Wednesday, 18 July 2007


Having just read through the familiar story of Samson (Judges 13-16) I was once more struck by how you can have power without character. Again and again, Samson does tremendous things, powerful things and yet throughout he is characterized by presumption, pride, lust, violence and a vengeful spirit. The Spirit of the LORD comes upon him and yet he is at last trapped by his own sin and foolishness, dying tragically. He is, above all, a man of great strength who is profoundly weak in godliness. I'm reminded by something that Jonathan Edwards said about how there is a difference between the Spirit of God working upon a person and the Spirit working in someone. The Spirit can empower or work through someone without imparting Himself to that person. This is the difference between power and regeneration-sanctification.

Whenever you get talks on leadership they are always about the great heroes/examples from the Bible. But I just wonder whether we need the example of Samson even more - to scare us a bit! The danger of being used by God and experiencing the working of your spiritual gift is that you can think that that power is sanctification. You can start to feel that the work of the Spirit through you is the same as the work of the Spirit in you. There is something very alluring about the praise of people and the feeling that you are impacting people's lives. But what a sad thing it is to win others to Christ and yet lose yourself. Leaders need to be, above all, repenting and praying and seeking the gospel in their own lives. They need to be seeking holiness for themselves before the holiness of others. This is where true greatness lies - in finding oneself in Christ and not in "the ministry." I'm gonna try to hold Samson in front of myself for the next few weeks so that I won't be tempted to go down the wrong path.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Engaging in politics

I was involved in a panel discussion after church on Sunday on politics. It was great to learn from others and to be forced to think more deeply about this. Here are a few principles I came away with.

1. All life is politics - from the details to the official world of Politics. Everything we do in life is political and involves the distribution of power and the administration of the social good. There are no purely individual actions in that everything we do has an impact upon others. We need to see all actions as political. The key issue is to be conscious of what we are doing and as involved as we can be.

2. This general observation is also confirmed by the way the Bible speaks on politics. There was no distinction in the ancient world between 'politics and religion'. And if you look closely, loads of the NT's vocabulary is deeply political. That is, Jesus has a kingdom that is re-ordering the world according to His purposes and challenging the present powers that be. It's not that Christians care about 'spiritual things' and not politics, but that they construe politics in a different way. They have a different identity. Imagine a political journalist in conversation with the Christian community in Acts 2.

"What are you - socialist?"
"Are you, then, an anarchist commune?"
"Well, are you basically rich benefactors giving to the poor?"
"Well, what are you then?"
"We're Christians."

It just doesn't fit any label.

3. The gospel subverts every party political label. We can not be beholden to one manifesto or agenda. Of course, those involved in the official world of Politics must choose who to be involved in and where to locate themselves. And we must also vote for someone (or at least choose not to vote). Yet we should also frequently find that, if we are being faithful to Christ, we will not unoften find ourselves alienated from the party we 'support' (we are aliens and strangers in this world).

4. There are 2 errors - to have too much faith in our ability to order the world or to withdraw from involvement. Our problem in the UK is most likely the second one. So, we must leanr how to be more involved in our world, to do good and to serve.

Four important principles

1. My sin is always a lot worse than I think. If I doubt that I just need to look at the Cross and think more about Hell.

2. God's grace is always far more wonderful than I think. If I doubt that I just need to see all that I have "in Christ" and understand more about the new heavens/earth.

3. My death and the future world are coming are far sooner than I think. I need to ask myself at the end of every day "how will this day look on the Day of Christ?"

4. The Holy Spirit can do far more in me and through me and I have ever envisaged. Am I trusting His power or my willpower?

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Getting back to the mundane

I can't help feeling that we live in a culture that hates routine and the mundane. It's a culture where the worst thing is to 'waste' your life doing ordinary things, living an ordinary kind of life. We feel that we have to transcend the everyday with newer, bigger, more exciting experiences. In a sense, it's a kind of religion where we lift ourselves out of our little worlds by doing new things, breaking routine and opening our horizons. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that, in one sense, and yet its intensity and centrality in our lives has got to be problematic. Obviously, it engenders a high level of self-preoccupation, and it also has danger of being transferred into my spiritual life, but one other thing has struck me about this; it simply fails to realize the value of the mundane.

The mundane, humdrum and everyday is not worthless but is rather filled with value.

FIrstly, it is filled by God's presence. Every detail and boring bit of my life is given by God and filled by God.

Secondly, holiness can only be realized in and through the mundane. It is only in the context of ordinary everyday relating that I can learn to love, forgive and help. Dramatic moments have a particular role, but there is much about me that can only be changed by regular, everyday obedience. Discipline, for example, can only be learnt in mundane, everyday life.

Thirdly, the mundane is about living in the present. If I am over-preoccupied with some future goal or experience the danger is that I simply fail to live now, today. I don't do what needs to be done now.

Fourthly, escaping into new, bigger, more challenging experiences is often something that only wealthy people can do as it requires money, opportunities and freedom to do it. It is, in a sense, the religion of the liberal elites, and so it easily leads (ironically) to a very blinkered view of the world where the suffering, poverty and problems of many are 'glided over'. Surely, I would find more self-realization by engaging myself in the everyday suffering/problems of people around me?

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Surprised at suffering?

Suffering has got to be one of the biggest challenges we meet - both in our own lives and in the lives of others. But, it seems to me that a significant part of dealing with suffering is about expectation. Though it comes suddenly, suffering shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, the Bible's clear that this world is decaying and falling apart - suffering is just inevitable in this kind of a world. When something bad happens we can have the feeling that someone is picking on us, but actually we should remember that bad things are 'normal' in this world. Expectation-management is key to facing the doubts that arise in the midst of suffering. If I think God's going to give me a good life because I'm a good Christian, suffering is going to crush me. But if I remember Jesus, who lived the perfect life yet suffered horribly, my attitude towards my own suffering will be very different. I won't feel so much the victim, nor a martyr, but simply as one who is facing the normal conditions of life. Perhaps we still basically think of this world as unfallen and good and so throw our arms up in despair when our lives fall apart. Perhaps we're not really looking for another world, but basically want this one and get disappointed when it's not as great as we hoped. I can't help thinking that I need to get the gospel and the hope of resurrection much deeper down into my life here so that I can face suffering properly.

Reflections on Judges

Judges has the well-known repeated cycle of
1. sin of the people
2. people given over to their sin
3. resultant oppression
4. their crying out
5. deliverance through a Saviour.

Going through the book, I've been very struck not just by the weakness of the people, but the dependence of the people. What I mean is that, at first, I got thinking about how the people are pretty rubbish at following God (and surely I mustn't be like that!). But, actually, it dawned on me: isn't that what the gospel says i.e. that I'm pretty rubbishing at obeying God? Rather than merely girding my loins to be better, I need to see my dependence upon a Saviour.

All through Judges you see that the Saviour restrains sin and evil, but when he/she goes it all breaks down. The danger here is that I try to better than Israel without a "Judge" to lead me. All this teaches me that I need Jesus - my great Saviour - and without Him everything will break down! He's the One who breaks the cycle and He never goes away. He is the eternal Saviour who brings "rest to the land" forever. I need to be better - but I cannot be better without Him. I am dependent upon the Great Judge.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007


“Oh, the awful emptiness of a full life when Christ stands yet without.” (Jim Elliot)

Jesus always dwarves the fulfilment of our greatest dreams. This is what Colossians is talking about when it it says we have fullness in Christ. Fullness cannot be gained in any other way nor through anyone else. Everything pales in comparison with Jesus.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007


It's pretty easy to notice the contradictions within oneself. One minute, spiritual, the next minute worldly.... one minute at prayer, the next full of bitterness and criticism... one minute convicted by my sin, the next proud as if I had never sinned. It seems that this goes backwards and forwards all the time. I notice that even on my best days this to-and-fro is powerfully at work. It can be very disheartening - at the moment when I think I'm having a spiritual 'breakthrough' I'm still battling with the most basic of sins. What do we learn from this?

1. Sin is real and powerful and deep within us. It does not rule...yet I must be very realistic about myself and who I am. My self-image needs to be adjusted accordingly.

2. God must allow this contradiction to persist because it is the only way to inculcate true humility in us. Nothing humbles me like my sin and failure to live up to what I believe. God remarkably uses my sin as a means of sanctification!

3. This contradiction makes me cling to the cross even more. Those times I'm tempted to live by my good character, the illusion can easily be shattered by yet another falling short. Then I am forced to realize that only grace will do!

4. The contradiction makes me rely upon Jesus rather than my willpower to deal with my sin. I remember that my contradictions are too great to deal with myself.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Old Age

Having just turned 34 last week I have a few reflection on the aging process.

1. Getting older always involves, from one angle, a narrowing of horizons. Less things seem possible and choices seem less free. It seems to me that maturity involves the recognition that there are many aspirations and dreams I will never realize. The need to constantly realize all my goals rather leaves me anxious, restless and ill-at-ease in the world.

2. Further, age increases the number of regrets. You are a 'victim' of your choices. This is why resurrection is so important. Resurrection means the redemption of my choices and decisions. There is hope of an open future with the Lord Jesus - in Him I am never a 'victim' of my 'bad' decisions. In Him, time is not disappearing like sand in a timeglass but is rather opening up more and more. Resurrection means the redemption of everything in my life.

3. Aging involves a greater fixing of my character. My choices are making more and more into something - or someone. I am in the process of becoming something. Therefore, every birthday should raise for me the question of my sanctification - does the increase in my age = an increase in my holiness? I don't want to get to 70, if I live that long, and find that I've become the cranky, self-obsessed person that has never grown....