Christianity

Jesus Loves You (and wants You to be Happy). Yes?

Over the last 8 weeks I have come across diverse theologies which had one common theme: ‘Jesus loves you’ with the added rider ‘and wants you to be happy’. Initially I didn’t have a problem with it but the more I reflected on it, issues arose.

One group stressed the love of God. It was the mantra and truth that they continually espoused but this was never really unpacked. Then later, I heard the same message in a totally different setting. Jesus loves you and wants you to be happy. One of the implications was that ‘sin’ in the traditional sense, was irrelevant because whether it was one’s sexual inclination or activity, divorce, or , in fact, anything else that hindered one’s happiness, lots of things we considered wrong in the past, were now passe because after all, God wants us to be happy.

‘Jesus loves you’ resonates with our age. We live in and era in which people are desperate to be loved. This God has to hit our ‘like’ button. We want happiness and freedom and so the two, Jesus love and happiness, make an excellent ‘twin set’.

But what does “Jesus love you” really mean? Essentially it means that he loves us that much that he doesn’t want us to live with our brokenness and sin. He doesn’t want us to live with that which kills us and separates us from God. In step one he died on the cross to remove God’s judicial judgement against us. God’s eyes are too pure to behold evil (Hab, 1:13). Jesus removed God’s judgement against us. We are declared innocent.

But in step 2 he sent the Holy Spirit who on a daily on going basis makes us more like the way that God already sees us. In other words his desire is to make us more like Jesus because after all he is the perfect son.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” In other words we want to see our old selves lessen so that a new Christlikeness ascends. That is more than just about happiness. It is about wholeness, newness and a break from our past brokenness. When we say ‘Jesus loves you’ we need to say it against the backdrop of a holy God who abhors sin and brokenness because that sin is allied with decay and death. It is a stench that God will not permit in his nostrils.

Does Jesus love us? Certainly! But he loves us that much he doesn’t permit us to pursue our form of happiness, but his.

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Encountering Jesus

In this post modern, post Christendom, society the amazing truth that comes from being placed in an albergue on the Camino is that people are 1. Spiritual and 2. Searching. The spirituality comes in all shapes and sizes: karma, self improvement, a vague search for the meaning of life (and 42 isn’t the answer!) remnants of Christian faith and combination of all of the above. There are some, but not many, who come with a real living conviction of the Christian faith. The searching usually comes in the form of the idea, that by walking and being alone, we can find some meaning -usually a forlorn hope. Apart from blisters and sunburn, there is a certain level of physical fitness and weight loss that may occur, but without an encounter with truth, not much else.

The aim at our albergue is to introduce people to the love of Christ in a practical way (ie foot baths, drinks, meals bed and etc.) but also to be open and gentle to their spiritual needs by listening, guiding and challenging them with the love and truth of Jesus Christ. This is done through casual conversations (often initiated by the pilgrims themselves because we don’t hide our faith) and through a “Jesus meditation” after which people can stay, ask questions and respond.

In a cynical age I have been astounded how willing people have been to ask questions about faith and belief and how open they are to the person of Jesus. The group that gets the most negative reaction from the pilgrims is the institutional church and not any particular brand either. In our brief moment with the pilgrims we focus on Jesus and community and then hope and trust that the Holy Spirit has other people and circumstances to guide them as they continue on their journey of life.

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One Generation from Extinction

The following is another post written by my wife:

When I married I lost my surname and took my husband’s. My sisters also married and then the name we had since birth was lost from our family. With no brothers to be able to carry the name into the future, it was gone.

My parents-in-law also saw the future of their name disappear. They had two sons, who married and gave them eight granddaughters. Whether by marriage or when they die, the surname will be lost in one generation.

photo 4Our faith heritage can suffer a similar fate. In just one generation the faith of our fathers and mothers can be lost. Who holds this fast? In whose hands can we entrust this faith to ensure that our grandchildren and the generations to come will carry on trusting God?

The obvious, and truthful, answer is there in the question. We trust God to hold us and keep us trusting Him. But that doesn’t allow us to be passive while God does all the work.

Our family will never be big. Probably our two grandchildren (aged one and three years) will stride toward the future holding hands, just the two of them, carrying the family history and folklore and faith with them. From our perspective it is a scary country that they are entering, full of dangerous terrain, uncertain and dark valleys, and threatening inhabitants. As grandparents we come from the relative calm of a Christian era, when even those who were not Christian lived by a Christian moral standard. Today we paused and asked ourselves, how do we prepare these little children for that foreign country called The Future?

Fortunately it is not up to us alone, and I believe this is the key. Of course they have believing parents and we must support them in their role to nurture faith in their children. But they also have five Aunties and an Uncle who will model a life of faith to them. We can and must give every effort to ensuring our faith heritage is not lost. We have a holy task as grandfather, grandmother, auntie, uncle, sister, brother, and parent. And as we do this we are obliged to hold each other accountable before God.

There is a future world in need of the Good News of Jesus. And I pray it will hear this Good News from the lips of my grandchildren.

 

 

Categories: Children, christian, Christianity, Faith, Hetty's Devotions, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Avalanche of Poor Behaviour

The vitriol against our bankers is reaching fever pitch. Even at the local gym my wife encountered patrons seething at the behaviour of the banks. This comes on top of the recent inquiry into child abuse. The churches, in particular, came out of that with their reputations badly damaged. There is another current inquiry into the behaviour of the managers of Aged Care Homes. The police are under scrutiny because of poor behaviour and our politicians have reached lows that has even left voters aghast that new lows are even possible.

The level of self righteous anger is seen on tv news shows, radio talk back, newspapers and blogs. Society is venting! The populace is restless and angry.

There is one segment of society left out – the rest of us – the ordinary punter. But are we really in a position to cast the first stone? Let me ask: Are our tax records spotless and our driving record immaculate? Have we always been honest and honourable with the boss, or spouse or colleagues? Have we used the cash economy to avoid tax? If there was a tv screen on our foreheads that broadcast our inner thoughts for everyone to see, would we have any friends? If we came across an easy way to make extra, illegal, money but wouldn’t be caught, how would we behave?

The problem is that each one of us, banker, politician, you and me – everyone – has a sinful nature. It is an unpopular concept in today’s society in which truth is considered relative. Today we are told that there are no longer clear wrongs and rights in the moral sphere and yet we are surprised when people “do wrong”. We ourselves do wrong but we justify it to ourselves – just, as I am sure, the bankers did, or the paedophile, or the manager of the home or …

Yes, we do need laws to protect children, bank depositors, old people and so on, but let us not pretend that we are innocent.

In the apostle Paul’s words, “We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sinfulness is a problem we all need to deal with. The ultimate answer is not the laws that we have piled on year after year to try to control all sorts of behaviour but rather the real answer is an encounter with Jesus Christ and the the forgiveness and renewal that is freely available through him.

Yes the laws are important to order a civil society but even more important is a radical renewal of each person – politician, policeman, you and me.

Yet first, each of us has to acknowledge that we have a problem and we ourselves do not have the resources to deal with it but Jesus has. In Luke 19:10 Jesus says to the tax collector ( or banker, or business manager or you and me) “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Step one is to acknowledge that we are “lost.”

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Secular Shariah Law

Hands are are thrown up in horror when people suggest Shariah law may become part of Western democracies with the influx of Muslim migrants and refugees. But I would suggest that there is another Shariah law of which we need to be even more wary.  Slowly over the last decade or so Australia has descended into a state of political correctness and the problem exists for those who may not agree with aspects of that correctness. The nature of ‘political correctness’ is that if you don’t agree you must be ‘incorrect’. The consequences: you become the object of social bullying and ostracised.

One may struggle with the idea of same sex marriage, current views on gender, child rearing and a whole host of other concepts. The problem is that if you don’t agree with the pc majority you and your views are considered unworthy of social acceptance or tolerance. In other words we have entered an era of secular shariah law. Or using a Henry Ford analogy you can have any colour T model ford as long as it is black. Other views are not permitted. If one doesn’t hold the view of the majority in the area of ethics and morality one gains pariah status.

At the heart of a vibrant democracy we need to be able to discuss and debate views in which worldviews encounter each other and can be weighed up. Even in the Cold War era Australia was wise enough not to ban communism. Yet that style of openness has been eroded. Only particular voices are now considered worthy to be listened to. Ironically even media articles arguing for tolerance are intolerant of discordant voices. Most disturbing is that one’s conscience can no longer be a reason for disagreement. The secular Shariah police will ensure that.

And that is the aspect that bothers me most. I understand and accept that with changing social mores many people, indeed most people, won’t agree with me but now, increasingly, many of us are being forced to agree or at least submit to the edicts of the secular Shariah law whether we like it or not.

Categories: Christianity, Church, community, Ethics, Faith, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 6 Comments

Be Holy – Be Set Apart

Leviticus 20:26 You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

John 17: 6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.

Romans 12:2  “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

DSC_1051cropIt has always been difficult for Christians to be ‘in the world but not of it’ simply because holiness is such foreign concept for a broken heart and mind to grasp. And as we have been reminded with the recent 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the medieval church like the rest of us also struggled with undeserved grace – the undeserved love of God which becomes the motivation to  inspire us to grow in holiness. The Christian knows that this too is only possible because the Spirit of God empowers us, and the Word of God guides us, towards an ideal that will not be achieved in our lifetimes.

But this challenge to holiness has clearly been in decline in the church in recent generations. The sexual abuse of children and its concealment by leaders in churches, poor ethical relations towards women, financial impropriety … and sadly the list goes on, has meant that the standing of the church in the Australian community is at an all time low ebb.

One of the consequences has been that many in the community have not even wanted hear any of the positions that Christians may hold on same sex marriage, gender and euthanasia. Our voice has been sullied in the minds of many. So what should Christians do? Shout louder? Demand certain legislation? Put ads in the media?

I passionately believe there are two things that are required. One is a genuine attitude of repentance for having failed our calling – over and over again. We have failed the community in which we live. The people who should have been pointing our neighbours to God have been more interested in protecting their own doubtful reputations and we done the name of God no favours.  The second is that we need to reclaim for ourselves an understanding  and commitment to holiness. This is not spiritual snobbery, or spiritual condescension but in simple terms a reminder that God has  set his people apart to be witness to Him – His holiness, his compassion for broken people and his claims over the hearts and minds of men and women.  If a Christian thinks of him or herself as a vessel for God’s use and purpose in the world, then life takes on a different perspective. It is not about me, but about God. It is not about my reputation but God’s.

Now this many not make us any more popular than we are at present, but it will mean we are becoming the people that God wants us to be. It will also mean that when lives are broken and people are looking for answers they won’t be turned off by the stench of the church. Rather they will come to know there are other broken people who have been discovered by the love God and there is hope and that there are answers – not just for moment, a  day or a life time but for eternity.

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The Reformation and Education

If  anyone has been around me for the last year and a half they would have heard me bang on about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. This was not just one event but a series of events and movements that came to a head on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses, attacking indulgences, on the Wittenberg Church door. This event, in turn, has had repercussions to this day. I don’t have the space to go through this momentous time in history but I would like to highlight some of its outcomes. (If you are unfamiliar with this historical period it is well worth studying).

One of the frst major outcomes of the Reformation was the return to the centrality of Scripture. This is highlighted in what is known as the “5 Solas” (Sola is Latin for alone):

  • Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) : The Bible alone is our highest authority.
  • Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
  • Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
  • Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Saviour, and King.
  • Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.

While in hiding from his enemies, Luther went to work translating the Latin Bible into German so that everyone could read it. Wycliffe, and later Tyndale, mirrored this process in England.

This return to reading and studying Scripture had many results:

  • One was Christian education. Luther and other reformers like John Calvin disagreed with the medieval idea that “Ignorance is the mother of piety” and set up the beginnings of universal education. 
  • We see developments in art: the idea that God was Lord of all of life and not simply ruler over that which had previously been seen as religious, saw artists broaden their perspectives to everyday life and landscapes as these also brought glory to God. 
  • Science, liberated from the judgement and strictures of the medieval church, blossomed.
  • Physical labour, rather than being considered second in comparison to spiritual endeavours, had an elevated status leading to what later became known as the “protestant work ethic”. Much of Northern Europe’s success in industry and commerce can be traced back to this period.

But freedom has its drawbacks when disconnected from God and His Word. The constant temptation we face is to make ourselves ‘god’. The period of the “Enlightenment” was a time when mankind began to turn its back on God and His Word. We see many of the results of this thinking in western societies today. Frequently laws, behaviours and attitudes no longer refect a Biblical understanding of life. We live in, what many label, a post-Christian society. For the Christian this can be both frightening and exciting. All past certainties have disappeared yet there is now an opportunity for the church and its people to return to its task of being counter cultural – refecting God’s will and not that of the world. In that environment it is clear that there is a definite role for a partnership between home, church and school to grow and nurture disciples who are equipped to be God’s agents in the world. In a very real sense we are to continue the ideals of the Reformation.
This article was written for the Covenant College newsletter

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Biblical Literacy … again

While listening to the radio the other day I heard an artist lament the lack of art history knowledge among art students today. He decried the lack of historical reference markers that enabled an intelligent discussion of art and its presentation in today’s society. Students had no knowledge of the historical scaffolding upon which they were trying to present their artistic expression.

This is also a good metaphor for biblical and theological discussions today. In the wall to img_1469wall debates we are currently hearing on the radio, TV and internet with regard to same sex marriage I am astounded at the lack of biblical literacy by those representing various iterations of the church. The lack of understanding of Christianity’s foundational text, a poor comprehension of Church history and thoroughly shoddy theology leaves one aghast at those representing and giving voice to many denominations in Australia today.

 

I am not alluding to disagreements about what the text means. That has always been an issue within the church and between denominations. My beef is more about the manner in which the Bible is used and abused. Issues such as the nature of the Old Testament, different genres within the Bible, the meta narrative that holds the Bible together and so on are so often missing in action.

The consequence is that we hear phrases like “I feel” or “the vibe” of the Bible/text/book. The subjectivity within discussions is quite alarming. The over arching idea presented in many of these debates is that we can make the Bible say anything we want it to say. Worse still, we read the Bible through the lens of the spirit of our age rather than asking what God’s message and intention is for our times.

If churches are to learn anything from our current discussion I think there can be no better lesson than to return to a serious and intentional study of God’s Word. Maybe that is the Reformation needed today.

 

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Preaching and the SSM debate

Scandinavia crossI haven’t written a post for a long time but the current debate about “Same Sex Marriage” has had me pondering. I have been particularly disenchanted, on the whole, by the debate among Christians and I believe the quality of the debate (or, more correctly, the lack of it) reflects a far deeper malaise in our churches, that is, Biblical illiteracy. This has is a problem that has been a long time coming and which I believe has been caused by a poverty of preaching in general.

This poverty can be observed in two distinct ways:

The first is the shallow level of argument. Cheap proof texting and casual Bible references of deeply profound biblical concepts such as “love” and “marriage’ is just one example. I would have to say this has come largely (but certainly not exclusively) from pro SSM Christians. Too often the Bible is not seen as the eternal word of God and has not been read with depth and integrity it deserves. I will not disparage the motive because this has often come from those who have a deep compassion and proximity with those struggling with their identity.

The second, largely, comes from those against SSM:

I take as my example the “Nashville Statement” – a conservative evangelical statement which the signatories declare to be a biblical summary about marriage and sexuality, which, to be honest, I have no problem with as far as it goes. My problem arises in that it doesn’t go far enough.

When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery or Zacchaeus, (and we could add many others including the disciples) he didn’t begin with a “Nashville Statement”  he began with a relationship and only after that was established did he go further and reveal how they could be released from the problem we all have – human brokenness.

It maybe just me, but a “Nashville Statement” without that aspect of encountering our common brokenness has the smell of Phariseeism about it. This smell has been especially repugnant in recent generations because churches have been overwhelming silent and slow to act against abuses within their communities and have had to dragged into courts kicking and screaming.

Churches, in my opinion, are struggling with two key problems. How to read the Bible, the inerrant, eternal Word of God, richly and how to apply and live that Word in a way that is relevant and Christlike in 2017. Is this easy? Not at all! All the more reason to get on our knees, pray for forgiveness and return to His Word with urgency. Our response needs to be around the question, how do we apply the truth with compassion? Jesus was gentle with the broken and tough with those who should have known better. Too many of us have swapped that approach around.

That takes me back to the introduction. This confusion arises when preachers/teachers are not taking their God given role with the awe and responsibility that it deserves.

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Sin had slithered …

 

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;  he will crush your head,  and you will strike his heel.”

Gen 3:15

Sin had slithered in

and God living harmony

destroyed.

Life and love became terminal.

Hope less.

 

Through the human

silence of the guilty

in the garden

the Word spoke again.

 

Sin and love

declared enemies.

One must go.

 

An enemy crushed.

A head abolished

forever.

 

The cost:

The Godman would come

From the broken

Mother of the living.

A divine son slain.

A Word crucified

so that love

and harmony

will rise and rule again.

 

 

Pieter Stok

 

 

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