Monday, 29 May 2017

The Many... and the one

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one".  Spock (Star Trek 2).
"Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many". Kirk (Star Trek 3).

One of the things that religion is often damned for is its exclusivity - as in it only really applied to those who are part of a particular flock - but there are telling examples when people in general pick up on the fact that something much bigger is going on.

One of the best examples of this in the Bible is about a typically self-referential man named Jonah.

The story begins with a total shock to the system. A pagan city called Nineveh is in real trouble, so God speaks to Jonah and tells him to get up and go to these people to warn them of their plight.

What would you do?
Well, Jonah was having none of it... Lower himself to go and help a bunch of pagans, ha!
He runs to the port and jumps on the first ship he can find heading in the other direction.

Well, that's that then - Jonah's off, and that's all there is to it.

Not quite.

Once at sea, there's a huge storm, and the Sailors realize that these aren't normal conditions - somethings bringing them bad fortune, so Jonah is awoken from his slumber (some people can sleep through anything!), and they discover that he's the cause of the trouble, so he's thrown overboard, as they recognize they cannot trifle with the God Jonah knows.

Alternative 'transport' is then provided, and Jonah finds himself spewed out... beside Nineveh.  Reluctantly, Jonah does what he's been asked to, and, yes, the people believe his message and pray and fast for help from God.

So, job done then.

Not quite.

Jonah is totally ticked off by the fact that these unrighteous pagans have actually turned to God, and asks God to just end him. God, instead, initially provides him with a plant to shelter under, but then the plant dies, God seeking to teach Him something about what really counts.

The book ends with God seeking to tell Jonah why all this has happened. Here's a city, he says, with some 120,000 people. It was so big, Jonah had himself noted, it took three days to walk around. These folks needed to hear what you had to say - they were ripe for something other than their folly - they just needed the right word at the right moment.

The story, however, is not just about this vast company. It's equally about a man who thought he'd worked out his priorities and who thought, because he prayed a great deal and abstained from certain things, he was just fine, but he wasn't.

Here was a man who needed to come to understand the true value of God's amazing mercy, and it was clearly a hard lesson for him to learn.

So Nineveh got it's messenger, and was saved, and, hopefully, Jonah got the message.

Job done, right?

Not quite.

What this story tells us is that this God is the one who sees and knows us, whether we're like Jonah - comfortable in our own "religion", or just doing the latest thing that's popular, and what's both wonderful and worrying is that He loves us all, and is going to shake things up because he does, so we cannot allow our days here to just pass idly by without a care.

If religion, or the lack of it, leaves us detached from what counts, then I pray we'll have a share in the mercy of this story, because what should really matter in this universe of ours is a love deeper than we can possibly imagine, but can truly know, because we were meant to do so.

The encouraging message of Jonah is that it's not over, and the needs of the many, the few, and the one, are all being accounted for.


Friday, 19 May 2017

The rarest thing



It's all about the journey, apparently.
We trek out into life, learning as we go, becoming older (and wiser?), until...
What?

Job was a man who had, materially, what most would consider a pretty good life. He, no doubt, believed he had things pretty much together until the day all of it fell apart and he was left, naked and alone, suffering dreadfully and being repeatedly told he was wrong - brought to a point where people thought the best thing that could happen was that he ceased, 

but he knew they were wrong.

He knew that behind the celestial expanse above his head and far beneath the vast depths of the oceans that surrounded the dust on which he lived (Job 9:8), there was an understanding that wasn't being heard. He couldn't say or do anything except express his confidence in that truth, and wait until that was the one voice, the one message, that was allowed to speak.

Job was right.
At the end of his crucible, amidst the power evidenced in nature, God came and made clear that He alone was indeed the only one who knew, who understood the true nature of what is and what will be (Job chapters 38-40).

We have trouble with that because no matter how hard we look at the world, we forget something that Job himself states.

To gain what is rare and precious, men employ great ingenuity, craft and strength to dig deep into the earth to gain the most rarest of gems and precious materials, yet, says Job, that manner of endeavor is paltry when compared to our ability to gain and comprehend true wisdom - it isn't found amongst us (28:12). He comprehends something that no amount of counsel, suffering or current experience can ever change - behind all that he sees and encounters is a far weightier truth and reality... That we exist purely because there is a Lord and Creator who truly knows all things (28:23-28).

The wisdom, Job understands, is there. We simply do not have the tools, in and of ourselves, to access or comprehend what it is saying to us, because, like those who sought to counsel him, we are so entirely locked up by our own ignorance regarding what is actually being said to us.

Things haven't changed.
This week, I've been considering the astounding amount of information that's been accumulated in the last couple of decades that so clearly shows that our being here is because the very things Job touches on - the 'message' of the stars (cosmos) and the depths (nature) of our world have been devised to perfectly provide for our existence by one who has made it to be so, and yet, in spite of an avalanche of such evidence, the world ignorantly chooses to 'journey' along as if nothing had happened.

Our being here is nothing less than a miracle of truly inter-galactic proportions, yet we stumble around as if nothing much matters more than our next thrill or distraction - what a waste!

The universe is literally bursting with wonder and exquisite provision, but most of us spend our time thinking about no more than what's going on in front of us right now or what we plan to do next.

Job understood that wasn't anywhere near enough - that what was truly "there" spoke deep and clear about what really mattered (19:25-27), but that was just page one of what was to be comprehended.

God can take such a man and begin to open up to him the fathomless depths of what has been put into action in the realm that surrounds us - nothing less than the eternal purposes of an Almighty Creator and Redeemer.

The lesson of this journey is abundantly clear. Life moves along at a rate of knots, and we can busy ourselves with all manner of trivia and hold to an array of pragmatic ditties we gather on our way, but none of that is worth squat when we confront the truth behind the vastness of what surrounds us and allows us breath - that is what should truly stagger and overwhelm us, because, literally, written in the stars and the seas is the signature of God. Science confirms it, and scriptures reveals it, so stop, and consider what is really going on here. This alone leads to health for you and me.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Breakthrough

"I am going fishing"...
"they caught nothing".  John 21:3

It's hard for me to imagine what it must have been like, as I've never seen a miraculous physical healing, or a storm ceased by a word, or 5,000 people fed with just a handful of fish and bread, but these seven disciples fishing had. The last three years of their lives had been astounding, and then, to top it all, they'd recently seen their teacher extinguished by the most cruel form of capital punishment the Romans could employ, only to see Him physically return from death a few days later.

How would you respond to something like that?
Well, Peter had pretty much had enough, and for good reason.

The events of the last few weeks had shown to him and everyone else what kind of person he really was. When the going got tough, he cashed in. When he was called on to stand up and be counted, he scurried away and just couldn't take it.

Peter's like us. 
Me and you.
When we get right down to facing the kind of crucible he did, fear can grip us so hard that all we can think about is our own skins, never mind the consequences on someone else.

Satan has desired to sift you, Jesus told Him at the last meal together.
If you're someone who knows that Jesus is the truth, then make no mistake - you're in those crosshairs.

Mercifully for Peter, and you and me, that isn't the conclusion to his days with Jesus.

There is Peter and his associates, doing what some of them at least understood - bringing in a catch, except it wasn't happening. Not even his old skills were proving to be any good on this night. If he couldn't go back to fishing, what was he going to do?

As dawn breaks (don't you love dawns), they hear a familiar voice telling them to try once again. As once before in their experience, there's a remarkable catch as they do, but Peter's already forgotten about that and makes for the shore - Jesus is on the beach.
He's made a fire, and as they have breakfast, Jesus reconciles a devastated man.

I'm so glad for this amazing moment.
It tells me that you and I can (and, no doubt, will) be the biggest screw-ups in time and space, but if Jesus cares for us, then things are going to be good, even if we have, in this moment, shut up shop to go fishing, or something else that seems to put us a million miles from God, because we've totally failed.

Jesus came for His friend. He heals him in that moment by confirming that Peter does really love in the way that truly matters, because he is loved, and by telling him that he has a future beyond a fishing boat and the same-old, same-old.

The same is true for us if we trust in the Jesus who came for us, died for us, rose for us. Sure, we're going to have 'gone fishing' moments when everything is so out of joint, but sometimes, those are the very deep moments when the miraculous unfolds as Jesus comes and speaks to us through His word and marries us to His peace, and His truly astonishing, secure love.

Peter would go on, as Jesus promises in this conversation, to live and die for the riches that God gives Him in this moment.

So, if you have been out toiling in the dark all night, aware of God's truth, but distant from it, take a look as the dawn comes up, and see who is waiting to share breakfast with you on the beach. There's good news, thanks be to God, for each of us, if we do.



Monday, 1 May 2017

" V O I D " ?

"Because of what I said you believe? Truly, you will see greater than this"
John 1:50.

It's been an interesting week, particularly as I've been seeking to 'hear' what some have been saying in the atheist camp regarding the nature of Christianity, and the 'God' behind it being a monstrous invention that humanity would certainly be better without.


The argument, from what I can gather, is something like this  -  after numerous ages of death and suffering on our planet, "god" (or at least our rendition of him) decides to intervene by demanding attention (worship and total commitment) from us, and that if this isn't given, then more misery and tragedy will ensue. Christ, apparently, adds to this the additional terror of hell, and the entire primitive notion of blood sacrifice is played out in his death, concluded in the myth of resurrection. Like other religions, then, we have something which merely preys upon our fears and panders to our miss-placed wishes of escaping death, both of which are fool hardy and merely amount to a form of wicked abuse in the cold, hard light of the real world.


It all seems pretty conclusive - a fabrication that's just an ignorant conjecture on our part, until we knew better. Sown up? Well, only until you begin to consider what Christianity actually says about all of this.


Here's a statement worthy of consideration:


Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his life, death and resurrection.


Robert Farrar Capon.


There's a really important insight hinted at here. In the Old Testament, there were lots of rules and laws, regulations and requirements regarding everything, but what can so easily escape us when we examine this material is that before any of it was delivered or required, God had already shown that something much better had to be at the very heart of what counts between ourselves and the one who made us.


There's a really pithy statement in the letter of James.

"Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. And he was called the friend of God" (2:23).

God asked a man to trust in His faithfulness, His promises, and he did - that brought about the essential first step in what became a life-long relationship, but that wasn't by any means the end of the story. As Abraham goes forward, the issue of our being what we can truly be, without all the trouble that still assails our hearts has to be faced. Religion or Reason may like to teach that we can, somehow, scrape through that one on our own, because these comfortable routes essentially seek to externalize our corruption, but God knows better. The reason we have a world filled with pain and sorrow is not because 'that's just how it is'... we're all just accidents of a cosmic explosion, so what can you expect (the meaning is meaninglessness). No, Christianity (and the life of Abraham) says we may have made it that way, that we have certainly royally screwed up (look where Abraham was raised), and life would therefore certainly be pointless, except that we haven't been left there.


After years of living amongst the compromises of kings and others in Canaan and the limitations of his own flesh, Abraham is asked by God to kill his one true son, Isaac (Genesis 22:2). Consider how that must have sounded to his ears - how could God want such a thing, ask such a thing... what kind of God is this! We're right to be staggered by the magnitude of how atrocious this appears. What is going on here? Naturally, the argument of the atheist appears fully sanctioned - see, this isn't a God worth knowing - he demands murder; where is the justice, where is the God that is supposed to be merciful. Reading the account carefully, however, gives a very different spin, because it appears that Abraham, as God's friend, understood that something much weightier was in mind. Notice, especially, when Isaac asks why they haven't brought a sacrifice what his father's answer states (Genesis 22:8).


There's, no doubt, various ways to interpret aspects of that moment, but what's really worth considering here, in the light of our present conversation, is that Jesus tells us that this man Abraham, who became the friend of God, saw something in those years (John 8:56) which informed his words and actions in moments like this one, and it meant that he saw beyond any veil of his own reasoning - which could have only been appalled - or religious requirement - which could only provide a miss understanding of this.


Before getting anywhere near trying to merely equate things to what reason or piety could offer, Abraham tells us in that statement to his son that he'd already penetrated much, much further into what was really going on - that is what we're needing to understand. On the one hand, perhaps, he understood that a God that had given him a heir at such an old age could easily provide an animal caught in a thicket for an offering (what actually happened), but that's just scratching the surface. Abraham "heard" the God of promise who had said to the first man and woman that He would bring remedy to their distanced souls, and what he's heard, as he considered this particular drama, was astonishing. The God who had fulfilled his promise to Abraham in these late years of his life (Genesis 21), working what was naturally impossible, was not going to abandon His promises now - this was a God of the impossible, of resurrection! 


There was a true reconciliation coming, he perceived, by the son - the lamb, who would be offered up in our stead.


That is what is behind his words in that moment -
"God will provide Himself a lamb".

We may wish to argue about the why's and wherefores of what God would do and why it was done this way, but here, many centuries before the event itself, Abraham is certain it will come, and it is the moment that changes everything.


What this man shows us in his life and this event is that a true and comprehensive fellowship with God lies beyond the incarceration of our own small thoughts about what is - the reality is far greater.

Without that kind of veil being lifted, we're all busy seeking to make determinations and judgements of our own accord, so how can we truly evaluate our real condition when we don't actually hold anywhere near all the cards? Abraham had been gifted with the one thing that made the essential difference to our lives (Romans 4:5) - seeing that God is truly here and has done what is required to change our present poverty (Romans 8:3, 5:8).


This event, then, tells us something profound. God will break out against the violence that has been done to us and by us, not in an arbitrary or capricious manner, but by focusing it all in the offering and reconciling work of one - the son He would send.

The truth which Christianity seeks to address is that we're not at fault because we're just DNA machines who happen to be a little more developed than your average primate - the reason we hate, kill, lust and succumb so easily to wickedness is that evil is a very real, parasitical force at work in our world, and must be remedied. The resolve is not within us via reason or religion, even to live up to our own standards - we merely continue to perpetuate the malignancy - it has to come from outside - from one who can actually bring about our recovery, and in that moment on Mount Moriah with Isaac, Abraham gains a glimpse of who will provide that rescue.

The heart of Christianity is the Cross, and the one crucified upon it, because it is here we see that Jesus was in earnest regarding what He taught about righteousness, justice, mercy, and the requirements that these bring. Our sin was far more cancerous than we can ever imagine (Matthew 18:8-9), and no amount of reasoning or pious activity by us can change that. We may object to this, deeply, because it stings against our eccentric yet confident notions of our own capacity, but Golgotha, when rightly apprehended, is the termination of those pathetic, destructive whimpers.

The love of God truly costs all to heal us. That is the God who comes to befriend us.

Perhaps we would prefer a world in which we determine our own good, or at least one where we can actually do good, but that isn't what's here and now, so we need our eyes open to the truth that Abraham saw, that Jesus Himself has made real in death and resurrection, and that God will certainly establish as the bedrock of a creation that will be freed from sin  and death (Revelation 21:5).

The void which imprisons us to a world of our own flawed doings has been bridged at the Cross. The D I Y market stalls of our reason and religion are closed. The God who made us has opened the road to the city built upon a love that will secure us forever.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Alone...

Writer and Blogger, Emma Scrivener, has posted a superb little piece on dealing with the loss of a loved one here. I've also added a few, I hope, helpful thoughts and insights in the comments, so if you know someone who might benefit from these thoughts, please pass the link along.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Human?

"More human than human is our motto"  
Tyrell. Blade Runner.

It's so welcome when it happens. Your doing something - watching a movie, reading a book, taking a walk, and suddenly, you see or realize something that hits you hard because it says something true about who and what you are. It can be like laying the final piece of the puzzle.

I had something akin to that this week. Nursing myself through a virus, I was listening to an introduction on the work of an early christian writer, when the broadcast broke to advertise a forthcoming discussion on transhumanism. I listened with intent. I've recently finished attending a series of studies which sought to examine issues of identity and this had lead me to my own further interrogation of where our current social trends are driving, and I now found  another major piece was being dropped into my ears.

We all know moments of personal dread or loss, but what about those moments when we encounter something more universal - a sense of foreboding concerning where 'we' - humanity - are? 

History shows us there are times of cultural death and collapse.

In the book of Genesis, the first eleven chapters of human history speak of several such events, including three which irrevocably change human life entirely -
the fall, the flood, and the tower of babel.
What is imperative in these accounts is that all of these were locked-in to the issue of our identity - to how we define ourselves as 'human'.

It's worth taking a moment to just recall the scale of those times as we now think about today.

However smart and easy technology has made everyday things for you and me, we still often seem to be inherently ill at ease in our own skin, so would detaching us from our flesh so 'we' can become something inherently beyond death be the answer? Would a state whereby 'we' became operation systems for tech that in effect rendered us immortal, equate to freedom, or would we just become something less than we are?

It's no longer science fiction or hypothetical. The next two decades are going to see the rise of the age of robots and growing use of inter-phasic bio technology that will bring about more and more convergence between ourselves and such assistance. The "wow" of such a world promised in countless 'see tomorrow' shows of earlier decades may have indeed been displaced by the sinister dystopia of a tale like Alex Proyus' "Dark City", but these days are coming on fast, so the same question will mark it's (our) time - who am I?

I'm deliberately writing this on Easter Sunday, because the answer to that nagging question isn't going to be discovered in us burying ourselves in more of what we can achieve.

There are telling moments in those three accounts in Genesis - moments filled with foreboding and horror of the most dreadful kind. The 'what if' of transhumanism bears the same ring as the 'what if' raised by God after our fall in regards to our then eating of the tree of life (Genesis 3:22).

The actual answer to our malady is found beyond ourselves in the events of today - easter sunday.
It may be considered passe by our post-modernal estate to speak of death ended by a resurrection (Paul of course faced the same tough crowd in his day - Acts 17), but the ramifications of that empty tomb to our humanity are clear.

When Jesus stands again amongst His friends, not as an apparition or some etherial "being", but as a man, marked by crucifixion yet alive and asking for something to eat, the matter of what is entailed in being human is faced head on.
Our longing to be, and yet be more won't die even if we're wired to devices that breathe and eat for us - we just become, in effect, further away for being us.

The message of the resurrection is that humanity can be found, here, amidst flesh, and then lived without enmity to itself and the universe. Real freedom is not the further suppression or submergence of our identity, but the re-discovery and burgeoning of this (John 10:10). What needs to be killed or negated is not our physical bodies, or our relationship to them, but our autonomy from the life we cast aside in those early days of our race.

The "escape" is not about checking out or going away.

Easter is all about coming home.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Killing Heresy

"In the scriptures, the body was created by God and was an inseparable aspect of what made us human. We don't just have a body; we are bodily. Therefore, when the body and soul are separated at death, due to the fall, a profoundly disruptive event takes place... The good news is that the body (us) will be re-united in all of its perfection and splendor (at the resurrection)". Michael Horton - A Kingdom of Priests.

It's been a month of jolts and reminders.

The jolts have been about just how quickly we can fall short regarding the staggering, jarring truth of why we are made as we are, and what that actually means in terms of eternal life. The reminders have been what was actually required to get what we had decimated redeemed and recovered by God descending amongst us as a man and hanging with our sin, our judgement, upon Him.

The jolts are still coming.
Yesterday, for example, I was a little taken aback when I heard a well known Christian apologist on YouTube conclude a presentation on the resurrection with the phrase "You don't have a soul - you are a soul. You have a body". Interestingly, this speaker and at least one other popular reformed writer have mistakenly ascribed the statement to C S Lewis, when it's original source appears to be one William Walsingham Howe in an 1876 publication for children.

What Lewis did say was somewhat different: "And as Image and apprehension are in organic unity, so for the Christian are the human body and human soul" (God in the Dock).

The difference is imperative.
When God breathed life into Adam's frame to make him living, it wasn't some temporary experiment to be aborted in favor of 'heaven' if it all went pear-shaped. The Lord invested humanity with His own likeness (Genesis 1:27), and intended for this to be expressed in us to the rest of creation (1:28). The horror, after our fall, would have been that we remained locked in our severed estate for all eternity (Genesis 3:22). Christ came to release us, and all of creation, from that dreadful ruin (Colossians 1:19).

Salvation, then, is something which is indeed extended to the whole world (John 3:16), and inclusion in the redemption that is coming is based upon a trusting in what God has done is His Son (2 Corinthians 5:19), so how is it that we find a popularity of teaching and opinions that state that Christianity isn't actually about any of that, but is really just about us becoming 'heavenly' in a state as redeemed souls or 'angelic' creatures, where what we intrinsically are - bodily - is expunged?

The idea, of course, isn't new. Several of the Early Church Fathers found themselves having to counter beliefs that Jesus couldn't possibly be God and Man - most ancient heresies taught He could only be one or the other - and these were taught amidst a milieu that saw the world, especially the material, as inherently evil, so the need was to escape the prison and ascend, becoming 'whole' again. Christianity proved anathema to such views, because it was all about God being manifest in flesh (1 Timothy 3:16), coming down to us (John 1:14), because what was made is good, and will be redeemed.

Paul clearly shows that because Christ's bodily resurrection is true, our coming back from death to know a bodily life without corruption is certain (1 Corinthians 15), and that it will be our bodies that will experience this (Romans 8:23). "Heaven" is not about God trashing what He has made to make us 'spirit beings' or about us eternally being maintained in some disembodied mode as 'enlightened' souls (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). If God had truly meant us to be that, or indeed, to merely be angels complete with wings and harps, then why would He have bothered will all the messy business of the material in the first place? The life that God has always purposed for us will be lived in a real creation, ransomed and made new by Christ (Colossians 1:20), hence it is here, that we truly see His handiwork, both in Creation (Psalm 8) and Redemption (Colossians 1 & 2).

My reasons for re-stating this are not academic. Accompanying the 'soul' statements on teaching videos like the one I mentioned above were several 'christian' quotes that were clearly happy to express the manner of eternal dualism that so plagued the errors which sought to assail the early days of the faith - the physical, the sexual, the material are merely 'transitional' - they have nothing to do with the real you - something very familiar in our current cultural trends.

Yesterday, as I walked into work across the city centre, I was to encounter a young women displaying herself naked to the world. She was clearly troubled, and was shortly to be arrested because of the responses of those standing around, generally gawking (making swift use of their cameras as they said how 'shocking' it was) until the Police arrived, but I couldn't help but think of the moment when Isaiah, who was to speak so deeply about the coming of Christ, shocked his generation, by doing what God commanded and walked unclothed amongst them (Isaiah 20:3).

We are still as shocked by the revelation of what it means to be flesh as we always have been, for it so often here, in these temples not made of wood or stone, that we are so rudely reminded of who we were made to reflect. Sadly, the response so often is not to draw closer to what is being said to us here, but to denigrate or protest against such a telling vision.

Easter draws us to a man of sorrows, stripped bare and marred, suffering and dying that all such folly, all such hiding, be broken and we are once again exposed to the naked truth of the God we have to deal with, and the sin that so needs that bleeding, dying one.

"There is a truth here. The Cross is set up in the cosmos is order to give future to that which is passing away, firmness to that which is unsteady, openness to that which is fixed, hope to the hopeless, and in this way to gather all that is and all that is no more into the new creation" (Jurgen Moltmann. The Crucified God).

Many years ago, as I entered a church behind the bodily remains of a wife who had suffered with cancer, there was only one piece of music that fortified me so I could face that moment. It was taken from the books of Job and 1 Corinthians:

"I know that my redeemer liveth, and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh, shall I see God... For now is Christ risen from the dead".

The core of Christianity, because of His Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, is the redemption of all things, to His glory.

Never let anyone tell you it's anything less.






Thursday, 16 March 2017

The excellence of Jesus

Just had to share this superb message from my friend, Paul Blackham:

Saturday, 11 March 2017

gloriam hominis?

(Following on from my last posting...)

"Let your words be anything but empty
Why don't you tell them the truth?"  From Brave by Sara Bareillies


Words and Phrases. We're so used to them that sometimes we can neglect to really unpack what they're actually seeking to say (and what they're really telling us).

Recently, I've been looking at what's put up as the shop window blurb on the websites of the "new" (Principally Charismatic, so circa 1980's on) church growth movement churches, and it certainly says something.

Most of them want to talk about being part of what's deemed "bigger" than us - the revitalization, the transformation - ideas that would fit well into the designer label bag of most post-modernists (here be the dragons that continually feed upon themselves!). Whilst these notions certainly give what's served up a contemporary tag, it's how you access these attractions that's particularly telling. There isn't much by way of structural doctrine to define what's believed at the gateway (that, of course, is left to the initiation courses - usually "Alpha" - which come later) , but when it comes through, it's often phrases about getting to know 'Father' (God) essentially by the work 'of the Spirit', and this was where the real troubles start to appear.

Huh? someone may say - why does it matter?
Surely, these places are clearly attracting people towards 'god', so that has to be a good thing, right?

Well, let's look at a Biblical story for a moment to answer that.

The book of Acts has some pretty miraculous moments, and one of the most startling occurs quite early on, at the cusp of the new church just beginning to dip a toe into taking its message out further than Jerusalem.  A man named Phillip, who'd literally been a waiter before Saul started splintering the church community, had headed down to Samaria and was boldly preaching and casting out devils, when some trouble popped up in the form of a miracle man called Simon, who joined Phillip's entourage and then found himself eager to gain the kind of power these new teachers had, however much silver it cost him. This lead to a show-down with the likes of Peter and John, so things were certainly getting stirred up! Anyway, in the middle of all this, Phillip finds himself being told to chase down a chariot in the desert to speak to a guy on his way back to Africa. He heads off to the desert, does as he's told, and -whoosh!, then gets carried away to another town, a long way away in Caesarea, to carry on his work.

Did you see what I did there?

I told the outline - this happened, then this - of the story given in Acts 8, but I haven't actually said anything at all about what is at the hub of these events.

Before I say anything more, can you think what that might be?

If you can't, take a look at the chapter for a minute and then see if it comes to mind.

What's missing in my initial telling here has everything to do with what is also missing from the message of the websites I mentioned to begin with, and defines the trouble we all face today.

The Samaria story is filled with lots of exciting events - someone turns up and all manner of unexpected things happen as a result, but the entire narrative is given weight by that little 'footnote' of Phillip's side-trip into the desert.

Why?
Well, here, he meets someone from elsewhere who is struggling with the scriptures, and not just any 'ol portion of them - he's reading from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, speaking of one who will suffer for the sins of others.

Phillip's job was essential - to inform this stranger that the Prophet was speaking of the very one who had recently come and given Himself for us - to proclaim the one who had died and risen so that this man could trust in that atoning work and be re-born in baptism.

God took Phillip into the desert because this mattered, eternally.

So, look at that incident again, and tell me what's missing - what is it that needs to be mentioned, talked about, preached and proclaimed?

Here it is - "Then Phillip opened his mouth, and beginning with the scripture the man was reading, he told him the good news"... (wait for it)... "about Jesus" (Acts 8:35).

What mattered in what the church was doing at that very moment was something very clear-cut and essential, not only for those who belonged to it, but for the good of the whole world,
so, what's going on today?

Let me place this question in a somewhat broader context.


I recall some years ago on a radio broadcast how one of the shows team went to a major Christian convention in America and sought to interview people who were both running the event and attending by asking a couple of straightforward questions. These were:

What are the ten commandments?
What is the Gospel?
What does Justification mean?

Most of the responses weren't just bad, they were positively pagan, and whilst there were a couple of exceptions, the simple fact was people really didn't know what Christianity was at all - their churches were clearly failing them entirely.

We are imperiled, spiritually, when we are encouraged to move off from the vital truths of the faith, especially concerning The Preaching of the Cross (the saving work of Jesus Christ) to invest in a spirituality which majors in minors - a principal-based, naval-gazing spirituality that asks us to keep looking at ourselves in the immediate and at 'god' in the abstract (distant or spiritual, rather than present, in His Word and Sacrament). 

The plain and simple truth is we're often communicating a religion that fits right in with our own religiosity, not turning us, as the wretches we actually are, to the judgement and mercy required at the Cross.

Jesus tells us plainly - life isn't possible for you and I unless its via the gateway of His death (for our sins) and ours (by being crucified with Him), so that we can begin to partake of something very different - a life where we're fed by the Spirit speaking to us by God's word (meaning, not our intuitions, but the word that will never fade or fail).

So, as Easter arrives, where will we be?
Will the Jesus message this year be something mystical, or shrouded behind a deluge of 'new' praise sessions, or 'revelations' or will it be as real and as stark as it was on the first easter, requiring from us repentance and faith in the eternal work of the one became the Lamb slain for us?

Church really isn't about us 'doing' business with God. It's where we go to once again learn what God has done for us at one place, forever.

We cannot hope to save the world, or even help ourselves, unless that's where we focus.



Thursday, 2 March 2017

Beyond "Spirituality"

"I am the truth" 
Jesus (John 14:6).

Ever tried traveling in a vehicle with a troubling fault?
It doesn't even have to be that serious to be life threatening.

Some years ago, my late wife and I were heading back home in some pretty extreme conditions - thick mist and fog with that thin saturating rain - when the motor on the front windscreen wiper gave out. In a few seconds, it was impossible to see where we were going.

We can, hopefully, see the peril in everyday situations like this before they cause us any serious troubles, but similar perils appear to be something we can often be almost blind to when it comes to the condition and inclination of our own souls.

One of the key and essential truths that the Bible reveals about us all is that we all have a nature that determines that we will always veer towards darkness rather than light (Romans 1:19 onwards), to sin rather than to what is good (Romans 3:9-20), and thereby confirm that we are in a totally ruined condition, so how do you think we'll get on when it comes to loosing or choosing our religion? Interesting that Paul tells us in the first Romans passage I've mentioned here that this is the first place we can see the fault line that then allows us to go on to make all manner of other personally desired 'allowances'. This makes a lot of sense. if we have a 'god' (even if it's just our self-determination) which affirms our own core beliefs, then everything else (ethics, morals, cultural values and the like) will quickly fall-in behind that over-arching 'voice' as well.

All this matters a great deal when we come to consider current approaches and aspirations in what's voiced as 'nice' (having the right vibe) amidst the often zen-like popular harmonic that passes as valuable or acceptable 'spiritual' insight.

Collective 'belief making', principally through what's often posted in venues likes social media, blogs and other such venues has become a popular pastime. What is striking is to unpack what is going on as a result of this and similar modifying today. A US report of a few years ago came up with some interesting results. Here's a snippet:

Though the U.S. is an overwhelmingly Christian country, significant minorities profess belief in a variety of Eastern or New Age beliefs. For instance, 24% of the public overall and 22% of Christians say they believe in reincarnation — that people will be reborn in this world again and again. And similar numbers (25% of the public overall, 23% of Christians) believe in astrology. Nearly three-in-ten Americans say they have felt in touch with someone who has already died, almost one-in-five say they have seen or been in the presence of ghosts, and 15% have consulted a fortuneteller or a psychic. Nearly half of the public (49%) says they have had a religious or mystical experience, defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening.” This is similar to a survey conducted in 2006 but much higher than in surveys conducted in 1976 and 1994 and more than twice as high as a 1962 Gallup survey (22%). In fact, this year’s survey finds that religious and mystical experiences are more common today among those who are unaffiliated with any particular religion (30%) than they were in the 1960s among the public as whole (22%).

Of course, none of this is really that new - religion of all shapes and stripes (as long as they are 'nice') has always been in vogue (recall for a moment Paul's visit to Mars hill, and the comfortable fit between philosophy and numerous manifestations of worship). What is a little surprising here is how many professing Christians are making a great deal of accommodation for all manner of 'useful' ideas that are, in effect, contrary to the core message of the faith itself. This 'pick and mix' has certainly been evidenced many times before - Saul, for example, in the Old Testament, thought it might be OK to consult a medium when things got tricky for him. Solomon, after marrying countless wives and gaining a harem,  decided it was fine to play around with their beliefs as well, but these, and many other examples show us that the consequences are horrendous because such dabbling drives us right back to the human soul trifling with forces that have already imprisoned us.
With such dire consequences in mind, here are a few things to consider about the value of what's being shared as 'nice' in your neck of the woods...

The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that there is only one person and one place in all of heaven and earth, time and space, where you and I can be made free from our sin and severance from God - that is in the person of Jesus Christ and in His death and resurrection for us (Romans 3:21-26), so ask yourself this - when it comes to what I'm engaging with or promoting here, is it really pointing me and others to the Gospel of 'Jesus Christ and Him Crucified', or is it pointing somewhere else?

If what's going on is really talking about the nature of Christ and His redemption, then it's going to help us needy folk and do some good. If it's inviting us to head off down some other avenue of piety or enlightenment, then it's going to be a cul de sac, bending us back in upon ourselves, and that's going to bring the greatest pain of all.

The remedy to sin and death isn't easy - easter so starkly shows us that. The crucifixion was to deal with our ingrained condition - our sin. It was marked with a bruising of soul for our sorrows and iniquities. The true and lasting solution to our distance from the garden will come in the day of the new creation, when all the benefits of Christ's sacrifice are fully evidenced forever in a redeemed and renewed cosmos (Romans 8: 22 & 23). Until then, we are still bound by pain and corruption, and still know how venomous sin and death can be. The comfort is not in us. It is in Him who tasted death for us all that, finally, by His stripes, and only them, we may be healed (Isaiah 53: 3-12).

It so easy for us to 'channel' and proceed to mine the spirit of the age, but there is a far richer, deeper seam which God, in Christ, is wanting for us to discover and treasure.

As we approach another Easter, let's consider that.







Saturday, 18 February 2017

So, what's good here?

“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” 
 Warren W. Wiersbe


Harsh words, notes Solomon, stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1).
Imagine then, how the religious folk must have felt when Jesus speaks of them as being erroneous in their doctrine, self-serving in their piety, and criminal in their duties, amounting to a religion which adorned them externally, but did nothing worthwhile for them or those they were meant to aid (Matthew 23).

It wasn't just anger that lead Jesus to such plain words.
This passage ends with Him lamenting and weeping over such a gross falling from what was desired to be seen in God's priests (23:37-39) - that is why His words break and wound. Only such direct and candid honesty can begin to heal when we have become that embedded in our error (Psalm 147:3).

The problem with sin is that it doesn't just parade itself in what is obviously or inherently wrong - wouldn't that make things easy. When Satan beguiles Eve in the garden it's by adorning what is poison with an array of goals and intentions which sound so right.
The consequences of our succumbing to such wiles are remarkable - just consider Adam's words to God as he is busy covering his tracks (and himself) after being so fatally wrong (Genesis 3:10-14).

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul says that one of the telling marks of these times will be how rapidly people will seek to accumulate teachings and teachers that appeal, not to a need for truth, but to those things which so easily and readily please and satisfy ourselves, thereby wooing us away from the essential message that breaks us to heal us (2 Timothy 4:1-4).

We can find it so simple to fall into the trap that because something looks good, feels good and therefore must do me good, we determine it is good.

Shortly after his blunt admonishment to the religious guides of His day, Jesus was to be found nailed to a means of execution - 'religion' being in full accord with such a determination, but little did any power or authority, material or spiritual, realize that as He hung there, pouring out His life for those who reviled and judged Him, He was doing our world more good than any other at any moment in all of heaven and earth (Isaiah 53:3-6), so here's the question we have to ask -

does what we're doing in our 'spiritual' activities and attitudes point to the one who humbled Himself to death on a cross and to the life that comes from that source (Jesus Christ, and Him crucified), or are we chasing all kinds of other "good" stuff that we think is fine morally and spiritually, but is actually detaching us from the one thing we're meant to know and be sustained by? Do we have ears to hear what truly makes us healthy - the theology of the cross - or are we 'fired up' to have itching ears and feet to run here, there and everywhere to gain the latest 'blessing' that has been devised by the latest "revelation"?

It is so very easy for us to be like fallen Adam in the garden, railing like some petulant child about what we believe we need and wanting to find refuge anywhere but in peace with God by what He provides in the death of His Son. There is a plethora of ready "remedies" abroad today, so many in the church itself, which wants you to lay hold of something 'above and beyond' the one who was lifted up by God to bring the antidote to Satan's venom, but these incitements will leave us finally as blind and impoverished and as wretched as Adam seeking fig leaves.

Paul tells Timothy that he is 'poured out' by God in one work alone - clearly teaching the truth, proclaiming The Gospel (Romans 3:21-26) and that Timothy, by soberly taking heed of Paul's words, must follow his example.



We cannot truly afford to do anything less.

Avoid the theatrics and the illusions.
Let Christ be all in all.