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 ...