No Escape From Halloween

Reading John 8:31-47

Halloween, a festival of the macabre, horrible, and evil in our society -by some.  For others a time of dressing up and enjoying creativity, sharing too much candy -is it safe to say most households buy the first batch of treats for consumption rather than distribution? Part of the whole halloween schtick is a resignation to the reality of evil, death and uncertainty about life after death.  Many seem to think that there is no escape, so you might as well embrace it.

Historically this evening has taken quite the turn and common lore about the origins of Halloween and the Christians merging with it may not be accurate.  For example, the ancient Celts followed a lunar calendar, so to say the Oct 31st was a particular festival or holy-day for them is difficult to grasp.  That’s not my focus today – I want to ponder a moment the idea of no escape.  I think our society has that quite accurately!  There is no escape from death, no way to avoid the end of our lives.  Do not despair!  There is the possibility of rescue.

Halloween is a modernisation of All Hallows E’en -the evening before All Saints Day in the church calendar.  A celebration of the godly -not for their own righteousness and merit -but of what God has done in making people Holy.  John records Jesus saying:


“If you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” 


Set free…  free from what?  Free from the slavery to sin and death. While there is no escape from death, there is rescue, we can be set free in Christ Jesus.  A saint is not some porcelain pure human sitting on a shelf, a saint is one of God’s ‘holy ones’, someone set free by Christ, made holy by Christ.  As Jesus says further, ‘the one who belongs to God, hears what God says.’

Hard to hear from God in the noise of a culture that says there is no escape.  Possible to hear from God as we turn to God and begin to listen, begin to yield, begin to come to the light and step away from the darkness.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!

Seeking The Creator

Reading John 10

 “But religion is an inconvenience only to those who are travelling against the grain of creation, at cross-purposes with the way that leads to redemption.”
P121 “A Long Obedience In The Same Direction” Eugene Peterson

 

If you will agree that there is a Creator, you might further agree that the Creator has a plan and purpose for this world, and for you.  Our world is a difficult place, we often wonder if it is broken and perhaps at times we despair if it is possible to see it restored/repaired.  Our efforts often seem to produce amazing results, other times it looks/feels like two steps forward and three steps backwards.  The Christian world view sees this world as created by God and that it was good.  However, it didn’t stay that way, humans messed it up.  The Creator gave us the ability to choose, and while we often choose well and wisely, we seem to just as often choose poorly. On our own, as humanity, it appears to be a loosing battle.  One of the hardest things to figure out are the excesses and problems caused by ‘religion’.  In and of itself religion is the quest for the Creator, however, we try to make that our own and a way to justify our actions that are not for the larger good.  Two steps forward and three steps back.  Eugene Peterson, in his book A Long Obedience In The Same Direction says this: : But religion is an inconvenience only to those who are traveling against the grain of creation, at cross-purposes with the way that leads to redemption.”  Here is our conundrum, seeking God is impacted by our issues, the very ones that require we need God.  But, it is not a lost cause.  The key is in Eugene’s line about the way that leads to redemption.  If we are not that concerned about being in a close relationship with God through the redemption of Jesus, religion becomes a tool, a crutch or even a weapon.  Religion is a problem when are not truly seeking the Creator.  God is merciful and gracious and understands our capacity to seek is warped, that’s why Jesus came.  Take heart dear seeker, Jesus said “I have come that you might have life and that you might have life more abundantly” (John’s Gospel, chapter 10). To allow your religion to line up with the Creator’s plan for you, seek the redemption found in Jesus Christ!

The Finger Of God

Reading Luke 11

Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey.  The last line of a comment by Jesus found in Luke’s gospel (Chapter 11).  Jesus drove out a mute demon, and some in the crowd wondered if it was by his own demonic power (Beelzebub) that Jesus did this.  Others thought he must be from God and pestered him for another miracle -a sign from heaven (more for entertainment value it seems). We are told that Jesus knew their thoughts and told them that a house divided could not stand.  He also said that, if he drove out evil spirits by the finger of God, then they should already recognize the Kingdom of God has come to them.  This is our struggle often, to correctly identify and respond to the presence and working of God’s Kingdom around us.  He illustrates and challenges our responses with two stories.  First, he talks the strong man who guards his house, at least until someone stronger comes along and clears him out. He also tells about a man who gets rid of an evil spirit in his life and cleans himself up. But the evil spirit comes back, finds the man’s ‘house’ clean and brings back seven more spirits even more wicked -the man’s condition is worse than it was before.  As I ponder these illustrations there is indeed a message for us as we consider the work of God’s Kingdom in our lives.  We can’t become holy and righteous on our own, it is not our own strength or effort that makes us clean and acceptable before God, in fact trying to make ourselves acceptable to God on our own may make our lives worse! After those two illustrations Jesus says: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey.”  It’s not about our making ourselves acceptable before God, it is about yielding to Jesus that he might make us acceptable. What do we need to obey in the word of God?  Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.  To obey God’s word is to love God, and allow God to love you.  Blessed are you to hear and to obey!

An Advent Quest

Reading John 18:28-38

 

A story more associated with the Easter season than Advent, the encounter of Jesus with Pilate is very fitting for today.  Found in John’s Gospel (18:28-38) the setting is at the government administrative center where Pilate lived and held court.  Religious leaders hauled Jesus before Pilate because they wanted to apply the death sentence but did not have the authority to do so.  So they accused Jesus of sedition and treason –claiming to be a king when Caesar is emperor over the Jews.   Pilate senses this is a railroading job, but is forced by protocol to see this through, and ultimately, sentence Jesus to execution.  Pilate asks Jesus “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus asks Pilate his motive in this question.  Ultimately, this is the question we must each arrive at, and consider our motive for asking.  Why do you want to know about Jesus? Our reason for enquiring may determine the answer we perceive. What do you want of Jesus? Do you, like Pilate, want wash your hands of the whole thing and get on living your life your way?  Do you want learn from and encounter a good teacher and maybe pick up something positive for your life?   Are you looking for something deeper, some connection with your creator, some answers to your life?  Are you looking for something else?

Consider the answer Jesus gives Pilate; “you are right in saying I am a King, in fact for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of the truth listens to me.”  An Advent/Christmas theme indeed!  For unto us a child is born… peace on earth and good will towards mankind.  This, Jesus says, is truth.  Pilate asks –I wonder with sneer or with a world weary sigh?-  “what is truth?”   The truth is that God became human to provide a sacrifice on our behalf.  To provide a way for us to enter into relationship with our creator, a relationship on this earth and into eternity.  The King of Kings born in human in humble circumstances, laid in a manger.  The King of Kings hanging on a cross, His life for ours. A King of Kings who is coming back to inaugurate His Kingdom in its fullness -a 2nd Advent.

What are you looking to discover about God this Advent season?  What answer do you seek from Jesus? May you encounter the living God who is calling you into relationship with Him!

 

A Better Advent

Revelation 1:1-8

Blessed are those who hear and take to heart what is written –the testimony of Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus, creator, redeemer, sustainer, sovereign, who was and is and is to come.

Do you ever wonder if all this is true?

I mean –is there really a God?  And if so, is it Father-Son-Holy Spirit?  Occasionally I ask myself this question.  What if this isn’t true? If it is not true, then my whole life is a sham and a waste –not a con- I’ve made my choices sincerely and sacrificially. I’m not perfect or even really good at this faith journey and following my callings. As I ponder this question I review, I quiet my heart and mind beyond the implications to my life –if necessary I can change and adapt and live life until I die.

My initial training and passion is science, and go to that. I honestly cannot think of a valid reason for life and existence other than a creator.  With design and creation comes purpose. Why?  What for? (These are two different questions.  While the utility of something seems obvious, its necessity and inspiration may not be evident in its utility.)  I conclude that God must have created this <sic: everything>, including me, for a purpose. Here now I can only explain the sincerity and reality of faith to the presence of God in my life. The Holy Spirit who awakens my mind and soul to address by hunger within. Blaise Pascal articulated it so well –a God shaped vacuum. My purpose is a relationship with God. (I and you, dear reader, are only special in this: that if one is created for relationship with God, then we all are created for relationship with God).

But what kind of relationship?  I’m an optimist by nature, so it isn’t hard for me to ascribe the best of intentions to God, but more than my inclination, I see the evidence of those who cultivate this relationship with the God-who-is-here, we have God in common.  God’s plan was simple, we are created for relationship, and the best of relationships are those mutual friendships, described as kindred spirits. There is a connection, a bond, it is completely free (oh there is responsibility and obligation, but it is not onerous, even when it is difficult –I’m in).

I ponder God’s risk in that freedom, we don’t’ have to engage in this relationship. Adam and Eve made some poor choices regarding that relationship, it was bound to happen. The consequences are human-wide, we are tainted by that choice to this day. But God is in for the relationship and continues to invite us. So Jesus, our creator, decided to become us.  A great tribute to relationship and commitment. A desperation not of panic or self-absorption, but of recognizing that, even at our best engagement, sincerest devotion and commitment, we humans could not break the hold of sin upon us. Enter Christ, the advent, the coming, the arrival.  Here my quest, my question turns; Jesus became us to facilitate relationship sacrificially –not out of duty or mere obligation- but of the greatest gift of relationship; His life for mine. I’m overwhelmed, I’m awed, I’m frightened, I’m in love. This is the essence of my faith and hope; “me and you Jesus”.  At times I am a distracted and self-absorbed friend, I have so much to learn and enjoy.

It is in this relationship that I realise it is true, true for this life and true for the next.  There is a plan, there is a process, there is a progress. Lord Jesus you are my Alpha –my beginning, and my Omega –my end, you are, you indeed were, and you are coming again –the almighty sovereign LORD.

So I enter this Advent celebration of your birth confident of your presence in my life, adoring you, looking to your return. I’m on your side and I choose to love your way –the better way, looking forward to your second advent of your Kingdom fullness. In the meantime, we walk together…

November 20, 2015
Advent 2015 -Introduction

 

A Long Hard Pull

Reading Mark 6

Sometimes God asks us to move in a certain direction and it ends up being a long hard pull into the wind.  It’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of sustained effort and any slacking off results in lost ground.  It calls us to a new level of focus, trust and determination. We recognize we cannot do it on our own.

So it was with the disciples. Jesus had said that they should get away and get some rest. However, the crowds followed because they wanted to hear more, wanted to see more, had a hunger for this Kingdom of God stuff that Jesus was presenting in such a fresh way.  After the miraculous feeding (5,000 men they counted), Jesus sent them across the lake in their boat while he went up the mountain to pray.   The wind came up and the disciples, bless their hearts, were determined to stick to the course, had to put down the sails and row into the wind.  Rowing into the wind is a tough pull, you need to be together and consistent or the wind pushes you back.  The boat is built to move through the water and it can be done, but it calls for disciplined, continued effort.  As they pull away and try not to lose ground and keep for their destination they are startled by Jesus walking on the water.  The passage says he went out to them, but was about to pass by them.  I suspect they stopped rowing and began to bob about in the wind and the waves, thinking they saw a ghost, worried about their immediate future on a whole other level.

Have you ever had something interrupt your world and focus in such a way that it challenged everything you believe and made you wonder if this was your last moment?  This was likely what the disciples were thinking, Jesus responds with “Take courage, It is I. Do not be afraid.”  These are such great words, reassuring words, hope bringing words. It is often the case that a close encounter with God rocks our understanding of reality, but it is always the case that God is calling us to Him and the way to Him is the best way.  Our fears and mis-perceptions need some calming, God’s way is best, trusting in God in the winds of adversity and the uncertainty of what we see –even a ghost! 

He climbed in the boat and the wind immediately calmed down and they were amazed.  I think there is a lot of understatement in this section.  It says they did not understand about the loaves, their hearts were hardened.  The lesson of the loaves?  When you are out of resources, God has your back.  Jesus provided the food for the people, He can take care of their crossing the lake, He can take care of your need.  That may not appear as you imagined, it may even seem frightening, but it is the best way.  Jesus says, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” 

Whatever you are pulling hard at, keep at it, but look to God for your resources and hope. God may calm the storm as you trust in Him, and He is ‘in the boat’ with you!

From Faith To Religion.

1Samuel 15 relates the story of how King Saul went from having faith to being religious and along the way, lost the crown.  One of the parts of this story that really resonates with me is Samuel’s emotional pain due to this transition, up all night praying for Saul when God brings His decree, and Samuel mourned for Saul –not for the loss of being King, but for the loss of relationship with God. 

Here’s the basics of the story…

Saul was sent by God to destroy Amalek for their attacking Israel as they came up from Egypt. Saul set off, but decided to bring back their King, Agog, and the best of the livestock. The first as a trophy, the second to ‘sacrifice to God’ –waste not, want not. God speaks to Samuel, the prophet, that night and tells him Saul is done as King. Saul has turned from God and disobeyed his instructions.  When Samuel, sleepless, meets Saul the next day Saul greets him by saying “We have obeyed God, destroyed everything and brought back sacrifices and King Agog.”  Hmmm, there is something wrong with this statement, isn’t there?  Once confronted, Saul confesses he has sinned and wants to be restored before the people.  Wait!  Notice what is missing? Shouldn’t he want to be restored in his relationship with God?  The bigger issue was not Saul’s disobedience, but his turning away from God.  Religion is great –when we have a relationship with God and follow God.  Religion is a problem –when we use it to get or maintain and position/reputation/identity before people.  Jesus taught that the greatest commandment of the Old Testament and indeed the New Testament is to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.”

God wants our obedience, but in context of our relationship; loving God and being loved by God. Mere obedience is religion. Faith is engagement in relationship with God, out of which flows a passion for obedience.  May you develop a hunger to follow God, discovering His great love for you and learning to return that love.