#2 Diversity in unity under God

 

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‘In the beginning God

created the heavens and the earth’

~ Genesis 1:1 ~

The charge of ‘monochrome and monotonous’ cannot be levelled against the perfect God’s creation. Instead of dull neutrality, God brings forth a vibrant creation bursting with inherent diversity enacted ‘according to their kinds’. There are similarities: some of creation shares being part of the vegetation or, of belonging to the realm of living creatures. And all of these count as created by God. But with the similarities, there are also differences: there are seed-bearing plants, fruit trees, fish, large sea-creatures, birds, livestock, crawling animals and wildlife. Even within those kinds, the differences spiral like the beautiful twisting and turnings of a gymnast completing their routine so that creation details a kaleidoscope [kalos, beautiful + eidos, form/shape] of diversity.

Humanity includes the same pattern of similarities and of differences. There is sameness. Firstly, like all other things they fall into the category of created but secondly, they make up the kind called humanity, a category uniquely created imago Dei. Within these similarities there is also an initial diversity: humanity consists of man and woman. They are united in being both under God and forming human kind, but they are different in being man or woman. After the initial creation of humanity, the subsequent union of this man and woman sees diversity (the two different) being united (in one flesh) as they are married under God. Thus, diversity is brought together in a way that is for good and for the benefit of what surrounds it, in this case the creation which humanity is to care for.

The creation picture places God as the ultimate uniting setting under which the human race is to properly relate to one another and to the world. Unfortunately, the mirror reflecting that exquisite truth is shattered by humanities sin, and instead of remaining under God, there is a bid for false autonomy. It is the kind of man-made freedom that results in death and destruction as even brother forcefully crushes brother. The Babel incident displays the human heart: a search for human-made and human-centred unity. Together, when united by sinful anthropocentric desires, humanity is as safe as children fiddling with a nuclear bomb. So, for their good and also in judgment, God divides them.

It is from the scattered ruins of the human race that God, in grace, calls a man named Abram.  In Abraham we find a pre-Christ figure of the one who will be a blessing to the many. From Abraham we find a nation saved and called to be God’s people out of all the peoples of the earth. Part of Israel’s raison d’être (besides simply being God’s people) was to be a light to the nations, to show them the One true revealed God, who was in fact also their creator and God.[1] But, instead of shining forth displaying God’s glory, Israel herself is lustfully drawn into the darkness and the witness to God is marred. Israel shows that she neither values the striking worth of her God or the unique relationship she has been privileged with. In this she simply reveals our own sin (Rom 1:21-25). Yet, even in the midst of the resulting judgment, the Old Testament still ends containing elements of hope, both for Israel and the nations.

 

‘It is not enough for you to be My servant

Raising up the tribes of Jacob

And restoring the protected ones of Israel.

I will also make you a light to the nations,

To be my salvation to the ends of the earth.’

~ Isaiah 49:6 ~

The pencil marks of hope take on flesh in the arrival of Jesus, the Son of God. He is the second Adam, the descendant of Abraham and crucially, this Saviour of Israel will stand as the light to the nations (Matt 4:12-17). He embodies the good news of Gentile inclusion in God’s reconciliation plans. His ministry will include the weak and marginalised, the obvious outcasts, all kinds of men and women who this One will serve. He stands (and is crucified) as the One who offers the hope of humanity coming back under the good rule of their Creator.

God’s creation shows a delight in diversity. God’s reconciliation plans show a desire to see the different nations and all kinds of people, gathered under his Son. However in all of this, there is one element of diversity which God detests, one which he absolutely abhors. It is a deviancy called heresy, although in our culture it might better be known as open-mindedness. God is utterly uniform when it comes to truth and will not stand for a diversity of opinion regarding the truthfulness of his existence, of his character, and of his plans in this world though his Son. So in John 4, Jesus invites the Samaritan woman to come worship the Father in spirit and truth. Jesus is the one who is the only way and truth and life (John 14:6). And likewise the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth (14:17). Truth is important – what an understatement! – truth is the difference between life and death. Truth confronts the reality of our sin with God’s gracious reconciliation offer: initiated by the Father, achieved in the Son and completed by the Spirit. And, as per Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23 (which draws on the relationships within the Trinity) part of how the world will know that Jesus truly was sent by the Father is in seeing different people being united as one in Jesus.

After Jesus’ ascension, the very same Holy Spirit who Jesus prayed for is poured out. With power he accompanies the message of Jesus’ resurrection. It is a truth projected to reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8 cf Isaiah 49:6) and Pentecost becomes our first major marker of this. In contrast to blubbering Babel, language is being used not to separate, but to have the gospel proclaimed to ethnically diverse people.[2] Peter explains why this is happening: it is so they realise that ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [Jesus] will be saved’ (2:21). While in our sinfulness we might set up false parameters, according to God via Peter, there is no distinction that can bar anyone from coming under this salvation. It is in this sense that ‘there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28).

‘After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude

from every nation, tribe, people, and language…’

~ Revelation 7:9 ~

Given salvation history, the end-time picture of diversity united under Jesus should run no risk of coming across as a wet fish to the face. It is a diversity epitomised by having the world’s ethnicity, which so readily separates us here on earth, united under the Lamb. There is diversity in unity.  What should we do with this? ‘Oh it’s over-realised eschatology [i.e. you’re looking for heaven on earth] if you expect that to be displayed here’. Well, be consistent then (!) and please resist pursuing things like mercy and justice and even holiness (cf. Heb 12:14-28) this side of Jesus’ return. It is contrived to label a desire for this coming reality to be displayed (as much as is possible this side of Christ’s return) as ‘over-realised eschatology’. The expectation of perfection to come does not dismiss a present pursuit. Instead it allows the present pursuit to be conducted within the secure context of knowing that it will one day be ours in perfection! I.e. go wild!

‘Ok, well, what does this mean for the local church? How does diversity in unity work within the gathering/s of God’s people? Is this for our good? – could this be for our good? – how? And what about the Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP) which was (is?) all the rage?’[3]

In the next post we’ll look at how diversity might be able to operate within the local church.


[1] Cf. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: a Biblical Theology of Mission (New Studies in Biblical Theology; Leicester: Apollos, 2001), 252–254.

[2] I’ll need to talk about different languages at some point.

[3] A homogeneous unit is a group of people that have, for example, linguistic or ethnic or educational similarities. For a church congregation then it would look like a church made of up people who either look the same, have the same educational or socio-economic levels, or who all speak the same language.

I lie down and sleep…(a reflection on Psalm 3)

‘I lie down and sleep;

I wake again because the Lord sustains me.’

~ Psalm 3:5

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Have a look at the Psalm in its entirety:

(A psalm of David when he fled from his son Absalom)

1 Lord, how my foes increase!

There are many who attack me.

2 Many say about me,

“There is no help for him in God.”

Selah

3 But You, Lord, are a shield around me,

my glory, and the One who lifts up my head.

4 I cry aloud to the Lord,

and He answers me from His holy mountain.

Selah

5 I lie down and sleep;

I wake again because the Lord sustains me.

6 I am not afraid of the thousands of people

who have taken their stand against me on every side.

7 Rise up, Lord!

Save me, my God!

You strike all my enemies on the cheek;

You break the teeth of the wicked.

8 Salvation belongs to the Lord;

may Your blessing be on Your people.

Selah                                                     (HCSB)

As someone who has struggled long term with sleep issues (and ain’t quite out of it yet), the ‘sleeping Psalms’ (Psalm 3 and 4) were up on my wall for reading before I went to bed. The image of sleep is a striking representation of trust in God. A lovely one: I lay me down, God to work, God must work, I have nothing. Rest as trust – there is a concreteness there. We can know what that should look like because all of us have slept at some time – it involves an utter falling back to rest in God and Him being God, when we are not.

However, thoughts continuing along those lines are perhaps better suited for Psalm 4. In Psalm 3 the focus is on something else. In the midst of obvious difficulties, there is present in 3:5 a beautifully intimate picture of the most dependent and personal kind of sustaining. Indeed it’s the kind of sustaining that happens when there are real troubles on the go. Look at David. How can he trust the Lord? People are out to get him, in the worst sense. They are sprouting cries of ‘God ain’t gonna help you Dave! – he’s no help to you!’ (v.1-2). These things lead to a declaration and cry of trust in God from David (v.3-4).

And then we have verses 5-8. It ends with a type of vindication of David (carried on into Ps 4 actually) – this is part of David’s hope (cf. this theme in 1 Peter). And it starts with this gentle picture in verse 5 of the Lord’s sustaining. As David faces the difficult reality of v. 6, here is his comfort and strength. It is that the God he is trusting in, is the One who enables him. He is your enabler. Your sustainer. The only reason you can rise the next day is because this One takes your hand to get you up, and to lead you on. This is our God. This is the One I can and must trust, no matter what’s going on.

‘I lie down and sleep;

I wake again because the Lord sustains me.’

You may also find useful: Despair, meet hope

Creator God

The beginning, God.

He creates; He forms.

Out of darkness, He dawns,

Out of watery chaos, He subdues.

 

Where to begin? God.

He recreates; He re-forms.

Out of darkness, He draws.

Out of utter chaos, He soothes.

 

Rest my soul and start

At the beginning

With the One who takes

And makes and… keeps.

Who settles and subdues

And rules with goodly power

He shapes the whole creation

And He certainly holds you.

(Gen 1:1-2; John 1:1-2)

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Waves and Fire

ZB

Ever wondered why we sit

Transfixed

Before waves and fire?

Watching.

Strangely at ease and peace

 

The constant ebb and flow

Water rising, water falling.

Moving, persistently

A beauty in the swelling and crashing

The water comforts our troubled thoughts?

 

The burning and cracking

Licking at wood.

Fiery, moving

Dancers of the flames

Shifting about

Captivates us

 

Could it be

That for once

Their constant motion

Renders us quiet

Still for a moment

A pause to reflect

As the business of our lives

Slows

while watching the busyness of theirs?

 

Could it be too

That before the One

mightier than the crashing waves

Who is Himself a consuming fire.

That perhaps sitting before this One.

There could also be reason.

To pause

From the activities that bind

And consume us

As we rest in Him who is working

Sovereignly and for our good in Christ?

Some Final Thoughts on Jonah

When you get to the end of Jonah, well… at least for me, I’m kinda like ‘Well what happened to Jonah? Did he repent? Did he change? What happened?’ I want a chapter 5.

So, what do you think happened to Jonah?

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We’ve been preaching through Jonah at church, and we ended the series 2 weeks ago…

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I must admit that I think things worked out ok. It is speculation and yet I think it fits within the trajectory of the book. We have the book of Jonah. It is a book that has Jonah alone at a bunch of times, for instance in the fish etc. That means that to have the book we have, with the details that are in it, either Jonah himself wrote it, or else he told the story (in detail) to someone and they wrote it. Either way, we have Jonah’s story recorded and it is a story in which he comes off as the biggest idiot of all times (well he’s a bit like us then isn’t he?) My point is that it’s not a flattering story for Jonah. He is shown up for his disobedience and his rebellion and the callousness of his heart (he cares more for a plant than a city). So, what person is willing to tell a story in which all their stupidity and hardheartedness is shown in 3D?

Again, it is speculation but I’d imagine that the only way in which you can tell a story like that which shows you warts and all, is if you’ve learnt your lesson. It’s if you have been so humbled and changed and transformed that you can now go: ‘Yeah I was an idiot. I’ll tell it like it was and let’s see God get all the glory.’ You can face up to the truth of your sin and rebellion when you’ve been humbled enough to come to God in repentance and you’ve consequently tasted the joy of forgiveness and the assured security of relationship with Him. You can then tell it like it was, regardless of what people think of you. Sounds rather liberating doesn’t it?

What most certainly isn’t speculation is that the book is a wonderful testament to the patience of God in the life of a recalcitrant follower of the living God. From the very beginning God had been working in Jonah. We saw it in Chapter 1: a blatantly disobedient Jonah, and God comes after him, in a scary way. And yet there is a pursuing grace in that: he doesn’t just give up on Jonah, even when God is well within his rights to. Instead to get Jonah back, God humbles him, to the point of death (chapter 2) so that he can come back to a newness of life in some ways. But even in chapter 3, even after being humbled, you somehow still guess that his heart just isn’t in it. It is strange that for someone already shown so much mercy, he fails to mention mercy at all to the Ninevites. There’s still work to be done in Jonah’s heart obviously. And so in chapter 4 we see God continuing to patiently work in Jonah. In anger Jonah ‘prays’ to God and in the gentleness of a Father with his child, God listens and then asks Jonah questions that get to the heart of the matter: the problem of him (Jonah) not letting God be God. And graciously, He goes even further in giving the implicit invitation for Jonah to share His own heart.

From the book as a whole I was struck by the patience with which God works in Jonah. It gave me comfort, because, gosh do I need that same patience as I have multiple Jonah-like moments. It gave me perspective, because I saw that in the times when God works in me (and it’ll be painful) it’ll ultimately be for my good, to let Him be God, the Rock on which I stand (Psalm 62). And as for that last bit of Jonah, the invitation to share God’s heart: well that is simply mind-blowing. There is a very real way in which God invites us, not to simply come under his purposes in some mechanical way, but to have our very hearts beat for seeing God’s good purposes come to fruition. To offer life. Think of the privilege that God would desire to partner with Jonah (and us) in His great work of salvation going out. Think of the actual idea of sharing God’s heart. To share God’s heart is to taste reality. It is to see and experience and value things as they really are. And at the top of that list, besides the right love of God, will surely be a right love of humanity. A deep longing to see their good as they come to know the God who created them, and who made them to know and love and live with Him as God.

Of course, we see God’s heart most clearly revealed in Jesus. That salvation we need so desperately is secured in his life and death and resurrection on our behalf. Through faith in this Jesus, we are given new life. A life that comes to know God and to have Him as God. And it is a life, where again, the invitation is made: come and share My heart.  Out of the book of Jonah there is much to pray. Surely some of it must include not only the thanks to God for his salvation and continued patient working in our lives but also: ‘Oh Father, break my heart for what breaks yours!

Fears in context

There is comfort in knowing that my fears are not bigger than God

They will not overcome him, they cannot

He is too big!

 

Though they seem large and looming

My problems are well within the grasp of the God

The God who is wise when I am not

Strong when I am far from it

And good beyond any goodness I know

 

And so not always having the answers

Yet knowing I need to trust in the God who does.

The God who is both good and willing.

And that makes the difference,

Not only that he is good

But that he chooses to direct his goodness towards me

The loving Father of the Jesus who suffered in my place.

 

So the struggle will be

Not with the fears themselves

(although my focus will be drawn to them)

But with making sure that my vision remains

Remembering and seeing

That God is far bigger than any of my worries.

 

The cross of Christ makes it clearer most

That he is good

And did I mention willing?

Longing to lovingly care for his children,

And that surely includes me.

 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Who is bigger than all our worries

Even though oft’ we forget.