You’ve probably heard the story of the scientist who prays to God saying, “God, I’m sorry but we just don’t need you anymore. We have finally figured out how to create life out of nothing. You know, the way you once did right at the beginning.”
“Oh, is that so?” replied God, “Tell Me about it.”
“Well,” says the scientist, “we take dirt and form it, we breathe life into it and, there you have it, we’ve created a man!”
“Amazing,” says God, “that’s very interesting, could you show Me?” The scientist bends down and scrapes up some dirt and begins to mould the dirt into the shape of a man.
“No, no, no…!” interrupts God, “Get your own dirt!” Boom-Tish!
Despite what many presume, only God has the power and intelligence to create life out of nothing. Science observes and experiments, and does wonderful things, but only. . .
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Pastor and author A. W. Tozer once wrote, “the Presence of God is the central fact of Christianity. At the heart of the Christian message is God Himself waiting for His redeemed children to push into conscious awareness of His Presence.” Tozer wasn’t referring to our Christian gatherings on Sundays and through the week, but to every moment in our lives.
For many years Christians around the world have been inspired by the book The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (c. 1614 – 1691), a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery who did just as Tozer suggests.
Lawrence spent most of his life in a priory working in the kitchen and towards the end of his life repairing sandals. It was in these routine and ordinary tasks that he sought to connect with God. Each day and every hour was a new beginning and a fresh opportunity to love God. He endeavoured to do everything to the glory of God, including washing pots and pans. His life was one giant prayer, talking to God all day long as he worked. When he died in 1691 he had practiced living moment-by-moment in God’s presence for over forty years.
In our fast paced, consumer-orientated world we can easily go for hours, maybe days without giving God a thought, and many have found Brother Lawrence’s approach refreshing and helpful. The reality is that God is always at work in the world and doing thousands of things in our lives, but we are often unaware of them. And if we are aware, it is most likely that only two or three of them will be in our focus.
God is very much at work in the world, but it takes discipline and grace for us to move past the immediate, and the busy, to see it.
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I have no doubt that every parent’s patience has been tested during the “why” stage of their child’s development. No matter where you are or what you are doing, a small voice incessantly asks the simplest of questions, “Why?”
It is staggering the number times the simple query can be asked before breakfast. Eager to understand the world in which they find themselves, children seek explanations for each, and every, thing they touch or see.
Sakichi Toyoda, a Japanese industrialist, inventor and founder of Toyota Industries in the 1930s based his widely used technique on the same question. It’s called the “5 Whys”. 5 Whys is a practical problem solving technique that asks series of questions designed to uncover the underlying cause of a problem or defect. It is very simple. You simply keep asking the question “why” until you reach the essential cause of the problem you need solved. A quick search of the internet will explain how to use this quite effective tool.
Yesterday morning at Hobart Baptist we concluded our short series on God’s Mysterious Ways. God and life is full of mystery, causing us to often ask “Why?” Perhaps the greatest of these is, “Why do things exist?”
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Salt and light are important ingredients to our everyday living. A little salt makes a big change in the way food tastes and a little light transforms a dark room. These ordinary everyday things are very powerful change agents.
When Jesus called his followers to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) he was affirming a familiar theme in scripture. God’s first command to the first human beings on earth was “to work it and take care of it.”(Genesis 2:15). Then, even after the fall of humanity when most have rejected God, he reiterated the call to Noah (Genesis 9:1-3). Then when the people of Israel are in exile in Babylon he calls them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Similarly, in the New Testament Peter encourages Christians to see how they can impact those who don’t believe by the way they live their lives (1 Peter 2:12).
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Last week I began a series on God’s Mysterious Ways. The Bible reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). When reading the Bible we are often left wondering why certain things happen the way they do.
In his book, Genesis: The Movie, Robert Farrar Capon suggests one of the reasons we are often confused and perplexed by the Bible is that we read it the wrong way. Rather than reading it as an instruction manual he encourages Christian to start “watching” it like a film. Only then, he suggests, will we begin to understand what God is up to.
When we watch a movie we normally do so in one sitting. We don’t stop it every five or ten minutes to analyse each scene, but watch it to the end waiting for the threads to come together and the story resolve.
Capon suggests we read the Bible the same way. Rather than stopping every time we don’t quite understand . . .
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English poet and hymn writer, William Cowper (1731 – 1800) wrote these words, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.” Cowper was no stranger to God’s mysterious ways.
His mother died when he was six, he was ill-treated by his father and boarding school left him scarred for life. He became a Christian during one of his numerous spells in care overseen by a believing doctor who later became his friend. His life-long battle with depression left him institutionalised many times with many unsuccessful suicide attempts.
His friend John Newton, writer of the hymn Amazing Grace and aware of Cowper’s disposition towards melancholy and despair, proposed a collaboration on a book of hymns together. “God moves in a mysterious way,” is the first line from one of those hymns.
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Over Easter the New York Times ran an article that commented in passing that Easter Sunday is the day Christians honour Jesus’ “resurrection into heaven.” A mistake which, once pointed out, was quickly corrected. Nevertheless, such an error reminds us of the growing ignorance in our Western world of Christian belief.
This year’s Easter has come and gone and life returns to normal, almost as if the resurrection has no effect. But it wasn’t like that on the first Easter. I wonder whether Easter should make more of an impact in our lives. Maybe we too reflect the ignorance of the rest of our community.
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Over the past months we have seen many natural disasters across Australia. It seems this summer we have lived up to Dorothea Mackellar’s description that we are a land of “droughts and flooding rains”. In fact Tasmania has not been immune with even the chaplain of our own Hobart Boy’s Brigade losing his family’s house in the bushfires.
While there are quite a few differing opinions regarding the extent to which humanity’s actions are the causes of recent climate change; that the climate is changing is quite obvious. How fast and in what ways it is changing is still open to debate.
These recent events serve to show that despite our best efforts we cannot control the weather no matter how much we would like to think we can. They remind us that we are at the mercy of weather patterns that are more powerful than we are.
Yet our desire to control the weather reveals, I believe, how we struggle to maintain a biblical view of our responsibility over creation. While we are called to be good stewards of creation we are never called to control it, but rather treat it with appropriate care.
Today the consensus of scientists is that the level of CO2 in the air and global temperatures are increasing, polar caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. The subsequent call for more care of our environment resonates deeply with our God given responsibility. However, I tend to agree with those who suggest . . . Read more >>>
In a scene at a New Year’s Eve party in the film Forrest Gump, Forrest is asked, “Don’t you just love New Years? You get to start all over. Everybody gets a second chance.” There is something in this statement that sums up one of our attitudes to the New Year. Many of us use it as an opportunity to reflect and dream about doing things differently in the future.
There is something within our human nature that longs for things to be different. The opportunity to start over, or a chance to do better, and the possibility of a clean slate is a longing deep within us.
The truth is we’ve all made decisions we wish we could change, or said things we which we hadn’t, and many of us would relish the opportunity to relive a part of our lives again. We all look back with regret in some way. It’s part of our human existence, so it is not surprising that we take the opportunity of the New Year to resolve to do things differently.
Yet how often do we fail to keep our resolutions. There is something about well-worn habits, lifestyles and attitudes that are not easily changed. This is as true of individuals as it is of communities. How many of the trouble spots across the world are continuing conflicts of past generations that still linger? Just like the Israel/Arab conflict that goes right back to Abraham and his two sons Ishmael and Isaac.
The good news we celebrate as Christians is that Jesus not only offers us the opportunity of second chance, but also the power of the Holy Spirit to be able to live differently.
The Bible is full of examples where God gives a second chance! The people of Israel were constantly and consistently called by the prophets to repent, refocus and restart their life with God. And Jesus repeatedly gave second chances—whether it was through healing, forgiveness or his teaching. Just like the woman accused of adultery whom Jesus saved from stoning, the lives of many people were changed—revitalized, renewed, and restored.
Even high profile people like the apostle Peter was given another chance (John 21:15-23) after he had denied Jesus three times (Mark 14:66-72). And Saul, who later changed his name to Paul, was a persecutor of Christians (Acts 7:58-8:3) before his life was transformed (Acts 9:1-19).
“The Creator of the universe became a human being and willingly suffered death so that you and I could have a fresh start
The good news of the story of Jesus Christ is that the Creator of the universe became a human being and willingly suffered death so that you and I could have a fresh start. The message is the promise of forgiveness, grace and mercy and it extends to every person. No one is exempt from failures and regrets and no one is exempt from the opportunity to receive God’s love and forgives and the promise of a second chance. This is more than a New Year’s resolution, it is a promise of change.
Of course, we can make a fresh start at any time; God’s grace is not restricted to a certain time of year. Yet New Year is as good a time as any to reflect, re-frame, realign and refocus our lives and take the opportunity of God working with us to see our lives take a positive turn in the right direction and for the better.
New Year’s resolutions may not last long, but when we repent and ask God for his help, all things are possible. We are not alone. What is it in your life that needs changing? What things do you think God would like changed? Why not talk to God about it and begin the adventure of a second chance.
Babette’s Feast is the name of a favourite film of Jenny’s and mine. It is a gentle and moving story masterpiece that won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1987, and it’s a great one to watch again at Christmas.
The film is set in a small Lutheran community on the bleak and frigid coast of Jutland, Denmark where the living is strict, simple, sacrificial, and separated from the rest of the world. Two elderly sisters, daughters of the pastor, gave up opportunities to marry when they were young so as to remain in the village serving the church with their father. One day a mysterious Frenchwoman arrives and pleads for protection from persecution. The sisters have little money but allow her stay and in return she becomes their maid.
The film starts slowly reflecting the insularity and mundane regularity of the austere community life. Twelve years after BAbette’s arrival, the two middle-aged sisters try to carry on the mission of their deceased father, yet it proves impossible without his strict leadership and the sect slowly splinters.
As the 100th anniversary of the pastor’s birth approaches the sisters want to celebrate it in a way that will help their friends. At the same time Babette receives word she has won 10,000 francs in a French lottery. Although initially expecting to leave the village, Babette eventually begs to be permitted to prepare one last supper as a gift for the community.
The meal is the climax of the film and here we learn Babette was once chef at a top Parisian restaurant. As the tired, aging and suspicious community members sit down for the meal relationships are stiff and cold. They cautiously begin to dine on Babette’s delicacies and as they do their faces show a hint of thawing. As the meal progresses it is not only their bodies that are fed, but their souls as well. Old wounds begin to heal and closed hearts are gently opened.
The film ends with the aged community members outside joining hands around the fountain rousingly singing old hymns. In the kitchen Babette sits in the middle of the mess of dirty dishes, greasy pots, and leftover food. She is tired as she talks to the sisters and reveals she has spent all her money on the meal and will be staying in the community.
The film is full of meaning for Christians as many missioligists, such as Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, have noted. That there are twelve seated at the supper is a subtle hint inviting comparisons to the Lord’s Supper. In fact it almost seems that somehow the spirit of Christ has slipped into the room and joined them in the meal, anticipating the great banquet that SScripture reminds us is yet to come. The meal itself becomes a time of deep thanksgiving and fellowship not only demonstrating the power of celebration, but like the cross, demonstrating the costliness of grace. It cost Babette all she had.
The film also reflects the heart of the mystery of Christmas. Babette’s gift ushers in the gift of grace, unasked and unearned, just as God’s grace enters our world through the birth of Jesus Christ. And just as in the incarnation God embraces our human existence and sanctifies it, Babette’s gift celebrates the good things of the world over and against the lifelessness of religious legalism.
Ultimately, however, Babette’s Feast is story of grace and reminds us how grace works: it costs the giver everything and the recipient nothing. And that’s what Christmas is all about.