The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Assuming the Experience of Disability: A Critique of the Netflix Film “Bird Box”

bird_box_(film)As someone living with a disability, one of the things that frustrates me is people without disabilities assuming what it’s like to live with a disability. While there may be some truth in their assumptions, these assumptions can also be very wrong.

Take blindness, for example. Most people have played some game where they have needed to be blindfolded. Therefore, being blind must be like wearing a blindfold all the time. Right?

This seems to be the assumption behind the Netflix film “Bird Box”. I wasn’t going to watch it, but when I saw a headline suggesting that the movie had inspired someone to drive while blindfolded which inevitably caused an accident (if that’s the right word – https://fox17online.com/…/driver-who-crashed-while-blindf…/… ), I was curious to know what fresh madness this was. So I watch it. Seeing how this movie is current, it’s well worth a comment. It wasn’t my kind of movie. It was more of a horror movie. To say I’m about to spoil the film would be overestimating its quality as you wont be missing much. But I’ll only spoil the relevant details.

The earth’s population is set upon by mysterious invisible creatures who make people see their worst fears. As a result, people either commit suicide or turn into a zombie-like state who in turn force others to look at these creatures who then suicide or turn into zombies. You get the picture. Lot’s of bodies. Lot’s of blood. Lot’s of mayhem. It’s hardly a celebration of the sanctity of human life. The only way to avoid being affected is not to make eye contact with these creatures. So you have our heroes in the movie running around wearing blindfolds, and driving a 4wd with the windows blocked out. Now, I’m sure they’ll be people who will watch the movie just to see how silly this is!

Now here’s why I’m raising the issue. In the movie, there is a group of people who remain unaffected by these mysterious creatures – people who are blind. So a refuge is set up in a school for the blind. Now, if you think blindness is like wearing a blindfold, it all makes sense. But if you know a bit about blindness, the movie looses all credibility – assuming it has any left by the time it gets to the school for the blind. While there is a form of blindness where there’s no light penetration at all (what may be assumed by most people), this is very rare. There are other types of blindness where people have some form residual sight, even if they can’t identify objects or people by sight. Other forms of blindness may allow a person to identify objects and people, yet their blindness can still pose a danger. This may explain the somewhat bizarre instruction by Jesus to a man born blind to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (John 9:4). How can a man “Go” if he’s blind? It could very well be he had sufficient residual sight to navigate safely, yet unable to work or assume a productive position in the community. Yet it’s still right to consider him “blind”, and none of this doesn’t detract front the miracle of Jesus giving a man sight who had been blind since birth.

So, knowing this, I couldn’t help but wonder, how blind does someone need to be for someone to be immune to these mysterious creatures in the film? Would having advance cataracts have the same effect? It was yet another one of many loose ends left hanging by the film.

While I applaud the idea of one of the most vulnerable people in the community being framed positively as a “saviour”, I am again concerned that what is being portrayed is an abled-bodied person’s idea of having a disability. Ultimately, this is unhelpful for everyone. While people with disabilities may have commonalities, it remains to be appreciated that every disability is unique, and every experience of disability is unique. So we must treat portrayals of disability in the media with caution, and not use them to assume the experience of disability as we seek to connect with individuals.

 

First published on Jericho Road’s Disability Advocacy Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/disability.advocate.nsw/

 

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January 16, 2019 Posted by | Articles, Disability | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And when you pray…

(Matthew 6:5-13)

As a Christian of a number of years, I have heard much talk on prayer. Most of it I agree with, some I don’t, particularly what I heard as a child. One point I will always agree with is that prayer is not only important, it is essential to the Christian life. For it is by prayer that we commune and interact with the living God. But I also believe fervently, the Church, us as Christians, needs to evaluate with great care to whom are we praying and what are we to pray for.

These are the issues I want to address, and I’m going to do it by examining the model of prayer that our Lord gave us, commonly miscalled “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” found in Matthew 6:9-13. I say miscalled because if you want to know The Lord’s prayer, you’ll find it in the Garden of Gethsemene the night before Jesus was crucified (John 11). But that’s on the side.

This is what Jesus taught his disciples:

 “‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.’

We shall consider Jesus’ model under two main headings – Two whom are we praying, and what we ought to pray for.

To whom are we praying?

Jesus commences his model by first addressing who it is we are praying to. And it’s important to recognise God for who he really is. Because what you think about God will determine how you pray, and how you relate to God. So Jesus outlays three things about God we need to bear in mind when we pray, that he is our Father, he is in heaven, and he is holy.

Our Father

There has been a movement in recent times to substitute the title ‘Father’ for something else. Particularly by people who have had a bad father figure as a child. They find a title like ‘close friend’ more acceptable. Now, if you have had a bad father figure as a child, I don’t mean to trivialise, or brush your hurts away to one side. Your hurts are legitimate hurts, and they need to be dealt with – and properly. But I do believe it is important to address God as Father because 1) He tells us too. This is the way God wants us to relate to him. And 2) calling God a ‘close friend’ doesn’t quite cut it. It doesn’t adequately describe the relationship he has with us.

You see, for a friendship to commence, the two people need to have something in common. Something they are both interested in. In recent years, I’ve become quite good friends with a married couple who both have cerebral palsy. That friendship didn’t start instantaneously, or automatically. In fact, on my first camp, I spent a good deal of time talking Don, but at the end of camp, we both went on our merry way and didn’t talk to each other for 2 years. That friendship only got started when I turned up in my Suzuki 4WD at another camp. Lo and behold, Don owned one too, and we became interested in each others cars. Now the relationship has moved on from cars, and on rare occasion, we discuss something other then cars, much to wife’s relief.

But with God, it’s different. God did not sit us down at a local café, to suss out our likes and dislikes over coffee. Our relationship with God is much more instantaneous then that. Our relationship is more like one between a child and their parent.

See, when I was born, Dad didn’t whisk me off to the hospital cafeteria to discuss my aspirations in life over lunch to decide whether or not he wanted to be my father. There was an instantaneous relationship that took place. The moment I was born, Dad knew I was his Son, and somehow, as baby’s know, I knew he was my Father. And there is no other person you can have this kind of relationship with, no matter how close you are to them. Except God.

Since God is our Father, he is personal. God is not some mystical force we need dial our psyche into. Nor is he some cosmic tyrant who we need to keep happy, or keep badgering until he gives us what we want. No. He is God our Father. He is close. He knows what we need before we even ask of him, as Jesus says just prior to giving us this model “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8). He is intimate with us. He is concerned for you. He is concerned for what is going on in your life. He’s concerned for your needs. So then we might well pray, “Our Father.”

In heaven

God our Farther is in heaven. He is eternal. He is powerful. He has authority over every facet of life. He is the one who controls the universe! He is not constrained in any way, shape or form unlike us. Have you ever tried standing on the beach facing the waves and yelling out “STOP! BE STILL!” Do you think the waves would listen? We have very limited ability. But Jesus could. He was God, and he had authority over the wind and the waves (Mark 4:37-39). Since God is so powerful, because he has such authority, he is able to answer our concerns.

Let me tell you a story: A few years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of having my car stolen. My beloved Subaru – as clapped out as it was. At the time, I had a personal friend who happened to be a police officer. Because he was a personal friend, he was concerned for my predicament. He wanted to see me get my car back. But because he was a police officer, he also had authority over the issue, and was in a position to help recover my car. He knew where all the car dumping sites were, and went looking around. He knew what paperwork needed to be done, and did it. My mate was a person of authority, and because of it, he was able to help. Similarly, God is prepared to hear our prayers as a Father. But he’s also powerful to answer them. So then we may well pray “Our Father in heaven”.

Hallowed be your name

Thirdly, his name is hallowed. God is holy, he is pure. There is no blemish in his nature. He is fit to be God. It is a concern of mine that sometimes we personalise God so much that we start thinking he’s just like us. We turn God into some kind of ooshy gooshy, God loves all, kind of celestial Santa Claus, and forget that he is totally different from ourselves. God is pure, we’re sinful. There’s no greater divide then that.

The prophet Habakkuk proclaimed: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong” (1:13). The disciple Peter when confronted with the person of Jesus begs, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Peter knew where he was at. Which bring me back to my first point. If our relationship with God depended on a cup of coffee, it wouldn’t get started at all. There is no common ground between us and God. There is nothing we are both interested in. We are utterly self-centred, God is utterly other-centred. Yet, this is the God who brings us into his holy presence, and initiates a relationship with us. And this is the God we pray to. A God who is concerned for our needs and concerns. A God who is powerful to act. A God who’s holiness demands our humble repentance. And since God is holy, so to must our prayers be holy. When we pray, we must have in the forefront of our minds who it is we are praying to. And in the light of who God is, we must give careful consideration what we are to pray for.

What we ought to pray for…

Your kingdom come

Jesus’ model of prayer continues with ‘your kingdom come’. Now what’s a kingdom? We don’t really talk about kingdom these days. A kingdom is simply this, the realm or area that a king dominates or rules. And we, as Christians, talk about God as being king. But how is God king? How does God rule? How does God’s kingdom come?

I guess when we think about God’s kingdom, we think about the final day when Jesus will come back and establish God’s kingdom on earth. At least, that’s what comes to my mind. And we are right in thinking that, and that day should be engraved on the forefront of our minds. But, there is also an immediate sense of God’s rule today, right here, right now. In that we are being renewed in the image of Christ. As we study God’s word, the Bible, and it impacts our hearts and our minds, and come to know what it means to live as Christians. As we meet together, and spur each other on in the Christian life. As we sing songs, as bad as some of us may sound, in worship and praise of God, there lies the Kingdom of God, breaking into a fallen and sinful world, and having an impact.

It is a concern of mine that we as Christians seem to have lost the fervour we ought to have for God’s kingdom. Our society isn’t short of things to keep us busy. There’s always something to occupy us. And when our friends and family demand time and energy from us, we have a tendency to tell them, “just wait till I get this done, maybe next week.” And that’s fine, we need to be doing that to each other. We’re not all superman. But the trouble is, in our heart of hearts, don’t we say that to God?” “Just let me finish my studies.” “Just let me establish my business”. “Just let me buy a house.” “Just let me compete at the next Olympics.” “Just let me get married and have kids.” “Not just yet Jesus. Just let me get this done, then I’m yours Lord, all yours.”

And this kind of thinking comes out in what we pray for: a better job; maybe a job in the first place, a more powerful car, a bigger house, more money. Now these things may be important to pray for. Maybe you own a 2 bedroom house, and kid number 3 is on the way. Maybe you’re in a job where your boss treats his pet dog better then what he does you. We all have needs and desires, and there is nothing wrong with that. In Philippians 4:6 the Bible commands us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” But something has gone amiss when we are so focused on our needs and our desires that we loose sight of God’s kingdom. When loose sight of our personal relationship with Jesus. We loose sight of his return. When we are more concerned about seeing our shopping lists fulfilled, then God’s kingdom fulfilled.

As Christians, we’re to be primarily about God’s Kingdom. Know Jesus is coming back. Expect the breaking in of God’s kingdom and God’s rule, now, in your life, and the lives of others, and in the future. So then we might well pray “your kingdom come”.

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

Once we have appreciated something of the character of God, and the nature of his kingdom, what are we going to do about it? How do we live Christians lives in a sinful world?

It worries me when people make simplistic solutions to complex questions. Living out Christian lives and enforcing Christian values takes much care and consideration. What’s your position on Stem cell research? The “War on Terrorism”? Environmental issues? Economic issues? Even within your own relationships?

These are all very complex issues and just a sample of what we encounter as Christians. If we’re to have an influence in such areas, we need to have thought through, and prayed through these with great care in the context of God’s kingdom. So then we might well pray “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.

Give us today our daily bread.

In our society, we tend to be fiercely independent when it comes to looking after our needs. We store up vast amounts of wealth for our retirement, buy investments properties for that little bit extra, and buy shares for our kids. And there is nothing wrong with that. We ought to be good stewards of what God gives us. But something has gone wrong if we as Christians have our entire security bound up in what we can do for ourselves. Quite plainly, it is God who sustains the entire universe and us. It is declared in Revelation 5:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” And again in Acts 17:28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

It is because God exists we have what we have. If God were to disappear into some mysterious vacuum, do you know how long we would last? The moment God disappears, we disappear at that same moment.

So then, how can we dare assume, it is to our own ability that we are sustained. I am constantly surprised by the way God provides for me. Whenever I need something extra, the money always comes from somewhere. A cheque in the mail, or some extra work. It crops up every time. Maybe some of you have had simular experiences. God provides. He’s the one sustains us. So we ought to ask him for our daily needs, and not simply be looking to our stockpile of wealth, if we happen to have one.

Even for us who are on pensions, it’s easy for us to think that all our needs have been taken care of. The government will give us security. But no. While the government might be the one handing out money, God’s working behind the scenes, providing for us.

Praying for our needs and the needs of others gives a front row seat in God’s theatre of creation where we are not only the spectators, but the participants as well. By praying for our needs and interacting with God exposes us to the awesomeness of creation, and the character of God who made it. So then we might well pray “give us our daily bread”.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors

This is quite difficult to understand, and I didn’t understand it until the other week when I was studying the relationship Israel had with God in the Old Testament.

Why do we need to ask God to forgive our debts, or forgive our sins? Hasn’t our sins been done with when Jesus was crucified for our sins, died, buried and rose from the dead? Doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus made a once for all sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:2, 10)? Well, yeah. So why ask for further forgiveness?

Simply for this reason, we’re not yet perfect. Just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean we’ve stopped offending God. Don’t get me wrong. Our relationship with God is secure, make no mistake. Our place in heaven is secure, have no doubt. But they’re not secured by our capacity to maintain that relationship with God. They’re secured by God’s willingness to maintain that relationship with us.

Think about this, if you held a grudge against everyone who offended you, or rubbed you up the wrong way, even the slightest amount, how many friends would you have? If you’re like me, you wouldn’t have any friends. So in order to maintain our friendships, and other relationships, we exercise a certain amount of forgiveness toward each other. And we ask God to do the same. Maintain that relationship, forgive our sins.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

What a strange request this is – lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. What could Jesus possibly mean?

This section on prayer is part of a bigger sermon we call The Sermon on the Mount. And much of the sermon is addressing religious hypocrisy – going through all the religious motions, without any heart conviction. Or saying one thing, and doing another.

Towards the start of his sermon, Jesus says this, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20).

If you think that’s a heavy going statement, you’re right! Who were these Pharisees? Who were the teachers of the law? They were the good guys! They were the guys that did everything right. They went to church each week, they prayed, they fasted, they gave money to the poor. If you had a question about the Bible you went to a Pharisee or a teacher of the law. If you needed advise, you went to a Pharisee or a teacher of the law. And to all this religious activity, Jesus says NOT GOOD ENOUGH. “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

What was the problem? The problem was it wasn’t from the heart. It was all just a show. They weren’t being genuine with their faith. And this is the evil Jesus is instructing us to pray against. We still have this problem today. No matter which area of Christianity you come from, it’s easy to get so caught up in the religious side of things, you actually leave God behind. And all God wants from you is a heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship.

You might come from a high Anglican or Catholic background where there’s allot of emphasis on tradition, sacraments, and church authority. But when you take all that away, who are you before God? Or you might come from a Charismatic, or Pentecostal background, where the emphasis is on emotion, and music of performance production standards. But when you take all that away, who are you before God? Or you might come from an evangelical background, like the low Anglican, and Presbyterian churches where there’s an emphasis on theology, knowing the Bible and evangelism. But when you take all that away, who are you before God? Do you have that heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God?

Or even in my case, where I spend hours studying the Bible, when you take away my theology books, and talks, and assignments, and all the bits and pieces I busy myself with, who am I before God? Do I have that heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God?

It’s an important question to ask – Do you have that heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God? Toward the end of his sermon, Jesus says this, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ (Matthew 7:21-22).

And to that, we may hear other questions: “Did we not go to church every Sunday?” “Did we not pray?” “Did we not give to the poor?” “Did we not help out people with disabilities?” Jesus continues, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

Please don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with doing good things! As Christians, we ought to be doing such. But fundamentally, Christianity is about you and God, heart-to-heart, face-to-face. And everything we do, all the good stuff, needs to stem from that relationship. If we don’t, and we’re just going through some religious routine, then we’re settling for second best. Not only this, but we’re ripping God off as well.

Jesus knew about this. Jesus knows we get hung up on other stuff. That’s why he tells us to pray against this temptation and evil.

Now I’ve pointed out the main points in Jesus model of prayer, I wish to point out some things that aren’t in this model.

There is nothing in this model of prayer to require you to assume a particular position. There is nothing in this model of prayer to suggest there are better times to pray then others. There is nothing in this model of prayer that requires you to pray in a particular place. There is no benefit to be had with praying in a church building, or in front of a statue. Not even a fence post, for those who remember the events at Bondi. Neither is there any advantage in going on a pilgrimage half way around the world.

Neither is there a requirement to even verbalise your prayers. You know when you have a time of open prayer in a group, and there’s an embarrassing silence before the person who closes, closes? When I meet with the people at the Spastic Centre, I actually let that silence go a little longer. Allot of those people can’t speak. But that doesn’t mean they can’t pray.

God is an incredibly intimate God. He is our Father, He is mighty, and he is holy. God wants a heart-to-heart, face- to-face, personal relationship with us. How do you pray? Do you use a particular model or mechanism? When you boil it right down, prayer is about you and God talking stuff over. Not you, God, and your parents. Not you, God, and your friends. Not you, God, and your church – although we can and should pray with all these people as a community of believers. Prayer, fundamentally is about you and God. Are you concerned for God’s concerns? Do you have a heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God?

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Joy of the Gospel

(Romans 5:1-11)

From chapter 3 of Romans we read how God has revealed a righteousness through faith in Christ Jesus. That those who have faith in Jesus will be justified. But how do we know? Where’s the evidence as to whether or not we’re justified? It’s not like we’re given some certification to show we’ve been justified. How do we know we have peace with God? How do we know we’ve been accepted by him? Particularly when life becomes hard and outright unbearable. Does God really care? Does being a Christian count for anything? Is the gospel what it’s cracked up to be?

Romans 5:1-11 forms the introduction of chapters 5-8 on the question of assurance. Paul’s introduction addresses three issues that appear to be a threat to our justification, before moving on to other aspects of assurance. Three issues that would appear as though we haven’t been accepted by God, and says that these things actually confirm we have been justified, we have been accepted by God. Rather than being the source of doubt and despair, we are to rejoice in them.

The kind of rejoicing Paul is talking about carries with it connotations of boasting. It’s the same kind of boasting that the Jews did in the law – “You who brag about the law…” (Romans 2:23). It is the same expression used by Paul when he tells the Corinthians to boast in the Lord – “Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”” (1 Corinthians 1:31). To rejoice means to tell your friends and to base your hopes on what you’re rejoicing about

 So what are the three things which we are to rejoice about? 1) the hope of the glory of God, 2) our suffering, 3) God himself.

the hope of the glory of God

What is this glory of God? Generally it means the intentions God has for humanity. To live in proper relationship with God and in each other. In New Testament terms, the glory of God refers to the image of Christ – “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The glory of God is also synonymous with salvation. Most of us would know the famous benediction “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24). So Paul is talking about the image of Christ that we are gradually being transformed into, and will be completed in the new creation.

Paul mentions that the glory of God is something we fall short of – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). Previously, the glory of God has been a source of grief. We can’t live up to those glorious expectations that God has intended for us. But now that we have been justified through faith in Christ, that has been reversed. We now rejoice in, and anticipate the day when we will share in the glory of God. How can we do that? Because we have been justified. So rejoice in the glory of God.

•1.     our sufferings

We are to rejoice in our sufferings. By “suffering” I think Paul is talking about those inconveniences we experience every day in a fallen world. It could include persecution for being Christian, but I think we need to understand suffering in the broadest sense. It could mean taking the second best job, general rejection from friends, or not indulging in much desired activities. Paul says we are to rejoice in these sufferings.

Why are we to rejoice in our sufferings? It’s not a popular message today. According to the world, if we find ourselves suffering we go and find someone to sue, or spend a lot of money on things that will distract us from our suffering. Why are we to be different? Paul gives us 3 reasons to rejoice in our sufferings: 1) God uses suffering to make us more like Christ, 2) we enjoy the benefits of a relationship with God now, 3) we have been saved from God’s wrath.

  • I. God uses suffering to make us more like Christ

The fact of the matter is, if you’re breathing it’s a pretty good indication that you will experience suffering. For us as Christians, the question isn’t “how do we avoid suffering?” rather, the question is, how are you, who have been justified through faith, who enjoy peace with God and are rejoicing in his glory, how are you going to respond to suffering?

Suffering will affect us one of two ways. Firstly, suffering can corrupt you. That is, you can respond in such a way that you actually become further removed from what God intends for you. We’re tempted to kick and scream demanding our rights not giving a thought to our own responsibility or consequences, not unlike those in Romans 1:28-32. “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” Not to mention how easily we forget the hope of the glory of God.

Or secondly, suffering can refine us to be more like Christ. I read in one book that suffering “…becomes the divinely orchestrated means by which God strengthens … faithful endurance and hope by pouring out his own love and Spirit to sustain or deliver them in their distress”. If we remain mindful of the glorious knowledge that you have “…been justified through faith… have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And … rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2) then the end result can only mean one thing – that you become more and more like the person of Christ, and so strengthens the hope you have of the glory of God.

This is not easy. We want respect, we want recognition, we want acceptance, and when we don’t get it the natural thing to do is demand it. Personally, I find this very challenging. There’s a few people about the place who can testify how much I can kick and scream. But Paul says no. We rejoice in our sufferings. Now this doesn’t mean you become a door mat, and let people walk over you. But it does mean you are to remember that you are justified. You have peace with God. You rejoice in the glory of God. When my bike was stolen nearly 4 years ago, friends of mine, who aren’t Christians, wanted to engage in vigilante activity in revenge.  As much as I would’ve liked that, I said no. Praise be to God, they did what I asked. Did I pursue my legal rights? Yes. Bearing in mind who I was in Christ. Therefore, when you suffer, you are to respond differently.

You are to rejoice, knowing that God has complemented you with another opportunity to grow in the image of Christ, and display his likeness as a witness, as a shameless boasting, of what Christ has done for you.

  • II. We enjoy the benefits a relationship with God now.

This growing in the image of Christ leads to a greater conviction of the hope that we have of the glory of God. However, this hope isn’t a vague distant hope. It is a hope that we experience now as Christians, and it is a hope that will not fail us. Why? Because God is the one who has initiated this hope. It is God who pours out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. How do we know that? Because it was the same love that prompted God to send his son to the cross. Ultimately our hope isn’t founded on that moment of jubilation when we first understood the gospel. Our hope isn’t founded on the number of “Christian” things we did this week. Our hope isn’t founded on how vibrant our church is. Our hope is founded on the fact that Christ died for the ungodly. Christ died for the unworthy. Christ died for you. That is why we have a hope that will not disappoint. Because it’s got nothing to do with us. It’s got everything to do with God. God’s love came to us through Christ in our present condition – while we were warring against God. Therefore we ought to have every confidence in the hope of the glory of God on the basis of what God has done in Christ, and not only persevere with our sufferings, but to rejoice in them.

  • III. We have been saved from God’s wrath

Now, when we talk about being saved, we generally mean by that we have been saved from God’s impending judgement. But Paul has another perspective of God’s judgement in mind. Paul also speaks of God’s wrath being revealed from heaven NOW (Romans 1:18). This really struck me. I don’t know about you, but, I tend to think of the wrath of God in terms of fire and brimstone in the end times. And Paul does talk about God’s wrath in the sense of final judgment – “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5). But there’s also this second sense that God is revealing his wrath now. This is a world under God’s judgment. This is a world that has been condemned by God. This is the reason behind the rampant depravity that Paul lists. God has simply given men over to their desires (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). Wicked men do what they do simply because they do not have that basis of a proper relationship with God.

To give an example of how a world under God’s wrath operates, I was reading “A Beautiful Mind” the biography of John Forbes Nash, a mathematician who studied around 1930s – 1940s. In that book, the author talks about how mathematicians tried to reduce human behaviour down to a mathematical equation. Imagine that. You’re behaviour could be determined by adding up some numbers! This is study without God. This is study without the basis of who God is, or who we are.

But we, as Christians have been saved from this. It is part of being justified. We have the revelation of God, and we have a solid basis of how we’re to relate to the world. We know human behaviour can never be reduced to maths because we are made in God’s image, and all the complexities that go with it. For us who are studying, perhaps this is something to bear in mind. It doesn’t mean you can’t trust what non-Christians say. But it does mean you always ask “Does this fit in with what I know about God?” Again, this depravity finds its way into our entertainment. I must confess I’m feeling proud of my self because I have managed to watch 2 episodes of “Swapping Spouses”. For those who don’t know, it’s a TV show involving 2 families, and the two wives of the two families live with the other family for a week.

Now, at one level, this is an interesting social experiment – to see how someone would cope in a different demographic that they’ve haven’t had exposure to. At another level, it’s outright disturbing. Someone has actually thought that meddling with people’s family life would make a good entertainment. Someone actually thought that this would be a good program to promote and make money.

And it’s not just “Swapping Spouses”, but all these reality TV programs where, from what I can see, relationships come a distant second. Where people are perceived as objects to be manipulated to win the game. How can relationships, the very thing we were made for, be reduced to this? How can such behaviour ever be commended, or even tolerated?  Because God has handed humanity over to their own desires as part of his wrath. But God has grabbed us with his might, and brought us back in relationship with himself. We now have a basis for right living, and right relationships.

Therefore, when you suffer, rejoice, because you know you have been saved from God’s wrath.

we are to rejoice in God

Finally we rejoice in God. Rather then coming to us with judgement, God comes to us with reconciliation. We no longer dread God, but we rejoice in him. It’s because of God that we can have this different perspective on suffering. It’s because of God that we have been saved from his wrath. It’s because of God we have been reconciled back to himself through Jesus. If it weren’t for God, we wouldn’t be able to rejoice in our sufferings or our salvation.

How’s your Christian walk going? Is it bubbling over with thanksgiving and joy? Or is it dry and stagnant? Do you doubt your salvation because you suffer? Do you doubt that the gospel has the power to deliver you from God’s impending judgment? REJOICE! Know for certain that if you have faith in Christ, you have been accepted and justified by God. Take pride in the gospel, and boast about it. It is sufficient to deliver you from God’s impending judgment. We have been given a wonderful gospel, a radical gospel that demands a response of joy. Let’s look at the gospel afresh. Let’s examine our lives and the way we interact with the world, and respond to the gospel rejoicing.

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stewardship – the property manager in us all!

(Acts 4:32 – 5:11)

Stewardship is one of those issues we, as Christians, don’t really discuss. So when we use the word stewardship, what do we actually mean? I looked up steward in my English dictionary, and this was one of the definitions it gave: property manager: somebody who manages the property, finances, or household of another.

That’s an interesting definition isn’t it? Have you ever consider yourself to be property manager? Someone who doesn’t own the property themselves, but they are responsible for the property as if they do own it.

Well, if we are property managers, whose property are we talking about? God’s property! And our basis for us being Genesis 2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Now whenever I read this verse, I end up with an image in my head of Adam with a garden hoe doing the weeding. I think what is being presented here is much bigger then that. Man is being put in charge of everything God has just made. Not just a little English style garden bed, but the whole creation. In 1:28, we’re given a much broader presentation of the same command, “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

This presupposes that God created humanity as responsible creatures with abilities to make decisions. It concerns me when I here people talking as though God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit does everything for them, and they expect they will do everything for them. Now, I don’t want to take from God’s sovereignty. God is all knowing, all doing, ever present. God alone is to be glorified for whatever happens. And there is a time to be patient, and wait on God. But within God’s provision, we also exercise responsibility and choice. And I believe that is one of the ways God is glorified. Through us, as humanity, being the creature he made us to be by using the responsibility he created us with, God is glorified in that.

This is why we have this command to fill the earth, and subdue it. Implicit in this command is the idea to expand Eden so it covers the whole earth. Who’s going to do that? God? No. Humanity? Yes, as property managers. Who’s going to get the glory? Humanity? No. God? Yes, because creation belongs to him, not humanity. We see an instance of humanity exercising its authority in 2:19-20 “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.”

In this, we see humanity making decisions in the naming animals. But what is more striking is God’s actions in this. God is getting humanity to be part of his own creation process. Of all the creatures God had made, humanity was the only creature to be let in on God’s affairs, and have mastery over creation as property managers. Further, this responsibility and ability to make decisions is why God is able to give us commandments and prohibitions – “And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17). This commandment again implies humanity is able to make decisions and take initiative. Humanity is able to even make decisions contrary to God’s will. Otherwise, why would we need commandments?

This brings me to my next point – the current state of our stewardship. Humanity did do what is contrary to God’s will, and as a consequence, humanity suffered. Let’s have a quick look at what happened 3:1-7:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'”

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Did you hear the sequence of deception? Allow me to paraphrase: Did God REALLY say that? He can’t have meant that! If God is all good, he must’ve meant something else. In fact, God wasn’t really serious about the consequences. God is just trying to stop me having fun and doing what I want to do. In fact, God is one big party pooper!

And so we get a fundamental shift in thinking (verse 7). We’ve moved away from thinking of how we can honour God and promote his purposes, to what’s in it for me, how can I get something out of it? This way of thinking impacts every facet of life. It impacts the way we think about family, money, work, education, sex, charity, even church. You name it!

This kind of thinking is known as sin. We are sinful, and we live in a sinful world. If you don’t believe me, watch the news. In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul gives a list of acts that come from sin: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Jesus lists a few actions himself: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:19).

As you watch the news, see how many of these acts you can find in the bulletin. It wont be hard. This activity of sin in the world impacts our stewardship. It impacts the way we manage God’s property.

This is why we have the extremely rich, and extremely poor. Why North Koreans starve, while their government makes nuclear warheads. Why we hear of sexual assaults, rape, and murder. Why politicians squabble over votes, and outrages superannuation payouts. Why we would step over a homeless person to close a business deal. If we were to think about them, we’d probably throw out some spare change on the way, and call it ‘charity’. All because there has been this fundamental shift in thinking from how can I glorify God, to what’s in it for me?

However, in Acts 4:32-37, we find something completely different. We find a community of people who turn the effects of sin on stewardship on its head. We find people who are prepared to share their possessions, and not regard them as their own.

What could possibly have such an impact on people that they’re more concerned for the community then themselves? The gospel. The gospel had a profound impact on their stewardship.

In verse 33, we read how the apostles testified to the resurrection of Christ. But they also testified with great power. This meant they didn’t go around with a watered down version of the gospel. They didn’t hold back on the details. They spoke the gospel with all its fullness, and it impacted they hearts and minds of believers.

How is it that the gospel had such an impact? The death and resurrection of Christ has changed the way we approach God and each other. We can now approach God as forgiven people, with total confidence in the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. And the resurrection of Jesus assures us that there is much more to live and hope for. For in the resurrection of Jesus we anticipate our own resurrection and inheritance of eternal life. A life of everlasting fellowship with God. We no longer live for this life alone, but we live for the life to come. Therefore, we now live as the people of God now.

This impacted the way they regarded they’re own property. They no longer saw their own property as something that belonged to them, but they saw their property as a tool for helping the needy: “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:34-35).

Now, I want to pause here and ask, to what extent this passage is an example for us to follow? Are we to sell all our belongings and take a vowel of poverty? No I don’t think so. note the clause in the verse. “from time to time.” This wasn’t the norm. Rather, it was the exception. The selling of property only occurred in response to need.

However it is an example to us in terms of attitude to possessions. Luke goes on to give two case studies to illustrate that property management is an issue of attitude, not action. There is no “get holy quick scheme” to be had in charity. Case study no.1: Barnabas. He sells a field and places the money at the disciples feet, presumably for distribution. No problem. Case study No.2: Ananias and Sapphira. They did the same. But the outcome is somewhat different. They both end up dead.

What’s the difference? The difference was one of attitude. Barnabas gave out of concern for the poor. Ananias and Sapphira did it for a show. They did it for applause. The problem wasn’t that Ananias and Sapphira held some back. I’m sure if Ananias and Sapphira went to the apostles and said, “look, we want to help out, but, we need a little something for ourselves”, their wouldn’t have been a problem. But Peter’s questioning reveals the deception. Peter’s question in v4 indicates that there was nothing compelling them to sell their land and give to the apostles. They could’ve done what ever they wanted with the land for all Peter cared! In fact, we have seen from 4:34 that this was not the norm. This was the exception in response to need that aroused. If Ananias and Sapphira wanted the money, they were welcomed to it!

So for what possible reason did they sell their property and give to the apostles? It was to gain the praise of men. Their conspiracy was uncover when Peter plainly asked the now widowed Sapphira, “is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” and she answered, “Yes, that is the price.” And they buried her next to her husband.

Stewardship under the gospel is primarily not about action. It’s not about ticking boxes. I also want to add a pastoral note that self sacrifice does not necessarily equate to good stewardship either. On my way back from holidays, I stopped by a friend’s place. She is severely disabled with rheumatoid arthritis, and though she is a fully grown adult, her body is the size of a five year old. As a consequence, her body can only handle small quantities of food. She cannot sit down to a full size meal like most people. So allot of her time is taken by eating lots of small meals. She also loves the Lord dearly, and longs to serve him. However, she feels that her dietary requirements are taking up to much time that she could be spending with the Lord and other people. Her resolve has been to skip meals. This may have an adverse effect on her health and she may even die. I spoke with her about this, and encouraged her, very strongly, not to skip meals as this would be counter-productive in her service to God.

Stewardship can be a very complex matter, and prayerful consideration must come before self-sacrifice. Stewardship is about a heart felt attitude in response to eternal life that Christ has won for us. Stewardship under the gospel is a concern to honour God and promote his purposes, specifically, to promote the gospel.

As Christians we should not be preoccupied with the Genesis 3 question – “what’s in it for me, how can I get something out it?” Rather we should be asking the gospel question – “How can I honour God, and promote his gospel?” I want to close with two challenging questions:

Question 1: Do you perceive all of your possessions – material, financial, physical, intellectual – as belonging to God, and you’re just the property manager?

Question 2: Are you concerned to see the gospel being promoted? Again, I’m not suggesting that we should take a vowel of poverty, or give huge sums of money to the church; but are you prepared to use what you have, with prayerful consideration, to promote God’s gospel?

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Questioning Times

(Psalm 44)

As Christians we are aware of God’s many provisions. And because of Jesus we can especially testify to God’s goodness towards us. So when hardship comes our way we are at times perplexed as to why bad things happen to God’s people.

Most Christians have been there. We’ve been cruising along in our Christian lives, and without warning, disaster strikes. A debilitating illness, financial difficulties, a relationship breakdown, a major accident, they all seem to strike randomly when we are least expecting it. We all struggle to understand the reasons behind disasters. We all struggle to incorporate it into our theology, and what we understand of the Bible.

But one thing is sure, we are not alone. In they heyday of the Kingdom of Israel, the Psalmist in Psalm 44 grapples with the same question. We don’t know what the disaster was, or when it occurred, but it was a disaster of exilic proportions (v13). The greatest blessing Israel had ever received was occupancy of the Promised Land, and there was no greater disaster that could have happened to Israel then to be driven from it. Whether or not the Psalm refers to the exile is debated. Nonetheless, we’re meant to understand that this disaster posed a major problem to Israel.

The problems of understanding how the disaster could have come about begin with the identity of Israel. You see, Israel was no ordinary people! These were people that God himself had brought out of slavery. He took this people from the Egyptians which treated them like dirt, to be his treasured possession. God took this people who, in human terms, had no special purpose in life, and set them aside for his eternal purposes (Exodus 19:5-6). This involved living under God’s rule as their King. To this end, God gave them a land where this could be done (verses 1-2).

So why on earth has a disaster come on Israel if they were set aside for God’s purposes? Well, maybe because the King made cuts in the defence budget. Maybe the technology wasn’t up to date. Maybe there wasn’t enough new recruits in the reserves. But this can’t be right! The Psalmist openly recognises that though they were out there on the battle fields of Canaan, their efforts would have been futile if it weren’t for the sovereign provision of God (verses 3-8). The most formidable weapons of the day in the way of the sword, bow and arrow, don’t rate a mention in what contributed to Israel’s victories in battle (v6). It was all God! All the praise and glory arising from and victories could only be given to God.

So why the sudden role reversal? Before, it was Israel’s enemies that were on the retreat and being humiliated (verse 5, 7). Now it’s Israel’s turn. They’re the ones on the retreat. They’re the ones being humiliated (verse 10). What about their relationship with God and being a treasured possession set aside for God’s purposes? It’s as if they’ve been sold out, and God’s getting the raw end of a bad deal (verse 12). An Israelite couldn’t even walk down the street without attracting criticism, or being the butt of a joke by other people (verse 13-16). What’s happened? They might as well have been thrown into exile (verse 11).

          Well, maybe exile has got something to do with it! God did decree if Israel was not careful to observe all the regulations set out in the law, God would scatter them among the nations and into exile (Deuteronomy 28:25, 64; 30:17-18). But things don’t add up on this account either. According to the Psalmist, they had been faithful to the covenant (verse 17); they hadn’t gone off exploring alternate lifestyles (verse 18); they hadn’t forgotten God, or what he had done for them by worshipping other gods (v20). In sum, they had been faithful just as God requested them to be! There was no obvious reason as to why Israel should be suffering.

Failing to come up with a logical explanation for what has occurred, the Psalmist comes to an amazing position of faith and realises two important facts.

Firstly, the Psalmist realises that for all the confusion and suffering, in some way God will be glorified, and his purposes will be achieved (verse 22). The Apostle Paul picks up the same verse and uses it in his letter to the Romans (Romans 8:36). In this part of the letter, Paul is saying despite the most trying sufferings, we will never be cut off from fellowship with God, which is God’s ultimate purpose for each of us. God’s ultimate purpose was perhaps not known to the Psalmist. But what he did know was that the disaster was not outside of God’s control, and nothing was going to thwart God’s purposes.

Secondly, because God was in control of the situation, there was nothing they could do to remedy the disaster (verse 25). But this also meant there was every reason to petition God to reverse the situation. In verses 9-14, the personal pronoun “you” is used six times in reference to God. The Psalmist is fully aware that this was God’s doing. And if God can get them into this mess, God can get them back out of it. It’s to God alone that the Psalms looks for a resolution to the disaster. But on what basis? Because of whom they are as God’s people? No! Because the Psalmist has just offered a lavish sacrifice in the temple? No! Because it would be really neat to walk down the street without hearing someone say, “Did you hear the one about the Israelite who…”? No! God is petitioned on the basis of his great love. On the basis of his character and who he is (verse 26).

No amount of theological reflection can ease the pain and struggles that often accompany disaster. Just ask anyone caught up in the recent bombings in London. To justify suffering would seem to go beyond human wisdom. Particularly when the reasons behind a disaster elude us. However, as Christians, we have fellowship with God whose purpose it is to reconcile people to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus. As the Apostle Paul says, “God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32).

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Extensive is God’s Love?

(Luke 15)

How extensive is God’s love? What is it like? Who does it extend to? And, how does it affect our attitude towards others as Christians?

These are all interesting questions. They are questions that were raised by the Pharisees and teachers of the law – the religious officials. Not in the polite “Dear Jesus” kind of way, but by their actions. We are told in that they were muttering against Jesus because he was socialising with tax collectors and sinners, and openly welcomed welcoming them (v2 ). These two groups of people were considered to be the scum of Jewish society – human garbage.

So if Jesus was who he was claiming to be – God’s Messiah – what was he doing hanging out with tax collectors in sinners? To draw a modern parallel, I guess it would be something like Jesus going to Kings Cross, and spend the night wining and dining with drug dealers and prostitutes. What would we think of our King Jesus then? What would the response be in the Christian community? Would we question Jesus’ Messiahship? Would we doubt that Jesus is God’s son? Would we be any different from the Pharisees and teachers of the law? Would we?

In response to this self-righteous attitude, Jesus tells three parables in Luke 15 that communicate that God is a God who searches, finds, and cares for sinners. We would profit greatly from reflecting on these parables, since in these parables we find answers to the questions I’ve just raised. Though we may know the answers, we may seldom think of their implications. So let’s raise those questions again, one at a time, and have a good solid reminder.

Firstly, What is God’s love like?

The first two parables indicate that God’s love is a searching love. Looking for that which has been lost.

The first two parables are about two people of humble means. The first is about a shepherd (vv4-7) who has a mob of 100 sheep. From the commentary I read, most shepherds had a mob of sheep up to 200, and 300 was considered a large mob. So 100 sheep was quite a small mob. We are told that 1 of the 100 goes missing, so he leaves the remaining 99 sheep and searches for the missing sheep.

Similarly, in the second parable (vv8-9), we are told of a woman who has 10 coins, taken to be 10 days wages. One coin goes missing, so she turns the house up side down, cleaning and sweeping, looking for this one lost coin. The fact that the woman needs to light a lamp would suggest she has no windows in her house, indicating her humble means.

So it’s to be quite expected that the shepherd will run off and find his lost sheep, and the woman will turn the house upside down looking for a days wage. When they find what they have lost they rejoice, and savour the moment with friends.

Both these parables serve to remind us that God’s love is a searching love. This love will spare no expense for those who a lost. Just like the shepherd who left 99 sheep in the open to find the one sheep and the woman who did not stop looking, until she found her lost coin. God’s love is searching out his people.

Occasionally, I hear someone say that they’ve found God. I think to myself, “That’s interesting. I didn’t know God was lost. Where was he?”

Again, in this post-modern society, it tends to be popular just to let people find their own way to God. Yet from this passage, and others, it’s clearly not the person who looks for God. In Roman’s 3:11 we are told “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”

Rather, it is God who puts in the hard yards, searching, calling, and bringing people, you and me, into his kingdom. When a sinner does come into God’s kingdom, heaven throws a party (v10), just as the shepherd and the woman in the parable celebrated when they found what they were searching for.

Don’t you think that’s amazing? The day you came into a personal relationship with Jesus, the day you were saved, God and all his angels threw a party. I can’t get over that! So God’s love is a searching love.

Secondly, who is this love for? How far does it extend?

I think we’re use to the idea that God loves sinners. We can handle the idea that people aren’t perfect. It’s quite normal to end up with a speeding ticket, or a copy of a friend’s CD, not that I’m advocating that behaviour. But, we can handle God’s love extending to those sorts of people.

          But what about someone who’s really fouled up? What about some who’s made a total mess of things, and their life is barely worth salvaging. The kind of people I’ve heard being referred to as a “waste of space”. Does God’s love extend to those sorts of people?

In the third parable, we meet such a person. The younger son of two (vv11-19). The parable involves a common Jewish family with uncommon circumstances. Two sons, a father, and an estate. We are told of a younger son that does everything a Jewish boy would never do. It is a parable designed to be shocking to those who heard it.

So what does this younger son do? Firstly, he demands his inheritance from his father. This is not the polite request for a loan to see out the week like young people might request today. Like today, the recipients of the inheritance didn’t get it until the person had died. So this is much more then a request for money. Loaded in this demand is the desire to terminate the relationship he has with his father, and cut himself off from the family unit. He wants for himself a life of independence. Michael Frost, an Australian preacher, interprets the words of the young son as “Dad, I wish you were dead!” While some commentators reject this interpretation, it nonetheless captures the blatant disregard for his father, and the duty owed to his family.

Just imagine, tomorrow morning while sipping your coffee, your teenage child comes in and says, “hurry up and die so I can get my inheritance!” How would you respond? Would your first response be to reach for your cheque book? Hand them the cheque saying, “There you go, have yourself a good time!” Somehow I very much doubt it.

Remarkably, this is what the father did. OK maybe they didn’t have cheque books in those days, but we are told in the same verse that he divides the property. No sooner does the son receive his inheritance than he takes off to a distant country. This moving away, I think, demonstrates two things:

1) It is a further expression of cutting ties with his family. There was no Telstra in 1stcentury Rome. No mobile phones! (Just how did a young person cope?) So being away from home, he had no means to communicate with his family. No “Hi dad, how’s it going? I saw the Colosseum today!” His family was as good as dead to him, and visa versa.

2) I think it demonstrates how he removed himself from God. Even though the text doesn’t say, I’m presuming the people who heard this parable would have imagined that this family lived in or near Jerusalem since that is where Jesus is heading when he tells this parable. And Jerusalem was where the temple was, which represented God’s presence, and Israel was God’s nation. So to remove yourself from Jerusalem, to move out of Israel, would be to remove yourself from God, to deny your religion.

Are you starting to feel the gravity of this son’s sin? But wait there’s more! As a special addition, he squanders his wealth in wild living. He indulges in what would be the 1st century equivalent of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’, and has himself a good time. This is a young Jew behaving anything like a Jew!

So what’s he done?

He’s shown disregard for his family.

He’s shown disregard for God, and his religion.

He has indulged in sensuous living.

See, this younger son is a bit more than the sheep who got left behind isn’t he? Or the coin that slipped through the hole in the purse. He’s done his level best to offend his family and God. Anyone would be offended by this son’s behaviour. He’s really not the type you’d invite for afternoon tea. The severity of his sin is illustrated by the severity of the circumstances measured out to him:

1) He’s out of money. I can just imagine this son, going to his favourite night club, and I’m being metaphoric, and at the end of the night, he whips out his trusty credit card to pay his tab, puts it through the machine, and the message comes back “TRANSACTION DENIED. INSUFFICIENT FUNDS.” So he begs the bar tender to try again, and the same thing happens. Ever had that happen to you? It’s a horrible feeling. As a result, this son is promptly ousted by the bouncers giving him the kind advice not to come back on account of his physical well being.

2) The country he’s living in experienced a severe famine. From that we can assume food prices are going up, inflation is out of control, poverty is around every corner, and to use another metaphor, the country is going into recession.

3) From riches to rags, he’s impoverished! His independent life has become a life of dependence. The only job he could get was feeding pigs, another aspect of the parable that is meant to shock us. Pigs were regard as unclean by the Jews. If you came in contact with something that was unclean, you were made ceremoniously unclean, and had to purify yourself before God. Therefore, under no circumstances were Jews to go anywhere near pigs. So what was a young Jewish man doing feeding pigs? Further this job couldn’t even put bread on the table, as we are told “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating,…” (v16)

This is a strong indication of how desperate his situation is. No family, no money, no property, and the only job he can get, doesn’t even provide for his own needs. He’s a young man, in an impoverished situation, in an impoverished country. Once more, he deserved it. As a Jew he couldn’t have sunk any lower.

After a while, he does a reality check, and works out he’d be better off at home than living off pig pods. I’ve never tasted one, but I can’t imagine they’d be all that satisfying. But notice how he doesn’t presume upon the grace of his father? He doesn’t think to himself, “I’ll just rock up on the front door step with a plastic bag of dirty clothes, say ‘sorry dad’ and everything will be cool”. No! He knows he’s messed up. He knows he’s burnt his bridges. He knows he can’t assume the relationship he had before with his father, at least he not on his part. He knows he has no claim on his father’s mercy. This then is a true image of repentance.

So, he resolves to hire himself out to his father as a slave, the lowest category of employment. It would be similar to putting your name down for casual work today, and hoping the phone will ring. The work and income aren’t guaranteed. Maybe they’ll call you, maybe they won’t. Such is his desperation. I can just imagine this son on his way home practicing his speech over and over and over again in his head, getting the delivery just right. Will his dad give him the job, despite everything he’s done?

As this son gets nearer to home, we are told the father saw him while he was still off in the distance, and runs to him (v20). I don’t know if this is right or wrong, but I often picture a fat man in long robs hurtling down the street unable to control his emotions – a most undignified scene indeed. But such is the love and compassion he has for his son! I can imagine the son trying to commence his well-rehearsed speech, and every time he tries to commence his speech he just gets smothered in more and more hugs and kisses.

Refusing to hear the speech, the father calls to his servants, “Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.” (vv22-23). The son didn’t get the job he was hoping for. Rather he received complete and full restoration. He was given full rights as a son. Further, the father puts on one big party. The fattened calf we read about was reserved for religious festivals such as Passover. So this is not your usual BBQ that we enjoy as Australians when friends and relatives come ‘round. It’s not as if they ran out of meat and they just happened to have a spare cow around the back. This is a big deal.

This action on the part of his father illustrates the love God has for sinners. God isn’t leaning on the front gate wondering whether or not people will come in. He is out there, working in the world pursuing sinners and bringing them into his kingdom, and every time a sinner comes into his kingdom a party erupts in heaven.

Amongst the many pages of reading I do for my studies, I found a story of a modern day lost son. After a number of years he writes to his parents saying, “I’ve messed up, I’m sorry. I’ll be passing by on such a day, if your prepared to forgive me, please hang a white handkerchief in my bedroom window. If I don’t see it, I’ll just keep going.”

So he comes around the corner, with his heart in his mouth, hoping, just hoping to see this white handkerchief. When he spots the house he finds it draped in white sheets, white towels, white pillow cases, white tea towels, any white material his parents could get their hands on! Do you think he got the idea that his parents wanted him back? Of course he did!

Again this story illustrates just how much God welcomes sinners. But God didn’t demonstrate his forgiveness by hanging out white tea towels. He demonstrated it by hanging his only Son on a Roman cross, cancelling the debt that you owe him. Do you think God wants you back in a relationship with him? You better believe it!

If you are reading this, and you haven’t experienced the love of God, and know what it is to be in relationship with him, can I say to you that God desires very much to have you back, despite anything you may have or haven’t done. I’d encourage you to find a Christian whom you can speak to, and learn what it is to live in a proper relationship with God.

          So God’s love is a searching love, and it is an extensive love.

Thirdly, for us who claim to be Christians, how should God’s love affect our lives? How should it affect our attitude toward others?

The parable continues with the focus on the older son. While the home welcoming party for the younger son continues on into the evening, the older son comes home from the days work. As he nears the house, he hears the commotion of the party. So he inquires as for the reason for the party, and is promptly told, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ (v27). The older son, far from impressed, is enraged with fury, and has it out with his father. Why? There are a few clues in the heated argument he has with his father (vv28-30). He exclaims that he’s been slaving away, and working his guts out for his father, and has never disobeyed his orders. In other words, he had a works based mentality. His relationship with his father was all about ticking boxes. It wasn’t based on love. He’s complaint is that a huge injustice has taken place, and he draws up a ledger of what the other son has done. “It’s not fair!” he’s saying. Ever heard that from your kids?

Because of his works based mentality, he’s missed the point of what it is to be in relationship with his father. Being in relationship with his father was never about ticking boxes so he could get this, that, and the other thing. Being in a relationship with his father meant being in constant relationship with him, and sharing in everything he owns and does. The father reminds him that he need not have worked for anything because everything that belonged to the father was there for his enjoyment. But because he is so pre-occupied with his own concerns and his works based mentality, we find the father having to coerce his son to be involved in what he is doing, and to celebrate the return of his brother.

Our relationship with God is simular. We are not to slip into a works based mentality – “if I’ll do this, then God will do that.” We are in constant fellowship with God, not just for an hour on Sunday. We have been given his creation to enjoy. Most importantly, we are to take part in God’s activity in the world.

Similar to the older son, we too can be so pre-occupied with our own concerns, we can miss the point of what it means to be a Christian. God longs for us to be involved in what he is doing. He’s already at work in the world, and he’s calling us to the party!

For as long as I can remember, I have been trying to prove to myself, and the rest of the world, that I am not disabled. Yet somehow reality keeps dictating otherwise. In the 10 years or so since high school, I really had very little to do with disabled people. So you might well imagine the last thing I wanted to do was walk into a room full of disabled people. Yet I knew God was at work amongst disabled people. And I believed, and still believe that God is inviting me to the party. Before I could answer the invitation, I had a real mountain of pride and apprehension to climb over.

God longs for each of us to be involved in what he is doing. This doesn’t necessarily mean uprooting your life and going to Bible College, though for some, it may mean this. It might mean simply sharing a cup of coffee with a non-Christian, or offering a listening ear to a struggling Christian. While for others, it may mean going to Kings Cross, and witnessing to drug dealers and prostitutes. Our Church is involved in many different ministries, and it may be worthwhile for you to pray about them, and discuss your involvement with an elder. A list of just some of the ministries can be found on the inside cover of The Sentinel under Elders Ministry Oversights.

Finally, we’re not told what the son does. We’re left in standing in the older son’s shoes. What we he do? Will he stand hard and fast to his legalistic ways, or will he rejoice with his father?

          What will you do? Will you remain pre-occupied with your own concerns? Or will you join in God’s party?

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment