Tag Archives: conversion

Putting him in his place

Does toleration demand religious pluralism? Our society is full of different belief systems – and increasingly so as they mix and mingle. The situation was much the same in Colossae, a small town in Asia Minor / Turkey. There was a church founded by Epaphras, one of Paul’s converts. The town was founded on a trade in purple dyed wool (purple from cyclamen). But the Church was troubled by false teaching, a mixed and complicated drawing from many sources – Christian, Jewish, Greek mystery cults . . .In fact, many similarities with twenty first century society.

Paul writes to the Church, and quickly speaks of Jesus. We face a temptation to avoid him, to talk instead about our tradition, how we like to do things. Shouldn’t we just take Jesus as one teacher among many ? – what about Muslim view of Jesus, about the Mormons Joseph Smith, and the Bahai’s Bahaullah. You can get lost here – but not with Paul.

Paul is going to spell out the importance of Jesus (we are reading from Colossians 1:11-20) :

[God] “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. “

Colossians 1:13

This is the story of conversion– an individual coming to faith, not just to personal satisfaction and clarity, but life!

Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in[d] him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in[e] him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17

Christ existed before all things, and in union with him all things have their proper place. Jesus first, superior to all he created (including many of these strange spiritual things we don’t know much about. Christianity is not committed to saying there are no other spiritual powers or forces – but asserts the greatest of all). You can’t say that, and then follow it with “Jesus is one among many teachers and holy men” or “Jesus is another prophet”. It doesn’t make sense – you must choose one or other. Jesus is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body’s life. He is the first-born Son, who was raised from death, in order that he alone might have the first place in all things.

“For it was by God’s own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. For it was by God’s own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God.

Colossians 1:19,20

It was through the Son, then, that God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son’s blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven. Jesus is not just part or the church, or founder of the church – he is head, and life-source, and living ruler. Jesus is the one who brings us back to God – Christ is King because of the Cross, and that by the plan and decision of God. Paul will not allow Jesus’ role to be diminished, his place as head and ruler of the Church to be challenged.

Here we are in the twenty first century. Yes, we have many faiths, traditions and practices, and our Christian faith leads us to respect the freedom of people to believe, and even get faith wrong. But, is there a greater prophet? Someone more modern who will put Jesus in his lower place? Would you seriously think of replacing the creator of the universe, who played the key and costly role in setting us free? That would indeed be madness.

Lifechanging

Simon was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. We don’t know a great deal about his earlier life, but he appears in a story about Jesus as the owner of a fishing boat which will be very useful. Jesus asks if, by putting the boat a little distance on the lake, Simon will help him speak to a large number of people without interruption (and with his voice carrying better over the water). Luke 5:1-11.

Simon agrees. We don’t know if he is just being helpful, or how much he agrees with what is being said. I sometimes imagine that he saw himself as the practical man helping a good, but rather “other worldly”, teacher.

But then the teacher and carpenter shows the fisherman how to fish! Something about that unlikely catch deeply affects Simon. His relationship with Jesus is changed. He is committed – perhaps not even knowing clearly yet the terms of his commitment. Now he is “with” Jesus. He will be a disciple, learning all his master can teach. Fishing, family and anything else will have to take second place.

What happened to Simon has been repeated in different ways many times. Jesus attracts interest, by his actions and his teaching. Some are impressed, others entertained. Then there are those of us who come, in a sudden move or a slower development, to accept a different and unequal relationship. Jesus is Lord – in charge – and we are disciples, learners under instruction. We don’t stop thinking, asking questions, working through doubts and misunderstandings. But there is a commitment, and it takes first importance.

No doubt people have to start by relating to Jesus in different ways. Some may want to try and patronise his teaching, or to suggest that we would now develop it differently, or improve on some details . . But Christian faith is not defined by starting from Jesus ideas, but by accepting Jesus as Lord – having the authority of God come to us in human life, being the only one to set us free, and to shape our freedom in a way of life lived to his glory.

Simon seems to have found it confusing at first. But that day’s decision shaped his life in a way he never turned back from.

Agency – but no Franchise!

Todays gospel speaks of receiving the Holy Spirit, but the story is really in Acts 2:1-21.  And a strange story it is – with the powerful images of wind and fire; we know how much energy they have.  But what are we to make of it?

Strange things happening around religious people and events are not new. When (I think it was John Wesley, the Methodist) preached, crowds came, and strange behaviour was sometimes seen – people fainted, shook, cried, even made strange noises. Wesley was asked about this, and wisely replied that if it led on to a changed and Godly life, good. If not, it was of no value.

So what does the Holy Spirit do? Is it about making us good?  NO, not “good”. Good can be boring.  So is the Holy Spirit about character change?  Maybe partly, but this still sounds a bit negative.  I would prefer to say the Holy Spirit is about making us GOD’S AGENTS.

There’s nothing automatic about this. The Spirit can change us, but you have to want it, and keep allowing a transformation that can be uncomfortable.  Do that, and HS will both give gifts, for benefit of other Christians (see the list in 1 Corinthians 12, and other New Testament lists), and produce the fruit of good character – not a boring “goodness”, but a sometimes provocative joy, a peace despite stress, and a self-control when others are losing it.

The Holy Spirit leads us into exciting service for God – secret agents without the secret!  We are not all leaders, but all have an important, and individual, part to play. (1 Cor 12:7 “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”)

See how it works in Acts.  A group of frightened, puzzled, insecure disciples (hiding behind locked doors) burst out, and become a force that takes the world for God.  They are still themselves, making mistakes, getting it wrong sometimes. But Peter’s sermon converts 3,000, and the gospel travels the known world (and beyond!).

So, are you signing up as an agent, or becoming an obstacle?

Evangelism Masterclass

Jesus has had a hard day.  Walking in the hot sun, he is glad to sit and rest, even without a drink.  Yet, tired and thirsty, he can find the energy for a conversation. (John 4:1-42).  His disciples will be surprised to find him talking to a Samaritan woman, and one who came to the well at midday to avoid company.  Soon she finds his perception hard – these are things she didn’t want to talk about, but still does.

People coming to new faith may face up to things otherwise forgotten by choice.  Christians coming closer to God as they turn away from all that is wrong may also find the process challenging.  Though they cannot begin again, each day brings the choice of going on, or not.

Jesus didn’t want the effort, but took the opportunity.  The woman didn’t like being so well understood, and created a distraction (the proper place to worship – the Samaritan or Jewish centre), but Jesus avoids it.  The conversation continues until the woman leaves to bring others.  They begin in curiosity, but as Jesus stays, they gain a faith of their own which no longer depends on second hand reports.

Jesus has taught us three things about being changed – converted.  First, we have to face facts, even hard ones.  Second, we need to avoid distractions.  Third, the experience has to be their own for each person; second hand won’t do.  This is true for our own conversion, but also for our going on in faith day by day, year by year.  It is equally true for evangelism, as we try, with courtesy and urgency, to share faith with others around us.

Perhaps the twinning of this story with Exodus 17:1-7 (and its echo in Psalm 95) is fortunate.  We don’t easily face up to hard facts about ourselves and our faith (or lack of it).  Evangelism, and repentance, are for many a hard place.  But when we find God there, the benefits flow like water in the desert.