Tag Archives: identity

The Bound Lamb: Violence

01b555eb613f0f3ee24d6d5c99a34e26c23254d399Do we see the sacrifice of Jesus as an act of violence on the part of God? To describe Christ as being a sacrifice, to our sensibilities is offensive. We do not live in the West in a culture where blood sacrifice is part of our mental framework. We are, for example, removed from the daily animal slaughter made on our behalf so that we can enjoy a Burger. We would not see the taking of these lives as of religious significance though we do care about cruelty.

What did the people hear in the time of the early church when Jesus was described as a blood sacrifice? Their mental framework included, whether Jew or Gentile, animal slaughter as a religious act. For the Jews they had been taught that they were to bring an offering to the Temple to give thanks and atone for their wrong doing. For those with means it would be the best of their flocks or the first fruits of the harvest. For others it would have meant the lives of turtle doves or bringing a couple of cakes. All had the same value and each was a sacrifice signalling to God their need and their obedience to God. They had a need for forgiveness to be at one with God and they had gratitude for God’s provision.

We need forgiveness as the condition of our hearts is that we are wilful and proud. Before God we are broken and poor in spirit. Each day brings troubles. Each day we infringe God’s blessing and other’s freedom. We know suffering in ourselves and compassion draws us out and we feel the suffering of others. We are subject to change and chance and we know pain and guilt. It is so clear that we live under a cloud of self-inflicted harm in what we do and what we don’t do; the way we treat our planet and the people around us. This is our context- we miss the target of the good we know. The prevailing wind in our times is helplessness and anger. We spend our energy on trying to control and effect our own happiness as nations and as individuals. In so doing, as often as not, we do harm and violence.

In our hearts we know the measure of our actions and reverence law and pursue duty. We try our best. But to be happy and to become our best selves we need to be at one with the reality of our sin and can’t brush it under the carpet. We also know that in our struggles we have much to be grateful for. But we need peace. The peace we seek needs to go beyond our everyday experience; beyond our understanding, as the issues are so complex.

The state of goodness- to know peace- is at our hearts. It is our wills in harmony with God’s will. All is well. It is this peace that Christ gives. It is this peace that Christ breathes into us through the Holy Spirit. It has always been so.

The violent sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross achieves this peace. This is the mystery at the heart of Christianity. Jesus is fully human; fully submitted to the will of the Father. Grace teaches that what he has achieved has been achieved for us. The sacrifice of his life on the Cross brings us peace. Jesus giving his life up willingly on the Cross is the offering brought by Jesus on our behalves to God. In Jesus, God himself offers himself as an atoning sacrifice for humanity; being fully human he transforms the violence of the principalities and powers against his body into a sacrifice that reveals God and brings peace to the creation. Through his submission and death, all wrath is stilled and calmed and peace is victorious. The silence of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, in the face of death silences the Law: the goodness that is God’s alone brings peace so that the Law is fulfilled and brought to its end, perfected, in Christ’s obedience to the Father.

The Law and the consequences of the Law- the wrath of God- were visited on Jesus by the principalities and powers. They met pure goodness. A fully human will, at one with the will of God, endured forsakenness and death, the sting of the Law. Such love! A love that knows and trusts the faithfulness of God and embraces God’s will, triumphs in God’s wrath and brings peace where there is violence.

The wrath of God is his justice and mercy, brought to its fullness in the sacrifice of Jesus. To take a human life is pure evil. The judgement on the murderer is death. The taking of life demands the loss of life. This is the wrath of God. Through the agency of creation the wrath of God against all un-holiness is worked out.

Jesus did not deserve the wrath of God- he was sinless. Even though he was fully God he did not grasp at equality but, fully human, was born, suffered and died a cruel death, a death because of our wilfulness we deserve. Being fully God the mystery is that he bore the fullness of God’s wrath as, in his humanity, at the hands of the principalities and powers, he was slaughtered. The mystery is that in Jesus, God grafts humanity into himself and the power of Jesus’ actual death is that it pays the price of all God’s wrath for all sin. Death is the price of the just and merciful wrath of God against all sin.

The mystery is that Jesus defeated death and rose to new life, the first fruits of all humanity who by faith, receive forgiveness for their sins because of the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus Christ’s victory is made our victory by faith! We are given new life in him and, through the Holy Spirit, a taste of eternity’s blessing; peace and reconciliation to God.

As the Church we are the elect, chosen to bring the blessing of the peace of Christ to the world. The church stands as a lamp that cannot be hidden; a city on a hill. We are the salt that brings savour to the creation. This is our privilege, the treasure found in heaven- the seed sown in eternity. We are those who follow Christ, a harvest, the first fruits of which is Christ. We make our election sure as we bring Christ’s blessing in to the world. We are to bless those around us, a remnant of the blessing that was for all humanity. Restored to this blessing and forgiven we know new life and become the life that blesses the world. Elect for God’s purpose- in Christ we are redeemed to that original blessing God purposes in his creating. We are those who bring peace even in persecution, even in our own suffering and death. We are those who persevere in love in the face of continuing wrath, safe in the victory over wrath won on the Cross of Christ.

Yes, Christ is the fulfilment of the sacrificial system- God offering himself to himself so that in Christ we can offer an acceptable sacrifice of praise. His goodness becomes our goodness. Truly the pure in heart see God and know his tender mercies. The wrath of God is turned away and transformed to peace in Christ. The Lord is good to all! In this life and in the next, Christ has the victory. His mercies never end and great is our reward in his presence. There is no condemnation in him and he will not abandon us to the gates of hell. Nothing can separate us from the love of God- wrath will not prevail. We are blessed. We are blessed. We are blessed.

All nations will bow the knee as Christ comes again in victory- some will suffer loss but Christ has set a limit to the suffering for the sake of the elect we are told. This is God’s heart revealed in this world. When heaven and earth are made one, there will be no pain or hurt, all tears will be wiped away, as all creation is redeemed in Christ it is written. Will all people be saved?

God has the power to save all people and on the Cross all sin is dealt with. His love has no end, but there is a lake of fire for the final destruction of the principalities and powers. Will those conformed to the principalities and powers follow them to destruction? The truth is that in our wilfulness this is where we start and we need to offer a sacrifice of praise for the provision for forgiveness in Christ and, through faith in his having made the final sacrifice for sin, we can offer our lives as a sacrifice to God.

We cry, your will be done oh Father! You turn mourning into dancing.

 

 

Skimming Kant

017ddcb9360a2de2c4fbd0dc3a205e91b7949fccd6Skimming Kant doesn’t imply any understanding of his ideas but my scant reading has fired my imagination. I am very loosely using an understanding of his ideas as a springboard- cod Kant. If morality is duty, not inclination, and pure good is God’s will, then morality –the tree of good and evil- is the downfall of humanity. The sin of humanity- rejecting the good will of God- is by nature our rejecting the good and doing our will not God’s.

Morality – the law- is death whereas the grace of God – the gift of his good and perfect will- is life. The breath of life is received in our spirit and being truly alive is to commune with God- in the coolness of creation’s Garden- and to do his will. Instead we sin, but the Father’s heart is to restore us to that communion, bring us to the place of his cleansing presence. Our reason is a slave to law and dead to God unless our spirits are made alive in Christ. It is God’s purpose, revealed through the scriptures, to know us and love us through grace not the law so that we may choose life. The good purpose of the law is to bring us to the place of grace.

Grace is revealed through Jesus, fully God and fully man. Being fully God his every action is entirely good- he is free of the law. Being fully man he suffers the judgements of the law. Though innocent, Jesus’ life was an affront and threat to the law which brought to bear the unjust penalty of death on Jesus- death on a cross. The glory of grace is revealed as Jesus, carrying the punishment of sin though innocent, defeats death by rising from death. The penalty of sin is served and defeated on the cross by Jesus who perfectly obeys the will of the Father, not counting his deity as something to be grasped. In the forsakenness of Jesus taken in our place, the man of sorrows, the suffering servant, takes the full penalty of sin, revealing, in his obedience, God who alone is good. In Jesus Christ’s victory over death we see the end of the law and the revelation of grace. The penalty we justly deserve is served on Jesus the innocent victim of wrath.

Through the cross, God restores us and speaks life in our spirits: believe in God- turn your reason to God- repent of grasping your own will, receive the gift of grace and take up God’s will. We are restored because in our believing we receive the goodness of Christ and are made alive in our spirits, purified by Christ’s life. Our will is redeemed. We receive as a gift the restoration of goodness for eternity and know the presence of God in our hearts by faith. The coolness of the Garden is restored in our inner being- a place of refining communion with God.

What am I being redeemed to?

0184136a84ba06f329f247d635c265d92966f6adf1God’s creation of us was good and with the whole of creation, very good. If my goodness is my heart intention or my will, then to be truly human is to have right heart intention: a good will- a will able to choose, free and sovereign, and acting within God’s will and reflecting God’s will. As humans, we are able to reason and act apart from instinct and, I believe, to know and be known fully in our human spirit by God. In God’s creation of us, God blesses us with a good will, able to reason and decide, and with our spirit alive in him. For me this is what it is to be alive; this is what we are redeemed to in Christ.

To say we are redeemed to a moral perfection rather than our original blessing isn’t true. A moral choice is one made by judging what is good and what is evil and choosing the good. So far so good, but we do this out of duty rather because, having judged something as wrong, we must do the good. We have set up a law within ourselves, act on our evaluation and seek to live by this law which we are free to choose to do. But where is the redemption- we can do this as we are. Our separation from God is as a result of our being able to make these choices, the scriptures teach- this is the root of sin and death. We are created to be alive in God not to slavishly follow laws. You can live a moral life without God- that’s the problem. You can choose to lead a moral life to your own harm and loss. You can choose to live a moral life to avoid the consequences of not doing so.

God I believe acts to redeem us from living by law to living under our original grace. Grace is God’s free gift given because of our faith in him not faith in our own moral choices. We are redeemed to that place of innocence that comes out of a higher relationship of faith in God and in Christ who saves us from law and makes us alive in our original life. Christ renews our hearts- redeems our wills- so that we are empowered to dwell in eternity with God. As we go deeper into faith our inclination is to do good because in Christ sin and the consequences of sin are dealt with- we are made good. Our lives in Christ perfect us in this as we live our lives in grace, knowing we are forgiven our sin through faith in the redemption of Christ.

Redemption in Christ is the gift of a life freed from the endless toil of being subject to the laws of our own devising- by command, culture and upbringing. In Christ we are freed to be virtuous because of faith. Our turning away from the inclinations of our own hearts to the principal of faith in God restores us to our original blessing and frees us to live the life of one made in the image of God. God created us to be in Christ.

Perplexed

Let's celebrate!

I’ve always been a cheerful sort of chappy.

Genesis 21-22

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

Romans 10:8-10

Hebrews 11: 17-40 (ESVUK)

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

So God asks Abraham to sacrifice- to kill- his child as a test of obedience. God in other places commands genocide despite also commanding that we are not to kill. Without the blinkers of a blind or indifferent faith this is, in the face of it, simply, very perplexing. It is hard to reconcile.

God reveals himself to be a God whose character and nature forbid child sacrifice and the taking of life, yet we are to commend those who do, for their obedience to the God who commands it.

There is another story aside from Abraham’s that is similar – the taking of the life of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11). Read it and don’t duck the fact that at the end of the Bible his actions are commended as faith (Hebrews 11).

It’s all very perplexing when we would like it all to be made right and somehow sorted by the apostles. It is not.

Are we to gloss over these stories? Are we, in our fervor, to miss them out? The whole of the scripture does not allow us to with integrity. Some scholars try to let us off the hook; convinced that God would not command child sacrifice they propose that the sacrifice is figurative and the sacrifice was the daughter’s life as a woman, represented as death. But this Jephthah, in his fallibility, is a hero of the faith as is the lustful Samson and the power hungry, idolatrous Gideon.

If these are stories of faith- the faith we are called to, then in them there must be a disruptive purpose, calling us to a higher understanding of faith, or we might as well abandon faith as a futile fiction. Is their purpose to heighten our understanding of God or maybe to wrench us from our own understanding of God? You have to ask yourself why the Bible would in effect cause you to think the worse of God.

I can think of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. Jesus responds to her in a way that would be expected of any Jewish man of his day, calling her a dog, but then grants her desire. Jesus would not be loving if he was an unkind bigot, so to call the woman a dog could not have been unkind. But he did. It sounds unkind. Jesus, through his life, taught the good news of salvation so my faith trusts there is a higher purpose in this story not a license for bigotry and unkindness.

Where do we go from here?

The Bible is God’s word. It is the written revelation of God himself and all we need to know for salvation. The words are the words of ordinary people in their times and it is their words that carry the Word of God, the essence of their encounter with the living God. The words are prophetic, speaking the stories of God’s communing with people, in their language, in their culture and in their time. Many of the writers are unknown and even the identity of the Christian writers uncertain, but Christians hold that the Bible preserves the prophetic writings of these people and is the word of God. Tradition says they are true and all else is measured against them.

Jesu did not write anything except in the shifting sand. And we don’t know what it said only that the words challenged the scribes.

Jesus, a man in his times, spoke without sin. He is God and in Jesus we see God himself. In his life, death and resurrection we encounter God himself.

In the light and knowledge of his death, Jesus reveals to some disciples on the road to Emmaus the meaning of scripture. This, with them only having heard a rumour of his resurrection. They heard with broken hearts and their perspective was changed. But the words Jesus spoke were not recorded not even in summary. From the story we only have an inspiration to read the scriptures as being fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus being the Word of God, the scriptures speak of him and we are left to have faith in this: we will find him in them.

We accept all scripture as prophetic. Prophecy is spoken by a person. When we read God said… or God told… the word was spoken to a person, who would comprehend and relay it as a person; a person in their times, in their language – living from their past and present. We are told that all prophecy is like a misty mirror. We look in to a mirror to see ourselves; so we too are part of the prophecy. When God spoke over Jesus some heard it as thunder. God turned Abraham from the sacrifice by speaking through an angel not directly to him. Is this significant?

Whatever, our hearing now, perfects the faith of the heroes of faith.

So we can read scripture prayerfully putting our self in the picture and exploring the simple meaning; study its origins and the variety of translations and interpretations and then explore and follow the passions aroused in us. We can practice coming to the scripture in peace, reading it, meditating upon it, praying into it and finally moving to silent contemplation, embodying it.

We come to a living God, and the scripture is dead if we do not act upon it- if it isn’t part of us.

But please do not sacrifice your children, become a bigot or consider genocide an option.

 

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Reflection from a Week in April 2016

I have written, thought and spoken a lot of my belief in God’s gift to us of a sovereign will. I think I believe it is this free gift to us – God’s grace to us – that makes us humans in the image of God. Our sovereign free will is God’s image in us, a principal of grace. God has perfect free will. What we contend for and call our free will is truly slavery; slavery to guilt and shame; slavery to the drives of our lusts and desires.

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Audley End Hot House Display

It has been said that joy craves eternity and others say that eternity is to be found in the moment, living the moment to the full. I am sure there is some truth in this. This is always expressed in the context of our ability to choose. But how do we effect this choice. Is the fact of our faith in our own will in reality binding us to a law, and this in fact is the source of our sin in turning from the grace set in each of us. We are not who we are created to be; sin then is not living as those who are sovereign by God’s will but by a principle of law, the knowledge of good and evil.

Is the existence of law the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Law is the masking of our created godliness; a denying of the gift of grace within all of us. What does it mean in Genesis 3:22…”The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live for ever.” And in Genesis 11:6… “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”

Is God jealous for his deity? Why then had he made man in his own image? Isn’t becoming more like God progress?

I wonder if, given that God is supremely good and named as Love, it’s the truth that the sovereignty of our own will is only evil if it is not the perfect expression of the perfect will of God. It is a grasping of who we are made to be in our own will on our own terms.

Adam’s grasping after and taking of the apple asserted his will, not the will of God. Adam creates a morality not inherent in the grace of human sovereignty but in knowledge; in the death and curse of the law, creating a law; in judgement: this is good- this is evil. It is this principle of death Christ destroys, crushing under his foot.

Could it be that in Christ, the exact image and revelation of God, we see the law and its curse nailed to a Cross, the awful expression of Jesus’ living the life expressing, “Your will, not mine” to God his Father? The Cross is a powerful undoing of the power of the law, redeeming the grace within us.

I wonder if the story of the Bible is God’s revelation of the absolute value of his image in us. We measure our freedom in our ability to choose, but could it be that God is leading us to a place where we live from that inner place of sovereign grace.

I return again to the absurdity of this story. It begins in the very act of creation where we measure our being by the ultimate Being, God, and in the despair of sin we cry out, “Why did you create me for such suffering? Is that Justice?” Through Noah we see God’s commitment to humanity; to bear the pain of creation.

It continues in Abraham where God’s promised one is demanded as a sacrifice – a call from God to break all laws. A Call from God to have faith in God to be a god who he is not – a child killer – demanding what he has himself forbidden. Is the deep lesson here that all morality is within us and is perfected in trusting in the grace within us – our only source of Joy and Delight is being in communion with God’s perfect will? Is God saying in this that there is a higher purpose, a higher calling that we are to realise; that which is within us, beyond what we can conceive as being good and evil, beyond what we can conceive as being God.

By pushing beyond our own judgement, we become who we are created to be; who Abraham is – our father in faith – and discover who God is. God is revealed. And then the incarnation, life and death of Christ – God on the cross with all its manifold meaning presents itself. What is the outcome? We stand in the presence of the living God and partake in his deity, living in communion with the Spirit through grace.

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Audley End a Riot of Tulips

 

It is a strange place to be where our high conception of God’s sovereignty makes God less than he is. We come to believe that God has destined everyone’s ultimate destiny and created us either for damnation or glory as an act of his sovereign will. Our freedom is to choose the course of our lives which in some mysterious way only confirms God’s un-resistible grace choice of us. We proclaim God to have known us from the beginning, conceived us in love and given us sanctity by knitting us together in our mother’s womb but, for the praise of his glory, he has created some whose unchangeable destiny is to suffer eternal conscious torment.

Anyone who counters this doctrine is called filthy and described as baying like animals.

But this idea of being destined for eternal punishment is abhorrent. For people who come to know God but accept this theory, they become what they dismiss – Universalists, believing all are saved- all are created for glory and in their heart of hearts they believe this but speak something else. We all deserve eternal punishment but some are chosen not by merit but for the glory of God’s grace.  In believing this I confess one thing with my mouth and hope the contrary becoming double minded and ineffective in proclaiming Christ as good news. When this movement of thought focusses on mission and service, it somehow grasps at assurance through works; the very works it denies are effective. God is truly only satisfied in Christ – his whole delight in humanity is not in works but in faith. So faith transforms itself into works that give us the solace, that we are elect.

For me the error is in trying to understand the Cross from the perspective of judgement and not on the realisation of grace, resurrecting the very principle the Cross destroys. Our election in Christ is because of our original grace. Our alienation from God, from the beginning, is because we choose law and reject grace, preferring a principle of morality over the work of grace of the indwelling Spirit.

Any reading of the Bible calls us to intimacy with God, not the comfort of our own theories. By appealing to God as a judge we make God unjust and, in our hearts, fear his justice, secretly denying God the power to judge, if we think it through. This idol of our theory of God’s sovereignty saps our humanity and our very words are tinged with a monstrous intent. We become a mouthpiece of a god who is not God. We do not find Christ in the Bible. We cry out to the god of our own conceiving, “Where is the justice!” We have made an attribute of God our idol.

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Audley End Potting Shed

I heard a thing that was strange to me – the idea that on the cross we see that violence does not succeed. The cross says to the principalities and powers, all your vengeance, all your cruelty, all your measure for measure is defeated. Your vindictive acts – your solutions to all problems, killing, maiming, shaming – are defeated. The hypocrisy of the accusers and cruelty of the oppressors are exposed and defeated. Nothing separates us from the love of God, because on the cross, Father, Son and Spirit defeat death and even the wrath of God- his judgement on sin doesn’t extinguish the light of life.

I realised the urgency of Paul in his letters. I became aware that his message was to persevere in the face of accusation and oppression because of the cross and, no, you are not defeated! All because of your faith in the Cross… In all circumstances believe and hold to the Way and trust in Christ’s righteousness as your righteousness.

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Audley End Hot House Furnace

We live in a universe of time, gravity, chance and attrition. The light of life pierces this darkness. Light and life are attributes of our God, creator of a system where everything decays, where entropy dissipates and light brings new life into a system.

None of this has a moral character but God is God and he knows good and evil we are told. Our existence as bearers of God’s sovereign image, and in some way, the principalities and powers, makes the universe a moral universe. We are created from the beginning to walk with God, to know his voice and to serve in light and life, stewarding the gift of creation. And it was good – it is very good. This is our original blessing.

The revelation of God in the Bible is our Ararat, our Moriah, our Red Sea, the Incarnation, the Transfiguration, Calvary, Ascension and Pentecost – all beautiful. Personal.

Suffering is with us as is sovereignty and we are called to trust, to realise the original blessing in faith and know the sovereign power of our creation – to heal the sick, raise the dead and live free.

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Audley End Cloud Hedge

When Jesus declares the blessing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… “ I wonder if we are slightly bemused – being poor in any way is not a blessing.

I wonder if the message is a glimpse of God’s view of suffering. We are all blessed. We are blessed in our being and God’s assured blessing works through all these troubles. Truly in creation we are good – God knows us from the beginning. Those who would marginalise and reject the lowly, the mourning, the peace makers, basically the losers in society, need to hear and see that all bear God’s blessing. The beginning is God’s blessing.

We are created in the image of God and in Christ we see the exact image of God though human like us. Christ is God and God is Father, Spirit and Son. God draws us into himself so that we know him because we are like him. Jesus humbled himself on the Cross and our troubled circumstances are given meaning in his suffering.

God himself takes the wrath and curse upon himself and dies in our place. Our faith is that his victory over death- his suffering and death – brings victory in our lives as he walks free from the last and greatest enemy, death. We follow and are made free to live, alive in the image of God, Father, Son and Spirit, dwelling in us- abiding within us – enabling us to live the good and perfect will of the Father. This is freewill in deed, to know and live from the perfect will of God; Christ within is our hope of glory.

God wants us to break through – he wants us to realise the blessing of creation – we are good. We are very good. God empowers us to put down sin and put on his righteousness turning away from our wilfulness and with Jesus, proclaim the Way, Truth and Life of Jesus; Father! Your will not mine!

We do well to study this, meditate upon this and listen to God in prayer. To pray at all times and in every way so that we can know and live the perfect will of the Father.

This is how we stand assured before the unapproachable light of God. This is how our weakness becomes strength. Truly, truly, truly, we are blessed.

Behold Behemoth!

photo (2)

The wounded healer is a book written by Henri JM Nouwen. The cover states, “In our woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.” The book is part of Nouwen’s teaching on Ministry. He concludes in a chapter on Ministry for a Rootless Generation, that the man of prayer offers leadership as an articulator of inner events, compassion and as a contemplative.

I really get this; Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves; he wept at the death of Lazarus, had compassion on the widow whose son had died and raised them form death as he did the ruler’s little daughter. He also withdrew often to pray alone.

It is so important we grow to love ourselves and know our inner depths; to know and love ourselves as God loves us. In loving God, wells of living water flow from our hearts – we are enabled to love ourselves. This is a revelation from the mouth of Jesus, recalling the creational joy of God at creation and the foundation of the saving word he gave to his people through Moses.

In loving God and loving one another as ourselves, we are able to redeem our times through Jesus. Those who are able to dig deep and articulate this love in a place of engagement with people, are able to lead. God poured himself out for us; as we pour ourselves out, taking our woundedness and rootlessness and articulating the miracle of our own healing in Christ, we offer leadership to our contemporary culture.  Leaders need to engage with and articulate their redemption.

Stemming from this articulating of the good news of Jesus, is a genuine compassion that breaks down walls; removes barriers; refuses to act to separate people from people. The suffering of others is our suffering, as much as our own pain.

The pain and violence that God chose to endure through saving Noah and his family, has a purpose –God doesn’t give up on us! Job and has counsellors are wrong, God is not to be praised despite suffering, but God is glorified in creation and His joy at what He has made is set before us, which works its way out in us through works of compassion.

The danger, wildness and messiness of creation; the very forces of nature that destroyed Job’s world embody the message God has for him. The fearful creatures of Chaos reveal the nature of God; though He is not them, they are his works. Behold Behemoth…

Compassion is fulfilled on the cross as God takes all pain, violence and sin upon himself and sets us free in Christ. Leaders live this reality, transforming suffering into hope.

And finally, prayer: the contemplation of God, the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and of earth. In Him all things, live and move and have their being. God lives in unapproachable light and yet we stand assured in his presence because of Christ.

Leadership so often seems to be about being right. Righteous leadership is about knowing the Holy. Contemplation of God calls from the heart for God’s Kingdom to be on earth as it is in heaven, freedom from temptation and deliverance from evil.

Contemplation brings us to our knees in the knowledge that all our assertions about God’s nature and being are like arrogance and pride. Our words and theologies are sometimes a thin, self-important veil over confusion and fear, concealing anxiety and craving an identity which we then call god. We feel good because at least we are not as bad as them! True contemplation of God frees us from such delusions of grandeur and enables us to lead.

“Do you still want to argue with the Almighty?
You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?
(Job 40:2 New Living Translation (NLT))

Poem: Railing

The sound of sheer silence

photoThis week gravitational waves were detected: a squashing of matter around the solidity of laser light. The reality described by deep mathematics and the intricate analysis of statistical probabilities yielded a truth of the cosmos.

In the same wonder, I have been wrestling ever so slightly with the idea of the Covenant of Redemption as being part of a Christian universe. It is saying that at the heart of who God is, the scripture reveals a redemptive covenant between the persons of God: Father, Son and Spirit. God in his foreknowledge of the fall of man, at his heart, in eternity, agrees to redeem mankind.

The consequence of having this faith is a reassurance that God isn’t reacting to a world gone wrong in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But in his mercy and grace, his very nature and purpose is to redeem mankind from sin and death through the cross. This makes creation an act of supreme love. This gives us the basis for trust that, in all the creative chaos of the outworking of God’s Word, love triumphs; in all the pain and suffering, tragedy and hurt, all is well. That is not an easy thing to say.

In accepting God: Father, Son and Spirit, as he is, faith reveals the “very good” of his joy in creation. He is not a cruel God, but God who in and through the community of creation freely pours himself out to redeem humanity. This is our experience as Christians.

The love that expresses God is a revelation that demands devotion and trust in God in the confusion of circumstances. We only skim the surface of the depths of God when we speak of eternity and foreknowledge. Eternity, the place of God’s being, and foreknowledge, reveal his being. Even saying this seems to put at a distance the nearness of his Breath, the reassurance of his Word and the love of the Father we know, and brings us to sheer silence.

The challenge of the doctrine of original sin

Some are challenged by the doctrine of original sin, most live their lives in the mystery of the truth of their salvation in Christ. A doctrine is a statement of belief. It is the summing up of the evidence in Scripture based on faith- it is like a scientific theory which becomes orthodox with use and accumulated evidence gathered by deepening study of the text in the light of faith. Some will also allow the evidence of nature.

Orthodox Christian faith is that everything is created by God, One person, Lord of all, and that humanity is created in God’s image. All humanity is sinful and is subject to the futility of a creation compromised by sin. This came about because of the choice of an individual, Adam, the first human male. Adam was fully human. If he was around today he could drive a bus or, if he worked hard, gain a PhD in Astro Physics. The consequence of his sin, it is believed, is that people suffer death and live separated from God. Earth has been separated from Heaven, the dwelling place of God. The Garden of Eden was the place where God and Adam walked together, where Heaven and Earth intersected.

I believe that the Christian Bible is literal, except where it is clear from the context it is not meant to be taken as literal. Your world view will dictate the extent to which you consider parts of it not to be literal. Orthodox Christian tradition tends to the position that there was a literal Adam and that Adam was the first human. From the point of God breathing humanity into him he was made the whole of humanity.

Genesis is history, prophecy, law and parable. Its author is almost certainly mostly Moses. It tells the story in many layers of meaning of how God came to call out a people for himself through Moses. In Genesis we see from the beginning there is Law, the parable of the number and symbol for ten and a story of the history of mankind in the first ten generations.

When Jesus and the early Christians taught, the context was the culture of the religion that grew up around this story and the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Some accepted prophets, histories and wisdom literature as part of this body of scripture and the early Christians taught from a Greek version that included apocryphal stories.

I don’t believe that fact of the Adam of the story is contradicted by science. I think nature would conclude that from Adam came the first Eve. We can argue about the details of how.

In Genesis we are given a message of hope we could not know except through faith in its message – all was created good, in fact, very good. It prophecies that creation is fecund and perfectible; to be subdued and stewarded for its Creator by humanity. In the text we are acquainted with the rationality of the Creation because of the personhood of God who from the beginning broods and delights, creating through time, orders creation and fills it. God spoke and it came to be and Creator God speaks to and walks with humanity in a relationship which Adam enjoys, revealing God’s holiness and parent heart. There is so much to contemplate and draw hope from in this biblical revelation.

But, in the story, darkness is also presented; disconnection from God, inhumanity, greed and lust enter the story with death and disease. Genesis explores the origins of this state of sin. Whatever our doctrine of original sin or not, the mystery revealed in Genesis is that the gift of free will given to Adam was used to disobey God and choose death. Our first ancestor chose to rebel and chose the path of independence from God and of sin and death. Christian faith says that all choose to be in Adam and all may choose to be in Christ and be redeemed and reformed. This is because, from the beginning all are made in the image of God and his light shines in all hearts. Being bought back and even recreated is possible because of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It’s all about Jesus, Son of God. In him we get and become his holiness, just as in Adam we suffered the consequences of Adam’s rebellion.

Being “in Adam” or “in Christ” now describes our nature; our source of being. The early hearers would have known what the Christian writers meant. Being in Adam signals our being in a state of rebellion and being in Christ signals our being in a state of grace, our sins forgiven.

You can argue whether we are born in Adam or not; whether by nature we are born in Adam, full stop. That will be your doctrine of original sin or not, but, the fact is that according to the Bible we are all in Adam when it comes to the choice to sin. Creation is compromised by our sin. We are all sinners and need to be saved – being in Christ is the means and guarantee of salvation. The Bible only allows for this being our condition before God. Being in Christ is the means of salvation.

Be bold and pray this through in the confidence that God will speak peace and comfort to you. I think your reassurance will come in a word you cannot speak and certainly some will reject you as you confess your salvation.

Being in Christ is pure grace, not dependent on time or geography. The early Christian writers knew that the means of salvation, the way of answering the call of the light within, was a mystery. The good news was that the way back into Eden is the man Jesus; he is the ladder to heaven. By an accident of time or Geography we can know this, but this mystery was so from the beginning; we are doubly blessed as we see the revelation and we are able to worship God as He is, Father, Son and Spirit. It’s not our knowledge of the historical Jesus that saves us but the indwelling of the transcendent Jesus that shines a light into each person’s heart. God is a just and the whole of creation is birthed around the pouring out of love in the Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit.

Where love is, the pursuit of the light within and the knowledge of grace for repentance there is salvation. This knowledge is there for every person to know, however dimly it sometimes shines. Where the name of Jesus is known there is right worship and restoration of the dwelling place of God in the midst of his people.

I am reassured that nothing in science and nature contradicts what I have written and if it does, and at some stage I understand differently or have misunderstood, then God still loves me and the Bible is still true. The Bible is true whatever my faulty opinions or fragile understanding of the truth it reveals. My faith is that, communicated to ordinary humanity, the Christian Bible is the actual word of God and its progressive revelation was a sufficient and complete revelation of the message and means of salvation at the time it was spoken. There was never a time in history when God had not made plain what was necessary for salvation.

We live in times where so much damage has been done in the name of Christianity and around us we see the results of the abuses of the church, sometimes the reality of the gospel as set out in the Christian Bible is obscured, the advantage seemingly lost, but to the praise of Christ’s glorious name he is merciful and just. It’s our choices that sear our consciences, not accidents of history or experience.

I am convinced that salvation is not in the gift of men; their systems or words. Salvation is assured by the indwelling of the Spirit, bringing a knowledge of the holiness of God and our call by grace to be holy as he is holy. This call is in the hearts of all people and is not dependent on time or geography. The revelation of this mystery in Christ is the foundation of true worship. As Christians we are assured of this worship in spirit and truth as an ever flowing reality, knowing adoption into the family of God where the fullness of the flowing love between Father, Son and Spirit flows to us in Christ.

This is the gospel from the beginning, the good news: within you something humbly cries out for righteousness; hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is meek and knows poverty of spirit, mourns, is merciful, is pure and seeks peace – pursue it, trust it and you are blessed and rewarded in heaven. Here your identity in God is revealed, the mystery displayed: you are in Christ. Living in this light and becoming its bearer may bring persecution but we are to rejoice gladly and worship Jesus in spirit and truth, our only hope and the way to the Father. The man Jesus is the way, the truth and the life of this cosmic gospel not a well worded doctrine, however helpful it may be.

 

Poems this year

I am not sure they really are poems, but they are certainly lines of prose gathered to express my heart. This year I have published four so far on http://therubberdinghy.blogspot.co.uk/ 

  • Prayer
  • Railing
  • Wide open spaces
  • Salvation

Wide open spaces was written whilst on a trip in the summer back to my parents in Cardigan, West Wales where I woke up with a feeling a walk confirmed. Salvation was written on the train back to Bishops Stortford. I’ve worked a little on both but feel my inadequacy.

Prayer and Railing were actually written in the previous summer and came out of a short time spent at Lee Abbey listening to a study of Job.

One, two; one, two, three; one, two, three, four…

How often are we told that the hope of the world is to be found in the local church? Bill Hybels is a proponent of this view and as an idea it’s become currency certainly in the church I attend. For me its is true when Christ is found in its midst and people encounter God not in the words but in the everyday lives of those gathered – people see that the church isn’t out there but in their back yard – local.

When I recently heard the idea at the church I attend I had to pause as I didn’t feel the gathering I was in was very local to me. It certainly was a church gathering I am a member of – I was connected to the people in worship and the town is admirably served by the church members. I reasoned that maybe the village I lived in, the people I worked with and the places I walked came to encounter hope because through me they might come to be in this gathering and experience the various ministries offered.

Looking at myself, I saw how in the fragmented society we live in- the age of the nuclear family and ease of travel, I had selected a church I felt comfortable in without thinking about its locality. Its teaching was largely sound, its works were wholesome and its worship was usually to my taste. To begin with it was also important that our children were served. The decisive factor though was that many of our closest friends were part of the community. But is my attendance rebellious and self serving? The teaching’s effect on me was to make me feel disconnected.

The reason I was being challenged in the first place was because the teaching was about discipline and how some avoid this by flitting from gathering to gathering and not committing to the local church. It was used again to justify where my money should be going. Written here that looks awful; it makes the church out to be a place of control that wants your money. It was actually  advocating that people are able within the safety of a well ordered church to form relationships that matter and to which we are able to be accountable within a framework where individuals are released financially to serve.

I see this but is it a bit like the tail wagging the dog? Didn’t I often see poisonous relationships you couldn’t walk away from because they were institutionalised and money being squandered propping up dubious ministries.

The place I have seen growth in my life has been in the free relationships I have formed not bound by the church I go to, the meals I have shared and the frank discussions I have had whilst on walks with people committed to seeing me prosper as a person in God. I have seen growth in my faith through the relationships where I have been able to express frustration and commit to change; where I have known encouragement and the speaking of truths.

The medium this message was being carried in- the organised church, I have to say doesn’t ring true. I wonder if the organisation of the church is a wrong framing of the  truth of the hope the church offers and inappropriate.

Surely the medium of Jesus’ message was in himself, the three or four disciples he was close to, the Apostles and in the fact he sent out all those gathered to him in twos. Jesus says where two or three are gathered then he is present. This is the unit of the local church, like the tissues of a body, made of individuals who are the cells, whose DNA is Christ, each individual being the dwelling place of God.

Each person embodies God and in twos and threes present Christ in their midst through love. We need to have confidence that an encounter with God and an infilling of the Holy Spirit equips the individual to be a seed of hope, a focus for growth like yeast in  dough. In a body, cells form tissues, tissues form organs and organs form the body -each distinct.

I do worry that maybe we have lost sight of the fact that Jesus entrusted his presence to the twos and threes. Surely the glory of the gathered church is in the quality of the individual relationships within it and this is what makes the wider church winsome. The winsomeness of friendship in Christ is at the centre of the local church not its size or organisation. The health of the body depends on the health of each distinct member.

For me the church has come to be focused in the gatherings of the two or three in Jesus name and not an institution whilst remaining embedded in an institutionalised church. The seed of growth and renewal is in the twos and threes where life in Christ is evident in the love and draws others to it and then…

1,2
1,2,3
1,2,3,4
1,2; 1,2
1,2,3; 1,2,3
1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4
1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2
1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3
1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4
1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 12; 1,2; 1,2
1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3;
1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4;