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Archive for the ‘pastoral theology’ Category

Christmas in Dark Places

Please share…

It used to be summer when Christmas came round,
Neath tall southern skies, over sun-scorched ground,
With the backyard cricket, the barbies, the beach,
And munching on mangoes to watch the Queen’s Speech.
The slatherings of sunscreen, the glorious glare
And toasting the glow in the warm evening air.

It used to be summer… when I was young.
A golden age in a land far flung.
But there came a point, I crossed a divide,
Went up in the world and summer had died.
December is dark now, the nights close in,
So we huddle together as kith and as kin.

It’s winter now when Christmas rolls round,
We celebrate still though with different surrounds.
We mull the wine and strike the matches,
Light the fires, batten the hatches,
Gather around the warming beam
Of family love or a TV screen.
So safe inside, no place to go,
We toast marshmallows and let it snow.

Our summer’s gone, if you’ve been around,
you’ve felt the fall: life’s run aground.
We’ve gone up in the world, seen summer die.
So what’s our hope? The dark defy?
Stoke the hearth? Retreat indoors?
Rug up warm with you and yours?
The shadow reaches even here,
But THIS is the place for Christmas cheer.

It’s dark, in the bible, when Christmas is spoken.
Always a bolt from the blue for the broken.
It’s the valley of shadow, the land of the dead,
It’s, “No place in the inn,” so He stoops to the shed.
He’s born to the shameful, bends to the weak,
becomes the lowly: the God who can’t speak!
And yet, what a Word, this Saviour who comes,
Our dismal, abysmal depths He plumbs.
Through crib and then cross, to compass our life.
To carry and conquer. Our Brother in strife.
He became what we are: our failures He shouldered,
To bring us to His life: forever enfolded.
He took on our frailty, He took on all-comers,
To turn all our winters to glorious summers.

It’s Christmas now… whatever the weather,
Some soak in the sun, some huddle together.
But fair days or foul, our plight He embraces.
Real Christmas can shine in the darkest of places.

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sadface

I’ve heard it from a few people now… stories of depressed friends going to their GP and at some stage being asked, “Are you, by any chance, an evangelical Christian?” Have you heard similar tales?

I’m not sure whether we’ve ended up on any official lists of “predisposing factors” but it certainly makes you think.

So let’s ask a tough question: Is there anything about evangelicalism (as opposed to other kinds of Christianity) that makes depression even harder? Or even, perhaps, more likely?

Is it worse to be an evangelical Christian when you’re depressed?

I can think of two reasons it shouldn’t be and two reasons it might be…

READ THE WHOLE POST ON EMMA’S BLOG

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Happy Friday

In the interests of balance… sometimes “fixing” aint miserable comfort:

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Here’s a stark example of a very common life philosophy today: “Life’s too short to waste your time on people who aren’t like you.” I see this kind of thing – even if not the name snobbery – on countless Facebook walls and it’s scary, scary, scary. (Favourite moment at 6:00).

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Gotta love Ashton Agar. Unfortunately he’ll never get another chance to break his own record. Cos he’ll never bat 11 again!

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And, if you ask me, it’s nice that the kids have seen an alternative way to play this summer…

Presentation1

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I’ve been thinking about Job a lot recently (see yesterday’s post). When I consider the miserable comforters, I’m often reminded of this…

The interviewers and those phoning in were undoubtedly well-meaning. But so were Job’s comforters (Job 2:11). They do want to fix him. But again, that was the motivation of the comforters too.  Yet, after endless rounds of “Do this and be healed”, comfort becomes torment.

Interestingly, Chris Sands was eventually cured because a brain surgeon was watching one of these interviews. He wondered whether a tumour pressing on a nerve was the problem. It was. And so Chris went under the knife for drastic surgery. That was the answer and it went so much deeper than all our home spun remedies.

The true answer to suffering is so much deeper than our little platitudes ever acknowledge. In our pastoral care, let’s have true compassion on people, admitting our own helplessness and pointing sufferers away from their paltry efforts to the true Doctor of our souls.

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Book by Book 1
For the last two days we’ve been filming Book by Book’s study in Job. Here’s me with Richard Bewes and Paul Blackham – what a privilege to be involved! I think the DVD and Paul’s insanely good study guide (best resource you’ll find on Job!) will be available later in the year.

In the past I’ve blogged my way through Job on the King’s English:

The LORD gave and the LORD hath taken away

Miserable Comforters

Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward

Escaped by the skin of my teeth

I know that my Redeemer liveth

Gird up thy loins

Repent in dust and ashes

Old and full of days

…And given this sermon on the whole book…

But it was great to look in more depth at the book. Some new thoughts I’ve had as we’ve studied this more together:

1) So much of Job is about knowing Christ – the Mediator.  His mediatorial work comes up at key points – Job 9:32-35; Job 16:19-21; Job 19:23-27; Job 33:23-28; Job 42:7-9.  Whenever Job is doing well, he has his eyes on Christ. Whenever he’s doing badly, he has his eyes back on himself.

2) The great problem with the miserable comforters is a total ignorance of Christ. Eliphaz, the prosperity teacher, thinks you can get your best life now without Christ and His future. Bildad, the works righteousness preacher, thinks you can become just by your own efforts. Zophar thinks you can be spiritual, without Christ, just by your own devotional commitments. From their christlessness flows their terrible theology – in their various ways they basically believe ‘you get what you deserve.’  And from their terrible theology flows their terrible pastoral care.

3) The comforters don’t intend to be tormentors. They come in chapter 2:11 to sympathise with Job. They spend a week sitting in silence with him – what commitment!  It’s just that having miserable theology means – necessarily – giving miserable comfort.  Application: If you don’t know the gospel, don’t you dare do pastoral care!

4) Elihu is a good guy. Once you grasp this, it really helps you a) to take his own wisdom more seriously, but even more importantly, b) to reappraise Job as someone who errs as well as speaks rightly (cf 32:1-4). Job errs (especially from chapter 30 onwards) in continually justifying his own uprightness to the friends, and even to God. Job is certainly a believer and he hasn’t brought his suffering on himself through any particular sins. However, he ends up insisting on his innocence almost as much as the comforters insinuate his guilt.  In his better moments he forgets about either innocence or guilt and looks to Christ. But when he doesn’t, he invites the critique of Elihu (and then the LORD).

5) Job’s insistence on his innocent suffering – while correct on one level – tips him, at times, in the direction of a miserable-comforter-style theology of glory. Towards the end, he begins pitting ‘knowing God’ against ‘experiencing suffering’. He becomes nostalgic for times of intimacy with God. But he loses sight of the intimacy he can have in suffering.  This is a key truth Elihu brings.

6) I’d never really noticed them before but Elihu’s words in Job 36 are some of my favourite in the book:

“But those who suffer the LORD delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.” (Job 36:15-16)

Beautiful!

7) Job asks for answers throughout the book.  But he never gets them.  Instead he gets an experience of the LORD in suffering (Job 16:19-21; cf Job 38-41) and a promised hope after it (Job 19:23-27; cf Job 42).  It’s the same with us.  Who cares about answers?  We need the LORD Jesus Himself and the future He will bring.

8) When James looks back on Job, his take-home message is: “Job’s perseverance and… what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” (James 5:11) Job’s ending is crucial.  It’s a happily ever after that pictures the good purposes Christ has for all our suffering.  When we read Job all the way through, our response should be: “Hallelujah, the Lord is so full of love and grace!”  If we’re not saying this, we haven’t understood the book (and we won’t cope with suffering as we should).

Book by Book 3

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PornScars4A while back The Big House asked Emma and I to come up with some resources for a conference called Porn Scars. It’s material to help foster discussion of porn among teens.  We came up with a fictional story, some discussion questions and a bible study in Colossians 3.  The Big House turned it into a very attractive pdf which you can download here.

It’s billed as an evening’s worth of material, but if you did everything it would take 2.5 hours easy.  Feel free to download the attractive pdf and use in your own context.

Below is the text:

FREDDY’S STORY:

Finally, Freddy’s parents got him a smartphone. And not just any smartphone – it was 4G, with dual core processor and unlimited internet. It was faster than his dad’s laptop. He wasn’t allowed it at school, but as soon as he was home he was surfing the net, messaging friends and playing games. As far as Freddy was concerned this was the best present ever.

One day he was watching the latest viral video on Youtube. It was pretty funny – something about sneezing pandas dancing to Korean pop songs. At the end there was a link to another video. It was a compilation of girls in bikinis falling over. Pretty funny too. Then there was another link. This one was basically just the bikini girls.

At this point, Freddy plugged in his headphones. He didn’t want anyone to hear. When the “bikini girls falling over” finished there was another link – this one from a porn site. He swallowed hard, locked the door and clicked again. It was nothing he hadn’t seen before on TV but there was an address on the video. He typed it in and instantly his screen flashed red. Freddy almost jumped out of his chair. It was a massive sign saying “Restricted Access. You must be over 18 to enter this site.”

In a fit of honesty Freddy clicked the box saying saying “No I am not 18”. Suddenly he was returned to Youtube. “Oh!” he said, surprised by how loud he said it. It felt like he’d come to the borders of a mysterious land but instead of exploring, he had turned back to boring normality. Nothing on Youtube seemed remotely interesting now. He took a deep breath and hit the back button. This time he clicked “Yes, I am 18+”. In an instant he had a dozen naked women in the palm of his hand. His heart was pounding so hard it felt like it might beat a hole through his chest. (more…)

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Happy Friday

Some ukulele love…

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