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Dave's Diary

A weekly series of reflections by our minister Rev David Sullivan.

Two views of Worship, and Why it matters

posted Sep 19, 2017, 5:30 PM by St Matthews

James Torrance, a Scottish theologian, was a fine biblical scholar of the 20th century. He was never one to back away from challenging the church in the ways it “did” mission, evangelism, social action or, and here is what we consider in this diary, worship.

Torrance notes that as we reflect on different forms of worship, whether in a Sunday service, or as we seek to worship God in obedience in our everyday lives, there are fundamentally two views of worship. In the first view which, says Torrance, is “probably the commonest and most widespread,” worship is something we do, mainly in church on Sunday. We worship because Jesus taught us to do it, and gave us examples as to how we do it. But essentially worship is something we do.

Torrance critiques this view of worship as being essentially Unitarian in nature, having no real doctrine of the priesthood of Christ nor any solid doctrine of the Spirit. Such worship, Torrance says, is human-centred.

Contrast this with the second view of worship, where worship is understood as the “gift of participating through the Spirit in the (incarnate) Son’s communication with the Father – the gift of participating in union with Christ, in what he has done for us once and for all by his self-offering to the Father in his life and death on the cross, and what he is continuing to do for us in the presence of the Father, and his mission from the Father to the world.”

That is quite a mouthful, but the point is vital. This view of worship is profoundly Trinitarian and incarnational, and takes seriously the New Testament teaching about Christ as the High Priest and his headship of his body. In this view the Father gives us what he demands of us (the worship of our hearts). He gives us the gift of his Son and the gift of the Spirit, who lift us up to the Father to “participate in the very life of the Godhead.”

Wherein, Torrance notes, the first view of worship can be divisive, as it is human-centred, the second is unifying, in that it shows us that the only way to the Father is through Christ his Son in the communion of the Spirit and in the communion of the saints.

One of the crucial aspects of this second view of worship is the reality that “the triune God is not only the object of our worship, but paradoxically by grace, this God is the agent.”  God comes to us in his Son, and so we pray to Christ as God. But Jesus is also human, who at times is weak, suffers, is tempted, struggles, and who prays… with us to the Father. Not only, then, is the triune God the object of our worship, our worship is the gift of participating through the Spirit in Christ’s own fellowship with the Father.

In worship, then, we are drawn into the life of God himself. Jesus faces us with all the concerns of his (and our) Father in his heart. In grace Christ also stands for us, sent by his Father to usher in his kingdom, baptising us by the Spirit into his body, drawing us to participate in his communion with the Father.

Torrance also understands that in our prayer life we are drawn into the life of the Godhead. He writes: “Christ takes our selfish feeble prayers, sanctifies them, and presents them to the Father and in turn puts in his prayer, “Abba, Father” on to our lips. He stands in for us, intercedes for us and with us and in us, precisely when we do not know how to pray as we ought.” (Romans 8:26, 34)

In a world which is deeply concerned with techniques and know how, Bonhoeffer calls us to a reality check, pleading that we ask the “who question” over the “how question.” Who is the Father whom we worship and to whom we pray through the Spirit in communion with the incarnate Son? Who is the Spirit who draws into this wonderful life with God?

Torrance concludes that only when we know this triune God can we truly come to know how to worship and how to serve. If Torrance is right, and I am sure he is, then it is good for us to reflect on various important questions. How does understanding worship in the second sense the way we live day to day? What would we do differently in Sunday services? How does our ministry relate to Christ’s ministry? Is it true that “I no longer live, but Christ who lives in me?” How would you change your prayer life?

 

David

The Trusting Christian

posted Sep 19, 2017, 5:29 PM by St Matthews

“To love involves trusting the beloved beyond the evidence, even against much evidence. No man is our friend who believes in our good intentions only when they are proved. No man is our friend who will not be very slow to accept evidence against them.  Such confidence, between one man and another, is in fact almost universally praised as a moral beauty, not blamed as a logical error. And the suspicious man is blamed for a meanness of character, not admired for the excellence of his logic.

            There is, you see, no real parallel between Christian obstinacy in faith and the obstinacy of a bad scientist trying to preserve an hypothesis although the evidence has turned against it. Unbelievers very pardonably get the impression that an adherence to our faith is like that, because they meet Christianity, if at all, mainly in apologetic works. And there, of course, the existence and beneficence of God must appear as a speculative question like any other. Indeed, it is a speculative question as long as it is a question at all. But once it has been answered in the affirmative, you get quite a new situation. To believe that God—at least this God—exists is to believe that you as a person now stand in the presence of God as a Person. What would, a moment before, have been variations in opinion, now becomes variations in your personal attitude to a Person. You are no longer faced with an argument which demands your assent, but with a Person who demands your confidence. A faint analogy would be this. It is one thing to discuss in vacuo whether So-and-so will join us tonight, and another to discuss this when So-and-so’s honour is pledged to come and some great matter depends on his coming. In the first case it would be merely reasonable, as the clock ticked on, to expect him less and less. In the second, a continued expectation far into the night would be due to our friend’s character if we had found him reliable before. Which of us would not feel slightly ashamed if one moment after we had given him up he arrived with a full explanation of his delay? We should feel that we ought to have known him better.”

-  “On Obstinacy in Belief” by C.S. Lewis quoted in John Dickson

 

            The quote above, taken from an address given by C.S. Lewis, raises some important issues in a world in which Christians can often be criticised for trusting in a God whom many believe is not there or does not care. In this diary I will try to summarise some of these issues raised by Lewis and why they are important.

            Lewis makes no attempt to offer “proof” of the existence of God in his address, however, he does argue that believing in God is a reasonable thing to do. Living in a world in which science was beginning to be seen as the source of all truth, Lewis argues that belief in God is reasonable even though one does not come to a position of belief through scientific means. Science functions very differently from the way faith functions. One of the roles of scientists, for example, is to observe and record facts. And facts are known, not believed in. It is a physically observable fact that the sun is shining as I write, for example. It would make so sense to say, as one looks through the window: “I believe the sun is shining.”

            Although the Christian faith does not work in the kind of way science does, nevertheless one can still reasonably say, based on the evidence of history and the record of Scripture: “I believe in God.” In fact one can go even further and say “I believe in this particular God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” An atheist, of course, is entitled to say that the evidence is lacking, and that he/she does not believe in God. The fact that so many people over so many thousands of years have believed in God, and that many sensible minds, including scientists, have applied themselves to the Christian faith, suggests that atheism has formidable opposition, whether the atheists like it or not.

            So while Lewis is not offering a full-blown Christian apologetics, he argues that trusting in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who is also the God of the Christians, is a reasonable thing to do.

            Once one takes that position of faith, that there is an almighty, infinite, relational, loving God, the God of the Bible, certain things follow. There are times, for example, we come to a realisation that God will allow certain things to happen, even evil things, in ways that we do not understand or that make no sense to us.

            Nevertheless, because the Christian is in relationship with God, this does not mean that one would stop trusting God. God does not make us trust and love him, but he does tells us that ultimately it will be best for us if we do, even when we do not understand what he is doing or not doing. It remains reasonable to trust God. This is no different, argues Lewis, from the trust we have in someone we love, even when evidence seems to favour the idea of not trusting them. For example, as Lewis points, if someone I trust and love says that they will come to my place this evening to discuss a weighty matter, and I wait up and wait up, but they do not show, it might be very foolish of me to vow never to trust them again, particularly when they show up very early the next morning and explain why they were unable to turn up.

            “To love,” says Lewis, “involves trusting the beloved beyond the evidence. No man is our friend who believes in our good intentions only when they are proved.” We know from the Scriptures that God has a long history of being trustworthy and keeping his promises. So when he does not act in ways that we might hope for or expect, it remains rational and virtuous to continue to trust in him, just as we might trust in a close friend who has failed to do something we expected. It may not be easy, in fact it may be very painful, we may even scream at God to act, as did Job, but even this can be done because one trusts God.

            Lewis’ idea is simple. When we are in a loving relationship with God, whose ways are above and beyond our ways, it remains reasonable to maintain our trust in him, even when evidence seems to point in the opposite direction. In fact this is part of what it means to be a Christian, to trust God, at all times, in the bad as well as the good.

 

What does it mean to have Fear of the Lord?

posted Sep 19, 2017, 5:28 PM by St Matthews

            We have all heard the words and probably had conversations around what it means to fear the Lord. I have found over the years that most people conclude these words to mean “standing in awe” of God rather that being terrified in His presence.  That is a good start, but having looked a little more carefully at some of the biblical passages that refer to fearing the Lord, we can see that this idea means much more. In particular, to fear the Lord carries practical consequences that ought to be worked out in one’s life.

            The book of Deuteronomy refers from time to time to fearing the Lord, and the contexts in which these references occur are all important.  In reading them we can begin to form a comprehensive understanding of this common idea. For example, in Deuteronomy 14:22-26 the fear of the Lord is closely connected to rejoicing and feasting.  God commands His people to set aside a tithe from their fields each year, and then eat and drink wine in the presence of the Lord “at the place that He will choose as a dwelling for His Name, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.” To be honest I had never thought of celebrating and feasting as a way of learning to fear the Lord. Bring on the Passover meal!  

            In Deuteronomy 10:12-20, God commands His people to fear the Lord by “walking in His ways,” loving and serving Him with all your heart and keeping His commandments. The term “walking in His ways” implies a spirituality that embraces heart and behaviour. That is, our love and serving of God is worked out in practical ways in loving and serving one’s neighbour, and especially in practising justice and care for the poor, the orphan and widow. The words “walking in His ways” also suggest that we are on a pilgrimage. Sometimes you will see in Deuteronomy the words “you shall not turn to the right or the left,” (e.g. 5:32), which reinforces this idea that we are on a journey in which we are continually serving God and caring for others.

            The fear of the Lord in Deuteronomy also means that one must avoid worship of any other god or thing. Deuteronomy 13:4 reads: “It is the Lord your God you must follow, and Him you must fear. Keep His commands and obey Him; serve Him and hold fast to Him.” The verb used for “hold fast” here has the same usage in Genesis 2:24, which speaks of one leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife in their marriage relationship exclusively.   

            There are many other ideas associated with what it means to fear the Lord. This is just a start. The main idea here is to show that fearing the Lord means far more than “standing in awe” of God. Celebration, loving God and caring for others, walking in God’s ways by obeying Him, holding fast to Him and worshiping God alone, are all ideas associated deeply with fearing God.

            The reading of Scripture ought certainly to lift us closer to the Lord, and hopefully we will experience His presence in our lives deeply.  But all of that must ultimately be worked out in our lives in practical ways. Fearing the Lord is a spiritual discipline that is practical and grounded in our behavior.  We’ve seen that fear of the Lord will bear fruit in the way we live. May God help us to “fear” Him all the more and grow in His likeness!  Amen.

 

            David

The Road to Faith

posted Sep 19, 2017, 5:27 PM by St Matthews

           I have recently begun reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Although only about half way through it is not hard to see that this book will challenge all readers. Lewis’ aim in the book is to get to the heart of what the Christian faith is.  In pursuing this aim Lewis also seeks to demonstrate that the differences between denominations on their understanding of the essentials of the Christian faith are small. Those people who are “the truest children,” whatever respective denominations, essentially speak with the same voice.

            Mere Christianity is written for anyone who genuinely is seeking truth, whether Christian or non-Christian. Lewis builds an argument that all of us, regardless of our faith, non-faith, culture, and background, agree that there is a moral law that we all ought to live by. Our level of agreement is far greater than we might at first suspect. Even when people argue with one another over ethical issues, it is almost always because they agree that there is a moral law that we all ought to live by. For example, one person may accuse another of murder, and then the accused may argue in defence that he or she was simply acting in self-defence. But such a dispute can only take place because both agree that murder is morally wrong. (For the purposes of this diary I have set aside cases where people suffer mental illness or for some reason are not in control of their actions.)

            The exercise of this moral law may be related to, but is essentially independent of, my feelings and my desire for comfort. For example, it may be very convenient for me to rid the world of a particular person, but that does not change the reality that is morally wrong to murder them. Lewis felt the need to make this distinction because people will often confuse moral law with feelings.

            This moral law is unlike the law of gravitation and other laws that have been discovered by science. We know that if we release a heavy object way up in the air, it will fall to the ground with a thud. That is a simple fact. However, the moral law does not operate in that way. Lewis argues that, even though we all agree on the existence of the moral law, none of us seem to be able to obey it any where near perfectly. We know what our behaviour ought to be like, but then we fail to live up to what the moral law requires. One has only to take a moment to scan the world as it is, and one will readily see that humankind is in deep trouble, unable or unwilling, it seems, to behave rightly and morally with any consistency, more often than not falling short of what is required by the moral law.

            Note that what has been said so far says nothing about God or even his existence. Lewis argues, however, that the existence of the moral law indicates that the question of a Power or Life-Force ought at least to be taken seriously.  As the moral law lies outside of humankind then, and is something we all look to, it is arguable that there is a at least Power, whether personal or not, that has given that law.

             Lewis believes humanity’s inability to obey the moral law is a serious problem.  (After all he had first hand experience of human suffering and human violence during WW1). Only then does he begin to give the Christian faith its voice. It is essential, says Lewis, that if we are going to understand the Christian faith properly and its place in this world, we must first understand the depth of the human problem and how humanity is being trapped by an inability to raise itself to higher moral ground. Lewis refuses to allow critics of religion to have their way with the argument that religion is a thing of the past, and that we need now to progress. His central argument is that progress is not necessarily measured by what we leave behind in the past. If anyone has taken a wrong road to somewhere and become lost, the most progressive thing to do may well be to turn around, go back and find the right way.

            I can see where Lewis is going on this. The Christian faith ought to have a voice, particularly in a world that has lost its way. It may well be time for people to consider turning back to it. Chesterton argued that Christianity may not have even been tried. It is not that “Christianity has been tried and found wanting,” he wrote, but rather that “it has been found difficult, and left untried.”  

            Lewis’ argument is strong and can be helpful in engaging in conversation with nonbelievers and others who are genuinely seeking truth. Based just on what I have read so far, I commend Mere Christianity to anyone seeking to understand more deeply God and the things of this world.

 

            David

The Power of Ideas: Existentialism

posted Jul 18, 2017, 7:57 PM by St Matthews

We can often be tempted to dismiss ideas as being too abstract, too removed from reality, to be of any relevant use. However, in one way or another, ideas have deeply influenced the course of history, and will continue to do so.

The ideas of existentialism, particularly as taught by people like Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean Paul Sartre, have had tremendous influence in the Western world. Take Sartre, for example. Sartre taught the idea that human beings are “condemned” to freedom. As human beings, Sartre taught, we are detached from the world around us and from our past, we have nothing to guide us. And there is no God to connect to. A useful way to think about Sartre’s thought is to imagine that our consciousness floats around freely in the world, attached to nothing. Our detachment from the world and our past, says Sartre, means that there is always a permanent possibility that things might be otherwise.

Our being, then, lacks any essence. The defining idea of Sartre’s existentialism is that “existence precedes essence.” As there is no God and we have no transcendent compass by which we can live and make decisions, we are condemned to choose and take full responsibility for our decisions without any help. Ultimately the world of Sartre, even on his own admission, is deeply burdensome

One of the consequences of Sartre’s ideas is that the future always and in every way remains in doubt. We may try to conceal our condemnation to absolute freedom by imagining that we live with roles that define who we are, but in fact the absolute detachment between our consciousness and the objects of our consciousness ultimately overtake us. We remain alone in the world and we must always choose from amongst a myriad of choices. Only when we face and own that “truth” can we come to live authentically.

Sartre has been criticised as an apologist for tyranny and terror. One person has linked Sartre to the leadership of the Khmer Rouge, which oversaw the murder and starvation of as much as a third of the population of Cambodia. Many of the leaders were admirers of Sartre.

Personally I find Sartre’s philosophy depressing and disturbing. I think Sartre did as well. Commentators argue that Sartre’s thought has been a huge influence behind the overwhelming meaninglessness that people experience in their lives today.

It is interesting to contrast Sartre’s belief with that of another existentialist, in this case, a Christian existentialist, Soren Kierkegaard, whose ideas have also had a great deal of influence. Kierkegaard believed, like Sartre, that we are faced with making choices all the time. Kierkegaard believed, however, that true freedom was found in intimate relationship with God. Kierkegaard points to the biblical account of the command by God to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, as holding the key to understanding our freedom. In Kierkegaard’s understanding of this story Abraham was able to trust the setting aside by God of ethics, even Abraham’s love for his own son, and all else, in order that Abraham might stand before God, with nothing else in between, so that he could truly come to know God’s ways. Only when one makes that leap of faith to stand in the presence of God, with all else forsaken, even the promises of God, is one able to understand and appreciate the depth of the love that God has for him/her and for this world. Only then is one able live authentically in this world, with and in the freedom that God has given. It is not that God wants us to leave behind those we love (certainly not), but when God is first in our lives everyone and everything else will find their rightful place. The Son of God, who gave his life for us, has opened the way for us to come to God and find true freedom in relationship with him.

As I have been reflecting on Sartre’s and Kierkegaard’s ideas, both existentialist’s but at opposite ends of the existentialist spectrum, I have felt gratitude for the gift of my faith, and for our God who is deeply connected to us, and who has given us the freedom to live for him and towards him. Our God has promised us a future with him in Christ, and has not left us to our own inadequate devices. Let us all continue to thank God for the faith he has given us, and live our lives, choosing the path that he has set before us, in the certain hope that we are destined to live forever with him.

 

David

 

 

The Beatitudes

posted Jun 27, 2017, 8:38 PM by St Matthews

The Beatitudes are probably amongst the best known and quoted of Scriptures, yet they are also amongst the most debated. The Beatitudes introduce the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, in which Jesus seems to set an impossible code of behaviour for humankind, but which clearly highlights our utter dependence on the grace of God.

And I suspect that to understand the Beatitudes we do indeed need to grasp the depth of the grace of God. Are the beatitudes simply idealistic sayings, as some understand them? Or are they sayings which are given to help unfortunate people feel better? Perhaps. But those suggestions do not seem to fit with the character of Jesus.

Perhaps Jesus meant exactly what he says in the Beatitudes, that those who are struggling, who are powerless in worldly terms, who are in grief, and who are hungry and thirsty, are truly blessed. But how can this be?

In answering this question, it is important to note, I believe, that the first and last of the beatitudes, (Matthew 5:3 and 5:10) tell us that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are the weak or the unknowns of this world. Philip Yancey argues rightly that not only does Jesus give us, in the Beatitudes, ideals to strive towards, with appropriate rewards, he also reveals what succeeds in the kingdom of heaven in this life here and now. The kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers.

But what about the people who would be considered successful by modern standards? Yancey names a number of people in this category in his book The Jesus I never knew, including great literalists and philosophers, and then goes on to declare that “it would be difficult to assemble a more miserable, egomaniacal, abusive company.”

Yancey may seem to be a little harsh, but he then tells us that, in his career as a journalist, that of the people he met, he found that the ones whom people idolise or fawn over, for the clothes they wear, or the food they eat, or the toothpaste they use, are also more likely to be the ones who are miserable, or whose marriages are in trouble or broken up. This group, Yancey explains, are “nearly all incurably dependent on psychotherapy. In a heavy irony, these larger-than-life heroes seem tormented by self-doubt.”

 On the other hand, Yancey has spent time with people he describes as “servants,” like Mother Teresa, who work amongst the outcasts of India, amongst the poor of Africa, and in the jungles of South America. These groups work for long hours and low pay. Yancey generally found that these groups possess a depth and richness and even joy that he has not found elsewhere.

Then there is someone like Henri Nouwen, who gave up a career in academics to move into a community called Daybreak, where he took on the daily task of caring for all the basic needs of a young man, Adam, who was severely disabled. Nouwen told Yancey that he had found in the hours he spent with Adam, an inner peace, realising only then how obsessed he had been for “success” in academia and Christian ministry. Through Adam he had learnt that “what makes us human is not our mind but our heart, not our ability to think but our ability to love.” Blessed are the merciful.

The list goes on. There are the peacemakers, like Martin Luther King, there are the disciples of nonviolence who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are dying, and those who grieve and mourn. Not all of these people turn to God, but when they do, Yancey argues, they find a peace and a joy and mercy from God that may never otherwise have been possible. Few of them would be deemed successful by worldly standards, but each is successful in the kingdom of heaven.

In the Beatitudes Jesus honours those who may not have much in this life, the poor, those who mourn, the hungry, the persecuted, the rejected, the meek, and he offered them the promise of the king of heaven. They would receive blessing abundantly, not just in the future, but joy and peace today. C.S. Lewis writes: “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

The promises of the Beatitudes are not “pie in the sky,” writes Yancey. When we realise the desperate need we have for God and his kingdom, when we fight for God’s justice, when we are persecuted for our faith, when we seek God’s peace, when we mourn for the lost and those who are rejected, when we are merciful to the powerless, we can be assured that the kingdom of heaven is ours, not just in the future, but today.

 

David

True Discipleship: The Death of Self-Centred Desires

posted Jun 10, 2017, 8:04 AM by St Matthews

“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” 

Luke 14:25-33.

 

So you met Jesus?

Now it is time to die. It is time to die to all of your self-centeredness, to be born-anew.

“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25.

The word disciple is a well-used word, so used in fact that we have often forgotten what it means.

Discipleship looks like something and someone.

When Jesus used the word disciple, he referred to those who had submitted their lives to a teacher, a rabbi, in an attempt to learn, understand and practice their teachings. “Disciple”, in Biblical Greek, simply denotes “student” or “learner”, and refers to people who devoted themselves to following a significant religious leader.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a student of Jesus who is wholeheartedly devoted to the entirety of His words, thoughts, and actions.

When Jesus speaks of discipleship, He does not refer to an intellectual assent of the mind alone. Discipleship is not a series of verbal agreements but a life lived in obedience to Jesus’ words. For example, Jesus teaches:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matt 5:28.

And,

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours.” Matt 6:14-15.

And,

“But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28.

How does a true disciple receive these words? Do they commit them to memory? Or attempt to understand them at their greatest intellectual depth?

A disciple obeys these words.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15.

Let’s not over-complicate discipleship: It is simply the fruit of devotion and love for Jesus. It is a way of living, produced by genuine belief. So don’t be confused: True belief always produces fruit and outward action. Those who claim to love Jesus should show their love with their actions and their lives.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” Matt 7:15-20.

So to become a disciple of Jesus is to witness nothing less than your own death.

              The death of your sinful desire!

              The death of your selfishness!

              The defeat of sin, Satan, and death itself!

But to become a disciple of Jesus is to also witness the birth of life itself!

Life anew!

Life reborn!

Life eternal!

Life with the God of love!

How amazing! How can we not sing for Him, obey Him, love Him? Everyday Jesus has places His love in our hearts, and gives us God’s Holy Spirit to teach us and strengthen us to be like Him (1 John 4:17)!

True Disciples of Jesus are the fragrance and radiance of Christ in this world.

Jesus teaches that there are only two ways to live in this life. I pray we choose life, and teach and show others to do the same.

“In everything, then, do to others as you would have them do to you. For this is the essence of the Law and the prophets. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matt 7:12-14.

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.” 1 John 4:7-9.

By Christ alone, in the power of the Holy Spirit, for the Father’s glory,

Thank you Jesus!

Christopher MacLeod

The Sacredness of the Workplace

posted May 30, 2017, 6:23 PM by St Matthews

I was recently listening to a talk on the sacredness of the workplace. The speaker said something many of us probably either do not know, or don’t give much thought to - the vast majority of Jesus’ time over the three years of his public ministry was spent in or near Capernaum, which he made his hometown.

This is a significant piece of information, for the shrines and sites that are dedicated to Jesus’ public ministry are found in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tabgha, Mount Tabor, and other places, but as I understand it, only recently has the significance of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum been given serious recognition. I believe that there is now a modern Catholic church building, named after Peter the apostle. There have been holy sites elsewhere for centuries dedicated to Jesus and for the things he did. One of the most significant sacred places of remembrance, for example, is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. The orders for the construction of many of the shrines and churches on these sites dates back as far as the 4th century, orders given by Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine. However, Helena gave no orders for anything to be done in Capernaum. It probably never entered her mind.

Why has so much attention been given to these other places, and so little to Capernaum? After all what Jesus did in Capernaum is given as much attention by the gospel writers as what Jesus did in Jerusalem. In Capernaum Jesus healed a paralytic who was lowered through a roof by some friends, when the entrance into the house where Jesus was staying was too crowded (Mark 2:1-12).  It was in Capernaum that Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother who had a high fever (Luke 4:38-39). In the synagogue in Capernaum people “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” In fact in his Commentary on Luke, Ray Summers notes that “Capernaum was the center of Jesus’ ministry and had witnessed more of his mighty works than any other town.” So why is Capernaum not given greater prominence? It is not that these other places should not be thought of as sacred, they certainly should, but why should not Capernaum not given the same level of recognition?

The speaker of the talk found he could come to only one conclusion. Historically we have not been educated to think of workplaces as sacred places. Work itself has not been understood as sacred. Archaeological digs at Capernaum have uncovered a plethora of coins and fishhooks. The town was very much a working person’s town. Jesus would have known many of these folk well and may have even gone fishing with some of them from time to time. Is not Capernaum as a workplace as sacred as Jerusalem where the temple was located?

The speaker argued that the workplace is every bit as sacred as the spaces in the church building. Our work is every bit as sacred as our worship on Sunday, for we do both for the Lord. God cares about the worker, of course, but he also cares about the work. The entire cosmos, made by God, is his temple, his dwelling place, and therefore in its entirety it is sacred. When we go to work, we go to a sacred place, where we serve God, as much as we go to a sacred place on Sunday where we gather to worship as a community.

 

 

 

Here is a prayer for our work and workplaces:

 

Heavenly Father, as we enter our workplaces we bring your presence with us. Help us to speak your peace, your grace, your mercy, and your perfect order in our workplaces.  Help us to honour you in the work we do. We acknowledge your power over all that is spoken, thought, decided, and done in the workplace. Amen

 

 

David

Made in the image of God

posted May 9, 2017, 8:45 PM by St Matthews

If we are to understand what it means to be human, we need to understand the importance of Genesis 1:26-27, and in particular the amazing declaration by God that he has made human beings in his image.

We need to step back a moment before tackling this issue. In ancient days in the Near East, it was usual for ancient religions to build and dedicate temples to their gods, and to place images of those gods in the temple. It was believed that the presence and power of those gods was expressed through those images.

Ancient Israel’s religion differed from other religions. In the inner sanctum of the Jerusalem temple, in which was placed the ark of the covenant, there were cherubim whose wings covered the ark, but no image sat on the “throne.” It was believed that no image could adequately express the presence of God. In fact, the Israelites were forbidden to worship other gods, including their imaged forms. Indeed, it is impossible to represent the true deity in any created thing. God commanded Israel: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” Fundamental to God’s commandment is the reality that God is separate from his creation, and that there is nothing that can possibly represent him.

If we now turn to the creation story, Genesis 1, we find described the making of a cosmos temple in which –amazingly, startlingly, but really – God does place that which is made in his image, namely man and woman. Human beings are images of God placed by God himself in a temple. In The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery the authors capture beautifully the amazing splendour of this truth:

 

Against the canopy of space and the topography of earth - beating

swarming, and lumbering with fertile and fantastic life -  Adam

stands in unique relationship with God…No stone or wood chiselled

into a godling’s image, “the Adam” in two…is an animated, walking,

talking and relating mediation of the essence, will and work of the

sovereign God. As living image of the living God, Adam bears a

relationship to God of child to parent.

 

There is nothing else on earth, bar human beings alone, that can image the God of the cosmos. Incidentally this seems to be another reason why God commands human beings to not worship images and idols, for they themselves are in the image of God placed by God in the cosmos temple. To worship an image is not only an offence to God, it diminishes the value of human beings.

It is amazing, isn’t it, that whilst humans are made from the dust of the earth, created on the same day as animals including cattle, wild animals and everything that creeps on the ground, humans yet stand in this unique relationship with God by being created in his image. Here we have another of these extraordinary paradoxes that makes God’s creation so interesting!

There has been much debate about what it means to be made by God in his image. The Bible offers no clear definition. Some argue that it is the ability for humans to use the intelligence or reason they have, whilst others argue that it is the ability to use free will to make moral choices. Iain Provan suggests that anything that points to the reality of true “personhood” could probably be regarded as an indicator of “image.”

Lest we be in danger of becoming proud in our contemplation and amazement at being made in God’s image, Provan gives us an important warning. He writes that “in a biblical tradition that so stresses the great gulf fixed between Creator and creation, (it is astonishing that) there should be any talk of human beings imaging God at all. We can only believe that the embrace of such risky language is absolutely necessary to capture the exalted position of human beings in the cosmos…Nothing less will do than to say we are the very image bearers of God.”

The issue of being made in the image of God is very important for two reasons. Firstly, this is an identity issue. To be fully human means to reflect who God is in the way we live, to reflect his character, and his love for others and for the world he created. And secondly, to know and embrace our imaging of God is to know his extraordinary grace in raising us up to share in his life and his very nature. So let us be encouraged.

 

David

Discerning the spirits

posted Apr 28, 2017, 11:36 PM by St Matthews

We are probably all aware that there are times when we need to exercise spiritual discernment. In John Cassian’s excellent and fairly famous book called Conferences, written in the fifth century, the author devoted a whole chapter to a discussion of discernment. How does one know when one is acting or making a decision within the will of God? Can Scripture give us any help here? The issue is important for all of us.

A number of authors, Simon Chan prominent among them, note that there are two types of discernment – external and internal. Exercising external discernment concerns the truth or veracity of events, situations, words and people. Well aware of the early stages of Gnostic heresy that was giving the early church grief, John the evangelist commanded the “beloved” in his first letter not to believe every spirit, “but test the spirits” and see whether “every spirit confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh from God.” (1 John 4:2) Any spirit that did not confess that truth, John said, was not from God. Discernment is exercised here by applying a biblical truth to an external situation. The key is to know one’s Scriptures well enough to be able to draw on relevant verses. Such forms of discernment are relatively straightforward, Chan argues.

More difficult is the ability to discern God’s will in one’s own life and in particular life situations. “What is God telling me to do today?” or “How do I respond in this situation?” are the kinds of questions that have at one time or another caused us all to pause, ponder and pray, sometimes at great length.

There are no simple answers to these questions, particularly when important decisions and directions are at stake. There are a few things worth considering that might help us, however.

Firstly, as Christians we often underestimate the freedom that God has given us in the way we live. In fact, I suspect the view that God is a harsh rule maker is fairly common. This may explain why many Christians often become overly scrupulous in trying to exercise discernment and may even freeze in the decision-making process. But God never intended it to be this way. For example, the creation story, particularly as articulated in Genesis chapter 2, is often seen primarily as being about rules, where God spoils the party by putting a prohibition on the eating of the fruit of one particular tree. In fact, the central idea of Genesis 2 is that God gave Adam and Eve enormous freedom, to eat of the abundance of any of the trees in the Garden of Eden, but one. But their love for God could only be demonstrated in obeying him. They needed to have a choice to be able to demonstrate that obedience, hence the prohibition on eating of the fruit of that one tree. Chesterton argued that the 10 commandments are mostly “do not” commandments precisely because it would have been far more cumbersome to list all the “do” commandments. As Christians we have been set free to live fully as human beings and as children of God. The bottom line is that we need to discern spirits as people who have been liberated from death and sin.

Secondly, discernment implies a degree of maturity, becoming Christlike, which comes through “constant training in listening to God and obeying his voice.” (Chan) It is not feelings, although they can be a part of the process of discernment, but a constancy in seeking God’s direction through spending time with the Lord in prayer and reading the Scriptures, and seeking the wisdom of spiritually mature Christians, that will equip one for discernment. In his Commentary on Philippians Peter O’Brien writes: “A solid personal spirituality is the only consistent ground for distinguishing good and bad impulses, tendencies, aspirations, and decisions.”

Putting all this together, Chan argues that the most important issue in “discerning the spirits” is the process rather than the “product of the activity.” It is the orientation of the heart, and the desire to do the will of God that really counts. Chan is not saying that outcome is not important. Of course it is, but it is the person’s desire to do the will of God that truly matters. One author argues that having the desire to do the will of God in discerning is the will of God. Even when one makes a mistake that does not mean that one is missing out forever on God’s perfect will, for God is most interested in our love and obedience.

Discerning the spirits is an important issue for all of us. May God help us to mature in our spiritual journey, helping us to grow in love and obedience, and help us develop the gift of discerning his will in every area of our lives.  

 

David

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