Posted By Nan

Romans 2:17-24

“Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’ ”NIV

“If you’re brought up Jewish, don’t assume that you can lean back in the arms of your religion and take it easy, feeling smug because you’re an insider to God’s revelation, a connoisseur of the best things of God, informed on the latest doctrines! I have a special word of caution for you who are sure that you have it all together yourselves and, because you know God’s revealed Word inside and out, feel qualified to guide others through their blind alleys and dark nights and confused emotions to God. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you? I’m quite serious. While preaching “Don’t steal!” are you going to rob people blind? Who would suspect you? The same with adultery. The same with idolatry. You can get by with almost anything if you front it with eloquent talk about God and his law. The line from Scripture, “It’s because of you Jews that the outsiders frown on God,” shows it’s an old problem that isn’t going to go away.” The Message

DISCUSSION

As I collected Bible verses for Advent over the past months, this was the first verse I collected.

As I sit here, in the middle of the first week of Advent, I can feel the weight of importance in this section of Romans 2.

My Advent Readings for this year are supplied by Common Grace in Australia. The writer of the first day of December is a Kabi Kabi and Goreng Goreng man Uncle Pastor Ray Minniecon from Scarred Tree Ministries at St John’s Glebe in Sydney. Uncle Pastor Ray writes about the celebration of First Light in the Torres Strait Islands. He speaks of the recognition by them of their existing faith alongside the new faith they were being taught. 

It is a situation I often see. How first nations people of the world embraced Christianity alongside their existing faith and found a faith and relationship with God on their own terms.

Western Christianity has long believed it holds the only understanding of God. Christianity has been bleached white and planted firmly in the Western Christian traditions.

The trouble is, that is not God. God is God. He is God of all peoples and all peoples understand God from the perspective of their own culture. 

God meets us where we are.

And, God meets every one of us where we are.

This means true faith is an individual thing between each person and God.

To become addicted to a Western cultural interpretation of the Law is not faith in God. It is faith in Western culture.

The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time became addicted to their cultural interpretation of the law, to the point of ridiculousness as Jesus frequently pointed out. (I am not supplying references here, read the gospels to see the many times Jesus challenged their interpretation of the law).

Legalism is harsh, judgemental, lacking in mercy and full of hate. These are the opposite to Jesus and all He stands for.

When followers of Western Christianity become caught up in legalism they bring God into disrepute.

God’s name is blasphemed among non-believers because of that harsh, judgemental, uncaring and hateful Western Christian legalism.

On this first day of December, as we honour the first week of Advent, take the time to consider whether the expression of your faith in God causes His name to be blasphemed among those who do not yet believe.

 
Posted By Nan

Some months ago, I started collecting Bible Verses to write this Advent series.

I had no idea at the time what I was collecting, just that the message would be important once Advent started.

In many Christian Traditions, the first candle of Advent is the Prophet Candle. In some traditions the first Sunday of Advent is about the Second Coming of Jesus. 

The readings I am discussing today belong to the Old Testament prophets and their prophesies about Jesus’ first coming. The New Testament readings are more about the second coming.

GOD SENDS A SIGN

Isaiah 7:14: NIV
 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

At a time of great turmoil, when the separated Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were falling to foreign oppressors, God sent hope of a coming Messiah. This was God’s sign.

God had asked the people to ask Him for a sign and they had recoiled from that. Believing it was wrong to test God. Yet He was asking them so He could send them a sign. 

When being taught as a child about Gideon and his fleece, I was always taught that he had been wrong to request a sign from God. He should have had faith.

Yet Isaiah 7 relates how God asked the people to request a sign. He wanted to reassure them. He wanted to teach them.

It is not always wrong to ask God for a sign. In Isaiah 7, the sign gave people the opportunity to hear prophesy relating to the coming Messiah.

There are times when it is God’s wish for you to ask for a sign. Never hesitate to ask. He will not condemn you for doing that.

After this prophesy God sent another, more detailed prophesy, about the line of David not being extinct, but instead being the line from which the promised Messiah would come.

THE MESSIAH WILL BE OF DAVID’S LINE – GOD KEEPS HIS PROMISES

Isaiah 11:1-5: NIV
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

“He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”

DON’T SECOND GUESS GOD’S PROPHESIES – YOU MAY MISS THEM WHEN THEY ARE FULFILLED

So, the people carried these and other prophesies in their hearts, thoughts and wishes for a very long time.

Then Jesus came and many did not recognise Him. Despite this, Jesus still came and will only come again at the second coming.

JESUS CAME FOR THE JEWS DIDN’T HE?

One of the big sticking points for the Jews of Jesus’ time was their belief that He was their Messiah and was not for anyone else. But Romans 2:1-16 challenged that. As Paul stressed in Romans 2 God does not show favouritism. He came for all people 

Romans 2: 5-11: NIV
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favouritism.

“All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”

GOD IS KIND, BUT NOT SOFT

Romans 2:1-16 The Message
“Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanours. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

“You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.

“You’re not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of God adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it’s going to blaze hot and high, God’s fiery and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what’s coming to you—Real Life for those who work on God’s side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!

“If you go against the grain, you get splinters, regardless of which neighbourhood you’re from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended. But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up. Being a Jew won’t give you an automatic stamp of approval. God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind.

“If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

“When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong. Their response to God’s yes and no will become public knowledge on the day God makes his final decision about every man and woman. The Message from God that I proclaim through Jesus Christ takes into account all these differences.”

GOD SENT JESUS FOR ALL 

It is important to remember on this first day of Advent that Jesus was always going to be sent for all people. Yes, God chose the line of Abraham through Israel, but he always intended redemption to come to all people.

Jesus came first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. He even chose Paul to be the one who would have a heart to teach the Gentiles.

God does not show favouritism. He wants all to have the opportunity to be saved. Despite what some may believe, God will give all people the opportunity to hear His message. We don’t get to say who is saved or not. Only God can say that.

THE FOCUS OF THIS FIRST FEW DAYS OF ADVENT

As you proceed into Advent remember the prophets, those who faithfully spoke God’s message to the people. Those who were given the message about the coming Messiah.

Remember also the second coming. The time when Jesus will return.

May your focus not be on the busyness of the Christmas season, but on the promises of things to come and things that were to come for the people of the time before Jesus.

All waited. They waited for the first coming. We wait for the second.

Wait with openness and gratitude for the first coming and the way that transformed your life. Wait with hopefulness for the second coming and the glory that awaits us.

 
Posted By Nan

Tomorrow I will restart my blog for Sunday and Wednesday for Advent. 
In the meantime here is one of the most beautiful hymns that is so appropriate for Advent.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

 
Posted By Nan

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. NIV

I have been writing this blog for 12 years, during which time I completed two degrees and all the busyness around that. As you will be aware, my blog has been less than regular lately. Life has rather overtaken me of late and I am finding it increasingly difficult to find the space to focus on writing a meaningful blog. Rather than just put something out that is less than I believe God wants me to post, after prayerful consideration I have decided to pause the blog for two months until December. 

I believe God gives us tasks that are for a season and not necessarily meant to go on forever. The task He has in mind for me now relates to my work with people face to face, not through my blog. 

Although I do not think God wants me to stop writing the blog completely, I do know He wants me to pause for a few months.

God has a plan for each one of us. As Jeremiah 29 verse 11 states. God has plans to prosper us and not harm us. Plans that will give us hope and a future.

May you continue to prosper, have hope and walk confidently in Jesus’ footsteps into the future.

I will see you again in December.

Much love in our Heavenly Father,

Nan

 
Posted By Nan

Acts 23-25

"Anything that demands reverence that is not open to being challenged or questioned is problematic" ~ Brené Brown

When that happens it is not reverence it is coercion and extremely abusive (my comment).

Before I start this blog post, I have not posted a blog for 3 weeks due to circumstances beyond my control. Today I am in a position to post again.

You may wonder what a quote about reverence has to do with Acts 23-25.

Last week I was 1,000 kilometres away from home at a family function. Many of the family members there had not been seen for many years. As I caught up with them I found myself having a conversation with a lovely relative.

She is a beautiful person and has a deep faith in God. 

But a comment she made was quite jarring. It was about a family member who she considered could be abrupt and rude at times. This family member had recently been diagnosed with Autism. She commented that she now understood this person’s sometimes rude behaviour. She admitted she had always thought there should be something wrong as she thought the person had been raised the right way because she had gone to a private school.

I was quite surprised by this comment. In my life I have not noticed private school graduates to be any more polite than government run school graduates.

What I have noticed however is that people who attended private schools were more likely to have been taught to keep quiet and maintain the “status quo”. 

In short. They were taught to have reverence for the leaders and to never challenge or question what they were told to believe or follow.

Sadly, this behaviour is what allows abuse to flourish and go unpunished. Hence the quote by Brené Brown. My comment also relates to this as enforced reverence for leaders and/or the rules is coercion and abuse. 

What does this have to do with Acts 23-25?

As we know by now, after all the revelations of sexual abuse within churches that was covered up, Churches are good at demanding reverence that allows abuse to flourish and go unpunished.

Whenever the interests of humans outweigh the interests of God, this abusive behaviour continues.

Paul had a message to give. It was the message of Jesus. 

Just as the religious leaders in Jerusalem had Jesus killed, the same leaders tried to kill Paul.

Just as Jesus did nothing wrong, so did Paul. The leaders wanted Jesus and Paul to be shut up because of their human interests that far outweighed the interests of God.

These religious leaders made up lies to try to get Paul killed. They even planned to ambush the Roman soldiers taking him outside Jerusalem in order to kill him themselves.

They demanded reverence and allowed no challenges or questioning of that reverence.

Human institutions, even churches, do the same. 

Over time, people become invested in their viewpoints and their power within the institution. This leaves them vulnerable to crossing a line where the interests of God are pushed aside for the interests of humans (especially them). It is very insidious and very easy to cross that line. Especially if there is no one there empowered to call out the behaviour.

You need to be vigilant. You need to challenge the demands for reverence. And if you are shut down when you challenge that reverence? You need to walk away. Because anything that demands reverence that is not open to being challenged or questioned is problematic. It is coercive and abuse. 

It is not of God.

Follow God.

Not human self interest.

 

 

 
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