Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Richard Dawkins

Here is a sophisticated and witty critique of Dawkin's book by an internationally-acclaimed American philosopher, Alvin Plantinga. Well worth a read, though you may not like it if you are a 6 day creationist.

Have we found the bones of Jesus?

There's been much hysteria in the press after the release of a new documentary about the tomb of Jesus (and of course Mary Magdalene) being found. I have to say: this does get a bit tiring.... But, lots of people watch this kind of stuff and are either further confirmed in their unbelief or they have their faith rocked.

See here for the article in the Guardian.

See here for a thorough critique from a NT professor.

Fundamentalists, secularists and cults

In the Guardian supplement yesterday (27/2) there was a long article on "Britain's new cultural divide...between those who have faith and those who do not." It basically summarized some of the recent debates between vociferous atheists and believers, and presented a vision of Britain as a country divided between "fundamentalist believers" (including presumably evangelicals), "fundamentalist atheists" and "thinking liberals" (of all different kinds of beliefs). I was struck by several things:

1. Obviously, the article had all kinds of superficialities, biases and terminological confusion, but essentially it summarized well the fragmentation of contemporary society. There is no longer any coherent belief system to bind us together - society is coming apart at the seams somewhat.

2. The need for Christians to be temperate, articulate and thoughtful for the sake of the gospel. We should not be afraid of being labelled "fundamentalist", but on the other hand our public (and of course private) manner, rhetoric and language should be such that invective against us is automatically exposed for what it is (e.g. Colin Slee calls us "anti-gay bigots"). I think we need great discipline and wisdom here because I think we're remarkably bad at it.

3. We are, in sociological terms, a sect/cult and should get used to it. In sociology a sect is something like a small religious group that exists in a state of tension with the predominant religion. The predominant religion of our culture is 'agnostic pluralism', and we are no longer the official religion in any meaningful sense of the term. We love to differentiate ourselves from JWs, Mormons etc by using the derogatory language of 'sect' - but, sociologically, they are just a small religious group like we are. Let's not hanker after cultural acceptance, but rather embrace marginalization for Jesus!

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Theologians and arrogance

Proverbs 12:15 "The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice." This would seem to teach that to be a good (=wise) theologian, amongst other things, requires that you listen well to other people and take advice. How easy it is for me to go with my intuitions and to run with my 'clever conclusions'. Yet, a good theologian is, here, a humble person and a teachable person. In a sense, you have to be holy to be 'clever'. More, a good theologian knows that listening means community - we need mentors to teach us and correct us. So, the great theologians are those have learnt to discipline 'what seems right to them' by listening to advice and living in community. Our intuitions are more often than not misguided! I imagine that the cleverer you are the harder this is to take on board because you are used to your intuitions being praised. This proverbial wisdom is so contrary to much of the academy where the emphasis is upon building your portfolio of publications and being novel. The whole academic machine is built upon a culture of individualism, personal reputation and innovation. Humility and wisdom, though, go hand in hand. Let's listen to each other and so become wise!

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Planting a church in an ugly city

There is a huge difference between what we see as beautiful, and what God sees as beautiful. That is why so few evangelicals are seriously willing to reach the inner cities (i.e. live and work there). And until we get that straight in our heads we will never reach the inner cities for Christ.

"God is far more concerned with a crowded bus queue than a glowing sunset, a noisy market-place than a starry galaxy, a towering tenement than a snow-capped mountain, a bustlling city than a sequestered retreat. God is far more concerned with people than with anything else He has created..... We tend to associate the presence and the power of God with the glory of the heavens and the beauty of the countryside. But God's highest creation is more in evidence in the bustling din of a city rush-hour than in the relaxing peace of a rural landscape.... God is more concerned about 'people' than about 'places', and more concerned about re-creating beauty of character than merely admiring beauty of nature." (Roy Joslin, Urban Harvest)

What will change our hearts? Look at Jesus....

"When Jesus Christ came down to earth form heaven He 'moved' from a 'very desirable residential area' to live in a 'very undesirable residential area'....He lived in a neighbourhood which had gained a bad reputation: 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?'" (Roy Joslin, Urban Harvest)

He made this incredible move for me. When I see that then moving into the inner city and seeking to reach people there for the Lord Jesus will not seem like a sacrifice. I will be able to do it with joy - for I am a restless sojourner in this world. I am looking for a beautiful home, not here, but in glory with Jesus.

Why don't we grow more as Christians?

John Newton (vicar in London and writer of Amazing Grace) addressed this question of the lack of growth, inconsistencies and sins of Christians. Why doesn't God deliver us from more of them? He has some incredibly insightful answers for us:

Firstly, "... he teaches us more truly to know and feel the utter depravity and corruption of our whole nature, that we are indeed defiled in every part. His method of salvation is likewise hereby exceedingly endeared to us; we see that it is and must be wholly of grace; and that the Lord Jesus Christ, and his perfect righteousness, is and must be our all in all."

Secondly, " what believers feel in themselves they learn by degrees how to warn, pity and bear with others. A soft, patient and compassionate spirit, and a readiness and skill in comforting those who are cast down, is not perhaps attainable in any other way."

Conclusion: God is sovereign even over my sin, and uses it - amazingly! - for my good and spiritual growth!

Saturday, 24 February 2007

What's the point of Jesus's miracles?

It's pretty popular to think of Jesus's miracles as simple demonstrations of who He is i.e. His power over sickness, demons, creation. This means that Jesus's main goal with miracles is simply to demonstrate that He is who He says He is. I wonder, though, whether this is a too-reduced view of the miracles.

It seems to me that the miracles do not just simply show us the power of Jesus (though they do do that!), but that they demonstrate the nature of that power and what it is for. In other words, the miracles of Jesus do not just show that Jesus is Saviour, but what kind of Saviour He is and what kind of salvation He is bringing. If Jesus was interested in simply showing sheer power then He could have done things that were more obviously spectacular (Muhammed apparently split the moon in half!). Instead, He does things that have meaning for the kind of salvation He brings.

His miracles have a purpose; that is, they reveal the kind of world He's making. The miracles are essentially the future kingdom or new creation at work now. They are signposts to a renewed world. They are the renewed creation breaking through - a place without sickness, without evil, without death and a place where we will flourish under the King. The miracles show the Creator standing in the middle of the fallen world and starting to renew it and re-order it according to His intention. So, the calming of the storm does not just show that Jesus is sovereign over creation, but depicts the Creator re-ordering the hostile elements in the cosmos for the sake of His people (represented the disciples!). Jesus is renewing the world for His people. It's looking forward to the re-genesis of the world.

Friday, 23 February 2007

St Johns

If you haven't seen it yet, you can now visit the St Johns blog/website here.

Power Politics 2

Some more thoughts on the relationship between the church and politics.

1. We are all political, whether or not we claim any 'involvement in politics' or have explicit ideas about government. Life is constantly lived in the light of power, implicit ideas of what is good for me and for others, and a relationship to governing authorities. We cannot actually be 'apolitical'.

2. We must recognize that politics can never be separated from worldview/worship. This was obvious in the ancient world, but is masked behind a veil of liberal secular neutrality in modern society. Politics always invokes 'gods', morality and a vision of the good life. There is no neutrality with regards to God and the kingdom. Whereas the world always seems to think spirituality is really about politics, we say that all politics is really about spirituality.

3. As Christians, then, we cannot avoid politics or political choices. The whole of life is under the rule of Christ and everything must be related to Him.

4. The political stance of the church is based upon the coming of the kingdom of God. This is all about the creation of a new world order. It is very political in the sense that the world will gain a new ruler (Jesus) and a new administration (kingdom) with completely new policies (law of Christ)! The vision of the new creation (Rev 21-22) is all about God bringing in a new political system of heaven ruling earth - the rule of Christ (Ps 2). The old corrupted world order will be overthrown (Rev 19).

5. The Church is, then the in-breaking of this future world order now - it's a foretaste of the reign of King Jesus. It's the new creation already at work in this world. In that case, the church is, de facto, heavily political in that it says that all power belongs to Jesus, that only his policies can work. We represent the politics of new creation and are governed by King Jesus. Note that a lot of the language describing the New Testament church and its internal processes is heavily political and drawn from the realm of government: assembly (=church), presbyters, citizens and city, nation/people, kings/kingdom. The weird thing about us is that our politics really belong to the re-created future world ("my kingdom is not of this world") and not to this world. This DOES NOT MEAN a privatized, individualized approach to following Christ. Our following of Christ has huge social and economic implications but the context of living this out is most properly the church (e.g. Acts 2 and the redistribution of wealth).

6. How then do we relate to the politics of this world?

Firstly, we still live in the old fallen creation even as we represent the new creation. We submit to its structures and ways (Rom 13), even as we know that they are passing away and ultimately irrelevant (to the extent they do not acknowledge Christ).

Secondly, we witness to the kingdom's way of doing things, but not on the world's terms. We live out our own politics (peace, a new view of power, love, justice etc) even as we submit to the structures of this world. We are the new paradigm of humanity and we are the destiny of the world. We are a public sign of what society and culture might be if they accepted the kingdom.

Thirdly, because they are irreparably fallen, idolatrous and corrupted by sin, the governing systems of this world largely rival Jesus, and their policies largely contradict the policies of the kingdom of God (state as Babylon in Revelation, generally negative view of the 'powers' in the NT). This does not mean that everything about them is bad, nor that they are as bad as they could be. From one perspective, they do good. As Romans 13 makes clear, they find themselves under God's sovereign rule and are used by Him for the good of His people (note the 2nd person is used in that passage). And, of course, many Christians find themselves in these systems trying to do good and live out their discipleship. The point here is that our hope is not really for Christian governing authorities in this world - rather it is for the coming of the kingdom of Jesus.

Fourthly, we are to serve as we can, to seek the good of all men and the justice/righteousness of God in all we do and to influence for good wherever we are - including in our corrupt political system. It may be bad, but we don't have to let it be as bad as it possibly can be (i.e. slavery). All the time, though our hope is for the coming of Jesus. We are aliens and pilgrims in the political order of this world.

Any opinions?

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Good deeds

"A sinner’s supposed good deeds count for nothing against the insult and injury done to God. To insist otherwise is to argue that the domestic of a prince was not a bad servant because he did not spit in his master’s face so often as he performed acts of service." (Jonathan Edwards)

Edward's powerful point: our good deeds cannot 'atone' for our bad ones. Only the cross can do that.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

How we get revival

According to Isaiah 58, the promise of revival and the flourishing of the church depends upon certain conditions, most of which are a little surprising (at least to me they are):

1. An end to demanding (i.e. fasting) but superficial religosity (vv.1-5)
2. Corporate justice and an end to oppression (v.6, 9)
3. Good work ethics (v.3)
4. An end to verbal and physical violence (v.4, 9)
5. Sharing of the vital necessities of life with the disadvantaged (v.7, 10)
6. Opening of our homes to the poor (v.7)
8. Help to the suffering (v.10)
9. Devotion to God (in perpetual Sabbath worship) (v.13)

What is very striking in this list is the emphasis upon corporate justice and aid to the disadvantaged/poor. It would seem to indicate that lack of concern for the disadvantaged/poor is a major reason for God's judgment on His people, and repentance from that is a very significant condition in personal and corporate revival. Preaching, prayer and worship that ignore these issues must therefore be like the false fasting of vv.1-5. I'm feeling a little disturbed.......

Lots of Bible but no prayer?

Many of us recognize that our prayer lives are really not what they could be. And those of us who are evangelicals would most likely say that we're good on the Bible, but not so good at prayer. There are plenty of times I've thought to myself, my theology is good, but I admit (with supposed great humility) that I'm not so good at prayer. I wonder, though, whether my situation (and yours as well???) may be a lot worse than my initial thoughts have suggested.

Is it really possible, given that our dealings with God are in the framework of a covenant, for me to hear from God but not speak to Him? Can I really say that I've heard Him but don't really want to speak to Him? Isn't God's word meant to be relational and so be inviting me to speak back to Him? If God's word is simply information to be appropriated then of course my speaking back to Him is less vital. But if God's word is relational, and a constant invitation to know Him, then how can I really say that I've got it if I don't pray?

My suggestion is this then: if we're not good at prayer, we're not good at the Bible either (though I may have a lot of Bible information in my head). There cannot be a wedge between the two. My Bible knowledge is no greater than my prayer life.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Power politics

Here's a suggestion about how we should engage in politics.....

So often, Christian engagement with politics is considered only from the perspective of issues (i.e. is this policy right or wrong, with or against the Scriptures?). Now, of course, these are proper and important concerns, but is that all there is to our engagement with politics?

I was looking at Luke 22 yesterday and was struck by Jesus's very familiar and famous words to his disciples, "The Kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves." This is a comparison of two very different kinds of politics. And the difference is not found in the policies (though of course there would be many!) but in the way one approaches power itself. The distinctives of the disciples are not just their opinions, but how they approach power itself. In other words, this is more than having a different kind of a policy - this is a completely different way of approaching politics itself. The disciple is uninterested in power games, rather his power is found in and through servanthood. These words come, of course, in the context of the Passover before Jesus's death. We have a Lord who became like "the one who serves", and a Lord who thereby accomplished the most powerful thing the world has ever seen.

The church is a powerfully political institution, not because we have our own party and MPS, but because we model a different way of thinking about power itself. We challenge not just the policies but the very order and basis of the world's way of handling power. We're not one more lobby group among many, rather we're an alternative to worldly politics itself. Our politics is Jesus and His kingdom.

Let me know what you think!!!!

Monday, 19 February 2007

Great Resources

Here are some great written papers by Tim Keller on church planting and general church life.

Here are samples of free talks by Tim Keller on various topics. I think it's great stuff from one of the best preachers I know of.

Desiring Heaven

"There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven;
but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart
of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. . . . It is the secret
signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable
want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our
friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our
deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or
work. . . . All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just
beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming
when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have
attained it."
C . S . L E W I S (The Problem of Pain)

We don't need to manufacture a desire for heaven (=new heavens and new earth) - it is already latent in our souls. We already have it as human beings. Our problem is that we bury it under a whole heap of other things and think that these things are what we really want. I think CS Lewis would have us dig down into our desires so that we might uncover what our desires are really about.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Platitudes in Proverbs?

One often comes across seeming platitudes in Proverbs e.g. "A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies." (Prov 12:17). But as I think about it, this is no mere platitude. The truthful man gives honest testimony because he is a truthful person. The person telling lies does it because they are a false person. What they do arises out of who they are. These kind of proverbs point out that the primary issue in righteousness is not simply obedience to a norm, but character. The Spirit of God is not simply getting me to do the right thing, but to becomethe right sort of person. My righteous/sinful behaviour is really an expression of character, not simply a failure to obey a command. I must not only be someone who gives honest testimony, but I must be a truthful kind of a person.

Lord, make me into an honest man!

Moses and Me

I've tried to do some thinking about the rather difficult and controversial topic of the Mosiac Law, and have so far arrived at the following:

1. The Mosaic Law was never intended as a means of salvation and is not thought of in those terms.

2. However, the law does require a certain 'doing' in order to receive blessings i.e. blessings and curses of Deuteronomy.

3. The demand of the law is very strong ("be holy as I am holy", "Love the LORD", "love your neighbour"). To break any of the law is to break the whole law.

4. This Law could not be kept, not because there's something wrong with it, but because we are born in sin and cannot keep it, and the Mosaic administration did not bring the Spirit.

5. The fact that it cannot be kept is shown by three things in the Old Testament:

a. the story of Israel's continual sin and punishment (in the histories and prophets)

b. God's faithfulness to the covenant in spite of them breaking it,

c. and the promise of a new covenant and law to be written on the heart (which
implies the insufficiency of the first Law).

From the NT perspective, the people lacked the power of resurrection life and the Spirit.

6. The OT believer was therefore imprisoned by the contrast between the law's demands and his ability to keep it. The law essentially reveals the reality of sin and a need for a changed heart.

7. The disobedience of Israel to the Law, and subsequent judgment, contrasts with the grace of the promise shown throughout the OT. The grace of the Abrahamic promise is the source of Israel's salvation and blessing. The curses of the Mosaic covenant are not absolute as the LORD acts according to the grace in the promise (seen, for example, in the restoration of the people to the land).

8. There is, therefore, a tension (though not an old-fashioned law-gospel tension) in the OT between law and promise which is not resolved until the coming of Jesus. How can Israel be righteous inheritors of the promise? How can the demand of the law and the promise of blessing be reconciled?

9. The OT believer is saved by his dependence upon the promises given to Abraham, and the hope of the Messiah who will fulfil the law and bring righteousness.

10. Christ is the end/fulfilment of the law - He is the true Law and the inheritor of the promise and so the tension between demand and promise is resolved in Him and the gift of the Spirit.

More thoughts soon on the Law and the NT believer.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

9 reasons not to sin

1. Jesus has carried my sin. Every time God forgives me the cost is the cross. Sin, on the other hand, makes the cross worthless and empty. When I sin, I sin against the cross.

2. I am in Christ and am living in His presence forever. How can I sin against Him right in front of Him?

3. God’s Spirit has turned me into a temple - how can I defile the temple of the living God?

4. The Lord abundantly satisfies every possible desire and longing in me. Why try to satisfy myself with sin? Obedience to Him brings me all the joy I could ever want.

5. My future is an eternal holy world - why am I fighting against the very thing I'm made for? How will this day look on that Day?

6. Sin is offensive to God and provokes His wrath and holiness. God detests my sin and cannot bear to look upon it.

7. Sin lies. It is nice-tasting poison. It pretends to bring me good things when it doesn’t. It will destroy me with hell, death, slavery.

8. Sin goes down into me and makes me ugly and polluted.

9. Sin destroys any ministry I have.

An encounter with the holy

What does it feel like to encounter holiness? CS Lewis evokes, in my opinion, a fantastic sense of what it is like for a sinner to be in the presence of true holiness. This is an account of a man in the presence of an archangel.

“My fear was now of another kind. I felt sure that the creature was what we call ‘good’, but I wasn’t sure whether I liked ‘goodness’ so much as I supposed. This is a very terrible experience. As long as what you are afraid of is something evil, you may still hope that the good may come to your rescue. But suppose you struggle through to the good and find that it also is dreadful? How if food itself turns out to be the very thing you can’t eat, and home the very place you can’t live, and your very comforter the person who makes you uncomfortable? Then, indeed, there is no rescue possible: the last card has been played. For a second or two I was nearly in that condition. Here at last was a bit of that world from beyond the world, which I had supposed that I loved and desired, breaking through and appearing to my senses: and I didn’t like it, I wanted it to go away. I wanted every possible distance, gulf, curtain, blanket and barrier to be placed between it and me.” CS Lewis (Voyage to Venus p.14-15)

Gentleness and Controversy

What does it mean to be gentle in debate and argument with others? I can't help thinking that there's a world of difference between gentleness in debate driven by insecurity and a need to gain people's approval, and the gentleness generated by the gospel. Surely, we must be gentle, not because we don't want to seem fundamentalist or harsh, but because the gospel itself is a message of God's gentleness to us. How can I be proud and self-righteous about my 'correct' doctrine when I was born with false doctrine in my heart? The Father's amazing gentleness to me - both at the cross and every day - must surely soften me to my opponents, though not to falsehood itself.

We need to beware a subtle spiritual pride in 'our battle for the gospel'...

“Let a man once engage in controversy and it is surprising how the love of it will grow upon him; and he will find a hare in every bush and follow it with something of a huntsman’s feelings.” (Charles Simeon, Evangelical Spirituality)

“A man may be forward to expose himself to the dislike of the world and even to provoke their displeasure out of pride. For it is the nature of spiritual pride to cause men to seek distinction and singularity; and so oftentimes to set themselves at war with those whom they call carnal, that they may be more highly exalted among their party.” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections)

The Modern City

Read this description of the city:

“So long as it [the city] enjoys material prosperity… or…the security of peace why should we worry? What concerns us is that we should get richer all the time, to have enough for extravagant spending every day…. It is allright if the poor serve the rich…if the people applaud those who supply them with pleasures rather than those who offer salutary advice…if no one imposes disagreeable duties or forbids perverted delights…if rulers are not interested in the morality but the docility of their subjects…It is a good thing to have imposing houses luxoriously furnished… Anyone who disapproves of this kind of happiness should rank as a public enemy....We should reckon the true gods to be those who see that people get this happiness and then preserve it for them.”

Augustine wrote this over 1600 years ago about Rome (p. 71 City of God), but it might as well have been London.


The ethicist Stanley Hauerwas on sin:

"Indeed in our time the discovery that we are sick is often the nearest analogy we have for understanding what it means to discover and confess that we are sinners. Alcoholics discover they are possessed by a power they do not remember choosing but for which they must take responsibility if they are to stand any chance of being free from that possession." (A better hope, p.190)

Don't waste your cancer

John Piper (Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis) wrote this amazing piece last year when he was first diagnosed with prostrate cancer. It's called "Don't waste your cancer" and it's one of the most amazing and God-saturated things I've read.

1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.

It will not do to say that God only uses our cancer but does not design it. What God permits, he permits for a reason. And that reason is his design. If God foresees molecular developments becoming cancer, he can stop it or not. If he does not, he has a purpose. Since he is infinitely wise, it is right to call this purpose a design. Satan is real and causes many pleasures and pains. But he is not ultimate. So when he strikes Job with boils (Job 2:7), Job attributes it ultimately to God (2:10) and the inspired writer agrees: “They . . . comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). If you don’t believe your cancer is designed for you by God, you will waste it.

2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “There is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel” (Numbers 23:23). “The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.

The design of God in your cancer is not to train you in the rationalistic, human calculation of odds. The world gets comfort from their odds. Not Christians. Some count their chariots (percentages of survival) and some count their horses (side effects of treatment), but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7). God’s design is clear from 2 Corinthians 1:9, “We felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” The aim of God in your cancer (among a thousand other good things) is to knock props out from under our hearts so that we rely utterly on him.

4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.

We will all die, if Jesus postpones his return. Not to think about what it will be like to leave this life and meet God is folly. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning [a funeral] than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” How can you lay it to heart if you won’t think about it? Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Numbering your days means thinking about how few there are and that they will end. How will you get a heart of wisdom if you refuse to think about this? What a waste, if we do not think about death.

5. You will waste your cancer if you think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.

Satan’s and God’s designs in your cancer are not the same. Satan designs to destroy your love for Christ. God designs to deepen your love for Christ. Cancer does not win if you die. It wins if you fail to cherish Christ. God’s design is to wean you off the breast of the world and feast you on the sufficiency of Christ. It is meant to help you say and feel, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” And to know that therefore, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 3:8; 1:21).

6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.

It is not wrong to know about cancer. Ignorance is not a virtue. But the lure to know more and more and the lack of zeal to know God more and more is symptomatic of unbelief. Cancer is meant to waken us to the reality of God. It is meant to put feeling and force behind the command, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3). It is meant to waken us to the truth of Daniel 11:32, “The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” It is meant to make unshakable, indestructible oak trees out of us: “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:2). What a waste of cancer if we read day and night about cancer and not about God.

7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.

When Epaphroditus brought the gifts to Paul sent by the Philippian church he became ill and almost died. Paul tells the Philippians, “He has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill” (Philippians 2:26-27). What an amazing response! It does not say they were distressed that he was ill, but that he was distressed because they heard he was ill. That is the kind of heart God is aiming to create with cancer: a deeply affectionate, caring heart for people. Don’t waste your cancer by retreating into yourself.

8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope.

Paul used this phrase in relation to those whose loved ones had died: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). There is a grief at death. Even for the believer who dies, there is temporary loss—loss of body, and loss of loved ones here, and loss of earthly ministry. But the grief is different—it is permeated with hope. “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Don’t waste your cancer grieving as those who don’t have this hope.

9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.

Are your besetting sins as attractive as they were before you had cancer? If so you are wasting your cancer. Cancer is designed to destroy the appetite for sin. Pride, greed, lust, hatred, unforgiveness, impatience, laziness, procrastination—all these are the adversaries that cancer is meant to attack. Don’t just think of battling against cancer. Also think of battling with cancer. All these things are worse enemies than cancer. Don’t waste the power of cancer to crush these foes. Let the presence of eternity make the sins of time look as futile as they really are. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25).

10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.

Christians are never anywhere by divine accident. There are reasons for why we wind up where we do. Consider what Jesus said about painful, unplanned circumstances: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:12 -13). So it is with cancer. This will be an opportunity to bear witness. Christ is infinitely worthy. Here is a golden opportunity to show that he is worth more than life. Don’t waste it.

Friday, 16 February 2007

Why I need community but don't want it

I am by temperament and culture very independent. I want to run my own world and control my own world. I am by nature heavily contextualized towards a liberal society that worships the freedom and autonomy of the individual.

The problem is that God won't let me have things that way. Salvation is not just about an individual event that happens to me. It's about a people being saved - an exodus of a whole people out of slavery. It's about the creation of a new nation, a new family, a new humanity. The fact is that I cannot be saved apart from that people. It's not just me, Jesus and my guitar.

What does that mean? It means I don't simply have my own personal relationship with God - it is a relationship connected to other people and - to an extent - it is through other people. I am connected to my brothers' relationship with God. Their growth is my growth, their falling away also implicates me. Their holiness and their sin affect me. Their lack of growth is my responsibility. Have I prayed for them? Have i sought their edification? In turn, I cannot grow without their help. Have I listened to them? Have I made myself accountable them? Have I allowed them to shape me? Ephesians 4 says that Christian growth is body growth. We grow together and live together. I am no longer independent, but interdependent. I am who I am as a Christian only in relation to other Christians. I find myself only together with them - I can only properly find God together with them. I cannot normally know God in abstraction from the community He has made.

Of course, none of this is a surprise when we know that our God is himself a community of three interdependent persons. Such a God means that love and relationship are at the heart of the universe. Given that, I can only suspect that my independence is really rooted in my thinking of God in a sub-Biblical, unitarian way (ie a God who is not trinity). This must affect not just my view of God, but my view of the universe: it's all about self-sufficiency, aloofness, power. And in that case, I do not find myself with others, but in abstraction from others.

This is why I don't seem to want community - but it's also why I desperately need it.

Desire more desire

”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 to 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.” (CS Lewis, Weight of Glory)

”The faint, far-off results of those energies which God’s creative rapture implanted in matter when He created the worlds are what we now call physical pleasures; and even thus filtered , they are too much for our present management. What would it be to taste at the fountainhead that stream of which even these lower reaches prove so intoxicating?” (CS Lewis, Weight of glory)

CS Lewis is a poet as well as a theologian and writer, and I thank God for him. It's easy to think that spiritual growth requires us to suppress our desires, but what we really need is an explosion of real desire. Real joy and desire does terrible things to sin. We're too dull, too easily satisified with the titbits we get from stuff in this world. Sin isn't just wicked, but it's pathetic, empty and joyless. Sin's work is really to dull any real desire in me, to suppress my passion and to make me happy with a fast food diet instead of a banquet. It's funny that we often think God's the one who is telling us to calm down and behave - cos that is precisely what sin does. It enslaves our joy and desires. I fight sin, then, by inflaming my desire for the one thing that can infinitely satisfy it: the wonderfully holy and loving fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

What is real holiness?

"The mortification of sin consists not in the improvement of a quiet, sedate nature. Some men have an advantage by their natural constitution so far as that they are not exposed to such violence of unruly passions and tumultuous affections as many others are. Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration, and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor doth trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter hath done more to the mortification of the sin than the former. Let not such persons try their mortification by such things as their natural temper gives no life or vigour to. Let them bring themselves to self-denial, unbelief, envy, or some such spiritual sin, and they will have a better view of themselves." (John Owen – On Mortification)

Owen's point is a very good one it seems, in that we naturally tend to confuse grace that comes from nature with the grace that comes from redemption. As a friend of mine said, "If you want to seem godly, just speak very quietly." We equate the goodness we might have as a creature made in the image of God with the transformation that Christ gives us. This is very humbling and challenging at the same time. How often we take certain traits in ourselves (and in others) to be powerful signs of sanctification, when actually they are nothing of the kind. Good and valuable as they are, they are not fruit of the Spirit.

Calvin's point about us needing to repent of our righteousness, as well as our sin, in coming to Christ is instructive here. Our 'righteous deeds' need Christ as their foundation or they are not righteous. Even the virtues we have by way of common grace need to be sanctified and brought to Christ - virtues are vices unless they are "in Christ".

A merciful judgment.....

Are we good at preaching the mercy and judgement of God together?

I was very struck while reading Exodus 9:18-19 by the mercy of God to the Egyptians even while he pronounces the 7th plague of Hail. He warns and commands the Egyptians to run for cover and flee before it is too late. Notice vv.20-21 (as someone pointed out to me helpfully this week) that the Egyptians themselves (subjects of judgment throughout Exodus) can be saved if they will fear the LORD and believe His word. The foolishness of Pharoah does not necessarily condemn the rest of the nation. Both Israel and Egyptians can be spared if they will trust the word/gospel of the LORD. Our God is not a harsh judge, but a merciful judge who desires that many will be saved. And in the midst of a (terrible) judgment He still exercises mercy.

And, a few chapters on, in the Passover the roles are reversed as Israel, the subjects of salvation in Exodus, are now warned about the judgment of God and the need for sacrifice. There is terrible judgment in the midst of the mercy of God to the Israelites at the Passover. And the condition is the same for them as for the Egyptians - they must heed the word/gospel of the LORD (the meditation of Moses will not save them any more than the hard heart of Pharoah will condemn the Egyptians).

How harshly we preach the judgment of God and how lightly we preach the mercy of God! But it is a severe mercy and a merciful judgment we meet.