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Archive for April, 2009

homers-scream 

About 8% of the UK population will suffer from panic attacks in their lifetime. (source)

 

 

 

A friend of mine recently told me her best advice for handling a panic attack: 

 

 

 

 

When I feel one coming on I reach into my handbag for two things:  a sweet and a bible verse.

 

help-for-panic-attacks

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Dan Hames tells us why here

He covers:

‘You don’t have time’,

‘You think the bible’s all about you,’ and

‘You think your bible reading is for God’s benefit.’

 

In this context the Bible is given to us as a gift to feast on, rather than a project to complete before judgment day.  We will find we go to it to savour and enjoy, and when we miss a day we might feel hunger pangs, but we could never feel guilt, fear, or condemnation.  In the same way that skipping breakfast is more of a missed opportunity than a morally dubious choice; not going to the scriptures for nourishment is not a matter of calling down the anger of God, but of omitting to take advantage of his good gifts to his children.

Nice.

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Tim Challies has quoted a pithy saying of Ligon Duncan’s:

Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator.

Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a mediator.

What do we reckon?

Here’s what’s great about it.  It affirms that our experience of eternity hinges on our relationship to the Mediator.  It also affirms that God is not absent from hell.  Both those things are true and worth lifting up.

But I think there are better ways of saying such things.  Here’s what’s unhelpful about it:

  1. In terms of our doctrine of God – what sense can be made of ‘God without a Mediator’?  Trinity means that mediation goes way back.  WAY back.  And WAY forwards.  1 Corinthians 8:6 – all things have always been from the Father and through the Lord Jesus.  All things.  And all things always will be.  Who is this God who is without His Mediator. I simply can’t recognize ‘God without a mediator’ as the Christian God.
  2. In terms of our christology – does this sentiment give Christ His due?It could lead people to suppose that Christ is simply the wrath-averter.  Now of course He is the wrath-averter.  And if He was only the wrath-averter we would still praise Him into eternity for it.  But He is far more than this.  He is the Mediator of all the Father’s business.  Christ does not exist for our benefit – we exist for His.  The saying above could be easily misconstrued to mean that the Mediator is extremely important for us – but not so important for God.  No.  He is essential to the divine life before we ever consider His importance for us. 
  3. In terms of Scripture – 2 Thes 1:9 “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” (KJV)  There’s a translation issue about the preposition (‘apo’).  Should it be translated ‘from’ or ‘away from’?  I favour ‘from’ – ie implying that Christ is present in judgement.  This goes with Revelation 14:10 where the damned are tormented in the presence of the Lamb.  See also Rev 1:18 where Jesus is presented as the Jailor of death and hades, and Rev 6:16-17 where it’s the wrath of the Father together with the Lamb.  Jesus expressly says in John 5:22 that the Father has entrusted all judgement to Him. 

What does this mean?  It means that hell is being in the presence of God who continues to mediate His judgement through the Son.  There is no such thing as ‘God without a mediator’. 

I’ve got some more to say on this, but I’ll wait for another post… 

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Some housekeeping

First, I had my laptop stolen last month.  And on it were a few emails from blog readers kind enough to write to me.  If you’re out there, please feel free to email again, but unfortunately I don’t have your addresses.

Second, since my laptop was stolen I’ve not had google reader feeding me a thousand posts a minute.  Which has been kind of nice actually, but it’s meant that I haven’t been visiting blogs that much at all.  Sorry if you haven’t heard from me for a while.

Third, my blog roll is a gargantuan mess.  It hasn’t been updated in about 18 months.  And it has some glaring omissions like Dave K at the 48 files – one of my absolute favourites.  I will seek to rectify this soon.

Fourth, I realise my posts have been pretty negative of late.  One day critical of the macho-men, next day critical of the scholarly types.  I’m not in a particularly critical or downbeat mood – just coincidence that a couple of different things raised my hackles simultaneously. I’ll try to be more positive in future! 

As a token of this, I present to you a little video I’d like to call:

 “In your face, ping pong dude!”

from Ray Ortlund

 

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O thou brain — exalted, senior,
Holding forth from pulpit’s throne.
Feed us with thy academia,
Meted out in monotone.
     ‘We could never,
     ‘We could never,
     ‘Plumb such myst’ries on our own.’

Hear the classics now recited,
Tumbling from thy tutored lips.
Nooks ignored are now ignited,
By thy greek and latin quips.
     ‘O how richly
     ‘O how richly,
     ‘Wisdom from each sentence drips.’

Teach us frames to fathom glory,
Scriptures’ tale doth not agree.
Pure distil the Jesus story,
Into subtle sophistry.
     ‘All was darkness
     ‘All was darkness,
     ‘Till thou spoke and now we see.’

Pompous, ponderous, proud, pretentious,
Leaning o’er thy preacher’s perch.
Pressing out the sap that quenches,
Thirst for knowledge, Eden’s search.
     ‘Breathe thy wisdom
     ‘Breathe thy wisdom
     ‘Till inflated is thy church’

O thou noble mind pray guide us,
Through the darkness and the lies.
Warn us from thy foul deriders,
We shall fear, avoid, despise.
     ‘Raise a banner
     ‘Raise a banner
     ‘We shall chant thy tribal cries.’

How to mark our true devotion?
What could ever count as praise?
But to clone thy stale emotion,
Forced to feign thy learned ways.
     ‘Where’s my pulpit?
     ‘Where’s my pulpit?
     ‘I’ll abide there all my days.’

Marching strong into the brightness,
Resolute, we set our face.
Staunch persistence, clothed in rightness,
Rectitude, our saving grace.
     ‘Call us onward
     ‘Call us onward
     ‘Grimly to our resting place.’

Then one day in vindication,
Face to face at last we’ll see
Precious few in that location,
Gathered with thy coterie.
     ‘Now receive us
     ‘Now receive us
     ‘To thy ‘ternal library.’

 

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I’ll confess I’m part of the problem as much as I’m part of the solution.

But part of the solution is confessing there’s a problem.

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From a random internet sermon I listened to this evening:

God does not react.  He cannot react. God is pure initiation.  He only leads.

Where has this assumption come from?  Not trinitarian reflection.

Where does it lead?  Philosophical determinism.

What would it look like to begin with the living God Who initiates and responds, Who leads and follows?

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While I’m talking about masculinity etc (here and here)…

1. Who am I head of?  Not my church.  That post is filled.  And not women in general – I trust married men react with protective outrage at the suggestion I possess some measure of headship over their wives.  I am head of my wife.  Full stop.

2. Therefore the expression of my God-given headship is not a general leadership quality but a particular loving movement towards my woman.  My masculinity is most tested by my ability to move into my wife’s world with gentleness (Col 3:19), understanding (1 Pet 3:7) and sacrifice (Eph 5:25).  (In fact GUS is the acronym I use to pray for my marriage.)  Whatever definition of a ‘real man’ that the culture or the church comes up with, if this ‘man’ is unwilling or unable deeply to touch a woman – his woman – he is not yet the man he ought to be.

3.  I’ve never heard it advocated but I wonder whether ‘headship’ has a great deal to do with prayer.  The argument goes something like this:  OT headship has deep military significance.  e.g. “The LORD thunders at the head of His army.” (Joel 2:11)  Our battles are with spiritual powers through prayer.  (Eph 6:10-20).  Therefore headship is being prayer warrior for your wife.  To see a ‘head’ at their most manly is to see him on his knees.

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It’s an age-old question, but it’s taken the Flight of the Conchords to pose it again with aching poignancy:

What man?  Which man?  Who’s the man?

When’s a man a man?

What makes a man a man?

Am I a man?

Yes… technically I am.

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On reflection there were two models of masculinity on show at the London Men’s Convention on Saturday.

The first was communicated in mainly non-verbal ways.  As John has put it, there was, at times, a ‘Top Gear’ spirituality (Top Gear is a popular British TV programme where middle aged men salivate over an array of sports cars).  You can guess the kinds of things – jokes about sports teams, jokes about baldness (lots of them!), jokes about scrotums.  All the usual stuff.  There was an uncomfortable insistence on making fun of the main speaker (Tim Keller) in a laddish kind of, ‘Hey, you big bald son of a gun.  Not much hair on you is there? Baldy.  You big bald son of a bald man. Ha!’  That kind of thing.   Graciously Keller did not call down bear attacks as was his right as prophet of the LORD.  Now that really would have sorted out the men from the boys.

(Just as an aside – British men, the cruelty that passes for ‘banter’ among men is quite shocking for foreigners to cope with.  On one hand I speak as someone who’s lived here half his life and, for better and for worse, speaks the lingo.  I also speak as an Australian male.  But I confess that even we hard-headed convicts gape in wonder at the incessant jibes about ‘Fatty’ and ‘Who ate all the pies?’ when the man in question is only slightly overweight.  Or ‘baldy’, when we’re really dealing with a high forehead.  Or – and I dare not even name what red-heads are called in this country.  I would try to dissuade anyone with auburn hair or lighter from stepping foot in the British Isles.  The word “Ginger” could be followed by any number of appellations, most of them four-letter.  And this kind of culture is rife in the church too.  Last night in the pub I heard two Christian men speak about another Christian friend in shockingly unChristian ways.  But it was completely in keeping with this lads culture.)

Under this first model of masculinity we’re told that we have a God given masculinity to be lived out.  Which is true.  We’re told what a huge problem it is when men aren’t real men.  Which is true.  But then it’s basically assumed that everyone knows what a real man is.

So Mark Driscoll bemoans the prevalence of ‘chickified’ men in church.

Apparently the real men are those “watching a ball game, making money, climbing a mountain, shooting a gun, or working on their truck.”  And these are the men that are getting it done in the world.  So Driscoll wants these kind of men in the church.

Well.  Alright.  It’d be great to have them in church.  And yes, in some limited sense they’d make a welcome change from the other kind of false masculinity that abounds.  But let’s be clear – all natural masculinity is wicked.  Masculinity as it occurs in its natural state is horribly and dangerously perverted.  Whether the perversion occurs in the cowardly retreat direction or the aggressive domination direction, it’s a perversion.

The other model of masculinity came in Keller’s talk on the cross.  He took us to Gethsemane where Jesus was at His wits end, craving the support of friends, crying, sweating blood contemplating the cross.  The furnace of God’s wrath lay ahead of Him.  He begged His Father for another way.  But there was no other way to save us.  The prospect was simple: It was Him or us.  And so Jesus said ‘Father, Let it be me.’

That’s a man.

Laying down His life for others, bearing shame in their place, accepting weakness to strengthen them.  None of these things looked impressive.  He looked like a total failure, naked and choking to death on a cross.  He did not look manly.   And men from all sides told Him so.  They had all sorts of opinions about what Jesus needed to do to be a real man.  They were all wrong.  He reigned from that tree.  Here was the manliest thing ever done.

And it has nothing to do with back-slapping dudesmanship.  It’s not about being mechanical or sports-loving.  And it’s not threatened by aesthetic sensitivity or quiet thoughtfulness.  It’s defined by heart-felt, loving, sacrificial service.  It’s stepping into the roles Christ has for us and saying ‘My life for yours.  My weakness for your strength.  Father, Let it be me.’

Oh for real men!  Oh to be a real man.  But not like those ‘real men’ we’re told to be.

More posts on masculinity:

Larry Crabb on gender

Three thoughts on headship

He said – She said

Is the fruit of the Spirit too sissy for real men?

What real men look like

Spouse speak

Arian misogyny

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Vicarious hope

Having thought about the vicarious worship of Jesus, I’ve been reflecting on examples of vicarious hope in our marriage.

There have been a few times in our marriage where one of us has turned to the other and said something like this:

— I really can’t imagine a way forward here.

— Oh but there is.

— I don’t see it.

— I do.  I promise I do.

— …Ok.

The feeling of hope is not there.  But it’s enough to rest in the hope of another.

Sometimes Christian hope is like this.  “Jesus, I don’t see a bright future.  But I know that you do.  And that’s enough for me right now.”

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puffer-fish

 

Apparently the Sandemanians followed Robert Sandeman in asserting that saving faith involved mere assent to doctrinal facts.  Apparently they were soundly refuted by Andrew Fuller.  Apparently we needed to know this at a gathering of thousands of Christians today in London.  Three sentences on the subject were dropped into a short talk on how we should view the Scriptures.  These apparently important names then disappeared from the scene as quickly as they had appeared.  Only to be replaced by other names and theologies most people had never heard of.  And these were similarly disposed of with an assured riposte that must have sounded satisfyingly stinging if only anyone had known what the issues were.

Was this an accurate account of the Sandemanian controversy?  I have no idea.  Neither, I hazard to guess did the four thousand other Christians present there.  What makes me dubious of the speaker’s sweeping assessments is the fact that one of the many names he dropped and then dismissed was Barth.  His three sentences on Barthian approaches to Scripture were so unrecognizable I wondered whether he had mis-typed the name into Wikipedia.

But really, dear reader, I don’t care to defend Barthians and I certainly don’t care to defend Sandemanians.  I don’t care to raise their names at all.  Unless of course the conference was on historical or systematic theology.  But it wasn’t.  It was a men’s convention.  For men.  Dudes.  Guys.  The great majority were Christian but the thing’s supposed to be open to non-Christians, seekers, etc.  So here’s the question.  Why on earth drop names like this?

Think about the tone!  What kind of dismissive, know-it-all spirit do we convey when we raise and then dismiss whole movements in a paragraph.

What does it convey about where we think the real issues in the spiritual life lie.  Apparently they lie in debates which ordinary folk know nothing of but which clever clogs (who’ve been to seminary don’t you know) can convey to you. 

Why do we want people to know that we know these names and controversies?

In the same letter where Paul berates the Corinthian spirit of saying ‘we know…’ (1 Cor 8) he tells us what he knows.  He was determined to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified.  (1 Cor 2:1-5)

If we’re wanting to convey other kinds of knowledge the question must always be raised – why?

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Following on from my last post – Psalms are about Christ.   They tell of the interaction between the LORD, the King through Whom He rules, the righteous who hide in Him and the wicked who rebel. 

These interactions are pictured from many angles.  But one key perspective is for the King Himself to speak.  This most often happens in the Psalms ‘Of David’.

Of course all the kings reigned under the knowledge that they were simply throne-warmers for the King to Whom universal tribute was due. (Gen 49:10)  But David was the most idealized of these kings.  The Messiah is often spoken of simply as David.  (e.g. Ezekiel 34:23f; 37:25).  And David himself is aware of his idealized role.  Just before his death he said: “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; His word was on my tongue.” (2 Sam 23:2)  He didn’t speak better than he knew, but he certainly spoke better than he lived. In the Psalms the king most often spoke as The King.  The anointed one spoke most often as The Anointed One. 

Peter confirms this for us in Acts 2.  Even when David spoke in the first person he was speaking the words of Christ (see Acts 2:25).  Quoting Psalm 16, Peter makes it clear that David was not describing his own experience. (Paul underlines this in Acts 13:36-37).  Rather, David “was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:30-31).

Does this mean that such Psalms have no application to David?  No of course they do – but such application runs from Christ to David rather than David to Christ.  This is the nature of the whole of David’s life –  from shepherd boy to rejected ruler, to reigning king to his death, he is a shadow of the Coming King.

This is my understanding anyway.  Whether you take the Psalms from David to Christ or Christ to David, I hope we can all agree that the emotions and experiences of ‘The King’ are ultimately taken up and owned by Christ.

All of this is just a precursor to what I really want to discuss…  What do we do with the Psalmist’s intense desire for the LORD?

On one level that’s simple – copy it.  Be challenged by it.  Be inspired by it.  Seek it for yourself.

Well, yes, ok.  But here’s the question – what do I do when I don’t earnestly desire the LORD?  Because maybe once or twice in your life your white hot devotion to God has dipped below the zeal of the Psalmist.  What do you do then?

Here’s the first level of my response:  When I don’t desire God, first I need to see that Christ does.  And He does so for me.

What do I mean? 

Well take a favourite Psalm of mine: Psalm 63

Here the Psalmist says:

 1 O God, you are my God,
       earnestly I seek you;
       my soul thirsts for you,
       my body longs for you,
       in a dry and weary land
       where there is no water.

 2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
       and beheld your power and your glory.

 3 Because your love is better than life,
       my lips will glorify you.

 4 I will praise you as long as I live,
       and in your name I will lift up my hands. 

Now be honest, doesn’t some part of you go “Really?  Have I really beheld His power and glory?  Really?  Have I in the past and will I in the future praise Him so wholeheartedly?  Really?  As long as I live?  Am I perjuring myself here??”

But friend, read on to the final verse…

 11 But the king will rejoice in God

These are the words of the king – the king on whose lips are the words of The King.  And He has beheld the power and glory of the LORD in the ultimate sanctuary.  He is the ultimate, white-hot Worshipper of God.  These words are not a guide to human worship so much as a window onto divine worship. 

So what should be our response?

Sit back and be awed by The King’s desire for the LORD.  You don’t yet feel such intense passion.  Well alright.  In the deepest sense you never can match His devotion.  But let the King’s worship be enough for you.  Don’t despise his devotion like Michal (2 Sam 6:16).  Simply allow your King to offer what you cannot summon up yourself.  Know that He offers in your place a worship you could never initiate.  And if the Praise-Worthy does not elicit your praise, let the Praise-Giver show the way.  In ourselves we could never work up the right response.  In Christ we see what reckless and joyful abandon to God looks like. 

He is like the first Dancer onto the floor, moved by the Music, laughing and clapping and dancing as we never could.  The more you watch Him dance, the more your foot starts to tap, then you start clapping.  Pretty soon you’ll link arms and join in.  The Music itself should get you on the dance floor.  But in fact the Music never does – not really.  It’s the Dancer who inspires, who links arms and who leads.

Read Psalm 63 again.  And add your own Amen.  For now that is enough.  If these words were simply the prayer diary of an ancient near eastern ruler, your Amen would mean nothing.  If these were just passionate words from an inspired and inspiring devotee they could only judge your apathy.  But they’re not.  This is the worship of The King.  Your King.   This is Christ your Substitute, your Priest, your Vicarious Worshipper.  He bears your name on His heart as He comes before the LORD in joyful abandon.  For now just allow Him to offer the praise you cannot find in yourself.  In time you’ll join the dance.

 

For more on Christ offering worship on our behalf, here’s a half hour talk I gave recently.

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From an old sermon on Psalms 1 and 2.  These Psalms, as a gateway to the Psalter, introduce us to the four main players:

(1)   the LORD;

(2)   the Christ, the Blessed Man;

(3)   The Righteous who take refuge in Him; and

(4)   The Wicked who oppose Him. 

The subsequent Psalms reveal the interaction of these four groups. 

In some, like Psalm 1, the Blessed Man is shown before the LORD and then the righteous and the wicked are contrasted. 

In some, like Psalm 2, the righteous complain to the LORD about the wicked and then He reminds them about the Blessed Man, Christ. 

In some we have simply the words of Christ. 

In others we have the words of the LORD to Christ. 

In some we simply have the words of sinners like us taking refuge in Him. 

But all of the Psalms are about the inter-relation of these four groups.  And they all work together to speak to us of Christ.

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Lest you think I’ve taken a disastrous turn towards the self, here’s Bonhoeffer on the only basis for Christian community – the alien righteousness of Christ.  There is here a whole theology of salvation, of church, of pastoral care and of preaching:

The death and the life of the Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only in the Word that comes to him from the outside, in God’s Word to him.  The Reformers expressed it this way: Our righteousness is an ‘alien righteousness’ a righteousness that comes outside of us (extra nos).  They were saying that the Christian is dependent on the Word of God spoken to him.  He is pointed outward, to the Word that comes to him.  The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ.  If someone asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself.  He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him salvation and righteousness.  He is as alert as possible to this Word.  Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word.  And it can come only from the outside.  In himself he is destitute and dead.  Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence and blessedness.

But God has put this Word in the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother, his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure

And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.  As such, God permits them to meet together and gives them community.  Their fellowship is founded solely upon Jesus Christ and this ‘alien righteousness’.  All we can say therefore is: the community of Christians springs solely from the biblical and Reformation message of the justification of man through grace alone; this alone is the basis of the longing of Christians for one another.  (Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, SCM Press, 1954, p11-12)

 

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Ron Frost fans (this blog has quite a few), meet Mike Reeves. 

Mike Reeves fans (this blog has many), meet Ron Frost.

Here two of my favourite living theologians discuss one of my favourite dead ones – Richard Sibbes. 

sibbes

Joy!!

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Redeemed Features

Having been at a week long Larry Crabb conference (see previous notes here, here, here and here), these are some of my reflections.  This isn’t what Larry said.  These are all things his teaching has prompted me to think.  Many of them are quite new to me (even though they should have been obvious!):

I have no redeeming features. I have a Redeemer.  But through my Redeemer I have some redeemed features.  They are not my hope.  But they are there.  Not at all perfectly but really and noticably.

It’s ok to notice these features!  It’s more than ok for others to notice these features – they haven’t distracted attention from the real me, clothed in Christ, hidden in God.  Paul (who was quite keen on the whole ‘clothed in Christ’, ‘hidden in God’ language was also able to identify in others their real, distinct, noticable praise-worthy features!)

My identity is in Christ.  But I do not, for that reason, dissolve into Him.  Just as His one-ness with the Father does not dissolve away the concrete particularity of His Person, so my one-ness with Jesus does not take away from my own particular personhood.

To be lost in Christ is not like a drop lost in an ocean but more like a musician lost in her music or a lover lost in his beloved.  ie  I am truly found in that lostness.  I am the musician and lover set free in their element to be their true selves.  In this all-embracing context I am able to discover a genuine particularity that I could never find apart from it.

I am truly and particularly myself when I am entirely His.  Now that I am entirely His I can truly find myself.  I can know myself only when I know myself in Him.  But once I know myself in Him, then I can truly know myself.

To fail to find and know myself is not a testament to my hiddenness in Christ.  Quite the opposite. The person without a genuine sense of self testifies to the world that Christ has not found them, bought them, and named them.  Something is wrong with our knowledge of Christ if genuine knowledge of self does not ensue (cf Institutes 1.1.1)

It is not just that I am in Christ.  Christ is in me.  And according to Scripture, this reality can be known to some extent by sight and not merely by faith.   (e.g. 2 Cor 13:5).  You can dig down and not merely descend through infinite sewage.  You can actually hit Rock!

There is such a thing as a new heart!

The look within will not just reveal wickedness (though it’ll be a lot worse than I’d imagined).  Paul says he knows ‘nothing good dwells in him’.  (Rom 7:18) But he immediately qualifies that – “that is, in my flesh.”  He goes on to say that in his inner being he delights in God’s law.  Flesh is not the only thing going on in him.  He digs deep enough to realise that he has no hope in himself. But he also digs deep enough to see what his ‘inner being’ is like.

We generally only look deep enough at ourselves to diagnose a problem for which Christ is unnecessary.  After a brief but uncomfortable glimpse we say: “I’m stupid, I’m fat, I’m disorganised, I’m ugly, I don’t know my bible, I’m not a very good friend / son / daughter / spouse / minister / worker.”  None of these verdicts get anywhere near the heart of the problem but they engender sufficiently strong feelings of self-contempt that we quickly say sorry and determine to do better next time.  After a brief self-directed pep-talk (in the name of Jesus obviously), we look away.

We rarely discover anything deeper than flesh-dynamics because we don’t trust the gospel enough to be able to uncover the really ugly stuff.

We rarely discover anything deeper than flesh-dynamics because we rarely relate to others very deeply.

When someone asks me how I’m doing I could of course answer “Clothed in Christ, seated in Him at God’s right hand.”  At the end of the day this is the only thing that matters.  But “end of the day” answers aren’t the only ones.  There’s a significant danger that this answer could avert both our eyes from realities that need addressing here and now.  The ‘clothed in Christ’ answer should free me to be real not shield me from the truth.

I believe in the old saying “For every one look at yourself take ten looks at Christ.”  But will I really take that one look?  And will I allow you to take that look too and to point out things I just can’t see from where I’m sitting?

I believe Bonhoeffer’s saying that we should avoid constantly taking our spiritual temperatures.  But I also know I have a contagious spiritual disease.  It’s worth getting my cough checked out once in a while – cos it’s going to hurt you sooner or later.

I believe in Col 3:1-4.  But will I read on to verses 5-9? You can’t put to death what you don’t see.  And we’re very good at deceiving ourselves.

I’m a master at sinning with Scriptural back-up.  I read the bible with my own sin-tainted glasses.  I need you to say ‘That’s not what that verse means…’

Sin is relational.  It takes a community to call it forth, a community to see it and a community to handle it.

I’m not loving you if I don’t take drastic steps to deal with my sinful patterns of relating.  I don’t really believe the gospel if I a) I don’t know the freedom to repent and b) can’t take your criticism.

God doesn’t need my good works, my neighbour does.  God doesn’t need me to deal with my wicked ways of relating, you do.  This is gospel driven mortification not self-obsessed introspection.

Going into last week this was basically my view of self: an ugly mess of sins sprinkled with a few ministry gifts but – thank God! – united to an alien righteousness, Christ.

What I’m now seeing is that I have an even uglier mess of sin than I thought.  And such a mess of sin that I have no earthly hope of untangling.   But, deeper still, I have Spirit-implanted passions.  I have redeemed desires.  I have what the bible calls a new heart (e.g. Ezek 36:24ff).

Am I still capable of massive self-deception?  You bet!  Should I cast off the external word by which I am declared righteous and trust my heart?  B y no means!  But now I have a renewed sense that Glen Scrivener has a centre, a purpose, a direction, a concrete self.  If I’d just looked within to find myself I’d have been lost in a hall of mirrors.  But anchored in Christ, I’ve found an authentic me to be.

Which is nice.

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PHOTO OF SSD

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Thank God for Easter

Christ is Risen!

And if He isn’t, there really is no hope…

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Getting started in a conversation:

Attend. Be present. With-ness. With transcendent curiosity. What’s God up to here?

Resist pull. There will never be a moment of relating that’s neutral – it’s a flesh-Spirit battle at all times. Our visceral, affective, emotional, deep seated pull will very often be inappropriate.  A person will tell their story with a particular ‘pull’ – desiring (sinfully) a particular response.

e.g. A child falls, looks around to see anyone watching, and then cries. A loving mum may well come and kiss them better. The child’s pull is to manipulate the mother.  But the mother can respond in love without obeying the child’s pull (though it may look like it).  Instead she’s relating out of her own heart to love.

If a person is seeking your pity, more often it is not the loving response to yield to this pull.

Empathy is not the key to counselling – discernment is.

Remain centred in Christ not in the other. Adjust your sail to the Spirit’s wind, not to the other’s ‘pull’.

We must discern flesh dynamics:

Flesh dynamics consists of the interplay of terror driven, passion filled, foolish convictions and strategies that are oriented toward the satisfaction of secondary desires. These are malevolently shaped by the experiences of life and deceptively affirmed as wise and good by the enemy of God – Satan. This is the world, the flesh and the devil.

Reframe: We need to enter with curiosity to reframe someone’s story for the purpose of revealing the core flesh-Spirit battle where spiritual formation really occurs.  Take it out of the frame it’s presented in and place it within the much larger story of God’s purposes.

 

Our soul’s story has 4 levels

 

Present relational – what are the primary relationships, first current but also past…

Past relational. How does this person view the role of others? Where is the relational pain? How is that shaping?

Always look for passions. Sin is never a passionless decision. Brokenness is not an academic thing. It’s not the passion of your past but the passion that’s there now you want to explore.

– it’s incredible how relating an event 50 years past can evoke the very same feelings with the very same intensity. If it doesn’t it’s not worth exploring. (tho of course there could be layers of self-protection involved).

Immediate relational. What’s happening now as we talk? Observe style of relating and pull.

Deepest relational. What image of God was learned and is now held? ‘Does the place you give Him in your life reflect what you learned in the flesh or what the Spirit has revealed through Christ?’ For this person, what is prayer? Hearing God speak? Fellowship? Worship? Experiencing His presence? Confidence in His goodness?

‘How did you pray when you were enduring that abuse?’

‘What was yr view of Christ then? What was His view of you do you think?’

 

Now how do people tell their stories?

 

Four fleshly ways of telling stories

 

Tragedy

My identity – Victim

My pull on u – Support

My relational style – Noble perseverance.

 

Romance

My identity – Hero

My pull on u – Applaud

My relational style – Heroic achievement

 

Irony

My identity – Cynic

My pull on u – Join me in cynicism

My relational style – Superior indifference

 

Comedy

My identity – Clown

My pull on u – Smile

My relational style – Shallow engagement

 

Instead we should tell our stories as a transcendent drama.

 

(My natural inclination is to tell the comedy story with more than a hint of tragedy underneath.  That’s my complicated splendour.  My pull on you is to make you laugh, but later to make you pity me.  I’m pretty good at telling these stories.  Larry’s very good at resisting this pull!)

True brokenness is an opportunity for joy not self-flaggelation.

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SOME FURTHER THOUGHTS

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An incredible 7th century old English poem.  (Rood means cross)

Listen! The choicest of visions I wish to tell,
which came as a dream in middle-night,
after voice-bearers lay at rest.
It seemed that I saw a most wondrous tree
born aloft, wound round by light,
brightest of beams. All was that beacon
sprinkled with gold. Gems stood
fair at earth’s corners; there likewise five
shone on the shoulder-span. All there beheld the Angel of God,
fair through predestiny…

…Then best wood spoke these words:
“It was long since–I yet remember it–
that I was hewn at holt’s end,
moved from my stem. Strong fiends seized me there,
worked me for spectacle; cursèd ones lifted me.
On shoulders men bore me there, then fixed me on hill;
fiends enough fastened me. Then saw I mankind’s Lord
come with great courage when he would mount on me.
Then dared I not against the Lord’s word
bend or break, when I saw earth’s
fields shake. All fiends
I could have felled, but I stood fast.
The young hero stripped himself–he, God Almighty–
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.

I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth’s fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together. All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man’s side, after ghost he gave up.
Much have I born on that hill
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,
King’s fall lamented. Christ was on rood…

…May he be friend to me
who here on earth earlier died
on that gallows-tree for mankind’s sins.
He loosed us and life gave,
a heavenly home. Hope was renewed
with glory and gladness to those who there burning endured.
That Son was victory-fast in that great venture,
with might and good-speed, when he with many,
vast host of souls, came to God’s kingdom,
One-Wielder Almighty: bliss to the angels
and all the saints–those who in heaven
dwelt long in glory–when their Wielder came,
Almighty God, where his homeland was.

Translation copyright © 1982, Jonathan A. Glenn

Read the whole thing here

May you know that young Hero – God Almighty – close this day.

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