Friday, 30 November 2007

Rockin' or rocky?

As final year students start to think about what to do next, and as not a few consider church apprenticeships and other year-long ministry schemes, I want to share some thoughts on why Relay rocks.

Specifically, finalists who want to test a calling into 'full time paid Christian ministry' (for lack of a better denominator) often think they should be a church worker / apprentice for a while. That may be so. But to help, if that's you, here are some questions I suggest asking, because I really want you to have the most effective year possible:

- How will you 'get a feel' for ministry in this year, more than you would do if you got a job and got stuck in in your church, serving more as a 'normal' member than as a student? Perhaps you should test your calling by serving as a normal member of the church (go read Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands). Perhaps you'll spend all your time doing extra activities (make sure that in this year, you're really trained, discipled, and equipped - see below) or maybe you'll just do what you should have done anyway as a full church member.

- Will you be discipled by someone committed to supervising you, in work skills, in applying your theology to your life and ministry, and overall in growing in grace? Will someone be investing in you, praying for you, and meeting up with you regularly to encourage and challenge you in growing as a Christian, as well as learning skills?

- Will you have a structured, intentional programme of theological study in which you get feedback and interaction with others? It's important to go deeper into God's word, not to run on what you already know and just learning skills to go with it. What is in place to make you study and help you learn and apply - or will you be able to let it slip when other 'more urgent' things crowd in?

- Will you be learning and growing and being trained in the main things of grace and gospel, or Things That We Think Are Cool Right Now (TM)?

- Will your year be equally useful for life no matter what you choose to do after, or merely significant for that year and deciding what to do after?

- Will you be trained on the ground, putting into practice what you're learning, ministering the gospel to others as you grow in it, being pushed and challenged in ministry so you have to grow more?

- Will you be pushed to think outside your cultural comfort zone, what church style you're used to, and encouraged to believe things because of the convictions you own, or just the company you keep? Will you have opportunity to think more about your part in God's mission for the world, the role of the workplace, and world mission, or will you be let alone to settle in the environment where you are?

And really, amongst many other things, the answers to those questions are some of the reasons why I think Relay rocks.

(There's also the experiential - I loved Relay Homestart, and I love my Relay Worker, meeting with her to reflect on God's grace outworked in our lives and the CUs and students we serve, digging into God's Word together, being gripped by it and encouraging each other in applying it,...)

But if you're determined to miss out on Relay, at least make sure that you've got good answers to the questions above! It'd be rather sad otherwise.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

In Spirit and truth

Our expression of worship should accord with the nature and person of the God we're worshipping, and how he has enabled us to worship: his salvation in Jesus. Exuberant joy, declaring together the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his glorious light. Inexpressible longing in this present time awaiting the glory yet to be revealed when we will be raised like Him. Reverence and awe that we worship the creator and sustainer of the universe who dwells in unapproachable light; and wonderful thankfulness that yet we draw near to enjoy his presence without being consumed in the fire of his holiness because we are in Christ, clothed with his righteousness and indwelt by His Spirit. Love and deep respect as we call out to this God, "Father!" by his Spirit who dwells in us, who has made us joint-heirs with the Son.

How frequently our expression falls so short: not thankful reverence befitting his holiness and our approach in Christ alone, but mostly dullness of heart befitting a cultural reserve. Not joyful exuberance at the infinite glory of Jesus whom we know and love even through present suffering, but mostly excitement at good music. In this we're in Romans 8 - we long for the day when our bodily, spiritual, emotional, heartfelt response will truly fit the glory of the God in whose image we'll be made new at the final redemption of our bodies, like his Son.

In the meantime, let's encourage and exhort one another towards this. We may groan in this present suffering - but not at the musicians (or lack thereof) or the fellow members of the body of Christ, but at our own hearts and minds which do not worship as we ought. Let's not judge each other, or our churches, by our expression in sung worship. That is, according to the Spirit-breathed word, I may say my church shows wholehearted love and devotion to Christ not because they show it in song, but because they love one another in deed and truth (see James & 1 John). And I may say my church express in worship true reverence for the holiness and majesty of God not primarily by an awesome solemnity in song, or falling face down, but primarily by pursuing holiness for ourselves and each other: this is our spiritual act of worship (1 Peter 1, Rom 12.1).

Unsurprisingly, we will encourage each other in these things if we sing accordingly too, aiming at expression befitting the person of our devotion (see Col 3.12-17). Let's not aim for less, but more. But let's not judge each other by tests the Spirit has not given (cultural or emotional expression in sung worship). We might miss what he's actually working, and fail to give him the thanks and glory due his name.

Monday, 19 November 2007

I know; I control: I am god?

I've spent time today trying to sort out my car. As I was leaving the grounds of Wrexham hospital* at 01:30(ish) on Sunday, slowing for a give way at the road exit, a car swung into the road at speed, wide into my lane, and straight into me. I was fine and the car appears fine (the other car sped off to deliver its passenger to A&E, from whence the driver emerged a while later to acknowledge the fault). But my car needs checked so that I'm not driving with a weakened car susceptable to more serious damage should anything else occur (wise parental advice).

Which led to the experience of dealing with insurance company, provider, and garage. I know very little about this process: what must be done and what is merely recommended by all-too-interested parties. And I found that lack of knowledge infuriating. I like to know.

I have in the past recognised that I like knowledge. I like to use knowledge in the service of others: knowledge may be power, but power may be good when governed by love. The danger comes when knowledge is pursued for its own sake, not in service of God and my neighbour. Then knowledge puffs up (and its power corrupts). But now I find another danger. I like to know because I like to feel in control. Everything might cave in, but I know what to do - even if it's knowing that I can't do anything. So with lack of knowledge in this situation, I became frustrated. I was short with my parents who tried to offer advice to help. I was angry at my lack of control of the situation; at my lack of knowledge. What was going on was far deeper than a question of whether I had to get the car looked at, whether I had to use the insurance company's recommended garage, or whether the third party will admit fault so my excess gets paid. What was going on underneath was a challenge and battle for control. Why would I be angry and frustrated? I was angry because I don't know everything so am not in control. But who does know everything and is in control? Not the insurance company, nor the garage, but God. Wham. Another heart-idol exposed. I don't have omniscience, nor omnipotence. I'm not in control. I'm not God. Which just points me to give thanks that the one who does have all knowledge and control is my loving Father in heaven.

* NB to all fellow CUSWs: please try to persuade your CUs to ban the Wide Game. We don't need more broken bones and back injuries: it's a bit bizarre if the CUs keep Wrexham A&E in business in houseparty season.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Christian Arrogance? 3

Aren't Christians arrogant to claim to know the truth?
[Lunchbar from Warwick CU - 3rd instalment]

Christians do claim to know the truth. But it’s not that we’re super spiritual and super intelligent and have it all worked out more than everyone else. No, as far as finding the truth goes, the Bible’s description is something like that we were like aspiring astronomers stubbornly sitting in a darkened room playing around with mud, while the teacher had set up telescopes outside. That’s how much we were super intelligent spiritual searchers. Christians don’t claim to know the truth because we were great, but because Jesus graciously stepped into the muddy dark room and blasted off the roof so we could see the stars, and then lifted our heads up so we’d bother, and enjoy. Jesus introduced us to God when we weren’t looking for it at all: he is the truth – he reveals God, he doesn’t just fit in with our search for him. Christians don't claim to know the truth because we were good, but because Jesus graciously stepped into our muddy darkness and took it on himself, so we could bear the light of God's presence without being destroyed. We know him and we want you to know him: not to know the truth as in to acknowledge that we’re right, but to know the truth as in to see that Jesus is true - we’re inviting you to see that and have the joy of knowing him.

But maybe you’re thinking, “I’m sorry, but so & so claims to be a Christian and is really arrogant when she talks about it!” Sadly, some of us do still struggle with pride and can come across as arrogant. There’s no question! And it's revolting. You might be mistaken of course – maybe your friend is a really confident person, or happy, or nervous how you’ll react, and it comes across as arrogance! But for those who really do seem arrogant, now you know we have no excuse. And here I’d speak as much to those of you who call yourselves Christians. Because we need reminded that knowing the truth (knowing Jesus) leaves us absolutely no place for arrogance. No place for boasting. No place for pride. We need reminded – so listen up as I say this to Christians – this is what you can say to an arrogant Christian friend. “You’re coming across as arrogant when you say that – but you’re supposed to believe this – it’s inconsistent.”

The Bible describes how we are all completely on a level – we might try to do our best by our conscience, or by some religious law, but we’re no better off than anyone ultimately: we’re none of us reflecting God’s glorious design for our lives, living loving each other completely and selflessly, and living in thanks to God for everything. It’s not that some of us are further up a ladder than others. No. Some of us have shaken our fist at God and yelled in his face, and some of us have just quietly & stubbornly ignored him and got on with what we wanted to do, but as any teacher will tell you, the kid who quietly but stubbornly ignores you and gets on with his own thing is just as much rebelling as the one who’s screaming at you. Some of us have said, “There isn’t any God!” and refused to give thanks to him, not even considering Jesus. And some have done the spiritual thing and said, “I think God’s like this…” and refused to acknowledge the true God who revealed himself in Jesus. Some of us have said, “To hell with everyone else: I’m doing it my way!” and some of us have said, “I try to be nice to other people like I want them to be nice to me”, but none of us is so selfless that we love others even like that – the annoying ones, the pathetic ones, the arrogant ones(!), even the ones in our own family. No, we’re none of us reflecting God’s glorious design for our lives, knowing him, loving each other completely and living in thanks to God. We’re none of us any better off ultimately. We may be on different rungs of the ladder of goodness, but compared with God’s magnificence, the ladder’s lying flat along the ground in the mud. We’re completely on a level when it comes to knowing God, to knowing the truth. We can’t do it and we not even very interested! There’s no place for arrogance.

But that’s where Jesus steps in. He not only claims to know the truth, and be able to tell us the truth; he is the truth. As I said, he blasts away the roof on our hovel and shows us the stars. He doesn’t reject God’s glorious plan and refuse to thank God; he lives reflecting God’s glory, as intended. He doesn't rebel against God: in Jesus, God takes our rebellion onto himself and does away with it, punishing it. He announces that despite all our level best being level awful and full of selfish pride at the best of times, we can know God through him. We can have full life, through him. Rather than automatically doing wrong, hurtful things – you know, you wake up the next morning and say, “Why did I say that?” – we can know the truth, and the truth will set us free.

Where does that leave arrogance? Or boasting? There’s absolutely no place for it! That’s exactly what Paul says in the NT actually, after describing what Jesus did for us: he concludes, “So where is boasting? It is excluded!” You haven’t cleverly found the way to know God – no matter how nice a person, we all were level in the dirt as far as knowing God went, and yet we all can know him & enjoy his glorious life through Jesus. So if the Christian on your corridor comes across as arrogant, you can remind them of that!

We all fail, and can forget and get proud, or appear arrogant. It's disgusting. Which just shows all the more that it isn’t through better intelligence or goodness that we can claim to know truth and share it with you. But we invite you to know Jesus. We invite you to not be arrogant yourself as to presume to dismiss him without reading the accounts of those who knew him best and did a load of careful research to share it with others. They invite you to see what the best explanation of the evidence is – not to boast in your achievement, but to know Jesus and have life through his achievement!

Christian Arrogance? 2

Aren't Christians arrogant to claim to know the truth?
[Lunchbar from Warwick CU - 2nd instalment]

To claim to know some truth we want to share: it’s not that we know everything. But we can know some things truly. We look at the evidence and match up the best explanation. That’s how we all live, isn’t it? We don’t any of us claim to know the whole truth about life, the universe, and everything (unless it’s 42) – but we know some things truly enough to operate, to live our lives. That’s not arrogance: that’s just reality. We know some truths of history, by examining source material. (Our historian friends will tell us it's complicated: but we do know some truths of history in the end.) We know some truths of biology, by examining the body. Actually, most of us know those things on the basis of others telling us – testimony (whether a friend, a textbook, a lecturer or because it was mentioned on CSI!).

So while we don’t know everything, we know some things truly: we know some truths, and can trust them enough to live by them – enough biology to know what to eat and what meds to take, enough history to know never to start a land war in Asia, enough maths to be amused at Birmingham Uni’s engineering dept, who designed a carpark, which when built, proved not to be able to bear the weight of cars on the 2nd level. [NB to Birmingham students - sorry: but we are all amused by it, aren't we?] It’s hardly arrogant to claim to know some truth – we all do it and live by it.

To claim to know truth about Jesus isn’t any different. It’s not that we’re saying “We made up a nice system we know isn’t true but we’re going to impose it on you because we think it’s best and then we’re in control.” Not a bit of it! Not a bit of it. We’re saying, Look: there was a man Jesus who lived 2000 years ago who showed such authority in teaching, in healing, in making storms stop at a word, in raising the dead: this was no ordinary man. People concluded that he revealed God. That was the best-fit explanation! He died and came back to life himself, and he claimed on that basis to have authority over everything. We’ve looked at the evidence and we’re sure enough to trust him and wait for him to rescue us when he comes back to judge – and that transforms our lives. Here, take a look at the accounts for yourself, see what you make of him.” It isn’t arrogant to want to share that. But it would seem foolish not to consider it, or dismiss it out of hand.

Christian Arrogance? 1

Aren't Christians arrogant to claim to know the truth?
[Lunchbar from Warwick CU - 1st instalment]

Imagine you’re in debt. No wait, that won’t take too much imagination! But I don’t just mean SLC debt and a student bank a/c overdraft. I mean that, and 13 credit card accounts frozen, your parents & friends have stopped answering your calls, and you can’t get a job. You just can’t get a job. Why didn’t anyone tell you career prospects were so bad with a Warwick degree in… maths?
One day you’re walking along outside, trying to think how to pay the rent on your room, when someone approaches you:
- Hey! You were in my year at uni, weren’t you? You were down the corridor from me in halls. Anyway, listen: I’ve got this ace job! They give you a house, a fab salary, they pay off your loans, they…
- What an arrogant… going on about what he’s got. “Who d’you think you are?!”
- No wait, I mean, I’m trying to say – you can have it too! It’s not as if I was qualified, mate – I did Classical Civilisations; remember? I couldn’t get any job, I was a mess; but they just gave me this one!
Now look here, you say, I don’t need anyone’s charity! I’ll make my own way!
- Oh. But… um… you don’t seem to be doing very well at that, and truth is, it’s really great – it’d be wrong not to tell you…
- What an arrogant ejit! Who’s he to judge me? “Look, that’s your perspective. I’m not going to sell myself to some benefactor. I’m glad you’re happy in it but you can keep your charity & keep your truth: I don’t want it.”

That's far-fetched. But that’s something like what a Christian feels like when someone says, “Christians are arrogant to go round telling people their opinion.” Your Christian friend is thinking: this is great news – I’ve got to tell everyone: they could have it too! And you’re thinking, how arrogant to think you know what’s what and that I need anything!

But the thing is actually; your Christian friend isn’t claiming to know everything about what’s what. They’re not claiming to be sorted. They’re not claiming they know more than you, are more intelligent than you, or are better than you. They’re not claiming exhaustive knowledge, as if they know the definitive answers to everything and you don’t. But they’re just wanting to share with you that they’ve been brought to know God through Jesus – not through their own intelligence or skill – and he said he’s the truth. We want you to share that: it’s too good to keep to ourselves!