There are times when heaven and earth come together, when time and eternity coalesce, when spiritual realities are very real. Genesis 28:10-22 carries the story of one such occasion in the experience of Jacob, an important part of the Old Testament narrative. You may have had such experiences yourself – times when, unexpectantly, the presence and power of God seemed very real, making a difference in your life.
I believe that this merger of heaven and earth, eternity and time, the spiritual and the physical, divinity and humanity is happening all the time, but we are not always aware of it. However, the times when we do experience it become important in our spiritual journey.
The New Testament presents Jesus as the great, outstanding instance of this merger happening in history. In him, heaven and earth joined together, God and humanity lived as one. As Jesus said to Nathanael, (John 1:51) If you come with me you will see more than a few miracles, you will, like Jacob of old, see heaven touching earth. He, not the temple whether at Bethel or Jerusalem, is God’s great dwelling place on earth, and through him we ourselves become dwelling places for the Spirit of God (2 Corinthians 6:16).
- Recall times, if you can, when God seemed very close and powerfully present to you.
- Bethel means God’s house or dwelling place. Why do you think that Jesus identified himself with Bethel in the story of Genesis 28?
- Do you agree that heaven and earth, time and eternity, the spiritual and the physical, the human and the divine overlap or inter-weave each other and are not distinctly separate?
- What follows if we really are temples of God’s Spirit?
CHRIST OF CHRISTMAS
The word “Christ” (Gk Christos) occurs
569 times in our New Testament, and may
simply be translated “The anointed One”.
The generic root chrio occurs only 5 times,
where 3/5 relate directly to the person of Christ
(Luke 4:18, Acts 4:27, 10:38).
In the Old Testament, the word “anoint” Mashach (Hebrew), transliterates into “Messiah”. Messiah simply means “Anointed”.
The first occurrence is in Gen. 28:18 and 31:31,
where Jacob anointed a pillar at Bethel, saying “This is truly God’s place”.
It signified the Presence of God.
The word occurs again in Exodus 25:6, relating to the anointing of Aaron, and represented his consecration to the task of priest. (In the Tabernacle, objects such as the Table, Ark and sacred vessels were also anointed, signifying that they were set apart for sacred use.) Kings were also anointed. For example; Saul (1 Sam.9:16) and David (Ps 18:50).
However, the most significant usage appears in Isaiah 61:1, where there is a strong association with the Holy Spirit: the Prophet is anointed by the Spirit to preach good news.
The crucial texts in the NT are Matt.16:16 and Luke 4:18. Peter’s confession of Jesus as the “Christos, Son of the Living God” has become fundamental to the Christian confession of faith. Jesus is indeed God’s Anointed One (Prophet, Priest and King) on whom the Spirit of God has been poured out in all its fullness (Isaiah 61:1).
The word which began as an ascription of his role (Saviou, Messiah), became his proper name: Jesus Christ (Matthew 27:17, 22). Girdlestone notes, “It points to the One who is King by Divine Authority, and signifies that God would set his mark upon him by giving him the Holy Spirit without measure” (Girdlestone, Synomyms, 183).
Those who followed the Christ became known as “Christian” (Christianos), used as both a noun or adjective. While the New Testament only acknowledges this 3 times (see Acts 11:26, 28:1; 1Peter 4:16), the appellation is quite common in Roman and other early Christian literature. The name became a nickname for his followers, and “stuck”!
Another related word (from the same root) is Chrisma (chrisma), which simply means “an anointing” (= English “chrism”). This occurs in 1 John 2:20, and 27 which reads, “we have an anointing” i.e. those who are “Christ’s ones” have an anointing of Holy Spirit Early Christian converts were anointed with oil following their baptism (see Acts 2:38, Romans 5:5). Again, this action signified the presence of the Spirit in their life.
Rev Graham Warne
NB “The Christ” (Greek) and “the messiah” (Hebrew) both mean “the anointed one”.
While much of the liturgy and the sermon went over the little girl’s head, she was fascinated by the pictures of saints adorning the stained-glass windows. When asked later what a saint was, she said, “Saints are people that the light shines through.” Is there a better answer than that! Saints are people that the light of Christ shines through. Or as W.E. Sangster in his book, The Pure in Heart, said, after a detailed examination of the lives of many Christian saints: saints are people in whom the Spirit of God resides. He wrote, “While every saint is unique, there is something they all have in common”: they show the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Literally saints are holy people, but only God is truly holy. Holiness comes through association with God. Those who are united with Christ through faith can be regarded as holy, not by their own efforts but by the Spirit of Christ within them. Self-achieved holiness gives holy a bad name.
As with Christians of New Testament times, we are all called to be saints. Through our faith relationship with Christ, we are saints and also saints-in-the-making. Some might appear to be further along in the process than others and they, whether endorsed by the institutional church or simply significant to our own personal Christian journey, inspire and encourage us as role-models or heroes of the faith.
While on this All Saints Day we give thanks for saints that have inspired and encouraged us in our faith, lets also respond, in humility, to Christ’s call to live as the saints he calls us to be.
- How important are good role-models for young people growing up?
- Who has been to you a role-model or hero in the Christian faith?
- What do you think of this: “Self-achieved holiness gives holy a bad name”?
- If only God is holy, how come we talk about the Bible or the Church being holy?
Rev Ron Potter – piulapublications.com
Communication needs to be interpreted for it to make sense. The Bible, the laws of the land, any writing at all needs to be interpreted. This interpretation usually takes place against the background of some fundamental principles. So, the High Court, when called upon to do so, interprets the Australian Constitution and the judiciary interpret the laws made by parliament. When asked by a lawyer to state the basic principle by which the Mosaic Law should be interpreted, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, love God with all one’s heart, soul and mind. To this, he added Leviticus 19:18, love your neighbour as yourself which he suggested was all tied in with love toward God.
However, Jesus was not mainly interested in ideas. He was concerned about life and how it is lived. So, for him, love for God and neighbour is not just a guiding principle; it is the basic orientation of life. It is the power, the motivation, the direction for living. It is a reflection of the love that God has for us all.
The guiding light for morality is love for God and for people – unconditional, generous love. The standard against which all laws are to be judged is that love which respects humanity and seeks the best for all. The shaping force for interpersonal relationships is agape love. God who created the universe out of love, rescued sinful humanity out of love, dwells in the depths of our own lives out of love, calls us to reflect this love in our relationships with God and with other people.
- What are some ways in which people express their love for one another?
- How can we express our love for God?
- What does it mean for love to be the overall direction for our lives?
- When is it hard to live by these two great commandments, to love God with all our being and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves?
Rev Ron Potter – piulapublications.com
God’s Imprint on the Soul Matthew 22:15-22
Whose likeness do you carry? Have you ever been told that you look like someone else? What if you were told that you bore a remarkable likeness to God? What would you say? You’d probably say, “I’ve never seen God to know.” But, of course, when we talk about being made in the image or likeness of God we are not talking about physical likeness.
We are talking about a spiritual likeness. You might say that it’s your rational, creative, relational human nature that makes you in some ways like God.
You might say that people reflect something of God as they live Christ-like lives. But it also might mean that our lives belong to God. As the image on a coin indicates the realm to which it belongs, so our being in the image of God indicates that we belong to God’s realm. In spite of what we are often told, we do not own ourselves. Our lives are not ours to do with as we please.
Just as we have responsibilities to the society to which we belong (taxes, respect for law, etc) so, with God’ image imprinted on our souls, we have responsibilities to God. It is part of our sinful human condition that we do not fulfill those responsibilities as we should, but hearing the call of the kingdom of God involves taking those responsibilities seriously.
We are meant to give honour and respect to God and the way that God meant life to be lived, and to do this not merely out of duty, but out of love for the One who first loved us. Likewise, out of love, we are to respect all others who bear God’s image.
- Whose likeness do you carry? What have other people suggested?
- What do you think of the idea that all people properly belong to God and that it is only human sinfulness that prevents them from acknowledging it?
- Do you agree that being human involves us in responsibilities?
What are they? And to whom are we responsible?
- How do you fell about carrying God’s imprint on your soul?
Rev Ron Potter – piulapublications.com
The Game of Life
How many referees control a rugby league game? One or two? Or, with the video ref, is it three? But to listen to the broadcast commentaries it sounds as though there are at least six or seven. Sometimes it seems that every spectator at the game is a self-appointed referee. But how many referees are there in the game of life?The way people criticize and condemn one another, one might think that everyone has the right to referee everyone else’s life.
The administration of this game called life is clearly in the hands of God who not only wrote the rules but also referees the game. Accept it. It is not for you or me to send a player off to the sin-bin. That is God’s prerogative.And if you are a player in the game and another player hurts you, it is not for you to seek revenge; it’s for you to get on with the game. Grudge matches or revenge attacks are not in the spirit of the game. Translated into inter-personal relations, that means forgiving the person who asks for your forgiveness and refraining from condemning the person who thinks differently from you. If you are in Christ’s team, let him decide who is in or out –not you. And if you have been hurt by another, remember whose side you are on –God who has forgiven you.
•Holding grudges is bad for your health. Is that true?
•Can one forgive another if the other person shows no remorse?
•When Paul wrote Romans, the issue was the eating of meat slaughtered in sacrifice to pagan gods. On what issues today are people condemned by their fellow Christians?
•Where lies the key to Christian unity?
Rev Ron Potter-piulapublications.com
A Greek Word for your Mind: Ichthus – Symbol of the Fish
How do you identify yourself as a Christian? Put a flag outside our house? Wear a uniform? Certainly, one can identify a Muslim woman by her dress! Some people wear a cross around their neck, but to many this is simply just another piece of jewellery. Some may wear a head scarf, which identifies them as a particular kind of Christian. We don’t have a secret handshake, like some organisations. The early Christians developed a very clever way of identifying themselves, by means of a simple, secret sign: the sign of the fish. After all, the Disciples were fishermen, so the fish sign was most appropriate! (see Matt 4:18; Mark 1:16-17.)
The sign was based on a very cleverly designed acrostic based on the Greek word for “fish”(Ichthus)! It worked like this:
I – Gk Iota = ‘Iesuos, that is, the name of the human Jesus
X – Gk Chi = Christos, that is, “Christ”.
Th – Gk Theta = Theos, that is, “God”.
U – Gk Upsilon = ‘uios (huios) = that is, “Son”.
S – Gk Sigma = Soter, that is “Saviour”.
Altogether, the letters spell the Greek word “Ichthus” or “Fish”, forming an acrostic,meaning: Jesus Christ, God’s Son and Saviour. The sign of the fish thus became a confession statement of one’s personal faith in Jesus Christ (Matt. 6:16).
This symbol became a means of recognising fellow believers. In a time of persecution, Christians needed to find ways of safely identifying who was one of their own, whether a friend or foe.
“One story passed down about the fish symbol states that the fish was used as a way of communicating whether someone was a Christian or whether he/she was someone looking to persecute Christians. When two people encountered each other, the Christian would draw the first half of the fish in the sand. If the other person drew the remaining half of the fish, correctly, then the Christian knew he/she was with a fellow Christian. If it was drawn and the other person didn’t finish the fish, it would look as though an innocent person was just drawing in the sand!”
(Blair Parke, Internet website).
If our lives were at risk, I wonder how we would identify ourselves. I once knew of two people who both worked in the same Sydney office and who did not discover they were
both Christians for years! Now there’s food for thought!
Rev Graham Warne
Many Called, Few Chosen-Matthew 22:1-14
That’s a puzzler! Many people have been shocked when reading those words from Matthew 22:14. Surely if God invites, God also chooses. An invitation follows on from being chosen, doesn’t it? Or does it mean that God arbitrarily picks out whom to save?
This is an example of the dangerous practice of isolating a text from its context – a very common practice that it is. Matthew 22:14 is linked to the parables of the royal wedding banquet and the man who was not appropriately dressed for the occasion. These stories were aimed initially at the chief priests and Pharisees. Through their study of the Scriptures and familiarity with the Law, they had received God’s invitation to be part of God’s coming realm; however, when, through Jesus, God called them to participate they refused. On the other hand, despised sinners and traitorous tax collectors did respond.
The people of Israel saw themselves as God’s chosen people, but belonging to God’s chosen people is not a matter of race or religion, or knowledge about God’s coming kingdom. It is a matter of living the life of that kingdom, living the life that God meant us to live. To pretend that that we belong to God’s kingdom while making no attempt to live that way is to gate-crash the party.
Many people have heard the call of God’s kingdom, the call to peace, justice, goodness and compassion, but not many actually live the life of God’s kingdom. What was true when Jesus first spoke those words, is sadly still true today.
• What dangers are there in taking verses of Scripture out of the context in which they occur?
• The kingdom of God was central to the life and teaching of Jesus. What do
you think is most important about living in God’s kingdom?
• What relationship do you see between Matthew 22:1-14 and Matthew 7:21?
• What is the difference between sensing the call of God’s kingdom and actually
living the life of that kingdom?
Rev Ron Potter – piulapublications.com
Thanks For the Gift Matthew 20:1-16
It’s great to be given a gift, isn’t it? Or is it? What if it’s a puppy and you’re
not ready for the food and vet bills, the exercising and training that goes with owning a dog? And the receiver is placed under obligation to the giver, for example: you receive a gift and then feel the need to reciprocate in some
way. We know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. There’s an uneven
power balance between giver and receiver. The choice lies with the giver.
Even if hints are given, the receiver has to accept what someone else has
Maybe that is why people have trouble with the grace of God. They have to
accept that they are not in charge; they have to accept whatever they are
given. They are under obligation to use the gift of life, and all other gifts,
properly. If salvation is by grace, then it is not to be looked upon as a reward for services rendered.
In the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, Jesus made it clear that life
at its best, life lived in the love and grace of God, is a gift. Heaven is not a
reward for services rendered; it is a gift. People who approach it in terms of
wages will be disappointed. Instead of trying to win heaven as a reward in
the future, let’s live the life of heaven now, as far as it is possible, with
gratitude and joy. Enjoy the gift of life; enjoy the gift of new life in Christ.
• Think of examples of the power imbalance between giver and
receiver. When has receiving a gift placed you under an obligation
to the giver?
• List some of the gifts have you received from God.
• If salvation is a gift, why do people think that they have to earn it?
• How can we best show our appreciation for God’s gift of new life
Rev Ron Potter – piulapublications.com
CONFLICT RESOLUTION Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
Conflict. Publishers love it. It sells books, makes for interesting broadcasts, heightens dramatic effect, increases loyalty, underlies much sport and competitive activity, can be creative and lead to new understandings and ideas. We are not all the same, and it is in the bumping up against one another that we mature and widen our outlook.
But it can be destructive. Our picture of heaven is of a realm without conflict, a form of existence where, under God, everyone integrates harmoniously together.
Conflict can breed suspicion, hatred, violence. It is often synonymous with war.
It tears families, communities, nations apart. It damages the effectiveness of a team or the profits of a company. So, conflict-resolution becomes an important concern in all areas of social activity – families, sporting teams, political parties, companies, organizations, and in the church.
According to Matthew, Jesus gave his strategy for conflict resolution:
(1) face up to the issue and seek to resolve it with the other party one-toone as soon as possible,
(2) seek the help of a third, independent party or group,
(3) if these steps haven’t been successful, involve the whole membership in making a decision,
(4) finally, if every attempt at reconciliation has failed, accept the situation and both go your separate ways. At least that’s my attempt at putting Matthew 18:15-20 into today’s context.
Through it all, the Spirit is saying, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” (Romans 13:8).
Love of one’s opponent or enemy (in the sense of respect, concern, readiness to help) is basic to Christ’s teaching (Matthew 5:43-48).
• Give some instances where conflict makes for an interesting story or news
item, increases team loyalty or widens one’s outlook.
• Why is conflict resolution important?
• What happens if we do not follow step (1) above?
• What relevance do verses 18 to 20 in Matthew 18 have to verses 15-17?
Rev Ron Potter – piulapublications.com
A Greek Word For Your Mind:
Meet the Grace Family!
This month I’d like to introduce you to the “Grace Family”. Just as in human families we have relatives, so it is with word families. Word relatives are called “cognates” and share the same underlying literary genetics, or fundamental meaning. However, it may have a number of
It may come as a surprise to know that the fundamental root word underlying the whole “grace family” is the word chairo, “to rejoice, be glad” (74 times in our New Testament)! One of the first occurrences is Matt. 2:10 where the shepherds “rejoiced exceedingly” when they heard the good news. It became a common form of greeting, “Chaire!” or “Hail” but literally “Joy to you!” (Luke 1:28; Matt 27:29. See Matt 5:12, Phil 4:4, Rev 19:7 for more examples). A closely related word, charitoo (only 2 times in NT) was also a greeting “(You are) highly favoured”, that is to be
fully “graced” or accepted (e.g Mary, Luke 1:28; all Christians, Ephes 1:6). To know God’s favour
represents the highest possible level of acceptance.
By far, the best-known related word is charis or “grace” (156 times in the NT). Basically, one could say that to give “grace” is to give another abundant joy, to “en-grace” them! This “grace” may have various dimensions:
1. “graciousness, attractiveness, charm”, i.e. bestow grace by speaking beautiful words (Luke 4:22). A gracious person is one of attractive, kindly and generous character. No wonder Charis makes for such a beautiful name!
2. “favour, gracious care, help”,i.e. a voluntary act of kindness toward another, either unexpected or undeserved (Acts 11:2, Rom 3:24, 2 Tim 1:9.) Passively, it meant to be the recipient of such favour.
4. “thanks, gratitude” for what has been received (Luke 17:9, Heb. 12:28). One has simply put it: G-R-A-C-E = God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Yes, amazing!
Another sibling in the Grace family is charizomai (23 times in the NT). This means to “be gracious to another, to bestow kindness or favour on them” (Luke 7:21), to “grant deliverance to another” (Acts 3:14, Rom 8:32), and finally “to forgive” (Luke 7:42, 43, 2 Cor 2: 7, 10, Eph. 4:32, Coloss 2:13,
3:13). In other words, “to forgive” is to release another person from guilt, giving them a deep sense
of joy and peace.
However, the most interesting of all is eucharisteo (verb, 39 times in NT) and eucharistia (noun, 15 times), literally “to have good grace”, and usually translated as “thanksgiving”.
The epitome of grace is gratitude, deep thankfulness for what God has given or has been received from another!
It is not surprising that this word occurs at the heart of the Last Supper feast where Jesus gave thanks for bread and wine, representing his giving of Himself. So significant is this that every one of the four Gospels records it. (Matt 26:27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:17, 19, John, and 1 Cor. 11:24.)
The “Eucharist” is essentially a Thanksgiving Feast, which focuses on the very heart of our faith, the gift of Grace which is in Christ. So then, we are urged to give thanks in every situation, for we know that God’s abundant Grace undergirds all that we have and are! (Ephes 5:20,
Coloss 3:17, 1 Thess 5:18).
Eucharistia! May the God of all Grace fill you with abundant joy!
Rev Graham Warne
PS There is one other member of the family charisma (sing) and charismata (plural), “spiritual
gift/s”, but this is a study in itself!