It might feel like Friday, but Sunday is coming.

Let’s be honest, none of us like to wait. And I preach right now to myself as the principal amongst the chiefs of sinners in this category. If I cut away the excuses and drama, the truth is that I equate time spent waiting with time spent wasting; time which I do not have. To couch my impatience in biblical terms, I could argue that my human life is so finite, akin to a “flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow” that I can’t afford to wait. In other words, life is short, and patience – well, ain’t nobody got time for that!

Waiting. Wasting.

In my moment of reflection about this, God whispers to me – 400 years. You may have been waiting, but I was working.

400 years is the space between Malachi and the birth of Christ. For the Israelites, it was an incredibly long period of waiting – utter silence, no prophets, no words of promise from God. To just sit in such quietness is unfathomable to me. The silence must have been deafening. Continue reading “It might feel like Friday, but Sunday is coming.”

Convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt

The Case for EasterI started my original investigation [of the resurrection of Jesus] as a spiritual skeptic, but after having thoroughly investigated the evidence for the resurrection, I was coming to a startlingly unexpected verdict. One final fact — described by a respected philosopher named J. P. Moreland — clinched the case for me. “When Jesus was crucified,” Moreland told me, “His followers were discouraged and depressed. So they dispersed. The Jesus movement was all but stopped in its tracks. Then, after a short period of time, we see them abandoning their occupations, regathering, and committing themselves to spreading a very specific message — that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of God who died on a cross, returned to life, and was seen alive by them.

“And they were willing to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming this, without any payoff from a human point of view. They faced a life of hardship. They often went without food, slept exposed to the elements, were ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned. And finally, most of them were executed in torturous ways. For what? For good intentions? No, because they were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had seen Jesus Christ alive from the dead.” Continue reading “Convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt”

Being present in His presence.

“God’s presence is always hyper-presence. This is analogous to the idea of a ship sunken in the depths of the ocean: while the ship contains the water and the water contains the ship, the ship only contains a fraction of the water while the water contains the whole of the ship. Our saturation by God does not merely fill us but also testifies to an ocean we cannot contain…” – Peter Rollins

Identity: A definition of ourselves we like.

This reflection comes to us from Mockingbird: Rousey, Identity and Depression

2015-08-02T062326Z_151655753_NOCID_RTRMADP_3_MMA-UFC-190-ROUSEY-VS-CORREIA_1

Ronda Rousey, if you have been living in a cave for the past few years, is one of the most successful and famous professional fighters–male or female–in history.

She is the first US woman ever to win an Olympic medal in Judo. She is the youngest woman to ever qualify for the Olympics, qualifying as a judoka at age 14. She was consistently one of the top 3 ranked judo champions in the world before transitioning into mixed martial arts (MMA), where she quickly dominated and became a world champion. Going into November of last year, she was 12-0 as an MMA fighter, and only one fighter had ever even survived the first round…her dominance was unparalleled, with 8 of her 12 challengers being defeated in less than a minute.

And then, in November 2015, she lost. Brutally. Holly Holm defeated her in two rounds so badly that she was hospitalized for some time afterward, and not allowed to fight for six months to allow healing.

“I’m Nothing”

This week on The Ellen Degeneres Show, Rousey talked about this for the first time. She had this to say:

“I was literally sitting there and thinking about killing myself and at that exact second I’m like, ‘I’m nothing, what do I do anymore and no one gives a s–t about me anymore without this.’ ”  Continue reading “Identity: A definition of ourselves we like.”

Our Identity through His Perfect love for us.

My thoughts on Valentines day 2016

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (1 John 3:18)

When you love someone, you show your love towards them by how you act. You want them to feel good so you buy gifts, do nice things, help them out, and make yourselves available to them. These are all “doing” words. We choose to show our love through our actions. Reality is you have at some point made a decision that this person is important in your life and you love them therefore your behavior towards them (the best you can aim for) is the very love spoken of In Corinthians.

Love is more than an emotion.  In the Bible, God commands us to love each other, and you can’t command an emotion. If I asked you right now to stop whatever you’re doing and just be angry or upset for the sake of it, you actually couldn’t do that on the spot unless you’re acting or doing drama! Then it’s fake! We are not designed for emotions to change on command.  And we are not designed to express or receive a love that is fake and has no meaning.

Love is something we make a conscious decision to do which produces the feel good emotion that goes with it.  We feel loved.

I can explain this idea best in how it spoke to me when I realized the importance of Love in action.  Getting my first pet, kitten.  I could have got the kitten and told it every day I loved it and left it at that.  I think if that was the case the little kitten would never have learnt to use the kitty litter (the patience that takes), she would not have been fed the proper food she needed as she grew, she would have not received the snuggles etc and I also would have missed out on a lot of fun and laughter and joy that came with a happy kitten. I believe by simply leaving it with the words “I love you”, and doing nothing I would have achieved nothing more than a sad and neglected kitten that would have had a shocking start to life and possibly never made it to the 15 beautiful years she did.  Love requires action so it can be nurtured and there is growth.

In the world today we mostly hear the word love in two ways “I fell in love” or I love my car, house, clothes etc…”

  1. Falling in love makes it sound so accidental, I mean we don’t really plan to fall do we! We would avoid falling in every way possible! I personally don’t understand why we refer to as ‘fall in love’, when in reality we choose to love.  We may like someone and hope for more in that relationship but that requires an action on our part to go and do something eg ask the person on a date etc.. That isn’t accidental in any way.
  1. Love of stuff we own, well we were designed to love people and use objects, today people mostly love objects and use people. Enough said on that, as I believe that says it all. “Love people, not things; use things, not people.” Spencer W Kimball.

 

But God says:

 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:25)

I’m reminded of our Christmas production 2015 – we created a scene where Jesus and God, stroll a busy street having a conversation about creation just before Jesus was to leave His Father’s side for our sake.  His love for us required an amazing act.  He could have said – look at those people oh how much I love them and simply done nothing more than that. I mean he said he loves us – those words could have been enough, right, but no! He chose to leave his Father’s house to come and save us. He loved us too much to leave us in the mess we’d created!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son!”  Love is displayed through action here in an amazing sacrificial and selfless act.  Even God didn’t stop just at words. He chose to give us His only son – He desires to have a loving relationship with us. God is Love.

He design us to love and be loved. What a peaceful world it would be if we all just loved one another as scripture has asked us to do!

Bible also says:

If I give away all I have and deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing”

(1 Cor 13:3)

Love is clearly an important part of our lives. We love because God first loved us. We are to do everything in and through Love or we gain nothing.

Jesus said – “not my will but yours be done” : if we all took that stand every day and decide to be more like Jesus there’d be more love shown then hatred in the world today. We’d become more selfless and less selfish.

We can learn from the selfless actions of Christ:  He was crucified because of His love for us. There was no other way so He gave up His life so we could have another chance. Again he leaves that decision to us:

Scripture say: “…that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Love isn’t forced. It’s given for us to choose and decide if we want to accept it.

How does the world know what we stand for?

How will they know who we stand with?

How does anyone know that we’ve decided to follow Christ?

Look through the window maybe and think – oh there’s that weird group on Sunday again…no

Scripture says: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:35)

We are to love one another. Our love for one another should reveal Christ into the world!

We want to change the world around us – simply start now and love one another. How does the world see that – our actions should reveal that more than our words? Choose today to Love as Christ loved us.

“..Let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”         (1 John 3:18)

As mission impossible would say:

your mission should you choose to accept it is to love each other by your actions and not just words, just as Christ did for us.

 How does this kind of Love help you personally

How does this help to understand your identity in Christ?

I believe once you really understand the depth of how much Christ loves you, you may begin to apply that to your own life first.  Christ is the perfect Valentine. As you learn to accept Christs Love for you, than you can accept that your identity comes directly from knowing Him. He put is love into action by coming down and paying the price for your sins.  He took it all so you can experience love in all its goodness.  The world we live in has a view that you need to have the right job, the right man (woman), the right house etc to have any value or be known.  Christ asks that you simply accept His love for you, live according to His will and perfect plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11).  That is where your identity comes from.  His perfect love for you is enough.  Life is about what He has already done for you and on your behalf, simply because of His perfect love for you.

 

Note: Some of the thoughts in love through action have come from reading material from Pastor Rick Warren as I love his material and have found it helpful to my spiritual knowledge and growth.

http://rickwarren.org/devotional/english/the-bible-says-love-is-an-action

 

Love mercy.

So we’ve been exploring the various facets of forgiveness this week as part of our forays into the subject of ‘identity in Christ’. It’s clear that wherever forgiveness is concerned, opinions on mercy, grace, weakness, power and love are bound to intersect:

Rev Martin Luther King: We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love”

Gandhi: The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

Maya Angelou: You cant forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say “I forgive. I’m finished with it”.

There are echoes of Jesus on the cross for me here:

‘Father forgive them … it is finished’.

After everything I’ve contemplated this week, one thing I cannot shake from my mind is the revolutionary grace in action at Norway’s Bastoy Island Prison, a prison where inmates are treated as human beings. The interesting thing about Bastoy is that the rate of its inmates reoffending upon release is just 16%. That’s strikingly low compared to the rest of Europe where the rates of recidivism are as high as 75%. Looking at Bostoy it would appear Abraham Lincoln was onto something when he said “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice”. Apparently Grace works.

This is Bastoy: bastoy-prison-on-an-island-in-norway

 

The prisoners on the Island live in village communities, have free time and are given responsibilities. Underpinning this approach to corrections is a desire to see inmates rehabilitated into functional members of society. In the Christian worldview we might say Bastoy sees them for what they are: sinners in need of forgiveness.

A favourite magazine of mine recently interviewed Arne Nilsen, a clinical psychologist by trade and a prison warden at Bastoy.

“In closed prisons we keep them locked up for some years and then let them back out, not having had any real responsibility for working…In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison, they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings …”

This is what Nilsen says about the less than conventional approach at Bastoy:

You don’t change people by power. For the victim, the offender is in prison, that is justice. I’m not stupid, I’m a realist. Here, I give prisoners respect this way we teach them to respect others. But we are watching them all the time. It is important that when they are released they are less likely to commit more crimes. That is justice for society”.

Vidor, one of  the prison’s oldest inmates, is a laundry worker on Bastoy and a house-father in his four man bungalow. I’m quoting here from an article on Bostoy published by The Guardian:

“[Vidor] tells me he is serving 15 years for double manslaughter. There is a deep sadness in his eyes, even when he smiles. ‘Killers like me have nowhere to hide’, he says. He tells me that in the aftermath of his crimes he was ‘on the floor’. He cried a lot at first. “If there was a death penalty I would have said yes, please take me.” He says he was helped in prison. “They helped me to understand why I did what I did and helped me to live again’.

When I think of Vidor’s story in the context of Nilsen’s words, you don’t change people by power’, I can’t help but think of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.

I think of God writing on the temple courtyard, the sound of stone pavers fracturing into fissures under the touch of his finger. This is God in flesh; an echo of Sinai. Instead of commandments of law written on tablets of stone, a new law is being written here: mercy.

Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.

The freedom from condemnation comes first, before the instruction to sin no more. Accepting we are not being held to the penalty due to us, that we no longer need to be ashamed, is what empowers change.

In my mind, knowing how deeply forgiven we are is a critical first step to understanding our identity in Christ.

We are righteous in God’s eyes. That status never changes, even when the state of our lives don’t look so righteous. It’s not just about seeing that in ourselves, we also need to see it in others.

And what does God require of us but to do justly and to love mercy, to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)

As an imitator of Christ, I must love mercy as Christ does.

Imitate. Initiate. Impact.

“Making disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching people the Word of Christ and then enabling them to do the same thing in other people’s lives—this is the plan God has for each of us to impact nations for the glory of Christ. When Jesus left the earth He left behind a total of 120 men and women who simply loved him and believed who he said he was. From this handful of men and women, grew the worldwide church we have today. With the task of taking the gospel to the world, what was required was a few men and women who would think as He did, love as He did, see as He did, teach as He did and serve as He did. All God needs is to revolutionize the hearts of a few, to impact the world.” (Andrew Pratt)

Our approach to discipleship can be summed up in the words of Paul:

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

We are here to walk together, helping one another to constantly keep our eyes on Jesus and by doing so, becoming transformed by His grace and love, more and more every day.