Wednesday, October 24, 2012

CP 194 Boys doing dumb things

CP 194 Boys doing dumb things…

Many dumb things were done in my childhood. One of my brothers, and a friend, both aged 15, swam across the Murrumbidgee River at Oura. No problem? We were camping, it was after dark and it was during the August school holidays. Night temperatures frequently dropped below zero at that time of the year. The pair were on their way to the Wagga Drive-in 10kms away on the east side of the river! They got there, half-frozen, and did manage to see half a movie by the grace of a patron who let them sit in his car. On the way back to our tent they got lost in the fog. When they located the river they couldn’t work out whether to turn left or right. Eventually, fully frozen, they managed to swim back across the river at 1.30am.

The above-mentioned friend used to lay down in the middle of the Old Narrandera Road? Could that be a problem? Well, yes, especially if it was at pub closing time on an unlit section of road. Why do it? For kicks. An inebriated drinker would (hopefully) stop to check on the ‘body’ which would suddenly ‘resurrect’ with a laugh and then race off into the darkness. ‘He’ was never amused.

Another (grown-up) brother went fishing on the river with friends. Wasn’t much happening so they decided to try their luck, Crocodile Dundee style, with a stick of gelignite. Did you know that gelignite floats if the deadweight accidentally slips off? And do you have any idea how fast people can row a boat when ‘live’ gelignite floats to the surface?

One of my really dumb things was to jump into the deep-end of the Wagga City Baths with a plastic bag over my head. “I wanted to see what would happen.” That’s what I told the alert life-guard who saved my life. I’ve written elsewhere about the idiocy of trying to do ‘the ton’ as a 1 month P-Plater. Walking down Darlinghurst Rd at 2.30am wasn’t clever either. And I can tell you there is zero joy in store if you set out to drink as much whisky as you can for ego’s sake. For some reason I’ve been thinking of these things lately. Every last episode of stupidity could have ended with a fatality if not serious injury. Then out of the blue this morning I remembered another one. Once again it involved the river. Until this morning, I had never considered the danger in which I placed myself.

Just downstream from home there’s an island where we often played. Usually it was hide and seek. There were all sorts of nooks and crannies in which to hide. You could almost disappear in among the reeds provided you kept perfectly still. One day I found the perfect hiding place. It was inside a hollowed-out eucalypt which was lying on its side in the river beside the island. The tree was at least 1 metre wide and it had a tiny hole in its side, just above water level, which birds might have found attractive if it was upright. Once inside, I could watch the searcher but he could not see me. There was a minor catch though. To get to the hidey-hole I had to enter that hollow space by going underwater! This morning, for the first time it dawned on me that if anything had ever happened to me inside that log I might well never have been found.

Why am I telling you these? Well for one thing it underlines that life is fragile and we can do dumb things which can end a life quickly. For another, all of us can grow in awareness of protection and therefore also grow in thankfulness for life. It is true that life is a gift, but sometimes survival is a gift as well. Thirdly, such near-misses can help us develop a sense of being kept safe for a purpose, especially Kingdom purposes. And there is something else. It has to do with growing in faith.

All of us, sometimes wilfully, and sometimes without thinking, will have placed ourselves in situations which are spiritually dangerous for us and which cause deep grief for the Spirit of God. At the time we hardly consider the implications. Think of permissions you have given yourself, and subsequent actions, to do with anger, greed, lust, unclean relationships, jealousy, hatred, ambition, bitterness, immorality, dabbling in the occult, scorn for life, scorn for authority, dishonesty, drunkenness, laziness… Some of these things (and their accompanying guilt/shame) will only return to consciousness years later. However there is a liberating truth. The forgiveness for them has been in place from the moment of faith in Jesus Christ, whether it came at the time of our baptism or through the heard Gospel.

King David might well shudder that “You have set our secret sins in the light of your presence.” (Psalm 90:8). He also knew another truth: “There is forgiveness with you that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4) The Apostles, like Paul, knew the best truth of all: “There is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) So there! Whether your particular sins arose out of dumb foolishness or deliberate wickedness, hold fast to Jesus the Christ, for because of him, because of Good Friday, the Father in Heaven declares that, “I will forgive their wickedness, and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12)

May your week be blessed. Fred

Thursday, October 18, 2012

CP 193 The 'ignorant and offensive spurning' of our Father

CP 193 The ‘ignorant and offensive spurning’ of our Father

Hello friends, here is the final instalment of my trilogy. (Hardly my magnum opus, is it?) The first of the three was titled, Our dumbed-down ‘Jesus’, the second was titled, The AWOL Holy Spirit. This last one is, The ‘ignorant and offensive spurning’ of our Father. Here goes…

The passion for this blog was fired around about 2003. I had just completed a series on the marvellous gift Jesus had revealed in calling us to address our prayers to ‘Our Father in heaven’. One of my worshippers told me in no uncertain terms that she would never address God as her Father because she liked to keep her sense of distance from him. I suggested that she might be giving offense in rejecting that call / invitation / privilege to close the distance. She, in turn, was offended by my challenge…

Back in 1998, yours truly was privileged to spend 3 weeks on a biblical counselling course with Selwyn Hughes. His name is known through the “Everyday with Jesus” daily Bible readings. Selwyn Hughes picked up on a remark of Martin Luther that marriage was God’s best way of explaining himself. As part of his teaching he told how he was continually taken by a quote from an Australian author about the Trinity which captured the Luther quote. This is it:

“The Father loves the Son and gives Him everything. The Son always does that which pleases the Father. The Spirit takes the things of the Son and shows them to us. We learn from the Trinity that relationship is the essence of reality and therefore the essence of our existence. We also learn that the way this relationship should be expressed is by concern for others. Within the Trinity itself there is a concern by the Persons of the Trinity for one another.”
(D. Broughton Knox, The Everlasting God, Evangelical Press)

Now, this is a strong and clear statement of the way the Lord God Almighty, the ‘I am who I am’, The Holy One, has revealed himself, and why he has revealed himself, for the purpose of redeeming a sinful and lost humanity. Therefore I invite you to read that paragraph again, taking particular note of the phrase I have made bold and put in italics.

“The Father loves the Son and gives Him everything. The Son always does that which pleases the Father. The Spirit takes the things of the Son and shows them to us. We learn from the Trinity that relationship is the essence of reality and therefore the essence of our existence. We also learn that the way this relationship should be expressed is by concern for others. Within the Trinity itself there is a concern by the Persons of the Trinity for one another.”

It’s true. We are who we are, and identify ourselves, through the various relationships in which we live, (or in some cases in which we refuse to live), and especially in our relationship with the Lord God Almighty. So I invite you to read the paragraph again and note the two words I have highlighted.

The Father loves the Son and gives Him everything. The Son always does that which pleases the Father. The Spirit takes the things of the Son and shows them to us. We learn from the Trinity that relationship is the essence of reality and therefore the essence of our existence. We also learn that the way this relationship should be expressed is by concern for others. Within the Trinity itself there is a concern by the Persons of the Trinity for one another.”

Please note what is written there and let Holy Spirit engrave it as truth on your heart. It does not say that God loves the Son. No, it does not. What it does say is, “The Father loves the Son…” That is a wonderful and proper distilling of how the Lord God Almighty has pleased to let himself be known. Why is this important? Because ‘Father’ is far and away a stronger relational word than the generic term, ‘God’! I’m not suggesting God is not real. But every single religion or religious movement uses that word to describe their perception of the divine. In Christ the Son we know something entirely different. The Gospel clearly shows us that Son Jesus the Lord is revealing God the Father. He does not teach us to pray, ‘Dear God in Heaven’, but, ‘Our Father in Heaven’. It’s personal. It’s relational. It’s intimate. It’s meant to be all these things.

Think of gospel texts you know:
  • How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. (Luke 11:11)
  • Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. (Matt 5:45-46)
  • …Your Father, who sees what is done in secret… (Matt 6:6)
  • For this reason, I kneel before the Father… (Ephesians 3:14)
  • I am returning to my Father and your Father… (John 20:17)
  • Plus dozens and dozens more…

The bottom line is that the Father has set himself to have an intimate, personal relationship with you and with me. Indeed that is his purpose with all who call on the name of his Son, Jesus the Christ, our Saviour and our Lord. The Gospel is the story of the Father’s passionate longing to restore the ‘friendly walk’ he had with Adam and Eve in the Garden. (Genesis 3:8) He has done, with the free and joyful determination of Jesus the Son, absolutely everything necessary for the re-creation of companionship between himself and Adam’s offspring. This is the guts of the meaning of the Cross. Nothing more and nothing less!

So there! Let's end the ignorance and offence. Address Him as Father, with lips, from heart. Olivia Newton John has a celebrated hit called, “Let’s get physical”. It captures the spirit of the age in which we live. Jesus the Son, along with the angels and archangels has a song too. It is called, “Let’s get personal…” It’s a song for the Ages and Ages. So when Holy Spirit gifts you the freedom and joy of confessing ‘Jesus is Lord’, and instincts you to cry out “Abba, Father!” then grab the gift Fatherly intimacy with all your heart, soul, mind and strength!

Enough already. Forgive my verboseness. Fred

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

CP 192 The AWOL Holy Spirit

CP 192 The AWOL Holy Spirit

Hello friends, I’m excited! It looks like I’m going to be writing a trilogy! Tolkein beware. There you go, delusions of grandeur have finally overtaken me. There will be a trilogy but only of today’s blog, last week’s effort, and next week’s as well. What triggered this thematic burst? A response to last week’s article about our dumbed-down “Jesus”. It was short and to the point. Here it is.

Thanks for a great blog... I have a question - where do you think Holy Spirit comes into this? Is He referred to as Holy Spirit ever or do we just learn about Holy Spirit's role?
Your thoughts would be appreciated! Anne

So here is Part Two of the God Trilogy, The AWOL Holy Spirit…

Anne was picking up the fact that when the Apostles were referring to God as Father, and Jesus as Lord, they were affirming the divine nature of both. But where does Holy Spirit get into that picture? We declare our faith in the God who reveals himself as three in one. We know verses which clearly assert the divine nature of the Holy Spirit such as, “… you have lied against the Holy Spirit… You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4) Think of Paul’s enigmatic picture-phrase, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:17-18) The Lord Jesus’ own command was to baptise and teach, “in the name (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28:18) We give voice to this conviction in the words of the Apostles Creed. The question is, in the unfolding of God’s plan, how do these three persons ‘come across’?

Well, the Father is direct and upfront. Among his many commands and revelations of his purpose, one core, central, basic command/intention stands out above all others. In all things and above all, we are to honour the beloved Son. Jesus, the Father’s eternal Son, is also in our face with his utter devotion, regardless of cost, to live in, and from, the Father’s will. The Holy Spirit, however, never draws attention to himself. He is powerfully present, but behind the scenes, a discreetly hidden but determined advocate of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Kingdom cause of grace and truth.

Somewhere back in May of 2012 I put together a piece about the Holy Spirit. It was based on a quote from Frederick Dale Bruner in which he beautifully captures Holy Spirit’s obsession with Jesus the Christ. The Spirit of the Lord has ‘CrossPurposes’. He is shy about himself but passionately un-shy about the Father’s Son. (Check it out on the blog – No. 177). I concluded that article with a question deliberately phrased so that it would ‘grind’ against the usual language churches use about the Holy Spirit. I repeat it here: Is it possible for us to be properly engaged in the Kingdom work of Jesus the Christ without the Baptism of the Holy Spirit? I fielded many responses to that blog, including the one below from a passionate Jesus Christ person I’ll call Gwen.

“Greetings Pastor Fred.  I am not good at blogging! I’ve just read your CrossPurposes re baptism of the Holy Spirit.  I recently read Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Holy Spirit and thought his research into the gifts of the Spirit was very convincing.  I assume (from Blog 177) that you believe the gifts of the Spirit are relevant for today. After reading the book I asked various people if the gifts were relevant today.  One thought was that God is holding back the gifts today, another that they were only relevant for the Apostles. I find it hard to comprehend that the rest of the Scriptures are relevant for today except the working of the Holy Spirit through the gifts he wishes to bestow on us. 

After reading Deere’s book I felt he answered a question that I have asked for years, ‘What is wrong with the Church?’ I came to the conclusion that it was because we do not see signs and wonders happening amongst our people. People seem frightened to allow the Spirit to be released, therefore no signs, therefore those in church seem no different to those who don’t believe. I also realised that, as in some churches, the gifts can be abused and this is why others are frightened to release God out of the box. This is so sad because they are not living the abundant life that Jesus promises us.”

You might not be comfortable about the way Gwen sees things or phrases things, but I’m sure you hear her cry. Over the years I have heard and received dozens of similar cries, longing for something more alive than deadness in worship and unfruitfulness in the lives of Christians. In fact, if you ask me, (and you are not asking, but I’ll tell you anyway) the number one reason committed people leave a church to go to another church is because of the perceived deadness they sense every time they walk in the door… and put their leaving down to a suppression of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church. Yes, he is frequently mentioned in our core theological statement, ie the Spirit works through word and sacrament…, and he does! However, most of our reflection on Holy Spirit is about what he does rather than the relationship he has with us in Christ. We know that the Spirit is the creator of faith through the heard word. We do not seem to know who he is in and for our personal and communal life.

We are brought into a relationship with the Spirit of the living God because it is within that relationship that we freely exalt the Lord Jesus and rejoice in the privilege of growing in grace and knowledge of the Father and the Son. It is not for nothing that the Lord Jesus tells us, forcefully, how willing the Father is to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:13) Sine qua non! Without which nothing! Without the Spirit of Jesus we can do nothing, With the Spirit of Jesus, all things are possible. If the Holy Spirit appears to have gone AWOL whose problem is it?

Maybe now is the time for you and I to get up close and personal with Holy Spirit. Let’s go and get drenched by the Spirit? Or, let go and get drenched by the Spirit? Whatever happens, remember to celebrate the Giver ahead of celebrating his gifts.

Shalom in the living One.  Fred

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

CP 191 Our dumbed-down "Jesus".

CP 191 Our dumbed-down “Jesus”?

Whenever I ask people to nominate their favourite hymns there are two hymns, apart from ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’, which occur in almost everybody’s list. They are ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’, and ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’. This is no surprise. Such hymns give us a wonderful way to express our sense of God’s heart and our experience of the relationship between him and us. It is Jesus the Son who reveals the Father-heart of God.

However, in recent years I have found myself increasingly troubled about the way we say things like, “God saved us through Jesus’ death on the cross”, or “In Jesus, God accepts us”. Let me explain why I’m troubled.

Those phrases would give any non-believer the impression that Jesus and God are two entirely separate beings. There is God and there is Jesus. God and Jesus are not the same. I am certain that is not what we mean, but that is how it comes across. As a result I began to look at the way the Old Testament writers, and also the Apostles and other New Testament writers, referred to the Almighty.

In the Old Testament the most frequent names for the Holy One are ‘God’ and ‘Lord’, and those two names / titles are very often used together. So when Moses is given the 10 Commandments he is told, “I am the LORD your GOD who brought you out of the land of Egypt…” In Genesis 2 we read that, “…the LORD GOD formed man from the ground…” We use exactly that combination in another favourite hymn, “O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder…” Do you remember Thomas’ words when he met the risen Jesus? “My Lord and my God!”

Now the Gospels are always referring to ‘Jesus’. But after Jesus is fully revealed as Lord through the resurrection something changes remarkably. Look at Paul’s greeting to the Roman Church: “Grace to you and peace from GOD our FATHER and the LORD JESUS CHRIST”. (Romans 1:7) Do you see that? Through the Gospel the LORD GOD is now revealed as GOD the FATHER and the LORD JESUS CHRIST.

Now here’s the thing.  Every single greeting in Paul’s 13 letters has the identical combination of GOD and LORD. The Apostle Peter uses the exact same words to describe the Lord God in a new covenant way in his two letters. For the Apostles, when they refer to ‘God’, they always mean God the Father. In the same way, when they refer to ‘The Lord’, they expect us to know that they are speaking of Jesus Christ! Even then, what surprises me as much as anything is that I can count on my ten fingers the number of times Paul and Peter between them refer just to ‘Jesus’ as a stand alone name.

Allow me to give you an example. In the letter to Rome how does Paul the Apostle refer to the one who was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, had a ministry for 3 years around Judea and Galilee, and who was crucified in Jerusalem? Here are some figures:
·        32 times he refers to him as CHRIST.
·        5 times he refers to him as LORD JESUS.
·        7 times he refers to him as LORD.
·        19 times he refers to him as JESUS CHRIST.
·        10 times he refers to him as LORD JESUS CHRIST.
·        Only once does he use the name of JESUS on its own, and even then CHRIST JESUS is in the same sentence!

You will find the same thing in all the letters. Even James, his own half-brother, does not call him simply Jesus. He names him thus: “…you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory.” Having discovered this about the Apostles I keep asking myself what we have lost in our lazy ‘Jesus this… Jesus that’, dumbed-down naming of the Saviour.

What changes if we use Jesus Christ’s full names and titles? Here are some thoughts and suggestions:
  • We recover a sense of respectful awe, of the holy and sacred, in our relationship with him.
  • We acknowledge and confess that he is merciful and forgiving.
  • We live with increased awareness of his Lordship over our lives. He may call us friends in a Kingdom sense, but we cannot claim him as an Aussie sort of mate.
  • Our faith is confessed in our use of those names and titles.
  • The Good News is carried in the way we name our Lord, and the proper ‘offence of the Gospel’ is carried in those names and titles.
  • The spiritual powers of darkness are confronted and assaulted every time we call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in faith. “…every knee must bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phillipians 2)
  • We retain our conviction and knowing that “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
  • And good old Martin Luther: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, Son of the Father, and true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my LORD!”

What I have tried to do here is get you thinking about your Lord Jesus the Christ, and about God your Father, and how you and I represent him in the community of faith and in the world. And it might change the way we formulate our prayers!


PS  When we sing hymns and songs which do not clearly confess our Lord and God it drives me nuts. It’s even worse when the hymns and songs don’t name him at all! It might all sound holy and pious but it’s soppy religious guff, and it can only leave us empty!