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.


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.


Sunday, 2 June 2013


"As for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them,
bring them here and slaughter them in front of me".  Luke 19:27.

I watched a short you tube video recently, in which a Muslim teacher raised this particular verse with Christians as evidence that Jesus preached the islamic message (presumably, a message of submission to God through Islam or, alternatively, facing annihilation), and that this verse verified his argument. The Christians, sadly, denied the verse was there until it was looked up, and then didn't really know what to say, so the Muslim appeared vindicated, but what was really happening, on both sides of the discussion, was eisegesis, not exegesis. What's really being stated here is meant to make us stop in our tracks, but is imperative to understand why, and that means looking at this statement in context.

The statement comes at the end of a parable, which is clearly about two distinct groups of people and their relationship to the rightful heir to a kingdom. The first group are those who are servants of this nobleman. As He departs to legally claim His inheritance, he gives them a task - to keep His estates lucrative until He returns (Luke 19:13). There is also a second group identified in the story - the citizens of the realm where He will become King. We are not told why, but these people really do not want this Lord as their King (possibly because of the responsibility - the value and the weight of serving Him - that this will entail), and they demonstrate this by sending a delegation to make their view clear.
Well, the noble's claims are verified, and sure enough, He returns as King of the realm.
One of His first concerns is to see how well His servants have done with the tenure of what He entrusted to them whilst He was away. Most of them have done well, but there is one (verse 20), who clearly didn't see such an entrusting as a privilege, but, perhaps because he shared the thinking of the masses, did nothing with the sum he'd been asked to risk.
In Matthew's version of the story, the servant here is deemed entirely worthless (Matthew 25: 30), not only because he did nothing of value (vs 27), but because, as both versions show (Luke 19:21, Matthew 25:24), He only viewed his Lord as someone who judges and punishes, not as someone who delights to bring joy and reward.
It's interesting how often people want to place Jesus Himself into a similar mould here - we're fine with a 'jesus' who is about love and peace and non-interference in what we're about, but the moment we're faced with His requirements to trust only in Him, we define those as harsh and callous, and totally refuse to listen to what He has to say. "God", in other words (whatever we make 'it' to be), is just fine as long as He's at arms length (or preferably, even further away, in a distant land), not close enough to be making demands on us.

The fact remains, however, that the one who has given us so much (life is staggering when you begin to unpack what it is and how we can engage with it), expects us to value and use it well - to really discern the goodness of the one who not only furnished us with such splendor, but wants us to truly understand and employ these gifts, because we come to understand Him. The gifts themselves, then, merely become means of something much richer and enduring - they allow us to nurture a growing relationship with the giver of life. Life is all about gaining that wisdom - realizing that when it comes to the moment of reckoning, we can say we've done something meaningful and of value with what has been bestowed upon us, however large or small that gift may have been, because the King Himself was paramount in what transpired. The King really isn't worried how much or little is made - what counts is that we jump in and do something and are truly enriched in the process, because it makes more aware of what He truly wants for us.

So, that's the story for the servants. These are people, for the most part, who recognize the rightful claim of the nobleman to be King, and are rewarded on His return, but there are clearly others who do not. That brings us back to the other group mentioned in the start of the story - those who would have nothing to do with their true King. Their rebellion and rejection is clear from the word go, but notice the same mistake as that of the unproductive servant -  they don't know their own king.
This nobleman's rights are verified and vindicated, so we are not dealing with a usurper here - this Lord is claiming what is rightfully His. The rejection of and rebellion against this Lord, then, is entirely wrong. It is, in essence, taking everything from someone, miss-using what you have taken, and then refusing in any way to acknowledge the wrong in what you have done.
These wayward citizens of the realm reject their King because they know it means the end to their self determination of what counts to them, but, even more importantly, it's a refusal to take up their responsibilities - the mantle of their true identities, and to participate in what truly counts... their relationship to the King and to each other. Really being citizens carries that role.

The judgement at the end of the story - 'kill off' (literally, removed from life) - is uncompromising because the rejection of these people of who and what they really are (citizens of a kingdom) is equally as total. They want nothing to do with this King, His Kingdom, or any part of that. That sums up our natural state - we reject the one who has made us, and we rebel against any of His claims upon us by placing something, anything, in His place. Judgement is essentially about God giving us over to the consequences of our choice - hell is quite literally the absence of all that gives value and meaning to our being human (made in His image and likeness). If we don't participate, but reject what's really going on in this 'realm' of ours, then we are most certainly building our own cell.

One final question, then, remains - who is the 'King' in this tale? Who is the one who has come amongst us, been rejected by all but the few 'servants' who know Him, and is coming back to reign over all men?  When we look at the words of Jesus Himself (regarding the final judgement in Matthew 25:31-46, and His entry into and weeping over Jerusalem before cleansing the temple in Luke 19:28-48), it quickly becomes clear who the 'King' over us is - not an estranged or distant god, vengeful and capricious in judgement, but one fully aquatinted with us, who's actual purpose is to bring life. It is only when we reject this astonishing truth - truth personified in the humbled, suffering King of Kings; a truth which shows us who we are meant to be as citizens of value and worth - that darkness leaves us impoverished and exiled from all that counts.

The King comes! The one 'investment' that truly counts, here and now, is we live life in the awareness of the unchangeable reality, or face the consequences of our stubborn rejection.

There, then,  is the only ultimate meaning. It is to live in waiting for, preparing for, that  approaching return. Everything else, says Jesus, amounts to nothing but our end. That end is terrifying - no meaning, no significance, no true being - cut off from all that really counts. The alternative couldn't be more stark - life filled with relevance, now and forever.

In a world which is all about living for the moment, such a choice, of course, sounds too deep, too radical, too good to be true, but the King Himself is the one telling us that it is.

Isn't it time to stop playing with what Jesus says, and to really think about Him and what He's saying? This story is shouting the answer at us.