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Home Again

Coming back to New Zealand after a year in Jerusalem is like entering a time warp in an episode of Star Trek. We left in winter; for a while we were part of the incredible life that is everyday Israel; then suddenly we find ourselves back in winter as if we'd never been away.

Only the bushes are bigger - so are the grandchildren - and there are a zillion cow hoofprints on the lawn where an elderly fence finally sagged into submission. The tractor has a flat battery and the nice people at the tax office want a reply to their last letter immediately or else.

We take ourselves firmly by the scruff of our aging necks and force ourselves to live here and now, instead of back there and then. Yet Israel wasn't a dream, it wasn't a legend, it was real.

So, too, was our guidance for going there for a sizeable chunk of our little lives. But (this is something that puzzles us) we're often asked by believers: 'How d'you know what God wants you to do?'

A fair question? Perhaps. After all, air fares aren't cheap; a year is a long time; the Middle East is fantastic for tourists (go on - go there!) but darn stressful as a working environment. So we didn't go there on a whim or as compulsive do-gooders.

God said...

There is such a thing as the audible voice of God. It's pretty infrequent, though. Not the normal form of guidance. So how do we know? Remember the scripture:

'My sheep hear my voice.'

You see, the object of being born again from above isn't merely fire insurance. Yes, there's a real place called Hell. People go there. It's damned unpleasant.

But if your idea of being a believer is to escape Hell, that's like buying the biggest and best computer to play patience on.

The purpose of becoming a child of God is to live in a totally real relationship with the Almighty. On a day-by-day basis - and all that such a mind-boggling concept can include. (Don't write and tell us that, hey, we missed out this and that. Salvation is too big a package to list all the specifications in one short article.)

And in a relationship, you get two-way communication. Don't just be content with prayers that start of with How Great Thou Art and end as a shopping list. Make it conversation, the way you'd chat to a friend (you're family, right?) and ask for replies.

Now, to be honest, believers are frequently too busy to risk a two-way with God. Often enough they're locked into 'somebody else's vision' - which is simply religion-speak for 'I leave the business of getting guidance up to senior Christians'.

But there's a snag with living in other people's projects. How d'you know you've got faith to get you through when the going gets bumpy?

Whereas, when the Lord tells you - -personally - to quit the boat and walk on water, he automatically supplies the equipment: faith.

But we're talking around the subject, aren't we. How do you know the voice of the Lord? Simple. Ask him. Tell him you don't know; ask him to get through to little old you. And watch. And listen.

And obey. That's the cruncher. There's any number of believers who enjoy blessings. Or new slants on obscure texts. Great. But the key to a meaningful relationship with God is obedience.

(Which is the point at which you'll get another lesson thrown in for free: learning to tell the difference between flesh and spirit. As soon as the King tells you to do something, your spirit snaps to attention and says: 'Yes, Sir!' While the flesh switches into damage control mode and starts trotting out its list of er - buts. 'Er - but what if I'm deceived? Er - but I'm not the best person for that. Er - but... Fill in your own escape clauses; we've got dozens of ours.)

Look - there are any number of tantalising scriptures that we're meant to be swimming in, not just paddling. Scripures like: 'He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him'. 'We have the mind of Christ'. And - amazingly - 'you are the body of Christ'.

Now: have a little think about the way you think. What do those phrases mean to you. Stone cold sober statements of fact? Or cute little metaphors; great for sermons, but too frail to be allowed outside in the rough-and-tumble of the real world?

Sure, there are metaphors in the Bible.

'Judah is a lion's whelp'. Doesn't mean that Judah was the name of old Jacob's pet lion cub. Simply that, character-wise, Judah had a few aspects that reminded his dad of the offspring of a lion.

Not a problem, you say. Okay, but make sure you don't turn anything and everything in scripture into a metaphor to render it harmless.

(A couple of years back we heard a well-known reverend gentleman on the radio making the astounding claim that mentions of God in the Bible were nothing more than a metaphor for 'everything that is good'. We don't wish the worthy person any harm, but fear that he's in for a shock when he passes on and finally comes head to head with Mr. Metaphor.)

So what point are we making?

Simply this. It pays to check our thinking now and then to see if we've been explaining away something that God wants us to know as cast-iron reality.

Take the aforementioned phrase 'the body of Christ'.

What if - we're just thinking out loud, that's all - believers really are the living, breathing, visible, touchable, material evidence of the Messiah right here on earth? Surely that would mean that the head - Jesus - will have some pretty special plans for each one of us. Not necessarily by shifting us around the world, although it happens. Perhaps we'll hear a casual phrase in a conversation over a shop counter, and it's a coded invitation to say something lifechanging in reply. Or -

Or whatever. Jesus the Messiah has personalised plans for each one of us.

And it's never too late to get in on them.

So, yes, we've been sloshing around in the Northland mud (it's been raining up here for months) putting up eighty metres of chain-link fence to separate our bovines from our flowers. And catching up on a stack of correspondence this high. All the time with one ear flapping for what God might want to surprise us with.

It's a bit like Lucy, our hyperactive huntaway. She's into worrying the rabbits, giving the wild turkeys their well-deserved flying lessons and scaring our chooks who sit half-asleep in their dust baths. But one yell from us and she bounds up, tongue lolling, tail threshing, a look in her eye that says 'Yes, Boss? Let's go!'

Why not?

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