THE CORONATION

NEW KIND OF KING – NEW KIND OF KINGDOM

 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “You have said so,” Jesus replied. (Mark 15:2)

 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:33-37)

The events of the Easter story are the culmination of a long journey. When the Son of God quietly appeared out the back of a Bethlehem motel, nothing was happening to herald its significance. Even when the angelic choir appeared it was witnessed only by shepherds. When a particular star was noticed by some Persian astrologers, their journey didn’t really bring the brass bands into the streets for a parade. In spite of this, the reality was that more than two thousand years of history was waiting for this moment. Every book in the Old Testament contained mysteries that would only be revealed when Jesus came.

The journey from Bethlehem to Calvary was similarly a somewhat mysterious affair. Jesus was the Messiah but the only people who were willing to acknowledge this was a motley crew of individuals with questionable credentials by any standard. But the cross and the resurrection to follow were the events that separated history and changed the world. Looking back through the window they provide, we can see a clear and consistent storyline where the small events that happened over three years of Jesus’ ministry lead very clearly to his appointment with Calvary.

I am convinced that Jesus is the rightful King of the universe. The world as we know it and the people who inhabit it were created to be part of the realm over which he ruled. I believe that what we should be celebrating each year is the coronation ceremony of our king. What was a symbol of fear and shame in the eyes of the world was actually the accession of our king to his rightful throne. If it is hard to think about the cross as a rite of passage to the throne, then perhaps it is because we have not fully realised that Jesus is a very different kind of king from any we may be otherwise aware and he rules a very different kind of kingdom than any other. It will be vital for us to understand the differences lest we end up trying to build the kingdom of God as an earthly kingdom rather than one that represents the culture and glory of heaven.

WHO????

It is clear that there was contention from the very beginning. You can’t imagine a baby born in a stable in Bethlehem being a threat to anything; nor can you believe that the son of a carpenter from a no-name place like Nazareth would amount to much. But as the old man Simeon said of him, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against….” (Luke 2:34) The fact was and is that the presence of Jesus on the earth was always going to threaten the incumbent illegitimate rulers. We can see through the course of his ministry that he didn’t walk up and down outside the temple with placards, nor did he abuse the authority of Rome, but his life, ministry and message posed a direct threat to each of them. If we can gain an understanding of why this was so, we will better understand how the cross and resurrection stand as ultimate signs of the battles that go on in every generation. We might, then, be better placed to know how we should engage with the illegitimate kingdoms of our own day.

The first of those authorities was the ruthless domination of Rome. Rome’s presence in Judea and Galilee was represented by various officials (including Pontius Pilate) and the Herodian kings (Herod the Great and Herod Antipas). Jesus was born during the last decade of the rule of Herod the Great, and it was this old Idumean puppet ruler who had ordered the children from Bethlehem to be killed when informed by the Persian magi that the signs told them of the birth of a king. Jesus had experienced a period of exile in Egypt as a result of Herod’s paranoid ruthlessness. It was his son, Antipas who arrested and beheaded John the Baptist and the same ruler to whom Jesus was sent, at first, by Pilate on the night of his arrest. The passage we are looking at today records the final encounter between Jesus and the Roman authorise as Pilate tries to find a way to avoid trouble and avoid sending Jesus to the cross. Pilate’s primary concern is to find out whether Jesus is some kind of “king.” Rome either made you a vassal or a victim. Kings needed to be appointed by Rome or be executed.

The second group of having adversarial authority during the life and ministry of Jesus was the various groups recognised as governing the religious life of Israel. They had the scriptures, they governed what happened in the temple, celebrated the festivals, policed the rabbinic traditions based on various interpretations of the Scriptures. Their power base was vested in the Jewish ruling council known as the Sanhedrin. This Sanhedrin was the Supreme Court of Israel and exercised immense authority within the Jewish communities of Judea and Galilee. Their fierce determination to protect their heritage from Abraham and Moses was the stand out reactionary group within the whole of the Empire. The Romans tried to find a way of working with them without relaxing their hold on power, but it was an unholy alliance from both points of view. The groups involved under this umbrella include the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes and Teachers of the law. They are all represented throughout the gospel accounts and are ubiquitous opponents of Jesus and his ministry.

The third group is a little harder to define but very easy to identify: I am referring to the Satan and the powers of darkness. This group has two distinct roles. The first is to empower and manipulate the people groups mentioned above and the second is to be directly involved in killing, stealing and destroying the lives, vocations, hopes and futures of people in all walks of life through indiscriminate acts of violation. We are told later in the New Testament that Satan uses four different weapons to usurp the authority that belongs to Jesus: control, manipulation, deception and direct destructive force (Ephesians 6:12). The first time we get a clear picture of demonic activity follows the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan. Jesus is strategically led to the desert to confront the devil in a direct series of encounters. Jesus successfully repels the Satanic suggestions (unlike the first Adam who succumbed). We are told the “devil left Jesus until an opportune time”(Luke 4:13)  If you have any familiarity with the stories in the gospels you will notice that Satan shows up frequently: in the form of demonised people and through demonically concocted natural and human circumstances (storms on the lake). At the end when Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the last time, we are told Satan enters Judas (Luke 22:3) and tries to sift Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31). 

WHEN??????

I would love you to think with me as to when Jesus became King. I am aware that some will want to point out that Jesus was always a king and that what was happening from Bethlehem to Calvary was the king taking back territory that was rightfully his. Of course, that is true. The “when” question for you is to ask “When did Jesus take that rule back?”

Another group of people might want to tell me that even though Jesus has appeared as Saviour and Lord, his kingly rule waits for his second coming. I think the traditional way of saying this is, “Jesus, Saviour, Lord and soon-coming King,” or the Aimee Semple McPherson version, “Saviour, Baptiser with the Spirit, Healer and Coming King.” This, of course, has truth at its heart as well. Jesus final coming will be the consummation of the ages and will see satanic presence in the world completely destroyed. The question for this group is going to be, “When did Jesus begin to take up his rightful rule of the universe?”

My own view is that, just as Jesus was the “Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the world,”(Revelation 13:8) we all know that the “slaying” took place at a particular time and in a specific place. It is that time-and-place event that we celebrate at Easter. It is important. No, it is the very core of everything about our faith. No cross, no Christianity. No resurrection, no Christianity. No cross, no kingdom of God. No resurrection, no kingdom of God. As Paul tells us, it is the bottom line. (1 Corinthians 15). But it is not the bottom line for religious or ceremonial reasons. It is not just to keep the paperwork right. It is because of what was happening through the cross and what happened at the resurrection that makes it the bottom line.

My proposition goes like this: Jesus became king on the day we call “Good Friday.”  Isn’t it amazing that the cross is the pinnacle of the glory of Jesus Christ, like one of the old song declares:

“This is Jesus in his glory,

King of heaven dying for me.

It is finished he has done it.

Death is beaten; heaven beckons me.”

In the eyes  of this world’s kingdom, it is a symbol of failure and the worst kind of shame. It was designed by the Romans to be the ultimate deterrent. Less than a hundred years before Jesus, the famous slave/gladiator, Spartacus had rallied thousands of other gladiators to oppose Rome. After a few successful battles (The Third Servile War) Crassus was dispatched with eight legions. When the rebels were defeated, 6,000 of them were crucified along the Appian way as a symbol of Rome’s attitude to rebels. It was so with the death of Jesus of Nazareth. The charge sheet was nailed above his head. The words were written in three languages, Greek, Latin and Hebrew: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

I know there have been many theories about Jesus going to hell and taking the keys from Satan and all of that. Some of it has modest Biblical warrant. What we know for sure is that it was Jesus’ death that defied the power of sin and death.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)

So, the cross of Jesus Christ was the event that declared his victory. It was his version of a triumphal march into the city. Funny that he had experienced a prophetic event less than a week before as he entered the city on the colt of a donkey. Brian Zahn has recently made a compelling connection between the coming of Jesus to the city about the same time as Pontius Pilate came to the city from the base of his operations in Caesarea. He came to personally supervise things during the most volatile time of the year, at the feast of the Passover. Zahn points out that Pilate entered the city riding on a horse – may be a white horse, who knows. The symbols of Rome’s power accompanied him: enough soldiers to quell any riot that might occur and enforce any order Rome might feel like imposing. It was a preliminary show of force designed to warn everyone to behave. He represented the most powerful ruler in the world at that time.

Jesus came differently. He came on a small colt. It might have been so short that Jesus had to drag his feet along the ground. He came with no soldiers. He came with no preparations for any kind of fanfare. The closest thing to weapons on display were palm branches being laid out on the road in front of him. There was no kind of coercion at all, but the people began to shout out the messianic greeting from Psalm 118, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.” This was brought about by a different presence than that of the Roman provincial governor. When the religious authorities berated Jesus and told him to stop the people from making a messianic claim, Jesus could only reply that if they were stopped, the stones would cry out in their place. Such was the presence of a very different kind of coming King. The promised Messiah (which means ‘King’ of course) was the Son of David promised through the pages of the Scriptures. There was another significant difference between the Roman ruler and Jesus. When Pilate arrived in the city, he would have gone to his lavish well-guarded quarters and rested, away from the troublesome belligerents. When Jesus came to the end of his parade, he fell down and wept for love over the resistant stubbornness of people whom he wanted to protect and nurture.

This king’s coronation was celebrated differently. This King was laying down his life to defeat the very powers of sin and death. He was declaring the universal advance of the kingdom of God. It began through his own ministry and then through the 120 who would remain in Jerusalem. The church would be become the body of Christ in every part of the earth to make known to earthly and the heavenly authorities that the rule of God was not by intimidation and control. It was not by manipulation or by deceit. This power would not be accessed by destroying what was innocent and good. It would be the power of sacrificial love. It was the power of redemption. Jesus coronation trumpeted a sound that few people at the scene understood. Sin and darkness were held up to ridicule. They were publicly shamed by divine love and the offer of free and full pardon and redemption to every person. This kind ruled through that very love. It is the only mark of his rule. The justice he brings is not about winning or losing. It is about redemptive purpose. The coronation of this king heralds the opportunity for people to be reconciled to God and to their vocation as children of God. It is an opportunity for individuals to celebrate the fact that they bear the image of God. They are designed to carry his presence and to fulfil his purpose. He is the king of that kind of kingdom.

HOW????

When Jesus uttered the words “It is finished,” we have to be clear about exactly what was finished. If you read through the sermons in the Book of Acts and the references to the cross in the letters it is clear that the power of sin and death were defeated. Satan’s weapon for keeping people separated from God was unforgiven sin. The death of Jesus on the cross, as told by Jesus and the apostles, was a “ransom for many.” I am not going to pour through the atonement theories. I am more interested in outcomes than theories. All I know is that all of us now have access to God. Our sin has been carried where we can never find it. Satan’s basis of power is broken. Jesus has assumed his place as King of his Kingdom and Head of his Body, the church. It is his resurrection that declares the ultimacy of a new life. We are raised with him. This is a present reality as well as a future hope. We get the chance to live a new life with new citizenship (of heaven) and a new mission – to finish the job.

When Jesus came back to Galilee from the wilderness, his agenda was obvious: “The times have been fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:16) If the kingdom of God was “at hand” it is logical to assume that the presence of Jesus represented such a kingdom. When you have a few hours free to do something important, I suggest you read through one or other of the gospels and see precisely how that was worked for Jesus. It is the presence of Jesus himself that makes the kingdom of God near. As you come to each story, notice how Jesus turns each incident into a manifestation of the kingdom of God. You should also see how different the kingdom of God is and how differently Jesus models it. I dare you to remain unchanged in less than three chapters. More to the point, Jesus was the King doing royal kingdom of God works all the way to the cross. When he healed the king of health exercised the will of heaven over another ‘king’ (Satan) who wanted to steal that person’s health. When he cast out a demon, it was the king of freedom exercising his will over the ‘king’ (also called the ‘prince of this world’) of oppression and bondage. When an adulterous woman was brought to him on the assumption that she should be punished, it was the king of forgiveness ruling over the king of guilt and shame.

On all of these were occasions, the kingdom of God was advancing. Jesus told a crowd that this kingdom had been happening since the time of John the Baptist. (Matthew 11:12) There can be no kingdom without a king. Otherwise, it would have to be an ‘earldom’ or a ‘dukedom’ or, more commonly a ‘selfdom.’ This is more important than it may look. Cultures like my own (Australian) are heavily weighted toward self-centeredness and self-determination. As such, we tend to preserve our own ‘selfdoms.’ As a result, we like the idea of building communities based on kingdom values just so long as the idea of serving the ‘King’ is conveniently set aside. This is a problem in the church. We have churches that are profoundly committed to espousing kingdom values -e.g. providing amazing and heartfelt care for the poor. They are willing to suggest that the work of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is a kingdom work of and by itself. And there is no doubt; it is wonderful work. My issue is that it is not necessarily kingdom work. Jesus, himself, tells us how to distinguish a kingdom of God work:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

When people glorify the God, we serve because of what he has done through us, we can be assured that it is a kingdom of God work. Jesus made it quite clear and public that he was acting only on the initiative of his Father. He constantly pointed people to his Father and not to himself. When people saw the kingly works in operation, they praised God for what they saw. Our culture loves people who do good works as long as they are detached from any association with King Jesus. As a result, we have been too willing to oblige them. As I said before, Jesus was very up-front about his relationship to the Father. Numerous times in the gospel of John he is recorded as saying, “I only do what I see the Father doing.”[1]  The work of the kingdom is to follow this model explicitly. We are to live the whole of our lives out of this relationship and do the works that flow from it. Just think for more than two seconds what is happening when we offer people some good works that might well cause people to say nice things about us, but to deny the Person to whom they belong and to suggest that they should happen without such a relationship. At best we are stealing his glory. At worst we are refusing to proclaim a gospel that has the power to change lives forever.

So, the church is to continue the ministry of Jesus – i.e. of living as servants of the kingdom and allowing others to know the good news that it is accessible. The church is meant to be the people living on the earth who, by the presence and power of the Spirit, give this kingdom tangible and visible form – everywhere. It means we will be challenging every other kingdom that happens to be operating in its place. I don’t know whether you are aware of it or not, but there is no space on or around the planet that doesn’t have some kind of incumbent ruler. Something or someone will always be exercising transcending influence. You have to read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians about ten times to get a feel for this. I would suggest you read it in two parts. Read 1:1 to 4:16 ten times. Make some notes. Tell the story it is telling in your own words and then make a summary of what it would look like if what you have been reading was happening. Then read 4:17 to the end the same number of times. Try not to get bogged down in detail. Try to catch the flow of what is being said. Then do the same as before: tell the story it tells and then figure out what it would look like if that stuff was happening. And if you still have the inclination at the end of all that, figure out what steps need to be taken to get from here to there. Among other things, the Ephesian letter gives a consummate picture of how the church. In my way of thinking, it is an apostolic view of the church in the real sense. Here are three mountain peaks on the horizon of Paul’s letter:

ONENESS “Heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promised in Christ Jesus” Ephesians 2

INTIMACY “We can all approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3/4

FULNESS “Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.” Ephesians 4

This is the way Jesus will make his kingly rule known. People who live in the communities of which this kind of church is a part will get to see the Jesus of the gospels. They will see it only if the church makes it tangible. He must be the tangible head, and the church must be his tangible body. There are a thousand ways this can be made known, and we have to learn to excel in them. It’s simple, but not easy. But it is the only thing worth pursuing for every church everywhere.

WHY??????

Why is it essential that we recognise the cross as the coronation ceremony for our King? I think there are two things to be said. The first is written about in Ephesians chapter three and the beginning of chapter four. The church is to make known the mystery and plan of God. That mystery is the fact that a new kind of humanity has been invented: people in Christ – not Australian people, or Chinese people – just people in Christ. When Paul prayed for this group of people, he prayed that they would know the love of Christ and the unity of the faith. Love and unity are the markers of a new kingdom. When this kingdom fully comes, we will have become the new heaven and the new earth spoken about in Revelation 21 and 22. That’s what we are supposed to be prophetically foreshadowing. We are meant to be the living testament to that ultimate reality. It is not about an event where those of us who are in Christ will have the pleasure of seeing all the terrible people burning in hell – as some preachers would like to paint a picture. Yes, there will be a final judgment and a separation, but the consummation of the ages will be the completion of what Jesus began. It will be completed as the church fulfils is calling on the earth. We are already part of a city God is building, not made with hands, eternal in the heavenly realm. It is an operation that runs on love and unity because that’s how heaven works. God’s kind of love displayed by Jesus and commissioned for the church is the sacrificial Calvary kind of love. It is the combination of John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him

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.

God’s kind of unity is declared openly by Jesus in John 17 where he prays for the disciples of every generation, asking that they may experience his indwelling presence in such a way that they will become one after the relationship between Jesus and his Father. Because God’s kingdom is love-based oneness, it can only happen through free-will choosing. There is no love without free-will. It’s the same as the love that causes a man and a woman to stand somewhere before God and commit their lives to one another because of love that has come from their choosing. Its the same as the love we have for our children – who have their own free-will. We love them freely and wonderfully. Hopefully, they grow up loving us because they choose to. This new heaven and new earth will be comprised of people who have made that choice about Jesus. Because it is a matter of free-will, then it is possible for us to choose not to love and to choose not to pursue oneness. The resurrection of Jesus declares this calling valid. His presence and the Holy Spirit power that has been poured out makes it possible.

Let’s agree that these must be the things that shape us and our mission on the earth.

CONCLUSION: VICTORY is through DEATH and RESURRECTION

Jesus’s accession to the throne of the universe was through death leading to resurrection. The cross can only be associated with death. Everyone who went to a cross went to a horrible death. No one survived the cross. Jesus not only rose from the dead but pioneered a way of life that was going to celebrate both cross and resurrection. Death now becomes the doorway to a new life. This is the new principle. Paul was clear enough about.  He said he faced death every day in some way. And so do we. There are all kinds of things that happen in our lives where we experience the pain and suffering of ‘death:’ when a marriage fails, when we suffer some sort of debilitating sickness when someone close to us dies – and a million other ways.

We are the people whose life is defined by the resurrection from the dead. We need to have no fear of death, not in the metaphorical sense nor the literal. Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee of a new life following death. It is weird to the cultural sensitivities of the kingdoms of this world. In those kingdoms, death either rules (as it does in some cultures where they are shaped by death) or it is avoided. Christians are the only ones who can face death with all of the sadness that it may bring, but with hope. That hope is the new life that Jesus walked out of the tomb to proclaim. It is our heritage, our privilege and our hope.

We need to become the people who have twenty stories to tell of resurrection. Sadly, so many believers are still locked into the pattern of this world. They remain imprisoned by some death they have experienced but have not embraced the resurrection from death that Jesus will always offer. Our Christian lives begin with this kind of experience: we commit to Christ and are baptised. That baptism is a burial ceremony of our former life, and it is the sign of rising from the watery grave to a new life – totally free from any obligation to our old “master” and freely bonded to our new master, Jesus. The rest of our Christian life ought to boast of similar experiences as we “put to death” things that need to die and “bury” things that have died. It seems that we are more likely to dwell on the death when we should be celebrating the resurrection. And by the way, that process is called “redemption.” It is a new life, a better life, renewed life is given in the face of death. When we face our physical death, it should be nothing more than a macro-version of what we have known in many foreshadowing experiences throughout our lifetime.

So, Jesus has become the king. He is a different kind of king than any we have seen or will see among the samples of human kingdoms. The realm it creates operates through the same kind of self-giving love to build a new heaven and a new earth ruled by this kind of love. You can see the battle lines being drawn even as we say this. Just think about a few community spheres where you spend regular time and realise how they are built on ego, power and manipulation. This is radical but has the power to transform darkness into light, death into life, despair into joy and imprisonment into freedom. In this kingdom, the King is present all of the time. His presence is accessible and his power available – resurrection power. Let us pursue resurrection through death and make this kingdom and its King, Jesus, visible to the people who have no other way of seeing other than ourselves.


[1]         John 5:14 see also the following

John 5:30  I can do nothing by Myself; I judge only as I hear. And My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.       John 6:38  For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but to do the will of Him who sent Me.  John 8:28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on My own, but speak exactly what the Father has taught Me.     John 12:49  I have not spoken on My own, but the Father who sent Me has commanded Me what to say and how to say it.  John 12:50 And I know that His command leads to eternal life. So I speak exactly what the Father has told Me to say.”  John 14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I say to you, I do not speak on My own. Instead, it is the Father dwelling in Me, performing His works.

LOOKING FURTHER AHEAD Look Further, Get Over Yourself, Scorn the Crap and Finish the Job

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12

 

 

ALL THE STAND-ALONE PIECES OF INFORMATION

  1. Therefore – this is what we need to do in order to live lives worthy of the faith commitment of the former generations of God’s people.
  2. Theirs is a testimony of people who looked beyond present circumstances to the fulfilment of God’s promised intention.
  3. We should get rid of everything that has the power to hinder the work of God.
  4. We should get rid of everything that can cause us to fall.
  5. We need to live as if we are running in a race – training, effort, focus, energy, objectives.
  6. We should live the life that God has called us to, not one we have selected.
  7. The race we should run should be the one that focuses on following, serving, worshipping, becoming like Jesus and the one that he began and left for us to complete.
  8. Jesus is the pioneer of our faith – he is the one who showed us what a life of faith looks like.
  9. Jesus is the only one who can provide us with the end game for faith – what it will look like when the purpose has been completed.
  10. Here is an example of this faith:
  11. Jesus “ran his race” by seeing what was beyond the current circumstances and by thinking of the joy that would come from what he accomplished.
  12. Jesus resolved to endure the suffering involved in fulfilling his task rather than becoming focused on it or resenting its injustice.
  13. When called to do things that met with the disapproval or shame of those around him he treated that shame with disdain because it arose from compromised traditional or religious value systems rather than an awareness of redemptive love.
  14. When his work on earth was completed, Jesus was restored to a place of honour beside his Father.
  15. In our own experience of serving God by exercising faith, we need to take encouragement from the modelling provided by Jesus.
  16. We should not be surprised that serving the purposes of God will be opposed – we are following the example and experience of Jesus.
  17. When we realise that these things are part of normal expectation for a servant of God, we will be less inclined to lose heart when we get worn out because of the battle.

 

THE MESSAGE OF THE STORY

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,

 

Here is yet another example of the need to get the context in order to discover the meaning. In recent years I have become much more sensitised to the idea of keeping all the parts of a story together in order to make sense of individual parts. The information we are going to be reading in this chapter (remember, there wasn’t a chapter division when it was first written) depends entirely upon what we learn in Chapter 11. Many of the people who comment on this verse liken the sixteen-plus heroes of faith to spectators sitting in the grandstand watching a game and egging the team on to victory. The idea of them being “witnesses” suggests they are witnessing what is going on NOW. I don’t happen to agree. The life experiences of these heroes of faith are ones that testify to what it looks like when you commit to trusting what God wants you to do NOW, that makes sense of what will happen ultimately.  We are called to live the present in the light of a future that yet to be revealed.

The heroes of faith were prepared to act with certainty about what was going to happen even if it seemed impossible, unlikely or even foolish. Noah built an ark, Abraham and Sarah kept trying for a baby, Moses led people to the edge of the sea – and so on.  Regardless of their various challenges, they were plugging into a story that had started before their time and would be completed long after they were gone. That story was their story. Their lives bore testimony to the present being shaped by the future.

I love discovering history, especially Christian history. There are so many people whose faith was so courageous and strong.  They started when there was nothing but ended up seeing amazing change – and a legacy that continues to this day.  I would gladly spend my life for such a reward.  But the other story from the pages of history tells us that God’s people have been stubborn, compromised, protective of power, wealth and status.  They have “freeze framed” little epochs of experience and then built buildings, institutions and attitudes to protect and defend them.  We end up with tribalized religious relics, buildings and systems that are lifeless.

The author of Hebrews is not quoting the big names to develop a fan club for old heroes. He wants his readers to live out their own chapter of the story fully. The heroes were looking forward to the fulfilment. That fulfilment had begun with the coming of Jesus. They trusted God for it, rejoiced in it and suffered for it. They spent their lives serving it – and IT was happening as the author of Hebrews was writing. The beginning of this fulfilment phase was marked by signs, wonders and miracles. It had also involved disappointment, suffering and hardship. The only thing for us to do is to make sure their faithfulness was not in vain. Listen to the profound statement underlying the testimonies of the faith-heroes:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39,40)  The last phrase is the key: “only together with us.” If we now fully live according to the revelation that came in Jesus Christ, their faith and faithfulness will be justified and realised. We must ensure their sacrifice was not in vain. We won’t do that simply by religiously memorialising their exploits. Let me illustrate.

One of the sheds at my grandparent’s farm houses an old “A” model Ford (1927-1932). My pop had driven it in the 1930’s and then kept it in working order after he purchased a later model. It was a great old car, and he used to take us for a ride in it and mostly let us have a go at driving. It was rough, cold and very lumpy to drive but to young teenage boys, it may as well have been a “Porsche”.  We had so much fun.  Now, in 2018, I drive a different car.  It is comfortable, smooth and a million times more sophisticated. But the car I drive is a descendant of the Model A. You could think of the Model A Ford as an auto-version “hero of the faith.” As much as the Model A Ford was a stand-out and as much as we might like to go to a museum and have a look, it is now nothing more than a valued piece of history. No one wants to drive one to work today for a good reason. As it happens, my wife and I arrived home tonight from a 1700 km. trip. We wouldn’t be sitting in the warmth of our home in Canberra right now if we had chosen to drive the Model A. We would have had a week of bumping and grinding along at 60-70 kph., freezing or boiling, and suffering spinal damage from the rough suspension. We would have had breakdowns and flat tyres to fix.  I don’t suggest that my present vehicle is the fulfilment of Henry Ford’s marque. I am saying that Henry’s ingenuity and enterprise paved the way. What he accomplished foreshadowed what we have just experienced. I am grateful for what he did but even more thankful for what some Korean team of designers and engineers have produced. The point I am making is that the writer here is asking us to honour what the previous generations of faith-filled people accomplished. If they had a hundred reasons to do what they did, then we have a thousand. If they died looking forward to what we have in Christ, then we should be all the more eager to make sure that they didn’t do what they did in vain. They saw the shadow. We know the reality. We get to drive the ultimate model. There are no more models to come. Jesus and the kingdom represent the fullness.

All of the faith-heroes lived for a single underlying purpose – to bear testimony to what would happen when Jesus came. Their faith looks forward to him (see Luke 24). Their faithfulness is fulfilled through him. We who live on the other side of the empty cross and empty tomb need to embrace our faith journey with even greater assurance and confidence. We must face the challenges and hardship with even greater determination. We get the chance to see the end of a chapter in the great story of God’s purpose. We should pay tribute to its profound significance.  We should undergird every aspiration that comes from trusting Jesus and sharpen the focus of every promise God has made. There are no grandstands in the work of the kingdom of God – as much as we have tried to invent them and allow people to sit in them. There is only a playing field. And the generations of people have an opportunity to BE a part of God’s great story: his intention to create a new heaven and a new earth through the agency of transformed Jesus-followers. The contemporaries need to take careful note from their forebears – choosing to live in the light of the long view back as well as the long view forward.

 

 Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

I was never a promising athlete in my teenage years, but my best performances were always in the longer races – mile, two-mile and cross-country. When my modest talents were recognised, the school athletic coach took me under his wing, and a training program began. He told me that I was a heart-runner. I just took off from the start and ran as hard as I could for as long as I needed. More often than not I was run down by other competitors in the last few hundred yards. My natural way was to only think about the moment. He began to teach me what I had to do to apply myself to the moment by viewing it from the finish line. There was a lot more thinking to do, more tactics to learn and a whole lot more discipline.

The culture of my society puts a lot of emphasis at the moment. It can persuade us to do things in a moment of time that will destroy everything good in the future. It will magnify the emotions and present circumstances to the point where they are the only things that are important. Our jails are full of the victims of this reality. Our homes and lifestyles are impoverished by foolish financial decisions made as if there is no future to be concerned about. We think we are smart enough to do things in the present and avoid their inevitable consequences. We convince ourselves that there is a “morning after” pill for every form of wanton self-indulgence.

Here is the alternative. Live the ‘moments’ of your life with the end game in mind. Look through the present and see if it lines up with the future. Allow the past to warn or encourage the present but allow only the future to shape it. We do this as people created in the image of God, designed to fulfil his loving purpose.  The more we become aware of this the more we see the things that are around us that hinder and cause trouble. They are easier to identify when viewed from this posture. Just imagine a runner picking up a large rock intending to carry it while he/she ran a race. Everyone will see that it is going to hinder them from getting to the line in the quickest time. They should notice that other runners are not picking up rocks. Everything about the race environment screams at them to drop the rock. Their clothing, their precise preparation for the start and the track ahead of them all say – get rid of everything that hinders. Their daily schedule for months or years, their diet and their thoughts are all shaped by one aim – getting to the finish line faster. The rock in their hands is a glaring inconsistency. Or, what if they were to wear long flowing robes that hang loosely on the ground. They will similarly shout out the probability that they will trip and fall. Regardless of personal preference, they choose clothing that will help them accomplish their purpose: light, close fitting and minimal.

It is essential to understand “weights” and “sin” in this light. My earliest Christian experience was in a church that loved Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” If you haven’t read it, you should Google it and see how much of it you can get through without giving up. The idea of sin presumed there was common in previous times: God hated sin and it seemed to most of us that he didn’t much like sinners. The people he loved were those who didn’t smoke, drink alcohol or swear. The motivation for getting rid of sin was to avoid God’s anger. We were told that even if we were mostly good, we were still bad in God’s eyes. This legalistic idea of holiness was severe and pervasive. It portrayed a God whose normal attitude was one of anger but would turn off that anger if we kept mentioning the name of Jesus.

The metaphor of athletics is almost the exact opposite. If we were “born to run” and God is the coach, then his advice to let go of the rock is not an expression of anger but loving wisdom. The Coach provides insights and motivation that enable us to fulfil our divine vocation to run the best race.

The call to follow Jesus is not a metaphor. Jesus is the quintessential child of God. His life and legacy provide us with the motivation, and the modelling of a life fully lived as a faithful son or daughter of a heavenly Father. His work and therefore ours models the challenges and responsibilities involved in the “family business.” There would be immense value in reading through one or more of the gospels to notice the way Jesus challenged the demonically compromised religious system of his day, as well as the equally demonic Roman system of governance. He demonstrated how it is possible to test their legitimacy without needing their permission or favour. The key to understanding this is to see how his commitment to making the kingdom of God known happened in any of the recorded incidents. He didn’t favour a particular theological or political view. He just lived and proclaimed the kingdom of God. He did that on the first day and was still doing it on the last. As such he is both the pioneer of a new order and what he started he will finish as we become the tangible implementers of that same kingdom. Sadly, so many who begin by following Jesus’ example soon find that the journey is too steep and difficult. They end up compromising the values and ways of the kingdom of God in favour of this world’s kingdom – as we are warned in the parable Jesus told about the sower and the soils (Matthew 13). As a long time pastor and Christian counsellor, I am always surprised at people’s willingness to see God’s wisdom as arbitrary and undesirable – while they are often willing to see this world’s wisdom as more reasonable and preferable? Why? The Creator has lovingly made known to us the principles by which we were designed to live. The fact is that our stubborn independence has so marred us that we are capable of regarding holiness as undesirable – and sin as preferable.  We keep picking up rocks to carry down the track.

Here is my simple suggestion: as you live your live week by week and find yourself needing answers to questions about attitude and behaviour, write your question on a card, place it in front of you and read at least one of the gospels looking for wisdom from the example offered there by Jesus. No matter how difficult it may seem, seek to implement the answer because it is the alternative that most aligns with the example set by Jesus.

 

For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The author of Hebrews now gives one example of the following-Jesus principle. He takes it from the most challenging part of Jesus’ work: the cross. We know that even though Jesus was wholly committed to being in Jerusalem and facing the horror of carrying sin to the cross, it was also abhorrent to him. Paul tells us that Jesus, “became sin who knew no sin.” (2 Corinthians 5). No one will ever know how great a cost that involved for him. What we do get to know is the WAY he did it – and that should be sufficient.

  1. He saw the reality BEYOND the current circumstances. What he saw was the opportunity for billions of people created in the image of God being reconciled to a relationship with their Father in heaven. He saw them being transformed with a new heart and a new spirit. Then he saw them picking up the trail of their God-ordained vocation – what they were created to become and to do. This filled him with joy, no matter what the nature of current hardships and challenges. There was indeed no joy in the cross, but there was great joy in what it would accomplish.
  2. He resolved to ENDURE  hardships to bring the work to completion. Enduring means that you don’t stop until it is finished. Enduring assumes that, as there will be a beginning of the work and a series of phases to go through, there will be an end. The end is not created from preference or comfort. It is discovered by doing the things that will see the work completed. If you do that, a day will come when the work IS completed. Until then, the issue is not to enjoy, not to feel comfortable, but to endure.
  3. He resolved to DESPISE the shame. This is a big number. Completion of his work involved quite a few things that brought degrees of shame. There was no shame from his Father, as we well know. The scandal happened because he was challenging the compromised ideas and values of the religious and civil status quo – i.e. the rule of the kingdoms of this world. He broke with religious traditions and expectations. His own family thought he was mentally ill. The religious leaders thought he was demonic. His disciples didn’t understand, and his popularity threatened the Romans. All of this came together at the cross where he was treated as the worst of dangerous criminals. Beaten and mocked, he was made to drag the cross through the streets in sight of everyone and, with seeming impotence he submitted to its death. At every point where shame was ready to point its finger straight at him, he resisted its power by meeting it with scorn. Think of something you utterly despise. One of the things I hate is the sexual abuse of children. I detest it. It violates everything good in favour of what is totally evil.  So think about having that same attitude to falsely based shame. Jesus didn’t just reject it; he actively despised it. It had no power to persuade him, intimidate him or influence him. He totally despised it. Go and read the chapters of the gospel that tell the stories of the events leading up to and including the cross and think of all the reasons why he might have succumbed to the shame. And start to think of what that would look like if you were to experience shame because of something you do to serve Jesus.
  4. He rightfully accepted his place of honour. I don’t think the “right hand of God” is about comparative status. I know a lot of people will only see it that way.  It is better understood as the place of accomplishment. If I ever became so creative that I could paint the most beautiful painting, or write the most beautiful song or the most impressive piece of poetry, it would not be to achieve fame or status and certainly not wealth. Such effort would position me in a place of satisfaction – just to be able to bring joy and beauty to the lives of people who would listen, look or read and receive some huge blessing. It would be a vantage point where one could see the benefits to others and share the joy. That’s what the “right hand of God” is about. It’s not about everyone coming and bowing and scraping and telling me how right I am or even how wonderful I am. The satisfaction of doing something beautiful is never going to be found in accolades or popularity. It is the fact that you have made a contribution that is going to go on forever making people feel good, be encouraged, etc. I guarantee that is what Jesus treasures from the vantage point of the “right hand of God.”

So the long-range perspective, the commitment to endure to completion, the ability to despise the disapproval and the satisfaction of lives being touched were at the heart of Jesus every day of his life on the earth. This was the way he embraced hardship, and it was the reason why the enemy couldn’t sway him from the path. Same for him and the same for us. These are the attitudes and perspectives we need to be filled with and the ones in which we must become accomplished.  In order to be successful, great pianists must become skilled in performing things like Hanon exercises.[1]  Even though they seem dull and boring they make a huge difference.   In the same way, we must become accomplished in each of these four skill areas:  taking the long view, endurance to the end, despising false shame and aiming to complete tasks that leave a valuable legacy to the others.   They may seem hard, unjust and painful at the time, but they will enable us to accomplish purposes that will bring honour to God.  They will qualify us to take our own part in the great story of God’s unfailing plans and purposes.

[1] Charles-Louis Hanon wrote a series of exercises to help piano technique. They are dull and boring to play, but essential for developing speed and finger independence; first published in 1873

INDULGENCES – a twenty-first century epidemic

 

Five hundred years after the Reformation, we need to be delivered yet again from the curse of indulgences.

 

 

It is a well-known fact of history that when Luther sparked a revolt among the churches of Europe one of the catalytic issues was the sale of indulgences. At that time, an emissary from Pope Leo X was sent to Germany to extract payment from people so that their dead relatives could be freed from the purgings of Purgatory. He even developed little songs to be sung along with his often-hyper-dramatic portrayal of how the rellies were suffering: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.”  Payment of money instead of going to jail was a well-established practice in the legal systems of Europe at the time, so the church borrowed the idea as an alternative form of fundraising. The funds themselves were almost always used to pay for extravagant building projects or lifestyles for the bishops. Since Leo himself was a member of the affluent Medici family, he was good at spending money on himself.

If the sixteenth-century church had problems with indulgences, the twenty-first-century church also has problems with indulgences – more specifically, self-indulgences  Once again, it is an issue for the church because it has liberally borrowed values from the wider culture. This time it is not coming from the top down. It is coming from the bottom up. This time it is not about securing some comfort for the hereafter, but has everything to do with the here and now. The twenty-first century western version is not about indulgences, plural but indulgence itself – self-indulgence.

It seems to me that self-indulgence has become the highest priority for most people I know in the community and many people I know in the church. The matter of following Jesus is no longer about denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Jesus. It has become exactly the reverse: self-centred; self-preserving and self-determining. The question is, what kind of reformation do we need to deal with this form of indulgence? I’m not sure that if I go and nail up a list of complaints on the door of our church facility in Belconnen the ripples will be felt either in the lavish home entertainment rooms of people’s houses or the equally lavish resorts at Phuket.

The epidemic of self-indulgence in our part of the world has immediate and telling outcomes for all kinds of churches, whether large or small:

  • people are less willing to take responsibility for anything;
  • people are less willing to make long-term commitments;
  • the average church attendance of supposedly committed has dropped to 1.6 times per month;
  • parents are building their lifestyles around indulging their children rather than modelling loving self-sacrifice for Jesus and the kingdom;
  • using US based statistics supposedly committed Christians watch more than three hours of TV per day but have little time for reading the Bible or praying;
  • people are less and less accustomed to reading or conversing at depth – in a “twitter-sized” world we learn that even though the limit is 120 characters, most people don’t like reading more than 40.

My (possibly overgeneralised) observation is that the reasons for these trends are not just generational culture per se. We are not looking at something different, but something less. I am confident that the forces driving the change have much more to do with self-indulgence than with godly passion. That is, the shaping force comes from the kingdom of this world rather than the kingdom of God. If that is true, we need to push back against the trend consciously and develop lifestyle habits and traits that are the result of Holy Spirit transformation, not contemporary cultural accommodation.

 

HERE ARE TEN THINGS YOU CAN DO TO PUSH BACK:

  1. Go and read the Bible. Find something there that is inside the Bible but outside your current experience. Pursue God and fellow believers until this has become part of your life experience rather than something you read about. When you have done one of these, go and look for another one.
  2. Get connected to a Christian group or ministry who do kingdom advancing things that are way beyond your comfort zone. Make a commitment to hang out with them for at least three months, or as long as it takes to gain a genuine understanding of what they are doing and how they are doing it. When you have accomplished that, find some other people around you who will do something similar in your own church or sphere.
  3. Instead of going on a cruise or to a resort somewhere for a (self-indulgent) holiday, find a group who are responding to some form of direct human need and offer to spend your holiday time serving with them.
  4. Instead of reading, watching or listening to your usual restricted range of inspirational leaders (podcasts, video streaming, etc.). Talk with two or three fellow believers in your world whose commitment to Jesus you admire. Ask them who they listen to/what they are reading. Make a point of listening or watching what they have found helpful and seeing how it might relate to your world.
  5. Make a list of five well-known Christian leaders you respect. Look up their websites and search carefully until you discover what they are reading and who they are hanging out with. Even if you have to write four or five emails that they don’t answer – hang in there till you make enough contact to get your information and then spend time reading, listening and watching the stuff that tells you where they get what they have.
  6. Plan in advance to spend a day – or as much of a day as you can – in some place where you can pray, worship, read and reflect on the values that shape your life. Make a list of the things that you spend 80% of your time on in an average week. Ask Jesus to comment on what changes need to be made for you to become the person He has created you to be and to fulfil the purpose he has created, sustained, redeemed and empowered you for. Ask him specifically to show you areas where you are caught up with sterile self-indulgence and then listen hard enough and long enough.
  7. Decide to go on a TV/video streaming fast for a week or even two weeks. Plan in advance what you will do with the time that is available to you. Intend to spend at least a portion of that time doing something that meets the needs of someone else – if you can, outside of your immediate domestic sphere.
  8. When you have a day of a weekend free from other commitments, ask your spouse or someone close to you what might be something special they would like to do – or find out by other means what they love doing. Suggest that you would like to spend the day doing that with them. As you spend that day together, make sure you observe, ask questions and gain an understanding of why they like doing it.
  9. Who is the person in your world who represents the “least?” (cp. Jesus in Matthew 25, i.e. the least in your family, in your workplace, your neighbourhood or a community group. This will be the person who is furthest from the insider club in the group; the misfit; the difficult personality; the most arrogant or the one you would most naturally avoid). Decide that you are going to spend a month trying to reach out to them and get to know them well enough to be a blessing to them.
  10. Begin to learn and practice the principle outlined by Paul in Philippians 2:1-18. Make a list of the things that are described there as a way of developing a Jesus-like attitude to the people in your normal world. Make a deliberate attempt to consciously DO one and then two and then three of them. Explain to one or two trusted fellow believers what you are doing so that you can report your progress to them and ask them to pray for you and help you. Set a specific period for this experiment and measure your progress. See if you can make this to become a core part of your lifestyle.

LEFT, RIGHT, CENTRE or OUT OF THIS WORLD?

 

For years I’ve been involved one way or another in bits and pieces of the political process.  About ten years ago or so I began to support a young Christian person who wanted to serve God in the political arena;   first of all, in the ACT and then Federal.  As part of that process, I joined the political party to which he belonged.  It was my first formal brush with the political system.  Even though my passport says so, I am not really an Australian citizen.  When I started following Jesus I transferred my citizenship to the kingdom of God.  We have a kingdom and I have been working hard to see the loving purposes of my King extended. When it came to belonging to a political party I was initially shocked at the level of tribalism among my fellow party members.  I then became aware that I am not tribal when it comes to politics.  When this was noticed by fellow members, I explained that I was only involved in the party because of my commitment to the kingdom of God. That fact ensured that I never made it beyond branch president.  In the end, it made me a fringe-dweller – but I was able to serve my King and his Kingdom quite successfully regardless of my low status.

I admit to having a long-held rather low view of the political process.  I believe it is necessary and I have met some very wonderful, hardworking people whose motives are as pure as any others I have come across.  But the system is so deeply flawed that it can’t be trusted to produce much more than a policy merry-go-round.  There is one reason for this.  It is called the ballot box.  I realise that the only thing that has a telling impact on any political process is public opinion.  It is the holy grail of any twenty-four-hour news cycle for most politicians – regardless of what they say to the contrary.  What greets a politician or political party when they awake each day is the fact that there will be a definite number of cycles before the next ballot, whether it is a leadership ballot or an overall election ballot.  That’s what makes the system dysfunctional and self-limiting as a worthy agent of change for the better.

I, myself, have always had Anabaptist-leaning views about this.  At the time of the Reformation in Europe when all of the reformers were lining up behind the favour of their respective princes, the Anabaptists lined up alongside the Sermon on the Mount.  As the church found with Constantine, not many princes liked the idea of loving their enemies.  They mainly wanted to be free from Roman Catholic control and even more, taxes. The Anabaptists took Jesus’ words seriously when he said to Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 20) and Paul’s when he said, “Our citizenship is in heaven…” (Philippians 3)  I have always been suspicious of two things when it comes to the work of serving my king as an ambassador in a foreign country (i.e. Oz for me).  What is counter-intuitive for people who follow Jesus is the fact that serving this kingdom doesn’t mean separating ourselves from anything or anyone.  Quite the opposite.  Just have a read through one of the four Gospels in the New Testament and you will see Jesus totally belonging to the kingdom of God and totally committed to loving every person in front of him every day of his life.  Sometimes Anabaptists did withdraw, but those who took the Sermon on the Mount as the values parameter for a new kind of community did the exact opposite.  Those are the Anabaptists I admire and belong to.

I have always been suspicious of two things when it comes to the work of serving my king as an ambassador in a foreign country (i.e. Oz for me).  I am totally convinced that for the church to endorse any form of civil government is the signing of a death warrant for both.  It has, and always will, bring out the worst in both.  The second suspicion is the one I see happening today where Christians see the political process as an agent of kingdom transformation.  When this happens the narrative sounds as though the kingdom comes through legislation.  It is especially tempting to see things this way when our heritage has instituted things like prayer at the beginning of the day in the Parliament.  In Australia, this has been a particularly well fed, and well cared for sacred cow.  I can remember old people in Balmain (Sydney) telling me of the time when the tram drivers would take their foot off the throttle as they passed the church on Sunday morning just so that the people could worship without distraction.  But it is Constantinian to assume that the church has a right to tell the parliament how to do its business and is offended when its views are not valued.  We have not been called to be the moral police of the world either.  We have been called to offer redemptive love in such a way that people will get to see what a great bloke Jesus is and want to follow him like we do.

For these reasons, I remain anabaptist-ish in my views about the work of the church and its relationship to the work of the legislature. They need to listen to each other, but they should never trust each other.  The church should never be able to be trusted with earthly authority because it will always sully it’s calling to represent Jesus and the kingdom of God.  The church should never trust earthly authority because it will never be able to do what only the message of the church can do – that is, change a person from the inside out and then change a community from the inside out.  Another way of saying that is to repeat the Greg Boyd saying that the kingdoms of this world will always be exercising power OVER people, to control them. The kingdom of God will always be called to exercise power UNDER people, to lift them up.  Those two kinds of power will never be able to work together or truly serve each other.  The legitimate kingdoms of this world will always have to gain their credential from some form of ballot box and will therefore need a majority vote.  The kingdom of God will only work through the free and willing choice of individuals and needs only one vote – that of a person to lay down their life so they can serve Jesus.  The kingdoms of this world will always need to work through law.  The kingdom of God only works through grace.

In owning my anabaptist-ishness, I need to point out that I am not a one-hundred percent-er basically because the last thing I want to do is to be separate from every part of my community.  I (we) are the only group I know in the world who have been specifically commanded to love every single human person, indiscriminately and redemptively.  Other groups pick and choose on the basis of tribal preference.  We are charged with the task of showing twenty-four-seven indiscriminate redemptive love – and we are told to GO and do it, not just open the doors of our comfortable buildings and hope nice people come in.  Our citizenship is not tied to any ethnic group, nation or tribe.  We have renounced that citizenship and all of its trappings.  We hold a temporary transit visa in whatever jurisdiction we might find ourselves.  We do well to remember that and not try to live as if we had dual citizenship.  To use another metaphor, we forget that we signed up for battle.  We are soldiers whose weapons are cross-shaped love and Jesus-looking forgiveness. Paul counsels Timothy in this way,  “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2).  Jesus has provided us with eminent practical samples of what it is like to have citizenship “out of this world” but such citizenship drives us lovingly to those who have been captured and enslaved.

This is the people movement to which I have dedicated everything I am and everything I have – and consider it a privilege and a joy.

SHOULD WE PAY TAXES TO CAESAR?

canberra-times-article

The article in the Fairfax-owned Canberra times by one of the ‘hard men’ of the media world is nothing new.  It’s exaggerated polemic vitriol suggests either extreme arrogance or some lingering bad experience with church.  There is nothing fair about this opinion piece, and I doubt that any reasonable person would argue that it is balanced.  It is state-of-the-art secular fundamentalism that we have become familiar with in recent times.  Freedom of speech being a high value for any society demands that such views be aired.

One of the idealistic ‘holy grail’ quests of the anti-religious part of the political left within our society has been to wrest one of the few remaining benefits afforded people whose work is deemed to be religious as well as charitable.  I am talking about the fringe-benefits allowance.  People like me who are employed by churches and religious organisations are able to allocate the portion of our income that is used toward our living allowance as being non-taxable.  It is a non-specific percentage that needs only to be justified because it is used for living expenses – not entertainment, nor holidays, nor luxuries.  Just living expenses.

I place rants like this in the Shimei category (2 Samuel 16).  If you read the story you will see that Shimei was a supporter of Saul, who, when David’s son wrested the throne from his father, cursed David and threw stones at him as he left the city in defeat.  It was David’s reply that makes this story special and creates the connection with Garry Linnell.  When Joab asks David for permission to go and kill Shimei for his rant, David says,

“No!” the king said. “Who asked your opinion, you sons of Zeruiah! If the Lord has told him to curse me, who are you to stop him?”  ……. Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it.”

Linnell has justification in his rant, not because of the fringe-benefit allowance to people who work in Christian organisations, but because many Christian organisations buy and sell without having to pay the same tax as everyone else does.  Some organisations make literal millions of dollars simply because they can legally claim this exemption.  Even though they are actually running businesses in competition with other businesses who do have to pay tax.  It may be legal, but it is unrighteous.  The ‘world’ picks this up quickly and can see the hypocrisy.  There are any number of reasons why the name of Jesus is shamed among the community and this happens to be one of them.

Sadly this abuse of privilege by larger organisations taints the innocent ones with the same guilt.  The FBT allowance for individual employees is fair and reasonable.  It is there because the government of a former day recognised the fact that many Christian people were working for small incomes and were doing much to help and heal the community.  It is still the case.  But we need to get used to this kind of criticism.  I think God is allowing it for the same reason as he allowed the Babylonians to come a destroy the city of Jerusalem and its temple.  If the people of God who are supposed to represent the nature and purpose of God to the wider community set aside this calling and abuse their primary calling for the sake of personal or collective gain, then it leaves God without a genuine witness.  His testimony will come in the form of allowing all of this greed, wickedness and self-serving to be exposed and ridiculed.

Garry Linnell ought to be seen like David saw Shimei:  as an unlikely voice from heaven against corruption that has been going on for a long time and has more recently been exposed.  We should take it as a call to repent and search our own hearts and lament the error in the hearts of our brothers and sisters who have brought this shame upon all of us.

Having said that, it is also true that Linnell is also exposed as having an irrational antagonism for all things Christian (perhaps religious as well).  His passion is more religious than some of the sections of society he has been criticising.  He demeans his trade because he presumes that such a use of free speech will help build a better community.  If he is waiting for the time when Christianity is laughed from existence I fear he will not live long enough.  He needs to be reminded of the names of some of the famous people who have made fools of themselves in similar manner: Voltaire, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell are among the notables.  To presume that an atheistic world will be a better place will put him in league with people who have been responsible for the deaths of more of their fellow citizens than any other-  Stalin and Mao Tse Tung for starters.

So we need to quietly thank Garry Linnell and others with the selfsame voice as we quietly repent, commit again to love our enemies and lay down our lives for the good news of redemptive love.

 

 

TOTALLY SELF-LESS and yet TOTALLY FULL[-FILLED]

cartoon-drawing-of-an-overstuffed-man-eating-7xz7jg-clipart

I am a heart-before-head person, for sure.  Whenever I am with another person, or even attending some meeting where there are numbers of people I am always much more aware of what the heart of it is about before I engage with the rationale.  I don’t tend to notice much about physical appearance.  Some years ago now, someone spoke prophetically about me and said that I viewed people from the inside out.  I think that is correct.

This is how I look at Jesus.  When I see and hear Jesus, I know I that the heart of God is being made tangible – what we are seeing is the heart of the Father.  Since God IS love, then it is the expression of pure selfless love.  That can actually be measured.  This love is willing to be beaten, shamed and then die on a cross as the worst of criminals. It was also measured by the things that happened during the three (or more correctly thirty-three) years of ministry.

One of the ways I read that is to watch Jesus’ responding to someone who butted in on an agenda that was in progress.  Can you believe that “love” doesn’t take exception to people who butt in?  There was a man whose friends busted up a meeting in a house by ripping the roof off to let their friend down.  There was a woman who pushed through a crowd while Jesus was rushing to save a dying girl.  There was a blind guy yelling and yelling on the side of the road leading out of Jericho.  And wait, there’s more!

The truth is that I don’t like it when I have something I want to do and someone butts in.  It happened to me today.  And the more salient fact is that what I was doing wasn’t critical and urgent.  And the people who butted in were in genuine need.  There was something pathetic in me that wanted to be with them and get it over with as fast as I could.  Being fulfilled seemed to associate with doing what I wanted rather than what they needed.  I quickly realised this was a very bad deal.  Not at all Jesus-looking.  I urgently called out to God to help me to BE his heart and then I could connect with them on that basis.  It took a few minutes for the old to pass away and the new to come, but it definitely happened. What is more to the point was the fact that it was much more worthwhile and personally satisfying.

It’s one of those funny things that identifies the presence of the kingdom of God.  When we set aside self-preference and self-indulgence in order to make the heart of God tangible, the result is a sense of fulfilment that is much greater than just doing what you want when and how you want it (my rough definition of self-centredness). It becomes the story that happens when we trust what Jesus said,  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.  Whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life will save it.  What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and yet loses his own soul.”  (Matthew 16)

LESS IS NOT NECESSARILY MORE

less-is-more

We live in an age where the various forms of mass communication or social media have reduced the attention span of average people to smaller and smaller units.  Like all cultural trends, it has happened over a period.  As such we now assume certain things as fact which have never actually been proved.  They have just been placed before us often enough for us to presume that it must be so.  Add to that the appeal of personal convenience and you have a fully marketable product.  In this case, I am talking about truth.  It could almost be said that if something is going to have a chance at being accepted today it has to come in a thirty second to three-minute package.  It is even more preferred if it is in video format.

No a lot of this is totally understandable.  Because we ‘have the technology’ we can ram home a point in a slogan.  We can back up the slogan by a fifteen or thirty-second video clip.  We can produce a three sentence paragraph.  Not only so, but we can then work on a twenty-four-hour news cycle and create a series of add-ons so that every day for the next two weeks you will be getting our message as if it is something new.  It will be different enough to make it attractive, but it will be another dose of the same drug.

All of this targets one thing. It appeals to human convenience. Human convenience is just another form of self-indulgence.

What if there are truths that cannot be embraced by this process?  What if some things will not be grasped without deeper engagement, more thorough discussion and then practised.  Imagine trying to teach piano students in this manner.  How many people exist whose lives have been transformed in a good way have been able to do that on a diet of thirty-second grabs.  Would you like to submit yourself for brain surgery to a physician who had gained all his understanding and expertise by watching adds and door-stop interviews with other great surgeons?  I don’t think so.

It is true that more is not necessarily more.  Long-winded treatises and never-ending sermons don’t automatically qualify you for more.

But I would be just as suspicious with the “less is more” theory as well. I would be happier if we measured a presentation, training or teaching by why and how it challenged the aspects of my personhood that need to become different.  Then we could measure the same process by the fruit.

By the way, that’s what Jesus said.  “You will know a tree by its fruit,” not its thirty-second ad campaign or extra offers.

@Kindomlookingchurch

 

@Kindomlookingchurch

God is calling people to plant the seeds that will restore the church as a living proclamation of the kingdom of God.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Ephesians 3

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if we are to look to the new testament information about what a kingdom looking church would look like, here are some of the answers.  They are a summary of two small pieces of new testament research.  The first list is from the sermon on the mount and the second is a summary of the specific teaching, given by Jesus, about the kingdom of God – as applied to a group of believers (we).  The summary in each case is a description of what the value might look like if a group of people adopted it as part of their collective calling.  In essence, it becomes something of a “confession of faith.”  It may also be viewed as a “pictur” of how God sees you and your fellow believers.

KINGDOMSNAPSHOTS                                        (Matthew 5-7)

  • We need to depend on God every day for everything (5:3)
  • We grieve for everything that is separated from God. (5:4)
  • We fulfill our own calling by helping others fulfill theirs (5:5).
  • We want righteousness only as a gift from God (5:6)
  • We show mercy to everyone whenever they mess up. (5:7)
  • We are more concerned about the purity of our heart than how we look to others. (5:8)
  • When people are separated together we work to find the way to bring them together in oneness. (5:9)
  • We don’t care what unjust or hurtful things other people might say about us or do to us as long as we get to be more and more like Jesus. (5:10,11)
  • We are determined that people will know about God because they know about us 5:13-16)
  • We want to discover God’s intentions so we can embody them and serve them (5:17-20)
  • We don’t stay angry with anyone or allow divisions to remain. (5:21-26)
  • We only have sexual desires for the person to whom we are married. (5:27-30)
  • We hate divorce and will do all we can to strengthen marriages. (5:31,32)
  • We honour all our spoken commitments (5:33-37)
  • We find ways to bless the people who give us a hard time. (5:38-42)
  • We find ways to love people who are against us. (5:43-48)
  • We are generous without any need to be acknowledged. 6:1-4)
  • We pray and fast to relate to God not to impress others (6:5-18)
  • We want the kingdom of God to come much more than caring about money or possessions. 6:19-34)
  • We are always more aware of our own failings than those of others.(7:1-6)
  • Our first priority is to ask and seek God and trust what comes from him. (7:7-11)
  • We treat other people the way we would like to be treated. (7:12)
  • We don’t care how difficult something is. What matters to us is going after more and more of the life God gives. (7:13,14)
  • We measure leadership and discipleship by its fruit, not by its words. (7:15-20)
  • Knowing Jesus better is more important to us than any other relationship. (7:21-23)
  • We discover what God has said by doing it, not just by hearing it.(7:24-27)

KINGDOMWORX

  • We are prepared to set aside what we currently think in order to trust what God says (Mark 1:15 Jesus begins ministry )
  • We depend on Holy Spirit power not human ability, even if it is consecrated ability. (John 3 Jesus and Nicodemus )
  • The transformation we seek is that which begins inside a person when they choose to follow Jesus as King. (Luke 17:20 religious leaders ask when the kingdom will come )
  • We want our personal and corporate lives to reflect more of what is happening in heaven. (Matt. 6:9 Lord’s Prayer )
  • We know how to challenge every different kind of incumbent earthly kingdom. (Matt. 11:1ff Jesus and John the Baptist )
  • We have authority over demonic presence and influence (Matt 12:22ff Jesus accused of using demonic power )
  • We want God’s word for become our life experience (Matt. 13:1ff the sower )
  • We want to be different to but not separated from every part of our community. (Matt 13:24ff weeds in the crop )
  • We start with what is small and unseen but with an irresistible capacity to influence the whole (Matt. 13:31ff mustard seed )
  • We are willing to trade what we already have in order to gain what we have never experienced from God (Matt 13:44ff treasure in a field )
  • We take complete responsibility for doing our part, but completely trust God to do his part – and know the difference. (Mark 4:26ff the farmer sowing seed )
  • We serve the highest cause from the lowest human status (Matt 18 the greatest in the kingdom )
  • We work on the basis of forgiveness, rather than blame and guilt. (Matt. 18 unforgiving servant )
  • We treat everyone among us with the same honour and receives the same reward (Matt 20, workers in the vineyard )
  • We do the work with those who are the most committed, not the most talented (Matt 22, the wedding banquet )
  • We are looking for and ready for God to make his presence known regardless of how it impacts personal preference or convenience. (Matt. 25, ten bridesmaids )
  • We only gain more authority by fully implementing what we already know and understand from God. (Matt. 25 the talents )

 

SEE WHAT YOU HEAR

Mass-Advertising

Good communication is in the ear of the listener

 

Communication is a universal issue and one that has challenged humanity for as long as there has been humanity. I don’t know whether cavemen and women traipsed off to the local marriage counsellor for lessons in how to communicate better, but I’m sure the problem existed. One distinctive of the era in which we live is the incredible means of communication we have developed. My own lifetime has seen unbelievable change. I can remember the time when our fragile phone lines would go down, and we would have to hop in the truck and go over to the neighbour’s house if we wanted to talk to them.

Now we have so many options: mobile phones, wifi, computers, television that enables you to look through the window of a house in Syria where a rocket has just exploded. The fact is that more and more people don’t even have regular phones anymore. They are fast becoming outdated technology. It doesn’t mean we are better at communicating of course. It proves the point that the “medium is not the message” (cp 1964 book by Marshall McLuhan) That is as much a problem now as it was for the cave men and women.

I had a funny experience of this a few years ago when I was travelling on the tram that links Glenelg with the Adelaide CBD. I was involved in a conference held in the city. I used to catch the tram during the early part of the peak hour. The first day I found myself sitting in a carriage with people sitting with their backs to the wall of the carriage looking inward at each other as they travelled. Then I noticed that every single passenger had earphones in their ear and was listening to music (or something) on their mobile phones. Lots of people but not the sound of a human voice could be heard. Only the rattle of the tram on the tracks. Now I am a country boy. It was, and remains part of my personal culture. I like talking with people. Not so much talking as listening. I like engaging with other people and listening to their stories. I became slightly annoyed. Here I was in a small temporary pocket of humanity and everyone entering the carriage had already or immediately built walls to avoid communicating with anyone.

Eventually, I decided to take a preemptive strike in the cause of maintaining the dignity of basic human recognition. I bumped the man next to me on the arm and said in a sufficiently loud voice, “Hey mate, would you mind giving me your phone number so we can have a conversation?” Fortunately, he had a good sense of humour. He pulled out his earphones, and we laughed together and then had a great conversation for the rest of our journey. I still remember that journey, just because I had a conversation rather than it being just another soul-numbing example of the pathetic individualism spawned by Western cultural values.

Our culture has created another communication problem. It comes from the fact that we have made a virtue out of self-centeredness. The challenge for anyone who would venture to communicate in our society is that we have loaded up either the communicator or their means of communication with the largest part of the responsibility. If some communication happens, it is because the communicator has said something creative and interesting enough to grab our attention or has used a method of communication that has caught our attention. I am told that people in western societies like mine will be attacked by between 4,000 and up to 10,000 messages each day. It seems that we will notice less than a hundred of these. It is the primary challenge of marketing companies to offer people wanting us to identify their products to attract our attention. That problem is escalated by our growing capacity to build an “attention wall.”

In the light of all this modernity, it is interesting to hear something that Jesus said. It is a funny statement when translated literally from the original Greek. In Mark 4:24 he says, “See what you hear.” He is saying, “pay careful attention to what you hear.” Instead of laying all of the responsibility for communication on the speaker or the medium of communication, he is challenging those listening to take responsibility for what they have heard. In the twenty-first century context, he could well have said, “Make sure you pull down your attention wall and, among the four or five thousand messages you year today, make sure you listen and think carefully about what you are hearing from me.”

As much as at any time in history we need to step out of the mainstream of our culture and make some deliberate choices about what we hear. There are so many options. It is so easy to opt for the message that entertains us when we should be opting for the one that produces quality of life. There is a crisis in the church and therefore an even greater crisis in our community. People inside churches have made the mistake of being passive hearers. We only hear things that grab our ever changing palate for passive entertainment. We sit like blobs in front of TV screens and allow unworthy messages to sate our appetite. We hear everything that won’t matter tomorrow and won’t build anything of value for anybody. We similarly set aside the opportunity to hear from Jesus – not only hear but be careful to think and consider what we have heard. We can also treat what we hear from God in the same way as we treat rubbish that comes to us through mass media.  It becomes the next fix in a dependence that will ever be wanting to hear but never receiving anything of value.

Here is the full text from Mark 4.

He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

CHRISTIANS – THE REAL, THE PHONEY AND THE DIFFERENCE

Counterfeit Fifty Dollar Notes

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

First John 2:3-6

As with all things that have intrinsic value, Christianity has its share of fakes and counterfeits. What is more interesting than the fact is the motive. I know why someone would go to the trouble of making a real-looking hundred-dollar note, but why would anyone want to pose as a Christian? Well, there are a few well-known suspects. Some people as old as I am might remember the Oscar-winning performance of Burt Lancaster in a movie called “Elmer Gantry.“  It was the story of a slick car salesman falling for a lady revival preacher and discovering that there is money to be made as well as a girl’s heart to be won in small town revival meetings. It was Hollywood’s sad comment on the many revival preachers who combed small towns, especially in the southern states of the US.

It is evident from the words written by the apostle John (above) that fakes were not a late inclusion in Christian history. In the Roman world of the later first century, there must have been people who showed up among Christians whose commitment to Jesus Christ was false. What is notable is the only test he puts forward to tell the fake believers from the real ones was the degree to which they were Jesus-looking. If you have a closer look at what he says, it is obvious that a Jesus-looking process doesn’t happen just because someone wakes up and breathes. Becoming more like Jesus depends on two things: loving Him and therefore obeying his commands. Many will have had some exposure to books that talk about different “love languages” (The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman). He lists the following:  gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), and physical touch. Jesus also has a love language. It is obedience. Three times within the one discourse he says, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14-16). It’s not just obedience, it is love and therefore obedience. I think the reason for this is because there are many things that we need that don’t come naturally, but are necessary for our hearts to be transformed.  Obedience gets us from the place of no experience to some experience. When we obey it is not just a dutiful act, it is an action that gives expression to faith. Based on that faith we are supernaturally changed by God.

Getting back to fakes and phonies, if John is telling the truth, then being a Christian is not just about a momentary commitment any more than marriage is just about what you say in a ceremony. When we see people who may well belong to churches, speak Christian language and even be involved as leaders but who are not lovingly obedient to Jesus, we can only assume that they are not Christians at all. We have no authority to be judges (i.e. draw final conclusions), but we are entitled to be fruit inspectors. I think we need to be very clear that not everyone who claims to be a Christian IS a Christian. Genuine believers will be those who, when observed by others, demonstrate their faith in Christ by the fact that they are lovingly committed to obeying what Jesus has commanded (e.g. in the Sermon on the Mount) and who are therefore actively and deliberately becoming more and more like Jesus. We must expect that there are people who want to tell us that they are Christians, but their lifestyle will simply declare that they are not. We are not talking about a state of perfection; we are talking about a journey and a direction. Most of the people who want to claim Christianity but don’t have the lifestyle aggressively avoid any form of accountability. Those whose commitment to love Jesus is genuine are glad to know about things that need to be transformed and will foster their own ways of being accountable.

Churches in western culture places like Canberra, where I live, not only foster disobedience but encourage it by the pathetic way they produce never ending programs that are devoid of moral standards and geared to satisfy self-gratuitous consumers. When we encounter false disciples, it is not our job to judge them, but to lovingly expose and challenge them – as Jesus did with the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law during his three years of ministry.  This confrontation was entirely motivated by redemption, as ours should also be.