Chicken or beef?

Its February, not even fifty days into the New Year and Yours truly has reached the point of decision fatigue.

 

Aside from the frivolous decisions that present themselves in the morning, such as which socks to wear and what cereal to have for breakfast, we have to make decisions so frequently that we seldom give them a conscious thought.

 

‘Chicken or beef?’

 

‘Would you like fries and rice with your platter? Or just fries? Or just rice?’

 

‘Are we going to go for medical aid option A or B?’

 

‘Are we going to go left at the robot? Or go straight?’

 

‘Budget or straight?’

 

During the lean Obama years, I had a book by George W. Bush delivered online titled ‘Decision Points’. President Bush’s larger point was that at its core, the job of president was about making decisions.

 

The Bush corner of the bookcase

 

Bigger decisions about larger ethical dilemmas than many of us have ever had to face. As human beings living within God’s larger ethical framework, one of our core competencies should be about making good decisions, which by definition are decisions that are consistent with His will as he has revealed it.

 

Since I’ve crested the summit of 40 years old on the way to the next plateau, my decisions have become less reckless and more sensible. A childhood memory that made an impact on me is a song by Jiminy Cricket about playing it safe and making responsible decisions.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpoFcguvDd8

 

Choices

 

I’ve been fortunate in some of the big decisions I’ve made. But I can’t take the credit. I’m sure God was in the midst of those decisions.

 

In Deuteronomy 30 before the nation enters the Promised Land, Moses presents the children of Israel with a binary choice:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+30%3A15+-+20&version=NIV

 

Obedience and life, or disobedience and death. As I was reading Romans 6, I’ve seen what Paul is talking about in us choosing Christ.

 

Why do I say that? I recognize a similar theme to Moses’ choice presented before Israel; Paul writes that we are either slaves to sin or slaves to obedience (v.16, NIV)

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+6%3A+16+-+18&version=NIV

 

Slavery to obedience leads to righteousness and the slavery of sin leads to death. If you consider it, sin is our default position. Incremental, deliberate, sinful decisions lead to sin as a destination. Making no decision in respect of God and his demand for righteousness is a decision.

 

For the Christian, we make a decision for Christ. Paul writes that we ‘have come to obey from [our] heart’ the pattern of teaching that has ‘claimed [our] allegiance’. A primary decision to accept Christ and walk in his ways leads us to amend the decisions that we would have thoughtlessly made before.

 

Incremental, deliberate, sinful decisions lead to sin as a destination. A decision to accept Christ leads to Christ as our destiny

 

A pattern of teaching to correct our pattern of behaviour.

 

As my favourite commentary explains, “The idea is that God wants to shape us – first He melts us by the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Then He pours us into His mould of truth – that form of doctrine and shapes us into His image.”

 

https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/romans-6/

 

Christians have been completely changed the way they made decisions from before. The default position of the sinful man is passive in that it doesn’t resist the ruts. The Christian chooses to follow Christ, and moulded into a new paradigm, having chosen Christ, the Christian then chooses to follow Christ daily.

 

In truth, I was able to choose Christ because the Father first chose me in eternity. There’s a whole separate and deeper discussion around predestination.

 

In a lonely apartment in London in 1999, in a state of relationship single-ness, I read Joshua’s choice offered to the children of Israel:

 

“…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…”

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joshua+24%3A15&version=NIV

 

I have chosen and will continue to choose the One, True God. As for me and my household, we have chosen to serve Him.

 

Choosing to follow Christ means that I choose to follow Christ, the one decision follows the other. That’s how we are changed.

Fluexit

‘Janu-worry’ is typically a long month for the average South African, with the implicit pressures of shopping for Christmas and having to stretch the budget for essentially a month and a half, while spending twice as much.

 

Having returned from the States in mid-January, our family entered a two-week period where at overlapping times everyone was sick. When you’re sick you go to the doctor and klap your medical aid savings. Great, more money spent on consultations and meds.

 

Exhausted and with a giant frog in my throat one morning, I was thinking about the apostle James’ word to the Believer to consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A2+-+5&version=NIV

 

Clearly I’m not the most spiritual sort, because I relayed to the Lord that I wasn’t focused so much on my faith pushing through a tough situation, but I just wanted it to be finished.

 

Paul prayed about his thorn in the flesh, that the Lord would remove it. As he wrote, the Lord didn’t remove it. The circumstances and reasons are different, and Paul is way more hard corps than me.

 

Without trying to sound like a tough guy, I don’t like trials, but if they have to happen, I’d much rather they happen to me than my loved ones. And when everyone needed doctors and specialists, I just wanted it to end. I don’t greet my troubles, I agonize over them. I don’t want to see them as practical, illuminating the tough kernel of faith that persists.

 

It’s not that I’m embarrassed or anything, its just a fact: my faith is not as strong as I would like.

 

Finally in the last few days, we reached what I call FLUEXIT. We gradually improved until a semblance of normality just a day before the United Kingdom experienced BREXIT.

Soldier meds, return to base!

Having reached this point now, it’s almost like my faith had the flu and I need to start it up again, back to the basics, re-entering a routine that had become disturbed…

 

…reading a daily verse, saying the Lord’s prayer. And it stands out to me:

 

“…do not lead us to hard testing…”

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+6%3A13&version=CJB

 

The commentary of David Guzik explains that temptation (or hard testing as it is translated in the CJB) “literally means a test, not always a solicitation to do evil. God has promised to keep us from any testing that is greater than what we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).”

 

https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/matthew-6/

 

We can pray to avoid testing, but in His sovereign way, the Father decides when we have to go through something hard.

 

When I don’t fully trust Him, I have to anyway. I have No One else to turn to.

Just another day in paradise

Pennsylvania was my favourite state and we spent the build-up to Christmas in fairly rural Lancaster county.

One of hundreds of Amish buggies in Lancaster PA

 

Outstanding chow!

 

The Smuckers brand is everywhere in Pennsylvania

 

Iconic Shoo-Fly pie on the move. We did indeed get a free taste as advertised.

Part of the appeal of Pennsylvania is the history of the state. Called the keystone state because of its involvement in the Second Continental Congress and two of America’s founding documents drafted by the founders there: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States (Independence hall in Philadelphia).

Merry Christmas 2019

Pennsylvania is also interesting in the people that settled there and live there today: the Amish, descendants of German Christians, and Mennonites. From our visit to the Mennonite information center, I discovered that in terms of their being Anabaptists, I had no cause to disagree with the Amish or the Mennonites in their doctrine.

Replica of Ark of the Covenant at the Mennonite Information Center

Anabaptists hold to adult baptism and separation of church and state. Nothing wrong with that.

 

For the first time in a decade or more, I found myself in the theatre watching a play. Twice in one week. We attended a Christmas play at a large 2 thousand-seater auditorium which was well put together and included live animals and stunning props, actors and backgrounds, which really brought to life the birth of Christ.

 

The other play was more contemporary and intimate with a much smaller venue. The setting is a fictional town called Paradise. I found it more emotional, especially the portrayal of the mother with dementia, Hazel, who at the climax of the play suddenly remembers a large portion of Scripture and quotes it verbatim, reveling in Christmas.

 

https://lancasteronline.com/features/entertainment/review-a-christmas-to-remember-at-bird-in-hand-stage/article_85d270aa-f33b-11e8-ac3c-43e6d051344a.html

 

Christmas miracles in 2019 Paradise, PA, where even dementia can’t keep away the meaning of the birth of Christ. ‘Just another day in Paradise’.

 

 

At first glance it may seem like the name of a fictional town, but there really is a town in Pennsylvania called Intercourse. Which I imagine is one of the ways the town population persists.

Pennsylvania Dutch cooking; mac & cheese, pulled pork and sauerkraut on mashed potatoes, while tasting birch beer, root beer and Dr Pepper.

I first saw a Trump bumper sticker in Pennsylvania, a state that unexpectedly broke for him in 2016. The people I met were genuine and down to earth.

Street in Ronks PA

We attended a small church of around 10 souls in Strasburg with traditional hymns, organs and a member of the congregation playing a mountain dulcimer (which I’ve read is part of the zither family of instruments).

Small baptist church in Strasburg PA

Far from bustling New York, Lancaster county was an oasis, a place of tranquility and simple faith and a man could be happy there.

Engelsman in New York

I started off 2020 by taking a few hours with family to visit the iconic city of New York, scene of a thousand movies and television programs, and home to 8.55 million residents.

Besthesda Fountain in Central Park, NY

The average South African would find the regular sight of homeless people familiar.

View of Belvedere Castle, Central Park, NY

The unquestionable highlight was the 9/11 memorial in downtown Manhattan. I distinctly remember where I was when I heard about September 11 on the news and when President Bush made remarks later that morning (afternoon for us in South Africa) to the effect that the United States was going to ‘go after the folks’ who committed those acts, I felt a flood of righteous indignation towards the perpetrators.

 

In a way, and it wasn’t only me but many people the world over, I had an instant kinship with the people of New York and indeed the Unites States.

 

The 9/11 memorial site was busy and lines snaking into the museum would have taken hours which we didn’t have.

 

I saw names on the memorial panels that I knew from reading hundreds of articles. People I’d never met but knew something about their lives. Fire chief Pfeifer, Franciscan friar, Fr. Mychal Judge, Lauren Grandcolas and her unborn child.

Names on one of the panels in Manhattan from United 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. They fought back against the terrorists.

It was surreal. As we wandered through the site, air traffic directed the attention skywards, helicopters every few minutes, commuter jets as well as light aircraft from nearby JFK, or possibly La Guardia.

Entering New York City from under the George Washington Bridge

 

86 Street subway station on the way to the World Trade Center memorial

Police were everywhere, NYPD and PAPD. Hundreds of police, reportedly 38 thousand NYPD with another 10 thousand or so auxiliary, around 2 thousand PAPD officers spread over New York and New Jersey.

NYPD ready for action

 

PAPD in downtown Manhattan

I thought of the people whose names I knew but I lingered on Kevin Cosgrove. I’m 46 now, the same age as Kevin Cosgrove on 11 September 2001. He was an executive working for the Aon Corporation in the South Tower.

Memorial to special forces soldiers who fought in Afghanistan in the weeks after 9/11

He was on a 911 call when the tower collapsed, his cries immortalised in sound.

 

A short walk away was Trinity Church. In the middle of a bustling city and a short distance from Wall Street is a cemetery with gravestones hundreds of years old, almost quiet and intimate. I thought of my sister.

The chapel at Trinity Church on Broadway, NY

 

Quiet parish graveyard in the middle of bustling New York

 

Ancient gravestones, Trinity Church, Broadway, NY

While looking for Wall Street and the infamous ‘charging bull’ we came across ‘The Trump Building’ at 40 Wall Street, a surreal experience illustrating Trump’s link to New York.

Trump building on Broadway, NY

 

Charging Bull

Later, coming up out of the subway at Columbus circle we spotted the ‘Trump International Hotel and Tower’ on Central Park West. I suppose New Yorkers are used to seeing President Trump’s name around like its normal.

Columbus circle heading into Central Park, NY

 

Columbus Circle

New York is busy, teeming with people. It was quite an experience and utterly iconic but I’m glad I don’t live in a city that huge.

Impressions

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Connecticut

 

On the eve of travelling back to South Africa after 3 weeks in the United States, my impressions coalesced into the following:

 

In Connecticut, the morning appears with more subtlety than in South Africa, like a turn of the rheostat by gentle degrees where the sun is far less visible. It was only on the morning of the 7th that I first noticed morning bird calls;

 

In the quiet, you can hear the falling snow as it hits the leaves on the ground, as you would hear sugar granules falling on wax paper, or like snap-crackle-and-pop if you had to incline your ear to the cereal bowl;

Semi-rural Pennsylvania is incredibly peaceful, especially in Lancaster County amongst the Amish and Mennonites;

New York City is iconic and every bit of what you’d expect from watching television and movies;

The typical New Yorker (if I could presume to disassociate the locals from tourists) seldom seems to be smiling as he or she is on the way from A to B in the city;

 

New York City is jammed with people and has more police than I’ve ever seen in one place; sadly I did not see any cops eating donuts;

 

I saw a lot of Christian sign-boards and references, especially in Pennsylvania;

 

Hartford in Connecticut has a contemporary Christian radio station (K-Love; WCCC; 106.9 MHz) that became a favourite;

 

I was fortunate be a brief part of a solid church in Connecticut and attended services where I met very interesting and very real people who fed us with solid meat and fellowshipped with us:

 

Paul and Karen, Roger and Gloria, Dave, Karen, Tony, Mike, Floyd and Marsha, Annie, Thomas and Gene;

 

I got to meet a real live WW2 veteran and spoke with local Connecticut Yankees about politics and sports;

 

I was a South African in the United States who felt intimately welcome in the country; America is big-hearted;

 

A Twitter post by Grant R. Castleberry stood out to me as a start for the year 2020:

 

January 6, 2020:

 

“True greatness is faithfulness over a long period of time;

 

Faithfulness to God

Faithfulness to your spouse

Faithfulness to your calling

Faithfulness to your country

Faithfulness to your family.”

 

I want to be faithful to these things, to press on in the race of faith, to be a disciplined soldier, to stand for the Truth and spread the Gospel. To be faithful to God, my spouse, my place in the world and my community.

 

For the time in the United States, not a single person I met had anything to say on the subject of race whatsoever, a refreshing change from the race-obsessed South African government who function as opinion leaders to thousands of loud political minions;

 

Faithfulness to my country? That’s a hard one. I love my fellow South Africans but almost half of everything in this country is adulterated with racial politics, corruption and violence. I stopped believing in this government’s ability to be responsible a long time ago. And yet, I was born in this place and that for a purpose.

 

Ready or not, 2020 is here; all I want is to walk with Him in this year in all things.

Sacred, profane, and Heaven: the musical

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year…’ – thus begins a lesser known Christmas song. Although for us who live in South Africa, that’s debatable.

 

I must confess, in light of persistent loadshedding, my thinking is seldom elevated. The implications of stage 4 and stage 6 (or heaven forbid) beyond is uncomfortable to contemplate.

 

The Lord’s prayer has us pray for daily bread, not daily wattage. Documented corruption and mismanagement of the situation has resulted in loadshedding which is as good as taking food out of the mouths of the poor. I don’t think He approves.

 

https://www.iol.co.za/news/opinion/explained-why-eskom-is-in-so-much-trouble-19238470

 

Persistent loadshedding evokes chaos which sets my thinking in disorder, a profound devolution resulting from a rather simple thing. I see a bunch of flowers and consider that I still get to appreciate the wonders of nature, just not the wonders of industrialisation, at least consistently.

The wonders of loadshedding cancel out the wonders of industrialisation; the wonders of nature persist.

Flowers in a dark kitchen early in the morning. Beauty, but so much potential untapped, unable to be productive because of darkness, inertness and stillness. Like an itch I cannot scratch, profane thoughts.

 

Another confession: I don’t read enough Scripture at the moment. I know that scrolling through social media is easy and habitual and I know that it almost never edifies, but I do it anyway. Besides, it’s a perverse satisfaction reading the emotional loogies spat towards Eskom for their failure.

 

In the midst of all of this, for a brief moment in the family vehicle (which thankfully powers itself) this past week, I considered the newest track in my playlist.

 

Chaos outside with loadshedding, order inside the driver’s seat with power and functioning systems. Brenton Brown’s song about the lamb of God.

 

http://www.songlyrics.com/brenton-brown/adoration-lyrics/

 

I hear this song in the build up to Christmas and I realise that it is describing saints in heaven, drawing from the book of Revelation.

 

My first thought is that there are no Christmas decorations in heaven. John’s vision is all about God and Christ and the focus of worship in heaven is not about a baby in a manger but mainly about the Lamb of God. From those who study such things, the Lamb is referenced 29 times in the book.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+5%3A6&version=NIV

 

I think of John the Baptist and the Christmas connection with Jesus. Both were in their respective mothers’ wombs leading up to the first Christmas. Their mothers were related. And now, many years later, John seeing Jesus coming out to him to get baptised.

 

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

 

This idea echoed in heaven, praise for the Lamb and for what he has done, for all eternity. John, the perceived desert space-cadet with long hair, strange clothes, eating bugs and honey, this hairy, holy hippie of all people understood exactly who Christ was and what he had come to do: the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world.

 

Prior to the latest loadshedding Armageddon, I found myself in a packed, bad-tempered, materialistic shopping mall. What would have made it fun? A Christian flash-mob, showing up in surprise with some practised moves and rockin’ praise songs.

 

Not far off what I see in Revelation – the public singing and worship I mean.

 

Revelation has a reputation for being mysterious and serious. There’s also lots of singing. Enough to make a musical.

 

An actual musical would be a non-starter.

 

In the creative mind of a pagan composer, a mockery.

 

In the creative hands of a Christian composer, dare I say possibly tacky? Heavenly worship is more than merely a production for entertainment.

 

Each time we engage in corporate praise, about God and Christ the Lamb, its like an echo of what is transpiring in heaven right now.

 

I wish I could stop thinking about loadshedding – it’s an overwhelming subject. I wish I could quiet the broadcasts in my brain and quietly meditate on Scripture much more. On the occasion that I do the sacred crowds out the profane and it is good.

Kainos

We’ve been hiking through the theological preserve that is Romans, stopping to camp every fortnight or so and we come to Romans chapter 6. We’ve looked at:

 

  • Romans 1; the gospel with the power to save, the wrath of God revealed, faith the way to righteousness
  • Romans 2; the Jew and the Gentile, both alike in need of salvation
  • Romans 3; no-one will meet God’s standard by obeying the law, righteousness is by faith
  • Romans 4; our inability to keep the law, Abraham approached God in faith, justified by faith
  • Romans 5; Adam and the sin that condemned us; Christ and the righteousness that justified us

 

We gather around the campfire and look to Romans 6:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+6&version=NIV

 

What happens at a campfire? We don’t always analyse what it is that we are seeing…

 

Combustion;

The transfer of energy;

The release of gases;

The emergence of plasma;

The heat of a chemical reaction;

The Constructal law that was identified regarding the perfect shape of the wood.

 

Yes, I said the Constructal law that identified the optimal shape of the wood to start a fire. Somebody actually looked into the physics behind it.

 

https://www.kcet.org/shows/socal-wanderer/building-the-perfect-campfire-according-to-the-law-of-physics

 

In sum, it is to make sure that the base of the wood corresponds with the height of the wood. This is probably of little interest to the average South African who can rely on firelighters and briquettes.

We don’t typically analyse what we’re seeing, but we know how to use it. Mounds of perfectly cooked wors over countless years by most South African gents attest to this.

And here begins my segue which I thought of in the context of a poor sleep the night before; it made sense at the time, but the clumsy metaphor part of my brain (which is in my sarcastic hypothalamus) looks at the campfire and sees a clunky picture of Kainos.

 

There are physics involved in combustion and equally consistent spiritual laws at work in the being of a changed man, a new man in Christ. The old man is dead, like the charred wood and embers left behind, replaced by a living flame licking towards the sky. The new man stands amidst the detritus of the old.

 

This is what I see when I read through Romans 6. The power of sin no longer has a claim over us. That’s nice and theoretical you may object. Not really; the more I read scripture, the more I pray through situations and people, I really do notice a change. In 2019 I’m leaving certain things behind, my perspective is changing – even in the midst of the occasional setback.

 

The idea that you simply have to discern/realise who you are as a born-again believer and live according to that is a part of the idea behind ‘Kainos‘ (we’ll get to that in a moment). It is not the whole story though – that’s too simplistic. It’s not simply in the mind, that we can think ourselves into Christian behaviour. It is a work of God where we are empowered by the Spirit, but there is an element of us choosing to walk in it.

 

We need to live according to who we are in Christ.

 

I’ve had a long-standing relationship with sin. And even taking into account the idea that sin can lead me to deceive myself, I know my own sinful nature. As Paul did his.

 

And yet Paul is writing that believers are brand new creations and can walk according to it.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+corinthians+5%3A17&version=NIV

 

This is where Paul uses the word Kainos. Something brand new. Something different is going on that wasn’t going on before.

 

Paul is theological and philosophical, however the things he’s writing about are not simply to give our grey-matter the fuzzies – Paul ramps up to all of the stuff he’s writing about being practical and applicable.

 

My understanding of theology is anything but systematic, and certainly not formal but I got nerd-excited when Paul uses the work ‘Kainos‘. World (and non-Greek speakers), may I introduce you to the word Kainos:

 

as respects form:

recently made, fresh, recent, unused, unworn

as respects substance:

of a new kind, unprecedented, novel, uncommon, unheard of

 

https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g2537

 

Paul is writing that we are dead to sin. It’s done, we can’t go back (verses 4,6,7), just like we can’t un-burn a campfire and retrieve freshly chopped wood:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=romans+6%3A1+-+14&version=NIV

 

Paul writes that we are not under law but under grace (verse 14). Amongst other things that grace may be to you, to me its experiential. You know it when it impacts you and you simply know that you know that you know…its a certainty that simply pops up seemingly out of nowhere and its there to stay.

 

Something different is going on that wasn’t going on before.

Of Bok Fridays and Ephesians

A few Sundays ago, a guest preacher delivered a homily (I like that word; it has more class and specificity than merely a ‘message’) at our home church, regarding unity, specifically the unity of Believers.

 

The idea of unity has stood out to me of late, how various people espouse unity but its merely a front, a cute idea without any meat. Recently the Springboks played the Canucks in the Rugby World Cup taking place right now in Japan, and on this particular work day, the televisions in the production area were on (with sound on low) showing the Springbok game live.

 

The singing of the national anthem by South Africans asserted that “united we shall stand…” however it suddenly occurred to me that I was listening to sentimentality instead of fact. Hardly a day goes by when there is not some controversy in the media about happenings in our country, and I work and live among a large contingent of local South Africans who wholeheartedly and chauvinistically support the New Zealand national team, especially when they are playing against the Springboks.

 

Bok Fridays

 

The apartheid government was no less hypocritical than the lyrics to the national anthem, with a coat-of-arms that proclaimed ‘Unitate Ex Vires’ (strength in unity). Groups of people are seldom truly united. Its different with the Bride of Christ.

 

Or at least there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be.

 

And so, some days later I found myself in the rare quiet of a morning reading through the passage in Ephesians:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+1%3A1+-+18&version=NIV

 

Believers are united to each other because we are primarily united to Him. Reading through the passage, certain words/ideas recur: that God the Father has put thought and consideration into the church and the Believers who make up the Body.

 

Paul insists that being Believers is strongly and definitively part of his will:

 

  • Paul was an apostle by the will of God (1:1)
  • Believers are predestined to be adopted by his will (1:5)
  • His mysterious will is revealed, to unify creation (things in heaven and earth) under Christ (1:9 – 10)
  • He works out everything in conformity with his will (1:11)

 

The Father’s foreknowledge of and grace for us is seen:

 

  • He predestined us in love to be adopted (1:4 – 5)
  • He chose us before the creation of the world (1:4)
  • He gave us his grace freely (1:6)
  • In fact He lavished it on us (1:8)
  • We were predestined according to his plan (1:11) and his plan will work out

 

His mighty power selected us, saves us and keeps us:

 

  • When we believed we were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (1:13 – 14), a guarantee of our inheritance
  • His power to fulfil our hope is the same resurrection power that raised Christ (1:19 – 20)

 

The fact that you are a believer or may one day be, can be attributed to the will of God. God foreknowing those who are His, He sets our destiny, an eternal appointment to take our lives in His direction. Its a sure thing because the power over death (resurrection power) is at life in the Christian, and in this we share a unity that the world cannot understand.

 

The Springboks have won the Webb-Ellis trophy twice in its 32 year history. As a trophy, it is coveted. Any rugby nation would want to win it and retain the trophy every four years. For the supporters in a rugby nation, either a win or a loss binds them together in misery or elation.

 

Paul’s letter to the Philippians paints the picture that we as believers are pressing on to a prize, although it’s not a trophy or recognition:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+3%3A12+-+14&version=NIV

 

The prize is participating in the race. The goal is Christ.

 

Since the Springboks last won the Rugby World Cup in 2007 under the coaching of Jake White, the innocence for me has been lost. There’s too much politics involved in sport. Too many selfish personalities, different agendas. My relationship with the Springboks is complicated. Honestly, I also have an affinity for the Home Unions.

 

I’ve found that the unity amongst believers is more significant and authentic than support for a national rugby team. I don’t mind Bok Fridays. But I love Sunday mornings more.

Adam

In Romans 5, Paul writes about Adam and puts into context the human story and where it all went wrong for us.

 

By way of confession, I rarely consider Adam and the fall of man, at least in the same way that I consider historical events to which I was a witness.

 

Not that I have been a witness to many fundamental moments in world history, but mostly personal ones in my own history.

 

Although I wasn’t there in New York on 11 September 2001, in a very real sense, I was along with millions of people who were witnessing events in real time. An event that would re-shape geo-politics that would re-shape how we travel and how we think about the nexus of politics and religion.

 

Many of us were as good as eyewitnesses to 9/11, a moment in time that drew us all together, an event that formed the creation of a zeitgeist as absolutely as the Kennedy assassination defined the 1960’s.

 

In the years since then, we have seen the explosion of the internet and its uses, driverless cars, innovations in space travel, the ubiquity of social media. And into this context, I want you to think about Adam, as Paul did the Romans as well as the church today.

 

You may wonder what the significance of this is. It’s the foundation that explains why we are the way we are, and it is in light of this that the cross is so significant and makes sense.

 

Paul accepts the account of Genesis 3 and the fall of man as a historical fact, an event that actually took place.

Aardappels (potatoes); neither the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, nor the ‘root of all evil’, just un-made French fries

And like 11 September 2001, I was as good as there. So were all of us. My genetic make-up is infused with my relationship to Adam and to his sin.

 

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned”

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+5%3A12&version=NIV

 

Is it fair that we who have been born after Adam bear the penalty for his actions? You may not think so, but consider that if Adam’s sin could trickle through to us and infect us, the righteousness of Christ could be introduced to us and take away that sin.

 

Engage in a thought-experiment: You stand on your own, not associated with Adam at all, a free moral agent who can sin, or not sin in the garden. How long would you or I have lasted in state of sinlessness? Adam and Eve had every benefit and still managed to find themselves in a mess.

 

You didn’t make the rules, you didn’t establish the principles that govern righteousness and sin. Adam and Eve fell, and that present fact is so deeply ingrained in our human experience that we no longer consider it consciously.

 

One sin was all it took to condemn all humanity going forward. Paul writes ‘one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people’ (5:18, NIV).

 

One sin. All humanity. That’s a big deal, that’s how serious sin is.

 

Paul compares and contrasts Adam and Christ. Both were sinless from the beginning and both performed acts that had consequences for all mankind:

 

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+5%3A15&version=NIV

 

Adam’s sin was tragic but Christ’s sacrifice (and gift of righteousness) was stupendous. As completely as one sin infected the human race, it was to a greater degree that one act of righteousness by Christ brought grace to man.

 

One righteous act, that’s how significant it was. To wipe out sin, centuries and millennia of it.

 

Paul compares and contrasts Adam and Christ. Both were sinless from the beginning and both performed acts that had consequences for all mankind. This is what is called a ‘Federal Theology’. A federal state means that representatives speak for and represent the people that choose them.

 

The natural man is born in sin, sins, chooses yet more sin and in the default setting, is represented by Adam. We are born in Adam. We are born-again in Christ.

 

Adam represents us whether we choose that he does or not. The only alternative choice we have is Christ.

 

Although I wasn’t there in New York on 11 September 2001, in a very real sense, I was along with millions of people who were witnessing events in real time. And like 11 September 2001, I was as good as there when Adam and Eve sinned.

 

In a very real sense, I was also there in Jerusalem when Christ was crucified. A historical event, a true event that I ‘witnessed’ and more importantly, took part in. I go to the foot of the cross often.

 

The gift is greater than the trespass. We are all familiar with sin and the consequences, and the fear of death. Paul writes that even more certain and overwhelming than sin and death is the grace to ‘reign in life’ for the Believer.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+5%3A15+-+17&version=NIV

 

If the reality of sin is pressing on us, the reality of life through Him is even more present.

 

Acknowledgement to:

https://www.preceptaustin.org/romans_commentaries

Bible Commentary

In perspective

When I set out to study through the book of Romans, I began with the idea that I don’t merely want to know more about God, but to know Him more and be changed in the process.

 

There are plenty of people who know a lot more about God in a theological sense than I do, but that might not mean a thing in the grand scheme. Knowing what is true and internalising it is not the same thing. Truth is like a tool…if we don’t pick it up and use it, it’s merely theoretical and of little use.

 

On a practical level, the question is there: of what use is theology? Are there any practical uses for knowing Scripture on a more than basic level? If I look at the epistles of Paul the answer is unequivocal: Yes, theology is practical and applicable.

 

Paul unpacks deep theological truths in his epistles before rounding them out with practical steps to walk in.

 

In a parting word to the Believers in Philippi, Paul writes:

 

“8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (NIV)

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+4&version=NIV

 

To emphasise Paul, the things that he has taught the Philippians, he tells them to ‘put it into practice’. And in a real sense, the peace of God would be with them as they do so.

 

This passage also illuminates the idea of perspective; Paul urges the Believer to think about what is right, noble, pure, the things of God. A large part of operating as a Christian involves the life of the mind.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+12%3A2&version=NIV

Perspective

Speaking personally, the most fundamental change that theology brings is to change my perspective. I read this week of the final phase of a court case in the State of Texas.

 

https://www.christianpost.com/news/botham-jeans-brother-forgives-amber-guyger-implores-her-give-your-life-to-christ.html

 

The court heard that a police officer Amber Guyger entered what she thought was her apartment after a 14-hour shift and being the wrong floor, she encountered her upstairs neighbour, Botham Jean, who she supposed to be an intruder in her apartment, drew her weapon and fatally shot him.

 

A tragedy, precisely because it was avoidable if things had panned out differently. Found guilty of murder, Guyger was due to be sentenced in the court room of Judge Tammy Kemp.

 

The victim’s brother spoke at the hearing, extending his forgiveness, urging her to turn to Christ and asking the judge for permission to hug her, which the judge allowed to gasps and sobbing from the court gallery. The judge also withdrew to her chambers to fetch her personal Bible and present it to Guyger, along with a hug.

Perspective

Stunning! How awesome the perspective on display, the theology applied to a tragic situation which was supremely practical, life-affirming and rooted in forgiveness.