History and Truth (greatness and brokenness)

History is always told from a certain angle or perspective.  We’re told that history is written by the winners; and that the only thing we ever learn from history is that we never learn from history or that we are condemned to repeat the history we do not know!  Even good history is offered from a particular perspective, no less than a good map is produced from a certain angle for a particular reason.

Rowan Williams writes, “Good history makes us think again about the definition of things we thought we understood pretty well, because it engages not just with what is familiar but with what is strange.  It recognises that “the past is a foreign country” as well as being our past.

In the context of “truth”, history can be told from multiple angles, and seeming opposites.  “Well they can’t both be true!”  Yes they can.  I recently discovered my notes taken from an unknown place and time given by Bible scholar D. A. Carson.  He spoke of the same [American] history being told in two different ways, both accurate, both true, both very different!

logo Continue reading “History and Truth (greatness and brokenness)”

If We…

If We…
If we were on the Air France plane that crashed into the Alps, we would be dead.
If we were born just one caste above the pathetic Untouchables of India, we would despise them.
If we were carried on Empires wings to far flung places, we would have had black ‘servants’.
If we were a migrant from a poor nation, we would be on those Mediterranean boats.
If we were Germans in the 1930’s, chances are we’d be Nazi’s.
If we were a child in Gaza today, we would be traumatised for life.
If we were caught in the IS net, we would be Jihadis.
If we were born in Saudi Arabia, we would be Muslim.
If we were Syrian and couldn’t escape, we’d be reduced to factional fighting along tribal lines.
If we lived during post-war East Germany, we would be Communist.
If we lived near the Japanese nuclear reactor, we would likely die younger than planned.
If we were an uneducated female from rural Thailand, we would be lured to the sex-trafficking industry.
If we were born to the Christian poor in Egypt, we would live on the city’s rubbish dump.
If we were not British, we would not have access to the NHS.
If we were not Western, access to credit for loans and mortgages would not be possible
If we were not filled with food, we would become a different person.
If we had a twin in the Third World, we would give them our old phones and computers.
If we didn’t live in a democracy, we would live in a dictatorship.
If we weren’t British, the elderly wouldn’t get a fuel allowance.
Most people on the planet do not know what a pension is;
Or a weekly bin service; or a liveable wage; or dignity; or compassion; or ….mere humanity.
In other words, if we were not us, here, now, humanised, we’d mostly likely be someone else, somewhere else, living an existence – dehumanised.
For God so loved the world? He desires all to be saved, not wishing that any should perish?
Yes! For God so loved the world. He desires all to be saved, not wishing that any should perish.
We are here, by God’s grace, yes! By divine design, for sure! But why us and not someone else?

Does this qwerk of “chance” or providence change who God is? No.
Does it change how we as God’s people respond to those not like us? Yes. Of course.
It’s easy now to imagine ourselves as Christian – here and now, in this context, this powerful context of white Western power, economically strong, and militarily mighty.

Under these conditions the Gospel is so good. God is so merciful.
But God is still God to the 9 year old frontline IS warrior. Kid soldiers with men’s guns.
And God is still God when we do not get the parking space we prayed for, or the phone we wanted, or the illness which we just don’t have time for.
Our environment determines far more than we realise.
God does not change. But we do. Our lives, cultures, circumstances change almost constantly.
The Gospel makes us realise not only our own time and space, but then we are told by Jesus:
To cast the Gospel net further afield.
To scatter the Gospel seed onto every path.
To preach the Gospel Word in and out of season.
To proclaim Gospel peace and the year of the Lord’s favour.
To give away all but one of our coats.
To feed the hungry: “You give them something to eat.”
To bind up the broken hearted.
To go. Where?
Into all the world. Preach this Gospel to every creature under heaven.
And if we go into all the world, we would find God already there, in extraordinary ways, preparing the way.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition make your requests known to God.”

 

Goodbye My Boy

What joy you gave, from pain so deep;

A miracle in progress, a work of art!

Flesh of my flesh, not quite but still,

You may as well have been.

Goodbye my boy!

* * *

Sometimes a year comes and goes,

Lost to the mists of time, forgetful minds and ordinary lives.

But 2014 will always be,

Etched in the mind, carved in the heart!

The year we met you, unforgetable.

Goodbye my boy!

Continue reading “Goodbye My Boy”

Theatrical Withdrawal

The shocking thing about suffering is not that it happens, but that we are shocked when it happens.  The suffering can of course take many forms: bereavements, illness, chronic sickness, depression, pain, cold and flu, to name but a few!

Although there is a place for time alone, space to think and pray, why is it, that in many Christian churches, people feel the need to absent themselves from the life of God’s people?  Why do so many think that a theatrical withdrawal is what biblical faith is all about?  Why do we feel that when we do go to church we get tired of explaining about our illness, whilst on the other hand, when we do withdraw, we lament that nobody cares or calls.

It is a fact that what is often presented in our lives is not the reality of either us or our situation.  A man who lost a father at the age of five, will likely have profoundly complex and yet dysfunctional emotions and expectations in later life when a relative dies.  In this sense, people can be very ego-centric in grief and suffering – and that is not to minimalise the suffering, merely to unmask the complexity of emotion and feelings underneath.

If sickness determined whether we continue with church and/or God, then surely God would have no lovers and all churches would be empty!  But no!  Church is full of repentant sinners, broken people, unhealed, chronically sick and often desperate….but they are there, with God’s people, together, worshipping God for God’s own sake, for God’s sake!  Those who theatrically withdraw forget that other people are living their lives too, and in their egocentrism, they  neither see nor care.  In fact, this not seeing nor caring, is a form of robbery – robbing God of what they were called to be within the community; denying the gift of themselves to others among the people of God; and all because of an egocentrism that is ring-fenced from genuine biblical scrutiny, Holy Spirit healing & trust, and Christian fellowship.

Is it a type of super-spiritual sulking?  I think it can be, though it may not be.  And this sulking can and often is a smokescreen for the real reality behind the perceived or egocentrically managed (false) reality.

In his book, Games People Play, Eric Berne suggests that in groups, which of course include churches, there is a whole range of ‘gameplaying’ going on; something false about most people or groups, and for anyone inclined pastorally, the greatest freedom can be found in recognising the script, seeing what is false, refusing to play to their script and speak prophetic biblical truth, life and health into all situations.

And that speaking might mean withdrawing from that dysfunctional dynamic, remaining silent, praying for people whilst refusing to be played by their scripts.  Some may accuse you of not caring or not loving, of not being a proper pastor.  They would, because they haven’t yet seen the dysfuntion of their script, because they are waiting for a particular response that is becoming of a theatrical withdrawal.  All the while they think it is about their present situation or illness, but it rarely is.  It is often about what is unresolved from their past, and the pastor’s role is to disclose this undisclosed menace, and pray the Holy Spirit is there in it all, bringing healing and wholeness.
woe-is-me-e1346181134882

 

Christian Community

LifeTogetherRe-reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I have been re-staggered by his sheer realism of Kingdom perspective.  Bonhoeffer is no religious hack mass producing religious visions of a utopian ideal – an ideal that only serves to wear thin before wearing out the Christian community.

“Innumerable times a whole Christian Community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image.”

Of course, he admits there are those who come in among the community with a definite image of what it should look like and what it should be, and lo and behold, they often have the plans to enable the community to get there!

“But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams.  A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves, is bound to overwhelm us as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community.  By sheer grace God will not permit us to live in a dream world even for a few weeks and abandon ourselves to those blissful experiences and exalted moods that sweep over us like a wave of rapture.  For God is not a God of emotionalism, but the God of truth.”

The point is quite wonderful.  The genuine Christian community is one that sees, identifies, experiences all the garbage that goes with its own manufactured dreams and visions; its own “great disillusionments.”  The community that clings to man-made visions (even if they are wrapped up in religious language and presented with biblical texts), fails to recognise this inherent idolatry.  Such a community, or church, may look and sound like a religious gathering, may even be great at social action, and evangelism, but the die is cast:  “Sooner or later it is bound to collapse.”

“Every human idealised image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that the genuine community can survive.  Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself, become destroyers of that Christian community even though their intentions may be ever so honest, ernest, and sacrificial.”

n-BONHOEFFER-large570This is liberating news, it is good news.  The Church is not to succumb to man-made idolatries, nor is she to succumb to fads and gimmicks, visions and utopias that smooth out the necessity and urgency of being the Community of the Christian Church.  God will not be mocked!

“The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting.”

Dreamy visions are an idolatrous plague on the Church, especially in the management controlled, targets obsessed West, because they become a means of assessment and measurement.  That is why we often count success in numbers attending, or by the state of the bank balance.  We are conditioned this way, and so we take it into church, devise plans and strategies, and so lose the heart beat of the Christian community.  Bonhoeffer reminds us, the Christian community is not measured by trendy techniques ripped from a secular world, but by the continuing, nurturing, profoundly simple act of thankfulness.

We cannot engineer the Kingdom of God among us.  Pity the fool who tries.  But what we can do is grow into the community by practise and communion.  We are all bent on a self-centred, self-serving, self-focused love.  It is precisely why we need saving.  But when we bring this into the community, unchecked by the Word of God, we masquerade as angels of light among our brothers and sisters, when in Kingdom reality, we are shadowy fools neither under-standing nor standing-under the Word of Christ.

“Christian community is not an ideal we have to realise, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate….In other words, a life together under the Word will stay healthy only when it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietatis (Association of Piety), but instead, understands itself as being a part of the one, holy, universal, Christian Church, sharing through its deeds and suffering in the hardships and struggles and promise of the whole church.”

Bonhoeffer

“We hold fast in faith to God’s greatest gift, that God has acted for us all and wants to act for us all.  This makes us joyful and happy, but it also makes us ready to forego all such experiences if at times God does not grant them.  We are bound together by faith, not by experience.”

 

Christ and the World

This is stunning…..

Subversive Preaching in a Postmodern World – A Targum based on Colossians 1:15-20 by Brian J Walsh

In an image-saturated world,

a world of ubiquitous corporate logos

permeating your consciousness,

a world of dehydrated and captive imaginations

in which we are too numbed, satiated and co-opted,

to be able to dream of life otherwise.

A world in which the empire of global economic affluence

has achieved the monopoloy of our imaginations;

in this world,

Christ is the image of the invisible God.

In this world,

driven by images with a vengeance,

Christ is the image par excellence;

the image above all other images,

the image that is not a facade,

the image that is not trying to sell you anything,

the image that refuses to co-opt you.

Continue reading “Christ and the World”

Die sin must or God

Christmas isn’t usually the time to talk about evil, or of Satan’s ultimate destruction, but that is precisely what Christmas, the coming of God in Christ, means.  Evil encompases all the chaos and dysfunction in the world, all the rebellion against God; and God’s salvation means an end to all that, and the return to a new heavenly order of holiness.

The coming of Jesus is God meeting His own requirements for not only sin’s penalty, but the whole moral order of the universe.  It is, in the end, God working to satisfy His own holy Name; and Jesus is the only One who can do that.

P. T. Forsyth wrote in Work of Christ that “An unsatisfied God, a dissatisfied God, would be no God.  He would but reflect the distraction of the world, and so succumb to it.”  Yet holiness must be satisfied, and nothing created can possibly do that.  Similarly, neither can God’s holiness be satisfied whilst any vestiges of unholiness, namely evil (i.e. hell), remain.  The destruction of evil is the fulfilment of God’s unsurpassing reign and joy of His holiness in all the New Creation for all people, everywhere. Isn’t that what 1 Corinthians 15:28 means?  That God will be all in all?  Thus if evil exists, what else does “all in all” mean?

Evil has no future because God is holy.

That means, as we remember the incarnation of the Son of God into the world, we remember and partake of God’s renewing of the whole cosmos to put an end to evil, but not to put an end to rebels, such as we, the human race, are.

Forsyth wrote in a brilliant sermon entitled The Bible Doctrine of Hell and the Unseen,

“If evil is to be permanent in any part of the universe, then God is there foiled and the Cross of Christ of none effect . . . . .So long as evil lasts there will be Hell.  If evil should cease Hell would be burned out.  Now if Christ’s Cross means anything it means the destruction of evil everywhere and forever.  The work of the Cross is not done while there is a single soul unwon to the mastery of Christ and uninfected by His Spirit. . . . If we believe in the Cross then we believe there will come a time when evil shall everywhere cease and sin no longer be.”

Evil has no future because Jesus has come, and remains by His Spirit.

Evil has no future because Jesus has satisfied God’s own holiness.

Evil has no future because God will be all in all.

“Die sin must or God.”  When Jesus was born, sin’s fate was sealed.  When Jesus died, sin was defeated forever.  When Jesus rose from the dead, sin was left behind in the tomb.  When He returns, sin will be erradicated forever.  The New Heaven and New Earth will know no sin.

That’s why we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time.

DSC_0082A sunset in South Devon.

Note:  This post was spurred by my reading of the excellent chapter on P. T. Forsyth by Jason Goroncy in ‘All Shall Be Well’ entitled ‘The Final Sanity is Complete Sanctity.’ And also the brilliant collection of Forsyth sermons in Goroncy’s ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’, which has been mentioned on this blog before.

All shall be wellForsyth.DescendingonHumanity.90702

The Throbbing Whisper of the Lord

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I have just found my recently misplaced 1889 copy of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, the 14th century Catholic mystic, and one of the world’s most read books.  It can be bought from any decent bookshop, but also downloaded as a PDF here, something I’m sure Thomas would have approved!

In the translator’s preface, Kempis is quoted, though I’m unsure where it is quoted from, but it is certainly worth making available here.  Please read it slowly, thoughtfully, prayerfully…..

Continue reading “The Throbbing Whisper of the Lord”

Without the Gospel

I came across this brilliant piece in Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology, an excellent tome in its own right, and one I have mentioned before on this blog, here, here and here.  Without the Gospel was penned by John Calvin as a preface to Pierre Robert Olivétan’s 1534 translation of the New Testament.  I’ve used it in communion services a couple of times, and I hope you can find a way to use it too, it is simply, simply brilliant.

 

Without the gospel
everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
we are not Christians;
without the gospel
all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness,
and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom
the poor are made rich,
the weak strong,
the fools wise,
the sinner justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure,
and slaves free.

It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.
It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.

For, he was
sold, to buy us back;
captive, to deliver us;
condemned, to absolve us;
he was
made a curse for our blessing,
[a] sin offering for our righteousness;
marred that we may be made fair;
he died for our life; so that by him
fury is made gentle,
wrath appeased,
darkness turned into light,
fear reassured,
despisal despised,
debt canceled,
labor lightened,
sadness made merry,
misfortune made fortunate,
difficulty easy,
disorder ordered,
division united,
ignominy ennobled,
rebellion subjected,
intimidation intimidated,
ambush uncovered,
assaults assailed,
force forced back,
combat combated,
war warred against,
vengeance avenged,
torment tormented,
damnation damned,
the abyss sunk into the abyss,
hell transfixed,
death dead,
mortality made immortal.

In short,
mercy has swallowed up all misery,
and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.
If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.

 

And we are
comforted in tribulation,
joyful in sorrow,
glorying under vituperation,
abounding in poverty,
warmed in our nakedness,
patient amongst evils,
living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

jean-calvin-028With thanks for this great painting capturing Calvin the Pastor to Kelly Rider over at Poesies & Rye

Hello Baals

Idolatry is alive and well in the world today.  We can too easily scoff at our alleged 21st century sophistication when we consider the claims of idolatry in the Bible, but idolatry is around us everywhere and in us all the time.  I recently described idolatry as anything that de-centres God from the place only God should be.  It is the thing that keeps us from a true worship of the Father.

Baal, as mentioned in a previous post, was a constant rival to YHWH, to God’s own covenant people.  It is quite astonishing that after four hundred years of Egyptian slavery, which, it must be said, was a total immersion into Egypt’s idolatrous culture, idolatry was the very thing that would plague the Israelites, even as they had been rescued by plagues from Egypt.

In Numbers 25:1-3 we read of the old generation making one final catastrophic mistake in the newly formed Yahwistic community:  “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab.  These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.  So Israel yoked himself to the Baal of Peor.  And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.”  The very next chapter deals with the new census and the new generation that would go in to the new land.

Baal worship is a horrendous sexualisation of the human being.  2 Kings regularly refers to the ‘High Places’ of Baal worship, where sexual orgies, cultic dances, intoxicating binge drinking and debauchery, almost as if on an industrial scale.  The High Places were a massive problem.  “I look to the hills, where does my help come from…” as Psalm 121 begins.  He looks to the hills because they are so debauched and idolatrous, but thank God his[our] help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

lionThe simple point in this post that I want to make is this:  Idolatry as it was alive and well in Biblical times, is certainly alive and well today.  1 Peter refers to the devil as one prowling around looking for someone to devour.  And just as idolatry is a state of human affairs that leaves nothing but devastation in its wake, we can say that idolatry, will, like the devil, stop at nothing until you are raviged – not merely in the sating of sexual desire by debauchery, but in the de-humanising of your very humanity, so that in your consumption, you are consumed.  This is what idolatry does, it consumes, like the locust, only the human heart is far more rapacious than any mere locust plague.

It is therefore a natural connection to make, that Bible idolatry seen in crass statues of little men, the symbol of the god and rival to the true God, are simply symbols denoting the human problem, they are the obvious outcomes of the human condition: sin.

'HELLO BOYS' WONDERBRA ADVERTISING HOARDING.. POSTER. BILLBOARDSSin twists and distorts, it makes good bad, and beautiful ugly.  And thus, in the sexualisation of culture, from Baals to porn, we see that Baal has a new face, it is seen in the porn industry, the advertising industry, the film industry, the pop music industry, and is a way that Baal of Peor is seen around the globe and that this reach is but a metaphor of his reach into every human heart.  Baal is brand, he is multi-named, he is black and white, he is your next door neighbour and your best friend.  Baal might have found a home in you.  The devil truly does prowl around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  It’s not so much as Hello Boys but Hello Baals!

It is no accident that when Adam and Eve sinned they turned a paradise into a wilderness.  When Israel sinned at Shittim (perfectly named for the topic in-hand), they were literally in the wilderness when they sinned in their whoring after Baal.  The point is simple.  If you are in a paradise when you chase after Baal, you’ll end up cursed in the wilderness.  If you are in a wilderness and you chase after Baal, you will not inherit your promised land.  Either way, you yourself will become a waste land because waste is what Baal does best.  Only Jesus can save you from that state.

jesus feetThank God Jesus resisted the devil; that he did not attempt to force God’s hand through the idolatrous worship of the great deceiver.  Thank God, that in Jesus, it is he in the wilderness who, by his victory, will complete salvation history and turn heaven and earth into that great Paradise of God, and Baal, or whatever he’s called, will be banished forever.

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