Saturday, 21 September 2013

Escaping the fine when caught without a ticket

There was a ticket checking on the train.
A lady behind me was caught for not having her student card on her, but was let off. The policeman who was checking the tickets was kind. He explained to her the rule about carrying the student card when traveling on a student fare, even though she probably knew that anyway, and he said he would let her off this time. He was not speaking in a manner that was disrespectful or condescending. He was serious but not overbearing. I was slightly impressed with his dealings and quite pleased with the outcome.

And then I thought, "hey, this is a good illustration of grace. She was caught for breaking the law, but was forgiven and was let off from bearing the consequences of her crime." But soon I realised it wasn't. This wasn't a good illustration of God's grace. Several reasons could be laid out, but I list just two.

Firstly, the breaking of the law was not committed against the policeman. He was only an enforcer, not the offended. This is a huge difference. God is not simply a law-enforcer. He is the "victim" of every sin we commit. All sin is primarily against God. Hence, the grace of God we receive as sinners is forgiveness, not just "being let off." Only the offended can forgive, an enforcer can only let off.

Another big difference is "how" the offender was spared of the punishment. The policeman let her off at no cost to himself. It cost him practically nothing to let her off. I am no law expert, but I'm pretty sure that, as a policeman, it was his prerogative to issue a warning instead of a fine. So he was not risking anything. When God forgave us, it cost Him. It's hard to imagine how anything could cost God, the Almighty being. But the bible tells us clearly how costly God's forgiveness was. It cost Jesus. His suffering and death. It may remain as mystery how God could suffer, but the fact that He did suffer is no mystery. Our God did not dispense His forgiveness in a cool, distant way. He clothed Himself in human flesh and hung on the cross. If the policeman's action were to be any closer to the real meaning of God's grace, he would have had to issue the fine and then pay it for her himself. It still doesn't come much closer (of course not!), but it would be closer than just letting one off the hook.

If a policeman caught you for not having a train ticket, or speeding on the road, and he let you go with just a warning, you'd be quite happy. I'd be very happy and even feel somewhat thankful towards that policeman. Now, then, hear this. Because of our sins, our rejection and rebellion against God, we are headed for judgment. But God has given us His Son, Jesus, so whoever trusts Him for safety and forgiveness would be spared of His judgment. That's what makes my heart sing. This is why I can look forward to the future. How about you?

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Is this what happens at an ordination?

There are some things Eugene Peterson says or writes that I disagree with. But he writes many things that I found helpful too.
I think the following quote (a bit lengthy I know) from one of his books is worth pondering on, especially for those who are or plan to be ordained for the Christian ministry.

  The definition that pastors start out with, given to us in our ordination, is that pastoral work is a ministry of Word and sacrament.
  Word. But in the wreckage, all words sound like 'mere words'.
  Sacrament. But in the wreckage, what difference can water, a piece of bread, a sip of wine make?
  Yet century after century, Christians continue to take certain persons in their communities, set them apart, and say, 'You are our shepherd. Lead us to Christlikeness.'
  Yes, their actions will often speak different expectations, but in the deeper regions of the soul, the unspoken desire is for more than someone doing a religious job. If the unspoken were uttered, it would sound like this:
  'We want you to be responsible for saying and acting among us what we believe about God and kingdom and gospel. We believe that the Holy Spirit is among us and within us. We believe that God's Spirit continues to hover over the chaos of the world's evil and our sin, shaping a new creation and new creatures. We believe that God is not a spectator, in turn amused and alarmed at the wreckage of world history, but a participant.
  'We believe that the invisible is more important than the visible at any one single moment and in any single event that we choose to examine. We believe that everything, especially everything that looks like wreckage, is material God is using to make a praising life.
  'We believe all this, but we don't see it. We see, like Ezekiel, dismembered skeletons whitened under a pitiless Babylonian sun. We see a lot of bones that once were laughing and dancing children, adults who once aired their doubts and sang their praises in church - and sinned. We don't see the dancers or the lovers or the singers - or at best catch only fleeting glimpses of them. What we see are bones. Dry bones. We see sin and judgment on the sin. That is what it looks like. It looked that way to Ezekiel; it looks that way to anyone with eyes to see and brain to think; and it looks that way to us.
  'But we believe something else. We believe in the coming together of these bones into connected, sinewed, muscled human beings who speak and sing and laugh and work and believe and bless their God. We believe it happened the way Ezekiel preached it, and we believe it still happens. We believe it happened in Israel and that it happens in church. We believe we are a part of the happening as we sing our praises, listen believingly to God's Word, receive the new life of Christ in the sacraments. We believe the most significant thing that happens or can happen is that we are no longer dismembered but are remembered into the resurrection body of Christ.
  'We need help in keeping our beliefs sharp and accurate and intact. We don't trust ourselves; our emotions seduce us into infidelities. We know we are launched on a difficult and dangerous act of faith, and there are strong influences intent on diluting or destroying it. We want you to give us help. Be our pastor, a minister of Word and sacrament in the middle of this world's life. Minister with Word and sacrament in all the different parts and stages of our lives - in our work and play, with our children and our parents, at birth and death, in our celebrations and sorrows, on those days when morning breaks over us in a wash of sunshine, and those other days that are all drizzle. This isn't the only task in the life of faith, but it is your task. We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This is yours: Word and sacrament.
  'One more thing: We are going to ordain you to this ministry, and we want your vow that you will stick to it. This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community. We know you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we are. We know your emotions are as fickle as ours, and your mind is as tricky as ours. That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you. We know there will be days and months, maybe even years, when we won't feel like believing anything and won't want to hear it from you. And we know there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won't feel like saying it. It doesn't matter. Do it. You are ordained to this ministry, vowed to it.
  'There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else than what we are telling you now. Promise right now that you won't give in to what we demand of you. You are not the minister of our changing desires, or our time-conditioned understanding of our needs, or our secularized hopes for something btter. With these vows of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of Word and sacrament so you will be unable to respond to the siren voices.
  'There are many other things to be done in this wrecked world, and we are going to be doing at least some of them, but if we don't know the foundational realities with which we are dealing - God, kingdom, gospel - we are going to end up living futile, fantasy lives. Your task is to keep telling the basic story, representing the presence of the Spirit, insisting on the priority of God, speaking the biblical words of command and promise and invitation.'
  That, or something very much like that, is what I understand the church to say - even when the people cannot articulate it - to the individuals it ordains to be its pastors.
  - pp. 502-505, from Life At Its Best by Eugene Peterson, italics original (or from the book, The Gift: Reflections on Christian Ministry)

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Star

At the end of the book I just finished, Life At Its Best by Eugene Peterson, come several poems written by him as he meditated on the Incarnation of Jesus. I didn't get most of them, and there were two or three that I kinda liked, but the one below is so far my favourite poem among them.
A long wait before the faithful, sovereign, and all-wise God, I will not fear.

The Star

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh;
a star shall come forth out of Jacob.
                Numbers 24:17

No star is visible except at night,
Until the sun goes down, no accurate north.
Day's brightness hides what darkness shows to sight,
The hour I go to sleep the bear strides forth.

    I open my eyes to the cursed but requisite dark,
    The black sink that drains my cistern dry,
    And see, not nigh, not now, the heavenly mark
    Exploding in the quasar-messaged sky.

Out of the dark, behind my back, a sun
Launched light-years ago, completes its run;

    The undeciphered skies of myth and story
    Now narrate the cadenced runes of glory.

Lost pilots wait for night to plot their flight,
Just so diurnal pilgrims praise the midnight.

Friday, 13 September 2013

As the Father has love me...

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (John 15:9 ESV)
If only you knew how great His love is. If only.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Preaching on Genesis 4:1-16

I had a privilege of preaching on Genesis 4:1-16 the other day. Wordle is a fun way to see how I used words in my sermon. See below.

Wordle: God, Cain, and Abel

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Does Kevin Rudd have a pastor?

Recently, Kevin Rudd had made statements that displayed more than anything his own ignorance of the bible at best, and willful disobedience to God at worst. And this was from a very smart man who publicly and repeatedly claim to be Christian. There have been several useful writings on how Kevin Rudd misread the bible and got its meaning wrong. Here are two I found particularly note-worthy: from Sandy Grant (the senior minister at St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral) and from Glenn Davies (the newly elected Anglican Archbishop of Sydney).

I hope he would read one or two of those writings done as response to him, and seriously consider his own relationship with God, where he is standing with Jesus. Now that the election campaign is over, and he is almost certain to step down from the role of Prime Ministership, perhaps it's a ripe time for him to consider what it is that he actually believes in. It might be God's most gracious hand at work for him right now as he loses 2013 Federal Election.

But, I also have something I never heard asked yet. If Kevin Rudd is a Christian as he claims to be, does he belong to a church? Even if he couldn't consistently attend one church because of his busy schedule, if he is a Christian, he would have a church that he would call home, wouldn't he? And if that's the case, my question really is, who is the pastor to Kevin Rudd? For his misunderstandings of the bible and his misguided ethical choices, has anything been said to him by a pastor? Or what about elders in Kevin Rudd's church? Have they taken an action on his gross misunderstanding of God's Word and his disobedience to it? I hope there have been, and if not, I hope it will happen at the first possible opportunity. That is what I would expect from a pastor and elders in the church I belong. If I am going off the track in terms of my understanding and obedience to God's Word, please, God help our church(es), pastors and elders rebuke and correct me.

I suppose, in some ways, this isn't a job exclusively for a pastor or an elder in the church. To a little lesser degree, it's a job for every Christian. So, what about me?
If I saw someone from my church who is going off the track in terms of their faith in Jesus, love for Jesus, obedience to His Word, and if I am in a position and relationship with that person to speak to him, will I do that? Or will I ignore it and hide behind my politeness? Will I, with patience, plead with him to reconsider what God has said and who Jesus is, or will I grieve inside, but not enough to actually do something about it? Will I pray like crazy for this drowning brother or sister, whom Christ died for? Do I?