Friday, 6 November 2009

A Cosmic Joke?

What if all this is one hilarious, big, Cosmic Joke? Yes, I am talking about the Universe, our little Solar System, and us brats that live in it. "Brats!" you say? Well - if you consider the audacity of some people - Christians in particular - to claim that this was ALL made just for us humans ... well, brats is about the only word one can find. But what if it really and truly was?

How do we know that this life of ours, this world we live on, this Universe, isn't one huge Cosmic Joke? Well - we'd need to really search around for answers to that question, studying philosophers, science, and every theology under the sun. Oh yes, and fictional authors. Perhaps they have the answer? One book I read put forward a picture that a god-like character had created a universe, and placed a race of humans on a planet (well, they seemed to be 'human') as prey for an arch-enemy of his - little crab-like bugs that ate the humans. This kept the enemy occupied so that the god-like character could do what he liked. What if that's us - pawns in some ... well, Cosmic Joke?

To put it simply, I would argue that the answer, and the reassurance that this is not the case, is to be found in the person of Jesus Christ. In a world that has always been hungry for "good news", the Bible and the words contained in it - and the person it reveals - is the only Good News that the world has ever received. And we can know that it is true by reading eyewitness accounts of Jesus life, death and resurrection here on earth, not to mention the fact that millions of people around the world today - 2000 years after Jesus breathed and walked on this world - will still bear the same witness. Either all of these people are completely and utterly mad, as this witness often comes at the price of their lives - or there is something in this that is true.

Which side of the fence will you land on?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Acceptance or Approval? (2)

Another sermon-based topic, which has been brought home in more ways than one through conversations with friends this week - conversations in which I did not initiate the topics discussed.

As children, we are very often (incorrectly) taught that disapproval of things that we do (eg. punishment if we are naughty) means that we are rejected as a person. This usually happens because we are not reminded that we are accepted - especially at the time when our actions are/were disapproved of.

Part 1 of this topic was intended to illustrate a story from the Bible - but there are many other stories that make it very clear that disapproval does NOT equal rejection - and that God very definitely loves each one of us, even if he disapproves of the choices that we make. This is the whole basis for what Jesus did on the cross. If one reads about Jesus life, one will see clearly that He walked among sinners - talked to them, and furthermore ate with them (had fellowship with them) - but in no way did their actions and choices rub off on Him - He was still sinless.

There are three perspectives that we can use to observe this story.

Firstly, consider the relationship between Jesus and his critics - the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. The critics have an agenda - as usual. They want to catch Jesus out, and Jesus knows it. They appeal to Moses' law - but they abuse it at the same time. The law says that both parties caught in adultery should be stoned - not just one - so, where's the guilty man? If Jesus says that they should stone the woman, he breaks the prevailing Roman law which forbids this, but if he says they should not, then he breaks Moses' law. Jesus' answer is therefore all the more brilliant, because it ignores both laws (without breaking them), and invites his critics to get serious and consider their own state. If we are all serious about our lives, we will all find ourselves guilty, one way or another.

Secondly, consider the relationship between Jesus and the woman (and by inference, God's relationship with us). We observe in the story that Jesus refused to condemn the woman. This can be confirmed through looking at John 3:17, which states: For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (KJV) Jesus COULD have judged the woman, but this was not His role here on earth, and so He did not do so. At the same time, he did not condone her sin. He told her to 'go and sin no more'. He had compassion on her as well - because He would have known that she was a victim of circumstances - a pawn in the plot of His critics. Therefore His words offer her forgiveness, acceptance (of her as a person), and a fresh start. This interaction demonstrates why Jesus needed to go to the cross. He freely withheld judgement, and forgave people's sins - because He was going to pay the price of their sins Himself.

Thirdly consider the relationship between us and others. We need to accept that we are accepted. Too often, we feel that we need to win others' acceptance - and that of God, but this is false. We also need to accept those people (Christian and non-Christian) who we disapprove of (their actions). Jesus shows us very clearly that it is possible to hold high moral standards while accepting those who break those same standards. Also, we need to accept other Christians whose beliefs may not be the same as ours. We need to be kind, compassionate, and as forgiving of others as Christ is of us - unconditionally, and unending.

"Many of us will never feel a real peace with God about our own personal salvation until we break the stranglehold of this childish confusion." - David Seamands

Acceptance or Approval? (1)

What Happened Today ...

At the first light of dawn, an ordinary-looking man walks down the dusty streets, and makes for the steps of the temple, where he sits down. He isn't dressed anything fancy - just in ordinary clothes - maybe even poor. He looks kind, though - the type of person one sees from a distance and wishes one could get to know better.

As we watch, he greets one or two people now and then, smiles at others ... and as the hours pass, a crowd grows around him, as he begins talking to first one, two, and then many people. Those closest to him are seated on the dusty road, while those further away are standing around the edges. Curious, we sidle closer to listen to what he is saying, and we are amazed at what we hear. This man is very practical, but he speaks with a wisdom beyond his young years - he cannot be much more than 30 years old. Very soon we too are seated in amongst the crowd, waiting with baited breath on his every word, hoping, just hoping that we may be able to be like him as we go about our daily lives.

Suddenly a commotion starts at one edge of crowd. People start to be shoved aside, and there are some angry voices as people get elbowed and trod on. It seems to be a group of the big shots from the temple - teachers of the law, and Pharisees - dragging amongst them a rather bedraggled woman. Most of the men are carrying rocks - some carry several small ones, while others are needing all their strength to carry theirs. This is definitely going to be interesting - but why such a commotion. Finally they clear a space for themselves near the teacher - for he cannot be called anything else - and everyone in the crowd heaves a sigh of relief that relative peace has come again. But then the jostling starts again, as the men argue amongst themselves. The reason for this is soon made clear, as one of the younger ones is pushed forward, together with the woman, to stand close to the teacher.

"Teacher," the young Pharisee says (for that is who he is), looking down on our teacher with haughty, accusing eyes, "this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?"

The crowd gasps. I hear mutterings of "Where's the man who was with her?", "I wonder what the teacher's going to say to that?!", and "What a prick! He thinks the world must bow down to him ... we'll show him!" from the crowd around me, but as I keep my eyes on the teacher, he doesn't even acknowledge that he has been spoken to. In fact, as I watch, he bends down, and starts to use his finger to write on the ground. From where I'm sitting, I cannot see what it is he is writing - wish I could!

The young Pharisee asks his question again - a little louder. Does he think the teacher is deaf? I wonder. I know for a fact that he is most definitely not! Suddenly all the Pharisees and teachers start arguing amongst themselves again - and shouting at the teacher. They're still saying the same thing, really.

Slowly, he finishes writing on the ground, looks at it carefully, and then rises to his feet. The crowd around me falls silent, wondering what he will do now - and so does that gaggle of ... Pharisees. The teacher turns to the bunch standing by him, and looks at each one of them carefully - including the woman.

"If any one of you is without sin," the teacher says - and it's clear that the 'you' is the group standing around the woman - "let him be the first to throw a stone at her." And with those words, he again crouches down on the ground, and continues to write.

The crowd around me is now deathly silent. We don't want to get involved with this at all. We know that people who have sinned must die by stoning, but we don't think this is very fair. As some around me expressed - and I've been asking the same question - where's the man in the story? They cannot expect to only punish the woman? And also ... as I think about it more, it seems that this is a test. Those Pharisees don't like the teacher, you see. They never have. He is so wise, and us people who don't understand everything we hear in the temple - we understand this man. He explains the scriptures to us, and tells us how to live good lives. He also tells us how we can believe in God - in a simple way, not complicated and fancy like the Pharisees.

We can see that those Pharisees and the other teachers who are standing by the woman are having a hard time of it. Living in this town, we've seen many people stoned, and these men are just bruising to do it to this woman. But they've asked the teacher's advice, and from where I am, I can see they're all really really angry with him. But first the oldest of them leaves, and then they all leave, one by one, until the youngest is gone, and only the poor woman is left standing there. All this time, the teacher's just been crouched down there, writing on the ground. Suddenly he seems to notice that all is silent. He looks up from the ground, and sees just the woman standing there. He stands up and looks at her. Even from where we are sitting, we can see that his kind face is sad.

"Woman, where are they?" he asks her. "Has no-one condemned you?"

"No-one, sir," she says to him, her eyes downcast. I can see that she's very scared of him.

"Then neither do I condemn you," the teacher says - and everyone around me gasps. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

(Based on John 7:35-8:11, with speech text taken from the NIV.)

Feel free to reproduce this story, but if you do so, please append my name to it. Thank you.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

What is beauty?

I'm going to diverge from the grace theme for a bit to briefly look at something that is close to my heart. This will by no means be a complete discussion on the topic, and I'm liable to return to it at some point in time. Ladies, read carefully, and guys, take note ...

So, what is beauty? Is it the size-6 blonde smiling from the cover of the fashion magazine, who has perfect features and a perfect body? What if you get to know that blonde, and she is a shallow, conniving individual who has nothing good to say about anyone around her and thinks only of herself? Would you still consider her to be beautiful? I would argue not, because to be around her would be aggravating and draining.

A glance in a dictionary (the Random House Dictionary) provides this definition:

"the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest)."

It is the last part of this definition that I wish to draw attention to. A few years ago I read the book 'Captivating' by John and Stasi Eldredge. I do not necessarily agree with the entire book, but it certainly made me sit up and think. Numerous conversations with friends have certainly validated much of what the book says - but those points weren't ones that I disagreed with anyway. One thing at least, however, has certainly rung true with me - and events of the last two years have convinced me 100% of this - the concept of beauty - which if you read the book is a very diverse concept.

I know many women who are insecure about who they are - and the list certainly includes myself! I am not talking about women who are unsuccessful - many of those on the list are very capable in their professions - or who do not have model-inspired looks. Instead, I am concerned with women who are either dominating, desolate, or indulging. Controlling and depressed can also be fitted into this list, but they tend to fall under one of the three already mentioned. In each of these cases, the women, in their insecurity, seek to find security in a number of ways, none of which fulfil the desire to be thought of as beautiful, and in fact which drive people away. To elaborate, this can include controlling relationships, lacking trust, being naive, bereft of a sense of self, accepting abuse, relying completely on others, timidity, addiction, creation of fantasy worlds, and numerous others.

Most often than not, the cause of such insecurity, and such results, is wounds that we as women have received as children - most often from parents who themselves are wounded by their own parents, and from other friends and adults. Wounds such as abuse (most often), rejection, or simply bad parenting methods.

I do not wish, here, to try to attempt to find a solution to such issues - that is better left to psychologists - but simply to recognise the problem, and convey that the world (and men in particular) NEEDS women to be beautiful. And by this, I mean inviting, vulnerable, tender, merciful, fierce, and devoted. This type of beauty speaks to people, saying that 'all will be well', it invites, nourishes, comforts, inspires, and finally, transcends time and space.

Monday, 24 August 2009

When prayers fall on deaf ears

Please note: I will not write out all scriptures here, otherwise this will get way too long. Please refer to a Bible.

On Sunday we had a sermon on this topic, and I wanted to share some of the thoughts arising from the talk. I know it's helped me to put many things in perspective, and I pray that it will also help whoever reads this.

First, let's consider the closing passage from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount - Matt 7:24-27. This is where Jesus contrasts the house built on rock to the house built on sand, the conclusion being drawn that we will build our houses (lives) on rock (solid ground, safe etc) if we do the things Jesus exhorts us to do in the sermon that precedes this imagery.

The problem with this is that it falls down when we start experiencing trouble in our lives - something can be tormenting us, causing us a great deal of pain, and when we cry out to God,- it seems as though He's not there - we wonder where that rock is, never mind the shifting sand ... it feels like there's absolutely nothing there.

The speaker, who himself has been through troubles, attempted to share an answer to this 'nothingness', which he had found, if not a solution, at least a comfort through the trials. This answer, or comfort, is found in Paul's testimony, as related in 2 Corinthians. The passage here is 2 Cor 12:1-10 - where Paul speaks of pleading with God to take away a 'thorn in the flesh' - and God's answer is effectively 'No' - instead, He says "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (NIV)

Before I go further, I want to consider Psalm 22. This was written by David - and he was clearly in such a spot - going through trials, praying, pleading, trusting ... and yet he was getting no answer from God except silence. This is a psalm well worth a read - if only to know that one is not alone, that other people have felt exactly the same and asked the same questions. I will just quote the first few lines here:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
Oh my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent."

Clearly this can be akin to Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' - David is being tormented - and this is a metaphor that, I think, all people can relate to. And as with David, so with Paul - they plead with God that He will come quickly to relieve them from the torment, that He will take away the pain. And yet, in verse 9, God clearly says 'no' - that He will not remove the torment.

This should serve as a reminder that there are two answers to our prayers - 'Yes', and 'No'. However, what it should also remind us is that the yes's and no's can come in very different forms to what we may imagine how our prayers should be answered. Many times we wait and wait for an answer - when all along, God has already answered our prayer - we just haven't heard it. To illustrate, there is a couple, where the wife becamed deeply depressed. The husband has prayed for years that the wife may be healed - as this depression affects not only the wife, but the husband, children, family and friends. But healing has not occurred - and this is the answer to the prayer - "No".

Now let's consider what Jesus said to Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." We live in a fallen world which is not fully under God's will. This is not by accident, but rather, this was planned, so that people may freely choose whether or not to love God. Now, when we ask for a torment to be taken away, what we are in reality asking for, is for His kingdom to come in a situation - because this is the promise at the end of the Bible in Revelations - that there will be no more sickness, no more crying, no more pain. What the Bible promises us, in other words, is that, one day, God will answer a resounding "Yes!" to every prayer prayed - but until then, we live in a necessary time of grace - when people can still respond to his offer of salvation (and are not punished NOW for their sins), and also, when His grace needs to be (and IS) sufficient in our time of torment. Until He says yes, suffering, sickness and pain will be with us.

Revelations 21:1-5 reads (and this is one of my favourite sections of the Bible): 'Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."' (NIV)

We are still living in the time of the old order. In essence, what God is saying is, "at this time, in the old order when my rule is not complete, my grace is sufficient for you." Or, to put it another way, "Enough for you is the grace of me". It is evident from Paul's testimony that, from this answer to his pleas, he found the strength and courage to face the difficulties of his time. And these are comprehensively listed in 2 Cor 11:23-29. Furthermore, Jesus says that His power is made perfect in weakness. In other words, when we are weak, we are strong in Christ, and we should therefore boast in our weaknesses, because when we are weak, then Christ shines through and He is strong in us. It is completely converse to our need to feel strong. However, this is a promise for our whole lives - for every situation we find ourselves in where we are in torment - that God's grace will be sufficient.

There are three types of trouble that we can expect to receive in this, the 'old order' of things:
1. permitted by God - both two and three can only occur if 1 is true - it is permitted by God.
2. being a human being living in the old order - this can encompass sickness, death of a loved one, or the choices of those around us which, when made, hurt us.
3. being a Christian in the old order - when we receive punishment and/or abuse from others because of our relationship with Jesus.

but Jesus says, in John 16:3s, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (KJV)

In conclusion, the scene of human weakness is the best possible stage for a display of divine power. There is however, a warning for times of strength: when we are strong, humanly speaking, then we are weak - we are then at the most danger of relying on ourselves, and not on God.

So, if we again consider the passage from Matthew 7, then we see that it is when we are battered by the storms - and we will have many storms that will batter us down in weakness - when we are weak, then we have a rock - even if we cannot feel that rock, the rock is the promise that God will one day answer 'Yes' to our prayers.

The following are the lyrics from a song that carry this message well.

Because of You
words by Paul Oakley

There’s a place where the streets shine
with the glory of the Lamb
There’s a way we can go there
we can live there beyond time

Because of You, Because of You
Because of your love Because of Your blood

No more pain no more sadness
no more suffering no more tears
no more sin no more sickness
no injustice no more death

Because of You because of you
Because of your love Because of your blood
all our sins are washed away and we can live forever
now we have this hope because of you
Oh we’ll see you face to face and we will dance together
in the city of our God because of You

There is joy everlasting,
there is gladness, there is peace
there is wine ever flowing,
there’s a wedding, there’s a feast

Because of You because of you
Because of your love Because of your blood
all our sins are washed away and we can live forever
now we have this hope because of you
Oh we’ll see you face to face and we will dance together
in the city of our God because of You

A Child of Mine

I received this from a friend, and it's been so useful I felt it's worth a share.

A Child of Mine

“I’ll lend you for a little time, a child of mine” He said.
“For you to love the while he lives and mourn for when he’s dead.
It may be six or seven years, twenty two or three,
But will you, till I call him back, take care of him for me?
He’ll bring his charms to gladden you and should his stay be brief
You’ll have his lovely memories as solace for your grief.

I cannot promise he will stay, since all from earth return;
But there are lessons taught down there I want the child to learn.
I’ve looked the wide world over in my search for teachers true,
And from the throngs that crowd life’s lanes I have selected you.
Now will you give him all your love nor think the labour vain,
Nor hate me when I come to call to take him home again.”

I fancied that I heard them say: “Dear Lord, thy will be done.
For all the joy the child shall bring the risk of grief we’ll run.
We’ll shelter him with tenderness, we’ll love him while we may.
And for the happiness we’ve known, forever grateful stay.
But should the angels call for him much sooner than we’ve planned,
We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes and try to understand.”

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Grace and Forgiveness #1

Last week I started reading 'What's so Amazing about Grace?' by Philip Yancey, and this has triggered a train of thought, as well as a sequence of events. This is why I'm calling this entry #1, because I have a sneaky suspicion that this will not be the last on this topic!

Some of the statements, quotes or thoughts that have been hanging around are:

"There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less."

"Grace is the church's great distinctive. It is the one thing the world cannot duplicate, and the one thing it craves above all else--for only grace can bring hope and transformation to a jaded world." - Inside cover of 'What's so Amazing about Grace?'

"One of the most gifted writers of our day [Yancey] has put a telescope on the brilliant star of grace and finely focused on what a beautiful and powerful healing force followers of Jesus Christ could become. Empowered by love and forgiveness we could mount a revolution more glorious than all the political establishments the world has ever known. - The Honorable Mark O. Hatfield, commenting on 'What's so Amazing about Grace?'

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.-Philip Yancey

Then too, there have been discussions with friends who, for want of a better of word, are perfectionists. These have considered the concept of grace, getting what one doesn't deserve, and not being too hard on oneself when one makes mistakes. Perhaps trying to realise that one is not perfect.

In due course, I'll work through what I've read in the first part of the first chapter of this amazing book, because it was really thought-provoking - yes, even so little. But here's some food for thought to leave you with.

The word "grace" is the last best word.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Words of Encouragement - Update

A friend just shared with me this further word that they received, and it is also valuable. It is from Ecclesiastes 3:11

King James Bible (for those who prefer this version)
He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

But here's a more modern (understandable) translation:
GOD'S WORD® Translation (©1995)
It is beautiful how God has done everything at the right time. He has put a sense of eternity in people's minds. Yet, mortals still can't grasp what God is doing from the beginning to the end [of time].

And the Amplified Bible:
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He also has planted eternity in men's hearts and minds [a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy], yet so that men cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

This ought not to depress us, but to encourage us and give us His peace in the knowledge that He is in control. We are part of a tapestry (yes, I like the imagery of that) the size of which we cannot even try to comprehend ... but we can know this, and rejoice that even so, He cares for each one of us.

Words of Encouragement

This is not the blog entry that I planned to post this week (I have two other topics that I have been chewing on), but I think that it is appropriate today. I have had several friends receiving messages from God of encouragement, and I thought that they would be good to share, because it is encouragement that everyone needs. Especially in the times that we live in, when we are so focussed on what is happening around us that our eyes are taken off Jesus' face, and we get depressed, angry, resentful, jealous and all sorts of things.

I hope that these messages will help you to turn your eyes back to Jesus, to look full in His wonderful face, and to realise that, no matter what is happening around you, He always has been, still is, and always will be, in full control of everything that is happening around you. Many times we think that He is asleep, and that we need to take control of our own lives, but His plan is always WAY better than any that we can come up with.

So please, sit back, relax, DO NOTHING, and enjoy the roller-coaster ride of faith:

John 16:33 - These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

This is an extract from an email that I received from a friend. It is best reproduced in their own words:

To me, His word was pretty strong. The preacher was preaching and he said, “When Abraham tried to help God, he made an Ishmael; and right throughout Abrahams life and even to this day Ishmael has plagued Isaac, if you move in your own strength, beware you will make an Ishmael that will be in your way for the rest of your life”

Later that evening, as we read a devotional book to the kids; the following verse jumped out of the page: Prov 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. – now I have never read this version before, my NIV says “acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight”. Here God was telling me acknowledge is not enough, I need to seek. Also not that God will straighten our paths (and possible mistakes), but that as we seek God, He will show us which path to take.

And finally - Invest time in relationships!

(...and by DO NOTHING - I don't mean sit on your backside ... but allow God to guide all your steps. If you want me to elaborate, please ask :) )

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Do you believe?

A few Sundays ago we had an excellent sermon, and I'd like to relate some of the thoughts from that to you. I'll try to keep this short, but somehow I'm not certain that that will be possible. There is just too much in this. The sermon was based on John 11. I'll let you read this for yourself, but to give you an sense of direction, it is the story of Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

Now this story can be broken down into two perspectives: problem, and purpose. First of all, we'll start with the problems.

The first problem is that Lazarus - who is, as the story relates, a brother to Mary and Martha, and a good friend of Jesus' - is very ill. Nowadays, this may not appear to be such a big problem - we just run to the nearest pharmacy and get ourselves some medicine - but in those days, being ill meant, effectively, the death sentence. Mary and Martha did not have a doctor or a pharmacy to run to - so they thought of the best option available to them - they called for Jesus, who was out of town. They believed that Jesus would be able to help them - and just to make sure that he would do so, they appealed to the fact that he knew Lazarus as a good friend.

Now, before I mention the second problem, let's look at purpose, as this is the next stage of the story. Jesus received the message from Mary and Martha, and recognised it for what it was - a plea for help. As can be seen in many of the stories about Jesus, and similarly in this one, he appears to not react to the news. In fact, he does absolutely nothing, remaining where he is for two more days. Then, he communicates to his disciples that he needs to go to Judea. It would appear that this was the last place that his disciples expected to go, as it was dangerous for Jesus to go there.

However, Jesus responds to this by saying that he will not be in danger. But then he explains that Lazarus has fallen asleep, and that he needs to go and wake him up. Naturally, the disciples believe that Jesus means that Lazarus is asleep - but he disabuses them of that notion by explaining that Lazarus is in fact dead, and that he did not go sooner because they (his disciples) must believe (in Jesus). This is the first purpose in this story.

Now this leads directly to the second problem of the story .... and that is that Jesus did not 'come'. Mary and Martha had settled on Jesus as the solution to their first problem ... but now because he did not come, this caused a second problem - Lazarus died - when they had been certain that Jesus would be able to fix the situation. It is no wonder, then, that both Mary and Martha's first words to Jesus, upon his arrival, include 'if you had been here, he would not have died'. Clearly, they place the blame for Lazarus' death squarely at Jesus' feet.

How familiar is this scenario in our everyday lives? If we have a problem, we believe that someone or something can fix that problem - and if that solution is unavailable, then we are quick to blame the problem on it's absence. We get blinded by 'what might have been'.

But now let's look at Jesus' reactions to, in turn, Martha and Mary as they come to greet him, because in this lies the second purpose of this story - and a question. First of all, we see Martha come to Jesus, blaming him for Lazarus' death, as illustrated before. Interestingly, Jesus immediately tells her precisely what is going to happen - that Lazarus will be alive again. This is an ambiguous statement that Jesus makes - intending it as a present hope in that he will raise Lazarus immediately, but also in general reference to the fact that those who are godly, having died will rise again. Martha appears to understand that this will surely happen in the last days, when the dead will all rise again at the final resurrection - but even this image gives her no hope or encouragement. Jesus again very clearly - and yet in a way obliquely - tries to explain to her that he IS the resurrection (that the resurrection is present with her NOW?). While Martha by her words believes that he can pray to God and that God will do the work, Jesus tries to make it clear to her that he himself does the work - that he, while being fully human, is fully God. To some commentators, it seems that Martha doesn't appear to get the message yet, although she does clearly believe who he says he is - the Messiah - it is apparent that she does not take the leap in logic to understanding that he is the resurrection and the life, as he tries to explain to her. There are others who argue that, in Martha's acknowledgement that Jesus is the Messiah, and that he is who he says it is, she does take this leap in logic and accepts that he has the power to do the work of God in and of himself - and to me this interpretation of the text makes more sense.

Next we see Mary coming to greet Jesus - with the same words as Martha. Except this time, we observe Jesus reacting in a very different way - possibly because he clearly understands the different natures of the two women and relates to them accordingly. This time he sees Mary clearly very upset, and crying - as well as the people with her - and this appeals to his compassion and empathy - he is moved and troubled in his spirit because of their broken hearts, and asks where Lazarus is. In response, the people take him to Lazarus' tomb. In this, we see that Jesus is not 'superhuman', devoid of all emotion and detached from the crowd (as could be deduced from some of the stories told about him), but human, and very capable of emotions, as he is clearly moved to tears by Mary's sorrow.

Here, Jesus proceeds to do exactly what he told Martha he would do - but even in his actions she still does not understand what he is about. As he requests the stone to be moved away from the cave, Martha protests that Lazarus' body will be decaying, and will therefore stink. And here, we find the second purpose to this story. If the people believe in Jesus, they shall see the glory of God. In other words, if they believe that he is the resurrection and the life, they will see him doing the work that only God can do - perform a miracle. This statement appears to be a reassurance to Martha from Jesus that he is about to do something, and that she needs to let him do what he is going to do. It is also a reminder that we need to believe in Jesus - not that he will necessarily do a specific thing, since in this instance he has not spelled out his future actions, but that we need to simply believe. We are more likely to look at the circumstances around us and interpret them literally than to have the child-like belief in God that allows him to work.

So we see Jesus pray to God - not because he needed to, but so that those around him may know that he works together with God and for God's glory - and then, finally, he accomplishes what he set out to do - he raises Lazarus from the dead, so that the people around him can hear what he says, and see the results of his words.

The question to ask here is - do we believe in Jesus? Do we, like Martha, believe that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Resurrection and the Life, fully human, and yet fully God? Do we believe that he is willing and able? As this story teaches us, sometimes this action is delayed in our understanding of the situation - but the only reason for that is so that people (possibly MORE people?) may believe, and as a result, God may be further glorified.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Snowing ...

For confirmation - this video was taken back in February, but I only just discovered that I could put it up here. ENJOY!!!

Friday, 26 June 2009

Do not worry ...

Well ... this year ... I've been having a few choice opportunities to learn how to not worry, and how to put my faith in God. I have been tested ... and tried ... and I'm not sure I've necessarily come out the other side intact ... but I've definitely started to learn HOW to have faith in God.

I am a very caring person, and when things go wrong with my friends, I get very upset - and want to solve the problem myself, in whatever way causes the other person the least pain. But I'm learning that, yes, sometimes God can use you to alleviate the pain ... sometimes He wants to work in a different way. What I have learnt to do is to look at the events leading up to whatever has caused me to worry/stress, and to realise that NOTHING happens without a reason. This realisation enables me to look at the situation from a different light, to know that God is busy weaving a tapestry, and that He does nothing without a purpose. Therefore, the future is in His hands, and He will take care of it. We just need to be open to whatever He asks of us now (and sometimes that is not always the first thing that we have in mind), and to have faith in Him that although we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, that the end of the tunnel is there, and the light.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Sermon #1

We had a really great sermon at our church a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I'd like to share it with you, because it taught/reminded me of quite a bit, and I think it's a good thing to share at the start of a new year.

The reading for the day was Proverbs 3:1-15, which I've reproduced here:

1 My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: 2 For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. 3 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: 4 So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.

5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. 8 It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. 9 Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: 10 So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine. 11 My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: 12 For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

13 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. 14 For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. 15 She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.

After we had the reading, the pastor began by using the illustration of Blondin, who used to cross the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. The story is told (no factual basis) of a young boy who is standing in the crowd watching Blondin crossing the Falls pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him. Blondin gets to the side, and then asks if there is anyone willing to get into the wheelbarrow and be pushed across. The little boy gets in, and is pushed to the other side. The question is, would you get into the wheelbarrow? Do you trust enough?

Then we focussed in on verses 5 and 6, going through it phrase by phrase to get the points that it gets across.

1. Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; - this was dealt with regarding the wheelbarrow. We need to trust God with ALL of our hearts.

Here we read from Ephesians 3:20:

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us

This is a reminder that God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine - but we need to allow Him to work in our lives. We need to choose to allow Him into our lives and to work in and through us.

2. and lean not unto thine own understanding.

Here we were reminded that, in NOT leaning on our own understanding, the indication is NOT that we are to bury our heads in the sand. Our understanding of events around us is required, but when our understanding has been formulated, we mustn't LEAN on it, rely on it, because we never have the full picture. Therefore we need to trust God, and effectively ask Him 'What do You think?' Sometimes our understanding is wrong.

Then we were told about an essay that is purported to have been written by an 8-year-old. You can access it here: The website that I have used is one that determines what is or isn't fact or fiction on the internet, so is a useful tool for anyone. But it does reproduce the essay, which is interesting reading, although not ENTIRELY accurate.

3. In all thy ways acknowledge him,

The indication here is to share everything with God - as one would in a deep relationship. God does need to be Lord on His terms, and this does include turning our lives upside down - but the proviso is that He will NOT do anything unless we choose to allow Him to. But He cannot truly work in our lives if there are areas that we keep closed off to Him. He needs to be allowed access to all areas.

3. and he shall direct thy paths.

The indication here is that God promises to make our paths smooth and straight. We should therefore look into the new year positively, and go into tomorrow in faith. The pastor then told us this poem:

The Will of God

The Will of God will never take you
Where the Grace of God cannot keep you
Where the Arms of God cannot support you
Where the Riches of God cannot support your needs
Where the Power of God cannot endow you.

The Will of God will never take you
Where the Spirit of God cannot work through you
Where the Wisdom of God cannot teach you
Where the Army of God cannot protect you
Where the Hands of God cannot mold you.

The Will of God will never take you
Where the Love of God cannot enfold you
Where the Mercies of God cannot sustain you
Where the Peace of God cannot calm your fears
Where the Authority of God cannot overrule you.

The Will of God will never take you
Where the Comfort of God cannot dry your tears
Where the Word of God cannot feed you
Where the Miracles of God cannot be done for you
Where the omnipresence of God cannot find you.

~ author unknown ~

So ... be willing to embark on a thrilling white-knuckle adventure of faith.