Thursday, November 30, 2006

Who are you TRUSTING in?

The last few weeks I've been trying to read Jeremiah and sometimes it's clearer than others how I'm meant to respond to the word. But today Jeremiah was pretty clear: there are two ways two live...

"Cursed is the man who trusts in man" (17.5-6)
> he makes flesh his strength
> whose heart turns away from the LORD
> like a desert shrub, he will not see any good come

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD" (17.7-8)
> whose trust is the LORD
> he is like a tree planted by water
> that does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green
> is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit

Who you trust is who you put your trust in - and this results in blessing or curse.

To have my roots in the LORD, the fountain of living water (17.13) - to understand the world as the Bible shows me it, to know I am 'ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven'. To not get depressed when my plans fail, to not buy into the materialist dream, to remove self from the driving seat, to know I'm worthy because I'm loved and not try and be loved by being worthy.

Keep me trusting who God is!

(Also, check this video out!)

St Aidan and Mission...

Tonight dined on delicious roast lamb up at college courtesy of our college chaplain, before hearing Gavin Wakefield from Cranmer speak about Aidan, after whom my college was named, and mission. In Bible language Aidan was a saint, just like you and me, but he wasn't an apostle, despite Bishop Lightfoot of Durham once calling him the 'Apostle to the English'.

Nevertheless it was really interesting to learn a little about a man who probably played quite a big role in God's plan of taking the gospel to all nations, namely north England. One of the characteristics of Aidan that Wakefield highlighted was his 'passion for God', and I suppose it is this that has a domino-effect on everything else. He left Ireland and spent the second half of his life, in the seventh-century, wandering round Northumbria encouraging Christians, and calling on pagans to get baptised.

It made me realise how little I know of post-early-church, pre-Reformation church history, particularly in the UK. There must be so many men and women of faith who'll be in the new creation that played their part in God's plan. I hope some day to be counted with them, for his glory's sake!

One other thing about Aidan that stuck out was his humility and equality in viewing other humans - Wakefield made a great deal of his character. Often I can get worried about my doctrine, how this or that works, how we do evangelism, etc, I long for my character to be shaped.

Also: chats about the C of E, life as an ordinand, and limited atonement...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What the fisherman saw...

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

[2 Peter 1.16]

Thanks Peter!

Wholesome talk...

Today was a good day for wholesome talk...

Talking with Rob and Tom kept grace at the core.
Talking with Benj reminded me that I don't need to play by the rules.
Talking with Steve pointed me to the call for holiness in every area our lives, including transforming inside-out even our most miniscule ounces of selfishness.

I thank God for these blessings. I thank God too that he destined me to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. I belong to the day! Oh, for salvation!

Struck at Impact again by 1 Thessalonians 5.3 - "There is peace and security...": the cry of most Durham students? Yet on it's way is inescapable sudden destruction! Give me more of heart for those who walk in darkness and obliviousness and ignorance.

Also, had fun hanging out with Tom and a video camera around Durham Cathedral.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Emperor's New Clothes...

Was a joy to recieve and be challenged as Justin Mote opened Ephesians 4.17 - 5.20 at CU Central on Saturday night. We need to change clothes! It was helpful to see the thread of Paul's letter stand out as we engaged with this meaty practical passage: All things are going to be united under Christ (ch. 1), including the new one man who makes up the church (ch. 2), which is to declare wisdom of God to the heavenly places (ch. 3), and so to do this the church needs to be united!

We looked at conduct that leads to a united church, and light that emanates from a pure church.

The gospel that was preached to the Ephesians made clear the need for change (4.20), for a fundamental turnaround, and so evangelism must call for a new self. Not like the rent-a-car contract with its miniscule small print!

Conversation afterwards hit on 5.6-10 - and the command to not associate with those who decieve with empty words, for now we are of the light, so need to live like it. And thus, we expose unfruitful works of darkness. I realised that over the last year the significance I place on the local church has grown considerably. When the question of joining a church that you knew dealt in empty words, in the hope you could help it, came up, my natural response was 'that's stupidity!' Surely that would be spiritual suicide? But maybe I could help change it? But if the power and life of the church comes from the preached word, then being part of a lifeless, powerless church would be no spiritual gain, in fact it would have negative effect, such is the importance of the preached word in one's own life.

Praise God that he transforms us. Praise God that our lives in the light are invitations for others to wake-up.
Clothe up in the gospel dress to see unity; avoid scandal to be a light emanating CU!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

All the time in the world...?

Reading Jeremiah 14.1 - 15.9 this morning.
Judah's mourning looks real, but it seems they're more cut up about the drought, and subsequent lack of water, rain, vegetation, than their sin.
Jeremiah's prayers are real: he realises that Judah's iniquity testifies against them (14.7, 20), yet he calls on the LORD to act, 'for your name's sake' (14.7). He calls on the 'hope of Israel, it's saviour in time of trouble' (14.8) and his prayer is bold: why should the LORD be like a warrior who cannot save, like a stranger in the land. But the time for turning away has passed, and Jeremiah is told not to pray for the people (14.11), their fasts, cries, and offerings are to no avail.
And the false prophets who denied God's judgement and told of assured peace in the land? They will face the judgement that they so deceitfully denied (14.14-15).
The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
2 Peter 3.9-10
Time was up for Judah. Time will soon be up for the world.
All the time in the world?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thinking about the Spirit (1)

Some notes from Tony Payne on the Holy Spirit...

- air that moves... my life... who I really am... non-material part of us... the real me.
Gen 45.27 - the ruach of Jacob revived -personality, emotions, lifted.
The Holy Ruach - how is that different? Looking at a life-history of God's spirit...

God the Spirit in Creation

- The Wind of God (Gen 1.2) - is it his spirit or breath? Or wind? Hovering over the waters. God's power and presence right at the very beginning - something is about to happen, and it does (1.3). God is not less presence if wind rather than spirit, for his powerful wind pops up all over to achieve God's purpose (Gen 8 - receding the flood waters; Exodus - wind from the east building up waters, - the blast from his nostrils saves them - Gen 15).
Psalm 33 - by the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host (Psalm 33.6) - God speaks to create, but it is just as important to say it happens by his breath, his ruach, his spirit is active in creation - powerful life-giving spirit, putting his word into action.

- The Breath of God (Gen 2; Psalm 104) - God gives his ruach to give things life, when he takes it they die. C.f. Number 16.22; Gen 7.15-22; Job 27.3, 33.4; Acts 17.25.
So, do all people have the Holy Spirit? Do animals, simply by being alive? No, the groundwork for what God does finally fully in Christ, is laid by what he does in creation. He causes creation to exist and sustains it by his presence - his ruach.

- God's own inner life (Isaiah 63.10) - making someone upset. Israel grieves God's spirit. Spirit of God is God himself - not just an agent/messenger but his very self.

- God's power at work in people (Ex 31.1-5) - in the character, skills, and intellect of people. Numbers 11.24... Moses' ability to lead the people: he appoints 70 and they recieve his spirit, and the sign of this is they prophecy - speak the words of God. 11.31 - ruach again, but this time with quail. Link? His dynamic activity in his world - both are the activity of God working in and through his creation.

What the history means...

> God works in and through his creation...
he relates to his world, and works within it. The power and agency of Him is seen in his ruach. Gracious, active, powerful presence.

> Can't think about his spirit without thinking about his word... he always works through both his hand through his word and his spirit. His word is his mind and will, his spirit is his presence to accomplish it.

> This is a unique view of reality... no incompatibility between God and his world - he's very comfy in relating with his world. He relates to it through his two hands: word and spirit. It's a unique view diametrically opposed to the idea that there is chasm between him and his world - that it's evil and God cannot touch it - platonism, mysticism. We need to rise above physical prison - pure spirituality cannot have contact with messy world - need intermediary, e.g. angels, spirits. But Bible has no embarssment about this - Genesis 3.
Same as enlightenment view of world... the big split view of reality - fact, reason, knowledge, science (Kant: the world of the phononemon). Other world: feelings, values, faith, opinion, God. The world precedes as if God doesn't exist, as if he has no significance. Two ways to cross chasm - 1: Us - leap of faith, rising above the rational - meditation, religious technique, into God area. 2: God - God crosses into ours, by doing something extraordinary. Christians often do this - he is there, and there are ways to get in contact with him, either by us doing something, or him doing something. This is a Big Split worldview - non-Biblical view of world. So, singing, praying in tongues, emotional experience, 'touch of heaven' - this was God at work, not when I'm patient, sunrise, breath, reading Bible... God was to be found in feelings - rise up and go into spirit zone.
Danger of opposite: all emotion is dangerous. No! Common evangelical reaction - both implicitly accept big split view of world. Bible says God made world and is at work in world by his presence: word and spirit. He works through reason, feelings, action, unexciting things, extraordinary things, human skill - not more at work in one than the other!

Is there something lacking if I miss the intense experience? No necessary connection between his spirit and intense experience. Human experience greatly varied: different times, different emotions. God is present and able to work in all of them. Do see God more presence in emotion than reason? Or vice-versa? The barrier to his work is not that we have to rise above it, what stops us from experiencing his spirit? Our humanness? No... something else altogether.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Lamenting for my people...

Reading Jeremiah 8.4 - 9.6 this morning...

How can you say "we are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us"?... behold they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them? (8.8-10)
No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. (8.12)

Pending judgement, and Jeremiah's response:
Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!
Oh that I had in the desert a travellers lodge, that I might leave my people and go away from them! For they are all adulterers, a company of treacherous men. (9.1-2)

Weep for the people, weep at their sin.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Parables... what they don't tell you in R.E.

We were looking at the first half of Mark 4 at church last night, where Jesus begins to use parables to teach. Jesus' commands to "Listen!" (4.3, 9, 24) boom right out of the text.

It's those that follow him and ask him about the parables, who have been given the secret of the kingdom of God. What a secret! "But for those outside everything is in parables, so that...
"they may indeed see but not percieve,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven."
(Isaiah 6.9,10)
The big point is Jesus' sovereignty, not that different soils show the inability of Jesus' power. The kingdom of Jesus is sovereignly revealed to those who'll listen and deliberately concealed from those who reject Jesus. He will see that the word is removed if we reject it, in line with the principle of 4.25 - to those who have, more will be given, but to the one who doesn't have, what he has will be taken away.

To the one whom the secret has been given... well, what a privilege. Opened eyes! And so the assurance of fruit, thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Calvin on faith...

We are not to concieve the Christian faith as a bare knowledge of God which rattles around the brain and affects the heart not at all... But it is a firm and solid confidence of the heart by which we securely repose in God's mercy promised us through the gospel"

(1538 Catechism, article 14; c.f. Inst. III.2.36)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

South Africa all over again...

I think the last time I saw the sunrise was probably two and a half year ago over the Indian Ocean. This morning I watched the same sun emerge over a bleak horizon and breathe colour over little Durham. Frazer, Heidi, Tarbs, Tammy, Sarah Elizabeth Brown and the Salzwedels were nowhere to be seen, instead I was left to reminisce about rusks and Gonubie with two guys I've been totally blessed with having around this last year, Rob & Tom.

'Something about the sunrise, reminds me of your faithfulness'

We were filming the sunrise for an evangelism training video looking at the Resurrection, and then spent a few minutes doing off-focus shots of our feet for 'disciples-running-to-the-empty-tomb'. It was a special morning: watching the morning break in is always a special experience.

I don't think about South Africa a lot, I suppose that's the nature of memory - you're only taken back when a moment/sound/smell/taste/joke suddenly makes you recall what once was. I love remembering SA, but how I wish I didn't need sunrises and memory-joggers to point me to God's faithfulness.

My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."
Lamentations 3.20-24

Friday, November 10, 2006

I'm feeling good...

Mike Kendall spoke on 'If it feels good, can it surely be wrong?' this lunchtime at Hot Pots.
In short, he said this:

- God invented pleasure
- We pervert pleasure by pretending to be God
- Trusting Jesus is key to perfect pleasure

As well as this classic quote from C.S. Lewis...
'Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, 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
... he also mentioned that line from The Screwtape Letters, which I began reading this week, where Screwtape warns Wormwood to 'never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in asense, on the Enemy's ground. I know we have won many a soulthrough pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours.'

God invented pleasure - and that's a surprise to the world around us! I, someone who has been graced to understand in part God's blessing to me, too easily forget that actually life to the full is life under God's good and loving rule. As the Psalmist wrote:
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Ps. 16.11)
And yet I too often turn this down, for what I desire, and ultimately that desire is me usurping God. Perverting pleasure by pretending to be God. What should I do? Trust Jesus and know perfect pleasure. See the blessings of this world as not the end, but a means to see God's glory. Know pleasure as God knows pleasure.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Big Pride... in the law (more on Romans 2.17-3.8)

I suppose the Jews face a more direct charge, in that they are being judged by the law - it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Is not the big match law vs. legalism? The descriptions in v17b - 20 are all 'good' things, and things ordained by God for the Jews to be. 17b - 18 seems to focus on being instructed by the law, whilst 19 - 20 is instructing others in the law. Hence, the charge of v21.

I'm a little confused by the examples given of the law being broken: stealing, adultery, robbing temples. Are they random acts selected by Paul, or were they specific charges against the Roman Jews? The language is very personal, it's as if Paul knows they know what he's talking about. In Acts 19.37, Paul is charged with robbing temples in Ephesus, it may have been something Jews were big on. Sure, they would have abhored idols, but would this have led to them actually robbing pagan temples? Or is Paul just bringing the Jews back in line with 1.18-32?

Either way in v24 Paul explains the significance of it, quoting Isaiah 52.5, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Not a Marketable Message...

Those were Al Mohler's words as he opened up Romans 2.17 - 3.8: "you're not going to write a high-street best-seller on sin."

This evening I've been trying to get into the aforementioned passage and what Paul is saying in this part of his argument to the Romans. Last week at FOCUS we looked at the righteousness of God's judgement, for it is based on truth (2.2), and it's impartiality for Jew and for Gentile.

Now, in 2.17 onwards Paul addresses Jews specifically, and begins with (v. 17-20) a towering resume ready to topple at any moment: relying on the law, boasting in God, knowing his will, approving the excellent, instructed by the law, guiding the blind, light to those darkness, instructing the fools, teaching the law, possessing the truth... and then verse 21: 'you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?'. Ka-boom!

Actually these people who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law (v. 23). Paul quotes Isaiah's cry (Is. 52.5), instead of being a light to the nations as was the command of Gen 12, the Jews have caused God's name to be blasphemed.

It seems they've missed the point in circumcision and that's why Paul flags it up. It's value lies in obedience to the law, but if there is disobedience then circumcision may as well be uncircumcision. And v. 26 strikes at the heart of Jewish pride - the uncircumcised is in exactly the same position.

Enough for one night, but a timely reminder that outward religion is no replacement for Christ's mercy. Church appearance and good form at CU will not mean a jot when one disobeys the law, when one suppresses the truth.

God, bless us with humility to see our own condition, and to abandon pride. Cover me I pray!

Just a man in the name of Glory...

I don't think Jeremiah was anyone special, just a priest in Anathoth, but then 'the word of the LORD came' to him (Jeremiah 1.2). The message he was to bring to Judah was that of the boiling pot of God's judgement (1.12, 16), as the kingdoms of the north were to descend on Judah and Jerusalem. What had Judah done? Forsaken God, made offerings to other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands (1.16). Idolatry! Sin! Rebellion!

It's the same message that Paul brings in Romans 1.18-32: Man is without excuse before God, for suppressing the truth of who God is and not responding to Him as He is due. Israel had already been taken captive to Asyrria in 722 B.C., and now it was the turn of Judah.

The command to Jeremiah was big enough: to say everything that God has commanded, and to not be dismayed by those he is to say it to. And the assurance was equally massive: God would make Jeremiah a fortified city, an iron pillar... 'for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.' (1.19).

Little Jeremiah and BIG God, a God-given message in a jar of clay, 'to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us' (2 Cor 4.7). The gospel, a message of reconciliation, has been entrusted to the church with the duty of holding it out to this generation.

Will I take up the challenge of telling a world in rebellion they need a Saviour?
Will I be indifferent to whether or not the One who deserves all glory gets it?

I'm Gonna See The King

There is a bless├Ęd home
beyond this land of woe,
where trials never come,
nor tears of sorrow flow;
where faith is lost in sight,
and patient hope is crowned,
and everlasting light
its glory throws around.

There is a land of peace:
good angels know it well;
glad songs that never cease
within its portals swell;
around its glorious throne
ten thousand saints adore
Christ, with the Father One,
and Spirit, evermore.

O joy all joys beyond,
to see the Lamb who died,
for ever there enthroned,
for ever glorified;
to give to him the praise
of every triumph won,
and sing through endless days
the great things he hath done.

Look up, ye saints of God!
nor fear to tread below
the path your Savior trod
of daily toil and woe!
Wait but a little while
in uncomplaining love!
his own most gracious smile
shall welcome you above.

Words: Henry Williams Baker, 1861