Archive for March, 2009

Would you dare to die for the enemy

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Would you dare to die for the enemy John 12 20-33

 

Let me tell you a story…


As the freezing Canadian winter was giving way to spring, a father and his teenage son, along with 2 of the father’s friends, were flying to a remote part of the coast for a few days fishing and hunting.  However, the plane ran into trouble and they ended up ditching in the mouth of a river – quite some distance from land.  All four got out of the plane, and started swimming for the shore line.  The two adult friends eventually made it.  But with hyperthermia and the pull of the current, the son wasn’t strong enough to swim the distance.  Instead he drifted out to sea.  While the father could have made it to shore, instead he chose to drift out to sea with his son, where both died in each other’s arms.    

 

I wonder how long the dad struggled with the decision to save his own life for the sake of the rest of his family; or to give it up for the sake of his son? 

 

I don’t know about you, but this story wrenches at something within me.  From the safety of distance, I’d like to think that if the situation demanded it, I would have the love and courage to do the same… but when the hour came, would I?  Would you?

 

It is easy for us to say ‘yes I would’, and most likely, out of love for our son or daughter, not wanting them to die alone, we would drift out to die with them.  But would we do the same for someone who hated us?  Someone who, to their dying breath, wouldn’t give us the time of day?  To do that would be truly sacrificial love; an unconditional love that none of us would dare to even consider whether we would do it or not, knowing we would most likely let them die in order to save our own life. 

 

How do we know this?  In the simple decisions we make in everyday life.  How do we react to those we don’t like?  Do we put our wellbeing before others?  Do we put our life, our expectations and rights ahead of those of our enemies? 

 

You know what I am taking about, I am sure there are a myriad of examples you can think of.  It is easy to justify our failure to let go of our life and float out to sea to help an enemy:  ‘They don’t deserve it; she said something horrible to me; he wouldn’t even say thanks or they wouldn’t appreciate me helping anyway!’  Good excuses, but what if Jesus said the same about us?

 

This realization of our selfishness puts Jesus ‘selfless’ death on the cross for us into perspective.  Jesus didn’t die for us because we loved him.  He didn’t leave the safety of heaven and drift into the depths of hell for us, so that we wouldn’t face dying alone, because we loved him first. 

 

No, listen to Saint Paul ‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.’  Yet again ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ And again ‘when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.’  We most clearly hear the true sacrificial love of Jesus from the cross ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ 

 

Our sin and rebellion, our failure to love one another, not our love for God, was the impetus for Jesus determination and mission to die on the cross.  Right from his first cry outside Mary’s womb, through to his last cry on the cross ‘It is finished’, Jesus goal was to die for his enemies; you and me, so that we would not face death alone; drowning in a sea of sin. 

 

He chose to drift out to us, grab our hand and die with us and for us, to bring us to life.  As it says in Romans  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead … we too may live a new life.’  This is the gospel, the good news. 

 

Some say the crucifixion was easy for Jesus, he was God.  Rubbish, God yes, but also truly human, struggling to come to terms with his mission. This was no simple choice for Jesus; a non-emotional event, void of any human struggle of choice.

 

Realising the hour is now at hand, Jesus wrestles with his decision for what’s ahead: “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour…’ (Jn 12:27a NIV)  The nicety of our translation has lost the horror of Jesus anguish.  The word for troubled really means revulsion, horror, anxiety, agitation.  Understanding this word gives us an insight into the human emotions Jesus was experiencing.  What’s ahead fills him with terror.  He wants his Father to rescue him from it.  If there’s another way, he’s open to it. 

 

But then he recalls his destiny… No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. (Jn 12:27b NIV).  There’s a greater purpose than Jesus’ own comfort.  Recalling this is how Jesus galvanizes himself emotionally for the torture he is about to endure.   

 

“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (Jn 12:32-33 NIV)   Jesus will be literally lifted up above the earth … after spikes have been hammered through his wrists and ankles into a cross beam!

 

Like the father chose to lose his life together with his son, Jesus chooses to lose his life, like a seed in the ground, so many may live.

 

He chooses to give up his life -FOR US; chooses the nails in obedience to the Father’s will; chooses the nails out of love for humanity (including the Greeks who’d come to see him!);  Chooses to die with us, for us… to bring us the forgiveness of sins.  And it is by faith that we receive this gift of forgiveness, trusting in the work and obedience of Christ, with full assurance that it is by grace alone we are saved.

 

 Knowing this, would you now dare to love the unlovable?  Dare, by the power of the Spirit to forgo your life for the sake of an enemy?  This is true sacrificial love and it can mean tragedy for our life and ambitions.

 

Yet there is triumph in the tragedy.  In the outworking of Jesus’ choice is the glory of God’s unselfish and sacrificial love.  Once we know who goes to the cross and why he is there, it’s hard to remain unmoved.  It’s through the cross that Jesus draws people to himself.  It’s how he has drawn us.  Just as the boy would have been drawn to the arms of his father, so he didn’t have to die alone, so we also, out of shear anguish of death, are drawn into the arms of our saviour.  Trusting in his mercy, trusting that he has made things right.

 

There will always be people who despise the cross as foolishness.   But we know that it’s through the cross – where the King gave up his life for us – we too have come to share in life with God.  And so we say with Paul: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. (Rom 1:16  NIV)  Amen.

 

 

 

The Law of Faith

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Numbers 21:4-9 The law of faith


I am going to write a famous mathematical and scientific equation on the board that all of you would be aware of: E=mc2   This is Einstein’s law of relativity, and don’t ask me what it really means!  However, what I do know is its a formula to acknowledge that energy and motion have constant principles; they always operate in the same predictable way, time after time after time.  Energy = mass multiplied by the speed of light.  It’s a principle, a law, a set order of creation that is predictable and when calculated, has predictable results. 

 

I have another not so famous equation.  In fact it has never seen the light of day until I thought of it!  It is a calculation that, like Einstein’s law, gives us a formula to acknowledge the constant and predictable reason for us complaining about God.  Unlike Einstein’s law of relativity, my formula is rather a simple one: C=ur2; Complaining against God = unbelief multiplied by rebellion.  This is a constant law, it never changes.  We complain because we don’t trust God and rebel against his ‘way’ of doing things.

 

Let’s see the equation at work in the story of the bronze snake.

 

The Israelites travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!  C, the ‘complaining’ was the outcome of their unbelief and want for rebellion against God; C=ur2.  

 

The writer of Hebrews uses this equation to explain why most Israelites never entered the Promised Land ‘Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert?  So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.’  Complaining is the sign of unbelief and rebellion, and it is the true reason why God forbid them to enter the ‘rest’.

 

Don’t we all though?  Complain in unbelief and rebellion to the church and to God, when our life doesn’t go to plan; when God makes our life uncomfortable.  We complain because its like God is leading us into a wilderness along a wondering path, and we are going nowhere in life.  Like the Israelites, we complain, because of our unbelief and rebellion against what God is doing, as the simple equation shows.  Yet, how does someone as good as Jesus, as good as our Father in heaven who saved us through sending his Son to the cross to be crucified for our rebellion and unbelief, provoke such a bad reaction in us; so much complaining about him?

 

For an answer, we need to look to John 1 verses 4-5 In [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.’ Light shining in the darkness is a big theme in John, in fact he speaks about the light of Jesus 23 times.  In Jesus, God’s light and life comes into the world.  However, people, you and I, respond to the light of God’s love in Jesus like moths or bats.  Some -like moths- are attracted to Jesus, receive Him, and find the joy of believing in Jesus and living life with Jesus.

 

Others are like bats.  When light is shone into their darkness they get agitated… and react with unbelief and rebellion and so complain.

         Sometimes it’s because we don’t like Jesus lifting the lid on our hearts.  There’s messy stuff in there that we hide -even from ourselves.  So we paper mache over our faults and weaknesses and try to be “good people”.  Truth is we need cleansing and healing; we need the light of Jesus. 

         Sometimes it’s because we’re comfortable; and like Caiaphas the high priest, who wasn’t concerned about Jesus one way or the other, we don’t won’t to be disturbed. 

         Sometimes, we’re afraid of the changes that might happen if we take Jesus seriously. 

         And sometimes it’s because we’re angry with God about bad stuff that’s happened to us in the past.

 

But here’s the key: when we live in unbelief and rebellion and reject the light of Jesus, we still find ourselves in darkness; wondering around like the Israelites in the desert; complaining because we cannot see where God is leading us; complaining because we hate the darkness.  The light of Jesus has come into the world and this is good news that leaves us with a new equation, the old one, the one I just developed has been overturned.

 

Jesus says: This is the verdict: Light has come into the world… whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”  The truth of Jesus, his death on the cross, gives light and hope for us.  Jesus has given himself so that we may believe in him and leave the darkness and walk in the light of God’s love.

 

Regardless of how we’ve reacted to Jesus in the past, or where we’re at with God at the moment, we may still be complaining, this is Jesus’ offer to you and it still stands ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.’  Jesus on the cross suffering and paying for our sins is the light in our darkness; the light that dispels all complaining because Jesus invites us to believe and receive the light of eternal life.  E=mc2.  Eternal life = faith multiplied by the man on the cross.    

 

While it’s easy to blame the Sanhedrin for the murder of Jesus, the truth is that we are all partly responsible for his death.  One of Robin Mann’s songs, When Our Life Began Again, hits this home in verse 3.  It recounts the scene of the cross.

    Women wept to see him; He said: “Don’t weep for me.”

    Many laughed and mocked Him: “Forgive them they don’t see.”

    Jesus, please forgive me, You know what I am;

    I was one who nailed Your hands

    When our life began again.                           (All Together Again, # 147)

                                                 

It is for each one of us that Jesus dies; and in his death our lives begin again.  God does not conquer us with political might, but woos us with sacrificial love.  The passion of God for you, for me, won’t have it any other way.  Jesus is the light of the world, a light in our life.  By faith in the man on the cross, you have eternal life.  Amen

Foolishness of the cross

Monday, March 16th, 2009

4 Sunday in Lent Foolishness of the cross 1 Cor 1_18-25


Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?  Good, even the demons confess that, as James and the gospels testify! Do you believe that Jesus is the chosen one from God, his prophet?  Good, even the Muslims believe that!  In fact, the Muslim faith believes quite strongly that Mary was chosen by God as a woman of noble birth, to bear the Christ child Jesus; the Christos, the Messiah; the anointed one.  They believe in Jesus’ virgin birth and the Koran, their ‘bible’ mentions Jesus 25 times as a prophet of God. Can you argue against that?  Of coarse not! 

 

Wow, we might say!  We have a common faith; we are one.  After all, Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says ‘No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.’ The Moslems say he is Lord.   I also hear many Christians say ‘anyone who believes in Jesus is a Christian’. 

 

 Is a Muslim Christian?  Are the demons Christian?  Is everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ welcome into the kingdom of God?  No, not according to Jesus own words in Matthew ‘Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!

 

What is it then that separates the true believers from the false prophets? 

 

The cross!

 

Jesus death on the cross to pay for our sins and his resurrection for our salvation , as Paul writes in Romans 4:25 ‘He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.’  is what separates ‘Christians’ from Muslims, demons from the Spirit of God, true believers from false prophets. 

 

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’  The cross, the payment Jesus made for our sin, is foolishness to many; its ludicrous that an innocent man would die for the guilty.  I have little to say on this, rather, let a Muslim cleric, who was once a Christian minister, speak clearly on this.

 

(play video)

 

Are St Paul’s words speaking loudly to you now ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishingIt is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.’  Utter nonsense that God would send his only innocent Son to the cross to die for the guilty.   We are the guilty ones and so we must pay for our sins, we must deal with our guilt. 

 

This is what religion is all about, a system of works to pay our dept; a system of laws to obey in order to please an angry God.  Religion is God’s way of making people righteous through obedience to strict laws and commands, through our worship and bowing down to him.

 

Religion yes, Christianity no!  We preach Christ crucified.  We proclaim the cross because through the cross is salvation and the power of God to forgive sins.  It seems foolish and ludicrous because we are actually still guilty in our sin.  You and me have not payed for our sins Jesus has; we have not suffered the wrath of God’s anger against sin, Jesus has.  We don’t obey and fulfil any laws to be saved, Jesus does.  Foolishness in the eyes of those perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.  Justification, or put simply, our salvation is totally God’s doing in Jesus.

 

This is the good news of the cross.  The free gift of being made right with God because Jesus died to pay for our sin and guilt.  We are given this at no cost to us.  Not even our little finger is raised in an effort to help in our salvation.  No works, no obeying of God’s law, not even any of the laws Jesus spoke of and commanded us to obey.  Nothing!

 

Our justification is a gift given to us freely because ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.  That whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life’.    The foolishness lay in the fact that we take hold of this free gift of God by faith.  That is, we believe Jesus, by dieing on the cross, made us right with God and nothing else matters or counts towards this.

 

You heard in the DVD, the Cleric criticises Christianity for being the easiest religion in the world.  All you have to do is hope that God is merciful.  How true is that!  True, it is easy because Jesus has done everything for us and gives us everything, forgiveness, life and salvation, but it is only a half truth. 

 

The hard part for us, harder than doing any works towards paying for our sin, is to simply trust Jesus at his word; to believe gospel of the cross.  Yet, even in this, God assures us and comforts us of his mercy by giving us his Spirit in baptism; a down payment of the things to come.  He gives us his Spirit through his word to strengthen our faith and actually forgives us in Holy Communion…grace upon grace from the cross to you.

 

Let me close with the words of a hymn written by Charles Wesley

‘And can it be that I should gain

an interest in the Saviour’s blood?

Died he for me, who caused his pain –

For me, who him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be

That thou, my God, shouldst die for me!  

 

 

 

 

 

Worried about being busy

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Worried about being busy Matt 6 25-33


I have a video of what it looks like to be engrossed in worry!  (Canadian police chase) What do you think?  Let’s play it again in case you missed the subtle message.

 

What is happening?  Yes, the robbers know what they want and are determined to get it no matter the conditions and no matter how futile their efforts.  They are to outrun the police and avoid capture at all costs.  The police on the other hand, also know they want and are determined to fulfil their responsibilities.  They are to capture the robbers at all costs.  And that is what they are doing.

 

However, what is all their worry and effort achieving?  Yes, nothing!  Both the robbers and police are very busy in their jobs, know their roles, know what they have to achieve, but they are in fact achieving very little.  The robbers are so concerned about getting away, so worried about doing it as they always have, with a car chase, they cannot see the bigger picture; they cannot see that their situation is hopeless.  The police, what do they do?  They are no better than the robbers, they are so caught up in the busyness of the chase, so caught up in worrying about the capture they just exasperate the situation.

 

Close up, just looking at the cars and the robbers trying to avoid capture, it seems pretty normal; something you would expect of a police chase.  But notice as the camera angle moves away from the close action and into the aerial view from the helicopter, what then?  (play again) What does the wider picture reveal?  Yes, no matter how hard they try, as long as they only worry about the problem in front of them…being stuck in the snow, the robbers are never going to get away and the police are never going to catch the robbers.

 

Are you the robbers or the police?  Is your life like the robbers? Always worrying about trying desperately to keep ahead in life, trying to outrun the busyness of the day; outrun the changes forced upon you by work or family commitments.   Perhaps are you like the police, always worried and focused on the job in front of you and never being able to catch up with the busyness of your day?  You seem to be forever running behind.  Forever chasing dreams, visions and hopes that are set before you, but only to find you never get where you want to be. 

 

All of us are either robbers or police.  All of us are either running from or chasing after something in our life.  Some of us are always worried about trying to escape the pressures and stresses of life, while others of us are always worried about chasing fading dreams and hopes of a more relaxed life.  Yet how many of us achieve it?  How many of us, by our own efforts, achieve a blissful life without worry? Do the rich, with the wealth to buy everything they want?  Do they poor, with no money or possessions to worry about?  Have you with all your worries and fears about escaping or chasing?

 

Jesus calls us to get into the helicopter of his word and rise above our escaping or chasing to gain a view of the bigger picture.  He encourages us to call off the pursuit and take a look at what is really going on; to take our focus off the job before us.  He says ‘I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Jesus sees our life like that helicopter shot of the police chase.  He can see we are doing a lot of worrying and running around after what we think is important for a good life, but in the end, from the vantage point of heaven, all we gain out of our striving and worry is more of the same.

 

Again Jesus says ‘do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.’  Like police after robbers, we shop until we drop chasing the dream of a peaceful and worriless life, yet it always eludes us.  Interestingly, John Carrol, in his new book ‘Ego and Soul, the modern West in search of meaning’, writes ‘It is through shopping…you can believe you control your own destiny, make yourself whomever you want to be, and therefore transform your life…like Clarke Kent changes into Superman.’

 

Jesus is not saying ‘don’t worry about chasing after those things’, because it is wrong.  He is not saying to worry is wrong, or to run from change and stress is wrong, or that chasing after a peaceful life is wrong or shopping is wrong…being superman or Wonder woman for a day is always good for the ego.  No, the key that unlocks freedom from the grind of everyday worry is to begin the day with God.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’  In him, in God and from God, comes our righteousness.  God himself gives us meaning, value and purpose for living.  Listen closely to Jesus words ‘seek first HIS kingdom and HIS righteousness.

 

St Paul in Romans clearly emphasises Jesus message  ‘For in the good news of Jesus death and resurrection a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is given to us by faith totally and completely, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  Righteousness before God, being friends with God, because of Jesus death on the cross, gives purpose and meaning to our running our chasing. How?  It gives us a vision of the bigger picture.  Being worth something before God, or in biblical terms, righteous before God, knowing he loves us and wants the best for our life, enables us to get into the helicopter and be lifted up to get a view of our life from a perspective of heaven.  

 

Have a look at everything God has provided for us.  When we bring just a minute fraction together, we begin to see how much he does provide for us.  Have a look at the sacrament of Holy Communion, God’s righteousness given freely today.  We can see and taste how much he loves us.  Knowing this lifts us up to see beyond our chasing and running to see what lay ahead…eternity with God.

 

This week, stop yourself in the middle of what you are doing, just when you are feeling frustrated or worthless or angry, running or chasing.  Stop at that point when, like the robbers or police, you are in the midst of a hopeless situation, and by faith step back to get a heavenly perspective on life.  We can do this by remembering Jesus words ‘seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’.  We are children of God so we have the privilege of looking at life from the vantage point of heaven.  When we do, we can see God’s love for us in all his gifts to us.  From there we can perhaps see a new way of doing things.  We can see how we might change our attitude and see how the bog we find ourselves in, like the police in the snow, may actually be what God is using to assist us in completing the task before us. 

 

This is what Jesus meant when he said ‘do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?’  For the life that is more important, is the life of righteousness given to us free by the gift of God.

 

Amen