Bitter Roots

This is the root system of the humble Dandelion.

It develops unseen. It spreads widely and quickly. It has enormous tenacity and resists every attempt at removal (as any gardener will tell you). And if you remove only one section, lopping off the top, then the rest will just develop the more.

And, of course, it’s the chosen analogy for the writer to the Hebrews, when he wished to describe the unseen fingers of bitterness spreading to disfigure the garden of the church.

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many”. (Hebrews  12:14-15)

Bitter roots! Alain de Botton defined bitterness as anger that forgot where it came from.

Look how closely the pursuit of holiness (towards God) is tied up with the pursuit of peace (between people). And what prevents our living together in peace?  It’s described as falling “short of the grace of God” and the springing up of “bitter roots… [that] cause trouble and defile many.” Simply put, I fall short of grace when I act in a legalistic way. The old legalism was “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” If wrong has been done to you then it needs repaying in kind.

Payback is mine, says the legalist. There’s no such thing as a bitter person who keeps the bitterness to himself.

But this is far short of grace that Jesus describes: “You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

But what is the “bitter root” that causes “trouble and defiles many”? It is the holding of debts. Sometimes it’s not enough to say “I have forgiven them” with a quick prayer. When we seek to correct a wrong done to us, we sometimes put conditions on it. In our heart we’re still judging it, (“But you know, they SHOULDN’T have done it!”) as if we are still holding a debt, a grudge, or taking the person to court. Even though the case is over, the trial goes on, inside our minds!

The fruit of the Spirit, as described in Galatians 5:22, is “love, joy, peace…” If you are producing different fruit (grumpy irritation, bad temper, depression) then you better ask the Lord what is at the root of it. It’s as if we’re still holding on. Still poking at an old wound.

Suzy Kassem writes: “O Heavenly Children, the stories you have concocted in God’s name have angered Him; for he would never instigate war between brothers, or encourage tribes to harbor resentment towards one another. He prefers the man who loves over the one who hates. And the man who spreads kindness, peace and knowledge, over the one who spreads lies, fear and terror — and misuses His name.”

I read of a lady who had left her husband and remarried happily but suffered bouts of depression. In a prayer group, it was suggested to her that she had still not forgiven her first husband. She was, it was suggested, still “demanding payment for an old debt.” Her “demand for payment” consisted of a desire for her ex-husband to stop blaming her and admit his own part in the failure of the marriage. If  this wasn’t possible, then her desire to let other people know what he had done wrong flared up to appease her own sense of justice. This was the “debt” she was holding, that she was barely aware of.

Roots are unseen, after all.

This is where we need to ask the Holy Spirit to release us from offence and to dig up that root of bitterness that has grown up. There’s two parts. Our part in confessing our sin of unforgiveness (If you don’t forgive, God wont forgive you) and repenting. Second, a humble asking of God to give us the ability to release the debt we’re holding.  And He will.

When Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing” He was releasing us for what we had done to Him!

The psalmist prayed “Explore me, O God, and know the real me. Dig deeply and discover who I am. Put me to the test and watch how I handle the strain. Examine me to see if there is an evil bone in me, and guide me down Your path forever.” (Psalm 139)

Francis Frangipane said “Bitterness is unfulfilled revenge.” Bitterness can be produced when revenge is not satisfied to the degree that we desire!

Don’t let that bitter root grow up to cause trouble.  

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Love, bewildering the world…

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“The love for equals is a human thing–of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.  The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing–the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.

“The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing–to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints.

“And then there is the love for the enemy–love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.”

This is Frederick Buechner, writing in The Magnificent Defeat.

Have you ever thought that if one thing hadn’t happened, a whole set of things never would have either? Like dominoes in time, a single event kicked off an unstoppable series of changes that gained momentum and spun out of control, and nothing was ever the same again. Don’t ever doubt that one moment can change your life forever.

And perhaps this is something of what Jesus meant when He said (in John 16:33) that we should not be afraid because He had overcome the world.

It was love, bewildering the world, reaching to His brother on the next cross, forgiving the ignorant instigators; it was love, taking up the towel and bucket to wash the feet of the unlovely, the doubting, the denying, the betraying…

Love is not shaped by the worthiness of its object. It rather reaches out to redefine them.

And the power of the world, a realm tyrannised by Evil, was broken when Jesus accepted his Father’s will to go to the Cross. He broke and defeated the power of sin and death and insured that death would not have the final say.  And in the midst of the worst of it, we can take heart and have peace.

Not because things are easy, but because they are temporary.

Our peace is not in the absence of strife or troubles, but in Jesus and what he has done to make our future sure.

Sheer love, love like that, is a seed-idea;  it’s the yeast that forces a chemical reaction, changing everything around it. It was exemplified on the cross of Christ, when “love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” The cross of Christ enacted something unstoppable, and that love is still the boss of us!

And it replicates itself within those who receive it. Love like that becomes a way of living – how can it do otherwise?

Sometimes people speak of living life God-first as a kind of worldview option for those of us not smart enough to understand the facts of the real world. But living the love of Jesus reflects the most sophisticated mindset, and the most powerful force available for the transformation of human suffering.

That point is well-made in Marianne Williamson’s  Tears to Triumph:  “The most powerful thought is a prayerful thought. When I’m praying for you, I am praying for my own peace of mind. I can only have for myself what I am willing to wish for you.”

And she concludes, boldly: “A spiritual reinterpretation of events gives us miraculous authority to command the winds, to part the waters, and to break all chains that bind us.”

Love breaks every chain. It refuses the power of prejudice and hate. It transcends borders and overwhelms fear. It looks deep into the eyes of total strangers and recognises family members.

“And This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  (1 Cor 13)

With you, I truly am fearless, Lord. With you, I’m not even afraid to be weak.

Let me experience your love even in the midst of the trial, Lord, and help me to remember your faithfulness and your triumph.

Help me be brave …and at peace, right now, in you. For your love conquers the world.

Amen

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The gift that no one wants

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“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:29)

Did you notice the two gifts in these verses? There is the gift of faith (“not only to believe in him“). This is the gift that enables us to believe in Christ in the first place. Without this gift from the Lord, we would never be saved in the first place.

Then there is the gift of suffering (“also to suffer for him“). This is also a gift—but it is the gift no one wants!

No one likes to think of suffering as a gift of God. Often people use the circumstances around them as a means of determining whether or not God is pleased with them. Too often, people think that if things are going well then God must be pleased with them and if things are not going well then it must mean that God is trying to get their attention or is punishing for something they had done.

But look at the apostles in  Acts 5: “The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.” (Acts 5:41)

The word “rejoicing” suggests that I have a lot to learn!

Look at Paul’s description of how the early Christians lived:

1 Corinthians 4:9-13: “For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death…To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless;  and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.”

How on earth did we come to suppose that Paul’s message was one of health, wealth and prosperity?

2 Corinthians 11:24-30: “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.  I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren…

He is not bragging or moaning. He is describing. He wrote that he will rejoice (again, that word!) in the things which expose his own weaknesses.

Paul never tells us to use physical circumstances to be the indicator of what God is doing in our lives. Paul endured these things because he was obedient to God. These things simply substantiate that obedience and remind him that God’s grace is sufficient. He is not glorying in the circumstance itself but in what the circumstance produces.

Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:4)

He was indicating a process that created something, and he rejoiced in the fact of that result.

We don’t rejoice in the sufferings themselves, but we learn to see the Big Ppicture. We rejoice in our anticipation of the glory to come (Romans 5:2) and we rejoice in the troubles that form the door to it (v3). Not as a masochist, not as a stoic, but because it works  something out in us.

It produces perseverance (or  endurance).

Secondly, perseverance produces character. Character is the quality of someone who, in the old expression, has “gone through the mill.” Don’t you know someone who has “been through it” and come out strong? They have character.

And character produces hope. Hope here means the happy certainty of final glory. “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it…

Ultimately, JESUS is centre-stage, number one, the hero of my life, not me. He is working to transform my character so that it radiates with His glory. I expect it. I anticipate it, and I see all this “stuff” happening, as part of the journey into it.

And that’s the link that is always there, between suffering and glory. So if in Romans 5:2 we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, then in v3 we rejoice in our sufferings too, because glory is the end and suffering is the means to the end.

So we have to hear Paul’s story, and consider the way into this truth. He wrote to Timothy in this vein:

2 Timothy 3:10-12: “And  all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Sometimes we forget how dark and wicked the societies and lives are that do not know Jesus. Even in Jesus’ day, we see the forces of evil at work, crowding in around every miracle, invading the synagogue where he taught, prompting accusation, encouraging betrayal and denial, calling out for the death penalty, and crowing over His death. Jesus said it would be the same for us.

And this has “been granted to you” so that you identify with Christ and learn just how His grace can sustain you during difficult times.  “In this world you will have trouble”, but as the pressure of circumstance hammers you down, His grace makes it a stake in the ground, firm, fixed and able to withstand anything.

Take heart. I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

A final, quiet word from C.S.Lewis in A Grief Observed: “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”

So here’s where we begin to pray, Lord, acknowledging this awful situation where we are right now, trusting in your word to “overcome” the world; reaching for the Big Picture and realising that you are doing something in me now that I can barely comprehend; and having faith for your final outcome.

Our trust is in you.

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The Origin of All Identity

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“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

This is the starting point -according to Brennan Manning, in his book Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging- it’s the starting point of authentic humanity.

According to the earliest narratives of the Bible, humanity was created by God for stewardship of the earth and fellowship with God. That poigant picture of walking together in the cool of the day is a powerful endorsement of Manning’s perspective. This is where life -real life- begins.

And the whole story of the Bible, you might almost argue, is concerned with the loss and recovery of that intimacy. “Enoch walked faithfully with God…” Abraham, the “friend of God,” Moses, Samuel, David, “A man after God’s own heart…”;  the whole long litany of Israel, and of prophet, priest and king  – it all teaches that one truth.

And C.S Lewis put it with his effortless brilliance, God is all around, seeking fellowship: “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”

And Jesus both exemplified that intimacy (through His life) and enabled it (through His death).

“For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God—all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God.  (Romans 5:10-11)

Doesn’t this version capture the warmth of Paul’s enthusiasm about our intimacy in the risen Christ? “Restored to friendship… rejoicing in our wonderful new relationship.” And the rejoicing comes out of the restoring, of course.

But both come out of “the death of his son” and the “deliverance from eternal punishment.” Christ came once for all time, at the end of the age, to remove the power of separation and the loss of intimacy forever by his sacrificial death for us. “And just as it is destined that each person dies only once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died only once as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people.” (Hebrews 9:26-28)

And it’s a done deal, as they say. The long winter is over. The ice is slowly melting. The smiles are returning to their faces….

Imagine a broken friendship – you have wronged someone badly but you just don’t know how to put it right – and, out of the blue, the invitation to visit comes. And so you do.

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” (Psalm 27:8)

And the long coldness is done, and the relationship is repaired, better than ever.

So what do I do? How do I respond to this verse in Romans 5? “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” There’s only three things expected of me.

  • One, that I relax in God’s love. No straining, stressing, fussing or arguing allowed.
  • Two, that I rejoicein this wonderful new relationship.”
  • Three, that I receive what God has for me “all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God.”

He walks everywhere incognito. And we, the body of Christ, take up the journey, exemplifying and enabling that intimacy, that recovery of lost friendship, redefining life in terms of the love of God.

There’s a passage in Shauna Niequist’s book, Cold Tangerines which hits the spot (for me): 

“I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.”

If we would celebrate the extraordinary nature of everyday life, we have to start with a fresh sense of wonder in what God has given, and in what He has done in Christ. Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.  Intimacy with God is our daily shot – our hourly source of strengh. There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

And it’s all mystery and joy. Rob Bell put it succinctly: “The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.” 

But today, right now: just start with yourself. Allow a smile to take root at the corner of your face. Go into your new day with the assurance that you are beloved. It’s the reallest thing of all. It’s the origin of all identity.

 

 

 

 

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Worldview: “A species of unconscious instinct”

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“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

My mother used to say that I looked “Dead to the world,” meaning, simply, that I was sleeping so soundly that I was oblivious to anything that was going on.

That’s the metaphor here.  When Paul said (in Gal 2:19) that in Christ he became “dead to the Law” he meant that he was oblivious to the old way of living life. It had lost its power over him and ceased to influence him. “The law” meant, more or less, a system of justifying yourself before God by your actions, seeking His approval by presenting a bunch of good deeds. But it can’t be done! Even the very goodest of my good deeds have mixed-up motives, questionable results and flawed performance.

But there’s more. Paul was also dead to ambition and the love of money, to the “pride of life”, and to the dominion of evil and every hateful passion. All that stuff had lost its pull over him and ceased to influence him. They, too, were crucified with Christ. He was dead to it. When we are crucified with Christ by faith in Him, we are oblivious to that old self-promotion and self-pleasing desire.

And now “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

As Wesley put it:  “Let it be the one desire of my heart, to be as my Master; to do, not my own will, but the Will of Him who sent me.”

It’s difficult to think of a verse in the Bible that is more contrary to the spirit of the age in which we live.

John Eadie, the great Presbyterian expositor of Mid-Victorian Glasgow, turned the verse on its head to make that point:  “To live to one’s self is to make self the one study—to bend all thoughts, acts, and purposes on self as the sole end; so that the inquiry, how shall this or that tell upon self either immediately or more remotely, deepens into a species of unconscious instinct.”

A “species of unconscious instinct”!  It’s a telling phrase. It means a worldview, a reflex response to what happens. Every circumstance, every heartbreak or triumph, every plus or minus is weighed up and considered in terms of how it affects ME. It’s the epitome of selfishness.

Perhaps there are some who live that way, uncluttered by altruism, love or care, and entirely absorbed in themselves. Maybe “No man is an island” isn’t true, but I doubt it. Almost everyone connects at some level, surely, with friends or family; and those who don’t are considered wretched and bereft – no one is jealous of their condition. But, generally, speaking, self-centred living -“a species of unconscious instinct”- is the normative way of the world.

But we know it isn’t enough.

Have you seen that film About a Boy? Hugh Grant plays a character that is presented as entirely self-absorbed, and apparently content. But the plot narrative challenges that perspective. We need each other. We need back-up. In fact, the very title is ambiguous: it is the film’s hero who is really the “boy,” and un-self-centred community is the film’s happy ending and the meaning of human maturity.

As Christians, we would take that further. We learn to connect with one another and to build meaningful relationships in community, but we learn to connect with God too, who, as Trinity, is the very archetype and meaning of relationship.

God is the “big picture” of our lives. He is an overarching spiritual principle that this life is not all there is, that there is a purpose and meaning to it all, bigger than I can ever understand. This is the perspective of Psalm 8:

“What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet…”

We have so much going for us! But the Bible’s narrative is different from that of the world. It acknowledges the greatness of man, but it submits to the lordship of God.

And Galatians 2:20 is of a piece with this submission. Christ demonstrates what truly unselfish living looks like. So, what if that Jesus-lifestyle became my lifestyle, my own  “species of unconscious instinct”?

To live to God is to be in Him—in union with Him, and to feel the assimilating influence of His fellowship—to give Him the first place in my personality, thoughts, wishes, ambitions, hopes and plans, and to put all my poor talents, abilities and bank-balance (!) at His sovereign disposal—to consult Him in everything, and to be continually guided by His counsel—to do His will, because it is His will, at all times—to regard every step in its bearing on His claims and service, and to further His glory as the one grand end of my life.

I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

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Compelled into Community

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For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”  (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

I’m told that the word “compels” carries the idea of “squeezing”, like the walls of a narrow canyon forcing the pace of the rapids, or a bag of icing being squeezed into precise position on the cake. Paul said that he was “compelled, constrained, even pressured” by Christ’s love. It was the force of an idea so intense that it created apostlesh ip and mission.

Five hundred years ago this month, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door and a journey began that was to change the world. He was ordered to recant his “heresy” or face the consequences. Instead, he said: “Here I stand, I can do no other.” He was queezed into obedience! It’s the same experience of the compelling power of Christ’s love. It’s a passionate relationship.

And “We are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” Do you see the astonishing grandeur of the vision?  Every person on the planet, past, present or future, is gathered into the meaning of the cross of Christ. The death they should have died –the death they deserved- has been taken up by Him. The life that they should have lived is the life that He did live.

The resurrection in which He rose is their resurrection too.

What does that mean? Simply that “those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 

If Christ is raised, then this resurrection perspective becomes the only way I can see the whole. It becomes the defining characteristic of life. God turned the inevitability of death into the invincibility of life.  N.T. Wright’s The Challenge of Easter is helpful here.

“Our task is to announce in deed and word that the exile is over, to enact the symbols that speak of healing and forgiveness, to act body in God’s world in the power of the Spirit. Luther’s definition of sin was homo incurvatus in se, “humans turned in on themselves.” Does the industry in which you find yourself foster or challenge that? You may not be able to change the way your discipline currently works, but that isn’t necessarily your vocation. Your task is to find the symbolic ways of doing things differently, planting flags in hostile soil, setting up signposts that say there is a different way to be human. And when people are puzzled at what you are doing, find ways – fresh ways – of telling the story of the return of the human race from its exile, and use those stories as your explanation.”

I love this passage, especially the call to “plant flags in hostile soil.” It is the task of life to figure out what this means (and to go do it). And the adventure lies in the fact that you cannot tell me how to do it, and I cannot instruct you either. Each of us comes to the task fresh, with a unique set of building blocks drawn from the story of our own lives.

At present, Val and I are hosting a course entitled “The ABCs of Emotions” where we direct the conversation of a number of people who experience anxiety, anger, guilt and so forth. People like you and me, that is. And in the process of the recounting of our stories, we realise afresh how different every story is. And every human has the responsibility to plant the flag of the resurrection on the soil of their own life-story, and to watch how it grows.

For God makes all things new, and it His delight to see us dying to sin, and raised with Christ into new life and never so fully ourselves as when we are dead and buried in Him, all hope in ourselves gone. And every scar and pain, every heartbreak, detour, dungeon, chain and fetter, can be redeemed and raised into the new, alive and unique  you.

But this is not about self-actualisation. It’s, conversely, about a new way of being community.

The Resurrection  Perspective is a building project that we are invited to participate in together.

So what do we do about that? We act together.

Look again at that N.T. Wright quote: “Your task is to find the symbolic ways of doing things differently, planting flags in hostile soil, setting up signposts that say there is a different way to be human.”

If we genuinely feel called to the responsibility of a community we identify the hostile soil, the places where God’s Kingdom is showing the worst signs of disrepair and we begin a building project. Individually, that’s upon the ruined landscape of our fractured and abused emotions. But the Bible gives a powerful picture of what corporate redemption looks like.

Nehemiah was called to rebuild a wall. It was a  symbolic statement of restoring a broken community. He creates a platform for the local people to be involved in changing their own lives. And chapter three of Nehemiah is  a detailed plan of how the wall was built. A few interesting things stand out in the building plan:

Nehemiah had people building the parts of the wall closest to their own families and livelihoods. He intentionally put people in places where they were personally invested in the outcome of the project. They knew that if they didn’t do a good job, their own families would be at risk.

The other thing about the building list was that it wasn’t done by professional builders, the whole community including men and women, old and young, priests and perfume makers found a role because the goal was clear and they were all invested in the outcome with  good will.

The reason the early Christians were so joyful was because they knew themselves to be living not so much in the last days (though that was true too) as in the first days – the opening days of God’s new creation. What Jesus did was not a mere example of something else, not a mere manifestation of some larger truth; it was itself the climatic event and fact of cosmic history.

We live, therefore, between Easter and the consummation, following Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and commissioned to be for the world what he was for Israel, bringing God’s redemptive reshaping to our world.

N.T.Wright gives a marvellous picture of that new resurrection community: “It will be quite unexpected, like a surprise party with guests we never thought we would meet and delicious food we never thought we would taste. But at the same time there will be a rightness about it, a rich continuity with what has gone before so that in the midst of our surprise and delight we will say, ‘Of course! This is how it had to be, even though we’d never imagined it.  (N.T.Wright, The Challenge of Easter)

 

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We are here – let’s go there!

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Go and preach the gospel.” (Mark 16:15).“Go and make disciples” (Mathew 28:19).

As has been often noted, the first two letters of the word Gospel are G-O! And in the final commands of Jesus here, the same response is demanded. We are in the business of going.

“We email, Facebook, tweet and text with people who are going to spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Our lives are too short to waste on mere temporal conversations when massive eternal realities hang in the balance. Just as you and I have no guarantee that we will live through the day, the people around us are not guaranteed tomorrow either. So let’s be intentional about sewing the threads of the gospel into the fabric of our conversations every day, knowing that it will not always be easy, yet believing that eternity will always be worth it.”  (David Platt)

Our business is a going concern. “Who will go for me? Here am I. Send me.” (Isaiah 6)

And yet it has to be said, however, that the world is full of Christians in retreat. We have retreated when we ought to advance.

In one of his books, the famous Methodist evangelist E. Stanley Jones commented that the first Christians didn’t wring their hands in despair and say, “Look what the world has come to.” Instead with great delight they declared, “Look what has come to the world.” It’s never been easy to be a Christian. It wasn’t then, it isn’t now.

Blessed are they who are so excited about Jesus that they simply can’t keep quiet about it.

You catch something of the flavour of that excitement in Augustine’s famous “Run to” passage in his Confessions: “Run to and fro everywhere, holy fires, beautiful fires; for you are the light of the world, nor are you put under a bushel. He whom you cleave unto is exalted, and has exalted you. Run to and fro, and be known unto all nations.”

But the “business of going” sometimes prompts a flurry of activity unmatched by a precise knowledge of spiritual geography. I mean to say that we are unsure of where to go and how we are to “preach” and “disciple.”

The reason for that ambiguity is an important issue -at least in the West where I presently live. There has been such a gross over-simplification of what “the Gospel” means, and such a widespread diffusion of that ersatz “truth,” that people think they know what you’re going to say and dismiss it ahead of time.

Perhaps we should quit preaching  “the plan of salvation” altogether for a few years?! Just stay quiet and watchful, listening to the Spirit of God and the voice of the world, simultaneously.   And then let everyone who has a voice and a heart for God speak of the holiness of God, the righteousness of God, and the Law of God until sinners  sigh and cry out, ‘What must we do to be saved?” And then, whisper the gospel to them. Quietly. One to one.

As someone said to me, years ago: Most of our mass-evangelism is like hunting rabbits with a brass band.

And don’t use John 3:16. The thing is that we have a gospel-hardened generation of sinners who have been told how to be saved before they have any understanding of why they need to be saved.

And there are three areas where I strongly believe that we ought to make an impact for the gospel. More than anywhere else, these areas are where we need to be salt: silently and invisibly penetrating and effecting change from within.

1) Education—Where we train the leaders of tomorrow. Teachers and trainers at every level.

2) Business and Industry—Where decisions are made that affect millions of people. Businesspeople and industrialists. Creative inventors, designers and marketers.

3) Entertainment—Where values are determined for the next generation.

The people who go into these areas shouldn’t have their pockets filled with tracts but their minds and hearts filled with the Big Picture of God’s heart for the world. “Just look at what has come to the world!” Just consider the opportunities open to us now as never before.

We are here. Let’s go there.

 

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