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 Tsunami of Narcissism

I wonder if the Psychologists and Psychiatrists would agree with me but I believe we are engulfed in tsunami of self obsession – “narcissism”. Our blogging and Facebook posts are only the tip of the iceberg.  I find I am encountering “Hitler” and “Assad” styled self belief, in otherwise ordinary people, daily.

The symptoms include the idea that they are beyond advice and criticism. An issue is always, without fail, the other person’s problem. They will defend to the death, preferably the other person’s, their right not to be criticised. They are strident in interpreting all events and actions in relation to themselves and fail to see the perspectives of others.

If I am right, and my own narcissistic tendencies tend to suggest I am, where does self obsession come from?

I would like to suggest three reasons. You may wish to add more intelligent ideas.

  1. As I have written previously, parents are  giving children, starting at a very young age, too much choice: when they eat, what they eat, what they wear, what they do … the daily list is endless. Children are becoming wise in their own eyes.  They are attributed maturity well beyond their years. In other words, some parents are setting a treacherous groundwork.
  2. The advertising industry lives off narcissism. It is their bread and butter. We encounter the subtle and not so subtle messages to make ourselves “No.1” hourly. Their feeding of our narcissism is relentless.  Consciously or unconsciously we absorb the seductive message.
  3. Our hearts are wired to set our selves up as God. Our rebellious natures love the idea that we are the supreme being of our lives: we are the Captains of our destinies. We are ultimately only responsible to self. Incidentally, when for whatever reason this perspective is destroyed, one way out is, too often, suicide.

What is the antidote?

The solution is remarkably simple:  Essentially “Christ”.  In one fell swoop he is both the mirror that reveals the brokenness of our humanity and he also becomes our release from that brokenness and its impacts. He gives us perspective and promise.

A friend once said that we need to go to the cross, climb up and push the blood matted hair away from our Savior’s face and stare into his tortured eyes to understand the immense brokenness of our own heart, our motives, our actions, our words – our very being. The reason he was dying was for all of that and much more.  Then, no longer, can we put ourselves on a pedestal of immaculate self belief. We are awoken to an amazing and confronting awareness of the depth and seeming unwashability our own corruption.

And yet, that very awareness leads us back to the same cross so that we can say in all helplessness. “Lord, Save me! Cover my brokenness with your own pure righteousness.”

To get a glimpse of that truth is a powerful antidote to the darker side of our heart as it whispers, “It is all about me”.

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My Unwanted Constant Companion

I reflected the other day that all through my life I have had a constant companion. My parents were there for a long time but they have both died. There have been friends and relatives but they too, came or left at particular times. My wife and I have been together for nearly 4o years but even that doesn’t cover my whole life. Some of you may be thinking, ok he is thinking about God and the Holy Spirit. It is true that God has been constantly with me from before my birth, but on this occasion I am thinking of another presence: Satan.

Satan, the Devil the ‘evil one’, however you refer to him has also never been far away.

St Michael defeating the devil on the front of Coventry Cathedral

St Michael defeating the devil on the front of Coventry Cathedral

We can all recall the cartoons where the angel and devil sit on each shoulder of the character, pulling and enticing backwards and forwards. This caricature is in fact a good image of the reality that each of us face. We do live in this tension between living a good life and being tempted; doing right and wrong. For a long time I thought that as I became older it would easier; I would be in greater control.

However, I have found that not to be the case. In fact, the temptations and influence of my constant companion become more subtle and tenacious. I find that those conversations that I have in my mind can easily become ‘justifications’ for an attitude or a decision. The prophet Jeremiah declares to Judah on God’s behalf, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

To put it simply, the older I have become the more I have come to realise how deeply ingrained sinfulness is. It is beyond mere actions, or thoughts and permeates our very character. It’s roots drive down into the core of our being. No human effort will eradicate this.

So what is the solution? An awareness of the both the depth of sin and our our own inability is a start. That points us to our two part remedy. First, in the words of Paul, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Christian has been objectively justified in Christ. Through faith we are delivered from eternal death. But that still leaves us with a daily reality.

The second part of the remedy is the daily tough medicine. In the words of Paul again, in the power of the Holy Spirit,  “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

20130118-175507.jpgDaily, we need to be vulnerable  and open to God so that we don’t become victims of the other. There is a discipline and intentionality required to grow in Christlikeness much like the way we train for a sport. When reading Philippians I am struck by how much Paul’s discipline to live the Christian life stems from “knowing Christ Jesus Lord.” Christ is both his means and motivation as well as his goal.

So, as far as my unwanted companion is concerned, he will be there daily, but the more I look to Christ the less his influence will be.

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Hollywood’s Power of Suggestion

Recently I watched James Cameron’s Avatar for the first time. It reminded me how powerful the medium of film is when constructed well, and Avatar is sublime in its construction.

avatarThe film describes a futuristic form of colonialism in which humans rampage over a planet seeking out its minerals. It is a story as old as history. Cameron’s cleverness comes from weaving into his gripping tale themes of ecology, personal responsibility, social responsibility towards native peoples and, most cleverly of all, a pantheistic theology. Pantheism, broadly, states that God is in, not over creation.

The native Na’vi people in Avatar  were atune with their god of creation. The humans  depended on their power, weapons and were driven by greed in contrast to the ecological altruism of the Na’vi.

Even I found myself cheering for the nature loving/believing Na’vi people. And that is where the cleverness lies – in its ability to position us as viewers the way the director intended. Often, without us even being aware.

I put aside my Christian worldview, I checked my cynicism about stereotypes, I was fooled by the mystical romance – and the film took me on a journey along a path that I would not normally travel.

There are good messages in this film and we should heed them. But the film says far more about how Cameron believes the world works. The gospel narrative was missing. There was sin and brokenness but this could be dealt with by being atune with nature. There was no Saviour outside our own wits and ability and a creation god who took the side of the good guys and gals.

I suppose my question is: How often does Hollywood fool us to give ourselves over to the directors’ worldviews? Think of the romance where the man is justified in ditching his wife for a woman who understands him. The violins play and we are happy that he has found his deserved soul mate. Think of when we have laughed because the clever, witty and suave crook has outwitted the clueless police.

Avatar reminded me again, that when I watch a film every neuron I have needs to be on full alert because the director, once again, wants to trick me.

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Josiah: a reflection

I have been doing a lot of writing lately, but alas, not my blog. It is report writing season and I have to assess and make comment on my students.

In the Old Testament God gave a report on Josiah, the King who started at 8 years of age in an era when Judah had rebelled mightily against God. Young Josiah went on a program of reinstating God’s law in Judah and removing idols. However God’s plan for Judah were already set in place. Despite His anger against the nation God was still able to declare about Josiah that:

Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did – with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. 2 Kings 23:25

Sadly Josiah’s reformation was ultimately futile. Further evil kings followed and Judah was dragged to Babylon. We are reminded that the only true reformation is one that is purchased on the cross by Christ and applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. … and yet I hope that the Spirit of God plants in me the attitude of Josiah, who in the face of God’s anger against the nation, still did what was right.

In the face of so many evils today we need the courage of Josiah but we have the added blessing of knowing the Messiah, having His Spirit and being assured that His Kingdom will come!

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Psalm 18:19


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To Be Near Unto God

sunrise newThe following, amazing quote, comes from the introduction to Abraham Kuyper’s delightful collection of devotions: To Be Near Unto God.

Love for God may be fine sentiment. It may be sincere and capable of inspiring holy enthusiasm, while the soul is still a stranger to fellowship with the eternal, and ignorant of the secret walk with God. The great God may still not be your God. Your heart may still not be attuned to the passionate outburst of delight: I love the Lord. For love of God in general is so largely love for the idea of God, love for the Fountain of life, the Source of all good, the Watcher of Israel who never slumbers; in brief, love for him who, whatever else changes, abides the same eternally.

But when the heart can say: I love the Lord, the idea of the Eternal becomes personified. Then God becomes the Shepherd who leads us, the Father who spiritually begat us, the covenant-God to whom we sustain the covenant relation, the Friend who offers us friendship, the Lord whom we serve, the God of our trust, who is no longer merely God, but our God.

Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God,  Kindle Edition.

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Rushing Waters – a Photo and Text for Sunday


Revelation 19:6-8
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
“Hallelujah!For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,was given her to wear.

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Deo Volente

The pulpit in the old church at Gamla Uppsala

The pulpit in the old church at Gamla Uppsala

“Deo Volente” is not a phrase used much nowadays, yet it speaks of a wonderful attitude.

Deo Volente, often shortened to D.V. simply means “God willing”. Like many Latin phrases its real meaning has been lost in the mists of time. “N.B”, “A.D.” and “C.V.” are just some other examples. In the past letters and messages were often annotated with “D.V.” It acknowledged that any human plans were subject to God’s will.

Deo Volente, at its heart, speaks of an attitude before God. It recognises that our plans are always subject to His will and purposes. God is sovereign and I am not. It is a phrase of humility and acceptance. Not resignation, but the acknowledgement that ultimately God’s purposes and plans far outweigh my wishes and petty ambitions.

It is also a phrase of comfort. Whatever happens in my life is not governed by fate or chance but is overruled by a God who sent His son to reveal His love for His children and who cares for them into eternity. It is a comfort because He has told me, that love is what He wills.

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True Community and Mission – a quote

“Every time I hear someone teach on the Acts 2 church I wonder what first-century faith community really looked like. I can’t help but think there was something special about it that we’ve missed. It’s hard to imagine a day where people would pool what they had to make sure no one was without. While things certainly look different in our time, it just seems as if we’ve lost a little something. Something tells me community didn’t just fill a need in their lives to connect, it gave them purpose.

A Chess Community in Geneva

A Chess Community in Geneva

In essence, missional community may serve as one of the best ways we can embody the incarnation of Christ — putting on flesh and being Jesus to our world. When we live this out, the focus of the church shifts to hearing and responding to the Spirit. When this is translated collectively, congregations as a whole tend to take more seriously the how and when to engage communities where they live. “

Brandon Hatmaker, Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture (Exponential Series).  Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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