A Liberator is Born

Freedom lovers the world over pause to remember the greatest liberator of all time, finding courage from the example of one who achieved more in 33 years than empires achieve in centuries.

Born in humble circumstances this likable young man lived in the system of his day, under local tyrants and a global oppressor, but he radicalised the world nonetheless.

He was not a rebel, but a devotee.  Not a protester but architect and master builder.

Rather than live to fight evil, he lived that good might prevail, thus breaking evil’s power.

Rather than react to cruel global force, he ushered in a supreme and surpassing kingdom to prevail over all powers ever since.

Rather than employ human energies, he walked in the power of God, to fulfil divine purpose.

Rather than recruit us to react to the wrongs of our day, he enlists us to live with the rights of a new dimension.

In the name of this liberator, cut down in his prime, multiplied millions, in every culture and from every creed, have been set free.  That new freedom is multi-dimensional.

It transforms the inner life, activating a connection with the divine that is truly life changing.

It is also social, transforming families and healing broken relationships.

It triumphs over personal demons, unlocking addictions and slaveries of the will.

And it is cultural, liberating whole communities from superstition, fear, exploitation and shame.

Here’s to the liberated millions!

And here’s to the Greatest Liberator of All Time: Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Saviour, Lord, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

We celebrate his birth and we live in the power of his resurrection.

We are now the liberators; led by him who cannot be surpassed and building that kingdom that has no end.

The Children’s Bread

Citizens of any nation have a special status, based on their inherited right, or chosen right for those who take on citizenship. Jesus Christ celebrated that special status, so it is enshrined in political reality. Sadly we are seeing an erosion of this special status, so it is timely to investigate our God-endorsed rights.

Children

Jesus Christ spoke of the natural national citizens as “children”.

On one occasion Peter made a mistake in his encounter with the administrators of his day. Peter was approached and asked if his master paid tribute money. Peter unwisely said that he did. Jesus then challenged Peter about Peter’s thinking on this matter.

“When they came to Capernaum those that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Does not your master pay tribute? He said, Yes. And when he came into the house Jesus detained him, saying, What do you think, Simon? Who do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute from? Is it from their own children, or from strangers? Peter said to him, From strangers. Jesus said to him, Then the children are free. However, so we don’t offend them, go to the sea and cast an hook, and take up the first fish that comes up; and when you open his mouth, you will find a piece of money: take that, and give to them for me and you.” Matthew 17:24-27

Why Children

Every citizen is a ‘child’ of the cultural family to which he or she belongs. That is significant and I will probably discuss that point in more depth at some other time.

Suffice it to say right now that what starts as a ‘family’ really should stay as a family. However, what tends to happen is that our leaders stop being ‘fathers’ to us and become greedy brothers and sisters who sell out the ‘family’ for personal status and reward.

Good government does not penalise its own family, but rewards it. Good government creates a wonderful environment for its own children. Good government then taxes the foreigners (“strangers” in the words of Jesus) for using the resources that really belong to the children.

Oh that it were so in our nations today!

In many western nations today the foreign entities can operate within the country with great tax advantages and privileges, while the children are heavily taxed to pay for the borrowings of their leaders (their ‘fathers’?) who have placed them in an unhappy place of national penalty.

Hmmmm…..

The Children’s Bread is for the Children

Jesus spoke of ‘children’ in a political sense on another occasion. He spoke to a foreigner who was seeking His power for a family need. In that conversation with the Syrophenician woman Jesus affirmed His personal calling to the nation of Israel. His power, miracles and grace were intended for the nation of Israel.

Israel was by that time a nation that had existed for more than a millennium. It is easy to forget, after such a long time, that the nation is really a ‘family’. The original children of Israel were the literal children of a man named Israel. As the families grew over successive generations the ‘children’ grew in number to be a national entity in their own right. But they were still ‘children’ of Israel.

In political terms this foreigner was not a member of the family of Israel. Rather than being a child in the family she was something else, like a family pet. Jesus pointed this out by saying that it was not right for Him to take what belonged to the children and to give it to the dog.

While Jesus’ comments sound offensive to our ears it is important to note two things. The woman was not upset. She recognised that His statement was true. She was outside the Kingdom and had no right to the things she requested. She was not a child of Abraham or a descendent of Jacob (Israel). Jesus’ words were not an insult, but a statement of truth acknowledged by the woman herself.

Further to that, Jesus was happy to hear her appeal and expression of faith and to grant her what she asked.

She said (in essence), “It is true that I am a dog, but even the dogs get to eat the crumbs which are dropped by the children. Since not all of your blessings will be enjoyed by the children you can spare one of the crumbs for me.”

“a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she begged him that he would cast the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not right to take the children’s bread, and cast it to the dogs. And she answered and said to him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And he said to her, For this saying go your way; the devil is gone out of your daughter. And when she came to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.” Matthew 7:25-30

Your Bread

We have seen that Jesus used the notion of ‘children’ to speak of both political realities (paying tribute) and spiritual realities (claiming the blessings belonging to God’s people).

You too are a child and have your own bread. So, what is your bread? What is it to which you have political and spiritual right?

As a citizen of your nation and culture you are entitled to the freedoms and protections afforded to you. You should not be abused by the fathers of your culture and nation. They should be providing you the special blessings which you are entitled to as a member of the family.

As a child of God you are entitled to an amazing range of spiritual and practical blessings reserved for the ‘children’. In fact, you have the right to walk and live in a state that is described as ‘glorious liberty’ (wonderful freedom), as God’s child.

“Creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Romans 8:21

I encourage you to enjoy the bread that is yours, both politically and spiritually. You are fully entitled to those blessings and it is your responsibility to protect and preserve them so that your own children can enjoy them as well.

Love as the Litmus Test

Everyone has their own way of assessing things. We judge all manner of things by first impression, speech, attitudes, dress, facial expression and so on. So how does God want us to be evaluated?

God’s Litmus Test

Jesus Christ explained that there is a litmus test by which we would be evaluated. That process was one that was important to God and so it was pointed out to us, along with a command that we perform in a way that gives us a good litmus test rating.

“A new commandment I give you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.” John 13:34-35

Did you notice the words “By This”? People will know you are Jesus’ disciple by a particular litmus test. It’s not the smile on your dial, your Bible knowledge or the frequency with which you go to church. The litmus test is whether you love others or not.

A Commanded Lifestyle

There are many optional things in the Christian life. Your diet, exercise regime, domestic comforts, career and much more are completely at your discretion. But there is one thing that is commanded of you. You are commanded to love other Christians.

Now that should not be a surprise, even if it is not something you see many Christians do. Remember that the second greatest commandment is to “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). And this command which was identified by Christ was first given under Moses.

“You are not to avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you will love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:18

What Does Love Look Like?

Have you ever wondered what “love” looks like? It is supposed to be visible. That’s how it can function as our litmus test. If love was invisible then no-one would know whether we had love for one another or not. Yet it is the very visibility of our love for one another that allows people to know that we are Christ’s disciples. Got it? So love must look like something. It is not invisible.

Love Defined

The best working definition for love that I have ever heard is where we “want what is best for the other person, despite the personal cost to ourselves”.

By that definition we can see that love is completely self-less. So our love can be seen by the selfless things we do. When we put other people ahead of ourselves and help others out even though it messes things up for us, we are demonstrating something that others know is not in their life.

So if love has to look like anything at all it should look like selflessness. When we devour other people, indulge our anger and self-will, are intolerant, prejudiced, reactive or closed, we demonstrate something other than love.

Test Yourself

It is not always easy to properly observe ourselves, because we apply many filters to what we do and excuse things in ourselves we don’t excuse in others. However, despite the difficulties, we are wise to try to get a grip on ourselves and to make some kind of assessment about who and what we are.

So try testing yourself. Use the litmus paper on the acidic state of your own heart.

Take a few moments to write down ten examples of your selflessness, patience, kindness, generosity, tolerance, self-restraint and other practical expressions of love that you have shown in the past week. If you come up with more than ten items of substance then that’s a positive sign. If you can’t think of any then you need to pay particular attention to that.

God is Watching

Oh, and by the way, whether you test yourself or not, God is weighing everything you do and say. He is watching and ready to bless you if you fulfil His will. So, don’t take the subject too lightly. A good litmus test every now and then is worth the effort.

The Call of God

Being called by God is a journey. It is not a destination. And the call is progressive as it takes us deeper into the purposes of God.

Peter’s experience exemplifies this so let’s review the historical record of Peter’s encounter with Jesus to see what you can expect as you respond to the call of God.

Peter’s Encounter with Jesus

Peter met Jesus at the time of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, at the Jordan River. While we are not told that Peter was a disciple of John the Baptist, it is evident that he and his friends were impressed and touched by John’s ministry.

That is why they had journeyed from Galilee, where they left their fishing boats idle while they went to get right with God. We can be pretty sure that Peter had been baptised by John, possibly not long before Jesus was, maybe even on the same day.

A Second Encounter with Jesus

After that initial encounter Peter, James and John had to return to their fishing boats and their livelihood. They had heard John’s prophecy about Jesus and had been introduced to Jesus as the “lamb of God”. They were among the very first people to encounter Jesus as He began His ministry. Now, however, they were many miles away from the Jordan River, back on the shores of Lake Galilee.

Jesus came to them and called them to “Follow Me”. Jesus promised to make the “fishers of men”. Peter, James and John all left their boats and their fishing nets to follow Jesus. They had come under the call of God and responded to it.

The Call of God

There are many things that could be said about the call of God. We know that when God calls us the very call itself brings with it the power for its fulfilment.

“Faithful is he that calls you, who also will do it.” 1Thessalonians 5:24

We also know that when God calls us He does not change His mind, nor abandon that call, even if we make a mess of it. The Biblical statement to that effect is that the “gifts and callings of God are without repentance”, which means God does not change His mind about it.

“For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Romans 11:29

Peter’s Journey

For about three and a half years Peter and the other disciples journeyed with Him, learned from Him, saw His miracles and were activated into the supernatural, being empowered to do miracles themselves. It must have been a heady time for them all, but most especially for Peter, James and John who were given privileged treatment. They alone saw the transfiguration and the raising of Jairus’ daughter.

When Jesus was betrayed, however, they were just like the other disciples. They all fled. Peter, to his shame, also denied Jesus three times over that dreadful night of His betrayal and trial. This must have been a deeply challenging reality in Peter’s experience, since it was fulfilment of a prophecy from Jesus which Peter had denied would happen.

A New Encounter

Following Jesus’ resurrection Peter saw the empty tomb and met the resurrected Jesus. Then came an encounter back on the shores of Galilee. There Peter experienced his second calling to follow Jesus, possibly very close to where he was called the first time, years before.

Peter and some of the disciples had gone fishing in Peter’s boat. They caught nothing until a lone man on the shore called to them and instructed them to drop net on the other side of the boat. They did so and caught a huge catch. At that point someone realised that the man on the shore was none other than Jesus, Himself. Peter swam ashore and met His lord once again.

Jesus Deals with Peter

Jesus then interrogated Peter about Peter’s love for Jesus. Three times Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” Jesus was ploughing deep into Peter’s soul and reducing him to a desperate cry, that Jesus knew him intimately and could tell that he was admitting the truth when he said “Yes”.

Since that first call to follow Jesus, Peter had experienced the heights of walking with Jesus. But he also experienced the depths of personal failure. He now knew that he had nothing to offer Jesus. He now knew that God’s call on his life was not based on what Peter brought to Jesus but on what Jesus brought to Peter.

Peter had failed Jesus. All of his arrogant self-assurance was decimated by his humiliating and bitter denial of Jesus. Yet the call of God on Peter’s life was without repentance. God had not given up on Peter nor revoked the call on his life.

Follow Me

Jesus repeated to Peter what He had said over three years before. “Follow Me!” Here we see that the call of God comes again to our life, once we have failed and faltered in our fulfilment of that call. The call comes the second time to call us to follow, not in the confidence of our ability, but in humble submission as stumbling saints. The call comes again to show us that God is not basing the call on our ability to succeed but on His choice to call us. The whole process is sovereign, on His part, not energised by what we bring to God.

Peter Gets Distracted

Peter was then told something about his own future. His impulsive response was to ask Jesus about one of the others near him. Jesus reply was a gentle rebuke that what God had in store for anyone else was not Peter’s business. By this Jesus was revealing that our part in serving Him has nothing to do with what others are doing or what others will be led into. We must do what we are called to do, irrespective of those who succeed or fail around us, and irrespective of how our journey differs from others.

Here we see that the call of God is personal. It is not something that is subject to analysis based on how ours compares with others. Instead it is something that is to be lived and pursued to the full whether we must journey alone or with a great throng. It must be pursued whether our path is unique or a carbon copy of what others are doing.

And Again, “Follow Me”

Following Jesus’ rebuke to Peter, Jesus repeats one more time the call to “Follow Me”. Here Jesus set the seal on the call on Peter’s life.

It is as if Jesus had said to him in the sequence of these different calls, “Peter, Follow Me and I will make you a fisher of men.” Then when Peter had experienced both success and failure Jesus came to him again to say, “Peter, you are to Follow Me, not because of who or what you are, but because I have called you. My call is what is important, not who and what you are.” Then it is as if Jesus added, “Peter, your call is unique, so don’t look at those around you. Just go and fulfil what I have called you to do.”

God’s Call on Your Life

So that’s what the call of God is all about in your life. May God give you grace to hear His call and to respond to it in faith and faithfulness, despite your own limitations, and irrespective of those around you who have a different deal or who shame Christ or outshine you along the way. Just be what God has called you to be, with all the power and grace He gives you to fulfil that call.

The account of Jesus final calls on Peter to “Follow Me” are found in John 21.

Chili con Carne for Logophiles

If I labelled this post as ‘incarnation’ you probably would have skipped over it, but if I aimed at your stomach there’s a higher chance you’ll give this post a look – so “I got you!”

I’m doing another word thing, so I put Logophiles in the title line. Let me lead you through a review of Chili con Carne and other words, to get to something worth keeping in mind.

Chili con carne is the name of a meat dish, coming to us from the Spanish. Chili refers to chilli – duh! ‘con carne’ means ‘with meat’. The Spanish word ‘carne’ originates from the Latin and means flesh or meat.

The same Latin root is used in English words. A carnivore is a creature that eats meat. So, a crow is a carnivorous bird.

The word Carnival originated with reference to meat, since the original event was a festival that took place in the Lenten season, where meat is not eaten. So the ‘carn’ was lifted, giving us ‘carnival’.

To ‘incarnate’ means to make something into flesh. Thus to ‘re-incarnate’ means to make something into meat once again. The concept of reincarnation involves a person losing their ‘meat’ and being put back into a flesh body at a later time.

So that leads me to a closer look at ‘incarnation’. Incarnation is the process of something that is not flesh taking on human form. This is what happened with Jesus Christ. He has always existed as God. We know that God is spirit, so Christ was a spirit being, without fleshly body, from before the beginning of time. The incarnation is a miracle, because God stepped into the natural realm, which He is not bound by, and endured its impositions and limitations, so he could take upon Himself a human body.

The Shocking Incarnation

Some religions are offended by the idea of the incarnation. In the late 1980’s I heard a Moslem speaker contend with the claim that Jesus Christ is God. The speaker, at that time a leading international orator on behalf of the Moslem faith, claimed that the Koran defined a god as a being that did not have an anus. A deity should not be subject to the physiological impositions of our human existence. The orator pointed out that one of the Australian Aboriginal tribes also had the same definition of a god, by which he effectively put Islam on the same footing as a tribal belief system.

By reference to the Koranic definition of a god, the orator declared that Jesus Christ could not be God, because the requisite anatomical qualification was not met.

Now, it is true that the Living God is not subject to the limitation of human flesh. Due biological process is not something that impacts Almighty God in the slightest. He is spirit and free of all the limitations and constraints impacting mankind.

So, God’s willingness to endure the ‘incarnation’ makes it all the more wonderful. It is a miracle that the God of the universe should so choose to identify with the beings He created that He would subject Himself to the indignity of human existence. But there’s more. God not only became human, including the necessary biological implications, but He allowed Himself to be falsely condemned to death and then butchered in a sacrificial carnage.

Oh, and there’s another ‘carne’ word. Carnage refers to the flesh of slain animals or men. Carnage involves death and dead bodies. Bodies cut open, bleeding and dismembered befit the concept of carnage.

Jesus Christ had his flesh torn open by cruel scourging. His hands and feet were torn open by the nails. His side was spear-pierced and His head punctured with thorns.

It is shocking that any God would allow such treatment, especially when He had the power and authority to do as He wills. The only way such an event could occur is with the willing co-operation of God, Himself.

So the Moslem orator was right in his desire to elevate the quality of deity, but wrong in his understanding of the incarnation. His god would never perform such an act of love. His god would not suffer indignity and pay an inconceivable price to save his followers.

Our God, the true and Living God, God Almighty, is the God of the incarnation. Jesus Christ is the ‘incarnate God’ – the God who became flesh.

Now, the thing that often stops people from loving and accepting the salvation available via our incarnate Saviour is man’s ‘carnal’ nature. Man is spirit, but he is ‘also flesh’ (Genesis 6:3). That ‘flesh’ is our ‘carnal’ dimension. When we live out of our fleshly desires we are living a carnal life. If we live after the flesh we will die. But if we, through the Spirit of God, put to death the deeds of our carnal body we will live.

Christians have crucified (died to) their fleshly inclinations and they present their body to God as a living sacrifice. And therein they find life that is far beyond the rewards of their fleshly existence.

Now, you just go right ahead and enjoy your Chili con carne. And as you do, spare a thought for the wonder of the incarnation and the challenges of your own carnality.