Monday, 31 May 2010

Summer Reading Target... Yeah Right! - Get Real, Walker!

Bible in a year plan continuing as a given, by the end of the summer, here are the books I'd like to say I've read:

223 pages

192 pages

396 pages

593 pages

566 pages

680 pages

352 pages

629 pages

349 pages

152 pages

That's 4132 pages and very few pictures! :-S (What's worse is that you almost need a magnifying glass to read the print Pakenham's tome and his is the largest of the lot!) You could read the Bible four times in that time. Sometimes I wonder if I'm missing something?

Oh how I love to set myself up for a fall! In truth, I might manage two, if I have a downhill run and a tail wind!

Of course, it might mean I blog less if I want to have any chance of succeeding, but hopefully the quality of posts will, in the long term, be better!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

What have you been listening to lately?

Last weekend, our church, along with many others from our network put on guest services where we preached the good news about Jesus and prayed for the healing of those who were sick. See here for more of what happened on the day. It was preceded with a conference the day before over in Woking.

On reflection, the conference was nothing short of excellent. I must confess, I nervously thought I was headed for a bit of charismania in the first session: Our Authority In the Supernatural, but Lex spoke brilliantly, wisely and Biblically about the whole subject.  I was ashamed of my pride and cynicism and thrilled by the truth!

Adrian Holloway's talk I had heard a few years ago, but its freshness has not wained, he was brilliant too in showing what evangelism is and isn't.  It's a pity they only have an audio recording because the facial expressions that accompanied his words were something else!
To my shame, I have lived in Whitley for nearly 6 years and I still don't know my neighbours by name.  (I do greet them when I see them though.) I was brought up in toff circles, (public school etc), and so find myself a bit of a cultural alien on the estate where I live.  Paul Brown's session on crossing the divide from my "middle class" tribe and connecting with the "working class" tribe was a real eye opener and so refreshing!  Paul, a (former?) brickie from Bermondsey, helped me to see how many of my assumptions are dumb and even sinful, and for that I am very grateful!

Find all these talks and more from the conference here.

Whilst driving to my parents, to celebrate my mum's latest birthday, I listened to Mike Reeves on the theology of music.  That might sound like a fairly niche interest to most of you reading this, but his opening gambit is a stunning challenge to every Christian and is worthy of meditation: Are we Christians playing God games in an atheist universe, or is the whole fabric of reality awash with testimony to who God is and what God does?

Reeves shows brilliantly, how the very fabric of music is God shaped. If you can't listen to all three, then listen to no.1. and start from 15mins in.  For me it's not just about the content, it's about a way of thinking and looking at reality, which is why I highly recommend them to you, be you a muso or a non-muso. Pick them up here at the mighty Bish's blog.

And on a complimentary lighter note.  Lou Fellingham's new album Step Into The Light is ace too, and a pleasure to have as an accompaniment when driving on summer days.

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Glory of Christ in this Present Age

What would you say to people who tell you something like: I would believe in God if only he would rock up in person and show himself?  The problem is, I can't see him and therefore I don't believe he exists.

At this point, if you're a bible-wearing evangelical, you'd probably get out your big apologetics guns and say; well he has rocked up in the person of Jesus and done that very thing, then fire (BOOM) a gospel in their general direction and hope for the best.

Make no mistake, that's a great answer and probably where I'd start, but is it the whole answer?

The Father doesn't interact directly with creation, he sends a mediator, Jesus the Son, but that then begs the question, how is Jesus mediating his conferred authority from the Father over creation right now? Because one thing is for sure, he isn't doing it directly. When he does return to rule directly, we'll know about it.

But he is ruling and extending that rule through another mediator: the Church. He continues to do on the earth all he sees the Father doing, through the Church. As always, the key to understanding this is not logic, but symmetry:

Just as the Father has been clearly revealed by the Son, so too the Son is clearly revealed by the Church.
Just as the Father has lavished his love on the Son, so the Son lavishes his love on the Church.
Just as the Father has lavished his glory on the Son, so the Son has lavished his glory on the Church.
Just as the Father has conferred his authority onto the Son, so to the Son has conferred his authority onto the Church.

If you're a good self-respecting evangelical, you're probably feeling quite uncomfortable now, because you have a good theology about how the visible church falls far short of the previous four hyperlinks, but don't let that reality rob you of the commissioning you know you have received by the Holy Spirit. Rather, stop making excuses and ask your loving heavenly Father to help you enter the reality into which he has called you.

Remember too, that this love, glory, wisdom and authority has not been given to you, the church, so that you can make much of yourself/ves.  Instead, like John the Baptist, follow in the same self-effacing vein that we see displayed in the Father and the Son and live to catch all people up by the Spirit into the worship of Jesus for the glory of God the Father.

In this, the true, eternal lemniscate of love, is complete.

Food for Thought

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Reading Family Church Statement of Core Beliefs

At RFC, we have just put together a statement of faith which is now public on the website. This is the gospel truth that we pastors seek to teach with our mouths and exemplify with our lives.

On one level, there's nothing new here. At its core, this statement is historic evangelical confessional Christianity, but you may notice two themes that have been given a little more prominence here than elsewhere; two bouquets that come through to your nostrils a little more vigorously than others.

The first is the emphasis on the Trinity. Whilst plenty of the Bible's moral code has been plagiarized elsewhere in the world of philosophy and religion, Trinity is the one distinctive of the Christian faith that remains unique. The true God is one community of three persons in loving relationship. This truth works itself out into everything we understand about reality.

The second is that we are explicitly highlighting the charismatic emphasis of baptism (anointing) of the Holy Spirit. As pastors, we realise this makes us controversial in some evangelical circles, but our heart is not to alienate, we simply want, as much as is possible in this life, by the power of the Spirit, to enter into the fullness of the new humanity and help the people we shepherd to do the same. A humanity that comes not by worldly education nor accident of birth, but by God himself, through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

If you have any questions about this document, please don't hesitate to catch us at a meeting or get in touch with us via the usual means.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Whatever Jesus Christ Was In His Earthly Life, The Father Is Eternally In Himself.

So, according to the previous post, how is John the Baptist's declaration that he should become less so Jesus can become greater, good news and an echo of the life of the Trinity?

It can be good news, because John is doing exactly the same thing he sees Jesus doing. It's not that Jesus does one thing and the rest of us do another. Yes he is our substitute, but he is also our pattern/example as he reveals the heart of God to us his image bearers.

The reason I say this is because I have often thought of Jesus as tolerating his Father's wish to become a frail, mortal human. That he felt a bit like Haman leading Mordecai round the city. (Great story, read it here.) That when he washed his disciples' feet, Jesus was inwardly saying to himself Just wait until I get resurrected, then you'll see me as I am and I'll get the glory I deserve, and I won't have to wash your smelly feet anymore!!

In other words, I fall into the trap of thinking that sacrifice is something God tolerates and does, rather than the natural overflow of who God is.

This is so important to get right. Jesus didn't tolerate his serving and suffering, his bleeding and dying, it was the natural overflow of his heart, which is that of a self-sacrificing and extravagant lover.

That's not to say that Jesus enjoyed the cross, he clearly endured it - and painfully so. But that endurance was not a Rambo style pain threshold test, after which he would say self-aggrandisingly "Look at me! I'm the man!" (Although let's be clear, he is the man!). It was a labour of love like the pain of child birth, knowing that when it was all over, anguish would give way to the joy of new birth, new life and new love!!

Jesus lived not to pursue his own agenda, but to honour his Father and to give life to the church. To put it in the words of John the Baptist, he made himself less so that others could be greater. Moreover, in this he is showing us the self-effacing heart of the unseen Father, which again is sacrificial love - hence the title of this post.

The pinnacle of God's glory is not some abstract brand of super-light-bulb brightness, but their self-effacing, other-centred, self-sacrificing love as demonstrated in their honouring of each other and in giving life to all those who believe in them. A pattern those who call themselves Christians are all called, like John the Baptist, to imitate.

Even now as the ascended reigning King of Glory, Jesus is still, in love, deferring his glory elsewhere. Can you think where?

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

When Best Man Goes Bad, Man

Have you ever been at a wedding when the Best Man upstaged the bride and groom and made himself the focus of attention - a little like the cartoon on the right?

Probably not, for the simple reason that it's unthinkable - not in the sense of "impossible to imagine" (like a one-ended stick) but morally outrageous.

Had John the Baptist tried to muscle on in his ministry and not make way for Jesus, he would have behaved like the inappropriate Best Man at the wedding.

The problem with that line is that we read it from the perspective of life under the curse of the fall, where all is about self-aggrandisement and self-glorification.

In our shrivelled little hearts we can only conceive the (survival of the fittest) idea that if one person goes up the ladder of prosperity, someone else somewhere else has to go down. If one person is getting the attention of others, the rest melt into the shadows.

The natural conclusion from that starting point of the Fall is to say that in this statement, John the Baptist bizarrely accepts his disappearance into anonymity to let Jesus take self-aggrandising centre stage. We then comfort ourselves with the theology of "Well let's face it, he's God, so he's allowed to." And that of course is true, but it is also misleading.

You see, if you make your starting point, not the vague mist of your own fallen existence, but rather the rock-solid eternal God of love who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then the sights, smells and sounds of this statement take on even more glorious hues, aromas and harmonies.

Far from turning himself into a person-less cypher, the great forerunner of the Bridegroom is simply getting his life into harmony with the song that the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit has enjoyed singing eternally.


More to follow...

Monday, 10 May 2010

In Whose Body Are You?

According to Christakis, character traits spread like diseases:

Of course, wisdom literature has told us this stuff for thousands of years. Scientific method, in this case, lives only to confirm what we already know.

What I found even more fascinating was his talk about people acting as one big social organism. Forgive me if I sound like an insufferable know-it-all, but I'm pretty sure I've heard that one before too.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Writing to My MP Again

If, like me, you were happy to wake up and find out who won, then you would have missed the declaration of the result for Reading East. But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can relive that moment as many times as you like:

From what little I know of Annaliese Dodds, I agree with Mr Wilson's commendation of her.

Today, I hand-wrote to Mr Wilson, although I typed it first to make sure I didn't get half way through a sentence only to discover it was a grammatical disaster!!

I would have written to whoever won, in the name of good British sportsmanship, to congratulate them. Here's an extract:

I’m not entirely sure what I make of all the wheeling, dealing and policy churning currently going on in Westminster, suffice to say I do believe the best candidate in Reading East won and I’m pleased you’ll be representing us to the rest of the nation.

May I also take this opportunity (as a Christian) to commend you both for your voting record and for coming out clean in all of the expenses scandals of the last twelve months. Those two things more than any others say what a billion words of campaign rhetoric never could, and bear testimony to me of your trustworthiness for the task ahead.

The more I think about it, the more I think it's about personality not policy, and when I say personality, I don't mean who is the most charismatic leader, I mean who has the greatest integrity. So long as I trust them to do what's right, I'll submit to their lead, whatever their political colour or policy statement.

If the system is full of people of integrity, then the policy will work itself out more or less right. If however, there is no integrity, then we're headed for trouble no matter how well the policy be worded and mediated.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

In Praise of Beards (Just for fun ;-)>

According to Wikipedia, and some famous early saints, beards are the way forward for real men!

St Clement of Alexandria:
"The hair of the chin showed him to be a man."

"How womanly it is for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, and to arrange his hair at the mirror, shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them!...For God wished women to be smooth and to rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane. But He adorned man like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him as an attribute of manhood, with a hairy chest--a sign of strength and rule."

"This, then, is the mark of the man, the beard. By this, he is seen to be a man. It is older than Eve. It is the token of the superior [unfortunate word me thinks] nature....It is therefore unholy to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness."

"It is not lawful to pluck out the beard, man's natural and noble adornment."

St Cyprian:
"In their manners, there was no discipline. In men, their beards were defaced."

"The beard must not be plucked. 'You will not deface the figure of your beard'."

"The nature of the beard contributes in an incredible degree to distinguish the maturity of bodies, or to distinguish the sex, or to contribute to the beauty of manliness and strength."

Apostolic Constitutions:
"Men may not destroy the hair of their beards and unnaturally change the form of a man. For the Law says, "You will not deface your beards." For God the Creator has made this decent for women, but has determined that it is unsuitable for men."

Augustine of Hippo:
"There are some details of the body which are there for simply aesthetic reasons, and for no practical purpose—for instance, the nipples on a man's chest, and the beard on his face, the latter being clearly for a masculine ornament, not for protection. This is shown by the fact that women's faces are hairless, and since women are the weaker sex, it would surely be more appropriate for them to be given such a protection."

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Relationship Between Circumcision And Baptism

When you don't understand what it was about, biblical circumcision is at best an odd thing and at worst a downright cruel thing, inflicting pain on the unsuspecting and weak.

NB. There is NO Biblical warrant or even encouragement for so called "female circumcision."

However, there's more going on here than a mere pain threshold test. It was a sign cut into the flesh of the male Israelites - a reminder that would never be washed away by soap, nor obscured by new growth. It would live with them wherever they went.

Consider then the nature of this sign: A knife was taken and used to shed the blood of the baby boy in the removal of the foreskin on the 8th day after birth.

:: The knife - Symbolic of the scriptures and more specifically the judgment of God.
:: The penis - Symbolic of the promised offspring (it is the place where seed or offspring come from - those "seeds" are planted in the "soil" of the womb)
:: Blood is shed - Symbolic of death.
:: On the 8th day - Symbolic of new creation.
:: Done to a baby by their father - Symbolic of God's initiative and our helplessness.
:: Hidden to the eye under clothes - symbolic of the gospel being hidden until the proper time.

So in circumcision, the LORD reminded his people of his promise that he would send one born of a woman who would fall under the judgement of God and whose shed blood would purchase the renewal of the whole creation - something that we ourselves could never do - nor even think of doing.

The reason circumcision is no longer mandatory in the New Testament is because we are no longer looking for the promised offspring, he has already come in the person of Christ, who bore the judgement of God and shed his blood on a cross 2000 years ago, purchasing the renewal of the whole creation.

Circumcision was only done to men because it was a man who would one day die to win for himself a bride (the church). The church does not win herself a Christ. You and I don't/can't earn our way to God. It is at best ridiculous and at worst blasphemous to suggest otherwise.

We are no longer waiting for the shedding of Messiah's blood. It has all been finished. Instead we have water baptism as the sign of cleansing, new birth and union with Christ, through the Spirit.

When a person is baptised, it is a sign that they have a place in the (re)new(ed) humanity.

What an awesome God.

God's Choice

I never noticed/realised until this weekend, (even though I must have read it several times before) that Reuben squandered his birthright as the first born son of Jacob when he "went into" (slept with) one of his father's concubines.

All the patriarchs: Abraham, Issac and Jacob, saw the first fruits of their loins - the ones who they thought would be the primary heirs of their estates - the ones who they thought had it coming - passed over by God to another of his choosing.

Even though Abraham was a mighty man of faith, for some strange reason, he still hankered for Ishmael to be the chosen offspring.

Even though Esau had sold his birthright to his younger brother and even though God had said in a prophecy that the older would serve the younger, Isaac still sought to give Easu preeminence.

And now as mentioned above, Reuben had it coming to him, but foolishly threw it away.

In all of this, God witnesses three times that he does not work through the assumptions and ways of fallen humans like you and me to achieve his purpose. He is not impressed by what we are impressed by - accidents of birth, social position, wealth, looks, skill, intellect, good deeds etc.

He turns the tables on all the ways that we ascribe glory to one another and uses the least expected methods to achieve his ends.

God's choice, his election, is all about Christ - who, like Isaac Jacob and Joseph before him, was rejected by the so called wisdom of man, but who has become the heir - in this case, of the whole cosmos, seen and unseen.

God's wisdom is not to use the assumptions (strength) of man to work out his purposes in human history, but rather those things that we did not expect at all because we were too proud to see them.

Whether you're a Christian or not the standard is the same: when you realise you have nothing to offer God, your heart is in the best position to make an approach to him.

Take heart and be humbly bold. He'll give you his best.