Friday, 17 June 2016

Justice mitigated with love

We live at a time when culture can tend to dictate trends and attitudes. The church continually struggles with what that means to long held and theologically wrestled with views of scripture and how Christians should live it out in their daily lives. We struggle with what scripture says and what society says when they don't seem to add up together.

Is it so different a time, I wonder, from what we read of in the Bible? Take the Hebrews who in the desert soon reverted to the cultural norm of worshiping animal shaped gods when Moses was up on the mountain, a practice they had learned from years in Egypt, I suspect. The Israelite's struggled continually with God's call on their lives to be set apart, to be Holy and righteous and to keep his commands. They struggled with the religions and cultures around them and ended up caving in and adopting those ways, demoting God. As result God's judgement on them was played out in separation; the prophets talk in terms of unfaithfulness and divorce (take a look at Hosea for example).

God, as the Bible tells us is, among other characteristics, a God who is just and his works perfect. However we read the Bible, that message comes through in the New and Old Testaments. Justice suggests judgement which at times is pretty hard for us to stomach. The rebellions in the desert of the Hebrews resulted in swift responses and at times only Moses intercession seems to have averted total disaster for them. God's justice was visited on King David for his blatant abuse of power in claiming another's wife and having the husband killed. We don't like a God who punishes and corrects and yet its a part of who God is, a God who judges our actions and is just and Holy.

And us, what about us today? The Bible tells us that Jesus came to save humanity from the price of sin, the things we do that offend against God's ways, that rightly and justly deserve the penalty. In Jesus' words if we don't turn from sin and turn to God we will die.

So what about culture and cultural pressure for Christians to adopt new ideas or change their theological positions? We are inevitably and, in my opinion rightly, slow to change, if we change at all in some situations. Scripture must be wrestled with and not simply looked at with a new cultural agenda or lens or with a view to a quick fix, after all that would be, as Paul puts it, like being blown here and there by every wind of teaching ... Through the centuries the Church has had to wrestle with change in its understanding and often for good reason, but not everything can be changed, some things are in God's word to us for good reason even if we don't like them or if they challenge our views.

Gods justice is mitigated with love, love that knows no bounds, love that pays the price, love that offered a sacrifice to end all sacrifices, Jesus, in our place. God's just punishment for our sin, paid in full so that we might be set free, in Christ.

However I look at scripture I see love and justice going together, God is creating with his people a holy priesthood, a royal nation, modeled on his ways, not ours, our template? Jesus Christ. Living with cultural pressures to change means that what is acceptable to some will not be to others and there is a need for the church not to move with every wind and pressure, but to seek faithfully to know God's heart on each issue - after all Jesus told us that he was sending, and I believe he has, the Holy Spirit to lead us in all truth.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Living sacrifices

Recently we have been looking, in church, at the Holy Spirit and us. One of the things that has been coming up in my studies preparing the sermons on this is the call to be a "living sacrifice".

Rom 12:1  Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship.

Tozer in his book "Life in the Spirit" talks about separation, which occurs when believers are filled with the Spirit, his example is the disciples after Pentecost. This point being that the Spirit brings a separation between believers and the world. Not physically but spiritually, this separation is a part of the living sacrifices that we are to be. He goes on to tell of the Moravians in 1727, who having experienced this filling with the Holy Spirit, became some of the most enthusiastic evangelists of their day, giving up the comforts of their homes to spread the good news.

Being a living sacrifice suggests a need to put something before our desires and wants - Jesus, the one we are called to imitate as best we can, with the Holy Spirit's help. But there is an obvious problem for most of us, we don't want to give up the things that we have come to like, trust, put our faith in, so that we can devote more time to knowing God, serving him, going wherever he asks us to. What we often want is a mission that means we can stay at home, have our job and enjoy the fruits of it, a life not too disturbed by sacrifice.

Sacrifice comes with a call to let go, to hold loosely to some things, to offer all that we have, our bodies included, to be where God wants us. A couple of missionary friends have just gone to Central Africa, the wife being pregnant, for a short trip to see how things are and what their mission might be when the baby has been born. That, to me, is sacrificial.

Does this concept of being a living sacrifice embody other types of sacrifice? For example, opening our homes to others, or lending treasured possessions to others, or maybe making meals for others even inviting them to our table. What about giving up a significant part of our time and of our income to God's work, that would be a sacrifice? I am sure there are many ways.

In a culture where me, my and I tend to come before anything else when we are looking at life  -my new car, my holidays, my home, my security, what I want, what I deserve - it is, I think, getting more and more difficult to be living sacrifices. And yet as Tozer says, the Spirit separates us from the world and Jesus tells us:

Mat 16:24-26  Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

We must lose our lives in Christ, be living sacrifices, and then we will find the joy and wonder of true life in Christ. I think it was exactly this that allowed Paul to write that he was an offering being poured out, a sacrifice, as he imitated his Lord and Saviour who gave himself as a sacrifice for Paul and us.

Another book I have been looking at is "The Wind in the house of Islam", a detailed survey of people coming to faith in Jesus, in predominantly Muslim parts of the world. The thing that is repeated over and over is the sacrifice of many such believers, their love for Jesus has reshaped their lives, often requiring huge sacrifice and danger, but they seem not to turn from it, they embrace it. There is an example for all of us in that of being living sacrifices.