These guys come up with some amazing things, and while I don’t always agree with them, it is still amazing, like this one!
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|AUGUST 20, 2012|
By Dr. Hugh Ross
Astronomy research yields increasing evidence for the solar system’s unique formation history. The more we learn, the more its features appear fine-tuned to enable the eventual existence of advanced life on Earth. A recent study, for example, shows a residual population of planetesimals (small, primordial solar system bodies, in this case measuring no larger than 20 meters across) with a total mass just-right for life’s sake. This total mass played an essential role in dampening the eccentricities and inclinations of Venus, Earth, and Mars from their initially high values to their current near zero values, as well as in sufficiently enriching Earth’s crust with siderophile (iron/arsenic/sulfur-loving) elements so that advanced life eventually would be possible on Earth.
Good mental health critically depends on the recognition of self-worth. Self-worth comes from the discovery that one is uniquely designed to fulfill a specific and valuable purpose.. Recognition that each human being is distinctly special represents a powerful argument for the existence of a powerful, intelligent, knowledgeable, and loving Creator.
Increasingly, astronomers are discovering that what is true of human beings, also appears to be true of the Sun’s suite of planets and particularly planet Earth. When planets outside of our solar system were first discovered in 1995,1 most astronomers presumed that the discovery of additional exoplanets would prove that the solar system planets are in no way special but, rather, ordinary. Since this article’s publication, 777 planets outside of our solar system have been measured in sufficient detail as to be included in the Paris Observatory’s Exoplanet Encyclopedia. Currently, astronomers are examining an additional two thousand candidate planets to determine whether or not they are true planets.
Not one of the 777 planets in the Exoplanet Encyclopedia matches the characteristics of any one of our solar system’s planets. Upsilon Andromedae e comes close. Its mass compared to Jupiter’s is 1.06+. (Because the inclination of Andromedae e’s orbit is not known, only a minimum mass has been determined2). Its distance from its host star compared to Jupiter’s distance from the sun is 1.01.3
Upsilon Andromedae e, however, is accompanied by two much larger planets, upsilon Andromedae c and d, with masses = 14.57+ and 10.19+ times greater than Jupiter’s, respectively. These two planets orbit the system’s host star 6.1 and 2.1 times closer, than does upsilon Andromedae e. Their orbits are also highly eccentric. Moreover, the host star is 1.28 times more massive and 3.4 times more luminous than the sun. The characteristics of both the main star and the two heavy planets accompanying upsilon Andromedae e rule out the possibility that another planet in the same system could possibly support advanced life.
Thus far, the discovery of hundreds of exoplanets has increasingly demonstrated just how specially designed each of the Sun’s eight planets and Earth’s Moon are for making the existence of advanced life possible on Earth. This remarkable design evidence has been accumulating, as seen in our books, DVDs, and at speaking events, for more than two decades.4 Now, the evidence is so compelling that even committed nontheistic scientists are acknowledging the dozens of unique solar system features that make our existence on Earth possible. The latest work on this topic can be found in the book, Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique by famed British physicist John Gribbin.5 Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, and the last chapter are correspondingly titled What’s So Special about Our Place in the Milky Way, What’s So Special about the Sun, What’s So Special about the Solar System, What’s So Special about the Earth, and What’s So Special about Us.
As Gribbin repeatedly points out in this new book, the more astronomers and physicists learn about the solar system and exoplanetary systems, the more evidence they accumulate for the special, fine-tuned design of the Sun, Earth, and Earth’s planetary partners to make humanity’s Earthly existence possible. The Astrophysical Journal comes out with two issues every ten days. In every issue I count one, if not several, articles that add to the weight of evidence for the unique and purposeful design of the solar system for our specific benefit. Here I’ll describe just one such article.
Three astronomers, Hilke Schlichting of UCLA and Caltech, Paul Warren of UCLA, and Qing-Zhu Yin of UC Davis, published a paper titled, “The Last Stages of Terrestrial Planet Formation: Dynamical Friction and the Late Veneer.”6 Therein, they point out just how critically important a late stage of terrestrial (rocky) planet formation is for life on Earth.
The final stage for the formation of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars occurs after the formation of the gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) and after the giant impact phase (the phase during which Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are bombarded by large planetesimals). During this final stage, the solar system’s four rocky planets “clean up” the remaining small planetesimals residing in their vicinity. This residual population of small planetesimals must survive late enough to dampen the high eccentricities and inclinations that Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars garnered as a result of the giant impact phase. If the orbits of Venus, Earth, Mars, and to a lesser degree Mercury had not been dampened to near zero values, advanced life never would have been possible on Earth. (Because Mercury’s mass is only one nineteenth than that of Earth’s and because it orbits so closely to the Sun, its orbit was not as circularized and disinclined as much by the residual planetesimals as were the orbits of Venus, Earth, and Mars. However, because Mercury is so small and so close to the Sun, its gravitational perturbations of Earth’s orbit are negligible.)
In their paper Schlichting, Warren, and Yin demonstrate that a residual population of small planetesimals containing a total mass of 0.01 Earth masses is necessary to dampen—after the giant impact phase—the initially high eccentricities and inclinations of Venus, Earth, and Mars down to their currently observed values. Furthermore, the majority of the “late veneer” accreted by Earth, Moon, and Mars during the final planetary formation stage must consist of bodies with radii less than or equal to 10 meters. As the three astronomers show in their calculations, this exact late veneer accretion explains the high siderophile element (HSE) abundances for Earth, Moon, and Mars and the high Earth/Mars and Earth/Moon mass accretion ratios during the final planetary formation stage, inferred from the observed HSEs of Earth, Moon, and Mars.
Schlichting, Warren, and Yin derive no fine-tuning arguments from their research. However, the fine-tuning is implied. If the total mass of the residual planetesimal population were much less than 0.01 Earth masses, then the orbits of Venus, Earth, and Mars would not have been sufficiently circularized and disinclined for advanced life to exist on Earth. On the other hand, if the total mass of the residual planetesimal population were much greater than 0.01 Earth masses, Earth would have accreted too much mass to allow for the future existence of advanced life. In the same manner, the average size of the residual planetesimals must be fine-tuned, as must the timing of the late veneer accretion event.
For a documented list of several hundred other solar system features that must be fine-tuned for the possible existence of advanced life on Earth click here. This list—together with the new results reported by Schlichting, Warren, and Yin—demonstrate the still accumulating evidence for the rare-Earth and rare-solar-system doctrines. These doctrines state that while planets the size and mass of Earth may prove abundant in the cosmos, planets with the just-right host stars, the just-right planetary partners, and the just-right characteristics, including physical and chemical composition, to enable the support of advanced life will prove either extremely rare or non-existent. Such doctrines are consistent with the Bible’s message that God supernaturally designed Earth (and, by implication, its star, its planetary partners) as well as its various life forms—all for the specific benefit of human beings.
The Sun is special. Earth’s planetary partners are special. The Moon is special. Earth is special. Earth’s life and human inhabitants are special. As Psalm 104:24 put it, “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”
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From Mark Chapter 1.
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
In my mind, this true story from the Bible happened like this.
He had lost count of how many weeks since he got sick. Like a bomb in a Baghdad market, it just happened. It started when Levi saw a white patch on his arm when he went out to work the sheep. He poked it and it felt funny. ‘No worries. It will be all right’. But his worries had started there.
Yacov his cousin noticed it that day, and whispered to him at lunch: “You oughta see a doctor right away”. Doctor after doctor he saw, and none could help him, but they all took his money. The white patch spread to his shoulder. He lost all feeling in his skin wherever it went. When the bottom of his face went numb, his smile became lop sided and he looked gross. He wore a bandage to hide it. Everyone had noticed it now, and children stared at his bandaged face and neck, as though he was…, like he was,… it is hard to say it… like he was a leper. He had leprosy. They all believed back then that it was highly infectious. There was more panic around him than swine flu. You are ‘Unclean’ they sniped.
The officials told him he had to leave home immediately for the sake of his wife and children. No touch allowed. But how will I live without them? And furthermore he couldn’t go to work anymore for the sake of the other workers and their families. They made him wear a badge that said: Unclean. But how will I earn my food and housing? How will my family live?
He wasn’t allowed to go to church anymore, for the sake of the other families. No touch allowed. He couldn’t go to the shops or markets. Unclean. How will I eat? Or get clothes? or blankets? How can I ever survive? Is there no one I can be with – how will I stop from going insane? No touch allowed.
Week after week, month after countless month, as far as he was concerned the disease wasn’t fast enough. He wanted it to end. He could see his wife in tears only from a distance. He could watch his children play and go to school but they could only wave. No hugs, no kiss, no handshake, no drying of tears, no touch, none at all. The wasting face of the disease was ugly and they couldn’t even bear to look at him now. He felt like he was stuck somewhere in outer space. The pain of going on alive, so alone, was more than the pain of the wasting disease. ‘Life goes on’ other people used to say to him and he wished, wild and deep in his guts, that it didn’t.
Then Jesus came to the village. Levi had heard about him, and his healings. Why not try him? Levi couldn’t go in to the village, of course, so he had to hang around on the road out of town and just hope that Jesus came out that way. When he saw him coming, Levi’s heart jumped. Despite the hot sun, a small crowd also came with him, damn it, and Levi had to withdraw, hang back, out of the way and off the road, wanting the space to approach Jesus.
Jesus just kept along the road, walking with strength and purpose, but they didn’t go back. Jesus came another 50m closer and Levi had to back off yet again – no touch, unclean.
‘Maybe he won’t care after all. Maybe his eyes are for someone else. Maybe, maybe, oh I’ve had too many maybes too many doctors too many crushed hopes. And here goes another one. He isn’t even looking this way. He won’t want to see me. If he comes near me they will send him to weeks in quarantine and look at how busy he is, how many people want him. He has healed so many, taught such wonderful news. Not me. He won’t want to help me, …but …his heart jumped up.
“Jesus!” he shouted with an angry challenge, “you want to heal me!…don’t ya?”
Jesus looked suddenly, past the little crowd and saw a leper standing back, hiding away from the road. He saw Levi’s ‘unclean’ badge. Finding his face, their eyes locked and a smile appeared at the bottom of Jesus’ face. The little chattering crowd fell nervously behind as Jesus swung across the road, walked lightly around the bushes, straight up to the guy half-hidden in rags and shame and rage and badge and bandage fifty metres away.
Jesus reached out and touched him. It felt like meteor strike. So when jesus said: “I do want to. Be clean”, Levi knew he was.
That’s the end of the story. You might like to wonder why I reckon Jesus smiled.
Like a leper , some of us are convinced that Jesus’ eyes are not for us, that Jesus’ smile is not for us, that Jesus’ love is for someone else, or some other place or some other time, maybe. Jesus cares about it. We probably all go that way at some time. Jesus cares about it. Is our problem too big for God to fix? Jesus cares about it. Is our problem too small for God to bother? Jesus cares about it.
All through scripture, Jesus welcomes in the stranger who doesn’t fit our social scene. Many many times, he gives a prime place to the weak and the poor, and sends the rich away empty. Many many times, he lifts women from the obscurity created by men, heals the sick, enlightens the religious and the nominal alike, sends the Holy Spirit into those who seek him, and guides the humble of heart into fullness of life. What a Saviour!
When my firstborn was lying badly burnt and in surgery, I discovered that Jesus cared about it. He is weaving a fabric of such a glory that is way beyond my imagining.
When I burnt out in ministry and got angry and exhausted with demands, I was shown how, despite my mistakes, Jesus cared about it. Others were healed when they timidly reached out to touch me.
When I finally faced the years and the stripes of abuse that fell upon me as a son, I looked back with different eyes and saw that Jesus has done something beautiful with my brokenness. I am so passionate now about the Father’s love.
When I am tangled deep in my own selfishness, beyond the pale, angry and ashamed, even there his kindness and gentleness have found me. His light turns my formless shame into a nameable guilt and this guilt he washes with forgiveness and restores me to my destiny.
Does all this describe you, my Christian friends? Is it not a great wonder that Jesus cares so much and so little, and so long for so many in such kindly care of the exact needs of each of our lives in detail. No wonder we say this love, his grace is ‘amazing.’ Glory to God!
Now here is the easy bit and the hard bit, all in one.
The main way we experience the care and compassion of Jesus is from one another. IT isn’t the only way. I told a story here a few weeks ago about how God himself came to me and cared for me in my desperation, but very few of you responded with a similar account. The main way we experience the care and compassion of Jesus is from one another. What is more, that is why we are here on the planet. Each one of us is uniquely made so we will love others in a unique way. Each one has a gift or two from the Great and Holy Spirit so that we will serve others uniquely and generously. It’s not rocket science. People are made for ‘the shelter of each other’ as one author put it.
So strong is this impulse in God that when something goes wrong in our messed up world, God does not send lightning bolts but sends a someone, to share and to help. Simple and good and profound.
Which is also where we get to the hard part – do we go where and when we are sent?
Maybe God will send individuals, like Peter sent to the centurion at Caesarea, or like Philip sent to the Ethiopian eunuch, or like the German doctor Albert Schweitzer sent to the Africans at Lambarene, or like Hudson Taylor sent to take the gospel in chinese clothing and language to China, or like countless unnamed Christians who have offered a word or a deed as unsung unnoticed mirrors of the ceaseless kindness of God . God sends someone, maybe you. Where God sends, God supplies.
At other times, the Bible records, he sends a nation to sort it out – I imagine in my own mind that that is a desperation measure, even for God, probably after many had refused to do what they were sent to do. When 6 million Jews were incinerated by the Nazis how many remained silent? And how many didn’t? When the Aboriginal children were removed from the parents, how many white folks simply believed the nice man with his racist propaganda? And how many didn’t?
What have we done about governments that refuse to deliver on their promise to make poverty history by 2015, while they easily find trillions to make wealth wealthier? Broken marriages and youth suicide are at epidemic proportions so who will go where and when God says to go?
You know what I fear most in life? Not that God’s call will be dangerous, not that it may cost me everything. My greatest fear in Christian life is that I will be too dull to hear it and too habituated to selfishness to go. If I don’t go, or if I don’t care and share enough, if I make a token effort out that is only out of my surplus time or cash, the consequence is that people will suffer longer, or more people will suffer. Isn’t that the picture of the world today?
And if I don’t go, God, ceaseless in kindness, absolutely unstoppable in his resolve to knit people together in love in the world he made for us, will move on and send someone else who will do it. And I will be left behind, left to languish in an outer circle of God’s will, smiling, dull, nice, religious and floating in my own self-importance like a plastic bag washed up on the river.
Let me show you biblically why I paint this so boldly. Kindness and caring is so central to Jesus that it is his clearest picture of the Last Judgement. To the point of fourfold repetition he describes what sort of faith he is looking for. On that last Great Day He will not, he says, ask us to articulate our theological position on inerrancy or our moral position on homosexuality or abortion. Only the Pharisees liked that stuff. Jesus says:
Mt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Deeds of caring compassion that would be typical of being done BY Jesus are here said to be done TO Jesus. That is the faith that saves. So simple. Yes, the caring Jesus sends his caring friends to a broken world, to care for one another as we care for his world.
Jn 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Jn 13:35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The ceaseless caring compassion of God is predominantly seen in this world through his caring compassionate friends of Jesus, who do good thing on a routine basis, and in the darkest places, and hopeless cases. One of ancient Desert Fathers of the church, St Anthony said: “our life and death is with our neighbour’. IF we are not being sent to care and to bless , we have no life within us.
Every one of us can do this. Maybe we cant take minutes but we can care. Maybe we cant organise a major social impact project, but we can care for one. Maybe we feel we barely have any faith and we understand it even less so we aren’t very good at faith-sharing – share that much in love and all will be well. And when we find we need to know something more, God will lead us to someone who will help us. Everyone of us who has learned a little of the caring compassion of Jesus toward us, can share that. That is probably all we can share, according to 2 Cor 1, so do just that. NO more and no less.
Father, send us. We are listening.
Father, send us. You are all we need.
Father, send us. Amen
Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to pray, he said: “in order that the love you have for me may be in them”. So how do we learn to pray? I don’t mean ‘how do we make up words that sound good when strung in a religious line.’ How did Jesus pray? Let’s start there.
From Mark 1: Jesus Prays in a Solitary Place
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him,and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
From John 17 Jesus Prays for His Disciples
Jn 17:13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Here is how I see this true story, from the Bible. I hope you can hear it OK.
When Jesus got out of bed, some people would say it was still dark. But that’s because they were asleep. On the path, Jesus saw the stars spinning their bright way west, the moon stood by, and there was the hint of a sunrise, like a silver blush on the cheek of the horizon. Jesus could also see that the Kingdom of God was dawning upon the world.
He steered himself along the network of paths that led past the baker, past the gambling den, through the market square, around the synagogue, diagonally across the park and out of the village. His whole life had steered him towards these days. Yesterday, he had seen God heal people, under his hand, lots of them. It had never happened before. He had been teaching about God and people were getting it, thrilled to know at last, lives transformed. So many people were being touched. No one knew where it would lead. This stony track should lead me to the top of that hill.
It was surprisingly hard to climb. Over these first weeks, aA number of disciples had joined him at their very great cost and at enormous risk. And some of the religious people and government people just wanted arguments. Always arguments – why do people not welcome the Father’s Son and God’s word and God’s tender power?
The birds were out as he walked around the hilltop. They were singing the praises of Him who cares for them, chattering, spacking, cluck and dive and whistle, playing chasey, preening for the girl-birds to see, strutting for the boy-birds to see, singing praises. Into this choir, Jesus walked and waited, to pray with his heavenly father, who in his language he called ‘abba’ which means ‘dad’. Jesus and God were very close, as close as whispering. The bushes stood breathless.
As he prayed in the silence, there was a lot going on. It was love being shared, back and forth across the darkling world, such love pouring from the Abba to his child and such praise and love given straight back by him. If you had ears to hear, the stars sang praises. The wind hummed along. The trees clapped their hands. The hills hymned. The lake below played the bass. If you have ears, you can hear. The whole planet and all the stars were awash with love, like winter waves rushing up the beach at high tide. Love tossed in the winds of the Spirit. All in the space of utter silence.
Back at the village, someone was like a grey shadow moving around the darkened house. This room that room courtyard backyard, and he shook his head, and put his hands on his hips. He moved quickly. He was excited about all the healings yesterday, and what might he see today. There had been so many people! What a great success! Still he couldn’t find what he was searching for, and went outside, and with a glance at the sky, walked around the corners and across the park, still searching.
No one else was about. No one else had yet got up and said ‘what time is it’ and gone to work or gone to make a cup of tea. In the quiet of his place, Jesus knew what time it was – it was the beginning. He had begun to win the whole world for the Reign of God. ‘Dad, show me the next step, the right time. What are the right words to use today when teaching, and when arguing? Give those men and women with me some courage and stickability? I don’t even know if they want it, but I so want it for them. Don’t please let them retreat into their own ghetto, that would be so sad, a grief, a tragedy. Dad, like you do for me, when they enter the hard places and dark spaces of a broken world, may they keep the vision, may they be kept safe from the evil one.’
Out of the dark bushes behind Jesus came a huffing and puffing. He heard someone pause, then walk a bit more, pause and wander about a bit more. Jesus recognised the voice muttering. The sun was almost here now. The eastern hilltops were on fire with the bright light of promise. Farmers were just moving into their fields, mothers were getting breakfast for school children.
Simon Peter suddenly loomed up and nearly fell on him. ‘Oh! here you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Have you eaten yet? We are all starving. Aren’t you cold sitting here? We’ve lit the fire. I’ve brought three text messages for you, there are four suspicious officials at the gate and five people in the courtyard who need healing, sad cases some of them. Shall I tell them to wait? There will be a big crowd very soon, I reckon, we are on a roll! You praying? How long do you want?’ and he started back down the way he came.
‘We’re not going that way!’ Jesus called out. ‘We’re going this way, to the other villages. People are waiting there too, they just don’t know it yet.’
Simon wanted to argue. ‘As far as I can see, we are having a great impact for God right here. There is a great need. Maybe revival has broken out.’
‘As far as you can see, did you say?’ asked Jesus, and continued down in the other direction.
Peter had been asleep. Peter just didn’t get it yet, about prayer. Do you get it?
SO what do we make of that story? The biblical version or the re-imagined version?
HERE ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE PRAYING JESUS
Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to pray. “in order that the love you have for me may be in them” I don’t mean how do we make up words that sound good when strung in a religious line. I mean, as in the story, how do we take our place in the universe awash with God’s love? How does God help us to take our stand in the right way with right words at the right time? Prayer is powerful for those who learn its discipline. But just as ‘everyone can care’, everyone can pray. The way to learn to pray is to begin praying. ‘Master teach us to pray’ they asked. They knew they had to learn to pray if they wanted the love of God in them. Start. Talk to God exactly, unguardedly, what you feel, in your own unedited words.
Not all of you will welcome this idea. You are either enjoying your prayers or you are bored or worse. If you are enjoying your prayers at present, you are here hungry for more. But some of us are fearful of what a sermon on prayer may ask of us. Not more effort. Not more strain. Not more work at dry repetition. You may be simply lazy. More likely is that you may have outgrown the ways of praying that you know about. Jesus has moved off in another direction and wants you to follow closely somewhere new. This calls for experiments, maybe for picking up something you once dropped. This calls for addressing your prejudices and bad habits, maybe moving some foundations. ‘Master, teach us to pray.’
There are two main ways that I have seen Christians learn to pray in Jesus name.
One is by repeating the Lord’s prayer.
And you can think on each phrase and what it means to you today. It will take you higher and further into the passions and the spirit of Jesus. Just a couple of examples:
OUR FATHER: Reflect: How is God my dad? Jesus took a high risk in telling us to say this – a lot of dad’s are derelict in their duties of loving intimacy, some of us are just humanly fallible. God gets tainted with that brush in almost every one of us. IT calls us dads to raise our game. OR Reflect together: Men and women need to approach this quite differently. What will happen when we spend our day saying to someone quite different. -‘dad.., father…’ Carry a box of tissues.
In HEAVEN: Reflect: What am I looking forward to about the new heaven and the new earth that is coming?
OR you can sing e.g. SONG: I’ll be there
And so on. Repeat the Lord’s prayer and dive down into it.
Secondly, in providing a framework for prayer, we often teach this four part acronym: ACTS .
J: ‘All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.’
So we can learn to praise, or worship, not always in song, sometimes words, sometimes posture, sometimes dance…
J: ‘Not my will but thine be done’ is as close to repentance as Jesus needed to go.
So we can turn over our thoughts and actions, our plans and our priorities and match them with the glory of God. It is only ever specific and two sided: things to turn from and things to turn towards.
J: ‘I thank you father that you have revealed…’
‘Give thanks in all circumstances’ says the Apostle, and there are always things to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is the threshold of all spirituality, an awareness and practise of the gift of life and hope.
‘Father, I want..’
God will give us the desires of our hearts, the Psalmist says, when our hearts are tied to his.
All these four take practise, and there are many ways to take them forwards. Most church services include them all, which is why we often focus our learning about prayer this way. You and I can practise these each week, each day, each church service.
Today however, thirdly, I want to take you further – into BICS. Pronounce that ‘Biccies’ since churches are really fantastic at morning teas!
J:‘Jesus took children into his arms and blessed them’
I love to do this. Baruch/Makarioi. It means a lot more than ‘happiness’. It is your love-imparted, a gift-given, like resuscitation with your air, like a blood transfusion, like a welcome smile . Try sitting in the bus or at the traffic lights and blessing everyone you can see. IT is a subversive. Prayer-walk your street, blessing everyone in the house as you pass by.
I:Intercession- prayers for others
J:‘I do not pray for them only but also…’
Many churches have a small group of their ‘praying ladies’. I wish there were more men, with the courage to take on the hardest ministry of them all. There are several levels of Intercession, from the routine we can all share through to standing in the gap almost as a prophetic act. In between these ends of a spectrum, some of us are called to pray for others a lot, so much so that going to work or other duties are a distraction. Does this sound like any of you? A church only grows from the fuel of the intercessors. Can I request respectfully that is this is you, that you get yourself off every other roster and duty you are in and get back to work? Don’t wait for God to allow a major debility to fall on you to make you do this.
C:Contemplation and meditation – bracketed together for this exercise.
J:‘Behold the wildflowers how they grow…’
Many of us are better at this form of prayer than we realise. It is easy in nature to contemplate exquisite beauty and to connect this with the creator as designer or originator, but also as the presence of the Spirit in all things. There are also practises by which we can learn to sustain a godly attention upon the sacraments, upon a verse of scripture or upon just one word ( a mantra). IT is not extensive, like intercession but intensive, focussed smaller and smaller to a point.
The methods of taming the soul and brain are shared across many religions, but notice this carefully, the object of attention and the relationship entered into can be quite different, and the consequences that are sought and found can be even more different.
In contemplation/meditation , we focus onto being. For instance:
Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still. Be. OR
Be still and know that I am God. Know that I am God. I am God. God.
J:‘Jesus went out to a solitary place and there he prayed’
The desert spirituality of Jesus’ Jewish ancestors is here being referred to. God showed up in the desert sometimes on fire and sometimes in the utter silence. Silence scares a lot of us. When the external distractions cease, silence throws at us the internal noise of our loneliness, our lack of integration, our resentments and our unrequited sins. IT is both a place of peace and a place of inner battle. IN our thousandfold distraction with industrial media and city living, we have great need to notice that silence is even possible and that it will repay the perils of a journey into it. If Jesus walked that turf, lived that story, how much more do you and I need to learn to do it?
AND THERE’S MORE – a HLLL of a lot more – How and when to pray for Healing, how to Listen for God’s guidance, how to Lament like 50% of the Psalms when things are not working out, how to express Love of God in familiar and intimate ways that sometimes Adoration does not come down to.
But for now, the praying Jesus invites us into his space and teaches us to pray in many ways. Today my main focus has been BICS – so have some BICS with your cup of tea and see where they take you. Take up to learn one way at a time and marinate yourself in it. Learn its disciplines. Receive its joy. Like Jesus.
Jn 17:26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Master, teach us how to pray?
Do you want an answer to that question? Do you really want to go there?
Do you really want God’s love to come to you and motivate within you?
A Silence and a Bright Hope
Here is a short story about silence. It is a true story from Acts chapter 12, told here from the point of view of one of the women among Jesus’ first friends. I hope this silence will speak to you.
“Exactly a year. It all came crashing down in just one year. Thousands had come to believe, in the days and weeks after the first Easter. Peter and James and John had led the work – preaching, arguing, caring, encouraging, praying for us. They were inspirational. Hundreds had been healed in Jesus’ name, many of whom we never saw again, of course. The poor had come and been fed by generosity shared. Some days I was exhausted with listening to people’s troubles and lifting baskets of bread. But it was such a beautiful life and our healthy community was growing. It felt as though the love of Jesus had turned the whole city around.
“But it made the authorities angry. Generosity makes the greedy look bad and they hate that. It started just as harassment, some mob violence. Now this. Oh, it is all so desperately sad. Most other people in the city just say nothing, and so the evil flourishes. That Silence kills.
“Oh, haven’t you heard. James is dead. They charged him last week with ‘plotting against the emperor’. We thought it was laughable until they put him to the sword, yesterday. It’s just one year after Jesus’ death. Peter went down and tried to stop it, he wasn’t running away like the last time. He managed to get himself arrested, silly man. He will probably be next.
“Is love a ‘plot’? Is eternal life ’subversive’? Is healing and helping ‘an act of rebellion’? Is prayer a political act? And worship of Jesus in the beauty of holiness – is that an act of corruption? Who would hate such things? King Herod and the rest of them, that’s who.
“We may all go down before long… I will die for Jesus if I have to. Sorry if I alarm you darling. What else could I do? I saw the light in his face that morning a year ago. I will go anywhere just to live in that light. I saw the empty tomb. I will risk everything twenty times to have that kind of new life. I hope James was able to hold on to that. I hope Peter under guard 24/7 can still sing.
“Is that a bit heavy, love? See it from our story. We had seen the brutal slaying of that beautiful teacher Jesus. We had seen his lifeless body speared and kicked around by the soldiers. We had taken his dead weight down onto our shoulders, and I don’t mind saying, there were bitter bitter tears. I hated them then.
“Confused are you, love? It’s not surprising really. No one knew what was going on that weekend, but let me straighten my story a second. We had gone to the grave early to compete the burial ceremonies, didn’t we Mary? As soon as we got near we felt it. It was the silence, wasn’t it Mary. You see, the grave was open and the guards had gone. Something had happened that had spooked them off. Two bright angels I saw, although Mary only saw one. They said Jesus was not there that he had risen, dead no more. I just couldn’t cope. Suddenly, silence. They were gone. My heart was pounding. The tomb was empty. He had just ..risen. I just ran away. We all did, didn’t we Mary. Then I saw him and he talked. Then he appeared to the others a few more times until we had stopped terrifying and started rejoicing. We have been rejoicing ever since. Even today.
“To tell the truth, if I have to die, so be it. I saw his face and I will see it again. I can live no other way. Even Saul, their top agent, has seen the risen Jesus and become one of us. God is doing all this.
“I have to go now, love. I need to get some food and take it to the gathering. We’re going to pray together for Peter. Perhaps we will be given a miracle this time.”
Friends of the blog, that’s all for that story. The history reads on (Acts 12) that the apostle Peter was miraculously delivered that night. It says he ran across town and knocked on the door and they were too busy praying for him to let him in! Embarassing really.
My point is not the persecution/ hard luck story here, but the bright hope that holds it up. Under harsh treatment, Christians then and now continue in generosity and forgiveness of their enemy. It is definitely not easy. They struggle. They are not perfect. But look into this story and I think you will see that it takes something as great as the empty tomb, the risen Jesus, to provide a hope that can take you through all struggle and death.
So, let me put it back to you. Have you ever wanted to find a hope worth living for? Do you ever wonder whether your life and your talents can really make a difference? The silence of the empty tomb shouts loudly a great ‘yes’. My prayer is that you hear that brilliant silence.
On Christmas Eve we stand in a long deep European tradition of beautiful music. The crowd who gather at Nedlands Uniting are even more international than that. The songs and readings proclaim the global significance of a little Jewish boy. Here is one of the ancient texts about that boy.
Matthew 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
I am always wondering what it must have been like to be there. In my Bible story today, I am going to be Joe, the father on earth of baby Jesus, and you are going to be …you.
I hear our story’s been told a million times over. Bit embarrassing really. I think it was about six months into our engagement that it happened. Mary hadn’t been herself for over a week. It wasn’t just her bad time of the month. She was all withdrawn and anxious-looking and every time I asked she said: ‘nothing’.
Well, I got sick of that and told her: ‘If we’re gonna be married you have to trust me with whatever it is. I can handle it’. Got that one wrong. I was thinking that maybe she didn’t like the colour I’d painted the kitchen or something, but nothing could have prepared me for what it was.
She burst in to tears and blurted out, “I’m pregnant!” Geez, I can still remember the feeling in my guts. Like someone pulled a plug and all my innards fell into my boots. I felt like I was falling backwards – falling into a bottomless black hole. She was talking at a hundred to the minute but I couldn’t hear a word.
In case you’re wondering, it couldn’t have been me. Mt brain kept picturing her taken by some other bloke. I can’t remember what I said first. “How could you do this?” or “Who is the mongrel?” or something like that. I wanted to kill him. How stupid was that!?
Well the first shock was bad enough, but her explanation was like salt in an open wound. She swore black and blue that she’d not been with any other man, that she was still a virgin and that she still wanted only me. Well it isn’t rocket science, I do know how babies are made, and I was angry enough already without copping this sort of rubbish. She saw the look on my face and she started blubbering desperately about an angel and God Ruach Hakodesh being the father of the baby in her womb and the time for the Messiah and she had agreed to go along with God’s will. Well that was too much for me, bedding some other bloke was bad enough, but now she was insulting God. I think I must have just screamed at her to get out ‘cos she fled. She didn’t deserve that, I’m ashamed to say.
I didn’t sleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes I was falling down that black hole. But by morning, I had cooled down a bit. But I just went numb. Ice-man. I tried in vain to think about what to do next.
By mid afternoon I knew I could never demand that she go through a public shaming. She’d be dragged before the townsfolk and her offence spelt out. She’d never be welcome anywhere again. They’d turn their backs on her in the market and everything. She’d be destitute… But still, I couldn’t bear to do that to her.
That night I had decided – I’d just divorce her quietly. It would still be pretty humiliating for me, but I couldn’t do the whole public disgrace thing. Two mates as a character reference and a rabbi to sign the papers – that was all it would take. I’d get over it. That’s what I’d do. Divorce her quietly and get over it. Just work longer hours and stop myself from thinking about it too much. It was decided then. As I went to bed I planned to send Mary a message in the morning with my decision. On the pillow I wondered how she was feeling tonight.
Well that night was bizarre. I fell asleep OK. But I was dreaming like nothing on earth. And in the middle of the dream suddenly I was wide awake. There was this huge bloke standing over me. Looked like nothing you’ve ever seen. Dressed in lightning. Overpowering holiness burnt me like a fire. And he spoke with a voice like a sword, “Joseph Davidson, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The baby conceived in her womb is from the Holy Spirit. She’ll give birth to a son, and you will name him as your own, as a Davidson. Call him Y’shua, because he will save his people from their sins.” Then, gone.
In the morning I was sure I was losing my marbles and that the dream was just my subconscious trying to let Mary off the hook somehow. I mean hey, God doesn’t do this sort of thing. God has standards. If God’s going to take some new step into the world he’d at least be consistent or tell a rabbi, or a king, not a carpenter. No child of God is going to be born in public disgrace, is it? God is not going to grab a couple of ordinary people, stuff up their lives, throw out their dignity, and then say, “Here, look after my kid,” is he? I mean – what would be the point?
But I didn’t send the message down to Mary’s place either. Bit gutless maybe.
I was confused all day, got nothing done that I didn’t have to do all over again. It was dawning on me that just because I knew about God in the past it didn’t mean I could just go on thinking always the same. Maybe this was something new. A Messiah was prophesied. I decided to sleep on it again. And blow me down, that night, exactly the same thing happened. The big guy the holy heat the voice: “Joe Davidson, swallow your pride and marry Mary. The baby boy in her womb is from the Holy Spirit. You are to raise him as your own and name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. This is for real, this is the time that Isaiah prophesied. It’s only a little miracle – what’s too hard about that?”
I knew it was for real. Sometimes you just know. The next morning I went down to Mary’s place and told her everything. I just kept saying to her, “I believe you. God spoke to me too …twice.” This wonderful girl had said yes to God at the first invitation!
Her whole body shook, and fell against me. I held her. We decided there and then to go with God. We would raise Y’shua for our people, and we wouldn’t expect everyone to thank us. I just held her as she cried. Actually I was pretty teary myself. I just kept repeating, “God is with us. God is with us. God is with us.” Emmanuel – that’ll be his middle name. And she just kept sobbing her eyes out.
Yep. That’s what happened and that’s where it all started. That’s my story. I’ll see y’s later.
Well everyone, that’s the end of the story . It was adapted from Laughing Bird Resources with permission.
There is no truer story around. God is not against us. God is not absent. God is with us. Today again, there is a lot riding on this. We all have some mistakes that keep us humble.We all have an old need in us that must open up in a new way. Can we open up to a fresh connection with this God. For instance, we are a people who know the cost of everything and struggle to live our values. We take up sophisticated technologies, and can’t quite locate ourselves in the simple things that really matter. Yes, there is a lot riding on this – for me and you and for our people. So, what do you say – let’s do life like Christmas, like Joseph and Mary, let’s all go with God. Find out how.
Bible Readings: John 1.1-14; I John 1.1-2.2; Heb 1.1-3
“I just don’t get it” agnostics often say to me at the university or on desert retreats, “about Jesus. ‘God’ I can get, sort of, but the Jesus thing, God-and-man, I can’t understand it.” Apparently, because they do not understand it all, they feel they must remain ‘agnostic’. Others say they can never ‘know for certain’, and so remain un-committed, that is, unable to launch into Christian action or short changed on spiritual depth.
As a consequence, Christians who have not thought about their faith tend to agree – yes I see what you mean – and so forfeit their Christianity in favour of something else. Xty is about Jesus. This sermon addresses that question in one way only. How can we talk about Jesus being the fully God-fiuly human one?? What does it actually mean?
I am not addressing the arrogance of the wearers of bumper stickers. “I think therefore I am an atheist.” IT attempts to claim that the only people who have had anything to say during the entire enlightenment since Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” are atheists. There are t-shirts and bumper stickers designed by the atheists to intimidate us and shut us up. So, how can we speak sensibly? How do the Christians think about Jesus?
I am consciously stepping off from the terrific sermon last week of Rick Pekan about the mission of Jesus, that is, his achievements in Incarnation, Salvation and Restoration. I am trying to equip you all for a confident life and witness. Today, do not try to stay with all the logic just let it wash around you – I hope to make you swoon.
As Rick described and as the Uniting Church basis of Union believes Christianity is about Jesus Christ, about worship and witness with Him. It is not generally about “the divine” or “spirituality”, and it si specifically a New Testament tradition. Mercifully, therefore, our agnostic’s question is keeping us honest. What do we mean by the God-man thing?
What shall we say to our agnostic friend on this matter?
This what we can say first.
“You are right, we can NEVER fully know the God-man thing, but we can know enough.”
I will go through three points about that: Fully God. Fully man. Putting the two together.
1a.How can anyone be FULLY God?
Why is this a hard question? Well, tall about God is usually cut off by words that are “infinite” and “omni-something”, effectively cutting off the conversation into generalities at best. I would like to be less simplistic and start with a reasonably good and understandable statement about a Christian God.
1.We generally know that God is spiritual. God exists in a non-material, parallel, timeless dimension, a kind of cosmic white-matter.
2. God is not an object, however. A personal God can choose to enter our dimensions or hold back, like someone who watches us walk past from their front garden.( Humans expelled themselves from that garden!)
We can go a lot further.
3.God has been understood to be infinite, and other very abstract omni-words BUT he is also quite particular in goals and character.
4.He has chosen to reveal himself by actions and interactions within human history BUT he is also mysterious beyond any containment in our little human thought boxes.
5.He is all powerful, yes, that matters somewhat yet through Jesus we know that more importantly he is all loving so he holds back on power.
6.He fills all creation with his glory yet is hidden from direct view with the physical eyes, and hidden from our other eyes by our habit of willful blindness.
This would all be news to our agnostic probably, her views being mostly shaped by adolescent information from school assemblies or television programmes. But even so, we haven’t been able to prove yet what is ‘fully god’, so they are staying agnostic.
But wait a minute. All these knowledge-statements above are quite ordinary, and not special. Our knowledge of God is limited, yes, but so is our knowledge of nearly everything else –
· all our ideals are conditional upon having the wisdom when to apply them,
· our knowledge of any one person is often surprised,
· there are books on the infinity buried in the number zero,
· how do you explain a vacuum,
· where do you directly see gravity apart from its influence on objects,
· millions of songs say that we do not fully understand love and beauty and goodness and all the really good stuff that we use and operate every day. Not knowing all is not the same as not knowing enough to act. The issue is whether you will take the risk in trust upon what you do know. OR, in biblical language, live on faith.
Hear me say ‘trust’ and not ‘leap in the dark’, usually spoken as a misquote of Kierkegaard. Faith is NOT based on nothing but wishfully believing; faith is like getting in an aircraft for a journey. Who of us has ever circled the aircraft checking everything before boarding for the journey? We know enough to trust ourselves to this vehicle. Knowing Jesus is like that.
Yes, God is known and remains unknown, and this way of knowing is very ordinary .
So we can say that Jesus is fully God. We have gathered enough data – He is one with the Father, lord of the sabbath, conveys God’s glory, He is the author of life, the Logos of creation, who was with God and was God, the great “I am”. He is the bread of life, the light of the world, and it is the risen Jesus to whom Thomas said: “My Lord and My God”. In Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, he pre-existed in the form of God, was often worshipped and even prayed to.
Here is a long list of bible references, to which we could add themes and stories (verse-quoting is not enough):
1. John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
1. John 1:14 – “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
2. John 5:18 – “For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”
3. John 8:24 – “I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins.”
1. Note: In the Greek, “He” is not there.
4. John 8:58 – “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’”
1. Exodus 3:14 – “And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
5. John 10:30-33 – “I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” 33 The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”
6. John 20:28 – “Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
7. Col. 2:9 – “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.”
8. Phil. 2:5-8 – “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
9. Heb. 1:8 – “But of the Son He says, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.”
1. Quoted from Psalm 45:6, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Thy kingdom.”
10. Matt. 4:10 – “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”’”
11. Matt. 2:2 – “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.”
12. Matt. 2:11 – “And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
13. Matt. 14:33 – “And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”
14. Matt. 28:9 – “And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.”
15. John 9:35-38 – “Jesus heard that they had put him out; and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered and said, “And who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” 38 And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.”
16. Heb. 1:6 – “And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him.’”
17. Acts 7:55-60 – “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears, and they rushed upon him with one impulse. 58 And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And having said this, he fell asleep.”
18. 1 Cor. 1:1-2 – “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” (The phrase, “to call upon the name of the Lord” is a phrase used to designate prayer.)
1. 1 Kings 18:24 – “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people answered and said, “That is a good idea.”
2. Zech. 13:9 – “And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
19. Rom. 10:13-14 – “for ‘whoever will call upon the name of the Lord’ will be saved.” 14 How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” (Paul is speaking of calling upon Jesus. (The phrase “Call upon the name of the Lord” is a quote from Joel 2:32)).
1. Joel 2:32 – “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.” (LORD here is YHWH, the name of God as revealed in Exodus 3:14. Therefore, this quote, dealing with God Himself is attributed to Jesus.)
20. Isaiah 44:6 – “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.”
1. Rev. 1:17-18 – “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
Jesus is worshipped – Jesus said to worship God only, yet He receives worship. Jesus is prayed to, He is the First and Last
From this data, Jesus is clearly a God-being.
We know this because he was raised from the dead by God – to approve his bold claims.
What claims are those? He said he came from God and was returning to God. He performed well-reported miracles of power not just over sicknesses like a shaman but victorious over evil spirits and control over nature. He forgave sins as God alone can do, as he said, he comes to ransom us from our sins. He loves the whole world which requires quite an extensive reach, and existed before Abraham, who lived 1800 years previously. Jesus was regarded as greater than Moses, who in closeness to God was the top of the tree up to that day.
In words and deeds, the claims he made, the claims that others made about him, even the charges that were brought against him – they all point to the same mind-boggling reality that the believers have always struggled to put into words. Contrary to current media and theologians’ propaganda, I do not believe that the church evolved or invented this idea – we simply struggled to see the impossible that was happening before our very eyes and then we struggled some more to describe the experience. Every part of our limited brains and culture would try to fit Jesus into a box. Like our agnostic friend. But we resisted. Jesus in history and experience is too wonderful for that reduction.
No wonder we say he is fully God. No wonder we worship Him, mighty God, prince of peace, everlasting father. No wonder we call him our Saviour and our Lord, our lover and life and our coming deliverer.
AND because he is God, the risks that disciples need to take are safe with him – the risks in spirituality, the risks in generosity with money and time and words, the risks in ministry commitments, the risks in all of our lives and decisions and callings, the risks in giving forgiveness and peace-making, the risks in searching for truth and love and hope – all these are safe enough to trust because He is God.
1b The second step in understanding the God-man thing is to register the limits in how any human being can be FULLY understood? Let me give one honest example.
e.g. I have known my wife Margaret for half a century (she gave me permission to tell this story). I am madly in love with her so I have watched her closely and known her and seen her best and her … not-quite best. Married for thirty seven years, working together closely on household and child-rearing and ministry tasks, I know her better than any other person on the planet and… she is sometimes a complete mystery to me! Situation normal. All people are like this. Known and mystery, both.
Why is it so? It is not a barrier, dear agnostic friend, it is an adventure.
Look around you at the faces that you see. Every person has motives we cannot completely describe. The person next to you has their own way of thinking, their own package of emotions, ways of coping, and personality preferences.
Have you read how Isaiah and Psalms speak of how utterly precious fine gold is each person, the sacredness of our name, the awesome responsibility that we have been given for our neighbours?
I have come to believe that the inner space in each person is as wondrous as all of outer space. Our minds and emotions are the deepest oceans.
Step back and look at what we are describing here – To live our years in friendship, in marriage, in community is a long adventure, a voyage of discovery, of how each person reflects in their own particular way the Image of God. We cannot fully understand how that works, but we can understand. The mystery is the adventure, the reason to love one another – so that we can see the other. It is not the reason to stop.
So we CAN say that Jesus is fully human, and we have used terms like – the great high priest, son of man, messiah, the second Adam, the firstborn of the new Creation. Fully human, top guy.
And we know this because we have enough data that shows that he was born of a woman, eating and drinking, walking and weeping, living and dying, touching and welcoming, embracing and kissing, sleeping and praying. He moved house, had problems with his mother, felt anger and compassion, ran low on money now and then, loved the wildflowers and the birds. All that pretty normal. Not so average, he established an historically and globally new nationality with twelve new tribes, that is still growing after two millennia. He suffered from political compromises, spoke as a prophet, enjoyed his friends and called us his friends. He was a healer, teacher, rabbi and Jew. Simply human.
I have another page of bible verses to show this.
Yet he is NOT at the same level as Paul, Lydia, Mary, Moses, Esther, David, other saints, and other heroes. This man, this son of man, drew the adulation of the crowds and the anger of the egotists. None of his enemies or friends, try as they might, have uncovered a secret sin, a scandal or fatal flaw. No wonder we follow him as role model for our love. To be like Jesus is to be our best self. He is the pioneer or trailblazer (as Hebrews says) for our faith – fully human, fully alive, full of love, our brother and master, the light of life, the word of God.
The love songs for him will never cease nor the wondrous glance in prayer nor the thanksgivings for his endless gifts and grace. Why would we Christians let all this go just for a vaguely cosmic deity or just for the emotion that comes from “wonder”.
We know him, and have only begun to know him. The adventure unfolds before us.
Just because we do nto fully understand it does not mean we do not commit or act. With just enough to trust in hope, the adventure then unfolds – bigger and better, backwards and upwards.
3.So what happens when we try pull all this together?
A couple of things. One an admission to keep us honest, the other a challenge to the agnostics and probably the atheists.
1. I can make the exciting admission that there is a kind of agnostic streak within true Christian faith. It is completely ordinary to acknowledge that we cannot fully understand how can Jesus can be both fully god and fully man. We can’t box God. Can’t box humans. Putting the two together doesn’t suddenly make it all crystal. BUT there is a simplicity and confidence that comes from knowing Jesus personally, as I know Margaret. How do we do this? Three short introductory procedures:
· He is unique , like we are all, yet he is unsurpassed. Go into the change-rooms at the beach and you will quickly agree that some mirrors are simply better than others. Jesus is the only true clear reflection of what God is like. Heb 1.1-3. Simply put: if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.
· We know this by the Spirit he sends upon us, which is in us who believe, who welcome his love. So welcome him. If you want spiritual depth, ask Jesus.
· We become inheritors of His grace and imitators of his life, when we share in his sufferings, when we walk in his walk, when we see him in those who are hungry and naked and imprisoned . If you want to know why you are on the earth, do the teachings of Jesus, and you will be met by him along the way.
Back to the big question. The agnostic’s questions are very welcome and are sometimes closer to the faith than the confident dogma of the people who have God in their box.
But the t shirt is an arrogant and ignorant admission by the atheist, on a par with “I play football so I am superior”. May I say: The truth is much more interesting than that.
Which leads us to the last thing we can say about the way we think about Jesus.
1. I have tried to show how this is a normal conversation. I am not claiming special privileges for what I am saying.There is however a huge challenge in admitting this. The Jesus thing, as I am describing it, is simply how reality is. The way we think about Jesus challenges every other way of thinking and every other academic discipline in every language on the planet. It is how Christians think, yes, but the reality of Jesus challenges us in four ways:
a In the face of Jesus, you have to act. He says we must not philosophise endlessly, sitting on the fence, for our end is coming and our life is wasted if lived to a false purpose. More importantly, others need now our acts of compassion. They cannot afford to pay for our armchair philosophies or our shallow charities. To walk the distance that makes the difference that is needed requires a source fo spiritual depth such as Jesus. This is a challenge to take a risk on trust. Heaven help any young person who cannot take on this challenge.
b.In the light of Jesus, our ego is de-throned. For the successful or highly intelligent or the beautiful people this can be deeply de-stabilising. There is the challenge of humility. Heaven help any one in human relationships at work and home who cannot manage this challenge.
c.In the truth about Jesus, reality involves a lot of thought about a lot of ordinary and extra-ordinary things. The challenge is to think a new thought, have a new frame. Heaven help any form of science or art which deliberately avoids this challenge.
1. In the loving face of Jesus we cannot remain isolated in a bubble of our own making. We have to acknowledge that we need more than self-made strength to build the love that builds the trust that builds communities of peace and justice. We need Jesus. Others need us to want Jesus. And he will respond freely to a half-baked, sort-of-doubting word of welcome.
WILL YOU BE GAME ENOUGH TO JOIN IN THIS CONCLUDING RISKY PRAYER?
Man Jesus, Lord Jesus, Christ Jesus,
With you here,
we see again that we are at the beginning of a great voyage of discovery.
we are ready enough to risk taking action,
To follow you in your ways.
we are ready enough to risk humility,
to subdue our fat relentless ego, to be lifted up from shame.
As far as we can see,
We are ready enough to risk a new thought,
open to possibilities, reach new dimensions by the Spirit you have given.
Among this local assortment of disciples,
We are ready enough to love in your way,
a way enscribed deep in the DNA of our universe,
though butchered by the willfully blind.
Here, now, today and ever onwards
Word of God, Lamb of God, Son of God, Son of Man
We love you.