Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A little clarification

"By Grace you are saved, through faith, and that is not of yourselves, but the gift of God".


Sorry if it's been a little quiet around here of late, but it has been a busy spell for all manner of reasons, and hopefully, some good will come of it...

I recently was involved in a discussion on another blog regarding what really saves us, and during the postings that occurred, I was reminded just how much confusion there can be regarding the nature and the scope of God's work of Justification by Faith. I know, from experience, just how confusing the whole matter can be - I spent a good two decades of my Christian life not even really understanding how to unpack it -  so I thought it would be good to provide a little clarity on the matter.

First, a statement that helps put the whole thing in perspective:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5XPu8_gqj4
(This is a very finicky link, so if it doesn't work, go to You Tube and type in 'Doug Wilson on Justification by Faith Alone and Future Justification'. I've sent a note to the person who manages the link to ask them to look at it and hopefully fix it).

Wilson provides a nice distinction here between the two ways in which the term Justification is used in the New Testament - to speak of God's declaration to the sinner of being declared 'not guilty' because of Christ's imputed righteousness and, secondly, in terms of a vindication of these same people with regards to their trust in that work on the last day.

Secondly, those of you who have a little more time may like to watch this message, given by Mike Horton, on the subject of What is the Gospel:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIkWLK_4oK0&feature=share&list=PL052D8E7C4E1A7D93&index=39
This really zones in on what is important in the Christian message and why Justification is by Faith alone (but, as the Reformers put it, not a faith that is alone).

I hope these materials prove helpful and I hope to unpack some of the issues related to this a little more in the New Year.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Beneath the Status Quo...

Life often gives us a reality check. Recently I posted the following on my Face Book page:
"It's pretty amazing what we believe about ourselves. Most beliefs boil down to an amazing confidence in ourselves to get... where? And for what? They do so by not really looking at ourselves, long and hard, and seeing that we have a real problem - us - all of us. We need something much deeper than a jingoistic pep-talk which just panders to our ego... we need to realize that we are in a very deep hole and the only escape is to be rescued, and when we see that, there aren't many people left in the problem with us who can truly help".

I was staggered by the responses I received, essentially taking the view in most cases that human beings were actually pretty OK and didn't need much more than their ego's fluffed so that they could tidy-up their act and their environment and everything would be just peachy. Well, I argued my case, seeking to state that no, there  really is something wrong with the human condition, but the stubborn reply was I was wrong.

It brought to mind an astute quote by C S Lewis: 
“When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.”

Luther stated there are three things we all truly know -
that God exists, that He has a Law, and that we are all judged by that Law. 
The problem, of course, with such a God, is not His transcendence, but His immediacy.

The very nature of His intimacy is shown in the manner in which what has been made is bent towards us - those made in His image. It is what is totally plain and evident to us in this world which so condemns us, for it is here we see the nature of His character and power, and it is also here we see our rejection of that truth, thus, our manufacturing of a 'god' which is either so transcendent or so conformed to our wishes that it is of no consequence whatsoever.The aim becomes a 'happiness' that is as deep as our immediate wants and needs (food, pleasure, comfort and health), devoid of the fact that we temporarily reside over the void created by sin which is always concluded in judgement and death. 

The very 'contentment' we believe we have devised in our present 'happiness', is, in effect,merely the first stage of judgement at work - a being given over to our own delusions.

It's painful to encounter such harsh truths, especially amongst friends, but it is the realm which surrounds us everyday, so an equally shocking confrontation with those realities is essential if we are to provide a moment where a wake-up call can occur... the words of the preacher in Ecclesiates may not be popular, but the realism is imperative to rescue.
I hope and pray that such moments will allow a pause for sober reflection as found here.

Friday, 18 October 2013

When all's said and done...

Some twenty years ago, my Christian faith was rejuvenated by the discovery of an excellent regular American radio broadcast called the White Horse Inn. Twenty years on, and Mike Horton and Rod Rosenbladt, the regular team of that show, are still seeking to help us see what really matters and how that needs to be the focus of what we're about. This wonderful little video is a great little introduction to them, and the crux of Christianity...



ROUNDTABLE ON THE GOSPEL: Tullian Tchividjian , Mike Horton, Rod Rosenbladt | LIBERATE 2012 from Coral Ridge | LIBERATE on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

'Tis (nearly) the season... to warm up with a good read.

I don't know how it is with you, but I often find that the colder months 'encourage' me to settle down in a warm spot with a good book, so I thought I'd suggest a couple of theological treats that you might care to share and enjoy in this season. These are by no means new titles, but they are all currently available for a reasonable investment from places like Amazon.

(Ignore the 'click to look inside' instruction on some of the illustrations here... you have to go to Amazon to do that!)....



1. Putting Amazing Back into Grace by Michael Horton.
If you're after a very readable work that places the essence of what Christianity is all about into a set of inspiring and easily digestible chapters, then this is it. I first read this explosive little volume in the 90's, and it literally re-aligned my understanding in a manner which has aided me to define genuine Christianity ever since. Penned by one of  the most insightful Christian thinkers of our generation, this one is well worth a look.





2. Creation Regained by Albert Wolters.
Another work that cannot be recommended enough, this brief insight into the nature of how Christianity impacts upon all of life will have you thinking, studying and discussing a plethora of issues and subjects in a way which is seasoned with the richness of the work of Christ - it opened vital doors for me into early church theology, the arts and contemporary culture. Highly recommended for anyone who is keen to know more about the scope and depth of the faith.



3. The Progress of Redemption by Willem Van Gemeren.
As Creation Regained gives an overview of the key themes of Christian theology, this volume invites you to examine those themes through wading into the deeper waters of scripture. From Genesis to Revelation, the author unpacks the cardinal issues of faith and life in a theological context and provides a framework which encourages thought and study on these rich themes.



4. Heaven is a Place on Earth by Michael Wittmer.
Pretty much an easy to read expansion of Creation Regained, with lots of useful material to use for personal and study purposes.






5. Six Modern Myths by Philip Sampson
A really helpful work which dispels some very common miss-understandings about Christianity's view and relationship to matters such as Science, Spirituality and the material world.




6. Where God Meets Man by Gerhard Forde
A really down to earth little volume which studies the Reformational approach to the Gospel and the ramifications of this.

and finally, a personal plug...




7. Preparing for Heaven on Earth by Howard Nowlan
Which seeks to distill the wisdom of all of the above (phew!), and is still available from Amazon UK.


Enjoy!


Sunday, 13 October 2013

"Yes, but"....

"And you, Lord, in the beginning, laid the foundations of the earth; and the heavens are the work of your hands. They shall perish, but you remain. They shall wax old, as a garment, and you shall fold them up, but you shall remain unchanged, for your days shall never cease". Hebrews 1:10-12.

There are clearly many Christians who have a problem with all this talk of a 'new creation' -  the view that earth will one day be heaven - and when we read passages like the one above, it's not hard to see why. Surely, they reason, particularly in the light of this and passages like Hebrews 11:13-16, we are going elsewhere, and to focus on this realm is to become earthly minded, which isn't of great eternal value.

The answer, of course, is that there's a partial truth here.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul re-visits the issue of the life that is coming. He tells us that this current 'tent' (body) we inhabit will be destroyed, but that this is not the end of the physical - yes, those who are Christ's and who die go to be 'present with the Lord' (vs 8), but the ultimate hope for the believer is the 'clothing' of a new, heaven made 'house' - a physical body that will last forever (verses 2 & 3).

What is true of us is also true of creation as a whole.

In Acts chapter 3, following the miracle healing of a crippled man, Peter proclaims to those in the temple that Christ was crucified and raised so that they might repent and be renewed (redeemed) before the day comes when He will bring about the complete restoration of all things (vs 21) - so even judgement is merely a pre-cursor to the beginning of that momentous event.

So, let's go back to Hebrews.
The Amplified bible notes the true nature of what is being expressed here when it translates verse 12 of chapter 1, regarding the future of the heavens and the earth, "they will be changed and replaced".  In other words, the same change which happens to us, a death to the old (corruption) and a raising to the new (redemption) is common to all material things, but this brings renewal, not termination, to what God has made.

The men of faith, then, were indeed pilgrims in this life, because they looked to something far more substantial than the present temporary powers and structures to sustain and endure - they were truly mindful that from that other country, where we are given eternal citizenship, is coming a new city - the one John tells us will come from heaven to a renewed earth, where humanity will dwell at peace with God and each other without sin, sickness, sorrow or death - where all that is good shall be enjoyed through the astonishing and marvelous love of God, made ours in His beloved Son (Revelation 21:1-5).

Eternal life is not 'going up' to some pie in the sky 'otherness', where none of what has been bestowed upon us will amount to anything. True life is what we now see as good and true and pure amplified and magnified into its full potential.

So the next time someone starts talking to you about eternity on some distant shore, ask them why the Bible so clearly talks about that life as being something entirely tangible - the substance of what we all truly hope for... the return to the garden, but a garden, now, perfectly  transformed into the living city of God (Revelation 5:8-10).



Sunday, 29 September 2013

Gripping the Fig Leaves


"We are all like foolish puppets, who desiring to be kings, now lye hopelessly crippled, after cutting all our strings"  Randy Stonehill.

Hard boiled confidence about who and what we are is everywhere. Just look at the popular tweets and phrases people post all day everyday and you'll see the problem isn't belief, which is really bizarre when we actually consider what is deemed irrefutable about human existence. You're born, you live and you die, in a universe that, in those hard terms, is, as far as we can tell, totally indifferent about us being here, about whether we survive, and doesn't give a damn about how we feel about it.

So why all the bells and whistles? Why do we seek to fill our time and heads with the idea that we have some meaning, that what we decide to do today counts, and that we should, indeed, seek to make it all count? 

Well, you can take the view that it's just a 'meme' cul-de-sac... an evolutionary hick-up that just comes with the particular territory of being us, or you can entertain the thought that it all points to the fact that there's more going on, and more to unpack here.

Genesis tells us that when Adam became aware of what he was without the innocence of the garden, that he covered himself and told Eve to do the same.
Humanity didn't seek an answer to its malady - it clothed itself in its self-made poverty, and when God asked us to look at the results, we raised our defiance, lied our socks off about our tragedy, and exiled ourselves from love.

Religion is all about keeping us right there, bared in our own self exultation, but God raises a different image of worth - one which means we truly become people bared of such pretense, open to true worth and meaning once again.

I've said to several of my friends, just take some time to look at Jesus Christ - not our formulated ideas about Him, but the man Himself, as He speaks to us through the words and actions recorded in the Gospels. Not many do, because once you take that step, you're confronted with a humanity, a depth, that leaves us without the fig leaves, running for cover again.

Beyond the cliché's of Facebook and the face we present to the world, there's the pain of what we all face, and the grave before us. Jesus Christ is the only one in the history of our little world who says, there is a way back, and it'll change everything.

Why not take a look for yourself?

Sunday, 8 September 2013

An 'Ecology of Evil'?

"From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need
And there are no guns, no bombs and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed
From a Distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance".

Yesterday, I touched on the legacy of Robert Farrar Capon, briefly alluding to his wonderful focus upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ as the underlying glory and truth of history, and the catholic ramifications for us all. In Capon's theology, there simply is no value for religion which seeks to blind us to such splendor and romance. I love how he rightly sees this as the truth that underpins everything else, leaving no place for some dualistic divide between the material and the spiritual (God is truly here!), but I also pointed out that there are a few problems, and one of the deepest I have is with regards to Capon's understanding of evil in creation.

Here's a quote from something he said in a 2004 interview with Tim Brassell  (italics added): 

"To return to (my book), Genesis: the Movie, the world as it’s presented in the mind of God in chapter one of Genesis is good. Evil doesn’t show up until chapter three. Obviously, however, evil is built into the world from the beginning. When God makes the creatures of the sea, how do they live? They eat each other. When he makes the creatures of the land—same thing.
He makes the world as an ecology—it works by life and death. Death is the engine that drives life—creatures kill and eat one another to stay alive. Even plants die so that animals can live. And it has always been that way—it’s the nature of creation. Creation is an ecology of life and death, and it works! The brilliance of the ecology is that it is created purposely to operate on sheer chance, that is, creatures eat the next edible thing that they see. Foxes eat chickens and so on. All that is done within the ecology God set in place".
Capon's view works because, as in the song above, God views creation 'from a distance', so from such a pinnacle, there are 'no guns, no wars, no disease', and everything is "good", even though death is the key principal already at work!
If we truly believe the opening passages of Genesis, however - that all things were created not only 'good', but 'very good' - a genuine delight to the giver of life - this cannot surely be right. Does God truly enjoy a world concluded in death and the evil that accompanies this? If nature is primarily red in tooth and claw, then what have we to say - there may as well be only a future made cold by entropy, than a eternity of cruelty and blood.
Now whilst I entirely accept that there is a 'mystery' of death at work even in Eden (Genesis 2:21) and the primal creation (Genesis 1:11), this was something inherently different to the nature of death which came about as a direct result of the fall of humanity (2:17), which denuded us of our original glory (2:25, 3:10). Evil, so far as humanity's nature is concerned, begins not in Eve's beguiling (3:6), but in the willful rebellion of Adam choosing to justify his rebellion before a God searching for him (3:8,12, Romans 5:12). It was, we are told, as a direct result of this event that sin not only became inherently part of us, but that nature itself changed (Genesis 3:17-19, Romans 8:20), so that all things in heaven and earth require redemption, provided in Jesus Christ at the cross (Colossians 1:19, 20).
God's work of redemption in Christ, therefore, is not only the underlying truth of all things, it is evidenced in the new creation, which makes all things 'new' (renewed to their original glory - Job 19:25,26).
Why, then, is there a form of death in Genesis (amidst some living things)? This, surely, is because of our one great need in Eden - to discover the love of our creator to us in His Son. How this would have become more evidenced can only be glimpsed at, hinted at, in those short moments of Genesis 2, in the creation of Eve, but it was clearly God's intent to show us much more, explicit in the presence of the tree of life (Martin Luther's commentary on this makes for interesting reading!).
The enduring and meaningful work of God is marked by bringing life, because that is inherent to His nature (John 1: 4). Sin, evil and death (aside from a means of redemption) are contrary to this, so the aim, the goal of His work is to bring about a culture where these things are no more (Revelation 21: 4, 24, Romans 8:21) - God Himself being at the very core of this, tasting death for all, to make what He loves truly free.
The 'ecology' of Eden shall be seen again, but it shall be one where the rule of the tree of life, sustained by the throne of the Lamb, is fruitful forever.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

What Really Counts

Robert Farrar Capon left us this week, and will be truly missed, not because you would agree with everything he said, but because, even if you vehemently disagreed, he put you into a mode of thinking afresh on things that really mattered, and that is no small gift.

When he was right, however, it was wonderful, and his focus on the catholicity of God's grace amidst a world corrupted by religion was spot on.
His books are really worth a look. Here's just a sample quote of his genius: 
The reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two hundred proof grace—of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.  The word of the Gospel—after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps—suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started.  Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale, neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.”

I am deeply indebted to such wisdom.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The familiar stairway




Up a few hairpin turns and then spread out below
The valley appeared with the sun
Like Elysium

Elysium by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

It's been a summer of Science Fiction about us and our world.

First up was Oblivion, a post-apocalyptic story with a twist with regards to why the earth has been ravaged and why an act of redemption (sacrifice to save what remains of actual humanity) is required to set things straight.

Then there was After Earth, which explores a future where humanity has been off-world for a thousand years, but when a ship crash-lands, a Father and Son have to confront the realities of what has happened to a realm devoid of humanity.

Finally, there is Elysium. Set half way though the next century, it explores a divided society, where earth has become an overpopulated and ruined ghetto, so the rich and powerful live in orbit on a vast station where virtual immortality is in reach. The story examines questions of inhumanity and injustice, and what it truly means to be part of our world.

What is interesting about all these films is the underlying theme - that a crucial element of our future as people is intrinsically related to our connection to this world - to the inherent 'rightness' of being creatures born from and united to this place.

This is an essential theme in Christianity.
In the very chapter which talks about the transforming nature of faith (Hebrews 11), which uncouples us from the present darkness of this realm (vs 13), it's fascinating to unpack the examples the writer focuses upon and what these state about our relationship to our home.

After using the examples of Abel and Enoch to show that what will truly matter is unaffected by death (which seems such a hurdle for us!), the passage looks at Abraham, who left one place to establish roots in another, knowing by God's promises that this would be the basis of something which would last forever (vs 12). Then, after briefly looking at resurrection in the establishing of a nation (vs 17-22), we are guided to look at Moses, who leads the people out of their present slavery back into the land promised to Abraham (vs 23-32). Such faith allowed these men to know that what they sought amidst this world was the appearance of a better homeland (vs 16) - a fulfillment of the promises made by the one who framed and filled creation by His living word (vs 3), which brings such light and life even amidst a broken world, and thereby redeems it. It is just such a city - creation underpinned and regained by a full redemption - that was their hope, and ours (12:28), and it could not really be otherwise. Our deepest desires, as this summer's movies remind us, is to see the far-too-near overhanging rock-face of eternity encountered in every sunrise, or moment of profound experience answered by the knowledge that all will be well on earth because it has been made so by the man from heaven, and that the day approaches when that truth will forever establish and resonate through all things (Colossians 1:15-20).

Christianity is not an 'after death escape route for souls deemed of merit', as some would have us believe. It is God loving all He has made, seeking to renew all, through the coming of Jesus Christ. The day Christ returns is the day of that renewal.

Perhaps we can take a fresh look at some of these recent films and reflect they are 'saying' something that resides at the very core of God's promises - His work, His world, matters, and He's totally engaged in its future.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

On the edge of forever

"Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is" 
--C.S. Lewis

Are you ever surprised by how little you really know?
It doesn't have to be a shock about something major, like some big new front-page discovery, it can be something quite small and often just about yourself - something that a particular moment brings into focus that you hadn't noticed before.

At the end of a life often overflowing with pleasures, Solomon came to realize just how much he still had to understand, and how futile life can become when we fail to accommodate that higher wisdom.

As we form in the womb, he notes, the Spirit is weaving amidst our bones (11:5). As we work and prosper, enjoying the light and warmth of the sun, we need to be aware that a deeper wealth beyond such immediate cheer can only continue if something, someone, is sought that alone brings a truth which endures when the days are darker and the prospects appear bleak.

In his concluding thoughts in his epistle to the Romans, Paul speaks of his hope that his readers may be filled with the 'joy and peace in believing' the good news concerning Jesus Christ (15:13). When we read of such gifts in scripture, we are speaking of mercies which transcend our everyday moments of quality or pleasure, though these can indeed prompt us to be aware of something richer and engender a desire within us to know such depths.

Peace in this life comes only through our gaze becoming directed and then fixed upon the astonishing person and work of Jesus, because it is only there that we may find a true resolution to our deepest troubles and surety that goodness and mercy have replaced our poverty and exile.
Joy, as Lewis noted, is a gift which will surprise us - moments which enfold us with a sense of splendor and goodness far above and beyond the norm, opening wide the windows into another country - home.

Whatever we do, wisdom encourages us to pursue and delight in such wealth, so whatever our short days here bring, we can truly become wise and wealthy for all that is yet to come.

"May your hearts be encouraged and knit together in this love, to gain the richness and full assurance of knowing and understanding God's profound mystery, the person of Christ, in whom is stored all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge"  (Colossians 2:2 & 3).

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Amidst Sacrifice and Worship...

It's clearly a good time for Science Fiction.
I recently watched, with relish, the superb first episode of the fan-produced episode of Star Trek continues; a show that is really seeking to proceed from where the original series left off, and is not afraid to pull out all the stops to do so:




The first show is a follow-up story on the god Apollo, brilliantly played once again by Michael Forest. Kirk and crew find themselves having to deal with a being who expects humanity to be servile to his needs and his need for their worship, but as events unfold, Apollo and the crew are reminded that there is a far greater force in the universe - compassion, which leads a person to extraordinary action.

The episode makes some very telling statements about what humanity is, and what it truly needs to be made whole, and whilst the notion of worship here is very simple, virtually one-dimensional (and therefore a caricature of what worship itself is actually all about), it is used well to reveal what can occur when an understanding of the divine is ill-defined.

The conclusion of the episode is superb, and entirely in sync with Star Trek's long-standing practice to speak about what truly counts, here or amongst the stars. It profoundly reminds us that healing only comes when what truly offends - miss-placed notions of ourselves, of religion, and life in general - are removed and replaced by a love that entirely gives itself to meet the need of our current condition... a love at the heart of the life and work of Jesus Christ.

It's great to see this kind of Trek being made again, so all my best to the team. Watch, enjoy, and be reminded of the one who truly came from heaven to love us in this manner.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

What if...

I really love Science Fiction. It's a genre which allows us to really examine and explore our existence, and, at it's best, raises thoughts and questions that make us stop... and wonder.

The last 40 years have allowed us to do justice to visualizing some of this material, but occasionally, amidst the popular blockbusters and money-spinners, a gem gets overlooked.
Final Approach, released in the early 90's, is just such a gem.

The first film to be made in digital sound, it uses stunning visuals to focus on what is probably the ultimate character story (to say more would be to give too much away!). Aside from a very short limited contracted release, the film has never been available on DVD, but it is now available to view on line!




There isn't a single person on this planet that doesn't believe in something about who they are and why they are here - as a friend stated recently, Atheists actually believe in a bigger miracle than theists, because they believe that everything came from nothing. Movies like this help us to think deeply about the big question... Why?

Enjoy!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Wound

Coercion, intimidation, harassment, abuse.

Hardly a day seems to go by at present where we don't hear something about shocking cases of such crimes in the news, rightly brought to our attention and prosecuted because of the often extraordinary cruelty they have caused to those who have become the victims of such inhumanity.

Many of us, sadly, have encountered some form of this in the world - sometimes, painfully, on numerous occasions and in many different circumstances, so we would hope to find aid and solace in the place where the goodness and mercy of God to our sin-sick world is meant to be offered and proclaimed. Again, to our dismay, we now know of many cases where this has proved to be far from true - when children especially have been abused by those in ministry - but there has also been a far wider field of abuse amongst Christians which has yet to be truly addressed and which deserves to be prosecuted (confronted and rejected) amongst us in a fashion as rigorous and comprehensive as any court of Law, because it has crippled the faith of too many and continues to kill the church from within.

Alan Jamieson's book, A Churchless Faith notes that one of the key reasons that so many today find themselves exiled from regular church attendance is because principally "charismatic and pentecostal movements brought in their wake an authoritarian leadership" which, as numerous exiles have noted, is hallmarked by domination, intrusion and unprecedented degrees of control of virtually every aspect of life, with a requirement of almost total devotion to such leaders. 'Good' service (in missions) or membership (of a local church) is termed almost entirely in the meeting of such requirements and any raising of concerns or criticism about such authority quickly leads to sanction which, if not received (i.e. repentance is made and forgiveness is sought by the person who has been critical) will quickly lead to harsher discipline (exclusion from the body of the church in its regular activities and eventually expulsion).

The grounds for such 'discipleship' are supposed to be biblical - those 'anointed' for ministry are given leadership, and the rest of the body must submit to God by yielding to the blessing that comes through them (thus, to question their role and office, is to speak against God's work and therefore you are deemed to be in rebellion, and must be disciplined or expelled). The role of a member, therefore, is to submit to the requirements and vision given by the leader(s) of their group, which are viewed as a cell of the far larger body which are doing the work of God through the anointing given to their leaders.

Perhaps, if we could find a moment in history where men placed in such roles indeed functioned as some glorious body of priests or prophets wholly given to the service of God without error or blemish, then we might just be able to conceive of a framework where such 'ministry' might be possible, but Christianity (especially in terms of scripture, which is the touchstone for our understanding of the faith) is far too honest for that. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we find countless examples amongst every form of leadership of error and failure, as well as total rebellion against God's will, so having a gifted or 'anointed' leader is no guarantee that abuse will not occur. The duty of every Christian is to 'prove all things' and to 'hold fast to what is good', so if abuse is encountered or seeking to establish itself amongst us, it must be exposed and rejected (the reason, for example behind many of Paul's epistles).

The reasons for this are self-evident. If we seek to bend our lives to anything other than the Lordship of Jesus Christ (the only one who has truly given Himself for us), then we will be lead astray. The faithful servant is one who points to His calling for us (a 'yoke' that is not arduous, for He carries it with us), His discipleship of us (that we may 'go in and out' and always find nurture and grace in times of need) and His care (He keeps us and is with us always).

Jesus teaches us not to follow the abusive patterns of leadership that are exercised by the world (Luke 22:25) - it must NOT be like that amongst us - so why are there so many cases amongst Christian activity today where this still is employed as the standard pattern of service? It is not Biblical, but a terrible abuse of Christian ministry and life.

The world often has the honesty to place before us the ugliness that we find in life.
Why is it that the church cannot do the same?



Sunday, 21 July 2013

adorned



"Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun"  Ecclesiastes 11:7.




It has been a very hot summer here, certainly one of the brightest and the longest we have had in the last three decades, so it's been a tad difficult to do much more after work than cool down and sleep (when possible).

One thing I have managed is a few local walks in the beautiful scenery of the country.
The woods and landscape have a beauty which is simply transformed by sunlight.  Here's a few examples I've had the joy of capturing:




When I see the light working in this manner, I am so reminded of the new creation - the often sullen and sorrowful aspects of this present world will be given a new luster, a new vitality in what is approaching. That is something worth enjoying, amongst the sunshine.




Saturday, 29 June 2013

the need to be ourselves

"The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and His work become the one and only vital thing that is vital.
We have one another only though Christ, but through Him, we do have one another,
wholly, and for all eternity".  Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Life Together.

It can be hard to really talk about 'us' in a world where what so often seems to count is 'me'.
We're encouraged, it seems, at pretty much every turn, to focus upon our needs, desires, ambitions and comfort, and the manner of this push is to assume that everything else is subordinate to this, so it's not surprising this 'naturally' becomes our de-fault position.

It's fascinating, then, to consider that if we live in a world that is there to furnish us, how it really fails to do so. We may crave time to sit and just be, but we are surrounded by a realm almost entirely devoid of calm and solitude. Privacy is usually a brief experience for most of us. We may long to be "us", but we are never very alone (even if we may feel it) - the world and especially other people are always there.

I have lots of things I enjoy because they resonate with or reflect some aspect of "me", but if I'm honest, some of the richest moments of my life have been when I've been sharing something valuable with others - it's that wonder of kinship, of mutual delight in what counts, that really adorns a moment with value.

What is true in general is even more the case with regards to Christianity.
"Membership", which equates to participation in Christian fellowship, isn't about some trite external conformity to a set of principals or ethics (though you'd be forgiven for thinking it was, sadly, in many cases), but a vibrant connection to a 'body' of people as diverse and as distinct as you can imagine, different yet complimentary to each other, each having very distinct roles to play as part of a whole. The image here is of a family, where the bond is deep and meaningful, but the relationships, as those between a son and an uncle, or grandmother, or cousin, will all be unique.

We begin to truly find ourselves in others.
When we use our gifts, our resources, not to merely sustain us, but to truly 'feed' one another, then we find a new value in what we do and in who we are, and it is in such giving we can become members of one another.

It is here we are given a foretaste of what lies ahead - true personality.
By becoming like the one who gave all to redeem and to reconcile, we will encounter and be enfolded by the life which will occupy our beings with true character.

It is not often that easy to give ourselves in a fashion that counts, but if we look to the one who showed us His Lordship in the way He served His disciples just hours before a cruel death, then we can begin to really know what life is meant to be about - joy which endures only comes through such reality.

We all tend to either shy away from this form of communion, or dress it as something less demanding, less challenging, but it's worth the cost - the gems discovered when we work for them are so much better than the 'wood, hey and stubble' of what commonly passes for value. May such a prize be our goal.


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Why heaven isn't like Face Book (but will most certainly be home).

A little irritation can be good for the soul.

So, there I was, reading C S Lewis essays entitled The Weight of Glory, in which (his essay on membership) he is making a really helpful argument about us being a community (the remedy to a debilitating individualism, which I will examine in my next post here), when, boom, he states that everything that exists, bar the redeemed, will cease to be:
"There will come a time when every nation, human life, all biological life is extinct and every one of us is alive. It was not for societies that Christ died, but for men".

Now, I understand the argument he is making here.
It's pretty clear that outside of the new creation coming in Christ, everything else will cease, so scripture clearly speaks of an end  (2 Peter 3:10) to such a realm, but as Lewis notes himself, the 'pearl' Christ has come and reclaimed is not just us, but "all nature, the new universe"(the grand miracle - God in the Dock).

The issue at stake here is essential to how we understand God's redemptive work.

In the beginning, we see God is pleased in creation, which is very good, and He delights and refreshes Himself in this (the 'inhabiting' of the seventh day is especially important here). God's love for His creation, and especially the earth at the heart of this has not changed, which is why Paul informs us in his epistle to the Romans that nature itself, currently under the futility the world has suffered since our fall, is eagerly awaiting the day it will share in the new glory of God's redeemed - a world freed from sin and death (8:18). We can also see, from Genesis and Revelation in the glimpses provided of paradise, that God's role is for humanity is to hold a priesthood which will, through our society, express to all things the wonder and marvel of the nature of God Himself - a reality encapsulated in the city of God, the new Jerusalem, becoming the crowning heart of the new creation.

In the light of such truths, then, the reality is that 'every tribe, people and nation' are made anew into a kingdom of those 'reigning' (living aright) in Christ, as every facet of human life is evidenced well amidst a creation entirely liberated from decay, where death no longer has dominion over a realm entirely sustained by God evidenced in the throne of the Lamb and the tree of life.

It is certain that outside of this hope, there is no reality that isn't deeply dark and devoid of meaning - we are all destined to an end without any meaning, and life is as empty as having a thousand 'friends' on facebook who you don't actually know - but we must realize that God in Christ is reconciling the world to Himself - all things are Christ's, and that the only foreign and alien fields to this are sin (evil) and death, which the death and resurrection of Christ remove from the new order - everything else shall be renewed.

Sometimes we find ourselves at present, because of the foretaste we have received, like the church of the past, living in a foreign land, (Psalm 137) - it can be hard to sing the 'songs of Zion' when life is filled with hardship or loss, but at least we can then turn to God's promises, underwritten in His Son, and look to what is sure, beyond the harshness of today.

It's a key issue to get right. If we loose sight of God's love for what He has made, then we quickly slip into an esoteric exclusivism akin to the Gnostics, where only the 'right' souls are saved, and all of the material universe is valueless (which makes you wonder what was the point of it being made in the first place!).

Earth is is our home, given and adorned by our Father, and we shall live upon it as naturally at home in our bodies (thankfully, without all the aches and pains) as we do now. There will be culture, there will be industry, there will be all that makes life full and meaningful - it will all be, however, far more richer and deeper than we currently understand... that's why it will be home sweet home.

We were created with intent, and that purpose will be fulfilled when Christ makes all things new.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Amidst the Wasteland

"And I understood that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,
 or riches to the smart,
for no man knows what counts - the brevity of his time.
All are snared at an evil time, which suddenly comes upon them".  Solomon.

How swiftly we fall.
Not many would have thought in those heady days of the building and dedication of the temple (1 Kings 5-10) that Israel was fast approaching calamity. Perhaps a few would have looked back at the tragedy that had been seen in the wilderness or in some of the events of the times of the Judges or Saul. Perhaps there may have even been a thought about how close this moment had come to being utterly removed (1 Kings 1), but most, no doubt, were captivated by the splendor and marvel of all that transpired in those halcyon days which, as the Queen of Sheba would discover, was enough to literally take your breath away. 

We would I suspect have been no different, and why not?
These were the days when some of the most wonderful passages of the Old Testament were framed and written - the poetry of the psalms and the song of songs. It must have been a marvel upon all the senses and the powers of comprehension to see and consider what Jerusalem said to the world at that moment,
but Solomon was right about his assessment of us - it was entirely accurate.

His own gaze would turn from the one who had bestowed such wonder to become obsessed by the wonder itself. Beauty, when uncoupled from it's true source, can become as venomous to our wayward hearts as any other vice, and this great mans downfall was sure once his desire for such become what truly mattered. How easily such compromise finds an ally inside us, however close to heaven we have walked!

The consequences prove fatal (1 Kings 11:9, 12:16), and a process of decline rots the state of the land until the polarization between God and most of the people is palpable, even in the weather! (1 Kings 17:1). In the brevity of the speedy reigns of five bad Kings, Israel had indeed become a habitation for  total wickedness and corruption, where power was used defy God and to arbitrarily remove whatever stood in its way, which brings me to the real point of this overview.

It's easy for us to look at the story of a man like Elijah and revel in a moment like that on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), but look at the real wickedness that made this man, on many occasion, fear for his life, and you gain a far more candid understanding of those days. It wasn't that God's power didn't shake people, but most days - before and after carmel, it was the blood on the floor from the hand of Ahab and Jezebel that made the people afraid and caused Elijah to flee for his life (1 Kings 19) - that is the reality of this world when sin reigns and we become its captives.

The 'glory' of the days of Solomon was that moment when we saw the glimpse of heaven on earth in the focus upon the temple - the true beauty of God amidst us once more. All the sacrifices and offerings spoke to the fact that such a glory was beyond us - it was something that God Himself must bring, and bring He would, in the promise He gave to Abraham and the line of David, that a true King would come and make us His, that a true temple, where all of life would be sourced from that King, would fill the earth.

This world is indeed as we see it in these events, but the temple of God has come in the person of Jesus Christ - the corner stone is laid, and we can have confidence, that beyond the tragedy of today, there is a brighter day than Solomon's to come.


Saturday, 15 June 2013

Iron and Fire in 'Man of Steel'

"Can you imagine how the people on this planet would react if they knew there was someone like this out there?"
Perry White


It is the era of the visually huge. 

All of the things we used to read in stories and comic books in my youth can now be graphically generated and projected before our eyes.... 

 but that isn't what makes a good movie. 

What we're truly looking for, longing for, is a story in which what transpires feeds a yearning to say that something important is going on, not just in front of eyes, but in what that story is telling us - who we are and what we're doing here. 


 Are we all just alone? 
Do our actions, our choices, really matter? 
Is there more going on behind the daily struggle to stay alive? 

Such fiction, when done well, is vital because it transcends the often bleak, 'ready meal' approach to life, and allows us to catch a glint of something more. 

Man of Steel certainly scores high in this genre. 
A world is dying, it's people along with it, but amidst such tragedy, hope is provided in the form of a Son, who will not only carry all that matters of his realm into a new world, but will provide our race with a beacon of hope. 

With such a context, the creators of the film knew they needed to carefully craft not only our glances into the choices of this child as he becomes a man, but equally, the characterization of evil that this person will have to confront as he grows, to prepare him for when he faces a terrible embodiment of such darkness in the latter half of the movie. 
Writers Christopher Nolan and David Goyer have done a splendid job here. The moments and events that unfold for the first half of the story bed this in and allow us to see not only the struggle, but the final clarity that Kal-El finds to face the malignancy of his dead homeworld. The second half of the film is essentially the ramifications of his origins and those choices, and Zack Snyder has certainly done his best work as a director to bring the scale of this onto the screen. There is, no doubt, a difficulty here - how can so many 'small' things (thoughts and conversations in particular), perhaps, conclude with such huge consequences, but a few moments  reflection reminded me that in our own lives, this can often be so - for good or for ill. 

The movie has some deeply resonating moments, and some strong Christian imagery (Jor-El's 'sending' of his son to 'save them all' being one of the most obvious), but it is the quieter points in this story that will speak volumes about the nature of what we are and why we need to be rescued.Whilst it's not a movie without faults (and there will be plenty of reviews talking about them), it certainly has given us a new rendition of this popular modern tale, and with it comes another opportunity for us all to think about what really matters.

Certainly worth a look if this is a genre you enjoy.

Insights

There have been some excellent theological blog entries of late, so I thought I'd share a few of them here...

1. Mockingbird's piece on beauty (a look at the Dove advert on how women see themselves) - fascinating stuff (not just the piece, but the comments are also superb).

2. A New Name's recent post on what really makes us Christians (thanks, Emma & Glen).

3. Heart, Mind, Soul & Strength's latest on what do we mean by 'Grace'?

4. Christ the Truth's entry on how being trinitarian always points us to Jesus.

Enjoy!