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!!!