Friday, 18 September 2020

D e f i n i t i o n

 "You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body". 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.


It's a popular game these days -

What if.

What if Hero X had done action Y in this scene?

What if this story had taken this turn instead of that one?

Sometimes, we play this game about history.

What if Henry VIII's son with Catherine had lived?

What if Britain and France had maintained their rule over America?

What if the assassination that triggered the first world war had failed?

I once spent an amusing afternoon pretty well re-writing the history of the modern world that way - I guess that's why games like Civilisation have often proved so popular - want to see the outcome? Go to the next level of the game.

It's easy for this to all become just idle speculation, but theologically, there are some serious issues that the 'what if' question can cause us to address.

We all know the famous story of Moses meeting the Lord in the non-destructive flames of the burning bush, but most of us rarely consider the moment when he failed to recognise that same Lord in the rock he struck rather than spoke to, as he was commanded (see Numbers 20). We're told that Moses was as fit and healthy in his old age as in his youth (Deuteronomy 34:7), but because of that one act of disobedience, Moses dies without entering the promised land (see the opening of 1 Corinthians 10 to unpack the significance as to why). I found myself wondering what would have happened at the end if that had not of been the case. I suspect that rather than secretly being buried on Mount Nebo, he would have probably had the same manner of exit as Enoch (Genesis 5:24) or even Elijah (2 Kings 2) - that would certainly have caused a scene amidst the moment of entry into Canaan!

That consideration lead me on to another. Solomon was the wisest man who lived, and yet, in spite of all his magnificence,  Solomon was cut down in his later years by his propensity to give in to his desire for female company, leading to him taking many pagan wives which spread idolatry in the land (1 Kings 11), causing his ways and resources to be divided between what was good and what was wicked.

When you read what was happening in the kingdom prior to this compromise (see chapters 6 through to 10), you find yourself asking what would have happened if Solomon hadn't of compromised in the manner he did? Just how great would the kingdom of Israel have become if he had continued to use his wisdom to guide it closer to God? It's a fascinating issue to ponder.

Most of us probably think we'll never reach anywhere near the manner of power and responsibility of such men (I tend to see myself somewhere in the region of Jacob the schemer, hoping I can work my way out of another fine mess I've put myself in!), but the comforting news for all of us is that if we trust in the rescuing God that gives us breath, we only have to have one moment fixed before us - when God makes His covenant with the father of the faithful, Abraham, in Genesis 15. Why that moment? Because there, God doesn't deal in 'what if's' of how well or badly we will do - he knows we'll mess up, so placing Abraham in a sleep, he walks through the fire and sacrifice and swears to keep the covenant for us all, and to fulfil its promises. That's why we have confidence that whatever tomorrow brings, including our failures, God is true, and has fulfilled His purposes in His beloved Son, which assures us the future is secure.

There's a "it is" to ponder on your bed tonight.


A small footnote...

Loved this piece on Mockingbird this week. As someone who often relishes the first (nudity) whilst desiring the other (sanctification), and who has enjoyed the odd spa visit, I thought this really spoke volumes about true righteousness being way above and beyond us.  

Friday, 11 September 2020

Something Good...

 Short and sweet again this week -

What makes us more than us... is not us.

What makes it all worth bothering about is Jesus.

Because He's the author and the finisher, we can actually rest easy,

from first to last, from the start to the finish,

amidst all the whirl and "clatter bash" of now,

He is what counts, and what makes it all count.

Here's a great little piece on the how.

Enjoy.

Friday, 4 September 2020

L i b e r a t i o n

"Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God"
Romans 8:21.

Several decades ago, I read F J Huegel's work The Cross of Christ - the Throne of God in which the author postulates that the wording of one of the Psalms (97?) was edited following the crucifixion of Jesus, because it originally had read "The Lord reigns from the tree". Whether that is the case or not, Pilate's placing of the placard above Jesus reading 'king of the Jews' certainly created consternation amongst those observing the moment, but according to Matthew, far more telling events were to follow - the coming of thick darkness, the tearing of the temple veil and the opening of the tombs of the dead, these returning to life (Matthew 27:45-52).

This is where we begin to see the true pivotal point of all history - the judgement of sin because of Christ becoming our substitute, the removal of access to the throne of God by the shedding of His blood and offering of His life and the total victory over death in His giving of Himself into death itself makes Jesus' cry something absolute - 'finished!'.

The ramifications are eternally vast in scale.
Paul's words in Romans on the impact of Christ's work tell us that nothing that has been made in creation is excluded from the atoning work of Jesus - even the unbelieving dead will be raised in new bodies on the final day because of what was done at the cross (John 5:19 onwards - think about that).

Christ is Lord of all not only because He made and holds all things Himself (Colossians 1:16), but also because by the 'blood of His cross', all things in heaven and earth are reconciled (1:20).

What we so readily see at present is the bondage, the futility of a world poisoned by sin and death, but in Christ we see that the purpose of God to have a world where these things are no more has come, and that is the prize that we need to continue to treasure in this 'brief' period of hardship and trouble.

Jesus Christ has made us to be those who will inherit something so much better than this present trial. He has given all to make this ours. Let us fix on that wonder in these hard days.


Saturday, 29 August 2020

The F i g h t

"Earnestly contend for the faith".
Jude.

"Those who want heaven most must serve earth best"
C S Lewis.

One of the most important books I've read in the last year was Melvin Tinker's 'That Hideous Strength - A deeper look at how the West was lost'. I clearly wasn't the only one who realised the necessity of what the work had to say, as it's already been re-published and expanded, seeking to address the ideological turbulence of the days we're walking through right now.

It's not an easy read, as what it seeks to address is pretty unsettling.
Using C S Lewis' superb conclusion to his cosmic trilogy (entitled That Hideous Strength) and the events of Genesis 11 (the Tower of Babel) as a contextual backdrop, the author spells out just how bad things have become in the current generation, and where this may well be taking us- towards a domain of cultural Marxism.

Like the awfulness of what Lewis unfolds in his tale of post-war England becoming governed by a power subservient to scientism (what the Apostle Paul would consider to be 'Vain Philosophy' (Colossians 2:8), Tinker's words sink deep and remain, because as much as we'd really like to be elsewhere, we are amidst a very real time of 'cultural and cognitive adaptation' - a slow but relentless slide into a subversion as paralysing as what was evidenced in Germany in the 1930s or in Russia a decade earlier.

That point needs to be considered well and deeply by Christians everywhere right now, but especially in those countries where normal social activities have been curtailed or closed down by authorities because of the threat of a pandemic back in March. Are we living, now, in a world on a trajectory back to 'normal', or in one where what was deemed appropriate (i.e. in Christian worship and assembly) is gone?

The last chapter of the book speaks of four ways that such malevolence is encroaching upon and infiltrating discussions and events from what's raised on Morning TV to what is and isn't being allowed in binge streaming shows. Social "justice" is clearly acceptable, even when its actions are illegal, but what was previously deemed convention is entirely quarantined.

These methods are -
Assumption. Ideology that intends to supplant a Christian world-view (see Tom Holland's Dominion for a superb historical examination of  the value of Christianity).

Abandonment. Ways and means which make Christianity's value as 'salt' and 'light' be thrown into question by people in general, because something "better" (or at least more immediate and presumably more pertinent) is proposed to deal with the key issues of the day.

Adaptation. The process of adjustment as culture moves away from the "old" to the new. This often amounts to giving in to the superficial cries of the day rather than actually thinking through the deeper issues and ramifications involved.

The current battle is very much focused in the three realms stated above, but here's what will follow..

Assimilation. When a culture entirely rejects a Christian perspective on the nature of our problems and therefore the solution that the church provides.

Like in the building of some great structure, these means are now in constant use socially, but the goal is quite clear - to bring people to a point where they believe that they can be their best by what the authorities require and without what God desires them to see.

So, what should Christians do about this?
Well, at a grass-roots level at present, we're seeing the church continue to be marginalised and prevented from functioning as church on the premise that this is too dangerous to allow.

The social freedom that Christianity enjoyed for centuries has all but gone.

Think about what's taking place this year.

We were prevented, presumably for legitimate reasons (concerns of an impending virulent pandemic) from opening churches for many months. Then, because of the same manner of concern, we were allowed to re-open our church buildings, but we're now essentially constrained from functioning as church within them!

What's become apparent of late however is that the time is rapidly passing for any realm of society to just carry on frozen in a lockdown mentality, because of the threat which appeared six months ago. Life has to open up once more, and whilst this clearly means risk, probably for a long time to come, it certainly has to happen. Church needs to dress in the boldness the moment requires and not be timid, to truly listen to what its commanded by Christ to do, and do it.

This, of course, is happening in some measure already.

In Italy, for example, more priests and ministers have died of the virus in the last six months than doctors or nurses, because they refused to leave the sick and the dying unattended and alone. The restrictions, in other words, had to be broken, because the life we share in God is greater than death, even in these circumstances.
In many places, churches have found ways and means to continue to actually meet, and recently churches have begun to view the health restrictions as too confining in respect to how they should assemble and worship, and returned to full, normal services, fighting the restrictions as they go.

There's an important precedent at work here.
In his superb essay, living in the atomic age, Lewis examines the argument that because we are living in 'extraordinary circumstances', we should behave accordingly - so, in respect to the issue at the time of the essay, that we behave in accordance with the possibility of a nuclear strike at any moment. He goes on to show how ridiculous such an approach is, and how the best thing we can do is to live normally and live well, because extraordinary measures can only be effectively employed for very particular moments, and life must resume shortly as normal if it is to continue at all.

The current conditions, however, are constantly defined as something else - exceptional, terrifying and therefore, we should expect to remain in some abnormal sphere indefinitely.

It cannot be done.
The fact that we are now requiring a more familiar state of behaviour speaks volumes about the dislocation that has occurred.

So, if we are to see a return to what counts in church activity, what is to be done?

Those who have experienced the 'anaemic' nature of what's possible under the current regulations know this is a painful subtraction of what church should be, so the choices are that we just exist with that, or we seek to return to what church really is.

Where do we want to be as church at the end of the year?
When Christmas comes, do we want the only joy we can offer the world to be a masked, carol-less, socially distanced, clipped 'religion'?

The answer has to be no!

Like schools and businesses, we should be finding ways to steer towards a full return to normal as soon as we can, so we should be making those choices now.

That indeed means resistance - that we take a stand.
That means complying with what is reasonable (shielding the vulnerable), but not omitting what we are taught by God to do (Ephesians 5:19, 1 Corinthians 10:16).

This is where the choices will be hardest, as it's usually deemed best to just fully conform to what is required by the world around us, but there are times when we cannot and must not do that. "Anaemic" church, as it's already been evidenced, will not provide the necessary fellowship or ministry to truly, deeply feed and sustain us or speak out to the world. This is why so many churches have been choosing to meet outdoors, where they can sing and behave more socially, but winter is coming, and we need to work towards something better for everyone.

This 'being prepared' in present circumstances, as Tinker's book itself shows, is expressed in various ways.

We are to do what we do for the good of those around us - not to carnally revolt, but to show in our actions that there are issues as vital and as imperative as dealing with threats to public health.

We must watch, then act and pray, because, like Jacob, we stand and wrestle in the very midst of what is unfolding, and we dare not cease until we are 'disjointed' (from self reliance) by that endeavour, but God has sent His gracious and enduring life amongst us.

We must know the times - discern what is afoot, why it is so, and what genuine study can grant in respect to wisdom and insight into our predicament. Weighty judgement and insight and meaningful implementation at such moments is more precious than jewels!

We should be aware that this present struggle is not merely against what we can see (though that is clear manifestation of something genuine) - the powers behind this are far greater, and it is in that battle that the church must engage what is seeking to cripple its testimony.

Above all, we must understand that the imperative here is the Gospel that saves us - Jesus Christ reconciling us to God by the justifying work of grace alone, provided in His death and resurrection - that is the business we must be about in our corporate existence and action.

No method, no policy, no convention is going to heal what is genuinely killing everyone - their severance from the life of God. Only Christ can remedy that.

Jesus spoke of how no king engages in battle until he has weighed up the cost and knows he can overcome. We dare not send the church into this present fray (the developing horror of a severely crippled world) without the means that God has given to make us nourished and equipped for what is rising. It is time to return to the streams that God gives to revive and refresh His people.

We have, in truth, been away from them for far too long.

"Those who love man less than God do most for man".









Sunday, 23 August 2020

Poison

Most of us are aware of what happens when we eat or drink something that is tainted - it's not long before our entire physiology is out of place and we're in need of removing the said corruption from our bodies rapidly.
What happens when it isn't that sudden, though?
What if we were gradually poisoned, or if the dreadful material was introduced to us in such a way that our bodies initially accepted it as good - which is what happens in measure with the chemistry of some types of virus?
The consequences are more gradual, but the results are usually far more fatal.

In the 1850s, Charles Darwin published his findings that pointed to the notion that life is essentially a random series of accidental events that eventually resulted in human beings. He was personally reluctant after publishing to really push the notion loudly, but pretty soon, a pro-evolutionary 'bulldog' appeared in the form of one Thomas Huxley, who made sure that the notions Darwin had presented in Origin of the Species became essential to the culture of the West (See Michael Denton's excellent work, Evolution - A Theory in Crisis).

The consequences of this are now being played out in the nuts and bolts of what is happening in our world.
Here's a discussion on those current events, and how these underlying concepts of meaninglessness are being played through.

Saturday, 15 August 2020

S h r e d d e d

News headlines on Wednesday this week (In the UK):

July consumer prices rise as demand increases...
Train derails in Aberdeenshire...
Women feel unsafe in German cities...
Man dies of plague in New Mexico...
Sussex homes continue without water in heatwave...
Teenage girls beat pigeon and tare off its wings...
UK economy shrinks more than any Western country...

I sat on the bus heading home from work, in the midst of summer. Normally, the streets would be humming with people, but once you were away from the main shopping centre, the pavements were almost entirely empty, as were the buses. The height of the season, and we're in a state of almost complete severance from what was.

I guess its just the Lockdown, but everything seems to be more acute, more distressing, because of where we are.

It isn't just what I feel either.
At work one day this week, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a spontaneous conversation with several others where all the fears, the anxieties, the concerns and the observations I had been keeping to myself came out corporately and we found ourselves looking at each other, shocked and undone at the state of things, which are clearly in meltdown.

It's not that there haven't been troublesome moments before. Most of us recall 2008 and the struggles it brought, but that was little more than a jolt compared to the magnitude of what is happening now... continually.

This, then, has the feel, the fibre of something far more malevolent than what has gone before, because the truth is those in charge don't know how to respond. The entire world appears to have been poisoned and left comatosed, and there is no clear way to wake it from its dangerous nightmare.

Christians are, it appears, in places, beginning to at least wrestle with the ramifications of this affliction and ask why isn't the church there, front and centre, being seen to be far more engaged in this crisis. If this is, at the least, a death sentence for the weak and the old or, possibly, the death knell for a culture, the church has the only remedy of any value, so this isn't a moment for it to be seen as something that is fading into the background of having little to offer.

What troubles me most is the secularism of our response. When I met with minister this week, he was quick to remind me that the majority of people would think it absolutely ridiculous to be talking about angels and demons, but as another minister stated in a live cast in America this week, this really isn't just a struggle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in high places, and the church is meant to be a company who are very aware of his diabolical devices.

The ministry of Jesus was often quick to unmask such evil, often dragging evil into the light, kicking and screaming. Such moments shake us, but they also show us that these malicious undercurrents are terribly real.

What the world needs is a health that cures the real virus.


Friday, 7 August 2020

S h u n n e d


Image from the move, 2012.

"And here we go"...
The Joker: The Dark Knight.

"You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times"
Jesus - Matthew 16:3.

A very interesting piece of material came across my path this week. Entitled Collapse, it's a documentary from a clearly Marxist perspective on the current state of affairs.
Watching the first 5-10 minutes really tells you all you need to know - the kind of moment depicted above in the movie 2012 could well be close at hand, not in regards to the environment (although there are plenty who would contend for that as our major problem), but amongst the instruments of governance of human society.

Russell Chandler in the concluding section of his 1993 book, Doomsday (a fascinating overview of all the times people thought the world's end had pretty well arrived), talks about how before the final curtain, Jesus tells us there will be a period of extensive 'sifting' - a theme clearly picked up by John in Revelation 18, when he observes the principally economic (see verses 3 & 11) fall that will precede Christ's second coming.

After an initial phase (the first 3 minute introduction), in measure pushing buttons about the fear and consequences of the current pandemic, the narrative of the documentary commences to probe what is happening more extensively in our society - the oncoming collapse of capitalism.

I'm about to enter my sixth decade, so I've certainly seen my share of troubles and anyone who knows me will know that I have some "possibles" in respect to the signs of our times, but what got me is how this documentary is underlining about what is coming, and coming on fast.

It's when the narrative begins to spell out what has already happened that you realise that the apocalypse, in some respects, has already occurred - we are now living in the aftermath; the tidal wave is just over the horizon.

Some people saw this coming. The brilliant movie, The Big Short, tells the true story of how a small group of American investors saw the coming collapse of the corrupt sub prime loans system and made a fortune investing against the banks. Sadly, however, the rot did not end there, and we are about to experience the full measure of the consequences of what has become a global financial nightmare.

This is what genuinely troubles me about the pandemic. Everyday, for months now we have woken up to headlines and broadcasts about this 'horror', which has certainly caused a spate of terrible deaths, but this focus has meant, particularly recently, that actual news about the astonishing crash of the dollar, the demise of global trade and the paralysis of our world resulting from this has almost become a footnote even though the extraordinary consequences are going to be with us for decades, if not generations, to come.

You have to ask yourself, what is going on, and why does so much of our current circumstances parallel what we saw in the world nearly a century ago, which lead to the horrors of global war?

The option so often at present seems to be just worry about staying healthy by following the 'guidance' given by those in authority. The problem is, in respect to the quake that's coming, 'stay(ing) alert' about catching a virus is akin to using Protect and Survive to face a nuclear detonation!

This all brings me to what I want to address in respects to the theological ramifications of what's unfolding - where do we go from here if this is so?

It's pretty clear in the current context that the citizens of 'free' nations, including church-goers, are having to adhere to the stipulations that, in the light of the last four months, are being issued by their respective governments, but are we reaching a point where this will change?

The tail end of the lockdowns has been a venue for numerous acts of protest and riot to renounce authority in some form, but there are genuine concerns arising as to where Christians should stand in future in regards to mandates issued that directly impact upon assembly, worship and the health of the church.

The Mockingbird website published a superb piece this week that really probes the nature of where we are and going on much of this - the whole piece is well worth reading, but to just touch on one aspect of what's said:
"Justification and ultimate redemption are not about fixing whatever’s broken. The justification of the Church requires that it first go beyond the bounds of self-salvation. If the Church is the body of Christ, it must not flourish—it must, like all of us, die It must be pitched up at the place of the skull where it boasts nothing but “Christ and him crucified".

And it's how we bring about that kind of 'flourishing' that really needs to concern us right now, which brings me, neatly, to the other item, I came across this week, that speaks volumes to us as Christians. There's one moment in what's declared here that I quibble with (the new understanding of Paul and Justification) as I think it's flawed, but aside from that, this needs to be shouted from the rooftops!

Beyond the social distancing and the masks, the forbidding of the cup and the hymn, lies the real 'light' we are called to fellowship in as wretched sinners saved entirely by grace - let's not loose sight of that as the walls begin to close around us, for only Christ saves, and we're going to need that rescue big time in the days that are just ahead.