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Archive for August, 2012

Michael Bird recently blogged about using a regula fidei (Rule of Faith) in church.

He quoted Tertullian’s regula fidei from the early second century AD:

[T]he Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen “in diverse manners” by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics. (Prescriptions Against Heresies).

Michael Bird then attempts a “faithful restatement… in our own contemporary language.”

God the Father, the maker of the universe, who, through Word and Spirit, made all things out of nothing, planned all things for the demonstration of his love and the satisfaction of his glory. He created Adam and Eve in his own image and after their rebellion, He also revealed himself as the Lord in diverse ways to the patriarchs, to Israel, and in the prophets, to call to himself a people worthy of his name, among and for the nations. When the time had fully come, He sent his Son, born of a woman and born under the Law, a Son of David, enfleshed as a man in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit, and who came forth as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was baptized and in the power of the Holy Spirit he preached the hope of Israel and the kingdom of God, he proclaimed good news to the poor, did many miraculous deeds, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he was buried and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures. Then, having made purification for sins, he ascended into the heavens, where he sat down at the right hand of the Father, from where he shall come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead, and after the great resurrection, he shall take his people into the paradise of the new creation, and condemn the wicked to everlasting fate. The church now works in the mission of God, in dependence upon the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, bearing testimony to Jesus Christ, to preach good news and to show mercy, until the day when God will be all in all.

Did you spot the difference?  What is being said about the Old Testament in these two statements?  We go from language of “the Son” being “seen” and “heard” to language of the Father merely “revealing himself as the Lord” in diverse ways.

I’m not even sure the switch of Person was a deliberate decision.  (I’ve asked).  I wonder whether the modern theologian is simply blind to what the early church held self-evident: that the Son is the eternal Word through Whom the Father always acts and reveals.

I’m not saying it’s rank revisionism, but I am saying it’s a revealing shift and one we should try to undo.

The Son is not the best Word – He’s the Word.  He’s not the clearest Image – He’s the Image.  He’s not the Seal of a series of improving revelations.  He is the Revelation of God.

Let us indeed get back to such a rule of faith!

 

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Happy Friday

One of the true greats, Harry Hill:

See the whole show here.

A previous Harry Friday.

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Here’s a reboot of an older post…

Mike Reeves talks about Adam and Christ in these great audios on sin and evil.  Once we frame creation and salvation as the story of two men we see things much clearer.

For one thing we’re able to honour Christ not only as Substitute but also as Representative.  And we need both.

You see Christ drinks the cup so that – in one sense – we don’t have to (Mark 10:38).  But in another sense we do drink the cup He drinks and are baptised with the baptism with which He is baptised (Mark 10:39).  He does die for us so that we do not face that same judging fire – this is His substitution.  But we also die in Him, hidden in our Head and taken through the flames – this is His representation.

We tend to be good at ‘substitution’ talk but not so good at ‘representation’ talk.

I can think of a very prominent preacher who I greatly admire. Ordinarily he’s excellent at preaching Paul.  But I’ve noticed that every time Paul speaks of “us being crucified with Christ”, this preacher translates it as “Christ pays off our sins for us so completely, it’s as if we ourselves died on the cross.”

Do you hear what’s happened?  Paul uses representation language, the preacher translates it into substitution language. Paul says “We died in him”, the preacher doesn’t seem to have a category for that, so he simply re-iterates the substitution motif: “He died for us.”

Those two things are not the same.  And our lack of a category for “representation” thinking is a great loss.

Consider this fairly common way of conceiving salvation and judgement…

salvation-judgement1

Here the key players are the saved and the damned.  Christ is not in the picture.  But of course once we’ve set things up like this, Christ becomes extremely necessary.  Yet He’s necessary in that the cross becomes the accounting tool required to balance the justice books.  Without the cross the system doesn’t work.  So in that sense Christ is central.  But in effect, He’s a peripheral figure only required because other factors are calling the shots.

When things are viewed like this, Christ is very much thought of as ‘substitute’ but not really ‘representative’.  And, when the details are pressed, even His substitution will start to look very unlike the biblical portrait.

We need a better formulation.  We’ll think of 1 Peter 4 and then tie this back to Adam and Christ.

In 1 Peter 4:17 it says that judgement begins with the house of God.  It doesn’t say ‘Judgement avoids the house of God.’  It begins there.  It begins with Christ, the true Temple of God.  It continues with the church, the temple of God in another sense.  But then it flows out to the world – God’s house in yet another sense.

salvation-judgement2

Here humanity is judged.  And this is where Adam and Christ will be so helpful for us.

The LORD pronounces His curse on Adam.  And all humanity is in him.  “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12)  It is a universal judgement.  No exceptions.  The only path to salvation is the path through judgement.

But Adam is a type of the One to come (Rom 5:14).  He was only ever setting the scene for Christ to take centre stage.  And He does so, assuming the very humanity of Adam as substitute and representative.

salvation-judgement31

Here centre stage is not occupied by the two groups of people (the damned and the saved).  What’s driving everything is the two humanities (Adam and Christ).  The former is expressly a type of the Latter.  And the Latter expressly assumes the fate of the former.  So that in all things Christ will have the preeminence! (Col 1:18)

These diagrams were originally used in a blog post on judgement and salvation in Isaiah and for a sermon on Isaiah 2:6-22 (listen here).

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Below I’ve listed 10 verses on union with Christ in His death.  Meditate on these verses – and reckon yourself dead to Adam, to the flesh, to sin, to wrath, to the law, the principalities and powers and to the world.  For the living, those powers exact a terrible penalty.  But you know what a corpse owes these things?  Absolutely jack squat.

#EnjoyYourDay:

All of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  (Romans 6:3-4)

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin… (Romans 6:11)

Our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with.  (Romans 6:6)

You died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to Another.  (Romans 7:4)

I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live.  (Galatians 2:20)

I belong to Christ and thus my flesh has been crucified.  (Galatians 5:24)

The world has been crucified to me and I to the world.  (Galatians 6:14)

 In Christ you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism.  (Colossians 2:11-12)

You died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world (Colossians 2:20)

You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

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No?

Seriously, why not!?

It’s not just her hubby, check out any of these reviews.

Mark Meynell

Anita Mathias

Ruth Field

Kath Cunningham

Admiral Creedy

Emily Paterson

 Matthew Currey

Not to mention the latest by Steve Jeffery.  It finishes like this:

A New Name is subtitled Grace and healing for anorexia. But it’s about far more than that. It’s for anyone who wants to know how broken people tick – regardless of exactly where the breakage is – and how, by God’s grace, they can be put back together again.

This book is not only for anorexics and dieticians, or even just for “counsellors.” It’s for anyone who cares about badly messed-up people and is willing to live through a tiny taste of the pain they experience in order to help them deal with problems far too big for them to handle alone. It’s for anyone who thinks they might not be a perfect friend or parent or sibling or Pastor, and who wants to avoid making some potentially life-wrecking mistakes (other people’s lives, as well as their own) before it’s too late.

I’ve read a few books on different “personal and pastoral issues” – depression and bulimia and bereavement and so on. Some of them have been pretty helpful. But none of them come close to this. Brutally honest, theologically acute and astonishingly insightful. Alternately heartrending and hilarious. And (for what it’s worth – though frankly it seems almost trivial to mention it) some of the most stylish prose I’ve read in years. Buy two copies, because by the time you’ve finished it you’ll have thought of at least one person who needs it, and yours will be so dog-eared and tear-stained that you’ll be embarrassed to let it be seen in public.

I can’t think of another book so consistently and lavishly praised as A New Name.  Get it!

Buy from IVPamazon.co.uk or amazon.com

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I’ve been thinking about blind-spots in typical evangelistic presentations.

First I considered the dangers of overlooking Trinity in evangelism.  Then I discussed the evangelistic importance of original sin (the doctrine, not the term).

Finally, let’s explore “union with Christ” (again, the doctrine, not necessarily the phrase).  Here’s why it’s crucial for union with Christ to be a major category of thinking as we evangelise…

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We offer a Person not a Package

The Gospel is God’s offer of Christ.  Whatever blessings God might have for the world, they are all to be had “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3ff).  Fundamentally God’s gift is not a thing but a Him.  And what He desires from us is not stuff (we have no stuff worth offering anyway).  For some strange reason, God wants us. 

So the point of the gospel is not a transaction.  It’s not like getting a mobile phone contract… you know the deal…  God offers a decent package, some nice extras and an easy payment plan.  We reach into our pocket and dredge up what’s required…. no it’s not that.

Yet so often I hear the gospel offered in terms of its fringe benefits – eternal fire-insurance, freedom from guilt feelings, a sense of Purpose in life… all for the low, low price of “repentance and faith.”

In such presentations God’s love is portrayed in contractual not covenant terms.  Which means God’s love is not really portrayed.

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We can avoid licence and legalism

People are always saying “If you offer salvation freely it’s too dangerous, because people will just take salvation and then go off and sin all the time!”  I want to say, Wait, which salvation are you talking about?

So often people think of salvation a little bit like those old films set in the middle ages.  Imagine some Lord snootily throwing his bag of silver to a servant girl as payment for a job.  The servant grabs the money and runs off out of the palace to enjoy life with the silver – and without the Lord.

Now if that’s what salvation is, then of course its free offer will mean licence.  They’ll take the heavenly blessings and run away from Jesus to enjoy themselves.

But what’s the response?  Well the legalist feels they must rein in their gospel offers.  They refuse to offer a “blank cheque” willy nilly.  No, no, they only offer salvation to those who really, really are committed to turning their lives around and submitting everything to God. And probably they should mean it too.  Like, really mean it.

You can understand this approach.  It doesn’t sound very much like Jesus’ whole approach to gospelling, but you can understand it.  If you think that the gospel offer is stuff, then putting a price on it seems the natural thing to do.  But salvation is not a stuff!

Salvation is far more like the Lord who loves his miserable servant and marries her.  He gives her himself.  And now they are one forever.  That is a very free salvation isn’t it?  It’s a much more gracious salvation than the licentious have  dreamt of!  Immeasurably more is offered in this salvation.  And it’s offered completely freely.  The girl isn’t expected to pay a penny for the privilege.  But she’s not given some blessings which she can go and enjoy elsewhere.  She is given the Lord himself.

Does such an offer make the hearer more likely to sin?  Rubbish. It’s the only power to save someone from sin.  Give them Jesus.  And offer Him freely, because that’s the only kind of salvation He offers.

When we do, we’ll avoid both legalism and licence.  Because the offer is not a package but a person.  Therefore the response is, unmistakably, the receiving of a Lord and Saviour.

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“Repentance and faith” are considered properly

As believers in “faith alone”, do we have a place for “repentance”?

Is it some kind of pre-requisite for faith?  Or is it an obedience that we add to faith??  Do we call non-Christians to jump two hurdles, one called “repentance” and another called “faith”? That would be an odd position to adopt if we’re “faith alone” people.

We’ve already said that “repentance and faith” are not our payment for gospel stuff.   Well then, what is “repentance and faith.”

Well think of union with Christ.  He offers Himself to us like a Bridegroom to a bride.  He says “Be one with me.”  If anyone receives Him, what have they done?  They’ve repented and believed.  Because they’ve received the LORD Jesus Christ as their Head in bonds of self-abandoning love.  There simply could not be a more all-embracing “repentance”.

If the preacher makes clear that salvation is belonging to Jesus (and He to us), then many errors are avoided.  Our hearers won’t be tempted to offer their repentance to Jesus as payment for salvation.  Nor should they despair that “they don’t have it in them to repent.”  They don’t have it in them to repent.  New life does not lie in their resolve.  It’s in Jesus.  And He’s offered to them, even in all their helplessness.  Yet clearly, to receive Jesus is to receive a new life.

 

We do not offer repentance to God as a condition of our salvation.  We are summoned to repentance in the gospel because this is the very nature of life “in Christ”.

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We have a gospel that applies to Christians as well as non-Christians

Think of the “Get out of hell free” gospel.  Imagine that you’ve been evangelised by this and coughed up the requisite response (walking down an aisle and resolving to believe in substitutionary atonement, or whatever).  That gospel is not particularly helpful to me day to day, is it?  At one point, it helped me to get off the judgement hook, but now, I’m basically left to myself until heaven.  Which means “the gospel” and day-to-day living have no real relationship.

I need the gospel to get saved, but I need wisdom and hard work to get by, day to day.

Maybe a little “gospel-law” preacher will come and remind me not to take the mick and to try and be godly.  But their exhortations don’t really arise from the gospel, do they?

Once I’ve trusted such a gospel, it has served its purpose.  It’s not for me any more.  It’s for unbelievers.

But if “union with Christ” is in view, that’s like saying “the wedding ceremony” was everything, I don’t need marriage day-to-day.  Bonkers.

The real gospel is Christ graciously given to me in the nitty gritty of my life, for better and for worse.  Which means it bears on everything.  

Which is good because the world rarely asks the question “What must I do to be saved?”  But our friends and family are constantly asking “How do I raise my kids?  How do I handle my anger?  What do I do about these panic attacks?  How could I possibly forgive that person?  Why is marriage so difficult?  What’s the way forward in this family breakdown?  How do I handle this bullying boss?  How can I cope when my dreams are shattered?  Why does food enslave me?  How can I be free of these addiction?  What’s wrong with me?”

The world is asking all of these questions all of the time.  These are the problems of a world that’s condemned already (see previous post).  This is part of the hell on earth that Jesus spoke about.  But Jesus also has a salvation for here and now.  The gospel also brings light and freedom into these pastoral situations.

Which means we can gospel people through pastoral problems and we can bring pastoral healing through the gospel.  The more we grasp this, the more effective we’ll be in gospelling.  Which brings us finally to…

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Ordinary Christians might just realise that they too can evangelise.

If the gospel is a package deal, then it needs sales people.  And, to be honest, the package that most evangelistic presentations offer is so unappealing it really would take a special class of Christian communicator to make it attractive.  You’ve got to have a very good patter in order to sell a package of heavenly blessings.  (Especially if that package is basically: Bow to the Big Guy or burn forever).

But what if, what if, what if…. we offer a Person.  Jesus.

This is what’s helped me most in my own evangelism:  realising I’m not selling some gospel benefits, I’m offering a Person.  Jesus sells Himself.  I don’t need a hundred illustrations and some cracking mother-in-law gags and the gift of the gab.  I just have to talk about Jesus and let His magnetism do the job.

We’re offering a Person, not a mechanism of salvation.  We’re saying – “This is Jesus, let me paint Him in biblical colours for you, let me tell you that I love Him and why, let me tell you what He has done for me, let me tell you my favourite things about Him.  This is Jesus – do you want Him?  He’s yours, have Him.  Receive Him, He’s offered Himself to you, take Him now.’  That’s evangelism.  In a deep sense, that all of what evangelism is.  Just. Talk. About. Jesus.

And if the words don’t come then guess what, it’s not because “you’re not a professional evangelist”.  Words often fail me too.  You know why?  Cos I’m weak.  Cos nothing good lives in my flesh.  Cos I’m a sinner.  And if I haven’t been receiving from Jesus, the Fountain of Living Waters, then of course the words will dry up.  Because I’m dry.

So then, return to the Source.  Get filled.  Receive again from Jesus, our Heavenly Husband, who loves us in spite of ourselves.  And then the words will come.  Feebly and falteringly.  But genuinely.  Because from the overflow of the heart the mouth will speak. (Matthew 12:34).

And as everyday people lift Him up in everyday circumstances, He will draw all people to Himself.  But it begins by realising this: the gospel’s not a package, He’s a Person.

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Those are some reasons why “union with Christ” is a vital component of our gospel explanations…

So there you have it.  Three blind-spots in modern evangelism: the trinity, original sin and union with Christ.  If only we had a gospel explanation that gave them proper attention… perhaps one that was easy to memorise and share with friends… And maybe there could be a snazzy video presentation.  And a website with further explanations.  Maybe some tracts.  Heck, why not a book?  A cheap and cheery paperback – a give-away for friends.  One that laid it all out simply… that’d be nice.

i f   o n l y  .   .   .     i   f      o    n    l     y    .        .          .

#StayTuned

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Here’s a seminar that Emma and I ran recently for a group of 20s and 30s.

Unfortunately the recorder ran out almost as soon as Emma began to speak!  Not to worry, soon we’ll have a couple of different videos of Emma giving her testimony – I’ll link as soon as we have them.

We began the seminar with perhaps the key verse on identity:

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39

We then kicked things off with my favourite 4 minutes of stand-up ever!

Death to the Me-Monster in Christ births a redeemed identity.

I speak a lot about Christ’s baptism, His identity and our sharing in it.  The stories of Jacob and Esau are very illuminating.  And Luther nails it with this quote:

The Christian lives far above themselves in Christ through faith
and far beneath themselves in their neighbour through love.

The one place we don’t live is in ourselves.  No we find our lives by losing them in and for Jesus.

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Audio

Powerpoint

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How do you think of God’s forgiveness?

The book of Colossians mentions forgiveness in three places.  Conveniently it’s in chapter 1:13f; 2:13 and 3:13.

Let’s work our way backwards.  In 3:13 Paul says:

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

We are to ungoingly forgive others in the present because the Lord has once and for all forgiven us in the past.  Forgiveness from the Lord Jesus is an event.  When did it happen?  Colossians 2:13 tells us:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.  (Colossians 2:13-14)

Even as we were uncircumcised sinners we were forgiven.  When?  As Christ was crucified.  On Good Friday, all that stood against us was permanently taken away.  God has forgiven me.  It’s not something that hangs in the balance.  It has already happened.  Christ dying was God forgiving.

Forgiveness is not an act behind the cross.  It’s not as though the cross clears the way so that now God can forgive me.  The cross was God forgiving me.  It all happened right there at Calvary.  In Christ, me and my sin and my guilt and every accusation against me was put to death.  Decisively.  Irreversibly.

How am I meant to think of my forgiveness now?  That’s where Colossians 1:13 comes in:

For [the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

Forgiveness is the essence of our redemption.  Like the Exodus of old, it is the promised land to which we’ve been delivered.  Our new Moses has taken us out of the dark Egypt of sin into a new Kingdom.  But in this new Exodus, Christ is not just the new Moses.  He’s also the destination.  The very essence of the Kingdom is Jesus.

Therefore the Christian has been transferred from sin and into the Father’s dearly loved Son.  This Father has been proclaiming “Behold My Son!” for all eternity and now we have come in on Him.  We are not merely forgiven.  We have been brought into Jesus in Whom we have  forgiveness.  Not just an event, but an ongoing status.

And since the Red Sea was one-way traffic, so now our forgiveness is an unloseable reality.  We do not fall in and out of forgiveness.  We have forgiveness because Jesus has us.  And He’s not letting go.

Is this how you think of God’s forgiveness?

In our preaching and liturgy I think it’s easy to give a different impression.  I’m always thinking of forgiveness as “God wiping the slate clean” (and me filling it back up again!)  But the Apostle Paul puts the emphasis where it should be.  It was an event accomplished at the cross.  And it’s a present status, enjoyed forever in Jesus.

Henry Lyte (reflecting on Psalm 103) gets it just right – it’s a past tense doing that is also an ongoing declaration:

Ransomed, Healed, Restored, Forgiven

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RIP Neil Armstrong

 

 

 

 

He might well have died 40 years ago.  Certainly the authorities were worried enough that this sobering speech was drafted for Richard Nixon…

IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by the nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown…

Read the whole thing here.

Thankfully, they came back with stories to tell, and photos to capture our imagination.  To me, this picture is as captivating as any they took.  It’s not simply the wonders of space, but wondering at space that should make us stop and think.

RIP Neil Armstrong.

 

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Yet Further Twit-Bits

Adam cannot repent. Adam can only perish.

True repentance must be done to us (as faith is done to us) since the greatest sin is to imagine that we can ‘do penance.’

There cannot be impenitent faith (if it’s true faith) or unbelieving repentance (if it’s true repentance).

Repentance and faith are not 2 separate stages of salvation. They are 2 sides of the same coin. But note – this is a coin God gives to us!

We do not offer repentance to God as our part of the bargain. We’re summoned to repentance in the gospel because this is the life of faith.

Little children come 2 Jesus in all their weakness. The rich young ruler walks away from Jesus with all his strength. (Matt 19:13-30)

<< To the weak, heaven’s gate’s as wide as Jesus’ arms. To the strong, it’s like getting a camel through the eye of a needle.

All anger is righteous anger. It’s just that 95% is *self*-righteous.

Preachers: don’t *aim* for relevance, reason & response. The gospel *produces* those things.

The god Richard Dawkins discusses certainly doesn’t exist. #EnjoyYourDay

Orthodox Church leader: “Pussy Riot have slapped the church in the face.” If only Jesus told us how 2 handle such face-slaps…

Doug Adams said u can enjoy a garden w/o believing in fairies at the bottom. Christians don’t believe in fairies, we believe in a Gardener>>

<<Irony is, when u stop believing in a Gardener, it’s only so long before you fear the garden is haunted by powers darker than fairies

Faith does not mean cultivating spiritual fullness but confessing spiritual emptiness. Continually.

I now have more (Twitter) followers than (Facebook) friends. If you notice a more despotic social media tone, that’ll be why. Dismissed

What’s this obsession with ‘accountability’? Let’s have deep fellowship which includes confession & *forgiveness*. But ‘accountability’??

The Christian life is not sin management.

Father, Son & Spirit means Fullness, Poured-out & Poured-in. This Fullness is Poured-out for you and Poured-in to you. #EnjoyYourDay

You have nothing to bring God but weakness & failure. But this is more than acceptable through Jesus our Saviour. #EnjoyYourDay

If we define our problems so that we’re the solution, we don’t know how deep is our sin, guilt and helplessness.

The purpose of the law is to bring us to the point of saying “With man this is impossible, but not with God.” (Matt 19)

“Most young Christians don’t follow historic Christianity, but a “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” (Christian Smith) >>

<< And therapists argue with moralists, all the while our deism takes us to hell.

All that harms & perverts comes from a defeated enemy. Your victorious Friend brings fullness & life- even through this harm. #EnjoyYourDay

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Last time we thought about the dangers of overlooking Trinity in our evangelism.  Here we’ll examine three consequences of neglecting original sin in our gospel presentations…

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You will place your hearers at the centre

So much of evangelism assumes that the non-Christian is like Hercules at the cross-roads (painting above).  There is Virtue pointing us away (from herself!) in one direction and Vice tempting us in the other – and everything is to play for.  Hercules needs to choose virtue and eternity hangs in the balance.

The gospel is very different. According to the Bible, humanity is lost.  And it has been lost, dead, perishing, cursed and guilty since Adam.  We are born into a broken humanity that has no life in it and no ability to save itself.

Perhaps we don’t like preaching this because we assume that, once we’ve acknowledged man’s helplessness, the preacher will have nothing left to say.  Garbage!  It gives our hearers nothing to do, but it gives preachers everything to say!  Because now we can spotlight the true Hero – Jesus.

The unbeliever is not at the centre while we entice their (supposedly free) wills, minds and hearts.  Jesus is at the centre, stepping into a lost situation and turning it around – all by Himself.  Gospel events can take their place at the centre – and not simply as motivational fuel for the business end of proceedings: Decision-Time!

I wonder whether one of the reasons we dislike preaching original sin is because we typically frame our evangelism around the Philippian Jailer’s question in Acts 16.  He asked “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  But if we begin our evangelism by trying to answer this question, all the emphasis falls on the hearer.  Suddenly evangelism is about what the hearer must do, not “what Jesus has done”.  We’ll only mention His work to the degree that such teaching informs their response.  All emphasis falls on the response.

We don’t like original sin because it takes man off the stage and forces us to sit in the audience.  But the good news is that someone far more captivating can now take centre-stage.

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You will radically diminish the nature of sin and judgement

According to Jesus and Paul, judgement is not a future possibility for mankind.  It’s a present reality (John 3:18,36; Romans 1:18ff).  In fact, condemnation is in the past tense.  It’s already happened.

Just as eternal life is not merely a future blessing but is a present state (cf. all of John!), so also wrath is not merely a future reality, but a current condition.  Judgement day is a confirmation of what’s already true in life.  Throughout life we have wanted the darkness instead of the light and final judgement involves God saying “Have it your way – Go.”

The world is perishing now.  Hell is on the non-Christian now.  And, to a degree, they know it.  To a degree, we all know it – children of Adam that we are.  We’ve all felt hell. We all know something of the darkness.  We know about disconnection.  We know about weeping and wailing and the angry gnashing of teeth.  We’ve all felt hell, here and now.  Hell in miniature.  Hell in our hearts.  Hell in our circumstances.

That continuity is important when we preach judgement.  You see, if our problem is merely “committed sin”, then hell readily appears as a rash over-reaction on God’s part.  A non-Christian might feel that their broken relationships, abortion, gossip, etc, deserves some kind of judgement.  But an eternal wrath for temporal sins?  If behaviour X has warranted punishment Y, then why is hell forever?  Asking questions like that (over and over) was the stock in trade of “Love Wins” – but it’s founded on the assumption that behaviour (not being) is central.

Yet, if wrath is a state of disconnection from God, then getting confirmed in that state – while being a fearful thought – is not absurd.  It’s our being now that matters.  And it’s our being in eternity that matters.  Behaviour flows from being – it doesn’t lead to being.

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You will (inadvertently) preach behaviour, not being

Martin Lloyd-Jones once said of Romans 5: Think of yourself in Adam, though you had done nothing, you were condemned.  Think of yourself in Christ, though you had done nothing, you were saved.

You know what that means?  It means it’s not about your behaviour, it’s about your being.

Have you ever come across evangelistic presentations that try to convict you of sin by focusing on your behaviour.  A particularly blunt attempt goes something like this:

“Have you ever stolen paperclips from work?  Yes? Then you’ve broken the law at one point.  And if you’ve broken the law at one point you’ve broken the law at every point.  Should law-breakers go to heaven or hell?

Hell!  But…  Jesus paid on the cross and made a way so that you can escape the flames for stealing paperclips…”

Do you hear how petty the evangelist has made God out to be?  How irrational His judgement?  How miniscule is Christ’s cross?  (And how Christ merely clears the way for you to make the epic journey to heaven?)

Now perhaps your way of convicting people goes a little deeper.  You manage to uncover some more serious sins than tiny thefts, white lies and lustful fantasies.  But nonetheless, if your approach aims at sins committed you will pervert the gospel.

Our condemnation goes much deeper than behaviour.  It’s about our being. We don’t have life in ourselves.  It’s not about convicting people of this crime or that.  It’s saying “You have no life in yourself (your bad behaviour is the fruit of that disconnection), but now get connected to the only life-source.”

I will often confess to bad behaviours in my preaching but only so as to say “You know what’s scary? That sin comes from somewhere deep in me.  Somewhere bigger than me.  There’s a power that’s over me and in me and it comes out in this way and that.  But I can’t just choose to do better.  It’s not merely what I do, there’s something desperately wrong with who I am.”

And as the Spirit works on people they realise they have no life in themselves.  They realize that they don’t know God.  They’re cut off, estranged, alienated, disconnected.  It’s not so much that their sins separate them, it’s that their separation leads to sin.

If our sinful acts were the problem then surely righteous acts would be the solution.  But no, our problem was not caused by us, and neither will our solution be.  We didn’t have the power to make ourselves sinners, and we don’t have the power to make ourselves saved.  Our problem was out of our hands and so is our solution.  Adam has made us perish, only Christ can rescue.

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In all this we see that the way we pose the problem powerfully shapes the solution we offer.  If we shy away from original sin and focus instead on committed sin – we shift the focus from Christ to us, from being to behaviour and we misconstrue our plight before God.

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Much more could be said (perhaps you can add your own thoughts in comments).  But I think these reasons alone mean we should put original sin back into our gospel explanations…

If only we had such a gospel explanation… perhaps one that was easy to memorise and share with friends…

i f   o n l y  .   .   .     i   f      o    n    l     y    .        .          .

#StayTuned

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Happy Friday

Some favourite one liners recently garnered from the Twittersphere (mostly from Martin Williams)…

Wives, when your man says he’ll fix it, he’ll fix it. You don’t need to remind him every 6 months.

Whereever he is, I’m know my grandfather is looking down on me. He’s not dead, just very condescending.

Yes my dad went bankrupt selling polo hammers that are too short. I just wished people would get off their high horse.

Would make a demoralising, patronising joke about your height – but I’m bigger than that

When we were kids, we couldn’t afford toys, holidays, school uniforms or even shoes… so our parents paid for them.

Imagine a world without made up scenarios.

Just made a complaint at the shopping mall about the escalator. It didn’t go down well.

Hoping to find a cure for my hiccups. But I’m not holding my breath.

My wife asked me for another word for incorrect. As always, my answer was wrong

BadThingsToHearAtPsychiatrists Dont want u2 think of me as a psychiatrist, but as a mental patient whokilled the psychiatrist b4 u got here

A new self-help group has been formed for secretive compulsive talkers? On & On Anon.

Dressed in orange, detained without trial, asked questions they dont know the answers to. How would you like to work in Homebase?

GNAB! That’s bang out of order

If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.

They say all the world’s a stage. So where’s the audience meant to sit?

For any joiners out there looking for work.. my door is always open

A guy in the pub called me a tightfisted cheapskate. So I threw his drink in his face.

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Resisting the Devil

Here’s a repost from 2010…

Playing around with some thoughts.  Comments welcomed…

Jesus Christ crushed the head of Satan (Gen 3:15); drove out the devil (John 12:31) and disarmed the rulers and authorities, putting them to open shame and triumphing over them (Col 2:15).

How?

Through dying on a cross.

He didn’t come down from the cross to bust out some ultimate fighting moves on the devil.  It’s not that, as He died, the Spirit went to work on Satan behind the scenes with baseball bats and chains.  The cross wasn’t Christ’s non-violent resistance stunt distracting us while the elect angels went ballistic on the forces of evil.

No, it’s all there on Golgotha.  The all-time decisive cosmic face-off did not involve hordes of spiritual forces doing battle in the heavenlies.  It involved a lonely Man on a lonely hill.  The taunts of the devil rang out from the lips of His enemies: “If you are the Son of God, come down now from the cross.”  The diabolical onslaught did not come through waves of black magic but through the simple appeal to use power and save self.

The greatest ever spiritual battle involved the simple choice of whether this Man would obey His Father or serve Himself.  The height and width and breadth of the battlefield was that single cross.  The one Victor was that Champion strung up on a tree.  Right there this defenceless Man was crushing, driving out, disarming and triumphing over evil once and for all.

What does that tell you about evil?

Well if it was something like an equal and opposite force, then you might expect a heavenly punch-up.  But it’s not.  It’s not a created thing but a perversion.  It’s a parasite, distorting everything good and pulling it down into oblivion.  (See these Mike Reeves talks on evil for more).

And so the Author of Life enters into this matrix of death.  Christ absorbs this evil at its worst and transforms it.  He does this, not by taking it seriously as a legitimate opponent but by entering it in simple obedience to His Father’s will.  As this Man trusts God – even in the jaws of death – He reverses the cycle of self-assertion and self-vindication.  This cycle is the very opposite of God’s own life and therefore the quintessence of evil.  So the Source of good goes to the heart of evil and, by turning the other cheek, overturns the whole thing.

Therefore we get the ultimate Genesis 50:20 moment.  Even what Satan intends for evil, God intends for good.

So, again, evil is not granted an existence alongside God and His creation-redemption agenda.  It is a perversion which is then taken up into the purposes of God and made to serve Him.

Well then.  We stand, clothed in Christ and His victory.  And the evil one, thrashing around in his death-throes, fires some flaming arrows our way – some mixture of temptations and condemnations.  And both James and Peter tell us “resist the devil” (1 Pet 5:9; James 4:7) and James adds the promise “and he will flee from you.”

That’s always seemed to me an extraordinary promise.  Doesn’t it sound a little far fetched to believe that I can send Satan scurrying into the night?  Yet that’s exactly what “fleeing” means – running scared.  And how are we going to make Satan flee from us?  Simply by resisting him.  That just means ‘standing against’ him.  He wants you to indulge a craving, you simply stand against it.  Nothing more, nothing less, just resist.  He wants you to wallow in past sins, you simply stand against it.  And the devil runs for his life!  He has met a Christian – a little Christ – one clothed in the Champion and employing those same tactics.

If that sounds incredible to us, maybe we don’t properly understand Satan or his defeat.  Recently the devil’s been coming at me with some recurring thoughts about myself.  Ordinarily I’d get embroiled in an endless round of indulging the thoughts and then condemning myself for them.  Either way he wins.  I can’t explain exactly why but of late I’ve just known a real freedom to laugh at the temptations – whether I’ve caught myself entertaining them or not.  Whatever.  I’m not called to engage Satan mano e mano.  That battle’s been won.  And I don’t get to nip his temptations in the bud – that’s not an option.  My job’s pretty simple.  Just stand in Christ and refuse to take his temptations seriously.

And maybe to fart at him.

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If you don’t make clear the Trinity in your gospel presentations, here are three consequences…

They won’t understand Jesus

Jesus simply is the Christ, the Son of God.  That’s how all the Gospels identify Him.  By definition He is anointed with the Spirit and He is Son of the Father.  Jesus is intimately related to the Father and Spirit and cannot be understood without that Trinitarian context.

If God is introduced in single-Person terms, Jesus will appear on the scene – almost by definition – simply as Prophet.  Once God has been defined without Jesus, His entrance into the explanation can only ever suggest that He’s a lesser being.

If He comes late to the presentation, he is coming to solve a problem that is not really his.  Athanasius made much of the Word who made us in the beginning, remaking us in salvation.  But modern presentations have a maker on the one hand and a different saviour.  This feeds into…

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They won’t understand the cross

Who is the One on the cross?  Is Jesus a third party punished by God?  Is God hell-bent on judgement and destruction but this other force with this other will placates Him – almost in spite of Himself?  That’s precisely how it looks when we begin our presentations unitarianly.

People need to know that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).  This is not to deny penal substitution.  On the contrary, it’s to uphold penal substitution (2 Cor 5:21).  As John Stott says in his famous chapter “The Self-Substitution of God”, we mustn’t make Christ “a third party thrust in between God and us.”

At the root of every caricature of the cross there lies a distorted Christology…  In particular, it is essential to affirm that the love, the holiness and the will of the Father are identical to the love, the holiness and the will of the Son. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. (The Cross of Christ)

The One on the cross is the One who made us.  And He is perfectly expressing the love of His Father (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10).

So many gospel presentations look like (or even explicitly say that) Christ buys off a reluctant and angry Judge, rather than Christ demonstrating the very love of God in substituting Himself for sinners.

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You’ll define God as Creator and Judge

What’s wrong with that?  you might ask.  Well God is Creator and Judge, but the creeds speak first of “Father.”  Before there was anything made, before there was anyone to judge, there was a Father.  And He was pouring life and love into His Son by the Spirit.

Foundationally God is life-giving.  Yet, functionally unitarian presentations make God out to be, foundationally, Creator and Judge.  And His status as Maker is instantly framed in terms of His demands on us.  There’s a logic that says “God made us, therefore we owe Him.”  Do you hear what happened there?  Creation ought to first make us consider the life-giving, out-going, gracious character of God.  But if its spun unitarianly we have a self-focused God who makes in order to get.  And what he wants is regularly unpacked in terms of moral effort.

In other words, it begins to sound very much like Islam.  God, by definition, lords it over us – that is what it means to be this kind of God.  And what does it mean to relate to this kind of God?  It can only mean one thing: submission.  So the gospel can only be unpacked as “bowing the knee to our Creator and Judge” and salvation is essentially avoiding being crushed by the higher power.  In such presentations they might eventually speak of knowing God as Father or of “having a relationship with God”, but the whole set-up leaves the listener extremely dubious.

There’s bags more I could say, but I’ll leave it there.  You can add more in the comments if you like.  But even if these were the only reasons to do so, they really should move us to present a trinitarian gospel…

Now if only someone would write such a thing…

i f   o n l y  .   .   .     i   f      o    n    l     y    .       .         .

#StayTuned

 

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Even Further Twit-Bits

Jesus does not hit “Snooze” on your sins, to revisit them later. He’s hit “Dismiss”, once and for all. #EnjoyYourDay

Whatever you’ve done this weekend, whatever you will do this week, God’s love is as free as the sunshine. (Matt 5:45) #EnjoyYourDay

Many define sin as essentially “exalting yourself”. Ok, so does Jesus at times. But what does that look like? Being a Pharisee: Luke 18:9-14

The Good Shepherd has not retired. The One who gave His life for you watches over, guides, feeds and protects you right now. #EnjoyYourDay

Good news: God has prepared good works for you to walk in today. (Try to look surprised when it happens). #EnjoyYourDay

 

The Father IS Love, the Son IS Grace, the Spirit IS Fellowship (2 Cor 13:14). You have everything you could ever need or want. #EnjoyYourDay

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – a pale imitation of the grace, love and communion of the triune God (2 Cor 13:14).

There’s a saying in poker: If you can’t spot the sucker at your table, it’s you. Let’s adapt it 4 the church: if u cant spot the Pharisee…

You don’t just have Olympic gold in your country’s name, you have the crown of life in Jesus’ name (1 Cor 15:57) #EnjoyYourDay

Matt 3: Jesus might’ve come 2 the sinners convention 2judge, v12. It’d be amazing if He came 2baptize, v11. But He comes 2BE baptized, v13!

Jesus baptizing sinners is wonderful (Matt 3:11). But the Real grace of the gospel is Jesus *being* baptized 4 sinners

Today the Father and Son are working hard to bring life, hope and dignity (John 5:17). #EnjoyYourDay

Few know yr middle name, yr mother knows yr blood type, yr Father’s numbered yr hairs. Not just supernatural knowledge – intimate knowledge.

Jesus does not wish you well on your way to heaven. He is heaven. And you’re in Him. #EnjoyYourDay

When ur in Adam, he’s also in you (by virtue of his flesh). When ur in Christ, He’s also in you (by virtue of His Spirit).

Atheists find the virgin birth incredible, all the while believing in a virgin birth of the cosmos & of life itself.

“A man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it… …He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it” GK Chesterton

Even if He wanted to send you away, God would have to un-knit His own being to do so. #EnjoyYourDay

Reflecting on a year of devotionals at http://www.kinsenglish.info . The bulk of any imperatives taught regarded money, forgiveness & speech…  …Do our imperatives fall in those areas? (Money, forgiveness, speech)? If not, why not?

Only just noticed in Eph 5, “love” is in the imperative but “submit” and “respect” are either indicative or subjunctive.

Jesus encamps around you, the Spirit fills you, the Father beams at you. #EnjoyYourDay

AA founded on truth “only drunks can help drunks”. Perhaps our pastoral care should begin with “only Sinners can help sinners.”

The Risen Lord cooks breakfast for total failures (Jn 21). He hasnt changed in 2000 years. He loves u just the same. #EnjoyYourDay

God is not just forgiving, He’s Father. You’re not just accepted, you’re adopted. #EnjoyYourDay

Isaiah’s vision of the future: “On THAT day… On THIS mountain.” (Everywhere, see eg Is 25) Our home is HERE but it’s not NOW.

Adoption into the life of God! Through the blood of the Son! What kind of God do we have? One who gave everything to have us! #EnjoyYourDay

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I’m always hearing about the benefits of “accountability.”  Men in particular, apparently, are meant to get together… for accountability.  (I think it’s “men in particular” because women already actually share life with each other.  Men have to be corralled under false pretences).

It’s not so much that we’re meant to meet for fellowship.  Not so much to speak the good news to each other, but to hold each other to Christian standards.  We’re being called to mini-communities of law, where a combination of fear, pride and resolve dis-incentivise the appearance of sin.  Not “sin” itself.  I can easily survive an accountability group while nurturing a love for sin.  It’s the “not appearing to commit sin” that counts.

Behind this drive towards “accountability”, so often there’a a vision of the Christian life as sin-management.  It’s not even that we’re aiming for Sinlessness.  We’re aiming for Sin Less-ness.  We’re trying to keep the ‘flagrant transgression count’ down.  That way we won’t have to appear before our brothers and sisters as “a sinner.”    Phew.  That’d be awkward.  Having to confess I’m a sinner – Yikes!  No, that horrible feeling becomes the dis-incentive to transgress.  What’s important is avoiding the need for, you know, confession, grace, forgiveness, the blood of Jesus.

And even as men herd together for accountability – the big issue we’re meant to drill each other on is… the dreaded P word.  No, not Pride.  How intangible!  How can we measure progress in that?!  And no, not Prayer.  Goodness me – let’s not over-spiritualize things here.  We’re after indicators of performance.  No, no, every man’s struggle is Porn.  Obviously.  (Of course with every man who’s ever confessed struggles with porn to me, it hasn’t taken long to establish that pride and prayerlessness are way bigger problems contributing to the mess.  And yet, those are problems it never occurred to them to confess.  It’s “Porn” that’s the issue, right?? That’s by the by…)

What am I saying?  Stop meeting up for accountability?  Well look if you’re a guy in an “accountability group” – well done.  Everything you love about this group is good and godly and biblical – you enjoy brotherhood, you enjoy sharing life, you enjoy another human being speaking forgiveness and grace into your life.  Hallelujah!  That’s what fellowship is meant to be like.

But “accountability”?  Thing is – it doesn’t even work.  But confessing your sins to each other… speaking words of forgiveness in Jesus’ name… opening up to each other as a fellowship of the broken… having a cry… having a laugh… that’s the Christian life.  And guess what?  It doesn’t have to be gender specific!!  Cos, heck, you don’t have to “fellowship” around “men’s problems” or “women’s problems.”  You might just be able to, you know, be family together in Jesus.

And at the end of it all, you’ll almost certainly sin less.  But that’s not the point.  The Christian life is not sin management.  It’s life together in Jesus.

 

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Yesterday Emma spoke at a conference along with 3 other amazing Christians. They all told stories of God meeting them in hard places.

One of them has the most stunning testimony I’ve ever heard.  I can’t relate the details for his own security, but it involved Christ calling him out of the Mosque of which he was Sheikh.  As hundreds listened, open-mouthed, I was part-thrilled, part-devastated.

You see I had spent the 10 minutes prior to the seminar chatting with this guy.  About the Olympics.  The Olympics!  In particular, an event I knew nothing of.  For ten precious minutes.

Later, as he gave his testimony, I had a thousand questions I wanted to ask him.  But I knew he’d be swamped after the seminar.  I’d had my chance.  And we’d spoken about sport.

How’d it happen?

Well it went something like this:

Me: Where are you from?

Him: I’m from the country of X.

Me: [Smirking because I knew one tiny, stupid little fact about that country] Oh… didn’t they just win Gold in such-and-such an event?

Indeed they did.  Well done Glen!  Ten points and control of round two.  With that little nugget of trivia we were off.  For ten long minutes, we were off not speaking about the most amazing story and the most amazing God.

As the conversation unfolded, things were not helped by my attempt to demonstrate knowledge of this sport.  I’d read something you see.  A while back.  And it was important that I share this tit-bit.  Knowingly.  For the sake of the conversation you understand.  It turned out that my tit-bit was false.  But he was gracious and put me straight.  It wasn’t like that in country X you see.

But wait.  I wasn’t finished blagging.  Because, to me, it sounded a little like the situation in country Y.  A country I was more familiar with.  Here was me demonstrating a connection you see.  For the sake of the conversation.  It turned out country Y was not really that similar.  But I’m sure, deep down, he was appreciative of my efforts to relate.  Not to mention my ability to be semi-ignorant across a broad range of global concerns.

Ten minutes!  Ten minutes of me saying things like “Oh, yes, I’d heard that such-and-such is a real problem… No? Ok, well I suppose that’s because of the so-and-so factor.  Really?  Not that either eh?  Hm.”

Ten minutes.

Ten minutes of me covering.  That’s the biblical term for what we do when we feel naked. Ever since man sinned we’ve wanted a covering – something to hide our shame, our weakness, our ignorance.  As we relate to each other we conceal our bad bits, show off our clothing and remain, decidedly, at a distance.

Conversationally, we spend our lives building up a bank of “things to say” in certain situations.  X is mentioned.  We go to the filing cabinet and deliver our lines on cue.  Why?  We’re covering.

What would it have been like if, instead of covering, I’d been curious?  Just curious about him?

Well I’d have dropped those fig-leaves of trivial “knowledge” that only side-tracked the conversation.  I’d have confessed ignorance of his country and his context and could have allowed him to tell me his story on his terms.

And, ironically, if I’d stopped pretending to trivial knowledge, we’d have gotten down to subjects far closer to my heart.  A real heart-to-heart can happen when we’re into curiosity not covering.

In the Q&A section of the seminar, the last  two questions were asked of Emma and of Ruthie (who was bereaved aged 27 and whose wonderful blog you can read here.)  The question for both was “How can we help people who have gone through situations like yours?”

Both Emma and Ruthie essentially answered the same:  Don’t be frightened by your own ignorance.  Don’t shy away because you don’t know “the right thing to say.”  Ask the sufferer what’s the right thing!  Ask the sufferer how you can help!  Because they don’t need you to have the answer.  They need you.

In other words.  Stop covering.  Be curious.

 

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So stimulating.  Read in full here.

Nietzsche claims, humanism won’t plug the gap [left by the “death of God”]. All humanism does is substitute one useless form of transcendence (Man) for another (God). The death of God therefore has to herald the death of Man as well. You can’t just swap one fetish for another. This is why the Übermensch signifies the kind of transformed humanity which would flow from genuinely accepting the death of God. It’s the reckless, exuberant, self-delighting existence of those who are able to celebrate a life without foundations – the cavalier insouciance of those spiritual aristocrats who have the courage to risk a life without guarantees. The Overman or Meta-Man is the one who can peer into the fathomless pit of the nothingness of God without being turned to stone.  He (never a she, for Nietzsche) is the ecstatic creature who sings and dances at the very thought that his existence is every bit as mortal, fragile, ungrounded, arbitrary and contingent as a modernist work of art.

The only problem is that all this sounds rather like Christianity, which isn’t quite what Nietzsche had in mind. For the New Testament, as for Also sprach Zarathustra, the only good God is a dead one. For Christianity as for Nietzsche, the death of God in the figure of a tortured political criminal known as Jesus means not replacing God with humanity, but the advent of a transfigured humanity. For Christianity too, God is an abyss of sheer nothingness, absolutely no kind of entity at all, a groundless ground; and to say that we are created is to say that our existence is absolutely non-essential, that we might perfectly well have never been. Such existence is pure gift, sheer gratuity and contingency, a radical end in itself, a supreme acte gratuite – self-founding, self-grounding and self-delighting. Just as God exists for absolutely no purpose beyond himself, so human beings are fashioned to live in this way too, to be at their best when they are as gloriously pointless as a work of art. A just social order is one which would allow men and women to be in this sense ends in themselves, not means to another’s power or profit. God, as Aquinas sees, is the power that allows us to be autonomous. Thinking that faith in God puts firm foundations beneath your feet, rather than shattering them, is the delusion of fundamentalists…

So Nietzsche and Christianity, those supposedly sworn antagonists, actually agree on an embarrassing amount. (Embarrassing for Nietzsche, anyway). Nietzsche believes that we can’t be free unless we can get out from under the patriarchal Nobodaddy (as William Blake calls him) known as God. But of course the New Testament believes just the same. Seeing God as judge, patriarch and accuser is what is meant in scripture by Satan – the Satanic image of God, the God who will beat the shit out of us. And since we’re all inveterate masochists, cravenly in thrall to the Law, or to what Freud knows as the death drive, this is exactly what we secretly hanker for. We’ll gladly tear ourselves apart as long as there’s enough gratification in it for us. This is the terrible, lethal nexus of law and desire – which is also, as it happens, the chief subjectmatter of psychoanalysis. Those who are eternally trapped in this closed circuit, in which law and desire feed endlessly, fruitlessly off one another, are traditionally said to be in hell. The figure of the tortured and executed Jesus is the overthrowing of the Satanic image of God, for God as friend, lover, victim, counsel for the defence, fellow accused and flayed flesh and blood. It replaces the Satanic God not with humanity at its most triumphant, as rationalist humanism does, but with humanity at its most torn and vulnerable.

And this is what Nietzsche can’t stomach. It’s here, not over the death of God, that he and the Gospel part company most decisively. Because weakness, suffering and mortality for him are simply part of a ghoulish, morbid religious conspiracy to bring low the noble, heroic and life-affirming. He forgets that Jesus never once counsels the sick to reconcile themselves to their afflictions. On the contrary, he seems to regard such suffering as evil, and is out to abolish it. Nietzsche forgets, too, that any power which is not rooted in a solidarity with human creatureliness and fragility, with the raw fact of our bodily finitude, will never prove durable or effective enough. That this is so is one of the lessons of tragedy, an art-form which fascinated Nietzsche himself for quite different reasons.

And so in the end Nietzsche is less revolutionary than the New Testament. Like some demented health-club proprietor, he can’t stop worshipping vigour, robustness and virility, or seeing failure as sickly and shameful. Like those Americans who hate a loser, he doesn’t see that what matters is failure, not success – that Jesus is a sick joke of a Saviour, that in every human sense his mission is an embarrassing, abysmal failure, that the notion of a crucified Messiah would have been a horrendous, unspeakable scandal and blasphemy to the pious Jews of his day. In the end, Nietzsche disowns the deepest insight of tragedy – that, as W.B. Yeats puts it, ‘nothing can be sole or whole that has not been rent’.

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Ok, I gotta stop now. But you can view all 191 here.

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Big thanks to Larry for the tip off!

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