Jesus had Blue Eyes

You have got  to read this post over at Deeper Story

While I was making payment this beautiful, bedraggled old man turned his blue eyes to search my brown eyes fully and asked, “Would you like to sit and eat with me?” And right there in the middle of Froyo World, with a few dozen college students intensely watching our exchange and the cars and pedestrians making their paces outside and the employee standing behind the cash-counter (waiting, it seemed, for my answer just as much as the homeless man was), I wanted to fall on my face and weep my shattered heart out. Because I knew that I knew that I knew that Jesus was asking me to eat ice cream with Him and what I said past the tears clogged in my own throat were the same words this old guy had just said to me a few minutes before, “Well SURE!!!”

Pierced. My. Heart.

It’s a story that I could tell.
So. Many. Times.
All the blue eyes, brown eyes, worn hands, wrinkled skin, drawn faces, toothless smiles, knotted beards and foul odours.
But there He was, stood before me, asking love and compassion, a kind word and a gentle smile. There He was sat beside me teaching humility, giving hope, exuding grace and stirring up faith.

Sometimes I forget and ask God where He is and somehow it can so quickly feel like He was never there. And I’m scrabbling around inside for that peace I know I had or that joy that burned like Holy fire and I think if I can just pray hard enough I can conjure it again. Then I’m reminded that it was not in a textbook, a sermon or a prayerroom that I really discovered who He is. It was in Patch’s calloused hands, Chris’s caring touch, Mike’s childlike energy and Sylvia’s righteous anger. And it was there that I learned who He made me to be, who I am in Him and I remember why I feel this discontent. Then I hear Him whisper, “Not long now”.

Jesus Had Blue Eyes (or, “Plus One”) by Erika

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God the Woman?

The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) will be familiar to the majority of us, as will the use of it’s imagery to portray God as a loving, providing, merciful Father.

The three verses preceding the story read:

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
(Luke 15:8-10 ESV)

I must have heard this story countless times and again heard the emphasis on a God who seeks the beloved. But never, not once, have I heard any discussion around the fact that here a woman is portraying God. A woman.

Another example might be that of Jesus description of the Kingdom of Heaven. One of his best known analogies is that of a mustard seed which a man plants and it becomes a huge tree (Matthew 13:31-32). The passage continues:

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
(Matthew 13:33 ESV)

A woman kneads yeast into three loaves of bread until it all rises. A woman.

Somewhere in Christian history we latched on to one idea of the nature of God and neglected the other. Were we right to do so? How different would our faith story look if the prodigal son had returned home to his mother? Is it possible to hold the images in tension? 

An Advent Scrapbook

Having exams immediately before Christmas really makes you understand the “waiting” aspect of advent. You’re longing for that moment when you walk out of an exam hall, finally free and able to relax again. And this semester has been so relentless that it genuinely was the first relief I’ve felt from that pressure for almost thirteen weeks. It would be a serious understatement to say that I was happy!

I want to share with you some things I’ve been dwelling on this advent, some things that have made the meaning of it all really come alive for me.

Mamamonk has been posting a series of poems for the season but my favourite is definitely this one: Darkness. I think it captures beautifully the humanity of the birth, the messiness of it that we don’t see in our carols and lessons.

Sarah Bessey has also posted a beautiful piece over at Deeper Story about the messy humanness of the incarnation: Incarnation

But we keep it quiet, the mess of the Incarnation, because it’s just not church-y enough and men don’t quite understand and it’s personal, private, there aren’t words for this and it’s a bit too much.  It’s too much pain, too much waiting, too much humanity, too much God, too much work, too much joy, too much love and far too messy…

The guys over at 24/7 Prayer have been posting prayer spaces videos all through advent for daily reflection. I particularly enjoyed last week’s ones on Joy and looking at both Mary and Simeon’s songs of praise in Luke.

And finally, another wee video that beautifully portrays the humanity of this whole Christmas thing.

So there you have my advent-y scrapbook. Somehow  the whole thing seems more real to me this year, more mystical and wonderful. Jesus came, he is here still and I love it!

Anticipation and Advent

I love the build up to Christmas. The decorations, the mince pies, the snowfall. The transformation of the city with it’s lights and markets. I love the songs and carols that come in to use at this one time of year. I love the excitement and the anticipation that you can feel building as the days count down.

I’m thoroughly prepared for the day itself to not be quite as spectacular: presents, a nice lunch, the Queen and Doctor Who on the telly, don’t quite live up to all this hype. But there is something about this season of waiting that I think is wonderful.

We await the celebration of the coming of the King.

It’s like waiting for the bride to enter at a wedding, when you don’t know whether to focus on her and the dress or him and his face as he sees her. It’s like those days when everyone is talking about the arrival of the baby and “it’s just bound to be any day now”. You get restless, anxious in a good way. You can’t sit still or stop smiling. It’s so exciting!

It’s a time for joy because you absolutely know the miracle that is coming next.

It’s got me to thinking. What was the first advent like? Not even for Mary and Joseph (who I think spent most of it on a donkey) but for God?

Can you imagine Jesus in Heaven waiting for His time to come to earth? Can you imagine the Father’s excitement that soon it was going to be done once and for all, the way would be made? Or the Holy Spirit anticipating the power He was going to reveal?

Do you reckon God got antsy? Paced a little? Do you think there were moments when He just wanted to jump up and down?

If this is my excitement, how much greater God’s must have been!

And I don’t think it was just that one time. I think that every time God knows that one of His children is going to return to Him, He gets excited in the pursuit. Scripture says there’s a party for each and every lost sheep return home, so why not the time of eager anticipation too.

It astounds me to think that God was waiting for me. Knowing full well His plan, he was excited for its fulfillment. And He still waits, and He still hopes, and He is still excited over me and over you. Incredible.

I want to dwell in this period of anticipation. To savour it. To allow the excitement to seep down into my bones so that I can carry it all year, knowing this is the longing of God’s heart too. And so that the coming of Jesus is never ordinary. That the incarnation is as wonderful and mystical as the word itself sounds.

Christocentric

Cracking good sermon at CCE this morning.

You should soon be able to listen to it or read it on the CCE Website.

Colin started out with what could be some slightly controversial stuff. I’m not going to give an opinion on it because I haven’t quite formed one yet but let me give you the gist:
We, as a community are bible-rooted, not bible-centred. We can’t live just as they did in the bible in non-biblical times but we interpret scripture for our time. Evangelicals have often described the bible as their anchor but our anchor should be Jesus Christ. The Scriptures are his servant and the Spirit his interpretor. We are centred on Christ.

Huge questions going on there, fun stuff to wrestle with but let me get to the really wonderfully important bit.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

(Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)

Jesus is the centre of who we are and what we do.

This Jesus is not an ethic, a doctrine or a memory. He is a living person whom we enter into relationship with. He is God with us, the embodiment of the Trinity. He calls us to follow his very self. Just being in his presence can transform us.

It’s not enough to imitate him. It’s not enough to move in his general direction. You have to know him. And I mean know him; an intimate, espoused love (Philippians 3:10).

We love to talk about kingdom but we can’t have a kingdom without a King. And our King has direct rule: no more devolution or intermediaries but a King amongst his people. And when we pray for his Kingship we’re not praying for a system, we’re praying for more of the God-man himself.

Without him we don’t have access to the Father and the Holy Spirit cannot be sent. We can’t understand the Father’s love or the Spirit’s power without Jesus to model it for us. We need a God with skin on.

Our lives aren’t about church or doctrine or programmes or systems. It’s not ethics or lifestyle or scripture or philosophy. Its not even the Father or the Holy Spirit. It’s JESUS.

It’s about knowing, loving, following, trusting, obsessing over and being consumed by Jesus. His name should continually be on our lips. His words ringing in our ears. His Spirit beating in our hearts.

It’s Jesus.

Martin Luther King, Jr: Lent (2)

Another post I contributed to our Lenten Prayer Group’s blog.

Today is the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Killed in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th 1968, King had been a leader in the American civil rights movement for thirteen years, advocating non-violent resistance to racism and segregation. In his last few years of life, his focus had shifted to ending poverty and stopping the Vietnam war. Whilst I don’t agree with everything he ever said or did, I can’t deny the legacy he has left: inspiring non-violent resistance to injustice around the world to this very day.
Below is an excerpt from one of the last sermons he gave before his death, on February 4th 1968, in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Drum Major Instinct

I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I’m talking about as I go down the way (Yeah) because he was a great one. And he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, (Yes, sir) the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. (Amen) Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He didn’t have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. (Yes) He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

. . .

Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he stands as the most influential figure that ever entered human history. All of the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together (Yes) have not affected the life of man on this earth (Amen) as much as that one solitary life. His name may be a familiar one. (Jesus) But today I can hear them talking about him. Every now and then somebody says, “He’s King of Kings.” (Yes) And again I can hear somebody saying, “He’s Lord of Lords.” Somewhere else I can hear somebody saying, “In Christ there is no East nor West.” (Yes) And then they go on and talk about, “In Him there’s no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world.” He didn’t have anything. (Amen) He just went around serving and doing good.

This morning, you can be on his right hand and his left hand if you serve. (Amen) It’s the only way in.

. . .

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.

(Read/Listen to the whole sermon here: http://bit.ly/4nxh9, our extract starts at 30:46)

May we be able to say to the Lord that we tried to love and serve humanity, by His grace.

Lent (1)

A group of us who meet for prayer every Tuesday morning at New College are contributing daily to a kind of prayer blog on Facebook. This was my contribution on Monday:

I really like the simplicity of this video. I would let it speak for itself, and would recommend watching it before reading my thoughts, but there are just a couple of things I wanted to mention which stand out for me as I watch it.

I like the humanity of Jesus in these pictures.
I like the idea that he tries to amuse himself in the desert with things like kicking rocks and chasing chickens.
I like that he then starts to notice little things like flowers, birds, stones.
I like that we can see his pain and anguish as life in the desert becomes more and more trying.
I like that he seeks some kind of relief or refuge.
I like that he faces the devil and overcomes him with one shout.
I love that he’s back.

Jesus was in the desert on a journey and during lent we remember that. It’s not about a static state of asceticism but about journeying closer to God.

Which image do you most closely relate with at this moment in your journey?

Growing

I said there was a second thing that I learned at Holiday Club this year, and this is it: God has done a mighty work in me!

Today, I’ve been a Christian for five years. That’s now more than a quarter of my life. Wowzers!! (Yes, I’m bringing “wowzers” back, I’m just that cool)

Holiday Club provided me with time to reflect on the change God has brought about in me and the way I’ve grown in the past five years.

If you had told me then, that I would lead an evening service, team devotions, speak at both youth cafe and in the parents tea room all in one week, I just wouldn’t have believed you. I was a petrified, self-conscious, shy fourteen year old who hid behind a hat. Generally, I’m still petrified and self-conscious (don’t think I can really say I’m all that shy any more!), but I know I have a God who overcomes that and uses me regardless.

I remember the first time I found out I was going to lead a Holiday Club group. It was less than a year since I became a Christian and I found out when I turned to that page of the leader’s pack at team meeting. I burst into tears. How could I possibly do this?! How could Tom and Sue possibly think it was a good idea?!! (I still haven’t answered that one). I spent that Holiday Club (and the following two as well) throwing up every morning, I was so scared. Now, I’m (almost) totally relaxed about the whole thing: it’s all in God’s hands and he’ll make it work out for his purpose and glory. And I know that I can lead a group because God’s given me the gifts and abilities it requires, he’s grown those in me.

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed but, even in the past year, I feel I’ve done a lot of growing. I feel more mature, more confident and more certain of my awesome God. I think I know better now who I am, who he has made me to be.

This also seems an appropriate day to tell the world that I’m getting baptised, full immersion stylee! Start of October some time, at church in Edinburgh. I think this is the right time and the right place for me to be doing it. I’ve been convinced for a long time that full immersion, adult baptism is what Scripture commands. My Christening as a baby will always be special to me but I do think that it is when you become a believer and repent that you are to be baptised. I would have done it years ago but re-baptism is a big no-no in the Church of Scotland and, to be honest, I’m really glad God’s kept me from doing it until now; I genuinely believe this is his timing. Now, it’s about me knowing what God is asking of me, understanding his call on my life, and declaring to him before the church that I leave the old life behind and fully embrace all he has planned for me.

I’ve done a lot of growing, these past five years, and there’s a lot more to go. But, as I said to the parents and youths last week, it’s the most exciting and fantastic adventure I could possibly hope for . . . all glory to God who has made it possible!!

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

(Philippians 1:6 ESV)

Good Man Jesus

If you’ve known me, or read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m a bit justice/poverty obsessed. I think my friends get sick of me ranting about it – at least on here you can just choose not to read! Just about everything I think or do has some sort of link back to it – positive or negative.

I’m not sure you’re supposed/allowed to choose but my “favourite” part of Jesus’ ministry is most definitely his teaching about and work amongst the poor and socially marginalised. Even without the God chat it’s hard not to admit he was a pretty cool guy.

Now don’t jump to conclusions and be too quick to call me a heretic but, I’ve been thinking recently about whether or not I’d still pay attention to him if he had just been a guy with some good ideas. Does the God stuff actually make a difference? Why do I pay attention to his social ethic and not that of other “gods” or philosophers? Why am I not happy to simply stive to be a “good person”?

My Dad recently pointed me towards the Dalai Lama’s twitter feed and I read it with some interest. He speaks a lot about compassion, poverty, peace, love, kindness and human harmony, just like Jesus! Yet, as I read, I feel there is something lacking.

For example, he (or I assume someone on his behalf) tweeted:

I think it is very important to know we can each transform ourselves into a better, happier person. I think it’s important to recognize this

Compassion instills a sense of calm, inner strength, and a deep confidence and satisfaction.

Despite philosophical differences, all major world religions have the same potential to create good human beings.

I don’t know about you but I know I can’t make myself a happier person. I can fill my life with things that make me feel happier but it is always going to be superficial. The only thing which can give me true joy and contentment is the love of others, and in particular the love of God. I got me some transformation when I decided to follow him. Every time I try to make it happen for myself it fails horrendously. Only when seeking Him am I truly happy.

Jesus is all about the compassion. He’s a very compassionate guy. He’s all love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you, lend expecting nothing in return. AMAZING. And the reward for these selfless acts? Nothing but being called “sons of the Most High”. Philosophers and ethicists suggest acting in a compassionate way for your own good and the progress of the human race. God just wants to be glorified and be able to call us his children. That’s what sets Jesus apart.

How can we possibly define a “good” human being? I might do good things but if good is the absence of evil, I’m never going to make it. I’m going to evil/angry/selfish/imperfect thoughts, desires, motives and actions. “Good” as the world sees it isn’t enough for Jesus. He says to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt5:48). That takes a transformation of a Godly sort, not something our human will can conjure.

So Jesus isn’t just like any other good man. He’s the good man. I wouldn’t follow any other good man because all the others make it about the being good. He makes it about a relationship with God. The God stuff makes all the difference! His social ethic is radically different because of this and the person he asks me to strive to be is so much more than simply “good”, its the person God created me to be.

Rock of offense

“But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

– Isaiah 8:13-15

Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame

– Romans 9: 33

Isaiah is talking about God, or more particularly His law, being a stumbling block to the unfaithful.

Paul, in Romans, is talking about Jesus, or more precisely faith in Him, being the rock of stumbling.

Jesus teaches some offensive things. Faith in Him is full of stumbling.

Why are we so convinced we have to make it easy?

Resurrection

Today is Easter Sunday; the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from death.

Some people wonder what the point of the resurrection was, if it was really necessary. I can understand this: in the evangelical church the emphasis is placed on the crucifixion and the work of Christ on the cross as he pays the debt of our sin. However, the resurrection, as I see it, is inseparable from the crucifixion. It is at the centre of everything Christians believe. It is the purpose of the faith.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17 that “If Christ has not been raised from death, you have nothing to believe” – everything that we understand about guilt and punishment, sin and forgiveness, this world and the next, hinges on the resurrection. Jesus might have died on the cross and paid the price for our wrongdoing but the sin and death would have won out, and continued to do so, had it not been for the resurrection. As Jesus broke free from the clutches of death, he made a way – he made it possible – for us to do the same. Our shackles are broken, we are no longer “slaves to sin”.

The resurrection is also the ultimate proof of the truth of Jesus’ claims. He could have said any old nonsense about healing and forgiveness and the Kingdom and the after-life and someone might have written it down and passed it on. People would have read it as a nice story, people would have understood it as the ramblings of crazy man. But his resurrection was the ultimate testimony to his own divinity and authority and the fact that everything he said was true. He was the Son of God. He is the Light of the World. He will always be the Good Shepherd.

My other favourite thing about the resurrection is that it shows that God does not want to leave the world in its depraved state but instead He has hope for a better future. He does not want to leave us to our sinful ways of violence and hatred but in the cross and resurrection we see a kind of “radical subordination” (a favourite phrase of Shane Claiborne’s). Jesus submits to the powers of the world but he does not let them have the last word and he certainly does not go out on their terms. He very much forms his own and does this his own way. He does not retaliate or face violence with violence, instead, he “loves us away from our suicide leaps and our satan games” (Pete Greig). He responds in love that we can barely comprehend and promises that peace, reconciliation and life are possible.

I’ve been watching a lot of Grey’s Anatomy recently. Being a medical drama, it involves a lot of dying. And it makes me think and it reminds me that we are limited, finite creatures. We do not have all the time we hope to have; we do not have all the time we want to have; we do not even have the time we think we ought to have. Not in this world and this life. But the resurrection gives us time. In the victorious, conquering, loving, serving, resurrection we can have all time. Every second of life can be ours to give back to God, rather than sin stealing it away from us. Every second can be spent loving and seeking Him. Every second can be spent in His presence. The resurrection gives us time; it gives us time to live.

So today, take some time. Consider what this resurrection day means for you and for us all, in this moment and the next and the next. How will you use the freedom, the facts, the potential and the time that he has given you?