Thursday, 21 April 2011

I once was blind but now I see!

‘So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ 2 Cor 4:18

‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ Hebrews 12:2

‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.’ 1 Peter 1:8

‘To live by faith but not by sight!’ 2 Cor 5:7

To believe what God says is true, to trust in what God has said, regardless of what our circumstances look like. I think it is during the Freedom in Christ course they make the statement that you live what you actually believe not what you say you believe. We can all say quite easily that we believe what God says, believe what it says in the bible and then spend our days living out something that says we don’t actually believe any of it. It is quite shocking to note the gap between what I say I believe and what I actually live out. Each day as we open our eyes we are met with the reality of the world around us and we respond accordingly. The verses above seem to exhort us to not open our eyes to this reality but to focus on the unseen, to focus on the face of Jesus and respond to him. Perhaps if we had some sort of filter over our natural eyes so that we could only see Jesus and beyond that into the world around us, how would we respond to the world around us? What if our focus was Jesus and everything else had to be seen through him first? The reality of our new creation existence is that Jesus is living in our bodies and we have full access into the presence of God, therefore being able to see Jesus is a reality that we can simply believe. The verse in Peter seems to indicate that at least one result of believing in Jesus is inexpressible and glorious joy.

There is an interesting story of Jesus healing the blind man outside the village – he spits in his eyes (nice) and then;

‘He looked up and said, "I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.’ Mark 8:24-25

I think it is an interesting story as we have used this story when we’ve prayed for people to be healed and there hasn’t been an instant healing and said something like ‘oh well even Jesus had to pray twice for the blind guy.’ It seems right and certainly helps us to understand why some folk don’t get healed first time round but do we really believe that Jesus couldn’t heal the guy with one go? He doesn’t seem to have a problem elsewhere with any of his miracles. But how about we put the story in with these scriptures and perhaps/maybe what Jesus did was he enabled the man to see things in the unseen reality first;

‘They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour.’ Isaiah 61:3

‘But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’ Jeremiah 17:7-8

‘Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers, But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.’ Psalm 1:1-3

I’ve been pondering a few other good verses relating to blind eyes seeing;

‘The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ 2 Corinthians 4:4

I wonder if we just ignore this verse on the basis that it does not apply to us, we have after all seen the light. But what if the god of this age can blind the mind of believers? What if the god of this age and certainly in the Western, very well educated world, is the dependence on the intellect, on our ability to reason, to work things out. Perhaps we insist on understanding something before we will believe it? Not knowing the answers or understand what is going on is seen as somehow unacceptable. Surely just to not know should be ok as understanding a mysterious God can be pretty tricky! Perhaps by relying on our heads rather than the Spirit to understand everything we have missed the point of the gospel? If the Spirit doesn’t reveal what is going on to you then perhaps you don’t need to know and you can just carry on trusting.

The usual rebuttal to suggesting that one may be ‘thinking too much’ is ‘God gave me a brain and I’m going to use it’, interesting in light of the scriptures regarding man’s brain power.

‘For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.’ 1 Cor 1:25

‘So that your faith might be based not on man's wisdom but on the power of God. ... so that your trust might rest not on the wisdom of man but on the power of God’ 1 Cor 2:5

Amazing verses as to where we need to get our wisdom from!! Perhaps as we have seen the light of the gospel and are therefore new creations we need to know where our mind fits in to this mysterious transformation.

‘We have the mind of Christ’ 1 Cor 2:16

‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ Romans 12:2

‘Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.’ Eph4:23 New Living

As we have been made in the likeness of God our intellect, our brain function is amazing, absolutely incredible and absolutely to be fully utilised in all the good things the mind is capable of. I’m certainly not saying that the mind is useless; I’m just not convinced it is to be used as a replacement for simply believing and I am suggesting that part of the new creation reality is to lose our own head and have it replaced by Jesus’s head. The idolisation of our intellect can be a whopper in our churches and can leave some people in our churches feeling insecure in their faith. Some feel that because they don’t understand commentaries, don’t understand theological debates, haven’t been to bible school, can’t read, struggle with thinking altogether that they are somehow inferior to others in the church. They simply believe what it says in the bible. I ‘think’ these people are the ones who should be out front on a Sunday morning telling us their faith stories. I was in a group once where a refuse collector said he believed it because God said it – simple as. What a fantastic testimony. The wonderful gospel creates a level playing field with no favourites and no experts. The Holy Spirit is our teacher, the revealer of all truth and our dependence on him will bring us all the understanding we need. I really don’t have to understand the things of God to believe in Him, I don’t have to understand the cross, the redemption, grace, the fullness of Christ living within me, my co-crucified status; I just have to believe in their reality.

‘We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began…. no mind has conceived …but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.’ 1 Cor 2:7-10

Jesus talked of becoming like children, the foolish shaming the wise and he does seem to have an aversion to those who know the words of scripture very well and understand how to work them to their advantage without understanding God at all. Jesus was surrounded by teachers of the law and yet seems to have spent his time with fishermen, tax collectors and the sick. He refers to the teachers as blind guides and accuses them of squeezing out a gnat whilst swallowing camels. Those Jews who took great pains to avoid offence in very small matters, superstitiously observing the smallest points of the law, in this case the law against eating insects, and carefully straining out the gnat larva from drinks, whilst taking no effort to avoid great sins of hypocrisy, deceit, oppression, and lust.

Here’s my final thought

‘My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.’ Acts 22:11 I wonder whether it was the religious spirit all over Paul that blinded him in the face of Jesus. He is released from it, like scales, when he is prayed for to be filled with the Spirit. I can’t find any other reference to folk going blind when faced either with the glory of God or the risen Christ other than Paul, blindness is often an analogy of spiritual blindness in the bible and spiritual sight comes with being filled with the Holy Spirit. An interesting thought.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Spiritual Hunger?

Firstly an apology – it’s another fairly long one today, please stick with it and secondly the disclaimer; what follows are just my thoughts on the subject not a statement of absolute truth.  It saves a lot of effort to say it once at the beginning rather than qualifying every statement I subsequently go on to make!

There’s a lot of talk about being hungry at the moment in blogs, on Facebook, in sermons, in ‘worship’ song lyrics, in prayers and in books and to be honest and blunt most of it really winds me up!  I have a few issues with the concept of being ‘spiritually hungry’, ‘hungry for God’, ‘hungry for more of God’, ‘hungry for His presence’ or any one of the hundreds of similar phrases bandied about.

If you personally feel spiritually hungry, or hungry for more of God I am not criticising you, nor do I want you to feel hurt, angry, naughty, wrong, invalidated or condemned.  I do, however, want to suggest that you can be satisfied, and I’d also like you to give some of the ideas here some thought.

In the NIV version of the Bible there are 102 verses using the words hunger, hungry, thirst or thirsty. The Old Testament has the most with 67 and the New Testament has just over half that with 35.  Most of the references are direct descriptions of normal physical hunger or thirst, a lot are concerning God’s promises to feed the hungry and quench the thirsty.  Very, very few are using the word hunger and thirst in relation to a spiritual condition (Amos 8:11 being a prime example and this in the midst of another prophetic rebuke to the Jews).  The Old Testament must always be read from the perspective afforded by the New Covenant of grace.  Just because someone says it in the Bible it doesn’t make it true! Now hold on, put that rock down; don’t stone me yet.  In Psalm 42:9, and elsewhere, the psalmists say “Why have you forgotten me?” to God.  Do we have a theology that believes that God forgets us from time to time?  Is he absent minded?  “He is getting on a bit – he’s older than time after all”.  Nonsense!  The psalmist may have thought God had forgotten him but we know from Deut 31:6, Josh 1:5, Heb 13:5 and many other scriptures and promises he can’t and won’t – so this statement isn’t ‘true’ in the sense that we can extrapolate a theology or concept of God around it. 

Psalm 42 is the big one in the Old Testament to justify being ‘hungry for God’.  So big in fact a very popular worship song has used it (“As the deer pants for the water”) but what we have to remember is that the psalmist, a Son Of Korah, was an Old Covenant man, he did not know Jesus, he didn’t have the indwelling Holy Spirit so his encounter with God was through animal sacrifices, visiting the tabernacle or the temple and through the Torah.  As with much of the Old Testament the longing expressed by the writer of this Psalm was fulfilled by Jesus, Jesus was the drink of water that the psalmist was looking for!  Is the rock back on the ground?  Am I safe to continue?

Of the 35 instances in the New Testament only 11 do not relate to someone simply being physically hungry or thirsty and they are Matt 5:6, Luke 1:53, Luke 6:21+25, John 4:13+14, John 6:35, John 7:37, Rev 7:16, Rev 21:6 and Rev 22:17.

In 10 of those 11 verses in the New Testament, the hunger or thirst referred to is satisfied by Jesus!  That’s it.  Simple isn’t it?  If you’re hungry or thirsty then go to Jesus and he will satisfy you.  Matt 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” is in the Beatitudes, a passage with many layers of meaning.  Each attitude of those blessed is matched up with specific blessing, the pure will see God, the meek inherit the earth, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness will be filled.  There’s no sense of a repetitive loop, that those seeing God may become impure and stop seeing him and need to re-purify themselves, that the earth will be taken away from the meek if they get out of line in some way and they’ll need to become meeker than ever to re-inherit or that the hungering and thirsting for righteousness will return after it has been filled!

Let’s also briefly address Luke 6:25 and get that out of the way; it says “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry”.  The four woe’s in v24 to v26 are addressed to those who were satisfied with Israel’s state of affairs, the Pharisees, the Scribes and those adherents to a religious system that Jesus’ ministry was in direct opposition to.  This verse clearly does not apply to those following Jesus or those living in the New Covenant of grace. 

The old religious ‘do-do’ has crept into the simple understanding of Jesus satisfying all our hunger and thirst and it exhorts us to continue to be hungry for more!  What more?  There is no more.  Jesus came as the perfect sacrifice to destroy the sinful nature, make us new creations and fully inhabit our lives by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  There is no more – the cross was the finished work of God in the rescue of his creation!  Our knowledge, understanding, bliss and enjoyment of that finished work should grow, expand and deepen as we live in perfect union with Jesus but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have it all right now!  To talk about being ‘so hungry for more of God’ is as ridiculous as two fools sitting at a banquet trying to out-do each other with their bragging of how hungry they are and yet never satisfying their hunger by eating the feast!  The gospel stories of Jesus feeding the physical hunger of the multitudes expresses the lavish Father heart of God towards us, he is an abundant God.

The call to ‘get hungry’ is a return to works rather than a reliance on the grace of God.  It is in fact a heresy.  (See – I’m stating things as facts rather than my opinion, just check that first paragraph again if you’ve picked that rock back up.)  If our experience of the goodness of God is dependent upon us we are in the same boat as those who insisted on circumcision for the gentile believers back in the 1st Century.   When preached at a meeting it is not only dead works it is also manipulation and condemnation, the implication being that the speaker has a better or bigger experience of God than you because of something they did and that you didn’t.  (They almost always promise that you can have it too, if you would only do the same thing they did.)

There is a phrase I’ve heard quite a bit in the last few years, in fact I’d written it as a note on my smartphone a few years back because I used to really like it!  The phrase is “Our portion is in proportion to our hunger”.  Scripturally I can find absolutely no evidence for the truth of this, well not in the Bible anyway.  I think this mocks the character of God, it implies God is like a mother bird, which tries to feed all her chicks but will feed more to the ones that make the most noise! Or that God withholds good things from us because we’re not hungry enough!  I’m pretty sure my Bible speaks of a God who gives the exact same amount of himself to all who believe, and that amount is: all of him.  Romans 8:32 – “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things”? He pours his spirit out on all flesh.  I don’t get more of God because I’m hungry for more!  God doesn’t bless me more because I worked hard to make myself desire him more!  The work of God is simply this: to believe in the one he has sent.

Now I’m not saying we should be complacent and just sit about never spending time with our Father, never enjoying him, never eagerly looking forward to times when we can put aside the mundane things of normal life and focus 100% on him in prayer, worship or adoration.  Not at all!  What I’m saying is that to call this ‘hunger’ is to do a gross disservice to Jesus as it implies lack.  It implies that what God has done for you already was not enough.  So I encourage you to feast yourself on what Jesus has already done.  Don’t be a starving fool at a banquet, tuck in, read Romans 6 in particular and all the letters of Paul and then the whole Bible and feast on the New Creation reality and realize that you’re not hungry and you were never meant to be once you’d encountered the bridegroom and he’d swept you off your feet and taken you into the wedding feast.

Nor am I saying that I’m satisfied with the state of the world, the unsaved lives of those I love, the amount of miracles I see when I pray for healing.  But to call this very specific dissatisfaction ‘hunger’ seems odd to me.  It’s religious language.  The Lord’s Prayer tells us to pray “Your kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven” and I’m fully on board with that! I want to the kingdom to come into the lives of those who don’t acknowledge Jesus, I want the works of the enemy to be undone by the power of the Gospel, I want heaven on earth.  But the word ‘hunger’ implies lack of something rather than simply a desire for something.  I am fully satisfied with my God.  I am fully satisfied with what he’s done for me, and for the world, on the cross.  I am convinced that the kingdom will be advanced better and quicker by a people who know the full satisfaction of their salvation and leak that over-abundance into a needy world than by Christians who are constantly frustrated and looking for more.

You may have a different perspective or opinion and if so, bless you.  I am not going to fall out with you over it, and I hope you won’t fall out with me!