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Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

I’ve just read a blog post by Dave Fagg, titled “Heaven is my home, one day I’ll be there…”

In it he discusses Tom Wright’s book “Surprised by Hope” and muses about what it means to be caught in the tension between life in the here and now, and when God renews all of creation – which we understand to be heaven.

In explaining Wright’s work, Fagg says:

…in some way we will be living life in real bodies as God intended – radically different from how things are now, but in some ways radically the same.”

In reading Fagg’s work, I can’t help but think of the Job 19 text (19:25-7), when Job declares:

I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.

And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;

I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!”

What beautiful, confident, hopeful words. Do I – do we – believe them? Does the way that I live testify to my belief? What a challenge, and yet, what a privilege to try live out these words.

As in my last post – about Philip Yancey – this article also challenges me to think more deeply about how I personally, and within my faith community, can participate in the story of heaven and the journey we’re on as people of God to its realisation in its entirety. If only God had given us a step-by-step instruction manuel about how to go about this. Yet, as Fagg concludes, we’ve been given some help: the Bible gives us slivers of insight about the journey and about what the fullness of heaven will look like, and we’ve been set on our way by the example of Jesus.

If you’re looking for further reading on what our care for creation might look like, check out “A Covenant with the Earth” by Matthew Farrelly (the second part of the article provides a helpful discussion on covenant, Christ and creation) at Christianity Today.

And there is more to the story…see here for the second part to Fagg’s article where he continues with and develops his discussion.

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What is sin? Is it doing something naughty? Or, is it greater than that – is it anything that separates us from God?

If sin is an act of hurt, an attitude of selfishness, or a community of thoughtlessness, then sin is great indeed.

If that then, is the enormity of sin, how much greater must be the grace of God, to cover it all…

And all the wickedness in the world that man might work or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal in the sea”

– William Langland

Kim Cornford, in a recent talk, considers the nature of sin, the amazing grace of God, the gift of salvation, and what we can do in response to God. It is a thought-provoking story about her own journey in understanding climate change, as well as an insightful discussion on these Christian themes.

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A message by Kim Cornford at Footscray Church of Christ, August 2010


Ephesians 2:1-10

This passage is yet another one of those brilliant passages of Paul’s which expresses beautifully, almost poetically, and grippingly the power of the God we follow:

…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ…

…God raises us up with Christ… that he might show the incomparable riches of his grace…… it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…

We’re going to think about salvation: being made alive in Christ, being released from our transgressions and being freed from our sins.

For many of us who have been following the Christian faith or attending church for a while, these words can sound tired to us.  They sound old.  We can think,

“Salvation, yeah, yeah, been there, done that, let’s move on shall we?”

“Jesus died for my sins, yeah, yeah, now I’m saved, I’m going to heaven. Yep, got that.”

These ‘church’ words – that some of us have heard over and over since we were children, teenagers, or young adults – get a bit tired, or we get a bit desensitized to them.

Maybe that’s how you’re feeling at the moment, or maybe you’ve been feeling like that for a while.  I want to especially invite you today to enter into this passage.  The truth of our salvation in Christ needs to be as real to us today, as it was the first time we felt God’s hand upon us.  If this is not how we are knowing and experiencing God, then we need to come back to Him and be made alive again.

Read for yourself Ephesians 2: 1-10.

We’re going to take a look at sin, God’s gift of grace, and our response to that gift – good works.

Sin

What is sin?  What are the first things that come to mind?  What things are you thinking about right now?  Are you thinking about yourself?  Are you thinking about others?

Sin is often a bigger concept than what we allow ourselves to understand.  I want to suggest that sin is anything that separates us from God. That’s pretty broad isn’t it?

To illustrate sin, imagine that sin is like taking a step away from God, or turning around to face away from God.

Faith is a journey, an interactive relationship with movement. Perhaps I’ve sinned, or know I’m living in a way that I’m distanced from God (standing away from God), but I’m facing God and I’m moving in His direction. Or perhaps I’m very close to God, and I just need to turn around and face God. Or, perhaps I’m facing God, but moving away.

Not long ago, I was talking with a friend, and she said to me, the church doesn’t talk about sin in a very helpful way.  When I asked her what she meant, she said:we often understand sin as acts of naughtiness or acts of hurt. How many of us, in a time of confession, start trying to rack our brains at all the naughty or mean things we’ve done in the past week?  And we get through that list, say sorry, and receive God’s forgiveness.  Actually, if we all did go through a process of confessing our sins on a regular basis, like this, we would probably be all the better for it.  But this conversation with my friend, took us to another place.  Are our acts of naughtiness and hurt where our sins finish?

Sin is not simple.  It is not black and white.

For example, let’s consider our acts of hurt.  If I confess my act of using angry words but still have an attitude of anger, am I freed from my sin?  If I confess my lustful thoughts but still have an attitude of sexual desire, am I freed from my sin?  If I confess self-indulgence in material objects, but maintain a budget and an income which can support it, am I freed from my sin?

Sin involves acts of hurt, but it also involves the bigger questions of our attitude.  Sin isn’t so straightforward is it?  No surprise that this is what Jesus talks about a lot.  He asks us where our heart is.  Do not murder says the Law, and Jesus says, if you have anger towards your brother, you will be subject to judgment. Don’t do your acts of righteousness before others to be seen by them, instead, Jesus says: your giving should be done before God. The law says do not commit adultery, but Jesus says looking at another lustfully commits adultery in their heart.

Let’s expand on the idea of attitude and sin. One of the striking things of our faith (and indeed, the book of Ephesians focuses on this directly) is its communal nature. Community and attitude have an important role to play, not only in how we live Godly lives, but how we understand sin.  Let’s consider the idea of communal sin.  I’m meaning here: the attitude of the people around us as a whole.  Ask yourself, what is the attitude of the people around me to faithful relationships?  What is the attitude of people around me to poverty and marginalized people?  What is the attitude of people around me to caring for creation?  The way we live is so intricately bound into the people we hang out with, sometimes, we don’t even know our attitude to things is sinful.

Well! This Christianity thing asks a lot of us, doesn’t it?!

I’ll give you an example of ignorance of my own.  I come from a pretty well off middle class family.  My school and university peers own their homes, work in professional vocations, and enjoy very comfortable lifestyles.  In some contrast, my husband and I rent a small home around the corner from our church, we work part-time, grow some veggies, mostly stay at home, and enjoy life with our kids.  My attitude to life is very different from the people I knew as a young adult, but I am surrounded by others who have a similar attitude and therefore seek similar hopes in life and in God together.  A while back at bible study one night I remember the group leader make a joke about our hotchpotch lounge room furniture and living simply.  I did laugh, but truth be known, I did feel a tinge of embarrassment.  A few days later we had a visit from some new friends, a Burmese refugee family recently arrived in Footscray.  When they came into our house, their eyes opened in amazement.  It was like they had entered a palace.  And with no social etiquette whatsoever, they walked through every room in our house, ogling everything and saying things like, “whoa, so many rooms” and “this is such a beautiful home” and “thank you for having us in your home.”  This was very confronting.  I felt more than embarrassed.  For some reason, I somehow felt sinful.

This same family showed me more of my sin and the sin of our society in the coming months after this.  I have strong feelings and opinions on the issue of global warming.  This wasn’t always the case.

In a period of revelation about climate change a couple of years ago, it was these same friends who helped frame my understanding of how we are impacting our earth.  They were one step in a series of events which God set before me.  (I had been learning about what the world might look like as the temperature rises globally, and how our lifestyle releases gases into the atmosphere which are causing it to heat up, and is changing the weather patterns here in Australia, and around the world.)  One afternoon my girls and I went around to visit Sung (in their tiny one bedroom flat) and with her stilted English Sung asked me to watch a DVD from Burma…  Can people remember Cyclone Nargis in 2008?  It was a massive, devastating cyclone affecting millions of people.  The DVD was a Burmese Christian music video raising awareness and funds for people affected by Cyclone Nargis in Burma.  The images on the DVD were graphic and distressing.  It was very confronting.  It was very confronting for me because pieces started connecting for me, like puzzle pieces falling into place… my comfortable lifestyle, my emissions, changing weather patterns, floods and cyclones, people dying, children crying.  I was looking straight at it.  And sitting on the floor with me were Sung’s 3 yr old daughter who sat with her hands over her eyes, and my daughter, who asked me “Mummy, why are those people floating in the water?”

And the words of the church’s Eucharist liturgy are running through my head,

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.

Sin separates us from God, and sin separates our world from God.  It is our individual acts of hurt, it is our attitude to life, it is our communal attitude.

And we, as followers of Christ, need to be asking ourselves, where we are.  Where am I heading?  What is moving me away from God, what is moving me towards God?

And what, in the midst of all this, does God offer us?

While we were still dead, while we are engulfed by a world of sin – God offers life.

Grace

Why do we need to understand the depth of our sin? Because only then can we understand God’s amazing grace and the power of salvation.

When we begin to get a glimpse of the enormity of this salvation, we see God.  And it should cause us to fall on our knees with thanksgiving.

…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ…

God raises us up with Christ… that he might show the incomparable riches of his grace…

…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…

And, we are inspired to respond to God with acts of love.  Love for God, and for all that he offers us in this life.  A life of good works, for which he has a plan.

Good works

A life of good works.  And this is an important idea to capture.  Our works are a response to the gift of grace from God.

Sometimes we hear preached a dissonance between faith and works.  It’s like a clanging disconnection.  It is the idea that salvation, or freedom in Christ (as Paul also calls it), comes either by faith OR works.

For example, for some reason, people have read the letter of James and interpreted it as a salvation of works.

It is the idea that we have to do good things to earn our way to heaven.  Some examples might be: “if I put in some hours at the local homeless shelter at Christmas,” “if I attend enough working bees at church” or, “if I cook enough meals for others”…

Who’s ever felt like this?  Are we responding in joy to God’s gift of grace?

The flip side of the faith OR works, is equally unhelpful.  It’s the idea that I’ve been saved by grace, and now I’ve got my ticket to heaven!  You beauty!  Thank you God, now let’s get on with my life.  Gee, other people should get onto this God thing, what a relief, I’ve got everything sorted now.  I don’t have to do anything.  Do you know the attitude I’m trying to convey?

But let’s hear what James actually says:

James 2:14-16: What good is it brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

In James 2:26: As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

It is clearly NOT a case of faith or works, they are inextricably linked.

If we are able to truly glimpse the grace and freedom which God offers to us, our good works are an inevitable response.

If we understand salvation as grace only, we will miss the point of living out our life for God.

If we understand salvation as works only, we will miss the point of God’s amazing love for us.

In conclusion, let’s ask again:  Where are you with God?  Which way are you facing?  Which way are you moving?  Who are the people of God surrounding you?

Is the truth of your salvation in Christ as real today, as it was the first time you felt God’s hand you?  Do you need to come back to Him and be made alive again?

Finish with a prayer using the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:17-21.

Amen.

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What did you think when you got your provisional licence?

How did you feel when you gave someone – or received – an engagement ring?

This article, by editor in chief of Christianity Today, David Neff, is about what it means to be living in a limited world. To be waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom of God, in the same way that having our L’s or P’s or an engagement ring is a significant waiting time for a promise to be realised.

It is about a promise of something else to come: the fullness of the Kingdom of God. But that it is important for us to live well waiting in that promise. Neff writes,

seeing Creation as promise prevents us from treating it as mere raw material.”

While I agree much of this article, I’m not sure about his argument that polarizes putting creation on an idol-like pedestal or turning it into a worthless material fit only to be consumed by us. There is a deeper and richer discussion to be had about what lies in the middle of these two frameworks.

For example, he illustrates his point by referring to the significance of natural cycles for pagan cultures of the Old Testament times, and argues that instead Christians should see the world through the lens of history. Yet God has instituted the seasons and the cycles of the world. Our lives are governed by these seasons. Surely it is good to praise God for, and celebrate His gifts to us in this Divine Ordering, and that we can do so without worshipping the created over the Creator?

I agree with Neff when he calls for Christians, Evangelicals (especially pietist and revivalist strands) included, to embrace not only personal salvation but that the whole of Creation will be redeemed as well (referring to Paul in Romans 8:20-24).

He writes:

When we remember that a restored humanity in a restored Eden is the crowning vision of Scripture, we come to see ourselves and our responsibilities in a bigger, broader landscape.”

He argues that we should care for creation not primarily out of our own self-interest, but because God loves it and has grand plans for it.

Finally, he calls us to contemplate what Jesus meant, when he asks us to love our  ‘neighbour’.

Yet I would throw into his question thoughts from Sara Miles,who writes:

[a]pparently Jesus thinks there are two kinds of people in the world: our neighbours, whom we are to love. And our enemies, whom we are to love.”

What are your thoughts about how the coming of God’s Kingdom influences our daily lives now? Who are our neighbours and how can we love them?

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“…we join in celebrating with Christ the wonders of creation”.

I’m not a greenie, and I’m not a tree-hugger, but I reckon that caring for creation is an important part of my faith.

So, how can my church learn about and respond to God’s creation?

In September 2004 a resource called Season of Creation was trialled in about 50 congregations in Melbourne and Adelaide. Since then, churches around Australia and the world have incorporated it into their worship services, designed to run over four weeks starting in September. These churches are seeking to reflect on and be thankful for the Creator God and for God’s gift of creation.

“Christ is at the heart of our celebrations.”

This ecumenical resource has been developed for any church wanting to explore God’s love for the earth in their services. It offers suggestions and materials for churches to use in church services including:

  • Themes for each week, and three broader themes that rotate over a three-year cycle.
  • Talks to the children.
  • Bible studies that correspond with the weekly themes.
  • Bible readings.
  • Sermons based on Bible study materials, theology or the childrens’ talk.
  • Entire liturgies.

For each of the three series the Bible readings follow a broad pattern of creation, alienation, passion and new creation.

If you like some ideas and not others, or even agree with some – but not all – of the theology or terminology in the liturgy, the authors say that your church is welcome to adapt it to suit.

Even if your church doesn’t use this resource, perhaps it could inspire you and your church to think about what you believe, and be a catalyst for thinking about how you would like to draw thankfulness to God for the world into your worship.

“…we face the ecological crisis with Christ, and we serve Christ in the healing of creation.”

This resource has been produced by Norman Habel and the Justice and International Mission of the Uniting Church in Australia.

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We need creation. So argues Russell D. Moore in an article about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

We need it, because it provides us with everything practical for us to survive. We need warmth and light from the sun, oxygen and sustenance from plants, and mud, clay and trees to shelter us.

We need it because we’re made of it: “….we’re made of Spirit-enlivened mud.” We are not disembodied beings.

More than that, Moore explains that God has hard-wired us to see God’s hand in creation (Romans 1:18-21).

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (verse 20)

This is not Moore saying that God is creation. Rather, creation is God’s masterpiece – here for us to marvel at and to be thankful to the Creator for its mysterious and magnificent design, and for the way it provides for our physical needs.

What does it mean for me? I can’t help but think of Banjo Patterson’s poem “Clancy of the Overflow”, of the wistfulness expressed about wanting to be outdoors. He writes of Clancy:

"And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
   In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
  And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars."

This attitude is shared by others. In a 2008 study of church-going Protestants in Scotland, 82.7% said that they found “being outdoors and appreciating the beauty of nature” was influential in shaping their attitudes towards the environment.

Being earthly beings ourselves, and seeing the wonderful creation God has made (and continually sustains) around us, is it any wonder that we love being outdoors?

As image-bearers of God and co-heirs with Christ, creation is also ours – and we need it to flourish ourselves. Yet Moore reminds us that our dominion of creation should be characterised by humble service. He writes, “….this isn’t a pharaoh-like dominion; it’s a Christ-like dominion.”

What does this mean for Christians – conservative and liberal alike? It means dominion over creation both when we use it and when we conserve it for future generations.

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Have you been baptised?

My baptism was a gentle sprinkling over my forehead when I was a wee baby.

Jesus got a thorough dunking by John in the Jordan (Matthew 3:13-7, Mark 1:9-11).

As I think of these sacred moments, the song by Alison Krauss rings through my mind…

“O sinners, let’s go down, let’s go down, come on down, O sinners let’s go down, down in the river to pray.”

In our ancient Judeo-Christian history, water is a powerful theme.

Purity and cleansing. Baptism.

Some churches choose to use water instead of wine for Holy Communion/Eucharist.

Jesus and miracles involving water.

Jesus the living water (John 7:37-9).

Up until recently (as in last few hundred years). Most people didn’t have water at the turn of a handle in their bathroom or kitchen, or house for that matter. Water was a necessity of life and often difficult to acquire. Water, for quenching thirst, cooking, cleaning, keeping the animals, growing food..the list goes on.

What does water mean for us today? Sure, we still need water for drinking and so on. That hasn’t changed. But, it is readily available. Crystal clear, pouring in abundance out of our taps. No worries mate!

And yet, in this Guardian article “The River Jordan’s Shame“, Martin Palmer laments the degradation of these historically significant  – sacred to many – rivers. Rivers that have flowed through our Bible stories, flowed through the lands of our spiritual ancestors.

In the case of the Jordan River. It is a Jordan trickle. He writes, “I should have expected it. I had spent the previous two days meeting with Jordanian environmentalists and they had been telling me about their country’s massive water problems.”

Palmer optimistically discusses a growing movement to help bring environmental restoration to pilgrimage cities and rivers, driven by religious leaders and denominations.

He celebrates this move, saying, “[t]he combined power of religious and secular authorities can mean a clean-up programme inspired not just by economics but by a vision of nature as a gift of God for which we have a responsibility to care.”

Thanks to this dedicated and persistent bunch of people, let’s hope that one day soon there will be more water in the Jordan, and that a Sikh having a purifying wash in the Kali Bein, India, doesn’t catch salmonella.

Palmer points to other rivers and places, like the United States, where this movement is also occurring  but (I presume) without the need for the waterway to be a drawer of pilgrims. This is inspiring news. Yet, I wonder about our rivers.

The great Murray doesn’t feature in the Bible, explicitly. Does that mean we shouldn’t care for it?  What is driving a group of Catholics to care for the Hudson River in New York state?

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