10 (again)

Today I am 10, and on the anniversary of the day that I was born again I can look back on the last decade and you may be surprised to learn that in some ways it feels like they’ve been the toughest 10 years of my life.

If you ask me why I feel like that I can probably sum it up in one word – disappointment. I’ve been disappointed by individuals, by organisations and by circumstances. And yes, I’ve disappointed myself on a daily basis.

But the One who has never disappointed me is God. Do I wish that He would click His fingers once in a while and make things go the way I ask? Of course I do, but He isn’t a genie waiting to obey my commands. Do I long for Him to transform people’s hearts and minds and lead them to act more generously, graciously and lovingly? Yes, how I long for that, but as much as I love Him I still find myself stubbornly doing my own thing. How can I expect more of others than I manage myself? Do I want Him to speak to me, tell me His plans, show me the way? I do, but I know that I need eyes to see and ears to hear. Occasionally I catch a glimpse, but I don’t look or listen as much as I should. I must miss so much of what He’s telling me.

But He is with me. He always has been and always will be. He understands me and loves me and accepts me. Knowing these things, and knowing I am His, helps me through the difficult days, and years.

As I reflected on the last 10 years, the verse that came to mind was John 16:33. As I turned to my Bible to copy the verse I read the earlier verses giving context to this one and I felt they were equally important, so here is my birthday gift to you, John 16:16-33…

Jesus went on to say, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.’

At this, some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What does he mean by saying, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,” and “Because I am going to the Father”?’ They kept asking, ‘What does he mean by “a little while”? We don’t understand what he is saying.’

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, ‘Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me”? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

‘Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.’

Then Jesus’ disciples said, ‘Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.’

‘Do you now believe?’ Jesus replied. ‘A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’

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You haven’t done this before…

One of the daily pleasures in my life is the devotional I receive in my inbox each morning from Dr. Micha Jazz. He writes with the humility of someone who knows he’s on a journey, and not the assuredness verging on arrogance of some who seem to think they’ve reached their destination and have all the answers. But while he continues to seek, he’s built up a great store of quiet wisdom that he shares along with honest accounts of his struggles, disappointments… and hope.

Today I want to share his devotional from 19 October 2017, titled “You haven’t done this before.” I expect I will share others in the future. You can subscribe to his email or podcast version of the devotional at Be Still & Know.

“You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.”

John 16:24 NLT

Ageing has its benefits. While I don’t like the aches and pains, or the physical challenges around the garden that some years ago I’d have taken in my stride, I do enjoy the ability to see life in context. Where once I was a blind slave to consumerism, feeding and serving my acquisitive nature, with the benefit of age I have found freedom to live without, in contrast to living wanting.

Understanding is one thing, practise something else altogether! I recall always wanting the latest technology to play with. My family teased me relentlessly as I begged, borrowed (yet never stole) to acquire the latest gadget. I am an early adopter by nature and stretched myself financially to buy a first-generation Prius hybrid car. And as for books, my shelves were filled with partially read volumes I coveted and purchased. Today, I am pleased to say I am free from all that. I now know what I want and why.

My prayer life was also pretty acquisitive in the early days. I mistook Jesus’ invitation to ask for anything I wanted as a blank cheque to fill my life with my own desires. In fact, Jesus was speaking to his disciples about Pentecost, when they would receive the Holy Spirit and subsequently discern what it was that the kingdom on earth required of them, and their dynamic friendship with God. In other words, praying is always to seek to see God’s will happen on the earth. Where once I prayed through a list, now I simply offer those I am praying for to God, and hold them in God’s presence that God’s will might be done in their life on earth.

The joy that flows from prayer is not about securing my material happiness, but about seeking the presence of God in the earth. This may have a material effect, but such an effect is no objective measure of the work of God. Jesus also invites us to go on praying (see Luke 18:1-8). Pray and then pray again, and after that pray again.

A Glimpse of Cross Vision

I would be very interested to read your comments on this article, Frank Viola’s interview with Greg Boyd:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankviola/gregboydnew/

It’s a lengthy interview, in which Greg discusses some of the ideas in his latest books, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God and its shorter version Cross Vision.

The principal argument of Boyd’s work is that when you read the whole Bible – specifically the Old Testament – through the lens of the cross, all kinds of problems we have with the picture of an angry, violent OT God can disappear. In Boyd’s words

On the cross, God stoops to meet us, and to enter into solidarity with us, right where we are at, which is in bondage to sin and to Satan. And he does this to free us and to bring us where he wants us to be, which is united with him in Christ.  The cross is thus the paradigmatic example of God mercifully stooping to accommodate people in their fallen conditioning.

In a similar way, every time we prove ourselves incapable of living up to God’s ideal behaviour, God will Himself “stoop to accommodate” us. This even extends to allowing Himself to be portrayed in the Bible as something other than His “true” self, because culturally His people have been conditioned to believe that this is what a god is “supposed” to look like.

In fact, many passages that exalt Yahweh as a warrior contain phrases from songs that Israel’s neighbors sang to their own warrior deities. The biblical author just switched out the name of the pagan god and replaced it with Yahweh.

After reading the whole interview a few times I’m left with several thoughts. The first is that I want to read Cross Vision, and understand the reasoning – scriptural, cultural and logical – that lies behind Boyd’s claim. Because I very much want this to be true. To finally have a solution to one of the most troubling issues of Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) faith would be beyond exciting.

And that leads me to my next thought, which is that when something seems to be too good to be true, it usually is. This lens of the cross, while on the surface it seems totally Biblical, is surely just too simple. I find myself returning to Isaiah 55.

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.’

Isaiah 55:8-9

And the most troubling thought of all is this: if I can use God’s “stooping to accommodate” as an explanation for the particular “atrocities” mentioned in the book, why can’t I use it to explain anything at all that I don’t like? And how can we tell the difference between the times that God is pleased with an action and the times that he is accommodating us? And how does this then apply outside of scripture, in our daily lives? What can we trust to be God’s genuine will? Do we just follow the 10 commandments and for everything else do our own thing, confident that God will accommodate us?

There are answers to these questions, the simplest one being that if the Holy Spirit dwells within us we can have confidence in what He says to us. But nevertheless I think Greg Boyd’s ideas are just as likely to unsettle as to comfort us, and if I can be sure of one thing, it’s that his books will not end the debate about the “Old Testament God”.

But I’m very much looking forward to reading more.