Friday, 30 September 2011

Geo-political God

If you take the Old Testament seriously you have to accept that there are times when God is actively geo-political. Isaiah 21 verses 1 to 10 is just one of several examples. Through various events a great and proud nation (in this case Babylon) will fall. To those depending on Babylon for help, this is bad news. To those oppressed by her, it is the opposite!

Just like the vision Daniel saw, the prospect is fearful and troublesome - a 'dire vision'. A great and prosperous nation, with people happily eating and drinking, will be brought low. The seemingly unshakeable will be dusted down to its very foundations.

What troubles me is that I sense alot of pride in western leaders these days. They are now at least saying that economically we are all in big trouble ... but they still insist their next bailout plan will save the day. When America's credit rating was downgraded Obama had the audacity to say that his country would always have a AAA rating. Well I hope he is right, but how can he make such a golden prediction?

Could it be that our great and prosperous nations are now in line for some shaking down? That would indeed by quite troublesome, that most would perceive as a 'dire vision'.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Time Warp

Our understanding of time is typically very warped. Every moment kept in lock step with everyone else and accounted for - tick, tick, tick.

On the face of it today was a waste of time. Drove for an hour to gather with other ministers to pray, couldn't find where we were supposed to meet and so arrived eventually over half an hour late. When we got there we found the meeting had been cancelled anyway - a wasted trip.

So my wife and I stopped for a coffee and then went to a nearby public gardens that the kind church receptionist pointed us towards. There we found our 'wasted time' was a gift - a chance to catch up on things we hadn't previously had time to say, to pray together, and chill.

Having been there half an hour some bloke came over and randomly started to speak to us. The conversation was a bit chaotic, but very soon him and his mate discovered we were Christians and started confessing that they had made a mess of their lives to date. With both now fighting alcohol addiction they were struggling to make sense of life and welcomed the prospect of us praying for them.

Pray we did, with one of the guys now moved to tears. We shared some more about God's love and the prospect of forgiveness and getting things back in order. After giving them a few tips, and pointing them towards the church we had visited the conversation came to an end. They were much encouraged, and so were we.

Curiously last Sunday I had challenged the congregation to 'make space' and allow for potential God-appointed moments. Our 'wasted trip' turned out to be precisely one of those times.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Encounters with Purpose

The stories recorded in Acts are a good place to look for examples of God encountering different people in a variety of ways. For starters there are the blinding lights that threw Saul to the ground (Acts 9), and elsewhere there is the conversation between two travellers journeying on a desert road (Acts 8). Through this term we will look at a number of these stories to see different aspects of God meeting with people.

Yet note that even in these two stories we already see that the encounter with God does more than just affect the individual at the time. These encounters are both life changing and life forming experiences. The persons are never the same again, and things take a new turn as a result of the encounter.

In short, God meets with people for a purpose. With Saul we of course know that he was turned from persecutor to apostle. With Philip and the Ethiopian the wider significance is perhaps less obvious, but no less real. The Ethiopian was brought fully into God's salvation family, and Philip is affirmed as an evangelist travelling in his own right. It is a fair assumption that both went on to spread the good news still further.

As such these encounter-stories move on the bigger story of God's saving purposes for the whole world. I pray that we all have encounters with God, where God meets with us in a tangible and special way. But I pray that they are encounters with a purpose, and not just an experience in and of themselves. God is more than a cuddly teddy bear: He has plans for the world and meets with us (with tenderness and care) to bring us on board with His greater purpose.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Compelled by Love

A book I can massively recommend is 'Compelled by Love' by Heidi Baker of the remarkable Irsis Ministries. Her message is simple - lose everything in love for Jesus, and pour out that same love to others.

Possessions, status, recognition all count for nothing in her book, all that counts is the possibility of loving God and neighbour. The stories of God at work in remarkable ways pour off the pages, but with no fanfare - simply a desire to see Jesus and see others meet him.

I love the story of the trainee pastor who failed the Bible school they organise: she was sent out anyway to minister in His Name. Not long afterwards she saw people raised from the dead in the villages where she worked. Now I knew I should have failed my own college training ...

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Work with what you've got

So you are all fired up and ready to get radical with the gospel message. What do you do?

Well you could start by doing what Jesus did, and working with the existing structures. Luke 4 verse 15f has Jesus teaching in the synagogues, making the most of what people are already used to. His message and application of scripture are outside normal expectations, but he brings them through the regular meeting.

Again in 5:12-14 with the healing of the leper, Jesus orders the man to do the appropriate thing and show himself to the priest, offering the prescribed sacrifices. Jesus could have so easily skipped that part and sent the man merrily on his way, yet he seems to have a respect for the existing order.

All this is consistent with God's incarnational approach: God works within the created order to reveal Himself and His ways. God steps into our world (in the form of Jesus), and Jesus works within our structures and systems to achieve His purposes. In short He chooses to work with what he's got.

So when you are ready to get radical and be out there, which is all good, consider how you might first start by working with what you've got, rather than assuming you have to start everything up from zilch.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Bad things happen

So why do bad things happen to good people? An age old question, which some people unfortunately can never get past.

Check out psalm 41. It says those who look out for the weak are blessed, they get the Lord's protection and preservation. And so they should - they are good people.

Yet could it be that these very same people, the blessed ones, the good ones who look out for the needs of those less fortunate than themselves, get sick (v3)? Is the 'them' here the ones looking after the poor, or the actual poor?

If the former (the carers), then how can that be? Since they are so blessed, why doesn't God ensure they are always in good health?

In v4 we have one crying for mercy, for healing. We don't know what the sickness was, but v8 describes it as 'vile' and presumably life-threatening. Not good!

I have often read stories of previous pioneer missionaries and how so often they got terribly sick (in some cases even dying of their ailments) and pondered this point - not realising the psalmist had beaten me to it.

Clearly being on God's side and taking part in His mission doesn't immunise us from whats up in the world, sicknesses included.  We are not talking a ticket to an easy life here, but one that can endure the full scoop of suffering in all its forms. It need not be a sign of God's displeasure (v11), in fact in some cases it may get so bad that it is only the integrity of your relationship with God that you have left (v12-13).