Sunday, 24 November 2013

Image of Salvation - Isaiah 35

Life can seem grey and routine. Of course there is ordinariness, but does it have to be endless monochrome? In Isaiah 35 we have a wonderful vision - the desert landscape suddenly bursts forth with life and colour, showing God's splendour.

Normal life is actually incredibly fragile. It takes just one event and things can be in a downward spiral, with seemingly no way out. Into this God drops a lifeline. It might be practical help, e.g. from a Foodbank or debt counselling, but it brings hope that surpasses the physical needs. It shows the prospect of life with God, arresting the disintegration happening around you.

For when God intervenes things change! From not able to see to having full sight, from deafness to hearing, the lame can leap, even the quietest can shout and rejoice with un-stoppable joy.

What was dry, barren, unable to sustain life now becomes a pool of living water, bubbling up God's goodness. Springing up, kind of out of nowhere, this water not only brings life for the individual but has a life-giving affect on those around too.

This is life on a new road, that Isaiah describes as a highway leading to God's eternal goodness. Not anyone can travel on this road, it is a special road for certain people who are pronounced 'clean'. In that way it is like a toll road, where only those who pay the toll can travel. Yet different, in that it is God who pays the toll through Jesus Christ. We might try to clean up our act, but try as we might we won't succeed. The fact is God invites us in, and makes us clean by what Jesus has done - that qualifies us to walk the road.

On this road we enjoy God's protection. The beasts and the lion cannot reach us. Yet so many of us, even those who have been Christians for a long time, seem to get distracted off the road. Hence the key question:

[UP] How easily are you distracted off God's road?

Whether it is to self-pity, looking down, or temptations to simply moan and complain, the simple fact is this is not the highway Isaiah describes. It is a different road that can lead to bitterness, a road on which the beasts and ravenous lion easily devour.

Choose afresh to walk on God's highway, walking in anticipation of God's all encompassing goodness, to where you can enter with singing and gladness. Isaiah has given a wonderful vision of salvation. Jesus makes that salvation possible: enter in and travel on that special road.

[UP] How easily are you distracted off God's road?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Forgotten Heroes - Rom 16:1 - 16 Part Three

In weighing the different scriptures, people may come to different conclusions. Having enquired with honesty and integrity, we may to have live with those differences.

There may be those who cannot decide. In that case they should turn to God, and ask God to reveal Himself. Now of course God is chiefly revealed in Jesus, and we get a very good idea of Jesus (and hence God) through the gospels. Of many incidents we could turn to, lets pick the resurrection story.

Women came to the tomb and found themselves meeting the risen Christ. Jesus tells them to go and bear witness to the resurrection. No remember that without the resurrection there is no Christianity!

So Jesus commissions these women to go and be 'apostles' - in a simplistic Christian definition an apostle is someone sent to witness to the resurrection. Yet that is a stupid thing to do! In those times a woman's testimony counted for nothing. In a court of law they could not give evidence.

THERE IS THE GOSPEL! Right there, Jesus says to the women 'YOU QUALIFY'!

That is surely a big decider: the gospel is not bound by culture but transforms it. Once again Jesus turns things on their head. Women can now join men as equals in proclaiming the things of God.

This is therefore a Gospel Issue. And its a justice issue too (potentially affecting 50% of the human race!). That is why it is important. I think Paul understood this, which is why he wrote up women as well as men as heroes in places like Romans 16, e.g. citing Junia as an apostle in the full Christian sense of the word.

To allow structures or thinking in place that might prevent women being co-workers with men would make those like Junia, Pheobe, Priscilla and others impossible. It is also a tragedy for the church, since it means consigning yet another generation to the ever increasing category of forgotten heroes.

Forgotten Heroes - Rom 16:1 - 6 Part Two

Some will find the highlighting of various women a bit confusing. After all, are there not clear passages limiting what women might do?

There are actually just two passages suggesting direct limitation: 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. Interestingly the first, which is typically translated plainly as 'women should remain silent ...', is in a flow where Paul has women prophesying and praying out loud in public worship. So is Paul not contradicting himself?

In the second Paul actually says (to Timothy) 'I do not' - instead of the 'no church must ever' that seems to be assumed. A universal ban would presumably seem odd to Timothy, since he would know first hand of Priscilla's ministry. In addition we know that Timothy's own faith is a result of Euodia and Lois (his grandmother and mother - see 2 Tim 1). In other words his own foundational teaching was received from women, a fact that Paul knew and celebrated.

Shouldn't we simply take 1 Timothy 2 literally? Well, since we started this session in Roman 16, lets take verse 16 literally too and ensure we all kiss each other every time we meet in church! The fact is, all of us apply a degree of interpretation to every verse we read. And that is correct: Scripture is not a download to program a robot. It is God-breathed to lead us to relationship with Christ, and relationships need working at.

The invitation is for us to engage the whole of scripture: reading passages in the light of each other. Some might say we are ignoring the Corinthian and Timothy passages: not so, we wrestle with them. In fact have not those same people made the mistake themselves of ignoring Romans 16, Acts 18, 1 Corinthians 1 and 16, Philippians 4, Colossians 4 and so on?

Forgotten Heroes - Rom 16:1 - 16 Part One

In recent years our remembrance of those who have fought in wars has been expanded to include a variety of groups previously overlooked: bomber command, the land army, home guard have all received recognition after largely being 'forgotten' for many years.

The church is not immune to forgetting whole groups of people either. Romans 16 gives us a significant list, but we only have to read a few verses and we should start thinking seriously about the text.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Justice & Generosity Leader: 1 Samuel 30:21 - 26

Disputes most likely kick off when people are tired, run down, have been busy. David and his men are no exception.

[OUT] How freely are you able to give away?