What goes around comes around

6 09 2012

Violence, sex, massacre, brutality, deceit – more the words to describe the action in a modern thriller than words to apply to a book in the Bible. But they are all there: Judges carries these awful themes time and again.  There’s a cycle of disobedience, foreign oppression, cries of distress and deliverance. You would think the people would learn after a couple of revolutions of the cycle, but they repeated the pattern six times, as though it were Groundhog Day.

What’s worse, the judges that God sends as deliverers don’t seem much better than the people.

What’s worse still (by my reckoning), is that four of them are listed among the “greats” of faith in Hebrews 11

So, having made myself read stuff that I didn’t want to read, what have I learned from the book of Judges?

  • God remains faithful to his people throughout this dreadful time
  • Doing your own thing is not a good option
  • God offers opportunities for a fresh start; the downward corkscrew is not inevitable
  • He uses unlikely people, those who fail drastically, to be part of his purposes
  • His words in Isaiah 55:8 are true! – “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.”

I need to keep processing all this. I still don’t “feel happy” about Judges and I need to pray that my way of thinking aligns more closely with God’s – not just in what I think about these circumstances  thousands of years ago, but about my own circumstances – and ask myself, “Will you stop doing your own thing and align yourself with God’s way of working?”


Faith is life-defining

24 08 2012

What is faith?  It’s difficult to define, but maybe I can get there by thinking what it is not.  Faith is not the warm fuzzies of spiritual life somehow dissociated from the real world.  If I am to take Hebrews chapter 11 (where Wordlive has taken me) seriously, then I need to have a more robust notion of what faith is.

Nor is faith about believing difficult or impossible things just for the sake of it.  So it is not credulity, though at times it must have seemed like it (eg Abraham and Sarah Having another laugh). It is much more.

Faith is life-defining, as the other examples in the chapter show.  It is believing that there is a God, that he has made promises to mankind, promises that he will ultimately keep, even although is may appear that he has taken a holiday.  So there is something about trusting God’s faithfulness much more than it is about conjuring up a spiritual state for others to envy – the “I wish I had your faith” brigade. There’s also something about living out our beliefs, integrating all areas of life.

In one of his interviews in Mitch Albom’s book I mentioned, the Reb says this:

“‘Mitch,’ he said, ‘faith is about doing.  You are how you act, not just how you believe.'”

He seems to have got it right.

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds’.” (James 2:17-18)

Or as The Message puts it: “Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.”

So I need to have a life-defining faith, an integrated faith, faith that God is faithful no matter what.

Delete the hyphen

11 05 2012

“Ian, will you DO something!” was a cry that periodically rang out in our house when my mother was in a fix.  The sub text was that my father was too self-absorbed to notice that there was a crisis.  The question not to ask was, “What do you want me to do?”

Graphic by Ellen Lupton

Many religious people have a well-intentioned “do something” mentality – I must do religious things, even if I’m not sure what they are, for God to accept me; I must get it all together before I can pray; I need to sort myself out and then maybe…

Hebrews addresses this issue.  The writer tells first century Jewish Christians that they are too religious for their own good, too bent on doing. 

Eugene Peterson, in his introduction to Hebrews in The Message, calls them “Jesus-and” Christians: Jesus-and-angels, Jesus-and-Moses, Jesus-and-priesthood.  Hebrews, he says, “deletes the hyphens” and helps the reader refocus on God’s action in Jesus.

However, don’t be tempted to delete the hyphens and sit down to rest.  It’s not enough to say, “God-accepts-me-as-I-am-so-I- don’t-need-to-do-anything.”  True, God invites us as we are; but we must respond to the invitation – “Our part in the action is the act of faith” (Peterson) – and engage with the life change that inevitably follows.

How thin is Jesus?

25 04 2012

I’m grateful to Mark Roberts for the following reflection –

“[Jesus] is without question the thinnest of all thin places. In fact, in Jesus, the barrier between heaven and earth wasn’t just thin, it was completely non-existent. Heaven, if you will, broke through the barrier and came to be present on earth. This basic fact of Christian faith radically influences our understanding of thin places, or at least it should. It suggests that if we wish to experience God in a genuine and intimate way, then this will happen in and through Jesus. Though he is not here with us in the flesh, he is with us in spirit, or, better yet, in the Spirit. The good news of Christianity is not that certain places are thin, but that God has come to us in Jesus, and that we can experience God through Jesus and the Spirit.”


How neatly this aligns with today’s reading in Hebrews 7:23-25 –

“Earlier there were a lot of priests, for they died and had to be replaced. But Jesus’ priesthood is permanent. He’s there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through him, always on the job to speak up for them.”

Am I too comfortable with God?

29 02 2012

The subject of this post has been troubling me since 08 February when I read about Joshua’s encounter in Joshua 5:13-15.   It’s not clear to me who this person was that he met, but there was something “other” about Joshua’s experience, just as there had been for Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-6). 

Cool word for this – theophany

So what’s the problem?

I don’t have an issue with Joshua, Moses, the apostle Paul and others having these “other” experiences.  My issue is that I don’t!  I have very ordinary experiences, not ones where I fall on my knees, kick of my shoes or tremble in fear.


Sunday 19 February took me to Psalm 8:

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned themwith glory and honor.
You gave them charge of everything you made,
putting all things under their authority— 
the flocks and the herds
and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
and everything that swims the ocean currents.

O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!”

What a magnificent expression of worship!  And an astonishing positioning of human beings in the grand scheme of things.


22 February – I read a quotation of that Psalm in Hebrews 2 and the extraordinary assertion that Jesus “entered every detail of human life” and identifies with us as “brothers and sisters”.  No longer is God “other”; God is one of us. 

If that’s true,  I’d better kick my slippers off, stop sitting comfortably waiting for God to appear to me is some “other” manifestation, and take Paul’s advice –

Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:1-2)

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