Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Grace uncovered (getting it, and not getting it)

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  
C S Lewis - The Weight of Glory.


There's an interesting pattern in Paul's letters to fellow believers.
The imperatives always come before the indicatives.

Let me unpack that a little.

Take the book of Romans.
For eleven chapters, Paul speaks out loud and clear on the fact that the only way we can deal with the issue of our unrighteousness is because of the righteousness that has been freely given to us through God's giving of His only Son. Only by having faith in this amazing gift can we be set free to become those who live anew in the life which comes to us from God.
Then, he concludes his letter by offering some guidance on some practical issues regarding how to truly serve one another and the world around us well. The essence of this can be summarized as because we have become his children, we will truly care for each other, so we won't seek to harm others in our living, but show God's goodness to all.

The problems start when we seek to 'do' Christianity the other way around...

You must only teach our manner of ecclesiology (churchianity).
You must keep the sabbath (whenever we deem that to be).
You must abstain from anything we have deemed 'worldly'.
You must distance yourself from the ungodly.
You must be seen to be different (abiding by our codes).

Paul knew the consequences of this reversal only too well - his letters to the Colossians and the Galatians tell us something of the manner of calamity which follows.

It's all too easy today to fall into the indicatives trap - you just have to love people to be 'good'; show them what's (morally) right and wrong and insure that's evident in your behavior and their behavior, and, hey presto, there you have it!

Jesus had seen plenty of that in the 'piety' of His day.

There were many who prescribed rules, but didn't follow them.
The burdens they imposed were great, and the penalties for missing the mark harsh, but their outward shows of otherness and devotion helped no one.
Their manner of behavior only blinded people to what truly mattered.
(See Matthew 23).

 The reality is that true righteousness, viable morality, is far beyond our capacity.

We have to see that true goodness, true beauty, true virtue, are so much bigger and deeper than us. We're the urchin playing in the dirt, not the truly devout and unblemished, upstanding creature we deem ourselves to be.

The reality is that the truly unblemished had to become 'smitten by God and afflicted, pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities' (Isaiah 53: 4 and 5) so that we could truly be delivered from our corruption. If we place our confidence and hope of making it anywhere else than in His giving of Himself for us, we're truly without hope.


Falsehood tells us we're making it by faking it. Truth tells us sin yet remains (1 John 1:18), and that true and total sanctification will only be seen within us come the resurrection (Romans 5:10).

That's why we must always start with the imperatives -
then we can see the gap between ourselves and God, and how that gap could only be filled by God Himself, and that it is that one truth alone that frees us to live well (2 Peter 1:3-8).

Martin Luther spoke of liberating truth being that which is "extra nos" - outside of us.
It's the reality made ours by the one who hung on a cross outside the walls of the city to bring down the wall of division imposed by my sin and yours.

The life, the health, the peace, the joy, that defines life, now and forever, that allows us to even desire something more than our hovels, is found in that one death and resurrection ( 1 Corinthians 15).

So, the next time someone begins to lay out Christianity to you as a whole list of do's and dont's, you know where to point them.






Saturday, 5 August 2017

Escaping the Tyranny (of the 'if only's' and the 'maybee's')

"I, for one, am still at a loss to understand why there is a selective advantage for eels to travel perilously to the Sargasso sea, or why Ascaris has to migrate all around the host's body instead of comfortably settling in the intestine where it belongs, or what the survival value a multiple stomach of a cow has when a horse, of comparable size, does very well with one. You cannot reject these and innumerable other questions as incompetent".
Ludwig Bertalanffy - Scientific Symposium on Beyond Reductionism.

"When it is evening you say, 'it will be fair tomorrow for the sky is red', and in the morning, 'it will be storm today for the sky is threatening'. You know how to interpret the statement of the sky, but you cannot read the signs of the times". Matthew 16: 2,3.

Last month (in a post entitled 'trapped'), I sought to show just how dangerous to us certain 'orthodoxies' can be. This is because they lead us to holding a prescribed view of our world and ourselves that disconnects us from for more imperative and vital realities.

We noted that in the realm of scientific pursuit, the cardinal form of such wickedness (there really isn't another way to speak about it) is the atheist's favorite toy, Darwinian evolution, and I also touched on why this is so contrary to actual empirical data that it needs to be dumped, but that doesn't change the numbness of the 'orthodox'. Only this week, I was once again seeing materials that stated 'evidence' indicates that transitional forms provide us with the corroboration required for the theory, but the animation to show this was total conjecture - the actual fossils themselves are not there, and this leaves the same unbreachable gap that Darwin feared in his original research.

It's never easy to give up what we want to be true.
Back in the early 90's, Oliver Stone's 'JFK' appeared to me to present at least enough troubling data to suggest that there was a second 'grassy knoll' gunman, and that this anonymous assassin, not Oswald, had delivered the kill shot, but was that really the issue? I thought so for a long time, but I was recently shown some new ballistic research that verifies how a single shooter could have killed Kennedy from the Dallas book depository, so other theories really are no longer required.

The reason I touch on this is not to dismiss certain issues out of hand in regards to this historic event (Stone's movie still chills me in respect of other matters that appear to surround the killing and the Warren commission), but to highlight what can be proven when we have the materials required and the means to test these to show what can happen.

It is entirely different when it comes to evolution.

Without the essential hard data from the fossil record, there simply is no evidence to support the supposition that one species gradually evolved from another.
Stephen J Gould was totally honest about this when he noted "can we invent a reasonable sequence of intermediate forms - that is, viable, functioning organisms - between ancestors and descendants in major structural transitions. I submit it may reflect my lack of imagination, that the answer is no". Gould is saying that merely trying to invent such a process by using imagination, he cannot see how it can be done. That is the cardinal reality the theory faces - the cupboard is quite literally bare of evidence.

That would be bad enough, but the revolution that's taken place in molecular biology has truly deepened the dilemma, and is bringing scientists to a point of seeing that other, astonishing processes are at work in nature that have nothing to do with the survival requirements of natural selection.

The real shocks come in life when we recognize the full ramifications of what we're witnessing before our eyes, and experiencing a crucial shift in ourselves as a result.

When Jesus talked to Nicodemus, he cut off all this 'teacher of Israel' thought he knew about  God and righteousness and zero'd-in on the very truth that was supposed to be at the heart of his own religion, but Nicodemus was oblivious to it (John 3: 3-14. See also Jeremiah 31:31-34).

When we advocate an orthodoxy that nullifies the full nature of truth, we kill ourselves and others, so we must be careful, on every subject, to speak the full truth. What troubles me so often, not only concerning worldly "truth", but orthodoxy amongst 'teachers' of Christianity, is that they are guilty of stifling the richness and the freedom that the Good News of God being Creator and Redeemer brings because they seek to impose unbiblical restraints on theology amongst us and thereby impede our life with God and each other.

Let me conclude this entry with an illustration.

One of the most important examples of this is given in the story of Jesus out walking with His disciples on a sabbath (Matthew 12). The religious police were keeping an eye on them (probably ready to pounce in judgement if they took one step beyond 'a Sabbath's journey' (see Acts 1:12). The disciples, walking across a field, no doubt did something quite natural to them - they plucked some of the ears of corn there...

Gotcha!
Instantly, the Pharisees attack (verse 2) - look, they cry, work on the sabbath! These men are nothing but law-breakers.

They are so blind to the real picture of what the truth of the law points to, so eager to trap anyone who is not on the same page as them with regards to what is orthodox, that they jump without understanding.

Jesus quickly not only shows from their own history why their interpretation is wrong (verses 3 & 4) but how the very law itself negates their interpretation (verse 5), but finally, that all of this is of minor important to what is actually unfolding before their eyes (verses 6 & 7). The fulness of the Godhead, as Paul would later write, bodily, was there for them to see, hear and know, and yet their framework was denying them a revelation of the most important moment in all of time and space.

Is your 'orthodoxy', secular, religious, reformed or otherwise, doing the same?
Are you someone enjoying that conversation with the one who makes everything wonderful in its time, or are you on the sidelines, merely waiting for an opportunity to dismiss because the determinations of self require it?

The gateway of truth is narrow not because it negates a relationship that encompasses all things, but because it demands an ending of an ego that will not pass through its requirement to become new. The Cross alone opens the tomb and the fellowship of resurrection.

There is, sure and certain, a better way for each of us in Jesus Christ.