Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Teacher, teach yourself

Romans 2.17-24
But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
The danger of knowing God's word - loving God's word - of loving teaching God's word to students, revelling in it with Relays, listening to Piper preach Romans on mp3s, delighting to lead God's people in a new hymn to sing God's word to one another: the danger, that while doing all this, I do not teach myself. Hearing a study on humility, while harbouring pride in my heart. Teaching
a hymn on the resurrection while feeding the crucified-with-Christ-man, rather than living resurrection life. Reading a multitude of books: but how much of their truth is in me, or is it just on my shelves and in my mind?

Lord, don't let me teach what I haven't, to some degree by the gracious powerful work of your Spirit, learned of you. Give grace to always be humble, contrite, trembling at your word, before, during and after teaching it.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Quote of the day: ode to joy

A triple-bill of excellent talks by Mike Reeves on the cross, on theologynetwork.org. In the third talk, applying this, he says:
Isaiah 61.10: I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;my soul shall exult in my God,for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,...
So the next time you're asked how you're doing in the Christian life, you can say, "How am I doing? I know that in me lives nothing good at all. But I was crucified with Christ. The life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God." That's Paul in Galatians 2. No self-confidence at all does he have. A righteousness we will never have in our hearts covers, clothes, surrounds, envelopes us. And we simply trust Christ.

So, we do not look to our hearts, our feelings or our performance to know how we stand before the Lord. Your heart will lie to you. We don't even look to ourselves to see how much we trust in Christ! You ever done that? You say, "Oh ok, so it's all about trusting Christ - am I trusting him enough?" What's the problem with that? You've just turned faith into the one thing you've got to do! So you're asking, "Am I doing faith enough?" Totally irrelevant! Faith is not a thing you do which pleases God on the basis of which He saves you! It is God's blood, it is Jesus shed blood on the cross alone which saves you, and you simply receive that - that's faith. Accepting that free gift. Not looking to my heart to see, "Am I trusting enough?"; looking to Christ: there is all our righteousness. Now doesn't that bring a smile to your face?

What is the fastest killer of joy? It's not hard times. It's introspection. We live in the most self-obsessed, introspective age I think the world has ever seen. And I believe it's the culture of morbid introspection that is fuelling the spreading problem of depression. The cross is the Christian's ode to joy. And when the darkness comes for you, here in the cross is music so joyous it has the power to drive away every gloom. So when your heart feels cold, when your body closes you down, when your emotions imprison you, what do you do? You fight with God's word for perspective. That whatever I face, whatever I feel, this is the bigger picture. I do NOT depend on myself, I do not trust my heart. I have been taken utterly unworthy from the pit to the throne of heaven. Joy is something you cultivate. And if you can so shape your daily perspective that you know this before anything else, you will have a joy that can overcome death.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Week of thankfulness

1 - My cousin's wedding in Stirling brought my family together from Belfast, Inverness and Birmingham - first time the 5 of us were togther for several years. The joy of seeing my cousin, recently recommitted to Christ following years drifting, marrying her newly converted and lovely bloke. The beautiful highlands: lochs and mountains. Snow. I wanted to bring a little loch (just a wee one!) and mountain back to Brummieland (not even a Munro: just a little one), but my sister wouldn't let me. Sigh.

2) Listening to more of Piper on Romans on the way up on the train, and Haydn's Creation, Saint-Saëns 'organ' symphony, and the Barber and Korngold violin concertos. There's something about watching the highlands go past while listening to such a soundtrack that beats television hands down into the mud every time.

3) Interviewing final year students for the Relay programme - hearing them testify to God's work in their lives, in building character, teaching them his truth, and using them in serving his Church. Joy.

4) Meeting my current Relay worker, considering the humility part of "Humble Orthodoxy" with a talk from Nathan Smith. "Pride is seeking to ungod God." (Thomas Watson)

5) Good Friday with church, swimming in the grace of the cross. The privilege of leading cross-centred worship from the piano in the morning, and serving similarly in outreach services in residential homes in the afternoon. I love doing services in residential homes: these dear people need Christ so much, are mostly only too thrilled to come to a service and talk about the gospel, and yet so few seem to reach out to them.

6) Enjoying the cross with help from Mike Reeves, courtesy of theologynetwork.org

7) Surprising a friend in church with a 50th birthday party this evening - fun!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

What are we waiting for?

"Waiting for glory." That's what my msn tagline currently reads. It's what Romans 8 would have us know - even as we have glory now in freedom as God's sons, yet we wait - through suffering now - for glory to be revealed to us, which is beyond comparison with the present suffering.

Yet as I read the recent Paternoster book, What are we waiting for?, I got the impression that we aren't waiting for very much. What is ahead, we're not sure of, and anyway, it's mostly already in the here & now so that's what we should work at. I'm grateful to Authentic for the free copy, and I applaud the aim of the editors to replace the default Left Behind popular eschatology with something better than an 'embarassed silence'. My own grandfather did such a thing in his own generation, which has been very influential ever since. But on an admittedly quick read, I was disappointed by the variety between chapters. The impression I had was that, sitting down for a good, many-course meal, I'd been fed some good food and some Spam. Interesting discussion is good, but I'd rather the sheep were fed.

Some of the chapters are notably good, such as Krish Kandiah on escatology and pop culture, and Tim Chester's Eschatology and mission. Others seemed to emphasise the now so much I'm really not sure what we're waiting for. We should indeed seek to further the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, to care for others and the rest of God's creation, as Christ has inaugurated the new heavens and new earth. But what hope do we offer to the dying thief on the cross? Or the terminally ill cancer patient? Or the Christian thrown in jail in Azerbijan for having a Bible in his home?

It's all very well to have healthy conversation - something which this publisher seeks to encourage by being broad in its theological range. But for love of the Church, let's be very careful not to gut our future hope - for some, it is not merely a different way of saying, 'our present kingdom-work', but is all they live and die for. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen, eternal.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Swim against the tide of fun

"Have fun!" I've often used that as a well-wishing comment. Seldom seriously meant it: more often I've meant, "I hope what you're heading to will be helpful, or enjoyable, or even painful but good for you in the long run." But I've said, "Have fun!"

Our culture militates against taking life seriously. It's one of the serious crimes against British sensibility (cf. Watching the English) - to appear too serious, too much in earnest. People start squirming, a little embarassed, feeling that such enthusiasm for things of import should be locked up somewhere. We know too much to be engagedly committed to ideals. To spend time and effort taking life seriously. We know that our ideals are broken, our previous idols smashed, or philosophies found wanting, our religion dead. We know that our lives are meaningless, our history bunk, our politics mindless and our character predetermined by biological, social and economic factors. We're either patronisingly amused or admiringly puzzled by American political zeal. We know from our neighbours that plus ça change... So we take up with the rest, in mind-numbing media, utilitarian education, and short-fix comfort government, to fill our ears, eyes, bodies and hearts with light relief.

I've found myself recently, when home tired at the end of the day, relaxing to the sound of BBC 7 repeats of radio comedy taking the Mick out of the news, while playing Minesweeper. Light relief. Satirising events in the news may help take life less seriously, but I don't think that's our main problem. Certainly my problem, tuned in to radio satire while numbing my tired mind at the end of a day, is not that I take the world or myself too seriously, but that I don't take God seriously enough.

Listening to better things this morning: Piper on Romans 2.6-10, from 1998 -

I feel such a burden for us as a church to swim against the tide of almost every current in our culture. More and more and more, America is a nation given over to play. The industries of play are huge! Houses are built today with entertainment centers. Computers and videos and television and stereo all coordinate to give us ever more stimulating and captivating distractions from the realities of the world. When we need to be dreaming, for the glory of Christ, about how to spend our lives alleviating ignorance and sickness and misery and lostness, we are becoming more and more addicted to amusement.

Make a little test of evangelical vocabulary, and calculate, for example, the increasing frequency with which we use the world "fun" to describe almost everything we like. But when do we describe our good experiences as "meaningful" or "significant" or "enriching" or "ennobling" or "worthwhile" or "edifying" or "helpful" or "strengthening" or "encouraging" or "deepening" or "transforming"
or "valuable" or "eye-opening" or "God-exalting"?

Examine yourself with this text: Whatever else it teaches, this is clear, it teaches that after death there is eternal life and glory and honor and peace, and there is eternal wrath and indignation and tribulation and distress. And in the twinkling of an eye, even before this service is over, you could be irreversibly in the one or the other. I am a watchman on the wall. And I have warned you as clearly as I know how. Get ready and stay ready.

Live in the light of eternity. And I do mean light, not shadow. When you have come to know your God, and love his Son so much that you can say, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain," then living in the light of eternity will replace your "fun" with deeper, higher, wider, longer, more unshakable, more varied, more satisfying, more durable, more solid pleasures than all the fun that entertainment could ever give. O come, and let us be a different breed of people for the few short years we have to live upon this earth! Dream some dream of making your life count for Christ and his Kingdom. "Only one life, 'twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last."

I mean to swim against the tide of fun. Not that I won't be amused by satire. Not that I won't enjoy life to the full. But precisely because I will enjoy life to the full, knowing that under God, life is serious. Enjoying God, I suspect that life (true life) is enjoyably serious, and ultimately seriously enjoyable.