“Lord, I just wanna….”

just-do-itSo I came home at the end of just another extraordinary day, and locked the front door, shouting “Hi” to anyone in the house.

My wife shouted back “Just a minute,” and something about bathing the baby, so I just put the kettle on and went and found my teenage lad.  “Hi son*, I just wanna ask you how your day was and what you’re up to now!”

“Just fine,” he said, “and I’m just doing some homework right now.  I’ve just need another few minutes then I’m done.  Can I just have an hour on the X-Box when I’ve finished?”

“That’s just fine son, just make sure you only have an hour and no more.  I just don’t want mum breathing down my neck on this one right?  We boys have just gotta stick together.”

Then my wife calls from upstairs.  “I’ll just be down in a minute!”  “Don’t worry babes” (my totally original name for her) I shout back, “I’ll just come up and help out after I’ve just made a cup of tea.  Do you want a cuppa?”

“Yes please, just a small cup, I’ve had quite a lot today!”

So I make the tea, we have dinner, the baby goes to bed . . . . eventually, my teenage lad has sixty one minutes on the computer (just to show me who’s boss), and I just take the dogs out for a thirty minute stroll!  Then I spend thirty minutes checking emails for earth shattering news and scanning the latest cliches on Facebook, and then I just begin to pray:

“Lord, I just wanna thank you for just who You are.  I’m just so grateful for my family, what a gift they are to me.  And Lord, I just pray your richest blessings in Christ that one day, we will just know our Bibles so well and have a proper biblically informed vocabulary, that we just no longer need to use the word ‘just’ every time we speak to each other, or even when we just pray to You.  Lord, the word ‘just’ is only a minute degree better than the word ‘nice’.  Please deliver us.  In Jesus’ Just Name.  Amen”

* not his real name.

JUST

 

 

Come to Me

cometomeJesus says, not said, Jesus says today, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

Come to Me.

Jesus does not say, “Come to religion.”

Jesus does not say, “Come to spirituality.”

Jesus does not say, “Come to church.”

He does not say, Come to the divine one.”  Raising the question of who he thinks he is!

Come to Me.

He calls us to himself.  The pronoun is all-important:

Christianity began on Palestinian soil, as a relationship with a person.

It moved to Greek soil and became a philosophy.

It moved on to Rome and became an Institution.

It moved on to British soil and became a Culture.

It moved on to American soil and became an Enterprise!

But Christianity is essentially a Person.

Come to Me all who are weary and overburdened.  In the English language verbs function in two voices:  active and passive.  You may know that in the Greek language verbs function in three voices:  active, passive and what is called the middle.

Active – “I wash.”

Passive – “I am washed.”

Middle – “I wash myself.”

“All who are overburdened” is in the middle voice – “overburdened themselves.”  Thus, “Come to Me all who have overburdened themselves.”  For the most part, excessive weariness is our own doing.

“Come. . . and I will give you rest.”  Literally, I will rest you.  “I will give you rest” could lead us to think that “rest” can be experienced apart from Jesus, as though rest was a thing Jesus places in our hands which we then can carry off on our own.

“I will rest you,” suggests the personal involvement of the Rester.

Take my yoke upon you. . . and your souls, your inner being, will find rest.

Jesus is telling us that we are weary because we are wearing the wrong yokes.  Refreshment for the soul comes by “a transfer of yokes.”

The question is never, “Will I wear a yoke?”

Every person wears a yoke; there are no yokeless human beings.

The question is never, “Will I be a disciple?”  The question is always, “Whose disciple will I be?”

The question is never, “Will I be pressured by a spirit?”  The question is always, “Of all the spirits of the age that pressure me, to which will I yield?”

The question is never, “Will I wear a yoke?”  The question is always, “Whose yoke will I wear?”

Jesus tells us to come to Him, to enter into His rest because we have overburdened ourselves with the wrong yoke.  We all need His yoke, a yoke that is easy, a burden that is light.

“Come to Me” says Jesus.

 

With thanks to Darrell  Johnson in The Glory of Preaching, p.248-255

Angry at God

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Have you ever wanted to shake your fist in the face of God?

Have you ever read the story of the ancient Israelites and wondered why on earth they were such a dopey bunch of failures?

Have you ever read the Psalms and wondered why so many of them seem so angry, so confused, so desperate?

Have you ever read the Bible and just known that you could be reading a story of your own self, your own life?

Why can’t we just have a list of propositions?  Because God is not an abstraction.

Why can’t we just have a list of rules?  Because God is not a task-master.

Why can’t we just be told in plain Hebrew and Greek?  Because God is a Lover and all good lovers love poetry.

No doubt the relationship you have with God is difficult.  You are the angry fist-shaker.  You are the ancient Israelite.  You are the confused Psalmist.  You want abstraction because relationship is too costly.  You want rules because you are a task-master.  You don’t want the love language of poetry and Psalm because you are not a lover!

The Bible forces, allows, challenges us to face our inner conflicts.  Go on, shake your puny fist in the face of God, tell Him you’re angry at this or that, but then move on to praise, as the Psalmists often do.  Be angry; be grateful.  Complain at the bitterness of your life, how unfair it is; and then give praise for all the blessings you receive. In the fullness of your humanity, just as the ancient Israelites found out over the centuries, you discover the Face of God.

If their struggle is our struggle, the relationship is going to be difficult.  Newsflash:  We are sinners; God is not.  There is a conflict of light and darkness, love and hate, humility and pride.  Don’t misunderstand, this is no ying and yang thing.  But we post-moderns are like the ancients.  Our flesh battles with God and desires God.  We desire His love in all the wrong places.  Distorted love, broken hearts, indulgence, pride.

So the relationship is difficult, and that should console us.  We identify with those who experience struggle and sacrifice, who know the light and the dark, who hunger and thirst, who grumble and complain, who rejoice and praise.  This is not contradictory living and believing, this is real faith worked out in the real world.  A faith worked out and lived out before the inscrutable and exquisite God of love.

Augustine was right, when he said in his Confessions, “Can any praise be worthy of the Lord’s majesty?  How magnificent his strength!  How inscrutable his wisdom!  Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you.  He bears about him the mark of death, the sign of his own sin, to remind him that you thwart the proud.  But still, since he is a part of your creation, he wishes to praise you.  The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you…”

Go on creature…

Go on sinner…

Go on you bag of contradictions…

Go on you creature of the dust…

Go on – one marked with death…

…be real.

Shake your fist, but bend your knee also.  Shout “Why?” and “How Long O Lord?” but don’t forget to make confession and give thanks.  It’s not contradictory, it’s complexity in reality.  Worship Him, Jesus, our Lord and our God!

Met with Mercy

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I was met with mercy.  And so sings the entire Christian  community with every new day.  “I was met with mercy” – when my heart was hardened against God, when I was following my own path of sin, when I loved my sin more than I loved God, when my sin had led me into sorrow and misery, when I had gone astray and couldn’t find the way back – it was then that I was struck by God’s Word, and I heard:  God loves me.  It was then that Jesus found me; he was with me – he, and he alone – he comforted me and forgave all my sins, imputing none of my evil to me.  “I was met with mercy.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ’s Love and Our Enemies – A Sermon, 23rd January 1938

Learning to be with God

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This is a guest post by theologian Dr Robert Knowles:

Discipleship through Communion with Christ in the Central Room

Christians often speak of having “devotions”, or a “Quiet Time”, by which they mean a private time with the Lord Jesus involving both prayer and meditation upon biblical texts. Here, I suggest an additional devotional model, called “being in the Central Room”. This model, like all other models, has difficulties and limitations, some of which I will highlight.1 Yet, it still has value—so I will explain it, as follows.

Communion and Conflict: Becoming Different to the World

Imagine a large circular central room, with Christ and oneself seated in the middle, surrounded by peripheral rooms. The central room is the “world”2 of your communion with God. The peripheral—though still vital—rooms are the various “worlds” of daily life: work, family, recreation, church, and so on.

In the central room, the conversation is truthful: the Spirit activates biblical texts as speech-acts that address you; and you pray truthfully to God. And this conversation is private: Jesus says, ‘when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you’ (Matthew 6:6). In the peripheral rooms—i.e. life’s various spheres—conversation is potentially less truthful and more public.

The Christian life is a to-and-fro movement between the central and peripheral rooms. As Christians, we seek to be in the world but not of it—to be defined by the central room of communion with God. We still go into the peripheral rooms—life’s various spheres—but do so as Christians, seeking not to be completely defined by these spheres of life.

Whilst we still commune with God in the peripheral rooms—in life’s various spheres—other conversations are also happening in those rooms—conversations that are different to the conversation that pertains to the central room, as noted above.

Thus, Christians inevitably face conflict. Conversation with God through the Scriptures involves the light of truthful razor-sharp speech-actions, insights and assumptions that build, form, reform and transform our lives into right pathways of thought and practice—and so peace comes, perspective returns, power flows, and our “persons” are progressively reshaped. But, in the peripheral rooms—in life’s other spheres—collisions occur between the discourse world of communion with God and the discourse worlds of work, family, recreation, church, and so on. Collisions occur between Christian and non-Christian assumptions, practices, ways of thinking and speaking, atmospheres, environments, and tribal smells. This is not just a collision of “world-views”.

Being defined by the discourse-world of the central room of communion with God, Christians live in tension with the world’s worlds. The world also detects this tension such that ‘everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Timothy 3:12).

This tension or collision of worlds is both internal and external. Philosophy says that language and thinking are intertwined,3 and that language and practice are intertwined.4 In entering life’s various fallen spheres Christians, whilst seeking to be shaped by the discourse, thinking, and practices pertaining to communion with God, collide with those of the world.

To the extent that Christians internalise the world’s practices, language, and thinking, they will experience internal and external conflicts between at least two ways of life, thinking, and speaking: those of the central room of communion with God and those of any peripheral room or world that has begun to re-shape their lives.

Communion and Conditioning: Battle to Reshape the Christian

Thus, Christians are poisoned daily. In the central room of communion with God, the atmosphere—the practices, language, and thought-forms—is comparatively unpolluted. But in the peripheral rooms of fallen life the atmosphere is polluted or altered away from biblical norms in its practices, language, and thinking: mere engagement between Christians and life’s fallen spheres tends to re-paradigm, or re-shape, Christians.

Christians immersed in peripheral rooms long enough without being reset by breathing the pure air of communion with God can even cease to believe in the very existence of the world of the central room. Communion with God becomes a memory of something vaguely “other” that now seems “unreal”. Now, the “real” is the immediate environment of the peripheral room, which becomes the new “central room” for the backslider.

That is, the assumptions, practices, discourse, and thinking of a peripheral environment can re-shape persons after that environment’s own image, making them blind to or forgetful of the reality of the divine. They forget how to leave peripheral worlds so as to re-enter the central room of communion with God, where this forgetting becomes a kind of addiction, trap, or theatrical performance that forgets it’s a play.

To those still aware of God, such persons seem punch-drunk—locked into a peripheral reality. Such persons, though, view Quiet-Times as peripheral “optional activities” “on the side”—when in fact communion with God is not so much a “time” as a different world or place that it takes time and practice to enter into.

Communion with God involves immersion in the real world. The world’s “worlds” pass away; but the world where God is worshipped endures forever, for ‘his dominion is an eternal dominion’ (Daniel 4:34) and ‘the Scriptures must be fulfilled’ (Mark 14:49).

To those paradigmed by immersion in life’s peripheral worlds, however, the “real” world is the secular world, the world of work, or of family, church, romance, recreation, fitness training—and so on. The world you are most immersed in seems like “the most real world” to you, for it is this world that most programs you after its own image.

It is crucial, then, to keep returning to the central room of communion with God. To be a Christian is to be shaped by immersion in the world of communion with God and its practices, discourse, and thinking, which means being shaped by the biblical world brought alive by the Holy Spirit. But, as Christians, we are also shaped by life’s fallen worlds in which the practices, discourses, and thinking are not biblical. We are pulled in two directions at once: time in the central room shapes us one way; time in peripheral rooms shapes us another way.

So, to avoid undoing their Christian shape, Christians need to return continually to the central room of communion with God so as to deploy biblical criteria to objectify, evaluate and critique—and thereby to re-peripheralise—the practices, discourses, and thinking of the more-peripheral fallen worlds of life. Otherwise, Christians will be progressively poisoned by less-than-true practices, discourses, and thinking. They may even potentially become so re-shaped as to lose sight of the very existence of God, or of a place outside their immediate surrounds. They may thus become trapped in repeated worldly patterns, and life’s true priorities will become obscured, de-ranked and marginalised. Only then does the Quiet Time seem like a “pious extra”. Communion with God, though, can only be dismissed as a fantasy by those who never enter it.

Now, as we said, this model has its limitations. When I retreat to commune with God, I bring the world’s conditioning with me, which “pollutes” that communion—which is, therefore, not just “unpolluted”. Conversely, since God created the world, the “peripheral rooms” have much good in them, and are not just “polluting”. Thus, some would argue that the “world” of “raising a family” was hardly either “polluting” or “peripheral”. And yet, it is still possible to compare and contrast more or less wise or worldly “worlds” or paradigms in or through which to do “parenting”. So our point stands.

That is, our life-worlds, our horizons, move under different influences.5 Biblical communion with God moves us towards purification. Less biblical peripheral worlds will indeed tend to pollute and blind us in some ways, even if they educate us in other ways.

Communion and Criticism: Openness to Challenge by the Real

In a postmodern world, though, we encounter a conflict of interpretations. Which of life’s many spheres, worlds, discourses, texts, thought-forms, practices, or paradigms, should be the most “central” for “right human living”?

Well, Christianity and the Bible, if they are true, should compare favourably with other paradigms for human existence and with other claims made by other religious texts and by other traditions of thinking. If Christianity and the Bible are true, then they will stand the tests of critical debate and of practical viability for living.6

Since the Bible itself espouses the roles of rationality and experience, then our approach here does not exalt “reason” or “experience” over the biblical texts. Jesus himself says: ‘It anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own’ (John 7:17). One can only become convinced that biblical and prayerful communion with God constitutes life’s central room by trying it and by allowing critical challenges. Conversely, those making peripheral worlds “central” must also allow criticism according to biblical criteria.

Such openness to challenge aligns with the scientific testing of hypotheses. Suspicion rightly arises when any truth-claims immunise themselves from external questioning. It is weak belief systems, authoritarian regimes and personality cults that cannot stand against scrutiny, that refuse to be challenged.

Some, though, including dogmatic scientists, refuse external challenge because they habitually evade self-criticism. They inhabit carefully-constructed discourse-worlds, and train others—under threat of an “ugly scene”—to avoid conversational “no-go” areas, topics, or even single words that reflect life-issues crying out to be addressed. Even science can be an avoidance strategy. A refusal to be challenged is a refusal to live in the room of a genuinely true world.

Admittedly, the psychoanalytical tradition says that patterns of self-deceit and delusion shelter us all from uncomfortable realities. Nobody’s world or discourse is wholly true, but is at best distorted. Nevertheless, God calls us into an increasingly real world in which our practices, discourse, and thinking are increasingly shaped towards a truthful ‘authentic’ humanity in which reality, actions, and ‘words’ “correspond” in inner consistency and ‘integrity’.7

Communion and Avoidance: Repenting of Narcissism and Obscurantism

Travelling towards the central room of communion with God thus involves ongoing self-criticism that is not narcissistic. Narcissism involves a counterfeit journey of “self-discovery” that suppresses painful truths about sinful relational distortions. Hedonistic film-stars are forever “growing” through making their movies—but we know that their remarks often amount to self-absorption.

Genuine movement towards the central room of communion with God, then, tends to come through others’ godly observations about our lives. Genuine self-criticism does not habitually “put oneself down” so as to solicit others’ comforting affirmation in a manner that perpetually distracts them from giving godly criticism.

Genuine movement towards the central room of communion with God, moreover, involves a self-critique that is increasingly straightforward: sin is called “sin”. Having to have “the most sophisticated analysis” is just a ruse that attempts to disallow honest critique from others. Central-room discourse is concerned with real, often straightforwardly-observable, patterns of relating.

Thus, many world-views and life-paradigms compete for centrality. But which of them “cuts most ice” in terms of critical wisdom, openness to challenge, and real patterns of relating?

False paradigms resist challenges from truer paradigms by resisting challenge itself—they can survive no other way. Truer paradigms welcome challenge, because they either have the critical power to answer the content of challenges, or else they want to be corrected. False-paradigm-promoters get angry when threatened by truth; truer-paradigm-promoters are threatened only by sins, and otherwise remain calmer.

So, set yourself to face everything, and you’ll journey towards the central room! Otherwise, you’ll be clinging to whichever peripheral context suits your chosen self-delusions and insisting—or refusing to be challenged—that that peripheral room is really “central”. The journey to the central room of communion with God, then, is a journey towards truthful, enlightened, wise and straightforward speech.

Such straightforward speech, though, is not the language of infants. Those who want churches to infantilise them with endlessly-repeated neutered “basics” are fleeing from the central room of truth and maturity. They are directly disobeying Hebrews 6:1-3.

And yet the straightforward speech of the central room is not the pseudo-sophistication of sophistry either, but genuine wisdom.

The question is: what is a person trying to do with their language? Power-abuse can “play the intellectual”, but also often seeks to keep language infantile, to keep the oppressed from gaining the maturity they need to expose their oppressors.

The journey to the central room of communion with God, then, repudiates obscurantism, or ‘opposition to knowledge and enlightenment’,8 and embraces education. For the time-being, God may well meet me “where I am”. But, if I insist on remaining where I am now, then God may eventually refuse to meet me there.

Communion and Education: Learning as Being Interpreted

Naturally, for Christians, education involves Bible-study. But in our first essay, we said that some approaches to the Bible actually hindered communion with God. Biblical language is not just a vehicle for making statements conveying concepts or information,9 for God relates variably to us through biblical speech-acts so as to form us as Christians and as Church.

If God uses the Bible to say, “I forgive you”, it looks odd if I reply, “What eternal concepts are conveyed by your act of forgiveness?” Viewing biblical language as primarily a vehicle for statements conveying concepts or information evades a relational dynamic with God10—even though biblical language also communicates “truths”. We argued earlier that such an approach was really a power-bid that sought to usurp divine authority. Such “Bible-study” is alien to the genuine education pertaining to the central room of communion with God.

Thus, ironically, viewing biblical language as primarily a vehicle for statements conveying concepts or information falls into subjectivism, since this approach gives the interpretative authority to the Bible-reader. By contrast, a relational approach to the Scriptures is not subjectivistic precisely because it submits Bible-readers to authoritative divine relational address that includes, but cannot be reduced to, transmitted content. Biblical truths, doctrine, and systematic theology remain utterly crucial in a relational approach to the Scriptures precisely because such an approach prohibits their use as a mere tool of human power, submitting them to a relational dynamic in which Christ remains Lord.

God uses the Bible to transform his subjects, not just to inform self-arrogating modernists. It is modernists who reduce the Bible to cognitive content so as to avoid relational submission to God. Modernist “Christians” replace the central room of communion with God with the peripheral room of communication from God, and so side-step the genuine education pertaining to the former.

And so, whilst all education—whether in the natural sciences or in the humanities—can facilitate communion with God, this is not what normally happens in the West. Rather, Western modernists (and postmodernists) set themselves up as the interpreters, not the ‘“interpreted”’,11 and then re-paradigm all education within that delusional framework—the framework of becoming our own “lord”. But Jesus says: ‘Nor are you to be called “teacher”, for you have one Teacher, the Christ’ (Matthew 23:10). Naturally, there are still human “teachers”; but these are to promote submission to the Teacher, Jesus Christ.

Education that leads to the central room of communion with God, then, involves becoming the interpreted who submit to God’s biblical interpretation of us. True education is not about becoming master, but about being mastered.

This is not about being indoctrinated into an infantilising cartoon view of reality, but about embarking on a process of continually expanding our horizons towards an understanding of and submission to the real. If Christianity is true, then the reality that we gradually understand and submit to will be Christ-centred. This will become our central room, and other life-paradigms will be shown to be peripheral.

Communion and Community: Promoting Gifts and Reconciliation

Practices pertaining to the central room of communion with God centre on love, for “love for God and neighbour sums up the Law and the Prophets”.12

Our essay on biblical-relational lawfulness (see below) deals with love extensively, and so we may confine our attention here to just two points—as follows.

First, love is many things because it promotes the otherness of the other. In church settings, love promotes diverse callings, giftings, and ministries—not an idealised formal blueprint called “church community”, but a particular community uniquely shaped by its unique members’ exercised gifts.

By contrast, a pastor coveting the ‘audience-applause’ generated by those who ‘ape chat-show hosts’ performs for ‘the gallery’,13 suppressing others’ ministries. Rather than releasing others into their callings under God, he manipulates others into the diversion of applauding him every Sunday. To these ends he also distorts the content of the preached Gospel, but then markets this as “feeding Christ’s lambs”. We will see later that Thiselton implies that this is a common occurrence in “postmodern” churches. Certainly, such churches are not journeying towards the central room of corporate communion with God.

Second, love pertaining to the central room of communion with God seeks to be reconciled with others (cf. Matthew 5:23-24). Communion with God does not always depend on such reconciliation, however, because sometimes others refuse to be reconciled with us.

Sometimes, such others are too dangerous to approach. Like Lamech, they want vengeance ‘seventy-seven times’ (Genesis 4:24) and, according to Jesus, are like ‘pigs and dogs’ (i.e. animals who do not reflect on their own uncleanness) who will ‘turn and tear you to pieces’ (Matthew 7:6). We are commanded to restore Kingdom relating, not to collude with abuse-regimes.

At other times, such others are too injured to approach. Kingdom relating always respects appropriate boundaries, which may mean “no further contact”. Love does not enforce “reconciliation”, but sets the other free. We will look at this point in more detail in our next essay.

Let us no longer think only of time with God, but of journeying towards the place where communion with God is perfected—the central room of our lives.


1 Thiselton, A.C., The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description with Special Reference to Heidegger, Bultmann, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1980), 432.

2 On ‘Heidegger’s notion of worldhood’ or ‘“World”’ see, Thiselton, 2H, 30-31, 297, 312, 338, 344.

3 Thiselton, 2H, 133-139.

4 Thiselton, 2H, 370-379.

5 Thiselton, 2H, 307.

6 So Thiselton, 2H, 292; cf. 83; cf. Knowles, R., Anthony C. Thiselton and The Grammar of Hermeneutics: The Search for a Unified Theory (Milton Keanes: Paternoster, 2012), 444-564.

7 Thiselton, A.C., New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (London: HarperCollins, 1992), 111-112; cf.: Thiselton, A.C., ‘Truth’, in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 3 (ed. C. Brown; Exeter: Paternoster, 1978), 879; 883-886; 892.

8 Tulloch, S. ed., The Reader’s Digest Oxford Wordfinder (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 1047.

9 Thiselton, 2H, 370-379; cf. 335-347.

10 We follow Thiselton here. See footnotes 1-3 of our first essay above.

11 Thiselton, A.C., ‘The New Hermeneutic’, in New Testament Interpretation: Essays in Principles and Methods (ed. I.H. Marshall; Exeter: Paternoster, 1977), 322. Italics ours.

12 Compare: Matt. 7:12; 22:34-40; Rom. 13:8-10; and Gal. 5:14.

13 Thiselton, A.C., ‘1 Corinthians’, in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (eds. T.D. Alexander and B.S. Rosner; Leicester: IVP, 2000), 298-299.