John 15.1-5, 16 – The True Vine
Posted: 17 June 2010 in John

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

Just as the famous verse in John 14.6 makes it clear that nobody can come to God except through Jesus, so chapter 15 goes on to make it clear that we can achieve nothing except through Jesus. We are here to be God’s hands and feet, but it must be Christ’s indwelling Spirit who directs our actions. It is needless to say that emptying ourselves of ourselves, so that God can take over, is easier said than done. It is nevertheless what we must pray for. A large part of dwelling in Christ will require us to immerse ourselves in his word, as that is revealed in the Bible.

“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”

Verse 16 is a useful reminder of God’s preeminent role in all of this. As ever he is the sovereign Lord, and he chose us to be his servants. We did not choose him.

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Proverbs 3.5-7, 30.8-9 – Wisdom
Posted: 16 June 2010 in Proverbs

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.

Not to be wise in our own eyes is a recommendation to be found scattered throughout the Bible, in more or less explicit form. It occurs several times in Proverbs. Wisdom lies in not setting ourselves up as a judge of what God has got to say for himself. Obviously some account must be taken of the cultural context with which the biblical texts were written; otherwise Christians today would still not be having any problems with slavery. Nevertheless, once due allowance has been made for that, when God speaks, it is for us to listen. It matters not whether what is being said can be fully understood by us, nor whether we like what we are hearing.

Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.

We are wise also if we rely upon God’s providence, and to accept as best for us whatever he has ordained for our life. However, that is not to be misunderstood, and it gives nobody a licence to care less for the plight of the poor and disadvantaged. It means only that we, in our own lives, must be submissive to God’s will for us.

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John 14.3-6 – I am the way, the truth and the life
Posted: 14 June 2010 in John

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

John 14.3-6 is perhaps one of the most contentious passages in the Bible; especially amongst people who are not themselves Christians. The metaphor which gets used is that of many paths up the mountain, with God sitting on top of the mountain, waiting for us to arrive by our different paths.

The problem there, of course, is that the Christian understanding of original sin implies that it is impossible for us to climb the mountain, and that our salvation depends upon God descending the mountain in the person of Jesus Christ.

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Luke 18.18-25 – Discipleship
Posted: 10 June 2010 in Luke

And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Somebody once described money as being God’s great rival; it is certainly the form of idolatry most of us most easily fall into. Of course, not everybody receives a call to dispose of all their material possessions in order to follow Jesus, and, in Luke 8.39, the healed demoniac, who wanted to follow Jesus directly, was sent away with a different commission to fulfill. Even so, the above passage raises the question of how easily we could forgo our material possessions if called to do so. My guess is that the difficulty would be directly proportional to how well off we were.

You sometimes hear people trying to mitigate the full force of the verse about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. They do so by saying that “Eye of a Needle” was the name of a gate in Jerusalem. The problem there is that there is no evidence for any such gate ever having existed. In any case, the above passage has no definite article prior to the words “needle’s eye,” which is what you might have expected, had the phrase referred to a definite geographical location.

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Jeremiah 2 – Sacred history
Posted: 7 June 2010 in Jeremiah

Thus saith the LORD, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain? Neither said they, Where is the LORD that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, that led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt? And I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made mine heritage an abomination. The priests said not, Where is the LORD? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit.

Idolatry is obviously an issue which is as relevant in our time as it was in Jeremiah’s time. And yet, when I tried to think how Jeremiah’s words could be applied in our own time, I had difficulty in doing so.

I then realised I was having difficulty because Christianity does not have a sense of God’s continuing activity in history, similar to the one which Jeremiah possessed. Instead of a religion rooted in history, we have a religion rooted in the lecture theatre, where abstruse metaphysical formulations are regularly rehearsed.

The root cause of our problem, I think, is our notion of God’s final revelation having been given 2,000 years ago. That has led to a kind of cut off point around about 70AD, and any idea that God was active after that date is given only notional assent. We talk and think as if God has been completely absent from history for most of the last 2,000 years, which of course he hasn’t.

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