Straight line

In the build-up to Easter, seems like every year there are reminders of the human condition. Incidents that are like the proverbial indiscretion in the drinking water (to make reference to a not so subtle Afrikaans idiom).

I can draw a straight line from Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden to the news this past week: a Syrian immigrant arrested for going on a rampage and killing ten in Boulder, Colorado; two teens who were taken into custody for jacking the car of a man working as an über driver in D.C, driving off with him holding on and crashing, with the driver succumbing to his injuries; Islamic militants launching attacks in Mozambique with the intent to cause death, and succeeding, taking lives including that of a young South African.

Of course there wouldn’t be all kittens and rainbows just prior to Easter, and maybe I notice it more, but it seems like the craziness ticks up just a notch.

Draw a line back in time from these deaths and it terminates at the fall of man.

A lie.

An ambition to be like God, knowing good and evil.

A bite of forbidden fruit.

A realisation that innocence is dead.

A judgement.

A line from one of my favourite poems: things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…

From one sin, many millions: rampaging killers, spouse abusers, callous teens, unholy warriors, political leaders with lying tongues and cold hearts, wannabe dictators, habitual swindlers.

An illustration of why Good Friday was necessary.

I think back to Adam’s fall:

A realisation that innocence is dead. Trying to imagine what it would have been like. Thinking of a time you received shocking news and its like reality and unreality merge, things don’t compute and your ears resonate with a high-pitched humming and all words fail except the worst ones.

The morning after where the sun didn’t shine as it once did. Food is just sustenance instead of a delight of tastes. There’s a chill in the air that wasn’t there before.

I can just imagine. And realizing nakedness, knowing that the authentic man cannot walk the earth anymore, things must be hidden because there is shame.

God sacrificing an animal to make a cover for Adam & Eve’s nakedness.

Sacrifice as a payment for sin. A system that emerges pointing the way to a cross.

A straight line that connects me to both, the fall of Adam and the sacrifice of Christ.

A straight line, and a new creation – a new man.

His body and blood, broken and poured out for us.

Boasting

In the 15th chapter of Romans, Paul is writing to the church, explaining how his being a minister to the Gentiles was entirely God’s grace, and that those who believed because of his preaching would be his offering back to God.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+15%3A15+-+16&version=NIV

Paul then says in the next verse “…I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God” (15:17, NIV). Other translations have that Paul has reason to be enthusiastic (NLT), or reason to be proud (RSV), or proud (The Message). The idea is that Paul writes that he has a reason to boast about what God has done though him among the Gentiles.

This may seem to be a square peg in a round hole. Doesn’t God reject the proud? Isn’t boasting wrong?

People boast in the things that will give them attention: wealth, strength, power, virility, talent.

If I could presume to put myself in his shoes, Paul’s view of himself and his service to God was likely formed by his life, the mistakes that he made (zealously persecuting Christ), the knowledge how sinful his flesh was, the power of God’s grace.

All of that taught him that his accomplishments and things that he could boast in were worth nothing. It wasn’t just an intellectual exercise, Paul learned the hard way that boasting in himself was futile.

When writing to the Philippians, Paul listed his pedigree only to immediately discard it as worthless:

Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, persecuting the church, a faultless follower of the Law. Garbage.

He wants to be found in Christ, that’s all.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=philippians+3%3A4+-+9&version=NIV

Paul knew his place. He hadn’t at the beginning. An encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, a long time of solitude thereafter, embracing the idea that he had been totally and zealously mistaken, facing intense opposition from his fellow Jews, physical attacks, the thorn in his flesh…Paul learned the hard way that there was nothing he could boast about, except in what Christ had done and was doing through him.

I’m not there yet. I like to cultivate my brand as being a somewhat clever, adequately cultured, witty bloke, fun at parties involving Trivial Pursuit.

Paul had no concern for that. I doubt a Paul transported by an accidental time machine to our age would have a social media footprint or be interested in politics, wokeness, entertainment, TikTok or funny cat videos.

Paul may have come across as serious, always talking about Christ, and what Christ had done through him.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome that “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (15:20, NIV)

Again, it wasn’t to boast about himself, that he Paul had established a church on his own, but to turn that into an offering that was pleasing to God.

So what was the Roman church to Paul? If he hadn’t established it, why did he want to go there so earnestly? From Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, Paul had ‘fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ’. (15:19, NIV).

Paul had been a busy bee, he had done a ton of work in the region establishing churches, he had almost certainly heard of individual Christians in Rome and maybe it was time to do some encouraging.

https://www.preceptaustin.org/romans_1517

Minister to the Gentiles

I like how Paul draws our attention in Romans 15 to the idea that putting our attention on the God of hope, means that the differences between us (as human beings) become trivial.

Paul writes that God remembered his promises to the Jews and also intended that the Gentiles would be in a position to praise.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+15%3A8+-+13&version=NIV

God’s intent was always that both Jews and Gentiles would hope in Messiah, and that in believing there would be one body of Believers who sing praises.

Where we find ourselves in 2021 is a malicious media movement trying to emphasise the differences between people because its good for ratings and click-bait, and back in Paul’s day he’s referring to the major difference is his time – Jews and Gentiles – and writing that we should look at God, and these differences are nothing.

Paul was exactly the right type of guy to make this point. A zealous Jew, who after having been saved still had a deep love for his people, and yet God – in what may have seemed an irony from Paul’s point of view – called Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles.

Paul stood at the crux of two worlds and pointed out that both needed Christ. In the light of salvation, in the light of needing Christ, all people are the same.

When we consume stories in the media highlighting the differences between the sexes, the races, positions on the political spectrum, its all trivial.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+3%3A26+-+29&version=NIV

In Paul’s day, some Rabbis were in the habit of a morning prayer that was popular. “According to William Barclay, in that prayer the Jewish man would thank God that he was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. Paul takes each of these categories and shows them to be equal in Jesus.”

Galatians Chapter 3

In the light of Christ, Paul writes that the differences between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave or free, are irrelevant.

I would also like to add the the differences hyped between races are also trivial.

Looking to the God of hope gives us the correct perspective.

Watching over

The human race has been at war for millennia and whenever nations and kingdoms have established a professional base of soldiers, they have developed a code.

One of the consistent ones is that soldiers on guard duty are in a pile of trouble if they leave their post without being relieved or fall asleep.

We see this at Jesus’ resurrection. An angel appears in frightening, ethereal splendour and ‘The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.’ (Matthew 28:4, NIV)

Some of the soldiers on guard duty then conspired with the Jewish elders to craft a narrative and admit to their commander that they fell asleep while on watch and let the body of Christ be stolen.

They would have been in serious trouble but received a promise from the elders that they would intervene and keep the soldiers out of as much trouble as possible.

A certain amount of trouble would have been inevitable. The soldiers would have been punished, but they were paid ‘a large sum of money’ by the elders.

Compensation. For their trouble and the going rate for a false report.

Watchfulness is a discipline. And discipline is a constant in a professional unit. Falling asleep on duty is labelled a dereliction of duty according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The guys in the US Marines are pretty gung-ho about the code that they serve by and following orders. Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise starred in a little movie about that a while back.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104257/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0

I was thinking about this by contrast this past week.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+121&version=NIV

The Lord is watching over the Psalmist. Watching over Israel. Watching over us, His children.

The keeper of Israel or the single soul.

He never falls asleep on duty.

As for me and my house

A lot of people put stock in the idea that things come in threes. Good things, bad things. I must confess that when twos happen, I expect a three.

Its not often that things truly happen in threes. This past week, the people of New Zealand experienced three earthquakes affecting their island, with the last measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2021/03/04/new-zealand-earthquake-tsunami-warning-issued-coastal-areas/6918719002/

A cursory search of the internet seems to debunk the idea that things truly happen in threes.

https://www.seeker.com/do-bad-things-really-come-in-3s-1792581105.html

Basically, as human beings we look for patterns to assign meaning to randomness. The term coined for this is apophenia. And you get the impression if we resort to this type of thing too often we stray into the realm of believing conspiracy theories. Or Bible codes with hidden meanings.

I’ll buy that.

But what are the odds that this past week, while navigating through the internet and social media, that I simply happened across the same verse? No less than three times. Precisely three times.

Random events may have synchronicity but no message. Bad things that happen in threes may make me feel unfortunate, or good things that happen in threes may make me feel fortunate.

The same verse three times is less likely to be randomness. But if it is, its still Scripture, all of which is God-breathed and useful.

I was strolling down memory lane with Carman songs and re-discovered one that I really liked: ‘Serve the Lord’.

Then I’m listening to this guy named Joshua Aaron, and he has a song about Joshua’s exhortation to Israel, to choose whom they will serve, but as for Joshua, he and his family are going to serve the Lord.

Really, I wasn’t looking specifically for this verse. And then I see on Instagram that Chris Tomlin and Pat Barrett have just put out a song: ‘As for for me (and my house).’

Is this random? Just perhaps. On the other hand, there is nothing more fundamental than choosing as a family to serve the Lord.

And this week, we had an evening Bible study. And it was very good.