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WHY THE GOSPEL SOUNDS ALIEN...
To a generation or two who have been sold and sold and sold again the idea that we are here entirely to do our own thing; that we are entitled to benefits we didn’t earn and took no risk to gain—and to whom commitment has been reinterpreted to mean ‘I’m in whilst ever conditions go my way and favour me’—to these, the gospel of Jesus Christ can sound like a cruel joke.
Who would desire to follow someone who insists that to find life I must be willing to lose the one I’ve persuaded myself is best—and in which I have invested so much time and energy?
And the answer is; the one who has at last discovered that the narcissistic, self-seeking, look-after-me life chosen, has an awful downside: The one who has awakened to the truth that bit by bit, the way I’ve been choosing is transforming me into someone I’d actually rather not know. Someone whose actions and words I find myself constantly justifying and explaining. In the end someone I actually dislike and who keeps seeing and resenting in others the very things I find in myself!
For this is the trap; to have me attempt to gain ‘life’ by the means most loudly and persistently presented to me as normal and the way it’s done...and the way a majority appear to be laying claim to it.
Over against (and in starkest contrast to) this loud, prevalent zeitgeist is the quiet call of the gospel and the voice of Jesus Christ. It’s like the lone and distant piper on a hill above the bawdy, self-inflamed mardi-gras-like antics of media, entertainment, politics, relationships, business and even sport: all of them yelling ‘herein is life!’
Who will hear and heed the quiet but insistent call? How can it be heard and heeded?
There is a special way it is heard. Just as a Scotsman in the valley in the midst of all the din might catch the faint swirl of the distant pipes because something deep within him resonates with it—so within each one God has planted the sound of home and homeland.
It is by the unique work of God’s Spirit, whose ministry is not only to reveal to me the truth about sin and the possibility of righteousness and the reality of judgement—but to play the sound of ‘home’ at which my heart resonates. Not as a sound of condemnation but as the sound that calls home the prodigal who, in the far country ‘came to himself’ and realised what his own pursuits had made of him. When he had first travelled to that ‘far country’ the voice of home had become alien and unwelcome to him, but a time came when he heard it again—his ears became open to it above everything else until it was all he could hear!
And, coming home, he found himself embraced and forgiven—and even honoured!
Is the sound of God’s really, really good news still alien? Or—is it beginning to resonate?
‘WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET!'
Nothing could be truer of Jesus, than this.
What you read in the Gospels—the grace, the mercy and kindness, the gentleness, the compassion as well as the incisive judgement—all of these and more, are exactly what you may expect from Him today because He hasn’t changed and doesn’t change!
He is...’JESUS CHRIST, the same yesterday, today, forever.’
The portrayal of Him curated for us by Holy Spirit in the Gospels is intended for a specific purpose: to enable us (living later along the line called Time) to know Him and His nature, character and fullness—to bring Him close and to make Him accessible—just as He was then.
What you see portrayed then is what you can expect to get today—exactly. He has not changed! It was, and is, His intention to continue acting from heaven in just the same way as He acted in His manhood, among us. His readiness to hear; His desire to save and to heal; His desire to walk with and converse with us, His eagerness to teach and correct and to explain to us how His kingdom (government) works.
We should make no mistake—what He did in His physical presence, He continues to do now.
Otherwise why would He have disclosed to us what He is like? Why would He reveal His heart, His nature and character as He did? To tease us?
No...it was to say “this is ME; this is what I’m like and how I feel about you,” and is why He said “come to me” and, “abide in me” and “take my yoke upon you and learn of me.” It is why He told the story of the son lost to prodigality—and found again by coming home.
He (and all His attributes and kindnesses) are as accessible now as then—and He behaves now in exactly the way He made visible. The rich could come. The poor could come. The sick and the desperate and the ashamed and downright corrupt CAME—because He made Himself accessible. People knew they could come...but of course they had to do so!
The invitation was embedded in the integrity, beauty and guileless-ness of His character. Those immediately visible and attractive characteristics that people knew were not found elsewhere...and so they came.
Nothing has changed. Anyone may come.
Pictures and Sculpture above from Atheist-turned-Christian Evangelist and artist Charlie Mackesy
Eternal Life in the Here and Now!
It can happen to any of us. Every day we hear stories of people who are duped by various scams—particularly internet scams—where sincere-sounding posers manage to extract passwords, bank account details and private information from unsuspecting victims.
Scammers effect their work with false sincerity, familiarity and the use of particular key words...”good morning this is Fred Nirk from xxx Bank about your savings account. There’s been a problem with your most recent deposit...” and etc.
Those who do the devil’s work are simply imitating his ways and methods. Being aware of the methods and suspicious of any who approach us using terms that resonate with us, must be part of our vigilance. Otherwise we are vulnerable and will suffer loss.
A great apostle of Jesus Christ said that ‘we are not unaware of his schemes’ and in other references spoke of the ‘whiles’ or ‘schemes’ of the devil.
Which leads me to how he may sometimes, so easily ‘scam’, Christian believers. For, you see, he simply makes use of familiar and right-sounding keywords and false sincerity. For example, positive words like justice, fairness, solidarity, equality, kindness, freedom, empowerment, love; OR negative words like oppression, theft, de-humanising, imperialist, injustice, poverty...
We respond to these words—they elicit something from us. But...unless we are aware of who is using them and to what end, we may easily be scammed!
There is a righteous response—a Kingdom response. It will almost always be personal—and usually unseen and unsung! Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ story of the robbed and beaten man.
Believe me, Jesus saw all the injustice of the Roman tax system; saw the exploitation of the prostitutes of his day; knew about the imperialist and oppressive regime of Rome; saw plenty of beggars and abject poverty and knew close-up what self-righteous Pharisaism was like!
Yet strangely he just ‘went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.’ Never got up a rally against poverty; never organised a town march against exploitation of women.
His responses don’t appear very ‘woke’. And what’s more, those who came after him did just the same ‘not very woke’ things! For we read in Acts that they also went everywhere proclaiming this Kingdom of God just as though they believed that to be the answer and the most important thing! That if that change came to a person, everything in their entire sphere changed—just as though it worked like leaven, as their Master had said!
Don’t let the scammers get you!
Jesus' answer to THE TYRANNY OF TIME
John the apostle wrote of believers, ‘we are in Him who is true, in His son, Jesus Christ. This is the true God AND eternal life’ (1 Jn. 5:20).
Among us, Jesus demonstrated that the time realm need not tyrannise. We all know the constraints placed on us by time. Time constraints and limitations are one of the major stressors of life. Jesus showed how to live within time whilst allowing another realm to ‘work all things together for good’ (Romans 8:28). A literal translation of this verse would be, ‘and we know that everything is brought to synergy and co-operation to those who love God.’ The Greek word is indeed sunergeo – co-operation or synergy!
Here’s a demo from Jesus; an important official, Jairus by name, comes to Him, desperate for Jesus to come to heal his 12 year old daughter who is at death’s door. Jesus sets out, but is interrupted. A woman who has been ill 12 years (as long as Jairus’s daughter had lived) and had spent everything on every proposed cure, approaches him from behind – (probably ashamed of her condition and its stigma. She was ceremonially unclean and not permitted to touch anyone) – and touches His garment hem. He stops in His tracks, knowing that the power of the Spirit has been tapped. He asks who has ‘touched’ Him and there is, for Jairus, a sickening delay while Jesus deals with the woman. “Too late. Your daughter is dead, Jairus” comes the news from his home. I cannot imagine the man’s heart. Yet, immediately upon hearing those words, Jesus speaks, “don’t be afraid, only believe”!
The words of the messengers came from the time realm and from their time realm experience, but Jesus spoke words from the eternal realm – the realm where (somehow!) all things are being synergised by Him for the good of those who seek Him and love Him! This is beyond understanding. It means that the delay caused by the woman was of no consequence to the purpose of God!
When Jesus arrives at Jairus’s house He deliberately separates out those for whom His word is ridiculous – those who ridicule what He says. When He has spoken His word and assurance to us, it may to others, sound ridiculous, but we must separate ourselves from the ‘noise’ of unbelief and expect His purpose to be fulfilled. In the Father’s ‘economy’ and programme, time is not the governing factor for He is working all things together for good. Believers access life of the Eternal kind in the here and now; we are in touch with its reality and the mystery that He is synergising all things for the good of those who love Him!