Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Not to condone or condemn

"For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various
passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and
hating one another."

Titus 3:3

This descriptoin of us before "the goodness and loving kindness of our God our saviour appeared" might well provide a good summary of many of the young people currently expressing their various frustrations through the recent violence.

Knowing that without the grace of God we might, like Paul, consider ourselves the "worst of sinners" (1 Tim 1:15), we should no be to quick to condemn (although not condoning) these youths but should seek the love, compassion and grace of God for them.

I suspect that many of them, although not all, come from broken backgrounds, certainly unGodly ones and so need the intervention of God in their lives - as always, our Father remains the answer.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Bible first, favourite author second

Now I love Piper & Keller as much as the next man but I felt a prompt from God just last night that it should be Bible first and favourite theologian second. I have begun reading Sam Storms' 'Convergance' and his testimony that his previous 'cessationist' position (that says the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not relevant today) was based primarily on his respect for those who introduced him to that position. In his own words Storms says:

"there is danger in embracing theological arguments based largely on one's respect for the person from whom you first learnt them"

It was after reading a D.A.Carson commnentary on 1 Corinthians and a sober assessment of chapters 12-14 in particular that Storms came to embrace spiritual gifts today (to become a continuist as he calls his new position).

I found reading Storms' account a timely nudge as I can be prone to giving an undue proportion of my time to reading either my favourite authors/theologians or to reading anything other than the Bible. I have always tried to maintain a daily discipline of reading my Bible, not out of a legalistic lifestyle choice but as a commitment to starting the day with truth and the activity of the Holy Spirit in illuminating scripture and provoking a prayer response. My trouble, temptation, is to allow my other reading to have a greater influence - for example my renewed attention on 'justice' coming from Tim Keller's 'Generous Justice' (oustanding book by the way) and not from Isaiah 58/Job/Leviticus and everywhere else in th Bible. I'm not suggesting that it is wrong to receive a provocation from an external source and then end up in The Bible but it is somewhat true that I could develop a theology of justice just from Keller without returning to the word of God. My doctrine would effectively be developed through Bible 'quotes' and the author's convincing arguments rather than being sourced from God.

One of the dangers here is that your current favourite authour/theologian/thinker probably doesn't think exactly in the same way as you. Depending on their various denominational (typed that twice with demon at the beginning!)they view scripture and the world from slightly different worldviews, at least from a variation of the Biblical worldview that you or I may subscribe. I have aligned myself with New Frontiers and their approach to church, ministry, life etc and not with the Presbyterian or Baptist church. For the most part this makes little difference on the largely agreeable elements of our Christian practice but to view these great men as wholly authoratitive and instructive on my personal convictions and doctrines is confused. This train of thought led me to revisit works by New Frontiers leaders where I discovered 'What on Earth is the Church For?' by David Devenish which has become one of the most influential books I've ever read. There is also of course the landmark 'God's Lavish Grace' by Terry Virgo.

I've somewhat moved from what was going to be a simple point - let us not forego the riches of the Bible for what can sometimes be the easier reading of the thoughts of the contemporary successful church leader/author/theologian.
Bible first!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Provocations from Film & TV

A few weeks I was really challenged by 2 pieces from film and television, one fiction (although based on a true story) and the other fact (documentary).

'The Blind Side' (http://www.theblindsidemovie.com/dvd/index.html) is based on the true story of a wealthy American family who take in an essentially homeless boy and eventually become his legal guardians. The title of the film comes from an American Football term as the boy taken in, 'Big Mike', turns out to be a very effective player and goes on to begin a career in the NFL (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-bntZhLTV0).

'Famous, Rich & In The Slums' (http://www.rednoseday.com/whats-on/tv-listings/famous-rich-and-in-the-slums) is a 2-part documentary where 4 celebrity supporters of comic relief (Lenny Henry, Samantha Womack, Reggie Yates & Angela Rippon) travel to the Kibera slum just outside of Nairobi, Kenya, and live there. Although clearly they were being followed by a camera crew, they spent their week living in the slum, working alongside resident Kiberans, and somewhat sharing their lives with the indiginous people.

Watching these 2 pieces produced tears, reflection, provocation, challenge and admiration, sometimes all at the same time.

I have been left wrestling with the issues of the poor, the unwanted and the fatherless and what is an appropriate response. Of course there is the action of giving money to a cause which I certainly can do (and did) but is money the answer. When the plight is abroad and detached can I really effect anything or should my response be to look closer to home and use the provocation to do something rather than nothing. The comic relief piece exposed extreme conditions in one of the poorest areas in the world but that is not the world that I live in. Am I to give it all up here and go there? Is that what God wants? What does the Bible have to say?

Financial resource can obviously make a difference, particularly when giving to a cause but not necessarily to those on your doorstep. Maybe they would benefit more from your time or resources other than money. In The Blindside it was a family and a home although that particular family had genuine wealth as well.
Other questions came such as could I do that? Could I welcome a stranger into my home? What is the risk to me, my family, my posessions!?

These are tough questions too which I have yet to fully resolve the answers. My prayers are that at the very least God increases my compassion for those less priviledged than I, that He increases my resources so that I can give more, that He multiplies the benefit of what I do give (financially)and that I remain thankful for what I do have. I also pray that these provocations are not lost or diluted by ongoing life but remain constantly in my thoughts.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Jekyll & Hyde

Thanks to my lovely wife, I had the opportunity on my day off this week to find some space, rummage around a bookshop and then read my purchase in Costa - a great morning.

I found a copy of 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' by Robert Louis Stevenson in the local Oxfam for a couple of quid and managed to finish it that same day (it's not quite what I call a short story but clearly not as long as you might first think either).

Apart from having had a previous interest in English Literature (got it as a minor on my degree) I'd heard from somewhere how this story represents something of the human wrestling over good and evil (sin) in our life.

Here is my summary of the story:
Dr Jekyll is a seemingly respectable member of society who does good works, gives to charity and regularly hosts his peers at jovial dinner party's BUT has a secret addictions and a shady, shameful hidden life. Recognising this he attempts, by way of a chemical compound, to seperate these conflicting parts of his personality.
He is successful in transforming himself into Mr Hyde, the essence of evil from within him yet when he returns to being Dr Jekyll, instead of being all that was good he remains both good and evil, just as before.
Jekyl continues to indulge his evil desires as Mr Hyde, allowing this part of him to grow in influence yet with few consequences as when he transforms back to Jekyll, there is no one left to answer for the evil previously produced.
This continues until Hyde commits murder. Jekyll resolves to never again take his compound and so never let Hyde out again. He strives to undo sone of Hyde's evil enterprises, gives himself to charitable works and re-establishes himself as a pillar of the community and then....
comparing myself with other men, comparing my active goodwill with the lazy cruelty of their neglect. And at the very moment of that vainglorious thought......I was once again Mr Hyde.

Jekyll's pride in his good works was the trigger for evil to once more become the dominant force in his life. From this point on it is the persona of Jekyll that is restricted and to which the compound releases rather than the other way round, as it was with Hyde.
The story ends with the suicide of Jekyll/Hyde who would have been sent to the gallows anyway for the murder that had previosuly taken place.

There you go - the book is a better read than that and full of more insightful observations such as the initial relative weakness and stature of Hyde when Jekyll's propensity to evil is more restrained and then the growing strength of that persona as he is given more freedom to exercise his wickedness.
The book is also much better than most cinematic portrayals of Hyde who is generally cast as a giant freak of a man with superhuman strength rather than a fragile character who's inclination to harm others (the murder for instance) is more shaped by his disregard for consequences or a need to moralise his actions rather than his physiocal capabilities.

Anyway, I loved this and have been deliberating any lessons we can learn from this piece of fiction which seems to make some genuinely insightful comments on the condition of man.
- Men (or women), however good they may be, all have an inclination towards evil/wickedness
- Men, are conscious of this duality of persona and attempt to subdue one by concentrating more on the other. This mostly comes out as good over evil (but not always)
- What we see of people in public may have little bearing on what happens in private. Even (particulalry) professing believers can create a public persona whose primary purpose is to conceal hidden sin and shame. Unbelievers do this but often don't have the same degree of moral dilemma as their goals are not be focused on the Christian hope.
- The more we indulge our evil desires (sinful nature) the more blurred our sense of right and wrong becomes and the more detached we become from our inclination towards good.
- There comes a point when you have to make a choice between what you know to be good and fruitful and the opportunities that are seemingly the more attractive but which you know will be of little or no benefit.
- Pride is a catalyst for wrong/evil/wickedness
- Good works in themselves do not produce a good person.
- Good works will benfit others but do not necessarily do anything for you. They are not the primary means by which we become better people.

In conclusion - good book worth reading which does not intend to convey an overtly Christian message (Stevenson was a rebelling Protestant) but does provide food for thought on the inner wrestlings between good and evil contained in us all.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Bonhoeffer on children

'Children are a heritage from the Lord' (Psalm 127:3) and they should be acknowledged as such. It is from God that parents receive their children, and it is to God that they should lead them.

Couldn't agree more Dietrich. Too often 'man' takes his right to have children for granted and then once they are here, does not bear the responsibility well ofaising them.
With the advances of medical science, there are a whole manner of ways to bring a child into this world yet I still believe that it is still God, as Bonhoeffer puts it, "allows man to share in his continual work of creation". This is at the initiative of God and not, as we presume, under our control. It is a priviledge and not a presumption. When we take decisions about when and how we bring a child into this world (I'm not going any further on ethical/moral implications) we are placing ourselves in God's shoes which should be an extremely sobering thought yet completely underplayed by most.
I now have 2 boys, Daniel aged 3 and James aged 1, and the joy they give me must surely come from God, not sure I could have created these treasures given even my best attention - they must be gifts from God!

Once our children come, we are again tempted to play God by making them into our own image.Of course they will take after us and initially learn all that they know from their parents but each of them has their own unique future, hopefully shaped by God.
We should become like stewards of a great treasure that is not our own and be ready to obey the one whose treasure it really is. Those instructions are given in some detail throughout the Bible and yet often as 'stewards' we know better and bow to contemporary or cultural thinking.

Last year a group of parents at Emmanuel Church spent some time reading 'Shepherding A Child's Heart' by Ted Tripp, watching the accompanying dvd's and then discussing what we felt was a loyal Biblical outworking of parenting.

We found this material to be challenging and provocative primarily because much of it was seemingly counter-cultural and, for me, exposed how much my thoughts on parenting came from the world rather than from God. If I am to lead my sons to God then I'm sure that I must do it in a way it is directed by God.

Psalm 127 says that,
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
I love this verse. It evokes my inner warrior! (love that Band of Brothers stuff). It also reminds me what weapons of the kingdom my boys could be if shaped, honed, sharpened etc. What a legacy I could leave if my boys became warriors for God, arrows that will fly well, are true to their intended course, impact and embed in their target, cause damage for the kingdom.

Our children are not our own but whilst we've got them, lets give them our best shot (arrow pun intended!)

Monday, 21 June 2010

Thoughts of Bonhoeffer, comments by me

I found this little gem of a book called 'Letters and Papers from Prison' by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the Oxfam shop in Blackheath a while back and have found it a really interesting read. You can find some great Christian material in charity or 2nd hand book shops, particularly near big, old churches, as old preacher's libraries often find their way there.

I intend to begin a series of posts that I hope will be of interest but also stimulate me to blog more often on this and other trains of thought.

Bonhoeffer was a German theologian (see Wikipedia profile here), imprisoned and eventually executed at the hands of the Nazis during WWII.

Now that I've finished the book, I've gone back through to find all the parts I've underlined and will attempt to add some meaningful comments of my own to Bonhoeffer's observations.

Bonhoeffer on marriage:
"Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal - it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man..........It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love."

I think that these thoughts are what separate Christian marriage from secular, worldy relationships which, in the current context, seem to me to have no greater value expressed through marriage than when expressed in any other sort of long term commitment (co-habiting for example).
There is definitely a responsibility that comes with the public commitment that marriage entails that is not felt, or often acknowledged, in other relationships. By marrying in church, presumed by me if you are Christians, and making vows you are including all those present in your new covenant. You are introducing, and to some extent welcoming, accountability to your guests. You are exposing what had been primarily an exclusive relationship to public scrutiny. From that point on your marriage becomes an example to those around you, for good or bad. There are far more consequences to your ceremony than you realise, not forgetting the covenant you are now making with your new spouse. Bonhoeffer goes on to say,
"What God has joined together, can no man put asunder. Free from all the anxiety that is always a characteristic of love, you can now say to each other with complete and confident assurance: We can never lose each other now; by the will of God we belong to each other til death."

Nobody informed me of these responsibilities before I said 'I do!'. I was still lost in the dizzy haze of love and whilst I knew the commitment I was making was a big deal, I was not aware of the seriousness of the responsibility that goes with not only being a husband (loving my lady like Jesus loves the church, Col 3 - phew) but also in the public office of 'husband'.

Another truth that Bonhoeffer reveals that it has taken me a few years to accept is that I may not always love Beki in the same way that I do now. I cant imagine ever not loving her but there may come days when my passion, attraction, enthusiasm etc may wain and in those days I will need to uphold my marriage more than ever. When John Piper speaks on marriage (I highly recommend Lionhearted and Lamblike) he honestly explains his need for marriage counselling at times and the effort required to value your marriage covenant throughout the decades. When the lean days of love appear, it is our commitment to covenant (as a reflection of God's commitment to covenant - another blog for another day!) that will keep the marriage alive. My observations are that love does return and that in any human relationship there will be times when all is not rosy but all good things are worth fighting for. I think that is why divorce is so prevalent in the world, because when the love fades (don't think that it ever truly disappears but sometimes is obscured by life or dimmed by trials) there is no Christian understanding of covenant to fall back on. The easy option is to move on and that has become increasingly culturally acceptable. I don't think (can't prove it) that this was the case in previous generations when not only was it less culturally acceptable but it was also a society more rooted in Christian values.

More from Bonhoeffer next time!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Life is always busy

Having just lived through a couple of very busy weeks with another fast approaching, I've concluded that life is just busy.

When I actually review how I've spent my time, I find that I actually spent lots of it being very unproductive. It's all about choices really. I can always fill my days, weeks, months etc with busyness or I can choose to spend my time more wisely.

I sometimes envy others who I perceive to have more 'free time' yet they too all say, 'I need more time!'. I want to say things like, 'wait until you have kids!' yet young(er) men I know still manage to fill their time quite easily.

It raises the question, what is a good use of my time?

I usually try to organise life in terms of my priorities which, for the most part, remain pretty constant. My list usually looks like this: disciple of Jesus, husband, father, son, individual, church leader. Each area has some sub-categories but it is with regard to these headings that I generally try to allocate my time. Do I always get it right? No. Often my priorities get confused, particularly since I began serving the church full time, and I make some time choices that adversely affect my wife and children.

Solomon reminds us in chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes that there is a time for everything. He doesn't clearly say when that time is! He also shows us that our lifetime is fleeting compared to the eternity that awaits the believer. My problem is overcoming the apathy that holds me in laziness instead of treating time as precious until the day comes when I get to see my Lord.

From a secular perspective, Stephen Covey asserts in '7 Habits of Highly Effective People', that time management can be divided into 4 quadrants that reflect whether activities are important/unimportant and urgent/non-urgent. He advocates spending more time on important and non-urgent activities, which basically means forward planning, in order not to waste time on urgent but unimportant tasks that often crop up and occupy time that would be better spent elsewhere.

I'm now feeling slightly hypocritical for spending time on this blog yet currently deem it more fruitful than many of the alternatives filling my head.

My summary thoughts are that I need to consider more carefully how I spend my time, who I spend that time with and not look back with regret that I filled lots of time with little to show for it.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Love Your Enemy

I've been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's 'Letters and Papers from Prison' and was massively challenged by this observation of his:
"it is only when God's wrath and vengeance are hanging as grim realities over the heads of one's enemies that something of what it means to love and forgive them can touch our hearts"

This thought brings a whole new perspective on Jesus teaching to love your enemy (Matthew 5:44).
I think that most people apply this instruction in a passive way, interpreting love your enemy to mean in practice, leave each other in peace. This requires very little of us other than not to be a protagonist against those we consider 'against us'.
Since being challenged by Bonhoeffer to consider the reality of the future awaiting my enemies, I have thought much more about what it means to really love an enemy. Surely it has to be an active response requiring me to overcome any enmity between us, to foster reconciliation and to practice love, much like I would when applying 'love thy neighbour'.
As a believer who has acknowledged the 'hell' that would be an eternity apart from the presence of God, I would not consider that an appropriate future for any man, if given the opportunity to respond to the gospel of grace from our God.

I'm not convinced that I can currently think of anybody who I personally consider an enemy but there are social, cultural, religious (even world) contexts where as Christians we appear (appearances can be deceptive depending on where you stand) in opposition to many others. Are these our enemies? Do our opponents consider us as enemies? Either way our response should be love and more than just the thought of it.

It is too soon for me to work out all of the practicalities of what this might look like in my everyday life but it does cause you to pray.

The most challenging thing for me from this train of thought is if this causes a change in my approach to my enemies, how much more does it apply to those who I love who don't yet know Jesus?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

LIke Father, Like Son

Was reading Genesis 26 earlier this week and was again amazed at the actions of one of the great characters in the OT, Isaac, who, having been obedient to the will of God, immediately commits an act of unnecessary deception. After determining to stay put in the land of Gerar, Isaac tells everyone that the beautiful Rebekah is his sister and not his wife so as not to entice the locals to kill him in order to have Rebekah for themselves.

Here is the promise of God to Isaac that you would think would give him full confidence of his security whilst living in a 'foreign' land:

Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for a to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (ESV translation)

How is it that you can hear so clearly from God, he did hear otherwise he'd have been off to Egypt to wait out the famine, and then in the next breath not trust Him to take care of you. Surely in order for this promise to be fulfilled, Isaac needs Rebekah to fulfill the whole offspring deal.

Where would a man of faith find precedent for such actions? Well, like father, like son! Abraham had pulled the same trick not just once but twice (although Sarah was technically his half sister that does not let him off the hook!).
In one sense we too are the children of Abraham and so we find all too natural to follow in his ways. We can be people of faith yet let ourselves down, even in the midst of God's great plans for us. I know all too well that particular inclination towards deception (however slight) in order for self-preservation.

I'm sure I'm not the first to immediately think of another Father and Son relationship that sets a much healthier precedent. Jesus was the 'model' (understated!!) Son to the best Father and repeatedly referred to only doing what He saw from His father. Just last night I was struck by the reality that Jesus willingly left the perfect relationship He had with His Father, which contained perfect love, to come to our fallen world, to lead the imperfect into that same relationship. What an amazing God we have.

There are many ways that we can follow Jesus example and follow in the footsteps of our Father. We have the great privilege of personal access to our God, we have the inspired word of God freely available to us, through the Holy Spirit we can receive prophetic direction and so on.

My heart is that the phrase 'Like father, like son' would be more than an observation of a 'natural' relationship but would instead reflect the reality of a 'supernatural' relationship that is ongoing in my life.

My own Dad was a great man who sadly passed too early in life for my liking but he was not a Christian man and so I cannot say that I learnt much from him with regards to my faith. I've had the privilege of being around many good men, spiritual fathers you might say, not least my now father-in-law, who have led me well in the ways of God yet it will be of no real surprise to say that I must first seek out my heavenly Father to learn to live this life well.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Mumford & Sons

Have been listening to Mumford & Sons 'Sigh No More' album on 'spotify', on the recommendation of a good friend and I love it. Not only is it to my musical taste but I found many of the lyrics challenging, thought provoking and led me to God.

Here is one example of a verse from 'Roll Away Your Stone':
It seems that all my bridges have been burned
But you say 'Thats exactly how this grace thing works'
Its not the long walk hone that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with every start

Don't get me wrong, this is in no way a worship album as we know it but it contains raw emotions that reflect mans struggles to be in the world whilst trusting God as 'the' truth. I'm not trying to stretch this too far but I felt faint echoes from the book of Psalms and David's wranglings with his circumstances in light of his faith in God.

I came across this comment on the band which also contains some of their songs and their lyrics (not read this blog before so I take no responsibility for what else is on there!).

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