Category Archives: spiritual kingdom

Abandoned to death or saved by Christ?

 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10v11-13)

I took this photo four years ago. It was at the start of the 100 year commoration of the First World War and a ceramic red poppy was placed in the moat area around the Tower of London to represent each life lost during that conflict. A truly poignant pictorial representation of all the lives lost.

On the day I attended, the approximate count of poppies placed was somewhere in the region of  800,000 with more to be added. Can you imagine it? Eight hundred thousand people dead? Each one with parents, siblings, spouse and friends, all left to grieve their  violent passing. A terrible tragedy affecting millions upon millions of people. (Even worse, the war to end all wars did not do as predicted with 45 wars more wars since that time).

So what has all of this to do with Jesus as the good shepherd?

Well, the Christian belief is that Jesus has won a battle that makes people free from the shackles of death, decay and darkness.  Long before young men and women were cut down in the prime of life, Jesus came to earth to die and be resurrected, determined that the wolf should not have the final victory over humanity. Hence, Jesus’ response to the dying thief on the cross who petitions him to show favour  after he dies. Jesus’ reply answers the ageless question of what exists after death:

“Truly I tell you: today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23v47)


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Life to the full?

‘Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.  I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”‘ (John 10v7-10)

I love the imagery being used here by Jesus  –  ‘I am the gate for the sheep.  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.’

In the 1st Century, Jesus’ listeners would have been all too aware of the dangers facing sheep. Corralled into their pen for the night, the sheep would be dependant on the shepherd to sit in the gateway and ensure no animal or person came in to steal them. Hence, Jesus words: ‘whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.’

But what of his statement that ‘All who have come before me are thieves and robbers?’  Well, by occupation, Jesus was a carpenter not a shepherd so he is describing the spiritual role he is about to fulfil as carer for those who will place their faith in him. People who believe that in death they will pass through a cross-shaped gate to be with him for eternity. Which begs the question: what is it that the people are being saved from?

Jesus says:All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them…(and) the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy (but) I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

In short, thieves and robbers bring nothing to the table. They exist to steal and destroy and do this by distracting people away from Jesus who provides the opportunity for eternal life to all. At the time, Jesus was often speaking against religious leaders who opposed his message though today it could just as likely be an institutional practice or system that reduces humanity to anything less than their full spiritual potential  Today, praise God that the full potential of God lives within you as you trust Jesus for the route ahead.


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Clean in a dirty world?

John 10v8-11 recounts this exchange:

(Peter ) “You shall never wash my feet.”

(Jesus)  “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 (Peter) “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

(Jesus ) “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

While all of the other disciples were happy for Jesus to wash their feet , Peter refuses. Although it is not clear why he does this, his over-the-top counter response to Jesus seconds later in which he instructs him to wash his head and hands as well, says something of how Peter was open to correction and ready to change his perspective in an instant.

One possible explanation for Peter’s initial refusal to be washed may have come from his understanding of who Jesus was and his mission. While all of the disciples struggled to grasp Jesus’ teaching and what he was telling them about himself, Peter was  the first to recognise him as the Christ. Moreover, Peter was also present at the transfiguration and it is likely he thought it unworthy of Jesus to degrade himself in this way by washing  feet.

Of course, what Jesus was actually demonstrating in the washing of the disciples’ feet was that just as they had been washed and served by someone greater  than themselves, so they too should serve others in the same way. Living examples of the change being wrought in people’s hearts and lives through God’s incoming Kingdom. A change that will in turn affect and challenge societal norms.

And what of the disciples in this- did they take this lesson to heart?

Well yes! In Acts 6,  the disciples are later called upon to intervene to deal with a problem  with the distribution of food to the widows. In the wake of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus’ discipoles – Apostles  as they were now called – could have made a case that others others should intervene. After all, their calling was to go out and telling them the good news of Jesus.  Instead – for a season – they put into practice what Jesus had shown them and served the widows in the way a leader in the Kingdom of Christ should do. Something God calls each of us to aspire to.

 


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God and purgatory?

‘One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”’ (Luke 23v39-43)

 Actually, I’m not at all sure what this is? At first glance it looks like a graveyard and yet the ornate crosses that tower over it like skyscrapers -each vying to be tallest- seem strangely incongruous as markers for a place from which the christian soul has already departed?

Of course, in parts of the world, many Christians believe that the souls of the dead are gathered by God once a year during the celebration of All Saints Day. As a result, All Hallow’s Eve – the day and evening before – are often used by families to tidy up and paint graves to make them more presentable to God so that their deceased relative or friend has a better chance of being taken up to heaven this time round.

To my mind, the only problem with this  type of thinking is that it suggests Christ’s atonement is somehow lacking as it requires the relatives of the deceased person to perform acts on their behalf  to ensure that they do not remain in a state of purgotary forever- quite at odds with that which Jesus tells the dying criminal about the Kingdom of God: Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”’

(It really couldn’t be any clearer).

 


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Static or alive?

‘The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”’                                           (Matthew 28v5-7)

When I look at this picture I am reminded of the two choices people face in regard to  crucifixes – yes, there are thousands of crosses out there but there are basically two types:

  • a cross on which the beaten, bloody body of Jesus is nailed  – a reminder of the punishment he takes to pay the price of sin (however you understand that)    OR
  • a cross that is empty of the body, also saying the price is paid and Christ has resurrected into heaven as the first of many that will follow.

Personally, my preference is for an empty cross. Important as the reminder is of what Christ went through to secure our salvation, I am not sure that the Divine wants us to left feeling guilty or weighed down by the burden.

For me,  the empty cross speaks of the provision of God who  proves himself true through the destruction and rebuilding of the temple in three days – not the physical construct that took 46 years to build BUT Jesus’s body rising to new life as evidence of God acting in the situation as death is surpassed by eternal life.

 


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This little light of mine…

“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”         John 8v12

As I write this post we are full square in the season of Advent. In fact, there’s just  one more Sunday to go  then Christmas Day when the final candle will be lit as Christ’s anticipated coming is realised in the birth of the God child Jesus.

Like many light festivals, Advent is full of hope as it remembers and anticipates God entry  into our world. An environment fashioned by human darkness which God chooses to embrace as the Divine becomes incarnate and engages with us and our broken humanity. A dark world in which Jesus is the promise that change is just around the corner.

Of course, it took another 33 years for the full dynamics of God’s gift to be realised – but not long in terms of Millennium. The infant Jesus had to grow into the adult who would teach, argue and challenge the darkness before dying and resurrecting to  eternal life to prove his words were true and his credentials and authority was from God.

This Christmas, consider the light- an infant flame whom angels bowed down to and Kings journeyed to see- not because he was a baby but rather the promised Messiah who had arrived to begin his mission of saving the world.


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When temples are destroyed…

But the Jewish leaders demanded, “What are you doing? If God gave you authority to do this, show us a miraculous sign to prove it.”                                                                                                               “All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”             “What!” they exclaimed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can rebuild it in three days?” (John 2v18-21)

We pick up this story moments after Jesus has overturned the tables of the dealers in the temple. Incensed at how God’s temple has become a place of injustice to the poor who are forced to pay exorbitant prices to make their sacrifices, Jesus lambasts the traders then the Jewish leaders. In response, the leaders challenge Jesus to prove he is from God. After all, if he is, surely he can provide the accompanying miracle?

While it seems that Jesus side-steps the leaders’ demands, he actually does offer them insight into the forthcoming  miracle – the greatest of all – that ought prove to them that he is who he says he is. The leaders reaction to Jesus’ claim that if the temple is destroyed, he will rebuild it in three days, shows the shortfall in thinking and understanding between them. The leaders thinking is simplistic as they believe Jesus is talking about the building. In actual fact, Jesus references his own body as a temple that will be destroyed to make amends for sin, then resurrected three days later as a miracle to prove God’s authority is upon him to speak and act.

I like to imagine Jesus standing with arms open wide (crucifix-like) as he tells them to ‘destroy this temple’ then kindly responds to their rebuff and lack of insight as they grasp at the wrong end of the stick and miss the greater thing that God is doing. This week, why not join me in asking God to open our eyes to see beyond the limits of our present human understanding towards the greater things that God is doing. Be blessed!


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Are you a helpless lump of clay?

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand. (Isaiah 64v8)

What does it mean to be formed by God’s hand? One example that comes to mind is that of a clay pot being fashioned on a potter’s wheel – but is this a correct understanding for christians who live in a 21st century context ?

Many years ago, while leading a series of studies for new believers, I dug out Larry Christenson’s book ‘The Renewed Christian Mind’ for a story about a man who polished his red sports car every day but never sat in the driver’s seat. Then, one day, the man meets a stranger (Jesus)  who encourages him to stop pushing his car around the block and let him occupy the driver’s seat and drive. Reluctantly, the man agrees. Jesus sits behind the wheel, starts the engine and away they fly. The moral of this story being that life is much easier with Jesus in the driver’s seat.

However, when I brought Larry’s sports car story to the group, I was drowned under their protests because none of them thought that Jesus was driving the car.  At best, Jesus was reduced to a small invisible person in the car – a SATNAV if you like – who suggest a route but had no control over the car, the driver or even the route it will take.

The more I thought about it, the more I was in agreement with group consensus because the God of freewill doesn’t manipulate or force people to change. Yes, God wants us to change but lets dispel the idea that we are a helpless lump of clay being fashioned into something we hold to be against our will. God loves us and the words he utters to us are invitations to respond to his quiet whisper. To take hold of His hand and dance with Him. wherever He goes, now and into the future.

 


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Upside down world?

‘For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.’ 1 Corinthians 13v12

It took me a couple of seconds to work out which feet belonged to the person and which was the reflection. Of course, I wasn’t expecting the picture to be upside down with the reflection at the top and the actual feet below.

The Apostle Paul in describing spiritual realities and the Kingdom of God compares the imagined reality to the actual reality by likening it to an image seen in a mirror in which one is clear and one is blurred. For us, who have never seen the Kingdom of God, our imagining of what it’s like is going to be at best dim or blurred compared to the reality. Why? Because we have yet to see it and, try as we might, it goes beyond our human comprehension.

In 2 Peter 3v16, the Apostle Peter observes of Paul that:

he writes the same way in all his letters…and that his letters contain some things that are hard to understand.’

This has to be one of the great understatements of the Bible.  As Paul himself implies, our best attempts at imaging what God and His Kingdom are like, will always be beyond us. That is, until the day we meet with God face to face.  Until then, we live with the uncertainty in the promise that what we now know in part; we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.


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