Sunday, 23 April 2017

Alone...

Writer and Blogger, Emma Scrivener, has posted a superb little piece on dealing with the loss of a loved one here. I've also added a few, I hope, helpful thoughts and insights in the comments, so if you know someone who might benefit from these thoughts, please pass the link along.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Human?

"More human than human is our motto"  
Tyrell. Blade Runner.

It's so welcome when it happens. Your doing something - watching a movie, reading a book, taking a walk, and suddenly, you see or realize something that hits you hard because it says something true about who and what you are. It can be like laying the final piece of the puzzle.

I had something akin to that this week. Nursing myself through a virus, I was listening to an introduction on the work of an early christian writer, when the broadcast broke to advertise a forthcoming discussion on transhumanism. I listened with intent. I've recently finished attending a series of studies which sought to examine issues of identity and this had lead me to my own further interrogation of where our current social trends are driving, and I now found  another major piece was being dropped into my ears.

We all know moments of personal dread or loss, but what about those moments when we encounter something more universal - a sense of foreboding concerning where 'we' - humanity - are? 

History shows us there are times of cultural death and collapse.

In the book of Genesis, the first eleven chapters of human history speak of several such events, including three which irrevocably change human life entirely -
the fall, the flood, and the tower of babel.
What is imperative in these accounts is that all of these were locked-in to the issue of our identity - to how we define ourselves as 'human'.

It's worth taking a moment to just recall the scale of those times as we now think about today.

However smart and easy technology has made everyday things for you and me, we still often seem to be inherently ill at ease in our own skin, so would detaching us from our flesh so 'we' can become something inherently beyond death be the answer? Would a state whereby 'we' became operation systems for tech that in effect rendered us immortal, equate to freedom, or would we just become something less than we are?

It's no longer science fiction or hypothetical. The next two decades are going to see the rise of the age of robots and growing use of inter-phasic bio technology that will bring about more and more convergence between ourselves and such assistance. The "wow" of such a world promised in countless 'see tomorrow' shows of earlier decades may have indeed been displaced by the sinister dystopia of a tale like Alex Proyus' "Dark City", but these days are coming on fast, so the same question will mark it's (our) time - who am I?

I'm deliberately writing this on Easter Sunday, because the answer to that nagging question isn't going to be discovered in us burying ourselves in more of what we can achieve.

There are telling moments in those three accounts in Genesis - moments filled with foreboding and horror of the most dreadful kind. The 'what if' of transhumanism bears the same ring as the 'what if' raised by God after our fall in regards to our then eating of the tree of life (Genesis 3:22).

The actual answer to our malady is found beyond ourselves in the events of today - easter sunday.
It may be considered passe by our post-modernal estate to speak of death ended by a resurrection (Paul of course faced the same tough crowd in his day - Acts 17), but the ramifications of that empty tomb to our humanity are clear.

When Jesus stands again amongst His friends, not as an apparition or some etherial "being", but as a man, marked by crucifixion yet alive and asking for something to eat, the matter of what is entailed in being human is faced head on.
Our longing to be, and yet be more won't die even if we're wired to devices that breathe and eat for us - we just become, in effect, further away for being us.

The message of the resurrection is that humanity can be found, here, amidst flesh, and then live without enmity to itself and the universe. Real freedom is not the further suppression or submergence of our identity, but the re-discovery and burgeoning of this (John 10:10). What needs to be killed or negated is not our physical bodies, or our relationship to them, but our autonomy from the life we cast aside in those early days of our race.

The "escape" is not about checking out or going away.

Easter is all about coming home.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Killing Heresy

"In the scriptures, the body was created by God and was an inseparable aspect of what made us human. We don't just have a body; we are bodily. Therefore, when the body and soul are separated at death, due to the fall, a profoundly disruptive event takes place... The good news is that the body (us) will be re-united in all of its perfection and splendor (at the resurrection)". Michael Horton - A Kingdom of Priests.

It's been a month of jolts and reminders.

The jolts have been about just how quickly we can fall short regarding the staggering, jarring truth of why we are made as we are, and what that actually means in terms of eternal life. The reminders have been what was actually required to get what we had decimated redeemed and recovered by God descending amongst us as a man and hanging with our sin, our judgement, upon Him.

The jolts are still coming.
Yesterday, for example, I was a little taken aback when I heard a well known Christian apologist on YouTube conclude a presentation on the resurrection with the phrase "You don't have a soul - you are a soul. You have a body". Interestingly, this speaker and at least one other popular reformed writer have mistakenly ascribed the statement to C S Lewis, when it's original source appears to be one William Walsingham Howe in an 1876 publication for children.

What Lewis did say was somewhat different: "And as Image and apprehension are in organic unity, so for the Christian are the human body and human soul" (God in the Dock).

The difference is imperative.
When God breathed life into Adam's frame to make him living, it wasn't some temporary experiment to be aborted in favor of 'heaven' if it all went pear-shaped. The Lord invested humanity with His own likeness (Genesis 1:27), and intended for this to be expressed in us to the rest of creation (1:28). The horror, after our fall, would have been that we remained locked in our severed estate for all eternity (Genesis 3:22). Christ came to release us, and all of creation, from that dreadful ruin (Colossians 1:19).

Salvation, then, is something which is indeed extended to the whole world (John 3:16), and inclusion in the redemption that is coming is based upon a trusting in what God has done is His Son (2 Corinthians 5:19), so how is it that we find a popularity of teaching and opinions that state that Christianity isn't actually about any of that, but is really just about us becoming 'heavenly' in a state as redeemed souls or 'angelic' creatures, where what we intrinsically are - bodily - is expunged?

The idea, of course, isn't new. Several of the Early Church Fathers found themselves having to counter beliefs that Jesus couldn't possibly be God and Man - most ancient heresies taught He could only be one or the other - and these were taught amidst a milieu that saw the world, especially the material, as inherently evil, so the need was to escape the prison and ascend, becoming 'whole' again. Christianity proved anathema to such views, because it was all about God being manifest in flesh (1 Timothy 3:16), coming down to us (John 1:14), because what was made is good, and will be redeemed.

Paul clearly shows that because Christ's bodily resurrection is true, our coming back from death to know a bodily life without corruption is certain (1 Corinthians 15), and that it will be our bodies that will experience this (Romans 8:23). "Heaven" is not about God trashing what He has made to make us 'spirit beings' or about us eternally being maintained in some disembodied mode as 'enlightened' souls (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). If God had truly meant us to be that, or indeed, to merely be angels complete with wings and harps, then why would He have bothered will all the messy business of the material in the first place? The life that God has always purposed for us will be lived in a real creation, ransomed and made new by Christ (Colossians 1:20), hence it is here, that we truly see His handiwork, both in Creation (Psalm 8) and Redemption (Colossians 1 & 2).

My reasons for re-stating this are not academic. Accompanying the 'soul' statements on teaching videos like the one I mentioned above were several 'christian' quotes that were clearly happy to express the manner of eternal dualism that so plagued the errors which sought to assail the early days of the faith - the physical, the sexual, the material are merely 'transitional' - they have nothing to do with the real you - something very familiar in our current cultural trends.

Yesterday, as I walked into work across the city centre, I was to encounter a young women displaying herself naked to the world. She was clearly troubled, and was shortly to be arrested because of the responses of those standing around, generally gawking (making swift use of their cameras as they said how 'shocking' it was) until the Police arrived, but I couldn't help but think of the moment when Isaiah, who was to speak so deeply about the coming of Christ, shocked his generation, by doing what God commanded and walked unclothed amongst them (Isaiah 20:3).

We are still as shocked by the revelation of what it means to be flesh as we always have been, for it so often here, in these temples not made of wood or stone, that we are so rudely reminded of who we were made to reflect. Sadly, the response so often is not to draw closer to what is being said to us here, but to denigrate or protest against such a telling vision.

Easter draws us to a man of sorrows, stripped bare and marred, suffering and dying that all such folly, all such hiding, be broken and we are once again exposed to the naked truth of the God we have to deal with, and the sin that so needs that bleeding, dying one.

"There is a truth here. The Cross is set up in the cosmos is order to give future to that which is passing away, firmness to that which is unsteady, openness to that which is fixed, hope to the hopeless, and in this way to gather all that is and all that is no more into the new creation" (Jurgen Moltmann. The Crucified God).

Many years ago, as I entered a church behind the bodily remains of a wife who had suffered with cancer, there was only one piece of music that fortified me so I could face that moment. It was taken from the books of Job and 1 Corinthians:

"I know that my redeemer liveth, and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh, shall I see God... For now is Christ risen from the dead".

The core of Christianity, because of His Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, is the redemption of all things, to His glory.

Never let anyone tell you it's anything less.






Thursday, 16 March 2017

The excellence of Jesus

Just had to share this superb message from my friend, Paul Blackham:

Saturday, 11 March 2017

gloriam hominis?

(Following on from my last posting...)

"Let your words be anything but empty
Why don't you tell them the truth?"  From Brave by Sara Bareillies


Words and Phrases. We're so used to them that sometimes we can neglect to really unpack what they're actually seeking to say (and what they're really telling us).

Recently, I've been looking at what's put up as the shop window blurb on the websites of the "new" (Principally Charismatic, so circa 1980's on) church growth movement churches, and it certainly says something.

Most of them want to talk about being part of what's deemed "bigger" than us - the revitalization, the transformation - ideas that would fit well into the designer label bag of most post-modernists (here be the dragons that continually feed upon themselves!). Whilst these notions certainly give what's served up a contemporary tag, it's how you access these attractions that's particularly telling. There isn't much by way of structural doctrine to define what's believed at the gateway (that, of course, is left to the initiation courses - usually "Alpha" - which come later) , but when it comes through, it's often phrases about getting to know 'Father' (God) essentially by the work 'of the Spirit', and this was where the real troubles start to appear.

Huh? someone may say - why does it matter?
Surely, these places are clearly attracting people towards 'god', so that has to be a good thing, right?

Well, let's look at a Biblical story for a moment to answer that.

The book of Acts has some pretty miraculous moments, and one of the most startling occurs quite early on, at the cusp of the new church just beginning to dip a toe into taking its message out further than Jerusalem.  A man named Phillip, who'd literally been a waiter before Saul started splintering the church community, had headed down to Samaria and was boldly preaching and casting out devils, when some trouble popped up in the form of a miracle man called Simon, who joined Phillip's entourage and then found himself eager to gain the kind of power these new teachers had, however much silver it cost him. This lead to a show-down with the likes of Peter and John, so things were certainly getting stirred up! Anyway, in the middle of all this, Phillip finds himself being told to chase down a chariot in the desert to speak to a guy on his way back to Africa. He heads off to the desert, does as he's told, and -whoosh!, then gets carried away to another town, a long way away in Caesarea, to carry on his work.

Did you see what I did there?

I told the outline - this happened, then this - of the story given in Acts 8, but I haven't actually said anything at all about what is at the hub of these events.

Before I say anything more, can you think what that might be?

If you can't, take a look at the chapter for a minute and then see if it comes to mind.

What's missing in my initial telling here has everything to do with what is also missing from the message of the websites I mentioned to begin with, and defines the trouble we all face today.

The Samaria story is filled with lots of exciting events - someone turns up and all manner of unexpected things happen as a result, but the entire narrative is given weight by that little 'footnote' of Phillip's side-trip into the desert.

Why?
Well, here, he meets someone from elsewhere who is struggling with the scriptures, and not just any 'ol portion of them - he's reading from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, speaking of one who will suffer for the sins of others.

Phillip's job was essential - to inform this stranger that the Prophet was speaking of the very one who had recently come and given Himself for us - to proclaim the one who had died and risen so that this man could trust in that atoning work and be re-born in baptism.

God took Phillip into the desert because this mattered, eternally.

So, look at that incident again, and tell me what's missing - what is it that needs to be mentioned, talked about, preached and proclaimed?

Here it is - "Then Phillip opened his mouth, and beginning with the scripture the man was reading, he told him the good news"... (wait for it)... "about Jesus" (Acts 8:35).

What mattered in what the church was doing at that very moment was something very clear-cut and essential, not only for those who belonged to it, but for the good of the whole world,
so, what's going on today?

Let me place this question in a somewhat broader context.


I recall some years ago on a radio broadcast how one of the shows team went to a major Christian convention in America and sought to interview people who were both running the event and attending by asking a couple of straightforward questions. These were:

What are the ten commandments?
What is the Gospel?
What does Justification mean?

Most of the responses weren't just bad, they were positively pagan, and whilst there were a couple of exceptions, the simple fact was people really didn't know what Christianity was at all - their churches were clearly failing them entirely.

We are imperiled, spiritually, when we are encouraged to move off from the vital truths of the faith, especially concerning The Preaching of the Cross (the saving work of Jesus Christ) to invest in a spirituality which majors in minors - a principal-based, naval-gazing spirituality that asks us to keep looking at ourselves in the immediate and at 'god' in the abstract (distant or spiritual, rather than present, in His Word and Sacrament). 

The plain and simple truth is we're often communicating a religion that fits right in with our own religiosity, not turning us, as the wretches we actually are, to the judgement and mercy required at the Cross.

Jesus tells us plainly - life isn't possible for you and I unless its via the gateway of His death (for our sins) and ours (by being crucified with Him), so that we can begin to partake of something very different - a life where we're fed by the Spirit speaking to us by God's word (meaning, not our intuitions, but the word that will never fade or fail).

So, as Easter arrives, where will we be?
Will the Jesus message this year be something mystical, or shrouded behind a deluge of 'new' praise sessions, or 'revelations' or will it be as real and as stark as it was on the first easter, requiring from us repentance and faith in the eternal work of the one became the Lamb slain for us?

Church really isn't about us 'doing' business with God. It's where we go to once again learn what God has done for us at one place, forever.

We cannot hope to save the world, or even help ourselves, unless that's where we focus.



Thursday, 2 March 2017

Beyond "Spirituality"

"I am the truth" 
Jesus (John 14:6).

Ever tried traveling in a vehicle with a troubling fault?
It doesn't even have to be that serious to be life threatening.

Some years ago, my late wife and I were heading back home in some pretty extreme conditions - thick mist and fog with that thin saturating rain - when the motor on the front windscreen wiper gave out. In a few seconds, it was impossible to see where we were going.

We can, hopefully, see the peril in everyday situations like this before they cause us any serious troubles, but similar perils appear to be something we can often be almost blind to when it comes to the condition and inclination of our own souls.

One of the key and essential truths that the Bible reveals about us all is that we all have a nature that determines that we will always veer towards darkness rather than light (Romans 1:19 onwards), to sin rather than to what is good (Romans 3:9-20), and thereby confirm that we are in a totally ruined condition, so how do you think we'll get on when it comes to loosing or choosing our religion? Interesting that Paul tells us in the first Romans passage I've mentioned here that this is the first place we can see the fault line that then allows us to go on to make all manner of other personally desired 'allowances'. This makes a lot of sense. if we have a 'god' (even if it's just our self-determination) which affirms our own core beliefs, then everything else (ethics, morals, cultural values and the like) will quickly fall-in behind that over-arching 'voice' as well.

All this matters a great deal when we come to consider current approaches and aspirations in what's voiced as 'nice' (having the right vibe) amidst the often zen-like popular harmonic that passes as valuable or acceptable 'spiritual' insight.

Collective 'belief making', principally through what's often posted in venues likes social media, blogs and other such venues has become a popular pastime. What is striking is to unpack what is going on as a result of this and similar modifying today. A US report of a few years ago came up with some interesting results. Here's a snippet:

Though the U.S. is an overwhelmingly Christian country, significant minorities profess belief in a variety of Eastern or New Age beliefs. For instance, 24% of the public overall and 22% of Christians say they believe in reincarnation — that people will be reborn in this world again and again. And similar numbers (25% of the public overall, 23% of Christians) believe in astrology. Nearly three-in-ten Americans say they have felt in touch with someone who has already died, almost one-in-five say they have seen or been in the presence of ghosts, and 15% have consulted a fortuneteller or a psychic. Nearly half of the public (49%) says they have had a religious or mystical experience, defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening.” This is similar to a survey conducted in 2006 but much higher than in surveys conducted in 1976 and 1994 and more than twice as high as a 1962 Gallup survey (22%). In fact, this year’s survey finds that religious and mystical experiences are more common today among those who are unaffiliated with any particular religion (30%) than they were in the 1960s among the public as whole (22%).

Of course, none of this is really that new - religion of all shapes and stripes (as long as they are 'nice') has always been in vogue (recall for a moment Paul's visit to Mars hill, and the comfortable fit between philosophy and numerous manifestations of worship). What is a little surprising here is how many professing Christians are making a great deal of accommodation for all manner of 'useful' ideas that are, in effect, contrary to the core message of the faith itself. This 'pick and mix' has certainly been evidenced many times before - Saul, for example, in the Old Testament, thought it might be OK to consult a medium when things got tricky for him. Solomon, after marrying countless wives and gaining a harem,  decided it was fine to play around with their beliefs as well, but these, and many other examples show us that the consequences are horrendous because such dabbling drives us right back to the human soul trifling with forces that have already imprisoned us.
With such dire consequences in mind, here are a few things to consider about the value of what's being shared as 'nice' in your neck of the woods...

The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that there is only one person and one place in all of heaven and earth, time and space, where you and I can be made free from our sin and severance from God - that is in the person of Jesus Christ and in His death and resurrection for us (Romans 3:21-26), so ask yourself this - when it comes to what I'm engaging with or promoting here, is it really pointing me and others to the Gospel of 'Jesus Christ and Him Crucified', or is it pointing somewhere else?

If what's going on is really talking about the nature of Christ and His redemption, then it's going to help us needy folk and do some good. If it's inviting us to head off down some other avenue of piety or enlightenment, then it's going to be a cul de sac, bending us back in upon ourselves, and that's going to bring the greatest pain of all.

The remedy to sin and death isn't easy - easter so starkly shows us that. The crucifixion was to deal with our ingrained condition - our sin. It was marked with a bruising of soul for our sorrows and iniquities. The true and lasting solution to our distance from the garden will come in the day of the new creation, when all the benefits of Christ's sacrifice are fully evidenced forever in a redeemed and renewed cosmos (Romans 8: 22 & 23). Until then, we are still bound by pain and corruption, and still know how venomous sin and death can be. The comfort is not in us. It is in Him who tasted death for us all that, finally, by His stripes, and only them, we may be healed (Isaiah 53: 3-12).

It so easy for us to 'channel' and proceed to mine the spirit of the age, but there is a far richer, deeper seam which God, in Christ, is wanting for us to discover and treasure.

As we approach another Easter, let's consider that.







Saturday, 18 February 2017

So, what's good here?

“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” 
 Warren W. Wiersbe


Harsh words, notes Solomon, stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1).
Imagine then, how the religious folk must have felt when Jesus speaks of them as being erroneous in their doctrine, self-serving in their piety, and criminal in their duties, amounting to a religion which adorned them externally, but did nothing worthwhile for them or those they were meant to aid (Matthew 23).

It wasn't just anger that lead Jesus to such plain words.
This passage ends with Him lamenting and weeping over such a gross falling from what was desired to be seen in God's priests (23:37-39) - that is why His words break and wound. Only such direct and candid honesty can begin to heal when we have become that embedded in our error (Psalm 147:3).

The problem with sin is that it doesn't just parade itself in what is obviously or inherently wrong - wouldn't that make things easy. When Satan beguiles Eve in the garden it's by adorning what is poison with an array of goals and intentions which sound so right.
The consequences of our succumbing to such wiles are remarkable - just consider Adam's words to God as he is busy covering his tracks (and himself) after being so fatally wrong (Genesis 3:10-14).

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul says that one of the telling marks of these times will be how rapidly people will seek to accumulate teachings and teachers that appeal, not to a need for truth, but to those things which so easily and readily please and satisfy ourselves, thereby wooing us away from the essential message that breaks us to heal us (2 Timothy 4:1-4).

We can find it so simple to fall into the trap that because something looks good, feels good and therefore must do me good, we determine it is good.

Shortly after his blunt admonishment to the religious guides of His day, Jesus was to be found nailed to a means of execution - 'religion' being in full accord with such a determination, but little did any power or authority, material or spiritual, realize that as He hung there, pouring out His life for those who reviled and judged Him, He was doing our world more good than any other at any moment in all of heaven and earth (Isaiah 53:3-6), so here's the question we have to ask -

does what we're doing in our 'spiritual' activities and attitudes point to the one who humbled Himself to death on a cross and to the life that comes from that source (Jesus Christ, and Him crucified), or are we chasing all kinds of other "good" stuff that we think is fine morally and spiritually, but is actually detaching us from the one thing we're meant to know and be sustained by? Do we have ears to hear what truly makes us healthy - the theology of the cross - or are we 'fired up' to have itching ears and feet to run here, there and everywhere to gain the latest 'blessing' that has been devised by the latest "revelation"?

It is so very easy for us to be like fallen Adam in the garden, railing like some petulant child about what we believe we need and wanting to find refuge anywhere but in peace with God by what He provides in the death of His Son. There is a plethora of ready "remedies" abroad today, so many in the church itself, which wants you to lay hold of something 'above and beyond' the one who was lifted up by God to bring the antidote to Satan's venom, but these incitements will leave us finally as blind and impoverished and as wretched as Adam seeking fig leaves.

Paul tells Timothy that he is 'poured out' by God in one work alone - clearly teaching the truth, proclaiming The Gospel (Romans 3:21-26) and that Timothy, by soberly taking heed of Paul's words, must follow his example.



We cannot truly afford to do anything less.

Avoid the theatrics and the illusions.
Let Christ be all in all.