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Archive for June, 2009

How are you?

How do you answer that question?  You’re going through the mill all week, sipping a cuppa after the service, and someone asks cheerily ‘How are you?’  What do you say?

We’ve had experience of chronic illness for many years now.  I confess that when people ask about it we don’t really know what to say.  I know other friends who have degenerative illnesses.  And every week the questions come at church ‘How are you?  Any progress?’  And they answer ‘Yes indeed – the illness has progressed… and barring divine intervention it will continue to progress.’  The person frowns and asks ‘So the doctors haven’t helped?’  And of course the doctors have helped… as much as they can.  But…

– …’Oh, because I read in ‘Chintz!’ magazine about a woman who recovered after eating a diet of Goji berries and Quinoa – perhaps you could try that.’

– ‘Maybe!’

– ‘Give that a go and let me know next week.’

– ‘Look forward to it!’

Don’t get me wrong, I know the trouble from the other end.  In our home group we have a woman who’s struggled with insomnia for 50 years. Fifty years!  But when she reveals this, what is our response? 

“Have you tried a hot bath with a drop of lavender?”

“Long walks in the sea air.”

“Listen to the shipping forecast”

“A drop of badger blood on the pillow…”

She shows extraordinary patience, listening to our home spun wisdom for a good quarter of an hour.  Eventually she says, “I have struggled with this for 50 years you know”. 

Hmmm. 

Our trouble is we don’t know what we can offer unless it’s a quick fix.  So when we run out of fixes all we can think to do is offer prayer.  Which is good I suppose.  But even then – what’s our goal?  The fix!  And how are we treating the other person?  What are our interactions all about?  Solving problems? 

Here are some questions for us: 

Can we handle sickness that doesn’t yield to the quick fix? 

Can we face the struggles that aren’t solved by the tried and trusted common sense we take pride in? 

Can we enter into the struggles of others and not make ‘the fix’ into the goal?

Can we simply journey with others in their mess and allow the Spirit to encourage us both in the Christ who is known best in the storm?

And, on the other end of things, when people ask us about our long-term stuggles, what can we say?

I’ve recently taken to one particular line that I picked up in a Tim Keller sermon, I’d love to hear any you have.  His was this:

– How are you?

– Nothing a resurrection won’t fix!

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They called the early church’s greatest preacher John ‘Chrysostom’ meaning ‘John Golden Mouth’.  He reigned supreme in the style of preaching from that era which involved weaving together a rich tapestry of biblical images.  These preachers simply inhabited and spoke the language of the Scriptures, fitting together themes from all corners of the canon.

Friends, Golden-Blogger is among us.  And his name is Dev

Go and read Redemption through Exile.  And, if you’re not a regular reader – get cracking on the others!

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There are two things that will really mess you up in life.  Getting married and becoming a Christian.  You can poodle along quite contentedly before either of these states.  But once you enter marriage, or once Christ enters you – life as you know it is over.

I know a good number of people who have developed and/or exacerbated serious emotional and psychological problems upon entering one or both of these states. 

How come?  Well here’s one thought.  In both you have the unconditional presence of another.  Not even your sins can keep people at bay now.  In fact now sins just become the occasion for a much deeper engagement.  Conditionality used to keep your sins underground and your critics distant.  When things were conditional you knew that the presence of love in your life was directly related to your ability to keep unloveliness hidden.  Now you have unconditional – and therefore inescapable – presence.  

Ironically it’s not law that shines a torchlight into our basements.  It’s grace.  There’s no hiding place from unconditional love.  

Barth used to say ‘God’s grace shatters men.’  George Hunsinger wrote a book on Barth’s theology called ‘Disruptive Grace.’  That’s the true nature of covenant relationships.  Yes they are the context in which true growth and godliness occur.  But only because first of all they totally mess you up.

What do we expect in Christian discipleship? What do we expect in marriage?  I say prepare for massive disturbance – and I mean disturbance in the fullest sense of the word.

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Just some fairly random thoughts on what I’d like to see more of in my own preaching and the preaching of others…

 

  1. Thou shalt worship Christ from the pulpit.  The priestly task of declaring the gospel of God (Rom 15:16) entaileth a twofold direction to the sermon.  The preacher not only standeth before a congregation to declare truth, but before the Lord to worship Him.  Of course ‘worship’ does not mean putting on airs – feigning the manner of a Cranmer, Spurgeon or Piper.  It does mean happy and humble gratitude in the presence of Jesus.  And of course this twofoldness is accomplished in one and the same task – proclaiming ‘Worthy is the Lamb.’
  2. Thou shalt communicate, through both content and style, a tangible sense of the newness of God’s revelation.  May such phrases as these perish from our lips: ‘Of course we all knoweth do we not…’  We really do not knoweth.  We need to be toldeth.  Hence preaching.  Therefore preach with eager and childlike enthusiasm for the surprising and always disruptive grace of God.
  3. Thy tone shalt be declarative and devotional.
  4. Thy method shalt be expositional and christocentric.  (Of course expositional does not necessitate ‘verse by verse’)
  5. Thy fevered entreaty shalt not be ‘DO’ so much as ‘LOOK’.
  6. Thou shalt not apologize for the word, whether for its supposed harshness or obscurity or backwardness or unbelievability.  In truth the word is capable of defending itself on all these counts.
  7. Thou shalt not go searching for illustrations.  Thy passage no doubt has plenty of good ones of its own.  Anyone that spendeth time looking for stories to ‘lighten up their talk’ must be cut off from the congregation.
  8. Thou shalt not go searching for jokes.  There is no doubt plenty of humour in the Scriptures themselves without you searching lamepreachergags.com.  Anyone found guilty of the needless and clumsy insertion of ‘a joke’ shall be stoned to death.  Show no mercy.
  9. Thou shalt not preach that ‘Christ is God’.  Thou shalt preach that God is only and always the God revealed in Christ.
  10. Thou shalt not lift up the Lamb because thou art supposed to but because thou canst do no other.

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I’m absolutely blown away by this.

What gets me is the combination of sadness without any self-pity.

It’s utterly tragic but not told as a tragedy.  Somehow the whole thing is a celebration shot through with praise, thanksgiving and gospel hope.

Praise Jesus.

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For years I prayed for the fruit of the Spirit every day.  (Galatians 5:22f)  Yet, looking back, I prayed for the fruit in an altogether fleshly way.

How so?  Well basically my prayers were petitions for the moral character of ‘love, joy, peace…’ as abstract qualities. I would judge my own spiritual walk that week by how loving, joyful, peaceful… I had been. In short I had turned the fruit of the Spirit into a check-list of works which I either did or didn’t practice that week.

One morning, as I was praying for the fruit, I got an image of the Spirit coming to my door with a huge basket laden with choice fruits.  And my response was to say ‘Thanks for bringing the fruit.  Just leave them inside the door and I’ll see you later!’

I wanted the fruit not the Spirit.  I wanted the fruit apart from the Spirit.  Yet the fruit is fruit of the Spirit. It grows organically from a relationship with Him.  Henceforward I prayed for the Spirit Himself.

How quickly we turn gospel into law.
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Eat Dirt Man Eater!

Satan must eat dust all his days (Gen 3:14)

Man is dust (Gen 3:19)

Satan is a maneater (1 Pet 5:8)

Yet Christ will join man to crush the maneater (Gen 3:15)

He does this by being Man eaten (John 6:51)

Only in this way does He swallow His enemies (1 Cor 15:54)

Those who don’t eat (with) Christ get eaten (Rev 19:18)

Those who eat Christ join Him in crushing the maneater (Rom 16:20)

In this way Christ humbles Himself in order to be exalted (Luke 14:11)

Meanwhile Satan, who exalted himself will be humbled (Ezek 28:11-19)

Eating dust is the lot of the defeated enemy (Ps 72:9)

And Satan will eat dirt all the days of his life (Micah 7:17; Rev 20:10)

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So eat dirt man eater!  There’s one Man you couldn’t swallow.  He’s swallowed you.  Our food will be the Man eaten.  And you will eat dirt forever.

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