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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Does the sun shine on a cloudy day?

27 11 2011

Do you know the best known Bible verse?  It  is “God helps those who help themselves”.  Apparently the Barna Group did research in the US and it came out top of the poll.  Are you surprised? You should be!

It is surprising because it’s not in the Bible at all.  In fact it goes against much of the Bible’s teaching about grace (see for example Romans 5:6-8).  However, I think there’s some truth in it.

Here’s why.

Tucked right at the back of the Bible, in the book of Jude, is this little sentence – “Keep yourselves in God’s love.”  It doesn’t say that we can manage life by ourselves, but rather that we have a choice – we can choose to be in God’s love or not.  Of course, there are the sentences in the book of Romans ( 8:35-39) which offer assurance about God keeping believers in his love no matter what. 

King David in the Old Testament is also recorded as taking a proactive option – “David strengthened himself with trust in his God” (1 Samuel 30:6).  It’s not an “I can cope very well on my own thank you” attitude, but a choosing to trust God when the chips are down.

It’s a dance, a partnership.  There is ultimate security in God’s love and faithfulness – the sun is always shining.  But we can help ourselves by trusting our partner’s lead.  We can choose day to day, in the moment, to see only the clouds, or to remember that the sun is still shining and to keep ourselves in his love.





How to live well

15 08 2011

We left Paul on a spiritual high – “Oh, what a wonderful God we have!” (Romans 11:36) – and in the concluding section of his letter he translates all the preceding theological truths for us so that we can learn to live well.

We often hear people distinguish between their “spiritual life” and their “daily life” as though the two can be boxed separately.  Paul doesn’t do this.  He integrates all areas of life and gives practical instructions about how to live as God’s people.  It’s gritty stuff –

“Don’t pretend that you love others. Really love them.  Hate what is wrong.  Stand on the side of good.  Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other.  Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically.” (Romans 12:9-11)

The key to doing this is found in Romans 2:2 – “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”  Another translation says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mould.”  In other words, if you’re cut out to be a gingerbread man, don’t live as a cup cake! 

And it’s all in the thought patterns. (Was Paul the first cognitive behavioural therapist?!)

Our thinking is crucial to our behaviour.  If we think of ourselves as people of God, we must live as people of God.  It is a personal deal – “Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God.” (Romans 13:12) – and it’s an inter-personal deal – how I live affects you; how you live affects me.  Paul says, “Live in complete harmony with each other.” (Romans 15:5) 

Eugene Peterson often helps me to think through the implications of what I read in the Bible, so I leave the last word with him –

“What we often consider to be the concerns of the spiritual life – ideas, truths, prayers, promises, beliefs – are never permitted to have a life of their own apart from particular persons and actual places…God’s great love and purposes for us are all worked out in the messes of our kitchens and backyards, in storms and sins, blue skies, the daily work and dreams of our common lives.  God works with us as we are and not as we think we should be.  God deals with us where we are and not where we would like to be.”

Ponder with me…live well.





In or out?

15 08 2011

For most people it’s really important to belong.  We want to be with the “in” group, the group that is most important for us – sports team, computer whizzes, cool grannies!  Belonging to someone else’s important group isn’t significant – I don’t care whether or not I’m accepted as a Saints fan because I’m not interested in football, but I do care about being a cool granny! (Ridiculous, but you get the point.)

So how do you belong to the group “God’s people”, people who have been made right with God?

This is the question that exercises Paul when he writes his letter to the Romans.  Right at the start of the letter, he tells them that, “he has called you to be his very own people.” (1:7) These Roman Christians are “in”.

Yes, but how?

Jump on to chapter 3:22 to find out – “We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.”  And further to chapter 10:10 –“For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God.”

That all seems clear enough, but there is a problem.  The Jewish people were designated as “God’s people” way, way back in Genesis.*  They were to be the “in” group, but strangely they were to be so for the benefit of others, not for their own kudos.  God gave them a special responsibility to live in such a way that those who were “out” would find God and come “in”.  (The Old Testament section of the Bible often talks about these outsiders as “the nations”; when we come to the New Testament they are usually called “Gentiles”.) But somewhere in history that responsibility was blurred.

So here is Paul’s problem.  Gentile Christians in Rome have responded in faith to the good news about Jesus and how they could get right with God; they are now the special people of God.  But the Jewish people wanted to maintain their special relationship without having faith in Jesus but by “clinging to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law”. (Romans 10:3)

Paul argues his case that Gentile Christians are now “in” and develops a beautiful metaphor of grafting branches into an olive tree in chapters 9-11. It’s worth reading them through at one sitting to get the flow.

His conclusion?  A response of worship – “What a wonderful God we have…to him be glory for ever.”

Read the rest of this entry »





Beautiful feet bring good news

8 07 2011

I have just listened to a recording of Melvyn Bragg  speaking in celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible to an audience at the Hay Festival.  (And incidentally giving an advert for his recent book.)  He is clearly passionate about the value of the King James Version as literature and of the immense influence it has had on our society in Britain.  He also spoke to Sian and Bill on BBC Breakfast, which you can listen to here.

The King James Bible, because it was in English rather than in Latin, allowed the laity to understand what the clergy preached, so there is much to celebrate.

I still remember passages that I committed to memory at school, like this one – “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.  Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.”

But personally, I am celebrating  more recent English translations that have helped me to understand the Bible, not just as great literature and cultural influence, but as God’s story and my part in it.  (Bragg doesn’t sign up to that bit.)

Here’s that quotation again in the New Living translation – “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.”

It certainly makes more sense to me.

I am grateful to those who have told me the story, orally and in writing, people whom I have never met who have studied and translated so that I have the best possible chance of understanding and coming to faith.

~

Wycliffe Bible Translators tell us that worldwide there are over 300 million people who do not have access to the story of the Bible in the language that they understand the best, what they call their ‘heart’ language.  How will these people hear unless someone tells them; how will they have the best possible chance of coming to faith?  Wycliffe is working hard to address these issues.

But I have the Bible in my heart language.  It’s a start, but getting its message into my heart, developing a posture of heart that is right towards God, well…

~

“How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

(Romans 10:15 quoting Isaiah 52:7)





Do I really want to do what is right?

20 05 2011

 

This is the reality check question of the week.  I usually say, “Yes” without thinking much about it – of course I want to do what is right.  But this week I entered into the tug of war that Paul describes in Romans chapter 7…”I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it…I know perfectly well that what I’m doing is wrong.”

Here’s a biopsy of my struggles.

I really want to finish reading a library book.  It’s not due back, I just want to read.  A friend phones in distress and I know that going to see her will take all my reading time. 

I have a project (not work related) to finish by a deadline.  My project time has been eroded by a family crisis.  I am quiet at work and my boss is away.  No one will know if I steal time.  I’ve even brought the project papers with me to work, just in case.

The family crisis is demanding.  I can take time to align with God or I can bash on with my own coping mechanisms.

~

There’s a story that goes around about a child in a Sunday School class who is keen to please her teacher.  The teacher instigates a guessing game – “What is small, furry, has a long tail and eats acorns?”  The little gives a slow, somewhat puzzled reply,  “I know that answer should be Jesus, but it sounds like a squirrel to me.”

Paul tells us the answer to our internal tug of war (and it’s not a squirrel!)  Twice in Romans chapters 6 and 7 he exclaims – “Thank God!”  Why? Because the answer is Jesus – “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25)

We have a choice…

“…you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do…”

Tug, tug.





Faith, hope, and hanging in there

1 04 2011

 Imagine your 100th birthday – card from the Queen, birthday cake and candles, presents…and a promise from God.  And what a promise!

“Then the Lord took Abraham outside and said to him, ‘Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!'”

That’s a lot of kids.  How many did Abraham have already?  0, zero, none – however you say it, if you have no chidlren by the time you’re a hundred, the likelihood of having any is…0, zero, none.

So what does Abraham do with this promise?  The account in Genesis tells us that, “Abraham believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I think that’s an amazing response.  I think I would have wondered if dementia was finally setting in.  Not Abraham.  He did have questions, he must have struggled, but the fundamental posture of his heart was one of trust.  He was willing to hang in there although he couldn’t see how the promise could possibly come true.

This is what Paul writes about him –

“Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger…  He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.”  (You might like to read the full story of the promise of a son, and beyond, in Genesis)

And Paul has a bigger purpose in writing about Abraham than simply telling an unlikely story of hope.  He uses Abraham to construct his argument about how people are made right with God.  The Jews of the time thought that the answer was in keeping the Mosaic Law  but Paul counteracts that and says, “It’s faith alone.”  Then at the end of Romans 4 he neatly ties his points together –

“And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.”








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