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.

Hear For You

The other day I made a type in a Facebook comment, using ‘hear’ for ‘here’. A friend commented; “did you hear that Greg?” It is a common typo spell checkers don’t always flag for our attention.

We often say to friends and neighbours in crisis ‘if you need anything, I am here for you.’ We say it because we don’t know what else to say, and we suspect words may not be helpful in a time of grief or crisis. I am here for you. People will say later on that the significance was not due to your actions as much as your presence. The practice of just being with someone in their time of need, sitting, listening –hear for you. Someone may not even need to talk, but to know that you are there is a great comfort and security to them –here for you.

Jesus said; “those who come to me I will not cast out.” (John 6:37)

Jesus is here for us.

John wrote: This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1John 5:14)

Jesus is hear for us.

Know that God is listening for you and to you. God created us to be in relationship with Him, and will not force us into relationship, but waits. Granted there is a limit to that waiting, for at some point we will die and face judgement, or the end of time will come and all will stand before the throne of God.

God calls us too, to listen. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). We can extend our presence to God –here for you. This includes our actions, our ministry on behalf of God’s Kingdom, and to a deeper relationship –hear for you. To wait on God means to be here for God, to be present with God and allow God to be present with us. “Draw near to me and I will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). This is an invitation to enter into ‘here for you’. It is an invitation for our commitment to be ‘hear for you.” To quiet our hearts before God is not an abandonment of who we are, it is not an emptying of our self. It is a focus and release of ourselves to God. God created us for relationship and desire relationship with us. The best image of a child that is weaned resting on it’s mother’s breast. (Psalm 131:2). Gone is the search and striving for nourishment and comfort, there is a peace on contentment in presence. A peaceful and secure ‘here for you’, ‘here with you’.

Commit your way to the LORD the Bible prompts us in Psalm 37:5. Enter into the presence of God through the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the person of Jesus. Present yourself to God “I am here for you.”, and commit your life to God “I am hear for you.” As we listen, God will speak. Sometimes it is a long road to get to the place where we can hear and absorb. Mother Teresa had long stretches of time in her life where God seemed silent and far away, but she retained her commitment and pressed in close, waiting for the time when she would again know the intimate presence of God. As she waited she served. Here for you. Sometimes that hearing from God seems spontaneous, God breaks into our lives when we are motoring along and perhaps not in a listening mode –although committed to being ‘hear for you’. Moses seeking a lost sheep stumbles across the burning bush. Just living his life out and God comes –here with you, this is Holy ground. I have heard the cries of my people –hear for you.

Our faith is a response to God. Jesus came to earth as a human to ‘here for you’, Jesus hung on the cross ‘here for you.’ This one is not merely God in our presence, but God being our presence, our substitute on the cross. Here for you. Even while hanging on the cross Jesus responded to the request of the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Hear for you.

May you today, discover God ‘here for you’ as you present yourself to God ‘here for you’. May you know the voice of God as you listen ‘hear for you’. May you enter into the presence of God with your hope and pain, successes and failures, convictions and uncertainties –to present these to God and wait, ‘hear for you’.

To Lift A Cup…

Reading Isaiah 55:1-3

“Come all who are thirsty, come to the waters and you who have no money, come buy and eat.” The invitation found in Isaiah 55 declares that, without money, we can buy and eat. What then, is the cost? Our cost is coming (to God), and acknowledging our thirst. For some, this is pretty steep. We value independence and self-sufficiency. We want to live our lives our way. Here is the biggest struggle of faith for most of us, that we must come to God and we must acknowledge our thirst. Implicit in this is that we cannot quench that thirst without God. We often seek fill the reservoir of our lives with things, accomplishments and community/family. Isaiah understands this and asks “why spend money on what is not bread and your labour on what does not satisfy?” The things of this earthy ultimately do not bring us meaning, purpose or satisfaction. With God is the richest of fare, satisfaction and security that meets the need of our souls, our eternal craving. Isaiah beckons us to give ear and to come see, to investigate, to find out for ourselves. The objective of that investigation? That your soul may live. That your soul may live… oh the waste of a great life wrapped around a desiccated, dead soul. The deal God offers, His covenant, is everlasting. In this new year of 2015, may you look to God, acknowledge your thirst and drink deeply from the well of His love for you. May your soul be invigorated and blossom into a rich faith. Happy New Year!

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