Apologies for playing the pronoun game which exists only to artificially heighten the drama.
The religious professionals, the Jewish populace at large in Israel in the 1st Century missed the Messiah. The biggest event in their redemptive history and it seems like barely a London telephone box full of people stumbled onto the truth because Jesus said that the Father revealed it to them.
The majority were seemingly closed to the idea.
They had the advantage of the Scriptures, the promises, and still He was barely recognized. What a missed opportunity!
Would I have been one of those handful that recognized him? I’m fairly sure I know the answer to be no.
There is so much that I don’t know about God. In fact, who can ever know enough? I’ve barely scratched the atomic surface but what I do know is that God is not merely written about in a book, but personal. Accessible by anyone who is looking in His direction. I also know that theology is like a rock-star waiting to be discovered, like the coolest music from your youth that you didn’t know existed and you discover a trove of audio cassettes and a rainy weekend with time on your hands.
I find myself realizing that it is possible to miss awesome things about Christ because I’m not paying attention, because I haven’t done my homework, because I haven’t asked the right questions. It’s all there in front of me, just like it was for the people who missed the significance of His coming two millennia ago.
I realize that small things can make a big difference. Having the right motive. A quote I read somewhere this week:
“Here lies the supreme missionary motivation. It is neither obedience to the Great Commission, nor compassion for the lost, nor excitement over the gospel, but zeal (even “jealousy”) for the honor of Christ’s name….No incentive is stronger than the longing that Christ should be given the honor that is due his name.” (John Stott)
I was thinking about the Lord’s prayer this week, in part because I realized I hadn’t prayed it in some time, but also because it is a perfect summary of what we ought to pray for. Of course it would be because the Lord taught us to pray it.
After addressing ‘Our Father in heaven’ the first thing we pray for is that His name would be praised, that his kingdom would come and his will be done.
Its counter-intuitive for people to put Him first, it goes without saying. Listening to the lyrics of a Big Daddy Weave song this week, I was struck by the opening idea: the lyricist writes of ‘my story’ actually being about Him.
That’s a very Pauline thing, a motive that is primarily about His glory. That’s something I don’t want to miss.
Paul is writing to Christians in Rome and unpacks for the Jew and Gentile alike that they need Christ. The Jew had serious advantages, having received so much in the way of a God-centered heritage, and yet it hadn’t made a difference to how he lived.
From verses 21 through 24 in chapter 2, Paul explains:
They were good at teaching others how to live, but they couldn’t live up to it themselves.
They preached against stealing, but had a business culture of ripping people off.
They warned against adultery, but fell into it themselves…just consider the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus; how did they catch her in the act? Now that’s a question with potentially icky answers.
They boasted in the Law, but didn’t really honour God.
Paul doesn’t sugar-coat anything: it was because of them that the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles. Their witness was poor. Nobody was drawn to that way of living.
Of course, it’s helpful to ask ourselves a question in the light of that: How is my witness? Yours? Ours as a Body of Believers?
In an attribution that is unhelpfully murky, the theologian Martin Luther supposedly – in the light of justification (God’s act of removing the guilt and sin of the sinner-turned-Christian) – said that we are like piles of snow-covered dung. The point being that as far as God’s law is concerned, we are still pieces of poo, just covered in snow – an illustration of justification as a legal term.
If an unbeliever had to stop at the side of the road with me at the second Mile marker of the Romans road, and see what he thought was a snowman, only to discover on adding snow to it that underneath is poo, he may not be inclined to be impressed.
In my humble opinion (based on what I’ve read from smarter guys), there must also be a moral change in us and not just a legal one. A righteousness that is real, authentic, and derives entirely from the Holy Spirit working in and through us.
It must be possible to walk in righteousness, practically, and not just be covered in righteousness, legally. Paul writes elsewhere that we are new creations. This is what in theological circles is called ‘regeneration’.
The great preacher Spurgeon once remarked that as a work of God, making a Christian is greater and more awesome than making a world.
Why does he say that? Because the world had no option but to obey and be created and ordered by His command. A Christian consists of a new creation that is constantly fighting against his or her sinful flesh, but that can still walk in righteousness.
I’m sure I’ll see more of what Paul was saying about how the Christian should live by faith. I’m trucking on through Romans 3.
I quote the evangelist Charles Finney: “If the presence of God is in the church, the church will draw the world in. If the presence of God is not in the church, the world will draw the church out.”
I reckon the world may mock and harass us Christians, and yet still find our proximity to God frustratingly attractive; when reality comes calling and flesh fails, they should know who to turn to. I want to be that Christian, and part of that community that draws the world in.
A while ago I watched a sermon on YouTube by John MacArthur, and it was clear from his homily that he fears no man. I could picture in my mind’s eye the reaction of the legion of perpetually offended if they were to be presented with sound bites from MacArthur’s sermons.
MacArthur once said that if you preach the gospel and no-one is offended, you’re doing it wrong.
Now, the goal of preaching the gospel is not to offend, but it is a pretty reliable by-product, and that is because the sinner doesn’t want to be presented with the fact of his (or her) sin. It’s uncomfortable.
I imagine that John MacArthur would love to meet the apostle Paul.
Paul is writing to the church in Rome, Believers thriving and making a name for themselves in the belly of the pagan beast, resting on the seven hills of the empire’s capital. A quick online search shows around 900 churches in Rome and curiously, a Baptist congregation with specialised Sunday services for Africans, Filipinos and Chinese.
Having told us where we will land, he takes off in the next verse and sets out to convince both the pagan and the pious that we are in need of salvation. Paul is like a prosecutor entering into the record the evidence of our misdeeds.
It’s brutal. Earth 2019 is a dumpster fire.
If the world ever found out about Romans 1 and 2 from us, or from coming across it accidentally, they would howl at what Paul writes.
No Hallmark cards that I know of quote this passage. No feel-good movies that I’ve ever watched come close to even touching the subject matter.
Paul has to convince us that we are utterly devoid of virtue before we can see that we are in need of salvation. And he does a pretty good job of that. His fellow Jews would hardly need to be convinced that the pagans were doomed, however Paul also reminds them that they do the same things, and behave in the same ways as the most unspiritual pagans.
If I can summarize this part of Romans it’s the idea of wrath. God is justifiably angry. Most people would obviously not like to consider this, especially as it pertains to them.
For those who simply follow their own desires, without consideration of God, the passage is terribly offensive. However from God’s point of view, the behaviour of those who live however they want is offensive to Him.
Rock, paper, scissors, God. He always wins.
The wrath that Paul writes about is building (Greek: Orge) and will one day reach a point of exploding (Greek: Thumos). For the modern reader it can be likened to being in traffic for an extended period with several incidents, one after the other, until the driver stuck in traffic can no longer contain himself and goes berserk. Of course the analogy is not sufficient, because with God it’s not an emotional reaction but a considered, moral imperative to punish sin.
One of the most genuinely terrifying ideas that Paul explores is the wrath of abandonment.
Sexual expression was created by Him, for enjoyment and procreation, to be kept for the marriage bed. Many people have cheapened and adulterated that gift and the wrath that He visits on them is to let them have their way, until its logical conclusion.
A movie scene comes to mind from ‘Brewster’s millions’:
In making a video for Montgomery Brewster to receive a fortune after his death, rich relative Rupert Horn recounts a story of getting busted smoking cigars while under aged. To teach him a lesson, his father locks him in a closet with a box of cigars and will only let him out when they’re finished. The thing is Rupert learns his lesson and his Dad ultimately lets him out of the closet. In the scenario where there is a wrath of abandonment, it seems like the closet stays closed unless the sinner comes to his senses asks to be let out. Although in terms of this type of wrath, they would never want to be let out.
That to me is genuinely scary. I want God to tell me when I’m wrong. I want correction. Some people don’t want that and they get what they want.
The idea that a cosmic thumping awaits earth is the MacGuffin in many Sci-Fi movies, a disaster that suddenly rears its head. An asteroid, a nuclear exchange, a zombie plague. Paul’s language (in contrast) presents the idea that God’s wrath is gradual and increasing.
His wrath is revealed (Greek: apocalypsis) from heaven. The idea in the passage is that people can deny that God’s way is clear, however if we eyes, ears and a brain, we can get an idea of what He is like and what He requires of us, even without Scripture. Merely from nature, and from life.
His wrath is revealed from heaven, and has been unfolding for a long time. As people, we collectively have been suppressing knowledge about Him by way of our wickedness.
A very popular idea nowadays is that man’s carbon footprint is causing extreme weather (also known as global warming, and since re-branded to climate change). In my view, it’s as possible that extreme weather could have man’s moral footprint as a cause as his carbon footprint.
If God can remove his restraining hand from our sinfulness if we kick Him out of our lives, why can nature not be an aspect of that? The curse of sin is expressed in creation and creation’s fall.
Paul writes of the Greek and the Jew. The pagan and the pious. Both are equally sinful and both are equally in need of salvation in Christ.
His kindness to those who know Scripture was meant to lead to repentance but instead they turned it into a license to sin. Expressed in the cynical view of former French president Mitterand: “God will forgive, that’s his job…”
Paul uses the word ‘stubborn’ to refer to the religious people in his day, the Greek word ‘skleretos’ which modern physicians will recognise as referring to a plaque build-up in the artery. The pious are as susceptible to sin as the rank pagan. Every pushback against God is like plaque build-up in the arteries.
The trajectory is pathological.
When you sit down and take the medicine that Paul is dishing out, it tastes bitter, but like the best medicine it leads to health.
On a recent Sunday in May, as a church family we took part in communion.
A New Believer was sitting in the front row, the intricacies and practicalities of being a Christian still unfamiliar to her. She had not yet taken part in communion and when we were about to go to the table, she hesitated and stayed seated.
One of the ladies in the church, a mature Believer didn’t let her just sit there, but took her by the hands, encouraged her and went with her to the table. For the first time then, she had communion, united in fellowship with Christ and her fellow Christians.
It was a very cool thing to see, and having seen it, I saw a picture of myself.
Not knowing what to do.
Having no initiative.
What I saw played out with this new Christian reminded me that my Saviour bore his wounds for me, personally.
That he went to the cross for me, personally.
That when I was lost in my sins, he approached me, personally and took me by the hand to the table.
I can’t literally remember when I took part in communion for the first time, but I do remember that there was a time when a preacher delivering a sermon and making an appeal for me was like the very voice of God speaking to me, personally.
This is the difference between an intellectual position on God and a personal one.
Dit is net meer as ‘n week sedert die 2019 verskiesings in Suid-Afrika.
Ek het begin daaraan dink het het uitgekom by die gedagte dat ek ‘n deël van my land is, en ook nie ‘n deël daarvan nie.
Iets is fout; ek voel min oor die land se stem, Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika. Ek luister na BokRadio en lees ook Shakespeare. Ek ondersteun die Haaie, maar voel minder oor die Springbokke.
Gee my asseblief ‘n oomblik om te verduidelik. Ek het ‘n affiniteit vir Europese kultuur, vir my Moedertaal, Engels, tot die politieke struktuur van die Verenigde State en die geskiedenis van die Britse Eilande.
Maar ek is ook ‘n seun van die Afrika-vasteland. Diegene wat sinies is sal my daaraan herinner dat daar ‘n woord vir so ‘n mens bestaan. Dat ek ‘n ‘soutie’ is.
Dit is ‘n eenvoudige beskrywing van ‘n situasie wat vir my baie ingewikkeld is. Hierdie spanning tussen twee wêrelde is ook ‘n beskrywing van die spanning tussen my land en my Koning se koninkryk.
Deur my oë, is hierdie ‘n treurige land, vol ongerealiseerde potensiaal: wat ons kan wees as ‘n land, maar net nie is nie.
Ek het in 1999 Engeland toe gegaan en daar ontdek dat ek nie daar behoort nie. Ek is ‘n Suid-Afrikaner. Ek het met vrede en blydskap huis toe teruggekeer.
Maar hoekom? Hoekoem het die Here my ‘n Suid-Afrikaner gemaak? Om watter rede was ek in hierdie land gebore? En op die tyd wat ek was? Hy alleen weet.
Ek dink aan Abram voordat hy Abraham geword het. Die Here het toe vir hom gesê dat hy uit sy land moet trek om na ‘n nuwe plek te gaan. Van Abram se voorbeeld, lyk dit asof die Here sorg dat mense in ‘n sekere land gebore is, maar ook dat vir Sy redes sommige van hulle moet ‘n trek ondergaan vir Sy bedoeling.
Vir die wat in ons Here glo, is daar ‘n spanning tussen ons land en ons Koning se koninkryk.
I’ve never been to Paris or Rome but if I did, I’m sure I’d agree with Michael Bublé that I’d want to go home. At least after spending a few days catching the sights. And it’s easy to hum along.
So, it looks like no more hunchbacks in Notre-Dame. At least for a while.
While the loss to fire of artefacts and history is incalculable, it occurred to me and I imagine many, many others that Notre-Dame is just a building.
To my recollection, I’ve only ever been in one cathedral, the Westminster Cathedral in central London. Cathedrals are mostly really old buildings that pre-date anything that resembles a fire code. Any spark can set it off. But they are stunning on the inside.
I no longer remember any of the details of the inside of Westminster Cathedral – all I can remember is that I was impressed. You cannot mistake walking into a cathedral like wandering into a fast food restaurant, or ducking into an office space, or entering a kitsch shopping mall. There is only one reason for a cathedral, to worship.
In studying the epistle of Romans written by Paul, I came across an idea by Frederick Godet who remarked that Romans is the ‘cathedral of the Christian faith’.
Paul wrote a number of epistles to the early churches, addressing local issues and explaining spiritual principles, but none is so theological as his letter to the Romans. Romans was written on Paul’s third missionary journey, probably in the winter of AD 57 while in Corinth.
Paul normally wrote his epistles to the Believers at churches he had founded but he had not founded the church in Rome. In fact, in all likelihood, no one had founded the church at Rome. As the centre of the empire, Christians gravitated there and sought each other out. The Believers there had acquired something of a reputation of great faith, so much so that Paul and the rest of the world had heard of them.
It was an unlikely place for a Christian fellowship to thrive, in the midst of a pagan empire which zealously promoted the worship of its emperor. And yet they were known for their great faith. Paul was drawn to them and wanted to visit them to encourage them, but equally that they might impart encouragement to him.
In a historical irony, Paul never got to willingly go to Rome as he intended. After his arrest however, the Roman empire took him to the capital at government expense for a trial. He eventually made it there and there his journey stopped. Ultimately, Paul was martyred.
From reading about Paul, it seems he was always on the way somewhere to do something weighty or important. A driven man you might say.
On the way to Damascus to round up Christians for persecution, but meeting Christ on the way and becoming a Christian himself (Acts 9).
On the way to Jerusalem to take gifts to the poor Believers there.
Eagerly desiring to go to Rome, criss-crossing the Mediterranean basin on three missionary journeys. The guy couldn’t sit still, and where he was forced to because of winter or imprisonment, he wrote epistles.
It was while in Corinth on the way to Jerusalem that he wrote his epistle to the Roman Believers. He had recently been warned about the peril waiting for him in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10 – 14) and just in case he didn’t make it, Romans was his theological opus.
I’ve only just scratched the surface of Romans, reading about the context and stuff in the first chapter but from my earlier visits to this cathedral I can tell that this is more precious than Notre-Dame, Westminster and St Peter’s combined.
Romans is where we can lead an unbeliever through the doorway, crossing the threshold and of the way of salvation, the why’s and how’s:
Romans has the most beautiful stained glass window that I can stare at in wonder but seldom perceive the depths of what it is saying in terms of living in faith and what awaits the Believer after a short time of hardship and pain: glory.
If you look up these words in the Bible, most of the time they appear in variations of gratitude and praise in the same passage.In searching for passages on each of these, the more I find this to be true. More often than not if you find a passage that mentions one of these three, it will invariably mention another one or all three.
It starts with our relationship with God. In any relationship you get to know the other person by spending time with them, listening and talking to them.
It is no different in our relationship with God. We cannot get to know Him without reading His Word, we cannot listen and talk to Him if we are not spending time with Him. And like any relationship it takes effort, relationships don’t just happen.
God revealed Himself in His Word and by Jesus who is described as The Word (John 1:1-5). The more we are in His Word, the more we will see things to be grateful for, our eyes will more easilt recognise it.
This leads us to praise Him more and more, and leads us to want to spend more time with Him and He is our rest.
Not every encounter with a friend is an intense, in-depth time. Sometimes it’s just a “thinking of you”, “hope you having a great day”, “love you”, but there does have to be intense, in-depth sessions otherwise our relationship is just superficial and of no substance, it will not withstand the onslaught of crisis.
God isn’t saying everyday must be an intense study of His Word, or time of prayer. Those are necessary and vital to our relationship, but He says in Philippians 4:4-9 “in every situation”, so whether you are standing in a queue at the shops, driving in traffic (that’s an oxymoron, it’s more like sitting in traffic), washing dishes or you have a treasured time to be intensely in His Word, in every situation talk to Him, praise Him, be grateful for something, recall scripture.
We will find that cultivating this relationship, we will experience God’s peace, His rest for our souls. Regardless of our circumstances, He will give us His rest. Our world might fall apart around us, but with our eyes focused on Him, He will be our sustaining strength.
As I’m writing this, I remember another idea that totally blindsided me. I can’t remember exactly where I read it that first opened my eyes to my error, but I’m glad it did.
All my Christian life I have lived with the concept that God will not give us more than we can handle. If a situation arose that I thought was hard, I would tell myself it’s because God knows you can handle this.
But that is totally wrong and misconstrued.
God will not allow us to be TEMPTED more than we can handle, and He will always provide a way out, but if He only gave us situations that we could handle how are we supposed to rely on His strength, because we would be able to handle all circumstances in our own.
This blew my mind when I realised this.
We will be faced with situations and circumstances that are more than we can handle. It is in these times that we learn to live by God’s strength, to rely on His provision. It is at these times that our faith is tested.
I know God provides, but let me just do my thing to make sure we don’t run into trouble, surely this is how God is providing for us. I still constantly struggle with this. How do I know that the solutions I am coming up with are God providing, or me just making a plan to get through in my own strength?
I have heard many stories of people who know people who have had miraculous provision in desperate situations, and remember thinking to myself “why does that never happen to me”. Instead of being grateful and in awe of God who provides for each of people, I would be jealous of those who had these miracles happening for them. What a selfish, spoiled brat attitude I have. Stamping my feet and throwing a tantrum spiritually because God didn’t do that for me. Wow, I am dumbstruck that I could be such a brat towards God and think that He owes me more evidence that He loves me.
I want to take myself by the scruff of the neck and say “Hey, doofus, shut up and realise the intense love He has for you. He sent His ONLY Son to DIE for you, so that you could be adopted into His family, and you think He owes you MORE proof that He loves you. Wake up girlie, there is no greater proof.”
I still struggle with falling back into old patterns of thinking, but with God’s help and His Word I can find many reasons to be grateful, to praise Him to come to Him for rest.
So what started out as a few thoughts on our relationship with God turned into something a little different than I imagined at the end, but that’s fine.
In October 2008, the USS Theodore Roosevelt visited Cape Town along with the USS Monterey with the latter to enter deployment fighting piracy off the African coast.
The Monterey moored in Cape Town and accepted visitors who received tours, and I was rather chuffed to have seen a Ticonderoga class vessel up close. There is no upper limit of cool when you see SH-60 Sea Hawks, CIWS and behold the sight of a network of doors on the deck which at any moment can be opened and missiles of fury launched and directed by a high-tech weapons system that can play chess, write a report and tie your shoelaces at the same time.
I was impressed, surrounded by sailors and Marines providing force security. My nerd instinct was to salute, but I knew that a salute would not have been the proper response as I wasn’t enlisted or in uniform and was in fact a civilian.
I have still never been anything other than a civilian. And after 11 years I finally remembered to look up what the proper response is to a sailor or Marine (or any member of the armed forces in uniform): to put one’s hand over one’s heart.
Protocol is very important in the military. It denotes respect and the recognition of authority. The junior rank will initiate the salute and the senior rank will return it, with both locking eyes as they do so.
For several weeks, I’ve been praying for those who need to get saved, and I think of their posture as those who have their backs turned to Him, perhaps not out of spite, but with their backs turned to Him all the same. I’ve been praying that they would turn their eyes towards Him and recognise His authority.
An image from the book of Genesis provides for me an illustration of the posture of those who are living apart from Him. After they sinned, Adam and Eve hid from God. They had to have known that they couldn’t really hide from him. They saw the world that He had created, the stars in the universe that He put in place, seen in the night sky. The biosphere, the robust yet intricate systems apparent to their powers of observation. They had to have known that hiding from Him who sees everything was futile.
Did they hide in a bush? In a tree? In a stream bed? I can make a guess about their hiding place, but I reckon I’m not far off when guessing their posture, looking to avoid eye contact, possibly with their backs turned to him. A tragic hide-and-seek with no mirth.
So many are like that today, seeking refuge in intellectualism, hedonism, religion. Eyes to the left or right, looking anywhere but in His. Understandably so, for to look in His eyes would be to confess shame, to acknowledge His authority.
It occurred to me that professional soldiers – in a throwback to archaic forms of respect – understand authority: possessing it, submitting to it and formulating a culture around it.
I thought immediately of the Centurion in the time of Jesus’ ministry who had a sick servant and sent a request for Jesus to heal his servant. Firstly, in that day and age, servants were commodities who were either useful or not. Why would a Gentile military man care for a servant who could be discarded? Secondly, I wondered how he came to adhere to the Spartan, martial culture of Rome, yet adopted a way of looking at the world that was culturally Jewish and in terms of faith very Biblical.
The article writer’s main point is that: “the Centurion recognized divine holiness in Jesus and sinfulness in himself and knew he was not worthy of Jesus’s presence.
He also recognized Jesus’s authority. While Jewish elders asked Jesus questions like, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23), this foreigner knew exactly who Jesus was. ”
In fact Jesus remarks that he had not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. An outsider, adopting new ways who obtains a measure of faith greater than men who had been steeped in faith and morals since birth.
The Centurion sent a delegation to demonstrate his faith, firstly to ask for healing, then subsequently to demonstrate that Jesus didn’t even have to be near the servant to heal him. The centurion knew that authority wasn’t line of sight or within the sound of Jesus’ voice, but a real power that Jesus had to utter the command and it would be done.
The centurion’s understanding of authority and the stuff of faith impressed Jesus and it sure impresses me.
Posture is everything, in facing your fellow soldiers with respect or even your enemy. But especially your superior.
I see people in this world looking away from Him, in either disinterest, or in distraction, or in rebellion.
For some, its a prostration en masse towards Mecca and away from Christ; after all, it is written in the mosque at Al Aqsa that God has no son.
For others, it’s an intellectual embarrassment for the idea of God which to them seem so fairytale-like and excessively sentimental.
For others still, its like the reaction of Adam and Eve, people who would rather not be confronted with their own bent towards selfishness and evil.
As for me, this Easter, its eyes front, looking to Him. Looking back at a cross and an empty tomb. Looking ahead to a triumphal return.
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. Ephesians 6: 10, 11