Act 6 of the Bible – Revelation 21  

Sat 15 Aug Misha 7

If you ask me: “Do you think you’ll go to heaven when you die, Misha?”, I’d have to say no. Jesus promised the thief on the cross ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise’, so I believe that when we ‘fall asleep in Christ’ we will be with Him in a pleasant place, waiting… Rather than going away to a remote place called heaven, I believe that when the time is right (from God’s perspective), heaven will come to us as the ultimate answer to Jesus’ prayer: “Your Kingdom come”.

Paul writes that when Christ returns, we will meet Him in the air (1 Thess. 4 v 17). In the Middle East, when important people visit a village, everyone will go out to meet them to escort them in. The more important the person, the further afield the meeting point. Imagine that! You and I, caught up into the clouds, not to live there, but to be like the Palm Sunday crowd who joined Jesus outside Jerusalem and welcomed Him in. Soon, Christ is coming to stay with us! We’ll escort Him back to earth where God’s Kingdom will be fully realised in our lives and in our tangible reality! Have you heard of what some have called ‘thin places’? Places where you can almost reach out and touch the real reality of God’s Kingdom? Now, take the ‘almost’ out of it. One day, God will be King right here in our world. His reign will be forever, peace fully restored and everything once again a temple to God’s glory.

As we have seen over these past few days, all of history has unfurled for a purpose with God shaping and directing it. The story of God’s holy nation progressed towards a designated point, until it came to its climax in Jesus. He lived, died, and rose in a real place, at a real point in history. That beautiful story is a love story of a God who never lets go. A God who makes us beautiful and gives us a place of honour in His plan. A God who acts. It’s not just a distant story, it is the beginning of our story too. And it will continue in very real terms.

Heaven and earth were always meant to be two integral parts of the same good creation. Separation and misalignment are a result of the fall, not God’s intention. His life is the only life there is and it sustains us every nanosecond in this ‘real world’ whether we know it or not. And on this earth, healed, restored, recreated, but still THIS earth, we, healed, restored new creations in glorious real bodies, with pure hearts and right spirits will be fully and gloriously human. Far from whisking us away to a fluffy spiritual place, God will be with us in what we are used to calling ‘the real world’ (hint: there is only one world and all of it belongs to God). At that time God will have done away with our idolatry and sin, completely and forever. We will be ‘like a beautiful bride, prepared’. Then we are ready to reign with Him in love and peace.

For now, we very much live in a now-and-not-yet world where re-creation is both ‘present’ and ‘still in progress’. By grace, as a community of believers, we are part of this re-creation process. In us, the Spirit prays for what we ought to desire but don’t always appreciate. As we are changed, a bit more of creation is liberated as we become like penicillin in a petri dish – or as Jesus said: Salt. Light. Yeast working its way quietly through the dough.

And for now, we look forward with mixed anticipation and apprehension not only to the Christ’s return, but to what these next months might bring. We still at times ache in body and mind. We often yearn. We call this a wake-up call, yet I have been nodding off as much as I have been trimming and re-fueling my lamp. Progress is slow and happens in places I didn’t look or expect; not infrequently despite me rather than because of me. If you feel the same at times, let me reassure you: All of Scripture taken together, from the first page to the last, is the story of a God who is completely faithful and committed to His promise to His people, and who has the power to keep it.

He holds onto us no matter what. He stays with us even when we wish we could have a holiday from ourselves. He came near to us when we were furthest from Him, placed Himself between us and all that afflicts us, and removed the black oil spill from our hopelessly sticky feathers. He let Himself be swallowed, then exploded death from the inside. Something very real changed as Jesus died and rose again, and it makes a very real difference. The door is open. The wedding invitations are out. And let me assure you: You are invited to the party when Jesus comes back. If you want to go, nothing can prevent you. Stay plugged into God, and see you (t)here!

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Wrapped Tight — Visitant

Quite like this poem!

Wrapped Tight Ball of string wrapped tight and tidy yearns to fling itself in a direction to unravel massiveness into feathery strand beckoning in wind for more length to discover more paths no worries of finding way back or to dangle like trapeze swinging back and forth inviting acrobats to fly unlike ball of string […]

via Wrapped Tight — Visitant


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Our Father, who art in heaven

Flying bird in crystal river.
Hallowed be Thy name.
Butterfly dumbs nodding nettles.
Hallowed be Thy name.
Shadows dappled. Rays of sinking
sun. Thy Kingdom come.
Rings of trout. A kiss. A hatch of
flies. Thy Kingdom come.
Willow. Willow. Hybrid Willow.
I’ll never guess which one.
Dying ashes. Embers. Kindle
us. Thy will be done.

Give us bread today and always
from the ground below.
And from Heaven all Thy blessings,
more than we can know.
Sky reflected. Branches reaching.
Forgive us, set us free,
just as we forgive each other,
love, to honour Thee.
Grace and mercy, Father, give us;
don’t bring us to trial.
Keep us safe, secure from evil,
bless us with a smile.

Feather on the breeze. A buzzard.
For: Thine is the Kingdom…
Setting sun behind a hilltop.
For: Thine is the Kingdom…
Ruined castles. Dreams of progress.
…The power and the glory.
Withered leaves. A baby crying.
…The power and the glory.
Forever and ever. And ever and ever.
And ever and ever. And ever and ever.
Forever and ever.

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The Lord is my rock
and my hair has still got lichen in it
from leaning on Him.
The Lord is my fortress
and my deliverer.

My God is my rock
and I climb onto my favourite
resting place and snooze.
The Lord is my stronghold
and my salvation.

The Lord is my rock
and I tell Him I love Him out loud
because what else is there to say?

The Lord is my rock
and as no other hugs are available
the embrace of a rock will do.

The sheep know my voice by now
but they still aren’t sure.

The buzzard sits in the grass
socially distanced by a mere 6 feet.

The Lord is my rock
and the blessing of my God
kisses the land.
The Lord is my shield
and the wind is an echo of love.

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There is God in the garden here
among the hens and the trees,
tucked away almost perfectly
so that no one sees

that the Almighty has found a playground
where no one judges His skill
and all that happens to happen
is enfolded in His will.

There’s a sighing in the treetops
as the leaves refuse to sing.
There’s a hammock, uninhabited,
that is turned into a swing.

There is prayers on every corner
and an image of God in stone
as another created creature
stands naked, but not alone.

There are eyes on rocks in this garden
and shells on a piece of string.
There is plenty of God in the garden.
There is God behind every thing.

Sh’ma, the wind repeats it
Sh’ma, sh’ma Yisrael,
it is well with my soul in the garden,
and all is exceedingly well.

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Bread of Life

I am the bread of life
enough for today
I am your bread for tomorrow
I’m here to stay
I am the bread that was broken,
the Lamb who was slain
I am the Victor, the King,
the flour, the grain.

Give me a little yeast
and a measure of time
such is the Kingdom of God
by descending, you’ll climb.
I am the bread that was broken
to make one loaf
out of the myriad nations.
Through death comes growth.

I am the bread of life
enough for your needs
I am food both for the hungry
and him who feeds.
I am the bread that was broken
to make the world whole.
I am the peace you receive
which abides in your soul.

I am the bread that was given,
I gave it myself
I gave it for all my disciples,
even the twelfth,
I poured out my life
like a cup of wine on the ground
and claimed back the dust that was lost
and declared it found.

I am the bread of life
enough for today
I am your bread forever,
the truth, the way.
I am the power of life
no one can destroy.
I am salvation,
abundantly full of joy.

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Love incarnate came to redeem His creation,
and evil rose like a towering wave of rage
against the Word that was with God from the foundation
and spoken over the waters at the dawn of the age.
Love spoke truth to power and grace to the humble
now He is quiet as insults are spat in His face.
A crown of thorns. A royal robe. Watch Him stumble
under the weight of a crossbeam He chose to embrace.

Love walked here among us and healed the broken.
Now He Himself is broken and crucified
and sometime that afternoon, the final word spoken,
Love breathed a laboured, triumphal breath – and died.
Love attracted and bound the furious hatred
of evil onto Himself and was swallowed by death.
But death could not hold a Love so eternal and sacred
and ripples of earthquakes began which haven’t stopped yet.

God did not hide His face from His Son as He died,
God was in Christ so that we might be reconciled.
Love is at work to teach us to truly live
and if He gave so much, what would He not give?
Love comes between you and evil when it clings to your soul.
and Christ who paid for your freedom is making you whole.
So pause and remember the message of bread and wine:
“I am the Shepherd who paid for your life with mine.”

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Act 5 of the Bible – Acts 1 v 1-11 

Fri 14 Aug Misha 6

As Jesus began His ministry, everyone was intently scanning the horizon for God’s promised Messiah, but most people did not recognise the image of the Messiah Jesus presented. Yet, somehow, a mere 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, there are Christian churches dotted all around the Mediterranean. Amazingly, Paul’s letters to these churches were written as early as AD 50-55. Increasingly, people were persuaded. Jesus did not fit in the existing categories but caused the categories to be redefined around Him. The early church did that: They read Scripture afresh in the light of Jesus and let Him show them what their idea of God should be. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled the disciples and they were changed forever. Filled with the Spirit of Jesus, they became part of God’s new creation and subjects in the Kingdom of Heaven. Theologians say the Kingdom of Heaven is ‘now and not yet’. As the apostles preached in several languages, the Holy Spirit illuminated Jesus and thousands were baptised. Something grew, not only in people’s hearts, but in full public view. At the Tower of Babel, because of their self-worship, people ended up divided. At Pentecost, in an act of un-Babel’ing, the Spirit begins to create unity as Christ builds His church. No manmade tower can ever compare to the magnificent splendour of this temple when finished.

God’s creative act can be seen through the lens of ‘purpose’ and ‘role’ and the cosmos as an immense temple. “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool”. The tabernacle, and later the temple(s) in Jerusalem were small models of the huge cosmic temple God created ‘in the beginning’. The temple was where God had chosen to dwell, in real a physical location on a geographical map with a real people. In this microcosmos, heaven and earth met. But when Jesus said, ‘Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days’, a new understanding of ‘temple’ was required. In Jesus’ ministry, heaven intersected with earth and the Kingdom came near, and with His death and resurrection, a new order began. Forgiven and thus, freed from our bondage to sin, we were free to serve God. No longer powerless but filled with the Spirit, through whom God dwells with His people, and not only with them, but within them. “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation.” Not metaphorically speaking, but in real terms. We really are changed. Our nature is wholly different to what it was, and our spirits are infused with His. We made new. Re-created.

Understanding God’s creative work as (also) functional, in this renewed creation we’d expect to find roles assigned that serve a purpose, order appearing and God’s image-bearers becoming, in ways that are new, yet recognisable, more like God. We would expect to see things working. And that is exactly what happens. The gifts of the Spirit are given for the benefit of the church. So is the fruit. It happens gradually as the Spirit works in the hearts and in the community of believers. Lies fade; trust in God is restored. Selfishness yields to self-giving love. Humility wins over pride. Christ is increasingly Lord in all areas of personal and church life. When we say Christ is Lord, we profess that we are not, nor others’ opinion, the majority vote, the media, or our current culture… There is no room for idolatry in the Kingdom. The King is king there.

So, what is the purpose for which Christ builds His church? My suggestion is that our role is the same and yet different from the one we were given at the (first) creation. Recall it? “Multiply, steward, and be image-bearers.” All advance the Kingdom (God’s reign), and thus glorify God. The Great Commission tells us to ‘make disciples of all nations.’ That is how God’s new creation multiplies. We steward when we value people and the creation we live in. We are increasingly image-bearers and light-bringers when we allow the Holy Spirit to form us into the image and the body of Christ. Heaven meets with earth as we continue Jesus mission in small almost unseen ways. When we share our testimony, give someone a drink of water, and decide to forgive. When we express boundaries with kindness. Dance in the rain. Use less plastic and more of our talent. When we trust God enough to take a day off. When the church is of one mind and heart and gets along, we reflect God’s character. Christ is building His church to represent Him. As temples of the Holy Spirit we are plugged into His power and the light of hope can be switched on in a dark world.

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Act 4 of the Bible – Isaiah 49 v 5-23  

Thu Aug 13 Misha 5

When Jesus of Nazareth looked out over the crowd before Him and proclaimed: “You are the light of the world”, it wasn’t His words as much as the people to whom He said them that shocked people. Not the religious elite, but the downtrodden, poor, and sick were the apple of God’s eye and His humble witnesses. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”. When He said, “I am the light of the world”, it wasn’t the words… Similar words had been written centuries ago in Isaiah’s prophecy about the Servant who would finally restore Israel, and be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49). It was Jesus’ interpretation of the Kingdom of God which startled a nation waiting on tiptoe for the fulfilment of God’s promises which they knew and lived in. He claimed to be the One all Israel’s past history had pointed to in a big unified story – the King who would usher in the new promised kingdom where God would rule with peace, blessing, favour, wellbeing, health and dwell again with His people. Good news for everyone – liberation, restoration, reconciliation. A new exodus and a new, complete return from exile. Remarkably, Jesus claimed that “the suffering servant” was central to this. These pictures conflicted so much that the minds of even His closest disciples boggled at this talk of suffering. The two images were so incompatible that the whole thing was simply impossible to grasp.

The disciples roughly understood the Messiah part. They knew the entire backstory and lived it, sang it, and celebrated the festivals. Creator God enthroned. The whole universe full of His glory. Promises to Abraham. Freedom from slavery. God revealed Himself to Moses in a cloud and gave the law. God’s manifest glory at Solomon’s temple as a cloud which left again. When Jesus was transfigured before three of His disciples in a cloud, these events, although terrifying, had something familiar about them. Something glorious and messianic – God approving His king. This other talk about suffering jarred. The closer they got to Jerusalem on that last journey, the more frequent became Jesus’ reminders that this really was the plan. He must be betrayed, mocked, flogged, and crucified. On the third day, He would be raised to life. (Matt 20 v 17-19).

And that is exactly how it happened. Evil had been gathering around Jesus, tensions building, darkness brewing. He has aroused evil and drawn it to Himself. Jesus, on His knees in a dark garden, sweating blood, pleads with God that if there is another way… In His deep anguish, He prays in complete surrender to God, “Not my will, but yours.” Jesus does the impossible and puts the fruit of autonomy back on the tree as He chooses the cross. God’s Messiah, His Suffering Servant is lifted up, enthroned on an instrument of torture and crowned with thorns. Set on a hill, the Light of the world has nothing to hide behind. Naked and exposed, Immanuel (God-with-us) takes upon Himself all our guilt, shame, sin, brokenness, infirmity. In Jesus, God shows what love looks like: He stays. Jesus could have ended His suffering and come down from the cross, but God’s promise to redeem His people is a new covenant, made to last in the power of love.

In the temple of Jesus’ body, heaven meets with earth. He is the perfect Son with whom God is pleased. God is intensely present with His people as the Father receives the sacrifice of the Son: His Spirit, given freely, fully surrendered in love. God’s glory is as manifest as we have ever seen it, revealed, yet strangely hidden in plain view. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. Something is fundamentally different afterwards. God gives meaning to Jesus’ meaningless suffering. As God accepts Jesus’ work on the cross, peace with God becomes possible. Jesus said: “It is finished”. He was speaking the truth. We are free.

At the resurrection, God’s new creation begins with Christ. One day, it will be like the 7th day of creation. God will be king, reigning in shalom-peace, unopposed, active in love. We will be like Christ, with glorious new bodies, undivided hearts, and pure spirits, enfolded in that same loving peace, breathing that same Spirit. Until then, the church must carry Jesus to the world, and preach the good news, heal, serve, and make whole the broken. Disciples in every generation look around at each other and asked: “How can we even begin to do this? We’re just people.” The answer is, by becoming and remaining plugged into God.

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Act 3, Scene 2 – Ezekiel 36 v 12-28 

Wed Aug 12 Misha 4

When Jesus broke bread on His last night with the disciples, they were celebrating Passover together – the yearly feast celebrating the great liberation from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. The Israelites had done nothing to deserve this hardship; the political climate had simply changed, and the new Pharaohs did not know or trust these incomers. The Exodus commemorated their freedom from unfair oppression.

Yesterday, we left the Israelites in the desert at the foot of a mountain where God had come to meet with them in a cloud, giving the law, along with instructions about a special tent and an ark to keep the tablets. A newly founded nation with a mission for God, they entered the Promised Land, where for a while they were led by a series of judges, such as Joshua, Deborah, Samson and Samuel. As the Israelites looked around to the other nations, they demanded a king instead. Despite warnings about taxes and other burdens a king would place on them, they persisted, so Saul was made king. It wasn’t long before Saul decided to blatantly ignore God’s instructions. Samuel was sent to anoint David who waited years to become king. During the reign of David, and initially his son Solomon, the Jews thrived. A glorious temple of stone was built in which sacrifices could be made and (as an echo of the great temple of creation), heaven met with earth. This was where God dwelled, and His presence lingered with humanity.

Not long after, things went downhill. Civil war broke out and the country was split into two branches. In the Northern Kingdom, ‘Israel’, after a series of cruel and idolatrous kings, disaster strikes in BC 721. The Assyrian Empire wipes out anything that resembles a functioning kingdom and one of the two branches disappears. The few scattered people left of the 10 northern tribes in the area later called Samaria began intermarrying and customs changed. In the Southern Kingdom, ‘Judah’, things are not a great deal better. Worship of Baal and other gods comes and goes. In BC 587, Nebuchadnezzar destroys the temple in Jerusalem and the elite especially is exiled. This is clearly seen as punishment for sin and disobedience. Some of you might remember Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God upping and leaving the temple prior to its destruction (Ezekiel 10). God no longer dwelled with His people, who have rejected Him and unplugged from God as much as they could. There is a deep sense among prophets and people alike of shame, terror, regret and repentance. They have failed to be the people God made them to be – and they have done so in plain view of the people they were meant to witness to. But God promises to restore them. There is hope.

As the Babylonian empire falls to the Persians, the exiles are allowed to return. The first temple is gone, but after a few false starts, a second temple is built around BC 516. The new temple leads to rejoicing as it is again possible for God’s presence to dwell with humans but among the returning exiles, a deep grief lingers along with a sense that the exile is not yet over. They are back, but it’s not like before. The new temple is nothing compared to the original one. It is discussed whether God’s glory has returned to the new temple or not. Is God fully back with us? In the passage from Ezekiel which we’ve read today, God promises to restore His people, yet it was plain to everyone at the time, this promise had not yet been fully realised. There’s no real peace neither without nor within. A period of around 400 years after the return from exile is not described in the Bible but includes Greek occupation, before eventually, Rome invades Judea.

The (even at that time) old prophecies by Isaiah especially begin to give rise to new thoughts about the role of God’s people in their surrounding world. Suffering is now a central part of Jewish understanding of themselves and of God. Passover, previously simply a liberation feast, takes on additional meanings including thoughts about sin and forgiveness normally reserved for Atonement Day. There is a lot of debate among rabbis about this shift, and how to understand the ‘suffering servant’ passages in Isaiah. As an Ethiopian eunuch would ask many years later when reading Isaiah 53: Is the prophet talking about himself or someone else? (Acts 8 v 34).

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