Monday, 29 May 2017

The Many... and the one

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one".  Spock (Star Trek 2).
"Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many". Kirk (Star Trek 3).

One of the things that religion is often damned for is its exclusivity - as in it only really applied to those who are part of a particular flock - but there are telling examples when people in general pick up on the fact that something much bigger is going on.

One of the best examples of this in the Bible is about a typically self-referential man named Jonah.

The story begins with a total shock to the system. A pagan city called Nineveh is in real trouble, so God speaks to Jonah and tells him to get up and go to these people to warn them of their plight.

What would you do?
Well, Jonah was having none of it... Lower himself to go and help a bunch of pagans, ha!
He runs to the port and jumps on the first ship he can find heading in the other direction.

Well, that's that then - Jonah's off, and that's all there is to it.

Not quite.

Once at sea, there's a huge storm, and the Sailors realize that these aren't normal conditions - somethings bringing them bad fortune, so Jonah is awoken from his slumber (some people can sleep through anything!), and they discover that he's the cause of the trouble, so he's thrown overboard, as they recognize they cannot trifle with the God Jonah knows.

Alternative 'transport' is then provided, and Jonah finds himself spewed out... beside Nineveh.  Reluctantly, Jonah does what he's been asked to, and, yes, the people believe his message and pray and fast for help from God.

So, job done then.

Not quite.

Jonah is totally ticked off by the fact that these unrighteous pagans have actually turned to God, and asks God to just end him. God, instead, initially provides him with a plant to shelter under, but then the plant dies, God seeking to teach Him something about what really counts.

The book ends with God seeking to tell Jonah why all this has happened. Here's a city, he says, with some 120,000 people. It was so big, Jonah had himself noted, it took three days to walk around. These folks needed to hear what you had to say - they were ripe for something other than their folly - they just needed the right word at the right moment.

The story, however, is not just about this vast company. It's equally about a man who thought he'd worked out his priorities and who thought, because he prayed a great deal and abstained from certain things, he was just fine, but he wasn't.

Here was a man who needed to come to understand the true value of God's amazing mercy, and it was clearly a hard lesson for him to learn.

So Nineveh got it's messenger, and was saved, and, hopefully, Jonah got the message.

Job done, right?

Not quite.

What this story tells us is that this God is the one who sees and knows us, whether we're like Jonah - comfortable in our own "religion", or just doing the latest thing that's popular, and what's both wonderful and worrying is that He loves us all, and is going to shake things up because he does, so we cannot allow our days here to just pass idly by without a care.

If religion, or the lack of it, leaves us detached from what counts, then I pray we'll have a share in the mercy of this story, because what should really matter in this universe of ours is a love deeper than we can possibly imagine, but can truly know, because we were meant to do so.

The encouraging message of Jonah is that it's not over, and the needs of the many, the few, and the one, are all being accounted for.

Friday, 19 May 2017

The rarest thing

It's all about the journey, apparently.
We trek out into life, learning as we go, becoming older (and wiser?), until...

Job was a man who had, materially, what most would consider a pretty good life. He, no doubt, believed he had things pretty much together until the day all of it fell apart and he was left, naked and alone, suffering dreadfully and being repeatedly told he was wrong - brought to a point where people thought the best thing that could happen was that he ceased, 

but he knew they were wrong.

He knew that behind the celestial expanse above his head and far beneath the vast depths of the oceans that surrounded the dust on which he lived (Job 9:8), there was an understanding that wasn't being heard. He couldn't say or do anything except express his confidence in that truth, and wait until that was the one voice, the one message, that was allowed to speak.

Job was right.
At the end of his crucible, amidst the power evidenced in nature, God came and made clear that He alone was indeed the only one who knew, who understood the true nature of what is and what will be (Job chapters 38-40).

We have trouble with that because no matter how hard we look at the world, we forget something that Job himself states.

To gain what is rare and precious, men employ great ingenuity, craft and strength to dig deep into the earth to gain the most rarest of gems and precious materials, yet, says Job, that manner of endeavor is paltry when compared to our ability to gain and comprehend true wisdom - it isn't found amongst us (28:12). He comprehends something that no amount of counsel, suffering or current experience can ever change - behind all that he sees and encounters is a far weightier truth and reality... That we exist purely because there is a Lord and Creator who truly knows all things (28:23-28).

The wisdom, Job understands, is there. We simply do not have the tools, in and of ourselves, to access or comprehend what it is saying to us, because, like those who sought to counsel him, we are so entirely locked up by our own ignorance regarding what is actually being said to us.

Things haven't changed.
This week, I've been considering the astounding amount of information that's been accumulated in the last couple of decades that so clearly shows that our being here is because the very things Job touches on - the 'message' of the stars (cosmos) and the depths (nature) of our world have been devised to perfectly provide for our existence by one who has made it to be so, and yet, in spite of an avalanche of such evidence, the world ignorantly chooses to 'journey' along as if nothing had happened.

Our being here is nothing less than a miracle of truly inter-galactic proportions, yet we stumble around as if nothing much matters more than our next thrill or distraction - what a waste!

The universe is literally bursting with wonder and exquisite provision, but most of us spend our time thinking about no more than what's going on in front of us right now or what we plan to do next.

Job understood that wasn't anywhere near enough - that what was truly "there" spoke deep and clear about what really mattered (19:25-27), but that was just page one of what was to be comprehended.

God can take such a man and begin to open up to him the fathomless depths of what has been put into action in the realm that surrounds us - nothing less than the eternal purposes of an Almighty Creator and Redeemer.

The lesson of this journey is abundantly clear. Life moves along at a rate of knots, and we can busy ourselves with all manner of trivia and hold to an array of pragmatic ditties we gather on our way, but none of that is worth squat when we confront the truth behind the vastness of what surrounds us and allows us breath - that is what should truly stagger and overwhelm us, because, literally, written in the stars and the seas is the signature of God. Science confirms it, and scriptures reveals it, so stop, and consider what is really going on here. This alone leads to health for you and me.

Sunday, 7 May 2017


"I am going fishing"...
"they caught nothing".  John 21:3

It's hard for me to imagine what it must have been like, as I've never seen a miraculous physical healing, or a storm ceased by a word, or 5,000 people fed with just a handful of fish and bread, but these seven disciples fishing had. The last three years of their lives had been astounding, and then, to top it all, they'd recently seen their teacher extinguished by the most cruel form of capital punishment the Romans could employ, only to see Him physically return from death a few days later.

How would you respond to something like that?
Well, Peter had pretty much had enough, and for good reason.

The events of the last few weeks had shown to him and everyone else what kind of person he really was. When the going got tough, he cashed in. When he was called on to stand up and be counted, he scurried away and just couldn't take it.

Peter's like us. 
Me and you.
When we get right down to facing the kind of crucible he did, fear can grip us so hard that all we can think about is our own skins, never mind the consequences on someone else.

Satan has desired to sift you, Jesus told Him at the last meal together.
If you're someone who knows that Jesus is the truth, then make no mistake - you're in those crosshairs.

Mercifully for Peter, and you and me, that isn't the conclusion to his days with Jesus.

There is Peter and his associates, doing what some of them at least understood - bringing in a catch, except it wasn't happening. Not even his old skills were proving to be any good on this night. If he couldn't go back to fishing, what was he going to do?

As dawn breaks (don't you love dawns), they hear a familiar voice telling them to try once again. As once before in their experience, there's a remarkable catch as they do, but Peter's already forgotten about that and makes for the shore - Jesus is on the beach.
He's made a fire, and as they have breakfast, Jesus reconciles a devastated man.

I'm so glad for this amazing moment.
It tells me that you and I can (and, no doubt, will) be the biggest screw-ups in time and space, but if Jesus cares for us, then things are going to be good, even if we have, in this moment, shut up shop to go fishing, or something else that seems to put us a million miles from God, because we've totally failed.

Jesus came for His friend. He heals him in that moment by confirming that Peter does really love in the way that truly matters, because he is loved, and by telling him that he has a future beyond a fishing boat and the same-old, same-old.

The same is true for us if we trust in the Jesus who came for us, died for us, rose for us. Sure, we're going to have 'gone fishing' moments when everything is so out of joint, but sometimes, those are the very deep moments when the miraculous unfolds as Jesus comes and speaks to us through His word and marries us to His peace, and His truly astonishing, secure love.

Peter would go on, as Jesus promises in this conversation, to live and die for the riches that God gives Him in this moment.

So, if you have been out toiling in the dark all night, aware of God's truth, but distant from it, take a look as the dawn comes up, and see who is waiting to share breakfast with you on the beach. There's good news, thanks be to God, for each of us, if we do.

Monday, 1 May 2017

" V O I D " ?

"Because of what I said you believe? Truly, you will see greater than this"
John 1:50.

It's been an interesting week, particularly as I've been seeking to 'hear' what some have been saying in the atheist camp regarding the nature of Christianity, and the 'God' behind it being a monstrous invention that humanity would certainly be better without.

The argument, from what I can gather, is something like this  -  after numerous ages of death and suffering on our planet, "god" (or at least our rendition of him) decides to intervene by demanding attention (worship and total commitment) from us, and that if this isn't given, then more misery and tragedy will ensue. Christ, apparently, adds to this the additional terror of hell, and the entire primitive notion of blood sacrifice is played out in his death, concluded in the myth of resurrection. Like other religions, then, we have something which merely preys upon our fears and panders to our miss-placed wishes of escaping death, both of which are fool hardy and merely amount to a form of wicked abuse in the cold, hard light of the real world.

It all seems pretty conclusive - a fabrication that's just an ignorant conjecture on our part, until we knew better. Sown up? Well, only until you begin to consider what Christianity actually says about all of this.

Here's a statement worthy of consideration:

Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his life, death and resurrection.

Robert Farrar Capon.

There's a really important insight hinted at here. In the Old Testament, there were lots of rules and laws, regulations and requirements regarding everything, but what can so easily escape us when we examine this material is that before any of it was delivered or required, God had already shown that something much better had to be at the very heart of what counts between ourselves and the one who made us.

There's a really pithy statement in the letter of James.

"Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. And he was called the friend of God" (2:23).

God asked a man to trust in His faithfulness, His promises, and he did - that brought about the essential first step in what became a life-long relationship, but that wasn't by any means the end of the story. As Abraham goes forward, the issue of our being what we can truly be, without all the trouble that still assails our hearts has to be faced. Religion or Reason may like to teach that we can, somehow, scrape through that one on our own, because these comfortable routes essentially seek to externalize our corruption, but God knows better. The reason we have a world filled with pain and sorrow is not because 'that's just how it is'... we're all just accidents of a cosmic explosion, so what can you expect (the meaning is meaninglessness). No, Christianity (and the life of Abraham) says we may have made it that way, that we have certainly royally screwed up (look where Abraham was raised), and life would therefore certainly be pointless, except that we haven't been left there.

After years of living amongst the compromises of kings and others in Canaan and the limitations of his own flesh, Abraham is asked by God to kill his one true son, Isaac (Genesis 22:2). Consider how that must have sounded to his ears - how could God want such a thing, ask such a thing... what kind of God is this! We're right to be staggered by the magnitude of how atrocious this appears. What is going on here? Naturally, the argument of the atheist appears fully sanctioned - see, this isn't a God worth knowing - he demands murder; where is the justice, where is the God that is supposed to be merciful. Reading the account carefully, however, gives a very different spin, because it appears that Abraham, as God's friend, understood that something much weightier was in mind. Notice, especially, when Isaac asks why they haven't brought a sacrifice what his father's answer states (Genesis 22:8).

There's, no doubt, various ways to interpret aspects of that moment, but what's really worth considering here, in the light of our present conversation, is that Jesus tells us that this man Abraham, who became the friend of God, saw something in those years (John 8:56) which informed his words and actions in moments like this one, and it meant that he saw beyond any veil of his own reasoning - which could have only been appalled - or religious requirement - which could only provide a miss understanding of this.

Before getting anywhere near trying to merely equate things to what reason or piety could offer, Abraham tells us in that statement to his son that he'd already penetrated much, much further into what was really going on - that is what we're needing to understand. On the one hand, perhaps, he understood that a God that had given him a heir at such an old age could easily provide an animal caught in a thicket for an offering (what actually happened), but that's just scratching the surface. Abraham "heard" the God of promise who had said to the first man and woman that He would bring remedy to their distanced souls, and what he's heard, as he considered this particular drama, was astonishing. The God who had fulfilled his promise to Abraham in these late years of his life (Genesis 21), working what was naturally impossible, was not going to abandon His promises now - this was a God of the impossible, of resurrection! 

There was a true reconciliation coming, he perceived, by the son - the lamb, who would be offered up in our stead.

That is what is behind his words in that moment -
"God will provide Himself a lamb".

We may wish to argue about the why's and wherefores of what God would do and why it was done this way, but here, many centuries before the event itself, Abraham is certain it will come, and it is the moment that changes everything.

What this man shows us in his life and this event is that a true and comprehensive fellowship with God lies beyond the incarceration of our own small thoughts about what is - the reality is far greater.

Without that kind of veil being lifted, we're all busy seeking to make determinations and judgements of our own accord, so how can we truly evaluate our real condition when we don't actually hold anywhere near all the cards? Abraham had been gifted with the one thing that made the essential difference to our lives (Romans 4:5) - seeing that God is truly here and has done what is required to change our present poverty (Romans 8:3, 5:8).

This event, then, tells us something profound. God will break out against the violence that has been done to us and by us, not in an arbitrary or capricious manner, but by focusing it all in the offering and reconciling work of one - the son He would send.

The truth which Christianity seeks to address is that we're not at fault because we're just DNA machines who happen to be a little more developed than your average primate - the reason we hate, kill, lust and succumb so easily to wickedness is that evil is a very real, parasitical force at work in our world, and must be remedied. The resolve is not within us via reason or religion, even to live up to our own standards - we merely continue to perpetuate the malignancy - it has to come from outside - from one who can actually bring about our recovery, and in that moment on Mount Moriah with Isaac, Abraham gains a glimpse of who will provide that rescue.

The heart of Christianity is the Cross, and the one crucified upon it, because it is here we see that Jesus was in earnest regarding what He taught about righteousness, justice, mercy, and the requirements that these bring. Our sin was far more cancerous than we can ever imagine (Matthew 18:8-9), and no amount of reasoning or pious activity by us can change that. We may object to this, deeply, because it stings against our eccentric yet confident notions of our own capacity, but Golgotha, when rightly apprehended, is the termination of those pathetic, destructive whimpers.

The love of God truly costs all to heal us. That is the God who comes to befriend us.

Perhaps we would prefer a world in which we determine our own good, or at least one where we can actually do good, but that isn't what's here and now, so we need our eyes open to the truth that Abraham saw, that Jesus Himself has made real in death and resurrection, and that God will certainly establish as the bedrock of a creation that will be freed from sin  and death (Revelation 21:5).

The void which imprisons us to a world of our own flawed doings has been bridged at the Cross. The D I Y market stalls of our reason and religion are closed. The God who made us has opened the road to the city built upon a love that will secure us forever.