The actuality of the Gospel call to repentence is very simple to understand, yet it is often only understood simplistically. There’s a lot to say about it as a fact, but that fact has several elements to it, so here’s the first one, as I make the distinction between do-ing and being. It is the difference between doing it ourselves by our own strength, making tough decisions to change, pulling up our “boot-straps” – so to speak. That may be part of it, but this leans heavily towards a works based righteousness that the New Testament condemns. Here, I look at not the do-ing, but the being, our very ontology. It is this that needs the overhaul that leads to newness of life in Christ.Continue reading “Going Back to God”
Is there a connection between the biggest diamond ever, and the small Laotian rock rat?
Without wishing in any way to stereotype, is it true that most/many/some women would love to own a large diamond (is that really true?….help me out here!). Anyway, part of the English Crown Jewels is made from a 530-carat Star of Africa, cut from a 3100-carat gem. For a long time it was thought to be the biggest diamond ever.
Then in February 2005, what happened? News broke of a discovery of “the diamond of all diamonds”. This dazzler was given the romantic name: BPM 37093. Phwooaaar!
It was bigger than all the other known diamonds put together. You won’t believe me if I tell you it is bigger than the moon (I hardly believe myself)!
It measures 2500 miles across and weighs a staggering 10 billion, trillion, trillion carats (1 followed by 34 zeros). The Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics said, “you would need a jewellers magnifying glass the size of the sun just to grade this diamond.”
To good not to post!
Martin Luther’s the name, but don’t confuse me with the King
I was just a simple man working on my law degree
I was on the road home, and what did I see?
Thunderbolt of lightning very very frightening me
I was terrified, so I prayed to St. Anne
I’m in a funk, I’ll become a monk if you get me outta this jam
I survived that night right and I gave my life to Christ
Started living the fantastic monastic life Continue reading “Luther Rap”
Ascension Day: ‘The Rise and Fall of God’
Luke 24:36-53 (Acts 1:4-11)
Ascension Day! I know, I know, most of us are like: Say that again!
Most of us who have been Christians for some time now and heard of this strange thing called ‘The Ascension of Jesus,’ but, if truth be told, we treat it like we treat a Big Issue seller: We know it’s there, but we can’t wait to get passed it and onto other things.
And even when we do, for a brief moment, consider the ascension of Jesus, we will most likely have those embarrassing images from film and TV in our heads of that awkward moment when Jesus is blessing his disciples, hand raised (as we see in much post-Enlightenment art), as he is strangely lifted into the sky, and hid behind a fluffy cloud. If we’re not laughing at how silly it looks on the screen, we’re certainly left wondering if it really happened like that!
And so the Ascension of Jesus has become like that embarrassing uncle everyone avoids at weddings. It becomes a footnote in history and to the gospel story we tell. By all means mention the teaching and the cross and the resurrection and the reign of Jesus, but….well, the ascension is more than a tad embarrassing.
Martin Luther was taking a break from the Reformation (like you do) and decided to get his hair cut. His barber asked him a question whilst he sat there under the blade, “How do you pray?” – the great reformer wrote a forty page response to his ‘lowly’ questioner.
Here’s a snippet:
“A good clever barber must have his thoughts, mind and eyes concentrated upon his razor and the beard and not forget where he is in his stroke and shave. If he keeps talking or looking around or thinking of something else (however important), he is likely to cut a man’s nose or mouth or throat. So anything that is to be done well ought to occupy the whole man with all his faculties and members. As the saying goes: he who thinks of many things thinks of nothing and accomplishes no good. How much more must prayer possess the heart exclusively and completely if it is to be good prayer?”
This is good advice to us in our short attention span age, distracted from one second to the next with all manner of things that will keep us from Christian basics, such as prayer. Prayer that “occupies the whole [person]” is a challenge that people who call themselves “Christians” must surely wrestle with. Multi-tasking is not a virtue, even though our culture tells us it is.
I know I need this advice. I know we likely all do.
(Picture: ‘Barbier Deutschland “Hofampterspiel” for King Ladislas “Posthumus”, c. 1455)
Thoughts of unworthiness can come and go. Sometimes they stay and hover in our mind as though they are the things that matter most, that they are the truth to us being us, or me being me. We lie to ourselves, thinking that this must be what God really thinks about us!
Well, I for one am not immune to such thoughts. I know, as a Christian that I deserve death and hell. I know I do. My own sinful nature tells me, my sins acted out tell me, my sins in thought, word and deed.
I am a Christian. I follow a saving and risen Jesus. He has defeated sin and death and He is Lord. I walk by faith and I live in grace. Not arrogantly, but utterly dependently. Not slothfully, but watchfully. Not as if I have achieved anything for myself, but because Jesus has achieved everything for me that I could never achieve.
It’s all grace. It’s all Christ Jesus.
The following was said by that tortured soul, the Reformer Martin Luther. He had depressive tendencies, he had dark thoughts, and he knew he was a sinner, yet he said this…..
“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, then tell him this: I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf, his name is Jesus, the Son of God, and where he is, there I shall also be!”
So of course you deserve death and hell. That’s why Jesus came to rescue the world, to save it. Full of sinners as it is, people like you and me. Jesus ensures we always get what we don’t deserve. This is the bold confidence we have.
Because of Jesus. Where He is, there I shall also be!
T. S . Eliot once wrote, ‘humankind/Cannot bear very much reality.’ Not that people hate or despise reality, or that people constantly pursue reality, but that, in the end, too much reality, about ourselves, the world, God, is all just a bit too much.
It is especially the Ultimate that is a problem for people: God. Prayer. Mercy. Judgement. Christ.
Hence much of church life, in typical human fashion, tends towards a moralism cloaked in religious language, with a ready arsenal of verses and well worn phrases designed to justify ourselves at the expense of others.
The Ultimate Reality though, God, is what almost every person who has ever lived is hiding from. We are in a precarious state of existence living daily between the ever present deservedness of judgment and the ever present gift of grace. Or to put it another way, we live suspended on the possibility of utter annihilation and the infinitude of divine care.
That’s why Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Psalm 130: ‘Whoever, therefore, does not consider the judgment of God, does not fear; and whoever does not fear, does not cry out, and whoever does not cry out, finds no grace.’
Part of our ability to avoid the Ultimate is by pretending we no longer need to cry out, so we pretend therefore, we fear when we don’t which means we also fake how we have even considered the judgement of God. We simply can’t bear too much reality, so we fake it, and this of course means, we fake grace. A gross mistake. Why don’t we just paint a great big clown smile on God’s face?
Scripture must be our guide here. Not pithy devotional aids, but Scripture, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Letters and everything in between. It is the Bible that offers us a way out of our religious banality; it offers us a much more dramatic and interesting narrative, whereby prayer, worship and the presence of God leads us ever onwards into an awareness of our sins and the gift of repentance.
Brian Brock writes, ‘Without God’s constant forgiveness, we do not see our own sin; and without the exposure of our sins and our repenting of them, we remain in the deadening byways down which other gods have enticed us.’
So without grace we become Christianised Pharisees: blind to the mercies of God, paraders of our own righteousness and thus trapped in a pathetic world of our own making, pathetic yes; mediocre certainly. Grey, flat, one dimensional, airless, lifeless, godless.
Yet as Jesus repeatedly taught, it is the repentant sinner that goes away justified: ‘God have mercy on me a sinner!’ The true mark of Christian spiritual vitality is not the absence of struggle, a settled smugness about our superiority, but the exact opposite: the present reality and immediacy of prayer where we confess that if it were not for the mercies of God we would be dust and ashes.
A poem by William Countryman says just as much with much fewer words:
“Your choice of friends is broad
And (may we say?) unpredictable.
What did you see in Jacob?
Esau was bluff, hearty,
a man’s man – overconfident,
to be sure – even a minute
or two of seniority can grant
a certain status. Jacob’s
only accomplishments were to cheat
his brother (with Esau’s rash
cooperation yes) and deceive
his father. Piety suggests
you should have judged the scamp
and left him to stew in his guilt
till he repented. Instead,
you showed him by night the ladder
to your throne.”
I love God’s grace!
“I could not have faith in God if I did not think he wanted to be favourable and kind to me. This in turn makes me feel kindly disposed toward him, and I am moved to trust him with all my heart and look to him for all good things…
Look here! This is how you must cultivate Christ in yourself, and see how in him God holds before you his mercy and offers it to you without any prior merits of your own.
It is from such a view of his grace that you must draw faith and confidence in the forgiveness of all your sins. Faith, therefore, does not originate in works; neither do works create faith, but faith must spring up and flow from the blood and wounds and death of Christ.
If you see in these that God is so kindly disposed toward you that he even gives his own Son for you, then your heart in turn must grow sweet and disposed toward God…
We never read that the Holy Spirit was given to anybody because he had performed some works, but always when men have heard the gospel of Christ and the mercy of God.”
Martin Luther ‘Treatise on Good Works’ vol. 44 p30, 38-39