John Calvin, Institutes II. xv. 4.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
John Calvin, Institutes II. xv. 4.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
A seminar on unity was really thought-provoking... how clear are we on the essentials of the gospel that has saved us, the gospel that unites God's church... what truths would we fight for? What would we want to hold fast to when everyone else has deserted?
The doctrine of sin has to be one of those things. Was watching The Simpsons last night with my sister and it was the episode where Bart and the family travel to the Itchy & Scratch World amusement park. The theme was all about whether or not violence on kids' TV actually caused children to be more violent - it made me think about our society: we're so quick to point to this or that as the cause for society's 'downfall'. Our communities aren't like they used to be surely? Things have changed, right?
J. C. Ryle didn't think so. Writing about the church in the nineteenth century, he stated that one its chief wants 'has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin.' That is, sin, 'doing, saying, thinking, or imagining anything that is not in perfect conformity with the mind and law of God.'
And from where does this vile offence against God come?
'Let us, then, have it fixed down in our minds that the sinfulness of man does not begin from without, but from within. It is not the result of bad training in early years. It is not picked up from bad companions and bad examples, as some weak Christians are too fond of saying. No! It is a family disease, which we all inherit from our first parents, Adam and Eve, and with which we are born.
'Search the globe from east to west and from pole to pole; search every nation of every climate in the four quarters of the earth; search every rank and class in our own country from the highest to the lowest—and under every circumstance and condition, the report will be always the same. The remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, completely separate from Europe, Asia, Africa and America, beyond the reach alike of Oriental luxury and Western arts and literature, islands inhabited by people ignorant of books, money, steam and gunpowder, uncontaminated by the vices of modern civilization, these very islands have always been found, when first discovered, the abode of the vilest forms of lust, cruelty, deceit and superstition. If the inhabitants have known nothing else, they have always known how to sin! Everywhere the human heart is naturally "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9). For my part, I know no stronger proof of the inspiration of Genesis and the Mosaic account of the origin of man, than the power, extent and universality of sin.
John 3.6; Ephesians 2.3; Romans 8.7; Mark 7.21.
The practical applications of such a doctrine:
a) one of the best antidotes to the 'that vague, dim, misty, hazy theology which is so painfully current in the present age.'
b) one of the best antidotes to the 'extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is much in vogue at the present time'.
c) one of the best antidotes to that 'sensuous, ceremonial, formal kind of Christianity...'
d) one of the best antidotes to 'the overstrained threories of Perfection, of which we hear much in these times...'
e) an admirable antidote to the low views of personal holiness which are so painfully prevalent in these last days of the Church.
'Once let him see his sin and he must see his Saviour... We must sit down humbly in the presence of God, look the whole subject in the face, examine clearly what the Lord Jesus calls sin, and what the Lord Jesus calls doing His will. We must then try to realize that it is terribly possible to live a careless, easy–going, half–worldly life, and yet at the same time to maintain evangelical principles and call ourselves evangelical people! Once we see that sin is far viler and far nearer to us and sticks more closely to us than we supposed, we will be led, I trust and believe, to get nearer to Christ. Once drawn nearer to Christ, we will drink more deeply out of His fullness and learn more thoroughly to "live the life of faith" in Him, as St. Paul did. Once taught to live the life of faith in Jesus, and abiding in Him, we will bear more fruit, will find ourselves more strong for duty, more patient in trial, more watchful over our poor weak hearts, and more like our Master in all our little daily ways.
All quotes from Holiness by J. C. Ryle.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Logically I'm finding it one of the most easiest strands of Paul's argument to understand, but theologically it's a brain-twister, and not just brain but heart too. Just the way Paul brings up the issue of the Jews brings his true colours to light, 'I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers...' (9.2-3).
I love reading Paul, because just when you're wrapped up in understanding his doctrine, his theology, his understanding of how it all works, you're smacked in the face by the way he takes it as the reality it is. It's not simply textbook theory, for actually that's not theology, it's heart, mind, and soul, engaged, enwrapped, involved. What a big rebuke to thinking it's possible to get a grip on God's election without it twisting your heart. Does it make us concerned? Am I gonna stand up and speak the 'truth in Christ' and feel anguish? Not anguish that the word of God has failed, but anguish that so many don't seem to be children of promise (8.9), that so many have rejected the only one who can be their sacrifice for sins (Heb 10.26-27).
The mercy of God, absolutely free, totally unwarranted. Choosing Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob not Esau. Forgiving a people who turned to building a golden calf just hours after recieving the law. Blinding grace. Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! And yet we are chosen, as vessels of mercy, prepared beforehand for glory, to make known the riches of his glory.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Today's been a real encouragement. This morning we had the monthly church student prayer meeting, a great way to begin the day, being reminded from Hebrews 4.14-16 that we can approach the throne of grace, and bring our prayers to a High Priest who sympathizes with our day-to-day weaknesses. Also, been trying to nail my final essay of term, looking at the use of the Psalms in the NT to interpret the passion of the Lord Jesus. main event. I'll blog about that later this week.
Walking here and there I've been listening over some Carson on Ezekiel 37 & Romans 8. Great to go over some of the truths we've been sinking our minds into at Focus, and see the OT groundings for the desperate need for the Spirit to bring life from death. Carson's a joy to listen to and really hammered home the fact that for Paul it's absolutely nonsensical for a Christian to still be living according to the flesh, i.e. always wanting to be number one. 'Thinking apart from God. Goals and ambitions apart from God. Desires apart from God. Desperately sad and utterly hopeless.'
Instead we're called to set our minds on the things of the Spirit. To have the mindset of Christ, as Carson said, 'someone so touched by the Spirit of God that you can't deny the effects.' He had some really practical applications for how we view conversion, sanctification and revival...
Firstly, Biblical conversion has to be life-transforming. It is. Yes, there is a decision. Yes, there is growth by grace. But, from a biblical point of view conversion without life-transformation is a contradiction of terms. The Spirit makes us ashamed and fearful in the presence of a holy God. It makes us love what was previosuly unattractive. It is God's work. Not pressing a cheap-decision, where one things one has done God a favour. It is the work of the Spirit of God.
Secondly, Biblical ethics turns on keeping in step with the Spirit. God changes your mindset, now work it out. You can't wander away! It's unthinkable to strive to be number one - that's fleshly thinking. It's theologically ridiculous. It's biblically ridiculous.
And thirdly, revival is nothing other than a fresh out-pouring of Spirit. Every conversion is the work of the Spirit. Every step in sanctification is the work of the Spirit. When God's Spirit comes on his people by powerful display, the cheap and the dirty is percieved for what it really is, i.e. it is viewed from God's perspective. From the Spirit's perspective, and so we'll be ashamed. 'Stop asking stupid questions betraying our desire to know what we can get away with'. Real guilt. God have mercy on me, as a sinner. There is revival. You cannot organise it, you cannot ape it or whip it up. And biblical revival is achieved by the transforming power of proclamation of the Word empowered by the Spirit.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Christian workers are servants (3.5-9)
Paul couldn't be clearer to the Corinthians: it doesn't matter who does the ministry, whether Paul or Apollos, for they are both servants (5). It's so easy to fix our eyes on the minister, the famed teacher, the top cat in the big evangelical ministry. But actually they're all servants. Servants. That is how we are to think of ourselves (cf. 4.1). Crops are for one thing: growth, so we're to put our eyes on the only one who gives growth, and to remember our place in gospel ministry.
Christian workers are builders (3.10-15)
We're called to build on Jesus Christ in gospel ministry - he is the only foundation (11). And Paul says we're to build well, for how we build will be shown to be what it is on the last day (12-13). What is the quality of our work, what's the state of our efforts, what's the reality to the gospel ministy we're doing? Am I doing a ministry of gold, am I cutting corners, am I struggling hard to understand the Bible; being vigorous as I submit my life to it? Shoddy work will one day be shown to be what it is, and the warning is real: 'if anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire' (15), whilst if anyone who has work built on the foundation that survives testing by fire 'he will recieve a reward'.
Christian workers are fools (4.8-13)
These are striking words - words that cut deep as we examine our own lives and attitudes to ourselves. Paul says that he is like the man sentenced to death at the end of the amphitheatre procession... gospel ministy requires you to be a fool, 'a spectacle to the world...' (9). Becoming the 'scum of the earth, the refuse of all things' (13). Hated, despised, mocked, not taken seriously. It has to be part of my thinking - I'm a fool. There is no room for pride, for puffed-up reputation. I remember in SA, a friend told me that in some communities the sign of being a pastor was driving a Mercedes. That's not gospel-ministry according to Paul: 'we are fools for Christ's sake...'.
I must have this view of myself... God's word is so sharp and active... change your thinking now!
Paul may have been going place to place, as apostle to the Gentiles, but like him I too am called to be a servant, a good workman, a fool, here and now.
A servant of Christ, a builder on Christ, a fool for Christ. Am I that?
To extract every ounce of pride and to remember I am serving the Lord Jesus. To see my actions in light of the last day, doing a ministry of gold on the foundation of Christ. To consider myself as a fool, ready to be seen as nothing in the eyes of the world. To not be concerned with how I'm being compared with others, but instead to fix my eyes on Him who grows His crop. Change me!
Friday, March 09, 2007
This GP said around 80% of her patients were stress/emotion/anxiety related cases. Now, stress is needed in balance. Too little and we're lazy, slack. The right amount and we perform well and stay alert. Stress often comes in the form of adjustment reactions, which can be caused by any loss or change. Depression is often multi-factorial, i.e. it's not simply caused by just one thing. There may be a history of it, genetics, triggers. We've all felt sadness and lowness, not feeling great about ourselves, depression is just different in volume and length of time. Often it's typified as 2 weeks of persistent low-mood.
What do you feel/think?
Sleep disturbance; early waking; appetite disturbance; being 'so tired'; lack of energy; not making an effort on appearance; how we treat ourselves; very negative thinking: 'I'm no good'; lack of concentration...
Often if we're physically unwell it will effect how we feel, and vice-versa.
Exercise (endorphins); eating good food; rest/sleep ('sleep hygiene': waking up at same time every day but only going to bed when feeling tired); expressing emotion; support/family/friends; achieving things; being creative; being outside (1o mins outside - 3hrs uplifted!); knowing it's ok to laugh/cry.
Social isolation; alchohol; drugs; spending £££; deliberate self-harm (although this is often a logical progression from wanting to feel physically the distress you feel inside); guilt...
Remember, life is full of little pleasures! Here's an example to get you thinking and delighting in small things.
Support and love - it's important to feel safe. We need 20 strokes a day! Hug, touch, physical support, feeling loved. Counselling - talking through things. Realigning your thinking (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), i.e. helping people to look at their negative thinking. Medication... we don't say you shouldn't put a plaster on when you get cut, yet we seem to think medication for depression is wrong. Why!? Medication will stimulate the brain to make more of what it needs, and maintained treatment (usually 6 months min.) allows body to get used to it thus acting as a safety net.
If he is my King, my Saviour, the one for whom my salvation will bring glory to (as we learnt in Romans 8.29 last night), the one who will return to bring about my glorification and the new creation I'm longing for, the one who makes God known and makes him knowable... then if all that is the case which I'm sure it is, then I want to spend more time studying the gospels, delighting in who Jesus is, changing my thinking so I'm crystal clear what he said, what he did, why he did it (not just what Paul said, etc).
So I'm spending some time, however long it will take, reading Matthew's gospel account and feasting on what I find. Here goes...
Matthew 1 is awesome! It's flashing with big bright lights: 'He's here! He's awesome!'. 'The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.' A mouthful and a half for any Jew to read. Literally, in the Greek, 'the genesis', the new beginning... of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, God's chosen King! The son of David... the king of 2 Samuel 7, the son of Abraham, the promised offspring blessing the world of Genesis 12. I've just been knocked off my synagogue pew (or whatever seating you have in such places). 'Wake up guys, he's arrived!', is Matthew's message. And just when you were catching your breath it continues: 'Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob', Jacob, Judah, Perez, Tamar, Hezron... Boaz, Ruth, Jesse, David! David? 'David the king'. Oh, that David.
David, Solomon... and on and on, all the way to the exile to Babylon. Then what? The end of the line? No: Jechoniah, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel (big sirens going off... Haggai 2.23... shaking the heavens and the earth, overthrowing kingdoms), all the way down to Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
With child from the Holy Spirit (1.18, 20), adopted by Joseph into the Davidic line, and named Jesus because... 'he will save his people from their sins' (1.21, 25). Well, there we go. Day 1. In fact not even Day 1, he hasn't been born, and yet his mission is as clear-cut as they come: he will save his people from their sins. He came preaching love, to help us love each other, to understand ourselves, teaching mercy to the world? He will save his people from their sins. Understanding Jesus is about understanding his message of peace, we can all be one in Christ.... true, but because he will save his people from their sins.
And if child of promise, chosen king, saviour, wasn't enough. Immanuel: God with us. The promised immanuel of Isaiah 7-9. This is the start of something massive.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
The Bible addresses negative emotions a lot; the implication is they are part of life. Jesus was anxious in Gethsemane... it's not a sin. In fact the capacity to cry is a reasoned creation, just like the capacity to laugh.
Unhelpful worldview ideas...
'Good things happen to good people & bad things happen to bad people'... this may sound absolutely stupid to us, but the reality is all too often it creeps into our thinking: 'why is this happening to me?!'
Positive Confession Theology ('Name it & Claim it')... this teaching says that if we have enough faith then we'll get what we ask for, so healing has been made available through the cross and Jesus dealt with human illness and all we need for healing is to ask for it. This is close to truth, because Jesus' death has beaten death, but the blessings of that are not all this side of his return, and this theology often leads to a 'if I'm not healed then I can't have enough faith' guilt.
It all stems from our self-gratification culture that says if someone prayed for me then we should immediately be better... this just wasn't the case a few decades ago. Job & Jeremiah are long books... yet our culture wants instant effect.
We are permitted to express negative emotions to God (cf. John the Baptist in prison, Mary & Martha after Lazarus' death, Abraham, Hannah)... no point hiding it... do we think God doesn't know? Often we, as the caring friend, are distressed about their pain, and we want to fix it right here right now, and it is good to want people to feel better, but not just because we can't cope. In Cor 12.26 we're called to 'mourn with those who mourn'.
The Psalms are all about modelling honesty and not pretence... in fact one of the most powerful points of counselling is in getting the emotion out there. There's power in prayer... get people to pray with and for you, notice in the gospels Jesus prays a lot! Prayer reorientates our perspective, as we understand who God is.
Rob Bell's book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith has seemed to have the marmite effect as it's spread through the US, and now folk are starting to talk about it here in the UK too. You may have seen his short thought-provoking NOOMA dvds which are available in most Christian bookshops. He's very much a major player in the Emerging Church movement stateside. Here's a review worth reading that highlights some of the concerns Velvet Elvis has caused.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
1. Faith is delusional... Dawkins' bills faith as 'non-thinking' or a 'refusal to engage with evidence', but McGrath showed that actually faith does think, see Lewis, Swindoll, Plantinga. There are plenty of worldviews in which faith makes sense, and which explain our world. To look at the world and remark that it can be interpreted in an atheistic way holds no more ground than to say the same about a theistic approach.
2. Science disproves God and/or illuminates the conceptual space God once occupied... In short McGrath said this view is riduculous as there are plenty of scientists who in no way see their faith as irreconcilable with their scientific background. In fact there are limits to scientific evidence, especially in the area of metaphysics and religion; 'the ultimate questions' as Karl Popper called them. Of course science may lead to atheism, and science may be interpreted with an already present atheistic worldview, but neither are the only option.
3. Origins of religions can be explained naturally/scientifically... The cry of the 1960's was that religion was on it's way out, and yet now it is evident everywhere. Dawkins summarised goes something like this: There is no God, yet people believe there is, so therefore they have to offer an interpretation. Obviously, wishing something to be true does not make something true, yet wishing something to be true does not also mean it cannot be true. Dawkins' tries to explain religion by describing it as a virus, and also bringing up the meme theory. However both these ideas are merely exactly that, ideas for which the evidence is not at all great, and both can be turned around at pointed at to explain atheism.
4. Religion leads to evil... Empathising with most people's thoughts no doubt, McGrath was quick to point out that there is no doubt that religion has and will cause violence, but this capacity is also present in anti-religion, races, politics. Noting that Dawkins' was motivated to write the God Delusion after the suicide terrorism of 9/11, McGrath quoted Robert A. Pape who has written extensively on suicide-bomber-mentality. Pape writes that religion is neither necessary or a sufficient cause for suicide attacks, with it often bottling down to a group of minority people faced with a vastly suppressive enemy and no access to a military voice.
McGrath pointed also to the life and death of Jesus, who suffered great violence against him yet no violence came from him, and he noted that Dawkins' discussion of Jesus in his work is 'tantalizingly inadequate'. Sure, violence is evil, and religion can lead to violence, but it is not typical. A thoughtful pointer to the Amish community in Pennsylvania that last year faced the murder of a handful of school-children, showed that violence can be met with forgiveness. McGrath also asked for evidence: 'if religion is destructive, the evidence must show that, but it doesn't'.
So, overall all then, McGrath's message to the Christian was:
a) there is nothing to fear from Dawkins' book, and
b) think about your faith. This was certainly a big challenge to me, and is part of the reason why I blog, to become more skilled at articulating what I believe.
His word to the atheist was that actually Dawkins' isn't the great example of atheism that pop-culture makes him out to be, and consequently much of the secular left in America has distanced itself from Dawkins.
A couple of things that struck me during the lecture and the question-time...
i) Actually often Christianity is billed as wishful thinking, 'simply choosing the worldview you like'. Now, I love the fact that I'm adopted by God, a c0-heir with Christ, destined for the glory of God, so in one sense Christianity is a worldview I like. Yet there are many aspects that I wouldn't naturally seek to choose from a world view: self-sacrifice, hardship, unpopularity, rejection, not living for my worldy happiness.
ii) McGrath's lecture seemed to spend much time, particularly in his fourth point, discussing 'religion' without any distinction made between religions. Now this may work on some levels as a rebuttal to Dawkins' work, but surely it is a major mistake to classify all religions as equal, especially when weighing up whether 'religion is destructive', for anything must be destructive ultimately if it is not about the Lord Jesus.
iii) McGrath was an engaging speaker and performed well within his remit (a critique of Dawkins), yet I wonder what the role is for the Christian theologian in such a context, after spending forty minutes knocking down the false-idols, is there not a duty to then point people to Jesus Christ. McGrath had little time to mention the reasonableness of Christianity specifically, and did touch on his own conversion as a student ('I had to work out what is the best way of making sense of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth'), but it seemed many may have left the lecture with no sense of urgency to bow before the one name under heaven by which men may be saved!
Dave has some more thoughts on Dawkins' here.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Paul makes it clear in 8.17 that sharing in Christ's glory, being heirs of God, requires us to share in his suffering, so the big questions are, as we begin 18-30, 'Is it worth it?' and 'How do I know I'll make it through the suffering?'
He kicks off straight away with his reckoning, that the sufferings of this present time, that is the believer's battle, are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (NIV: 'in us'). The glory to come is far greater than the battle of 7.14-8.17. What is to come is incomparable with life now.
Creation Groans (19-22)
In fact it's so awesome that creation too is waiting for it, creation is groaning in hope of our glory. Subjected to emptiness and purposelessness back in Genesis 3, creation has been suffering knowing one day it will be liberated.
Christians Groan (23-25)
And we're groaning too, for we have the firstfruits of the Spirit (i.e. the firstfruits are the Spirit). We're groaning inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. It's like we have the adoption papers signed and sealed, but we're still waiting to be shown off at the family gathering.
We have the Spirit, the firstfruits, but are waiting for the full harvest... (23a)
We are battling, groaning, therefore we have the Spirit... (23b)
We are waiting eagerly for adoption to be complete, and our new bodies revealed... (23c)
We have already been saved... (24a)
We are waiting patiently for we cannot grasp it yet... (25b)
This is the hope in which we were saved, adoption, redemption, justification... And of course hope that is seen is not hope, rather we hope for what we do not see. Our hope is not here yet! But it's coming, and we're groaning for it, for even creation is longing for it. Why hope for things that are now?! We hope for what do not see... patiently... knowing we have the firstfruits, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God (5.2) and rejoicing in these sufferings knowing they bring us hope, and hope does not put us to shame (5.3)!
The Spirit Groans (26-27)
And so creation grows, we too groan, but how do we know we will not give up in our weakness? Can we have assurance that we won't give up? Because our groans depend upon God and not upon ourselves! We walk according to the Spirit, having it in us, it killing sin in us, being led by it, having recieved it for sonship, and now... it groans for us. We are weak. We do fail. But the Spirit cries out for us on the battlefield... it is the true first-fruit... ensuring what is to come!
There must be suffering now, for without it we wouldn't hope. The glory's going to be far greater than this battle, than this life now, for even creation is groaning for it. We too groan, for we have the Spirit, as we eagerly await adoption as sons, for it is in this hope we were saved. We're hoping for something more than this battle with our sin, and the fact that we're hoping, groaning, waiting, is evidence that we are changed and have the Spirit and are saved!