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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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SilentJesusHere are some things that Jesus’ enemies got right.  They are a window onto the mindset and expectations of the Jews…

Matthew 2:4-6: The chief priests and scribes knew from Scripture that the Christ was Israel’s Shepherd. They knew He was to be born into the world (not descend in a chariot) and His birthplace would be Bethlehem. As far as they were concerned the prophets were clear and they followed them to just the right conclusions.

Matthew 4:6: Satan is clear that Psalm 91 concerns Jesus. Christ is the One who dwells in the shadow of the Most High and who treads on the lion and the serpent (Ps 91:13) – though the devil doesn’t go on to quote that part!

John 5:18: The Jews knew that Christ’s claim to be the Son was a claim to equality with God. They didn’t say “You make yourself to be almost as divine as God“. Even these enemies of Jesus believed that the Father and Son are equal within the one Godhead.

John 8:56-59: When Jesus claims that Abraham saw “my day” they clearly understood it to be a physical encounter – hence they exclaim “You’re not yet 50”.  The know Jesus is claiming pre-existence and they know it’s a capital offence.

Mark 14:60-64: The high priest was well aware ‘the Christ’, ‘Son of God’ and ‘Son of Man’ are all interchangeable titles and that claiming them means blasphemy.

Any more you can think of?

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job miserable comfortersI’ve just blogged over at A New Name (Cos, you know, the author and me. We Have A Thing.)

Anyway, it begins thus…

Here’s the story: Job loses his wealth, his health and his family in a series of extraordinary calamities. The reader is aware – though Job is not – that the whole thing began in heaven with a kind of wager between the LORD and Satan. The LORD is proud of His servant Job and so permits truly diabolical attacks which He knows Job will endure. But the suffering is intense. Job himself sits down in the ashes and wishes he was dead, his wife tells him to ‘curse God and die’ and his three friends – who are meant to be comforters – end up tormenting him in the most grotesque way imaginable.

Twenty times Job asks what we all ask when we suffer: “Why?”  Why me? Why now? Why this? In Job, the reader knows the answer – or at least, knows more than him.  But Job is in the dark and the why question remains conspicuously unanswered, even when the LORD shows up for an almighty happy ending. Apparently the question which Job asks most is one the LORD was content to ignore.

What do we learn? Let me give five observations…

Read more here…

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Thank you to the cool dudes who, last night, showed me what all the hip cats are watching these days. Things like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKrtbUinWOU

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Matthew11vs28Last night our home group loved exploring the fascinating contrasts of Matthew 11.

The one who ‘prepares the way’ for Jesus, has a wobble when the ‘way of Jesus’ (suffering) hits.

Jesus is the fulfilment of Isaiah 61, but doesn’t release the captives (i.e. John!)

The Lord of new creation does not fix everything in the old.

John the Baptist is the greatest of men and least in the Kingdom.

Those most prepared for the King are least responsive to His coming.

The Kingdom is too serious and too joyous for the ‘children’ of Christ’s generation.

One kind of ‘child’ is fickle (v16), but Jesus wants us to be ‘little children’ in a different sense (v25)

Joy-filled Jesus (v19) shows He is a Jealous Judge (v20)

The best of the best according to the flesh (Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum) are the worst spiritual Sodomites.

They reject a Jesus who is only bringing life, healing, blessing, restoration!

Judge Jesus turns instantly back to joy in v25.

God delights to hide Himself… on full display to the world. (v25-27)

Jesus is God’s open secret, inviting the world into the most intimate family mystery.

Jesus Himself is unknown to any but the Father, even as He freely reveals the Father.

Jesus claims to hold all divine power and to be ‘lowly in heart.’

He has mighty hands (v27) and a meek heart (v29).

There is a “yoke” that gives “rest”

The Judge of all has come to give the world an easy life.

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lutherEmma’s just written a stonking post on combating the lies which threaten to overwhelm us. She quotes an example from Luther’s Galatians commentary:

“Sir Devil,” we may say, “I am not afraid of you. I have a Friend whose name is Jesus Christ, in whom I believe. He has abolished the Law, condemned sin, vanquished death, and destroyed hell for me. He is bigger than you, Satan. He has licked you, and holds you down. You cannot hurt me.” This is the faith that overcomes the devil’.

Here are some other brilliant moves from the same Kung-Fu Master – let’s learn how to comfort ourselves, and each other, with gospel hope:

You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun “our,” and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds. (1:4)…

…Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for trifling and imaginary transgressions, but for  mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained. Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. (1:4)…

…If he says, “Thou shalt be damned,” you tell him: “No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure.” With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil’s craft and put from us the memory of sin. (1:4)…

…When you see a person squirming in the clutches of the Law, say to him: “Brother, get things straight. You let the Law talk to your conscience. Make it talk to your flesh. Wake up, and believe in Jesus Christ, the Conqueror of Law and sin. Faith in Christ will lift you high above the Law into the heaven of grace. Though Law and sin remain, they no longer concern you, because you are dead to the Law and dead to sin.” Blessed is the person who knows how to use this truth in times of distress. He can talk. He can say: “Mr. Law, go ahead and accuse me as much as you like. I know I have committed many sins, and I continue to sin daily. But that does not bother me. You have got to shout louder, Mr. Law. I am deaf, you know. Talk as much as you like, I am dead to you. If you want to talk to me about my sins, go and talk to my flesh. Belabor that, but don’t talk to my conscience. My conscience is a lady and a queen, and has nothing to do with the likes of you, because my conscience lives to Christ under another law, a new and better law, the law of grace.” (2:17)…

…True Christian righteousness is the righteousness of Christ who lives in us. We must look away from our own person. Christ and my conscience must become one, so that I can see nothing else but Christ crucified and raised from the dead for me. If I keep on looking at myself, I am gone. If we lose sight of Christ and begin to consider our past, we simply go to pieces. We must turn our eyes to the brazen serpent, Christ crucified, and believe with all our heart that He is our righteousness and our life. For Christ, on whom our eyes are fixed, in whom we live, who lives in us, is Lord over Law, sin, death, and all evil. (2:20)…

…When we look at ourselves we find plenty of sin. But when we look at Christ, we have no sin. Whenever we separate the person of Christ from our own person, we live under the Law and not in Christ; we are condemned by the Law, dead before God. Faith connects you so intimately with Christ, that He and you become as it were one person. As such you may boldly say: “I am now one with Christ. Therefore Christ’s righteousness, victory, and life are mine.” On the other hand, Christ may say: “I am that big sinner. His sins and his death are mine, because he is joined to me, and I to him.” (2:20)…

…Read the words “me” and “for me” [in Galatians 2:20] with great emphasis. Print this “me” with capital letters in your heart, and do not ever doubt that you belong to the number of those who are meant by this “me.” Christ did not only love Peter and Paul. The same love He felt for them He feels for us. If we cannot deny that we are sinners, we cannot deny that Christ died for our sins. (2:20…)

…We comfort the afflicted sinner in this manner: Brother, you can never be perfect in this life, but you can be holy. He will say: “How can I be holy when I feel my sins?” I answer: You feel sin? That is a good sign. To realize that one is ill is a step, and a very necessary step, toward recovery. “But how will I get rid of my sin?” he will ask.  I answer: See the heavenly Physician, Christ, who heals the broken-hearted. Do not consult that Quackdoctor, Reason. Believe in Christ and your sins will be pardoned. His righteousness will become your righteousness, and your sins will become His sins. (3:6)…

…Let us become expert in the art of transferring our sins, our death, and every evil from ourselves to Christ; and Christ’s righteousness and blessing from Christ to ourselves. (3:14)…

…We ought to feel sure that we stand in the grace of God, not in view of our own worthiness, but through the good services of Christ. As certain as we are that Christ pleases God, so sure ought we to be that we also please God, because Christ is in us. And although we daily offend God by our sins, yet as often as we sin, God’s mercy bends over us. Therefore sin cannot get us to doubt the grace of God. Our certainty is of Christ, that mighty Hero who overcame the Law, sin, death, and all evils. So long as He sits at the right hand of God to intercede for us, we have nothing to fear from the anger of God. (4:5)…

…Train your conscience to believe that God approves of you. Fight it out with doubt. Gain assurance through the Word of God. Say: “I am all right with God. I have the Holy Ghost. Christ, in whom I do believe, makes me worthy. I gladly hear, read, sing, and write of Him. I would like nothing better than that Christ’s Gospel be known throughout the world and that many, many be brought to faith in Him.” (4:5)…

…This is sweet comfort for us (5:5) . And we are to make use of it in comforting the afflicted. We are to say to them: “Brother, you would like to feel God’s favor as you feel your sin. But you are asking too much. Your righteousness rests on something much better than feelings. Wait and hope until it will be revealed to you in the Lord’s own time. Don’t go by your feelings, but go by the doctrine of faith, which pledges Christ to you.” (5:5)…

…Defy Satan in times of despair. Say: “O cursed Satan, you choose a nice time to talk to me about doing and working when you know very well that I am in trouble over my sins. I will not listen to you. I will listen to Christ, who says that He came into the world to save sinners.  This is the true Christ and there is none other. I can find plenty of examples for a holy life in Abraham, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, and other saints. But they cannot forgive my sins. They cannot save me. They cannot procure for me everlasting life. Therefore I will not have you for my teacher, O Satan.” (5:8)…

…When I was a monk I thought I was lost forever whenever I felt an evil emotion, carnal lust, wrath, hatred, or envy. I tried to quiet my conscience in many ways, but it did not work, because lust would always come back and give me no rest. I told myself: “You have permitted this and that sin, envy, impatience, and the like. Your joining this holy order has been in vain, and all your good works are good for nothing.” If at that time I had understood this passage, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh,” I could have spared myself many a day of self-torment. I would have said to myself: “Martin, you will never be without sin, for you have flesh. Despair not, but resist the flesh.” (5:17)…

…When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh. (5:18)

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unitarian worshipContinued from here

In his book, “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace”, James Torrance sums up much of the teaching we’re considering, especially as he highlights the difference between Unitarian and Trinitarian worship.

Unitarian and Trinitarian Worship

According to Torrance these are the two broad models of worship.  Unitarian worship is not necessarily that offered by Unitarians – most often it simply reflects the functionally monadic doctrine of God latent in our congregations.  Worship on this model sees only two parties – the LORD who is simply the recipient of worship; and the human worshipper (or congregation) who may be divinely enabled and empowered but who, nonetheless, is wholly responsible for performing the worship.

As against this, Trinitarian worship recognizes that God the Father has set forth God the Son to be the True High Priest who, by God the Spirit, offers to the Father that which He demands.  Worship is therefore not the efforts of humanity in approaching God but a participation in Christ’s perfect worship of the Father, graciously offered through the Spirit.

This, in turn, leads to different accounts of intimacy.  On the Unitarian model, intimacy is an ideal to be reached (if only we can raise our moral and mystical games).  We are external to God and must figure out how to approach Him in an acceptable way.  The only priesthood here is our priesthood.  The only offering involved is our offering.  The only intercession is our intercession.  And if we get all these things right, then, perhaps, we will attain to a measure of intimacy.

On the Trinitarian model, adoption into the life of God through the Son and by the Spirit is the incomparable intimacy which guarantees true and acceptable worship.  The order is thus reversed. Worship does not bring us near to God.  Rather ‘the blood of Christ’ has brought us near (Ephesians 2:13) that ‘through Him we… have access to the Father by one Spirit.’ (Ephesians 2:18).  Blood-bought intimacy with God is the beginning of true worship – not an added bonus when the mood is right.

The Perfect and Eternal Priesthood of Christ guarantees our acceptable worship before the Father.  Therefore we’re always late to worship. We’re always joining something that is already under way. We begin our worship in the embrace of the divine love – our worship is merely God’s appointed means of experiencing such intimacy.

How then do we worship?

When we think of “intimacy with God”, what do we picture?  Probably we’re thinking of a private experience.  But in the Bible our intimacy with the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit is expressed corporately.  In community we reflect the Triune life to which we have been called.  As a community we are Christ’s Body and Bride.  A merely private intimacy with God is a rejection of the terms on which we have been offered fellowship.  It’s true that worship of God is 24/7 (Romans 12:1ff).  And it’s true that I am continually ‘one with Christ’, whether by myself or with others. But consider the marriage analogy.  I may be ‘one with my wife’ even when we’re separated by oceans.  Yet our experience of intimacy comes with setting aside times and places.  So it is with our experience of intimacy – the Scriptures envisage corporate fellowship with God, as we gather.

The Gathering

Acts 2:42 gives four characteristic marks of the post-Pentecost church: the Apostle’s teaching, the fellowship (koinonia), the breaking of bread and prayer.

Firstly, the Word is set forth. This is essential.  The Spirit brings us Christ through the Word since, as Calvin would say, Christ comes clothed in His promises.  There is no unmediated or self-generated approach to God.  It is of the essence of grace that God approaches us at His initiative and by His appointed means.  In the Bible, Christ is offered to us freely in words of promise.  God has ordained that ‘faith comes by hearing’ (Romans 10:17), thus the Bible must be at the absolute centre.  There ought not to be any meeting without the Word. When Luther wrote ‘Concerning the Order of Public Worship’ he advised: ‘Let everything be done so that the Word may have free course… We can spare everything except the Word.  Again we profit by nothing as much as by the Word.’

‘The fellowship’ is an objective, Spirit-created, communion to which believers are to be ‘devoted’.  This fellowship subsists in the organic union we share as the Body of Christ.  In it we are given various gifts and roles for our mutual edification and mission to the world (cf 1 Cor 12-14).  To be devoted to this involves the exercise of gifts in ministering to one another (cf Romans 12:4-8) and practical, costly service (eg 1 John 3:17-18).

‘The breaking of bread’ we take to be sacramental (hence the).  Along with the preached Word, the dispensing of the sacraments was taken by reformers as the other defining mark of a true Church.  Christ has given us Himself in this supper through ‘visible words’ (Augustine’s phrase).  Via these, we ‘feed on Christ in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving’ (Cranmer’s phrase).  This sacrament is communal by its very nature – uniting us with Christ and each other.  It ought to be a genuine high point in our gatherings though always attended by the Word, by clear teaching on its purpose, and eaten in peaceable fellowship with all (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).

Corporate prayer is an essential part of worship.  The prayer Jesus taught His disciples was corporate – ‘Our Father’.  The Spirit equips the Bride to call on her Husband ‘Come’ (Revelation 22:17).  Prayer is an activity of the Church and one that expresses our complete dependence on, and devotion to, the Lord.  Our intimacy with God could not be more evident than when the Father sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts “who calls out ‘Abba, Father’” (Galatians 4:6).  All kinds of prayers should therefore be made in our services – prayers of praise (Revelation 5:9-14), of thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:20), of confession (Nehemiah 9) and of supplication (1 Timothy 2:1ff).

Conclusion

Right worship is possible only on the basis of our intimate union with Christ, under-written by His blood and sealed by His Spirit.  Intimacy should not be held out as the goal of Christian worship but the ground.  Our experience of intimacy with the Triune God comes as we appreciate that which is already ours in Christ.

Grace, therefore, is the very atmosphere of Christian worship since Christ, our great High Priest, has already performed the perfect service to God.  Even worship is a gift that comes from on high – not a work to be generated by us. We receive the benefits of His priestly worship through faith-union with Him, and we experience, understand and deepen that union especially in corporate worship.

The Communion of Father, Son and Spirit is known most fully in the communion of His people.  This happens as the Spirit works through word and sacrament, through a communal lifting of our hearts in prayer and through mutual encouragement, to awaken us to Christ’s presence in and with us.  As we grasp and appreciate Him we know our exalted position, caught up in the intimate life of God Himself.

 

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Dali CrossContinued from here.

Christ’s Work

“But now in Christ, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)

As we speak about intimacy with God we must never forget the way into divine fellowship. Ever since humanity rejected the LORD Christ and trusted Satan instead, the way back to fellowship has been blocked by fiery judgement (Genesis 3:24).  This fallen flesh and blood cannot participate in the life of God (1 Cor 15:50).  Only ‘the Man out of the Heavens’ could ever belong in the inner circle of God’s life (1 Cor 15:15:47-49).

Yet, with infinite grace and condescension, this Man came out of the heavens.  He took the very flesh and blood of our humanity and He redeemed it.  Where we had failed, He succeeded, where we had sinned, He obeyed, where we had fled, He stood tall, where we had hated, He loved, where we had erred, He taught, where we were enslaved, He set free, where we were ashamed, He gave dignity, where we grasped at glory, He gave freely, where we clung to life, He poured it out.

On the cross, God’s Man took on Himself all the sin, guilt and shame of this fallen humanity.  He endured the divine fury at sin, passing through that fiery judgement which bars the way into God.  And now, in His glorious resurrection body, Christ, the True Man, sits at the Father’s right hand.  He is beyond death and judgement.  Our Brother is now in the inner circle of the life of God.  We, in ourselves, would be swept away by God’s righteous anger at sin.  Yet Christ is the Way to the Father and in Him, Who “quenched the wrath of hostile heaven”, we have obtained access.

Why do I recount these gospel truths? A) Because they are glorious!  B) Because sometimes people (and I’m sure I’m guilty of this too), manage to speak of  “union with Christ”  as a warm ‘n’ fuzzy truth. Often the Fatherhood of God, adoption into His family, one-ness with Jesus can be articulated without the blood and fire of the Bible’s presentation.  But we desperately need the grit and grime – the sweat and tears – of Christ’s atonement if we’re going to experience true intimacy with God.  A toothless, bloodless message about a heavenly Father-figure doesn’t connect with people who live in the midst of suffering and sin.  It can’t connect, because the only real point of connection is a Bleeding Sacrifice choking to death on a cross.  But He’s who we really need if we want intimacy with God.  Because He actually meets us in the godforsakeness of life as we know it.

If all our talk of intimacy with God is not dripping in the blood of Christ we’re just holding out “a nice idea” to people who are burdened by shame and guilt and who will never connect with our words of “divine participation” – no matter how warm or inviting we sound.  More than this, if our talk of divine intimacy is not utterly cross-shaped then people will play off “taking up our cross” against enjoying life in God. Which would be absurd – yet it happens all the time!  But no, triune glory is cruciform glory. Therefore participating in God means participating in the cross. The way to God is through Christ and Him crucified.

Christ’s Priesthood

Our Great High Priest, Jesus, does not simply bring God’s life down to us. He also offers our life up to God. He is not just God-for-us, He is also Man-for-God.  Thus, from Christ’s representative humanity (for us) there is a presentation to the Father.  This is Christ’s Priestly work – again a work done for us.

By the Spirit, Christ has made the perfect offering to the Father:

‘Christ, through the eternal Spirit… offered Himself unblemished to God.’ (Hebrews 9:14)

Christ’s worship constitutes the fullness of all acceptable worship to God.  Without participation in His perfect obedience, His perfect sacrifice and His perfect Priesthood, there is no worship worthy of the name.  To offer true sacrifice to the Father we must be in Christ.  Only then do we have a share in acceptable worship.  Yet, in Him, we are pure, spotless and holy – as acceptable as Christ Himself (Colossians 1:22).

What place does our worship have?

If Christ is our Great High Priest, where does my worship fit in?

Worship is the gracious invitation which the LORD makes to us to share in His own worshipping life.  Just as Christ is the Righteous One (for us) and yet invites us to share in His holy life, just as Christ is the Great Sufferer (for us) and yet allows us to share in His sufferings, so we, His people are to share in His worship.

Hebrews 8:2 calls Christ our Leitourgos – ‘the leader of our worship’. Calvin, following Psalm 22:22, called Christ ‘the great choirmaster’, tuning our hearts to sing the Father’s praises.  Worship is the participation in Christ’s perfect worship.  As James Torrance says,

“Whatever else our worship is, it is our liturgical amen to the worship of Christ.” 

Every act of worship or devotion that we perform is grounded in and surrounded by Christ’s prior and perfect offering.  Thus we do not worship as those attempting to gain intimacy with God, but as those who have been gifted it. And the ‘direction’ of the activity is the gracious movement of God coming to us in Christ.  Any ‘upward’ movement is that done by Christ and we participate by faith.  Thus, the focus of all worship must be on the LORD Jesus.  In other words:

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no-one comes to the Father except by me. (John 14:6)

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union-with-christContinued from here.

Participating in the Divine Nature

The God who is an eternal communion is a God who wills to share.  He does this through creation and maintains His offer in redemption.

The Father, by the Spirit, has created a love-gift through and for the Son – the creation (Col 1:16).  His desire is that the Son be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29).  The Father wants many brought into the life of God through the Son and by the Spirit (Gal 4:4-7).  This is the goal of all His creating and redeeming purposes.

As Christ says Himself:

 ‘Father, I want those You have given me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world… I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me will be in them, and that I myself may be in them.’  (John 17:24-26)

The glory of our Triune God expresses itself in His will to share His divine life with us.  The love of the Father for the Son – that which defines both God and the creation – cascades over to His people when they are united, by His Spirit, to the Son.

By our union with Christ (discussed below), we are thus adopted as sons and daughters in the same Family.  In this way, we do not simply share in a favoured status external to the LORD, we share in the Father-Son relationship which is constitutive of the divine life itself.  To know and appropriate the love of God is to participate in that which forms the very being of God.

2 Corinthians 1 tells us that God bellows an exultant YES towards His Son (v19).  The incarnate Son answers with a mighty AMEN on our behalf (v20). By the Spirit we are sealed into Jesus and find ourselves responding to God with Christ’s own AMEN (v21-22).  In the Bible, we do not simply admire the LORD from afar, we participate in His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Union with Christ

The way in to this divine participation is the Son.  As John Owen says in his classic book “Communion with God”:

‘Scripture shows us that we hold communion with the Lord Jesus in grace by a marriage relationship…  This spiritual relationship is accompanied with mutual love, and so in this fellowship with Christ we experience and enjoy all the excellent things which are in Him.’

Christ is the Bridegroom, we (the Church) are His Bride.  In this union we enjoy all His benefits as though they were ours by right.  Not least of these is His status as the Father’s beloved Son.  Therefore Christ can say to His Father, ‘the love You have for Me will be in them.’  In this way we are caught up into God.

The bible speaks of our union with Christ at different levels.  In one sense, we share in Jesus’ benefits as co-beneficiaries:

As Christ is the Son, we can be called sons (Galatians 4:4-7)

While Christ is Heir, we are co-heirs (Romans 8:17)

While Christ is the Living Stone, we are living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5)

In this way we are graciously allowed to come alongside Jesus, to be treated to His blessings on the same level.

Yet, at times, Scripture tells of a higher level of identification.  Often we are said (in the plural) to be exactly what Jesus is in the singular:

While Christ is the Seed, we are the seed (Galatians 3:16 <=>3:29)

While Christ is the Light of the world, we are the light of the world (John 8:12 <=> Matthew 5:14)

While He is the Vine, we are the branches (John 15:5)

Note that, with this last example, it is not that Christ is the root structure and we are the branches.  Rather we form part of the Vine Himself!  The Vine is One, we are others, but in this organic relationship that He creates and sustains, we become part of Him.

This leads naturally to a third category by which the bible speaks of our union.  That is, in the sense of a symbiotic relationship.

Thus, Christ is the Head, we are the Body (Colossians 1:18)

Christ is the Groom, we are the Bride (Isaiah 54:5; Ezekiel 16; Ephesians 5:21-33; Revelation 19:6-9)

When the bible speaks in these kinds of terms, we are on hallowed ground indeed.  Christ unites His Church to Himself that our union might redound to His greater glory.  As He says in John 17:10, He is glorified in us.

This is not to say that we sinners complete Christ in the sense of contributing our worth to the equation.  In ourselves we could only bring shame to Jesus.  Yet Christ redeems and cleanses a Bride and then (Eph 5:26) presents her to Himself.  In this way Christ becomes more truly who He is because of His union with us.  After all, must not the Head have a Body?  Should not the Vine have branches?  Ought not the Bridegroom to have a Bride? If He did not have a Bride, would He not have to give up the glory of being Bridegroom?  Therefore Christ is very committed to His covenant partner – His own Person and glory is bound up in the fate of His Church.

Christ takes His own marriage advice and loves Himself by loving His Bride (Eph 5:28).  Thus when the infinite powers of the Father have been committed to the Son, He employs them solely ‘for the church’. (Eph 1:22).  All divine power in heaven and earth is employed for the good of Christ’s Bride. Thus the Church has its immeasurable status both conferred by divine right but also under-girded by divine commitment even to death.  No wonder Paul can ask ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ?’  This is more than impossible.

Our union with Christ could not be closer.  The Apostle Paul can speak of our history and identity as entirely bound up in Jesus: ‘When Christ, who is your life, appears, you also will appear with Him in glory.’ (Col 3:1-4) The believer is in fact seated with Christ in the heavenly realms and has not actually appeared yet.  We are hidden with Christ in God.

In this way, we are more united to Christ than we are to ourselves.  Certainly His identity and not our own determines our standing in God’s eyes both now and in eternity.

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Last Supper # 2“Those who receive and bear the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son.  But the Son takes them up and presents them to the Father, and the Father bestows incorruptibility.  Therefore one cannot see the Word of God without the Spirit, nor can anyone approach the Father without the Son.  For the Son is the knowledge of the Father, and knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit.  But the Son, in accord with the Father’s good pleasure, graciously dispenses the Spirit to those to whom the Father wills it, and as the Father wills it.” (Irenaeus of Lyon)

“Christian worship is therefore our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father.” (James Torrance)

Introduction

Participation in the life of God is cherished by some as the very goal of God’s Gospel and it’s mistrusted by others as a spurious Hellenization of the truth.  In the next few posts I will outline a biblical case for divine participation. I’ll examine the precious doctrine of union with Christ that brings us such participation, and I’ll highlight the work of Christ as Mediator, guaranteeing and grounding the free offer of this relationship.

I want to show that intimacy with God is not an optional extra for the more ‘emotional’ among us.  To ‘know’ the Father and the Son is eternal life (John 17:3).  When we understand “knowing” in the biblical sense we cannot deny that profound intimacy with God is the essence of our Christian lives. It is not a carrot to be held out for the pious, nor a bonus given in response to particularly ‘successful’ worship. Intimacy is guaranteed to the Christian in Christ.  It is therefore the indispensable starting point of the Christian life – not an optimistic goal.

The intimacy of God

Any talk of intimacy with God must begin with the intimacy that is within God.  As a community of Persons united in self-giving love, the Triune God knows worship and intimacy within Himself.  The creation does not give rise to relationship, rather relationship gives rise to the creation. In other words, the Father creates for the Son (Colossians 1:16).  Thus, worship is not the self-willed response of creature to Creator but rather an eternal dynamic within the being of God.

Before the foundation of the world the Father delighted in the Son in the bond of the Spirit. Virtually every verse regarding the pre-creation life of God describes the Father focussing His affections and purposes on the Son: (Prov 8:22-30; John 3:35; 5:20; 17:5, 24; 1 Pet 1:20; Eph 1:4-6; Col 1:15-17; Romans 8:29.)

Likewise the Son, in the power of the Spirit, commits Himself to the service of the Father: John 17:4-5; 5:17; 12:27f; 14:31; 17:24; Hebrews 10:5-7; Revelation 13:8.

The Persons of God commit to one another in a common love and purpose.  To use the technical terminology of Trinitarian theology, these inter-relations are referred to as the perichoresis of the Persons. To get a sense of the meaning of this Greek word, think of a choreographed dance around a perimeter. The Trinity is described as performing a round dance, each of the Members committing to the Others in love, service and empowerment.  The divine life is a dance of giving and receiving in joyful communion.

Now this dance is not simply something the Persons do.  It is not a part-time hobby of the Persons.  We must not think of the Persons in isolation, deciding to come together.  If we could ever conceive of a time when the Father was not committed to the Son or when the Son was not obedient to the Father we have imagined the Father not being the Father and the Son not being the Son.  We have imagined false gods.  The Persons are who they are IN the relationships that they share with one another in this dance of love.

To “see” this dance is to witness the divine being.  As Colin Gunton says, ‘the ousia – general being – of God is constituted without remainder by what the persons are to and from each other in eternal perichoresis.’

Without Trinity there is no intimacy with God. Without this give-and-take to God’s being there would be no room for us to participate. We must say this.  But we must say more than this.

Intimacy Earthed

It is not enough to say that “God is a dance” and then expect the worshipper to “link arms and join in.”  It’s not enough to say “God is an intimate community – we should follow suit.”  We can’t just say “There’s room to God, come on in.”  If we did then intimacy with God would be our doing.  And it could only ever be as solid as our own feeble hearts.

No, there’s better news than that.  God does not leave us to make our own way to the party. If He did, then our intimacy would depend on us. It would be about our ability to spiritualize our humanity up to God.  But God in Christ does something much more profound.  He incarnates His divinity into our humanity.  He earths His own intimacy into our very being and raises it back up to the highest heaven.

At Christmas, He moves down into our life. At the ascension, He sweeps us up into His life: really, substantially, eternally, irrevocably. As we’ll see in the next post – the triune God does not make participation something that’s up to us.  The triune God takes the whole intimacy thing into His own hands.  And that’s the only safe place for it to be.

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preacherWhen evangelism is discussed among conservative evangelicals, 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 is never far away.  In particular, verse 2 is a favourite:

We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

This is a vital reminder – especially when you consider the manipulative techniques of some “pedlars” of God’s word (2 Cor 2:17). Evangelists must preach without trickery and without compromise. But sometimes setting forth the truth plainly can become a justification for dry, cerebral legalism.

I was at a meeting of evangelists yesterday afternoon where a leading conservative evangelical mentioned a tendency that’s crept into some pulpits. The tendency is to ‘by-pass the heart’ so that the sermon runs straight ‘from the head to the will’. It’s a shrewd insight and I think the kind of preaching he described takes unjustified refuge in these verses.

Here I want to examine each of the terms in “setting forth the truth plainly” (the NIV’s translation). I want to ask whether we have taken these words (and this paragraph) out of context and thus skewed our thinking on preaching.

Let’s consider the first term: “setting forth

It’s the Greek work phanerosei and it’s related to the Greek word ‘to shine’ (phaino). It’s about bringing something out into the light, making it blindingly obvious, revealing it for all to see. Paul will use the same word in chapter 5:10-11 to speak of the way we will be “made manifest” before the judgement seat of Christ. He also uses the word to describe how Christ is “made manifest” in our mortal bodies (4:10-11). Christ shines out of our cracked earthen vessels. Crucially, it’s also related to the way God shines His Light into our hearts in conversion (2 Cor 4:6).

So Paul is linking the preaching of our lips with the preaching of our lives and linking it with the shining of God in salvation. Paul does not envisage a hard and fast division of labour between God’s work and our work (as is sometimes taught).  God reconciles us by His mission and reconciles us into His mission (which 2 Corinthians 5 spells out). We are co-opted into God’s work.  Therefore He shines His Light into people precisely as we shine it out to them in gospel preaching. God shines through the Christ we proclaim.

Therefore the “setting forth” of the evangelist is not a deliberately staid and human effort, sharply demarcated from divine, saving activity.  It’s actually a vibrant, radiant participation in God’s gospel mission.

The second term is “the truth.”

All too readily we consider “the truth” to be a harsh, unpleasant reality – a bitter pill to swallow.  In Ephesians 4:15 when we’re commanded to “speak the truth in love”, we imagine brutal honesty with a smile.  But ‘truth’ for Paul is the truth that is in Jesus, the truth of the gospel.

Verses 4 and 5 explicitly tell us the truth to be preached: “it’s the gospel of the glory of Christ”, or to put it another way, it’s “preaching the Lord Jesus Christ”.  Yet sometimes an evangelical commitment to preaching ‘truth‘ becomes divorced from the gospel. However, this is precisely the danger about which Paul has been warning us in chapter 3:

God has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6)

Paul goes on in verses 7-18 to warn us of old covenant preachers who preside over a “letter-of-the-law” “ministry of death”.  Here’s something very scary. It is possible to pursue a “truth telling” ministry that’s not Paul’s sense of “truth-telling” in 2 Corinthians 4 (i.e. the gospel).  Instead, in the name of another definition of “truth”, preachers might well fall foul of Paul’s starkest warnings from 2 Corinthians 3.  Some, misunderstanding Paul’s use of  ‘the truth’, might well find themselves simply killing their flocks with “the letter of the law”.

When we imagine the “distortions” of the false teachers (2 Cor 4:2), what do we picture? Well, whatever errors Paul has in mind, we know for a fact that simply ‘laying down the law’ is chief among them. In other words, Paul might have some liberals in mind as he warns us in chapter 4, but what we know is that he’s warning us about legalists.

So easily, though, “setting forth the truth plainly” can be  taken out of context in 2 Corinthians. It becomes a license to be a legalist (if that’s not a contradiction in terms). In other words, 2 Corinthians 4 becomes a mandate for simply sifting through a body of text, noticing items of theological interest and enjoining various commandments as we go.  The thing is, this is not the truth of the gospel, it’s not proclaiming Jesus. It’s simply ‘the letter’. And it kills.

The third term is “plainly

This term is not even there in the Greek. The ESV has “the open statement of the truth”. The KJV has “manifestation of the truth”. The NIV inserts this adverb to help translate the verb “setting forth.”  There is no “plainly” in the Greek, but there are many preachers grateful to the NIV for offering them some justification for dull sermons.

“Thank you brother,” comes the encouragement after the service, “that was plain.  Very very plain indeed.”

But Paul, in the surrounding chapters, goes out of his way to tell us how intensely emotional he is in his gospel ministry. He’s “very bold” (2 Cor 3:12); motivated by the terror of the Lord he tries to persuade people (2 Cor 5:11); he’s out of his mind (2 Cor 5:13); he is compelled by Christ’s love (2 Cor 5:14); he is Christ’s ambassador, God making His appeal through him. Paul is imploring the world to be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

Thank you brother Paul, that was plain.”  Can you imagine such feedback?  Unthinkable.

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So what am I saying? Well 2 Corinthians 4 is a fantastic passage on evangelism.  But it comes in a context – a context in which the truth to be preached is Christ and not simply a death-dealing ministry of law… A context in which “setting it forth plainly” is about  bold, passionate, gospel appeals.  The truth-telling of chapter 4 is the persuasive imploring of chapter 5.

The great irony is that 2 Corinthians 4 – rightly understood – is a very effective critique of so much preaching that seeks shelter under its wings.

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Emma and I have just done a seminar at Bible by the Beach. Emma told some of her story and I spoke about ‘The Big Story’ around pastoral care and addictions as well as ‘The Carer’s Story.’  Here are the notes I was working from:

A New Name Seminar 1

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Christ is our Identity

15 times “in Christ” in Ephesians. What a preposition: Can’t get closer than “IN”

You’ve died and gone to heaven. Ephesians 2:1…5-6.

“Seated in Christ” – nothing more to do – don’t need to move an inch.

What do we need? To know more of what we have: Ephesians 3:14ff

Don’t try to feel Christ in you – look to HIM.

To the degree you know yourself in Him, you will know Him in you.

Despite your feelings (or lack of them) it’s His relationship with the Father that’s central, not yours!  You can’t trust your feelings, you can’t even trust your faith.  Just know that Christ has faith for you.

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We’re All Addicts

People are not free, rational decision-makers

Ephesians 2:2-3: In pursuing the desires of our flesh we are enslaved to the devil.

You say “I’m not enslaved, I just do what I want.” Exactly – that’s your slavery. You keep feeding your foolish desires though they never actually give you what you want or need.

Human beings are not decision-making machines, calculating costs and benefits and acting rationally.  We’re foolish lovers who abandon ourselves to bad relationships that only enslave.

We’re not bound against our will. We choose what we choose. Nonetheless, we are trapped.

Addictions to substances or behaviours (like exercise or starvation) are obvious manifestations of this truth. But we’re all addicts. Ephesians 4:17-20

Both sufferers and carers need to know that the sufferer is not deciding to be unhealthy to spite everyone. Neither are they able to choose their way out of this. If you don’t understand the nature of their slavery you’ll only end up hating them. You’ll spend your whole time resenting them for their wilful rebellion and/or beating them with the will-power-stick to make them better.  If you don’t believe that we’re all addicts, you cannot love people through their self-destructive behaviours.

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Suffering is not a detour, it’s the way

We naturally think that the ultimate Christian life is one free from suffering and struggle. Of course we have to forget all about Jesus to believe that.

It’s not that God’s up there and we ascend through our strength.

Christ comes down because we have no strength of our own.

It’s not “There’s light at the end of the tunnel, here’s the 17 point plan for how you can get there in the end.”

It’s: “You’re dead in transgressions and sins. Utterly helpless.  And Christ joins you in the mess.”

If you find yourself in this kind of mess: Know that RIGHT HERE is where Christ is at work.  This isn’t a detour, it’s the way.

The Lord knows how to redeem the years the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25).  Maybe you’ll be able to comfort others with the comfort you’ve received in your affliction (2 Corinthians 1:4).  But whatever happens, Christ is IN the situation.

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Redemption is Forward-Looking

When a loved one is suffering, it’s very natural to want to say “We just need to get the old Emma back.”  It’s very natural to look backwards.

I’m not so sure this is wise.  It seems to me that redemption works differently.  In Ephesians we get saved out of the pit and raised to a new height.  Salvation moves us onwards. In Exodus, the Israelites were brought out of Egypt and taken to the promised land.  In the wilderness they yearned for Egypt with its decent food and shelter.  But the Lord doesn’t take them back to the old place.  He takes them through the desert to a new place.  Their true home is ahead – a spacious land they haven’t yet seen.  This is the whole pattern of God’s dealings with us – from a garden but onto a city.

I think it’s a mistake to try to return to the way things were. It’s very possible that the way things were got you into this mess in the first place.  As you go through a wilderness time, the goal is a transformed you ahead (not the old you which you left behind.

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A New Name Seminar 2.

Church Comes First

Ephesians 4 comes before Ephesians 5!

We belong to each other in baptism before we belong to our spouses in marriage – or even to our children in families. Modern understandings of “coupledom” are very destructive.  We’re taught to cosy up to each other with a meal for two and a boxed set and we sing that old song from the 60’s “We’ll build a world of our own, which no-one else can share…”  But church has a claim on us before even our spouse does.

So quickly crazy can become normal when you try to manage by yourselves.  Far too often I coddled Emma in the darkness when I should have been moving her into the light of community.  That’s a hard judgement call when she becomes afraid of others and when she needs to know you’re safe.  But you need to be committed to life in community and to moving in that direction.

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One Flesh Gets Twisted

FLESH: Ephesians 2:3 5:31.  Those who deal with addictions will tell you that most addicts have an enabler somewhere in their life.

There are all sorts of dynamics that come into play when destructive behaviours flare up and if you’re close to the sufferer then it’s quite possible that you are some part of the problem.

Giving an addict what they want is not love. FEEDING HALF TON HUBBY is a chilling example of how an enabler can give the addict everything they want in the name of love.  It was the story of Patrick Deuel who weighed half a ton and his wife who could bring herself to stop feeding him. He was in hospital on nil by mouth and his wife would smuggle pizzas into the hospital. Why?  She said “Because I love him and it’s what he wants. I can’t say no to him if that’s what he wants.”  This kind of “love” can kill.

When Emma and I got married I basically thought that love meant saying “Yes” to my wife, no matter what.  If she wanted poison… well, what’s a loving husband to do but give her poison?  That’s a stupid analogy but only because it highlights the stupidity of what I was doing.  I took no lead in casting a vision for what healthy desires and directions might look like in our marriage.  In the absence of this Emma demanded more and more of her own way and I conceded more and more to drives which were ultimately self-destructive.

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You Need to Change

Ephesians 4:14-15 – we’re all being told lies every day.  We need “truthing in love” in church family to fight the lies. And that means that the carer needs to repent too.

This is hard to hear, but it’s vital. BOTH of you need to repent.  Can I suggest talking to a trusted Christian friend about the details of how you’re handling all this?  Don’t just get your friends to tell you There, there it must be so difficult – of course its difficult and of course you need sympathy and care.  But give friends permission to speak the truth in love: to challenge you on how you’re handling things.

When I did this in Christian community, I started to see a pattern emerging…

IMAGE: Dancefloor – Emma edging towards the dark edges, I would follow to coddle her from behind.  I should have spun her around and danced her into the light.  (It would mean kicking and screaming and tears and accusations – and that would mean I’d have to repent of my need to be “Mr Nice Guy”.  But that’s ok – I need to repent, and we both need community).

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Prayer is Warfare

Ephesians 6:10ff

Headship means being a prayer warrior.  This one’s for husbands but it has implications for others…  There are few other things I’d articulate as implications of headship, but it seems to me that prayer is top of the list. The LORD thunders at the head of His people (Joel 2:11) and husbands make war at the head of their wives.  When I’m prayerless Emma suffers.

And remember community. Some of the most powerful help we ever received as Emma was at her worst was going to another Christian couple’s house and praying on a Monday evening. They didn’t know much about eating disorders. Emma was able to talk about her struggles, talk about what the NHS were doing, talk about what was hard and we took those requests to God. It’s incredibly powerful to open up your needs before God and before church family.  It’s a total reversal of the condition actually.  The condition is about solitary, self-sufficiency. Praying with others is about a corporate expression of dependence and community.  Very powerful!

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