Taking Offence

It is very easy to find fault with people and organisations.

Last night at Open Arms “Heart & Soul” meeting, Sean Booth spoke the word of the Lord to us.  I took the following notes in mind-map format:

Unity Sean Booth

The word that struck me most was “Be Honouring”.  I noted that that includes honouring those who have left and are bitter.  People leave congregations for all sorts of reasons, some good, some not so helpful.  Being offended about something someone has done, or the way things are done is easy.

In fact, that is the way the world works.  I was at a talk recently given by a learned UCD professor (it was a closed group so I don’t want to say who here publicly) who pointed out the reality that if you want to get the government to do anything all you have to do is complain loudly about some injustice or other.  In fact that is the only way anything substantial happens in the public service at least in Ireland.  If you follow current affairs you will know that is true.

However in the Church of Jesus Christ we are called to a different path.  Jesus chose crucifixion rather than complaining about all the offensive things people have done, do and will do against Him.  He is calling us to the same approach.

Now that is not to say that if someone does something criminal it should just be covered up.  That is the way a very large religious organisation has gone to the shame of all its adherents.  But unless I have at least two witnesses to something like that, something criminal or obviously reprehensible, I am not going to entertain it.

Not that kind of fence

Bound

bullock

Bucking and pulling, the bullock refused to stay still.

“Come on, I guess you know you are going to be slaughtered.  Pity you can’t be like a lamb and just go quietly.”  Jacob managed to tie another rope around the bullocks head while he thought that.

It was their prize bullock, the first fruits, the tithe, that they had brought to Jerusalem to be slaughtered.  It was a big beast and not that stupid that it didn’t sense what was coming.

“Just two more ropes should do it.” Jacob looked over at his father straining to tie the ropes around the horns of the altar.  They were the strongest parts of it and once there were four ropes, one on each corner, they could begin to draw the bullock in.

Jacob knew his father loved Yahweh and was drawing on these ropes motivated by that love.  He remembered what he had been taught about the prophets Jeremiah’s and Hosea’s writings*, how God had drawn His people out of Egypt and brought them with similar cords of love during all their years in the wilderness and afterwards. The picture of a bucking and rebellious people reluctantly being led was clear as he watched this bullock’s antics.

Jacob also knew that this bullock was worth a lot and represented a significant sacrifice on the part of his dad but he also knew his dad didn’t think of it that way.  He just wanted to give his best to the God who had loved him and prospered him all his days with finances, family and peace.

The bullock was more subdued now.  The priest stuck the knife in and drained the blood from the beast.  The life of the beast was in the blood and as it was poured out so the life left the beast and only a carcass remained.

This was a whole burnt offering.  The smoke went up in billows and spread a pungent odour around the temple area.


Many years later a man with a mission called Paul wrote to some Romans and said that they should offer themselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:2) or, in reality, we all should.  The flesh represented by the bullock is strong and not rational.  It doesn’t want to die.  The cords of love that cause us to bring our sinful natures to the altar are strong.  They are the bindings of a God who loves us.  Like a moth to a flame we cannot help but be drawn to the death of our old ways by the look in His eyes.

“I died for you, will you not trust Me?” Jesus asks.

“My Father loves you and has only the best plans for you.  Will you not trust Him?”

*Jeremiah 31:3, Hosea 11:4.

Faith and Heart Attitude

How do you get into heaven?

Jesus says you have to be a certain way.  He sums up this way in the beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matt. 5:3)

Alternatively, you can suffer and qualify that way:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matt. 5:12)

On the other hand Paul is also quite clear:

“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”  Romans 3:21-28.

The classic protestant understanding of the gospel – justification by faith apart from works – is summed up in the above passage from Romans and backed up by many other passages from the New Testament.

So how does that fit with what Jesus says to people in the sermon on the mount?  I believe the key is in heart attitude.

There are so many people in this world that won’t ever read Paul’s writings.  There are a huge amount of them – billions – who, even if they did read it won’t understand it intellectually.  In general, people are not cerebral.  However, even the smallest baby knows how to trust.  God has made our hearts trusting, we have to be taught not to believe in Him.  In that way, the intelligent and those with the leisure and money to spend time reading up all sorts of things on the Internet  are handicapped.  We believe clever false teachings about life so easily.  The humble poor however simply believe and trust God will look after them.  To them Jesus speaks and says: “Yours is the kingdom of heaven.”

Those who follow their unspoiled conscience and find themselves persecuted for persevering in doing the right thing are also showing that they believe in their hearts in God.  Paul talks about them in Romans 2:

God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.  Romans 2: 6-16.

Some of those who are poor in spirit will have been discouraged by now and not have read this far.  Others will have read to this point and not understood it.  Some will have read and understood and to those I hope this is helpful.

But you don’t have to understand Paul’s writings to be saved.  You don’t even have to consciously understand the Good News to believe.  Jesus died for your sins so you don’t have to and rose again so He can bring you with Him to His place when you die.  That isn’t complicated.

If you don’t think you are much and feel you can’t keep up with the intellectual demands of our technically complicated society don’t worry.  It will all be burnt up in the end and your soul will be with the One you trust in.  Just keep going.

Coherence

“What is the difference between a bird and a car?” I heard the Holy Spirit saying to me in my thoughts this morning.

Don’t mock, God is quite capable of speaking to you too in plain English.

A wagtail had just mounted my car outside and flitted about in its inherent freedom.

A bird is so much part of God’s creation, it is coherent in it I thought in reply.  It has that peculiar thing called life about it, autonomy, awareness of its environment, capable of responding dynamically to things.  When it dies it will decay quickly and be recycled.

A car has to have an artificial man made environment created so it can function in it.  It needs roads, petrol stations, parking lots.  It is dead, hardly aware of its surroundings, capable of little or no autonomous action, has little capability of responding to dynamically changing surroundings.  It needs to be driven. When it breaks down it will have to be scrapped and the parts recycled with difficulty.  It moves through God’s creation but doesn’t really cohere to it or fit in very well.  The quest to create autonomous cars still won’t give the things life.  We haven’t understood what does that properly yet in our education system.

I had been asking God about inventions.  He was pointing out to me that an element of invention that He values greatly is how it might cohere or fit into His creation.

Later on today my daughter was going over her biology homework with me.  She needed to learn about the carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle.  In a similar way to the way water is recycled (Eccl. 1:7) God wastes nothing.  Paradoxically, when things can be recycled efficiently then it is possible to introduce huge amounts of waste without damaging the environment.  Hence the fact that God allows trees and plants to produce a super abundance of seeds, most of which never become trees or plants like their parents.  Waste is not waste when it is recycled.

A narrow view of the Gospel would have us ignore or play down care for the environment.  Climate change and dealing with plastics are the realm of the liberal, ungodly left  in popular evangelical teaching.

However I believe God cares a lot about these things and He wants His followers to do the same.