Captured by Love

Captured by Love

This wonderful “Confession of Faith” can be found here at Michael Hardin’s ‘Preaching Peace’ website.

We confess we have been captured by love –
the constant source of the universe,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Jesus has captured us for freedom.
In his truly human life
he was God among us, crucified by us.
God raised him from death
for the forgiveness of our sin
and the re-creation of our life.

His Father is our Father –
The source of his life and ours,
the God of Israel,
in whose gracious purposes
all creation is drawn to fulfillment.

His Spirit gives life to all
transforming our life from the inside out
by worship, scripture and sacrament
into the community of Christ and of the future
for the sake of the world.

In this triune God we bear witness
to the love which has captured us.
Our vocation lies in God’s mission –
to communicate it here in Aotearoa New Zealand,
to embody it socially
and to care for God’s glorious creation.

In this new-given unity
we live in confidence and hope;
anticipating the healing of creation
and the final flourishing of peace
in Christ.

Rev. Dr. Bruce Hamill
Coastal Unity Presbyterian Parish
Dunedin, New Zealand

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Near Redgate Beach, Torquay (c) Gralefrit 2016

Abraham’s Faith?

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Whilst considering grace for a sermon, and I just cannot get my head or heart round this exquisite reality in the Christian faith, I came across that old wily character that for too long I have read as some what of a hero.  Yes, at times a scoundrel (who isn’t?), but essentially a man of faith tested and proven.  But I was shocked, when I had my presupposition challenged.

(The 1635 Rembrandt (left) is a favourite of mine, ‘Sacrifice of Isaac’).

Abraham in fact models a kind of ruthless self-seeking at the expense of others by taking those around him and dragging them through the bush backwards (for wont of a better metaphor)!  He deceives Pharaoh, Abimelech and seriously hurts his own wife.  He allows Hagar to be mistreated (including by having his wicked way with the poor women), and then we come to the most famous story of all (GEnesis 22).  A story of faith I thought.  Read on….

“Suppose, however, that God is well aware of Abraham’s tendency to forfeit his family to danger and uncertainty?  What if the test is really designed to see just how far Abraham will go? . . .

. . . Perhaps God needs to see if there is ever a point where Abraham is willing to sacrifice himself rather than his family.  He has sacrificed the other members of his household; will he go so far as to sacrifice this son of promise? . . .

What might we have heard from an exemplary Abraham?  “Take me!  I am old.  The boy has his whole life in front of him.”  Or might we even have heard the Abraham of old (cf. Gen 18:25):  “Far be it from you to expect such a thing. . . . ”  But . . . . this Abraham risks nothing but silent obedience. . . . Abraham makes every effort to go through with the sacrifice of his son.  Only God’s intervention keeps him from murder. . . .

Abraham, ironically, names the place “YHWH will see.” . . . . But what has YHWH actually seen?  On the mountain, YHWH sees a man who fears, a man in need of grace. . . .

Whether or not Abraham has passed the test, we do not know.  We fear not.”

Gunn and Fewell in Narrative in the Hebrew Bible, p.98-100

I suspect Abraham was a failure because we are failures.  We try to save our own skin every single time.  He’s like us, and that is why for Abraham, God provided a lamb, and for all of us, God provided a Lamb.  We didn’t and can’t pass the test, but Jesus can and does.

We don’t do grace too well

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We are in a bind are we not?  I mean, a church is a community of mixed people, at every conceivable stage of life and experience, but together never-the-les.  The bind though, is that we are in this community as individuals gathered to love and serve the Lord and each other – and by-and-large, we want to do that, yet not without the occasional burp of dysfunction.

It would be fair I think, to take the hit on the proverbial chin, that the church is where one finds more hypocrites than anywhere else on the planet.  I know I am a hypocrite and I’m the minister!  But that is also the very reason why I am a Christian.  I am a sinner, I do sinful things, I think sinful things, I desire sinful things.  But thanks be to God there is a cure for sin, and that is salvation, a Christ-won salvation!

Salvation of sinners, hypocrites, liars, murderers, God-deniers, and the like, is God’s direct and effective self-revelation….in Christ….always and only in Christ……that opens the eyes of sinners, that they see him as a loving Father who has invited them into the joy and fellowship of His own self, the God-head of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And this should, I say should, set us free.

Most of the time, for many people, we respond to grace as we respond to a generous gift from a friend, “Oh you shouldn’t have.”  We take the gift and immediately the plotting starts on how we are to pay the person back for their gift.  That’s because we don’t do grace too well at all.  And this then leads to a fruit, a product, a worldview, a consequence of thinking about grace wrongly:  we become workers, doers, activists, organised, efficient.  In theological language we become nomians, law makers and law keepers and often law-seekers, the more laws the more po-faced we become, and the more po-faced the more righteous and religious -right?  It’s as if the whole book of Galatians was written for us, and we simply deflect verses such as 5:1 as being for others, them…out there….and certainly not us!!

When there is a law, what need of grace?  Grace language becomes a part of our religious discourse for sure, but its power, its truth, its vitality is simply not grasped.  Oh how we must nod sagely as we read in Ephesians 2 “…by grace you have been saved…” but inwardly shudder, maybe even mumbling something about the book of James balancing out all this nonsense about grace language with a works language.  After all, isn’t activism, busyness, practical-ness a contemporary virtue of our present day?  Now a works language we get, “Tell me what to do?”  It’s all a bit mixed up.  We don’t know what to do with Jesus’ own words about works:  “The work of God is this: believe the One He has sent…”  (John 6:29).

When we truly do get this kind of work, believing the God-man Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, the Word of God with skin on, the eternally begotten, the One who holds the universe in the palm of His hands and sustains it with the word of His power, this Jesus, is the One who offers salvation by grace to wayward sinners.  How on earth can that salvation offered by such a God ever be skewed to the degree that we think we’ve got to add to it or earn more favour (like what? What could we possibly add to that?).  Jesus died for you.  Your sins curse has been trumped and trashed by God’s salvation cure!  “Oh you shouldn’t have!  For me….really…..Oh I must pay you back….”

I’d like to end with a personal account from the 17th century of what I’m trying to say.  It’s about 1653 and a man named Humphrey Mills, who believed Christ – but under law, until one day he heard the sweet gospel preaching of the great Puritan Richard Sibbes.  Humphrey writes,

“I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing; looking for Heaven that way.  And then I was so precise with outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above their ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies.  But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint….Dr Sibbes, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit.  His sweet soul melting gospel sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had much of God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world….and my heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward.”

That’s what salvation does because salvation is from Jesus, the Saviour of the world.

Science and Faith, not Science or Faith!

John Lennox is a British mathematician, philosopher of science and Christian apologist who is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford.

At the BMS ‘Mission of the Mind’ event held in Reading on the 28th November, I had the privilege of listening to the brilliant lecture he delivered (see below).

http://vimeo.com/80878189

The Cross of Christ: WHY?

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In this talk, Richard Cunningham considers why Jesus had to die on the cross. He refers to Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, and covers six misconceptions about the Cross while explaining its real significance for our lives.

Six misconceptions about the Cross:

1. The Cross is something sentimental
2. Jesus chose to die to start a new religion
3. The life and teaching of Jesus are separate from his death
4. We don’t see the danger posed by God’s holiness and our sin
5. There must be another way to be forgiven apart from the Cross
6. I’m not bad enough to need the Cross

While clarifying these misconceptions, Richard explains the true significance of the Cross for our lives.

“Nothing but the resurrection can explain the birth of Christianity.”
“It is still the Cross, not the tomb, that the Church had chosen to be the primary symbol of faith.”

http://www.bethinking.org/bible-jesus/introductory/why-did-jesus-have-to-die-on-the-cross.htm

The painting is by:

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) Italian 1490-1576

It has nothing to do with Richard Cunningham or the UCCF.  He may well have chosen a completely different portrayal of the Crucifixion, and who could blame him?  Not me.

God is for us

BARTH

“If we fix our eyes upon the place where the course of the world reaches its lowest point, where its vanity is unmistakable, where its groanings are most bitter and the divine incognito most impenetrable, we shall encounter there – Jesus Christ. . . The transformation of all things occurs where the riddle of human life reaches its culminating point.  The hope of his glory emerges for when nothing but the existentiality of God remains, and he becomes to us the veritable and living God.  He, whom we can apprehend only as against , stands there, for us.”

Karl Barth

How to Pass a Test 100% Without Knowing All the Answers!

Evil&Suffering

A short post on a BIG problem:

The follower of Jesus does not (nor should not) claim to have all the answers to the perplexities of life, although too many pretend that they do (over-realised eschatology is by definition ‘faking it’ – we would do well to remember Paul said that Christians see through a glass darkly and that we only know “in part”)!

The deepest of all our human questions where our answers are limited is in the areas of evil and pain and suffering.  Personal and national, we remember Egypt, Syria, North Korea, Congo, Nigeria, Libya, the West Bank, Iraq, Afghanistan.  We think about 9/11, Tsunami’s, nuclear accidents, world wars, local wars, curable disease, incurable disease, infant mortality, mindless violence (and mindful violence for that matter)!!

We think about our own contribution to sin and evil and we are perplexed by ourselves – how come we expect to understand what God is doing?  And just because we don’t does not give us license to pretend that we do!  Likewise, neither does not knowing give us a free pass to lazy thinking and sloppy answers.

One way of responding to the plain and honest fact that people, let alone Christians do not know all the answers can be best understood as far as I can see, in a modern day parable: The Parable of the Resistance Fighter.

A parable, incidentally, thought up by Christian Philosopher Basil Mitchell at Oxford when on occasion he felt he was the only one with a real Christian faith among his academic elite colleagues – so this is probably  his personal story in parable form:

Let us say this is WWII in France, and I say to a willing person, “I understand you want to fight in the resistance?  I’m the resistance Leader, we have 2 hours to talk tonight, check out anything you like, ask me any questions, but if you sign on after tonight, you’ll obey me blind, and you’ll often be in the dark.  Sometimes it’s obvious what my instructions are and what I’m doing, sometimes it won’t be.  You may see me in Gestapo uniform arresting your mate, and you won’t know that I’m releasing him later.  You will see me act in ways that seem betray my loyalty and you’ll be convinced at what you saw, but you won’t truly know or understand.  You’ll just have to trust.  That’s what you signed up for!”

And this is precisely the challenge of Christians in a fallen world.  We don’t always know what’s happening, and we often certainly do not know why!

For us to think about in this as Christians, our struggles with sickness, evil and all the rest, there are two fundamental questions:

  1. Is God there?  i.e. does God exist?
  2. What is God like?  i.e. is God good (his character)?

Those who know the answers to that, have the fundamentals as it were.  They can ‘walk in the dark’ like our resistance fighter.  A walk that is by faith and not by sight.  A walk by faith often despite sight!

And for the followers of Jesus, both these questions are answered in him.

Where do we see most strongly that God is there?  In Jesus.

Where do we see most undeniably that God is good?  In Jesus.

That means we know why we trust God, but we still don’t know why God is doing what He’s doing.  And that is of supreme importance.

Think of Abraham when asked by God to do the monstrous act of sacrificing Isaac.  Abraham didn’t know why God asked or why He even desired such a thing, but what Abraham did know was that God is there and God is good.  And his obedience led to Isaac being spared at the last second, and Abraham learned what it meant to trust God in the dark.  And it was credited to him as righteousness!

Paul even says in Gal 3:8 this Abrahamic act of blind-trust was an example of the Gospel being preached.  The Commander tests the resistance fighters.  God tests those who follow him.  You can only pass the test by faith, and it’s the only test you can get 100% in without all the answers!  How cool is that?

But after the war is over the resistance leader happily shares why he did what he did, divulges all the secrets, in the plain light of day.  But here and now, we walk by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.

Brothers and sisters, if you want to know the Supreme Commander of the greatest resistance the world has known, the Commander has won, he has defeated the enemy, the end is in sight, repent of your sins and join the revolution.  That is all you must do.  Repent and believe, and then and only then, like Abraham, obey.

For those who are already enlisted, friends, we know God is there and we know God is good.  We will never know all He does.  Goodness me, I don’t even know why I do all I do!  But I do trust Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.

Will you?