Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: C.S. Lewis

Grace beyond comprehension

GraceJohn 21:15-19 is possibly the most profound story in the whole Bible. It shows the simply, well ‘extravagant’ is too small a word for it, grace of God to sinners like you and me. Jesus deliberately singles out Peter and purposefully asks him three times if he loves him. This is not a sign of neurotic insecurity from Jesus, having to ask three times if one of his best friends loves him. It is a declaration of forgiveness of the highest order.

It follows directly Peter’s denial of Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ greatest need. On the darkest night of Jesus’ life, a night so dark that no one before or since has had to endure anything like it, Peter deserted him. Ever the outspoken one, always quick to declare his undying loyalty to Jesus during their three years together, Peter fails when the true test of his loyalty faces him.

The extravagant forgiveness of Jesus as a new day dawns by the Sea of Galilee – a new day in a truer sense than even the disciples probably then realised – is simply mind boggling. The interesting thing is how Jesus forgives Peter. He does not simply tell Peter that it’s ok, don’t worry about it. Many translations put a heading above this story called ‘Jesus reinstates Peter.’ I don’t think this goes even far enough. Jesus actually gets Peter to step up to the plate. He forgives him by commanding him to be a leader in spreading the Good News that he is now receiving, and to look after the new movement that is about to change the world forever.

When a person in a leadership in a church confesses something terrible they have done, the usual step is to get them to step down from their position for at least a time. This occurs even if the person is fully repentant. You see it over and over. But as we see in this incredible passage, it is not the way of Jesus. Instead of getting Peter to step down, Jesus gets him to step up. He affirms Peter, telling him that he will be one of the main leaders in the fledgling movement.

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To what shall I compare the kingdom? Let's dream a little…

Some time ago a group of people of which I am a part were asked how we would explain the Kingdom of God to a person with no biblical background. We had to be careful to avoid any ‘Christian-ese’! I immediately thought of how Brian McLaren likes to talk of the dream of God, following on from Martin Luther King’s dream. Starting with that inspiration, and drawing on some further genius from C.S. Lewis, my thoughts developed into the following:

Let’s dream a little. Imagine living in a world where peace, justice and love are the order of the day; a world where everyone is accepted just for who they are and where there is no anxiety, fear or mistrust. Then imagine that the ruler of this world had all of these characteristics and more. Because this ruler is like this, let’s call him God.

This is a God who longs for his people to be in relationship with him, and not just that, but God longs for his whole creation to be renewed. In this world there is ultimate trust because the ruler is ultimately trustworthy. Therefore it is a world where you love the fact that God is in charge. You realise that this God is both ultimate and intimate. God is both ruler of everything and yet knows and loves each of his creatures with a dignity we cannot comprehend.

Now imagine that this world is not just a far-off hope, but that it has already begun to be put into place. That’s what Jesus of Nazareth came to do. Jesus was God coming to earth, and every part of his life here was a pointer to this new world. It is not yet fully realised, but he is the one who kicked things off. He pulled back the curtain to show us a bit of what it will be like when everything is made complete.

And this Jesus has invited you to be a part of bringing in this new world. Never mind the kind of life you may have lived. Jesus has forgiven you all of that and wants you now to enjoy his presence and be a part of helping him prepare for the full realisation of this new world. What this means is that this world is within your grasp. What’s more, you will never be alone in this new world, for you will be with others who share the same dream as you. You will know what real connection is, with others and with this God. This is God’s new community and it starts here and now. This is a world run by a God who offers not just social transformation, but personal transformation as well. But it calls for your total commitment and sacrifice. 

So if you’re tired of the way this current world is, and tired of the way your life is going, this Jesus invites you to a new way of living. It is counter-cultural and asks you to turn your back on everything our current world says is valuable. This new world is open to the lowly, the vulnerable, the poor, the outcast, and even to people like us who, let’s face it, have been rotten in a lot of ways. Because this way of living, this new world, has already begun with Jesus, every act of kindness, every act of love, however little or large, matters to this God. He sees it all, because you are preparing the way for when this new world will be fully consummated.

This is a world run by a God who offers not just social transformation, but personal, inner transformation as well. This is the dream that many people throughout history have had, people like Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa, and going further back, people like Francis of Assisi. And you can be a part of it. It calls for your total commitment and sacrifice. For many who are part of this movement, it is very very difficult. But in the end it is worth it, because in a strange way you will know that this has been what you have been looking for all your life. In some unexplainable way you will know that you are home with others in God’s new community.

Movie Review – 'Up in the Air'

Check out my review of this latest drama-comedy starring George Clooney. A movie that reveals alot about life, love, relationships, and meaning.

Billed as one of George Clooney’s finest cinematic performances, this movie portrays the life of the ultimate corporate jetsetter. Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, whose job it is to travel around the country firing people. His company is hired by other corporations to do their dirty work of informing staff that they no longer have a position in the company they have been working for, sometimes for many years. As Bingham explains it, “we get people at their most vulnerable and then set them adrift”.

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Go to the Reviews page for other reviews.

The power of a lyric

The words of a song can stay with you for years. A simple line can have the most profound effect, not just on our emotions, but on our very psyche. Over the coming weeks and months I would like to share with you some lines of songs that have stayed with me and shaped me into the person I want to become. The first one is below:

‘Would you love me if you really knew me?’ – Sheila Walsh

The cry of every human heart. Every single one of us has a fear that, if someone were to really get to know us, warts and all, they would reject us. Deep down we have a conviction that we are unlovable as we are. And yet into that fear comes perfect love.

Photo by Luiz Renato D. CoutinhoWe spend our lives wearing a mask. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time were known for that, and Jesus had harsh words for them. His harshness wasn’t solely for the fact that they would put on a mask; it was because their mask was about putting on a show of being all holy and superior, while not lifting a finger to help the poor. That’s why Jesus called them hypocrites. The word ‘hypocrite’ is a Greek word which was used to describe someone in a theatre play who wore a mask and played the part of a certain character. A hypocrite was an actor. Aren’t we all like that to some extent?

Would you love me if you really knew me, if you really knew the thoughts that I have at times, the things I have done, the intents of my sinful heart? My deepest fear is that you would not, and so I play a role, shutting myself off from the rest of the world, and not allowing you to get to know me as I really am. C.S. Lewis expressed it eloquently, as usual:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

When Jesus said that we must die if we are to truly live, he meant what he said. Life wasn’t meant to be easy said a former Australian Prime Minister. We put ourselves out on a limb when we take the risk of letting people into our lives. Some will accept us and some will walk away. However, this brokenness is where freedom lies. When I dare to reveal my deepest self, it can feel like death. This though is where God steps in. God steps in and unveils the thoughts and intents of the heart, and when he sees them, his first words are “I do not condemn you”.

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