Friday, 29 May 2009

Creation regained

I've enjoyed reading Wolters' Creation Regained in our staff study programme. It's a great call to a reformation wordview, rather than an all-too-gnostic division of world into sacred and secular. He helpfully gives categories of structure and direction, with which to analyse - structure is what we might think of as substance, material (whether physical or not); direction is essentially how it's used or acted upon - in conformity to God's good creation or in a distortion or perversion of it? This thinking prevents us from throwing good babies out with bad bathwater, or from drinking dirty bathwater just because sometimes it's useful for cleaning babies.

However there seemed to me to be a drawback with the book - a looming absence. It might have been because of the subject material, but God seemed rather distant. Impersonal. His power acts in Jesus Christ by the Spirit to transform the world. He's Trinitarian in formula: "God is renewing the creation and the whole of human life in the work of Jesus Christ by the Spirit." Yet somehow this comes across as impersonal. It's a project to renew creation and human life. To this end Jesus defeats sin and evil in his death and resurrection. But what about, "Eternal life is to know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent"?

There is a problem when salvation is reduced to the realm of personal communion with God, and our role as God's glory - his image-bearers, his vice-regent representatives of his rule over creation under him - is forgotten. But we mustn't neglect the place of personal reconciliation as well as cosmic: of not only restoring creation but knowing God as Father in Christ by the Spirit. God's Kingdom is not merely that God is renewing the creation and the whole of human life in the work of Jesus Christ by the Spirit. The good news of God's kingdom includes the announcement of how one may take part in this kingdom in repentence and faith - i.e., how this kingdom's arrival is indeed good news for you! And that involves the Trinity covenanting together to call and provide a way for us to come to Himself. And it centres on a cross and empty tomb. Not merely a place of victory over evil, but a victory over evil because it is place of satisfaction of God's justice, of taking of his curse on creation on himself, so that we who were once not only failed-caretakers but hostile are reconciled by his blood.

I'm not writing off the book for that - on the contrary, it's a clear and persuasive introduction to its stated topic. But when the authors have taken the opportunity of a second edition to write a postscript describing the gospel more broadly than their remit, it was disappointing that they didn't bring in this glorious personal aspect, indispensible for their topic.

Perhaps I'm being unfair, on a first reading. It got me thinking, though, of this null hypothetical: Say you had reformed all of life - church, family, politics, business, art, education, journalism, thought, emotion, plants and animals, inanimate matter - in a Godward direction, so that, by God's power in the work of Christ by the Spirit, it was as it should be in God's good creation. And you did not know the Father in Christ. Would you be happy? Would you have fulfilled the gospel? The kingdom? (It's an impossible hypothesis, of course, but perhaps worth pondering.)

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


Jesus is not just good.

Many things are good. All good things are what God has given us to enjoy, and give Him thanks. We're not to disparage God's good gifts as if they're inherently bad - art, science, education, sport, music, family, business, emotions, reasoning, creation, ... . We may pervert them in using them in the wrong direction, selfishly rather than lovingly. But they are good.

And Jesus is good: he is the supreme good, the pinacle of God's gifts, as in the Man Jesus, God gives us Himself.

Jesus is not just good: he is better.
Get that equation wrong, that comparison wrong, and you run counter to the reality of the world he created and sustains.

Jesus is not just good: he is better.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Don't tell people what to do!

I met a lady today and tried to invite her to a Priceless event. She replied that she goes to church. I asked her what it means to her. She proceeded to tell me off rather forcefully, saying that religion was a private matter, and that I should never tell anyone else about it because that was to force it on them. It was horribly wrong to do more than inform someone of church and let them be. I suggested with a smile that if I didn't tell anyone of the priceless treasure I'd found Jesus to be, it would be horribly selfish of me.

The lady disagreed - apparently, it is selfish not to let people continue with what they each privately believe. Going to church is the important thing, after all. (I'll tell that to my doctor friends - you each have your private convictions about a person's diagnosis and cure, but don't selfishly tell anyone! Keep them to yourself. The important thing is that they're attending a surgery.)

Now this lady told me in no uncertain terms, with increasing volume and repetition, that I must go to Taize. I absolutely must experience Taize. It seemed that at Taize I would be enlightened of my bullish insistence of sharing with others the joy of knowing God in Christ. I said I knew something of Taize worship experience, and found that whatever the style and experience, the Bible says that Jesus is all we need - He is our wisdom, our goodness from God, our increasing goodness lived out... She interrupted loudly: You must go to Taize. There they tell you not to go around doing this: not to go around telling people what to do!

There are moments when irony turns on a light and sadly, you see the blindness.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Come messy

“Jesus does not say, ‘Come to me, all you who have learned how to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you rest.’ No, Jesus opens his arms to his needy children and says, ‘Come to me, all who are weary and heaven-laden, and I will give you rest.’

The criteria for coming to Jesus is messiness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.”

—Paul Miller, A Praying Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress 2009), 31-32

[HT: Of First Importance]

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Meanwhile, elsewhere in blogsville

...Martin Downes called us back to the coffee table with a great topic - Whatever happened to The Angel of the LORD? The conversation's warm, the Bibles are open (= easily perused with the help of an ESV-linked firefox plugin!) the coffee in my part of the conversation is cafedirect Palenque Mexico blend with speculos biscuits, and while we whizzed round a bit of Blackham/Goldsworthy debate, we seem to have identified two questions as summarised by Dan:
(i) whether the Word appears and exercises ministry in the OT, and (ii) to what extent the OT saints knew who he was and knew the gospel as we do.
I don't see how (i) is avoidable given what the text ascribes to The Angel of the LORD (TAOTL) - he speaks on behalf of the LORD (could be an angel), receives worship of the LORD (hmm), and the text one moment calls him TAOTL and the next, the LORD. I'm not so concerned with (ii) - given the promises of God, the OT saints knew enough to trust in Him to redeem and rule personally, whether different amounts at different times in history. After all, even now since we do not know exhaustively, we do not comprehend God - but as He has exhaustive knowledge and has revealed, we may nevertheless apprehend God in truth. This is a handy distinction John Owen made, apparently. It seems there's the whole Blackham/Goldsworthy debate behind this though. Coffee, anyone?

...and elsewhere, I've abused blogger to form a rather rough website for my church's Priceless week of events in a week's time. Him we proclaim is indeed priceless, and to hear Him is beyond price:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. ...

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. [From Hebrews 1-2]

Friday, 15 May 2009

Trueman on Owen

Tramping the streets of Bournville this evening to deliver evangelistic church newsletters, I had as a soundtrack a series of 5 lectures on John Owen, by Carl Trueman. Definitely made the evening pass more interestingly and I recommend them to anyone interested in the man, the theology, or his times.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

I was the plant

I was the plant. Usually, they wouldn't let me into the meetings. I was an outsider. Worse than that, I was unfit, there was no way people wanted me around. Maybe God had seen that I'd be a sinner, that I'd resent it. This useless claw of a hand. I can't work - I've tried, believe me! I mean, I can do some small tasks: I'm not complaining - I know people worse off, who have to beg by the gate of the synagogue. But I shouldn't go inside. It's not technically forbidden, I know, but I must be a bad sinner to have this happen to me, so no-one wants me around. I sometimes have thought, secretly thought, that perhaps God doesn't mind - after all, didn't He say that He didn't choose us because we were greater than other nations, so perhaps he might also bless someone weak, and foolish, and even sinful as I am. But they say that is blasphemy, so I must repent: who am I to think on the Scriptures when they know them by heart? And yet I hope... But hope is dangerous.

I've heard of this teacher, this Jesus. He's a northerner, they say - comes from Nazareth, which is a bit strange if you ask me. I mean, you don't get teachers and holy men from round there - you get, labourers, and, well, guys like me. Stands to reason they don't like him. But they say he heals... But hope is dangerous.

I'm their plant, you see. I knew it - what they were doing, but forgive me, Lord, I just wanted it too badly. I knew he could heal me, that he was from God! Or at least, I'm not sure I knew, but they said, and... I hoped. I'm sorry, hope is dangerous. I didn't want to get him in trouble.

They don't like him healing on the Sabbath. He seems to heal not just to care for people - though they say he does care for people - but he uses every opportunity to wind Them up! I don't understand what he's doing, this Jesus. The other day - I heard the other day... but you never can quite trust what you hear. Except I heard from an old friend and he would never make something up like that - he knows how much it would mean to me, he knows, well, that hope is dangerous. And he said that this paralysed begger had been brought to Jesus, and he said his sins were forgiven! So when they dragged me into the meeting, I knew I was their plant. But I hoped, oh I hoped that someone who forgave sin might forgive mine - even the set-up! And might heal me. I'm sorry. But hope is dangerous.

So I was there - they'd even made me sit in full view, up front where I should never be. And Jesus was teaching. He taught the Scriptures like... like he wrote them himself, he knew them so well, and preached so clearly, not like he was just repeating them, but not like he was adding to them either - it was like he was the Scriptures just breathing them out there and then! But that's blasphemy, I think. I'm not sure: his authority is over my head. Not that I was taking in much, mind - I was all over the place, so scared, for me, for him; but hopeful. He saw me and knew. He could see them watching. So in the middle of his teaching, he turned to me - that was a shock even though I expected it - I was so into what he'd been saying! He told me to come and stand up there, and I was waiting for the rebuke: he sounded a bit angry. I'd nothing to lose - it's not as if chucking me out of the meeting would make a difference. But I didn't want to offend him. He's different. So I was hoping.

And then - this was brilliant - he just said to them, "
I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?" And he just looked round at them all, and then turned to me again, and I wanted to say, "I'm sorry, I know I'm a plant and that's rotten but they kind of made me and I shouldn't even be here, and you know I'm such a sinner, but maybe, just maybe, forgive me?" But he didn't give me a chance. Maybe he knew it. He just said, "Stretch out your hand." And that was strange - that was the problem! I hadn't done that for as long as I can remember! But the funny thing was then, I didn't even give it a second thought. I just obeyed. And it happened! My hand was whole, and working - the muscles, I pulled my fingers in and out and it was strong just like my other! But his grin at me was better - almost, almost like he knew I'd hoped even though it would get him in trouble, and as though he liked that I'd hoped.

I thought they'd want to chuck me out officially, but when it came to it they were so angry they were too busy plotting what to do with Jesus so they forgot about me. And anyway, who needs a place to meet God when you've got Jesus? But maybe that's blasphemy... I don't know. I'm off with him now, anyway!

[Reflecting on Luke 5-6.11]

Saturday, 9 May 2009

What will you do with a speaking God?

It's been noted by many before, but as I listened to Luke while getting up today it struck me again and I laughed:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea,
and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,

during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. [Luke 3.1-2, ESV]
Luke is a careful historian - he lists the emperor, the Roman governor, the 3 other regional puppet kings in Israel (showing in what a mess the kingship of Israel!), the 2 high priests (showing something dodgy's going on in the priesthood!), and ignoring them all, as if totally irrelevant, the Word of God came... to a bloke called John, born to thus-far-barren elderly parents, who was in charge of that thriving metropolis... ah, no, he's hanging out in the wilderness. Love it!

But this isn't just a communist manifesto of power to the ordinary people! This tramp guy knows what to do with the word of the Lord. It's not a matter of political power, nor a matter of adding to the priestly regulations. This is a gracious word, an opportunity to be reconciled to God, and the desert tramp knows he must spread the word. We read on:
And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
How did he know what to do? I'm sure he'd been studying God's word already given, written in the Scriptures:
As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the LORD,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

What would you do if God spoke to you? Not Barack Obama, not a famous star, not an MP, not a minister of religion, but ordinary you? Maybe through an angel or something...

But hang on a minute! That's just what God has done: spoken to you.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. [Heb 1]
What will you do with what God has spoken to you? It could be dangerous to ignore God who speaks. But exciting to respond - to an undeserved, un-asked for word of reconciliation with the living God!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Too good to be true?

God is good. He's good to us in a small way by giving us a pattern of Sabbath rests, celebrating His gracious provision to us and trusting in it in future, looking forward to future rest with Him. As for Sundays, celebrating the resurrection life of Christ which has won this Rest for us, meeting with other Christ-ians: wonderful. But as my Sunday was rather packed (with such things!) this week, I enjoyed the Bank holiday as an extra opportunity to remember and receive God's goodness.

Spending time with friends, in the lovely spacious grounds of Ragley Hall complete with assault course, picnicing in the Great British weather(!), being bad at frisbee and throwing (like a girl of course!) some whistling bomb-like thing, grabbing a pub tea with friends and orchestra rehearsal enjoying Sibelius 1st symphony (and being appointed as co-leader for our 2nd concert this season, gulp). I know these things are small, ordinary kind of things, but in a world rebelling against its creator and sustainer, when my heart is so cold to the reality of God's goodness, no goodness I receive is 'ordinary'! I will give thanks for these things and declare God's extraordinary goodness to me!

Paul Tripp has a wonderful reflection here on Ps.73: "Surely God is good to Israel,..." May the busyness and business of day to day life never drown out that most tremendous truth.