Transfigured Love

“I must learn in this life to accept the fact that hunger and restlessness are part of what I am made for.  To love God is not to acquire the biggest and best gratification of all but to have my whole experience of love transfigured.

Instead of the manic struggle to fill the gap in my heart, which leads to the exploitation and domination others and of my whole world, I acknowledge that I am never going to feel cosily at one with myself, all desires gratified; my longing opens out on to the horizon of the infinite God….

….[I can] however, walk with Jesus Christ in the risky territory of this world, trusting his gift and not my effort, to keep me faithful.  And instead of the urge to fill the gap in my heart, that gap becomes the way in which God’s love comes alive in me:  I start wanting what God wants, I come to share his will to give himself.

And so I begin to see other human beings in the light of God, to love them a bit more as he does, to long for their good as if it were mine.  This, says Augustine, is how the passion for justice grows out of love for God:  I stop taking it for granted that how I define what’s good for me sets the agenda for everyone else, and I learn to see that there is no good for me that doesn’t involve good for others.”

[italics mine]

Rowan William, on St. Augustine of Hippo, in ‘Luminaries: Twenty Lives that illuminate the Christian way’ pg. 17-18

Luminaries

Theology Questions: #3 What does it mean to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’?

Keeping in Step with the Spirit

In Galatians 5:13-26, Paul writes the following:

13 “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

According to Gordon D. Fee, a Pentecostal theologian, the command, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25), has to do with crucifying the “flesh” not by the law, but by the Holy Spirit. The particular indulgence of the flesh that Paul has in mind here is “becoming conceited, provoking and envying each other” (v. 26) or “biting and devouring each other” (v. 15), but Paul is clearly speaking against all “the acts of the flesh” (v. 19-21 cf. v. 24).

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Theology Questions: #2 What is Prophecy?

  1. I have spent many years in the thinking of Anthony Thiselton, and so am very interested by his views, not least on prophecy (note the spelling here!). 
  2. The best place to look for Thiselton’s views on this subject, which I regard as authoritative, is in his large commentary on 1 Corinthians: see, Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to The Corinthians (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000). A good place to start is p. 829, which I quote in my book, Relating Faith (a free copy of which is yours on request).

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Theology Questions: #1 God’s Will and the Bible

QUESTION: 

In the area of discovering God’s will how do you and how should we distinguish between what we want and what God wants? Do you regard the Bible as the inspired word of God and if so how should the Bible influence our decision making? 

RESPONSE:  

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Extreme Metaphor: Salt and Dung

Extreme Metaphor: Salt and Dung

Luke 14:34-35

 

Salt and Vinegar;             Sea salt;                     Salted peanuts;

Salt and pepper;              Bath salt;                   Salted babies;

Ready salted;                    Table salt;                 Salted Pringles;

Salt tablets;                        Salted slugs;             Salted dung;

Saltless salt.                       Salted speech;         Road salt;

 

Salt is an amazing thing.  Very important to the human body.

We live in a high-salt culture which is not so good for us.

 

Matthew 5 –  “You are the salt of the earth; You are the light of the world.”

This is about shining out and spreading out.

The rest of the Sermon on the Mount explains what that looks like.

 

We know that salt serves different functions:  It preserves and flavours.

(Personally, I think my Cambodian pepper is better than salt):

(“You are the pepper of the earth!”)

So we know Jesus is calling us to flavour and light up a decaying and dark world.

Note that Jesus never challenges us to be these things, he just says we are.

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FOLLOWING JESUS

FOLLOWING JESUS

The first thing and the last thing that Jesus said to Peter was the same—“Follow me!” The first occasion was when Peter and his brother were casting a net into the Galilean Lake. Jesus passed by and called out, “Follow me, and I will teach you to fish for men” (Mk. 1: 16-18). Peter quickly responded and became a follower of Jesus.

 

Throughout the preaching tours of Jesus in Palestine, Peter continued to follow. In the fishing villages, on the mountains, in the desert, by the lake—he followed and he listened. Many months later, on the night that Jesus was betrayed, Peter even declared that he would follow Jesus to prison and to death (Lk. 22:33), though as Luke makes clear, due to his fear Peter only followed at a distance (Lk. 22:54). On that same night, he eventually denied that he even knew Jesus (Lk. 22:55-62).

“Follow me!”

After Jesus had risen from the dead, he left Peter with the same command as at the beginning, “Follow me!” Peter had questioned the Lord about the future of another of the disciples, but Jesus simply said to him, “What is that to you? You must follow me!” (Jn. 21:19-22).

 

Finally, in later life, Peter wrote to a group of churches with this admonition: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pe. 2:21).

 

So, then, what does it mean to follow Jesus? Obviously, it cannot mean for us exactly the same thing that it meant to the rural people of Galilee who had Jesus physically in their midst. The call to follow Jesus must mean more than travelling around the countryside while listening to Jesus preach, for as Peter wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, Christ left us an example that we should follow in his steps, and it is apparent that he was talking about a way of life rather than a geographical route.

 

And so we begin with the word “disciple”. The followers of Jesus were called his disciples, and the term refers to someone who is a learner or a student. One who follows Jesus is always learning more about him, learning not only in the sense of intellectual awareness, but even more importantly, in the sense of learning to live according to the pattern which Jesus taught. This is why John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus walked” (1 Jn. 2:6).

 

In the gospels, Jesus made the call to discipleship central in his teachings. He knew that at the very core of human nature was selfishness, pride, and the desire for power. So, he taught that to follow him, one must say “no” to him or herself (Lk. 9:23-24). Those who wished to follow Jesus but still retain other loyalties could not do so (Lk. 9:57-62). In fact, even family loyalties must be sacrificed, if necessary, in order to follow Jesus (Lk. 14:25-27). The cost of discipleship is the willingness to give up everything for Jesus (Lk. 14:28-33). It is the acceptance of Jesus’ radical claims about himself, and the submission of our lives to him as the Lord of life.

jesus feet

The call to follow Jesus is an intense daily challenge. This is why Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must … take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9:23). This brings ethics to bear:  In every circumstance in life, to follow Jesus means that you ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” When making decisions, when confronting clients, when socializing with friends, when addressing those in need—all these circumstances are to be controlled by the answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?” Sometimes, perhaps often, the answer will be acutely uncomfortable, because it will deeply conflict with our own wishes.

 

To a wealthy young man who claimed to have kept the ten commandments from his youth, Jesus said, “Go, sell everything you own and give it away. Then come and follow me” (Mk. 10:21). Sadly, the young man turned away. His love of wealth prevented him from following Jesus. The refusal to follow Jesus can be for many reasons. For the crowds in Galilee, it was the scandal of Jesus’ claims about himself (Jn. 6:53-66). For the Jewish leaders, it was a deep loyalty to their traditional religion (Jn. 9:13, 16, 24-29). For Judas, it was disillusionment (Mt. 26:14-16, 20-25). For yet others, it was a field or a purchase or a marriage (Lk. 14:16-24).

When Jesus calls us to follow him, he always seems to ask us to give up that thing which is most likely to draw us away from him. As someone once said, “The things that I do not understand about the sayings of Jesus are not what disturb me. What disturb me are the things that I understand all too well!”

“The things that I do not understand about the sayings of Jesus are not what disturb me. What disturb me are the things that I understand all too well!”

One might well ask with Peter, “Lord, we have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Mt. 19:27). But Jesus replied, “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life” (Lk. 18:29-30).

Something should also be said about the importance of knowing the stories of Jesus.

The accounts of the teachings and actions of Jesus were the primary preaching material for the earliest Christians. While they did not have the advantage of a printed Bible, as we do today, the public reading of the gospels and the retelling of the stories of Jesus were eagerly received. Today, Christians can become familiar with the life of Jesus both by hearing and by reading, and it cannot be over-emphasised that they must learn more about Jesus.  To claim to follow Jesus without any familiarity concerning his life and words is to lapse into an ambivalent subjectivism.

 

It would be impossible here to enumerate all of the teachings of Jesus. Nevertheless, the essence of the life to which Jesus called us can be sketched in. Jesus himself said that upon two commandments hung the entire law and prophets of the Old Testament: to love God with all one’s heart, soul, strength and mind—and to love one’s neighbour as oneself (Lk. 10:25-27). Who is one’s neighbour? It is anyone with a need (Lk. 10:29-37). Jesus was concerned about things such as forgiving people of their offenses (Mt. 6:14-15; 18:21-35) and loving those who did not love in return (Mt. 5:43-48). The sum of the life of Jesus has been aptly encapsulated by one person who said that Jesus simply “found wounds and healed them.” He was the “man for others.” He called his followers to servanthood (Jn. 13:1-17), not to power (Mt. 20:20-28). One of his final sayings on the cross was a prayer for the forgiveness of his executioners, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34); and not merely his immediate executioners, but humanity as executioners. 

Were_You_There

Source: Wikipedia

The 1899 classic ‘Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” made famous by many, including Johnny Cash, implies, rightly, a whole human race experience, if only we will see that.  This is similarly captured in the film, ‘The Passion of the Christ’ by Mel Gibson, who filmed the nails being hammered into the hands/wrists of Jesus by his own hand!  So, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” is not only an immediate prayer of Jesus, but a cosmic expression of soteriological plenum.  It is worth remembering that Jesus only says what the Father tells him to say; and by sheer Trinitarian logic, the Father answers the prayers of Jesus.  Thus, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” is the prayer of the Human Christ that finds its fulfilment in the Cosmic Christ:  How can it be anything else?  “Behold, I am making all things new!”  I’m pretty sure I know what “all” means.

Jesus simply “found wounds and healed them.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The call to discipleship is a gracious call, but it is also a costly call. As Bonhoeffer said, “It is costly because it costs a [person] his life, and it is grace because it gives a [person] the only true life.”

So to you and me, just as to Peter and Andrew and James and John; and Tony and Bill and Sue and Margaret and Ann and John and Steve and Judith and Bonnie and Andrew and Abigail and Tania and Roger and Richard and Laura and Michael and Julie, Jesus says, “Follow me! Follow me and I will make you…”

He will (re)make you!

As St Ambrose said, “Truly a mighty remedy, that not only removed the scar of an old wound, but even cut the root and source of passion. O Faith, richer than all treasure-houses; O excellent remedy, healing our wounds and sins!”

Dodman Cross

The Drill

The Drill

A friend of mine describes the Christian life using a military metaphor that is both helpful and enlightening….I know – what a bargain!

drill

Not this kind of drill!

Being a Christian is about learning the basics:  Prayer; reading (i.e. exegeting and interpreting) scripture; Christ-likeness; learning the Fruits of the Spirit; living the sermon on the Mount; renewal of the mind; developing spiritual habits formed in the furnace of Trinitarian relationship, etc.  These basics are like the “basic drill” an army unit performs to stay sharp.  In other words, the existential reality for the army is the drill performed in peace-time: Marching; cleaning; inspection; fitness; and so on and so forth (one doesn’t want to push a military metaphor too far – there’s enough of that going on already)!

But the basics serve the special missions:  Either planned or spontaneous mission/evangelism; specific seasons of ministry; short or long-term mission; local or national or international.  In short, an Olympic athlete’s gold medal was forged on the running tracks of Trinidad; the swimming pools of Portugal and the cycling arenas of Argentina – the actual final in which it was won is almost a moot point!  The basic drill serves the special mission.

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The 11th Plague: Pornography

Free CandyOver the years I have mentored and counselled many young men and older-to-middle-aged men on the addictions they have regarding internet pornography.  I am convinced this has to be at the centre of all discipleship discussions and in no way shirked by ministers and anyone in leadership responsibility.

In every case I have assumed it is happening in the lives of these men and I have never been wrong (in this at least)!  The prevalence of shame and guilt linked to this addiction is destroying not just marriages and relationships, but people as individuals.

shame

Pornography is the ultimate locust plague and the newest form of the Golden Calf; the ultimate consumerist need; a dehumanising consumption of humanity – by humanity – on a scale hitherto unknown.

It presents itself as something good, something delicious, but it is not; it may look like a nice cake but it is horse manure wrapped in icing that is laced with despair and brokennness.

Yes I know pornography is as old as the skies.  Yes I know the complexities of the nature-nurture debates and the desire-affections debates and the secret Victorian obsessions and the Canaanite fertility symbols that demonstrate in one way or another this is not new:  mankind is obsessed with sex.  But what we face today as a “postmodern” people in a global world is new.  Something has shifted, and the statistics below merely highlight the beginnings of this new-(but old)-world-order.

We are now beyond the territory of the erotic (marital) sex of the Song of Solomon, and we have walked blindfolded into the horror show of Ezekiel 16 and 23.  Some may say that since this blog is a Christian blog, that I am some sort of lemon-sucking prude, a proper Victorian anti-sex Puritan.  Well I’m not.  The statistics below (from but one country) will contain the detail of what and why I am against this vile trade in people who are made in the image of God.

The Guardian online recently published an excellent article by Laura Bates entitled ‘Rape is not a punchline or a way to sell Christmas presents‘.  She writes,

“In fact, there is evidence of some links between the portrayal of women as sexual objects and attitudes that underpin violence against women and girls. The government-commissioned Sexualisation of Young People review found evidence to suggest a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviours as the norm. And the 2010 report by the American Psychological Association on the Sexualisation of Girls detailed links between sexually objectifying images of women and girls in mainstream media and significantly higher levels of acceptance of rape myths, victim-blaming, sexual harassment and interpersonal violence.”

I find it astonishing we need government-commissioned reviews to reach this plainly obvious conclusion.  This runs in tandem with the idiotic advertising strategies of various corporations around the world to suggest and insinuate rape and abuse of women in order to sell their grubby wares!  It should take more than public shock and complaint to realise this; or is the saturation of our minds by advertising companies now so dense that enticements to rape and abuse are the thing that will keep our economies strong?  In fact, “woe to you” if that’s what it takes to run a business in profit, and maintain a strong economy.

BTW, this post is not about anyone’s right “to do what they want” or whatever narcissistic neo-liberal construct of society you choose to adopt (as though anything one individual does is completely independent of anything and everyone around them (whether you are a Christian or not) – what nonsense)!  It is simply about the fallout from this industry that is destroying real lives on an industrial scale.  

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How the ‘Temptations of Jesus’ relate to everthing about you, society and the world

My friend, theologian Rob Knowles, who has featured on this blog before, has allowed me to publish his basic outline of the Temptations of Jesus and how they are a paradigm for every Christian disciple of Christ.  PDF available here:  The 3 Temptations of Jesus Christ.

What we will find here, is a profoundly insightful hermeneutical work on something that (big assumption alert) close to all readers of the Bible kind of skim over, and I write this placing myself firmly in that category.

Rob has kicked me up the exegetical backside with this excellent study, and if it’s too long for you to read, I make no apology save that this is one of the very ‘conditions’ that will be exposed in the study.  If this doesn’t get your interpretive juices flowing, I don’t know what will.

I hope you enjoy….

temptation-of-christ

The Temptations of Jesus Christ: Explanation

1. Overview and Preliminary Points
The temptation narratives occur in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), but not in John, and are only present in embryonic form in Mark. Matthew preserves the original order of the temptations, whereas Luke alters the order because Luke’s focus is often on the temple, and so he wishes to emphasize the temple by putting the temptation that features the temple last. Below, as in the Bible study, we will follow Matthew’s ordering of the temptations.


First of all, we may note that commentators stress that Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus may hint at parallels and contrasts between Jesus’ temptation and that which was suffered by Adam and Eve. If Adam and Eve fail to resist the tempter, with the result that Paradise becomes a wilderness, then the Second Adam enters that wilderness, resists the tempter successfully, and so restores the wilderness to its original paradisiacal condition.


Second, commentators also stress that Matthew’s and Luke’s temptation narratives parallel and contrast with Israel’s testing in their desert wanderings, where many argue for this inter-textual relationship with respect to Mark as well. If Israel were baptised in the Sea of Reeds, Jesus was Baptised in the Jordan; if Israel was then tested in the Sinai, Jesus was then tested in the Negev; and if Israel went on to inherit a Promised Land, and a Ministry (in the case of the Levites), Jesus went on to inherit the Kingdom of God and a Ministry too. The contrast comes in that whereas Israel failed to resist Satan, Jesus succeeded. The desert, then, as a harsh place of testing, is also God’s place of preparation for the reception of inheritance. Israel’s failure to resist temptation delayed – but did not ultimately overrule – God’s fulfilment of divine promise.


Third, in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul parallels the Christian experience with Israel’s desert wanderings. Thus, by implication, Jesus’ temptation experience tells us something about Christian experience too. As we are tempted, so Jesus was tempted. As Israel often failed the test, so we often fail the test. But, if this is so, how can we see ourselves – our failures – in Israel’s behaviour? And how can we see ourselves – our successes – in Jesus’ behaviour? How do the relevant passages of Scripture interpret us?


Fourth, John the Baptist also tells us that Jesus will baptise us “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). But, if fire signifies refinement, or discipline, and if the desert signifies the place where God refines and disciplines us, then we may even draw parallels between seasons of discipline within the Christian life and the temptation narratives. As Jesus was tested for a season, so we – having received a baptism of fire into a season of discipline – after we have “suffered for a little while” will be “made strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). And St. Peter should know, for he himself was handed over to Satan, the sifter, to be sifted like wheat, where sifting, like fire, is a purification or refinement motif. And if even apostles are handed over to Satan during special seasons of discipline – (and Satan cannot be made to “flee”, even by exorcists, during such seasons) – then will God not hand us over to Satan as well when we need a specific “sifting” kind of discipline? Of course he will! And during such times, will not the devil tempt us in every manner possible? Of course he will!


And, of course, fifth, if Christians experience discipline individually, then churches experience it corporately according to Revelation 2 and 3, as the risen Lord specifically states. The Bible is not individualistic, unlike us modernists, and so can mean groups when we think only of individuals. According to one Old Testament scholar, what would have struck Jesus’ original Jewish audience as hilarious about the rich man deciding to build bigger barns for his grain was the fact that he decided what to do by himself, rather than by taking it to the elders and the community.


In other words, Adam and Eve, Israel, Jesus, individual Christians, and Christian churches all experience baptism, testing, and inheritance. It is a revealed pattern for what spiritual life is. If spiritual life, positively speaking, is love for God and neighbour, then spiritual life, negatively speaking, is about resisting material self-empowerment or “self-feeding” in relation to the physical appetites, about resisting spiritual self-empowerment or seeking to “control God” or god-like power in relation to being rescued from our predicament in this world, and about resisting sociological self-empowerment or seeking to “enthrone self” or “exalt self” socially or competitively, whether overtly or covertly.


To these three temptations we now turn, because we have fallen into them very badly. And as one famous Welshman once said: “There’s no news… like bad news”.

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