Archives For New Year

At the end of Isaiah, the prophet talks about the relationship between new life and the heat of judgement. Given the devastation we’re seeing from the immense fires since September in Australia, these verses have special relevance.

This doesn’t justify arson, or the political opportunism seeking to advance, distract, manipulate and use the suffering of others to feed self-interest. The relationship between new life and the heat of judgement speaks to all of us. It’s here, and not with pyromania, or political opportunism that the Word found in the prophetic meets with the pyrophytic.

Horticulturalists tell us that some Australian plants have ‘fire-activated seeds.’ According to Britannica, these ‘pyrophytic plants’ include the ‘lodgepole pine, Eucalyptus, and Banksia. They have ‘serotinous cones or fruits that are completely sealed with resin.’

As if planned to suit the dry, flammable Australian climate, these pyrophytic plants can ‘only open to release their seeds after the heat of a fire has physically melted the resin. Other species, including a number of shrubs and annual plants, require the chemical signals from smoke and charred plant matter to break seed dormancy.’ [i]

This isn’t all that different from how God’s mercy and judgment functions towards creation. The goal of chastisement is newness of life – reconciliation and redemption – to produce new life from the heat of judgement. Not just rehabilitation, but total heart transformation.

As Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer, God ‘looks to the humble and contrite in Spirit, those who tremble at His Word (66:1-2 see also Psalm 51).’  This doesn’t mean trembling before God as though He were an old, bearded man with a stick, looking to control through a crushing fear and paralysis. God doesn’t need tools that would “convince a man against his will.” For He knows all too well that this “man will remain of the same opinion still.” The fears of those who refuse to hear are harsh enough. Humanity is not the hostage of a mean-spirited old man.

Through Ezekiel we can know with certainty that God isn’t a manipulator or deceiver. He doesn’t desire [take pleasure in] the death of the sinner, but desires the sinner’s correction (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). Although God desires all people ‘to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4), not everyone who says to Him ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’ (Matthew 7:21).

Tremble in this sense, therefore, is a verb, not a noun. It’s decisive movement; to be both moved, and to move. It illustrates heartfelt response based on God’s movement in Jesus Christ towards humanity. He is an event, not an idea. After having heard and responded to this Word, caution gives way to trust. Like eyes that have only known darkness, now adjusting to the light.

Tremble speaks of our immediate response to a confrontation with this Word. It is directly related to the imperative in verse 5, which summons us to ‘hear’. God looks for our attention. He looks to those who receive His Word with joy, and humbly live out their reply. Hearing with reverence, empowers trust and gives reasons for doing so.

Isaiah teaches us that God is not absent. He hears, sees, speaks and acts. His mercy, as the louder of the two, is never far from His judgement! He never is without a plan, promise or pathway to fulfil both. God will keep His Word. He will do this by overcoming His enemies; those who’ve made themselves gods, those who, in His name justify themselves through sterile, empty rituals, or celebrate a return to tyrannical lordship of superstition, animism, and the man-made gods of the Ancient Near East. God’s judgement applies to all who are ‘not hearing; not responding’ – those doing whatever is right in their own eyes, but evil in His; delighting in sin, instead of delighting in the things that God delights in. (66:3-4).

For example: ‘Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river and your righteousness like the waves of the sea [constant; regular; never failing].’ (Isaiah 48:18)

Peace flowing like a river is a promise! It is God’s promise to Zion and those who dwell therein (66:12-13). As is the rejection of God’s commandments, which outline relationship with Him, so is the rejection of ‘the peace of God which surpasses all understanding’ (Philippians 4:4). This is more than a peace treaty. The imagery of living, unstoppable peace is interconnected with a life liberated by the restored joy of salvation, and a clean heart, made right by Christ, in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ.

Hence Paul can write, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always again I say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.’ This promise of peace like river to all who hear and respond will ‘guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians, 4:4-6, ESV)

Isaiah notes, Jerusalem (Zion) will rejoice for peace will flow like a river. God will nurture the city and its inhabitants. He will comfort them, as He confronts them. Hearts will rejoice, bones shall flourish like grass and the hand of the Lord shall be known to His servants and His enemies. Divine justice will bring to account those who have made themselves His enemy.

Our hope in the midst of deep anxiety is awakened by the life of the pyrophytic. These plants teach us that there will not just be peace after the firestorm, there will be new life! These fires will end and the rains will come again.

Our hope in the midst of deep anxiety is shored up in the promise of the prophetic. New life springs forth from the heat of judgement. Like melting resin, hardened, stubborn hearts are freed to be free for God.

In this movement; in this trembling where we move and are moved, may heads and hearts be turned back towards Christ, and therefore towards one another, away from bitter blame and political opportunism. May the light of the prophetic meeting with the pyrophytic, bring to us a renewed confidence in God’s promise.

Therefore, may we as a nation sing along loudly, even if with an exhausted sigh, the words from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who after the loss of his wife to fire wrote:

“In despair I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men…then the bells, rang more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor does he sleep! The wrong shall fail; the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

It’s a good word for Epiphany, 2020. As the world turns the corner into a new decade, let faith in Christ reign, and may the people say, “Amen.”

References:

[i] Britannica, 5 Amazing Adaptations of Pyrophytic Plants. Sourced, 6th January, 2020.

First published on Caldron Pool, 7th January, 2020

Photo by Sam Wermut on Unsplash

© Rod Lampard, 2020

Here are the top ten articles of 2017.

 

1. Nein: Why I Will Be Voting “No” To Same-Sex Marriage

2. Biology Is Not a Social Construct: Why “P” Cannot Equal “Q” Without Perpetual Revolution

3. A “No” To SSM Is a “Yes” to Freedom, Not a Denial Of It

4. Marcus Garvey: Educate Yourself

5. God Is No Master of Puppets, Nor Does He Will to Be So

6. The Confessing Church Is A Church of Martyrs: Church, Sleep No More!

7. Barth & Scruton: Where God’s Revelation Meets The West & All The Rest

8. To Everything There Is a Season: Deifying Our Neighbour Isn’t One of Them

9. Moral Therapeutic Deism: Christless Christian America

10. Let The Pharaohs of Our Age Also Learn: Pride Comes Before a Fall

 

I don’t seek to be intentionally controversial, but commenting on current issues and drawing a theological response tends to be confronting. This confrontation impacts me as much as anyone who might read or take an interest in my perspective on those issues. For in the end it’s not my word that I seek to share, it is God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life.

What the past year has shown me is that theology is not superfluous. It is made superfluous by theologians and their audience. There is little room for fence-sitting when proclaiming truth in a world hellbent on following all manner of untruth. There is no room for employing the Gospel (read:Jesus Christ) into the service of an agenda.

We cannot serve two masters for ‘if we once serve another master alongside Christ, as will always be the effect of this procedure, we must not be surprised to see bad fruit growing from a bad tree’ (Karl Barth, CD 3:1:414). We can speak into the world boldly, but we cannot ‘if we do not find a place for confessing Christ’ (Ibid) in the midst of doing so.

In the past year I have aimed to be true to the truth that confronts me daily. This truth isn’t a concept I created. It isn’t God made in my image or a set of moral principles that I have set up to lord over others. As flawed and clumsy as my approach may be sometimes, I’m simply its messenger.

Hence the theological haiku, Gratia Veritas Lumen, which forms the title of this blog. Meaning we live by God’s grace, through His truth, in His light.

This past year I’ve been cut off, unfriended, abused and had to remove myself from abusive forums for seeking to present a perspective that challenged the logical fallacies and reckless conclusions of those around me. For that I was called a bigot, falsely accused of making money off of bashing gays online; I was called a racist, pathetic, loser, Trump supporter and other explicit things I won’t repeat here.

Why? For entering into a dialogue with a different point of view that didn’t agree with the mainstream. For giving Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt and offering conditional support to the concerns of many Conservatives who are increasingly becoming marginalised for holding to a position that seeks to maintain the good from the past.

Progress is not progress, if it ejects tradition. Progress becomes oppressive when it fails to build upon, maintain or restore healthy traditions.

May God have mercy on us as we all move forward into the New Year. May He, in Jesus Christ, especially bless those of you who take the time to support this blog, and take an interest what I write here.

‘Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ (Isaiah 40:30-31, ESV)

Happy New Year, folks.


 

This short clip is a good introduction to N.T Wright’s argument for a better understanding of the Jewish belief in the unity between body and soul. This is a position which asserts that the whole person is not just soul, spirit but is also body. We are not just immortal souls trapped in flesh, inside a world God will destroy. Rather we are unique, complete beings that along with the earth God wills to renew, as heaven meets earth in the current time of grace and the to-be-fulfilled physical reunion of Jesus Christ.

Of course there is a lot more to the discussion posited  by N.T Wright in his books ‘Surprised by Hope’ and ‘Creation, Power and Truth’. My attraction to Wright’s thinking here is the back-to-basics eschatological theology which seems to stream past the ‘heresies brought into Christian belief {surrounding this topic in particular} by philosophy’ (Tertullian, Prescription against Hereticsemphasis mine) – for example: Platonism.

There is great hope, joy and wonderment in revisiting this ancient Hebraic understanding that Christians rightly inherit – the mystery, the historical roots and the socio-political impact on the lives of the Jewish people all hold implications for Christians in contemporary society. The belief in the resurrection of the body lies at the foundation of Christianity and is a significant part of the New Testament testimony. We ignore it today, by labelling it as an obfuscated, abstract theology, at our peril.

‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with humanity, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, for the former things have passed away…I am making all things new’ (Rev.21:3-5, ESV)

This Tree

December 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

Blog_New_Year2014Post

This tree.

The trees which surround it.

Unique in its silence.

‘Planted by water’[i]

‘Finding strength’ after fire[ii]

Repeating hope by reflection through a forest darkened by embers.

Growing upwards in rescue.

Unhindered despite the appearance, moving towards ‘newness of life’[iii]

Ah.

This tree.

[i] Ps.1:3 [ii] Is.57:10 [iii]  Rom.6:5/Eph.4:17-32

In 2014 may hope find you.

May faith, humility and reason all guide you,

as God’s grace is found to be completely embracing you.

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©RL2013

Belonging Rom8_15_GVL_RL2013

This time of year is particularly difficult for those with family who are absent or who feel as though they don’t belong. Christmas can be seen as unfair, an unwelcome reminder of too much disappointment. The dreaded time of year when more salt is added to already aggravated, yet-to-heal wounds. When Christmas eve is spent ringing sometimes hostile and estranged family members to at least, albeit at a safe distance, meet and greet them in the hope that this year wounds will heal as prayers are answered.

Even in this reflection, I find that my longing to fit in where I think I belong is confronted by a new belonging, if it isn’t replaced by it completely. In the midst of this encounter I am reminded that I cannot remain absent in places where I have been given an invitation to be present.

This is because belonging when you don’t belong is a unique attribute of a Christian gathering, particularly pertinent at Christmas.

This idea lingers in the storylines of movies which narrate to us the wisdom that says our worth and identity exist outside of our possessions, work and social status. The music at this time of year reminds us of a homecoming even if the house or the family in it are not, or were not originally ours.

The gift of the gathering is to be recognised by those of us who encounter more sorrow than merriment during Christmas. Presuming that the gathering is an authentic gathering, we will discover, if we care to admit it, something special – unique. The bitter disappointment that enters your entire being; the taste of fallen Christmas’ past are slowly eroded by the loving merriment of those who were once strangers. An emptiness filled over time by people who consider your presence the most important present of all.

As time goes by, the echo of this response leaves memories that are generally filled with more Merry than “Meh-rry”. It is untidy at times and not perfect, but it is healthy, joyful and genuine.

Something, or rather someone who grasps us, even as we are gasping, trying to smile and not entertain thoughts about where ones own side of the extended family are this time of year.

Your heart may feel like it is being squeezed into your throat, but thankfully the sensation passes, even if the questions and contrasts increase the sense of inferiority and displacement. The pain of isolation and abandonment is not cancelled out or discounted by this strange, new belonging; rather it is answered by it.

This discovery uncovers lives grounded upon the reconciliation between God and humanity. We find ourselves in a different, strange and unique place of acceptance, a place where we belong even if we don’t truly think we do.

Out of the gathering we are reminded of the theological position that states, in Jesus the Christ we understand that our reconciliation with God happens through his movement towards us  – the answer to the paradox that we belong even though we don’t belong is exemplified by Paul Tillich’s imperative to ‘accept that you are accepted[i]’.

It may be only once a year, but in the gathering the melancholic and the introvert finds the gift of acceptance, the gift of being present, of being around people he or she doesn’t feel they even belong being around. It is then up to the melancholic and the introvert to respond. To accept that they are accepted if it is safe enough to do so.

This kind of gathering is a gift. The wonderful knowledge that being present is itself received as a gift.

This kind of belonging is driven by the acceptance of, and invitation to, those who don’t belong by those that do.

Men and women who may fail to understand the significance of your reticent manner, but still acknowledge that you’re being present is a worthwhile gift; a selfless offering made in spite of the pain, the brokenness and sorrow. In spite of the emptiness and the clear absence of anyone directly related to you.

This encounter with a new belonging cannot be purchased; neither does its impact dissolve into the atmosphere once the event has come to a close.

During Christmas and New Year, busyness and distraction are temptations too easily agreed to. However, agreeing to these only enable negative patterns of anxiety avoidance.

Alternatively accepting the invitation to gather lovingly confronts a soul-filled with sorrow by the gentle reminder that you will find less solace in the solitude of a glass of wine, than in a Christ led crowd of forty plus people who are genuinely pleased that you made the effort to show up. Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus as saying: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mt. 18:20, ESV)

Perhaps this might coincide with Paul’s reminder to the Church in Rome, as a potential reminder to us that we:

‘did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, as sons (and daughters) by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Paul, Rom.8:15, ESV)


[i] Tillich, P. 1952 The Courage To Be Yale University Press p.164
[ii] Video: [Official] Linkin Park, Somewhere I Belong from the album Meteora available @ itunes