Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Risky Business

I believe in God. That’s not a very challenging or informative statement. Commonly, it expresses that I believe that God exists; you may also infer that I consider God to be generally a good thing.
In English translations of the New Testament, there is a lot of talk about believing. Jesus repeatedly encouraged people to 'believe in' him. But Jesus wasn’t asking people to believe that he existed - that would hardly have been difficult for them - or even to believe that is was the Christ or the Son of God - those ideas were only just beginning to be associated with him. Jesus was asking people to trust him - thats the meaning of the word he was using.
Trust is subtly different from belief. Trust is specific. You may be willing to trust me with a small amount of money, or trust that I am a generally well-meaning person. But you would be unwise to trust me to style your hair, and utterly foolish to trust me to perform routine surgery on you. We trust specific people to do specific things. The same needs to apply to our relationship with God.
What are we trusting God for?
Often, talk about trusting God is unhelpfully vague. Trust is a decision to embark on a particular action when the outcome of that action is, at least in part, beyond our control. I get a mechanic to service my car because I don’t understand how my car works. When I next drive my car, I put my trust in the mechanic’s understanding and integrity.
So what do we actually trust God for?
Trust requires action, and it involves risk. When I sit on a chair, I trust that it will hold my weight. If it doesn’t, I will end up on the floor. We trust God when we perform certain actions which rely of him in a way that is beyond our control - actions that we would not perform if we didn’t trust God.
Jesus asks us to trust him. He asks us to live differently in this world, trusting that his way is a better way, even though it may be costly for us.
How often to you really trust God?

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Explosive Forgiveness

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is not a philosophical comment about human behaviour; it is one of the fundamental principles of the physical universe as described by Isaac Newton in 1687. It is known as Newton’s 3rd Law. The ground on which you are standing, or the chair on which you are sitting, is pushing you upwards with exactly the same force that your weight is pressing down. If it isn’t, then you are either sinking or taking off. It applies to all physical forces everywhere in the universe. They always work both ways.
Jesus was not a physicist. His genius was in the things of God and the things of human relationship. When unfolding his model for everyday prayer -  the ‘Our Father’ or ‘Lord’s Prayer’ - Jesus drew attention to the fact that forgiveness, just like physical force, is fundamentally a two way process.
"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" does not set out a contractural arrangement of conditional forgiveness. Jesus was describing the very nature of forgiveness. To mimic Newton’s 3rd Law: every act of forgiving as an equal and opposite act of being forgiven. Forgiveness does not, and cannot, operate in just one direction.
This was clearly important to Jesus; he stressed the point immediately after the prayer. "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” He isn’t telling us that God is picky about who he forgives. God’s not like that. Jesus is stating a universal principle about forgiveness. If you are not forgiving, you cannot be forgiven. And, to look at it from the other end, if you are truly forgiven, you cannot help forgiving.
Jesus observed this same principle when a prostitute interrupted a dinner party in order to cry over his feet. He said to the embarrassed guests, “Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
Forgiveness cannot be hoarded up. It is explosive. If you choose to forgive someone this week, you will cause a chain reaction which cannot be stopped. Someone else, somewhere else, is going to end up being forgiven too. That’s how forgiveness works.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Humans are Awesome

If you were to give the human race marks out of ten, what score would you give to our species? If you watch or read the news a lot, you may be inclined to give us a fairly low score. God would disagree with you. Indeed, the writers of Genesis were keen to remind us that when God saw what kind of a job he had done in creating the human race, he was very pleased with the outcome. Surely that warrants a high score?
There is a strand of Christian teaching which replies: ‘Yes, but then it all went horribly wrong because Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit!’ Don’t be so hasty! God knew what Adam and Eve were like. He had made them, after all. He put that tree, laden with forbidden fruit, right in the middle of their garden, knowing that it looked very appealing to his new creation. It was a test; a choice; a decision which God offered us, that had both positive and negative consequences. We chose to take the knowledge of good and evil, and that has affected the path of human history ever since. But it doesn’t stop the human race from being awesome. And it doesn’t stop God from loving his handiwork.
Jesus told Nicodemus that the very reason why God gave his own son to the tool-making inhabitants of Planet Earth was that he loves us so much. We still get a high score from God.
It has become common practice for us to look down our collective nose at our own species. So let’s pause and take in a different perspective - God’s perspective. Human beings are wonderful creatures, made - in some significant way - in the pattern of God himself. We humans are awesome, and well worth loving. In God’s mind, even those people who you find very irritating are well eminently lovable.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Learning with Jesus

At the age of thirty, Jesus presented himself to the world as a teacher. To be a teacher - then as now - you need two things: some pupils and a subject.
For pupils, Jesus gathered an assortment of inquisitive men and women who lived near his new home in the bustling Galilean town of Capernaum. They were ordinary working folk who showed an active interest in Jesus’ specialist subject - the coming together of heaven with everyday life.
Jesus’ teaching quickly gained popularity. It wasn’t a high-brow, ivory tower education, with noses in books and heads in the clouds. Jesus taught people at their place of work, with examples taken from the everyday realities of farming, fishing and financial affairs.
If you were to attend one of Jesus’ lessons, this is the sort of thing you would learn:

  • Everyone knows there’s a law against murder, but I say to you, don’t even insult people or be rude to them. God cares about that just as much.
  • There’s no need to make oaths, simply be honest in everything you say.
  • If someone does something bad to you, don’t take revenge, let it pass. That’s what God is like.
  • Anyone can be friendly and generous to their friends or to people who will pay them back. Be different. Be friendly to your enemies and generous to people who can never pay you back.
  • Don’t try to impress other people with your religion. They may be impressed, but God won’t be.
  • Don’t worry about the future. Trust the future to God and focus on today. That’s quite enough to be worrying about!
  • All in all - treat other people the way you would want them to treat you.

A great deal of religious teaching is about the things you supposedly need to do in order to get into heaven. Jesus’ teaching was different. He tells us about the things we need to do to bring heaven into our everyday lives.