The Futile Pursuit of Purity

Who can make himself clean?
No one I know.
No one you know either.
Then why do we talk about purity?

We say that purity is something to ’pursue’
Something we should chase after.
Yet it cannot be achieved.
Does God enjoy these futile pursuits? 

Purity ideas have a whiff of bleach about them;
Sterile souls for God to rest in.
Like a celebrity bedroom
Or an autopsy table.

The concept is a true dichotomy;
Pure or impure?
By definition there is no other condition.
Flawless or flawed.

Does it only apply to sex?
I do not hear it about much else.
Non-kosher cotius
Is the Church’s spécialité after all 

Hoping the cloud of guilt
Will reform deviant desires.
Neutering the impulse
To bump ugly without care

It surely cannot talk to greed,
The tithe could evanesce.
Nor can it address the pride
The Pastor may confess

Or he would not.

On purity, Jesus does not care.
He touched the bleeding,
The leper and the dead.
Such a naughty Jewish boy.

“Nothing outside a person can defile
Rather, it is what comes from within”
Oh snap.
Now we’re in trouble.

Even if you could fix
To clean the inner sanctum of your soul
Eventually you will
Shit the metaphorical bed. 

Righteousness is a robe
And it can only be given
By One who is worthy 
And fit to bestow it.

Being hidden in Him
Is all the purity you’re gonna get.
Fortunately for you and I
It is all the purity we’re gonna need.

It's a Party and the End of Winning & Losing

There is a common thought that the Gospel is a ticket to heaven; give your life to Jesus and you get the free pass into a cherub filled eternity. And in that notion, the grace of God is simply a reward for believing the right thing. 

 

Also the quality of your eternal experience is determined by your good deeds and obedience now. The size of your heavily mansion is in direct relation to your levels of spiritual achievement. You are spending your life storing treasures in heaven that you will then enjoy forever.

 

There is, of course, a list of Bible verses that will justify this understanding of the Gospel and heaven. You just have to ignore almost all of what Jesus’ said to believe it.

 

The biggest problem with this view is that it simply turns the ‘Game of Life’ into the ‘Game of Afterlife’. The material accumulation of possessions, power and status is given a spiritual veneer. But ultimately it’s all just a game.

 

Jesus comes to offer something else. No game. No competition. No fight for the finish. He offers what he and his disciples call ‘The Good News of the Kingdom of God’. It is not a ticket to heaven but the public announcement of a new reality.

 

Here is one of his descriptions in a parable:

 

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet

 

Luke 14:15-24

 

There are some great excuses here. New land and property is a sign of growth and needs looking after properly. A successful business needs expanding and oxen require care. “I’m on honeymoon” is as solid an excuse as you can muster. Looking after land, animals and spouse are God-given responsibilities straight out of Genesis 1 & 2. 

 

However God does not care about the successful businesses and relationships because he is throwing a party. And the ONLY thing he cares about is that the party is full. That is why he rounds up whoever is available. Starting with those who are losing.

 

The Grace of God works by raising the dead, not rewarding the righteous.

 

The whole system of winning and losing at life (even spiritual life) is jettisoned by a God who is only interested in having the very best party. The message of the Gospel is not to grab a ticket to heaven but grab a plate to the table. And a glass too.

Pentecost: The Word & The Spirit and The Spirit & The Word

Wouldn’t it be amazing to have Jesus as your teacher.? Not in an abstract spiritual sense but in an actual sense; the physical person of Jesus Christ teaching you, like he did for the twelve disciples. The Word of God manifest as your own personal rabbi; that would be the BEST right? 

Actually, no. Jesus thinks otherwise:

 
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
— John 16:7
 

Jesus thinks it is advantageous that he leaves because we are better off with the Spirit. It is truly the best thing for us. This is because Spirit brings not just the vocal instruction of what to do but also the power to fulfill it. The instruction alone we cannot bear. We need the ‘Helper’ to help us do it:

 
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.
— John 16:12-15
 

Originally the disciples understood the ‘Word of God’ to be the law given to Moses. They soon realize that Jesus himself is the Word- “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68).  Now they have to come to terms with a new understanding; that Jesus was leaving and the Spirt would be leading them.

For us there are two elements to this new way of being lead:

  1. The Spirit will help us understand the Word of God. He will “make known” to us what the Lord is saying in the Bible. He will also give us understanding of Jesus’ words, actions and intentions. We do not need to rely on our intelligence, interpretation or insight the understand the Scriptures. Which is a good job because we are, invariably, idiots. We need the Spirit. We do not have to understand the Hebrew or Greek or historical contexts - helpful as they are. We simply need the Spirit. Teaching, study and learning are all very important. The Spirit, however, is essential.
  2. The Spirit will speak directly to us. He will speak to us in words, pictures and visions the things He wants us to know. The Bible is not the Word. The Word is Jesus. The Bible reveals the Word, that is to say it reveals Jesus. There are things God wants to say that are not already written in the Bible. Are they contradictory to the Word as revealed in the Bible? No. Harmonious with the Bible’s revelation of God? Yes. But not already written. This can make people very nervous. So are we all to run around saying that God said this or that? Actually yes. How will we know what is God and what is not? Simple, the Spirit will say. He will confirm and bear witness (Romans 8:16). This faith stuff really is impossible without the Spirit of God.

So be encouraged. Even though hearing from God is special and sacred that doesn’t mean it is a rare occurrence. Let’s listen up.

Hearing from God can seem a risky business but not even trying is worse. Let’s loosen up.

Hearing from God should never been taken lightly but that doesn’t mean He is always somber and angry. Let’s lighten up.

Pentecost: The Gift of the Spirit for All

In the unfolding blast radius of the Pentecost event, Peter stands up and delivers his first ever sermon. He knows that when you start preaching it is pretty smart to lean on words other than your own. Specifically he recites the prophet Joel who had envisioned this moment at the beginning of a new age; the birth of the Church.

 
In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
— Acts 2:17-18
 

There are four clear prophecies in the Old Testament of the giving of the Holy Spirit  (Joel 2:28-32; Isaiah 44:3-5; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Zechariah 12:10). They speak of who the Spirit is and what he's coming to do. 

While the other scriptures are perhaps better at describing what is actually happening Peter chooses the scripture that affirms who it is happening to; it is for all people. Literally written as ‘all flesh’.

Sons. Daughters. Young. Old. Servants. Men. Women.

We tend to think the 'WTF?!' reactions to Pentecost are to do with the crazy manifestations. The Old Testament and the ministry of Jesus are full of supernatural encounters. That is the very reason they were in the room waiting in the first place- they wanted the fireworks! What prompts the 'WTF?!' in the room is far more to do with the undeserving and unqualified people who are receiving it. 

The indiscriminate outpouring of the Spirit upends every religious and political system of organization. He liberally ignores all of our categories and social orders. None of this matters to Him.

Paul extends this understanding to the Gentiles, even beyond where Peter was initially willing to go. There is much in Paul’s letters about how we grow in the Spirit, but his understanding of who gets to have Him is clear; everyone.

Our labels and designations are irrelevant to a life in the Spirit. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” The Holy Spirit is raining on the zealot and the heretic, the most wretched wrongdoer and selfless saint. 

This is wonderful news for you and me. Our qualification to receive the Spirit is to be human. Something even I can manage.

Understandably, the first hearers of this message said “Peter, this is crazy! Have you met my wife? Have you seen my lazy, entitled children? What on earth should we do now?”

He replies:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38-39

Don’t worry! You have been forgiven! Simply position your whole self to receive more of Him! This is God keeping His promise to you, your family and all the people!

Peter knew the person of Jesus Christ better than anyone. He had seen with his own eyes that:

 

Jesus the Son of God has come; affirming our humanity and value to the Father.

Jesus the Messiah has lived; declaring and demonstrating the Kingdom of God.

Jesus the Savior has died; revealing the self-sacrificial nature of the Father’s love.

Jesus the Redeemer has risen; confirming His power over death and evil.

Jesus the Lord of All has ascended; displaying His status as King of Heaven and Earth.

Without hesitation Peter links the liberal and indiscriminate outpouring of the Spirit to the liberal and indiscriminate outpouring of forgiveness. For it is the Spirit of Jesus that we receive.

To put it simply, all is grace.