Authority

When I read through John 19 this morning, my initial thought was that it talks of a very violent occurrence, both physically and verbally. Yet on re-reading I saw this lovely interplay about authority.

Pilate said, “You won’t talk? Don’t you know that I have the authority to pardon you, and the authority to—crucify you?”
Jesus said, “You haven’t a shred of authority over me except what has been given you from heaven. That’s why the one who betrayed me to you has committed a far greater fault.”
At this, Pilate tried his best to pardon him, but the Jews shouted him down: “If you pardon this man, you’re no friend of Caesar’s. Anyone setting himself up as ‘king’ defies Caesar.” (John 19:10-12 MSG)

Pilate considered that he had ultimate authority in the land. Clearly he demonstrated that in his way of dealing with the Jews on a day to day basis, and now he wanted to boast about it to Jesus, in essence giving Jesus the chance to accede to his authority. Who knows where he thought that would go, perhaps if Jesus did so, then Pilate was free to boast about his power over the Rabbis.

Yet, Jesus calmly told him that his authority was only ever prescribed by God, and he was therefore going to accept that delegated authority and suffer the consequence of what was going to happen. Likewise, we should recognise that authority structures have been put in place (ie the police, the courts, government, management etc) so we should accede to the delegated authority.

Pilate’s authority was actually weakened further when he went out to the crowd to pardon Jesus, and was shouted down by the people. They threatened to report him to Caesar, so he gave up and gave the order for the crucifixion. Was he acting on his own authority? I don’t think so, I think all he was doing was administering things, and so his so called authority was shown to be worthless.

Sometimes we need to discern what is indeed real authority!

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Being defined

They are no more defined by the world than I am defined by the world. Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth; Your word is consecrating truth. (John 17: 16-17 MSG)

This is part of Jesus’ prayer for the disciples. It is what he is praying now for us. It contains a truth about who we are as followers, yet it is so easy to allow ourselves to be defined by the world, and not by God’s consecrating truth.

How do we resist the easy route of conforming to the world, and then letting that define who we are? I don’t have the answers, but I plan on letting this prayer sit on my mind and meditation for a while, as it is part of setting a new agenda for 2013.

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“But remember the root command: Love one another.” (John 15:17 MSG)

The holidays are over, the ability to sleep for as long as I like has gone, and real life starts again (at least for one day). It also happens to be a new year, a time when we look back over the last year and look forward to the new with some new expectations and goal setting. Now is the time to get back into the discipline of starting the day in God’s word.

So it is quite apt that the next chapter in my slow meander through John’s gospel is Jesus giving the disciples some pointers about their future. It is not a future plan due to it being a new year, but it is a future plan due to the fact that Jesus’ time with them is coming to an end, and therefore they have a future ahead of them to live without his daily presence. They therefore have some decisions to make about how they will live that future, and Jesus is trying to give them some advice ahead of the game.

And that advice is wide reaching. But in essence it boils down to:

Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. (John 15:4 MSG)

These are great words, simple and straightforward. But what does it mean to “live in me”? Maybe if I could really grasp that, I could get what this Christian life is all about and everything would fall in place, and life would be wonderful!

Jesus warns that life will be anything but wonderful. As he warns that there will be persecution ahead. If they persecuted Jesus, what makes me think they will do anything less to me? So the standard of life being wonderful is not the striving or the end game.

What Jesus does say is that the key is to keep his commands.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. (John 15:9, 10 MSG)

What strikes me is the intimacy that is talked about here as Jesus asks us to be “at home in love”. He is asking that the keeping of his commands is not a rigid, structured, inflexible and dull process, but rather one of desire, hope and excitement. The process should be as natural as our daily life, and should be regenerative, positive and life giving.

As a starter for ten during this new year, it provides a brilliant framework for the year, and so I shall be thinking about how to make this a reality during 2013 and beyond.

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Reflections on dying

When Jesus was preparing his disciples for his upcoming death, he was keen to ensure they realised this was not a normal death, it was a death that was planned and needed to prepare them for the next stage of their life. When he left them he said “I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. (John 14:27 MSG)”. This time it would be different because “The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. (John 14:25-26 MSG)”

What a lovely parting gift, one which never stops giving!

I am comforted by these words, not because of what Jesus said, but because he made normal the feelings that are experienced when someone close to you dies. It is particularly so at this point, having just experienced the death of my father, which has affected me in ways I never expected. Dad had been in a care home for the last 18 months as he was suffering from dementia, and could no longer be cared for at home. In some ways I lost him at that point, though initially it was a slow decline.

Over the last few weeks, however, he had started a fairly rapid decline. I am not sure why or what had gone on, but he started to lose weight and became much more sleepy and unsteady on his feet. Last weekend he was diagnosed with pneumonia , by which time he slipped into a coma. Mum was very brave to leave him in the home, and not take him to hospital, and the family gathered round his bed on a 24 hour vigil, ensuring he knew he was not alone, and was loved deeply.

On Wednesday night, I was taking the night shift, and was sitting overnight with my Dad, reading and catching up on some shows. I had also been googling what the last stages would be like, how his breathing would change and what was likely to happen. At about 3 am, his breathing changed from a rapid and short breathing (which he had been doing since I saw him) to a slower rhythm. That was the clue to me that it would not be long, so I stopped what I was doing and took the time to talk to my dad, to pray with him, and to ensure he knew how much he was loved and respected as his breathing slowed to nothing. His was a peaceful and gentle passing, much like the man he was when he lived, and I will be forever grateful to the Lord for giving me the privilege of being with him when he died.

Yet even now, I can still say that there is a feeling of being left abandoned and bereft. I ask myself about whether I did enough to keep him going just that bit longer? Could I have done any more? Was he really not in pain? Did I tell him that he was loved enough?

All natural feelings. All rationalised away because his death was so normal and as described by the experiences of others, yet still the feelings persist. I expect they will continue for a while to come.

Jesus knew all this. He knew the disciples would all feel like this. So he gave them the promise and the gift of the spirit to ensure they had something else to live for. And the great thing is, that when the promise was fulfilled, the results were explosive.

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Having a willingness to listen

Arrogant know-it-alls stir up discord, but wise men and women listen to each other’s counsel. (Proverbs 13:10 MSG)

Today’s verse of the day was this verse from Proverbs, which I was not planning to read, but because I pressed the wrong button was what came up!

It is a simple statement, but one with deep significance across a whole range of topics just now. I got woken last night by a facebook message asking us to pray for the people of Belfast as the riots and protests are starting up again. I also got an email from the M12 organisers yesterday asking for the same thing, as a follow up to the flash mob we had in Belfast city hall when we prayed for the leaders.

Is this a situation where arrogant know it alls are stirring up discord?

Then my heart goes to the situation at the Tron. I am aware of the reasons why the Tron wants to secede from the Church of Scotland, yet for some reason it has been tackled in a way where arrogance (on both sides) seems to have stirred up discord. Contrast that with how Gilc is handling the same situation (which could be even more difficult given that it is the Presbytery of Aberdeen which assisted the issue to come to the forefront).

Is this latter case an example where wise men and women are listening to each other’s counsel?

I guess we all have a choice to make when faced with difficult circumstances where we disagree with another persons point of view. Do we stick to arrogance, or do we listen to each other’s counsel?

I know where I would like to be, but am conscious that in a lot of situations it takes time to listen and reflect on someone else’s point of view. And sometimes time is a commodity that is in short supply.

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How can a young person live a clean life?

After yesterday’s reading regarding Jesus being in one with God, and being found in his Father’s house, the quote for today which was displayed is this verse from Ps 119.

How can a young person live a clean life? By carefully reading the map of your Word. I’m single-minded in pursuit of you; don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted. I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart so I won’t sin myself bankrupt. Be blessed, God ; train me in your ways of wise living. I’ll transfer to my lips all the counsel that comes from your mouth; I delight far more in what you tell me about living than in gathering a pile of riches. I ponder every morsel of wisdom from you, I attentively watch how you’ve done it. I relish everything you’ve told me of life, I won’t forget a word of it. (Psalm 119:9-16 MSG)

These words don’t talk of a passive going along with the flow, but rather an earnest desire to seek out God through his word. Look at some of the words which show this:

    Carefully reading
    Single minded in pursuit
    Banked your promises
    Won’t sin myself bankrupt
    I’ll transfer
    I delight
    I ponder
    Attentively watch
    I relish
    I won’t forget

At my age, I only wish the last line could continue to be true, as forgetfulness is a common activity!

I believe Jesus portrayed these characteristics in spades, because he loved God more than anything else, and so spent his energy being with and doing things which were on God’s heart. I need the desire, discipline and devotion to be like that…

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When push came to shove they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory

As sitting reading through John 12 this morning, I have a Thomas Dean album playing in the background. One of the songs that was playing has the lines “you will find me in my Father’s house”. it brought a deeper meaning to the words of Jesus when he was talking so much of who had sent him, and how any words which he said were indeed words from his father. How did he know what God was saying?

Because he spent time in his Father’s house. When he had time, he was in the presence of God. When he needed advice, he went to God. When he wanted to know what to say, he went to God.

That sense of God’s presence must have pervaded all of who he was and how he behaved. His character was the character of God, and it attracted people. The message had now started to spread to the Greeks. It had also reached some of the leaders, but they chose to look to man rather than God.

On the other hand, a considerable number from the ranks of the leaders did believe. But because of the Pharisees, they didn’t come out in the open with it. They were afraid of getting kicked out of the meeting place. When push came to shove they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory. (John 12:42, 43 MSG)

What a contrast. Jesus looked to God, wanted to spend his time with God, who he loved and knew intimately. These leaders did not have that relationship, so they looked to what they could see and understand.

One of the characteristics which Jesus took on from always being in his Father’s house is grace.
In this case it manifests itself through the fact that he does not reject us even when we refuse to accept him.

“If anyone hears what I am saying and doesn’t take it seriously, I don’t reject him. I didn’t come to reject the world; I came to save the world. But you need to know that whoever puts me off, refusing to take in what I’m saying, is willfully choosing rejection. The Word, the Word-made-flesh that I have spoken and that I am, that Word and no other is the last word. I’m not making any of this up on my own. The Father who sent me gave me orders, told me what to say and how to say it. And I know exactly what his command produces: real and eternal life. That’s all I have to say. What the Father told me, I tell you.” (John 12:47-50 MSG)

If his command produces real and eternal life why would that not be attractive?

I do desire to have a life which is real and eternal, and which causes others to be attracted. In order to do that I need to “be found in my Father’s house”. I fail in that constantly, and so I need to receive God’s grace constantly. Fortunately for me, his grace does not run dry.

(That is a line from the same album… So today’s thoughts come from the inspiration of Thomas Dean as well as John’s gospel!)

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