Why isn’t Jesus still here?

Have you ever wondered why Jesus went back to his Father? When he rose from the dead he appeared to many people in his resurrection body. Was he a ghost? Was he wandering the earth waiting for his time? Did he have to go?

Staying here would have solved a few problems like the evidence for the resurrection. We had an empty grave but what if he had been around for the last two thousand years? Who could doubt him then?

He could have solved countless disputes about doctrine, told us which books he wanted in the Bible, which denominations had the right beliefs (if any). There would have been no need for the crusades or many other wars. He would be head of the church – all of it. He could put us straight on women in church, gay marriage, abortion, alcohol…

So why did he walk away?

Imagine a world with one ancient Jesus. He’s the only one. You might get to see him once in your lifetime unless you are very rich. You have to fly to his house and queue up to have a few seconds with him. Maybe he will come to your country and a million people show up with you.

He will be on TV no doubt and there will be podcasts and youtube videos but it won’t be personal. The wealthy will get to him and we will miss out even though his ministry is as much to the poor. Seven billion people are trying to see him at least once. What chance do we have?

The solution? Father says, “Jesus come home. Holy Spirit can achieve everything we want to do and you can work with him.”

The result is messy but now people are empowered to be like Jesus. He can say, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” John 14:12 NLT

As is so often the case, God’s better way was not the one we would have chosen. But we have the privilege of living like Jesus, empowered to be like him. We mess up. We get it wrong. We even head in totally the wrong direction and God smiles and trusts us.

I don’t believe God is anything like as concerned about what we believe as we are. He sees our hearts. He is love and our job is to express that love by receiving it, loving him back and giving it away.

Thanks to Unsplash for the photo.

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Happy Easter

Today we celebrate new life with eggs and flowers. Every year spring comes and we feel renewed. All of nature gears up for the new season of warmth and sunlight. Many go to church to celebrate. Sombre thoughts of sin and fasting give way to the joy of resurrection life.

Life and love is what God is about. It is all too easy to concentrate on sin and death and miss the good news that they are eternally dealt with. Yes we all die but that is not the end.

I used to know what the cross was all about but, as I get older, I realise how little I know and how much there is to know. I will never reach the unfathomable depths of God’s love. I have scratched the surface and know that God is love. He defines love and Jesus is the physical manifestation of that love now given to us to be love in this world.

Today is about life and hope. God is all about life. Every year there is a death and rebirth of many things in nature as seasons come and go. But in Jesus that changes. He lived and died and rose again never to die a second, third, fourth, hundredth death.

Easter changes things because we are restored, renewed, reassured, rescued. It is good news. Our hope is restored. God is for us.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10 NASB

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Not so triumphal entries

When Jesus made an entrance it wasn’t the kind a king makes. His birth was barely noteworthy in human terms noticed by a few shepherds and a group of foreign wise men who turned up very late. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was no more kingly. He was riding on a donkey and I suspect a lot of people were there to see what the fuss was about, people who quickly turned on him a few days later.

Although God was happy to slide into each situation, creation couldn’t help itself and broke out in worship each time. I don’t think God saw it the same way we do. We see the King of kings coming to defeat sin. We want to honour him and bow down before our King. I think God saw it as a natural act of love. It had always been the plan and the time came for each part to play out. Pomp and ceremony were not on His mind. Restoring us from our fallen state was.

Here is Jesus knowingly walking towards his fate as he enters Jerusalem. I don’t know if he knew exactly what was going to happen that day. He certainly did by the time he prayed in Gethsemane a few days later. He must have known the end was near after three years of intensive public ministry.

So here he is, riding on a donkey, the crowds cheering him, heading for a painful and humiliating death a few days later. A man among men, submitting to our fickle adoration.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes hosanna cry.
0 Savior meek, pursue Thy road,
With palms and scattered garments strowed.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
0 Christ, Thy triumphs now begin
O’er captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
The angel armies of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes
To see the approaching Sacrifice.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh;
The Father on His sapphire throne
Expects His own anointed Son.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain.
Then take, 0 Christ, Thy power and reign.

“Ride On, Ride On, in Majesty”
by Henry H. Milman, 1791-1868
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Matt.21:9

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It’s OK to be me

I went to a meeting this week. I haven’t done face to face meetings other than church for a long time. I sat through the meeting and afterwards found my perception of what had happened was different to other people’s. I found myself sinking into a familiar pattern of wanting to be like them and rejecting my own personality.

Years ago I did a Myers Briggs test and came out as having a personality shared with 5% of the population. About a year ago I did another one and there has been a subtle shift. I now share my personality with 1%. I simply don’t see the world the way most people do.

I had to stop and tell myself it is OK to be me. I have a way of looking at thngs that enables me to do stuff other people can’t or can’t bear to do. It made me a good service engineer. My analytical brain is wired for fault finding be it a piece of electronics or an admin process. Administration, whilst annoying, does not drive me to distraction as it does so many.

When I want to ‘be like everyone else’, I am feeding myself with a lie. There is no ‘everyone else’. We are all unique and the more I get to know someone the more I see their personal quirks, the things that make them them. You wouldn’t be you if you were exactly the same as your neighbour.

I was reading recently about how God is diverse and we, his creation made in his image, are likewise diverse. In fact creation carries his diversity. God has not made everything uniform. For some reason modern man wants to unify and modify everything so it fits and conforms to the proper pattern.

The very thing that makes me a good engineer and administrator keeps me from joining the crowd. So I condemn myself for my God given self and want to be like these people who don’t actually exist. I wonder if they feel the same? Peer pressure has become a real problem in the young. They have to conform to be accepted or they are bullied.

David said, “I thank you God for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvellously breathtaking! It simply amazes me to think about it!” Psalm 139:14 Passion. Our complexity means we are unique. I may want to be like the current celebrity but I never will be.

I feel I am entitled to a different life and resent not having it even though I wouldn’t cope with or understand it. Far better to become comfortable as me with all my flaws and mistakes. Me, the engineer, cook, baker, gardener, administrator, bringer of hope.

I’m too old. I’m too short. I can’t walk… and life is good. I am me – mysteriously complex. And God loves me just as I am.

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT

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Staying Fresh

I was reminded this week of the excitement we had in the 1990s when we heard about what was happening in Toronto and got involved. It was a time to break out of some of the strictures we had accepted and become more free in the way we worshipped. Looking back, it was also when we started to learn about God’s heart as a father.

It was very new for most of us and we would spend hours in church enjoying God’s presence in a new way. There was also the usual excess and criticism but that time changed us for the better and left us with a good legacy.

Twenty plus years on I am in a wheelchair and feeling a little jaded. We were so hopeful of a worldwide revival. Gradually things calmed down and we moved on. We didn’t walk away from it but we kept moving as God led us.

On Sunday we were encouraged to talk about what God is doing through us now and I know a great part of that is because of the experiences we have had and the moves of God we have come through in my lifetime. Many who come to church now will not have encountered the Charismatic movement or John Wimber or Toronto but they benefit from our legacy.

It’s easy to go stale. I have seen people healed, covered in gold dust, receive gem stones, feathers fall from the ceiling. I have felt the presence of God so strongly I couldn’t stand. Almost weekly I see people set free as they come for sozo ministry. Yet I go stale.

What I have experienced in the past helps but it was in the past. I need to keep going, to push through the disappointment that I am still in a wheelchair and contemplate who God is because when I do that I feel better about myself and about Him.

What I have learned over the past few years has challenged me and in some ways added to my cynicism. Before I became paralysed in 1999 I avoided anything that challenged my faith and that had to go when confronted with the reality of a new way of living. Having decided to confront my doubts and ask the difficult questions, I have no intention of going back.

For me, being told what to believe is no longer an option. I need to find out for myself. I am constantly aware that this is not an easy game to play but I owe it to myself to be even more deeply grounded in Jesus, to be even more unshakeable and to know the truth.

The candy coated gospel I learned as a child simply will not do me any more. I want to know God as He really is: love in its purest form expressed in a relationship so perfect I will need the rest of my life to start to scratch the surface of its depths.

Here is a familiar verse expressed rather differently:

“The entire cosmos is the object of God’s affection! And he is not about to abandon his creation – the gift of his son is for humanity to realise their origin in him, who mirrors their authentic birth – begotten not of flesh but of the Father! In this persuasion the life of the ages echoes within the individual and announces that the days of regret and sense of lostness are over.” John 3:16 Mirror version

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Diversity

img_0944I have written much about how God is love. This time I want to explore His diversity.

We know that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each appears to have a separate function but they are One at the same time. We have a Trinity in unity. They act as One in everything they do. Could it be that we are made with some of the same structure? Could diversity be a part of being in God’s image?

Creation is incredibly diverse. It seems that God likes differences. Nothing is utilitarian. There is purpose but not uniformity. Mankind is diverse. Not only do we have male and female, we have differing colours and body shapes. Our customs and traditions vary even from family to family. Nature depends on diversity. Inbreeding leads to sickness.

For some reason mankind seems to have a problem with this and frequently tries to make everything uniform. We bully. We fight. We kill. We envy. ” I want to look like her”. “I want his six pack”. We are either dissatisfied with ourselves or with others.

God has made a world in which things are not clear cut or black and white. Creation is multicoloured and diverse. Everything has a spread be it skin colour or diet or sexual preference.

The church is not exempt from this diversity. Christianty diverged into several streams very quickly. Paul saw things differently to James back in Jerusalem. John had a different viewpoint again. The Orthodox church was quickly established and eventually split from Rome.

My own spiritual heritage is mixed. My mother was a catholic, my father comes from a methodist family (who used to be baptist). I went to a baptist Sunday school and joined a high Anglican church as a choirboy. Later I got involved with a strict evangelical group leaving them to become a charismatic christian.

So the idea that there is one superior group offends me. The group would of course be that which I belong to especially if I am male, white and middle class. Such ideas are dangerous and have led to many people suffering in the past. The truth becomes bent towards the ideologies of the group and used to justify any extreme behaviour.

On the other hand we see minority groups forming and lobbying for more power than is given to the rest of society. Their behaviour can be just as demanding and dogmatic as the so called superior group. I understand why they do this but there has to be a better way.

Surely love is the way to cope with diversity. We saw last century how the opposite works. God is love. He made the universe diverse. Love loves diversity so should we. Let’s stop fearing immigrants or black people or gay people or disabled people and start loving our neighbours. Remember, when Jesus was asked ‘who is my neighbour?’ His reply was the parable of the good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37)

“Jesus: Which of these three proved himself a neighbor to the man who had been mugged by the robbers?

Scholar: The one who showed mercy to him.

Jesus: Well then, go and behave like that Samaritan.”

Luke 10:36,37 The Voice

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Why?

img_0940When I was 46 I suffered a spinal stroke and ended up in a wheelchair unable to walk or stand. At the time I really wanted to know why it had happened. I had the medical information which told me that I’d had a tumour which had caused the stroke, but that didn’t explain why.

As I began to recover, the question “why me” began to surface so I started to ask God. For several months, each time I asked he said, “Don’t ask. It’s not helpful.” I had the feeling I would get an answer eventually and tried not to ask too often while I waited. Each time I did ask, the same answer would come back.

Finally, after about three months, I felt it was OK to ask. My question was, “Why me?” and the answer came straight back, “Because”. This seemingly meaningless answer was what I needed to hear and he was quite right, I would not have accepted it before.

It may seem like a brush off to just say “because” but I knew exactly what it meant. There is no reason I got sick, nearly died and ended up paraplegic. It could have happened to anyone but it was me. I thought, like many Christians, I was immune to such things. I had a kind of mental talisman that told me bad things won’t happen to me.

The question why can be very useful but also very destructive. The plain fact is that, whilst we live in a world of cause and effect, there is not a reason for everything even though it has a cause. It wasn’t sin or disobedience that made a tumour grow. I live in a world where such things happen and it happened to be me who grew one along with lots of other people.

“Why” in a scientific context is helpful but in everyday life it often means “who can I blame?” We blame God for pain and suffering and war because someone must be responsible. If we are religious we have a creation story where the blame can be apportioned.

I had a conversation last week that made me start to think in a new way. What if the world we live in was created this way? I want to add “because” but that implies a “why”. If I accept that Jesus is not Plan B (which I do), then what we have is what was intended. My engineering brain instantly wants to qualify this. I feel I need a reason.

My next question is, “Is this idea consistent with a God who is Love?” The answer comes straight back that it is no stranger than the hoops many Christians jump through to justify a loving God who causes earthquakes because people have sinned.

I don’t have answers, just an open mind that is willing to explore ideas and see where they take me. This one will take me a while to ponder and in the meantime I offer it to you to do the same or walk away from it as a load of nonsense.

So here is the result: as one man’s sin brought about condemnation and punishment for all people, so one man’s act of faithfulness makes all of us right with God and brings us to new life. Just as through one man’s defiant disobedience every one of us were made sinners, so through the willing obedience of the one man many of us will be made right. Romans 5:18-19 The Voice

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