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?”

Posted by: ozziepete | 25 January, 2016

Worship: When Words Trump Silence

Shortly after encountering members of the Church of Christ I was introduced to the sound of silence. Specifically, I met the silence of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. I was informed that because these verses don’t mention musical instruments Christians are not authorised to include instruments in their corporate worship. We know this because someone determined that silence in Scripture is prohibitive.

While I’ve spent most of the last 20 years worshiping without instrumental accompaniment, I’ve never found silence to be a very good teacher. Arguments over how we should interpret silence seem largely ironic.

breaking the silence 01

I have come to appreciate the words found in these verses and their implications for the worship of the church. Today, I’ll focus on Ephesians 5:18-20.

As I spent time in these passages I first observed that both passages describe worship to God motivated by gratitude. “Sing… always giving thanks to God the Father for everything…“. How would our worship practices and experiences change if we committed to “start with gratitude“? I believe focusing on thanksgiving would help us avoid the consumeristic mindset of approaching worship with questions such as, “How does it make me feel?” “How does it benefit me?”

The next discovery I made was that my worship isn’t only directed toward God. I don’t know the percentage distribution, but verse 19 tells us that we “speak to one another” with our songs while singing to the Lord. I’ve previously expanded on this point in this blog post.

Most recently in reading A Gathered People I realized that these three verses in Ephesians make an audacious claim concerning the church’s worship. I’ve written previously about the special presence of God when the church assembles to worship. I now feel like I have a greater appreciation for what this means.

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph. 5:18-20 NLT)

According to Ephesians 5:18-20, we come to worship filled with the Holy Spirit. We sing to Jesus our Lord. We give thanks to the Father through Jesus. The whole Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is present and involved in our worship each Sunday morning.

Worshiping God with my church family isn’t a Sunday routine or obligation I roll out of bed each week to fulfill. When the church assembles each Sunday morning God in three persons pervades the room, filling all the spaces within and around his people. We gather with God’s people not only to offer worship to God-up-there, but to experience the presence of God-among-us.

God’s presence doesn’t overwhelm us. His presence among us isn’t confirmed by fire, smoke, or a brilliant light. His presence doesn’t begin when the song leader steps to the mic.

No, we bring God’s presence with us as we live Spirit-filled lives that include times of corporate worship. We experience God’s presence in worship as His people encourage us, as our songs speak to us, as Christ serves us at His table, and as His Word challenges and soothes us.

For these reasons I find the words of Ephesians 5:18-20 far more compelling than the silence of those verses. What a tragedy we experience when we allow debates over silence to drown out the wonderful teachings of the words!

whydoweworship

Why do you come to worship God with your church family each week? There are many possible answers, but I hope that one of your reasons is to experience the wholeness of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And having worshiped the Three, May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

Posted by: ozziepete | 18 January, 2016

The Past Fuels the Future

I have regrets. I’m not immune to errors in judgement. I’ve made mistakes.

Even worse, I’ve done things wrong that weren’t mistakes. They were deliberate words and actions that I knew were wrong and I did them anyway.

I’ve accomplished things. There are things in my life that make me proud. Degrees I’ve gained. Friends I’ve kept. Family I’ve loved. Trophies for this and that. Not perfect, but proud.

When I look back on my life, some days I see the warts. Sometimes I see smiles.

The problem when my regrets fill the horizon is that I don’t look back far enough. I only look at my life. My disappointments. My hurts and pain over the last 40 years. If only I would look further into the past. 2000 years further…

When I look deeper into the past I see Jesus. I’m reminded that as he wept in the Garden of Gethsemane he looked 2000+ years into the future. He saw my shortcomings. He knew I’d disappoint him and others. He knew that at times I’d choose to ignore him. Knowing all this he still took the actions necessary to forgive me. He died for my benefit. He welcomed me into his family.

The attitude that I bring with me today often reflects how far I look into the past. Can I look backwards past my regrets just as Jesus looked forward past them? Can I look back far enough to see Jesus, or will I allow my regrets to block that view? Will I move through today with the baggage of yesterday or the freedom given me by Christ?

Each January I lead the Lawson Rd Church of Christ through a process of reflection and projection that we call Vision Sunday.

When we reflect on the past year there are always things we  wish we’d done differently. Situations that we could have handled better. People we could have loved more. How we view the past has a big influence on the future. We can criticise it. We can become discouraged by it. We can learn from it. We can be motivated by it. Or we can focus on the places God’s hand is obvious and praise him.

mlk day onToday is Martin Luther King Day in the US of A. We face the same process and the same choices. MLK Day prompts us to spend time looking both backwards and forwards. When we do so…

  • We can criticise Dr King for his shortcomings.
  • We can criticise the day.
  • We can be discouraged by aspects of the past or the lack of progress of the past 50 years.
  • We can continue to learn from the civil rights movement.
  • We can be motivated to continue the work of those who’ve gone before us.
  • Or we can look for God’s hand in our history and praise him.

I am firmly in the camp of the last three. Dr King’s vision of equality and love for all neighbors comes from the pages of Scripture and the heart of God. We’re not there yet, which means we all still have roles to play in standing against discrimination and racism. Don’t just read this and do nothing. I encourage you to take a moment and write down something you can do to encourage racial harmony.

How we look at the past, individually, as a church, or as a society, will influence the way we view and live the future. As individuals we must believe that we can make a difference. As a society we must admit the wrongs of our past and work to right them. As Christians, we acknowledge our regrets, but move forward in the power of Christ, filled with hope while working for a better tomorrow.

The psalms provide a wonderful example for using the past to motivate the present as we move into the future. They contain many examples of praising God for past faithfulness that inspires confidence in His future faithfulness. Yesterday during worship we read the first few verses of Psalm 21 and I’ve copied them here for your encouragement.

The king is glad because You, O Eternal, are strong.
    In light of Your salvation, he is singing Your name.
You have given him all he could wish for.
    After hearing his prayer, You withheld nothing.

True blessings You lavished upon the king;
    a crown of precious gold You placed upon his head.
His prayer was to live fully. You responded with even more—
    a never-ending life to enjoy.
With Your help, his fame and glory have grown;
    You raise him high and cover him in majesty.
You shower him with blessings that last forever;
    he finds joy in knowing Your presence and loving You.
For the king puts his trust in the Eternal,
    so he will not be shaken
    because of the persistent love of the Most High God.

Posted by: ozziepete | 12 January, 2016

A Recipe for Good Sleep

Psalm 4 is not a simple song to read and follow the train of thought.

Two commentaries I read interpreted the psalm in completely different ways. The first focused on v7 and concluded that a severe drought, possibly connected to idol worship from v2, was the context of the psalm. As a result he primarily applied the psalm to our lives by warning against using contemporary idols to distract us from trusting God.

I followed the second interpretation views the psalm as an evening benediction that I’ll describe below. I don’t really have the expertise to decide between the interpretations of these two scholars, but I found this second reading plausible and more applicable to my life, and hopefully yours.

The psalmist breaks the song into 4 sections, each bookended by a similar thought/topic.

1. The Lord answers prayer v1 Answer me v3 …the Lord hears.
2. Trust in the Lord v4 Tremble v5 …trust in the Lord
3. Prayer of confidence v6 Prosperity…? v7 …abound!
4. Sleep well

 

sleep psalm

The psalmist begins (v1-3) by laying his situation out before God. We don’t get a lot of details but we understand that there’s conflict. I think many of us will resonate with the psalmist’s situation. He gets to the end of a day. It’s been a rough day. There’s been some conflict and he feels disrespected and even like his reputation has been muddied. Lies have been told. He comes home frazzled.

A key phrase occurs at the end of v2. The Hebrew words can be translated as either “seek false gods” or “seek lies”. In one sense false gods are lies, so they can both be correct. However, if we read this verse as the psalmist defending himself, it seems to fit better that he’s offended by lies being told against him.

Each section concludes with a statement of confidence, and verse three closes with the psalmist reminding himself, and his oppressors, “The Lord hears when I call to him.” we all need that reminder at times, don’t we?  This is why many people use prayer journals in their devotional lives. They allow the opportunity to go back and look at past prayers and remind themselves that God still hears when we call to him.

Verse 4 begins the second section with a in dramatic fashion with a single word directed at his tormentors, “Tremble”. The psalmist doesn’t provide a reason to tremble. He may have fear in mind, but I suspect that his motive is anger. This meaning was adopted by the Septuagint (an important translation of the Old Testament into Greek) and quoted in Ephesians 4:2, “In your anger do not sin.

The psalmist advises his opponents to contain their anger and malice. They should examine their hearts and be silent. But stopping their bad behaviour isn’t enough. They need to get right with God, so the author advises them to offer sacrifices, to worship, and to trust God. Again this last line has relevance not only for the troublemakers, but also for the psalmist. To gain a healthy perspective on this situation and life as a whole, worship and trust God.

The third section opens in v6 with a question, a doubt, maybe even an accusation against Yahweh. “Where will good things in life come from?” Having expressed that doubt the psalmist immediately answers his own question by quoting from Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6:24-27. This blessing that he’d no doubt heard many times before points him to God as the provider of all good things. “May the light of your face shine on us.” The greatest joy for which he prays is not that of a harvest, of food or drink, but an awareness of the light of God’s face shining upon him.

Having completed this process of moving his thoughts from dwelling on the turmoil of the day to dwelling on the blessings of God, the psalm concludes,

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.”

Regardless of what life throws at us, may we each sleep in peace, confident of God’s protection and that the light of His face shines upon us.

 

Posted by: ozziepete | 16 November, 2015

Jesus was a Refugee

In the wake of last Friday’s Paris attacks one of the attackers was quickly identified as someone who had entered Greece back in October with the wave of Syrian refugees before finding his way to Paris. The list of people, including presidential candidates, and states pushing to prevent more Syrian refugees resettling in the United States is growing.

It seems that the actions of one person have suddenly resulted in tens of thousands of others receiving the “UNWANTED” label. Overlooked in the process seems to be the fact that these are mostly Muslim refugees fleeing ISIS related fighters.

It wasn’t that many months ago that social media blew up when the body of a young boy washed up on a Turkish beach. At that time the refugees were seen as suffering people and all of us with children wept for those parents who took such risks to protect their children.

How things have changed.

Although this issue is inherently political, I am more concerned by the attitudes expressed on social media and other forums from Christians. Christians seem to be among the first worry about protecting their families from bombers who will slip into the USA as refugees. This is their number one concern in this conversation.

While I understand these serious concerns, it is sad to see followers of Christ so consumed by fear.

It is sad to see people fearfully fleeing Muslim hatred being met and turned away by Christian fear.

This crisis prompts the church to ask itself some hard questions around the central issue of “What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?”

God gave his only begotten Son… for his enemies.

When Jesus came to earth there was a 100% certainty that Jesus would be killed by his enemies.

What are the chances that a terrorist will be one of the 10,000 Syrian refugees currently scheduled to be admitted to the USA in 2016? Is that a greater risk than that one of the 320 million people currently living in the United States will commit an act of terror? And what are the chances that your loved one would be the victim of that heinous act?

I’m not meaning to be callous. I detest all people who intentionally cause suffering to others for the sake of making a political or religious statement. I believe ISIS should be stopped, and I accept that it will probably take military force to diminish their power and influence.

However, I am convinced that all the bombs dropped on ISIS heads and all the military blood shed will not have a sliver of the impact for the Gospel that providing for those in need will have. Love will always prove a more effective evangelistic tool than the sword.

So in the meantime, I believe that Christians should provide shelter to the homeless. We should feed the hungry. We should give water to the thirsty. We should invite in strangers, clothe the naked, and provide healing for the sick. (Matthew 25:34-36)

We should proclaim good news to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed. We should bear witness that this is the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

And we shouldn’t let fear that our chance of premature death may increase ever so slightly in the process of following Christ stop us from carrying out his mission.

Each Easter churches around the country celebrate the resurrection of Christ. We celebrate that his resurrection gives us hope to live our lives because we believe that death is defeated. Yes, we live in the presence of death, we feel its pain still, but we have confidence in our destination and in Christ’s victory. Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

Jesus was a Refugee

I’ve mentioned Easter, but the Christmas story is equally relevant to this conversation. Matthew 2:13-23 tells how as a young child Jesus’ family fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s soldiers. I’m glad that Jesus wasn’t stopped at the Egyptian border and told to wait there for 18 months while the government conducted a background check. I’m not proposing that zero vetting of refugees should take place, let’s just get them to safety first.

This picture of Jesus fleeing violence and persecution influences the way I see refugees today. Matthew 25 (referenced earlier) says we encounter Jesus when we encounter the poor and hurting. The story of his flight to Egypt reminds us that Jesus never was a middle class American or Australian, but he was a refugee… and Egypt welcomed him.

How About Those Samaritans?

As we follow Jesus we’re also challenged by his attitude toward his national enemies, The Samaritans.

Some of the most beloved Christian stories involve Samaritans: The Woman at the Well (John 3); and The Good Samaritan (Luke 10). In both instances Jesus paints his enemies is a good light and treats them well.

This is not to say that Samaritans in general treated Jesus well. In Luke 9, just before telling the story of The Good Samaritan, a Samaritan village refused to let him stay the night there. The first instinct of his disciples was to call down fire from heaven upon that village. Jesus rebuked his disciples and moved on to the next village.

“Yes, but those villagers weren’t trying to kill him!” some will argue.

Correct, but he also didn’t call down fire on those enemies who were trying to kill him!

The Story About Weeds

I believe the story Jesus tells in Matthew 13:24-30 is also applicable to this discussion. Jesus warns that if his followers try to uproot all the weeds that find their way into His kingdom, they’ll uproot the good plants also. Instead he tells his disciples to leave the weeds for him to sort out during the harvest.

I know Scripture elsewhere warns of wolves entering the church dressed in sheep’s clothing, but those passages are aimed at false teachers. In Matthew Jesus is willing to take the risk of uncommitted people mixing with his disciples and his disciples mixing with non-disciples.

If Jesus will take this risk in his church, will we take a similar risk in our nation?

Church and State

Lastly, I understand the role of the government is to protect its citizens. But I’ve also seen how Christians lobby that same government when it makes decisions they don’t like on issues like abortion and gay marriage. We don’t step back on those issues and say, “Well, the government has a responsibility to care for all its citizens and that’s what it’s doing.” I understand why people protest those decisions. This country is a democracy and Christians have a right to have a voice.

Christians also have a right to have a voice with how their representative government treats the desperate and the homeless. Let’s make sure the message of the church is one filled with love, not fear.

 

Posted by: ozziepete | 28 September, 2015

Preparing the Way

Isaiah 40 sits at an important junction in the book. From this point the prophet transitions from warning Judah of impending judgement and begins reassuring God’s people that He’ll deliver them from captivity. The very first words of the chapter change the tone as they declare, “Comfort, comfort for my people, says your God.

Then in verses 3-5 we find a passage better known for being applied years later to John the Baptiser. (Mt. 3:3, Mk. 1:3, Jn 1:23)

      A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

At first glance it appears that God commands His people to get busy building a road for Him to travel upon. The instruction actually serves as a figure of speech. At the heart of this passage God lets His people know that nothing can stand between Him and them. The highway figuratively illustrates that God will take a direct route to His people, wherever they are. That provides comfort for a suffering nation.

Hundreds of years later when people asked John the Baptiser, “Who are you?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way for the Lord.'” (John 1:22-23)

Consistent with the Jewish interpretative tradition of the day, John has searched the Scripture and found a text that describes his mission. John takes what was initially a figurative illustration and adopts it as a literal agenda for his life mission.

repent 01John conducted his ministry on the eastern bank of the Jordan River across from the town of Bethany. He lived in the wilderness outside any city or town. John prepares the way for Jesus by:

  • Demanding repentance and a new way of life
  • Urging justice for the poor, oppressed and suffering
  • Calling for baptism

In return:

  • He promises forgiveness of sins.
  • He anticipates the restoration of Israel.
  • He precedes the Messiah.

But John isn’t the end of the story. Jesus fulfills the remainder of Isaiah’s thought. If John prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus prepares the way for us.

Jesus goes before us. Jesus ultimately goes to the cross for us. He makes a way for us in the wilderness. A way through guilt to forgiveness. A way through condemnation to grace. A way through sin to holiness. A way through this world to eternity.

Jesus makes a way for us to God.

As you would expect with a prophet named “John the Baptiser”, his call to repentance included a call to baptism. Jesus didn’t need repentance, but he chose to be baptised by John. As we follow Jesus into the waters of baptism like him we also:

  • Jesus baptism 01mark a point of surrender to God. In baptism we also accept the mission God has for us.
  • encounter God the Father and received the Holy Spirit. We too are anointed. When we are baptized, God says over us, “This is my child whom I love. I am delighted with you!”
  • identify with sinners. Jesus chose to identify himself WITH sinners. He didn’t become human to stand on the banks of our fallenness and hurt. He jumped right in and lived with us. In our baptism we identify ourselves AS sinners in need of forgiveness. And so, John’s message of salvation and forgiveness is pertinent for us also. We accept God’s forgiveness while living sinful lives among other sinners.

Through Jesus, God makes a way for us.

You and I are not the end of the story. God has a made a way for us to receive His salvation. Now He will use us to prepare the way for someone else. In this mission we can again learn from John the Baptiser. In Luke 7 John hasn’t seen the results of Jesus’ ministry that he expected, so, from jail, he sends his disciples to double check with Jesus that he really is the Messiah. As people preparing the way, we will often find ourselves second guessing our efforts. Where’s the fruit? Am I really being effective? Is God working through my efforts? Because our preferred timing is seldom the same as God’s timing.

Keep going. Don’t give up. Jesus told John, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Don’t become preoccupied with results, just fulfill the mission God gives you.

As Jesus prepares the way to the Father for you, you participate in His mission preparing the way for others.

**For the points on baptism I’m indebted to John Mark Hicks and his book Enter the Water, Come to the Table.

**BONUS: And because Isaiah brings to mind several songs… here are some videos I found:

The last few verses of the chapter contains the wonderful imagery of God giving strength to the weary so that they soar like eagles. This picture has inspired many songs.

Posted by: ozziepete | 31 August, 2015

Alive and Active

book comes alive 01

In Sunday’s sermon I suggested that Christians often talk about the Bible from memory. This came up because my assigned topic for the week was the birth of Christ. We hear the story of Christ’s birth so much each Christmas that I estimate that most regularly attending church members would have no problem listing at least 80% of all the significant elements of the story.

However, if we adopt the attitude that “we’ve already read it one hundred times”, or “we already know the story”, we reduce the likelihood that we’ll read it again. Instead, we’ll rely on a summary version stored in our memory banks.

What we may not realise is that when we rely upon our memory of a story, we’ve effectively taken God’s word and turn it into a collection of information that we either know or don’t know. In most cases as we tell the story of Jesus’ birth from memory we’ll tell a story that describes main events, but misses the divine wording. So we know that that angels praised God before the shepherds, but we forget the exact words they used.

When we rely upon our memory of the story, it’s going to be extremely difficult to differentiate between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Does that matter? Well, it did to Matthew and Luke. They each included and excluded material for a reason, but we’ll never come to consider the reason if we rely on our recollection of the story.

It’s important to read the Bible, even those parts we already know. Too often we read Scripture as though we’re preparing for a test: an eternal Bible Bowl.

We read to find answers.

We read to accumulate knowledge.

We read because we’re told we should.

We read to find that verse to win that argument.

While each of these reading motivations have their place, it’s not the type of reading the Bible itself envisages.

The Bible is not merely information.

The Bible is not a collection of facts.

The Bible is not an answer book.

The Bible is not a history book.

Hebrews 4:12 vividly describes the dynamic function of God’s Word, For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. That sure doesn’t sound like preparing for a quiz, does it?

Perhaps the language of God’s word penetrating and dividing soul and spirit sounds threatening. Yet, as we mature in Christ, we come to long for Him to mold us into his image. To reveal our weaknesses and utilise our strengths. This doesn’t mean the process is easy or comfortable, but we recognise that it’s for our benefit.

God intends us to read the Bible not just for information, but to shine a light on our lives and examine our relationship with God.

God intends for us to read Scripture without demanding answers to our questions, but allowing God to scrutinise us with His questions.

God intends for us to read His Word allowing His Spirit to guide our thoughts and hearts as we read.

When we rely on our memory to summarise a passage of Scripture or describe an event, we eliminate the possibility that a particular word or phrase of Scripture will speak to us. We will find ourselves forever stuck with our previously developed wording, meaning and significance, which limits our capacity for spiritual growth.

Spending time In God’s word, is the same as spending time with God. Sadly, we don’t always make these meetings because we’re not always looking for a Bible that is “alive and active“. And we don’t always welcome a God who’s “alive and active” in our lives.

Where do you meet with God?

[Just after I posted this blog, a friend shared this video with me. It’s a perfect match, and Bill Hybels does a great job of presenting a different, but important, perspective on this topic.]

Posted by: ozziepete | 26 August, 2015

A Cathedral of Nature

Each year my church takes our worship service to a local park where we sing, pray, participate in the Lord’s Supper, and I bring a message from Scripture. Each year I try to allow the setting to influence the sermon topic.

Genesis 1-2 describe the Garden of Eden as a natural cathedral. A beautiful place where Adam and Eve could meet God. Talk with God. Walk with God. Work with God, and worship God.

In Genesis 1:28 God gives his created a humans a commission, “Be fruitful and multiply. Populate the earth. I make you trustees of My estate, so care for My creation and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that roams across the earth.

If we keep reading we find sin entering the garden and God banishes all humans from His presence in that perfect garden. But it’s not just the people that suffer because of sin. The garden also suffers. I have a hard time imagining what the garden was like before sin, but now it will be different. From this point forward the ground itself is cursed.

God announces in Gen 3:17-19,

cursed is the ground.
        For the rest of your life,
    You will fight for every crumb of food
        from the crusty clump of clay I made you from.
As you labor, the ground will produce thorns and thistles,
        and you will eat the plants of the field.
Your brow will sweat for your mouth to taste
        even a morsel of bread until the day you return
    To the very ground I made you from.
        From dust you have come,
    And to dust you shall return.

We usually read this and notice the impact we experience in gardening, farming and producing food. We will fight for food. Our produce will compete with weeds. It will be hard work. And in the end the ground wins as we ultimately return to dust.

But notice the impact upon the environment. It seems the earth will be less fertile. And as every gardener knows, if it’s not managed well the ground will soon be overgrown with thorns and thistles.

From this point on the Biblical picture of God’s kingdom routinely describes not just peace between people. Not just peace between people and God.  In addition to these images, Scripture also imagines harmony in nature. The prophet Isaiah (11:6) speaks of a day when a wolf will lie next to a lamb, the leopard with the goat, and a lion with a calf. God’s plans for his creation involve bringing peace to all of his creation, not just His people.

The apostle Paul in Romans 8 describes how creation is frustrated, not that it did anything wrong, but because humans sinned. Now creation waits for the children of God to be revealed, so that the planet and universe can taste the same freedom that God’s children experience.

Now think back to God’s original instructions to the people he created. He told them to rule over creation. I suspect that throughout history we’ve read that verse and used it as authority to do whatever we want in the world. But if we think about it for a moment, that’s not really how we like to be ruled and it’s not the way God rules. God acts in our best interests. We would like to think that our elected leaders will also act in our best interests.

So when we have an opportunity to rule creation will we do so asking how much we can extract for our benefit, or what’s best for the world as a whole?

Basically, the question is this… Do we act toward creation as part of its curse or do we contribute to its redemption?

God cursed the earth.

When we contaminate water supplies.

When we build golf courses in the desert.

When we introduce radiation into our atmosphere.

When we over-log old growth forests.

When we dig huge holes in the ground pursuing minerals.

When we act without thought to Creation, we participate in the cursing of the earth.

This is a pertinent conversation because we live in an age when across the globe species are going extinct at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs. I don’t have all the answers for how to balance human needs and the good of nature as a whole, but I’m pretty sure we’re doing a bad job of ruling as long as species are disappearing.

I don’t intend to use this blog to promote particular courses of action. I’m not demanding that everybody drive 4 cylinder cars, or recycle every scrap of paper in their house. I’m not arguing over global warming or how we calculate the benefit of a mine to society versus the environmental damage it causes.

My point in writing this article is to simply highlight that God has given his people a responsibility to serve as “trustees of God’s estate, to care for His creation.” If Christians want to disagree on this topic, the conversation should revolve around how to care for creation, not if we should care for creation.

Jesus describes in Matthew 10:28-31 that God cares for people more that sparrows. But notice that God cares for sparrows. When we care for creation, we’re working with God rather than participating in the curse.

Posted by: ozziepete | 11 August, 2015

2015 Summer Blog Tour Index

I wanted to post once more about the Summer Blog Tour with a reminder and links to those who may have missed out on some of the really great posts. I appreciate the manner other writers can address topics in ways I’d never consider. I wanted to encourage you to bookmark and subscribe to each one of their blogs. You can’t go wrong.

2015 summerblogtour

Steve Ridgell – Hope For Life The Power of Telling a Story

Holly Barrett – Reclaiming A Redeemed LifeThe Power of A Recovery Story

Danny Dodd – Adventures in PreachingThe Power of an Ordinary Story

Jennifer Rundlett – God Thru The ArtsThe Power of A Cleansing Story

Les Ferguson, Jr – Desperately Wanting To Believe AgainThe Power of A Redemption Story

Scott Elliott – Resurrected LivingThe Power of A Beautiful Story

Peter Horne – God Meets Ball – Exploring life and God through the lens of sports.The Power of Another’s Story

Tyler Jarvis – Turtles All The Way Down – Questions about Faith, God and the ChurchThe Power of a Villain Story

John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks MinistriesThe Power of a Biblical Story

John Dobbs – Out Here Hope RemainsThe Power of A Disappointing Story

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