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Archive for September, 2008

Some blogging encouragement

I checked my spam the other day and found great encouragement:

Well I think you are a genius and the post is marvelous.

Brightened my day no end.  The fact that it came from a man calling himself “Penis Enlargement” is neither here nor there.  I have instructed my filter to allow all such positive comments in future.

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Anyone else sick of the whole ‘Christ in the OT’ debate?  Man… some people just go on and on.

I’m announcing a new hobby horse – Christ in the NT.  In fact I think this is where you really see a preacher’s Christ-centredness.  We’ve had the rule drummed into us by now – Thou shalt ‘bridge to Christ’ at the end of an Old Testament sermon.  But does this ‘bridge’ come from convictions regarding Jesus the Word or is it simply a preaching convention that we slavishly follow? 

Well you can probably guess at the answer by listening to a preacher’s New Testament sermons.  Now I fail at this all the time but I think the challenge for all of us is this: Is Jesus the Hero of the sermon on the mount or Mark 13 or the gifts passages or James?  And the issue for this mini-series – what about the parables? 

Last time I looked at Matthew 13:44-46.  Who the man?  Jesus the Man.  He seeks and finds us and in His joy He purchases us.  All praise to Him.  As Piper likes to say ‘the Giver gets the glory’ and in this parable (contra Piper’s own interpretation of it) Jesus’ glory is on show as He gives up all for His treasured possession – the church.

In this post we’ll look briefly at the Good Samaritan: Luke 10:25-37 

First notice this: the teacher of the law asks ‘Who is my neighbour?’  This prompts the story.  At the end of the story Jesus asks Who was neighbour to the guy left for dead? (v36).  So now, think about this:  With whom is Jesus asking us to identify?  The priest? Levite? Samaritan?  No.  Not first of all.  First of all we are asked to see ourselves as the man left for dead.  And from his perspective we are to assess who is a good neighbour.  Here’s the first clue – we’re meant to put ourselves in the shoes of the fallen man.

Why do I say ‘fallen’?  Well the man’s fallenness is triply-underlined in v30.  He “goes down from Jerusalem (this earthly counterpart of the heavenly Zion).  He’s heading towards the outskirts of the land (Jericho) which is due east of this mountain sanctuary (echoes of Eden).  This would involve a physical descent of about a thousand metres in the space of just 23 miles.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the man “falls” among robbers.  He’s stripped, plagued (literally that’s the greek word), abandoned and half-dead.  That’s the man’s precidament and Jesus wants us to see it as our predicament.  So what hope do we have?

The priest?  Nope.  The Levite?  No chance.  What about a ‘certain Samaritan’ (mirroring the ‘certain man’ of v30)?  He’s not at all like the religious.  In fact the one who ‘comes to where the man is’ happens to be someone who’d equally have been shunned by the priest and Levite! 

Yet this Samaritan ‘had compassion’ (v33).  In the New Testament this verb, which could be translated ‘he was moved in his bowels with pity’, is used only of Jesus. (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mk. 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Lk. 7:13; 10:33; 15:20) In every narrative passage Jesus is the subject of the verb and the three parables in which it’s used are the merciful King of Matthew 18 (v27), here and the father in the Two Sons (Lk 15:20).  More about that in the next post.

Well this Good Samaritan comes across the man left for dead and for emphasis we are twice told about him ‘coming’ to the man (v33 and 34).  The Outsider identifies with the spurned and wretched.

Now remember whose shoes we are in as Jesus tells this story.  We are meant to imagine ourselves as this brutalized man.  Now read v34:

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own beast, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,’ he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Now I don’t have to tell you what these things mean.  You’ve got blueletterbible – you can do your own biblical theology of oil, wine, etc.  But remember you’re meant to be putting yourself in the position of this fallen man, left for dead, unaided by religion, healed by an extraordinary stranger and awaiting his return.  Are you there?  Have you felt those depths and appreciated those heights?  Well then, now:

You go and do likewise. (v37)

Don’t first conjure up the character of the good samaritan.  First be the fallen man.  First experience the healing of this Beautiful Stranger.  Then go and do likewise.

Or… leave Jesus out of it.  Spin it as a morality tale and end with “Who was that masked man? No matter – just go and do likewise.”  

See how important ‘Jesus in the NT’ is?

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Free to follow

Not sure it ever happened (happy to be contradicted), but what a good illustration as heard in this morning’s sermon by Neil Green (my vicar).

Abraham Lincoln was once at a slave auction.  A young girl was being sold, naked but for her shackles.  Lincoln was so distressed by the thought of her being bought by any of the rabble present that he bid for her himself.  As the price went up and up, Lincoln continued to outbid the rest and eventually he paid top dollar for her.  The girl was brought to Abe, petrified of what a man who paid so much would want with her.  Lincoln took off his great black cloak and clothed her saying ‘You’re free.’ 

The girl couldn’t believe it.  She said ‘You mean I can go?’ 

He said ‘Yes’. 

‘I can marry anyone I want?’ 

‘Yes.’  

‘I can work anywhere I like?’ 

‘Yes’ 

‘I can go anywhere I please?’ 

‘Yes.’  

‘Then,’ she said, ‘I will go with you.’

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So what are these parables about?

Matthew 13:44-46: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

I remember John Piper taking quite a long time (in Desiring God??) to argue that the man is us, the treasure is Christ and so we should joyfully give up all for Him.  In fact I often read or hear Piper returning to these parables and this interpretation of them.  I think it’s at least emblematic of three Piper distinctives:

1) treasuring Christ

2) joy as the atmosphere and motivation of our wholehearted service.

3) the gospel is not about Christ making much of us but freeing us to make much of Him

 

Now I have learnt as much from John Piper as I have from any contemporary Christian leader and I thank God for him.  Funnily enough though, it was his own arguments concerning the parables that convinced me of the other interpretation.  That is, the seeking man is Christ (just as Christ is the man throughout Matt 13), the found treasure is the church (eg Ex 19:6) and the world is the field (just as the world is the field throughout Matt 13).  Perhaps what tipped the balance most for me was the thought: if these were two parables about us finding Christ (rather than the other way around) they would be the only parables of their kind.  Elsewhere it is always we who are lost and Christ who seeks and saves. 

If this second interpretation is correct then it’s about Christ giving all to buy the world so as to possess His church.  He is the great Seeker and He is the great Treasurer.  He is the great Rejoicer and He is the great Sacrificer of all. 

What happens when we go with the Piper interpretation?  We become the great seekers, we are the ones who treasure, we are the great rejoicers and the ones who sacrifice all.  The weight is thrown back onto our shoulders.  Now to encourage us in this gargantuan work, this sustaining power is held out to us: We are told to prize and value and esteem and treasure and glory in the inestimable value of Christ.  In that joy will we find the strength to give all for the possession of Christ.  But we are assured that this is the way it has to be because the gospel is definitely not about Christ making much of us.  It’s about us being freed to make much of Him.  In fact I think it’s this conviction (grounded in Piper’s views of the self-centred divine glory) that underlies his interpretation of the parables.

What do we say to this? 

Well, first, just read the parables in context.  Shouldn’t we assume that the main Actor of the chapter remains the same? 

Second, ask questions about the gospel.  Isn’t Christ meant to be the active one?  Aren’t we the ones acted upon?  The lost who are found?  And don’t we love because He first loved us?

Third, ask questions about the nature of God’s glory.  In the radical othercentredness of the triune life, isn’t God’s eternal glory precisely in making much of the Other?  Isn’t it entirely fitting that this immanent love spills over in the economy of grace such that God is indeed glorified in His self-emptying exaltation of His people?  When we understand the trinitarian glory of God, don’t we then realize just how glorifying it is for Christ to make much of us?  (And even to do so when people don’t respond!)

Fourth, ask questions about the nature of the Christian life.  Sustaining joy is a wonderful thing, but doesn’t it flow from receiving Christ’s electing, sacrificial love first?  Doesn’t it overburden the Christian to put them in the role of the electing, sacrificing seeker?

Just some questions.  Let me state again, I’m a Piper fan.  I’ve listened to hundreds of talks, read loads of his books.  Once I even described myself as ‘a big fan’ to his face (bowel shudderingly embarrassing!). 

It wasn’t even my intention to write about Piper.  This post was meant to be the introduction to a mini-series on Christ in the parables.  Well, it is that too.  This is part one.  Christ is the man.  He is the merchant. 

There.  Point made.

Up next, the Good Samaritan, then the Two Sons.

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Blog Gold Dust

He doesn’t blog as often as some, but when he does he’s up there with my absolute favourites.  Andy Mason is consistently thought-provoking, Christ-centred, biblical, pastoral and stuffed full of grace through and through.  He’s been blogging more than usual this month – check it out!

On the subject – what golden nuggets am I missing as I plod around the blogosphere?  Have a look at my blogroll and see if you think there are any glaring omissions – always glad to be pointed to the good stuff. 

(btw I’m sure you’re all grown up enough to know that I don’t always agree with those on my blogroll.  I think it’s healthy to read beyond our own theological circles.  Maybe that’s why some of you read me!)

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Barcode Gun or Magnum?

In this post I’ve been thinking about how we tend to pray before evangelistic efforts

Often the prayers we say will sound something like:

‘Lord, open hearts in advance of your gospel. Prepare people now so that later we will come across those upon whom your Spirit has worked.’ 

If this is how we think then we’re basically conceiving of the gospel as a necessary instrument to salvation but it’s not really at the heart of the action.  The action happens in some prior (wordless) event.  The gospel word merely comes as confirmation of a previous display of divine power – it’s not the power itself.

 

On this view, the gospel is like a barcode gun. 

We zap a hundred people and – glory! – we discover that five had been slipped the right barcode in advance. 

The gospel here is confirmatory of a change that has happened elsewhere.  As I’ve said, it reveals a prior power.  It’s not the power itself.

 

But there’s another way to see the gospel.

The gospel is like a magnum!

The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).  Proclaiming the good news is unleashing divine power.  We fire off a hundred rounds of the gospel and a hundred people have felt the power of God – whether for their salvation or their greater condemnation.

The gospel does not merely confirm a prior mark placed on a person. The gospel makes the mark!

 

So as you go out into the world with the gospel, let this affect your confidence, your reverence and your prayerfulness: It’s not a barcode gun you carry – it’s a magnum. 

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No worries

From this sermon on Luke 12:1-12…

What is the most common command in the Scriptures? 

Fear not.  Do not be afraid. Hundreds of times in the whole bible – the message is repeatedly given “Don’t worry.” 

But we do.  All the time.  About everything.

I bet if I asked you to make a list of things you were worried about at the moment, you could reel off at least five without thinking about it. If I gave you enough time you’d fill a sheet of paper with worries.  We are fearful people.  And Jesus knows us.  So He keeps on persisting with this teaching, till maybe some of it sinks in. 

In Luke 12 we are told not to worry 6 times:

 

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid

 

…Don’t be afraid

 

11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry

 

22 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life

 

26why do you worry?

 

32Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

 

The repetition tells you – we’ve got a problem with fear.  But it also tells us, Jesus has a solution to fear. 

But Jesus’ solution to fear is different to our gut reactions to fear. 

We usually have one of two gut reactions to fear.  One reaction is to take the Nike logo to heart – Just Do It.  You’re afraid, so what, just do it.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell us that.

Everytime He says ‘Don’t be afraid’ He gives us a reason not to be afraid. And in this chapter it’s always one of two reasons.  He says ‘Don’t worry, God is very powerful.’ Or He says ‘Don’t worry, God loves you very much.’  He’s very powerful, He’s very loving – those are reasons not to worry and Jesus wants those truths to sink down into our hearts until the worry goes.  So Jesus does not say ‘I don’t care if you’re afraid, just do it.’  Jesus wants to address our fears, He wants us to examine them and to replace them with a confidence in His Father’s power and love.  

The other reaction we have to our fears is simply to run from them.  If our first reaction is the stiff upper lip, this reaction is the cowardly retreat.  Our fears dominate our lives so that we never do anything scary and we just live very dull lives, never risking anything. 

Sometimes I’ve spoken about fears and people have said to me ‘I don’t fear anything.  I’m not the kind of person that gets worried.’  My next question is – What risks do you regularly take?  When do you make yourself vulnerable to others?  How do you engage with and serve this broken world?  When have you tried to get new initiatives off the ground?  How often do you back a cause that won’t necessarily be popular?  When do you take moral stands? And this is the one that really bites:  How often do you speak up for Jesus even when it won’t be popular? 

Inevitably the answers to those questions are – I don’t.  A person who says they have no fear is almost always a person who is very controlled by fears.  They live a life of humdrum mediocrity, with very few highs, very few lows, they don’t speak out for Christ, they don’t stand up for Him, they don’t give their hearts and their service to others, they surround themselves with safety and comfort and in fact every aspect of their life is controlled by fear.  The cowardly retreat from fear is very common.  It’s in all of us.  It’s what stops us from being the radical disciples that Jesus calls us to be.

We’re not the people we want to be because of our fears.  It’s not that we’ve looked at the way of Jesus and said ‘I’d be perfectly happy doing that, I just don’t really fancy it.’  We’ve looked at it and said ‘I can’t do that – I’m petrified of living that life.’

And that’s why Jesus keeps coming to us saying – ‘Follow me and don’t be afraid’.  He doesn’t say ‘Follow me and stuff your feelings’.  And He doesn’t say ‘Don’t bother following me if you’re scared.’  He commands both: ‘Follow me and don’t be afraid.’

And this puts us onto one of the deepest truths about fear.  Freedom from fear does not come by staying safe.  Freedom from fear comes as you put yourself in danger.  It’s so counter-intuitive which is why we so rarely experience freedom from fear.  We try to find freedom from fear by avoiding all conflict and danger.  But you don’t find peace there – not God’s peace anyway.  You find God’s peace on the front lines.  God’s peace comes in war.  Freedom from fear comes as you take up your cross daily and follow Jesus to Golgotha.

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For more, go to my sermon on Luke 12:1-12

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Blood, blood, we cry

Check out this poem by D. Gwenallt, translated by Rowan williams – h/t Ben Myers

It’s called “Sin”

Take off the business suit, the old-school tie,
The gown, the cap, drop the reviews, awards,
Certificates, stand naked in your sty,
A little carnivore, clothed in dried turds.
The snot that slowly fills our passages
Seeps up from hollows where the dead beasts lie;
Dumb stamping dances spell our messages,
We only know what makes our arrows fly.
Lost in the wood, we sometimes glimpse the sky
Between the branches, and the words drop down
We cannot hear, the alien voices high
And hard, singing salvation, grace, life, dawn.
Like wolves, we lift our snouts: Blood, blood, we cry,
The blood that bought us so we need not die.

Wow!

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The State of Israel

Bobby has moved to blogspot.  He describes himself as pre-mill but “a half-step away from being a committed amillenialist.”  He’s asked the question about how a-millers view the modern state of Israel

I gave an ill-considered half answer.  What about others?  Dan Hames I’m looking in your direction?  Or post-mills?  I’d love to hear other views on this. So why not go on over and share the wealth.

Play nice though!

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We’re in the middle of a mission at the moment (prayers always welcome!).  One of the things we’re doing is door-knocking our neighbourhood and we’ve seen people turn to the Lord even on the door-step.  Praise God!

In our morning meetings there seems to be one kind of prayer that recurs more than any others – that God would prepare hearts so that when we arrive they are open to the gospel.  Now I’ll give a hearty Amen to all such prayers and, in His grace, God may well grant this.  But when we think about hearts opened, wouldn’t it be better to pray that the word itself will open hearts, conquer unbelief, awaken faith?  Is it possible that we’re separating word and Spirit by conceiving of evangelism in these terms?  Is there a danger that the power is thought of as separate from the gospel and not as the gospel itself?  (Rom 1:16).

I think I’d rather pray, “Lord, though the people we meet be stone-hearted, blind and lost in sin and blackest darkness, bring life and immortality to light through your gospel.  May your word do its almighty work and bring life from the dead.”

I’d certainly rather conceive of evangelism in those terms.  When we tell the gospel we’re not basically hoping that some have previously enjoyed God’s power.  Rather, we’re going with the power of God which is unleashed upon all, every time we speak of Christ.

 

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Do you ever wonder, like this blogger, if Jesus would actually like you?  Not whether some abstract principle of grace covers you.  But the question, How would the radical Jesus of the bible deal with you?

I mean the Guy’s fierce.  Totally uncompromising, pure.  No double-standards, no tolerance for double-standards.  He sees you to the bottom.  He knows your heart.  One sentence from His lips will expose you to the world.

More than this He’s walking the road to Golgotha and there’s only one way to follow – take up your cross and join Him.  On the way, confess His name to the world, stand behind His words, own Him to His deadliest enemies. Love your would-be killers, pray for your persecutors.  Got money?  Give it away.  Got possessions?  Sell them.  Let nothing hinder you.  Don’t settle your affairs first, don’t even bury your father.  Follow. 

Yikes.

Now think.  Who is surrounding Jesus, following along the Golgotha way?  The religious keen-beans right?  The professionally moral?  No chance.  Those guys are walking away conspiring to kill Him. 

Who is flocking to Jesus?  Sinners and tax collectors.  They run to the Holy One of Israel – the One who could throw them body and soul into hell. 

Try this as a test:  Read the last ten verses of Luke 14.  In it Jesus turns to the crowds and says:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters- yes, even his own life- he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Now read the first verse of Luke 15 (and remember that chapter divisions are not part of the original Scriptures):

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear him.

Huh??  Shouldn’t the ‘sinners’ be running for the hills?  How can Jesus turn up the discipleship temperature to nuclear and at the same time have the most notoriously immoral people draw near??

Well perhaps these words from Jesus will help.  They might just be my favourite:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

Jesus is not the Health Police – enforcing wellness, punishing the sick!  He’s the Doctor.  The sick do not run from Him but to Him.  It’s the ‘healthy’ who run away.  The ‘righteous’ cannot bear His presence.  Ostensibly they worry about Jesus’ reputation – eating with sinners.  In reality it is their reputation at stake – eating with the Doctor.  For to share His company is to admit to a deep spiritual sickness and to abandon the ‘healthy’ facade.

Yet for the sick, they have abandoned the healthy facade.  And they’ve come to realise that their sickness does not prevent them from coming to Christ.  Their sickness is why they come to Christ.  And so they come and find in Jesus a Doctor for Whom no disease is beyond His healing power. 

Jesus is the Doctor for sick sinners.  And this understanding is at the heart of the question ‘How does the radical Jesus of the bible deal with me?’  Not as the Health Police but as the Doctor.  He calls me to Himself in all my sin – in all my inability to follow.  

So Christ’s radical call to discipleship goes out.  If I’m seeing things clearly I know three things:

1) Jesus is right, that is the way. 

2) I have no chance of treading that path.  None. Zero. Squat.

3) Jesus is the Doctor – He and He only can take what is natural to me (desertion!) and turn it into discipleship.

In this way I answer Christ’s call.  I draw nearer to the One who commands, not because I recognize in myself the strength to answer His call.  But I recognize in Him the power to redeem my weakness.  It’s not about seeing health in us.  It’s all about seeing healing in the Doctor.

In the future (when I’ve got some time) I’ll look at Christ’s actual healings as demonstrations of just this dynamic. 

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Please Pray

UPDATE 15 October 2008: News from Barnabas Fund

UPDATE:  A letter from Orissa

UPDATE:  Go here for more news on the persecution of Indian Christians

UPDATE: The latest from Gospel for Asia

I got this by text on Thursday night:

“Please pray for Pastor Paul Thangaia (I think it’s spelt Paul Thangiah – Pastor of Bangalore’s largest church – 12 000 strong). RSS planned to kill him. They have already burnt 20 churches yesterday. They plan to destroy 200 churches in Orissa. BJP has also planned to kill him and 200 pastors in the next 24 hours.”

 

Gospel for Asia suggest the following prayer points for the situation in general.

  • Ask God to specially assign His angels to watch over and protect His people, evangelists, pastors and church leaders in these areas
  • Pray that police and government officials will bring the violence under control immediately.
  • Pray that God will strengthen the church with courage, boldness, strong conviction and faith in the Lord to stand firm for His name during these days.
  • Pray that the enemies of the Gospel will be visited by the love of the living and true God and that a great number of them will turn to Him.
  • Pray for the suffering Christians to receive justice and favor in this hour of crisis.
  • KP Yohanan recorded this three days ago:

    If anyone knows more, please do comment with links.  And let’s pray.

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    The other night I was talking to someone about my latest hobby horse (personality types).  To my shame I found myself using the past tense about Jesus. 

    Now there are many appropriate ways of doing that: e.g. “Christ died for sins, once for all.”  But when we’re talking about Christ’s character, how horrible to find yourself describing Him merely in the past tense.  Certainly His encounters with people in the Scriptures (whether with Adam or Jacob, Elijah or Nicodemus) show us brilliantly what He was like.  But, but, but…  It’s all to the end of showing us who He IS.

    Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Heb 13:8)

    Who He is in His word is who He is right now as He encounters you by His Spirit in the pages of Scripture and the words of your brothers and sisters.  The same Jesus addresses you today with the same character and in the same power.

    It’s been a real joy preparing a sermon on Mark 1:40-2:17 for this Sunday.  Jesus cleanses the leper, forgives the paralytic and dines with the tax collector.  That’s what He was like.  That’s what He is like.

    We the unclean, the weak, the sinful, the outcasts, the shamed – we are the same as them.  And He is the same as then.

    Do you recognize yourself in the leper, the paralytic and the tax collector?  Then Jesus is saying to you right now:

    I am willing, be clean.

    Son, Daughter, your sins are forgiven.

    I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.

    Jesus Christ is now to you what He was to them.  You can stake your life on it.

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    Codepoke made this comment on my last post on “personality types

    Still conflicted. :-)

    If the Spirit has gifted you as a pastor and you torture yourself trying to prophecy, you have not benefited anyone. Some are eyes and some are feet. When the eye tries to do its part in the body by being walked on, good things do not happen to the eye or to the body. Taking guidance from a foot, savoring our food with our hands, and balancing the checkbook with our tongues would all be egalitarian but not spiritual.

    Yes it’s possible to err with the personality message, but it’s possible to err with spiritual gifts too. It makes no more sense to throw the one out than the other.

    If Jesus made the evergreen and the deciduous tree, should the deciduous tree feel guilty for not being always green? And if Jesus made one man an NF and the other an SJ will He iconoclastically make both into the “perfect” neutral personality?

    Good points!

    Let me make a couple of clarifications:

    1) The trinity tells me that difference in no way compromises one-ness / equality.  One of my hobby horses is to allow the Persons to be considered in all their distinctiveness and not let them be dissolved into some common essence.  Humanity made in the image of this God will wonderfully reflect these distinctions.  Difference is not at all a bad thing!

    2) There is definitely such a thing as natural temperament – ie a way that this Trinue God has made me.  Pre-fall and post-return we will still be gloriously different from one another and should not bemoan this fact but rejoice in it. The ‘perfect’ personality is certainly not ‘neutral.’

    3) There are definitely different Spirit-given gifts that do not work against unity but are in fact an expression of our unity – even in all our distinctness. (cf 1 Cor 12)

    Posts like this one have me banging the drum for all these points.

    4) There are spiritual gifts that specially equip certain people to serve the body in particular ways. 

    5)  Having said this, we all have certain responsibilities to uphold even if we don’t have that gifting.  Some have the gift of service (Rom 12:7) but all should serve.  Some have the gift of ‘contributing to the needs of others’ (Rom 12:8) but all should give.  Some have the gift of evangelism (Eph 4:11) but all should play their part in evangelism.  Some have the gift of administation (1 Cor 12:28) but all have admin to do, etc. 

    6) I can bring my giftings and differentness to bear in a very rich way upon the tasks I’m called to do.  I will serve differently to you, give differently, evangelise differently and administrate differently – all to the glory of God.  And the church should definitely not seek to do those things in a monochrome way.

    7) I recognize in myself advantages to being laid back when it comes (for instance) to admin.  If my deadline is Friday and an emergency comes up Wednesday afternoon it does not phase me in the slightest.  In fact I’m pretty cool when Thursday goes up in smoke too.  I know that I can work close to the deadline and that does free me to serve elsewhere with less distraction / guilt / pressure earlier in the process.  I also recognize that for larger projects those with the gift of administration can serve me by setting me mini-deadlines along the way and getting me to be more forward thinking.  In this example we’re all doing admin but we’re doing it in line with our different giftings.  Great!

    But…

    8) I’m not sure Jesus made me ‘ENFP’.  In fact I’m pretty sure He didn’t.  I’ve read school reports from Australia (where I lived until I was 15) and I was hard-working, diligent, organised, focussed etc etc.  When I moved to the UK I found that I was ahead of the school curriculum by at least 18 months in every subject.  I also found that it really, really was not cool to work hard in the UK.  So I stopped.  I then went to a tertiary institution whose unofficial motto was “Effortlessly superior.”  And that pretty much defined the personality idol that I sought.  Throbbing behind ENFP for me is this counterfeit motto: ‘Effortlessly superior.’  I’m not purely and simply ENFP, I know in myself that I seek after such a persona, attempting to justify myself before this false god.  (I am an appallingly sinful, proud young man and I’m aware that my experience will not be the same as others.  But on the off chance that there are other who sin in these kinds of ways I offer these cautionary thoughts.)  

    9) I certainly had the experience (and I know others have as well) of filling out my Myers-Briggs test and being aware that my answers conformed as much to an ideal that I nurture as they did to genuine reality.  This is what I mean about our personality types being aspirational.  There’s a big part of me that wants to say ‘I’m not an admin person.’  And this has nothing to do with my organizational abilities.  It is purely a kind of snobbery that says ‘Admin is not rock and roll.’  Certain tasks do not conform to the image I have of myself.  And so I let them drop and I justify it saying ‘I am not…’

    10)  ENFP is not who I am.  ENFP has a great deal to do with sinful choices I have made in order to navigate life according to false views of identity, justification, true life.  I certainly do have a God-given temperament and I certainly do have particular spiritual gifts but I wouldn’t equate that with my Myers-Briggs type.  Not at all.

     

    Your example, codepoke, of doing admin in a different way from your gifted daughter is pretty much the perfect example of what I’m wanting to say.  You are well aware that just because Myers-Briggs calls you ‘NFP’ does not excuse you from being faithful in the tasks God has given you, rather your differentness gives you a distinct and valuable way of doing that.  And it certainly will involve, at many points, handing off things to others in the body who are gifted for it. 

    If we’re mature (like codepoke – I mean that!) we’ll handle this with humility and joy!  Humility because we confess that these things are great things to do but that I am desperately inadequate for them.  Joy because I rejoice in the giftings of others and the Spirit-given unity we have in Christ’s body.

    If we’re immature (like me!) we’ll handle that with pride and/or despair.  Pride because deep down I’m saying ‘I’m not that kind of person (whose abilities I don’t greatly value anyway).’  Despair because I’d really like to be omnicompetent and not need help.

    I’m sure I’ve overstated things in my usual soap-box style.  But you’ll be aware by now that these issues lie close to some pretty strong idols for me – hence the vigourous tone and lack of nuance.  Correction and criticism always very welcome (he said in a very non-ENFP kind of way). 

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    In talking about ‘personality types’ and how they play out in the day-to-day, I’ve been particularly interested in how aspirational these really are.  “Out-going, big-picture, laid-back, last-minute” is not simply how I’m hard-wired (although there is something to that).  But much more, it’s a fantasy construct that I’ve hit upon – an ideal persona in which I seek identity and life.  In other words, an idol.

    I was reading Psalm 135 the other day:

     15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. 16 They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; 17 they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. 18 Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.

    It got me thinking – if we become like our idols then for every ‘personality type’ there lies behind it an idol-personality – some ‘ideal’ persona.  Our natural temperaments might not be a million miles from these personas but very often we will work hard to fit ourselves into these moulds.  For some “Dependable, unflappable” is their ideal projection.  For others “never-plays-by-the-rules, unpredictable” is a more attractive idol.  But neither of these are simply given, natural, neutral personalities – to a large degree they are chosen.  And chosen as an identity by which we avoid the thorns and sew together our fig-leaves. 

    In all this it becomes obvious that what we think of Jesus will be both a reflection of, and the source of, our own personality.  Since Jesus is, at base, the greatest desire of our redeemed hearts, these things will be mutually informing – our apprehension of Him and His transformation of us. (cf 2 Cor 3:18)

    This alerts us to two things.  First – the the dangers of fitting Jesus into our own mould.  I will always be tempted to confuse Jesus with my personality idol.   If I’m ENFP because deep-down I desire that persona above all others, I will naturally want to see Jesus fit that type.  It will be all too easy to view Jesus through that grid.

    But second, this shows us the way out of these false personas.  Namely, sticking close by the biblical Jesus and allowing Him to break down the idols of our hearts.  This will happen in two ways – I will see that Jesus is so much greater than what’s good about my ‘type’ and He’s completely different to all that’s bad. 

    If I think I’m a really intense person, Jesus is infinitely more so.  Can I stare down the risen Christ of Revelation 1 whose eyes blaze with fire?  If I think I’m cool under pressure, Jesus is infinitely more so.  Could I ever act the way Jesus did the night before His godforsaken execution?   

    On the other hand, if I’m laid-back then I should study hard the zeal of Jesus.  If I’m rigid I should admire the flexibility of Jesus.  If I’m shy I must be challenged by the boldness of Jesus.  If I’m loud I must heed the gentleness of Jesus. etc etc 

    Renounce your ‘type’, pick up the bible and allow Jesus to be the iconoclast of ‘personality’.

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    I am not…

    Here’s an example of how we shape our own “personality types” which then shape us.

    I went to bible college saying very strongly both outwardly and inwardly “I’m not a linguist.” Why would I say such a thing? Well not on the basis of terrible school grades or any nightmare disputes with snooty French maitre d’s. When it boils down to it, my problem is this: language learning requires simple hard work – learning declensions and conjugations and endless vocab.  Basically I’d far rather invest my time finely tuning some doctrine essay than learn a list of irregular verbs. The pay-off simply seemed much greater. After all I’m a big-picture, artsy kind of guy. I’m not a linguist. (Note well the strong sense of a cultivated identity driving things).

    So what happened? Well the indicative “I’m not a linguist” translated (as indicatives always do) to action. In this case: retreat from languages into other areas that I found naturally easier. So my efforts in languages were very ordinary. And guess what? So were my grades. So what did I conclude? “I’m not a linguist.” These things really do become self-fulfilling.

    Surely I should have been telling myself: “I am a linguist.” The Lord has called me to be a teacher of His word and therefore He has equipped me to be the linguist I need to be. Whether I’ll wow people with my brilliance in the subject is an entirely different (and irrelevant!) matter. The fact is, when it comes to languages no-one gets away without hard work and no-one gets to play their ‘personality type’ as an excuse to retreat from it. From the indicative of ‘By the Lord’s strengthening I am a linguist’ ought to have flowed the imperative ‘Be the linguist He’s called you to be.’ Instead I retreated into my type.

    I’m fighting a similar battle at the moment with an extremely deep-seated self-identification “I don’t do admin.” Is this some morally neutral, hard-wired fact of my ‘personality’? No, it’s a sinful pattern that I’ve fed for years. Any help gratefully received.
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    From the ridiculous to the sublime.

    I’ve posted quite a few long-winded reflections on faith in the past.  (And how we shouldn’t reflect too much on it!)  Here, here, here and here

     But they’re all summed up and vastly surpassed by one paragraph of Stott’s Romans commentary:

    “Further it is vital to affirm that there is nothing meritorious about faith, and that, when we say that salvation is ‘by faith, not by works’, we are not substituting one kind of merit (‘faith’) for another (‘works’).  Nor is salvation a sort of cooperative enterprise between God and us, in which he contributes the cross and we contribute faith.  No, grace is non-contributory, and faith is the opposite of self-regarding.  The value of faith is not to be found in itself, but entirely and exclusively in its object, namely Jesus Christ and him crucified.  To say ‘justification by faith alone’ is another way of saying ‘justification by Christ alone’.  Faith is the eye that looks to him, the hand that receives his free gift, the mouth that drinks the living water. ‘Faith… apprehending nothing else but that precious jewel Christ Jesus.’ (Luther’s Galatians).  As Richard Hooker, the late sixteenth-century Anglican divine, wrote: ‘God justifies the believer – not because of the worthiness of his belief, but because of His worthiness Who is believed.’  (John Stott, The Message of Romans, IVP, 1994, p117-118).

     

    Isn’t that brilliant?

    He goes on a bit later…

    “…The antithesis between grace and law, mercy and merit, faith and works, God’s salvation and self-salvation, is absolute.  No compromising mishmash is possible.  We are obliged to choose.  Emil Brunner illustrated it vividly in terms of the difference between ‘ascent’ and ‘descent’.  The really ‘decisive question’, he wrote, ‘is the direction of movement’.  Non-Christian systems think of ‘the self-movement of man’ towards God.  Luther called speculation ‘climbing up to the majesty on high’.  Similarly, mysticism imagines that the human spirit can ‘soar aloft towards God’.  So does moralism.  So does philosophy.  Very similar is the ‘self-confident optimism of all non-Christian religions’.  None of these has seen or felt the gulf which yawns between the holy God and sinful, guilty human beings.  Only when we have glimpsed this do we grasp the necessity of what the gospel proclaims, namely ‘the self movement of God’, his free initiative of grace, his ‘descent’, his amazing ‘act of condescension’.  To stand on the rim of the abyss, to despair utterly of ever crossing over, this is the indispensible ‘antechamber of faith’.”  (John Stott, The Message of Romans, IVP, 1994, p118.  Brunner quotes from The Mediator)

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    In the debates on justification – don’t ever lose those two paragraphs!! 

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    Worship to honour the Lord

    Perhaps most ironic of all is the worship leader’s opening prayer – a desire to honour the Lord.

    Suggestions please for the absolute worst aspect of these ten minutes.  There’ll be some competition I tell ya.

     

    “Jack Black’s” hair-do

    The sock spinning

    “Everybody!  You’re not spinning anything!”

    The song!

    “Hands in the air like you just don’t care”

    “The Holy Ghost Hoedown”

    Starting a love train

    “Mess us up! Mess us up! Mess us up!”

    The 2Unlimited synth solo at 8:10

    “Give Him Glory”

    “We love the Lordy”

    If anyone’s speechless, just leave the comments form blank.

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