Posted by: ozziepete | 3 May, 2016

God Bless You

If you’re polite, you’ll say “God bless you” when someone sneezes.

If you’re from the Southern latitudes of the United States you’ll bless people’s souls as they’re in the process of embarrassing themselves.

If you’re an outgoing Christian you might end a conversation saying, “Have a blessed day”.

If you attend a church service near you, you’ll likely hear the word “blessed” about 27 times, with a particular concentration as the offering plate is about to be passed.

We use the word “bless” in a wide variety of settings with quite a larger range of meaning. Despite the common usage, if you’re like me you struggle to articulate the biblical meaning of the word.

As we begin this quest to understand the biblical concept of blessing, it’s worth noting that the Bible begins and ends with God blessing his children. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created mankind. Once created the very next thing God did was to bless the people he created. Then in Revelation 22:14 God blesses his children who maintain their faith throughout their lives.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”   ~ Genesis 1:28

Blessing is not a cultural embellishment of socially defined politeness. Human life begins with a blessing from Creator God.

live-long-and-prosper-tee-shirt-cbs114bWe all understand that blessing is a good thing. (If you have time to kill, search for #blessed on Twitter and you’ll find a wide variety of blessings.) I suspect most people hear the word blessing and substitute thoughts such as: ‘Good luck’, ‘Live long and prosper’, ‘be happy’,  and ‘be successful’. In fact, in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), one of the most familiar blessing passages in the Bible, quite a few Bible translations replace the usual opening of each line “Blessed are…” with “Happy are…”.

While happiness,health and prosperity are common elements of blessing, God has something much greater in mind when he blesses us.

I started contemplating the concept of blessing after reading a chapter in Harold Shank’s book Listening to His Heartbeat. As he provides his definition, Shank first cites Westermann’s What Does the Old Testament Say About God,

“Blessing is a quiet, continuous, flowing and unnoticed working of God which cannot be captured in moments or dates.”

Shank himself provides this summary (113),

Blessing is a theological way of describing all the provision, all the good, all the grace, all the mercy, all the love, all that God does for humanity. Blessing is being valued, worthwhile, and accepted.

Later Shank compares blessing and oxygen as he suggests that “Blessing is to the soul what air is to the body. Without blessing and air, life comes to a halt.” (114)

I don’t feel that I have any profound observations to add to these definitions. I guess I’d summarise this concept by emphasising that when God blesses his people he communicates to us that his heart’s desire is for us to experience his goodness. Not necessarily as we define goodness, but on his terms.

Theologically, when we say “God bless you” we say something like “may you experience and appreciate the presence and goodness of God in your life.” This perspective moves the focus of the blessing away from material accumulation to relationship with God.

In Genesis 1 God creates man and woman and immediately, as they wake and grow in awareness of the surroundings. As they breathe, see colors and shapes, feel temperatures and textures. As they’re filled with wonder, and just before they can contemplate fear, God blesses them. God tells them that from the depths of his heart he longs for them to experience and appreciate his presence and goodness, his love and his grace.

He blessed them… and his heart longs just as strongly for you.

I find that Laura Story’s song Blessings powerfully redirects our understanding of the concept away from “stuff” and toward God’s heart. In this video she speaks of some of her personal background to the song before performing it. I pray it will uplift you today.

 

Posted by: ozziepete | 12 April, 2016

The Gift of Presence

Back in the days when telephones were wired to walls, I had a cousin who would refuse to answer the telephone during dinner. He prioritised spending time with his family. He gave them the gift of his presence. Not just his physical presence, but his mental and emotional presence. For that time each day his wife and son knew that they were his #1 priority.

As mobile phones have proliferated the gift of conscious presence has become a scarcer commodity. You know a video strikes a chord when it has 50 million views on YouTube:

God has always valued this gift and throughout Scripture regularly promises his people the blessing of his presence. In Listening to His Heartbeat Harold Shank describes this gift as the “Divine With”. God promises to be with his people.

We see the precious  nature of the “Divine With” in the first chapters of the Bible. God was with Adam and Eve in the Garden, but sin resulted in them leaving the Garden of Eden. Although they leave the Garden, there’s no indication that God left them to their own devices at that point. That comes down in Genesis 4:16. After Cain kills Abel we’re told that, “Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” The ultimate punishment for murder was to leave the presence of God.

In the new testament the “Divine With” gathers greater momentum. Matthew 1:23 introduces Jesus with the name Immanuel, meaning “God with us”.

As Jesus prepares to die in John 14:16 he promises, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.

Immediately prior to his ascension Jesus reassures his disciples saying, “surely I am with you always , to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Even the last words of Scripture in Revelation 22:21 contain the idea of presence, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

This promise continually reminds us that when we sit down at the table with God, we’re his #1 priority. When we’re driving our car, when we’re at school or work, when we’re tired, angry, sad, lonely… God is with us and at that moment we’re his #1 priority.

The repetition of this promise throughout the centuries reassures us that God’s longing to spend time with us emerges from deep within God’s heart. God’s presence provides me with tremendous comfort. As I write this blog I can pause and talk to God knowing here’s right here listening to me. I value his presence.

It’s tempting to end this post right here: warm and fuzzy. But as I revel in God’s presence I also appreciate that I share the same responsibility.

Job’s friends frequently serve as an example of people practicing presence. Job 2:13 tells us that “they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

As God’s presence comforts us, we have the opportunity to encourage others with our presence.

In Matthew 28 Jesus makes his promise to be with his disciples in the context of telling them to go throughout the world meeting and speaking to people. In other words, as you give the world the gift of your presence and share the promise of God’s presence with others, I’ll be with you.

That, is the gift of presence.

Posted by: ozziepete | 4 April, 2016

What if You’re Not Joseph?

When I read a book more often than not I start placing myself inside the story. I begin to consider how I would react in that situation. Have I ever experienced something like this? Does the author describe my experience or something different? What if I’d responded differently to that person? Could I win where this character loses? Do I have abilities or training that would provide me a alternate outcome?

Superman 01When I enter the story in this way, it’s almost always as the protagonist, the hero. What would I do if I was Superman? Would I fight Batman? What are the other options?

We like being the heroes and stories give us that opportunity. Stories provide the opportunity to rewrite our lives with a better ending.

This is why we worry about kids that always want to be Lex Luthor on the playground. Who wants to lose all the time? Is he scheming up ways to become a better villain? Is there brooding darkness in his heart?

Since the Bible contains many stories we often find ourselves going through the same process. The run of the mill Sunday School questions encourage this thought process as teachers ask, “What would you have done if you were Judas?” “What do you think Samson was thinking?” “If you were Jesus, how would you have answered this question?”

When we read the story of Joseph, we naturally relate to him. When we struggle with life for no apparent reason, we tell ourselves “God has something better for me just around the corner like He did for Joseph.” If we make tough decisions because of our faith convictions we remind ourselves that “Like Joseph, God will reward me for this decision.

We convince ourselves that if we embody the faith of Joseph we’ll end up as the 2nd in command of the most powerful nation on earth, like Joseph did. Because, in the story we are Joseph.

But what if we’re wrong?

I know. It’s incomprehensible. But just imagine with me for a moment.

What if the character that represents us in the story is Benjamin? Or his brother Zebulun? What if there are only a few people in history that God treats like Joseph? What if most people are like Benjamin?

Joseph, his father and his brothers talk about Benjamin extensively, but Benjamin never says a word. He’s key to the story, but doesn’t actually do anything. Joseph protects him (along with his brothers) and provides food and a new land for his family. All Benjamin is required to do to accomplish God’s greater purpose is to marry and have children so that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can become a great nation.

If we’re Joseph our motto might be “God wants me to do great things for Him.”

Benjamin might say, “God wants me to be faithful for Him.”

Joseph summarises his life (50:20) saying “God’s using me to save many lives.”

Benjamin might say, “God’s using me to provide for my family.”

More of us will have lives like Benjamin than Joseph. God loves  us. God guides and protects us. God died for us. God simply longs for us to go through life faithfully honoring Him.

Jacob and his eleven sons needed Joseph. The people of Egypt and surrounding nations needed Joseph. Pharaoh needed Joseph. But Joseph needed his brothers. God needed all twelve of Jacob’s sons to fulfill his plan for the redemption of humanity. Joseph just lived in a brighter spotlight than Benjamin.

When we’re in a pit. When we’re falsely accused. When life’s tough. God hasn’t forgotten us. But God doesn’t necessarily have a greater responsibility in store for us. Sometimes His blessing is to give us the strength to get through the hardship in a way that maintains our faith and brings honor to God.

Are you okay being Benjamin?

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much.” Luke 16:10a

Posted by: ozziepete | 28 March, 2016

Easter with the Prodigal

You know the story. The parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15 is one of the most well known Biblical stories. It’s a simple story of redemption as a son leaves home but returns after frittering away his inheritance. The story captures our imagination because of the father’s response. The father asks no questions and welcomes the son home with a community banquet. The son receives grace, acceptance, forgiveness, and love when he’s done nothing to deserve it.

prodigal son

I’ve heard it suggested that we should more accurately title this story “The Parable of the Prodigal Father”. You see, the word ‘prodigal’ describes someone who is ‘extravagantly wasteful or lavishly generous’. The word emphasises adjectives like: reckless, extravagant, and lavish. While the son in the story recklessly blew through his inheritance, the father lavished him with grace and forgiveness.

As I read the story this time I noticed that the father in the story always loved the son. Even when the son thought he’d be better off without his father, the father granted him the freedom to pursue his own path. The father allowed himself to be vulnerable, susceptible to the pain of rejection. Although rejected by the son, he never returned insult for insult. His love was constant.

The story ends as the son celebrates his return. He celebrates restored relationships. He celebrates forgiveness. He celebrates safety. He celebrates acceptance. He celebrates a second chance. He celebrates…

The difference was not that the father now loved the son more. The son celebrates because he now appreciates the father’s love. He experienced grace. He felt the embrace of acceptance and value. It will take him time to fully grasp the depth of his father’s love, but he now lives a new life within his father’s embrace.

When I view the resurrection through this lens it reminds me that God always gives us the freedom to reject him. I’m reminded that Jesus death was necessary because I walked away from God. I don’t quite understand that equation, but I do understand that it communicates God’s love and forgiveness for me. As I examine the empty tomb I realise the prodigal grace that he’s “wasting” on me.

Perhaps the resurrection’s greatest revelation is not that God loves me, but that I begin to appreciate what it means to be loved by God.

So I celebrate. I celebrate God’s love. I celebrate God’s power. I celebrate God’s victory. I celebrate the grace and mercy God extends to me. I celebrate the hope I have to join Jesus eternally in his new life. I celebrate being accepted. I celebrate restored relationship and the forgiveness that makes it possible.  I celebrate…

…and I hope you do too. My prayer for you today is that you may experience the wonders of life within the embrace of God.

 

 

Posted by: ozziepete | 23 March, 2016

An Eternal Palm Sunday

This past Sunday the church celebrated Palm Sunday. This day is important as it marks the beginning of the final week of Jesus’ life. This week is often called Holy Week and concludes with the celebration of Easter next Sunday. You can read the description of Jesus’ entrance HERE.

hosannaI struggle to make a lot of sense out of Palm Sunday. (See last year’s blog post HERE.) On the one hand it seems like an attention-getting charade that Jesus organizes to check off another item on the list of Messianic prophecies. On the other hand perhaps Jesus organized it to placate the crowd but suffers through it as he knows the reality of his imminent death rather than coronation.

This year my perspective on the celebration focused upon victory.

Palm branches being waved at a procession would immediately symbolise to Greeks, Romans and Jews that a king or important official was present. However, not every governor entering Jerusalem would be greeted this way. The most likely scenario for a branch-waving, celebratory parade would be when a king or general had won a great battle and was returning to his home base. The branches waving and the coats on the ground honor the victorious ruler.

Ironically, while the crowd greets Jesus as a victorious Messiah, there actually is no victory at this point. In less than a week he’ll be dead. The celebration and palm waving are premature and nothing but hollow flattery.

In hindsight we recognise that though the timing of the celebration was off, and the crowd’s vision of a earthly messiah was misguided, the praise and description of Jesus was appropriate. In hindsight we acknowledge that Jesus is a victorious king. His victory was sealed through his death and resurrection, and he reigns right now at the right hand of God.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:54, 57

I had never noticed it before but this year my attention was drawn to Revelation 7:9-10. In this passage we find a joyful scene of worship and celebration around the throne of God. As the elders worship we see that they’re holding palm branches.

The glimpse of glory and victory that we see on Palm Sunday is fully portrayed here in Revelation as Palm Eternity. 2 Corinthians 2:14 describes the ministry and ascension of Jesus as a “triumphal procession”. We live as participants in his triumphant celebration. At the same time heaven rejoices, waving palm branches before Jesus, the victorious king.

Just as the Jerusalem crowds cried out, “Hosanna” which vaguely means “God saves”, in heaven the multitude praises the Lamb saying, “Salvation belongs to our God.” Seeing Jesus for who he truly is leads to worship.

Jesus is victorious over sin and death. In the process he saves from the consequences of our own sinfulness. So we respond by crying out, “Hosanna! ”  Praise to our God who saves! May we join the worshiping multitudes at the throne of the Lamb celebrating Palm Eternity.

Posted by: ozziepete | 14 March, 2016

Fasting to Go Slow

We live in a fast paced world. We fret at red lights. We become agitated when our computers take 30 seconds to do something. We have a list of things we needed to do yesterday, or last week. And another list of things we should be working on right now.

fasting 01

Then there’s God…

God wants us to spend time with Him. God wants to hear from us. God wants to speak with us. God wants us to do things for him too.

Where can I find time in my busy work day, family day, parenting day, social networking day, church day, school day or leisure day to hang out with God?

To commit time in my day to God, I must first carve out space: empty space. I must dedicate myself to a time of nothingness, or nothing-else, and meet God there.

Fasting provides one approach to giving God greater prominence in my daily routine. Fasting commits me to giving something up, so that God can take its place.

When I give up food for a day, I can spend my lunch break talking to God. When I avoid social media, I can update God on my thoughts rather than my Twitter followers. When I turn off the TV or hang up the Ipod, I can listen to God’s Spirit speaking in the stillness.

Fasting, in whatever form we practice it, creates space for God. It reminds of the priority He should have in our life. It confronts the value we give to other aspects of our lives. It’s a way of offering a sacrifice to God… without the blood and guts.

I suspect that most Christians don’t practice fasting. I’ve never previously been part of a church that encourages Christians to fast. Yet, as the pace of our lives and the world around us increases, the ancient practice of fasting becomes increasingly important for our faith.

I’ve written previously on the topic of fasting HERE. Or you can listen to this week’s sermon HERE where I discuss some of Jesus’ teaching on fasting.

Do you practice regular fasting?  What questions do you have about fasting?

Posted by: ozziepete | 9 March, 2016

Deeper Than Skin, Barely

I consider myself blessed to work in a church fairly evenly distributed between white and black members. As an international preacher I feel at home in this small church with other members and students from Canada, Jamaica, Panama, China and India. The world seems a little smaller, and God’s kingdom seems considerably larger, when we sit in a room together.

Each year we celebrate our diversity with what we call HARMONY Sunday. I’ve previously described our weekend events HERE.

interracial love

 

Lawson Rd Church of Christ became racially integrated in the early 1990’s, long before I arrived here. This integration occurred when of a group of African-American members left another local Church of Christ and joined the predominantly white Lawson Rd Church of Christ.

As part of our weekend events our guest speaker facilitated a roundtable discussion on Saturday evening. A group of about 15 people from a variety of backgrounds met to share and discuss our life experiences.

The speaker’s theme for the weekend was “Church as Family”. His first question was simply, “How big was your childhood family, and would you describe it as closeknit?

Bear in mind that this church has been racially integrated for over 20 years. We’ve formally celebrated racial diversity five times over the last 8 years encouraging communication and bridging cultural divides. Yet as we took 30 minutes to go around the circle and answer this simple question it felt as though something sacred took place.

In this moment of disclosure no one confessed any sin. No one invoked the spirit of Dr King with emotional speeches. No one made any earth shattering revelations. But the simple question allowed us to deepen our relationships with each other. We gained a glimpse into the events and people that formed each of us into who we are today.

In some cases people who had worshiped together and attended Bible class together for a decade or more now know one another more deeply because we took the time to sit down together and talk.

If we’re to be God’s family together. If we’re to love one another. If we’re to demonstrate acceptance and grace to the world. We must first take the time and effort to know one another.

I find that in talking to friends and members of color, I often want to immediately address bigger issues of justice. Saturday night’s simple question reminded me that before addressing issues I need to simply know my brothers and sisters. I was reminded that before addressing my church on national issues I need to remind them to eat, play, and work with those whose story and culture differs from their own.

I needed to be reminded that even heart surgery begins with an incision that breaks the skin.

Sometimes I feel woefully unequipped to minister in a racially diverse congregation. There are so many issues for which I can’t provide any deep or radical solutions. I know we have an opportunity to make a difference but identifying the next step is difficult. So I often resort to the simple advice, “take time to talk to someone of a different race/culture than yours.” It’s not creative. It’s not profound. Saturday night reminded me that it’s still necessary.

Now, who can you share a coffee with as we break down dividing walls together?  Go ahead, make that call, send that text, now!

Posted by: ozziepete | 16 February, 2016

Should Christians be Green?

Somewhere in the list of “100 Bible passages Christians know best” you will find Romans 1:20.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

 

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Earth viewed from the Hubble Space Telescope

 

Christians often point to the grand elements of nature and say, “there must be a God”. At other times we will highlight the intricacy of nature and say, “there must be a God”. One statement expresses awe at enormity and grandeur, the other expresses awe at delicacy and intricacy. At either end of the scale what we really ask is, “How could anyone look at this and deny the existence of a God?” We then point to Romans 1:20 and say, “See, people (atheists, remote tribes, scientists…) are without excuse for rejecting God.”

Unfortunately, we often fail to notice the details in this verse. Paul doesn’t claim that Creation tells us about Jesus. He doesn’t claim that nature informs us about the church. He simply says that nature reveals two aspects of God: Eternal power; and Divine nature. Basically, nature tells us that a divine God exists, and God is powerful.

Nature by itself does not enlighten us to the goodness of God. It doesn’t reveal the grace, or mercy, or love of the divine God.

It is true that at times we may see glimpses of goodness and tenderness in a sunset, a flower, or the way animals interact with each other. It is also true that carnivores feeding on other animals, earthquakes, droughts, diseases, and death may justifiably give a very different impression of God. This second view still sees God as divine and powerful, but adopts a very different view of His character.

Although Creation has a voice that speaks of God, God’s people still have a vital responsibility to use our voices to fill the many silences of creation.

If creation speaks of God, then I wonder if the way we treat creation speaks of the way we value God?

Harking all the way back to Genesis 1 God has given humanity the responsibility of caring for Creation. In the beginning this was the only responsibility God gave the people he created in his image. Don’t eat of one tree. Care for everything in the garden.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”  Genesis 1:28

In my experience many people have taken the directive to “subdue and rule” as an opportunity to consume and exploit resources. We have taken our place at the top of the biological pecking order and acted as though everything else on the planet exists for our benefit alone.

Sadly, caring for the environment and other species inhabiting this planet has become a political football. Because the Green Party, or the Democrats or whoever have emphasized this so much, many people want to swing to the opposite extreme. That opposite extreme is to say that economics always trump environmental concerns.

I’m fine if we all have different ideas of what it means to rule over creation, as long as we all have that goal. Our track record as a collective humanity is not great. The World Wildlife Fund maintains a long list of animals that it regards as currently endangered. It doesn’t take very long searching the internet to find even longer lists of recently extinct species.

ExtinctionAndPopulation_430

We can argue around the clock what the reasons are for the loss of biological diversity over the past 100 years or so, but I think most people would agree that humans have contributed to some degree.

We can also argue over definitions, but a key word for me in this conversation is “sustainability”. God wants people to live in a manner that sustains the life of the planet, the plants and the animals. While this charge was given to all humans through Adam and Eve, Christians who believe in the existence of God and the role of nature in revealing God, should take a lead role in promoting environmentally sustainable living.

From the very beginning God challenges us to consider what it means to “subdue and rule”. Humanity well knows the tendency for absolute power to corrupt absolutely. We understand the desire to accumulate power, to assert our will, to pad our nest, all at the expense of others. God calls us to a different manner of ruling.

God calls us to rule as He does: for the benefit of others. Jesus himself provides the ultimate example of this type of leadership. The King of the Jews allowed himself to be nailed to a cross for the benefit of all humans. He calls us to love our neighbours. And ultimately the health of the planet is linked the wellbeing our all people.

As a closing point I want to direct our attention to Hebrews 2:5-9 which quotes Psalm 8. These verses discuss “the world to come”. As I understand this passage, it states first that the world to come will not be subjected to angels, but, in light of Psalm 8, to humans. Christians in eternity will share the same responsibilities to the world we inhabit then as we do today on planet Earth. So we better take this task seriously.

What does the way you think about nature, which reveals God, communicate to those seeking God?

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  • “The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation” by Richard Bauckham.
  • Chapter 4 in “Old Testament Ethics for the People of God” by Christopher J.H. Wright, (the chapter entitled ‘Ecology and the Earth’).
  • Chapter 5 in “Surprised by Scripture” by N.T. Wright, (the chapter entitled ‘Jesus is Coming – Plant a Tree!’).  Scot McKnight provides a brief review of Wright’s essay HERE.
  • Chapter 21 in “Kingdom Ethics” by Stassen & Gushee  (the chapter entitled ‘Care of Creation’).
Posted by: ozziepete | 8 February, 2016

What if…God isn’t like that?

God is                                 .

How we fill in that blank impacts our lives far more than we often realise.

In Psalm 7:8-9 David invites God to examine him for sin. He probably has a specific accusation in mind that he’s trying to defend himself against, but most Christians I know would find that invitation terrifying.

Let the Lord judge the peoples.
Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness,
    according to my integrity, O Most High.
Bring to an end the violence of the wicked
    and make the righteous secure—
you, the righteous God
    who probes minds and hearts.

throne of GodToo many Christians travel through life convinced of their UNrighteous rather than confident of our righteousness. We fear that if we invited God to examine us according to our righteousness that he’d see only sin and darkness.

How can David so boldly invite God to proclaim his righteousness and integrity? It’s not because David thought he was living a sinless life. Rather, the worldview described in this psalm flows from a confidence in the righteousness of God, not the psalmist’s own perfection.

David clearly understands that God hates sin, note verses 11b-13:

He passes judgment daily against the person who does evil.

If the wicked do not turn from their evil deeds, God will sharpen His sword;
    He will bend His bow, stringing it in readiness.
Yes, He has prepared His deadly weapons
    with His arrows flaming hot. (VOICE)

He also opens the psalm describing God as a “refuge”: a place of safety. In verse 10 he calls God, “My Shield” and if v11 “a righteous judge”. Knowing God in this way allows David to invite God as witness to his integrity and righteousness. God is just and God is safe.

I don’t know who’s to blame. Is it Catholicism? Is it the Reformed teaching on the Depravity of Humanity? Is it preachers seeking power and moral superiority?

Whatever the source, I know many Christians convinced that they sin minute by minute. Even if they’re in the middle of taking the shirt off their back to give to a homeless drifter they would worry that they were secretly (in their subconscious) doing it to make themselves feel good. They would worry that they were not being good stewards by giving away a shirt. And they would worry that these things were sinning and God would be upset with them for not giving to a person in need with the purest of motives.

We come to define ourselves as sinners and convince ourselves that when God glances in our direction he only sees us through a dark fog of sin. One way I’ve seen people express this is through asking God for forgiveness for “known and unknown sins” each time they pray: even at each meal.

What if God Isn’t Like That?sad girl father 01

What if… God looks at his people and the first thing he notices is our goodness, our love for others, our desire to honour Him, our growth in godliness over the past 18 months, our integrity and our righteousness? (Luke 15)

What if… God recognises our sin and loves us anyway? (Romans 5:8)

What if… The blood of Jesus Christ really does cleanse us from all sin? (1 John 1:7)

What if… Christ has set us free from worrying about every little possible sin? (Gal 5:1)

What if… Trying to be righteous by living the right way actually means we would fall away from God’s grace? (Gal 5:5)

What if… Righteousness is something given to us? (Gal 5:6)

What if… The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love? (Gal 5:6b)

What if… We’re to serve one another humbly in love because the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself”? (Gal 5:13-14)

What if… When God judges us he doesn’t ask us about secret sins and impetuous moments, but whether we’ve loved him, lived for him, and humbly served others?

What if… Being adopted by God means he shows us our goodness rather than pointing out our shortcomings?

What if… His grace covers our humanity?

What if… These ‘what ifs’ are all true?

Would it change the way we answer the opening question?

Would it make us more likely to invite God to examine us?

Would it increase our faith to trust the redemptive power of Jesus sacrifice?

Sin, confession and forgiveness will always be important topics for believers and unbelievers alike. I believe that a healthy picture of God will lead Christians more often to thank him for forgiving our sins than meticulously seeking his forgiveness.

Posted by: ozziepete | 2 February, 2016

How to Rewrite the Bible

My life’s goal is to guided as many people as possible into a loving relationship with God. A significant part of that mission is to help people appreciate, value and even love, the Bible: God’s message to us.

The Bible has been around for a long time.

Bible WritingThe canon of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) was well established by the 3rd or 2nd century before Christ. The New Testament authors completed their writings by approximately the end of the first century AD. Then the early church reached a general consensus on which books to include in the biblical canon during the fourth century. All of that is a long time ago.

For centuries people have trusted the message the Bible contains for their eternal salvation. Because the Bible is so widely respected courts will ask people to swear on the Bible that they’re telling the truth. In popular vernacular the Bible has often been referred to as “The Good Book”.

Considering all the possible names the Bible could be given, the church should quite rightly feel proud that their sacred guide is called “The Good Book”. However, sometimes we may forget that not everything in the Bible is good. For instance in Luke 18:11 we have a prayer that begins, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people….” Jesus cites this “bad” prayer to demonstrate an ungodly attitude of pride. In addition to describing godliness for the people of God, the Bible also contains many examples of negative behaviour that Christians should avoid.

Although a little obscure, Psalm 6 is another passage that contains a negative example for us. The psalm seems to describe the emotional rollercoaster of a poet suffering a severe illness. In verse 2 he cries out, “heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.

Verses 8-10 contain a rebuttal to the psalmist’s enemies that seem to have arrived at his bedside. The author counters his enemies by declaring that God does hear him.

the Lord has heard my weeping.
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.

It seems reasonable to conclude that these assertions shame his enemies because, like Job’s friends, they were whispering in his ear that God had abandoned him.

  • God fearers: They come to the psalmist and tell him that he’s sinned.
  • Non-religious friends: They tell him that God isn’t listening.
  • Pragmatists: They tell him to suck it up that this is just his path in life.
  • Philosophers: They tell him that God wants him to suffer for some unknown reasons.
  • Pessimists: They tell him to get used to a life of suffering because God’s decided not to heal him.

From the psalmist’s perspective, these aren’t good people. He describes them as “people who do evil!”

Rewriting Psalm 6

I pray that most of us will never experience the bones of agony that this psalm describes. So how does this psalm relate to us? Of course there’s more than one answer, but one choice we have is to rewrite the Bible.

Psalm 6 contains two human characters: the psalmist and his enemies. However, since we as readers don’t want to identify ourselves with either of these characters (although that may be necessary at times) we recognize that there’s a third possibility.

This psalm challenges us to change the story. When we see people suffering, how will we respond to them? Will we respond in a way that causes them to see us as the enemy, or in a way that lifts their spirits and points them to God?

If we found ourselves at the psalmist’s bedside, what would we say? What would we do? How could we affirm God’s faithful love in the midst of suffering? Can we speak in a way that challenges the enemies’ doubts and affirms God’s mercy? Do we have an alternative narrative to tell, a rewriting of the story?

These questions don’t have simple answers.

Does our relationship with God equip us to share stories of His faithfulness? Are we prepared to share reasons we trust God and demonstrate why others should also?

I’m not suggesting that the psalmist requires a Bible study as he agonises soaking his bed with his tears. Silence and presence may well provide the most appropriate response.

I am suggesting that we can’t waltz into that situation unprepared and expect to provide greater comfort than the evil companions already there.

Rewriting the Bible

What I have in mind when I speak of rewriting the Bible really isn’t as heretical as it sounds. Rather it’s a challenge to recognise that the Bible’s stories become our stories and each time they do we have an opportunity to write our own ending.

  • Will I sink like Peter when waves seem about to crash upon me, or will I keep my footing and my eyes focused upon God?
  • Will I cultivate gratitude in my life, or will my story reflect the 9 lepers Jesus healed who never said “Thanks”?
  • Will I eat with Jesus each Sunday morning then walk out the doors and sell him short or will that meal solidify my commitment to follow him?
  • Will I give in to peer pressure and deny Jesus as Peter did, or will I write a different conclusion to that story?
  • Will I think like James and John and condemn everyone not quite like me, or can I live with diversity of thought as long Jesus is being honored?

The Bible contains many negative examples so that we can avoid the mistakes and failures of others. Our relationship with God will determine how we respond in those situations. It’s easy to see the shortcomings of others. Each of us must answer the question, “How are we preparing ourselves for a better conclusion to our story?”

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