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Abrahm Gunn

They are you.

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The aftermath of the US Election last week demonstrates how difficult it is for people to see life from someone else’s point of view, especially when they’ve already decided they disagree with them. This becomes almost impossible when emotions from past disappointments are influencing our thinking. It is hard to put yourself in the shoes of another person that you’ve already written off.

Whenever we interact with another person, there is a sense in which we are really interacting with ourselves since every person is made in the image of God and has unchangeable value before him. Intentionally having this disposition towards others is captured in the idea of ‘Loving your neighbour as yourself.’  Trying to calmly see how someone else may have come to be the person they are in the circumstance they find themselves, believing the things that they do, is an exercise of that commandment.

Sentences like “How can they believe that?!” or  “I can’t believe they voted
for… !” or “They are the worst kinds of people!” These kinds of statements are expressions of frustration combined with ignorance and come from both sides.  With just a few small tweaks in the circumstances of our own lives and upbringings we could easily be ‘that’ person in ‘that’ kind of a place.

Of course, empathising with others does not justify their potential wrongdoing or false beliefs, but it does help us to go beyond ours. We must learn the balance of accepting that people are flawed without denying their underlying and unchanging value before God. We are all flawed, sinful people. We all have beliefs we’ve failed to justify.  We all generalise. We all write people off based on a quick glance. And God loves the category of people we easily dismiss.

Why can’t my life be easy?

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Because life by default is not easy. So, no one’s life is easy. Everybody suffers. Christians, non-Christians, every single person experiences some form of suffering and trial that make life at times, unbearable.
I guarantee that the richest, most talented and spoilt among us suffer in ways we can’t imagine.

This doesn’t mean everybody suffers in the same way.  In actual fact, some people suffer immensely more than others.  Some people have suffered so greatly that I’m ashamed to label my suffering as true suffering. But it is nonetheless. To not acknowledge that everybody suffers is to misunderstand a basic truth about life and its nature.  Some people suffer more than others, but everybody suffers.

Because all people will inevitably experience trials and suffering then we must decide how we are going to live in the face of that unexplained, undeserved pain and loss. Thankfully, this is an issue that goes to the core of what it means to be a human being and so the Bible addresses it head on. God has experienced undeserved suffering and he promises to be with us and see us through all setbacks, losses and pain. Though trials and suffering are bad, God will make Jesus shine so brightly in our character through them. I hate that they still exist, but I’m very glad they can be turned on their head and that God’s purpose of love and redemption will never be stopped by them.


Jesus and Blasphemy

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As far as the Religious leaders thought, Jesus’ blasphemy was the reason they were sending him to the cross.  We read in chapter 15 what has been obvious throughout the whole Gospel – they hated Jesus, at least in part, because they were envious of his popularity.

Jesus’ responses (or lack of them) throughout their ridiculous accusations is a challenge to us. It expresses his attitude of love towards his enemies and his purposefulness in heading to the cross.  This is captured in some of his early teaching and is perhaps one of the hardest things for us to emulate when we come under fire for what we believe as Christians.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

When was the last time you prayed for someone who oppresses you?  When was the last time you read an article online that was anti-Christian and by the end of it said, “Lord, bless this person, do good to them so that they might come to know who you really are”?   Instead, how often do we mutter ‘you fool’ under our breath, and in our hearts (or some kind of modern equivalent) when we hear an opinion expressed that we deem ‘ignorant’ or ‘blasphemy’?  We pray for the Christians facing persecution in Syria and Lebanon, but what about the terrorists who carry it out?

Christians are now regularly accused of a form of social blasphemy when expressing basic tenets of our faith.  To deeply love and pray for those who attack us is to be children of God and imitators of Christ.  Is that not what we desire to be?  If we are unwilling to head in that direction we are missing the point.

The Sins of Peter

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But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. – Mark 14:71-72

Though all of the disciples abandoned Jesus (despite professing they would die with him), Peter’s betrayal has a stronger impact and Mark gives it greater visibility in the story. This is partly due to his avid denial of even knowing Jesus, the calling of curses upon himself, and his subsequent brokenness. Almost immediately Peter weeps bitterly with remorse for what he did – his own conscience giving the rebuke.  In this candid moment, we get a glimpse into the pressure fear places on our integrity when faced with ridicule, torture and possible death for our beliefs.

What we often fail to consider in this story is that Peter was not just Jesus’ disciple.  He was also his friend.  Peter abandoned his friend and had to watch his friend suffer terribly on the cross, alone.

Can we accept that we commit the sins of Peter, just in a slightly different form and time?  Our relationship to God can be defined in various categories – forgiven sinner, servant, disciple, child, friend – and we have failed in these categories. In subtle or obvious ways, we’ve all denied Jesus at some point.  The hope we have is the hope of a King and a friend who forgives, restores and appoints as his ambassadors those guilty of the most abhorrent betrayals.  In this, those who turn back can still find a lasting and abiding peace.  I am encouraged knowing I have not only a King who pronounces the record clean, but also a friend who is willing to call me ‘friend’ again.


Good Things Coming To An End

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And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Mark 13:2

Jesus points out to his disciples that despite their admiration of the Temple, such a ‘great’ building would not last, eventually being destroyed.  What he didn’t do though, was encourage them to do the destroying.  Instead, they were to focus on the task he’d set aside for them to do – preach the Gospel.  Jesus did not deny that the temple was a ‘great’ building.  Neither did he say it was worthless.  What he points out is its impermanence.  The Temple will come to an end.

It’s the impermanence, not the worthlessness, of creation that frees the Christian to focus on things above.  Disciples of Jesus get this wrong when they spend their time trying to convince people of the worthlessness of the material world, rather than demonstrating its impermanence.   In fact, the creation is good and still plays a part in the lives of followers of Christ.  How we treat the things God regards as good says something about our view of Him, even if those things will not last.

The disciples did not regard the Temple as worthless, even when aware it would not last and neither should we.  Instead, they were encouraged to invest themselves in the things of God in the face of good things coming to an end.

Following through fear

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Mark 10:32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.

On the road to Jerusalem, the great many following Jesus found themselves both amazed and afraid.  Jesus had already expressed twice that heading to Jerusalem would not turn out well for him.  The disciples struggled with the idea that Jesus would be killed by the spiritual leaders of their nation. After all wasn’t he the Messiah?  How could God’s anointed suffer and die? It didn’t make any sense to them.

However, with the obvious opposition from their countries leaders and the political challenge to Herod that Jesus represented, a growing sense of something ominous occurring in Jerusalem was coming upon them.  Jesus walked out ahead of them, leading them on the way knowing full well what would happen to him there.

In the same way, this represents the way that Jesus goes ahead of us despite our fear, doubt and lack of imagination as to how all things work together for the good of those who love him.  Jesus has gone and continues to go ahead of us through pain, suffering, loss, death and even the judgement of God. These are the experiences that bring the most fear upon human beings.  Despite our fear, Jesus goes ahead.  We may be afraid of the events that discipleship brings upon us, but thanks to the grace of God our inclusion in his Kingdom is not dependent on our lack of fear, but on our following of Jesus. Will you follow him, even while you’re afraid to do so?

Jesus and the law

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“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matthew 5:17

We have heard it said that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. However, it can be hard to get our heads around what this actually means, especially given his apparent disregard for it at times. Let’s quickly look at three ways Jesus fulfills (or accomplishes; or brings to completion) the Law.

Jesus points out that the Old Testament is really about him. The Pharisees and Scribes searched it thinking that adherence to its specifications would bring them eternal life. Instead, the Law is really about the Messiah and the atoning work he would do on the cross. Jesus fulfills the Law prophetically by accomplishing all that was specified about him.

In Interpretation
The Scribes and Pharisees had their own legislative text (the Mishnah) to help interpret the Old Testament Torah. We discover that they misinterpreted the real purpose of the Law. Jesus, as God’s Son, has authority to clarify how the Torah should be interpreted, exposing its true intention. The Law commands that it be taught clearly and truthfully, and Jesus accomplishes this by clarifying its meaning to the people of Israel, while at the same time, breaking the false interpretations of the Pharisees and Scribes.

In Obedience
The Law required perfect obedience under threat of a curse. Jesus understood the Law perfectly, and was able to live a perfect life. He fulfills the Law, by living out its proper intention. He is the sinless lamb of God who is then able to be the once-off sacrifice for the sins of the world.

There is much more that could be said! But for now, the next time you’re asked, “What does it mean when Jesus says ‘I came to fulfill the law’?” you’ll have at least three things to say!

Truly truly I say to you

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“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” – John 6:26-27

We like to think that if we had lived in the time of Jesus it would have been easier to believe in him. We assume that the physical presence of Jesus would increase the likelihood that we would follow him with pure motives. In reality, Jesus constantly found himself followed by people who did not truly believe in him but approached him with mixed motives. They saw many benefits in being near him, but seeking eternal life through him was not always one of them.

The human heart is complicated and as we know, “deceitful above all things.” This makes us dependent on God to expose to us what our motivations really are. The Parables in Mark’s Gospel are an example of Jesus doing just that. The difficulty of his teaching exposed those who were genuinely seeking him and those who were not. The genuine pressed in and pursued the answers to the things they didn’t understand, while the others went back home to pursue an ordinary life.

As Christians today we face the same battle within our hearts – to pursue Jesus, not simply for what he offers to us, but because of who he is. Know that he understands the difficulties we face and is ready to call those who deny themselves and follow him today, “blessed.”

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29

Remembering God’s faithfulness

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As we finish unwrapping Christmas presents, we suddenly find that it’s time to begin wrapping up the year. And what a year it’s been. On a global scale, this is a year that has been full of triumph and disaster, hopefulness and despair. A quick search online will bring to mind some of the best and worst faced in 2014.

On a personal level many will relate to the variety of experiences, good and bad, that were faced in 2014. Though the details may differ, each of us has faced our own versions of the struggles and victories we’ve read about in the news and like every year, we must choose what our hearts and minds will dwell on in the light or dark of it.

As a nation, ancient Israel also went through events that brought both rejoicing in the faithfulness of God, and more often than we realise, a deep questioning of whether he was really there beside them.

For them, reflecting back on God’s mighty acts of redemption was a way of fueling perseverance in trusting him. Psalm 77:10-11 captures this in a song, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.”

It’s the same for us. In all that we experience, we are called to make a habit of bringing to mind the truth of God’s character and salvation expressed in the history of the Old Testament and the revelation of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. This intentional remembering of God’s faithfulness should not be an annual event, but rather a life discipline.

Though it may not always be up-front in our minds, God has acted in a mighty way to save us through Jesus. A life grounded on this truth can interpret and respond to difficulties in the right way. It’s not the quality of the house, but the foundation that plays the biggest role in keeping it standing (Matthew 7:25).

God is faithful and we can trust him through the good and the bad. May we remember how he has been faithful to us in the past and continue to bring to mind what God he has done for us through Christ Jesus in the coming year.

The incarnation and art

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“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son, full of grace and truth…” – John 1:14

In the middle ages, Monks withdrew from society because they believed that there was something evil about the natural world. They pursued isolation as a means of contemplating God. Spirituality was defined in terms of separateness from the world, not just in character and values, but in space and association. They segregated the sacred and the secular. They had no possessions, no income, and no employment. The goal was to fix one’s mind as much as possible on constant contemplation of heavenly things.

As time went on and Christians took greater notice of Jesus’ humanity, monks became friars and began re-connecting with normal societies, travelling from place to place, preaching and teaching. Theology influenced what was practiced.

It was the truth of the incarnation that made this change. When Jesus took on flesh, he highlighted something profound. The material world cannot be evil if the fullness of God is able to inhabit a physical body. True spirituality then, is not found in isolating oneself from the influences of the world, but rather being filled with the Spirit of Christ in the midst of those influences.

If our view of God influences what we do so drastically (to the point where it’s the difference between withdrawing permanently from society or engaging with it) would it be fair to assume it influences how we do art and creativity?

As creative thinkers and artists in the church, the question to ask is how our theology currently influences what we practice. In particular, how does the incarnation influence and in fact guide what we do? Is there any cross-over between the ideas in Scripture and what we end up practicing in our lives today?