Day 90- Reheating a lukewarm life

Some things are good when they’re lukewarm, like…um… bread? But thats only because its not meant to be hot in the first place. Things that are meant to be hot, like cooked dinner, or a cup of tea, are vile when they’re tepid (such a great word). And things that are meant to be cold, like salad or ice cream, just need to be cold.

Nice cup of Tea
Nice cup of Tea (Photo credit: DerekL)

Most of the time lukewarm and tepid are not the ideal temperatures- they’re an indicator that things aren’t going too well. When I sit down for dinner and its tepid, its because I didn’t get to the table quick enough, or I’ve wasted time trying to persuade a 3yr old that the meal table is no place for a furry rabbit (she’s right, of course bunny wants to be with us, how could I miss that?).

This morning I was reading Revelation chapter 3, which talks about the church in Laodicea. When Christians discuss their churches, one in-joke that sometimes comes up is ‘who is the Laodicea in the room?’, because over the years that name has become synonymous with a lukewarm faith, and the challenging words that Jesus spoke over them- I’ll spit you out because you’re neither hot nor cold. Ouch. Not what you want to hear.

I think the reason that these strong things are said is that the church is still claiming to be living for Jesus, to be faithful, but their words and their hearts are misaligned- like a plate of food that looks and smells great, but just doesn’t hit the button when you put the first mouthful in. Its lost its heat.

The church in Ephesus were challenged to rediscover their first love, and I think the challenge to these people was somewhat similar- to remember what they were meant to be like.

Sometimes when I’ve left a cuppa to get cold, I just slug it down- yeuchh, but the fluid and caffeine are still present so its got some functional purpose. Its better if I reheat it, and then drink it more slowly, enjoying it- which is how its meant to be: there’s more to it that just the motions and the functional intake of liquid to prevent dehydration.

Its the difference between survival and life- there are times when we’re just getting by, but thats not what we’re meant to be like. Life is for living. Similarly our faith is meant to be more than just motions and requirements. Its meant to be at the core of our being… we’re most fully alive when we’re in relationship with people and God, and the challenge is to seek out that intimacy, rather than be content with lukewarm life.

And if its got lukewarm, a bit tepid, then stick it in the microwave, or maybe start again, and get your life and your faith back up to piping hot.

Microwave oven
Microwave oven (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Days 88 & 89- why be down when you could be up?

So, I’ve been continuing to look at the first few chapters of Revelation- the letters to the churches, and I’ve been really intrigued by the different things that Jesus says to them, but also about the similarities between them, and to our own culture…

first up- (though this could be lastly, as you’ll see)… in every one of them, there’s a comment along the lines of ‘to those who listen to God’s Spirit, this cool thing will happen’. Which seems to be saying that we really ought to spend some time listening to God, and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our thinking and behaviour rather than be bound by our culture or church tradition. It reminds me of a comment I heard earlier this year- Churches and Christians shouldn’t be spending time attempting to be relevant to culture, because culture is always changing and so we’ll be constantly trying to catch up, instead we should focus on creating culture that challenges people to transform their lives into a new shape.

secondly- it seems as though there’s a distinction between the ‘looking good but without substance’ churches (I think Ephesus and Sardis have this tag- go read Revelation 2 and 3 for yourself and let me know what you think), and the ‘bit shabby and beaten up round the edges but close to God’ churches (which fits Philadephia and Smyrna, from my reading). Its always tempting to look good, and it does have a part to play- when I’m looking for a restaurant, or a car, or even just a seat, I’ll be looking for some visual cues; but not at the expense of deeper quality… if the welcome to a restaurant is great but the food is rubbish, I’m probably even more disappointed (the only plus point is that if the staff are friendly I may at least feel able to let them know how bad the food is!).  The challenge is to stay close to God, no matter what.

English: This is the controls on a dover elevator
English: This is the controls on a dover elevator (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thirdly, which is where the post title comes in- i read these passages and thought about how they could transfer across to my life, and my church. And it would have been quite easy to list the faults etc. But thats not what Jesus does with us, and so thats not how I understand these letters- they weren’t written to make groups of people feel bad while others feel great, but to challenge and encourage all of them. We can read passages like this one, and feel beaten up by the words, or we can read them and feel lifted up, taken somewhere we can’t go on our own, given the chance to see something wonderful and told ‘go for it, this is what you’re called to be’.

We’re meant to be a microcosm of the Kingdom of God- a people and a place that demonstrate the potential and the reality of grace, healing, forgiveness, a family where we’re all children of God- all that kind of stuff.  So this week I’m resolved to try and be part of the church we’re meant to be, rather than stuck in a place I’m trying to get away from.

God loves my church, maybe I could learn something from Him.

Day 87- a letter to your angel

Envelopes
Envelopes (Photo credit: Kevin Steinhardt)

So, looking at Revelation (for more on what Revelation is about, see yesterday’s blog here), and right near the start are these 7 letters, dictated if you like, from Jesus to 7 different churches in Greece and Asia Minor (Turkey to us).  

And they each contain, to varying degrees, some encouragement, some warning, some challenge, and a promise.  And these two ideas, that each church has an angel, and that God might want each church to hear something uniquely personal, have struck me every time I read Revelation chapters 2 & 3.

So today, as I read the two letters to the churches in Ephesus and Smyrna I was partly thinking, what would God want to say to the angel of my church… what would be the areas where we’d be given encouragement, and where would we be called to account. And its not always a comfortable thought.

The other thought I had (I know, 2 thoughts in one day- easy tiger!) was from one particular verse- ‘return to your first love’… It reminded me of the love we have for things we’ve just started, like keen surfers who just want to talk about their last wave, or our new car, or our new partner. And I wondered why we let our faith slide from that sort of enthusiasm into a place of mediocre acceptance… or theoretical and occasional adoration that rarely develops into consistent life patterns.

Just as I don’t want the love I have for my wife and children to wither and dry up, so I don’t want the love I have for God to wither and dry up… and in both cases that requires me to take some responsibility for ensuring that love grows. 

I hope that today I will be growing in that love, revelling in that first love. 

But what’s God saying through your angel to you? Or to your church?

 

Day 86- And now, its the end of the world!! Or maybe not.

Ok, so maybe you’re not as childish or had so much over-exposure to trash TV, but when I hear the word ‘revelation’ I usually associate it with plot revelations, a revelation about someone famous, an amazing new product, or a well-timed conjurers trick. This week I’m looking at a few passages from Revelation, the last book in the New Testament Bible, so I wanted to get that out the way at the start.

Cover of "Mad Max (Special Edition)"
Cover of Mad Max (Special Edition)

Apparently the original Greek name for what we call John’s Revelation of Christ would be better translated ‘apocalypse’, but 400yrs ago no one had seen Mad Max and the whole post-apocalytic film genre just didn’t exist, so they went for ‘revelation’ instead. The truth is that this isn’t a book about the kind of things we now think of as revelations, but much more similar to the end-of-the-world type plotlines we’re familiar with from the cinema.

So, chapter 1… it sets the scene for the rest of the book- John is on the island of Patmos, he’s praying, he has a vision of Jesus who tells him to write down what he’s about to see. So far so good, except… hold on a minute- there’s a guy praying and he gets a vision of Jesus? Who speaks to him? And then he sees stuff? Don’t we call that insanity?

Which is a legitimate question: how do we differentiate between the ravings and thoughts of a madman and the voice of God? Content? Context? Past experiences?

I know when I’m praying and trying to hear from God the things that help me distinguish my own thoughts from God are whether things are in alignment with the general direction of Scripture as well as specifically agreeing/contradicting commands of God (generally speaking its my inner voice that tells me to put the coffee on).  Also, it depends what I’ve been thinking or praying about- if I’m praying about how to support someone who is grieving and I keep getting a sense of something that connects with their life, maybe its from God, but why would God be telling me to pay my car tax right now? Finally, when I think that maybe I’ve discerned or heard something from God, I try to see whether it brings peace into a situation (not the kind of peace that we often try to bring, you know, preventing conflict by denying there’s any disagreement, but the kind of peace that comes with reconciliation afterwards). And sometimes, just sometimes, I go with my gut and do what seems right rather than what I planned to do- like writing a blog posting that was intended to be about how Jesus is the alpha & omega that somehow turned into a posting on how to hear from God…  Who knows, maybe someone reading this will find it challenging or helpful. If you were looking for something on Revelation 1, i’d love to hear your thoughts…

Day 85- Resurrectionology for beginners

Or something long and complicated like that… you know what I mean- its the difference between a simple retelling of an event and a fuller reflection on the meaning of that event… or the difference between a great picture and knowing what makes a great picture. One is ‘the thing’, the other is knowing and talking about ‘the thing’.

Which is what chapter 15 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church is all about- its a reflection on what Jesus’ resurrection means, in terms of their faith, their hope, and their lives today. Its an immense piece of writing, and well worth the effort it takes… but it does take effort.

So my beginners guide to this would include:

It really, really did happen- I mentioned this yesterday, and I’m going to say it when I speak about it on Sunday, but I’ll put it here too- as far as Paul, and the early church, and all churches worldwide and pretty much all of the 1.2 billion Christians alive today are concerned, Jesus’ resurrection happened.  That doesn’t make it easier to understand, mind.

Its really important- there are things in the Bible that we can and do disagree about. There are things which are unclear. There are things that aren’t mentioned. But this ain’t one of them. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then, well, our hope for the future is grounded on something untrue.

Signpost

Its a signpost- cue neat picture:

Jesus’ death was a sign, and a confirmation, that death wasn’t the end- that death should hold no fear because it led to a new life, one that is so much better than this life, its as if we’re living as a shadow at the moment. Jesus showed what that might begin to look like.

Paul wrote all this stuff, not because he wanted to show off, but because the folk in Corinth were beginning to forget the importance of the resurrection- what they’d heard from eye-witnesses was beginning to become ‘just a story’ and lose its impact on their lives.

I hope that today I can live as if the resurrection of Jesus, with all its implications, is true.

Day 84- Resurrection v4.0

During this week I’ve been reading all 4 of the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection- in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and now today in John’s Gospel…

Now its interesting in a slightly geeky way to put the 4 accounts alongside each other and compare them- look how Luke describes the angels, and how Mark mentions this persons name etc, but the problem is that it misses the point- the resurrection and the 4 accounts of it in the Gospels aren’t about who said what and where the angels were sitting, but about the fact that the anticipated dead man (Jesus, in case you’d missed it) was not in the tomb. I’m sure there’s evidence and theories about how it works with multiple accounts of an event- whether its important that the incidental details are the same or not- some people would undoubtedly view these variations as pointing to the truth of the accounts, while others would draw the opposite conclusion from the same evidence. I remember a scene in the excellent film Unknown where Liam Neeson is recalling some incidental fact about a man he knows… and someone else tells the same story word-for-word… (you’ll have to watch the film to figure out what’s going on)… do the details conceal or reveal anything important? I’m sure there’s a book worth writing in there, but not today.

Today, its the central aspect that I want to think about- the Resurrection. Did it happen? Well, the body went missing, and no one produced it later. The disciples were convinced enough to carry on following Jesus and proclaiming his resurrection (which for the previous few days they hadn’t been doing… interesting), and most of them were convinced enough to stick with it despite threats of and actual torture or death.  Did it have to happen? I mean, can’t Jesus still be the Son of God and forgive us etc without the resurrection? Well, it seems to me that it was the proof of his previous claims- i can forgive/heal/judge/invite etc because I’m the Son of God. You’ll know I’m the Son of God because they’ll kill me, and i’ll rise again. Oh, and here he is… Did folks expect it to happen? Looks like they didn’t, just like they didn’t seem to expect him to die, and they never got quite used to the miracles etc… Jesus was constantly doing and saying amazing things, but they didn’t become ‘normal’. There’s something challenging for me there… 

SO what’s peculiar in v4.0, in John chapters 20-21?

Matthew’s gospel uses the resurrection as a platform for world mission- Jesus tells the disciples to go, and that he’ll be with them.

Mark has a similar slant, but with an emphasis on forgiveness

Luke reminds us of the Holy Spirit ‘wait till the Spirit comes’ 

And John? John uses it to tell 4 human stories, at the end of his gospel with its cosmic scale. Remember this is the one that starts ‘In the beginning was the Word…’ Well as it concludes we read about Mary who Jesus healed and spoke to on the morning he rose again, Thomas who doubted what he didn’t have proof for but was willing to change his mind, Peter who needed to be forgiven for what he’d done and brought back into relationship with Jesus, and John himself who stands to one side, constant and faithful.  The resurrection of the Son of God, through whom the world was made, had an immediate and profound impact on the lives of normal people- that’s what John’s being saying all along, and he hasn’t changed his tune.

Today, let the possibility that the Gospel might be true enter into your life, and the chance of resurrection change your perspective.

Day 82- Don’t panic… we’re just changing a few things…

Reading the last chapter of Mark’s Gospel reminds me of the ending of all the books that I’ve read which are part 1 of a trilogy… they leave you questioning and wondering whats going to happen next. Of maybe thats what it was like for the original readers of Dicken’s novels when they were serialised. Anyway, its that sort of thing- you get to verse 8, which some think is the final line in the original, and the women haven’t met Jesus, they haven’t told anyone- they’ve just seen an empty tomb and been given the message ‘don’t be alarmed’. Nothing to see here, especially as the man you’ve come to embalm isn’t dead anymore.

Or if you read the rest of the chapter, its like a speed epilogue that wraps up things in doublequick time- Jesus was seen here, he met these people, he did that… and then draws to a close. Mark’s version has similarities but is also significantly different from the other Gospels.

The most important bit, though, is that Jesus still appeared to people, and still sent out his followers into the world…

Oh, and of course, the rules have changed now- dead blokes not staying dead, the sick being healed, women being given positions of authority, the outcasts being welcomed home.

Welcome to the new reality. Now its time to live there.

 

Day 76- don’t be such a Judas!

Easily used image from the final section of the Gospels, number 1… when we use the word ‘Judas’ to describe someone betraying us, do we have a clue what it means? These are just some of the ideas I have in my head about Judas…

One of my closest friends

Someone who kept making mistakes, just like everyone else

Someone with huge ambition for me

Someone who saw me letting myself down

Someone who was willing to risk everything to make ‘it’ happen

Someone who put money above other things

Someone who could turn away from all their hopes

Someone who realised too late that you can’t always take back your words or actions

 

I don’t know how I feel about Judas… sometimes when I read passages like that in Matthew chapter 18, I get really cross with him. Other times I’m just glad I wasn’t there… maybe I would have done the same in order to push Jesus into action. Sometimes I wish there could have been another way, and at others I know it was always going to happen.

I was reading this morning in the reflections that accompany the Essential Jesus readings about how this final betrayal of Jesus came after many other smaller events where Judas had failed to make the right choices… he’d let himself slide into a pattern of behaviour that was spiralling out of control, and this is where it led him.

I guess the challenge and the thought for me today is how I can both notice those behaviours in myself, and how to step out of the cycle. I could make a fairly long list of my own failings, both actual and potential. The next step is the harder one.

Well, the longest of journeys starts with one step, so I guess I’d best get going.

Oh, and BTW, its good to be back- apologies for my absence.

Day 65- better late than never

Actually thats not an apology for a late post, but its an idea within the passage I read yesterday (John’s Gospel, chapter 11, verses 1-45). Its the passage describing the death and raising to life of Lazarus- if you’re not familiar with it, go and check it out.

When Jesus first hears that Lazarus is ill, his response is to stay put a few miles away. His friends think this is wise, as Jesus has been threatened, so a low profile seems like an eminently sensible idea.

Then, ‘lets go back’… after Lazarus has died.

Jesus gets there, the body is in the tomb, the women etc are weeping (Jesus wept- John 11.35, the shortest verse in the Bible for any other geeks or quiz fans out there). He tells Martha ‘it will be ok’ and she gives him a standard answer- of course Jesus, in God all will be ok, he’ll rise again at the last day’… but doesn’t get his meaning. Jesus is about to do something amazing.

They go to the tomb, open it up, and Jesus calls Lazarus by name… and out he comes.

Quite literally, in the eyes of the crowd, dead man walking.

And so the big question is ‘why did Jesus wait?’

Was it simply for timing? if he’d healed Lazarus it would have been ‘just another healing’? whereas this was a resurrection just outside Jerusalem shortly before the Passover… crowds would have been gathering, news passed on- a good time for a major miracle.

Was it compassion? Jesus was touched by the sadness of the sisters and the crowd, and responded to them, without really thinking?

Looking back at earlier verses it seems Jesus had a plan, but maybe the truth lies between the two- it was always Jesus plan to glorify God and to restore Lazarus to life, AND he was touched by the loss and emotions of people, so rather than prolong their suffering he just went straight to the tomb and called the man out?

Is this a passage that allows us to see the complexity of divine knowledge/plans and deeply human engagement that Jesus held?

The thing is, it sounds like a tension, but it doesn’t read like one- Jesus just lived it. Maybe thats the challenge for us… to try and live our lives closely aligned to God’s will, so that although our timing isn’t perfect and our implementation sucks, and we’ll rub folks up the wrong way as we go, our lives will be shot through with God’s love and that will redeem our mistakes?

What does anyone else think?

Days 63 & 64- tragedy, tragedy and more tragedy

Of course, I know that in many ways, when I write and experience difficulty it is very much as what folks are calling a ‘first world problem’. I’m not writing about that kind of stuff, I hope… I’m not blogging about how tired my legs felt whilst going for a bike ride on my day off, because I appreciate the luxury that is tiring myself out for fun. I’m not complaining about how much it seems I have to do, because I recognise that goes with having possessions.

The problems I’m thinking of are sickness, death, failed relationships, suffering… and yet even there I recognise that I’m not really touching on the true depth of third world problems- water (clean would be good, on tap would be even better), safety (to sleep at night without fear of attack or rape), freedom to speak and worship (whether implied or explicit oppression), health care (the hope that a fever or wound will as a matter of course be treated and recovery take place).

In case you’re wondering what Bible passage sparked these slightly downbeat thoughts, Its Mark’s Gospel, chapter 5. The beginning deals with the healing of a man who has a spiritual problem- he’s possessed by demons that make him violent, cause him to self-harm and drive him away from other people (whether this is an instance of demonic possession or mental illness isn’t my point- I think that we can distinguish between the two and its important to, otherwise all mental illnesses get tarred with the ‘demonic/spiritual’ brush which is a baaaad idea, or alternatively we put all spiritual/demonic problems in with other mental illnesses, which is logically flawed: there are similar symptoms but a different cause… anyway, moving on). Jesus meets the man, healing occurs; its all good. The man goes and shares this great news with his friends and family- yay! But then Jesus returns back across the lake.

Question: Were there no other sick, ill, oppressed or possessed people in the Decapolis region?

Then Jesus heals a woman who’s been bleeding for years and brings a child back to life. Yup. Read that again. Amazingly cool- you’d have loved to see it. And then he moves on again.

Question: Wasn’t anyone else sick, ill, bleeding or dying?

Of course, the answer is yes to both of these questions. But Jesus didn’t come as a paramedic. He came to create the possibility of healing and to open people’s eyes to a new possibility. He came to give the tragedy of life a new storyline.

Here’s where we started from. In times of tragedy many people look around for support and help, because things are falling apart around them. Some find that support from God, in their faith, or even in the faith they didn’t know they had. Others find it in different places, or look for it in a bottle or a needle… and here’s the tragedy that I see: they do that because they don’t see an alternative.

Because we try to be strong and independent, making our own way through the world, we brush aside all thoughts of support and vulnerability. Why would I want to be vulnerable to you when I can be invulnerable to all things? And then somehow, something slips through our armour- our own version of kryptonite, and we’re in deep trouble, without Lois Lane to rescue us.

The tragedy of life is that we do not notice how beautiful the world is, how important people are, how fortunate so many of us are, how little we do to actually make the world spin… until the day when our world comes crashing to a halt and the colour drains from everything.

It takes a tragedy to make us realise the true meaning of life. That is a tragedy.

So lets take the tragedy and turn it into something else in our lives.