Thursday, 22 December 2011

Not like Santa's grotto

A God like Santa? Church like Santa's grotto, then - full of hardworking slaves who keep themselves to themselves and dish out the rewards or punishments? Au contraire:

To follow a God who came down to a village, and into a womb, to draw our stinking selves to himself... leads to practices such as Eddie Arthur describes in the Guardian. Nice one, Eddie!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

God, deliver us from Santa!

He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake.
He knows when you've been bad or good...
Santa Claus is coming to town!

I don't know who made up this moralistic scary threat, and I don't care. But it worries me that so many assume that this is a Christian Christmas message. "If you don’t like God, I think I know why… You probably think He’s St Nick in the Sky."

Glen Scrivener has written a witty ditty on the subject, definitely worth a read even in this busy time:
They say there’s a big man who lives far away,
Supposedly jolly but it’s hard to say.
I’ve never seen him, and neither have you.
But the children believe, ... [
continue reading.]
Thanks, Glen! 

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Oprah, Christianity, Quakers, the M People

Spot the odd one out: Oprah, Christianity, The Religious Society of Friends, the M People.
'Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within you. ... Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment ad enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognised an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.' - G.K.Chesteron, Orthodoxy
In contrast, the name by which every Christian must be called is 'The LORD is our righteousness.' (Jeremiah 23.6)

[Quoted in The Good News We Almost Forgot, DeYoung]

Sunday, 2 October 2011

He sends out his word

and melts them. [Ps.147]

I've been ruminating on the start of Jeremiah. God has determined the rise of the nations to the north of Israel, that they should lay siege to Jerusalem, and tear the nation to pieces. How does he accomplish this? Clearly he's sovereign over armies. The Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he wishes. He could inspire a foreign metalworker to forge a stronger alloy for superior weaponry. He could stir up the ambition of a commander, to lead his troops to take the fortress of Jerusalem. He could give the leaders of Israel over to their stupidity, that they reveal their weakness to their old slave-masters, Egypt, hoping for an alliance. He could leave the common man so given to their pride that they don't defend the country adequately. He may have done all these things. But what he told us he was doing was this: He gave a young man a message to preach, and watched over his word to bring it about. 
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”
God chooses to act, he sends forth his word, in the form of a servant, and accomplishes it. Amen! 

Saturday, 1 October 2011

'Nothing to complain about'

Often, reading voices from the past can help our balance of perspective. Do you wonder, when you read a novel or autobiography from previous centuries, what those authors would make of our contemporary lives and culture?

For one perspective, wonder no more. Mr Grzebski has woken up after 19 years in a coma, and speaks with the voice of the past viewing the present, as it were:
"What amazes me today is all these people who walk around with their mobile phones and never stop moaning," said Mr Grzebski.

"I've got nothing to complain about."
Read the whole story here, or watch it here.  

There's nothing new under the sun, of course. 
Freed from slavery in Egypt, '...the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”' [Numbers 11.4-6]

There's plenty in the world about which to be concerned, before Jesus comes back. There is enough frustration and decay for us to long for the hope of glory. There is death and suffering enough to remind us of Jesus' weeping at his friend's tomb, and his victory over death - for us. But while we may lament, and groan under frustration, and weep with friends, and fight corruption... in many ways, Mr Grzebski is right. 'I have nothing to complain about.'

Monday, 5 September 2011

Interrupting normal service

To bring you some news from the étrange life of Grier - a slight explanation of the reduced frequency of blog posts of late. Delighted to announce that I'm engaged to be married to Chris Statter. Chris works for Birmingham City Mission and comes from Manchester (via Oxford). 

Chris dropped to his knees and proposed during a game of Poohsticks in Belvoir forest park in Belfast! We're thankful to our Father in heaven and pray he'd fill us with his Spirit to show the glories of his grace to us in Christ Jesus, in and through our engagement and future marriage.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Deceptive stories

Being realistic is not opposed to taking flights of fancy. Which is why fairy stories and fantasy aren't a bad thing for children (or, I dare say, for adults).
C S Lewis: ...what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me: the school stories did. All stories in which children have adventures and successes which are possible, in the sense that they do not break the laws of nature, but almost infinitely improbable, are in more danger than the fairy tales of raising false expectations.
Which says, more eloquently than I, what I was trying to express in Fairy Tales and myth. And gives some indication of why I much prefer telling kids stories of dragons and wild things, than reading stories of children going to school.

An excellent creative writer, N D Wilson, is quoted by his father (also a writer!) on these things, on Justin Taylor's blog here. Well worth the read. Wilson's Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World is excellent to enjoy in morsels - a lot at one time could leave your head spinning!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Don't make me rich!

In a society of rich and poor, and a huge sense of entitlement, can we cope with the level of riches we have? That is, not 'Can you live within your means?' but 'Can you have what you have without greed, covetousness, discontent or pride in possessions?' 

'Society has let them down.' That doesn't excuse us our sin - pride that our lives are morally superior, our covetousness for the slightly better thing, our mistaking comfort for contentment. 

Sometimes, we can be like a film star, with all the money, fine clothes and food, friends and loving family, and satisfying work we could want, gazing at TV footage of looters. 'I thank you, God, that I am not like other men: violent, robbers, greedy, unloving. I only do decent films and do lots of charity functions.' 

As I search for a job, aware of the impossibility of living off Job Seeker's Allowance, it's easy to put hope in a future salary. I would love to be able to support others more in missionary work. But also, realistically, as the inspired heart-doctor James wrote, 'even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong - you want only what will give you pleasure.' 
'But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires.'
So in an excellent reflection on the recent spates of looting in English cities (Looters: them or us?), Mike Ovey reminds us of the (difficult) prayer of the Wise:
Give me neither poverty nor riches!
Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, "Who is the Lord?"
And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. [Proverbs 30:8-9 NLT]
Can we truly pray that? 'Lord, please keep me from being more rich than I can cope with. Keep me poor enough to rely on you and love others.'
'So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honour.'

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Flames upon their head - Mythopoeia 5

Continued, Tolkien to Lewis, 1931. [Parts 1, 2, 3, 4]
In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
Then looking on the Blessed Land 'twill see
that all is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.
Evil it will not see, for evil lies
not in God's picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice.
In Paradise they look no more awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie.
Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
and poets shall have flames upon their head,
and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:
there each shall choose for ever from the All.

Friday, 29 July 2011

John Stott with his incomparable Christ

Post updated 29 July: 
Obits worth reading, in all major UK press - BBC online here; Independent here; Telegraph here; Guardian here; Times also posted but behind a pay-to-view wall.

[27 July]
Dr John R W Stott died this afternoon, surrounded by friends, listening to Handel's Messiah having just heard 2 Timothy read. What glory and joy for him to be face to face with the Christ he loved, served and preached for so long, and hear the words, 'Well done, good and faithful servant: enter into the joy of your Master.' What loss for us.

It is hard to imagine a British evangelical church scene without John Stott. In fact, such was his influence - not colonial, but as a humble servant - that it is hard to imagine the international setting without Uncle John's testimony to Jesus Christ and all his teachings. Yet he was faithful in passing the baton to others, as he was faithful in stewarding talents and starting or developing such ministries: The Lausanne Movement (initiated by Billy Graham, with JRWS bringing a theological unifying factor), Langham Partnership International, IFES, the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and All Souls Langham Place - all continue with ministries under the leadership of men he encouraged. 

His books continue to speak of his Christ: from Basic Christianity, the means of leading so many to faith in Christ, through his magnum opus, The Cross of Christ, to his final word: The Radical Disciple.

Tributes are everywhere - there's a memorial site on which you can share,, and from All Souls, Lausanne, Christianity Today, Justin Taylor at the Gospel Coalition, Derek Thomas at Ref21... Look out for obits in the broadsheets, to honour this servant, and we pray, lead many to worship his Lord and Saviour. 

I will not walk with your progressive apes - Mythopoeia 4

Continued [part 1, 2 & 3], by J R R Tolkein, to C S Lewis, 1931.
I would that I might with the minstrels sing
and stir the unseen with a throbbing string.
I would be with the mariners of the deep
that cut their slender planks on mountains steep
and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest,
for some have passed beyond the fabled West.
I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.

I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God's mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker's art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.
To be continued...

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Blessed are the legend-makers - Mythopoeia 3

Continued from Mythopoeia 1 and 2 'And still recalls him'; by J R R Tolkien, to CSL in 1931. 
Yes! 'wish-fulfilment dreams' we spin to cheat

our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream,
or some things fair and others ugly deem?
All wishes are not idle, nor in vain
fulfilment we devise - for pain is pain,
not for itself to be desired, but ill;
or else to strive or to subdue the will
alike were graceless; and of Evil this
alone is deadly certain: Evil is.

Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bate, upon a clumsy loom
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow's sway.

Blessed are the men of Noah's race that build
their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).
Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,
and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

'And still recalls him' - Mythopoeia 2

Continued from part 1 - Mythopoeia, by J R R Tolkien...

He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jewelled tent
myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,
unless the mother's womb whence all have birth.
The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, 'twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we're made.
[Paragraphs mine.] To be continued...

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


While I was pondering the value of fairy tales, I met several parents who didn't seem to value them for their children. I recalled that growing up, the fiction shelves in the library started to fill with realistic books. Stories of broken families, of grumbling teenagers, of children like me. But I didn't want to read of children like me, and a plain messy world. I knew that people were sinful and the world subject to frustration. 

As a child, I wanted to read of greater possibilities, to call me out of myself. Not escapism, but words of power to call me on to glory, beauty, faithfulness, hope and love. To know, meeting those things in another broken world, that they might yet be my portion in this world. Fairly tales, myth and legend are timeless, and therefore always relevant. The story of teenagers trying to whine their way through the mundane of school life, well, I didn't need someone to write to me about that. 

Now C S Lewis was on a pursuit of glory, of joy. Surprised to find it in Christ, he turned against the myths which had so fascinated him before. In 1931, he argued about this with his friend Tolkien, who wrote a poem in response, 'To one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though 'breathed through silver'.' It's quite an astonishing read - although, we don't know if Lewis embraced the views Tolkien tackled, or if his friend was showing him his opinions pushed to logical extreme. 

Philomythus to Misomythus

You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are 'trees', and growing is 'to grow');
you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace
one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star's a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain.

At bidding of a Will, to which we bend
(and must), but only dimly apprehend,
great processes march on, as Time unrolls
from dark beginnings to uncertain goals;
and as on page o'er-written without clue,
with script and limning packed of various hue,
an endless multitude of forms appear,
some grim, some frail, some beautiful, some queer,
each alien, except as kin from one
remote Origo, gnat, man, stone, and sun.
God made the petreous rocks, the arboreal trees,
tellurian earth, and stellar stars, and these
homuncular men, who walk upon the ground
with nerves that tingle touched by light and sound.
The movements of the sea, the wind in boughs,
green grass, the large slow oddity of cows,
thunder and lightning, birds that wheel and cry,
slime crawling up from mud to live and die,
these each are duly registered and print
the brain's contortions with a separate dint.
Yet trees are not 'trees', until so named and seen
and never were so named, till those had been
who speech's involuted breath unfurled,
faint echo and dim picture of the world,
but neither record nor a photograph,
being divination, judgement, and a laugh
response of those that felt astir within
by deep monition movements that were kin
to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars:
free captives undermining shadowy bars,
digging the foreknown from experience
and panning the vein of spirit out of sense.
Great powers they slowly brought out of themselves
and looking backward they beheld the elves
that wrought on cunning forges in the mind,
and light and dark on secret looms entwined.
 To  be continued tomorrow...

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Cape Town 2010

What was Cape Town 2010? Does it have any lasting impact? What about The Lausanne Movement? An excellent 14 minute documentary gives a glimpse into the Congress - well worth watching:

Order a copy of The Cape Town Commitment here, or find it in other languages at

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Whole of life as... premarital counselling

There's a strange phenomenon around: people being engaged for ... 5, 10+ years. No wedding in sight, apparently. Now, whatever the sociological reasons for that, it's not unlike a lot of us Christians live. We're engaged, but sort of forgetful that we've a wedding ahead - we live as if we're not planning or looking forward to anything.

In these very helpful paragraphs, from 'Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands', Paul Tripp explains that the only way to go through life properly is to understand we are engaged:
Keeping the final destination in view is the only way to solve the problems of today. ... Paul captures this principle of 'long view living' in 2 Corinthians 11:1-3.
I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Paul understands the Christian life eschatologically. This means that today is preparation for tomorrow, and tomorrow is preparation for something else to come. Paul is saying, 'I know I have hovered over you, but you need to understand why. I am afraid that you will forget who you are and to whom you have been promised.' To Paul, the only way to go through life properly is to understand that we are engaged. We have been betrothed to Christ, and our life now is preparation for the great wedding to come.

The difficulties now, the suffering now, the disappointments now, and hte blessings now are all preparation fo the wedding then. Our experiences today do not reflect God's inattention or unfaithfulness, but his jealous love. He is exposing our wandering hearts and foolish minds and the ways we trust our passions more than the principles of his Word. He is calling us to forsake our own glory for his, and teaching us that the idols we pursue will never satisfy us. He is making us wise to temptation and aware of a lurking enemy. He is teaching us to live for treasures that moth and rust can't destroy and that thieves can't steal. He is teaching us what it means to live in a way that recognises our identity as his children. He is teaching us to live open, approachable, and humble lives.

In other words, your whole life is premarital counselling! You belong to a groom whose name is Immanuel, and God is preparing you for the wedding for which you were created and redeemed. Everything you face today is premarital preparation - living now with then in view.

In contrast, sin produces in all of us a tendency toward 'now-ism,' which means we forget three things: who we are (betrothed to Christ); what he is doing now (preparing us for the final wedding); and what we are supposed to be doing (remaining faithful to him). When we focus only on what we want now, we fail to solve our problems and we also cause more difficulties. A common factor in depression is self-absorbed now-ism. Anger is often fuelled by a self-righteous now-ism. Fear and anxiety are strengthened by an obsession with the here and now. Maturity and perseverance are weakened by a 'now' mentality.

Teaching others how to solve now problems with then in view is one of the most important things we can do, because it is not something we sinners do well on our own. We tend to be short-sighted and self-absorbed. We forget that God's primary goal is not changing our situations and relationships so that we can be happy, but changing us through our situations and relationships so that we will be holy. We need people who love God and us enough to come alongside and help us deal with our spiritual myopia.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Fairy tales

I'm in love with fairy tales. [Not like this - but I couldn't resist.] No, C S Lewis and others taught me to delight in fairy tales, and not think it childish. In fact, it often seems more serious. Here's an article with brilliant quotes from Lewis - on 'Three Objections to Fairy Tales and C S Lewis' response' from a series, 'Live like a Narnian'.

Monday, 4 July 2011

To Chad

If you're interested in things Africa, or medical, or the gospel, or all three, check out my sister's blog

I'm rather glad she's started blogging, as she's off to Chad for the next several years.

Friday, 1 July 2011


When I lived in Brussels, we bemoaned the fact that the IFES Interaction teams in Paris and Nice seemed to fill up before the Brussels team - couldn't imagine why. Well, the current Paris team have gone some way to explaining it, in a rather arty way. (I have to appreciate the skills of some ex-Relay worker friends!) Not that what they say about Paris is substantially different to Brussels...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

5. We love God the Holy Spirit

One would sometimes think that God the Holy Spirit is a spirit of controversy. After all, what would spark your interest to read something on the Holy Spirit? A post entitled, 'Famous speaker sparks controversy over spiritual gifts!' or 'We love God the Holy Spirit'? Well, you're reading this, so let's take that as a sign that we're not all entirely Corinthian. And on to this lovely expression of faith in God the Holy Spirit, from Part I 5 of the Cape Town Commitment.

5. We love God the Holy Spirit

We love the Holy Spirit within the unity of the Trinity, along with God the Father and God the Son. He is the missionary Spirit sent by the missionary Father and the missionary Son, breathing life and power into God’s missionary Church. We love and pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit because without the witness of the Spirit to Christ, our own witness is futile. Without the convicting work of the Spirit, our preaching is in vain. Without the gifts, guidance and power of the Spirit, our mission is mere human effort. And without the fruit of the Spirit, our unattractive lives cannot reflect the beauty of the gospel.
    a. In the Old Testament we see the Spirit of God active in creation, in works of liberation and justice, and in filling and empowering people for every kind of service. Spirit-filled prophets looked forward to the coming King and Servant, whose Person and work would be endowed with God’s Spirit. Prophets also looked to the coming age that would be marked by the outpouring of God’s Spirit, bringing new life, fresh obedience, and prophetic gifting to all the people of God, young and old, men and women.[1]
    b. At Pentecost God poured out his Holy Spirit as promised by the prophets and by Jesus. The sanctifying Spirit produces his fruit in the lives of believers, and the first fruit is always love. The Spirit fills the Church with his gifts, which we 'eagerly desire' as the indispensable equipment for Christian service. The Spirit gives us power for mission and for the great variety of works of service. The Spirit enables us to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel, to discern the truth, to pray effectively and to prevail over the forces of darkness. The Spirit inspires and accompanies our worship. The Spirit strengthens and comforts disciples who are persecuted or on trial for their witness to Christ.[2]
    c. Our engagement in mission, then, is pointless and fruitless without the presence, guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. This is true of mission in all its dimensions: evangelism, bearing witness to the truth, discipling, peace-making, social engagement, ethical transformation, caring for creation, overcoming evil powers, casting out demonic spirits, healing the sick, suffering and enduring under persecution. All we do in the name of Christ must be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The New Testament makes this clear in the life of the early Church and the teaching of the apostles. It is being demonstrated today in the fruitfulness and growth of Churches where Jesus' followers act confidently in the power of the Holy Spirit, with dependence and expectation.
There is no true or whole gospel, and no authentic biblical mission, without the Person, work and power of the Holy Spirit. We pray for a greater awakening to this biblical truth, and for its experience to be reality in all parts of the worldwide body of Christ. However, we are aware of the many abuses that masquerade under the name of the Holy Spirit, the many ways in which all kinds of phenomena are practised and praised which are not the gifts of the Holy Spirit as clearly taught in the New Testament. There is great need for more profound discernment, for clear warnings against delusion, for the exposure of fraudulent and self-serving manipulators who abuse spiritual power for their own ungodly enrichment. Above all there is a great need for sustained biblical teaching and preaching, soaked in humble prayer, that will equip ordinary believers to understand and rejoice in the true gospel and to recognize and reject false gospels.

[1] Genesis 1:1-2; Psalm 104:27-30; Job 33:4; Exodus 35:30-36:1; Judges 3:10; 6:34; 13:25; Numbers 11:16-17, 29; Isaiah 63:11-14; 2 Peter 1:20-21; Micah 3:8; Nehemiah 9:20, 30; Zechariah 7:7-12; Isaiah 11:1-5; 42:1-7; 61:1-3; 32:15-18; Ezekiel 36:25-27; 37:1-14; Joel 2:28-32

[2] Acts 2; Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Peter 1:2; Ephesians 4:3-6; 11-12; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Corinthians 14:1; John 20:21-22; 14:16-17, 25-26; 16:12-15; Romans 8:26-27; Ephesians 6:10-18; John 4:23-24; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 14:13-17; Matthew 10:17-20; Luke 21:15

The Cape Town Commitment can be purchased here. Lindsay Brown, presenting the Commitment to leaders in Boston, said that if he were teaching missiology in a Bible College or seminary, this would be his textbook for the year - there's enough in it, despite its slim size and accessibility!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

4. We love God the Son

Continuing with The Cape Town Commitment - on this Lord's Day:

God commanded Israel to love the LORD God with exclusive loyalty. Likewise for us, loving the Lord Jesus Christ means that we steadfastly affirm that he alone is Saviour, Lord and God. The Bible teaches that Jesus performs the same sovereign actions as God alone. Christ is Creator of the universe, Ruler of history, Judge of all nations and Saviour of all who turn to God.[14] He shares the identity of God in the divine equality and unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just as God called Israel to love him in covenantal faith, obedience and servant-witness, we affirm our love for Jesus Christ by trusting in him, obeying him, and making him known.

A    We trust in Christ. We believe the testimony of the Gospels that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the one appointed and sent by God to fulfil the unique mission of Old Testament Israel, that is to bring the blessing of God’s salvation to all nations, as God promised to Abraham.
  1. In Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, God took our human flesh and lived among us, fully God and fully human.
  2. In his life Jesus walked in perfect faithfulness and obedience to God. He announced and taught the kingdom of God, and modelled the way his disciples must live under God’s reign.
  3. In his ministry and miracles, Jesus announced and demonstrated the victory of the kingdom of God over evil and evil powers.
  4. In his death on the cross, Jesus took our sin upon himself in our place, bearing its full cost, penalty and shame, defeated death and the powers of evil, and accomplished the reconciliation and redemption of all creation.
  5. In his bodily resurrection, Jesus was vindicated and exalted by God, completed and demonstrated the full victory of the cross, and became the forerunner of redeemed humanity and restored creation.
  6. Since his ascension, Jesus is reigning as Lord over all history and creation.
  7. At his return, Jesus will execute God’s judgment, destroy Satan, evil and death, and establish the universal reign of God.
B    We obey Christ. Jesus calls us to discipleship, to take up our cross and follow him in the path of self-denial, servanthood and obedience. ‘If you love me, keep my commandments,’ he said. ‘Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I say?’ We are called to live as Christ lived and to love as Christ loved. To profess Christ while ignoring his commands is dangerous folly. Jesus warns us that many who claim his name with spectacular and miraculous ministries will find themselves disowned by him as evildoers.[15] We take heed to Christ’s warning, for none of us is immune to such fearful danger. 

C    We proclaim Christ. In Christ alone God has fully and finally revealed himself, and through Christ alone God has achieved salvation for the world. We therefore kneel as disciples at the feet of Jesus of Nazareth and say to him with Peter, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,’ and with Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God.’  Though we have not seen him, we love him. And we rejoice with hope as we long for the day of his return when we shall see him as he is. Until that day we join Peter and John in proclaiming that ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.’ [16]
We commit ourselves afresh to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching, in all the world, knowing that we can bear such witness only if we are living in obedience to his teaching ourselves. 

Friday, 17 June 2011

'See in it a chance to die'

Lord Crucified, O mark Thy holy cross
On motive, preference, all fond desires;
On that which self in any form inspires
Set Thou that sign of loss.

And when the touch of death is here and there
Laid on a thing most precious in our eyes
Let us not wonder, let us recognise
The answer to this prayer.
Amy Carmichael, of Northern Ireland / India

Or as Ajith Fernando of Sri Lanka wrote, in Embracing suffering in service:
The biblical model of community life is Jesus’ command to love one another as he loved us — that is, for members to die for other members (John 15:12-13). The model of Christian leadership is that of the Good Shepherd dying for the sheep (John 10:11-15). We don’t discard people when they have problems and cannot do their job properly. 
As the cross is a basic aspect of discipleship, the Church must train Christian leaders to expect pain and hardship. When this perspective enters our minds, then pain will not touch our joy and contentment in Christ.  

In a world whose idols are physical health, appearance and convenience, God may be calling Christians to demonstrate the glory of the gospel by being joyfully contented while enduring pain and hardship. People pursuing unsatisfying things may be astonished when they see Christians who are joyful and content after depriving themselves of these, for the sake of the gospel.
Patrick Fung, Singapore, director of OMF, in partnership - equilibrium vs diversity:
The cross is at the centre of reconciliation. The cross symbolises death in obedience to God. And therefore true biblical partnership requires of each of us something of a death to self. It may be death to our own ambition in order to see others succeed. It may be death to our own desire to be in key positions of influence or controlling power so that others can be in positions of leadership. It could be death to our own opinions or insisting on how ministries should be run, but trusting others to be used by God, for greater work. 
Having criticised the word equilibrium, I believe that we could have a new equilibrium, that is, a kingdom equilibrium which comes from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. When members of God’s community contribute sacrificially for the sake of the Kingdom. Equilibrium is possible, when there is submission to Jesus Christ, when there is submission to one another, and there is death to self.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

3. We love God the Father

From The Cape Town Commitment (part I), because we need a reminder:

Through Jesus Christ, God’s Son, - and through him alone as the way, the truth and the life - we come to know and love God as Father. As the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children, so we cry the words Jesus prayed, ‘Abba, Father’, and we pray the prayer Jesus taught, ‘Our Father’. Our love for Jesus, proved by obeying him, is met by the Father’s love for us as the Father and the Son make their home in us, in mutual giving and receiving of love.[10] This intimate relationship has deep biblical foundations.

A)    We love God as the Father of his people. Old Testament Israel knew God as Father, as the one who brought them into existence, carried them and disciplined them, called for their obedience, longed for their love, and exercised compassionate forgiveness and patient enduring love.[11] All these remain true for us as God’s people in Christ in our relationship with our Father God.

B)    We love God as the Father, who so loved the world that he gave his only Son for our salvation. How great the Father’s love for us that we should be called the children of God. How immeasurable the love of the Father who did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all. This love of the Father in giving the Son was mirrored by the self-giving love of the Son. There was complete harmony of will in the work of atonement that the Father and the Son accomplished at the cross, through the eternal Spirit. The Father loved the world and gave his Son; ‘the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.’ This unity of Father and Son, affirmed by Jesus himself, is echoed in Paul’s most repeated greeting of ‘grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins…according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’[12]

C)   We love God as the Father whose character we reflect and whose care we trust. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus repeatedly points to our heavenly Father as the model or focus for our action. We are to be peacemakers, as sons of God. We are to do good deeds, so that our Father receives the praise. We are to love our enemies in reflection of God’s Fatherly love. We are to practise our giving, praying and fasting for our Father’s eyes only. We are to forgive others as our Father forgives us. We are to have no anxiety but trust in our Father’s provision. With such behaviour flowing from Christian character, we do the will of our Father in heaven, within the kingdom of God.[13]

We confess that we have often neglected the truth of the Fatherhood of God and deprived ourselves of the riches of our relationship with him. We commit ourselves afresh to come to the Father through Jesus the Son: to receive and respond to his Fatherly love; to live in obedience under his Fatherly discipline; to reflect his Fatherly character in all our behaviour and attitudes; and to trust in his Fatherly provision in whatever circumstances he leads us.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Gospels = eye-witness accounts

If you're not sure, take a listen to this engaging and up-front lecture by Dr Pete Williams (Warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge).

Sunday, 12 June 2011

As the sun is full of light

O Holy Spirit,

As the sun is full of light,
the ocean full of water,
Heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of thee.
Vain are all divine purposes of love
and the redemption wrought by Jesus
except thou work within,
regenerating by thy power,
giving me eyes to see Jesus,
showing me the realities of the unseen world.

Give me thyself without measure,
as an unimpaired fountain,
an inexhaustible riches.
I bewail my coldness, poverty, emptiness,
imperfect vision, languid service,
prayerless prayers, praiseless praises.
Suffer me not to grieve or resist thee.

Come as power,
to expel every rebel lust, to reign supreme and keep me thine;
Come as teacher,
leading me into all truth, filling me with all understanding;

Come as love,
that I may adore the Father, and love him as my all;
Come as joy,
to dwell in me, move in me, animate me;
Come as light,
illuminating the Scripture, moulding me in its laws;

Come as sanctifier,
body, soul and spirit wholly thine;
Come as helper, 
with strength to bless and keep, directing my every step;
Come as beautifier,
bringing order out of confusion, loveliness out of chaos.

Magnify to me thy glory by being magnified in me,
and make me redolent of thy fragrance.

- Arthur Bennett, based on Puritan writings. The Valley of Vision

Friday, 10 June 2011

2 We love the living God

Continuing contemplation from The Cape Town Commitment - today's section is hard to hear:

2 We love the living God

Our God whom we love reveals himself in the Bible as the one, eternal, living God who governs all things according to his sovereign will and for his saving purpose. In the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God alone is the Creator, Ruler, Judge and Saviour of the world.[6] So we love God - thanking him for our place in creation, submitting to his sovereign providence, trusting in his justice, and praising him for the salvation he has accomplished for us.

A    We love God above all rivals. We are commanded to love and worship the living God alone. But like Old Testament Israel we allow our love for God to be adulterated by going after the gods of this world, the gods of the people around us.[7] We fall into syncretism, enticed by many idols such as greed, power and success, serving mammon rather than God. We accept dominant political and economic ideologies without biblical critique. We are tempted to compromise our belief in the uniqueness of Christ under the pressure of religious pluralism. Like Israel we need to hear the call of the prophets and of Jesus himself to repent, to forsake all such rivals, and to return to obedient love and worship of God alone.

B     We love God with passion for his glory. The greatest motivation for our mission is the same as that which drives the mission of God himself – that the one true living God should be known and glorified throughout his whole creation. That is God’s ultimate goal and should be our greatest joy.
‘If God desires every knee to bow to Jesus and every tongue to confess him, so should we. We should be “jealous” (as Scripture sometimes puts it) for the honour of his name -- troubled when it remains unknown, hurt when it is ignored, indignant when it is blasphemed, and all the time anxious and determined that it shall be given the honour and glory which are due to it. The highest of all missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God) but rather zeal -- burning and passionate zeal -- for the glory of Jesus Christ. … Before this supreme goal of the Christian mission, all unworthy motives wither and die.’[8]  John Stott
It should be our greatest grief that in our world the living God is not glorified. The living God is denied in aggressive atheism. The one true God is replaced or distorted in the practice of world religions. Our Lord Jesus Christ is abused and misrepresented in some popular cultures. And the face of the God of biblical revelation is obscured by Christian nominalism, syncretism and hypocrisy. 

Loving God in the midst of a world that rejects or distorts him, calls for bold but humble witness to our God; robust but gracious defence of the truth of the gospel of Christ, God’s Son; and prayerful trust in the convicting and convincing work of his Holy Spirit. We commit ourselves to such witness, for if we claim to love God we must share God’s greatest priority, which is that his name and his Word should be exalted above all things.[9]

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Captivating ideas

In the BBC's All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, Adam Curtis gives a persuasive interpretation of history, proposing that much of our current outlook and many of our contemporary problems, are caused by the general acceptance of fictional theories, as science. The first episode considered the impact of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged on global economy, with the grip of the idea of capitalistic progress through free trade regulated by selfishness - and the consequent collapse of markets. The second proposed that the idea of ecological systems was a fiction, born of Eugene P Odum's Fundamentals of Ecology, and applied to society - a flawed search for equilibrium. The third episode presented the question: Why do we find it compelling, to reduce ourselves to machines, equations and mechanics? Perhaps it is to avoid responsibility for the horrific crimes we have committed.

I certainly found the concepts of mathematics laughable. It seems thus:
I have/come across a philosophical / sociological idea about how people act in certain ways
I describe it in terms of mathematical equations
Conclusion: Science says why people act in certain ways
Ethical conclusion: We should act according to this model

Lesson to learn, please! Just because some sociological theory about how people act, can be described as a mathematical model, does not mean it is correct. And it certainly doesn't become scientific fact. Simply because there is a model for how a limited sample of people act, doesn't mean that we should universally pursue this mode of conduct.

Made in the image of a Triune God of love and grace, we should know that our selfishness would not produce general growth, because it was God's self-giving which produced the universe. Knowing that this world is cursed subject to futility, we should know that 'nature' and society do not tend to balance, but to decay. And yes, we suppress the truth of our humanity in order to avoid blame for our corruption. If we can describe our actions with equations, we can sleep at night. The blood of equations does not cry to us from the ground. The flaw: we are not machines, and we need love and grace from others, and from our creator, to survive.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

1 We love because God first loved us

The Cape Town Commitment is a fruit of The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, October 2010. 4,200 evangelical leaders from 198 countries met together, with the goal - to bring a fresh challenge to the global Church to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching - in every nation, in every sphere of society, and in the realm of ideas.

The statement is in two parts. Part I sets out biblical convictions, passed down to us in the scriptures, and Part II sounds the call to action. As we need to hear the voice of believers in other countries filling in our blind spots, and need to call each other on to faithfulness to the Lord we love, I'll be posting excerpts from The Cape Town Commitment. Each is worth reflection. (It is also available in Arabic, German, French, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese and Spanish, and can be purchased from your local Christian bookshop or online.)

1 We love because God first loved us

The mission of God flows from the love of God. The mission of God’s people flows from our love for God and for all that God loves. World evangelization is the outflow of God’s love to us and through us. We affirm the primacy of God’s grace and we then respond to that grace by faith, demonstrated through the obedience of love. We love because God first loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.[1]

A    Love for God and love for neighbour constitute the first and greatest commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets. Love is the fulfilling of the law, and the first named fruit of the Spirit. Love is the evidence that we are born again; the assurance that we know God; and the proof that God dwells within us. Love is the new commandment of Christ, who told his disciples that only as they obeyed this commandment would their mission be visible and believable. Christian love for one another is how the unseen God, who made himself visible through his incarnate Son, goes on making himself visible to the world. Love was among the first things that Paul observed and commended among new believers, along with faith and hope. But love is the greatest, for love never ends.[2]

B    Such love is not weak or sentimental. The love of God is covenantally faithful, committed, self-giving, sacrificial, strong, and holy. Since God is love, love permeates God’s whole being and all his actions, his justice as well as his compassion. God’s love extends over all his creation. We are commanded to love in ways that reflect the love of God in all those same dimensions. That is what it means to walk in the way of the Lord. [3]

C    So in framing our convictions and our commitments in terms of love, we are taking up the most basic and demanding biblical challenge of all:
  1. to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength;
  2. to love our neighbour (including the foreigner and the enemy) as ourselves;
  3. to love one another as God in Christ has loved us, and
  4. to love the world with the love of the One who gave his only Son that the world through him might be saved.[4]
D    Such love is the gift of God poured out in our hearts, but it is also the command of God requiring the obedience of our wills. Such love means to be like Christ himself: robust in endurance, yet gentle in humility; tough in resisting evil, yet tender in compassion for the suffering; courageous in suffering and faithful even unto death. Such love was modelled by Christ on earth and is measured by the risen Christ in glory.[5] 

We affirm that such comprehensive biblical love should be the defining identity and hallmark of disciples of Jesus. In response to the prayer and command of Jesus, we long that it should be so for us. Sadly we confess that too often it is not. So we re-commit ourselves afresh to make every effort to live, think, speak and behave in ways that express what it means to walk in love - love for God, love for one another and love for the world.