The Cross isn’t Glamorous

In our time, the cross is a symbol of purity and holiness. It is suspended from the body as jewellery, hangs on walls and greets the eye on Bible covers. It means a lot of things to different people but it is quite rare in our day to associate it with excruciating humiliation and ignominy. Continue reading

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Spiritual Pride

Thirteen years ago, a foreign pastor visited our church one Sabbath afternoon. He had lived in an area controlled by rebels and regaled us with tales of abductions and forced labour. The stories of resilient faith in the face of stern hardship were nothing short of remarkable. One of his stories included his firm stand on not working on the Sabbath. Two denominations refused to work on the Sabbath and were summoned to explain themselves by the rebel leadership. He happily told of his explanation and with a dismissive wave of the hand, informed us of the other pastor’s inability to defend his position. The rebel leadership, we were told, exempted the members of his church from Saturday labour while the other denomination received no exemption.

At that very moment, my friend whispered in my ear, “you can easily see the spiritual pride on his face.” He added, “Just because that pastor couldn’t explain himself,doesn’t mean his whole church is inferior.” Spiritual pride is a dangerous self delusion. It drives us to turn God’s gracious blessings into entitlements. The spiritually proud are convinced God owes them a lifetime supply of blessings to pay them for two seconds of superficial obedience. Pride goes before destruction because pride is blind. Unable to see anything beyond themselves, they walk into traps but imagine themselves upright.

Unable to see God, they are unable to see themselves for those only those who gaze with awe upon God are able to see their true selves and are horrified by it all. Blind to God and to their true condition, the proud are doomed to never understand those around them. It is a lonely business! Afraid to lose God, they turn their noses up at other sinners, often moments before they fall into the same sins. It isn’t long before they decide to weed out sinners in an attempt to keep themselves pure.

In the end, it is only God’s graciousness that give us any hope. While we wallowed in sinful folly, God offered us a new way to be winners. 

We owe our victories unequivocally to God. He is the instigator and finisher of our faith. The source and sustainer. To be sure, we will walk the streets of the New Jerusalem not because of who we are but because of who He is and what we have allowed Him to make out of us.

A little humility would be in order.

Shepherds do not Carry Shackles

In a time when clerical scandals find their way into screaming headlines, we are ever more leery of any calls to submit to church leadership. Thus, clergy and laity find themselves at an impasse for no leader can lead when none follow and followers, rubbing their chain-chaffed wrists, are rightly reluctant to subject themselves to tyranny. Perhaps no leader told you of visions telling him to claim your teenage daughter as his wife but you may have been blinded by your Continue reading

Points of Contact

What picture does the word “Holy” invoke in your mind? Do you see a severe preacher marching down the street with his equally somber wife on their way home to an austere dinner of steamed carrots, raw cauliflower and unsalted watery soup seasoned with nothing but the fire of righteous condemnation burning in their eyes? Perhaps you are assailed by all the bitter memories of sitting through time-warping sermons so boring they filled five minutes with the strain of an hour but went on for hours. Yes, boring, tortuous but at least they guaranteed heaven, or so you told yourself. Why do we associate holiness with actions?The pagans associated holiness with location. They had holy sites in which the physical pressed palms with the metaphysical. These locations were different, elevated and separate in their minds because they were the points of contact with their deities. Abraham and his descendants came from this background and thus were not immune from this thinking as seen by their erection of altars and monuments to mark points of contact with Jehovah.

This wasn’t the case in Genesis 1 where the demarcation between Creator and creation is clear. In the Bible, holy means, separate or distinct and so the Creator is distinct from creation (the pagans did not have such a clear distinction, as far as I know). This distinction is carried on to humans, distinct in that they are made in God’s image. At the serpent’s behest, we decided to blur the distinction between Creator and created and ushered in the breakdown of relationships, both vertical and horizontal.

God bears patiently with His children, never leading faster than they can follow. He worked within the limits of Abraham’s knowledge to bring him from faltering obedience to trusting obedience. Later, God called out ex slaves and forged them into a distinct nation, meeting them halfway by establishing a temple, a point of contact that stayed with them throughout their travels. Thus, the entire camp was holy. Every aspect of life was governed by this holiness in addition to rituals meant to drive the point home.

Alas, the Israelites spent too much time hanging out with pagans and ended up blurring the line between Jehovah and the pagan deities. Pagan gods had very little interest in people’s lives and had to be appeased, thus, the rituals surrounding their worship were meant to alter how the gods’ perception of the people. Jehovah was distinct, he was thoroughly interested in how people live and His rituals were meant to alter the people’s perception of Him. Jehovah sent prophets to point out that He wanted changed characters and not singed flesh:


But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,

    what God is looking for in men and women.

It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,

    be compassionate and loyal in your love,

And don’t take yourself too seriously—

    take God seriously. (Micah 6:8 The Message)

Freed from Babylonian bondage, God’s people again tied God to the temple in Jerusalem and built a system of exclusivity around it. In trying to keep God holy, they inadvertently made Him national property. There were no idols in the temple but there were idols in the mind – God was still national property to be manipulated with sacrifices and His temple became a talisman to ward off political decimation. 

Jesus shifted the focus of holiness from location and mere deeds to relationship. After outlining how reconciliation ought to be at first, a matter of several people, he declared that such a situation was to be blessed with his presence (thus, holy):


And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.
 (Matthew 18:20 The Message)

However, it was in the discussion with the Samaritan woman that he revealed that this holiness, freed from location, tribe and creed was to be brought about by the Spirit


But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth
. (John 4:23,24 NET)

Whatever rituals or locations you associate holiness with are fine just as long as they point you to true holiness – acting justly, embracing mercy and living with humility, for this world hungers for justice and needs mercy but we are powerless to give these without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. It is my wish that we all may become points of contact.
 
 
 
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Just How Big are Your Pockets?

Jesus fits so easily in my pocket. He seems to like everything that I like and shares my dislikes. When I’m angry at those in authority, Christ is a rebel but when I’m in charge, Jesus desires order for progress’ sake and nods his head when I lay down the law. Some people love following rules while some can’t see a rule without breaking it and my parents without the slightest hesitation would say I belong to the latter. Perhaps that’s why my favourite stories from the Gospels are those that tell of Jesus’ rule breaking like the Sabbath healing miracles, healing the Gentiles, chilling with Samaritans and having pizza with sex workers and corrupt government officials. Stories of Jesus restoring order in the temple with a whip in His hands (He didn’t strike anybody) and giving instructions to the disciples just fade into the recesses of my mind, subject to only a begrudging assent.

If only He wasn’t such a nice guy, maybe I could take Him more seriously. Imagine the King of the Universe hanging naked on a cross, turning the other cheek and strolling the extra mile! Fancy the King of All washing filthy feet! That was the point though. In Luke’s account of it (Luke 22), Jesus set the record straight about how His kingdom functions:

Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened: “Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant.

“Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You’d rather eat and be served, right? But I’ve taken my place among you as the one who serves. And you’ve stuck with me through thick and thin. Now I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me so you can eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregations of God’s people.

(Luke 22:24-30 The Message)

The power of humility is incredible. Jesus is immensely powerful; speaking stars into existence and chatting corpses to life but there’s more to it than meets the power hungry eye! Jesus doesn’t want us to trust in His might but in the love with which He wields that power. The Bible isn’t a buffet meal from which I’m to choose whatever I feel like eating, it is a complete balanced meal I’m to consume in it’s entirety if I’m ever to live. 

From that perspective, Jesus is more than a religious mascot for whatever cause I happen to be in support of. No! Jesus is more than a nail-pierced reflector of my opinions and feelings – that’s my parrot’s job – He is God made man. Christ is God in an accessible (not malleable) form to allow certified sinners like me the chance to see Him as He is (character) and not die but thrive and be renewed in His grace. How dare I try to squeeze Him into my pocket!

If you think, that’s bad, wait till you see how I’ve relegated the Holy Spirit to a celestial Siri whom I ignore until I’m stuck. I guess it’s partly because when I sit in the church pew and listen, He seems little more than some ethereal lotion to be squeezed out of a bottle or insecticide sprayed from a can. Why doesn’t He speak up for Himself and set the record straight? It’s that humility thing again! At the same dinner mentioned above, Jesus spoke about Him:

I didn’t tell you this earlier because I was with you every day. But now I am on my way to the One who sent me. Not one of you has asked, ‘Where are you going?’ Instead, the longer I’ve talked, the sadder you’ve become. So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you.

When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.

I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you. Everything the Father has is also mine. That is why I’ve said, ‘He takes from me and delivers to you.’
(John 16:4-15 The Message)

Far from being merely some ether that leaks out of heaven, the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person, lovingly wielding power to make my feeble mind understand the abjection of my sinful situation so that I may receive the gift of righteousness and then understand that judgement is necessary to depose Satan. The Holy Spirit is the One who quickens me to live up to the lofty ideal set by Jesus. It is His efforts that give me the self control to give up the desire to control others and serve them instead. Christ offers citizenship and the Holy Spirit delivers the forms and guides me with compliance.

If the Holy Spirit were only a power, I would be right in seeking to have more of “it” but His divine personality means that in Him, I have the overflowing cup of God’s presence in my life. It means I don’t need more of Him but I just need to accept more of Him i.e. I need to admit to myself that I can’t do it all. That’s humility. Humility is hard. I don’t know why since I have very little to be proud of. That is the mysterious power of sin but thank God, He is far more powerful than sin yet He so lovingly wields His power that He and Jesus are small (humble) enough to fill my life but a little to big to fit in my pocket.

 

 

 

 

 

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Is God Ever Shy?

How can the Holy Spirit be Divine and yet be content to work in obscurity? From hovering over the waters at creation to filling Bezalel with creative skill, He seems leery of the spotlight and instead, content to turn it on Jesus and the Father. It is because He spurns the fanfare and accolades associated with kingly power that we doubt His Divinity. How could we not doubt when the Bible is filled with odes to the Father and Jesus but only punctuated with terse references where the Holy Spirit is concerned?

Perhaps it is time we realised that our stampeding for the spotlight has less to do with effectiveness than it has to do with pride. Pride is always befuddled by humility and can only either belittle it or reject it as false. Yet the Holy Spirit challenges our belief that the essence of life lies in the spotlight. The Holy Spirit sends a portfolio and testimonials instead of a curriculum vitae because He seeks to attract by inspiring awe and not bedazzle us.

His apparent shyness is shared by the Father and Jesus too. Have you read the rousing hymns of praise sung about Jesus by the Father in Hebrews 1? Do you remember the glorious parables of the Father’s love breathed by Jesus in the gospels? They never tire of heaping praise on each other because of the love that swirls through the very core of their essence. God truly is love, not so much in an overbearing sentimental sense but in a commitment to serve others. True humility can never flourish in bashfulness because it can only thrive in a heart so confident that it sees no need to bask in the limelight.

Satan approached Jesus in the wilderness to tempt Him to prove His Divinity by grasping the limelight (turn stones into bread and jump from the temple) but Jesus chose to prove it by holding to a loving trust in the Father. Jesus came to reveal the Father (He spoke of Him incessantly) and refused to steal the limelight from Him. It is this stubborn confidence in His relationship with the Father and the resultant contentment that gave strong evidence of Jesus’ identity.

The Father too, couldn’t restrain Himself from heaping praise on Jesus at His baptism but could restrain Himself from intervening on Calvary. As sinners jeered at Jesus on the cross, challenging Him to prove Himself by saving Himself, the Father didn’t distract them by attacking them. All eyes were to be on Jesus. Is it any wonder that the Holy Spirit doesn’t spend time attracting attention to Himself?

How different would our lives be if we proved ourselves not by claims or fanfare but by positive results? What strife we would avoid and how sweet our relationships would be, if we were so confident in our identities that we would be content to point attention to others.

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