Sermon: Thoughts on Spring


Sometimes I have the privilege and joy to do a small sermon at the Anthony Wilding Retirement Village. Last month I was invited to come and do that again and I shared some thoughts on the Spring Season.

Anthony Wilding Retirement Village 16 September 2015.

This morning I would like to talk about Spring. I know; we are already in our third week but, hey Spring did not exactly come in time this year. Or let me rephrase that: Spring did not come in the expected way at the expected time. To me Spring is a miracle, not just because it is so beautiful, but first and foremost because it is so glorious!  Scientists may be able to explain that Spring has to do with the angle of the earth axis and how it influences the angle with which the sunbeams hit the Earth, and as a result produce enough light and warmth for nature to respond to it. While that may explain what is happening in scientific terms it does not explain to me why Spring is so glorious. That to me is the true beauty of Spring and in that sense Spring is like a miracle. Spring brings forth the promise of a resurrected nature, an explosion of new life that in my view can only have been created by an awesome God, a master painter, architect, gardener, sculptor, poet and musician that brings forth an overwhelmingly beautiful creation.

I did not notice the gradual movement of the earth, the lengthening of days, the small rises in temperatures (although I did notice that having a coffee in the sun in the morning became an option again). What I did notice though was that all of a sudden the lawn needed mowing again, the splash of young green in some of the trees and the appearance of  tiny colored buds and blossoms seemingly there from out of nowhere. Nature picks up more sensitively than me where is comes to responding to the wake-up call as I seem to be missing a lot. And nature, in a non-staged, uninhibited way displays something that catches my eye, waking me up for what I seem to have been missing, the new life, the sounds and fragrances.

 

Spring is a miracle that displays the beauty of God.

084 (1 of 1)Compared to the other seasons Spring has a unique beauty in terms of delicacy and display. It has this sparkle of new life unknown to the other seasons that makes you fall in love with everything. In a way it is comparable to when my children were born: in objective terms a just born baby may not be the most beautiful but when it is your baby you cannot help but falling in love with it, on first sight. There is something special that I cannot explain other than it being a miracle.

Such a beauty that it can come from God only.  God being the artist, the master musician the creator of glorious beauty and a symphony of sounds and fresh fragrances promising new life and a harvest, to be seen and heard and smelled  in Spring. Spring is simply beautiful.

Remembering art history there was a painting by an Italian master Botticelli. It is probably not for nothing that Botticelli when he wanted to symbolise Spring, made use of a beautiful girl with blossoms around her neck and in her hair. Beauty and promise in one symbolic work of art.  

Spring is a miracle of power.

The earth sort of dies every winter (and in all honesty it very often seems me with it). It is lying stiff and cold, motionless, silent and with no other than the rotting smell of death as remnants of fallen leaves rot away. I seem to be more and more responding to this season of death, the wet, the cold and most of all the lack of light. Is that not symbolic in itself? When there is not enough light death is following.

We as humans are able to manipulate great forces and powers to do many incredible things. We can fly things into outer space, we are able to manipulate harvests or vegetables and weeds, we are able to heal diseases and at the same time we are able to wipe out our planet. But we are not able to make Spring happen in winter. Only God can bring what is dead back to life.

When Lazarus was in His tomb, he did not respond to the weeping of Martha or to Mary’s appeal. It took the voice of Christ to tell him to to come forth to make Him rise again!

Every Spring we are reminded of the voice of the Almighty that makes dead things rise up again in their full glory. In a way, Spring is the Angel of the Resurrection.

 

Spring is a revelation of God’s love.

Spring is a beautiful reminder of God’s endless generosity.

“for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5: 45”

These phenomena of the natural world are in my view very symbolic for the breath of God’s eternal grace. Spring more than any other season reminds us all that God is not a respecter of persons and that He has a generous heart.

He pours out Spring over all of us.

You can drive through the red zones and parts of town that are still unrecovered and you will find Spring there in equal glory to the neatly trimmed and maintained gardens of Hagley Park or Merivale front yards.  Spring and the miracle of resurrection it symbolizes visits the rich and the poor, the successful and the unsuccessful, the saint and the lost alike. No one is so poor, humble or fallen of the track that he or she cannot enjoy the colours, sounds and fragrances of Spring. May this also be a reminder for us in our daily lives. No one is too lost to not get a dose of God’s love and resurrection power in his or her life, and in Christ we can all make this a reality for everyone around us that will ultimately leave this world a better place. A better place one step at a time.  

 

Spring paints a picture of God’s unchanging love.

Some of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpieces like the Last Supper or the Mona Lisa are a wreck and in decay. So is Titian’s Assumption or Correggio’s Holy Night or closer to my Dutch home the Night Watch by Rembrandt as well as the Botticelli painting mentioned before.  Colors are fading or changing to darker complections. Some of the cloudy skies of the Dutch masters are becoming more and more yellowish in their complections.

Yet, the colours, sounds and fragrances of God’s masterpiece do not fade, they are as fresh and beautiful this year as they have been throughout eternity! From everlasting to everlasting, God is God, He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

 

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Spring is prophecy of harvest.

Spring is full of promise, nature prophesies a harvest of fruit! Again I say rejoice as this prophecy is God’s symbolic multi-dimensional artwork that reminds us that all of our spiritual powers resulting from life in Christ are going to lead to fruit and more fruit, we will go from glory to glory.
Yet I believe that ultimately our Summer Glory will be reached elsewhere, in Heaven.

 

They have risen.

In Matthew 28:6, we read:

“He is not here for He has risen”

I noticed the last time I was here that there was a substantial difference in size and make up of attendees, only to find out that some people had died. 

Theocritus, a Greek poet from around 3 BC wrote that “hopes are for the living, the dead are hopeless”.

It is good to remind us that that is not the Christian hope. Our hope rests on the resurrection. We believe that Jesus died and rose again (1 Corinthians 15: 3-11). Paul’s reassurance is that death is not the end of the story and that all who are in Christ will live forever. But it gets better: my body will not just be resurrected but in the process thereof I will be transformed.

Our bodies may wither but our spirits live forever!

I love spring, the lambs, the birds, the new fresh flowers. But ultimately they will wither just like us. But what is perishable cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. So, we as believers must be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Just like Jesus was transformed with a new body so as to deal with the reality of eternal life so will we be transformed (1 Corinthians 15). And once transformed it will be for eternity. So, looking at those who may have left us here on earth: they went to an eternal summer season! We can carefully remind ourselves of the words found in Matthew 28:6.

“He is not there. For He has risen”.

They are not there anymore for they have risen. And with that we are reminded that death has been conquered for those who are in Christ. Is not God amazing!

Love you all and until a next time.

Have you had your Easter yet? Reflections on my first Easter as a Christian


Easter this year was different. As outlined on other occasions: I cannot look back on a religious upbringing. For me Easter was, actually similar to Christmas, a holiday related to the Christian traditions. Actually, very similarly to Christmas, Easter seemed more of a burden than a blessing.

I had been wondering what would happen to Easter this year, the first as a Christian and by now understanding that this is actually the celebration it all boils down to for the church. It seems strange how Christmas gets all the attention while in actual fact Easter is the most important period in the Christian calendar. This is the period of the death and resurrection of Jesus-Christ! The most important series of events in a foundational sense took place in the period leading up to the resurrection of Christ. It turned out that I was in for more than I anticipated.

Resurrection: the Main Event

The difference between this Easter and all the previous ones is that for the first time the resurrection story is the historic truth where in previous years I would have considered it all in a symbolic sense. My old Jesus is no longer there: the teacher, the healer, the advocate for the poor, the feeder of the hungry, the symbolic story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Easter, previously a badly timed holiday to break the year between two Christmases is now the main event. I realize now how without the resurrection, I would not have been in church celebrating Easter: there would not have been a church. The past weeks leading up to this first real Christian Easter have at the same time been restless, more than ever since my conversion. Not only did I come to realize how actually Easter is the main event; this is also the first time that Easter had become a personal matter. One of the most important realizations for me personally was that Christ did not just die for us; he died for each and every one of us. With that realization all of a sudden Easter, the crucifixion and resurrection get a completely different meaning; they become something personal. Without a doubt the resurrection is the foundational event for all the ways in which we may know God and  be known to Him; the crystallization of His reconciliation with His creation through a series of events that all form part of the price that had to be paid. When the penny drops as it did for me that this is all not just in a general sense but in a personal sense, the equation changes dramatically. You can’t help but standing back and be marvelled.

Have you had your Easter yet?

While we may want to stay on the surface, Easter is also a celebration that is preceded by a series of actually horrible events that form an integral part of the story. The events preceding the resurrection show like nowhere else the workings of evil in the world. They include betrayal, denial, trial, death, burial. Where Jesus’ death and resurrection become personal so do these less pleasurable events. This inevitably leads to the very important question: have you had your Easter yet, personally that is?

It’s actually very easy to say “yahoo, Christ is resurrected.” But, if Easter is something personal, the question becomes: “Ok he is raised from the death but is he alive in me?

The restlessness made sense. Almost as without realizing it, I went deep inside to seek those places where there are crosses, crucifixion, denial, betrayal, lies and other evil, buried so carefully in tombs with heavy stones covering the entry so as to avoid them opening up again. Finding so many opened and empty tombs, personal deaths conquered was a great experience. Christ’s resurrection as my own. Just imagine: Easter all of a sudden became about Christ at the door: wanting to be let in completely and fully, not settling for me trying to keep some of those tombs closed and hidden. You can run but you cannot hide from God.  And that same God seeks to love me in any way he can, invited or not. Just imagine!

The Easter celebration is all about the most foundational event for all the ways in which we may know God and be known by God. Without the resurrection there would not have been Christianity, a church. Christ would have been what he used to be for me: the ultimate guru, with his teachings as the ultimate guide for humanism. I doubt if we’d remembered it in the way we do at Easter. It is the moment of the paradigm shift, the moment where relation was placed before religion, since that is what Christ’s death and resurrection seems really about to me.
I have been celebrating a series of events that made God’s law the promise; the Kingdom of the Father for each and every one of us if we let it.

Burdensome and painful as it may be – in a sense I was walking the road to Calvary time and time again – facing my own hidden places of buried darkness and death for the sake of resurrection; it now seems to me like the required way to grow as a Christian. And while I have plenty of cause for celebration there is also still plenty of work to be done; plenty of deaths to be conquered, plenty of tombstones to be shifted. It’s quite something to realize I had my personal Easter. It’s even more stimulating to realize to know that I do not have to wait for the next one to come, I can have an Easter any day. With God by my side, Jesus as my Lord and saviour and the Holy Spirit to guide me, every day could become another Easter celebration: a personal celebration of conquering another cross of death inside. Praise the Lord.

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Book Review: Timothy J Keller, The Reason For God. Belief in an Age of Scepticism


Most recently I had the pleasure to read the book The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan New York.

The Reason for God is written for sceptics as well as believers alike. It responds to the the writings of popular authors like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.  What I thought was especially attractive about the book was the currency. Many introductions to Christian belief were written longer ago and do not address what today’s skeptics are concerned about. The timing of the book is impeccable as it arrived in a time frame where both skepticism and conversion appear to be on the rise. More importantly the discussion is being polarized by popular fundamentalists of both camps.

Going over some apologetic notes that will probably be part of another post I noted that perhaps a lot of these books (and similar to what happens with many Christians in general) are focusing on fellow believers and not so much on the group that really deserves serious and respectful attention: the skeptics.All too often other (apologetic) books merely gloss over the important questions or come up with answers that may be convincing to the average believer but do not seriously address the questions by skeptics.

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism

The Reason for God:
Belief in an Age of Scepticism,
Buy here>>>

Keller does not distinguish between believers and unbelievers. Instead he talks of believers and skeptics. His theory: we all believe something. And rightfully so I guess as the questions or concerns discussed by Keller are more than once similarly difficult for people that do consider themselves to be a Christian.

“If you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs—you will discover that your doubts are not so solid as they first appeared.”

The first seven chapters of the book cover seven of the most common objections and doubts about Christianity and discerns the alternate beliefs underlying each of them. This section is titled “The Leap of Doubt” and answers these seven common critiques:

  1. There can’t be just one true religion
  2. A good God could not allow suffering
  3. Christianity is a straitjacket
  4. The church is responsible for so much injustice
  5. A loving God would not send people to hell
  6. Science has disproved Christianity
  7. You can’t take the Bible literally

In the second half of the book, titled “The Reasons for Faith,” he discusses seven reasons to believe in the claims of the Christian faith.

  1. The clues of God
  2. The knowledge of God
  3. The problem of sin
  4. Religion and the gospel
  5. The (true) story of the cross
  6. The reality of the resurrection
  7. The Dance of God

This book places Keller’s apparent influence C.S. Lewis into this day and age and I could not help but thinking how in some respects the experience of reading Keller’s book was similar to reading for instance Mere Christianity.
Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity,
buy here>>>

Publishers Weekly has advises that this is a book for “skeptics and the believers who love them.” Believers will rejoice in this book that carefully and patiently answers the most important objections of their skeptical friends with integrity and grace and Biblically consistent way. Skeptics will see that even their skepticism may well be based on some kind of faith. They are challenged to discern those underlying beliefs. A GREAT READ. It is most certainly one of the most compelling and at the same time highly accessible apologetic books I have read so far, and one that mist certainly addresses the right crowd.

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism

The Reason for God:
Belief in an Age of Scepticism,
Buy here>>>

But perhaps even better: why not let the author explain about the book himself.

An extensive chapter by chapter summary of the book can be found at the Set ‘n’ Service blog here >>>

Also highly recommended is the next video in which Keller visits Google’s Mountain View, CA, headquarters to discuss his book. This event took place on March 5, 2008, as part of the Authors@Google series.

I think that by now you should have enough reason to get the book for yourself. Follow the link below to order online. I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I did.

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism

The Reason for God:
Belief in an Age of Scepticism,
Buy here>>>

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Free E-Book, Exploring the Resurrection of Jesus


With Easter coming up, the resurrection story will be at the center of attention. The Biblical Archeological Review, gives away this a really worthwhile e-book on the very subject matter. All you need to do is register for their free email newsletter.

Not even the intense drama and tragedy of Jesus’ trial, passion, death and burial can prepare one for the utter shock at what comes next in the well-known story: Jesus’ resurrection. The Gospels recount varying stories of the disciples’ astonishment and confusion as they encounter the resurrected Jesus. In this free e-book, expert Bible scholars and archaeologists offer in-depth research and reflections on the resurrection story.

Some of the articles in the book include:

Emmaus Where Christ Appeared by Hershel Shanks

The Resurrection of Resurrection by NT Wright

Thinking About Easter by Marcus J Borg

To Be Continued… by Michael W Holmes

The book can be downloaded here >>>

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