Harmony

Pastor Vince’s message this week centred on authenticity in our Christian walk.  Within his message he brought in the idea that our lives need to be in harmony with Him who we serve.  We are to be in tune with our God and His purposes.  I would like to share some reflections on this myself.

Second Corinthians 5, expands this idea: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (19-21 NIV).” 

“Become the righteousness of God.” Be like He is, be the worldly embodiment of Him – His ambassadors.  His vicars (here I use the word in its true meaning – “the image of”), to the world.

If we are reconciled to Him, if we are in harmony with his  “image” and His will, we too should be seek that same reconciliation with those around us.  Are we seen as the judgmental,  intolerant, haters of humanity?  Or, are we flawed beings, with our own pasts and struggles, who appreciate that all we are is through his reconciliation with us through Christ’s sacrifice?

Friends, I believe we are the latter, and should be seen as such.  “Judge not, lest we be judged.”  We should leave the judging to the Father and instead approach our neighbours with love.  Yes, with love and forgiveness in our hearts,  with the outreaching hand of God and His mercy; and in the end a harmony with both God and our fellow creatures. We can make a difference.

Will you join the chorus today?

Padre

 

 

 

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Big Bang Theory

When I teach my students the Genesis account of creation, I am often “challenged” with the question: “But, where did God come from?”  Many a student sees this question as the ultimate response to the Abrahamic creation account.

I generally respond with “He has always existed.” To which there is general acclamation that that is a cop out answer.  So, I respond with a question of my own: “What do you think is the cause of the universe?”  The answer with only minor variation is – “The Big Bang.” I proceed to ask why do they take such a view, and again the answer is usually “Because it is the way it happened.”

I enjoy this little exercise because it allows me to explore “The Big Bang Theory.” Well, to be honest the big bang theories.  There are at least three of them!

The first Big Bang Theory is a quirky sitcom based in a west coast university.  While I do find Sheldon an intriguing character, I must seriously doubt that this Big Bang Theory is the cause of our existence.

The second BBT is really straightforward.  There was nothing; and it exploded.  Wait a minute, let’s explore this by rephrasing it. Nothing exploded!  If, nothing exploded, then nothing happened.  Personally I feel compelled to discount this theory as well.

The third, and most popular Big Bang explanation is that there was a primordial mass of energy and matter that was pulled so tightly together by its own gravitational forces, that the ensuing pressure caused it to explode – hurling this matter outward.  As this began to cool and coalesce, it was again drawn together by gravity to form gasses, stars, and the material universe we now observe.  Here I must misquote my students: “Sir, where did [the primordial mass] come from?”

The Big Bang Theory at its core suffers from the same philosophical “weakness” as the Judaeo-Christian account.  “Where did it come from?”

Dear reader, I challenge you to now examine these two “theories” side by side.   On the one hand you have a theory that says clearly that a pre-existent “First Mover,” One, who with design set everything into being.  This argument is philosophically and theologically valid because it can be seen to logically follow from the cosmological and teleological arguments [I will approach these in a future post].  In short, philosophy follows logical argument and does not generally dismiss that which is possible as an explanation. Science on the other hand follows a process based in the “scientific method,” of test, observation, and repeat-ability. Science expects that an explanation be the most probable after having tested it, and relies on the limited toolbox of the senses, not of logical construction.  That said, is not the Big Bang Theory inconsistent with science’s own stated values- to postulate what you cannot test or prove?

Sorry for banging on.

Padre

sky

Worth More Than a Sparrow

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Small Bird at Masada

We all have worries.  While most of us keep them under control, there are times when they begin to overwhelm us.  Anxiety over money, relationships, or job security are part of modern life.

Such worries are not new to our age, however.  There is an old rabbinic story about a man with financial troubles.  It seems that he spent the night tossing and turning, and occasionally letting out a moan.  This at first distressed his wife, then it began to annoy her.  “Abe, what’s the problem?” she inquired.  “I don’t have the money for the rent, and it’s due tomorrow,” he replied.  She slowly go up out of bed, and paced the room for a moment thinking.  Then she went to the window and threw open the shutters, shouting out – “We don’t have money the pay the rent tomorrow!” She then got back into bed and said “Now its the landlord’s worry.  Go to sleep.”

Like the couple in our story, there are many things in this life we cannot change.  This does not mean we are without hope however. Jesus made just this point in Matthew 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 . . .  . 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ . . . , your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (ESV).”

Also remember, that you are not alone here below.  This is not only true of your struggles – others do understand them.  But all the more, there is love and comfort to be found among your fellow men (and women) as well.

I pray you find the comfort you need today.  ” . . . don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (MT 10:31 NIV).”

Padre

Those That Can . . . Teach

Whoever it was that said, “Those who can -do, and those that can’t -teach,” definitely wasn’t a teacher.  Many people believe they are experts on education because they once went to school themselves.  Such experts need to consider whether they are qualified to conduct surgery because they have been to the hospital.  The author of our quote seems to be suggesting that those who lack practical skills are left with instructing in “mere theory.”  Let’s unpick it a bit.  Those who can (paint, farm, cook, conduct physics experiments) – do (such things).  Those who can’t paint, farm, cook, etc. – “only”teach how to do them.   Is that true?

The Bible (and especially the parables of Jesus) is (are) full of people “doing” practical things. We have sowers sowing, workers in vineyards, servants entrusted with talents, etc.. These are the skills of life. But is the theory behind such acts inferior to the act itself?  And, is the purveying of that theory “the easy option,” that “anyone can do?”

Let’s address these in a somewhat random order. “An easy option:” Many modern parents have moments of despair when dealing with their own (1, 2, 3 . . .) children.  Face it parenting is hard.  Now, put yourself in front of 30 fifteen-year-olds at once.  There are hormones, varying interests, and no interest  at all, at play at the same time.  This is not for the faint of heart.

“Anyone can do it:” Maybe this is true, but it presupposes that they have the will and drive, to do so; and  the essential understandings to pass on in the first place.  Ideally whatever is being taught has to be understood at least in principle.  Better still by someone who has done it (lived it) themselves.

It is this final point that makes teaching so important and “practical.”  The theory is more than half of the battle.  The skills are (yes) essential, but there is more to it than that.  These life skills don’t exist in a vacuum.  They have context. Jesus knew that and commented on it, He used the practical examples of everyday life to illustrate deeper meanings and values.  It was beyond “doing,” it was “being” that He wanted people to master.

Just remember, the Lord God only had one son – and He was a teacher!

Padre

classroom

Construction Site for “New Creations”

A Matter of Balance

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Jerusalem Rooftops

I have heard a lot of preachers in my time.  Whether Catholic homilies, Evangelical sermons, or Pentecostal “words,” they all have had merit.  Some inspired, others edified, and some educated or instructed.  All of these are at the heart of the homiletic art.

That said, one of the most remarkable (and memorable) messages was from a rabbi during the festival of Purim.  For those unfamiliar with Purim, it is a festive celebration of the survival of Judaism in the time of the Persians.   The evil “prime minister” Haman, had set his sights of the destruction of the Jews because of his hatred of one man: Mordecai. It was through the valiant efforts of the young Esther, that his designs were thwarted. The Book of Esther recounts this story, but also calls on Jews to celebrate and remember it.

There are many aspects of this festival that one might call “over indulgent.”  Too much alcohol is consumed for many people’s taste (especially of those of us of more sober, Protestant stock).  Noise as well can be excessive.  In fact, when the story of Esther is read, there is a concerted effort to drown out Haman’s name whenever it is uttered. This seems fair enough as he set out to wipe the Jews from history, so Jews return the favour.

Another aspect of the festival is the wearing of costumes.  It is here that I return to my main topic.  On the occasion already referenced, the rabbi approached the rostrum dressed as a Fiddler on the Roof.  Yes, the 20th Century Jewish cultural reference is clear, but it was the sermon that stood out.  He said, “Being a rabbi is like being a fiddler on the roof.  It is about balance.  You are always balancing things.  You balance people, their problems, and their relationships with G-d and with man.”  He went on to explain, that rabbis [and ministers for that matter] sometimes slip a bit with all of the pressure to balance.  What a rabbi needs to do is get his own balance first.  He needs to be firm with his G-d and his creator.  All the rest will follow.

How is your balance today?

Padre

K. I. S. S. (Keep it Simple, Saints)

The Hebrew Bible or Tanakh is divided into 3 sections: the Torah (Instructions or Laws), the Nevi’im (Prophets), and the Ketuvim (Writings). In Judaism the first section, often called the Law of Moses is the most important. It contains the covenant between God and His “chosen people.” It also as the title suggests includes the rules or laws, that make the “legal” agreement of that covenant.

The Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) contains 613 commandments.  Of these 248 are positives (or thou shalts) and 365 negatives (thou shalt nots).

That is a lot of thou shalt-ing, and shalt not-ing.  Most all of these conveniently fall under the umbrella of the 10 commandments of Exodus 20, a far easier list to put into daily practice.

There have always been those who want to do things the hard way, though.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with making sure every “jot and tittle” is in place.  True too is the certainty of  potentially “getting it right,”if you have a firm grasp of what “right” is. The problem come when you make it a law unto itself, to make laws on how to interpret the laws.

As a theologian this is an occupational hazard.  It is easy to get caught up in the words, and loose focus of the Word. Studying the scriptures should be an exercise of faith, not just of the mind.  It should never be an exercise of jurisprudence.

In Matthew 22, the Pharisees challenged Jesus to declare what the greatest of the 613 commands was. They did this to attempt to trap him.  In their legalistic approach to God’s word, they were sure Jesus would “condemn” himself.  His response was immediate and simple:   ”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (NIV).” Jesus said these two points sum up the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Ketuvim as well.  They also reflect the division (and yet unity) of the 10 commandments (rules about God, rules about human relationship.).

Put into practice its easy to “keep it simple.”

Padre

Torah Scrolls.JPG

Torah Scrolls

But It’s What You Asked For

votive-candles-holy-sepulchreThe prophet Habakkuk was fed up with the evil he saw around him.  So, he complained to the management. “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? (Hab 1:2 NIV)”  What he didn’t expect was God’s answer. “I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth . . . . (2:6)”  Habakkuk was taken aback “Lord, they are even worse than we are.” You see, you need to be careful what you ask for. 

In Acts 12, the apostle Peter was arrested because of his testimony of Christ.  “4After arresting him, he [Herod] put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him (NIV).” So what happens?  God miraculously frees him from his prison.  He goes to where the saints are assembled [praying for him], and knocks. “Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished (13-16 NIV).”  Yes, again, they got what they asked for. 

Prayer is not just going through the motions.  It is not filling the mind’s silence with noise.  It is communication with the All Powerful, and as such be ready for the answer.  It may well be what you asked for!

Padre

Beyond Magical Thinking

There seems to be a prevalence of magical thinking among many Christians today.  It probably has always been so.  What I mean by magical thinking, is the belief that if a certain ritual or form of words is employed, God will have no choice but to grant us our desires.

This is a fundamentally flawed view of our relationship with God.  We do not, can not control Him.  We are made in His image, and we are precious to Him, but it is as a loving parent that He provides for our needs, and often even our whims, but He is not obliged to do so.  We are the beneficiaries of His grace, His unmerited favour.

Are our requests those which seek not our will, or His?  Jesus when pressed by His disciples gave a simple model prayer in which He showed us priority.  “Our Father, who is in Heaven, holy (and honoured) is your name.”  The prayer begins with praise of God’s greatness.  It continues with an intercession for the well-being of the church and in fact for the creation as a whole: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.” Only then, does self petition come into play: “Give us today our daily bread.” Not great wealth; or once and for all gifts, but our basic daily needs. Then more importantly, provide for our spiritual well-being:  “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” This too requires something of us, it acknowledges an obligation on our part: to forgive. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Lord, please take care of us – a simple plea.

I am not saying God will not give us “abundantly more” than what we ask for, but we shouldn’t be of a mind set to “demand it.”  It isn’t the form of the prayer (even the model one), but this again is a heart-felt petition of a child to a father.  What is even more interesting to me is that it is that simple.  There is no demand on His part for elaborate ritual. Just simple conversation, with a praising, yet contrite heart. It is there that we begin to see the power of prayer.

“Religious” actions are equally a problem.  I am not speaking of good deeds, or living a life of righteousness; but of outward forms. In Second Kings 5, Naaman sought healing from God, so went to Elisha the Prophet to obtain it.  “So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” 11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. 13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy (NIV).” Naaman wanted to see something spectacular.  He wanted ritual, incantations, (or even a chicken swung over his head).  He didn’t expect (or want) simplicity, but that is all that God wanted from him. The faith to obey, was all that was required.

Jesus taught a simple prayer, Elisha prescribed a simple cleansing – we need to seek the simplicity of a reliance on a simple faith.  This is a faith in which He is in charge, a faith beyond magical thinking.

Padre

Flawed, But Faithful

stained-glass-abrahams-sacrifice-2The message during worship this morning took note of Hebrews 11, in which Abraham was cited as a  champion of faith. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (NIV).” Abraham had faith, Abraham obeyed, Abraham acted on that faith – but . . . .

Here I deviate from the Pastor’s lesson.  Yes, Abraham is the spiritual father of our faith, he is an example in outcome, and in his loyalty in God’s promise.  But, he like us, was human.  He had his flaws, and his faith was developmental.  He grew in the Lord.  He had his false starts, doubts, and struggles.  He is our father in these things too.

When God called the then Abram to leave Harran, he did obey.  He trusted in God that he would be given a land, and he went  “from  [his] country, [his] people and [his] father’s household to the land I will show you (Gen 12:1 NIV).” It is the second part of the promise Abram seemed to have reservations about.  Because in verse 2 and following, God tells him He will make him a great nation.  He and his offspring will be a blessing to the world.

So what does Abraham do with this promise?  He hedges his bets, and takes his heir (his nephew Lot) with him.  But this is as man sees, not as God sees.  Lot and Abraham soon fall out, and Abraham continues on his journey but questions. “But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir (Gen 15:2-3 NIV).”  Lord – I am childless, Lot has abandoned me, Eliezer is the closest thing I have, so where are the children?  God once again promises him a child.

It is Sarah who next hedges the bet.  If not Lot or Eliezer, if it is to be your own son – then take my servant Hagar.  She will make you a father.  Abraham once again follows the human path and concedes.  Ishmael is born, but God’s plan and promise is still unfulfilled.

Late in their lives God intervenes, and Sarah conceives Issac: the son of God’s promise. Abraham’s journey was not just one from Harran to Canaan, but from trust in himself and his own plans to those of God.  If we are honest with ourselves, are we any different?

Lord, help us to be faithful. Lord aid us in truly trusting you.  Your way, not mine, because Lord I am flawed.

Padre

For The Children

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster in Wales.  On the 21st of October the waste tip of the local coal mine gave way and careened down the mountainside, burying the village’s school in its wake.  One hundred sixteen children died that day, and it is still remembered as Wales’ darkest day.

The loss of a child is probably the most terrible thing that can happen to person.  There is the moment of disbelief, followed by shock, tears, silence, and an emptiness that never goes away.  I have been on the receiving end of this experience and it is one I would never wish upon another.  They say time makes memory fade, but alas this is not the case when one looses a child.

This loss magnifies as it impacts those around you.  You are the one grieving, but often you feel the need to be strong for those suffering on the periphery.  You bury your own loss, and wait, cry in private, and grieve some more.  I remember the young rookie policemen sent to “comfort” me,  this poor boy was in a terrible emotional state, and trying hard to be “professional.”  We in the end exchanged comforting roles.

I am sure there are many such stories from Aberfan, Dunblane, Syria, and beyond; where communities have lost there young, and in a sense their future. The loss in any case is always intense, irreconcilable by human means. In Matthew chapter 2, he recounts Herod’s murder of the children of Bethlehem and quotes Jeremiah: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. (2:18 NIV)”

During the Shoah, 1.1 million children were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. Communities and their future were in reality lost for forever.  When such things occur, many ask, “If there is a God, where is He?”  This question resounds historically, but even more so personally.

With all sincerity of heart, and with no intention of being trite, there is only one true answer.  He is exactly where He was when His own son died (Matthew 27:45-50), and is just as sorrowful.

I take comfort in this thought, I pray if you have need you can find that comfort too.

Padre