So, how does following Jesus influence your trip to the supermarket today?
Law and Freedom
Why would anyone say God’s law brings freedom? Isn’t true that most of us see laws as restrictive and burdensome?
Yesterday, my reading took me to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20: the primary call to obedience for all humanity, but especially those who know and love God. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Commands is the prologue:
“And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1–2, NIV)
Before God breathes a single word of law, he wants us to know who he really is and what he really wants for us. “I am a rescuing God. I love you. I want you to thrive in freedom that honours me … and this is how you can do that.”
This is the frame God gives us for understanding his law. Perhaps even any law. God wants life to thrive in every context, for every person, no exceptions. Even foreigners, who may not know God, or care about him. Even itinerant, nomads, refugees, people who are different to “me” and “us” – God still wants them to rest and to thrive and to find fullness of life in him. Read through the commands, especially those about Sabbath, and you see that God even wants animals (and so, creation itself) to thrive and to rest.
The best life is found where people follow these commands, right? When there’s no murder, no deception in marriage, no thieving or corruption, no abuse of children, or women, or men. Who doesn’t want that?
God gave these laws to his people, sure, so that by living them they would find freedom. But also, so the nations around them would look at his people, and see how life might abound should they live his way. Even an imperfect, but largely compliant communal or national response to these commands would be evidence aplenty that God is loving, keen to rescue and save, one who brings redemption – even to us.
On Australia Day
As I celebrate this Australia Day, I recognise that I live on the lands of the Nyungar people, and I pay respect to their elders past, present and future. When James Cook landed in Botany Bay, there were some 250 nations of first Australians already here. They had been here for tens of thousands of years, and there could have been anywhere to a couple of million in number.
Europeans did not discover this land, but their arrival started to change it forever, as the first Australians had also changed it. The European colony brought many good things, but it also eventually led to removal of the first Australians from many areas, and without due recompense. History is woefully overladen with accounts of their suffering and debasement at the hands of European colonists. Indigenous peoples still carry much of this pain. Many European Australians deny it in equal measure.
My prayer for Australia now is that we own this history, or it will continue to own us. We need to acknowledge our first Australians in our constitution. We need to listen to their voice, we need to hear their cry, and we need to act in equity and justice. This is what God would want from us. One day we sill stand before him and render account for how we have addressed this situation.
Let our shared love for this country and our awareness of God’s grace gloriously received move us forward into reconciliation, gracious embrace, and a future where all can thrive.
I’m celebrating today because the move toward reconciliation will always outlive the voice of hate and cowering fear. I love my country, and in it everything God has given to me, my children and grandchildren. I doubt there is a better place to live on earth. And I know this great land will only get better as we walk, with our First Australians, into God’s good future.
U.S. Supreme Court, ‘Marriage Equality’ and the Christian Voice
Many Christians have already weighed in on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling which has allowed gay marriage in all 50 states of the USA. The Christian voice on this subject is wide and varied: opinions run the whole spectrum. Those who listen to this amalgam of comment may be wondering just what to think and what to say about the matter. This post, rather than comment on the issue per se, calls Christians to think carefully about how to respond, before we even get to what we should say.
So as we think about how we should speak, remember the following:
Be humble. We are all sinners. We are failed, fallen and failing people. None of us deserves God’s grace. The Supreme Court ruling evidences our broken and fallen world and the sin of the human heart. God is grieved by any human action, thought or disposition which does not honour him. This decision, as with myriad other human decisions done in defiance, ignorance or indifference to God, is a powerful reminder of how our world needs God and his grace
Be gracious: Christians everywhere must respond in love and grace, even while disagreeing. This is not the time for hot headed statements, cynicism, or fear. The world watches how we react to this development. Words of ignorance, anger or spite will not advance the cause of Jesus Christ. Make a commitment not to demonise or marginalise those who express their sexuality in a way that you would not. Do not mock the judges who handed down this ruling. Reacting with hatred or judgmental attitudes only deepens people’s prejudice against the Gospel. Nick Wolterstorff reminds us: “a community that shuns the broken can never be whole, or holy”
Submit to Scripture. People will quote lists of Bible texts. Here are some to keep on the top of your stack. Let these verses govern everything you say and do:
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,
“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:8-17)
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:6)
Keep your perspective: Remember: no Supreme Court decision changes what the Supreme Being reveals in his word. No need to be dismissive, pompous or arrogant, but the word of God stands forever. Never forget this. While the Supreme Court interprets law, it cannot change the human heart. Only the Supreme Power of God can bring the restoration, healing and transformation we need. Only the Supreme Grace of Jesus can cleanse from the deepest sin and restore the most abject brokenness.
Keep the right end in mind. The Supreme Court’s decision will disappoint and disturb many who love Jesus, but it is not the end of the world. Christ is still on the throne. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. Remember his words
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4)
Be an example: There is no better time to uphold the beauty of marriage as God created it. So, husbands and wives, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, love each other as Christ loved the church: selflessly, sacrificially, beautifully. Do this to Christ’s glory.
As I said, there is need to process this, but I cannot think of a more important time to live the winsomeness of the Kingdom of God and the grace of Jesus than a time when things are running against us. History shows when Christians do this, the tide of opposition will slowly change.
Trust God, friends, to do his work in you and through you.
Grace and peace,
True Christianity Seen in Charleston’s Forgiveness
Last week WAToday journalist Neil McMahon described Fred Nile’s views on marriage as ‘jurassic’. Apparently, anyone who upholds a traditional, let alone a view of marriage grounded in Scripture, is a bit of a dinosaur. McMahon’s words are another indication of the growing distance between traditional Christianity and current views in society. The challenges are huge, and sometimes confrontational.
Much could be said about the often ad hominem nature of such attacks on Christian leaders and the church, although most can see these ungracious and unthinking words for what they are. Even so, I welcome the challenge being placed before the church today. Every new question, even words of attack, give Christians an opportunity to give account for the hope they have.
If you were ever wondering what Christianity is about, and why it has survived for 2000 years, and then, through trials and in circumstances considerably more foreboding than our current social climate, you need go no further than what we see unfolding in Charleston, South Carolina.
Last week the world looked on in horror as reports unfolded of how Dylann Roof entered the American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the oldest African American congregation in the country, and murdered nine innocent people. Those murdered had warmly welcomed him into their Bible discussion groups just one hour earlier. At Roof’s first court appearance last Friday, family members were permitted to make statements to the Court where Roof made his first appearance after the shooting.
What did those people say? What characterised their words? Bitterness? White knuckled rage? Seething desire for revenge?
No. What we saw was Christianity in action. We saw the power of there Risen Jesus at work in his people. We were confronted with words of grace and forgiveness. These words were so powerful, so other worldly, they could only have come from those possessed by the Spirit of Christ.
See for yourself:
“I just want everyone to know, I forgive you. You took something really precious from me [her mother]. I will never be able to talk to [my mother] again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. May God have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you. And I forgive you.”
…words were so powerful, so other worldly, they could only have come from those possessed by the Spirit of Christ…
“I forgive you. My family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ. So that he can change it. Change your ways no matter what happened to you, and you’ll be ok. Do that. And you’ll be better off than what you are right now.”
“We welcomed you Wednesday night to our Bible Study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful people I know. Every fibre in my body hurts. And, and, I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But, as we said in our Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on your soul.”
“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof, that they lived in love and their legacies live in love. So hate won’t win.”
“Depayne Doctor was my sister. And I too thank you, on behalf of my family, for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress. And I acknowledge I am very, angry. But one thing that Depayne taught me, is that we are, the family that Love built. We have no room for hating! So we have to forgive. And I pray God [have mercy] on your soul.”
Christians everywhere are deeply moved by their example. We thank God for their grace and courage. May their words be echoed, repeated, whispered – through our tears – for years to come.
What is Christianity? It is how God, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, breaks the power of evil in human lives, and through his Spirit begins transforming them, and their world, so Jesus’ new life comes to glorious expression .
This is the Christianity, the Jesus, the Gospel our world needs to see and believe.
And yes, Neil McMahon, such words are old, but they carry more power and grace than you can imagine. They change lives. They heal hurts. And they breathe life into our world’s most broken and tragic places.
What is it about God, anyway?
Ever wonder why people believe in God? Or what it means to follow him?
Everybody seems to have a different opinion on this – so how do you answer the question? My suggestion is: listen to what God says about himself.
There’s a story in the book of Exodus about how God had a discussion with Moses. Or maybe it was Moses had an encounter with God. And Moses, who seemed to be able to put the point across when it suited him, is feeling narky because the Lord had called him to lead the people of Israel, and yet he had not shown Moses his glory. How Moses said this with a pillar of cloud guarding the camp, and having been led through the Red Sea on dry ground, I don’t know. I know it probably wouldn’t happen today, but maybe Moses just had a short memory when it came to God’s goodness.
Anyway, God decides to show Moses his glory. He does that by proclaiming his name. As with most ancient near east cultures, a name revealed one’s character.
“And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19, NIV)
Lots of good things can be said about God, but what he says about himself tells us volumes. The core of God’s character is mercy and compassion. Deep seated care, grace and love for his people and for his world. That’s it, right there.
It’s no surprise, then, to see such mercy and compassion revealed in Jesus, who loved people who were his enemies and who befriended outcasts. He gave his life on the Cross to bring us back to this merciful and compassionate God.
And God’s plan is for his character, and the character of Jesus, to come to expression in his people. Christians, more than anyone, have the privilege to live mercifully, compassionately and humbly.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12–14, NIV)
Think of the people God has placed around you: who needs your compassion? Who needs your mercy? Who needs to see who God really is and what he is really like? Go. Do.
Time Heals All Wounds …right?
You’ve probably heard it, and maybe you’ve even said it: “time heals all wounds”. Plenty of people have said it to me over the last couple of years. I guess they are saying that if you just leave something, the pain will eventually subside. Soldier on. Life goes on. People move on. Or whatever.
Maybe Lennon and McCartney were right. Sometimes, the best way to deal with a tough situation is to just let it be. Sometimes some of the hurts we carry just need to be left. It’s best for us. It’s best for others. In reality, there are some things that come our way that are not worth responding to. Laugh them off. Let ’em go through to the keeper. Forget about it.
I heard once about a conference speaker who had people throw balls to them while they were speaking. That was interesting enough. But what really caught my attention was that the speaker did nothing to catch the balls. They just bounced off, and rolled along the stage, out of sight. From from time to time, though, the speaker did catch one of the balls, and then used that occasion to speak specifically about a situation that had troubled them or hurt them. Meanwhile, other balls were thrown, and they continued to bounce off, and roll across the floor.
when things are thrown at you sometimes the best thing to do is to let it go
The speaker was making the point that she did not have to respond to everything that was thrown at her, and that she was quite intentional about what she would respond to, and when. Great lesson. And a reminder that when things are thrown at you sometimes the best thing to do is to let it go.
But there’s a part of “time heals all wounds” that bothers me, and which ultimately works against what God would have us do with our pain. While there are occasions where it’s best to let it go, there are other occasions where we should never let it go. A serious disagreement between two people? You should not let it go. A heated argument between a husband and wife? You should not just let it go. Growing resentment in a relationship? You should not just let that go.
Over the years there have been too many times when I have heard people say ‘time heals all wounds’ as an excuse not to do the very thing they needed to do. Then, ‘time heals all wounds’ was just a convenient and sometimes cowardly way to live in denial.
In a moment of anger a stressed husband makes a cutting remark to his wife, and she is hurt. The husband might think, “Well, I’ll just let it go. She’ll be OK in the morning, and she doesn’t understand the pressure I am under anyway.” The night passes, and in the morning he’s just pushing through but she’s still hurt. The wound is there, but time probably won’t heal it. If it’s left untreated, the natural reaction is resentment. To cover the hurt by not discussing work stress again. And so the dysfunction is multiplied. The wife is still hurt. The husband’s work stress remains a ‘no go’ area. In the end, it’s an area of the relationship which becomes closed. Have a few of them from time to time, and the relationship not only loses wonderful opportunities for growth, but it will start to wither in key areas.
Truth is, time only heals small wounds. Just leaving things alone, especially if they are big things, only increases the capacity for pain and dysfunction in the future. And it makes it easy to repeat the same mistakes down the track.
So, how can we tell the difference between an issue we can leave, and one which needs to be addressed? Is it possible to know which wounds time will not heal? That’s for next time…
Q: Does this resonate with you? Has the maxim ‘Time heals all wounds’ worked for you? Leave a comment to share your experience.
God and the Live Export Beef Trade
Read: Gen 9:7-17
In his book, ‘Engaging God’s World’, Cornelius Plantinga observes that Genesis 1 opens our eyes to the core character of God. In his act of creation, God answers the formlessness of the heavens and the earth with his creative word ‘Let there be light.’ While Plantinga does not make the point directly, I have wondered whether the essence of God’s grace is to give out of who he is, and what he has, to cause others to flourish.
Once you start thinking this through, you start to see it everywhere in the Bible. You see it in creation itself, in God’s call of Abraham, and ancient ‘nobody’; in his establishment of his covenant with insignificant Israel, the birth of Isaac, Israel’s entry into Canaan; even in King David, who simply did not cut it when it came to how a King should look. Most of all, we see it in Jesus’ coming into the world to bring grace and life and truth. We see it in his commitment to his mission, and his self sacrifice (Phil 2). We see it in God’s mission through the church, and to the church’s call to sacrifice and servanthood. It is everywhere: God wants his world to thrive and his people to flourish. This is not some prosperity driven gospel of success. The flourishing life God wants for his world is that they thrive in his self giving gracious character. He wants us to thrive in being like Jesus.
…the essence of God’s grace is to give out of who he is, and what he has, to cause others to flourish…
This passage in Gen 9 speaks of the covenant the Lord makes with ‘all life on earth’. I believe one of the applications here is that God loves all life. His Spirit makes life abound! These words in v.17 get us thinking about our responsibilities, not just to human beings, but to all forms of life, and the environments in which they live. A few days ago, ABC’s Four Corners exposed horrible practices of some beef export companies. It was ghastly footage to anyone who viewed it. Imagine, then what God thinks! Maybe he was weeping. Maybe he still is.
Maybe God weeps at the indifference shown by some of his people to questions of environmental concern. We all know there are priorities: the well being of other people is paramount. But that does not mean God’s people can dumb down matters of environmental stewardship and the just use of land and creation.
Since we are images of God, we are called to care about the things God cares about. He loves life. He wants it to flourish and thrive. And Jesus his Son is his means of reconciling the whole cosmos to himself.
Q: Do you think Christians have typically denied their environmental responsibilities? How have you seen this?
Grace is free, but it’s not cheap
Read: Deuteronomy 7:6-16
Have you ever noticed that we love hearing about God’s grace, but we are not so keen to hear his call to obedience?
Do you ever wonder how God feels about that? Maybe he feels like a lover who showers their mate with affection, gifts, and security only to find that their mate is indifferent and does not reciprocate. I don’t know: would God be more grieved, or broken, or angered? Maybe all of that together, and more.
Grace is free, but it is not cheap. If we have little desire to obey, we cheapen whatever it cost God to give grace in the first place. The cross of Jesus tells us the cost to God was beyond our imagination.
If we have little desire to obey, we cheapen whatever it cost God to give grace in the first place
In Deut 7, we hear how God acted in grace to draw people to himself. And as much as we believe in grace, the verses which follow remind us that we still have a deep sense of responsibility to obey. They also remind us that how we obey will have profound consequences in our lives.
Obedience is no burden. Is a lover burdened when they respond to their mate with warmth, love, and commitment? Is a lover burdened when they rest on the shoulder of their mate, keen to do whatever will express their joy and happiness to be in relationship? Obligation doesn’t even come into it. This is all about opportunity, privilege, and joy.
Our responses to God should be like that. As we obey God, we get to live for the sort of world that he delights in. His love is our motive. His love is the cause. His love is the goal.
Q: Think of one area were you have been resisting obedience to God. Think about how much he loves you, and what that love cost, and then make a resolution to change some specific behaviour and attitudes
The Surprise of Grace
Read Romans 5:-11
“We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his doors to us … we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God graciously pours into our lives through his Holy Spirit.”
Grace surprises us. Sometimes this comes with the realisation that even though we thought we had chosen for God – and in our experience that is often what happens – he has always been at work in us first. It seems that things are not always as they seem.
Why do we hang on to this notion that it is us who have made the difference? Is it because we desperately want to believe that we are still in control? That we can influence God? Is it because we are horrified by the thought that our rebellion and the fall have warped us at our core? Is it because we want to make some contribution to our eternal security? I am not sure. It could be a lot of things.
Our utter inability finds is glorious resolution in God’s love through Jesus
Truth is: we were sinners. We were God’s enemies. We were weak (too weak to make a difference). We were ungodly.
An yet God acted in Christ to change all that. Christ gave his life for us. God loved us. We were saved from God’s wrath. We were reconciled. God loved us. We were rescued. Our utter inability finds is glorious resolution in God’s love through Jesus.
You may not like this truth, but it is your reality. Good thing, too. Because being a rebel, a sinner, an enemy of God, it could not have happened without God initiating your rescue through Jesus.
But it has happened – how good is that? Through Jesus we have peace with God, and we rejoice in the truth that while we may not understand, we gladly accept that he has opened his door to us. First.