Claims of life

Today’s readings are from Isaiah 37:21-38 and Acts 25:1-22

Every now and then we hear claims of life on other planets. Not only do they come with all sorts of conspiracy theories, but with all sorts of emotion about what the discovery of life on other planets would mean for life as we know it. For some, there’s great excitement and intrigue surrounding such discoveries. For others, there’s fear that such discoveries would destroy long held ideologies or perhaps even change life for humanity (image the invasion of a super power from another planet).

Claims of life had been circling for a few years in Paul’s time, and as he approaches the end of his life the reason some are gunning for his death is due to these claims of life he is sprouting.

Having put his case before Felix, Paul now finds himself 2 years down the track defending himself before Governor Festus. Festus has been trying to solve this problem left for him by Felix, and discusses it when he entertains King Agrippa. Festus recounts (Acts 25:18-19) the situation when he heard from the Jews the charges laid out against Paul:

 

 When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19 Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.

It’s quite a bizarre statement. Festus had no doubt expected breaches of Jewish or Roman law. He discovers just some points dispute about a dead man. Some points? I’m thinking the Jews were saying he was dead and Paul he was alive! Not just “some point”. Not just a dispute… Though, from the governors perspective it was hardly a crime to claim someone had risen from the dead and left him with no clear way forward.

These claims of life brought fear for some. If the claim was true their entire ideology was being transformed in an instant, and they had no idea of how it would change life for them or broader humanity. For Paul though, the excitement and intrigue that had come from his discovery (as a Jew) that Jesus actually was alive (see Acts 9) has totally changed his life.

Paul knew he was doing no wrong in proclaiming Jesus was alive. He also knew this was no small dispute, and so was prepared to die rather than put his claim aside. The claim of resurrection is a claim that people will want to silence. Ironically, the claim of life can bring fear.

Our challenge may be to not allow our fears of peoples response to the claim of resurrection to soften our willingness to proclaim its reality.

What opportunities might God put before us today to proclaim in thought, word, attitude and action the incredible reality “about a dead man named Jesus that Paul claimed was alive”?

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Ruthlessness and the Lord’s renown

Today’s readings are From Isaiah 25-26 and Acts 20:13-38

It doesn’t take much to observe evil in our world today. Evil has been around since Adam was a boy (or a young man at least…). Each generation not only has to deal with this significant life issue, but also with the manifestation of evil in our world.

Living where we do, at the time we do, we have the blessing of living free of many types of evil. However, as much as our culture wants to tell us that we can live in some evil free utopia, we know that it is not true. Evil finds a way to manifest itself. Lately, I have been noticing evil rear it’s head in ruthlessness.

Ruthlessness is seen by some as a good thing. Business decisions get made, profits can soar and concerns for anything outside of myself and (perhaps) my relational sphere become unnecessary. Yet the lack of compassion that stems from ruthlessness is as evil as the dropping of bombs. The ruthless have no need to care for the weak, to provide for the poor or defend the marginalised. Whether it be in politics, business or even in morality, a new ruthless edge has been rising in our culture. The new moral majority (with a very different morality to the moral majority of 30 years ago) are ruthless in crucifying anyone who does not fit in to their idea of how the world should run.

Both our readings today remind us of how to approach ruthlessness. Paul gives the summary of our response in Acts 20:24:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Paul’s aim isn’t to attack evil – whether it be ruthlessness or the hardships and injustices that will face him in Jerusalem (v23). His aim is to testify to the good news of God’s grace. In testifying to God’s grace though, evil is attacked. Paul says later (v35):

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Testifying to God’s grace will result in compassion, and the overturning of evil. It will have this effect because that is what God is doing in the world through his people. Isaiah (25:1-5) picks up the same ideas. In his faithfulness, God has overcome the ruthless. God has overcome evil.

Toward the end of our Isaiah reading (26:4-6) we read:

Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
He humbles those who dwell on high,
    he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
    and casts it down to the dust.
Feet trample it down—
    the feet of the oppressed,
    the footsteps of the poor.

The imagery in Isaiah 25-26 if of God making things that are evil and bad, good again. There is much worthy of quoting, but in the context of Ruthlessness, I think verse 6 speaks loudly. While the ruthless trample on others in this day, another day is coming where justice will come for the ruthless. God is not putting up with evil, he is overcoming evil.

We know, as Paul did, that he has overcome evil through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And so, in the midst of evil, whether it be ruthlessness or some other kind, we get on with the task of testifying to God’s grace and trusting that he is making all things good again.

In his letter to the Romans (12:21), Paul reminded them:

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The people of Israel trusted what God was doing:

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws,[b]
    we wait for you;
your name and renown
    are the desire of our hearts.
My soul yearns for you in the night;
    in the morning my spirit longs for you.

May our desire also be for the name and renown of the Lord God.

What would it take?

Today’s reading is Joshua 10

What would it take for you to know God was on your side? It can be so easy to doubt his work in our lives and his power to break through in our culture.

When Joshua went to help the Gibeonites, so many amazing things took place that give the reader a very clear indication that God is at work (those hailstones!). But it is only when the sun stands still for 24 hours that we read “Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!” It seems like this miraculous phenomena was the turning point for the Israelites seeing the hand of God at work.

It got me thinking… what do we need to acknowledge God’s hand at work? What would it take to be able to confidently say that “the Lord is fighting for us?”

Whenever my mind wanders down this track I’m reminded of The parable Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family about the torment the rich man experienced. Abraham’s reply is

He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. Luke 16:31

It’s fascinating in light of the resurrection of Jesus himself. Do we really need any other sign to show the Lord is fighting for us? What he has done in raising Jesus from the dead is a miraculous phenomena that speaks loudly of his goodness toward people and his total defeat of evil and death.

Let’s not be like those whom Abraham referred to who will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. Rather, confident in the resurrection of Jesus be assured that the Lord is fighting for us, achieving his purposes. Whatever situation you find yourself in today, know the Lord is fighting for you.

Stones serving as signs

Our readings today are from Luke and Joshua.

Our years are filled with events that remind us of important occurrences – Australia Day, Easter, Birthdays, Wedding Anniversaries, Christmas. In part it’s so we don’t forget. It’s also so we remember what’s important.

My daughter tells the story of the time I forgot to pick her up from school. She was waiting, and I didn’t show up. She rang me (she was mid-late High School not infants) and reminded me about where I should be. I had been distracted by other things and hadn’t realised the time. I should have set a reminder, because I know I can forget things either due to distraction or just forgetfulness.

So, the story of Israel going into the promised land encourages me (no, it doesn’t excuse my action… it just makes me realise I’m not alone). Having witnessed the incredible miracle of the parting of the Jordan River, and crossing through it, 12 representatives (one from each tribe) go back into the river and take 12 stones from the middle of the river to make a monument that would be a sign to Israel (Josh 4:1-9).

Why grab these stones unless they are needed? Why would they need reminding of the parting of the Jordan except that they would forget? How could they possibly forget what the Lord had done on that day? Yet God knew they could, and he knew they would. The stones were erected and the people instructed to use the memorial stones as a sign and reminder of how the Lord had cut off the flow of the Jordan.

In God’s plan of salvation, this entry into the promised land was very significant. It was important for the people to remember.

What are the “stones” that you use to remember God’s action in your life? What are the “stones” you use to remember how he brought you into his promised land?

I have a number of memorials that I have collected over the years to remind me of God’s goodness. A railway nail, photo’s, carvings, drawings… and even some stones. In part, they are scattered around various places to make sure I don’t forget his loving kindness. But more, they are there to reminded me of the priority, significance and importance of his great love and goodness in my life. In a world that bombards me with so many messages, while I may not forget his love, I can easily be distracted away from its immense significance and importance.

When God parts the river for you, don’t forget to grab a stone 🙂

Shame

It’s easy to mistake apparent truth for actual truth.

We overhear a conversation and think we have the truth only to discover later, and often embarrassingly that we missed critical elements of the conversation. We didn’t have the truth after all.

We succumb to advertisements and buy the latest product that promises to do all the things you really want that none of it’s competitors are able to do. Of course, we quickly discover it can’t do these things. Again, we didn’t have the truth after all.

We watch the world go around. Greed seems to lead to prosperity. Harshness in employee relations seems to lead to management advancement. Self indulgence seems to lead to happiness.

Psalm 97 stops us in our tracks. It reorientates us around the actual truth that is not always apparent.

v7 is the key:

All who worship images are put to shame,
    those who boast in idols—
    worship him, all you gods!

In the middle of a psalm that is full of praise and adoration to God it gives the contrast. While those who worship and boast in idols may seem prosperous, successful and happy they actual truth is that they are put to shame. The Lord God reigns, he is exalted over all gods and brings joy to those whom are upright in heart.

In an age of fake news, and with a new year approaching, let’s remember the great truth that the Lord reigns and the great reality that the worship of idols, of fake gods, will result in shame not joy. Today, may we be glad that when it appears the idols are running our world, it is actually Lord God whom reigns.

 

Longing

Todays passages are Isaiah 40:1-5 and Luke 1:67-80.

With just two more sleeps till Christmas, some of us will be full of anxious anticipation as what is coming while others are racing around making sure that something will be coming on Christmas morning. At some point in life we transition from the childhood longing for Christmas to the Adult who becomes responsible for making the things children long for come to fruition. We look forward to Christmas in different ways… and we look forward to different things.  I’m looking forward to the marriage of my son in about 6 months time. I anticipate a great day of joy and celebration when the wedding day arrives.

We pick up Isaiah at the start of Chapter 40, conscious of the chapters prior which have talked about the distress coming to Jerusalem due to the rebellion of the people against God. A time of great exile is coming for Israel. The tone changes quickly in Chapter 40, with words of comfort, not judgement, for Jerusalem. Another day will come when

A voice of one calling:
In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God…

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed

The exile will not be the end. Another great day will come where Jerusalem will be comforted and the glory of God revealed.

We know when Christmas is coming. I know the day my son will be married. We wait, but with a definite timeline. The Israelites waited in hope not knowing when this great day would come.

Fast forward 700 years or so years later. After living in this great anticipation and expectation, trusting that God would come to his people and reveal his glory again we find a Father full of joy at the birth of his child:

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
 He has raised up a horn[a] of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David (Luke 1:68-69)

The Lord has come to his people.

The Lord has redeemed his people.

The time of exile is over.

The glory of God will be revealed.

Who is this child? Luke makes it clear in Luke 3:4-6 (notice the similarities and the difference in the Isaiah quote). He is the one preparing the way for the Lord’s salvation.

As we continue to prepare for Christmas, may we long for the coming of God in the lives of those around us; and may we be filled with praise to God for what he has done in freeing his people from captivity.

May you have a Happy and Blessed Christmas

Sliding doors

Today’s readings are Hosea 11:12-12:14 and Luke 12:13-21

In the movie sliding doors, two  alternative scenarios are played out in parallel regarding a woman’s relationship with her husband. The movie creates a “what if” scenario.

The passages before us this morning create a similar feel – particularly when read together.

In Hosea, we read about a nation judged for their evil… and we wonder “what if?” What if they had been obedient to God? What if they had lived in covenant faithfulness? What if rather than chasing the wind and pursuing dishonest gain, they had pursued the Lord God? Imagine the regrets…

In Luke we find a parable about a rich man who pursued selfish gain during his bumper harvest but was never able to enjoy the life he had prepared for himself as his life was taken from him that night. Imagine the regrets… From Jesus’ comment on the parable (v21), we can take it that the scenario would have ended differently had the rich man made a different decision regarding the bumper crop.

Today will be full of sliding door situations for all of us. Sometimes they are little decisions, sometimes big. Life is the cumulative effect of our decisions. The point is not to be overwhelmed by them, but to live in obedience to God in even the little decisions. Under God, the “what if” then becomes irrelevant. As Proverbs 16:9 reminds us

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

As we approach today’s sliding doors, may we live with humble obedience such that we have no regrets come the days end.