Monday, 11 December 2017

When the man comes around

Johnny Cash lyrics to one of his famous songs: When the man (Jesus) comes around.

"And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying,
'Come and see.' and I saw, and behold a white horse"

There's a man goin' 'round takin' names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won't be treated all the same
There'll be a golden ladder reachin' down
When the man comes around
The hairs on your arm will stand up
At the terror in each sip and in each sup
Will you partake of that last offered cup
Or disappear into the potter's ground?
When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singin'
Multitudes are marchin' to the big kettledrum
Voices callin', voices cryin'
Some are born and some are dyin'
It's alpha and omega's kingdom come
And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree
It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

Till armageddon no shalam, no shalom
Then the father hen will call his chickens home
The wise man will bow down before the throne
And at his feet they'll cast their golden crowns
When the man comes around.

Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still
Listen to the words long written down
When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singin'
Multitudes are marchin' to the big kettledrum
Voices callin', voices cryin'
Some are born and some are dyin'
It's alpha and omega's kingdom come
And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn trees
It's hard for thee to kick against the prick
In measured hundredweight and penny pound
When the man comes around.

"And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts
And I looked, and behold a pale horse
And his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him"
Songwriters: Johnny Cash
The Man Comes Around lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

Back to the present - listen to the words

I know it is not Christmas yet, but....

One of my all-time favourite carols:

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Caesar and God

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Matthew 22:15-22


‘Caesar’ here represents every other call on our obedience, love and devotion other than God. Therefore it is not just about government or political authority but anything that can take us away from God or conflicts with our call to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength.

That to that extent ‘Caesar’ represents other conflicting demands on our lives that take us away from worshipping, honouring and obeying God.

And so ‘Caesar’ can be family, friends, entertainment, hobbies, anything that demands that God is relegated to second place in your life. This comes into the sharpest relief in two ways. Our daily and our weekly obligations as Christians.

Daily, it is the time spent with God. How many people say they don’t have time to spend in prayer? They lead such busy lives that they can’t event spare ten or twenty minutes for prayer. The question then needs to be asked, what is the ‘Caesar’ in their lives that takes such authority over them that they have to obey its demands and ignore that of the Lord? What things have such sway over their daily timetables that they feel they must give way to that over time with God?

Weekly, it is Sunday worship. Keeping the Sabbath Day holy, at the very least, means worship for an hour or so in the morning. And yet for some, that demand is set aside for the greater authority - the 'Caesar' - in their lives which comes in the form of other things, events or people.

Now that is not to say that sometimes urgent things do crop up over which we have little or no control. And our Christian forebears made the very Biblical exceptions for what they termed 'works of mercy' or need. But how often are these legitimate excuses for not rendering service to God?

And so to them, and us, Jesus says plainly and challengingly, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s (but) to God’ what is God’s.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Coming to terms with mystery

It’s as old as history, wanting to know everything about everything. But there is a limit. For example, we cannot know everything about God, although that did not prevent Adam and Eve trying when they ‘ate’ of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6). This attempt to be 'like God' (see Genesis 3:5) naturally failed, but it is a salutary lesson to us that there are limits to what we can, or indeed should, know about God.

This is not to say we cannot know anything about Him. We know something of the extent of His love because we have seen it in Jesus, and Paul talks about his desire and prayer that the Christians in Ephesus grow in their knowledge of that love (see Ephesians 3:18). Will we ever get to fully grasp it? No, but it is so rewarding trying, and besides, that is how we grow, and will continue to grow throughout eternity. 

We can know something too of His wisdom, His power, His beauty and His grace, all of which can be seen in His Creation and His Word. But there will be large gaps in our knowledge because at the end of the day we are creatures and He is Creator, he alone is God, and we are not. What remains, therefore, is wonder, awe and mystery.

The Eastern Orthodox Church can teach us much about this. Look at the following quotes by one of its best spokespeople, Bishop Kallistos Ware:

“We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.” 

In trying to explain how we can get close to God but not too close, we can, for example, cite the experience of Moses on the Mountain in Exodus 33:20.

Earlier on in verse 11, we are told that "The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend". But when later Moses asks God if he can see His glory - which I think is another way of seeing God. But God replies:

“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (verses 19-20)
In other words, God is saying "this far and no further". He is setting limits on just how much Moses is able to 'see' or know about Him. As a result, the Orthodox like to make a distinction between God's essence and His energies:

“Such, then, is our God: unknowable in his essence, yet known in his energies; beyond and above all that we can think or express, yet closer to us than our own heart.”  (See Wikipedia)

His essence is His being, nature and substance, and that is what is being referred to when Exodus talks about God’s face. Your face is you, your substance/body. But we cannot look on this any more than we can look into the sun.

God’s energies, on the other hand, are what enable us to experience something of the Divine, at first through sensory perception and then later intuitively. Through prayer, revelation, personal experience and feelings.

And so the Bible can talk about knowing God and yet not knowing Him at the same time. Knowing God through revelation, and yet holding that in tension with the idea that He is also a mystery, so totally‘other’ that our puny and weak minds will never fully comprehend Him. And if we did, we too would be God.

But the wonderful gift of God is that we can know Him, and the most important thing about Him. His love. Kallistos Ware says:

“To know a person is far more than to know facts about that person. To know a person is, essentially, to love him or her; there can be no true awareness of other persons without mutual love.”

What is truly wonderful, miraculous and a great gift to us, is that through and because of Jesus, we can know the love of God, and God Himself, because as 1 John 4:8 "God is love". To know His love is enough to keep us eternally content and eternally satisfied.

As for mystery? Well, it keeps us wondering and worshipping, and that, surely, is how it is meant to be. 

When the man comes around

Johnny Cash lyrics to one of his famous songs: When the man (Jesus) comes around. "And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder O...