Friday, 31 August 2007

Refusing God glory

Hard times, sad times, or even those niggling periods which don't really qualify but still upset me: these are opportunities to give glory to God. Too easy to withdraw into self, not turning to God from a well-founded suspicion that he won't affirm my self-pity. Selfpity is selfcentred sin: stubbornly refusing to honour God or give thanks to him.
I know I need You, and I know you deserve all glory and blessing and honour no matter what; but if life is like this, I'm going to mope about it. I'm not going to turn to You; I'm not going to give thanks to You: I'm upset. I'm going to make myself more & more miserable as if that'll get at You, even though I know I can't blame You.
I thank him for his grace which won't leave his child growing hard-hearted like this, but yearns jealously in me by his Spirit - giving more grace so that he once more has the grateful affection of my heart.

Opportunities to give God glory.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Waving wildly

Since Peter Williams has become Warden at Tyndale House, Justin Taylor has interviewed him and John Piper recommends getting to know him. I recommend it too, not that that means much! I do thank God for the wisdom and hospitality of the Williams and how they patiently showed it to this Norn Irish girl when I arrived at La Panne 7 or so years ago, and since. I had the privilege of, well, trying to help Kathryn with the children for a week this summer, and at least doing the washing up while she did look after the children. [Hi Kathryn! You may tell Pete I've just bought a course to learn Dutch... And I hope you like the King the Snake and the Promise which should have popped through your door mysteriously, or soon will do. Ahem.] In between reading more languages than most people know exist (or probably while reading etc...), Pete blogs at Evangelical Textual Criticism. His study goes over my head by about a league, and he admits that the theses of the PhD students under him won't be intelligible to the bulk of the church - but I admire how he is serving the Church. Read his vision for it in JT's interview. Whether as a lecturer Warden of Tyndale House or giving evangelistic talks to passers-by on a prom in Belgium (in French or Flemish), being involved in his local church or explaining a Bible verse to children on a beach, his vision is to serve the church. It's that sort of vision & practice, in God's grace, which makes me argue back rather at Total Truth when it seems to denigrate the role of the 'professional' theologian (see review below). [Even if all Pete's weight of linguistic scholarship couldn't shake my Norn Irish cynicism on whether Ulster Scots should qualify as a language.]

Thursday, 16 August 2007

2 excellent books

Total Church, by Chester & Timmis, isn't a one-stop book on church. It doesn't treat church history, nor give a comprehensive theology of Church. Thankfully, in the plethora of books recently issued on the topic, neither is it a Use This Programme To Transform Your Church (TM), nor a How all that's been called church before is wrong and I'm going to whine about it, write it off and wheeee there goes the baby with a splosh-thud. Ahem. Also thankfully, it's not a Thank God Our Church is Sorted: Now Copy Us (halo enclosed, polish can be purchased from all good supermarkets). What it is, is an exploration-cum-exhortation of church as gospel community. Or, in my prefered words (or those of the Reformers?) a community of the Word.

This is something I've been thinking about and increasingly challenged about for a while. The challenge has come most recently in the form of my church in Bournville, who are being community in a way which is most, well, challenging to me. There's the challenge of the odd hours I work. There's the challenge of being involved in community as a single just moved to the area when I've never really done it before. There's the challenge which accompanies my conviction that much as I love mulling over theology, it is actually a church activity: i.e. to be done as a community of the word. Underlying it all (or undermining it, perhaps), there's the challenge of being in church as a community of the word when naturally my heart is selfish with its time and energy, proud of its own knowledge and seeking to be served ('have my needs met') rather than to serve. To this, Total Church honed the challenge I was pondering regarding sharing the gospel - not just to be involved in communities outside of church (work, other activities, sports) individually seeking to witness, but actually witnessing as a community. Not so much putting on programmes and activities, but living as a gospel community and inviting others to join in as we hang out together, talk about Jesus, study the Bible, meet for worship...

I didn't agree with everything in Total Church. [Edit: I had written that the authors may need to engage with a wider constituency, but that is perhaps unfair - it's not a one-stop book on church and I need to continue my study in a wider constituency!] I thought they were overly denigrating of Christian theologians in theological institutions, seemingly presuming that none of them could possibly be doing theology with a love for the church and in service of her, engaging with church-building, gospel-furthering issues. Having said that, all too often I meet young men who are studying theology perhaps more to satisfy their own potential idol of knowledge than to serve God's people (I know I have the same temptation with knowledge in general). But as Coffey also says, where you don't agree with the authors, you are made to engage with them, and even answer back out loud. And overall, I reached the end and cried to our Father in heaven for grace to be a part of his church more honouring to him.

Highly recommended - get it from IVP.

Married for God, by Christopher Ash, is an excellent new book, again IVP, on marriage. I had a quicker read through this than the above, as I've a friend in Belgium to send it to, and happily it seems excellent. Ash's practical theology means it's just as helpful a read for those currently single as for those married or engaged, and he also deals pastorally with those who are married and childless. For those who've read Pure, I'd say it's the next thing to read. Where Pure leaves some things up to the course to flesh out, Ash talks through them, and generally spends the greater amount of time and pastoral input that you'd expect from the larger book. Also provides questions at the end of each chapter which I'd think would be especially helpful for an engaged couple - but are generally helpful. Pity about the cheesy cover (have IVP employed an American in the design department?) but there have been worse! Albeit from a speed read, recommended!

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Jiving the psalms

I'm currently enjoying playing Stuart Townend's recent album Monument to Mercy. I like the song Kyrie, mostly because anything even verging on psalmic lament should be welcomed.
Still beneath his mother’s eyes
She’s asking why a God of love
Would give then take away

For every self-made man
Doing everything he can
To fill the void that’s deep within
Eating at his soul

Oh have mercy...
Have mercy on us all

For every wife who cries
When her husband’s lying eyes
Give the sordid game away
And something dies within

For those who walk the street
Destitute and desperate
We shake our heads and wash our hands
And hurry on our way

Oh have mercy...
Have mercy on us all

Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy
Have mercy on us all

Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy
Have mercy on us all

O God forgive us for the wrong that we have done
The night is filled with weeping and we’re aching for the dawn
O God of love this world has suffered for so long
Have mercy on us all

We want to see the light we want to see the day
When hope is realised and hatred washed away
When justice rules the heart compassion leads the way
Have mercy on us all

Forgive our driven need
To make a virtue out of greed
We’ve set our hearts on worldly things
That cannot satisfy

We’ve used tomorrow’s gold today
While nature chokes long the way
How many years before we pay?
Perhaps we’re paying now...

Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy
Have mercy on us all

Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2006 Thankyou Music
But why, why, oh why, is this done upbeat and major? Stuart has done a few good songs like this which are ruined by the style. I don't really want to bop along to a Kyrie. In fact, I'm quite sure that psalms of lament, of petition, and impecatory psalms were not designed to be danced to or musically celebrated. I'm not exactly a traditionalist, but perhaps the old minor Welsh hymn tunes have a good place (when not dragged flat and dirge-like anyway :)) Sample here. Still, do check out the rest of the album. 'I'm grateful' is a nice opening track, and 'My God' is a great gospel style piece.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

IFES World Assembly: afterwords

It's hard to out down in words reflections on the experience of IFES World Assembly. At least, I find it hard. I spent my university years copying down reams of mathematical notes precisely as written on blackboards, which the lecturers had, for the majority, read and copied exactly from their notes. So reporting fairly full & accurate notes of talks, I can do. But the art of summarising, of giving thoughts along the way, of giving the feel of a conference and wise reflection? I defer to Andy. A taste of his thoughts at the end:
"How was World Assembly?" It was amazing, it IS amazing - the work we do here in NZ, with students, graduates and staff is part of a larger work of God around the world: the good news about Jesus Christ is bringing eternal life into every part of life in every country around the globe. The IFES World Assembly has made real that which I've known for a long time. In the small actions of service and communication that God has given me, and you, to accomplish we are building something of greater worth than is currently comprehensible.

As I type this last entry the faces and stories of the people I met at the conference are with me, aware of my smallness in the stark reality of the grace and glory of God: I am humbled and even more committed to the work of students reaching students with the glorious truth about Jesus. When he returns, he will bring us home all together - a New World Assembly that will surpass the most awesome of experiences we have yet known.

"All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvellous deeds; you alone are God." Ps 86.9-10
There were things in the conference which I would have wished different. And there is so much more in me yet that God would have different. Will have different, when I see his Son as he is and am made like him, surrounded by all my brothers and sisters in Him from around the world. Those who have ministered to students when their home islands are disappearing under water forever. Those who have clung to the reconciliation of the cross in the face of ethnic hatred and been killed for it. Those who have treasured Jesus above all, above graduating, above the honour and satisfaction of career, above the love of family. Those who have lifted up and lived out the supremacy of Christ in a culture of derision. We are in Christ. And my vision of what that means has been pushed more profoundly and wider than before. And thus my vision of Christ has been magnified. We are in Christ. And because of that, and only by that, until he returns, we go into the world.
Jesus, Jesus: how we love Him,
how we've proved him o'er and o'er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh for grace to love Him more.

IFES World Assembly: Following Jesus

Having returned from Canada, and Belgium, before I run off to Cheltenham I've translated my notes from Jacques Buchhold's exposition at World Assembly, which I'd posted in French at the time. Many of us were struck by his talk, and it wove in with my thoughts from the conference on being in Christ - a truth I need to study more. So without further ado:

Luke 9.51 is a key moment in Jesus' ministry: Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. From that moment on, the rest of the gospel happens en route to Jerusalem, for his death. So these passages are consecrated to the preparations for going to Jerusalem. They speak to us of what is involved in following Jesus. How then do we understand these texts (Luke 9)? Jesus defines following [Jacques neatly invented a new French word suivance here!], faced with 3 men who asked to follow him.

Three facts about Jesus' following in Luke: it's frequent, striking (e.g. 9.57-62 - note v.60 opposes all the thought of the time) and unique. Unique because this term (to follow Jesus) isn't used after the gospels in the NT, apart from one time in Revelation. Why? Well in fact, it's because Jesus used a pre-existing model, of following. He wasn't some sort of extraterrestrial arriving into Palistine from who-knows-where! No, he took a well-known model of the time: that of a theologian.

Following the Rabbi Jesus
"Rabbi." "My Master." A Rabbi would teach in a house, which served as a school - with his disciples doing the shopping, chores, etc. Often also they would walk, as on a pilgrimage. With the disciples following. Never at the side of the Master.

In this passage the 2nd and 3rd men call Jesus Rabbi (Master), and another, Doctor: evidently Jesus appeared to them to have the role of a dean of theology! That's why he gets questions about divorce, resurrection, the Sabbath - the questions debated at the time. It's in this context that we must understand the text.

v.57 is a request to be such a disciple. That's why he must leave home and family. And that also explains why the theme disappears in the the NT - Jesus cannot now be physically followed! But is there more than that?

To become a disciple was not something requested: the call came from the Master, and the response was to be immediate obedience. It was not the disciples who signed up to study at the school of theology. Jesus chose them. And what people he chose! So Jesus didn't put up with the superficial voluntary manner of these men who were asking to be disciples. It is HE who defines the conditions of following. And such strictness is beyond the rabbinic model. He is more than a rabbi. He incarnates himself in this model, but he is more than it.

Following the prophet Jesus
There are many things here which are like the call of Elisha. But Jesus is more than a prophet. It's probably Elisha's call to which Jesus refers in v.62 - Elisha burnt his oxen as a sacrifice: no going back! He knew that afterwards, he would have no need of them. It's not by chance that all this discussion takes place in the walk to Jerusalem. Jesus knew what it meant to take this path. There was no turning back. But Jesus didn't allow himself to be boxed into a model - neither that of a Rabbi, nor that of a prophet. He was more than a prophet...

Following the Saviour Jesus
There is more to following here than to follow a prophet. Jesus wasn't lifted up into heaven like Elijah whom Elisha followed, but lifted up on a cross. He came as servant. v.51 "He set his face" isn't a Greek expression, of the language in which Luke writes competantly, but a semitic one. It's found in Isaiah 50.7, a description of the servant. Jesus knew that he was the Servant. These men thought they'd sign themselves up to follow him to Jerusalem in victory! But he was setting his face to go and die. To take up your cross and follow is not an evangelical appeal at the end of a meeting. It's a call to those who would follow him to Jerusalem.

This Servant, who is more than a Rabbi, more than a prophet: who is he that he demands such strict following?

Is he mad? [If we grasped what following he was demanding here, there'd be fewer people wanting to claim they followed his teachings. They'd be left with the question above: who is this man? I think that's what Jacques got at here - didn't take notes.]

To follow Jesus has dimensions much deeper than ethics. Love, belonging, identity,... It's a question of life or death. The good news is that we are no longer called to walk behind Jesus. We are in Jesus. Not in his school but in the family. No longer servants, but friends. Jesus has become our identity. He has torn us away from our status in Adam, freed us from the regime of the law into the regime of grace and the Holy Spirit. No longer in Adam. Following has given way to faith in Jesus - with obedience by the Spirit. Now when I pray to God, it's on familiar terms [tutoyer, calling him tu, not vous, or in old English, thou not you. Tu and thou are terms of familiarity. In German, du, and Dutch, je] Think, now when you pray, it is a man who hears you in heaven - and he's coming back.

We have so much more than the disciples. We are in Jesus, and we have the Spirit.

Application of Jesus' following:

1) The principle of incarnation in the world - Jesus' taking the model of Rabbi. (NB. In saying Jesus gives this incarnation principle, what Jesus did does not act as our absolute model - e.g., Paul doesn't use Jesus as the model of singleness, in his teaching on relationships, when he could have done so.)

2) Exclusive obedience - Jesus is shaped by the word of God in his understanding of his ministry - as with a prophet.

3) But above all, there is one way in which the NT recalls us to follow Jesus. (1 Peter 2.) That is in accepting the rejection of the world. We are called to accept the way of the cross.

Further thoughts from Mo.