Handing On

Handing On

Throughout my ministry, I have endeavored to find appropriate ways to hand on the light of God’s redeeming love to non-churchgoing people. Now at this time of aggressive and arrogant atheism, it seems to me that we need to revisit this task. The substance of the message of God’s gospel remains constant but the way we communicate it needs to be fine-tuned in every age. The reasoned apologetics of the twentieth century need to be re-cast for the twenty-first.

That said, in an interesting article in The Weekend Australian (October 28-29) entitled, ‘Idea of God is perfectly logical’, Greg Sheridan wrote: ‘…It is important to understand that there is nothing in reason that contradicts God. That our public culture so routinely suppresses this knowledge, mocks it and teaches the reverse, demonstrates just what a strange and dangerous cultural dead end we have wandered into. Yet even in our moment, in our society, there is already a nostalgia for God.

‘Reasoning from first principles, of course, is not even the primary rational way you can come to a rational knowledge of God. For it is one of the central realities of humanity, one of the deep mysteries of the human condition, that all truth involves a balance of truths. Rationality needs a context in order to be rational…’

Sheridan goes on to observe: ‘There are countless clues of God throughout the world and within humanity itself. There is the strange phenomenon of joy, the even stranger delight of humour, the inescapable intimation of meaning in beauty and music. There is the mystery of love, along with the equal mystery of our consciousness and our self-awareness…’

Once we get past the inconsistencies of the popular culture we often find that many will agree that God does exist but that he is unknowable – he is abstract, impersonal, and a mystery.

To return to words of Deuteronomy 6 that I have touched on over the last two weeks, we need to feel the sharpness and precision of verse 4: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

The words speak of the supremacy, the unitythe uniqueness and the personality of God. The Hebrew word translated ‘one’ here can refer to more than one person. Significantly it is the same word that we find in Genesis 2:24Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

In the light of this meaning of the Hebrew word, one, it is consistent that in Genesis 1:26 and 27 we read, Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Furthermore, it is not surprising that amongst Abraham’s three visitors (Genesis 18:1-21), the supernatural figure Jacob encountered (Genesis 28:1-17), the fourth man in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:24-25) was the pre-incarnate Son of God. We so often forget that the God of the Old Testament is the same as in the new. The one God exists in three persons. But I digress.

The God of Deuteronomy 6 is not an abstract being, without meaning or message. The language of Lord and unity (as we learn) implies personality – indeed, more than one person who enjoys a relationship and who speak. Deuteronomy 6 reveals the God who is Lord and who is passionately committed to being known and being loved by his people.

This theme is even more evident in the New Testament where we read in Philippians 2: At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every tongue will confess him as Lord, to the glory of God the Father (2:11).

Every generation needs to hear these truths so that they come and live under them.

The French poet, writer, and aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, once observed: If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

Given our task of handing on the light of God’s truth found in Christ, perhaps we need to start considering ways we can paint a larger picture of life, lifting people’s gaze from the ground to the reality of God who has not only given us our existence, but also the opportunity to experience life in all its fullness and joy.

How important it is that we keep before us God’s words to his people: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com

“I Am the True Vine…”

“I Am the True Vine…”

Fruitful outcomes are something we expect from worthwhile endeavors. So we look at measures of productivity in the corporate world and perhaps also in our annuity or superannuation fund. Productivity is a sign of life and growth.

It is therefore interesting to learn that Jesus too is concerned with productivity. He lived in an agrarian culture and used grape-growing as a metaphor for the productivity he is committed to.

Vineyard owners work hard to develop the output of each vine. They know that to get maximum output there will be times when judicious pruning is required, for a good grower doesn’t confuse short-term profitability with long-term viability. Indeed, Jesus makes the point that a good vine-grower treats low-producing branches quite differently from non-productive ones.

In John 15:1-2 we read Jesus’ words: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower.  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”

To understand what his reference to fruit means, we need to consider the context of his words. The previous chapter concludes with his expectation that his people will love him and keep his commands. And in John 15:9 we read: ‘If you obey my commands you will remain in my love’.

There are times in the Old Testament when Israel was likened to a vine, planted and tended by God. Psalm 80:8-9 says of God, ‘You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. By the time of Jesus, the grapevine was close to being a national symbol for Israel – a little like the Big Apple for New York.

But there was something uncomplimentary about this, for wherever we find the metaphor of the vine in the Old Testament it seems to be associated with the moral and spiritual degradation of Israel. Isaiah 5, for example, tells us that instead of producing good grapes, Israel yielded sour grapes. For all the blessing God showered upon Israel, he looked in vain for a harvest of righteousness that he wanted to see. And Ezekiel bluntly said that Israel was a useless vine.

When we think about this we see that with his words, “I am the true vine”, Jesus was challenging Israel’s right to continue calling itself the people of God. ‘Israel may say it is a vine,’ Jesus is saying, ‘but I am the true vine’. “I am the vine,” he continues, “you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

These tough words were not just about Israel. They are also words to people who call themselves Christians but for whom Christianity is no more than a box to check. And Jesus warns us, ‘That is not enough!’ He expects visible evidence of our loyalty to Him. In the absence of such evidence, we cannot think of ourselves as secure in his friendship.

Israel’s mistake was to assume that because they had the temple, because they had the Scriptures, because they had the right pedigree, they would be immune from judgment.

It’s the same today. We can say, ‘I have been baptized and married in the church’, and, ‘I attend church at Easter’, thinking that all will be well when we pass from this world to the next. But, according to Jesus, the mark of everyone who is part of the true vine is fruitfulness. Where fruitfulness is absent, so is true faith.

So he continues: “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers;…” (John 15: 6). There is a dramatic change in the tense of the verbs here. Literally he is saying, ‘whoever is not remaining in me’ (present tense), ‘has been thrown away’ (past tense).

This strange counterpoint of tenses suggests that the severance of the branch and its consequent decay are not the result of its sterility, but the cause. It is because it never really belonged to the vine that it never produced fruit. So when he speaks of branches ‘in me’ being cut off, he is referring to people who have superficially belonged to a church and called themselves Christians.

Love in response to his love, prayer and loyalty to his commands is what Jesus expects of us.

As we reflect on what this fruit-bearing love and obedience looks like, we see that it refers to the reality of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the quality of our life measured by the Ten Commandments and the exhortations of the New Testament; it also involves sharing God’s passion for the lost. Fruitfulness is seen in Godly love and living, prayer, and drawing others to know Christ Jesus. Let’s pray for God’s grace enabling us to lead fruitful lives in Christ.

So urgent is the need for fruitful gospel living today, so ill-equipped are many of God’s people, will you also join with me in praying that many churches across the US will send representatives to the Anglican Connection June conference? It’s not just for ministers or even Anglicans. It is also for church members who are committed to the priority of God’s gospel.

Find out more athttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgiBA9YCcB4&feature=youtu.be.

Further information and register at: https://anglicanconnection.com/2017-national-conference-effective-gospel-centered-churches/

PrayerAlmighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly living; give us grace so that we may always thankfully receive the immeasurable benefit of his  sacrifice, and also daily endeavor to follow in the blessed steps of his most holy life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore.  Amen.  (BCP  Easter 2)