Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Joy is the most elusive attribute I know, and I suspect not just for me, but for most of us. I mean real joy in life. Alive inside, more often than not, regardless of circumstance! A couple of months ago I read this quote from CS Lewis. "If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desire not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, we are like ignorant children who want to continue making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." To live with an ongoing sense of joy has to first mean we have come to terms with our sufferings, and have leant to embrace them as teachers and growers of our character. In my own ramblings with joy I’m discovering joy also requires some deliberate intention and effort. As much as I would like joy to flow naturally, it seems to have a nature that needs purpose, and goal. I don’t think CS Lewis meant ‘drink, sex and ambition’ are not common with joy, rather he meant discover these, and other pleasures, in a far deeper way. Rather than fool with them as though they can satisfy, find the source of joy and let it inspire and strengthen your life. So what is the source of joy? Methinks it is seeing God/being in God, that reduces your own sense of importance and entitlement, which allows you to live with a greater sense of freedom, spontaneity and generosity that would normally otherwise escape you. The source of joy is to really know your life is not all about you, but actually all about God and others. Isn’t this why Jesus repeatedly said we should die to ourselves? Joy is when we get ourselves and our own (often) petty agendas out of the way. Then we are free to love with joy. I honestly don’t believe it gets better than this!
Friday, September 9, 2016
Continuing with Jesus and his family… I think it is one of the lesser known facts about Jesus’ life that he and his family had more then their fair share of misunderstanding and confusion. Most family encounters took place in his hometown of Nazareth, a nothing little village inhabited on the whole by Jesus’ wider family, “They rose up, dragged Jesus out of town, and took him to the top of the hill on which their town was built. They meant to throw him over the cliff, but he walked through the middle of the crowd and went his way.” On another trip to Nazareth, after he taught in the synagogue, they said, “Isn't he the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren't his sisters living here?" And so they rejected him. Again, in Nazareth, “a large crowd gathered that Jesus and his disciples had no time to eat. When his family heard about it, they set out to take charge of him, because people were saying, "He's gone mad!” Still in Nazareth, because Jesus was avoiding the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem who were wanting to kill him, his brothers came to him and had this conversation with him, “The Festival of Shelters is near, "Leave this place and go to Judea, so that your followers will see the things that you are doing. People don't hide what they are doing if they want to be well known. Since you are doing these things, let the whole world know about you! (Not even his brothers believed in him). Jesus replied, “You go on to the festival. I am not going to this festival, because the right time has not come for me." He said this and then stayed on in Galilee. After his brothers had gone to the festival, Jesus also went; however, he did not go openly, but secretly.” The next time we see the family all together, it is at the cross, and they are united, albeit in grief and sorrow. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there; so he said to his mother, "He is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "She is your mother." From that time the disciple took her to live in his home. Lastly, they are all together again, this time in Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts, “They gathered frequently to pray as a group, together with the women and with Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brothers.” The perfect family? By no means! A family called by God, in all their humanness, to be the instruments of God – through their confusion, misunderstandings, pain, sorrow, and suffering? Oh yes, just like our families.
Sunday, September 4, 2016
Let's do some thinking about Jesus, and the ups and downs of his family life. We will start with his mother, Mary, and the seven sorrows she carried. Jesus’ family were real people with real problems. The first clue Mary got about the sorrow she would bear through the life of her son, was from the prophet, Simeon, when he said to her, “This child will be a sign from God which many people will speak against and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.” Soon after Jesus’ birth, Mary’s family endured the plight of refugees, whose world of suffering, pain and hopelessness are transparent before us today. It was no different for Mary, and her toddler, Jesus, as they fled for Egypt in the middle of the night, and lived in a foreign land in fear of their lives. The next drama Mary faced was losing Jesus in Jerusalem, for three days, when he was twelve years old. Think of that happening to one of our children today! Perhaps these events were all preparation for Mary for what was still to come. Following Jesus’ journey of carrying his cross through the streets of Jerusalem, were a group of weeping women, one of which was Mary. If that was not enough, Mary then endured Jesus’ crucifixion itself. We read; “Standing close to Jesus' cross were his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” Then again, Mary grieved, as Jesus was laid to rest, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph were watching and saw where the body of Jesus was placed.” What do we make of all of this? Are Mary’s experiences not a guide for family life today? The ups and downs we experience, the losses, tragedies, sufferings and sorrows that come our way, shape us, like they did her? Do Mary’s experiences not teach us that life’s most true and profound lessons are learnt the hard way? Were Mary and her family not who they were, to some extent because of what they had gone though, together? Is there not also some insight into a mother’s heart? Indeed, Mary is deserving of the title ‘a most blessed woman’, as so many parents still are today.
Monday, August 15, 2016
The words written here have been a long time in coming. Only recently have I been able to put this belief and conviction into words. It all has to do with the mystery, power and wonder of the cross, or as Paul said in Corinthians, “The message, which is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles, the message that makes sure Christ's death on the cross is not robbed of its power.” Forever, it seems to me, the message of the cross has been told as an act of violence (sacrifice) God engineered in order to put humanity right with him. Or in other words God had to violently sacrifice his Son so that he could love those who had become unlovely to him? Truthfully I have never really understood this. It suggests two things: o Firstly God’s love can be restricted by our behaviour. o Secondly, and much more significantly, it suggests violence is the way to deal with the human condition of evil and sin. So entrenched is this idea in modern thought that we follow it, almost without exception. If there is a problem, you get rid of it – hate, division, prejudice, war, assassination, divorce, revenge, terror, murder, take sides, split – are all spurred on by this philosophy. If God used an act of violence to solve a problem, then so can we. And we do, in so many different ways. Think about it for a while. Rather than buy into this way of thinking about the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, I see it differently now, like this: Humanity (through the specific context of the time) murdered Jesus in an abhorrent act of violence. God knew this would happen all along (Ephesians 1:4,5), and he allowed it to happen as it was the perfect opportunity for God to show what redemption and love is really all about. He took all that happened on the cross on himself without reserve, and loved us in return. There was no violent sacrifice by God (it was done to him by us, He didn’t do it), just open arms of love, love which has always loved and always will, love which said, “Father, forgive them for they know what they do.” We choose the substitutional, sacrificial, way of seeing the cross, God having to use violence on himself to buy his love for us back, over God voluntary receiving violence and rejection in a great act of love without retaliation, mainly because we are hard wired to retaliate, to act negatively, hatefully, violently, and prejudicially, rather than loving those who hurt, offend and reject us, just like God did. The first way allows us to believe without a real change of heart, the second way requires a profound life changing transformation.
Monday, August 1, 2016
I remember growing up with the saying, “Stick and stones may hurt my bones, but words will never harm me.” Now I am not sure in what context this saying arose, but it certainly ‘ain’t true’! Words are powerful, both negative words spoken, and positive words spoken. Think about it, God spoke the universe into being! Jesus spoke the word and the sick were healed, the dead raised, and even the wind heard him and obeyed his command. Poems, and songs, and books are written, using words to communicate truth. Lover’s whisper into each other’s ears, using carefully chosen words to describe how they feel. Words of correction and discipline need to be prudently chosen so the right message comes across. The Apostle John said it all in the opening line of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word.” Words are eternal, ‘in the profound moment of being heard,’ they can shape us forever. Words have an immense, vast, immeasurable power to shape and form and influence, whenever they are spoken John goes on to say, “The Word was with God and the Word was God.” Words have their powerful origin in God. A scary thought that we are entrusted with a power to speak that comes from God! And I am not just meaning spiritual words spoken in a spiritual context; I mean all the words we speak! Words spoken, language used is all sacred text. Put like this, and I think we can and we should, highlights the absurdity and danger of the loose words we speak, the words of hate, judgment, anger, sarcasm, bitterness, violence and revenge that all too easily flow from our mouths (and hearts). I think the Bee Gee’s got it right… You think that I don't even mean A single word I say It's only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Deep down in the soul, most of us I believe, from decades of religious instruction, try our very best to please God through our good behaviour, and when we fail in these endeavours, we feel guilty that we have disappointed God and ourselves, and ask for forgiveness. It is a repetitive cycle of guilt and failure, but we determinedly and doggedly hold onto this pattern of trying to please by God by being good (attending church on Sunday, not committing adultery, not being a thief, etc.) Whilst we do this we look down on those who are not trying as hard as us, the ‘sinners’ out there, as though we, the people of God, have the moral high ground. Such behaviour is what the bible calls self-righteous, a perfectly descriptive word. It is our ego trying to become righteous on its own. Self-righteousness will always be self sufficient, judgmental, and superior, whilst at the same appearing spiritual and godly. Jesus called this behaviour that of the religious order of his day – the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Many church members today are no different. Jesus never emphasized the promotion of our good self-image because it can be achieved without really loving God or our neighbour, in fact without even really a true conversion. A good self-image achieved by thinking and believing correctly, is not a true change of heart, which results in real gospel values such as loving enemies, caring for the powerless, overlooking personal offenses, living simply, eschewing riches. God doesn't love us because we are good. God loves us because God is good! Our long standing belief that to be perfect means we have to become a person who pleases God all the time turns out to be false. Read what Jesus said to the carriers of this belief in his time, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Rather to be perfect is see your imperfections first, then see them reflected in the imperfections of others; in other words to take the log out your own eye first. When we do this, when we are honest first in the appraisal of ourselves and our need of mercy first, that we are not that good, then we are free to love (even our enemies), forgive, heal, serve and sacrifice. We are right with God through surrender and in participation of his mercy. It has very little, if anything, to do with our good behaviour.
Monday, July 18, 2016
I’m always surprised to hear congregation members say they never hear from the book of Revelation from the pulpit. This is going to be rectified on Sunday! I’m calling the sermon, ‘Reading Revelation’. Revelation is very detailed and also very confusing. So here are just a few simple guidelines… o Don’t get lost in the minute detail, stay with the general themes, chronologically - a vision of Jesus, seven letters to the churches (read them as though they were your church), worship, the seven seals, tribulation, victory, defeat of Satan and judgment, a new heaven and earth, and the final coming of Jesus. Eugene Peterson calls the themes, The Last Word on Scripture, Jesus, the Church, Worship, Evil, Prayer, Witness, Politics, Judgment, Salvation and Heaven. Read the book slowly and you will easily find these themes. o There is nothing new in Revelation. Everything you read in Revelation has been said before in the scriptures. This is why Peterson says Revelation is the Last Word…Christ, scripture, worship, prayer, witness, politics, judgment, salvation and heaven are the first constant themes in Old and New Testament. The book constantly references backward. o Whatever Revelation says is going to happen one day, (and we believe it will), has happened before throughout history, and is still happening today. Every generation sees the signs of the coming of the Christ; it is simply a case of when, rather than if. E.g. the first four seals of chapter 6 - the white horse of victory, the red horse of war, the black horse of famine and the white horse of sickness and death have been riding the waves of history since time began. Christians have always been martyred for their faith; the church is steadfast in worship, witness and prayer. When the church stands up for what it believes, it and its members, will always be in trouble. Let me say it again, get lost in the detail and you will get lost in the book. Stay with the themes, look for them happening in history and today, and you may find Revelation a comfort you did not know it could be.