Saturday, June 24, 2017

Two hands

On a 1.5km walk from my daughter's gymnastic class last Sunday I chose to pick up any waste that I would otherwise have to step over.

For a 1.5km walk you'd hope to collect no rubbish or at least a little wind-blown scrapes.

However, the collection was quite credible.  And, it included a lot of recyclables.  As a bonus, it also included an Australian $2 coin - incidental collection of rubbish had never been so rewarding.

We live in a wealthy and glorious country.  I'd hope that would cause people to take more care in disposing of items.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

We are made for that which is too big for us

A Russian novelist; Feodor Dostoevsky whose most famous work was a novel Crime and Punishment, gave the world the most beautiful interpretation of man’s struggle with sin.  Dostoevsky’s thoughts are summarised in Philip Yancey’s novel Soul Survivor.


Dostoevsky after a life of imprisonment and struggle came to realise that:


“No one lives up to the ideal.  No one can perfectly love his neighbour as himself. 
No one can fulfil the law of Christ.

God can not ask so much and be satisfied with so little.
We are made for that which is too big for us.”


Dostoevsky thus reasoned that there must be an afterlife.


Now that is a most wonderful line of thinking.  It answers a question that I think every Christian has.  All probably recognise that Jesus sets a high bar of perfection – a reading of the Sermon on the Mount is probably enough to conclude that.  It is a level of perfection that is perhaps unachievable to all but a few cloistered monks.  And yet, Dostoevsky is recognising that we simply cannot achieve what is intended of us in this lifetime.  What cannot be achieved in flesh can ultimately be achieved in Spirit.


We are fearfully and wonderfully made (see Psalm 139:14) – a composite of flesh, soul and spirit.  Of all of creation we are the creature most able to recognise God and worship him.  We should take great delight that our Heavenly Father has provided for us to achieve his ideal in an afterlife.  And, it is an afterlife in a most wonderful place (see 1 Cor 2:9).  We are so loved that we all get a second chance.




Note: all links good as at 22 June 2017

Note: I recalled this quote after responding to a Facebook thread where somebody had questioned whether it was normal to doubt the Gospel account.  Specifically the question was: "Have you ever wondered to yourself - what if it's all not true? What if the Bible's just made up? What if Jesus didn't die and rise? What about all my doubt?".  Dostoevsky settles me into thinking of how God has made mankind for more than just this world.  We most definitely need to have an eye for the seen and unseen.  We most definitely need to recognise the fullness of life that we have in the Spirit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What to do with John?

The next time a gentleman like John (a subject of an earlier post) turns up at your church and it is necessary for you to break attendance of the sermon to minister to him, think of who John is.

Philip Yancey identifies the dignity of every human being. For in every human being there is an image of God: 

“Sometimes, as I sit and watch a child struggle to do just the right job of representing God’s face, His features, the shape of His head the cast of His countenance, I think back to my days of working in Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker soup kitchen. One afternoon, after several of us had struggled with a ‘wino’, a ‘Bowery bum’, an angry, cursing, truculent man of fifty or so, with long gray hair, a full, scraggly beard, a huge scar on his right cheek, a mouth with virtually no teeth, and bloodshot eyes, one of which had a terrible tic, she told us, ‘For all we know he might be God Himself come here to test us, so let us treat him as an honored guest and look at his face as if it is the most beautiful one we can imagine.”

Dr Robert Coles, The Spiritual Life of Children, cited in Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey as to how he Yancey learned to understand the dignity of every human being.


Note: all links good as at 21 June 2017

A verse without peer

Some verses in the Bible are standouts.  They appear without peer.  No credible cross-references are noted.  Such verses fascinate in that they stretch one’s comprehension of the Christian life. 


John 17:17 is perhaps one of the best illustrations of a standout verse.  It appears amongst prayers that Jesus is offering in his last hours.  Jesus opens the prayers by first recognising that his mission is near complete:


“… Father, the hour has come”


Jesus then prays that he come into glory, prays for his disciples and then prayers for all believers.


In verse 17, the standout verse arises:


“Sanctify them [disciples of Jesus] by the truth; your word is truth.”


As best understood in context of verses 17-19:



“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”


The standout element of verse 17 is this: Christ Jesus died upon the cross so that his followers may enter into priesthood of the new covenant.  The truth would be written on their hearts and they would share this truth, as priests of Christ’s nation, in the world.  They would fulfil their role in the world to the manner that Christ had modelled for them.  Christ, in obedience to, and in fulfilment of God’s plan, identifies that Calvary was essential to bring the sanctification to himself and to his people.  For there to be priests, there must be a chief priest. 


It is a standout in that nowhere else do the Gospels make it clear that the cross serves such purpose.  To be sure, the Gospels are rich in evidence that the cross brings salvation yet nowhere else do they treat the matter of sanctification to priesthood with such clarity.


So, the cross brings salvation and brings sanctification to priesthood.


Next time you gaze upon the cross think of the abundance that flows from Christ’s sacrifice!  What a shame that some churches willingly set out to remove crosses!



Sunday, June 18, 2017

It is a funny old world

Funny old world!

A Pastor half way across the world communicates with me in a week when I did not communicate with my local pastor (who lives on the same street as me).

In a previous post I've considered the bad theology of Christian songs.


Our God is marching on

I'm in preparation for a sermon on 2 Kings 7.   A broad reading of many great books is a very helpful way of preparing.

In 2 Kings 7, four lepers leave their post outside the besieged city of Samaria's gate and march forth to the enemy's camp.  The broken, starving, lepers go forth in faith.  They go forth knowing that their death is imminent but for the prospect that the enemy would offer them mercy.

As they walk to the camp, God amplifies the sound of their footsteps.  The amplified noise is heard by the enemy. The enemy thinks that a great foreign army has risen to assist the Samarians.  The enemy flees their camp leaving food and weapons behind. 

The lepers enter the camp and enjoy God's providence.  There is plenty for them.  There is plenty for the hungry people of Samaria.


While thinking this through I was fortunate to come across a speech by the American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King.  In the speech titled "Our God is Marching On", King identified with the notion of God's steadfast march for his people.  King had faith that God would deliver civil right amendments.  He used the speech to encourage his weary brethren to persist in the Lord.  These words concluded that speech:

"How long? Not long (not long), because:

   Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; (Yes, sir)
   He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; (Yes)
   He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; (Yes, sir)
   His truth is marching on. (Yes, sir)
   He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; (Speak, sir)
   He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. (That’s right)
   O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!
   Our God is marching on. (Yeah)
   Glory, hallelujah! (Yes, sir) Glory, hallelujah! (All right)
   Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!
   His Truth is Marching On! (Applause)
   (copied from this linked page)

A seventy-two year old female volunteer who accompanied King reported after the speech that: "My feets [sic] is tired, but my soul is at rest" (as reported in Philip Yancey's book: Soul Survivor, How my Faith Survived the Church", p30, 2001, paperback).

Just as God amplified the sound of the feet of the four lepers as they walked from Samaria, God amplified the sound of the feet of those who stood with Martin Luther King.  God was swift to answer King for the United States President; Lyndon Johnson, in the same year, passed the Voting Rights Act.  That Act bought a major positive change to civil rights. 

Martin Luther King's tired feet, and his supporter's tired feet were jubilant.  God had taken up their march.  Truth marched on!


Note: links good as at 18 June 2017

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book review: The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Philip Yancey in a book; Soul Survivor, How my Faith Survived the Church, identifies how reading can sometimes deliver a message powerfully.  In reading some Christian titles Yancey recalls how:
"I felt the power that allows one human mind to penetrate another with no intermediary but a piece of flattened wood pulp.  I saw that writing could seep into crevices, bringing spiritual oxygen to people trapped in air-tight boxes". page 7, 2001, paperback. 
In reading The Cost of Discipleship I have experienced that power.  Bonhoeffer speaks wonderfully across the Christian communion.  Bonhoeffer is as relevant today as when he was writing the book in the 1930s.
Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship stands out in two ways.  Firstly, in the opening chapter; Costly Grace, and, secondly in the extended consideration of the Sermon on the Mount

Bonhoeffer is at his most ardent in the book’s opening chapter.  Bonhoeffer is making a passionate plea to the church.  He begs the church to take great care.  The church need ensure that God’s grace is dispensed respectfully.  At risk, is a cheap dispensation of the grace – preaching of God’s forgiveness where the hearer is not obliged to repentance.  Bonhoeffer’s warning is to the church yet the warning has application to people who hear the church’s message. 

The hearer need understand that offer of grace requires a response of the hearer.  It is in this way that grace is costly grace.  The hearer should respond with a genuine change of heart.  A person who has such a change of heart will willingly be yoked to Jesus as a follower.  Once yoked to Jesus the hearer willingly serves as a disciple in fulfilment of the ongoing mission of Christ’s people in the world.

Bonhoeffer’s extended consideration of the Sermon on the Mount – from the Gospel of Matthew – is a very worthy read.  Bonhoeffer identifies how Jesus employs the sermon as a way of heralding in his kingdom.  Perhaps, the heralding of the kingdom is exhibited best in Bonhoeffer consideration of a single verse – from Matthew 5:4:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” 

Bonhoeffer identifies that it is the disciples who will mourn the world and the ways of the world.  The disciples will mourn as they know that much more awaits the disciples in their eternal lives.  The disciples will also mourn because not everyone will heed God’s call to a repentant life.  They will mourn in yearning, as God does, for all men to be part of Christ’s kingdom.  And, in their mourning God will provide them their joyous eternal comfort.


I encourage you to read The Cost of Discipleship.  If pressed for time please consider reaching for the book to read just its first powerful chapter.  It may change your life!
Shalom, Ozhamada