Thursday, 16 November 2017

Blessed are those... who are washed up

So many people simply have no time for Christianity.
Here's one of the major reasons why.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Here's what counts...

Came across this new item on Mockingbird this evening. Pure truth. Enjoy.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Gold

Eric Metaxas on life and faith Well worth a watch.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Crying in the wilderness

As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
Psalm 84:6

Most of my life has been lived within the realm of evangelical Christianity - The Jesus Generation of the 70's, The Charismatic "renewal" of the 80's, attending a Reformed then Evangelical churches in the early 90's, until I finally reached home through Reformational (not "reformed = Calvinistic") truth over the last twenty years. What made all of this possible was the fact that in my late childhood, I understood that God was certainly there, and by "hearing" about Him (particularly in the marvelous works of C S Lewis), recognizing that He was most certainly there for us.

I mention this because making this journey was far from easy. Most of the manifestations of church I journeyed through here in the UK were principally about what I needed to do, and as a result, it repeatedly become obvious that I wasn't cutting it - I could talk the talk, but behind that routine was the real me - the me that still sinned, still failed, still had plenty of fears and doubts and wasn't anywhere near making the "spiritual" grade so often being set up in countless sermons, ministry times and studies.

It all came to a head in the early 90's. Church history had taught me enough to know there was a better way, but where was that being talked about, offered to the modern church?

The weary state of affairs changed when I discovered an American radio broadcast - The White Horse Inn - which sought to place the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15)  front and centre and apply this to the present church. Within months, the dislocated parts of my spiritual life came back into place and as I started to read afresh the works of Luther in particular, I began to understand who I truly was as a Christian and what church was really meant to be all about.

The Good News of  the Gospel (Romans 3:21-26) had furnished a way in the wilderness.

Notice I said that this is still a wilderness journey, and its often filled with groaning and weeping of soul, because whilst discovering the riches of God's grace is liberating, it also allows you to see and feel the poverty of the world around you, and puts what often passes as "christianity" into sharp relief.


Amidst the celebrations of Luther's titanic work these past few months, I have often found found myself keenly aware of the emptiness of other beliefs (road to no where ideology that amounts to 'have a good time now - it's all you've got') and the total folly of church which thinks the Gospel is something we 'trip' over to start with, and then get on with the "deeper" stuff of being spiritual. It all amounts to "let's make our own gods", because as exiles from the garden, that's what we believe we're good at.


There was a very telling quote made recently:


“During his time at Union Seminary, Dietrich Bonehoeffer famously remarked that American Protestantism has never gone through the Reformation, so, the dominant theme in American Christianity is pietism. This continues to be the case – both evangelicalism in general and Protestantism in particular perform the Gospel, preach law in ways that manifest either as  moralism on the one hand or legalism on the other, neither of which bring Christ into focus or close the abyss between God and us.

What most hear week after week is some flavor or variety of this – it’s time to become a better you or to invest in a better world. We’re entirely engaged in exhausting people on the treadmill of the law, with expectations that, by the very nature of their content and intent, grate against the good news of the Gospel that they are justified by grace entirely and only, ever, reckoned righteous in Christ alone, forever”.

(Jason Micheli)

There really is only one thing necessary to continue to 'pass through' the desert valley and see these arid places refreshed and transformed into a place of delight. It isn't all the tug and tussle of our pietistic spirituality, or our grand notions of being wise in our own estimation - it's Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins and raised for our justification - it all begins and ends there.


Church and life are about orbiting this star of righteousness, this sole splendor of our world - if we break away from here, we become abandoned in the void of the abyss of burning up and fading away.

Let's look away from anything and everything that distracts from what God has given to our broken world.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

For Reformation Day...

The brilliance of Martin Luther on the Excellence of Jesus Christ:

When Christ holds fast to us 
 By Martin Luther 

“And some brought to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven”.  Matthew 9:2. 

 These words show us quickly what the kingdom of Christ is – the caring voice that pierces our poverty with those words, “Your sins are forgiven”. 

We cannot view Christ’s great work amongst us in any other way, for only this word allows us to be alive before God. As you, my friends, understand, the great demand we know is to be right before God and our neighbor, so we must indeed hold fast to these precious words and find our refuge here and hear their sweet message to one like us – ‘Son, be assured, your sins are forgiven’. 

Can you here the rich treasure of the good news? 
We see, then, that the true work of Christ’s kingdom is only done when nothing but this comfort and forgiveness is evidenced not only in the words that proclaim it, but also in deed. Christ not only spoke to this sick man, but in truth, forgave his sins and comforted him. 

Words are quickly heard and then easily forgotten, and the world, the devil and false religion certainly wish to quickly remove us from this understanding. Therefore, dear ones, be careful to learn and truly know what is being given to us in these words, and thereby escape the snares that so easily seek to reason away the mercy we find here. 

Here there are no good works, no piety on the part of this poor man, no keeping of laws in order to show goodness or merit – here we find nothing but the comfort and mercy of Christ alone – it is the bare comfort of His grace and mercy that meets this man in need. So often, because our dullness, we receive such goodness only with our ears, far beyond our hearts, for this man’s problem – the weight of sin – still hangs upon us, so we run to those who they speak for God when they encourage us to try harder, climb further, by our own works, thinking this will bring us remedy. 

This, dear friends, is madness. 
Here, in this one verse, we find the true work of God’s Holy Spirit – not to leave us wallowing in our vanity and folly, but to bring us to the astonishing mercy of God in Christ. 

First, then, He insists must come this bestowing of God’s goodness – only then can we truly be of good cheer and of any true value to each other. There will always be those who seek to tell us that seek to torment us with numerous requirements and regulations in regards to our being right with God, but they so entirely overlook the work of Christ Himself here amongst us – for Christ first takes possession of us by love and then we are right before God by such mercy alone, enables us to aid our neighbor.  

We must likewise hold up this wondrous truth to ourselves and one another, and by doing so, hold each one close to God by His mercy and righteousness to us, and not by any other means. Christ alone shows us the gracious love of our God, bringing that mercy fully to us in Himself. Let us keep quiet about all other things, but only boast and marvel in this amazing care – Christ has indeed forgiven us of our sins!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Throwing it all away?

"I am amazed that you are so readily deserting the one who called you in the grace of His Son and turning to another message". Galatians 1:6.

So, the big day of the 500th anniversary is almost upon us, and all manner of exuberant and clarifying materials have clamored for our attention as we approach the moment, but I find myself asking one question.

If the good doctor Martin were sat with a brew at table with us right now, what would he want us to take away regarding all of this?

Back in the mid 90's, I was suddenly struck by, more than anything else, what was paramount about Luther's perpetual work from that October day in 1517 until the day he died.

It was made plain to me again yesterday whilst reading an item on the 1517 legacy page.

We can spend so much of our times wittering on about all manner of supposed 'truths', but at the end of the day, it really all comes down to Christ coming to us, both in His Incarnation, and then, in the various ways He has left with us that His spirit uses to bring Him to us.

When we worship, is it around the cross, and the astonishing reconciliation that God has brought through the atoning, justifying work of His Son, expressed in our confession and absolution?

When we face doubts and trails, are we able to find surety in that we have been baptized into Christ and are therefore dead to what was and alive to the magnitude of His marvelous redemption?

When we sit in church in our need, are we fed by His body and blood, given for us and to us in the bread and the wine, showing how we truly become His by the total giving of Him?

When we pause for a moment, we realize that everything that sustains our bodies comes in a similar fashion - we have to take in what is good to be healthy. Why, then, if God has made this so clear in the natural realm, do we think it's any different when it comes to what will feed us in regards to being born again? Why do we think that we have the inner resources to better ourselves and change the world for good? It's like a drowning man believing he'll be OK without a life-line.

Theology goes bad when we start to put anything in the spot that should only, ever, be filled by Jesus Christ and the good news of His saving work.

It wasn't long, some five centuries ago, before Wittenburg and then Europe would witness a plethora of "teachers" who would seek to put all kinds of provisos, footnotes and inserts into the plain and true message Luther had sought to recover for the church (see the amusing video below as an example of how this happened), and thereby began the fracturing of Protestantism into hundreds of different denominations, but this was never the intention, and this isn't the concord that is fostered when we return to that same essential message brother Martin sought to continually declare.

So, the good Doctor's answer would be simple - bring Christ to each and every one, that they, by faith in that good news, may find true joy and comfort with God.

Let's hope that this anniversary allows us to camp there, so the 1,000th anniversary can revel in the same light.

Peace with God comes through Jesus Christ.
Sola Fide, Sola Gracia, Sola Christos!

Oh - Happy Reformation day (31st).



Saturday, 21 October 2017

In spite of ourselves

"If we were to truly look inside ourselves, we would all condemn ourselves".
Noelle's dairy entry - from the film, Limbo.

"Jesus, the son of Joseph.... the son of Adam". Luke 3:25 & 38.

It's one of life great pretenses.

"How are you?"
"Oh, fine".

It doesn't actually take much to peel away that paper-thin veneer, but of course, we don't,
because we're expecting the usual to happen in such "conversations" -

"How are you?"
"Oh, I'm OK to".

(Phew - that's out of the way).

Then it's on to lighter issues.

Getting close to someone always costs, because once you peel away the outer "calm", you will find the storm inside - the raging push and pull between what they would like to be and what they actually are.

That's why the gospels (Matthew and Luke) quickly give us genealogies.

We often think that true purity or holiness is light years away from us or our shaky little worlds, but amidst what we might consider the dusty tomes of 'this one begat that one' - not what we might usually consider a page-turner - resides the answer to all our fears and troubles regarding ever being anywhere near good enough to matter.

The Christian message is that everyone counts, and that's not in some weird philosophical sense. God has literally married himself to us -  to this strange, turbulent mess of a race called humanity. That's what the passage in Luke is telling us - he became a man of the same stream, but without sin, as the rest of us.

The good news that keeps me afloat is not about measuring some increasing amount of virtue or piety in myself - if anything, I so often find the very opposite to be the case - it's all about the fact that "True holiness - the holier it is, the closer it will draw to sinners" (Luther).

We shouldn't be surprised about the fact that our greatest need is met by someone else.
Everything that really matters about us comes from beyond the shores of "me", but how we receive these gifts, how we use them, that's often where we find ourselves stranded. We know they count - we know we should be thankful and reciprocate with generosity and care, but there's this dreadful selfishness in the way that usually causes us to spoil or squander even what's good.

Some years ago, I started attending a church where most services commence with a moment of confession and absolution. It's a moment that resonates deeply, because it tells me that what really counts isn't my inner turmoil over the last week, but the fact that God has already intervened to change what matters - He has killed the power of Sin and Death in coming to us, living with us and for us and dying and rising to brake the cycle of going nowhere. That moment in church often allows me to recognize that splendor once again... and that allows me to get through another week.

That 'allowance' - assurance that what someone else has entirely done is what truly counts - breaks into our benighted, often dreadful days here, and beckons us to a surety and certainty that mediates a comfort beyond ourselves.

Sanctity is because God makes it so. That's why we're deemed to be saints as well as sinners - the bare creature, so marred and crippled by their folly, is covered by a beauty and a purity that could never be obtained by the wretch beneath it. That's why Christians are constantly talking about Jesus - He alone is the righteousness, the holiness, we so clearly need to heal this innate poverty of soul.

There's a great deal more that could be said about how we so readily "miss" each other because we know to do otherwise would cost our island-like selves deeply (the film, Limbo, is a splendid study in how this happens continually, often until it's too late) - but the remedy is here, and we can know a beginning of something far better in the life God brings us in His beloved Son.

I don't have any problem being the "hello... and goodbye" kind of person life so readily makes us, but every once and a while, you get to have an actual conversation with someone, and that can truly be life-changing. When we lift the lid, we begin to realize we're all the same, and we all need that precious moment when we're reminded that something, someone has made it right... in spite of us.

So, when today gets disjointed and you're in a rut once again, consider Him who went to the cross to bring you something so much better - that's the only way we can escape the trouble that is ourselves.