Seth and Tess’ wedding PT2

A few more snaps from the wedding of Seth and Tess.

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Seth and Tess’ wedding PT1

Some photo’s of Seth and Tess’ wedding.

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Picking out the truth

George Carlin was an American comedian who sent his fans into roars of laughter with a brutally honest and often dirty style of comedy. He was a vocal critic of religion in general and his ‘Religion is bullshit’ skit is relatively famous amongst both Christians and non-Christians; although the reasons for fame are in itself quite different!

Nevertheless, one of his skits, which I stumbled on recently and am about to quote part of, holds within it a very true and very insightful comment on society.

Human behaviour – that’s what I like. Humans do some really interesting things. Like besides killing ourselves, we also kill eachother – murder. And we’re the only ones who do that, by the way. Humans are the only species on earth who deliberately kill members of a species for personal gain. Or pleasure. Sometimes it’s just fun. We’re also the only species who deliberately kill members of another species for personal gain. Or pleasure – that’s what hunters do. They kill for pleasure. That’s us, human beings – interesting folks. Murderers. Here’s an interesting form of murder we came up with – assassination. You know what’s interesting about assassination? Well, not only does it change those popularity polls in a big fucking hurry, but it’s also interesting to notice who it is who we assassinate. Do you ever stop to see who it is, who it is we kill? It’s always people who have told us to live together in harmony and try to love one another. Jesus, Gandhi, Lincoln, John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Malcom X, John Lennon. They all said: try to live together peacefully. BAM! Right in the fucking head. Apparently we’re not ready for that. That’s difficult behaviour for us. We’re too busy thinking around, sitting around, trying to think up ways to kill each other. Here’s one we came up with, it’s efficient too. Genocide. You know. Kill large numbers of people just because they don’t look like you, they don’t talk like you and they don’t have the same kind of hats you do. You ever notice that any time there’s two groups of people who really hate each other, chances are good they are wearing different kind of hats. Keep an eye on that, it might be important.

George is right; it is important.

Why do we behave in this way? Why did we kill Jesus, and Martin Luther King Jnr, and Abraham Lincoln, and Malcolm X, and Medgar Evars, and John Kennedy? What is it about us that cries out to harm? What catches our heart to such a degree that we cannot help but resort to violence?

I’ve spent a lot of time in Ecclesiastes this week as I’ve had to do an assignment on it. One of the joys I find when writing these essays is they force you to the scriptures and demand you respond to them. Qoheleth’s teachings are pregnant with meaning; his very voice begs the listener to hear his words.

‘Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.’ The words of Qoheleth ring in our ears. They echo in their own way the observed truth that Carlin identifies.

We live in a world of ‘hebel’; all is vanity. The weak stand oppressed; the poor stand with empty pockets;  the kind questioned for their intentions; the slave is told he is free; the martyr ridiculed for his passion. Instead, oppressors stand as hero’s, the rich pick others pockets; the cruel hide behind their words; the owner claims further rights; the craven viewed as wise.

The rest of Carlin’s skit is found here. As I read it, my thoughts alternate between his perceptive understanding of reality and the sheer meaninglessness he points to. At points, he seems to view life as ultimate; at others, he seems to recognise the inevitable spiral toward death that awaits all humans. I’m not sure he’s aware of the delicate thread of tension he’s strumming on, but it is clear he has uncovered it.

It becomes easy to see the echo’s between Carlin’s thoughts and that of Ecclesiastes is; although it is also clear that whilst Qoheleth pursues his thought with an eye to the divine, Carlin is unable to draw focus away from the ‘hebel’ that has captivated his attention. It almost as if he relishes in it; consumed by the ‘hebel’ that has locked his attention. To me, Carlin, though wise through observation of the world, personifies the folly of trying to understand the ‘hebel’ of the world and live in wisdom within it.

To look at Carlin and to understand his fixation gives us part of the reason we cause violence. I’m not suggesting Carlin himself was violent, but more that if one is to find complete meaning and purpose in something within this life, despite its ‘hebel’, that person simply will not allow what they are fixated on to be challenged. The fixation with whatever it is becomes consuming; whether it is national rights, individual rights, wealth creation, pleasure seeking, a craving for wisdom; anything that is ‘under the son’ becomes the fixed point of reference for the person and anything that challenges this foundational pillar in their life must be annihilated.

People killed Malcolm X because he threatened the society they founded their world in. The same can be said of those who killed Martin Luther King Jnr and Evars; the commonality between these two men is the supremacy of one race of another. Ghandi was seen to threaten the nation. Lincoln threatened the social order as well as a status of wealth. Both the Kennedy’s threatened the established wealth, the desire to continue war and the status of society.

These things which we harm for are the focus of our attention; our striving for life and the meaning we proscribe it become all consuming. And that’s understandable. To challenge the foundation upon which one lives their life is sure to garner a response; why are we surprised that it turns to violence? If a predator threatens a child is not the parent entitled to fight back using any means needed?

What we stumble upon  is the relative dynamic we have placed at the centre of our lives. What we discern as important, we risk loving. What we love, we risk being enamored by. What we are enamored by, we risk a focus that can prevent us from considering other perspectives.  Carlin’s, although not completely, does identify the ‘hebel’ of life. But where does this leave us? If we love our country too much, we can be led to defend it with force. If we love our society too much, we can be led to protect it with force. If we love our wealth too much, we can be led to guard it with force. If we love our religion too much, we look to protect it with force.

The question then becomes, what did Jesus do to deserve death? One might suggest that He challenged religion. Others the status quo. Some consider He took presented a threat to the Jewish society; then again, maybe it was the Romans He upset.

Jesus was not killed for just these reasons though. He was killed because He challenged sin. By His efforts did He resist temptation for all His life. By His efforts He pleased God by maintaining the law in a way none could. By His efforts He identified the ‘hebel’ of life before guiding those to fear God despite their intuition to do otherwise. By His efforts He showed that violence is not the answer but simply the failure to understand the pillars that influence ones life.By His efforts He did show that the only meaning one can derive from this life is one that is lived with an eye to heaven.

By His efforts did He hang and cry ‘It is done.’

It’s a Friday afternoon and I look to my clock and realise time slips away. It is relentless in its march and the linear understanding of life that humans endure simply identifies that as each second passes so too does a grain of sand in the movement of life. What are we living for? What are we basing our life on? Why do we commit the acts we do? These are the questions I’m left with. These are questions I can’t answer if all I look upon is the words of George Carlin, no matter how well observed they are or grounded in the world we live in. These are questions I cannot satisfactorily answer if all I take into account is what occurs ‘under the sun’.

The stone is moved, the tomb is empty. This I know. This I feel. This I sense is the key to finding meaning. That is all I know.

The rest is ‘hebel’.

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The French Revolution

I got the results back from a Church History essay. To be honest, I was aiming for a pass, so God was most gracious to allow me the fruit of a distinction. It was on the French Revolution; a subject that I initially had a great deal of reservation about but, once I completed, can totally understand why it is of immense importance to study due to its lasting impact on Western society and Christianity. The lecturer achieved his aim, I feel, as I now understand the purpose of his question and the need for me to know the answer.

So here it is. I hope it is as enlightening (you’ll find out why that’s a pun) to you as it was for me learning and writing.

Synopsis

The following essay takes a critical look at French Revolution. Looking first at the causes for the revolution itself, I then examine how these causes impacted upon the church, both Catholic and Protestant. The Established Churches bore the heaviest impact, with a great deal of their temporal power, influence on state matters and material wealth incorporated into the nation state and placed under government jurisdiction as a means of curtailing church authority on society. The consequences of the revolution have been wide ranging, with a reactionary adjustment by mainly the Catholic Church, whilst Protestant churches sought instead to find ways to work within the new social structures and ideologies. Consequently, it could be argued that Protestantism fared better than Catholicism in the fallout of the revolution.

Introduction

The French Revolution held such impact on the Western world that it is fair to suggest it is seen as a turning point within human history. Lefebvre’s comment that it ‘denotes one step in the destiny of the Western world’ helps to identify the event as one where the ramifications were not restricted to France’s national borders but were felt on a far wider scale.[1] The growing assent to reason as the dominant philosophical basis when forming a worldview led to a new era where the ‘doctrine of human progress’ was ‘popular belief’. [2] Thus, the consequences of the events that took place on July 14th, 1789, had an enormous impact on religions role in society, with the relationship between church and state permanently altered. In particular it broke down the framework of the ancien regime, with the brunt of such an ‘atomic bomb’ being borne most heavily by the Catholic Church but which Christianity continues to deal with today.[3] Both the Catholic and Protestant responses to the crumbling of Christendom and rise of nationalism were multi faceted; Catholicism sought to centralise power to the papacy as well as resist ethos of modernisation whilst the Protestant response was seen in the rise of revivals throughout Europe and America. Both Catholicism and Protestantism sought to fend off the encroachment of secularism and liberal Christianity while working to address social reform through activism. Revivalism and the subsequent overseas mission it resulted in are also to be considered when viewing its response to the increasing secularisation of Europe. As a consequence of the French Revolution, and through the responses by the Catholic and Protestant churches, the foundations upon which the current era now stands were laid and the course of history shaped by its impact.

Causes of the French Revolution

Part of understanding the impact the French Revolution had on the Catholic and Protestant church is examining what created the impetus from whence revolution sprang. A result of the 16th and 17th century scientific discoveries was the dismissing of superstition; Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy captivated readers whilst bringing to the forefront ‘the role of human reason’ and the emphasizing of real world observation as a means of discovering ‘true and significant knowledge’.[4] Byrne surmises that this period, considered the Enlightenment, put forth three specific ideas: that the power of reason can be used to discover the truth regarding both the world and humanity; a level of ‘scepticism’ towards tradition and age-old institutions; and the growing belief that scientific thinking, in comparison to medieval thought, offered a viable alternative to knowledge.[5] As the framework for intellectual though changed from ‘faith seeking understanding’ to ‘faith follows understanding’[6], the stage was being set for a challenge to the ancien regime.

In line with the changing philosophical landscape was the growing unrest within France itself. This stemmed in part from the ‘absolutist’ reign of the monarchy, who considered their control over to be part of the ‘divine right’ placed on them by God.[7] A combination of the government’s fiscal mismanagement leading them towards bankruptcy and famine resulting from a series of poor harvests ‘inflamed the political tension’ that existed in France at the time.[8] Such tension was also felt within the French Catholic Church. Although the church held immense wealth and benefited from state-sanctioned immunities, Cragg identifies ‘the church’s refusal to accept its dues share of the national burden became increasingly intolerable.’ He further highlights that the church ‘aggravated the hostility’ of  its critics who believed it didn’t deserve the privileges and immunities offered to it by the state due to its failure to properly maintain the social services it provided such as hospitals, education etc. This behaviour was the doing of the high clergy within the ecclesiastical structure and highlighted the split between those in the church that reinforced the ancien regime and those low clergy who shared the same plight as their parishioners.[9]

As 1789 approached, the coalescing of a philosophical framework that viewed absolute rule and institutions like the Church sceptically along with the mismanagement of the French kingdom by its leaders and the abuses of the church created a climate favouring reform. This confidence in reason emboldened the likes of men as Voltaire and Diderot, who ‘aimed at effecting a fundamental revolution in the prevailing pattern of thought.’[10] Change was clearing taking hold when, on December 12, 1788, the princes sent Louis XVI an entreaty, stating:

The State is in danger… a revolution of governmental principles is brewing… soon the rights of property will be attacked, inequality of wealth will be presented as an object of reform… Let the Third Estate cease attacking the rights of the first two orders…[11]

This entreaty identifies that the burden of the peasant class, who made up the majority of the Third Estate along with the bourgeois, had reached breaking point. As famine spread due to grain crops failure in 1788, the kings convening of the convening of the Estates General[12] for 1789 was viewed as an opportunity to change the fate of ‘the people’; consequently, the aligning of interests between the peasantry and bourgeoisie allowed the Third Estate to ‘became a dynamic source of revolutionary idealism.’[13]

The Third Estate, which had increased say in the Estates General due to the kings decision to increase their representation in order outweigh clergy and nobility resistance, used their newfound  leverage to push for voting reform within the council.[14] This proved the lynchpin that set in motion the final events leading up to the French Revolution; the Third Estate declared themselves a ‘National Assembly’ who represented the majority of the nation before responding to the kings deposing of the popular financial minister of France, Jacques Necker, by storming the Bastille.[15] This event is considered symbolic beginning of the French Revolution, as from then on, the transfer of power to the National Constituent Assembly was rapid.[16]

The Impact of the French Revolution on the Church

The impact on the Catholic Church in France, who was initially receptive to the revolution and played a part in its construction, was almost immediately felt.[17] The Declaration of Rights of Man, although not directly impacting the church, held within it a cultural shift of authority. Where once the church played a leading role in the composition of the nation, its position, at least ideologically, was undergoing a significant change to its place within society. Beik aptly writes that ‘the source of all sovereignty is located in essence in the nation; no body, not individual can exercise authority which doesn’t emanate from it expressly.’[18]

This shift in ideology was played out by the Assembly’s next move. Intending to develop a national church along the same lines as England but with Catholic doctrine, the Assembly then passed the ‘Civil Constitution of the Clergy’ in 1790.[19] The decision to move the church in this direction was not surprising since the monarchy from Louis XIV had attempted to align the church to be a vehicle for political purposes; consequently, the French church had often acted and viewed itself as independent of the Roman papacy and closer in mind with the ruling body – a position referred to as Gallicanism.[20] Diarmond considered the constitution as the most ‘extreme form’ of Gallicanism, although Vidler adds that it simply ‘implemented’ the ‘pre-revolutionary Gallican principles.’ The result of the constitution were that bishops would be elected by the total male population of the country including Jews and Protestants, the pope would be nothing more than a figurehead and church lands were confiscated.[21] These changes were radical, with the Constituent also decreeing that all who held office in the church were required to swear allegiance to the Civic Constitution; this in effect divided the church, with the clerical representative in the Assembly believing the pope needed to ‘baptize’ such a decision. [22] The popes condemning of the Civil constitution saw the Assembly ‘declare war’ on the ‘old institutions’; an honest effort to reform the church then turned, with the assistance of radicals, into an effort to replace the church with a new religion, which Diarmond describes as ‘constructed out of classical symbolism mixed up with the eighteenth century’s celebration of human reason’.[23] It is from here that we begin to see the more permanent impact of the revolution on Christendom.

The seeds of change that were laid in the evolving philosophical landscape had sprouted and the place of Christianity within society was to be irrevocably transformed. Chadwick considers the French Revolution as the time where the interests between church and society began to move apart, otherwise called secularisation.[24] This is, in many ways, very accurate. By trying to force the church to submit entirely to the Assembly’s wishes, the revolution was essentially changing the place of the church in society. The tremors of this groundbreaking decision reverberated throughout Europe and are still being felt today.

These shudders affected the wider church in a number of different ways. The emergence of nation-states within Europe had an enormous impact on the temporal position of the Roman Catholic Church. It initially suffered the indignity of having papal territories in the Holy Roman Empire confiscated and handed over to secular governance in 1803 before Emperor Francis II’s transformation into Emperor Francis I of Austria brought with it the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.[25] This reshaping of the territory controlled by the church was completed in 1870 when King Victor of Italy annexed all but the Vatican, Lateran and Castel Gandolfo from Rome; a move that, whilst not recognised until 1929 by Pius XI, was significant.[26] Although it still retained a degree of influence, this reshaping was symbolic of the temporal shift in power away from the church and towards the nation states itself.

Vidler notes that England’s initial reaction to the French Revolution was to ‘stiffen their conservatism’.[27] The Established Church, that is the Church of England, fought to protect their privileges within English society, which were based in restrictions on the Nonconformist churches.[28] These privileges, which prevented full civil and religious equality, were eventually granted in a limited way with the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act in 1828 before the Reform Act of 1832 provided the Free Churches with representation in parliament.[29] Although great detail could be entered into, the prevailing impact on England, like the rest of Europe, was the distancing of state from church and the changing relationship the two shared.[30] Nevertheless, the more orderly manner in which equality was given to the Nonconformists doesn’t deny the steady change towards religious equality within England, which exists still today.

Similar examples of secularisation of government existed as a response to the changing political environment in Europe.  Liberal rebellion in Portugal in 1820 put the country on the path to secularisation before a final separation of church and state was achieved in 1911.[31] Spain, under Isabella, forced the closing of all monasteries and seizing of church property by the state.[32] Bismarks path to the unification of Germany in 1871 included the defusing of church authority; a path that Italy, too, followed.

It is clear that the impact of the French Revolution was to change the entire landscape of Europe. McCulloch aptly sums it up, writing:

The established Churches of Europe, and Churches throughout the world which sprang out of them, had to adjust to these new realities, to compete with new messages which the revolutionary years spread from the elegant tracts of philosophes into a much wider public domain. So much could not be unsaid: the French Revolution’s slogan of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ could not be forgotten.[33]

The French Revolution set into play a domino effect amongst the European governments, the effects of which would spill over into the rest of the world. It provided model for government that didn’t require the support of a state religion, was founded on the ideology of equally distributing power amongst all a nations citizens and was approved by intellectuals of the time. The indelible mark the French Revolution left on European thought has in turn shaped the way Europeans have influenced the world.

The Response of the Church to the French Revolution

What we must now examine is the way the church has responded to this watershed event. Within the Catholic Church there was a growing sympathy towards Ultramontanism, which emphasises the ultimate authority of the church lying in the pope. This sprung up as a reaction to the ‘horror and anarchy of revolution and against the influences of the Enlightenment’; a conservative approach that Knight believes ‘identified the papacy as an extremely conservative institution.’[34] Other responses that supporting the conservative response by the papacy include Pius VI condemning the Civil Constitution; Pius IX seeking to resist modernisation by listing a number of propositions Catholics must reject; the declaration of papal infallibility during the First Vatican Council; and Leo XIII’s papal bull declaring democracy to be incongruent with church authority were.[35] As can be seen, the responses by the Catholic Church put it at odds with the ‘modernising’ and ‘secularising’ of society. For instance, hindsight grants us the perspective to see that an opportunity existed for the church to encourage such statements as the Declaration of Rights as affirming biblical truths, which could have allowed further dialogue into the revolution movement and helped lessen the impact of the revolutions fallout on the church.

Contrary to the Ultramontanism reaction by the Catholic Church was the Liberal response. This liberalism is best described as having ‘a right to have your own opinions, to propagate your own opinions, and to behave according to your own opinions’.[36] It was, in essence, an opposite response to the revolution to what the Catholic Church took. This ‘liberalism’ sought to ‘overthrow the evils that afflict mankind’ whilst insisting the church had no basis to push its moral standards onto the general public.[37] The suggestion that religion is a private affair and politics stands independent of Christian ethics is a view that has had a lasting impact on Western thought to this day.

Within the Protestent church, the response to the revolution varied. The Oxford Movement took a similar position as the Catholic Church; considered ‘high-church’ within the Church of England, they sought to recover their Catholic roots. It emphasised a return to traditional liturgy, conservative doctrines and ritual.[38] This contrasted with the ‘low-church’ of the Church of England. Forming the ‘evangelical’ party, they worked to affirm traditional doctrine in the face of what they considered the ‘attacks of science’ as well as other disciplines. Rather than affirming the authority of the church, they sought instead to highlight the authority of the bible. This same evangelical view was characteristic of many churches in America.[39]

Many of the Protestant churches responded to the changing landscape by seeking to address social needs. Intending to reach the ‘poor and ignorant masses’, Methodists, Baptists and Congregationalists worked to create organisations that addressed the concerns of the time. [40]Denominations, such as the Salvation Army, grew out of a desire to ‘reach the impoverished and unchurched urban masses.’[41] Men such as William Wilberforce succeeded in abolishing social injustices like slavery. [42] The marked difference of Catholicism’s response to the changing world to that of Protestantism is summed up aptly by Gonzales:

The result was that, while Roman Catholicism looked upon the new times with extreme caution, many Protestants looked upon them with unwarranted optimism.

Whilst the French Revolution posed a threat for the established churches, it did provide new and different opportunities to spread and share the gospel. The advent of revivalism, which flourished through Europe in the period after the revolution, identifies that whilst, as an institution, the church was being attacked, the gospel message was still as valid and able to adapt to the changing environment.

Conclusion

The French Revolution was indeed a watershed in the history of human civilisation. It represented a monumental shift in the interaction of church and state, which had been a pillar of European history since the time of Constantine. Without doubt it struck at the core of Christendom and had a devastating impact on the established churches of the time; the greatest of impact being felt primarily by the Catholic Church. The papacy’s temporal power was diffused as the rise of nation states and the secularisation of society removed the power the church held over government and culture. The response by the Catholic Church was viewed as ‘conservative, reactionary and anti-nationalistic’, which put it at odds with the society it was trying to reach.[43] By contract, Protestantism was seen as ‘more tolerant of liberalism, democracy and modern innovations’, allowing it to converse with the changing times and progress the gospel in different ways. As the effects and ideology of the French Revolution continue to be felt in the 21st century, a critical understanding of its impact on society and the responses made allows the opportunity for the current church to better understand how it can remain ‘a light unto the nations’ whilst working within the framework of current society.[44]

Bibliography

Beik, Paul Harold; The French Revolution (New Yokr: Walker, 1970),

Bossuet, Jacques Bénigne; Sermons choisis de Bossuet, Goole eBook; http://books.google.com/books?id=OWf5USWTfWQC&lpg=PA125&dq=bossuet%20sermons%20royalty&pg=PA219&ci=55%2C632%2C772%2C172 accessed on 29th of September, 2012

Byrne, James M.; Religion and the Enlightenment: From Descartes to Kant, (Louisville, Ky.: Westminister John Knox, 1996)

Chadwick, Owen; The Secularisation of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975)

Cragg, G. R.; The Church and the Age of Reason (Penguin Books, 1962)

Gonzalez, Justo L; The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day, Volume 2 (Harper One, 1984)

Hill, Jonathan; The History of Christianity (Lion, 2007)

Knight, Frances; The Church in the Nineteenth Century (I.B. Tauris, 2008)

Lefebvre, Georges; The French Revolution; From its Origins to 1793 (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, Broadway House, 1971)

MacCulloch, Diarmaid; A History of Christianity (Allen Lane, 2009)

Noll, Mark A.; Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Inter-Varsity Press, 1999)

Olson, Roger; The Story of Christian Theology; Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999)

Shelley, Bruce L; Church History in Plain Language (Word publishing, 1995, 2nd Edition)

Vidler, Alec R.; The Church in an Age of Revolution (Penguin Books, 1976)


[1] Lefebvre, Georges; The French Revolution; From its Origins to 1793 (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, Broadway House, 1971), page Xvii

[2] Shelley, Bruce L; Church History in Plain Language (Word publishing, 1995, 2nd Edition), pg354

[3] Vidler, Alec R.; The Church in an Age of Revolution (Penguin Books, 1976), 11.

[4] Shelley, pg314, Gonzales pg185

[5] Byrne, James M.; Religion and the Enlightenment: From Descartes to Kant, (Louisville, Ky.: Westminister John Knox, 1996), pg 5 – 10

[6] Olson, Roger; The Story of Christian Theology; Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), pg523

[7] Noll, Mark A.; Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Inter-Varsity Press, 1999), pg 247. King Louis XIV held to Jure Divino, or ‘Divine Right of Kings’. The claim is articulated well in a sermon by French prelate Bousset in a translation of a sermon he gave before the King: “The reign of kings is from Me, says Eternal Wisdom; and from this we may conclude that not only the rights of royalty are established by His laws, but also the choice of individual [to occupy the throne] is a result of His providence.” http://books.google.com/books?id=OWf5USWTfWQC&lpg=PA125&dq=bossuet%20sermons%20royalty&pg=PA219&ci=55%2C632%2C772%2C172   Accessed on 29th of September, 2012.

[8] MacCulloch, Diarmaid; A History of Christianity (Allen Lane, 2009), pg 807

[9] Cragg, G. R.; The Church and the Age of Reason (Penguin Books, 1962), pg 200 – 203

[10] Cragg, pg 236

[11] Lefebvre pg 104

[12] Gonzales pg262- The Estates General were ‘the French equivalent of parliament, and were composed of three “estates” or “orders”: the clergy, the nobility, and the bourgeoisie.’

[13] Lefebvre pg119 – 120. The populace of the Third Estate would elect the bourgeoisie they wished to represent them.

[14] Gonzalez, Justo L; The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day, Volume 2 (Harper One, 1984) pg263

[15] Gonzalez p 263

[16] Gonzalez, pg263 Louis XVI, at his capitulation, ordered the First and Second Estate to join with the Third Estates ‘National Assembly’.

[17] Vidler, pg15 Vidler identifies that the Gallican Church ‘played a decisive part in breaking the power of the nobility, and indeed of the absolute monarchy’

[18] Beik, Paul Harold; The French Revolution (New Yokr: Walker, 1970), pg95

[19] MacCulloch, 807 – 808

[20] Cragg pg22

[21] MacCulloch pg 808, Vidler pg 16, Lefebrve pg 159

[22] Gonzalez, pg264, Lefebrve, pg168

[23] MacCulloch, pg808-809

[24] Chadwick, Owen, The Secularisation of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pg 5,9

[25] MacCulloch, pg 812

[26] Gonzalez pg 269-70, 348

[27] Vidler, Page134

[28] MacCulloch, pg 839 Nonconformist churches were also known as Dissenters or Free Churches, and included Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists and Presbyterians.

[29] Vidler, pg 135

[30] Knight, Frances; The Church in the Nineteenth Century (I.B. Tauris, 2008), pg 149

[31] Hill, Jonathan; The History of Christianity (Lion, 2007), pg368.

[32] Hill, pg 368

[33] MacCulloch, pg 812

[34] Knight, pg58-9

[35] Gonzalez, pg 264, Quanta cura and the Syllabus of Errors were Pius IX’s two encyclicals

[36] Shelley, pg 358

[37] Shelley, pg 359

[38] Hill, pg 364 / 365

[39] Hill, pg365

[40] Gonzalez, pg272

[41] Gonzalez, pg272

[42] Gonzalez, pg272

[43] Knight, pg 65

[44] Isaiah 42:6

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The long hiatus and the road back to Sydney

It has been a while since I have posted anything. It is less that I haven’t got anything to say and more finding the time to say it and the appropriate words to frame it within.

I have commenced work at McWilliam’s Wines Group as their Demand Planner. It’s been a genuinely enjoyable experience thus far. I am quite grateful for the opportunity I have been afforded by them and discovered their workplace to be a sustainable environment to work in. I work my piece, I do as best a job as I can – which, currently, is meeting expectations and achieving positive change – and I return home at a good hour. It isn’t the same as Tonga, but… well, nothing is.

In any case, I have some photos and an essay to post up over the next few days, and I hope to begin taking more photos soon.

Do I have thoughts on Sydney? Indeed, I do. The lifestyle many lead here is unsustainable. In particular, working any further away than ten minutes from home reduces the ability for one to form connections with your community that allow significant growth. It also compromises the ability to maintain the right level of rest. Why? Simply because you have no time to ‘be’ in your geographical home.

The disintegration of the ‘village’, and the corresponding attempt by people to forge relationships and move towards a lifestyle that encompasses a geography that is far too wide for one person are noticeable to me; people spend an unequal proportion of time traveling to people in Sydney when compared to the time the have spent being with the person. I’m not here to suggest this is right or wrong; for it simply ‘is’, but it does grant me the opportunity to consider what this means and how the gospel fits in with such a picture.

I’m mindful of how secular the society is, and the contradictory craving for spirituality (people are unsure what they want from it, but certain to have something that resembles it) combined with its ‘head-in-the-sand’ approach to dealing with the problem. This is in conjunction with many people being either unwilling to think or talk about the big questions, or accepting superficial answers. Consequently, people ignore the gnawing sensation that ensues by saturating themselves in activity or substances that dull the feeling, thus avoiding the issue.

Nevertheless, it is worth dwelling on and considering. The preciousness of time and time spent is ever more impressed upon me than it was before.

As Qoheleth says: ‘There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…’

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Tonga, and how it has changed me

It is a coolish Tuesday evening. Hannah and I walk around the block to our friend Elisabeth’s house. Hannah is speaking to her grandparents on the phone, which grants me the freedom to think and watch. As we come to the corner of Elisabeth’s street we stop and watch two puppies playing in what you would probably call the front lawn of someone’s house. They tussle over what looks like a small stone, but is in fact the bulb of a plant. They look happy.

We continue down the street. Children call out ‘bye’ as we pass along. The Tongan understanding of ‘hello’ is to stay for a conversation, whereas the understanding of ‘bye’ is you are passing through; it is a common sound we hear whether we ride bikes or walk throughout the town.

As we walk down the path to Elisabeth’s house, I notice the colour in the sky. It is a golden yellow; just beginning to merge into a hot orange. The sky in Tonga often puts on a show. I have never seen the range of colour, cloud formation or silhouettes I’ve found here at dusk and sunset. It is truly an effort of the Almighty to identify His affinity with art.

I walk into the house and greet Elisabeth, Polly and Jasmin. We are formulating one of our common pot luck dinners. Hannah and I contribute spaghetti bolognaise and couscous; a seemingly odd mixture that works surprisingly well. Freshly made garlic bread from real dough, a vegetarian stir fry, rice and slab of sticky buns (also freshly made) are brought together to form the meal we eat.

Discussion in the kitchen bubbles like the food on the stovetop. Topics range from the theology of the Trinity and how it is viewed in Christadelphian beliefs, the activities of the day, Katalina’s growth and observation of how geographically accurate my ‘Australian-shaped’ bun is. During these discussions, Vill arrives home and grabs a quick shower. I take a break to change Katalina’s nappy (I washed my hands before and after, I swear) before returning to assist in the dishing up.

After finishing our dinner we all cram into the five-seater station wagon, owned by Elisabeth’s parents. I sat in the boot before we then round the corner to pick up Donna (who decides its time she reacquaints herself with driving in the boot. We then make our way through the bumpy back roads to Mark and Elena’s house in Ngele’ia to pick up Asa. Polly is now sitting in the front seat, on Elisabeth, with Katalina on Vill’s lap in the driver’s seat and Asa, Jasmin and Hannah sitting in the back seat. Donna and I have discovered comfortable positions and are quite enjoying the difference of perspective offered out the rear windscreen.

We arrive at George and Nesi’s where we are greeted by a pack of dogs. Piko, who spent the day at his soon-to-be permanent address, is ecstatic at our arrival and spends a good few minutes needing to be reacquainted. We’re happy to oblige.

Lyn meets us as we enter the house and finally bible study begins. I make the on-the-spot decision that it will be a prayer and share night because Hannah and I are leaving and this has seen us all dawdle over food and conversation. Although we have all enjoyed the Galatians study I have been leading, it seemed that most people considered the completion of the Fruit of the Spirit section as the appropriate ending for the study.

The night ends tearily. We bid our fond farewell to George, who we won’t see again, and look forward to one last meeting with Nesi on Monday. The rest of us will reunite on Saturday afternoon for a bonfire at Good Samaritan beach in Ha’atafu.

It seems like nothing extraordinary is happening in this scene over the four or so hours; but this is deceptive. The events surrounding our last evening of bible study were extraordinary because of their simple realness. We met people without pretence. Discussion was emotional. The very fabric of the community became a blanket that covered each of us with a sense of intimacy and security. We were, in a very real sense, ourselves and it is for this reason that the events were extraordinary.

Our time here has been extraordinary, but not necessarily for the reasons you may be thinking. Sure, we lived on a tropical island. Sure, we swam with whales at ‘Eua and turtles in Vava’u. Sure, we lived in a place where relaxation and time spent at the beach is a weekly part of life. But this isn’t what made the time extraordinary.

What made the time extraordinary was the realness of it all. Our twelve months here touched into the very essence of the human condition. The relationships we made were genuine and founded on Christ; the community we lived in was one formed with Jesus as the cornerstone; the purpose for our being here was centred on the decision to love God’s people. For the first time in my life, I lived in the world, but was not of the world. I lived counter-culturally, and that forced me to discover often painful and discomforting truths of life that I had previously ignored yet am able to now deal with. I hypothesise that the difficulties and trials Hannah and I have gone through here have, I suspect, arisen out of the very rawness of life we have been forced to encounter.

I was conversing with one of my closest friend on the art of preaching. He mentioned to me that to see someone real in the pulpit, and hear them preach, is captivating. He’s right, but far more universally than he perhaps intended.

I also recall the day Chelsea returned home. I rode to her house to give her some items she had forgotten and also pick some up she needed delivered elsewhere. We sat and talked as the van at Mango Tree was being loaded up. But as I was watching, I stopped. I saw one of the City Impact pastors, Viliami, proceed to wheel three patients from the centre, all of whom had significant disability. Pila, as Viliami was called, smiled gently, but did not speak when he saw me. My eyes were locked to him as he, with the greatest of care and gentleness, methodically yet kindly load all the patients into the truck.

Here was a man who was real, and it was captivating.

He didn’t need to speak. He didn’t need to make a grand show of what he was doing. He didn’t even need to do what he was doing with any flair or style; he just needed to do what he was doing. His simple act of Christ-like service was being done out of a very real, a very present desire to help four people who needed it.

This is the extraordinary realness of life that Tonga has shown me. I could punch thousands of words into a blog post that examined the good things of Tonga, the ways we’ve changed and a whole bunch of other things, but underlying all of this is what I’ve just documented.

It is in this way that Christ has changed me. He has stripped away life to its most basic and core elements and shoved my entire face right into it; He kept pushing until I was totally immersed and thought I’d drown until finally I took a breath and realised that this is what I needed. I needed to see the extraordinary realness of life.

I was not a real person when I left Sydney. I was a proud person who had tickets on himself. I dreamed dreams of self indulgence and popularity. I was subconsciously determined to make a name of myself by using Christ’s name as a launching platform. I was intolerant, I was confident, I was headstrong and I had a self-inflated opinion of myself. I laughed at others yet felt resentful if I was laughed at. My usefulness was based in what I could do rather than what He could do through me. My skills were mine, crafted by me rather than those He had given and refined in His use.

But this all crumbled. It is in the realness of life that I have discovered my very own nakedness. I understand why we need to be born again; we have to understand our vulnerability to a world and what it offers. We have to see that the world clothes us with pride, smugness, vanity and other clothes of similar weave.

I came to Tonga thinking I was prepared; that I was capable, able for all of the pitfalls and would triumph over the country. Yet I leave the Kingdom with the realisation that I am afraid of Sydney. I’m afraid of the lack of community. I’m afraid of traffic and drivers who are more interested in where they’re going than where they are right now. I’m afraid of people who are so preoccupied with living around life that they never realise they’ve completely missed the point.

I’m afraid of losing a home I have discovered as a foreigner only to be a foreigner in a place people tell me is my home. I’m terrified about of losing my church – which doesn’t meet each week but each day as we do life with each other – and having it replaced with one where loud music deafens our ability to listen to God and His people and bright lights blind us from seeing who we are really dealing with.

I’m afraid I’ll lose my grip on the extraordinary realness of life.

The sun will rise and set today, but we will be in a different place. Hannah and I will be transported back, to Sydney and there will be many questions and many people wanting to see us. We’ve been told a few times that most people will ask us if we had a good time. They’ll want us to share stories of fun events and tell them of strange things about the Kingdom of Tonga that will make them laugh. But we’ve been told that there’s one question people will neglect to ask – ‘How did it change you?’

I’ve considered why people won’t ask this question for over a year, but it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I think I’ve worked it out. They won’t ask because the answer is too real; too raw for them to process. They won’t want to hear about the struggles or the tragedy or the tough times where we’ve grown emotionally and been forced to rely on God in ways we’d never imagined. They won’t ask that because it opens up to them a little bit of the realness in life we experienced.

In my mind, people are scared of the real world. We’re scared of dealing with big things and going through hard times. Whether it’s an understandable fear is for debate, but I’m pretty sure that’s why. What we went through was ‘messy’; it involved emotions, tears, cries of joy and a whole host of real life events that people do their very best to avoid.

And yet that is the extraordinary realness of life. And that is what we’ve been through.

Even if we didn’t do it well, or we did in fact pass with stunning colours is beside the point – what matters is we went through it. It is the experience of dealing with life at its very rawest. It’s an experience of immense worth and incredible value. It’s an experience that changes people, and it is something I do not want to ever stop experiencing.

That is how we changed.  The trick is, how do we keep experiencing the extraordinary realness of life in Sydney?

Posted in Musings, The adventures of Starkemus Prime, Tonga | 1 Comment

Ruth 4

Here is the final sermon on Ruth that I have given. I think it’s ok; not spectacular but solid and I think helpful. Takes a differet approach to the scripture than some may have taken. Would be interested to know peoples thoughts.

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.

Introduction

I will admit that there are not as many things I am looking forward to when I return to Sydney in a week and a bit as I had hoped. Having a shower with some decent water pressure is high on my list, as is being reunited with my ugg boots. But one thing I am genuinely looking forward to is the birth of my nephew. My brother and his wife are going through the final month of her pregnancy and although I have not had the chance to be there for the journey, I am excited at the prospect of becoming an uncle for the second time.

You may ask ‘Is this their second child?’ to which I would reply ‘No.’ I count the birth of Katalina as one of my favourite moments in life because I held, for the first time in my life, a child I consider a relative of mine. The reason I believe that is because I consider Elisabeth to be my sister.

Before you think I’m getting all fuzzy and gooey on you, let me clarify that I consider you all my brothers and sisters in Christ. Our shared belief in His birth, death and resurrection has a greater significance on our common relationship than you may think. But important moments in life are easily etched on the memory and holding Kitty in my arms for the first time was one of the moments in life I will never forget.

So with this in my mind, I must admit that the last half of chapter four in Ruth is something I don’t just think through but can feel in my heart. Naomi, an older woman, who has been through a traumatic period of her life, takes her first grandson into her lap. What a truly touching moment in this story. The text comes alive for us as we imagine just how incredible a moment this must have been. The gurgling of a new born baby boy being held by an adoring grandmother; this is the stuff of happy endings.

This part of the story wraps up for us the journey we’ve taken into the life of Naomi and Ruth. It is a touching end to a story that began on a heartbreaking tone. In fact, it ends on more than just an emotional high; it gives us one of the most powerful images for our relationship with God. The tone of this text is not just positive; it’s bubbles with hope and joy for the Christian. It presents us with something that is unique to Christianity – adoption into the family of God.

Sinclair Ferguson once wrote that ‘The notion that we are children of God, His own sons and daughters… is the mainspring of Christian living… Our sonship to God is the apex of Creation and the goal of redemption.’ With this in mind, let’s look at three things: The birth of a child, the rebirth of a family and the children of God.

The Birth of a Child

We begin the text in verse 13 with the announcement that Boaz and Ruth have married. We are also told that God blesses their marriage with the birth of a son. As a slight sidetrack, this gives us the insight that God is the giver of life, and that the little bundles of joy we hold in our hand are gifts given to us by Him. We’re then told that the women of Bethlehem tell Naomi ‘Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel!’

This verse is a typical verse of thanksgiving. ‘Blessed is the LORD…’ was a very common way of giving thanks to God for the good things in life. They were giving thanks for the redeemer that God had provided. You may ask at this point ‘I thought Ruth was the one who was redeemed?’ In actual fact, Ruth’s marriage to Boaz and their child also redeemed Naomi.

There’s a lot going on here so let’s unpack it. Firstly, the birth of Obed is what was needed to redeem Naomi. His birth created an heir to Elimelech, and allowed the family survive. Even though Obed was technically not of the same bloodline as Elimelech, the redemption by Boaz legally connected the two families. It was, in a sense, the joining of Obed to Naomi’s  genealogy which prevented the family line from dying out.

The significance of this cannot be underestimated. With the birth of Obed, Naomi’s family once again had a future. It was also the reintegration of Naomi back into the family; this provided her with a sense of identity and status that had been lost with the death of her husband and two sons. We also see that hope is not lost but is actually realised and fulfilled; as the women suggest, she is restored to life and will be nourished in old age. This is symbolic and practical; symbolic in that Naomi’s family has been restored back to life and practical because Obed will be able to provide for her until her dying days.

Secondly, we get some insight into how Ruth’s behaviour through the story is viewed. In verse 15 the women of Bethlehem say that Ruth loves Naomi, and is more valuable to her than seven sons. Now, what do they mean by this statement? In Israel at the time, a son held far greater value than a daughter. Son’s represented a future; they represented the chance to inherit land and continue the family name. Consequently, sons held immense value to the family and every woman was eager to bear as many of them as she physically could as the more she gave birth to, the more beneficial it was to her family. The number seven was also considered the perfect number in Jewish tradition.

For the women to say that Ruth, a Moabite daughter in law, was worth more than seven sons is an incredible statement. There’s no real modern day equivalent as we simply don’t view sons in the same way as they did. Nevertheless, for the women of Bethlehem to say this is quite staggering. It elevates Ruth to a status far higher than we could have imagined at the beginning of the story. We can also see that it is recognition for the love she holds for her mother-in-law and also her sacrificial actions throughout the story. It’s the vindication she deserves.

But at this point we must ask a question. If Obed is the natural conclusion to this story, and if his birth is the redemption of Naomi, we’re left with the subject of ‘why?’ All throughout the story we see Ruth’s actions. We see her sacrificially stay with her mother-in-law which went above and beyond the call of duty; we see her go out into a foreign land and work to provide for her mother-in-law; we see her court Boaz and finally we see Boaz redeem and marry Ruth and with their child produce an heir to Elimelech’s family. In fact, Obed’s name in Hebrew means servant, which indicates that his life is there to serve.

Why is this so? I must admit that my modern sensibilities perked up a little as I thought ‘Why does Naomi have all this done for her and her family? Surely this isn’t some elaborate act of self-sacrifice?’ But in fact it is. And the reason for Ruth and Boaz’s actions stem in part from the bonds of family.

The Bonds of a Family

Let’s look at this in some detail here. In verse 18 to 22 we see the genealogy of David. There are quite a number of genealogies in the bible and I’m sure many of you like me skip over them when you are reading through the Old Testament. But actually, they form a very, very important element within the bible itself. So why has the author of Ruth included this genealogy in the story itself? The reason, I believe, is threefold.

Throughout ancient society, family formed one of the most important aspects of life. Your standing in society, the land you worked on, the wealth you had accumulated, who you married, the opportunities you received as a child; these were all dependent on your family. The role that was played by the family became a cornerstone of society in fact.

Whilst these things were all very important, there is also a very practical reason family was important. In short, they understood how great an impact it had on who we become. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, it is the basis from which our personality, our tastes, our opportunities in life, our very future is grounded on. It also provided us with our inheritance. A good illustration of this is to consider the difference it makes being born in the Tongan royal family to being born, say, in the family of a subsistence farmer in Ha’atafu. This is how pivotal our family is.

Because of this, family bonds among the ancient societies were incredibly strong. Again, Tonga retains a stronger understanding of family bond than a Sydney-sider does. One of the reasons there is such a low level of homeless people on the street is because Tongan families look out for each other; if your cousin needs a couch to crash on, the only reason you’d refuse them is because another cousin is already sleeping on it. Even then you’d offer them a spare mattress and the chance to sleep on your floor.

My mother always said that blood is thicker than water and Tonga is a good example of a country where that type of family commitment is very much alive. Tongan’s don’t question that family is there to support each other, or to help each other out; they simply do it. Because of this, the family itself grows closer and closer together. Brothers, cousins and second cousins all grow up trusting each other and making sacrifices for the benefit of the other. Family loyalty is a natural by-product.

There’s also a deeper reason for why this is the case. As people, we desire this type of family intimacy. In fact, we need it. We need to have a group of people, whom we find our identity with; who have our back when we are in trouble; who pick us up when we’re down. Because we need it, we’re also happy to offer it. If you know your brother or sister is in trouble, if you know they’re struggling and need a helping hand, and you can remember that they did the same to you when you were in a similar position, the question changes from  ‘Should I help you?’ to ‘How can I help you?’

That’s the type of loyalty that family breeds.

Now, you might be saying ‘Yes, but can’t we find that in a football club? Or with school friends? Why does it have to be family?’ This is a legitimate question. We can find this type of relationship outside the family; in fact, most Westerners do. But in the time of Ruth, forming this type of friendship and family loyalty outside of your blood relatives was unusual and also quite difficult. Families spent more time together; they worked in the fields with each other, they shared houses with each other, they fought wars together. It is only in the last two or three hundred years that Westerners have begun to reshape the need for family to what it is today. This wasn’t the case in ancient Israel.

So when we view Ruth’s actions in this context, her actions aren’t really surprising. Her loyalty was the driving force behind why she worked to save the family line of Elimelech. She put Naomi and her future before her own independent choices. Why? Because that’s what family does.

When we see the genealogy of David, we can read it and be reminded of what Ruth’s loyalty resulted in. In just two more generations, Israel’s greatest king and a man after God’s own heart was anointed. David is born from the seed of Ruth and Boaz. The wishes of the women talking to Naomi were granted; Obed’s name was made great as he is recognised as the grandfather of David.

At this point we can begin to see the fuller picture of what is going on. Obed’s birth isn’t just an ordinary birth; it’s the birth of a child who reconnects Naomi into the family as a restorer of life. His birth is the result of Ruth’s loyalty and commitment to the family; her actions identify the sacrificial lengths a family member will go for the benefit of other relatives. The birth of Obed serves the family by providing it with a future.

The Children of God

But it is at this point that I begin to get excited. As amazing a picture as this is, it isn’t the end. In fact, it is far from it. The genealogy that links Obed to David doesn’t stop there. It continues on, and on and on and on. In fact, many commentators believe that the importance of the genealogy grew when Israel was exiled; the reason for this is because the prophets stated that a messiah would come through the line of David to free Israel from their oppressors.

During these times, the emphasis on family and the significance of children grew. In fact, we read that Isaiah prophesied that a child from the house of David; that He would be born to a virgin and He would be called Immanuel; who does that remind us of?

Consider for a moment who we think of ourselves as when we call ourselves Christians. There’s this misnomer running around churches in the modern world that we’re followers of Christ. To an extent, that’s true; we do follow his example. But is that it? Do I just walk in the same footsteps as Christ? Is this the faith that transformed the Roman Empire, spread throughout the entire world and has caused the transformation of billions of lives? Just by following in the footsteps of Jesus?

John 1 tells us ‘…to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.’ Paul writes in Romans 8 ‘The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then Heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…’ We are children of the creator of the universe; children of the Almighty God. That’s who we are. That’s the faith responsible for transforming the world.

As Naomi is reintegrated to the family by the birth of Obed , so we are integrated into the family of God by the birth of Jesus, the true and greater restorer of life. As Ruth’s love for Naomi is considered more valuable than seven sons, so God the Father’s love for us is so great that He would send His one and only Son, the Son of infinite worth. As Ruth’s sacrificed her own interests for that of her families, so did Jesus sacrifice Himself so that we might be redeemed into His family. Because that’s what family does.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate Obed; one who wasn’t just servant in name but servant in nature. His birth didn’t just secure a worldly inheritance for His family but rather an eternal inheritance for those who believe in His name. He made us blood relatives by shedding His own so that we might be joined by an even deeper connection; a family joined together by the Holy Spirit. His resurrection redeemed us into to the family of God; we are no longer children of this world or even of our families by children of the heavenly family with our heavenly Father.

Do we believe that? I mean, do we really believe we are children of God? When Jesus tells His disciples to let the children come to Him, it presents us with an image for how we are able to approach Him; with childlike confidence. Do we do that? Do we turn to Him like a child when we are in pain? Do we turn to Him when we are joyous and show Him the good things in our lives? Do we thank Him for the guidance and provision He gives us like any good father does for His child?

I can call you all brother and sister because we are joined in a Spiritual bond that more powerful and meaningful than any blood relation on earth. We are family; we are family in the truest sense of the word. This is the scandal of the gospel; that we are children of the living God which is something no other religion, no other faith, no other worldview can lay claim to. And that, my brothers and sisters, is something worth having our lives transformed by.

Conclusion

So where do we go from here? There are three things we can take away from this.

Firstly, as a child of God we need to realise that this provides us with the motivation for our service to Him. Let me explain – I remember as a child when I was growing up that I would do things for no ulterior reason than simply for the pleasure it brought my father. In school, my worst subject was maths. But one element of maths that I did well at was trigonometry, which happened to also be my father’s favourite. I studied at trigonometry hard to try and please him and was rewarded when I got 24 / 25 on a test. But the real reward was seeing the way it pleased my father, who quite literally was over the moon.

In the same was as I worked for no other reason than the delight of my father, so too must we work for no other reason than the delight of our heavenly Father. We must live in a way that brings Him delight; we must take joy in the things He provides for us and we must serve Him for no other sake than because we love to serve.

Secondly, we must live like family members. In Acts 2 it describes a scene where the followers of Christ devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and had all things in common. It gives us this wonderful image of a group of people joined by their love for Christ; a place where nobody went without. This is the family home; us, believers in Christ, coming together in love and support of one another.

James writes ‘If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘God in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?’ This is how we’re to act for our brothers and sisters. When they need food, we should feed them. When they need shelter, we should invite them in. When they’re going through rough times, we should invite them in and spend time loving them by listening, giving advice or just being present. This is what family does for each other, and we are family.

Finally, we must look to our inheritance. Jesus’ resurrection signals something. It isn’t that there is some pie in the sky we’re looking for, or spiritual world which we float to when we die. No, it’s something far greater than this. In Revelation we are told that the city of God is like a rare jewel, clear as crystal. The city will be pure gold, and the foundations of the wall adorned with every rare jewel you could imagine.

When the final resurrection comes, this is the city we will inherit because we are the royal children of God! Our bodies will be remade according to God’s will and it is at that point that our redemption into the family of God will be made complete. We will resemble Christ, because family members always look alike. That is what we should focus on in our future; that is what we’re working towards.

John Cennick wrote in his wonderful hymn:

Children of the heavenly King,

As ye journey, sweetly sing;

Sing your Saviour’s worthy praise,

Glorious in His works and ways.

Let us pray.

Almighty God, you are our eternal Father. Let us grow in our understanding of whom we are; that we, through your Son Jesus, are now your children. We pray that the Spirit will work through us so we may fully embrace this, so we may live a life that pleases you, our Father. In Christ’s name, Amen.

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