You want success? PREACH CHRIST!

ForsythP. T. Forsyth is rousing my theological interest on a number of fronts at the moment.  I am desperate to read his Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, but only have a flaky copy on my computer, and that won’t do.  Nevertheless, do not feel sorry for me.  I found this paradigm changing comment Forsyth made in his book The Work of Christ, which is a more realistic antidote to the terrible Christian fetish in the western world with numbers, growth and success.  Ian Stackhouse, a Baptist minister in Guildford, UK,  specifically writes about this problem, in his excellent book The Gospel-Driven Church and to a certain extent his recent (and most excellent) Primitive Piety; and part of his response and solution is found in the sheer brilliance of the writings of P. T. Forsyth.

Anyway, below is a snippet that re-paradigms us as Christians who claim not only to ‘be transformed in the renewing of our minds’ but also to have ‘the mind of Christ’, and to consider a little less triumphantly, and a little more soberly, the actual reality of what it means for Christ to rule the human heart…..

“Christ, with the demand for saving obedience, arouses antagonism in the human heart. And so will the Church that is faithful to Him. You hear people saying, If only the Church had been true to Christ’s message it would have done wonders for the world. If only Christ were preached and practised in all His simplicity to the world, how fast Christianity would spread. Would it? Do you really find that the deeper you get into Christ and the meaning of His demands Christianity spreads faster in your heart? Is it not very much the other way?

When it comes to close quarters you have actually to be got down and broken, that the old man may be pulverised and the new man created from the dust. Therefore when we hear people abusing the Church and its history the first thing we have to say is, Yes, there is a great deal too much truth in what you say, but there is also a greater truth which you are not allowing for, and it is this. One reason why the Church has been so slow in its progress in mankind and its effect on human history is because it has been so faithful to Christ, so faithful to His Cross.

You have to subdue the most intractable, difficult, and slow thing in the world — man’s self-will. You cannot expect rapid successes if you truly preach the Cross whereon Christ died, and which He surmounted not simply by leaving it behind but by rising again, and converting the very Cross into a power and glory.  Christ arouses antagonism in the human heart and heroism does not. Everybody welcomes a hero. The minority welcome Christ.”

P. T. Forsyth
The Work of Christ (1910)
Wipf & Stock, 1996, pp. 20-21

Change the Script

 DSC_0556Most of us love stories.  I was read to as a child.  When my dad was on shore leave from the Navy we had a gluttony of stories (mostly the classic fairy stories, but it was because dad was reading that it became an event)!

Stories are scripts!  They can be about anything, teaching us profound truth or just sheer drama for sheer drama’s sake.  And when heard enough times, they can become a script that shapes how we view the world (To this day I don’t eat green beans because of Jack and the Beanstalk.)

Theatres have scripts.  The script shapes the play, in contour, flow, character development and dialogue, each actor playing their part!  It is the controlling element in the play.  It was Shakespeare who said,  “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”  So a stage has a script and we are all beholden to that script!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And everyone on the planet has a script.  We have our own personal script, and we all partake in group-scripts, like the golf club, social club or the church.  Each group, each church also has a script.  The reason why I’ve chosen the text (or script if you prefer) in Rom 12:1-2 is because the Bible, the Gospel, insists that our scripts need to change.  The classic Gospel call to “repent and believe”, is an invitation to change the script, the script of the Old Adam to the script of the New Adam, which is Christ Jesus. Continue reading

We don’t do grace too well

selfrighteous-art

We are in a bind are we not?  I mean, a church is a community of mixed people, at every conceivable stage of life and experience, but together never-the-les.  The bind though, is that we are in this community as individuals gathered to love and serve the Lord and each other – and by-and-large, we want to do that, yet not without the occasional burp of dysfunction.

It would be fair I think, to take the hit on the proverbial chin, that the church is where one finds more hypocrites than anywhere else on the planet.  I know I am a hypocrite and I’m the minister!  But that is also the very reason why I am a Christian.  I am a sinner, I do sinful things, I think sinful things, I desire sinful things.  But thanks be to God there is a cure for sin, and that is salvation, a Christ-won salvation!

Salvation of sinners, hypocrites, liars, murderers, God-deniers, and the like, is God’s direct and effective self-revelation….in Christ….always and only in Christ……that opens the eyes of sinners, that they see him as a loving Father who has invited them into the joy and fellowship of His own self, the God-head of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And this should, I say should, set us free.

Most of the time, for many people, we respond to grace as we respond to a generous gift from a friend, “Oh you shouldn’t have.”  We take the gift and immediately the plotting starts on how we are to pay the person back for their gift.  That’s because we don’t do grace too well at all.  And this then leads to a fruit, a product, a worldview, a consequence of thinking about grace wrongly:  we become workers, doers, activists, organised, efficient.  In theological language we become nomians, law makers and law keepers and often law-seekers, the more laws the more po-faced we become, and the more po-faced the more righteous and religious -right?  It’s as if the whole book of Galatians was written for us, and we simply deflect verses such as 5:1 as being for others, them…out there….and certainly not us!!

When there is a law, what need of grace?  Grace language becomes a part of our religious discourse for sure, but its power, its truth, its vitality is simply not grasped.  Oh how we must nod sagely as we read in Ephesians 2 “…by grace you have been saved…” but inwardly shudder, maybe even mumbling something about the book of James balancing out all this nonsense about grace language with a works language.  After all, isn’t activism, busyness, practical-ness a contemporary virtue of our present day?  Now a works language we get, “Tell me what to do?”  It’s all a bit mixed up.  We don’t know what to do with Jesus’ own words about works:  “The work of God is this: believe the One He has sent…”  (John 6:29).

When we truly do get this kind of work, believing the God-man Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, the Word of God with skin on, the eternally begotten, the One who holds the universe in the palm of His hands and sustains it with the word of His power, this Jesus, is the One who offers salvation by grace to wayward sinners.  How on earth can that salvation offered by such a God ever be skewed to the degree that we think we’ve got to add to it or earn more favour (like what? What could we possibly add to that?).  Jesus died for you.  Your sins curse has been trumped and trashed by God’s salvation cure!  “Oh you shouldn’t have!  For me….really…..Oh I must pay you back….”

I’d like to end with a personal account from the 17th century of what I’m trying to say.  It’s about 1653 and a man named Humphrey Mills, who believed Christ – but under law, until one day he heard the sweet gospel preaching of the great Puritan Richard Sibbes.  Humphrey writes,

“I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing; looking for Heaven that way.  And then I was so precise with outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above their ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies.  But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint….Dr Sibbes, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit.  His sweet soul melting gospel sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had much of God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world….and my heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward.”

That’s what salvation does because salvation is from Jesus, the Saviour of the world.

Fisher of Men

FishofMen

“When Jesus described [what it means to follow him], often his invitation to it sounded more like a warning than a sales pitch.  He spoke of ‘counting the cost’ of selling all and ‘taking up the cross’ to follow him” says Dr Paul Brand.

Wes Brown’s song “Fisher of Men” captures this and more quite exquisitely, highlighting all the tensions within the Christian life, the joys and sorrows, the drama and truth, the blessings and sufferings.  The song is one of my favourites and will be played at my funeral (whenever that is)!  Below are the words:  Enjoy!

Fisher of Men

It’s running, and walking, and fighting, and turning the other cheek;

It’s giving, receiving, it’s hoping, being bold and being meek;

It’s laying down your nets, it’s laying down your life, to take up the cross, and follow the fisher of men.

What does it mean to be born-again?  What does it mean to be grafted in to the Body of Christ?

To be conformed into the image of the One, who lay down His life, so that you and I might live.

It’s living, and dying, and rising, reward and sacrifice;

It’s sharing, the blessings, the righteousness of Christ;

It’s laying down your nets, it’s laying down your life, to take up the cross – pick up your cross – and follow the fisher of men.

It’s winning and losing and trying…

It’s living and dying and rising….

Words and Music by Wes Brown 1995

 

 

Hide and Seek

We-may-ignore-but-we-can-nowhere-evade-the-presence-of-God.-The-world-is-crowded-with-Him.-He-walks-everywhere-incognito

Being a Christian is not, as some mistakenly assume, to slavishly follow mere regulations and rules!  Following Jesus is gloriously multi-faceted, so that to live under his rule means to develop, cultivate the habit of being attentive to the demand that Christ himself makes upon us in everyday encounters.  This way, all experience is thus ruled or measured by the discernment of this demand.

To measure other people and things properly, writes Baptist theologian Paul Fiddes quoting Hans Urs Von Balthasar, is to notice how they are grounded in the mysterious and beautiful depths of Being itself, as parts in a whole, and it is only possible to measure this beauty because we are first measured by Christ.  Christ Jesus himself is the true measure or ‘rule’ of all things; he cannot be measured by an alien standard from outside, but only by himself.   His existence and mission were perfectly in tune with each other, and by giving him the attention due to his measure, we too can be in harmony with his mission.

There is something truly wonderful about the fact that we are asked, called, encouraged to pay attention to Christ in the world.  He’s not a shop floor manager dispensing orders and demanding results, no matter how nice some shop floor managers ask; neither is he an in-your-face God that requires no special attentiveness.  Rather, God, Yahweh, the One seen perfectly in the face of Jesus Christ, is….hidden.  But.  And as is typical with theology, this is a big but!  A God who is hidden is not absent, but present.

When I hide from my children, I am not absent from them, I am hidden but present, waiting to be found by them, delighting in their joy in the search, willing them to press on, celebrating their final discovery of me.  I was present all along, bursting to show myself, delighting in the increasing joy of the search, me knowing I was near, them knowing I was not far!  It is just as Karl Barth says, the God who reveals himself veils himself at the same time.

C.S. Lewis was right:  The world is crowded with Him.  Rules and regulations won’t find Daddy, but attentiveness to His nearness and presence will produce more joy and fruit than we can even dare imagine.  Gralefrit dares you:  IMAGINE.