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Archive for January, 2011

I love long-haul plane flights.  No kidding.  Love them.

It’s 24 hours where no-one expects anything from you. You slouch in your seat and play video-games while long-suffering helpers serve your merest whim.  It’s like being a teenager all over again.

And the guiltiest of all pleasures – you allow yourself to watch Truly Terrible films.

And so to Eat Pray Love.  Emma lasted about 20 minutes.  I very nearly walked out.  But I endured to the end.  And now I know why Mark Kermode’s review was four words: Eat Pray Love Vomit.

The thing is Eat Pray Love should be a little slice of heaven.  As Jonathan Edwards almost said, Heaven is a world of eat pray love.

The trouble with Julia Roberts’ eating, praying and loving is that all the verbs are in the reflexive.  And so it’s a vision of hell.

Roberts’ character (Liz Gilbert) divorces her hapless husband for no particular reason other than his geeky romanticism.  She then decides she needs an extended period of me-time.  She eats in Italy.  Prays in India.  And finds love in Bali.  But the object of all these activities is most definitely herself.

Using ground-breaking technology, the dialogue was written using Google’s Random-Sanskrit-Aphorism-Generator.  But the translation breaks down fairly regularly, e.g. phrases like “quest dynamics” and “To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life”.  But those with a passing knowledge of the Oprahic languages should catch the gist.

Perhaps the film hits its nadir with its advice towards the end:

“Never let anyone love you less than you love yourself” – truly the spirit of antichrist.

The most disturbing scene comes from Richard Jenkins’ character in India.  His advice to Liz throughout has been to stay at the Ashram until she learns to forgive herself.  But it’s a lesson he’s found impossible to apply to himself and so we hear a genuinely moving account of his alcoholism and family break-down.  He’s flown across the world and put himself through a thousand spiritual disciplines in order to find forgiveness.

The gospel has bad news and good news for him.  Bad news:  forgiveness is outside him. It cannot be self-bestowed.  Good news: Christ freely gives it.

But the film painfully portrays the prison of self.  And no-one escapes it.  By the end, everyone is richer, fatter and more Satanic.

There’s only one saving grace.  The film is so utterly grotesque it ought to wake people up to the bankruptcy of its vision.

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Don’t just teach your youth the bible.

Teach them Christ in the bible.

Can you imagine if he’d tried to unify the bible with any other grand theme?  We’d have said, “Cor, that kid’s got a good memory!”  Or “Gosh, that’s an interesting common denominator.”

Instead he preaches Christ and we say “What a Saviour!”

 

 

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Let us fix our eyes on Jesus!” – Hebrews 12:2

For every look at self—take ten looks at Christ!

–Robert Murray McCheyne

Hin-Tai and Chris have a brilliant new blog that you should all add to your readers.  It promises to be Christ-centred, trinitarian, affective  and pastoral.  Four thumbs up.

In his latest post, Hin-Tai wrestles with the desire to have a Christ-exalting blog while resisting the self-absorbing pull of blogging.

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Happy Friday

I’m not all about the cheap laugh you know…

 

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I wrote the following 2 years ago as Emma was suffering from terrible gastro complaints.  Unfortunately her problems are as debilitating today as they were then.  And the lessons we were learning then we’re having to reapply to our hearts every day.  Chronic illness remains an affront to the flesh.  Our natural desire is to control life through human effort.  But this means that illness is a great occasion to re-learn and re-apply the gospel to our hearts.

Emma says it much better herself with this post: Patience with patients.  But here’s my older post…

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In the last month Emma’s been in and out of hospital 3 times (she’s in at the moment) and I’ve consistently had man-flu.

It’s struck me very forcibly how offensive illness is to our fleshly sensibilities.  Just speaking of my own meagre maladie, here’s the sort of thing said to me on a daily basis:

[Shocked] Haven’t you seen a doctor then?

[Tutting] Haven’t you been taking your medication?

[Frowning] Haven’t you been inhaling hot lemon and eucalyptus like I told you?

[Disappointed] Haven’t you rubbed menthol on your chest and belched La Marseillaise?

[Appalled]  Elderflower, saffron and moose hair Glen – that’s what I keep telling you.  How long will you choose frailty over my curse-proof stratagems??

Maybe I’m imagining it, but I often sense a note of anger in the advice of others regarding illness.  It doesn’t fit our view of the world for people to just get sick.  We need to believe that there are practical reasons for the suffering and dependable remedies to fix it.

When our friends have an illness that doesn’t budge, it actually becomes very threatening.  It forces a collision between two strong emotions.  On the one hand there’s deep love and concern for your friend who’s suffering.  But on the other is an un-named but powerful belief that life will work for us if we act smart, work hard, keep trusting God and never give up.  Of course this entails the belief that bad stuff is preventable if we’re prepared, persistent and prayerful enough.  And so when our friend is sick, and stubbornly sick… well… you love ’em.  But deep down you know that somewhere, somehow they’ve done it to themselves.  (“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” John 9:1)

Of course the battle is there in the sufferer too.  We end up suffering double when we believe the lie that all bad stuff is preventable.  Not only do we face the illness, we face bitter self-flaggelation for succumbing in the first place.

Both sufferer and comforter should stop being surprised by the fiery trial (1 Pet 4:12).  We must ditch this ridiculous belief in our curse-proof stratagems.  Let’s comfort one another as those who know we are east of Eden and the Suffering Servant is the only way back.

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Words eh?

This week I had a couple of chuckles over the words people had chosen.

First was an email from an internet accountability site.  It told me that a friend had accessed websites that were “Highly Mature.”  Judging by the domain names, “infantile” would have been a much better description.  There’s nothing adult about porn.

The second chuckle came when meeting one-to-one with  pastors in Eastbourne to discuss evangelism.  Two different pastors from two different churches have told me exactly the same thing:

We don’t like to use the word evangelism.  It scares people.  We don’t have an “Evangelism team” any more, we have a “Witness team.”

I fully agree that “evangelism” scares people.  And “witness” sounds much nicer.  But once you know the meaning of the two words, it’s a tad ironic…

We don’t like to be good news bearers, we’d much rather be martyrs!

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What Brene Brown says:

Connection is why we’re here

But shame = fear of disconnection

Everyone has shame. The only people without shame have no capacity for empathy

No one wants to talk about shame but the less you talk about it, the more you have it

For connection to happen you have to be allowed to be seen

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Those who are connected have a sense of worthiness, a strong sense of love and belonging

They exhibit these factors

Courage (wholeheartedness) to be imperfect

Compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others

Connection as a result of authenticity.  They let go of who they *should* be to be who they are.

Fully embraced vulnerability – what made them vulnerable made them beautiful

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We numb vulnerability

We are the most in debt, obese, addicted and medicated cohort in US history

So we numb it

Trouble is, you cannot selectively numb emotion

We make the uncertain certain

This is what religion and politics have become

We perfect

We pretend – that what we do doesn’t have an effect on people

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What we need is to…

Let ourselves be seen

Love with our whole hearts

Practice gratitude, lean into joy

Believe I am enough

 

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Inspiring stuff.  Some apt observations.  But let’s think for a second.  Isn’t this an empirical researcher urging us to have metaphysical convictions.  We need to believe certain things.  And we need to believe them because they seem to work.

Isn’t this basically “the power of positive thinking” dressed up a bit?

We want connection, we feel shame, but we need to open up nonetheless because that’s what the wholehearted do, and we do so on the basis of the belief that we’re worthy of love and belonging.

That last bit seems key for this whole thing to work.  But where does it come from?

If I had 5 minutes to talk about vulnerability I think I’d want to take three looks at the cross:

Look 1: Here is the LORD of Glory crucified.  Is vulnerability a fundamental value?  You bet.  Our God was dissected on full view of the world.  His vulnerability is glorious.  Our vulnerability is God-like.

Look 2: Here is where our sin takes us.  And yes I said sin not just shame.  We aren’t just held back by ‘fear of connection’ but by dark hearts full of lust and murder.  We do not deserve connection but cutting off.  Without looking at things through this lens we dress the wound lightly.  “Embracing mess and authenticity” sounds like a meaningful Saturday afternoon with college friends around Lattes.  Not the diagnosis that can handle, for instance, the addictions Brown mentions.

Look 3: Here is the Lord’s love for the dark-hearted.  Unconditional, counter-conditional grace for the disconnected. Brown hopes we’ll value ourselves first and then others.  But deserved love is not the sort of love we’re inclined to pass on.  “I’m worth it” terminates on me.  It’s only grace that really spreads.

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Rich Owen preaching on Manasseh’s conversion – 2 Chronicles 33.  Awesome!

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Tempted?

Imagine if Satan tried Luke 4:1-13 on me:

Temptation 1:

Curse you devil!  You know I’ve been suppressing my powers of food alchemy.

Temptation 2:

Thou diabolical tempter!  You know how I crave the world’s government on my shoulders!

Temptation 3:

Damn and blast!  You know how I love to abandon my life to the care of my Father!

Hmm.

Magical bakery, world domination and celestial bunjee jumping…

Preachers have to work pretty hard to make this passage a model for our own spiritual battles.  But they manage it.  The great majority of sermons I’ve heard on this have seen the episode as basically exemplary.

But the preacher’s WWJD goggles have to be welded on pretty tight and their seminary-taught zeal for “personal application” must be turned to red-hot to make it work.

Here’s one excellent exception:

Dan Cruver –  The Vicarious Life of Jesus

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Happy Friday

 

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I recently re-read Nathan Pitchford’s excellent short article on the reformers’ hermeneutic.

His basic point is that Sola Scriptura always leads to Solus Christus.  The literal reading simply is the christocentric reading.

For Luther, the grammatical-historical hermeneutic was simply the interpretation of scripture that “drives home Christ.” As he once expressed it, “He who would read the Bible must simply take heed that he does not err, for the Scripture may permit itself to be stretched and led, but let no one lead it according to his own inclinations but let him lead it to its source, that is, the cross of Christ. Then he will surely strike the center.” To read the scriptures with a grammatical-historical sense is nothing other than to read them with Christ at the center.

And yet, claims Pitchford, many evangelicals today have a basically un-Christian reading of the OT.

[What I mean is]…  they employ a hermeneutic that does not have as its goal to trace every verse to its ultimate reference point: the cross of Christ. All of creation, history, and reality was designed for the purpose of the unveiling and glorification of the triune God, by means of the work of redemption accomplished by the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The bible is simply the book that tells us how to see Christ and his cross at the center of everything. It tells us who God is by showing us the person and work of Christ, who alone reveals the invisible God. If we do not intentionally ask ourselves, “How may I see Christ more clearly by this passage,” in our reading of every verse of scripture, then we are not operating under the guidance of Luther’s grammatical-historical hermeneutic. If we would follow in the steps of the reformers, we must realize that a literal reading of scriptures does not mean a naturalistic reading. A naturalistic reading says that the full extent of meaning in the account of Moses’ striking the rock is apprehended in understanding the historical event. The literal reading, in the Christ-centered sense of the Reformation, recognizes that this historical account is meaningless to us until we understand how the God of history was using it to reveal Christ to his people. The naturalistic reading of the Song of Solomon is content with the observation that it speaks of the marital-bliss of Solomon and his wife; the literal reading of the reformers recognizes that it has ultimately to do with the marital bliss between Christ and his bride, the Church. And so we could continue, citing example after example from the Old Testament.

So what went wrong?  How come the reformers’ understanding of a “literal hermeneutic” gets used today to justify un –Christian interpretation?  Well, historically the influence of academic liberalism turned ‘the literal reading’ into ‘thenaturalistic reading’.  And that’s quite a different thing.

Nathan ends with 6 points at which the naturalistic reading fails:

1. A naturalistic hermeneutic effectively denies God’s ultimate authorship of the bible, by giving practical precedence to human authorial intent.

2. A naturalistic hermeneutic undercuts the typological significance which often inheres in the one story that God is telling in the bible (see Galatians 4:21-31, for example).

3. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for Paul’s assertion that a natural man cannot know the spiritual things which the Holy Spirit teaches in the bible – that is, the things about Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Corinthians 2).

4. A naturalistic hermeneutic is at odds with the clear example of the New Testament authors and apostles as they interpret the Old Testament (cf. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, Paul’s interpretations in Romans 4 and Galatians 4, James’ citing of Amos 9 during the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, the various Old Testament usages in Hebrews, etc.).

5. A naturalistic hermeneutic disallows a full-orbed operation of the analogy of faith principle of the Reformation, by its insistence that every text demands a reading “on its own terms”.

6. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for everything to have its ultimate reference point in Christ, and is in direct opposition to Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:16-18, and Christ’s own teachings in John 5:39, Luke 24:25-27.

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Really great stuff, go read the whole thing.

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Paul Blackham writes the studies, Richard Bewes hosts them and special guests include KP Yohannan, Don Carson, George Verwer, Rico Tice.

It’s meaty, it’s heart-felt, it’s Christ-focused.  It’s Matthew Henry for a television age.

I can give no bigger recommendation than this:  my mother’s bible study group have done every single one of them back to back.  They get to the end of one study, shop around for another pre-produced study then go straight back to book by book for more!  Once you’ve had steak, why settle for a cheese sandwich?

Do you run a home group bible study?  Do you have responsibility for home groups, adult education classes, etc? Check out Book by Book.

You can watch sample episodes on the site – e.g. Exodus with Joseph Steinberg.  Highly recommended.

And you can get a free sampler DVD here.

US readers can purchase here.

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A sermon on 1 John 1:1-4

Audio here

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

It was a good meal, good friends, good wine.  People were relaxing around the table. One man seemed even more relaxed than the rest.  We’re told that

23 the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to Jesus… Leaning back against Jesus, he asked Him a question… (John 13:23,25, NIV)

This is the Apostle John – the author of this letter.  And the author of John’s Gospel as well.  John remembers this night very well.  He remembers leaning back against Jesus.  And the Old King James version is a lot more literal about the closeness here, even if it uses old fashioned language.  It says:

23 [John was] leaning on Jesus’ bosom …

and in the next verse it describes him

lying on Jesus’ breast (John 13:23, KJV)

He’s laying his head on the chest of Jesus.

John was one of the younger if not the youngest disciple.  And he calls himself “the disciple Jesus loved.”  Clearly he felt completely at ease with Jesus – leaning back on his chest.  Jesus had just washed their feet, He was teaching them about His Father and because it was Passover they would have been singing hymns around the dinner table.  We can imagine throughout Jesus’ arm around His young friend as John leant back on Jesus.

John knew he could find rest and peace and welcome in the arms of Jesus.  But he also knew just who Jesus is.  You see John begins his gospel reminding us that this Jesus is God’s Eternal Word, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. The opening line to his gospel says, “In the beginning was the Word.”  In the beginning was Jesus. Before the universe – Jesus was there.  In fact He wasn’t just there, John chapter 1, verse 18 says Jesus was “in the bosom of the Father.”  To use the old King James translation.  In the beginning Jesus was in the bosom of the Father.

Jesus had enjoyed for eternity what John enjoyed for those few minutes.  Companionable, contented, joy and love.  That has always been Christ’s experience “in the arms of the Father” if you like.

And then, without breaking fellowship in any way with the Father, Jesus came down into our world as flesh.  As one of us.  Fully God and Fully Man.  So that we might rest in His arms.

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For God’s Sake Grow Up For Your Neighbour’s Sake

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This is just a reflection on that saying of Luther’s: “God doesn’t need your good works.  Your neighbour does.”

And Dave K’s observation that, post-resurrection, no-one summarizes the law with “love God and love neighbour” but only with “love neighbour”.

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A friend recently told me of some “higher life” Christians he met who would chant together:

I refuse, I refuse, I refuse to come down from heaven to deal with earthly realities.

They were horrible people to be around.  Their marriages were a mess.  And it was impossible to get at their sins because they were supposedly “hidden” from it all at God’s right hand.

Well you do have to admire their sense of unbreakable union with Christ.  I will give them that.

But you’ve also got to question the kind of Christ they feel united to.

Isn’t the true Jesus exactly the kind of Person who does come down from heaven to deal with earthly realities?  Isn’t that His eternal glory?  And therefore, doesn’t Paul constantly take us from that secure union and then into those battles with the flesh?

Never for the sake of our union. But always from that union and in the power of it.  How can union with this Christ mean anything else?

Jesus said: “For their sake I sanctify myself.”  (John 17:19).

Our response should not be “And likewise, Lord, for your sake I sanctify myself.”  No.

But there is a response to Christ’s work.  And it does involve our sanctification.  We pass it on in costly ways – just as Jesus passed it on to us in the most costly way.

We do engage with the mess, not for God’s sake but for our neighbour’s.  Jesus doesn’t need my sanctification, but my wife does.  Desperately.  And the way I glorify the other-centred Christ is not to pay Him back with godliness but to pass it on in sacrificial love.  “Hidden in Christ” does not mean hidden from the battle.  Christ leads me into the battle because He’s adopted me into His kind of other-centred life.

So, for God’s sake, don’t grow up for God’s sake
But, for God’s sake, do grow up for your neighbour’s sake.

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I hate my struggles and I want them.  Both at the same time.

They act as a sick note for life.

Incredible post from Emma!

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Some day every blog will be a Scrivener blog…

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Sermon on Proverbs
Audio Here

The book of Proverbs is a long and colourful fireside chat.  It’s the words of a father to his son.  Verse 1 introduces us to the father:

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel

Verse 8 addresses the son:

8 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

In fact Solomon keeps saying, over twenty times in this book, “My son, my son, my son.”  The King is addressing the crown prince and saying, “Now boy, here’s what you need in life.”

When we read Proverbs we should be aware, we’re eavesdropping on a fireside chat.  It’s not a transcript of a real conversation.  It’s written in rich picture language and riddles and rhymes that need to be chewed over and slowly digested.  But it’s advice from Solomon to his son the prince.  And here’s what his advice boils down to:  Watch out for the ladies.  In particular there are two ladies you need to look out for.

There’s a lady called Wisdom – she is magnificent, she is heart-captivating, she is beautiful, she is more precious than rubies, she is everything you need.  If you get her, you lack nothing.  So whatever else you get in life, get her – get Wisdom – embrace her, marry her.

Then there’s another lady called Folly.  She is loud and flashy and deceptive and seductive and deadly.  She is the original femme fatale.  If you get her you lose everything.

So avoid her, ignore her, resist her, don’t be seduced, don’t be ensnared by her.

So, my son, watch out for the ladies.  Embrace Wisdom, shun Folly.

According to Proverbs, success in life is not ultimately a matter of the intellect. It’s not about having enough education.  It’s not about your IQ.  It’s not ultimately about having enough information to make wise choices.

And neither is success about the will – as though we just need to apply ourselves, be determined and resolved and just do it!.  No, Wisdom and Folly are matters of the heart.

Solomon says to the prince in Proverbs 4:23

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Dear Son – your heart is everything.  What you LOVE will be a wellspring, it will flow out into every area of life.

Life’s not basically a matter of the mind, or a matter of the will.  At the deepest level, life is about the heart.  Our lives will be a success depending on what we love.  Or rather on Who we love.

Because Wisdom is very definitely a Person.  She is Lady Wisdom.

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The myth of the ‘delay of the parousia’ has largely grown up in the modern world to fill the vacuum left when scholars insisted that the resurrection didn’t happen. For the early Christians, God’s new world – the world where God’s writ runs – had already begun, and they were living in it by the power of the Spirit.  (NT Wright, here)

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Happy Friday

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