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Archive for the ‘supralapsarianism’ Category

Every year Eastbourne hosts a major airshow called Airbourne.  The F-16 fly-pasts rattle your fillings loose and make your bowels shudder. People either love that kind of stuff or hate it.  I think it’s beyond awesome.

One time I was down at the seafront watching the show with a friend and the Red Arrows came on – the Royal Air Force’s display team.  They were extremely impressive and we were oo-ing and ah-ing until they did their trademark love heart formation.  Over the tannoy they dedicated it to some member of their publicity team.

“Cute” I thought.

“Idiot!” said my friend.

Huh?

“Idiot!!  Oh you idiot, you idiot, you total moron!”

“What’s the matter?”

“The dedication!!  I was supposed to ask them whether they’d dedicate the love-heart to my parents!  It’s their 40th wedding anniversary.  I was supposed to ask them and I forgot.”

“Oh” I said, my keen pastoral insight shining through.

To be honest there was nothing to say.  His father spent his life in the RAF.  It was their ruby wedding anniversary.  They were also at the seafront listening to the same commentary.  His mother had asked him that morning to make the request as a surprise for his dad.

He remembered many things about his parent’s anniversary that day.  But this one task slipped his mind.  A simple mistake to make.  But there was no taking it back.  The moment had completely passed – an irrevocable error.

And boy did I feel for him.

Because life is made up of irrevocable errors.  The deadline passes, the door closes, the opportunity vanishes.  The words have left your mouth, the email has been sent, the damage has been done.  And there’s no getting it back.

Of course the temptation is then to wallow in regret.  We go over the mistake again and again, turning back the clock in our minds as though we could somehow reverse the mistake through remorse.

But there is no getting the toothpaste back into the tube.  Because God has designed the world in just this way.

He drives Adam and Eve out of paradise and determines that humanity must journey on to the city, not back to the garden.

He calls Abraham out of Ur and never back.

It’s one-way traffic through the Red Sea – they are coming out of Egypt, never to return.

It turns out that the curses and blessings of the covenant are discrete phases the people must pass through – first the judgement, then blessings on the other side.

They don’t avert judgement by cleaning up their act but bow their head to the coming exile.

Christ doesn’t avoid but passes through death to resurrection, calling His people to likewise take up their crosses.

Death then resurrection and no resurrection without death.

The very passage of time marks the relentless forward motion of the God of hope – the Redeemer God who is always moving on.

Through every stage of life – in every moment even – the Lord shuts the door behind us and beckons us forwards.

Of course we don’t like moving on.  We’d rather go back over our mistakes and redeem them ourselves.  We’d prefer to recapitulate our fallen humanity rather than allowing Christ to do it.  Our regret is a kind of mental salvation by works. But it’s futile and faithless.

Instead we ought to be resurrection people.  Those who know that redemption lies ahead, on the other side of these one-way gateways.  We look to the Lord who will restore to us the years the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25).  But restoration is not in our hands and it’s not in the past.  It’s in the Lord’s hands and we receive it in the future.

Therefore we are prisoners of hope.  We must live by a forward looking faith in the redeeming Lord, leaving restoration in His hands and moving forward through countless points of no return.

Life is full of the irrevocable.  The Lord wants it that way.  So often the irrevocable makes us wallow in regret.  Yet the very opposite should be the case.  The door has been locked behind us and we should stop banging on it.  Instead we are beckoned forwards towards resurrection, knowing that life may consist in the irrevocable but that nothing is irredeemable.  And for those in Christ, all things will be.

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Last week I spoke of Jesus as infuriating.  In Luke 8 His mother, His disciples, Legion, the haemorrhaging woman and Jairus come to Him with perfectly reasonable requests.  If such appeals were put to the public vote, we’d all recommend that Jesus grant them.  Yet He grants none of them – certainly not in the way that they are asked for.

And if you were any of these poor unfortunates, you would be – at the very least – bewildered.  Probably you’d be angry, despairing and very tempted to leave the whole Jesus-caper behind.

But then, what should be said to these followers who have had their dearest hopes dashed?  How can Christians be comforted when their deepest desires have been denied?

Some people’s first instinct will be to put the blame on these followers.  Perhaps they didn’t ask right.  They didn’t have enough faith.  Or there’s a moral or spiritual failure that’s ‘blocking the channels of God’s grace’ or something.

But that’s not it.  The requests were fine in their own way.  And Jesus’ refusal is not because they didn’t ask right.

So if we’re not going to blame the followers, what do we tell them?

– You might invoke the raw power of the Lord.  Now is the time to learn that God is God and you are not.  Will you submit to His divine right to rule?

– You might notch it up to the inscrutable wisdom of God.  Now is the time to learn that God’s ways are not for Him to justify, they’re just for you to accept.

– You might teach the Christian that, yes, God wants nice things for you but, on the other hand, He also wants your godliness.  So here is some suffering to balance out the good times. Submit to the regime and you’ll grow in character.

There’s actually some truth to these three inter-related approaches.  But that’s what makes them so dangerous.  Power, wisdom and suffering are essential issues to grasp in the Christian life.  It’s just that a theology of glory teaches one kind of power, wisdom and suffering, and a theology of the cross teaches a very different kind.

A theology of glory will teach that God’s power and wisdom estrange Him from us in one direction and our suffering estranges us from God in the other.  Hard times actually reinforce the distance between you and God and “godliness” means  accommodating yourself to that distance.  It means not getting above your station, or pulling Him down.

But a theology of the cross teaches a very different power and wisdom.  Christ’s power and wisdom are demonstrated as He descends into the darkness.  And suffering is precisely where we find our deepest communion with Jesus.  Hard times are times of presence.

That might sound ok in theory.  But does that mean, once I’ve embraced a theology of the cross, my problems will be easier to handle?  No.  In many ways it makes them far harder.  With a theology of the cross, it’s as though we’re sinking in quick-sand and we cry out to our rescuer to offer a steady hand.  In response He dives into the pit and sinks without a trace.  Now what??

Here’s what.  He grabs our foot and pulls us under with Him.  His rescue does not evade, it enters the depths.  Only through suffering does the rescue come.  Somehow the way out is the way down.

But none of this happens at a distance.  Jesus does not zap us with trials from on high and wish us well.  He plunges down, drawing us to Himself.

Think of John 11.  We are told explicitly that He loves Lazarus and He loves Lazarus’s family (v5).  AND He declines to heal him (v6).  He comes into the heart of the mourning and weeps at the tomb even though it’s a funeral He could have prevented.  Jesus’ power and love are there for all to see, yet it makes His refusal to heal all the more galling (this is exactly what the crowd murmur about, v37).  He loves and He refuses to heal.

What’s He up to?  Well He tells Martha.  He is the Resurrection and the life (v25).  And this is God’s glory (v4,40).  Because He’s the Resurrection, therefore death is the path.

It’s not just that in spite of His love, He let’s Lazarus die.  It’s because of His love, He let’s it happen.  Suffering is not a disproof of His love, but a sign that He is utterly and completely for us.  He is relentlessly for resurrection.

But notice, He’s not the Repairer, He’s the Resurrection.  We constantly call on Him to patch up the old world, our old life, our old bodies.  But Jesus is not committed to that.  He’s not the Repairer, He’s the Resurrection.  He’s not committed to clawing this old world back from the brink.  He’s committed to taking it down into the death it deserves and rising anew on the other side.  It’s a theology of glory that has Jesus at a distance, dispensing carrots and sticks to improve the “old man”.  In a true theology of the cross, Jesus comes very near to put the old man to death and rise up into something new.

That’s what He’s doing in the world, and it’s what He’s doing in your life.  He’s not partly concerned for patching up your life and partly concerned for giving you enough trials to form your character.  He’s not balancing your good against ‘holiness’ or ‘godliness’ etc etc.  He’s not inscrutably zapping you with trials that only omniscience could fathom.  In a sense, what He’s doing is very simple.  He is single-mindedly bringing you through the death you’re desperate to avoid and giving you the life which is really life.

You want a healing. He is the resurrection.  Which means you’ll get a death you never bargained for.  But a life you never dreamed of.

A sermon on John 11: “Why is there so much suffering in the world?”

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What are you praying for right now?

How are you asking Jesus to act in your life?

And how do you feel He’s responding to your requests?

If you want a sobering reality check (and, let’s face it, who doesn’t?) – read Luke 8:19-56.  Here we see five encounters with Jesus in which people know  what Jesus needs to do.  And they tell Him.  Each one of their requests are perfectly reasonable.  They are exactly the things you would ask if you were in their shoes.  And granting them is exactly what you’d recommend if Jesus had bothered to consult you.

And yet… in each and every case Jesus refuses legitimate, heart-felt and often heart-breaking requests.

Scene one (v19-21).  Jesus’ mother wants to speak with Him.  A good Jewish mother, worried for her over-worked, under-fed son.  She wants a word.  In a traditional culture where family is everything, Mary expects her son to honour her in this way.  Is there anything wrong with that?  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But Jesus denies His own mother.

In our time and place we’re not shocked.  But in Jesus’ day, they were shocked.  Three of the Gospel writers thought this was worth recording.  Jesus is profoundly upsetting His nearest and dearest.  But He’s only just getting warmed up…

Scene two (v22-25).  The disciples are sailing with the Son of God.  He directs them towards a hurricane then takes a power-nap.  “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” they complain.  Understandable, you’d think.  Jesus rebukes the weather, then He rebukes His followers: “Why don’t you trust me!?”

Sheesh!  They’re doing their best Jesus!  They just wanted a safe passage across the lake.  Too much to ask??

Well just look at what happens on the other side…

Scene three (v26-39).  Jesus liberates a man oppressed by an army of demons.  Much better!  We all like a good exorcism (well, apart from the locals who are infuriated by His methods, but who cares about them…)  Jesus is back on track – doing the stuff He ought to be doing.  Yet consider the ending to the story.  This new-born baby Christian, in possession of himself for the first time in decades, finally puts words to his greatest desire.  What does he want?  He wants to be with Jesus (v38).  Anything wrong with that?  It’s the most beautiful ambition anyone can express.  This man “begs Jesus: “Please, I just want to be with you.  And Jesus says, “No, go and be a missionary to your own people.’  He gives the command, the disciples push the boat from shore and the man watches His Lord and Saviour sail off into the distance.  What on earth is Jesus like??

It only gets more shocking…

Scene four (v40-48).  A woman with a chronic and defiling illness seeks a miracle from Jesus.  She’d read that there was healing in the wings of the Messiah (Malachi 4:2), so she goes to touch the wings (i.e. the ends) of His coat.  She knows He’s the Christ, she trusts Him for healing.  She just wants her life back.  She doesn’t want to make a fuss.  For 12 years she’s been told that she’s unclean and unwelcome.  She’s learnt to scurry around the fringes.  The last thing she wants is a face-to-face with the Holy One of Israel.  She just wants a zap-and-run.  Very understandable.  But Jesus is having none of it.  He makes the biggest scene imaginable.  Hundreds of eyes are now turned on her and she has to tell her story very publicly.  It’s mortifying!  This is not how she’d planned things.  But it is how Jesus wants it.  He frustrates all our natural desires.

Yet this is nothing compared to the frustration inflicted on Jairus, the synagogue ruler…

Scene five (v49-56).  Can you imagine how Jairus felt as Jesus stops to talk with this woman?  Jairus’s 12 year old daughter lies dying and he has left her to seek Jesus’ help.  People were ejected from synagogues for lining up with Jesus and now Jairus has risked it all on a Rabbi who stops to chat with riff-raff.  Here was a woman who’d be banned from Jairus’s own synagogue.  And her healing could wait, surely!  She’d suffered for 12 years, she could suffer another 12 hours, couldn’t she?  Can you picture him, desperately trying to hurry Jesus, tugging at his arm, pleading with his disciples to do something.  Has the whole world gone crazy – what on earth are Christ’s priorities and why won’t they match up with mine?

If I was Jairus, I’d be beside myself.  But the worst is yet to come.   While Jairus is trying to hurry Jesus, the most horrific words that could ever be spoken to a father are uttered, “Your daughter is dead.”  And if it’s possible for anything to make matters worse – Jesus manages to make matters worse, because there is the Author of life, standing by, chatting to an unclean woman, while Jairus’s world falls apart.  Jairus had banked everything on Jesus, and Jesus had deliberately allowed a hell-on-earth to befall Jairus.

AND THEN …  AND THEN… Jesus says “Don’t be afraid, trust me.”

Are you kidding me?  Trust you now?  Now is the time to sue you for malpractice!  Trust you now? 

This is why Jesus is utterly, horrendously, maddeningly infuriating.

But think of this…

– He resists His mother so that He might act like a true Son and bring many into the family (v21)

– He sails His friends through a storm and into a profound appreciation for Him (v25)

– He returns Legion to his family as a whole man, and a man with a mission (v39, cf. Mark 7:31ff)

– He restores the unclean woman to community, giving her a deep assurance and blessing (v48)

– He brings this family through death to new life, with feasting to boot (v55)

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Through darkness to the light.  Through suffering to glory.  Through death to resurrection – that’s the way of Jesus.

We are enslaved to this death-bound realm.  All we can think to do is cling on to life and status and blessings and we fire up all sorts of prayers with frenzied fervour.  “THIS, THIS, THIS Jesus, you don’t understand how vital THIS is.”  Jesus understands far more than we know.  Which is why He stands against our natural desires.  He grabs us violently by the hand and dives down with us into a death we never would have chosen.

And maybe right now you’re asking: What on earth are you doing Jesus!?

Well, He’s doing what He always does… bringing life from the dead.

You think He’s gone too far?  You think He can’t redeem this situation?  He raises the dead.  He raises the whole world.  There’s nothing He can’t redeem.  If you’re His, there’s nothing He won’t redeem.

But because He raises the dead His priorities will look different to yours.  Insanely, infuriatingly different.

This is not a sign of His indifference towards you.  It’s not even a sign of some abstract inscrutability.  It’s just the plain, obvious truth that those who can raise dead people prioritize differently to those who are bound to death.  A death-bound to-do list is a pitiful thing.  But it’s all we’ve got.  So it’s what we bring to the Lord in prayer.  Essentially we say

“Lord, Bless my to-do list!  Fulfil my desires – shaped, as they are, by a paralyzing fear of losses and crosses and an utter commitment to this passing age.”

And Jesus says “No.”  Thank God He says “No!”

He LOVES His mother.  He LOVES His disciples.  He LOVES Legion.  He LOVES the woman.  He LOVES Jairus.  And He LOVES you.  Therefore He won’t allow our death-bound desires to hold sway.

I don’t know what redemption will look like in your situation.  But reflect on this…

Mary wanted a word with her son, Jesus gave her a family.

The disciples wanted plain sailing, Jesus gave them amazement and awe at Him.

Legion wanted escape with Jesus, He gave him back to his family with a mission.

The woman wanted a zap-and-run, Jesus gave her a face-to-face.

Jairus wanted a healing, he got resurrection feasting.

One day – maybe in glory – but one day you’ll be able to make a statement like that: “I desperately wanted X, but through a kind of death, Jesus brought me Y.”  I don’t know what those details will be, and probably you won’t either.

But in the meantime you can trust a Lord who, through His life and death, has

Handled exclusion far worse than Mary’s

Gone through storms far rougher than the disciples’

Felt disappointment far darker than Legion’s

Endured shame far deeper than the woman’s

Suffered loss far crueller than Jairus’s

And He’s with you now in a suffering that He understands from the inside.  He’s done it all for you… that you might have life to the full.

It’s just that true life comes from the dead.

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A sermon on Jairus and the Woman (one of the sermons closest to my heart).

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I’ve been thinking about suffering recently.

Easter tells you everything you need to know. Meditate on each of these truths for 5 minutes and it will revolutionize your thinking about God, yourself and the world.

1) The Cross shows us God’s perfection…

Therefore suffering can never be incompatible with the all-wise, all-powerful, all-good God (1 Corinthians 1-2)

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2) The Resurrection shows us God’s purpose…

Therefore His plan has never been to pretty up this old creation but to raise it anew (1 Corinthians 15:36-50)

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3) The Son of Man must suffer and be glorified…

If that’s the route for The Man how could man tread any other path.

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4) On the Day of Man (6th day), Jesus puts us to death. On the Day of Rest (7th day), He finishes the old creation. On the Day of New Creation (8th day), He rises into a whole new week, a whole new world.

Christ’s purpose is not simply to restore Paradise but to bring us into a reality greater than anything we’ve seen. 

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Here’s a thawed out post from two years ago…

Last week at youth club it was pandemonium.  We had to ban 3/4 of the kids for this week.

So tonight we were expecting small numbers.  But not as small as it turned out.  Only four turned up.  And three of them had actually been banned the week before and should not have been there.  The one legitimate member was desperate that we let in her three mates.

What should we do?  Should we let them all in even though word would get around that our ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘no’ (these kids really need to learn boundaries!)?  Or should we stand on principle, keep the three out and admit the one girl who really didn’t want to be the only kid in the club?

Well the other youth leaders know I’m a soft touch, so before I caved in and let everyone come they issued a firm ‘no’ and we ran the club with five leaders and one youth.  The one youth was not happy.  She neither spoke nor joined in any of the activities.  Sigh.

It was only as we left that I realised the right course of action.  See as we left, the three banned youth were still hanging around church property – they had nothing else to do on a Thursday night.  And then it struck me – I should have gone out and joined them in their exile.  Wouldn’t that have been the Christmas thing to do?

Wouldabeen great!  We would be telling them, Our no means no – they can’t come in.  But nonetheless, I will go out to them.  If they can’t come in to hear the word of life I’ll go out into their cold, dark banishment and bring it to them.

And so I kicked myself all the way home.  Why didn’t I think of that earlier?  But as I was berating myself, a plan began to form…  In future, I’ll ban ’em all just so that the following week I can join them in it!  Cunning huh?

Which brings me to the moral of this story: Don’t trust the supralapsarian youth leader.

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How do you think of judgement and salvation?

If you ask me – you shouldn’t think like this:

Judgement&Salvation1

Instead think like this:

Judgement&Salvation2

Or to be a bit more nuanced – like this.

Now I could take this observation in many directions.

Perhaps we could explore its significance for an infra versus supra-lapsarian debate.

Perhaps we could discuss the strong link that some make between penal substitutionary atonement and limited atonement.

We could think about how to preach warnings of judgement (for instance warnings of exile in the OT) given that judgement is a-coming.

But I’m going to take the observation in this direction…

I’m becoming convinced that when Jesus says ‘Take up your cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34) He’s saying the same thingas Paul when he says ‘I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live’  (Gal 2:20).

Think of some of Jesus’ words:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  (Matt 10:34-39)

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  (Luke 14:33)

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.  (John 12:24-26)

In the context of Jesus’ own judgement and salvation He tells His followers what it means to come after Him.  It means being caught up in that same path – the only path of life.  Seeds must die to live – so it is with The Seed so it is with themany offspring His death produced.  Judgement then salvation.  To be saved is to die with Jesus – to join Him for an early judgement day and pass through to find true life.

Compare this with some words from Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Gal 2:20)

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his, etc, etc  (Rom 6:3-5 and following)

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  (Gal 6:14)

Here Paul describes his history as utterly determined by the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  Judgement and salvationhave happened for Paul because he has died and risen with Jesus to new life on the other side of wrath, death, sin, law, old creation.  And (apart from his Adamic flesh that still clings to him) he is utterly dead to the world around him and utterly brought into ‘newness of life’.

Now.  Think of a sermon you’ve heard on the Jesus verses.  And think of a sermon you’ve heard on the Paul verses.  I imagine the tone of those two sermons was quite different.  I imagine that the Jesus sermons spent a lot of time presenting His words as moralistic exhortations and ‘if-then’ conditions before (perhaps) the preacher retracted the force of them and told you not to forget that you’re ‘saved by grace’ (‘grace’ understood along the lines of diagram 1 not diagram 2).   And I imagine the Paul sermon comforted you with the whole ‘union with Christ’, ‘newness of life’ stuff and encouraged you that ‘hey, you really are saved by grace.’ (again, probably ‘grace’ as understood according to diagram 1)

I wonder if the Jesus sermons should sound more like the best of the Paul sermons.  And the Paul sermons should sound like the best of the Jesus sermons.  In other words, Jesus, the Seed, dies and rises on your behalf.  If you are His rejoice that you are created, shaped and defined by this death and resurrection in which you are crucified to the the whole world, and the whole world is crucified to you.  This is your salvation because there simply is no other way to resurrection than through the cross.  ‘Come and die’ is not a fearful condition of life – maybe you’re up to it, maybe not.  It’s the description of how that life comes, wrapped up in the announcement that Jesus really has crucified the world to raise it up new – come on in.

If you are not dead to the world, this might well be a sign that you are not His.  Or that you have wandered far from Him.  So go to Him and take that easy yoke onto your shoulders (Matt 11:28-30).  Be constrained by the death and resurrection of Jesus, for this is salvation.  Or else be wearied and burdened by your own, much heavier yokes which cannot lead youthrough the judgement to come.

But for those who are yoked to Christ, know that you have begun, even now, to live that newness of life.  Even today as we walk together with Jesus, dying to sin and self and the praises and worries of this world, resurrection life is unleashed.  This mystical union with Christ (the best of the Paul sermons) is earthed in the daily discipleship of living for Jesus (the best of the Jesus sermons).  Let’s have both.

I wonder if that’s why Peter finishes his first letter (which is all about this judgement then salvation dynamic) by saying ‘This is the true grace of God.’ 1 Peter 5:12.

 

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Last week at youth club it was pandemonium.  We had to ban 3/4 of the kids for this week.

So tonight we were expecting small numbers.  But not as small as it turned out.  Only four turned up.  And three of them had actually been banned the week before and should not have been there.  The one legitimate member was desperate that we let in her three mates.

What should we do?  Should we let them all in even though word would get around that our ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘no’ (these kids really need to learn boundaries!)?  Or should we stand on principle, keep the three out and admit the one girl who really didn’t want to be the only kid in the club?

Well the other youth leaders know I’m a soft touch, so before I caved in and let everyone come they issued a firm ‘no’ and we ran the club with five leaders and one youth.  The one youth was not happy.  She neither spoke nor joined in any of the activities.  Sigh.

It was only as we left that I realised the right course of action.  See as we left, the three banned youth were still hanging around church property – they had nothing else to do on a Thursday night.  And then it struck me – I should have gone out and joined them in their exile.  Wouldn’t that have been the Christmas thing to do?

Wouldabeen great!  We would be telling them, Our no means no – they can’t come in.  But nonetheless, I will go out to them.  If they can’t come in to hear the word of life I’ll go out into their cold, dark banishment and bring it to them.

And so I kicked myself all the way home.  Why didn’t I think of that earlier?  But as I was berating myself, a plan began to form…  In future, I’ll ban ’em all just so that the following week I can join them in it!  Cunning huh?

Which brings me to the moral of this story: Don’t trust the supralapsarian youth leader.

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