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A Divine Equality

I’ve been hesitant to enter into the same sex marriage debate. I confess that I’m not much for confrontation. And when something is talked about too much, I quickly tire of the same words flying through the air loose of their meaning. And in apathy and tiredness sometimes, I don’t want to have an opinion. Nor do I want to go to the effort of giving reason for a certain stance. Its much easier to just think what you’ve always thought, or do what those significant others in your life or circles are doing. But in an effort to submit all things to Christ, including my own temperament & comfort, here are some thoughts…

Equality has certainly become one weighty word. And its meaning changes depending from whose lips it comes from. It has come to be the basis of the argument to change our marriage laws. With the word being all over media, stuck on telegraph poles, on walls of small businesses, on flags freely waving from balconies, and all over Facebook…it got me thinking of somewhere else I had seen that word: in Paul’s letter to the Philippian church. Inked on a page in a context where its true meaning was revealed. A meaning that transcends time and culture. A truth embodied.

A divine equality not grasped for as it took the form of a man.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others…”

The first bunch of characteristics in Philippians 2 describe what its like to be united to Christ: comfort from his love, common sharing in the Spirit, tenderness and compassion. How much more should we crave the experience of this union with our Lord & Saviour! Before we rush off to do anything…we need to sit here.

But it does have a flow-on effect. It affects the way we relate to others: like-minded, same love, One in spirit & of one mind, nothing done out of vain conceit or selfish ambition, in humility valuing others above myself, looking to the interests of others. I need so much help in this…it doesn’t come naturally. Thankfully our union with Christ results in unity with others! Unity with his people. Tethered to him, these traits will grow.

These attributes sound very similar to the motivation behind some Facebook posts I have read recently, of my friends who are campaigning on the “yes!” side. And indeed, God commends to us that this is how we should relate to others. These are the traits we should be striving for as people united to Christ!

But what would happen if the passage ended there? This beautiful picture of union with Christ and others, and the relational humility that it pictures?

Firstly, we wouldn’t know what it would look like to have “one spirit and one mind”. What if we are all in disagreement? All divided on our opinions? Whose mind do we seek oneness with? If anything, this debate has been a fracturing of friendship & community. Love is love. But what does love look like? Where is the common ground for unity & oneness that we are craving? And how do we “in humility, consider others above yourself” when every second “other” we meet has a different view? At some point there will be a hierarchy of “others”, someone else’s view above the next person’s view.

Is this what God intended by this passage? Thankfully not. God in his wisdom went on to show us what it looked like embodied. Far more than idealistic words of a society we can’t attain, he put flesh on them so we would know what it would look like. He showed us whose mind we needed to align ours with…

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…

There is our benchmark. There is a grounding point. The mindset of Christ Jesus. What does that look like?

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[
b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father”.

It looks like a divine equality not grasped for.

A divine equality not to be used to his own advantage.

He made himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant, humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…even death on a cross.

Not grasping for divine equality manifested itself in obedience. On earth he was about one thing, “not doing his own will but doing the will of His Father”.

And this is the same mindset we are to have.

You might be thinking, ‘how does this relate at all to the debate we are having around marriage?’ Or you might be outraged thinking, ‘is this saying that those who are unable to marry are the ones laying down their rights, while those who can marry, lap up their status in society?’

I think we can all agree that this is not the picture we read earlier in those beginning verses of Philippians 2. So how does it apply?

The key divider in this passage is not, those who are voting ‘yes’ and those are voting ‘no’. Under Christ we are all equal.

The only division is ‘who is God’, and ‘who is not God’. We are not equal with God. That is the only inequality. And it must be so, for God to be God.

And because of that, equality can’t look like us redefining what wasn’t ours to define in the beginning. There are problems there that were explained earlier.

Jesus did not grasp for a divine equality that was his… he humbled himself to obey the Father perfectly. Why? Love. To redeem us…a broken people.

Love is love, but it looks like obedience to Someone who is greater. It looked like obedience to His Father.

Yes we are equal with each other: we are all made in the image of God, we have all been broken by the effects of sin, we all fall short of the beautiful glory of God, and we all need a Saviour.

We all naturally want equality. Not marriage equality per se but equality with God! That is the bigger issue here. We want equality with God and we want to make things about what WE want them to be about. Not just in marriage, but in ALL of life. That’s why we needed a Saviour. All of us.

Marriage was never designed to be about me. It was designed to be about God. To reflect Christ and his church. And he designed that reflection to be between a man and a woman.

‘Well that’s easy for you to say as a heterosexual, married woman!’

But is it really easy for me to say? Do I naturally, wholeheartedly make every part of my marriage about God? Do I in every action, thought and word towards my husband, reflect the honour of Jesus?

No. In fact in many ways, every day, ‘I consider equality with God something to be grasped’ and I’m not in nature God! But I very much act like I am in the way I live in little moments through out the day. In fact, marriage has showed me how selfish I am.

But we have a wise, good, faithful and loving God, who has so designed marriage that each of us, need to depend upon him to have the mindset of Christ. I need to fight the temptation to make something about me, that wasn’t meant to be about me.

Is marriage the ultimate place we find comfort, love, common sharing, tenderness & compassion?

No. That is only found in Jesus Christ.

And when you come to him, you find all those things and more. You also find a loving embrace into a community of broken people, who are seeking to make life about God, and not about them. They will fall short, they will stuff up, but Jesus is remaking the brokenness.

It might not be popular. It might be hard. But that is the beautiful harmony of love and truth…without either being neglected.

Tim Keller summarises it delicately:

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.”

Christians will have two tendencies in this debate: to share the truth without love (=harshness) or two seek to love without the truth (=sentimentality).

As we look to Jesus & the interactions he had with others, he never compromised on the truth yet he did so with love and compassion.

Lets strive to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do you not care? Lord you are asleep!! Do you not care that I am perishing? The existential question. It is masked by fancy parades. It accentuates people’s pain. It presents as hardness, aggression, stoic strength, anxiety…but our souls are laid bare in this one question. Do you not care?

Three words is all it took him. Three words that handle that question with great patience, yet powerful authority. “Quiet! Be still!” Does he care? He exceeds expectations. He not only cares, but has the power to calm the storm that reminds us of immortality. He is the only one who has the power over immortality. He doesn’t only care that we are perishing, but his care led him to perish in our place.

He turns the existential question on its head by asking his own. “Why are you still afraid? Do you still have no faith?” My fear of perishing is bound up with my answer to this question. If I am in the presence of the Lord, if he is in my boat, why do I still fear the storm? If Jesus sleeps in the stern, why do I not sleep with him? My mind is so alert to the dangers around me that I forget whose presence I am in. My mind is busy preempting scenarios, planning escape routes, fearful of the waves that scream so loudly.

But my hope is in something that screams louder. The silent Saviour asleep in the stern. Not a sleep that is disinterested, unconcerned and powerless. But a sleep that is screaming of his utter sovereignty, his ever near presence, his identity as Lord.

Their focus has now been shifted onto the one whose presence they are in. He calmed the storm with his word. Their vision now beholds him. They are no longer terrified of the power of the storm. They are now terrified of the One who is more powerful than the storm! There is one thing left to ask…the question of all questions. “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

O my Lord. Why am I still afraid? Do I still have no faith? Help me remember who you are. Help me to remember what you did on that rugged cross. Help me to sleep in the stern even as the storm rages.

Why? The words lay on the centurion’s lips: “truly you are the Son of God”.

Yes, I will sleep in the stern.

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Faith led me to know doubt.

Let me explain. Growing up, belief in Jesus was never hard…He was the realest thing I knew and I never had any doubt. I just believed. I was a Christian. That’s how I existed in this world. The lens through which I viewed life. So you can imagine that when I was first confronted by doubt, I was thrown cleanly off my feat. My anxiety grew, as did my efforts to suppress it. I just didn’t know how not to believe. The questions that were coming to my mind were like assaults that I just tried to defend against. I wouldn’t manage to hold one at bay before the next would surface. One after the other. I was scared of doubt. It shook up the most solid thing I knew. Each year, they would resurface. But I learned to manage them as I continued to walk in the only way I knew how.

Someone said something to me recently that they had read in a book. “Faith is a journey of doubt…faith has no place in certainties”.

I haven’t been able to shake this from my mind since. This one sentence removed the fear that attaches itself to my doubts. A sense of a foggy cloud in my mind lifted.

My changes in circumstances and adulthood as a university student, weren’t serving to shake the truth. Despite being what I felt at the time. They served to show me that I am naturally a doubter. My predisposition is to doubt.

Straight away I am brought back to the Garden. The conception place and birth place of doubt in the Word of God. In this scene I see myself. I am not predisposed to believe. While my upbringing may have given me a false confidence in myself, what I now see is that the origin of faith does not lie within me. I have a doubting heart. The essence of sin.

This is why He came on my behalf. This is why Jesus had to die. This is why he came as light into a world of darkness.

Fragility was an everyday experience as I perceived my faith to be threatened. I was fearful of one day hearing a theory or argument that would destabilize me. ‘Sometimes our security can falsely be in the confines of our own intellect’ my new friend told me. This is not where Jesus commands my security to be. It is to be in him. Yes God works through my intellect and all aspects of my person to bring me to Jesus…but it is not in those things that my faith rests. It rests in Jesus. My security is in something much bigger than my upbringing. It is in a truth that exists outside of me. A truth that has stood the test of history. A truth that in fact pierced history and was revealed in it. A truth that was embodied.

What I have now realized is that true faith, is coming to grips with the natural inclination of my heart.

My faith was not being jeopardized. It was being re-anchored. The source of my faith lies outside of me. True faith led me to know doubt. It gave me eyes to see my doubt for what it was rather than fear it. A natural inclination to not want to believe in God.

This is why God sent one who would believe him wholly and obey him fully because no amount of my intellect will lead me wholeheartedly to God. I needed saving. I need my doubt filled rebellion to be washed clean by the Savior. I need my hard heart to be softened by His life giving Spirit. I need my mind to be transformed and renewed as I take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. I am a wondering sheep that needs a Good Shepherd to search for me.

“I believe help me in my unbelief”

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(un)surprised by pain

The first wave came as a complete surprise. It knocked me cleanly off my feet. Thankfully He still held the ground that was beneath me. The hesitation and caution with which I crawled again before him, expressed itself in my doubt filled prayers. Then came another. I had just managed to take a breath before I went under again. The wound was made fresh again. This time rather than trying to stand, I stayed huddled in the corner. After all, if the waves were not going to change their course, then to stay hiding would be the safest option. Maybe then I wouldn’t notice falling so much. This time, half-hearted prayers were silenced by despondency. The lie of despair called my name loudly. It told me that my prayers were to no avail. So why bother using that breath to cry out to Him when I needed to conserve it just to survive.

As I sat here, I heard the prayers of others. I even heard them say they were praying for me. But these words didn’t take root in my heart. The devil had his foothold. He caught them and threw them away before they could cause me to trust in the One who was listening the whole time. He climbed higher and tried to cover my eyes with a thick blanket that stopped me from seeing the Loving Sovereign Father at work in pain.

It causes me deep sadness as I reflect on this to realise how long I stayed here. But he taught me valuable things when I was in the corner. His Spirit ministered to me in ways that my conscious mind may never know. His faithfulness stood undeterred. Then came the thought that caused my spirit to again stand with His.

I had been surprised by pain.

I had seen first hand the effect of a gospel that proclaims an easy life. I had felt the disappointment of the false whispers that made me trust in my circumstances. But even more revealing: I realised what darkness there lay in my heart. How quick I was to throw in the towel. How quick I was to retreat from the Author of Life. How slow I was to trust His wisdom.

His word gives a lens that explains pain like no other attempt I have ever seen. A brokenness that runs so deep into humanity that no one likes to acknowledge. A deep rejection of God as God.

As a result this life is broken.

I should be unsurprised by pain.

But there is more. There is also a deeper answer. A deeper hope. A way that plummeted the depths to soar to the highest heights. A love that broke through. A cross that pierced that deceiver, a cross that engulfed the darkness, a Saviour that scooped up the broken one. A grace that transformed the hardened one.

He showed me that I should be unsurprised by pain, and that he arms me to keep standing. Nothing kills trust in His goodness more than giving in to passivity. And projecting this passivity onto God…who is tirelessly at work for our good.

His Word is also living and active. A sword.

Lord you call us to an ACTIVE faith. Lord WHEN the next wave rolls in, may I wrestle with your word. May I reconcile every doubt-filled thought with the truth. May I desire to take my tendency to retreat to the foot of the cross where I find the power to stand. And when I can’t fight Lord, help me to know that your word fights for me. You act on my behalf. You always have.

I praise you that it is YOUR armour that we are told to put on. It is far better than any of my coping mechanisms.

Help me to fight the good fight of faith. With your children all over the world. Help us fix our eyes on heaven. When you bring all things under Christ. A restoration of brokenness.

And help us realise Lord…that now…while we wait…it IS a fight. So rather than being surprised by pain, we are armed and ready.

 

 

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Jesus the Seeker

There once was a man who decided to seek Jesus…from a distance. Intrigue got the better of him. He yearned to know who this man Jesus was. So he climbed higher. High enough to see over the crowds. From a distance. He wanted to watch Jesus as he passed by; to watch this man of importance who seemed to be on a great mission.

But little did he know what was at the heart of Jesus’ mission. The heart of which many would be quick to deem unworthy of the title “mission”. This man….watching Jesus from a distance…was Jesus’ mission. Jesus did not pass by as expected. Jesus stopped. Jesus looked up. Addressed this man by name. Called him to come down closer. Jesus the seeker. Up close and personal. No longer at a safe distance. Face to face. This man met Jesus. His seeking would only result in being a spectator…from afar. But thankfully, Jesus was the real seeker. And the one whom Jesus seeks, is not kept at a distance. The one whom Jesus seeks is brought close. Looked in the eye. And addressed by name. The one whom Jesus seeks is changed.

“The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost”.

For so long, I attributed faith as the outcome of my “seeking”. Yet the truth, which results in the crushing of all pride, is that He was the real seeker. My seeking would have kept me at a distance. Observing from afar. My seeking may even have filled my lips with opinions to share about Him…something to contribute to the discussion. Something to offer. But His seeking of me brings me intimately close. It breaks down pretence. Produces a desire for holiness. Brings transformation. My seeking would have observed him from afar. But He came close, called me down my name, so that I could joyfully receive Him. Not just so that I could know of this man Jesus, but so that I could be known by Him.

Lord Jesus, may my mission be yours. May I not see “stopping” for the lost, as a distraction, but as your very heart. Lord may I not be so precious with my time, so rigid in my schedule and goals, that I fail to stop and notice. That I fail to stop and look someone in the eye and tell them of the news of the God who came to save them. Please bring this work to completion in me Lord. May the knowledge that you have known me, produce in me a desire to live a life worthy of your call. Thank you for being the Seeker.

 

 

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My dear foot

As I look down the barrel of a new year, there are two ways I could place you my dear foot, as you step. The first is by way of confident independence. The confidence of this step would be in reflection upon your past successes. Victories won. Trials endured. This step would be clothed in the royal purple robes of self assurance, crowned with positive thinking, presumed upon dreams, and holding a sceptre of control. It would be founded upon empty promises, false confidences and paper thin resolve. You see my dear foot, to take a step like this is to fall for the illusion of independence. The illusion of control. Let me show you a more excellent way.

The second way to tread would be in utter dependence. Not by way of choice but as a realisation of reality. Dependence is not merely a chosen path but the truth. All else is deception. The confidence of this step would be in reflection upon Another’s faithfulness…yet again. Another’s strength….in my weakness. Another’s sustaining. This step would be clothed in the royal blood-red robes of humility, crowned with obedience, embodied sacrificial love, yet holding a sceptre of true sovereignty. This step is not your own dear foot, but the following of Another’s. A path already walked. A path walked in the softest gold perfection. You, my foot, must continue to follow. This step is founded upon faithful promises of never being forsaken, confidence in an eternal hope, and the resolve of which led Him to the cross.
This is the only way to face an unknown forest of trees. The only way to walk in a manner of not fearing the worst. On this path, all goodness and beauty turns to praise of the One leading, and all trial and heart ache a chance to know true sustaining grace.
Lord Jesus, You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no-one comes to the Father except by You. This new year, may Your word continue to be a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

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Today

I tied myself in a knot playing the omniscient one. A scheme of the enemy….he folded my thoughts in on themselves as they launched into territory they aren’t made to be in. Thoughts mustn’t be anxiously active where their body hasn’t taken them. Or in time that the Lord has not yet given.

And so I remember a powerful word.

Today.

Lord today I need to remember the Gospel…for today my heart will forget what my head knows. Lord today I need strength to obey you…for today I will be tempted to live my own way. Lord today I need to find contentment in you…because today I will seek it in other things. Lord today I need the humility of Christ, because today I will be tempted to be proud. Lord today I need to know my identity in you, for today I will feel insecure.

Lord today I need your wisdom to make decisions for tomorrow, for only you know the future. And today I need to commit all those plans to you and go on focussing on today for this is where you have me.

Your mercies are new each morning.

I need your daily bread.

Help me be all in today.

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