Many Rooms

I watched the Miracle Maker recently with my children. It’s a stop motion version of the life of Jesus (who is voiced by Ralph Fiennes) seen through the eyes Jairus’ daughter, who I think is called something like Tama in the film. At one point she dies and Jesus brings her back to life. At the end of the film, she is there when Jesus is giving his final instructions.

“Go through all the earth and make disciples of every nation. Baptise in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy Spirit. For the spirit will come upon you soon, the Spirit will come upon you. And I will be with you always. Even to the end of the world.”

Then Jesus disappears.

Another little girl is looking around for him, trying to find him. Tama says to her “Don’t be worried or upset” and quotes something Jesus had said earlier “In my father’s house there are many rooms.”

“In Capernaum?” asks the girl? “Yes” replies Tama, “in Capernaum, in Jerusalem and the whole world. The kingdom of God has come and he is with us forever.”

It occurred to me that she might be saying the rooms are churches and Jesus died to make the church possible. I have never thought of it that way. Jesus went to prepare a place not in a heavenly mansion but in earthly kingdom outposts.

I remember Terry Virgo preaching on John 14 saying that the emphasis was on the now rather than the later. It was a brilliant preach. His thesis was that Jesus is talking about going away and not leaving them as orphans. He emphasised that being a Christian was about being with Jesus. The disciples bought into Jesus. Not a religious code, not a philosophy, not a way of life, but being with Jesus. Jesus had asked them to follow him. That was it for them. Now he says he’s going away so where does that leave them?

“It’s ok”, says Jesus “I am going to come back to you”. “Oh, well”, they say, “that’s ok then”. Now if Jesus is talking about his second coming then their reassurance and relief evaporates. They are going to have to live the rest of their lives and die without Jesus after all. But what if Jesus meant what the disciples would have understood him to mean – that he was really coming back to be with them soon so they could continue their lives with him. As Jesus goes on its apparent that he would be present with them through the Person of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brings the presence of Jesus and gives them access to the Father. The rooms must be a now thing!

There is something else I have noticed here though. The context of the “many rooms” saying is John 14 which starts with “do not let your hearts be troubled”. (just like the little girl said)

Trust in God. Trust also in me. In my father’s house there are many rooms…I am going to prepare a place for you. …I  will come back and take you to be with me that you may be where I am going. You know the place where I am going“.

Thomas says “how can we know the way“. Jesus says “I am the way… if you know me you know my father“. Philip chips in “show us the father, that will really help us“. Jesus says “I am in the Father and the Father is in me….if you struggle to see that think about all the miracles“. Then comes a key miracle verse. We were just talking about it at a wedding a few days ago.

I love the way John 14:12 starts in the KJV. “Verily, verily“. In the NIV its “I tell you the truth“. In California it would be “Hey dude, check this out, its like totally awesome”. Then Jesus says “Anyone“. That’s a big word, let me look it up in the Greek (it’s almost 10pm, I’m exhausted but buzzing, don’t you just love the bible!!). Oh, there is no word for “person” in the Greek text or “man” or “anybody”. I don’t know enough Greek to translate the words properly but it’s translated “the person” in the KJV, and “whoever” in the ESV so it seems everyone is agreed that its “anyone who believes in me” or “the person who believes in me” so that’s ok. It’s anyone. (Maybe I should learn some Greek sometime).

Anyway its “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” What’s he been doing? He’s just been talking about miracles. Miracles is the nearest context to hand.  What’s next? “He will do even greater things than these”. Not lesser. Greater. It’s such a shame when people interpret this verse to mean “well, it will be lesser miracles but more of them“. That’s like saying “you’re going to run faster than Usain Bolt – well, over a 10 mile distance with him running the whole way and all of you doing it as a relay; running a 100 meters and handing the baton on to the next person.“. It sounds amazing at first, then it’s a bit of  a let down. To me Jesus is clearly saying “through faith in me, you, in fact anyone, will do greater things than I have been doing”. Turn over a few pages to the book of Acts and that’s just what’s going on. Peoples handkerchiefs are healing the sick, their shadows are falling on individuals and they are cured.

So we know it’s through faith in Jesus, in the name of Jesus you might say, but there is more. The reason why this will be possible (because faith in Jesus was possible right then) is “because I am going to the father.” What’s that about? It’s about the Holy Spirit being poured out. (“the Spirit…had not yet been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” John 7:39). Again that’s just what we find in Acts after Jesus has been glorified (“Father, the time has cone. Glorify your son” John 17:1) . Jesus leaves in Acts chapter 1, the Spirit is poured out in Acts chapter 2 and people start getting healed in Acts chapter 3. Awesome.

But we still have another dot to join. What about the “he in me and me in him” stuff? That was the evidence and result of Jesus being in the father and the father being in him. Now, I recon, that’s what happens when the Spirit is poured out. The Spirit is in us and on us and we are in him (well in Christ at least). The Spirit brings a unity between us and Jesus such that he is in us and we are in him (John 17:23, Rom 8:1 etc). Now what is the evidence and result of that? It’s just what Jesus has been saying. We do a whole bunch of amazing miracles and healings. If someone says “show us Jesus, prove hes real” we should be able to point to the miracles and say “look, heres in us by the Holy Spirit”.

Going back to whether the rooms are the church, even if they are not (maybe it’s a kingdom of God thing and we can’t quite bring the church into focus for sure), it really seems that it’s a “now” thing not a “much later thing”.  It reminds me of some of the stuff Rob Bell says in his  Poets/prophet/preachers seminars. He stresses the fact that heaven and earth are going to be together and that we live now in the light of that joining.

God’s been speaking to me a lot recently about being a conduit; a conductor, a ladder between heaven and earth bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth.  Jesus himself said “the kingdom of God is at hand“. It’s not up there or way off in the future, its breaking out in the here through those willing to take hold of it. We pray “your kingdom come“. Bill Johnson emphasises the kingdom of heaven coming on earth particularly in the context of healing. In the context of the poor we and oppressed we don’t just say “hang on in their and wait till Jesus comes back” we help them, seeking to bring the kingdom of heaven in the here and now.

I’m still not sure if the rooms are the church. I’d like to think so.  It certainly makes you more focused on enjoying and advancing the kingdom now and emphasises the wonderful nature of the church as the house of God. Maybe the small groups are the rooms! In any case, I’m defiantly up for the greater things.

What God is not

Our small group met last night for the first time after a long summer break. It was great to see everyone again and catch up a bit. We thanked God for all the answers to prayer from last term but we knew there were many more things that we were looking to him to do.

Before the meeting I felt God put the following verse from the Bible in my mind. “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” Luke 18:1. As I briefly skimmed through the whole passage before people arrived it was as if the whole thing suddenly came alive to me. Not that it was saying anything particularly new to me, but that the truth in this passage seemed to me at that time particularly wonderful and encouraging. Like the first sip of a favourite drink or the moment you step into a warm bath. I love it when God’s word affects me like that. Sometimes you have to work hard at it and mine the truth out but at others it seems to run out to meet me.

The story that Jesus tells is about a widow who was subject to some kind of terrible injustice. She goes to the judge and asks for help. The first thing that particularly caught my attention, as I read it, was when Jesus says “listen to what the unjust judge says.” Luke 18:6. That’s a command, so I did. Looking back on the text the judge says “even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!” Luke 18:4.

So, this judge doesn’t fear God or care about men. Jesus introduces the stroy with this fact in verse 2. Then the judge actually says it himself in verse 4. Then Jesus asks us to listen to it again in verse 6. Its obviously really important! It tells me that this judge was a law unto himself. By rejecting God he had effectively set himself up as God. He wasn’t even a humanist caring about other people. He just lived for himself and what he wanted and was confident that he would get away with it. His reason for giving the widow justice was an entirely selfish one; to give himself a bit of peace and quiet. Yet he did give her justice in the end.

Now, Jesus is drawing a contrast here between the judge and God. He is saying they are, complete opposites. So what does that tell me about God? First, it tells me that God is passionate for his righteousness and justice. These are things that he cares about deeply. They come from, and in fact are, his very nature. He the just judge. He is righteous. He is jealous for justice and will give it. Second, it tells me that God cares about people. He loves them so much that he would give even that which is most dear to him for them. The bible says that God loved the world so much that he gave his only son.

I’ve just watched some of “the Miracle Maker” with my children and was impacted again by Jesus’ baptism where his father says “this is my son, my beloved son…my beloved son!”. And yet this was the son who he was going to give up to a tortuous death for our sins, the unrighteousness and the injustices committed by you and me. This is love. And even as I am writing this I realise that it is this beloved son who is asking me to meditate on the words of the unjust judge so that I might understand just a little bit more how good God is and how much he loves me.

God will not keep putting people off who cry out to him for justice, for his kingdom to come, for  his will to be done. He will respond, and quickly! It’s an amazing contrast that Jesus is drawing. I was thinking this afternoon that it was like contrasting a stone with a bird. The stone is hard and heavy and totally lacking in wings yet if you throw it hard enough it will fly for some distance. How much more will a bird fly as you release it out of your hands? That’s the scale of contrast Jesus is drawing. The difference between a stone and a bird. If a selfish, evil man can be made to give justice how much more a loving, self sacrificing, righteous God.

How I need to hear this right now and how kind of Jesus to highlight it for me. As I look at situations around the world and closer to home it might be understandable to deduce that God was like the unjust judge. “Why doesn’t he work in that situation? Why does it seem he is so slow to respond to this prayer or that request?” Answers given in the past can be quickly forgotten when faced with the massive challenge of the present. The people I have prayed for that are still ill. The injustice that continues around the world in the form of the child slave trade.

That’s why I find the closing few words in verse 8 of this passage so poignant. “When the son of man comes, will he find faith on Earth?”. Will he find people that persist in prayer through challenging circumstances, who believe God’s word over their current  circumstances, who have in their hearts a conviction that God won’t delay, but that he will respond, and quickly! It takes faith to let that truth drive my emotions, my thoughts and my actions.

I am so glad to be with a small group of friends who call on God together. We decided that we wanted to keep on pressing into Him for things this term, believing him for more wonderful answers and in fact I heard tonight that he has already responded to one of our prayers in the affirmative. Thank you Lord. That was quick!

Twittering on

Well, today I went to the doctors to see what’s wrong with my back. Something in my spine seems to have moved out of place. Then had a great chat with an Elder from Canterbury church about small groups. Went to a school governors meeting and tried to understand our budget. Did a lot of running around with one of our children who has just learnt to ride her bike but I’m not sure if she can stop ok yet. Felt like a presidential body guard running alongside the presidential car. Found a much better place to invest my savings than the bank – a local church! Took kids swimming. Watched the first part of the miracle maker with them (great film, felt quite emotional at times at how great Jesus is). Had a delicious tea cooked by my gorgeous wife. And now, have just revisited my twitter account and resolved to use it a bit more. I’ve tried to write the first part of this blog entry in a twitter style (short ‘tweets’) to get the hang of it. I feel under pressure to twitter a book recommendation or pass on some great quote so I’ve not said much on twitter yet. My mind is blank at the moment though. Think I will just have to say what I’m up to. I think that’s supposed to be part of the charm of twitter. You get to hear about the little unimportant details of someone’s life.

I joined about nine months ago but never twittered anything. A few people tried to follow me but I was embarrassed at how I had not twittered anything so have not accepted anyone yet. Oh, except the person who encouraged me to try it out (thanks Ed). The thing that prompted me to give it another go was hearing about the massive effect social networking sites are having on the election campaign. I suddenly realised that things like twitter were not “time wasters” but increasingly important and powerful means of communication. A lot of New Frontiers churches even twitter to let people know what’s going on. Does King’s in Norwich? I don’t even know. Anyway my twitter name is @dmarcust. See you in cyberspace.