Tag Archives: foundation

Concentrating the mind

In the days when I was a student among Christian friends, we were sometimes asked, “What would you say to a man in the 5 minutes before he is taken to be executed?” As long as it remains theoretical, it is an interesting question. Nowadays, I suppose, some would simply want to avoid trouble, and get him shot without argument, but I think we were a bit more assertive. I was reminded of this by Paul’s opening of 1Corinthians 15:1-11

“My friends, I want you to remember the message that I preached and that you believed and trusted. You will be saved by this message, if you hold firmly to it. But if you don’t, your faith was all for nothing.”

1 Corinthians 15:1-2

And the message is very simply summarised – nothing about morality, liturgy, lifestyle – all those are consequences.

“I told you the most important part of the message exactly as it was told to me. That part is: Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say. He was buried, and three days later he was raised to life, as the Scriptures say.”

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

Simple as that. Jesus died for our sins (and the death was real, because he was buried). Jesus was raised to life (and the rising was real, because there are a whole string of witnesses, including Paul). He didn’t just die. Most people manage that, one way or another, but he died for our sins. For the detail in that, we are told “according to the scriptures” Paul means the Old Testament, because the New Testament doesn’t yet exist, so especially Isaiah, and the other passages which help us understand significance of the Cross.

Jesus didn’t just appear to people, like a ghost, or as some outpouring of group hysteria. He came to individuals and groups, in a variety of places and times of day. Often unexpected, sometimes unrecognised for a time, they believed in his life. Their conversations, and reconciliations, were real. Many would die; nobody suggested a fraud. This is the earliest Christian Creed (apart from “Maranatha”, and the phrase “Jesus is Lord”, perhaps). It reminds us our our roots, and Paul tells us of the need to stay with this faith if we wish to benefit from it.

So, “What would you say to a man in the 5 minutes before he is taken to be executed?” It would be easy to get it wrong: nerves, or especially in our culture, arrogantly saying, “Do this . .”

I think my best suggestion would go something like this:

“Excuse me, I’m Andrew Knight. I don’t know if there’s anything you particularly want, but I wonder if I could tell you a story? (It might stop there if there was a negative answer, but I might be able to go on:)

It was a long time ago, but there was a man who lived an exciting life, helping many, and winning respect from ordinary people. He made some enemies, and although he did nothing wrong and they had to fix his trial, they got him condemned and executed. His friends were in despair, shocked and frightened, but slowly reports came in that he was alive. They couldn’t understand; some had seen him buried. But it was true, Jesus, somehow, wonderfully, was alive. He appeared to different groups, in different places, they talked, ate, and their lives changed. The story has spread, and there are still those like me who believe it.

I hope I never have to tell it in those circumstances, but, like all of you, I have to try and find ways of saying things to people every day. One of the challenges is to find the time, and place, and way of saying, the really important things. It isn’t easy, but it’s a good start when you are clear about the basics:

“My friends, I want you to remember the message that I preached and that you believed and trusted. . . . . Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say. He was buried, and three days later he was raised to life, as the Scriptures say.”

1 Corinthians 15

Basics

There are churches, and speakers, where you know that on every occasion you will be told that Jesus died for our sins, because, they say, that is the gospel. And they are right. The gospel is about Jesus, and the New Testament is quite clear that the climax of his ministry was his death, which was in some way for us. I can think of at least 2 reasons why Anglicans might not seem to say this so often. One is that they bore more easily, and don’t take to repetition. A better one would be that, though Jesus death for us is the centre of the gospel, there are many implications to work out, and enough to think about to keep many brilliant men occupied for more than a lifetime.

Nevertheless, if we are to talk of Ephesians 2:1-10, we shall have a timely revisiting of basic gospel, which we ought to have clearly in mind as our Christian foundation.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

Ephesians 2:1-3

Despite a generally held opinion, we learn there is nothing natural in going to heaven; we deserve judgement, and a very different fate. Perhaps that is something to come to terms with?

It is good to remember what we once were (and, especially if that is difficult, what we may again be tempted to be) – living according to our own desires. How often that is now given as a description of “retirement”! Be careful; there is nothing magic about Christian habits to stop you falling back into unfaith and God’s judgement. If that’s the bad – well serious – news, the good is wonderful

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 2:4-9

God loves us, and reaches out to help, – not because we are good, not because we deserve or earn it; but because he is that sort of God. Forgiveness is free! It’s very difficult to take that seriously. We are confused by people whose love is not unconditional, but it’s true. So we are free, and need to live like that!

10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Yes, that is what we are made for. But the good work comes after forgiveness; it is a reaction, not a payback. Today many will celebrate family, and some will re-open old wounds. Yet the Christian hope of life is in a family where all are loved – loved and offered free forgiveness despite what they are and what they have done. It’s quite a family.

Between a rock and . .

I recently used the stones dug from my garden to build a small wall. Relying on what I remembered from a course a few years ago, I tried building without cement or other binder – relying on placing the stones together, and their own weight to keep them in position. So far, so good – it is only a small wall, with earth behind it on one side.

Peter’s letter (we have moved back to read 1 Peter 2:1-10 this week) invites Christians to let themselves be built together into a house. The foundation is Christ – Peter draws on Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 28:16 – but the stones are the individual Christians. God places them together. They are supported, by Christ and by one another, and in turn they support other Christians. The picture suggests there may be some pressure!

You may not feel attracted by this idea, or enthusiastic to be placed with others not of your choice. The key is probably verse 3 “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good”. If – a big and important if – you know that God has not only done good things in general, but for you personally, then you can have some confidence in God’s skill in construction. To the extent that you have experienced real care, personal forgiveness or restoration, then you will be prepared to be placed with others to achieve more than you can alone.

It is both an advantage and a difficulty of Christian life that it is lived with others. There is a reality in it, but sometimes the relationships generate friction (and heat!), as we learn to work together, care for one another, and be gentle with old injuries. Similarly, being built together involves pressures and strains. When it works well, these are shared and balanced. When it doesn’t, the build-up at one point can cause breakage and collapse.

If indeed our experience of God is good, and continues to grow in length and depth, we shall be better placed to be supported and to support. Perhaps we need to reflect on how, and how much, God has fed and supported us. Then we shall be more ready to take a place on the Christ foundation to make something greater than our individual selves, or even our local group, for the glory and service of God.

Truth

The Bible is old. It comes from a very different time and culture, and needs translating from dead languages. Why bother? You will not expect me either to apologise for using the Bible, or for finding it important. But “Why bother?” is a significant question, and I’ll take just one of many possible answers.

Paul tells Timothy (I’m reading 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5) it is useful for teaching the truth. Truth – an important thing. Without it, we get lost, in “fake news”, opinion, misinformation, propaganda, “spin”. The first thing to do before making any plans is to check the facts. It doesn’t matter if you are planning a bus trip to town or a lifetime career. You need to know the possibilities – bus times, educational requirements . . The more you think about it, the more important truth becomes:

  • Truth is the way things are and while you can live in a dream or a fantasy, it doesn’t work for long, and you can come down with a bump.
  • Truth is reality and we all learn about the realities – financial realities, medical realities, educational realities . .
  • Truth is a foundation. Actually, the only foundation with any reliability. You can build on truth – a career, a relationship, a plan of where to go from here . .

Truth is less common than it used to be. There used to be a standard, which required truth, for example in courts, and in public life. Now, that is more “negotiable”. It should make Christians more visible. The Bible tells us about God, and it may be memories of bad school lessons that make us forget one of the best things about God is Truth. God doesn’t do lies, not even half lies; he’s as straight as you can get. He so much “tells it as it is”, that he is not only true, but Truth – he defines the word. (Remember Jesus, “I am Way, Truth and Life” John 14:6 ?). Of course, this isn’t “true” just because somebody says so. You need to decide this for yourself, in the most careful and reliable way you can – but don’t delay!

And when you find out for yourself, lets celebrate the God of the Bible, with a determination to get to know him better, understanding that truth is a firm basis for:

  • a life
  • a career
  • a relationship
  • and anything else you had in mind (anything good, that is!)