Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The saddest verse in the Bible?

We all have our favourite verses in the Bible. I bet you could quote yours straight away. But do we stop to think what hits us as the saddest verse? Each year, when in Exodus, I can't help lamenting when I get to Exodus 20 verse 19.

Moses has his first mountaintop experiences and the people are called to gather to share in it, at least in part. Back in chapter 19 they were to prepare and then approach to a certain limit, keeping a respectful distance because God was going to come down among them. It was a quite a deal, with thunder, lightning and trembling!

Moses gets to enter, the rest stay back. Later Aaron is called up too. We then get the ten commandments spelt out, before returning to the thunder and lightning scenes (at 20:18). The people are now trembling with fear. Sensibly they stay at a distance, but then they say to Moses 'Speak to us yourself ... do not let God speak to us or we will die'.

How sad is that? The caution is sensible, a sense of 'holy' fear is appropriate, but to be so fearful that you shrink back from having God speak to you seems to me to be a great sadness. I am convinced it is not what God wanted, even with the limitations of the unholy approaching a holy God.

Surely God wants to call us out and speak with us direct, as in the Genesis garden scene (even after the fall) and so many times since. For the whole people to be a prophetic nation, wouldn't it be better for them all to learn to listen to His voice and go with His directives?

To be a prophetic people today in contemporary society, we too must rise above the wrong kind of fear and be pleased to hear His voice directly, knowing and declaring His voice ... and encouraging others that they too can be included in the same privilege.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Embracing OIKOS

There can be something special when families come together. Very special. Perhaps you had that experience at Christmas with relatives? It can also be an experience we can nurture and benefit from as churches. It can also be both a base and place for mission.

The Greek word 'oikos' basically means house, home or household. It crops up in the New Testament a few times, sometimes literally meaning a house or family. Most likely a household would not be the "couple + 2.4 kids" we have today, but a larger unit with a granny, perhaps an uncle or two and possibly even others!

In 1 Corinthians we see how Christians like Paul may have started to re-use the word as some kind of unit of church. In chapter 16 Aquila & Priscilla have a church in their house (using the 'oikos' word). In chapter 1 some 'from Chloe' are mentioned. Whilst the word 'oikos' is not used here, some read the Greek text as shorthand and translate it as "Chloe's household", which might not be her biological family but rather people in her church unit.

Presumably young and old met, ate, worshipped and learnt together. As in any good extended family, young and old can not only learn together but learn from each other. Since God calls us into radical community, and Jesus talked about 'little ones such as these', it is not hard to see how these family principles should usefully translate across.

An extended family (oikos) unit also has a greater resilience - the diversity and range of people can pull together to overcome the suffering of an individual amongst its number. And with radical discipleship taken on by its members it will look outwards, being a base for mission. Different members may be involved in different mission initiatives, or the whole family may adopt & own a project together. Their support and base learning can be provided by the household unit, fuelling them for their mission.

And of course such community will be counter-cultural and attractive in its own right, making the extended family (oikos) unit not only a base for mission, or potentially also a place for mission - as others are invited & attracted in, taking their first steps towards and with Jesus.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Belt Up

Get a sturdy belt, fasten it around your waist, walk out in confidence. The belt keeps your clothes together, things in place, enabling you to stand fast.

Paul advised wearing the 'belt of truth' (Ephesians 6) - the sure knowledge of God and Lordship of Jesus to hold it all together as you stand and go out. Get centred on Him and then add the rest of the armor around you.

The promised Anointed One himself was to go out with righteousness as his belt (Isaiah 11), together with faithfulness as a sash. Truth and Right naturally associate - you cannot have right living without being based on the truth, and you cannot be properly fastened in the truth without then desiring to live right.

Yet Jeremiah is told to buy a linen belt (chapter 13). He was to wear it - around the waist as normal. Yet then he was to take it off, to hide it away. Later it was to be dug up again, where it would be discovered to be ruined, useless, not fit for purpose.

For Jeremiah and his audience this was to be a picture: Even a whole people can metaphorically belt up - be usefully and purposefully bound together with the truth of God. Properly belted up the people collectively would be able to stand tall and confident, secure in Him. This would be a positive example, a people to be like, a nation whose ways are those for others to aspire to. The spin-off of such example would lead others to God, bring praise and honour to Him.

Yet if those people abandon their fastening to the truth of God, if they let it drop and even hide it away ... then ruin naturally follows. The people will prove to not be fit for purpose, of no use.

Time to belt up ...

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Willing from the Outset

A desperate man, his life blighted, nowhere else to turn, one option left ... to beg before the man Jesus as he passes his way. This is the scene in Luke 5:12 - 13. The man famously asks 'If you are willing ...', and Jesus (just as famously) replies 'I am willing ...'.

But lets dig deeper. Why was Jesus willing? Was it the passion of the man, the emotion of his request? Were the appropriate heart-strings pulled in this, the right moment?

I believe not. I think it is because Jesus was about His Father's business (John 5:19), and He knew His Father was willing. Yet not just willing for this man in this moment ... but willing from the outset. This was his mission, to show, to declare, to act on God's willingness to heal and restore.

There may be times when our hurt translates into emotions bubbling over, so that we are passionately calling, even begging, for the outcome that we need. That is to be human. But we do not need to contrive such emotions, we do not need to work them up ... as if somehow they might tip a celestial balance and turn on the tap of willingness on the part of God.

No, that is not necessary, because God is willing ... and has been from the outset.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Genuine Alternative Community

Now we are all waking up to the fact that there is clearly widespread dis-enfranchisement in our Western democracies, its time for us as 21st Century Christ followers to take seriously our call to be genuine alternative communities.

People have been talking about the issue of the 2% ruling it all for the 98% for a while now (my favourite is Graeber in his book 'The Democracy Project'), but perhaps we hadn't anticipated the unpredictable and erratic outcomes this might eventually generate.

While these unsettling winds swirl around us, remember that our hope is rooted in a more certain reality - as I wrote back in June. With our ultimate citizenship firmly in focus, political events - no matter how significant - can be viewed as second order effects!

That should inform how we are, and how we live. Furthermore, God calls us into communities and not simply to live in hope-filled yet isolated bubbles of individualism. And communities, clusters of ordinary people uniting around a common vision and purpose, can achieve incredible things ... all the more incredible when the grace of God underpins them!

So with people up and down our countries desperately grasping for some kind of alternative, seemingly any alternative, let us quietly model the genuine alternative. Centred on the one who truly comes alongside, who saves, redeems and re-builds. Someone who, as we become united with him, enables us to connect more deeply and properly with our neighbour. One who establishes a Kingdom that is characterised by the 100% desiring peace with the 100%.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Grace Over-rides Law

Time and time again we need to come back to a basic principle in the heart of God: if people finally desire to turn to him then God will receive them, trumping any 'barriers of law' that might otherwise be in the way. At the point of a human heart returning, grace over-rides law.

A great example is in 2 Chronicles 30. Hezekiah has instigated something of a spiritual homecoming for the wider populace, and is marking it with a passover celebration (the first in many years apparently). The passover came with regulations, conditions, rules about 'how it should be done'. In the gathering momentum of so many turning up to take part, there are a good number who don't meet the requirements but join in anyway. Hezekiah's prayer is instructive:

May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God ... even if they are not clean according to the rules.

See verses 18 to 20: The Lord heard this prayer! Grace over-rides law.

Interestingly we are told that the Lord 'healed' the people - as if they had an ailment or condition. But just as God can heal our medical issues, He can resolve our spiritual-uncleanness issues as well (cross reference Jesus and the man lowered through the roof, e.g. Matthew 9:1-8).

When our understanding of the Christian faith somehow slips back to rules and requirements for newcomers (or even home-comers!), let us remember and use Hezekiah's short prayer, and the grace-trumps-law principle it embodies.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Why are we in this mess?

I love Gideon's question found in Judges chapter 6, verse 13. In my own words it reads something like this: "If the Lord is with us, why are we in this mess?".

Gideon is told that the Lord is with him, but his logic is based on the circumstances around him. And those circumstances were bleak: Midianites had leached away prosperity and left many cowering in caves. Gideon himself was using a winepress to thresh wheat as his own way of eeking out survival for his family. 'In this mess' is a good description for their plight.

The angel's reply is simple: "Go in the strength you have and save ...". The circumstances were irrelevant, and thus the logic that went with them rendered redundant. There was a calling from God, and that transcends everything on the ground.

Of course Gideon misinterpreted 'the strength you have', foolishly equating it with his own personal strength (which wasn't much). It was the Lord's strength, something given by God for the purpose. Again human logic redundant.

Seek the Lord, discover His calling and purposes, and learn to go with it. There may be mess all around, which logically might suggest to you that little can be achieved. Yet in the light of the Lord's calling such logic is redundant, the 'why are we in this mess?' effectively irrelevant ... because there is a God-called task to get on with, and He will give the strength to do it.