Digging for bedrock

Learning to dig for the bedrock of Christ and writing from that foundation about the messy details of life.

When I was a teenager my Dad worked in the tunnels being constructed to stabilise the mountains around the Clyde dam. It was a strange underground world of darkness, dirt, noise, and water. The work of tunnelling through solid rock was arduous and exhausting.

The reason for all the drilling, digging, and blasting was because the rock is not as solid as it seemed. The mountains in that area are riddled with fault lines, underground water and massive, slowly moving landslides. Placing a gigantic concrete dam smack on top of a fault line meant the mountains had to be stabilised to prevent them cascading down into the newly formed lake.

As humans we like to think our work will last. It is demoralising to work hard on something for it to be demolished by someone who doesn’t care. We order our lives to ensure stability of home and income. Education is an attempt to predict what knowledge is worth gaining that will be of lasting value.

Over recent weeks I’ve been wondering what direction I should take with this blog. Writing blog posts can be a significant investment in time, and running a blog that is not crammed with advertising is a reasonable monetary cost. If I’m to continue writing I’d like it to have purpose and meaning, both for me and the few who read my posts.

I’ve asked God to help me determine what my focus should be, and so far the clearest idea I have is to keep digging into bedrock. The rock is Christ and knowing Him. Encompassing more than just blogging, for the time being I need to single-mindedly pursue Jesus. I’m confident that in doing this, other stuff will slip and slide into their rightful places.

I’m not sure how this will affect my writing, hopefully by making it better. My gut feeling is that I’d like to write about the intersection of life and faith. There are thousands of Christian pastors who write blogs. Yet it is oddly difficult to find blogs written by ordinary Christian men about the challenges of living faithfully for God in the messy details of secular work, marriage, and being a dad. This is where most of us live for most of the time.

Good writing, like any good art, needs to confront the most challenging aspects of life. Whether exploring our pain, anger, or fears, writing won’t ring true if it fails to confront these deeper issues or only offers pat solutions to complex issues. (Ed Cyzewski, How The Examen Empowers Us to Pray and Write)

While I don’t consider myself an artist, confronting the challenging aspects of life is a large part of why I write. I also have a deep dislike for pat answers. Life is messy and complex, trite answers don’t help anyone. This is where blogs can offer something useful with thoughtful posts and discussion in the comments to tease out the knotty intricacies of our real lives.

In the meantime, I have some digging to do. Let me leave you with a reminder that Christ is the rock that even incessant ocean waves cannot erode away.


Image 1:Drilling a blast hole with a jackhammer in 1942. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image 2:Fingal’s Cave, Staffa (Scotland). Courtesy of Gerry Zambonini (flickr)

He is not here

This week’s 5 Minute Friday prompt is ‘here’

Go:

He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.
(Luke 24:6–7 ESV)

These women with the spices were the first Christians, and they are more like me than I usually admit. They were going to beautify a body, to anoint the man Jesus, who had died on a cross several days previously.

They did not find that Jesus. Instead they encountered Jesus as God to be worshipped, Saviour to be adored. He shattered their preconceptions and overwhelmed their ideas about God, replacing them with Himself – a person beyond their comprehension.

How often do I go seeking a man-sized Jesus with my human problems, a dead religious ritual rather than seeking God as He is?

Stop!

(Five Minute Friday is when we use the prompt chosen by Lisa-Jo and write for 5 minutes without over thinking or editing. Then link up to Lisa-Jo’s post and leave a comment for the person who linked up before us. Easy, and fun!)


Image: iStock

Jesus is offensive

Sometimes Jesus himself, is offensive to people and they will turn away. Understanding the truth, some will refuse to follow Christ.

Often ‘the church’ can say and do really stupid, even horrible, things in the name of Jesus. Individual Christians do the same. Whether by word or behaviour individuals and churches can put others off Christianity. This is a bad thing.

Yet Jesus himself offended people, he appears to have even done so on purpose:

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:60-66 ESV)

In the discourse of John 6:25-58, Jesus had spoken words of truth to a large crowd of people. What he said offended them, not because it was hard to understand but because what they did understand was offensive. Jesus fully knew it would offend them and he would lose followers but spoke the truth to them anyway. He had no problem with a huge crowd turning away from following him, leaving only twelve disciples.

We must always speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), but there will be some occasions when the words of Jesus, in fact Jesus himself, is offensive to people and they will turn away. This is heartbreaking, I don’t care how much of, or what kind of, a sinner anyone is the last thing I want is for them to be eternally excluded from fellowship with God. Yet even comprehending the truth – understanding the meaning of the words – some will refuse to follow Christ.

Theology lets us down on the topic of predestination, but Jesus makes it clear enough that unless God enables it to happen, nobody can come to Jesus. So in those awful times when somebody is offended by Christ and cannot see his beauty the most useful thing I can do is pray. I can pray fervently, desperately, that God will grant for that person to see the glory of God in Christ Jesus.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV)


Image: iStockphoto

John the Baptist gets high

Imagine spending thirty years of your life intensely focussed on what you are convinced is your entire purpose for being. The enormity of the task sometimes causes you to quiver and seriously doubt yourself, can you really pull it off? What if, in the crucial moment, you fail to perform what is expected of you? If this job is not done properly history will hate you for it!
It is the preparation which costs so much; constant vigilance, total discipline and self control, being unable to participate in most of the entertainments your peers enjoy. Every day – preparing and waiting – Oh the seemingly endless waiting.

Finally, after years of study and setting yourself aside for the task you know you are ready and the time is right to begin. With faltering voice at first you start speaking out, attempting to convince others of the message you have been given. Surprisingly the people respond. They see your sincerity, look past your idiosyncrasies and understand the message.

Well, the common people that is. The educated and wealthy start mocking and debating. They cannot see why your teaching is applicable to them, especially given their inherited position.

Yet, despite this opposition even your reputation grows until crowds are gathering to listen and act. People are taking it seriously, asking sensible questions about how to change injustice. Things are happening!

However, with the success your anxiety mounts. Things are surely going to come to a head soon but you still haven’t done the most important thing. What if you’ve missed it? What if dealing with so many people coming to listen and be changed has blinded you to the most important part of the task?

With such doubts in your mind every night you rehearse your message. Your tone is getting more strident and uncompromising. The ‘debates’ with the authorities are getting less like debates and becoming more like tirades against them. Someone is going to get real upset before too much longer!

Then it happens, after yet another heated exchange with the scribes. Looking up, the man walking towards you matches what others have described but more importantly you recognize in him an air of uncompromising sincerity. Now, after so many public speeches your words tumble out awkwardly and you hear yourself wondering out loud whether what you’d been planning to do is actually the right thing.

He smiles and reassures. Yes, your concerns are valid but stick to the plan. So it is done.

Then…

Well, words cannot describe it. Nothing you had imagined came near the actual event. But it happened, just as you had been told. Good thing the water was fairly shallow or you’d have nearly drowned! Not only the dove, but the voice also! The sign! YOU HAD JUST BAPTIZED THE SON OF GOD!

I am speculating here, but it is my guess that John the baptist – a young 30-year-old man – found it difficult to focus on his work for the rest of that day and probably was buzzing too much to sleep very well that night! The purpose God had given him in life had now been achieved!

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29–34 ESV)


Image of man jumping: iStock]

A humble friend of Jesus

What would it be like to have an intimate friendship with Jesus? I have been pondering this lately and can’t get away from what Jesus said  to His disciples:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17 ESV)

The core of what Jesus is saying is that His friends love one another and bear the fruit of the ‘upside-down’ kingdom of God.

If I want to deepen my friendship with Jesus I will walk in love. That sounds wonderfully easy, just be kind and loving. And if I was kind and loving by nature it would be easy. But I am not and it isn’t.

I am sinful by nature and despite  being grafted into the life-giving vine, I’m still wild and need pruning in order to bear kingdom fruit (Romans 11:17, John 15:1-2). Love is not my natural inclination. Besides, God’s definition of love is a lot higher than the world’s.

The friends of Jesus love their enemies, have no fear for their lives, are humble as children are, daily deny themselves, are not anxious, hope in all things and endure all things. That is not what I am like by nature, I need God’s Spirit to create this fruit in my life. (See Matthew 5:44, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:4, Luke 9:23, Luke 12:22, and 1 Corinthians 13:4–7).

Fortunately Jesus knew His disciples well, knows human nature well, knows me well and knows you. He knows that we are not already holy, He requires of us to simply begin the journey and humbly entrust all we are into His hands. If I do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Jesus, He will make the fruit grow.

It is good for me to keep reminding myself what Jesus expects of His friends, that way it is no surprise when He demands these things of me. I am better prepared then to humbly walk with Him rather than resisting and sinfully going my own way – tearing friendship apart.


External links related to this topic:

Image of Tibetian friends: Moosa_Kahn

The total supremacy of Christ

We are all inclined to boast, some are more subtle than others. Paul really goes for it in Colossians 1:17-18, starting with a John-like comment about Christ existing before all things and holding everything together, he then says that Jesus is head of the church before returning to speak of the beginning and Christ’s supremacy over everything.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
(Colossians 1:17-18 ESV)

What makes this boasting OK is that it is true – Jesus is all this.

I find it interesting how Paul structured this passage – I’m no literary scholar but even I can see the pattern:

– creation/beginning
– church
– beginning

Even the larger context of Colossians 1:15-20 has this movement, with emphasis weighted on beginnings/creation in verses 15-17 and on the church and reconciliation in verses 18-20. Paul seems to use our ready comprehension of the authority and power of Christ displayed as Creator to point out the even greater majesty and glory of his being the head of the church.

This puts caring for, serving, honouring, shepherding and loving the church into awesome perspective, doesn’t it?

Simple, not easy

I was listening to Matthew Chapter 7 as I walked home this afternoon and noticed how simply Jesus taught. He did not make it complicated to understand how to be righteous – simply listen to what He said and put it into practise, simple!

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
(Matthew 7:24 ESV)

Simple to understand, certainly not easy to do. In fact, if the path I’m on is easy, that’s a good indication I’m on the wrong path.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. “
(Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)

The call and commands of Christ are easy to understand but impossible for a sinful man to obey. I must become something I am not – a little child (Matthew 18:3). A little child believes Jesus when He says it is better to enter life with one hand or one eye than to be thrown into hell with two hands or two eyes. A little child does not rationalize away sin or hell, he confesses the sin, trusts Jesus, and walks on with Jesus in obedience. I don’t need more knowledge, I need to know Jesus and live trusting Him completely.

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “
(Matthew 6:31-33 ESV)

Gifts I have noticed this week (145 – 162):

145) The means to dispatch large spiders without getting too close! (i.e., flyspray).
146) My 17 year-old watch that still goes great.
147) My Mother-in-law making my favourite cake.
148) Contemplating God while washing dishes late at night.
149) Being mesmerized by the patterns of light summer rain falling silently on a pond.
150) Gentle ‘plopping’ sounds as the rain gets heavier.
151) Dragonflies hovering.

152) A dog eager for me to throw a pine cone into the pond for him to chase.

153) School camp.
154) A washing machine.
155) warm, sunny days to get washing dry.
156) Memories of my own childhood adventures.
157) A swim for two dogs who are hot and panting.
158) A gentle, cooling breeze (see Jonah 4:8).
159) Warm sunny days helping to burn away the fog.
160) Clean water to drink.
161) A dog who is expert at finding lost tennis balls to play with.
162) Hope in Christ deeper than any circumstance or emotion.
163) A new road layout, no more walking alongside trucks.
164) The simple, brain-clearing rhythm of walking.

Blog success in an upside-down kingdom

I am making a few course-corrections for the blog. After one year of blogging, now is a good time to review how things have gone and where I am aiming for the next year.

Since mid-November 2009 I have published 192 blog posts, learned loads about blogging and WordPress, done a smidge of CSS tweaking, and managed to break the blog once by messing with the php code. Most importantly, I have encountered God in the process of writing these 192 posts and in doing so attained one of my main objectives in writing a blog. My other key objective has been to write content that contributes to others being able to encounter Christ also. Obviously this is impossible for me to assess, all I can do is write what I think would be helpful to me and respond graciously to any feedback from others.

There are certainly ways of measuring statistics regarding numbers of visitors to a website, how long they stay, what search engines or websites they came from, and lots of other interesting stuff. Until a few days ago I used Google Analytics to track such statistics for Words of Eternal Life – it reassured me at least that I am not quite the only person in the world to visit this blog! However, herein lies a dangerous trap for someone trying to honour Christ – the danger of seeking validation and praise from my works rather than from Jesus. It is good to be encouraged but I need to be careful to give praise to God for enabling me to do whatever it is I am being encouraged about, and to seek validation from God, not a blog. In this I have learned the truth of what John Piper says:

John Piper says:
Tell them that it takes relentless intentionality to keep a Christ-exalting blog from become a clever blog. The temptation to entertain is almost irresistible.

I have also been greatly inspired by what Ann Voskamp said recently at the Relevant Conference about blogging in the ‘Upside-Down Kingdom’. Ann talked about serving Christ by going lower, by exposing our thrashing about, our searching in the darkness, and telling our ‘messy stories’ of knowing Jesus as fallen, forgiven sinners. Our stories engage others with theology, culture, circumstance and struggle all lived out in a real life of faith in Jesus Christ.

The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. She needs her again and again when she becomes uncertain – and this is the power of blogging in the upside down kingdom. This is the holy work of a blog, so don’t ever feel shy or ashamed or embarrassed that you blog. Because the body of Christ needs to speak to itself and it needs to speak to the world and this is the beauty of a blog. I get discouraged and I become uncertain and I fall down and His Word through your words is the connective tissue in the body of Christ and we need each other. Please. Keep. Writing. (Ann Voskamp)

So, out of all this I have made a few changes to this blog and set some goals for the year ahead:
  • Rather than concerning myself with numbers of visitors to this blog or increasing traffic, I want to keep in mind my main purpose in writing:
    for me blogging is not primarily about how many visits I get or how well this website ranks on search engines. The purpose of my blogging is to write about walking with Christ in ordinary life.
  • I am modifying the layout to focus more on the ongoing story of faith, with minimal distractions.
  • I will do my best to keep the content of this blog Christ-honouring and faith-building.
  • I will try to honestly tell my own messy faith stories in the hope they may help you as you read them.

John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.
(John 3:27-30 ESV)

17 November 2010
Ann
Voskamp has posted an excellent follow up article about what ‘success’ should mean as a Christian blogger on the incourage blog. The post is titled: Six Things Every Christian Blogger Needs to Know. If you found this post interesting, I highly recommend reading Ann’s post.

Comfort my people

The comfort offered to Israel is that God Himself will come to them, and God Himself comes to each of us in the Person of Jesus Christ.

comfort-my-people

Comfort, comfort my people says your God.(Isaiah 40:1 ESV)

God directs tender words to be spoken to His people, words of hope and pardon. There is a message of preparation, “Get ready for God’s visitation.” There is a message of enduring hope, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” And there is the message of God’s arrival, “Behold your God!”

Could anything be more glorious? “Behold, God is at the gates!” He has forgiven, He comes to gently lead and to justly rule. The all-surpassing joy of such a proclamation! As someone who is not descended from Israel, I read  Isaiah 40:1–9 rejoicing for them and yearning to be part of the celebration of God’s coming to His people. God is coming to abide with His people and how I long to be part of that people with whom God dwells!

Paul reckons there is a chance for me:

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
(Romans 9:25 ESV)

God is going to name people who were not His people as His people, even His beloved!

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in [Jesus Christ] will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
(Romans 10:11-13 ESV)

So I can rejoice with Israel that God is coming to His people – has already come and will come again. The comfort offered to Israel is that God Himself will come to them, and God Himself comes to each of us in the Person of Jesus Christ. He came, to purchase our redemption with His life. He comes, calling each of us to follow Him. He is coming, to receive His beloved at the end of all things.

My comfort comes in beholding my God; His majesty, His mercy, and His meekness.

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
(Matthew 21:5 ESV)

Don’t kick Adam

God tells Adam not to eat from the tree of the know­ledge of good and evil because if he does he will die. What does Adam do? I guess I’m not the only one who would like to give him a good kick!

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
(Romans 5:12 ESV)

This verse is like landing on the head of a snake when almost at the end of a ‘snakes & ladders’ game, and in fact both a snake and a ladder will feature in this post.

Any Bible verse beginning with ‘Therefore’ is instructing us to consider whatever was written before it in building up the argument. I have found this particular ‘Therefore’ to be very hard work because it’s topic actually throws me all the way back to Genesis 2:16-17. The more immediate context is Romans 5:1-11. In summary, that passage assures us of the unshakable hope we have in Christ because He chose to die for us even while we were enemies of God, so how much more can we be confident that we will be saved through his life now we are reconciled to God by his death.

But the context of Romans 5:1-11 does not fully explain the shift in topic of verse 12, and besides, the first word of Romans 5:1 is another ‘Therefore’, so I need to keep digging. My conclusion is that Paul is using chapter 5 to transition into chapters 6 to 8 from what he has written right through from the start of the letter up to the end of chapter 4.

A super-condensed summary of those first four chapters:
  • Romans 1: God can be known but everyone has pushed this knowledge aside. Conclusion: guilty. Penalty: wrath.
  • Romans 2: Whether we have the law of Moses or not, all have disobeyed God’s decrees. Conclusion: guilty. Penalty: wrath.
  • Romans 3: Nobody is justified by the law — what the law brings is knowledge of sin. Conclusion: guilty. Penalty: wrath.
    But: We can be justified by the free gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Romans 4: Abraham is a ‘type’ of faith in action. He is the father of faith for both Jew and Gentile.

Then we get to Romans 5:1-11, which builds upon that entire foundation with:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
(Romans 5:1-2 ESV)

Paul goes on to show that since Christ died for us while we were sinners and enemies of God, then we can be sure that God will save us from wrath now that we are reconciled (i.e., not enemies) through the blood of His Son. Paul now starts talking about sin, death and Adam.

Before I look at Genesis, what is the big deal with sin? Why does God get so grumpy about it? To understand this we need to consider what God is like.

Despite the many biblical references to human-like aspects of God’s nature, He is fundamentally not like us. God is holy. In Isaiah 6:3-5 the prophet has a vision of God and it is the holiness of God that is most prominent. Holiness is a fundamental attribute of God — if He were not holy He would not be God. Being holy means that He is utterly separated from sin. It is impossible for the slightest bit of sin to get into God — if that could happen He would cease being God. This is why Habakkuk says God cannot look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13 ).

Because God is holy and sin is totally foreign to His nature, sin is destined to be a temporary thing. All sin will ultimately be obliterated, in fact, that is what the cross of Christ was all about — in Christ our sin was killed on the cross.

So, back to Adam. In Genesis 2:16-17 God tells Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because if he does he will die. What does Adam do? I guess I’m not the only one who would like to give him a good kick! (The snake also enters the picture here.)

Adam disobeyed a direct command of God, the first sin, and as promised he died. Through Adam two things that were previously not a part of human experience became inescapable and universal human experiences — sin and death. Both have been passed on to every human (with only a single exception).

The origin of sin and death through Adam explains how the realities that Paul has been discussing in chapters 1 through 4 of Romans came into being. Adam is the father of the entire human race. As Abraham is the father of all who believe and are fully convinced that God can do as He promised, so also Adam is the father of all of us who disobey God.

But there is another man, one who fully trusted God and full obeyed God. The man Jesus Christ obeyed God even to death on a cross. Through his death we are reconciled to God — the Holy God. The furious wrath of God at sin was poured out on Christ, so now we stand righteous before God through the obedience of Jesus Christ. (Here is our ladder, see Genesis 28:12 and John 1:51).

It is worth reading through Romans Chapter 5 and paying attention to the mediators of our sin and salvation (look for the word ‘through’) and note the superiority of what Christ has achieved over Adam’s disobedience (look for words such as ‘much more’, and ‘abounding’). It becomes clear that while we may feel angry at Adam for being the mediator of sin and death to the entire human race, we have no grounds to stay angry at him. God’s grace is far greater than Adam’s sin, or our sins — where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. Through Jesus we receive reconciliation to the holy God, an abundance of grace, the free gift of righteousness, and eternal life.

Because it is through Christ that we receive salvation, there is nothing we have to do to earn it. There is also nothing we can do to lose or destroy it. In this we are in a far better place than Adam started — we are reconciled to God, have been given righteousness, and cannot lose it through disobedience as he did!