get’s me questioning the goodness of God, or at least God as an overcoming God…It does. But I also know that such questioning doesn’t actually solve the problem of evil. I mean I could say God isn’t good, but then what? What does that functionally do? It does nothing. It certainly doesn’t create enduring hope in the world. At least if I believe God is ultimately good I can hope that one day God will one day make all things right- that when Jesus returns he’ll wipe away disease, pain, death, darkness, injustice, evil.

But we still experience the disciples Saturday. Just look out at the world. In times like this some of us cry “How long, oh Lord?!”. How long will famine destroy whole nations? How long will sickness destroy families? How long will the ideologies perpetuate terror? How long will our health- in whatever form- betray us? How long Lord will governments feel contempt in having a global annul budget of military arms of close to 1.2 trillion dollars in the midst of extreme poverty (Something we can end with about 30 billion dollars annually)? How long Lord will we turn a blind eye to the ways we contribute to this mess? Lord, how long? How long.

 

There’s these collection of ancient poems- called the psalms- that act like a space where you can just scream, cry, rant, praise, sing…whatever. You can just be your emotional self. And in some of these psalms there’s a space that allows us to grieve, to question, to doubt, to lament. And those despair-ridden psalms were written under similar circumstances to the disciples Saturday experience. They expected God to act one way, and then everything turns to crap- and so they essentially cry to God asking “What’s going on?” and then they spout how they feel. And I love the pslams because they show that even God’s people need to cry, to grieve, to vent, to have a space where they just be okay to not be okay. Oh and by the way… Imagine if more churches made it okay to be like this. Even if there’s a Resurrection Sunday, Saturday is still real.

 

And yet, at the same time we must recognise that Sunday is real too. That we can have our emotional processing space, but a space that exists in a much larger picture than just the present moment. Jesus says “you will have trouble”- He doesn’t ignore that or brush it aside or water it down. No you WILL have trouble- times will be hard.

 

We have our own long long Saturday- where Jesus has risen from the dead, but hasn’t yet returned to make all things new yet. And so- like the disciples- we can question everything when we look around us. But Jesus whispers to you & me: take heart, I have overcome the world. 

 

And what was God’s first step in this upside down and inside out way of overcoming the world? Dying on a cross. WHAT! That sounds stupid! And yet, if only we stop & stare long enough to see- do we see the victory of God.

 

The radical revolutionary of love, justice, and peace for the world was so controversial that they killed him. The one time God becomes man and we kill Him- we can’t handle Him. And evil does what evil does over and over again- bring death, pain, destruction, injustice, darkness, suffering. And Jesus dies a bloody death. But what the writers of the Bible tell us that this actually becomes the place of victory! That it’s this moment that Jesus is the overcoming God. The only weapon evil has is death, and if Jesus is going to overcome evil then He certainly can’t use the weapon of evil itself in a tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye, vengeful way. The way He overcomes the powers of evil is by allowing evil to do it’s worst to Him, exhausting it’s power, and in those moments responding with forgiving love towards His enemies as they crucify Him. The sacrifice of God is that He sacrifices His right to respond to what’s happening to Him by doing what He could of done, which is just killing the crucifiers and scoffers on the spot. We want God to overcome evil in the world? Well we can be evil people ourselves- So He has to find a way of destroying evil that doesn’t destroy us as well- and this is how He does it: He eternally separates sin from sinner and deals with sin in it’s own terms, and in order to do that He must exhaust the powers of sin, and in response show us forgiving love. And in doing so, He breaks the cycle.

 

But victory over evil cannot be victory over evil if evil had the final say. There is  a Sunday. Jesus rose again from the dead three days later and never dies again, to show us that this victory wasn’t just another crushing defeat! That actually evil cannot hold Him down! That the weapon of death is stupid! That evil, injustice, darkness, chaos, the powers, have lost! And that you & I can be caught up in that victory in the midst of our pain & hardship.

 

People have often criticised Christians saying that it’s all an emotional crutch. I just want to say that, firstly, we all rely on things in life to get us through- those who rely on approval will seek after it at all cost, those who rely on money will seek after money that all cost, those who rely on the next experience will seek after that thrill again and again, those who rely on themselves being successful will never ever slow down and will always be driven to the point of burn out- so everyone has a crutch. But here’s the thing with Jesus…A crutch implies two supporting crutches…But Jesus rose again on two solid resurrected legs! And Jesus burst forth out of the tomb as a sign to the world that He has overcome, and that He declares that what has happened to Him on resurrection day will happen to the whole world one day! That as He was restored and risen again so will this world be restored and made new- a new creation! And yes there is still work to do, and yes this creation isn’t fully renewed yet, and yes there is evil, and there is tough times, and we do need those times to lament and cry- but with Jesus’ resurrection, it’s a sure and true hope that it’s all heading to the renewal of all things at the return of Jesus. That evil, and pain, and injustice don’t have the final say. And that when we trust that Jesus’ resurrection has changed the default ending story to all of human history- one that doesn’t end in despair but ends in hope- then now we can say that Jesus has overcome the world!

 

Jesus tells us to take heart because there is a hope we can take hold of. We are to embrace this hope for our lives- that this hope shapes us during the saddest of times, during our long dark Saturdays. We embrace Jesus as the overcoming God. And now as Jesus’ disciples you & I- having embraced Jesus as the overcoming God- gives us His Spirit in order to embody Jesus as the overcoming God into a world that so desperately needs hope.   

 

We have been given the sacred task embodying Jesus’ resurrected-fuelled overcoming victory into the world.  That we can go out, energised, empowered, & inspired by God’s Spirit, to go out into the world and confront evil head on and say “No!” to evil. “No!” to injustice. “No!” to anything that defaces Gods good world or exploits God’s human creatures.  

 

Now embodying this hope isn’t about us having it all together, and neither is it saying that we can heal the world fully prior to Jesus’ return. No! Embodying this hope means that we follow the one who makes it possible to embody hope in the first place! Jesus has done the rescuing of the world (not us)- we just participate it as His ever-learning, ever-growing, ever stumbling, students, with Him as our ever-graceful, ever-merciful, and ever empowering teacher. And He does the saving, and He will do the final fresh act of restoration in the end- He just turns around and says you & I “Hey, wanna join in?”.  

 

we are all called into the rough & tough vocation of Jesus- who calls us into the dark places, who calls us into the slums, and into the pain- but in order to be a beacon of light. A beacon of hope. To be people who believe that there is a story to our reality that doesn’t end in meaninglessness, that doesn’t end in indifference, that doesn’t end in pain, that it doesn’t end in evil, or death, or injustice. But that end’s with an overcoming God who promises to make all things right. And that we can be people who have a vision towards that end.

 

So in your job, your relationships, your mundane- Ask God to reveal ways that God’s Spirit can creativily move through you to embody this “God-overcoming-the-world” reality.  I truly believe that you can find ways to- whether discretely or explicitly- bring forth a vision of this reality. Even in something as simple as a kind word or a smile that brightens someone’s day.   

 

But a word of caution: let us never think that we implement this victory of Jesus by any other means than the way Jesus does it. Jesus brings healing, He brings restoration, He brings strong words against the dehumanising systems. That’s how He does. And ultimately  Jesus overcome the world through a death & resurrection- It was a victory, not through the love of power, but by the power of love. The cross is the ultimate redefinition of what it looks like to have “victory” and do “power”. This means direct us to His ends. So If Jesus wouldn’t do it that way, then if you follow Jesus you ought not to do it that way either.

 

John Lennon once said “Imagine there is no heaven, it’s not easy if you do. People living for the day”. But here’s the thing: If there is no big picture, why the heck shouldn’t I live however I want? Some people say to help the next generation, and that’s a good motivation. And yet in a Godless universe one day a supanova is going to destroy our world and everything we worked towards will be wiped away anyway- in the ultimate sense of things nothing lasts forever and all that we do, even the best of things, will amount to nothing in the end. Unless there is a God who invites us to a bigger picture of the cosmos, of our universe, of our world- then every good endeavour you do- even the simplest ones- can last forever.

 

So what is Jesus speaking to you about right now- what is He challenging you to be shaken & stirred up in? What is He telling you to do?

 

Which story of reality do we trust in? Are we going to choose to believe that this Jesus is just another dead rabbi? Or are we going to trust in a bigger picture of our world- one with an overcoming God? Because depending on what story you lean into as the true story will determine how you face this world. Without this hope, during hard times, one might be able to find people of solace, but one won’t have an enduring hope that stretches for all of eternity. Without God, you might do good things, but that’s certainly not the same as being part of something bigger than yourself that’s heading towards a direction larger than yourself and larger than cosmos itself. And by the way, it’s very easy to forget the bigger story in our day-to-day. Jesus says that He said all those things to His disciples so that they may have peace- what words does Jesus want you to hear so that in Him you may have peace?

 

Jesus is inviting us to trust in His reality- that He is the overcoming God. So that in the middle of the pain- that’s real, and heavy, and horrible- He says to us: take heart! For I have overcome the world. And may we- by God’s Spirit- embody this Overcoming God into the world-that (as one preacher says) “In the face of injustice; lament, laugh, sing, dance & act like Love can raise the dead.

 

Sabbath.

Sabbath is about ceasing, and yet it’s more than just stopping what you are doing. It’s about stopping the work underneath your work, the busyness underneath your busyness, the schedules & procedures underneath the schedules & procedures. You know what I mean. Your mind still races even when you “stop”. Your rest is really pseudo rest whereby we might not be moving but we certainly aren’t resting. And it’s certainly going to burn us to the ground one day. We need that deep Sabbath rest that truly is ceasing. However, that deeper Sabbath rest doesn’t occur because sometimes you are driven to succeed at any cost, or get that thing at any cost, or get to that place at any cost. And sometimes there’s a time and place for such moments (After all, maybe you have deadlines at the moment and as such it just is what it is). Or sometimes that thing you are chasing, or that thing you are doing more than you really need to do, is just flat out amped up to idolatrous levels (And so we think that getting that extra buck, or getting the extra approval of those people, is what will do it for us. But man is it just a form of working that never fulfils and never stops if we believe that those things is what we need to be whole). Or sometimes what you are doing is a Godly thing but it’s being done in such a way that leads to burnout in the longrun (You know what I mean. Those nonstop pastoral visits and conversations that never stop. As one friend of mine has said “Burnout doesn’t glorify God”). In any case, we must come to the place and see that sabbath rest is ultimately about looking at Jesus and going “Ooooh! You have done the Ultimate Work so that way I don’t need to work my arse off for your Kingdom come!” and/or “Oooooh! You are the one I need for wholeness, not these other pursuits! And the work that it takes to get you as my wholeness- as my King with your Kingdom- has already been accomplished because of your work!”. So rest. Enjoy the beauty of present, enjoy the gifts of God’s good God’s creation, bask in His glory, just have fun with friends and breath. Just stop. And Rest.

Wrapping Paper and the Death & Resurrection

I believe death & resurrection exist in three layers that each envelop the other (Like three layered wrapping paper, the bigger layers over the other layers).

The top layer refers to all of reality. The layer that covers all the other layers is THE DEATH & RESURRECTION (All Capitals)- That Jesus’ death & resurrection has moved the whole world forward, that on 5pm Good Friday the default mode of reality changed forever. Evil lost, all people were forgiven, Jesus’ Kingship became actualised, the world changed and to this day is no longer the same. And human beings, at all times and places, became home free from sin whether they knew it or not, feel it or not, believe it or not. But when people live as if this layer of death & resurrection isn’t true, they are asleep, living in un-reality, living under the defeated (even if they don’t realise it) slave master of sin. But when people “wake up” to the new world that God has already made among them, then we see the next layer…

THE DEATH & RESURRECTION contains and makes possible the next layer. The next layer is The Death & Resurrection (Capital “T”, “D”, and “R”), whereby God’s Spirit wakes people up to see & realise that the world is a place where Jesus is King, all are forgiven, sin is defeated, that evil & injustice in their midst- though very real- aren’t the default mode of reality anymore, and they realise that they are free from sin (Even if slavery to sin feels very real). Such a waking up is their Death & Resurrection; they become a “New Creation”, they have “died to their old selves”, and have become “resurrected people” into a new way of life within the DEATH & RESURRECTION world that’s already been made true. And of course, as we follow in the resurrected Messiah within this DEATH & RESURRECTION reality now as Death & Resurrected people, we must daily die to our old selves and rise again new- this is the daily death & resurrection we walk in (lower case “d” and “r”).

All those old habits, old behaviours, old ways, old idols that try to keep us in their defeated grip, we must crucify them daily and live new- we put down our old zombie self that always wants to make havoc and instead take on our new self. And this is an ongoing journey done only by the Power of God’s Spirit. But this journey takes place within the larger reality of our Death & Resurrection, that itself takes place within the ultimate reality of THE DEATH & RESURRECTION world that’s been made true.

This DEATH & RESURRECTION reality, though true now, will become fully actualised across the whole world when Jesus returns. The already-defeated powers of sin, death, injustice, evil will be executed, and God will be “all in all”. And those who have had their Death & Resurrection will literally rise again from the dead, and their daily death & resurrection journey will come to an end- for we know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. So see that the world is no longer the same, that Jesus is truly King, that you are free; in other words yield to God’s Spirit who brings forth your Death & Resurrection; and walk in the Spirit as you learn to live daily as the new human being God has already made you to be. Live all of this in anticipation for God’s final Victory over the whole world- where all things are made new, we are perfected, and God is “all in all”.

(John 3:16-20, Roms 5:12-17, Roms 6:1-23, 1 Cor 5:7, Col. 1:18-23, Col. 3:1-10,  1 John 3:2-5, Rev 21-22)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How “Jesus as Lord” and “Jesus as Saviour” are bound up together- not separate

This teaching podcast is about the relationship between these two truths: “Jesus as Saviour” and “Jesus as Lord”. My reflection is that seeing these two things as sharply divided is actually unhelpful, that rather, seeing these two truths bound up in each other brings fresh and lifegiving insights to how we view salvation, freedom, and what it means to follow Jesus. I hope it it the process changes the way you view your relationship with God.

See more at https://www.nathanforster.com or https://www.facebook.com/nathan.forster/

”We are only human” shouldn’t be about how we fail

When we fail we often say “Hey, I’m only human”. Whilst I understand that it’s normal to fail, I would argue that it’s wrong to label that as what our humanity is. No, our humanity isn’t defined by our failures- that’s missing the mark of our humanity. Our humanity is defined by being a person made in the Image of God.

See more at https://www.nathanforster.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/nathanforster

Persecution Complex

Sometimes people will get mad a us for following Jesus. That is true. But sometimes people will get mad at us and we’ll say “It’s because I’m following Jesus” but actually it will be because we are being an asshole and we are just using Jesus as an excuse. This short podcast explores this.

See more at https://www.nathanforster.com or https://www.facebook.com/nathan.forster/

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

<The following blog is based on a talk given to a multi-denominational church meeting held in Perth, Australia>

 

“One Lord, One faith, one baptism”

 

So there was a busy cosmopolitan port city by the name or Corinth. It was a city where east met west and many different nationalities resided there from various backgrounds. The Apostle Paul planted a church in this city, but it wasn’t long before there was division among them.

 

Some people had formed little clicks saying “Paul baptised me!” or “Well Apollos taught me!”- it was your classic popularity club. And it was dividing the church.

Some people had great and wonderful gifts given by God, but they were using their gifts to their own ends, and this would often lead to chaotic church life.

Some people were rich and affluent, and so when they did communion they would eat each other’s food that they bought but would make sure the poor wasn’t to join them at the table because they considered themselves more worth due to their social status.

 

The apostle Paul would have none of it.

To those boastfully priding themselves in their leaders, Paul came along and said “Well we are God’s servants, and its God who’s given the growth anyway, so why divide into popularity groups what God sees as one and His transformation?”

To those being used by God, Paul seeks for them to use their gift for each other and see themselves as a giant body that should function as one and be filled with one purpose: love leading to the building up of the church.

To those excluding others from the table of fellowship, Paul uses communion as the model of Christians being allowed to have the free and equal welcome of God at the table- all get the same food and drink equally (despite social class) because Jesus came to establish a society modelled on His table meal- the body broken and the blood poured out for all who want it.

In all instances, the Apostle Paul is drawing all people together in unity through “the one Lord, one faith and one baptism”.

 

You see here’s the thing.

We are not united on nationality (We come from many different nations)

We are not united on gender (We aren’t all male or all female)

We are not united on social class and wealth (For we all have a different status and income in society)

We are not united on all our doctrine (Whilst we do have to agree on Jesus, there’s a mystery of plurality in our faith, such as infant baptism vs adult baptism etc.)

But we are united one the One and only Jesus- the same Jesus that we all bend the knee to. The Jesus at which, at His name, every knee shall bow and tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord.  There are many denominations. Many backgrounds. Many people groups. But in Jesus we serve the One Lord.

 

If we are to put aside our differences of opinions and be united, there’s a lesson we are to learn from Paul. In the church of Corinth, they were also divided on food offering. Some Christians (Some scholars say Jewish Christians) didn’t eat food that had been sacrificed to pagan idols and thus firmly believed it was tainted, whilst other Christians firmly believed that since all food ultimately comes from God than one not to be to fussed if it was sacrificed to an idol (Which in itself has no power). Paul agrees that food sacrificed to idols isn’t a huge deal, but he doesn’t turn to the group that don’t hold onto that belief and rip into them. He doesn’t nastily tell them how wrong they are. He appeals to a higher ethic than just mere knowledge alone- He appeals to love. This isn’t to say that conversation over particular doctrines aren’t important, and it’s certainly not saying that there isn’t a time and place for straight truth telling. But, in discernment and wisdom, Paul saw this occasion as a matter of not telling people how wrong they are, but of recognising that if someone has a different opinion than you, that you are to seek the wellbeing of the other, which might involve being generous in allowing them to believe what they believe in what isn’t an essential to faith. And as churches come together for gathering where they too will have different opinions on things we must listen, we must be generous with our beliefs, we must love. By the way, that’s the context of the verse “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”.

 

Let’s apply that same ethic with our differing beliefs on particular matters.

Major on the majors, minor on the minors.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.”

 

And when we do this, If we are united, than the world will see more clearly that the Father sent the Son, and will see God’s love for them too. This is what is promised by Jesus Himself when He is praying to the Father about all believers:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

When we are one, the world will see more clearly that the Father sent the Son, and will see God’s love for them too

 

I’ll end on a story.

I heard this story on a podcast, about an African American couple in the midst of a racist part of the South in the USA. The town they lived in was divided by the colour of your skin. Black people only were allowed to go to certain spots. There were signs that said “whites only” to indicate that this place or that place of that thing were for white people only. Deep division. Any if there was a place that was mixed it was shamed by white people. In fact, to such people it was utterly disgusting. So here’s this couple- the wife is a Christian and the husband is not a Christian. But they both go to the church in town- the husband not participating in the service, and the wife participating in the service. They had the music and the preaching and the praying, but then came the time of communion. It was one of those traditional church services where you go down to the front and the pastor will break of a little piece of bread and you will eat it as he or she said “the body of Christ broken for you” and then the pastor would bring the cup around to the same people and then they would all drink from the same cup, saliva and all. The husband watched intently as the cup was given individually to each member as the pastor said the “the blood of Christ poured out for you”- as he watched he saw it being passed to a few white members of the church to drink. And then it was his wife’s turn to drink. This was America in the height of the civil rights movement, where the face of racism and segregation was at an all-time high. Will the cup pass from her? Will she have to drink from a different cup? Will racism and segregation win as it does everywhere else? And then the unthinkable. The husband watched as it went from the white man next to her to his wifes- and her lips touched the drink. She drank. “The blood of Christ poured out for you”. She reached the cup and drank just like everyone else from the one cup. And in that moment the husband knew, and he said “The outside world would have never done this. Only God Himself could do what I have seen”.

When the world see we are united than the world will know that the Father sent the Son and that God loves them to.

 

One Lord. One Faith. One Baptism.

 

May we go into the world in unity, by the power of the Spirit, declaring that God raised Jesus from the dead. May we be one as the Father and the Son are one, that we be united on Jesus and give ourselves room on the other things. And may God be glorified as we come together.

 

One Lord. One Faith. One Baptism.

 

What is Jesus wanting you to hear?

How might you and I grow deeper in unity?

Speak Lord….Your servant is listening.

TEACHING: Christians & swearing (cussing etc.)

WARNING: This podcast contains adult themes

Rather than talk about the big issues in the world (such as poverty, racism etc.)-which the Christian scriptures talks heaps on- I wanted to do a more light hearted topic…Swearing! (Or cussing). What does it mean to speak differently if you are a follower of Jesus? Is swearing really wrong? So let’s have fun in this teaching podcast!

See more at https://www.nathanforster.com or https://www.facebook.com/nathan.forster/

 

MESSAGE: The Arrival of the King

Author Becky Pippert once said “Whatever controls us is our lord. The person who seeks power is controlled by power. The person who seeks acceptance is controlled by acceptance. We do not control ourselves. We are controlled by the lord of our lives”. What if she is right? What would it mean than to have Jesus as a King? Another bad CEO or dictator? Or something completely different…

NOTE: This was recorded in two parts and sounds different at one point.

See more at https://www.nathanforster.com or https://www.facebook.com/nathan.forster/

Gethsemane: A Good Friday Poem

I went on a very early morning walk this morning, fitted with a head band with a light on it, and went to a spot in the middle of a rocky outcrop within the bushlands. I took out my Bible and started reading the Gethsemane stories as recorded in all four gospels. After doing this, I got inspired to write this poem…..

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Gethsemane
Pray, pray, pray, in the Garden He
He sweated blood & prayed His plea,
“Shall this cup pass from me?”

He hears no response, oh He knows,
His role, His mission,
To take on the worlds woes

Here prays the man of sorrow,
Knowing the Fathers will & the tomb He shall borrow.
…… …… …… …… …… …… …..

Betrayed, betrayed, betrayed, in the Garden He,
Judas & the arrest party arrive with haste & heed,
“Is this how you betray me?”

With the kiss of the betrayer that He receives free of will,
He knows now of His blood that He must spill

Here stands the man of sorrow,
Receiving the kiss leading toward to the tomb He shall borrow
…… …… …… …… …… …… …..

Grabbed, grabbed, grabbed, from the Garden He
To be taken to the courts for the people to make their plea,
“Have you come to take me?”

His Disciples respond with sword in order to kill,
The disciples cut off a servant’s ear out of their wrathful will

But here stands the man of sorrows,
Who heals the servant’s ear, and lets them take Him away to the tomb He shall borrow

 

(c) copyright 2016

……………………………………

 

May we, brother & sisters, see the man acquainted with sorrow- who bore the sins of the many, died a mockers death, so that we in Him we shall be partakers in the Age to come.

God is Love (But not the way you think it means)

 

It’s a good thing that our culture is catching onto the catchphrase “God is Love”; in fact, it’s a great thing. It used to be in the popular belief that- if there was a God- that He was an angry & detached being, kind of like that relative or that teacher if you get what I mean (the one with the angry face and the hot temper). But now the catch cry is that God is indeed love. And I like that. I like that because it’s a closer picture to what the ancient scriptures have been saying for centuries about The Divine.

 

However- and without diminishing the goodness of what people are saying about God- I do believe that the picture of “God is love” that the culture offers varies from the Christian vision of what we mean when we say “God is love”. And I think the variation is crucial. Our culture’s picture of God being love is that of a God who, more or less, has affections of love towards us and doesn’t expect anything from us; a bit like a hippy in the sky who has warm fuzzies and doesn’t care about how we live, and because God is like this we don’t have to care about how we live because it’s “all good”. Now, before I reveal what I am going to say about the Christian vision of God as love, I do want to affirm that God does have warm fuzzies about us, and there is nothing we can do that makes God stop loving us. But the Christian faith says there’s more, and also God does better, and also He is deeper.

 

First, the better.

What sounds like a better parent? The parent who let’s their child do anything with no boundaries and basically says “Just do whatever you want” or the parent who has good, positive, and self-worth instilling boundaries that protect the child from all that hinders them being truly well, where the parent says “I love you too much to let you destroy yourself on your own”. It’s pretty obvious isn’t it- it’s the second parent. Now question: if God was like the perfect parent whom would you rather have? The one who has the warm & fuzzies but is indifferent towards us or, the one who cares enough for us to say “I love you just the way you are, but I love you too much to leave you the way you are- I want to show you a better way to be human; will you let me show you a better way? Please let me show you, for I don’t want to see you go down a self-destructive road”. Isn’t that better? Such a God would seek the best for us and get angry at anything that defaces the people He loves. The only ‘problem’ we can envision with this better is that if this God is not totally indifferent to us then that means we can’t be indifferent to Him. Knowing that this is the God who is love- and then living a way that is directly opposed to His transformative love- is us not loving God back. It’s saying “Piss off!” to the perfect parent. Now I get why we would want God to piss off- it’s because we think, like any teenager, that we have ‘got it all together’. Our culture says “We don’t need that religion stuff”. Two things need to be said to that: God doesn’t like religion either, He prefers everything being done in the context of a relationship. And second, if you made a machine you would know exactly how it works best. Likewise, if God made you, He knows what’s best for your design.

 

Second, the more.

God being love can often sound very sentimental. A nice catchphrase. God being love is what you get. But behind such sayings there isn’t much more there. Christians believe that at the very centre of all of reality is the more. The more behind the catchphrase “God is love”, the more behind the very fabric & centre of reality itself. A pulsating beauty, a magnificent awe, a personal caring power, a dynamic dance. To Christians, the God who Is Love isn’t a static being who just has niceties’. Behind the veil of reality is the God who is somehow ultimately one & only one and yet somehow intertwined in an unexplainable three- and this one in three togetherness is how love is defined. We can’t even find language to describe this glimpse at the centre of reality: Christians use phrases like “God is one but three persons” or we use titles like “The Holy Trinity”. All are words trying to grasp something we can’t quite grasp. But what does this all mean? If there were two people who both said “You orbit around me!” and then proceeded to make each other orbit around the other as they stood still it would end badly. But if you had two people who said to each other “I will centre my whole being around you” then both people somehow become the object of love that both affirms the other and allows you, the receiver, to be fulfilled through the selfless orbit of the other. It almost looks like a dance. This dance is the famous analogy that’s given to paint but a faint picture of what’s happening in God Himself. This one but three God- who we call Father, Son, And Spirit- are like dancers who are selflessly seeking the love, the beauty, the glory of the other. And when this God made the universe He musn’t had made the universe to get love (He already had that!) but to give love. Love is self-replicating, Love is creative, Love is other centred.  Compare this dynamic reality to our world as we know it: we look out for number one, we are always attempting to build our little world of one, and even our relationships are about us not about the other, our countries are attempting to be bigger & better. We are the ones going “No! You orbit around me!”. Just imagine though if we all looked after each other at the same time, not to get but to give; it would be perfect.  But here’s the thing: The eternal God is a God who has always had always been love because other centred love has always been present. Other faiths might claim that their God is love but their very God’s don’t have the very structure built into their being to say that- for if love is about loving others then it means that god hasn’t always been love because before us who was he loving? Only a God who is one but is Himself a community of eternal intertwined persons can be love. This is the more. However if this is what love is the God who is love then the daring dive into the springboard of reality would look like us being loving as well to others; saying that number one isn’t the only one, and seeking to serve God and serve others.

 

Third, the deeper.

True love requires sacrifice. It’s so obvious that we don’t even observe this phenomenon until we stop and see that it is indeed true: the world’s most loving people sacrificed. Genuine love requires that one demonstrate love in action which of course will require sacrifice; there is no escaping it: it will cost your time, your money, your energy; your space; your capacity to be present. That what loves does. Are we really surprised? There once was a person who went up to a pastor and said to him “God loves me, I don’t think he needed to send Jesus to die for me, he just loves us!” and the pastor looked at him and responded and said “What did it cost your God to love you?”. If “God is love” then true love will also cost God something. And the Christian faith says that when humanity said “no” to God’s way of being human that, in our freewill, we created a world of violence, of anger, of hate, of injustice- systemic powers of evil emerged and has now become the norm. If God is going to embrace the world that has gone astray He must enter into this world of evil, injustice, suffering & death, and He must let the evils of the world do their worst to Him- evil has to converge in one place so that he can defeat evil by the way of love. What did it cost your God to love us? It cost God His life. This is the deeper: “that whilst we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. If God isn’t going to respond to evil with evil then he must let evil do its worst to him- but if evil isn’t to have the final say after doing its worst to Jesus then Jesus has to do something that makes his pathway to the cross victorious without using the methods of evil itself: And so He rises from the dead. His resurrection tells us that love wins: that evil won’t have the final say. God is Love; Love has won.

 

God is love…But His version of love is the better the more, and the deeper.

The Earth Shattering Gheto

Christmas and Jesus don’t really mix anymore. At least that’s what our culture says.

Jesus, the relic of cultures, has (like Elvis) mostly left the building.  And at Christmas time it is no different.  For a lot of people (But certainly not all) Christmas is our cultures favourite times of year, and it is that for many reasons: family, friends, the gift of giving, the humbling gift of receiving. When it comes to the religious symbolism in Christmas, some people gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus more explicitly then the greater population. However, for most people, Jesus is mostly a hallmark card and most people don’t find significance in Christmas as a celebration of Jesus’ birth.  Jesus is a relic, a nice story involving three wise men, a barn, and a baby all fitted into a clay nativity scene at the corner of your local shopping centre. Jesus (like Elvis) has left the building. After all, nice stories are just that aren’t they? Nice stories.

 

During Christmas family and friends will gather and have long conversations. Sometimes about the year, or about politics, or about pet peeves, maybe some will discuss their toys, or perhaps (this year especially) talk about new movie releases (The force is strong with that last conversation topic…). Whatever we talk about, we will gather around, eat & drink, make jokes, exchange gifts and have Christmas. And yet right in the middle of what seems to be the mundane, people will state their opinions or beliefs about whatever things, and whether they know it or not, there will be a whole stake of bias and assumptions that form their conversation. Even in the mundane there will be ‘philosophy’ going on. And if politics somehow comes up in conversation then the whole notion of power will be bought into the sphere of the somewhat mundane. And at some point someone will suggest how things could be ‘better’- in regards to absolutely anything! So there you have it. Mundane conversations are loaded with topics that we only shallowly talk about.

 

What does the talking about what we believe or our opinions over anything have to do with a story of little baby Jesus? What does the complaining of politics have anything to do with a Middle Eastern child? And if religion is bought up in conversation, what does a story based 2000 years ago have any relevance today? To most people the answer is that it doesn’t. “We live in a modern world” we say, “those stories and just nice stories; now let’s move on with life”. What if there was more and it’s that we aren’t willing to go there?

 

Now let’s set the scene: a poor neighbourhood (think of your local poor neighbourhood) and a teenage couple tell you that they have a baby who is literally from God and (at the same time) is God. Now let’s be honest, you’re going to think they are high. But suppose that somehow, in a magical way, what they are saying is all true. That God is becoming a human in the backwater through a poor and afraid teenage mum. “I have been told that this baby will change the world” she says, “He has come to make all things new”. Riiiight. But suppose it was all true- do you see how your family conversations would change? If God had rocked up into a world which largely didn’t even buy the whole God thing then what you believed about the nature of religion, truth, what it means for the world to be fixed, the notion of what true power is (etc.) would all change. Christmas wouldn’t be the same. Now if what happened to a Middle Eastern couple 2000 years ago was true; if the nativity scene was true, then everything does have the power to change. But why? And how?

 

Christians claim that the only God (And to the first hearers of the story, specifically the Only God known as the ancient Jewish people’s God, Yahweh) had become a human being. Christians  call that event of God becoming man the ‘incarnation’.Think about that: the creator of the stars, the nebulas, the galaxies, had poured his being into the fragile body of a baby boy in the low socioeconomic area of the town of Bethlehem unto a couple who were barely grown up. Crazy right? And yet, if true, changes everything- Including the underlying beliefs of our mundane Christmas conversations.

 

This event, if true, changes everything in four ways:

-Our understanding of God

What do we think when we think of God? Even if you don’t believe in Him, what images come to your end at the immediate thought? Old man with a beard? Boring? Detached? If Jesus is God come to us in a baby and in the ghetto, it tells us something about the very nature of the God of the Universe. He gets into the mess. He goes to the darkest allies & life’s messiest places and He becomes present in the mess in the here & now. God’s own self-understanding of holiness doesn’t mean some sort of clean and sparkly religious piety (which is what a lot of people think Christians mean when they spout phrases like “God is Holy”) but rather is that of a God who, though perfect, isn’t distant or indifference to the world that we are in. And this isn’t just exampled in His birth, even in His life He is accused as being a “drunkard and a glutton” because He actually goes to the places where the drunkards hangout. In His life He physically heals people that no one in society would have gone near (the lepers, the homeless). This isn’t the description of God you probably are used to hearing about, but it’s the God of the universe. Not bad for a baby in a manger. Imagine how that would change the way we do Christmas conversation.

 

-Our understanding of the very nature of truth

Truth is a complicated topic in our society. It’s statements like “science has proved…” or “History tells us…” or “I saw him do the crime” or “I believe this about spirituality and you believe that; it’s all a matter of our perspective” that reveal the complexity of how we go about truth in society. Generally speaking our experiences like education, up-bringing, culture (etc.) will inform how we choose to believe what we believe, and for some of us that includes religion.. No one is immune to this process of belief formation through life, and it’s in this on-going and ever active process that we constantly sway to and fro in the formation of our views of the universe. Even if we never articulate them, we have them. Now how do I know this? Easy: tell me your answer to these seven questions: What is prime reality—the really real? What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? What is a human being? What happens to a person at death? Why is it possible to know anything at all? How do we know what is right and wrong? What is the meaning of human history? What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with? Even if you say “I don’t know” to some of them it tells you about your view of the world (“I don’t know”….because? Bingo!). But what happens when we say something like “God has come to us”? If there is a God who created all things, then God would have to have the best view of all reality. As Creator, His understanding of truth, reality, and everything will be completely informed and created by Him. So what happens in this God-comes-to-us event? Think about it: people having been staring into the foggy sky for centuries and have discussed, if beyond the ‘fog’, whether there is a point of view of reality where one can interpret all things perfectly. Suppose there was, we are still stuck in our world with our narrow and subjective views of reality- our distance to the mysterious objective and our position (as the subjective) is the problem we have and will always have. But what if the mysterious objective came to us? What if the ultimate point of view came down to us? We would still be subjective and opinionated from our point of view of this objective-come-to-us, but we certainly couldn’t say whatever we wanted anymore with any real degree of integrity. Why? Because If Truth is becomes a person who we can then love- to seek to understand and remove our bias- then, whilst we will always be making opinions, the closeness of the objective is the game changer; for He is no longer a fuzzy idea but a person to hug, someone to know, someone to discover. The birth of Jesus tells us that the only Objective God has become a person. Now I know any crazy man can say they are a God, but not any crazy man can back this up, and in His life, Jesus takes basics elements and normaties of our reality (that no one challenges) and turns them upside down: He changes molecule structures of water to wine, instantly grows body parts out of nothing, controls the weather without a machine, and in His finally act dies & comes back to life but not with a normal body, but as a body which has reversed the laws of decay, a non-decaying physical body. Do you realise that, if this is true, than His claims to Divinity are legit. And if that’s true, then His point of view of reality is also legit. And if that’s true, then truth has come close to us in Person. That’s a game changer in the world of philosophy. All other philosophers and religious leaders say “I think I know the truth”, Jesus comes and says “I am the truth come to you”. Not bad for a baby in a manger. Imagine how that would change the way we do Christmas conversation.

 

-Our understanding of Politics

Central to the Baby story isn’t just that God has come to us, but very specific in the beliefs of Christians is this: that Jesus is also the King of Kings. Now the word “King” sounds very old but it’s simply conveying that the baby is considered the ultimate ruler of the Human race. Think “President of Presidents” or “Prime Minister of Prime Ministers”. Now we don’t like that do we? We don’t like the idea of someone ruling over us? We are naturally very sceptical of power today for we have seen a history of leaders ‘playing’ with us through their positions of power, and what some leaders have done have been very dehumanising (think of Hitler for example). But if you break that down carefully what you realise is that the problem isn’t power perse but the nature of the one in power. After all, a country could have an amazing and brilliant leader who is in power- but they use their power for good. It’s about the person in power not power itself. And Baby Jesus, as the proclaimed and arriving ruler of humanity- does power very differently. And we see this from the very moment of His birth. Jesus as a King isn’t born in a palace- He is born in the ghetto. Jesus as a King isn’t clearly portrayed as a King of the Kingdom- He is born as a King but under the rule of a foreign Kingdom (back then it was The Roman Empire). His title as ‘King of Kings’ was already widely in use and was exclusively used to describe the Roman Emperor Caesar. And yet He was (and Is) The King. In today’s world people rule through the love of power, but Jesus’ model of what true power is wasn’t “the love of power” but “the power of love”, and the way He did power wasn’t in getting people to serve Him but in first Him serving people. He is the mind boggling and contradicting Servant-King; a King who is a Servant, a Servant who is a King. He is the one who say that He won’t use violence to conquer the world, and He won’t only love His clan but His enemies as well. He won’t put the powerful on a pedestal but will make the weak ones of the world His most sought after. And later in His life we are told that, as a King, He gets recognised as the King of the World. But not through millions of dollars poured into winning an election, but through Him dying on an execution cross set up by the ruling Roman Government. We are told that this is the place of power. That this totally defeating event, we are told, is actually the upside down way God becomes King and defeats the powers of darkness, evil, sin, injustice and death; it’s how he defeats the powers of Rome and the Powers of the world. It’s how He wins the battle and becomes the King of Kings. He is a King who becomes a King by dying, but unlike other Kings, this death doesn’t signify the end of His reign but the beginning: He rises from the dead, and in His physical resurrection He shows just how much love & His way of doing Kingdom can wake up even the dead. Not bad for a baby in a manger. Imagine how that would change the way we do Christmas conversation.

 

-Our Understanding of rescue

We are in a world that is divided by what the problem(s) of the world is and therefore what the solution is. We have theories of what the ‘bottom line’ problem of the world is, and we have theories about how to finish this ‘bottom line’. Just before Jesus was born, the teenage mother Mary was told that Jesus would be the ‘God among them’ and that He would ‘rescue them of their sins’. Yep, that word sin. I’d recommend you read my other blogs about how our culture have the completely wrong image of that word, and that the word ‘sin’ from the Bible’s point of view is actually more illuminating, interesting, and relevant then what you think it means. But Him coming to ‘rescue us from sin’ tells us that the problem is sin and that He is coming to save us from it. Sin is that rebellious nature in us that says “my way of being human is better” and it has lead us down a spiral of evil in this world. The announcement of the angel that visited Jesus wasn’t based in the opinions of our cultures perception of what’s wrong with the world. The angel is telling you and me that our perception of what’s wrong with the world is to “shallow”- our problem is ‘deeper’ and so the solution must ‘reach down’ further. But the angel doesn’t do the religious thing and tell Mary (and you and I) that  “You must become pretty and clean so that you can reach up to Heaven and be whisked away” but rather the angel says that “This world is messy, so messy that only God-in-the flesh can fix it, and He will come down and fix this world- and I mean this world, oh and don’t think for a second that He will bring an escape plan to get you out of this world; no, He will bring the remedy to fix this one through His powerful & unique work that He will do in this world”. His message flies in the face against religion and against the cultures perception of problem & rescue.  Not bad for a baby in a manger. Imagine how that would change the way we do Christmas conversation.

 

Now I know all of this presupposes you chose to believe in this stuff (By the way, if you are interested from a purely historical point of view about Jesus’ life hit me up a message and I’ll recommend you further material to explore that…) but if this was all real then that nativity scene isn’t just a nice scene: it’s the story of a permanent change to the whole way we look at the universe & the present. The belief that this story marked the beginning of the true story about how God would change the world forever.

Imagine how our Christmas conversation would change….And imagine how you would change. This talk of faith being irrelevant would come to a close in your life if you believed all this was true- the way you talk & act out the reality of truth, the way you talk & act out the reality of what true power is, the way you talk & act out the reality of God not as a distance being but a present person, the way you talk & act out the reality of the problem of our world and the solution of it. But as I have hinted throughout this blog, this birth was only the beginning of the story, and to fully grasp this you do need to know the whole picture. Christians are looking back and remembering the beginning.  The middle, which I would say Jesus’ life & death, is central to the story of how God moved the world forward towards it’s glorious future ends. And the end of the story- Jesus resurrection, return to Heaven, and His eventual return to fully implement His finished victory achieved in the ‘middle’- is what’s coming. And the present is about Jesus followers who have decided to be part of His present project of implementing His already victory into the world whilst anticipating for Him to return and finish the job.  Not bad for a baby in a manger.

 

May you come to see that the Baby Jesus is one of the most powerful events of human history. May you come & see how this nativity scene can change your world. And may you be filled with the love of the one who saves.

The Dirty Word Part IV

So last week we explored all the ways humanity think it can rescue itself from the mess that is the world gone wild. On the big scale it’s war, famine, injustice, global prostitution, slavery, murder, ISIS, illegal drugs, indifferent goverments; and on the little scale it’s selfishness, doing good things as long as those things are meeting our needs, have false motives and intentions, turn good things like sex money and power into idols we need, not living even to our own standards (unless one has very low standards), we feed our addictions, turn people into objects, say we live to love as long as it doesn’t demand too much of a sacrifice for me, always looking out for number one, wanting to get my own way all the time, use things in order to met our ends, turn the blind eye, define what I think is right and wrong. And all this stuff effects each other in multiple ways in a convoluted mess. And as a result, on some level, we relate to some of these: we are sick, lonely, depressed, unsatisfied & unfulfilled, have broken families and broken lives, we have hidden issues that deep down affect us, we are anxious, we have hate, anger, revenge; we dress ourselves up to look okay  but deep down on both a personal level and global level we are in too deep. We think technology, or self-expression, or education (and perhaps psychology or law & order*) can save us. But those things, though not inherently wrong and make good means of transformation, aren’t the transformation itself as they don’t go deep enough into the depth of the human problem that is -the dirty little word- sin. As much as we hate this word, its original meaning (see ‘The Dirty Word Part II’) enlightens and confirms to us a reality we know is true.

I ended my last blog post saying that Jesus teaches us the right things that conform to who we are as a person made by God, and through Himself brings the ultimate progress of humanity by a execution cross and a change of hearts; He makes such a re-conforming to that image possible by destroying the things that hold back such a reality. And that’s what I want to introduce to you today.

So what does Jesus, a guy who was around 2000 years ago, have to do with us today in the here & now? We lump him into the other great thinkers of religion: Budda, Mohammed, and so on. We like his nice lessons he offers (along with other religious thinkers) and apply aspects of what he said (and others have said) today. But that’s it. However I believe this trivialises the deeper distinctions between faiths and also doesn’t take into account the deeper truth of what Jesus came to do (Truth’s of which, I will argue, are transformative in the here & now). The lack of deeper introspection into faith that gets beyond the similar morals is expressed in this following story of theologian Karl Barth as he is leaving church one day:

Karl Barth was coming out of church one day when an astronomer asks him “you know Karl isn’t true that all religions and morality and faith can really be summarised into one sentence?”. “There’s a sentence to sumerise all faith and all morality?” said Barth, “what’s the sentence?”. The astronomer says “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, isn’t that the point? Why even have this religious stuff?”. Karl Barth thought for a little and said “Well, can’t all of astronomy be summarised in one sentence?”. The astronomer is clearly baffled and says “What are you talking about?? There are gravitational forces, there’s the study of weak forces, the way atoms started the sun and are now making us, you’re talking about space and time, and so much more- how can you summarise it in one sentence?”. “Well…” Karr Barth says “It’s ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.'”.

The point of the story is this: don’t trivialise the faiths of the world- at deeper levels there are differences and things that radically distinct them out from each other; they might agree upon surface morality but at a deeper level are radically different- and it’s that deeper level difference that really matters; we might functionally all get along well on the surface but to suppose that all that life is about is being a good little person actually isn’t that deep. To say “All people can be moral based of particular religion” well that’s if what’s fundamental to a person is transformation in relation to morality of xyz system, however I would argue that a deeper change of personhood isn’t in relation to morality on the surface but in relation to the deeper beliefs behind that mere morality. And here’s the thing: Jesus did not come to bring good moral teachings but to make a new humanity and reverse the effects of sin in the world. I have heard it said by a world religions professor (who himself not a Christian) that if you take the teacher away from the world’s great faiths you are still left with the teachings, but if you take Christ away from Christianity then Christianity dies- why? Whilst Jesus isn’t less than a teacher He is indeed more than one.

In Christian circles the word ‘salvation’ is translated in people’s mind as “going to Heaven when you die”. However this is not what Jesus (or the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures, or the writers of the early church) meant when referring to salvation. Salvation isn’t “going to Heaven when you die” rather it’s “the eventual rescue & transformation of this world”- it’s that the God who loves this world loves it enough to rescue it from all the defaces His good world. It’s that this world is broken and this fault line runs down all of our hearts, and this fault line rattles the world in many personal, social and systemic ways- but the Good News is that, whilst we have lead the world down this broken pathway into chaos, God promises to fix the world one day. The Hebrew Scriptures speak of a Day where God will clean up this world once and for all-there will be no more death, sin, suffering, and love with glory will flood this world, and we will be given a new heart which is truly capable of loving God. And it will be a person, who will embody God’s very nature & purposes in Himself, which will move the world forward towards that glorious day. It’s in that person of which the world needs.

 

So how does Jesus be that person who moves this world forward and ultimately defeats evil? This isn’t just a question but the question is it not? What will bring the ultimate healing of the world?

 

Well I thought I’d answer that today but alas I feel that this will take a lot to explain…So perhaps next week will be my last blog on this then!

 

*I might advise my previous post to includes this beliefs as well.

The Dirty Word Part III

So last week I did my whole thing on sin. Yep- that dirty little word. Unfortunately it’s a misunderstood word in our culture and quite often seen as an archaic and dehumanising word that we ought to get rid of. However last week I discussed what the word actually meant. And what do we find? That the word does actually apply to our real world reality of what’s wrong with the world. And okay sure, people might want to use different words such as evil, selfishness, injustice to describe what’s wrong with the world- but the word sin brings out a different spin on the ways of the world that we might of missed: that if there is a God who is the author, the engineer, the maker of all of reality, then don’t you think the designer of life would know what’s best? Sin then is going against our God-given design as a human being. Of course if there is no God then we run into all sorts of problems: Who’s to say what’s harm or evil or unjust? Purpose is the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists, and unless an overarching purpose exists for the universe and humanity then no matter how much you attempt to justify the outworking of a foundation for moral reasoning, in a Godless universe you will always find your foundation crumbling. But that was last week. The question of “what’s wrong with the world” then ties into the follow on question: what’s the remedy?

Some people think the remedy is a technological one: that only through reason and technological advancement can we march on into a ‘brave new world’ where the problems of aging, disease, poverty are all solved and transformed. Now I love technology. It makes things so much easier and does lead to longer physical life (Who isn’t thankful for such things!) but have you seen the movies of a dystopian future? In some of those movies the world is worse, and in others the world is ‘better’ but one thing still remains: selfishness, wanting to get the world our own way, control, corrupt power- they are still the plotlines. As good as technology is we must admit that Western progress means is that we can send unarmed drones into Pakistan to kill people instead of people with swords. That as good as medical progress is, it also allows us to have sex with more people with less risk. Progress means we can now gamble more people’s money electronically. We might have progressed only in the sense that the quickness, durability and accessibility of tasks of life have grown (Which in of itself isn’t a bad thing) but we haven’t been saved from the real things that suck life dry: our pride, our selfishness, our need to consistently want, our need to have more power. The conditions change but the hearts do not- and as such people are hurt. Though the calendars tick over every year we still have more deaths, more injustice, and we are still as self-absorbed as ever; and we think we have progressed but we just find new ways to be selfish. Suppose one could extend their life to live for a thousand years then what? It’s an extra 920 years of living how you have already lived with the heart that’s bent towards a particular way. Underneath the technological salvation storyline is the assumption is that aging, disease, poverty are the core issues of what’s wrong with the world: but they are only the symptoms. And we might deal with the symptoms but not with the deeper disease; as such (like we see in the ‘utopian’ movies) the issues will bring back up in newer ways. This isn’t to say that technological advancement has no value, after all there is the Christian belief that God will one day fix aging, disease, and death. As such a Christian’s might rightly fight against such things in the present by using their technological advancement tools of the trade. But it’s the one wielding such things that have the technological power to save or destroy, and the direction of such use of these tools comes down to the only progress that has eternal significance: the progress of the users heart.

Some people think the remedy to fix the mess of the world is through being able to express oneself. Now in Christian scripture we are told that we are all made uniquely (Psalm 139) as such our personalities, gifting’s, our gender, our race are examples of things that are God-given and make us us and shouldn’t be diminished. There are many things I like about the movie Frozen, and it has that classic song “Let it Go”. In the song she sings that she is determined to no longer be what her family and society want her to be, there’s “No right, no wrong, no rules” for her. But if the movie ended after that song (and it would be a shame if it did!) what would had been the message? Just be yourself! And this is what culture is telling us will fix the world. But what if- whilst there is a core personality and inherent traits to who you are- not everything that’s inside of you is good? Doesn’t it make sense that a God would know what parts of you are who you are and what parts are distortions? And wouldn’t this loving God who created us have our best intensions at heart? There is many times that if I acted the way I felt I would of killed people! So who defines the limits of self-expression? If it’s you then what’s stopping you from having undefined limits? Back to the movie Frozen- the princess who is “true to herself” wreaks havoc on the world and leaves shattered relationships in her wake. How is that good? But that’s not how the movie ends: realizing love is the key to controlling her powers, Elsa reforms by thawing the kingdom. It’s only after the sacrificial love of her sister that saves her from the effects of the curse that the princess is free to redirect her passion and power – not in “turning away” and “slamming the door” and expressing herself – but in channelling her powers for the good of her people. Don’t you see? Self-expression can be both good and damaging depending if you are being yourself or actually letting those parts of yourself in you reign that shouldn’t reign and cause havoc. But unless we have a grid of understanding what’s inherently you and God-made and what’s part of you are actually distortions then we are left with either radical restraint or radical freedom rather than radical love. It’s not if you be yourself or supress yourself- but whether in who you are you love others the way God defines what it means to love others.

Some people think the remedy to fix the mess of the world is through education- that if you educate people away from what’s wrong then the world will be okay. The assumption behind the belief that “education can save the world” is that “the problem of the world is a lack of education”. There is some truth here which is so pure that it cannot be ignored- education indeed does enlighten and awake us up to what’s wrong with the world and teaches us remedies; education is incredibly powerful. But it’s a means of change. Education in of itself does nothing unless you’re teaching the right things- for you can educate a person how to save their marriage or educate a person on tips on how to cheat on their spouse. It’s all about the content. One could say then that to save the world you use the means of education to teach the right things- but that begs the question: what are the ‘right’ things? We might tackle each evil in the world topically but unless we ask ourselves the prior question of what’s the ultimate definer of what it looks like to have good in xyz area then we are left guessing. The human race can discern and observe and come up with some answers (and some answers have been very good!) but we still left wondering whether they are, in the ultimate sense, right. Unless there is a God who is the definer of right and wrong can we have an ultimate means of knowing.  The educational environment that is conditioning us to act a particular way (whether good content or bad content) is taking a heavy toll; but a better question to ask is “what human hearts are conditioning that educational content?”

There is a deeper problem behind these things: behind “a lack of education” as the problem or “lack of technological progress” as the problem or “lack of self-expression” as the problem is a deeper problem. Nature abhors vacuums; if you create a vacuum it will find a way to fill itself. It’s very much the same with God- you push him away then naturally something else will fill that vacuum. “It’s all about power” said Nitschke; “It’s all about money” says Marx; “It’s all about sex” says Freud. And it doesn’t take a long time observing society that we are indeed driven by these forces on both social and personal levels. We might think we are free to choose but when the vacuum is filled we are driven to live by some type of power. Postmodern author David Foster Wallace (himself not a Christian) put it like this: “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on”. And that’s the problem: we all worship but we have pushed the only God who alone can satisfy us and conform us to who we are made to be (That is actually what Christian freedom is: being who God has designed you to be). In a Godless universe we will use what we worship to exploit others in order to get the gods who won’t satisfy- in the end the cycle of selfishness, sin, exploitation all continue as we look out for number one. Idolatry is the problem, our humanity is the problem, as such things like technology, education, self-expression are just means of either doing right or wrong- but it’s the heart that directs the rightness or the wrongness of such things, and it’s God who defines what “direction” and “rightness and wrongness” are.

As a Christian, I believe all people are made in God’s image which means that deep down there is a sense of what we must do to fix this world, but all of this is clouded by the fact that we as a human race have rebelled against God and so can twist even our instincts to our own end. We are a people left guessing- as if reaching up into a foggy sky trying to grasp for an ultimate validation of not only what is right, but (maybe more importantly?) what will make that rightness a reality. In Jesus we have a God who comes down in person and makes known to us our true identity as a human being (You don’t have that in other faiths- they would say “I am a prophet showing you a way to God” but Jesus says “I am God coming to find you”). Only in the Christian faith is the fog removed and God come down to our level; in the Christian faith we can have a deeper clarity than ever before, for we are not left guessing when God Himself is in our midst.

And what does Jesus do? He teaches us the right things that conform to who we are as a person made by God, and through Himself brings the ultimate progress of humanity that isn’t defined by test tubes and text books but by the cross and a change of hearts. Through Jesus we are taught about what it means to be a human made in God’s image. And through Jesus He makes such a re-conforming to that image possible by destroying the things that hold back such a reality…But I’ll discuss that next week!

The Dirty Word Part II

I wanna talk about a dirty word.

Yes, that old dirty word that we want to get rid of. We largely want to get rid of that word all together. Now, if you haven’t read last weeks blog I recommend you do or else you might just be angry with me talking about “sin”. Because as I said last week, words like “sin” can be a trigger word relating to a dehumanising experience in your life- a time when something hurt you or labelled you in a terrible way by using that word. Now I don’t want to minimise your experience- your experiences are real and for some readers quite painful- however I do want to shift to what the word actually means, because I believe the abuses of the use of this word shouldn’t take away it’s original meaning.But why even bother talking about the word sin (Whatever it’s definition is?)? What’s there to gain from such a discussion? Well perhaps in reading on you will connect the dots together that- if “sin” is what I am about to describe it as- then it relates to the deepest parts of our own humanity.

I want to talk about the Biblical definition of the word sin. Now I know some of you are rolling your eyes going “Oh your gonna talk about that outdated book are you?”. “What would that book have to offer for us in our modern day world?”. You see, in our world we are quite untrusting of ‘holy book’ sources because the modern world believes that we have moved beyond that ‘hocus pocus’ stuff; we have seen how years of using such books as a abusive power play that have been used to justify horrible things that have left us instantly skeptical of anything quoted from them to support anything. However despite what your personal misgivings are about the Bible might be, me and others have looked into the Biblical definition of “sin” and are seeing more and more that there is something about that word which really does confirm in our real time & space reality of what’s wrong with the world.

The Bible tells us that whilst God created this world & humanity good, we humans have screwed this world up (and consequently ourselves up as well). The “screwed this world up” bit of the story is where sin comes into the picture:

The Bible says that God made humanity in His likeness- the meaning of that phrase found in the opening chapters of the Bible has been debated, but the ancient language behind the phrase gives us the image that we are like a ‘photograph’ of God- we have that reflection of God though we ourselves are not God. And we were designed to be that ‘reflection’ of God into the world- since God is love, we are to too love others, God, and creation; since God is creative, we are to be creative beings that reflect His love and beauty into the world; since God is just, we are to live justly; since God is relational, we to are to be relational beings who seek the betterment and purpose of others; since God is selfless we too are designed to be selfless and not live to serve ourselves; since God is sustainer of the world we too are to sustain and take care of creation. However the problem though is that the Bible tells us that early on in human history, we in our free will we thought we could do the job of being human on our own terms and under our own rule. We’ll define what we mean by “good”, “love”, “relational”, “happiness”, “work” and we will run the world in rebellion against God. We gave God the finger, and went to live our own life.

Like any behaviour & social patterns that get passed down, this rebellious attitude is no different. The rebellious condition has been passed down to the generations and so what do we have in our world? War, famine, injustice, global prostitution, slavery, murder, ISIS, illegal drugs, indifferent goverments. But that’s just the ‘big’ things- on a small scale we are rude, selfish, even do good things as long as those things are meeting our needs, have false motives and intentions, turn good things like sex money and power into idols we need, don’t live even to our own standards (unless one has very low standards), we feed our addictions, turn people into objects, say we live to love as long as it doesn’t demand too much of a sacrifice for me, always looking out for number one, wanting to get my own way all the time, use things in order to met our ends, turn the blind eye, define what I think is right and wrong (and thus become so subjective that even “subjectivity” is subjective). And all of the ‘big stuff’ effects the ‘little stuff’ and at the same time the ‘little stuff’ effects the ‘big stuff’ and it all add up and create on-going issues that lead to such sicknesses like loneliness, depression, revenge, broken families and broken lives, literal death, bullying, terrorism (the list goes on), substance abuse, the perpetual addictive need to get our own way. And then all of that turns around and affects us and reinforces the cycle and we are back to square one. In other words we are all in this conglomerate mess of a world that’s messy on every level- and we are all pointing fingers at people (and sometimes we should) however we know that we are all humans in the mess we have made and we are also a victim of. We are all victims and perpetrators; some are the crushed more then they are the crushers- nonetheless we are all in the mess.

This isn’t to say there isn’t good things in this world- we are blessed with many good things, and we must remember that all things are inherently good (It’s when we take the good things like sex, or money, or power, and misuse them- they aren’t wrong just misused and thus distorted). However the stain of the mess is still everywhere. We might have technological advancement but we can use such things to make weapons of war or weapons of peace. We might get rid of evils in our world, but new and creative evils spring up from within us. And it all continues: we all affect each other and we are all affected by the very mess we have created and we too get bull dozed under the weight of terrible injustices in our own lives. The cancer of sin is in our world and has taken on a power of it’s own.

We know that injustice is wrong, we know at least at a very basic primal level that certain things and certain ways to live are dehumanising. We are rightly angry at injustice in the world, we are angry at all the dehumanising activities that occur in our world (and we should be!)- but what view of the world do we have to account for our deep down angst of the state of the world is in if we have followed a view of the world that says that we are just basically accidents with no ultimate meaning or purpose? If it’s true that, as Richard Dawkins says, that “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice” then why get angry at injustice? If injustice is false then why get angry? A common response you might say is that “It doesn’t leave to human flourishment, that’s why it feels wrong”, but as many people have realised over time it really doesn’t account for what we are feeling in a deep and profound way, for such a view only makes certain things ‘impractical’ for the human race gene, but how does it make anything ‘absolutely wrong’? The thing is, it doesn’t*. And that leads us back to square one. As Jean-Paul Sartre says: “If God does not exist…there is no longer any possibility of an a priori good existing. It is nowhere written that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now on the plane where there are only human beings. If God does not exist, we have neither behind us nor before us a luminous realm of values, nor any means of justification of any behavior whatever”.

If your view of reality can’t account for your deep rooted feelings of injustice then either your feelings are wrong or your view of the world is wrong. If your feelings are wrong then well there really is no justice, meaning, or purpose then your feelings are deceiving you and perhaps than we shut out that voice, and then what happens? How do we live with integrity upon deeper reflection of the absurdity that is reality? Some of us say we “create own own meaning”; However our self-made meaning we create is created on shaky foundations- for the very brains we use to create meaning are themselves part of the cosmic and absurd accident and so we are back to square one.

But what if it isn’t that your feelings are wrong but that your view of reality is wrong? What if there is a God who can account for your deeply held meanings in you? To live with integrity either live as if your feelings of injustice are real and re-root it in a worldview that accounts for such feelings, or throw away the feelings and live as if justice is not an inherent truth but a figment of your misplaced feelings. It’s in the Biblical account of reality that we are told that there is a God who  created a good world, but we messed it up- and it’s because of that violation of a purposed world that we feel the angst.  Such a view of the world gives us a foundation for the very things that, if we haven’t blocked out the voices of our heart, we still believe.

One Christian philosopher defines evil as “a violation of purpose”. So what’s our purpose as violated? How has it all affected the world around us? We were made in His likeness, and so sin/evil is going against that purpose and commission as human beings made in His image. And so this is what sin is: missing the mark of being the human being we are as designed by God to be. And in what God designed us to be in all areas of our life- God’s designed people financially, relationally, sexually, socially, emotionally (the list goes on). Sin isn’t mere “rule breaking”- I actually hate that notion of mere “rule breaking”. Sin is much deeper- it’s that I am breaking my own design as a human being as I live in rebellion against the wise & loving designer of life itself.

And the wrongness we feel in the world all comes back to that dirty little word which is of course an unfortunate dirty and huge reality that we (If we are honest with ourselves…) we live in. It’s what wrong with the world and it’s what needs to be removed. Deep down we know that there is a power for tremendous good in us- and God designed us like this. Deep down we know the world we live in isn’t what its meant to be- that it was designed with a purpose that’s being violated, a violation we feel in our alienation and our hurt. And we deep down know that we need to be rescued into the wise and loving rule of the God who sets us free into being who we were created to be. But how are we rescued into that reality? How is sin dealt with? How does God plan to save this world? That will be next weeks blog.

*There is a discussion on the subject of the relationship between subjective and objective morality that can be discussed, but I think at this point of time it’s too much of a rabbit hole.

The Dirty Word Part 1

Sin.

Doesn’t sound very nice does it?

Most people in the world (and perhaps some of our readers) don’t like the word “sin” because of some of the things it brings up in us. Some of us have grown up in environments where when the word “sin” was used it was used to attack you in very dehumanising ways, others have been told they are “sinners” in hurtful ways because of what you do with your body sexually, and others even more have been told they are “sinning” so that the bigger person who is telling us that can have control over us.

I am reminded of a horrifying story of a mother burying her young sons lifeless body as a result of the tragedy of war. She is at a cemetery only barely holding herself together as she doing the unthinkable- and in a day where support for the mother and the family is absolutely critical something else happens. Strangers come into the funeral holding signs that say “God Hates Soldiers” and begin screaming into what is already emotional chaos with the words “God Hates who your son was!!”. And calling him “A sinner!”.

It’s no wonder that people hear the word “sin” sometimes and cringe. And if you have experiences were the word “sin” or “sinner” is thrown around in order to hurt you then you can relate to the convulsion that this word causes within you. Needless to say, the word “sin” has had a checkered career in the history of the world, and has meant a variety of things to many different people. The word has been thrown around in many dehumanising ways that seek to hurt, control, condemn or belittle people.

The word “sin” can symbolise abuse.

The word “sin” can mean “worthless”.

The word “sin” can mean “breaking the rules”

Should we not throw this word away? That since this word has been thrown around in such ways that the very word ought to be discarded all together? It’s a popular answer to say “yes”- for why would we want to keep such a word that’s been loaded with such meaning? However isn’t that point- that’s it’s been loaded with meaning? Remove the connotations that the word “sin” brings up in your mind. Put your experiences linked with this word on hold for a moment.

And Listen.

Perhaps our experiences have loaded more meaning onto this trigger word than ought to be loaded onto it. And perhaps as a result, the original meaning of this word has been lost in the confusion and chaos. Maybe this word doesn’t think what you think it means. Despite the abuses, despite the thrown around use of this word, maybe there is a deeper and comprehensive reality behind this word that actually captures something that’s truly wrong with the world, and also captures the deep need for someone we can hope in, someone who can heal us from whatever is going on around us and in us. The word sin does not have to mean what you think it has meant to you.

Over the next two weeks I want to explore exactly what the Bible defines sin as (Not what religion has defined it as, but what’s the Bible has).

And I actually think you will be surprised.

But I don’t want to leave you there either, once we define it I want to explore where we go from there in terms of being rescued by what’s happening in the world…

Sounds confusing? It’s because you don’t have next week’s blogs yet.

So stay tuned.

There is NO hierarchy of holiness in vocation.

*Before you start reading, just pre-warning that this article is very much aimed at people who already call themselves Christians- it’s a ‘in house’ article. Feel free to read regardless of what you believe; just thought I’ll tell you though that it’s Christians who would relate mostly to this.

Disipleship

So I have this picture to illustrate the simple fact: there is no ‘hierarchy of holiness’ in the places and vocations God has called you to. Here’s what I mean: I have often seen a huge divide between a pastor of a church and a “regular” church member when it comes to gifting’s and callings. The pastor is often seen as the ‘professional’ in the faith whilst everyone else is not, and the “everyone else” can be viewed as the people who aren’t called to the ‘higher’ calling of pastoring a church but are called into the ‘world’ whilst the pastor serves ‘the church’. It’s the whole “higher” and “professional Christian” language undertones that scare in me in church circles.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not inherently against being specifically someone who just so happens to also be a registered denominational pastor who co-leads a community. That’s okay. After all, Paul was an Apostle and didn’t hesitate to take seriously his very full on role in being someone who helps the specific church community in a more potent way than others. After all, you need those people who have that specific time to devote oneself to a community in such a way. So I am in no way ‘hating’ on those who are called to those specific roles. I have friends that I dearly appreciate who are in those roles and mean absolutely no disregard to the hard works that done. But what I am saying is this: that we must be careful that by these roles existing that they are professional Christians who, just because they are a pastor of a church,  somehow in an “elite” and “more sanctified” position because of what they do- whereas I want to say that there is no hierarchy of holiness.

You can be a plumber and have a gift of pastoring, or an accountant and be able to share your faith easily as an evangelist. You can even be all these things and discern a love and maturity sometimes beyond that of person who does have a church title. At the end of the day God has called all people who serve to Him to serve Him, and we have all be planted into the body of Christ, and every person has a gifting, whether they are an evangelist, a pastor, a prophet, a teacher, an apostle or whatever. These calling aren’t just for people who are planning to go into a church-denominational role.

We are all called to be the body. We have are all called to pastor, to evangelise, to prophecy, to have acts of mercy, to teach, to lead- but not all will be gifted to specifically have a  niches in all those things; you will have gifts that stand out as prominent in who you are made to be. So find your gift and serve were He has placed you. And yes, He might call you into a church-role whereby you also use your gift purely as your full time job (because I believe in that calling too), but if not, remember you are still the pastor, the evangelist, the prophet, the teacher, the mercy-giver the world so desperately needs, to be where God has put you in your specific vocation, location, and calling.

We are all called to the work of ministry. Because the work of ministry is exactly that…Ministering. And you can minister to the world in whatever title role or job you have. Bottom line I am trying to make is this: if someone has a pastoral role they are not better than you and it certainly doesn’t apply they are holier then you. You have the Holy Spirit working in you just as much as a denominational church leader role does. God has called both, but they are calling without elite distinction. Now lets love the world and one another.

Living in Freewill AND God’s Sovereignty

There a beautiful and profound mystery in the Bible, that if we can only grasp it, will provide an abundance of freedom and a gentle poise to the way we live our day to day life- from the mundane decisions to the cosmic life changing decisions we make. This truth is that God is both completely, all in all sovereign above all the decisions we make, even the little ones, and yet at the same, time we have 100% free-will in which we have the power to determine our roads we take. It’s a mystery indeed, because we humans don’t think in these categories. When we hear that “God is all sovereign” we often think it is at the expense of free-will choice, or, alternatively, if we hear that we have free-will, we often think God is somehow over ridden by the choices we make, squashed into a little box if you will, forced to stop His plan for our lives. But it is possible, that in the world of God, that somehow, the both can simultaneously exist?

We are perplexed about this profound mystery, and instead of resting in the ‘both/and’ possibility of a God who can do all things, we have more often than not, put Him in the ‘either/or’ box where He can only be either all-in-all in control or limited by our freewill. Where did this thinking come from? Perhaps the enlightenment? An attempt to rationalise everything we hear? Could it be that the God of the Bible might have a different perspective in mind? Perhaps the ‘both/and’ can work with a God. That as judge, God will judge all our freewill choices that were ever made that were for or against Him, and yet, as King of the universe, everything is going according to His plan. From our perspective it is as if, freewill and God’s sovereignty are like two parallel lines that run through time so closely, and never touch, but in Heaven they somehow met and it all makes sense. To us, it’s either everything is fixed or everything is free game, but to God it is both.

Turning to the scriptures now this truth does indeed come out clearly: in proverbs we have in chapter 16 verse 9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps”. There is a part in the book of Acts where Peter is preaching for the first time, and speaks of God’s plan for Jesus’ death and human being deliberate free will at the same time and I quote “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). In other words “This was God’s plan, and you wicked men killed Jesus!”. Or take another example: Paul later in Acts is on a boat, and an angel of the Lord appears to Paul and says “No one will die tonight” and yet, knowing this, Paul acts tenaciously to protect his men from possible death. Is this Paul not trusting God? I don’t think so. I think holding both God’s sovereignty and our freewill; both God’s kingship and both God’s  judgement over our decisions are tremendously practical and very liberating.

Let me show you this by firstly taking the either paralysing or passive outcomes of holding to a ‘either/or’ view rather than the ‘both/and’ view: if God wasn’t all sovereign and all of human destiny, sovereignty so to speak, was placed all on our shoulders then we should be scared! Because we are so rebellious, we do the wrong things all the time, and I can’t hear God perfectly which means that I might get something wrong, and, even down to the mundane things, create a ripple effect which will cosmically effect not only the destiny of my life but the destiny of others, which- if we are being honest here- will probably lead to worse things not better things. But, what about just holding onto God’s sovereignty? Oh life wouldn’t even be colourful! There would be no point in existence! You see, in the first view we would be paralysed, but in the second view we would be passive. Because if God is just in control of everything, then I am a robot who, no matter what I do, it was meant to happen; my life is closed, no matter what I do or the ‘choice’ I make- its predetermined and so where the colour of even living. And what about that of love? C.S Lewis puts it like this:

Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.

Don’t you see? A universe where its just God’s sovereignty, we are not free, we are robots. But this is the western world’s ‘either/or’ teaching, either God’s sovereignty or our freewill, but see, that there is indeed liberty in holding onto The Bible (And God’s) ‘both/and’.

If God is 100% in control, I don’t need to be paralysed, and yet, because I have freewill choice, I don’t become passive! God’s in control and also, my choices do matter! I am neither paralysed with fear or passive with life. I should, ought and must, search for God’s will in all things and make conscience choices for God, and yet I can also rest that as big as the blue sky covers the world so too does God’s sovereignty cover all things. I can make conscience decisions to do right things for God, and yet know that if I do stuff up, God’s sovereign grace goes before. God works through our freewill, not in spite of, and with this, we are neither paralysed or passive about life, but free to make choices whilst recognising it will all be okay, whether we stuff up or not.

I love this. It reminds me of Romans 8:28 which says “ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”. God is weaving a tapestry where He is taking both our good and bad choices, and in His grace, He is weaving a plan we often cannot see or understand- that in the end He will work it all out for our good and His glory. That in the end, even our stuff ups and bad choices, are being redeemed- that our freely chosen lives can have a lasting redeeming purpose.

Now I am not saying that makes everything ‘good’, certainly not! Instead, what am I talking about then? I am talking about this: that God’s saving grace is bigger even then our stuff ups, that God is even taking our terrible choices we have made, our choices which don’t-by any wild stretch of the imagine- please God what so ever, but He is taking even them and weaving it together as part of His plan. We have the ‘both/and’ God, and we need to hold these two things in tight tension we truly want to experience a great freedom. That when chaos is happening in your life, reflect on God’s control. And when you are just being down right lazy, reflect on your need to take action. But by and large, don’t settle for ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and’. “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling” Paul says (in context to growing in your faith) and straight after says “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (Phil 2:12-13). It’s Jesus who says “knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7) and it’s Jesus who says “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:15).

On the cross, we see this beautifully. That the disciples would have been at the cross looking at it going “How could God allow this to happen! He was a good man! And now look!” and yet what they were looking at was the greatest act in redemptive history. At the time when everything looked like chaos because Jesus was, as a result of human beings hanging on a cross, God was indeed, fully in control. And so I say to you: what looks like chaos in your life might actually be control, even if you can’t comprehend it. And even if you played a part in the chaos occurring! God’s grace is bigger than even our biggest stuff ups. I shall end with this example given by my favourite preacher Tim Keller on the character Jacob found in the Old Testament:

Jacob lied to his father, Isaac, and wanted his birthright. He cheated his older brother out of it. Because he cheated, because he lied, he had to flee from his family. Was he guilty? Yes. Did he experience pain in his life because of that choice? Yes. Was he punished for it? Yes. But because he sinned he went and found his wife, Rachel, through whom the Messiah came. Was it all right then that he sinned?

No, but don’t you see because Jacob sinned, though God held him responsible for that choice, did that put him on an eternal plan B? Did he say, ‘I’ve ruined it from now on because of this sin it’s all over’ My friends, no. When he sinned he went into the best for him. God is far greater than your stupid choices.

Don’t, of course take that out of context. Strive to live a life pleasing to God, even if you fail, but recognize the life of the ‘both/and’ which will set you free from both being either paralyzed or passive, and see that God, in His grace, is bigger than you could of dreamed of. For those whose road of life are marked more by mistakes than selflessness, patience, and sound judgment, take hope in the God who truly and mysteriously redeems that broken road and works it for your good and His glory.

So I say from Proverbs 3:5-6:

 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your path straight”.

“Oh Sh*t!”: Christians and Swearing

For most people out there this is a nothing issue. “Words are just words, just don’t be a douche bag” would be a cultural mantra that I accept to a certain extent. But like with any area of life, whether it be big & cosmic or mundane &ordinary, Jesus’ Heaven-On-Earth reality does inform every area of our lives. We are called to be a passionate people of love with a whole new community in mind. And in communities people talk- so what about swearing?

I have found myself asking the questions: Is swearing rebellious against God? Is it ever okay to swear? I am not claiming to be an expert on the topic whatsoever, but just a Christian who is having a look at the scriptures. So let’s begin with the scriptures that specifically talk about swearing in the way the original writers talked about and go from there:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Eph 4:29)

 

Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech (1 Peter 3:10)

 

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. (James 3:9-10)

By examining these scriptures in their context it is fair to say that God certainly is concerned by a type of swearing, but He isn’t concerned with what most Christians mean by swearing. When most people think of swearing they think of particular words such as sh*t of f*ck. But in their context, these verses talk about using words in a way that bring condemnation and belittlement of God, someone’s worth, or something God finds worthy (such as His beautiful creation or God-given sexuality).  That type of swearing is wrong, because were meant to build up each other in the faith and look at every person as someone to whom Christ died for, and we are to honour God and God’s good creations. So in this culture and time there are certain things we shouldn’t say because it will do exactly this: tear down what God has given worth too. Our words do have power, they do build up or destroy; they can have constructive power or destructive power (Jms 3:4-6).

Notice though that I have not referred to any words but rather the direction & intension of the words used. And that’s because, If by swearing we mean that isolated words are wrong and should never be used I can’t agree that that’s what the Bible means by swearing. I do think there is a world of a difference between calling someone a sh*t-head and using the word sh*t in a harmless joke between close friends- or perhaps even, using the word sh*t to describe a sh*t situation! The devil is a “sh*t-head”, sin really is a “Sh*t” thing, and sometimes there are moments in our life where when we are pouring out our heart to our best friend there might only be the words “I am really going through a sh*t time right now…”. There are also examples where the apostle Paul uses harsh blunt statements to make profound Godly points: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:7). It might not sound provocative on the surface however in that verse Paul uses the greek word “σκύβαλα“ (pronounced “skubala”) is a vulgar word. Paul would not have said it in mixed company unless he expected a reaction. So when there are moments we use strong language I don’t think God’s first instinct is looking down at us going “tut tut”, but firstly is rather looking at our intention and direction behind the words and statements we make and use, not the very words themselves.

However there are certain words that, given the culture we find ourselves in, might be wrong. You might be in a culture or sub-culture where particular words are damaging. Wisdom says “I might not swear simply because the people group I find myself in do not appreciate these words that they consider to be bad language”. And there are plenty of examples where this might be the case: around children or the elderly, around a professional workplace and more. Sometimes there really is no point or meaning behind using particular words you know that people simply don’t mesh with, so why use them?

(In saying that I once heard a preacher use the word sh*t in his sermon to make a provocative point to a conservative group of Christians: the preacher said “30,000 children died in Africa while you were sleeping last night, and none of you give a shit. What’s more amazing is that most of you are shocked I used the word sh*t but not shocked over the fact 30,000 kids are dead”. And of course Paul’s use of the that vulgar word in Philippians that I spoke about earlier would have been used as a shock-factor given the audience his letter would have been read out to. But it should be noted that this type of shock factor isn’t normative in every chapter of scripture and so we can’t use these rare examples as precedence for normative language whilst speaking to peoples who don’t respond well to swearing).

However there is the flip side: You or I might find yourself in a culture or sub-culture where words used in your culture, that are deemed as swearing in your culture, might be the appropriate and acceptable way to communicate to one another in the different culture. To say that their words are “wrong” because your culture deems them wrong is assuming your culture is somehow the measuring stick of all other cultures, but that’s (to put it bluntly) very arrogant. The only culture that stands above all cultures as the ultimate measuring stick is the Kingdom of God; and in His culture swearing is any word or phrase that’s demeaning to God, others, and creation, but it’s not the word themselves. It’s in these cultures we must echo the words of Paul when it comes to our engagement to those outside faith “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some…I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Cor 9:19, 22-23). I can’t see a problem with swearing in this context (Or should I say, what our culture considers swearing), given we aren’t doing the life-sucking swearing God speaks of. It’s important that “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.” (1 Cor 9:21) but not compromise and actually become ones without the law; to fulfil the age old tension of being in the world but not of the world.

In writing all of this I must say though that we must not be mastered by anything- anything that has mastered us other than God has become a god, an idol, in our lives. So it can be with the words we use: do we control our words or do our words control us? If it is the latter then we must change. In this context it might be healthy for some people to avoid words that had been associated with their sinful swearing from their past. What I mean is, by the way of example, if someone has been an alcoholic in the past they might refrain from drinking in the present, but not because drinking is inherently wrong, but because drinking for them might lead them back into alcoholism; that serving as an example it might be with someone whose had a ‘truckers mouth’. However that comes down to the individual of what’s wise for them to do in their given life journey with God.  In saying that, I do believe as a general principle we must keep a close eye on anything we say, simply because our tongues are very hard to control according to God’s word (Jms 3:4-6) so perhaps as believers we must caution the words we use more wisely.

In conclusion, like with any nuance and non-black and white issue that’s presented before us we have to ask ourselves the following: Does this action help me love myself and others more fully and freely, and does it allow me to love God more deeply and with more of myself? And with answering that question we must then live accordingly. Do our words we speak bring grace to a given situation or context? I pray that we be wise with our words no matter what the context and like with anything, whether it be eating or sleeping or talking, we do these things to the glory of God.

Christians being ‘Anti-Islam’ can become Anti-Christ

So lately I have been seeing a lot of ‘anti-Islam’ video’s, photos and articles over the internet. With the emergence of ISIS, a fresh movement of anti-Islam has started. I have seen a lot of Christian posting material over facebook that shows how passages in the Quran command people to kill non-Muslim, how the texts support violence etc. The aim of these postings is to show to people that they believe that Islam isn’t inherently peaceful but inherently violent, and that we are to be warned that Muslims have a worldview that could justify violence even amongst its most non-violent adherers.

Now, I am no expert in the Quran. I haven’t read the historical & literally context of the passages put on these video’s and articles. From what I see at the surface they do look pretty barbaric & violent. However, I know that there are passages taken out of the Bible that- when used out of context- make adherers to Christianity look pretty warped as well. The passages I see people use are taken out of context, and then we have to talk about these passages until we are blue in the face about how it isn’t what it looks like. I wonder to myself: are we (and I am speaking to my Christian audience at the moment) taking their passages out of context, just the same way people take passages out of the Bible out of context? That’s another question for another time. But I want to talk about the anti-Islam material I have seen online and talk about something else that hasn’t been spoken about near as much on social media. I’ve seen a lot of anti-Islam posts but I haven’t seen many posts about Christians loving adherents of Islam.

You see, it’s pretty easy to think your right and then just go around telling people that you are right and everyone else is wrong. It’s also pretty easy to never speak up against or for anything. Christians often swing into two extremes: either being vocal about their faith and the wrongness of others- but not being that loving, or the other extreme is befriending other person with different worldviews (which is a good thing) but treating their faith & worldview as equally right as theres.

But here’s the thing: a true Christian identity neither compromises on truth nor just rattle words out of their mouths against the other in unloving and non-connecting ways; Jesus transcends those extremes in one thing: Love. So where are the video posts on loving our neighbours? Where are our actions of love beyond words?

Love can both speak the truth but also serve our neighbours. And yet how many video’s do you see on Facebook that promote Christians to love Muslims? To love atheists? To love the GLBTQI community? To love anyone with a different belief than you? Those friends you have who always post these anti-Islam video’s- how many of them also post about how we are to love our Muslim neighbours in word and deed? How many of them post videos about how Jesus being a servant to all humanity?

Anyone can post an ‘anti-Islam’ video, but it’s harder to love.

Are we not called to the greater challenge of love?

Jesus makes it very clear: Love your enemies.

Jesus makes it very clear: Pray for your enemies.

Jesus makes it very clear: Love your neighbour.

And who is your neighbour? That’s the exact question Jesus is asked by one of His Jewish countrymen, and He responds with this story:

“A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?” He said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Now here’s the thing: Samaritans were hated by Jesus’ target audience. And yet Jesus uses a good Samaritan in the story. What does this tell us about neighbour love? A Samaritan, who considered the man on the ground to be an enemy, loves him. He shows kindness, compassion, and charity. He provides him safety, provides him shelter, goes the extra mile. And that man didn’t even come from Jesus’ people group. In fact, one might go as far as calling this story “The Good Muslim” in light of our cultural context.

So how are you loving today? How are you showing kindness, compassion, hospitality, friendship, giving of safety, of alms, of love, to the “other”? Whoever the “other” is in your world are.

Honestly, which one do you think will lead to the lasting change of love that Jesus called us into. A anti Islam video? Or good deeds of love?

I think the later suffices.

Now some people will say “But Nathan, the most loving thing we can do is tell people the truth as well”. Let me say right of the bat that there is a place for truth telling, absolutely. After all, this article here fits the category of truth telling (Because I am pointing people to the truth of Jesus to love everyone). But the truth telling done over social media: is it just words? Aren’t we called to both word and deed? Did not the Apostle James speak about the folly of loving people with words but not with deeds of love? And what about Paul- his chapter on love says that we can speak with tongues of angels but have not love; we can have the right words but an unloving heart expressed in our lack of deeds of love. Let me be clear: I am for truth, but truth without love means nothing, and love is expressed not through words only. Now we don’t need less than words either of course, but we do need more than words- because our words alone don’t mean a lot if that’s all we are doing…Posting video’s and photos. I think we can do better- myself included.

It’s here we can pray to our merciful Jesus and confess and turn us around to make us more radical lovers, to put people in our path in which we can enact neighbour love. True Christian identity is neither harshness nor mere tolerance, but benevolence- a benevolence that transcends & than transforms even the ways we do our truth telling as well as the ways we love those who don’t share our same faith. We love & speak truth as if those two things are not in opposition to another, and we do those things the way Jesus did- not be ruling it over people, but- in humility- serving others; winning not through the love of power over people, but through the power of love that affects people in life transforming ways.

Jesus’ movement of love is possibly the only movement that seeks to also benefit its non-adherence. At least, that’s what happens when His followers love their neighbours- despite who their neighbours are.

Sinners Anonymous

Sinners Anonymous

When it comes to church…I’d rather have a hospital for sinners like me who are taking the long grace-filled road of recovery that will be filled with messiness, pain, truth, and tears, but- as the journey goes forth- will produce freedom, love, acceptance, wholeness. I’d rather have that than a sanitised museum of saints who are caught up in pre-tense, deep down fear, and on-the-surface judgementalism coated in nice smiles of each other, and the deep down brokenness they have but are too sacred to share because they think people will judge them the same way they judge others. The first is messy but freeing in the long-run, the second is sanitised but will harden the heart until it can’t be broken and repaired.

Unfortunately, a lot fo churches opt for option 2. I mean who wouldn’t? It’s so easy! But you are robbed of the deep richness of both being known and loved. You see, a lot of us ‘love’ people, and by love, I mean that they love what they see- care free, easy going, nice person. But what if they saw the rest of you? Or worse: what if a whole community saw all of you? Your insecurities, your hurts, your addictions, your mess. That’s called being known. And people fear being known but not loved. But what truly liberates us, what truly sets us free, is being known and loved. It’s free us from pre-tense, humbles us out of cockiness and allows us grow from the dirt up. Now, imagined if a whole community knew and loved you, like truly? Liberation!

Now there is no such thing as the perfect church, I know that. But boy wouldn’t it be wonderful to be in an imperfect church full of people who know they are imperfect? As opposed to the second type of imperfect church, the ‘sanitised’  ones? What are your thoughts?

Christian growth

Christian growth

Sometimes I look at my walk with God and I think “What a mess! Have I really changed that much? What about this issue I have in my life! Oh gosh I am so up and down, up and down, up and down!”.

But here I was given a great analogy on Christian living…Look at this first graph of the stock exchange…

blog 6

This is the NY stock exchange over ten years. There is so much fluctuating! Looks bad doesn’t it? Up and down all the time…But that’s only the last 10 years…Often we focus on our Christian growth as a hear and now thing….But look…See the stock exchange over the last 100 years….

Blog 6b

We tend to focus on the green whereas Christian growth is the whole Christian life…You will look like a failure most of the time, but that’s pretty normal (See Paul’s life description in Romans 7!). Instead see the real growth in the long haul, and if you have the upward trend in the long haul, you can be sure that Jesus is a friend of yours.

So relax. As a friend once said to me “Be both okay with being not okay, and not okay with being not okay”. Why? Because Jesus has separated sin forever from us- for God determined to destroy the powers of sin and enable New Creation to flourish by separating sin from humanity and destroying it on the cross. In the words of Jesus on the cross: It is finished….Or as it says in the Greek “Debt paid in full”.

Now of course, if you have said “I am a Christian” for a very long time and you have seen no change ever since that day confession of faith, then I think it’s time to have a ‘DTR’ chat with God…A ‘define the relationship’ chat with God…Are you just a fan of Jesus? Or are you a follower of Jesus? Because that means a world of a difference.

Now, in the context of a sincere relationship with God, allow God’s Spirit to transform you over the lifetime and “Be both okay with being not okay, and not okay with being not okay”.

God Get’s Messy

We Serve One Dirty God. 

One thing I love about God is that He is not afraid to get his hands dirty. In our culture it’s pretty normal to picture a God who is distant and detached from the happenings of this world in sheer indifference, as if God was like “Oh look what’s happening in the world…Ewww! So icky.”  But here is some good news for …He is willing to get into the mess with us. You know that friend who is always there who is neither losing themselves in your mess but neither cold and distant? Yeah, that’s what God is like on a cosmic scope.

Now there is often a ‘theological pushback’ on everything I am saying, the pushback sounds like this:  “But Sin can’t be in the presence of God!”. But actually this pushback misunderstands the power of God’s love and holiness (Which aren’t opposed to each other by the way) and misunderstands sin (But that’s a blog for another time!). God is not like a pristine car upon which no one can touch it for fear of leaving a mark, but rather He is like a powerful but gentle ocean that washes away the mud from our bodies. And a little mud won’t taint the whole ocean, but it will wash it away. God is bigger than our mess & mud. God is bigger than our addictions & idols. And when God does come near He will rattle us yes, but it won’t compromise Him.

And then there’s Jesus. The very presence of God among man. He kind of dined with the sinners, healed the outcasts of society, ate with the tax collectors, spoke to all people who would have had various problems.

Jesus was in the dirt.

Jesus was in the mess.

Jesus was in the tears, the mud and the blood.

We don’t serve a Jesus who goes “Ewwww!” and runs away from the mess. He enter into it.

Jesus dives into the midst of the chaos. And yet He brings the calm.

That’s what I love about Jesus. He isn’t just afraid to get His hands dirty, but He brings Himself into the mess & darkness, and through who He is…He heals us.

Now some of my readers think Jesus is like what you see in some uber religious organisation. Priests in nice gold gown, a detached sense of high & mighty piety that doesn’t look at what’s going on in the street around the high church wall buildings,  or if you go in there you will have a lightning bolt thrown at you (Or as some people think). Now is there something wrong with wearing nice clothes if you so will, and good morals? No, but a sense of “better then you”, a sense of “we have our own little club that doesn’t get our hands dirty” this sense of “stay away from our holy place!”- well none of this exists in the life of Jesus.

None.

I hope the true Jesus, the one who comes not with love for power but with power of love, is the Jesus you see afresh. Because Jesus goes into the darkness. There is nothing so dirty that Jesus’ love won’t enter into and heal.

And if you’re a Christian, let this challenge the way you do church. Are you the type who wants to keep calm & control so much that you don’t allow the mess & the muck in? This is not saying there is no legitimate control, but it’s a control that transcends what’s happening around you. It allows the mess but with Jesus in the middle. Without Jesus it is just mess and that’s it. With Jesus moving in the middle life can come through the dirt.

That is after all, how our ultimate healing was assured.

Jesus didn’t look at the powers of darkness, death, sin, oppressive rulers and go “ewww”. Rather, He to the cross and said “Not my will but your be done”. Jesus went to the cross to confront the mess of the world in one spot, and He won over it. The cross with blood & guts was the world’s messiest spot, but rather than the Roman execution cross winning by killing Jesus it became the very place where Jesus would win through love and confound the powers behind the nails in Jesus hands. But how? By rising from the dead. Jesus defeats the cross through the Cross & Resurrection. Jesus enters into darkness and wins against. He brings victory against darkness but first entering into it.

Might I suggest- that for the Christians who are reading this post- that that’s how we win. We go into darkness without becoming the darkness nor condoning it, but by bringing Jesus power of love into it.

Now THAT’S messy.

May you come and see the radical love of Jesus who can enter into the chaos at its worst and brings life. May you come and imitate your life after His as God awakens you and transforms you into Jesus through the power of His Spirit.

The Parable Explained Part II

The Parable Explained Part II

Read ‘The Parable of the Painter’ first then ‘The Parable of the Painter Explained Part I’…So this actually makes sense to you.

So a couple of weeks ago I made the case that we all believe in absolute truth, and that it depends on what the absolute truth is as to whether one is manipulative or not.

Okay, so what about the parable? When am I going to get there? And what’s it going to do with absolute truth? Now it’s time to explain the significance of the parable.

At some point we are going to come face to face with what reality is. There really is no denying it. At some point, a version of reality will be shown to be true over against the other. For instance, if we die and there’s nothing then that says atheism probably had it right, or if I come face to face with Allah then the Muslims have it right, or maybe I am reincarnated then…You get what I mean.  At some point, truth- whatever it is- will win out in way, shape or form.

But as a Christian, I am confident that what Christians perceive to be the truth is the truth. And like I said last week, that’s not a terrible statement to make that seems bigoted or narrow, and neither does that have to be dehumanising statement because a) we all make truth claims and b) it depends if you use the truth claim in dehumanising ways (And Jesus doesn’t allow His followers to do that- he says we love all people despite worldview, race etc.).

So looking at the parable of the painter:

In the parable you have a painter who is God. God creates a world and makes that world come to life. Now notice it is the painter who determines the meaning of the painting. Within the analogy there is no one else in his reality except for Himself, as such He is the soul interpreter of the meaning of His own self-made painting.

We have to wrap out heads around this. Because whilst this analogy is limited in scope it does tell us something very important at this point: If (And for many it’s still an If) there was a God who made you then doesn’t it make logical sense that this Being defines who you are (and not the other way around)? If a painter paints the painting in their own reality with no one around then that painter dictates the meaning of the painting not the painting dictating the meaning of the painter. Now listen: it’s okay to speculate what God is like- a lot of people do, however at some point you have to realise that whoever you think God is, at some point God Himself* (if He makes Himself clearly known) should trump your perception of His own being, not the other way around. After all, if God does exist I think He knows Himself better then we know Him.

This ties very closely to the other section of the parable, and that’s the section that speaks of having the character traits of the painter infused into the painting itself. If the painter symbolises God and His painted people us, then the part about the character traits being infused into the painting come into play. If there is a God and this God is the inventor of you & me then that means that deep within who we are is ‘DNA’ that matches His. This is a rather large topic that dives deep into the question “What does it mean to be human?” at which we can’t discuss at length here. However it is important to point out that if God is real it is worth considering His take on what it means to be human, because if (as the Christian faith says) we have rebelled against God then we are- in a sense- rebelling against our own God given nature. Within this paradigm then- True freedom then isn’t doing what you want but it’s being released from all that holds you back from who God created you to be; a unique human being infused with His ‘DNA’. So what does it mean to be a human made in God’s image? And what would it look like to follow Him again? These are big questions for another time, but one thing for sure: If God is real and designed us, then logically to return to His design again would be the most congruent and whole thing to do, and it gives ourselves the ultimate life changing favour that sets us free. Also, this means we can’t define ourselves the way we define ourselves but by how God defines us (Once again, we could talk for a long time the nuances of such a statement but don’t have the space to).

The third part of the parable is that of the painted people making up theories about the painter and then the painter revealing Himself in person. We all do it…We all have a theory about reality (Whether there is a God or not, what life is all about etc.) and we either have a shared theory of these things in groups (e.g. clubs, churches, religions, cults etc.) or we keep it to ourselves. It’s as if we are like people reaching up into a foggy sky and trying to make sense of what we can’t see or looking around us and making more guesses about reality still.

But what happened in the parable?

The painter becomes the painted one without ever ceasing to be the painter, and makes it very clear who He is. And this is where we arrive to Jesus. Jesus isn’t like other prophets or gurus who say things like “I am here to show you the way to God” Jesus comes in person and says “I am God coming to find you”. That’s radically different from all other faiths and worldviews. Our foggy reaching to the sky is over, because the one beyond the fog of reality has come near in person. Truth then isn’t a detached dehumanising concept: Truth is a person- a person to hug, a person to love and be loved by, and a person who frees us into who we were made to be.

That’s who Jesus is.

He comes into the world to restore us back to our true identity as people bearing the image of God, and Jesus comes to fix this mess of a world.

And Jesus isn’t like your average crazy man saying He is God, He actually does things to back this up**- healing people, casting out demons (all in all declaring His Kingdom was breaking in!). And ultimately Jesus dies & rises again from the dead (And not just to die later on…No according to the scriptures Jesus rose again from the dead and returned to Heaven in the body; He is still alive and has defeated death & decay forever- changing the whole structure of reality). So Jesus backs up His identity well.

But think about this. If Jesus is like the Painter of the Parable- the one who has revealed Himself as truth in a way that can touch us- then how can we say He isn’t the truth? If He is indeed the most revealing manifestation of truth there is then this raises a lot of questions for us as humans. Sure He isn’t without interpretation (After all, we all interpret), that doesn’t mean we should fall into the trap of culture that says we can make truth whatever we want it to be. If Jesus is the revealed truth of reality then we got thinking to do.

Now I understand there can still be a lot of push back against this- after all behind all of this is the assumption one believes the Jesus, as written in 4 books of the Bible, are actually reliable history. And of course there are other personal push backs such as bad experience in church etc. So there is still plenty of discussion to be had (And perhaps we need to talk about history in a separate post). But nonetheless I hope that exploring ‘The Parable of the Painter’ has given you a helpful paradigm for at least considering the implications if such a reality- a painter and His painting- exists and how, if real, it would challenge the way we attempt to interpret reality.

*I am going to use ‘He’ for the sake of simplicity, please don’t read sexist undertones into this for  that is not what I am doing

 

**It’s important to note that isn’t the reason why Jesus did miracles (He didn’t do miracles to prove He was divine) rather He did miracles to declare that the rule & reign of God was breaking into this world through Himself and that this reign was reversing the effects of our rebellion against Him (sickness, disease, disillusionment etc.). However one of the implications of Him doing this was that it would show He was indeed divine, something Jesus wouldn’t have argued against either.

Grief.

Today instead of doing ‘The Parable of the Painter Explained Part II” I want to write a special blog post.

In the last two weeks I have had two people close to me die, and each in their own way have had an impact in my life, and it has left me absolutely gutted by the loss of both of these men. I have experienced a whole new level of grief I have never ever felt before; it feels like my guts have been taken out and the empty space is collapsing in on itself like a vacuum inside of me which has left me with tears and felt heartache. It has left me concluding that this year and this month is indeed the worst time in my entire life.

But even though this has been the worst two weeks of my life there is a very real sense that, in the middle of all this pain, Jesus is with me. And I am so grateful for this. It doesn’t explain the “Why” question (As John Stott once said: “There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. ‘The cross of Christ … is God’s only self-justification in such a world”) but He does give me comfort in and through the pain.

Now I know some of you don’t believe in the Jesus stuff (and that’s just part of the process of chewing faith for yourself, and part of the role of this blog site is to help you ‘chew’). However I do, and I faithfully write what I write from the point of view that Jesus is real, that He did die and rise again and through this launch His project of bringing Heaven on Earth, and that He will wrap that project up fully when He returns. My role isn’t going to convince you that it’s all real, but just to write.

And today I am talking about my personal take on what it means to grieve with Jesus.

Because right now that’s what I need in this time of grief.

[Because of the sensitive nature of this post I will be treating it purely as my thoughts; as such I will use words like “I” as opposed to “we”. However my prayer is that my process of pain can help others as well.]

There is this event that happened in Jesus’ life in the first century A.D that talks about a time Jesus confronted and entered into the heartache that death brings. The event is in the Gospel of John chapter 11 verses 17 to 43. The passage opens up with Jesus being called to visit a friend’s grave, a grave of a man named Lazarus… <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+11%3A17-43&version=MSG >

There are two people Jesus comforts during their time of loss- Martha & Mary. However the way He addresses the same loss differ between Martha & Mary dramatically. With Mary He comforts her & weeps with her, and with Martha He confronts her:

Martha:

He tells her that He is The Resurrection & The Life! Jesus tells Martha that, because He- as the Saviour of the World- has arrived, she doesn’t have to wait until end of time to see the power of God raise Lazarus from the dead, she could see his resurrection right there and then. Jesus can raise people from the dead!  And indeed part of Jesus’ whole mission was that of declaring in the form of the spoken word & in miracles that the reign of the good & loving God had arrived in Jesus. Now death, evil, suffering, injustice, chaos, would still exist until Jesus returned from Heaven a second time to this world, however (As seen later in this Gospel book) Jesus would defeat all death, evil, suffering, injustice, chaos in a unique way by dying on the cross & ultimately rising from the dead. Death would no longer have a grip on Him- because He would take on the agony & evil of death into Himself and win the battle against death through the blood & tears of the dark, twisted, and lonely cross. And so one of the ways Jesus shows His unique power over death in this event by confronting Martha in telling her that He has come to save the day. And save the day He did! He raises Lazarus from the dead! And as such for me, to know in my grief, that Jesus will raise my loved ones to glory at His coming is indeed beautiful (And to know that in the present “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”).

But then Mary:

Why did Jesus cry at the tomb when He knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead? There’s a very simple reason why. Because death is bad. Losing someone is worth crying over. It didn’t matter whether Jesus would raise him from the dead at the end time or in the next minute: Lazarus was worth crying over. Loss is worth crying over, mourning over, weeping over.

I need to process and sit in pain with a God who holds me together and weeps with me. And so it is that Jesus- the world’s perfect man & God in the flesh- cried. Jesus ain’t a stoic person who just tells me to “remove negative thoughts”; no rather He is the Great Psalmist who lives out and prays out his grief and agony as a man acquainted with sorrow. Between now & what Jesus will do for people who love Him there can be a time for sorrow, a time for tears, a time for processing. It matters that Jesus will raise my loved ones from the dead one day, but that doesn’t remove the processing of pain & loss.

All this tells me something about what it means to respond to loss with Jesus.

I need the big picture AND I need to allow Jesus as comforter during the pain of loss.

I need the big picture of knowing that- one day- all who love Jesus will welcome His return with joy because He will wipe every tear, and pain, injustice, suffering, and evil will be completely done away with.

“Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new.” (Rev 21:3-5 MSG)

Even death itself will die. And I can have confidence in this because of the unique way Jesus defeated death.

But I need Jesus as comforter as well, for He promises to be with the broken hearted. To mourn with those who mourn & weep with those who weep. To process through pain. He is my great Psalmist who, like the writers of the Psalms, uses psalms that speak of tears & agony over what is real heart ache.

But to only have the big picture without the comfort means it’s possible to become stoic and detached from real pain & suffering. I can’t simply brush off the pain by saying things like “He’s gone to a better place” or “There is a bigger plan” whilst I bite my quivering lips and squish the tears down. Now it’s true that the people who I lost have gone to a better place and that the best is yet to come, but times in the here & now are hard and need to be processed with family, friends, and faith.

But to only have the comfort without the big picture gives no meaning to life.

Without the big picture all that would be true is that all people simply take their first birth, live, and then take their last breath; all come from oblivion with no divine purpose and all go into oblivion with no divine purpose, thus existence is a joke in a universe will no purpose or meaning. That might sound heavy to say, however I do believe I am laying out the natural implications of a purposeless universe, which if people do take the belief in a purposeless universe to its logical implications does come out the other end as dismal. In a purposeless universe, bodies are just animated pieces of meat which exist in a blip of existence. People might think one can make their own meanings, but their own meanings they make would only be by-products of  random chemistry of the brain, and if that’s true (that people’s brains are only chemicals & muscles) then even people’s own self-made meaning collapse in on themselves into meaninglessness once again as the very building blocks of people’s self-made meanings turnout to mean very little as well. But deep down people know that isn’t true; people do believe in meaning, purpose, love, truth, even if their own worldview categories can’t make sense of it. There is more to life than living, breathing dying. There is a big picture.

And Jesus is the big picture.

I need the big picture and I need Jesus as comforter- and that’s the lesson of grief I learn from this passage (And pray you too learn).

Processing all of this loss will not be easy, however I’ll process with tears whilst having the big picture of knowing that those I have lost are now part of something bigger & better, and are both destined for even more when Jesus returns to defeat death and bring His Heaven fully on Earth…

And that the people I miss will, like Lazarus, rise again. And me, and others around me, are left processing through the pain.

And both are okay.

Both are needed.

The Parable of the Painter Explained Part I

The Parable Explained Part I

Before you even begin reading this make sure you read my previous post, or else nothing I say will make sense. See it here: nathanforster.com/2015/07/27/the-parable-of-the-painter

So it’s common in our society to say that if you have a particular set of beliefs about God, humanity, the universe, the afterlife (etc.) that what you believe is, well, what you believe: It’s true for you.

I have told people about what I believe (You know, the Jesus stuff) and I have had a variety of responses- further questions by some, awkward silence by others, and sometimes disdain towards me. But what often happens is that eventually an “It’s true for you” statement comes up:

“Oh you believe that, okay well that’s your truth. That’s not my truth, but good on you!”

 

Now I am all for people having the flexibility to believe what they want to believe about reality- after all we all have a mind of our own, observations of our own (etc.) to make an informed decision on one’s beliefs (In other words I am for freedom of religion or lack thereof). No one should be forced to believe anything unless they make the conscience choice to believe what they chose to believe and neither should people force their beliefs onto others.**

However there’s a difference between having the good flexibility in what people believe, and recognising that  behind the “it’s true for you” statement is a theory about reality that people adhere to whether they are aware they are doing it or not. This theory about reality goes like this:

We can’t fully know if there is a thing called truth that exists ‘out there’; we therefore construct our own truth, not the other way around. So your theory of truth is as valid as someone else’s theory of truth- but it’s only a theory: don’t you say it’s THE truth. Because 1) you don’t know that and 2) saying that can be a tool for manipulating people.

Now I understand where people’s reactions are coming from in reference to the above accounts because 1) Some people really are clutching at straws when they make truth statements and 2) some people who said they had the ‘absolute truth’ have used it to manipulate others (Just think about the crusades, jihads, genocides etc where people couldn’t think on their own two feet and just obeyed what they perceived to be the absolute truth). However there is also fragility in this theory about truth:

First, that very belief (“We can’t fully know if there is a thing called truth…”) is also itself an absolute truth claim. Too put it into conversational language I witnessed a Q&A once where- after the speaker made a claim about Jesus being the truth- an audience member stood up and said “Well I don’t believe in absolute truth!” the speaker looked at him and then responded “You don’t believe in absolute truth? Do you absolutely believe that you don’t believe in absolute truth?” The questioner realised what the very statement behind dis-believing absolute truth was an absolute truth. So let’s be humbled: we all believe in something we think is the absolute truth. And that’s okay. Even saying “Well I just don’t know” can take the shape of absolute truth. And once again, that is okay. Truth statements (Even truth statements about truth statements) are by their very function narrow (And ‘narrow’ doesn’t have to be a negative term. It’s just a fact of reality that what we believe will at some point conflict with others)***

Secondly (and we desperately have to wrap our head around this one really badly in our world) It’s not believing in absolute truth that leads to manipulation of people, it’s asking “how does what we believe lead us to treat people?”. Now I can’t speak on behalf of other faiths, but know that Jesus said to love people no matter what their race, beliefs, gender, or orientation is. And guess what, I believe Jesus is the absolute truth (surprise surprise!) but Jesus as the absolute truth demands that I love people, respect people’s freewill etc whilst still disagreeing with what others might believe. Our culture has bought into a lie: that if you disagree with someone you must hate them. That’s just not true. There are creative ways to love people that go beyond needing to agree with their take on things. When 9/11 happened a New York newspaper said “This is what fundamentalism does”, that same day a pastor from New York responded quite rightly by saying “Actually, it depends on what the fundamental is, and in the Christian faith the fundamental is of a man dying on a cross for His enemies”. Manipulation isn’t based on the belief in absolute truth but depends on what the content of that absolute truth is. After all, yelling at people saying “There is no absolute truth!” can possibly be said and practiced in such a way that the very absolute belief in no absolute truth can itself be manipulative.   Food for thought.

Okay, so what about the parable? When am I going to get there? And what’s it going to do with absolute truth? Well I feel that this blog post has already gotten way to long so I’m finally going to tease it out fully next week (Sorry! I didn’t anticipate this!). So stay tuned!

To give you a glimpse for next week…I do believe in absolute truth and I believe that absolute truth isn’t a detached concept but a person.

But until next week…

……………………………………………………………………………..

**Just to clarify though that’s different from someone asking me questions about my faith, in such case I will wear my heart on my sleeve- that is not forcing my beliefs on anyone that’s just answering a question. Also if I am speaking from a platform about my faith people have the choice to be there or not

 

***Some people think saying that one religion being right over the other is ‘narrow’ in a bad sense because, people will say, we should adopt the belief that says “It doesn’t matter what you believe, it’s all the same pathway to the divine just different routes”  because, people will say, “at least that doesn’t exclude any belief”. But here’s the thing: that in of itself is a belief, and that very belief (“It doesn’t matter… etc”) is narrow towards people who do in fact believe that there is only one way and that it’s their belief. So that very belief (which appears to capture every faith on Earth) actually denies people who take seriously their faith’s beliefs of their faith being the only right one.  

The Parable of the Painter

The parable of the Painter

Imagine that our world had no people in it except for a painter. One day this painter decided to create a painting like no other. He paints a world, and in this world he paints people. This painting has the painter’s creative energy immersed into the painted world- it’s as if a part of the painter’s personality has also been painted into the world (That’s how immersed he is into it). After the painter finishes the painting he clicks his fingers and all of a sudden the people in his painting come alive. They become aware of the world they find themselves in and go to live life within their painted world.

 

However these painted people have been painted by the painter who immersed all of who he was into the painting, and as such the ‘DNA’ (For lack of a better way to explain) of the painter people runs through the painted people’s veins. Their need to create and expand is innate in their DNA, and since the painter himself is kind and caring it’s innate in their DNA to also be kind and caring. But it doesn’t take too long before the painted people start to do what they want their own way. With their freewill they do whatever they want, even if it’s destructive. With their freewill, they start going against their innate sense (Their DNA if you will) of what it means to be a painted person. Their freewill against their DNA leads to breakdown of the painting itself. The painting starts to fall apart.

 

Over time the painted people start to wonder if there is a painter or not. Deep down it’s like they believe in a painter, but this deep down sense of being painted is clouded by the day to day life of the painted world they live in. Some painted people take the speculation of their being a painter seriously and so they create groups with other painted people who believe the theories about who the painter is, what the painter’s purpose and plans are etc, while other painted people don’t believe in a painter or really don’t care, while others still have their own individual theories of who the painter is (Some people in this group even mix and match ideas from the different theories of the painter  from the more established theory groups).

 

The painter is observing all of this, and he has especially noticed that the painted people have used their freewill to make destructive decisions in their world that are contrary to the purpose of the painting itself. The painter decides to set the record straight with the painted people. And so the painter grabs his paint brush and paints a door into his painted world, and armed only with paint and a brush, the painter steps into his painted world. As the painted people meet their painter some doubt thinking he is just a crazy man claiming to be the painter, and others celebrate, and others don’t care. In their midst of confusion and doubt the painter starts painting objects from within his painting which only confirms to the people more and more the signs that he is indeed the painter who has decided to break into his created world to put things back on track from the inside out. Through the painter they re-discover their purposes, and they also have a clear expression of who the true painter is.

^Sounds like a bizarre parable right? Well it’s only a parable. Parables were like short stories Jesus told back in his day. He told these parables as ways to get people thinking, and to eventually lead them into a new way of viewing the world. Parables like the one above and like the one’s Jesus told aren’t meant to be taken too literally as they are only stories to get you thinking about the bigger ideas that they are pointing to.  The parable I told above is meant to act like a story for the exact same purpose: to get you thinking, and to eventually lead the reader into a new way of viewing the world. So what’s the parable I told about pointing towards? What’s the bigger idea I am attempting to illustrate?

That’s for me to explain next week. As for now, don’t read too much into the parable (They aren’t there to be read too much into) but take some time to think about what the parable might mean. Until next week…Peace. (Still confused? That’s kind of the point this week. Sometimes Jesus told a parable and then explained it. That’s how I’ll be doing it: the explanation is next week).

Well here goes nothing…

So finally.

After months and months of holding off doing anything I am actually doing something.

I am writing my first blog.

I can’t really think of much to say to you all except to say welcome. So I’ll keep this short post sweet and simple.

My blogs will be pretty much centred around Jesus and the reality He came to bring. I am a firm believer that Jesus is much more real, revolutionary, relational, and relevant (And also anti-religious). There’s a lot of bad pictures people have of Jesus when they think of what He is all about. Some see him as a cute little baby Jesus that gives a great excuse to open presents, some see Jesus and ‘buddy Jesus’ (Think of that classic film ‘Dogma’ with a young Matt Damon), some see Jesus as this skinny white dude who died on a cross and somehow that means something to a bunch of devout conservative, boring, detached and awkward people, some do see Him as a great teacher or a philosopher. Now don’t get me wrong- presents are awesome, Jesus can be a friend, and their are a bunch of people who devout their lives to Him (Though the stereotyped of the ‘Ned Flanders’ catagory “Hi-di-ho-neighbour-reno” still makes me facepalm and ask “What lead us to that picture?!”), and yes He is a great teacher.

But Jesus is also more than those things.

And that’s what my blogs will be about- the more. Within my blogs I will also cover a range of sub-topics that fit all into Jesus agenda- I’ll be talking about the nature of church, what it means to be a Christian in the 21st Century, Can we even believe all this stuff. I’ll also be addressing any and every topic- from sex, to friendships, to random acts of kindness to anything- and I’ll do that through the lens of Jesus and His Heaven-on-Earth Kingdom He came to bring.

In terms of my audience I don’t want to just preach to the choir. I want to have an inclusive audience who may not believe in all this stuff and wants to learn anyway. So welcome all!

So this is what I hoping for. So join me and the blogging and videoing begins!

Peace!