Monday, 28 June 2010

Freed From Law; Bound By Love. Notes on Romans 7:1-6

Romans 7:1-6 here.

A Dark Marriage.
Way back at the dawn of time, the human race (Adam and Eve) by its own initiative, was married to the law, bound to it not by love, but by sin. The serpent acted as priest and facilitated the preparation and the ceremony. In Gen. 3:1-6, we see Adam and Eve covet what God has, then stick two fingers up at him, reject his friendship and set themselves up as god, deciding for themselves what is right and wrong, who's in and who's out and hijacking the whole creation for their own ends.

Life Married to the Law.
The Law is like a husband who, dominates us, who lays demands on us, but never lifts a finger to help, who is always right, but does not love us and who is impotent and cannot birth the life and love of God in us. In fact, the perverse thing about this husband is that far from making us better, he actually makes us worse. His demands, rather than encouraging us to do what is right, have the bizarre effect of producing the very opposite of the demand, he makes us worse not better.

The problem with this futile marriage is that there’s no way out. “Til death do us part” means exactly what it says. Divorce from law is not an option (Mal. 2:16), because it’s a counterfeit salvation. It says you can have the blessings of a new (married) life without death, and as we have seen in Romans 6, you cannot enter into the blessing of God except through participating in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Betrothed to Jesus Christ.
In Western culture we have engagement, which is serious, but not legally binding (covenantal). Traditional cultures have the ritual of betrothal. This is how we are united to Christ in this life. We, (the church) have died and thus legally ended our marriage to the Law and we have been raised in and for Christ. And whilst we have not yet entered into the full blessing of union with Christ (that will happen after the great judgment) we are betrothed to him. Betrothal is legally binding; the marriage is as good as done. It’s a time when the couple get to know each other better and prepare for the day of their uniting. Psalm 45 is a beautiful picture of Christ and his betrothed bride.

Serve Jesus by Love not Law.
The old (pre-Christian) life is like a Christmas tree. It's dead and the only way to make it look good is to slap on some pretty decorations. Law following, rule keeping, and any other spiritual principle/technique you care to mention, no matter how impressive or wise, is like tinsel on a Christmas tree, it may look good, but ultimately it has no life giving, love stirring power. (No one likes munching on tinsel). A vine however, gives life to the branches and bears tasty life-giving fruit naturally – it cannot help but bear fruit. When the Holy Spirit unites you to Jesus and transforms your heart, you cannot help, but begin to fulfil the law, in love.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Time with John Piper

I should be going to bed, but it's too hot and I can't sleep!

I had the privilege of attending 300 at Jubilee church, London, yesterday. John Piper was the guest speaker. I have read a couple of Piper's books, dipped into a few more and lost count of the number of his sermons I've listened to online.

He's the kind of humble guy who would have happily talked to me had I sought to see him after the main session, but I didn't have anything I wanted to ask and I didn't want to waste his time listening to me fawn! Plus, there's that strange dynamic in the age of the Internet, where I know so much about him from reading his books and hearing him preach and he knows absolutely NOTHING about me!

His main session, talking about how the pursuit of joy in God has been the foundation of his life and ministry, was nothing new to me. But hearing it again, I had the same kind of joy as you get when you come home to family after time away and share a meal together. It's good to enjoy the familiar, safe and good things again and again.

For me the best bits were his little biographical annecdotes interspersed in his message and in the Q&A time, the highs and lows he has had after 30 years of pastoral ministry and how he has clearly remained faithful to Jesus all through that time.

I'm grateful to God for men like this who stay the course over many years, who don't have it easy, who have seen Heaven be silent on a number of occasions yet know that when all is said and done, Jesus is Lord and their faith in him WILL be vindicated.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Love Is The Point, Not Survival - And We Know it.

Have a look at this 1min video.

There’s an idea, common in our day, that life is about the survival of the fittest: living as long as possible and making the most of every opportunity which comes our way.

We are told to eat healthily so that we can live longer and make the most of life. We are told to avoid risky behaviours like smoking and excessive drinking so that we can live longer and make the most of life. In school, we are told to work hard and get the best qualifications we can so that we have the best chance of living our dreams at some point in the future and thus make the most of life.

Of course, all those things are right. I don’t smoke or drink excessively. I try to eat properly, (not so good at that one) and whilst I’m not sure I could say with total honesty that being a teacher at my school is “Living the dream”, I do feel very at home there and I wouldn’t want to work at any other school in the Reading area.

But is that it? Is life just about making the most of what you get? Is it just about figuring out your level of optimal adaptation to your surrounding environment?

In the video you just saw, no one was chewing on a muesli bar. No one was doing a risk assessment to ensure the hug they received from the arriving relative was disease free and not going to deliver them a accidental black eye as arms were passionately flung around bodies. None of the kids had their books out revising, telling mum or dad that they would have to wait for their hug until they had finished preparing for their next test, but if you’re like me something in your heart naturally and almost inexplicably warmed as you watched it.”

There’s a very good reason for this. Life is not about survival, it’s about love. Love that is strong, faithful and secure. Love that doesn’t look out for itself, but looks out for others. Love that nourishes the soul. Love that brings forth life.

Orphans and children in care, in this country at any rate, all have plenty of good food, shelter, safety and opportunities to learn and acquire new skills, but if you were ask them, I bet you they would give everything to be with their united in love and peace with their natural families, even if it meant only having beans on toast every night.

We long for this kind of intimate-belonging love, both to give it and receive it. This desire for love is the echo of a greater love. A love not found in arms stretched out at Heathrow airport, but in the love of the God-Man Jesus who stretched out his arms 2000 years ago on a cross and whose loving death opens up the way for you and me to be welcomed home to God. The question is: will you come home?

Life is not about survival, it’s about love. Will you come home?

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Why I'll Never Be An Olympic Titan

Don't know about you, but I was always last to be picked at school when it came to sports teams.  My unique blend of malco-ordination and much extra fat meant that I was never a significant asset to any serious athletic endevour. (I was so big, I was considered a health and safety hazard in rugby! How bad is that?!) I managed to come third in the year 4 sack race, but only because my feet broke through the bottom of the sack so that I could "run" rather than jump like everyone else.

This theme of sporting ineptitude has carried on into my adult life, as seen in the write up from the recent annual staff doubles tennis tournament:
The wooden spoon winners were the hapless Richard Walker and the glamorous ----- ----- who did her impression of Edvard Munch’s Scream for virtually every point as the Bambi On Ice-esque Walker missed another shot due to his almost complete lack of eye to hand co-ordination. Walker, famed for his Iron Man exploits certainly needs to coat himself in some Ronseal next year as the rust had certainly set in.
I found out, when going to get sized up for my new bike, that my arms and legs are too short for a man with my torso. (So much so that the computer told the person measuring me to do it again, my proportional variations were well beyond the norm!!) I should have been 6ft3" apparently.  I obviously didn't eat enough spinach.

The physical limitations, could be overcome, in some measure, if I had the will power.  The truth is that the only sport I know I would have any serious chance of winning would be championship daydreaming, but the problem inherent in that is, how do you measure victory?  Daydreaming is successful by virtue of what it doesn't achieve, not what it does! :-(

So the swimming biking and running continue, falteringly.  I got a new bike this week on a salary sacrifice scheme, which I'm enjoying riding a lot, and in the fine weather I'm taking longer routes to and from work.

The down side is that I'm having to fight hard not to let this new toy have greater prominence in my thinking than it needs or deserves. I have had to consciously choose not to upgrade my padlock, consciously choose to leave it (locked) in public places and not worry, consciously choose not to say to this lump of metal, rubber and a little carbon: "You are my god, my joy is in you!"

Of course, it's not the bike's fault, the problem is in my heart. I want to give it a value and a significance that's far beyond it's ability to fulfill. I value possessions more than God and people. God help me.

In truth, I don't want to be a sporting titan at all. I'm grateful that God gave me a half-baked sporting physique cos I'll never be deluded into thinking that I should waste my life in the pursuit of sporting glory. (That said, there are plenty of other things that do the job of tempting me to waste my life very well!)

I want to be a championship giver.  I want to value God and people more than possessions. I want to pour out my life looking after people for Jesus, not my lifeless toys.

I want to see visions, dream dreams and fear God more than daydream and accumulate trophies that rust.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Anyone Want To Come With Me To Hear Michael Ward?

If you aren't doing anything on Tuesday 29 June @8pm, Dr. Michael Ward is giving a free public lecture The Heavens Declare the Glory of God based on his book Planet Narnia.

I'd like to go, (I need to speak to the Milkybar_Kid first though! He knows who he is.)

If you would like to go, give me a shout, if I can make it, I am happy to provide free transport up to St Peter's College, Oxford and back on the night!

I'm not going because I have read all the Narnia books, but because C. S. Lewis had a very different way of looking at the world. A breath of fresh air when you live in the putrefying atmosphere of egocentric modernism.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Newfrontiers Brighton Offering

Every year, the family of churches, of which we are a part at RFC, give into a central pot for the the sake of the mission we are on together.

Below is the video they have produced to bring us up to speed on where, with God's help, we as a movement have been and where, God-willing, we're going.

I was so stirred watching it. I love what they do with the arrows, and what those arrows represent! I love being part of a Jesus-centred movement like this one.

God, this is awesome. Help me to be faithfully obedient, generous-hearted and open-handed, again! Amen.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Daoud Hari Is Worth A Read

Just finished reading The Translator by Daoud Hari.  178 pages divided up into 27 bitesize chapters.  It hasn't got any pictures! That's probably a good thing - not sure I could cope.

Here is the author himself:

In the book, he gives some beautiful cameos of life growing up in Darfur (which, I didn't know until reading, is a region twice the size of the UK):

Everyone has meaningful and interdependent relationships with the people who live on their doorstep.

Where we would race on our bikes, Daoud and his friends would race camels. Every camel has a unique hoof which acts like a number plate, so you can tell by the tracks who's been through town.

But when the chirping birds suddenly, inexplicably fell silent and flew away, they knew it was time for another game, a game of Hide and Seek and would run to the hills and wadis. However, in this version of the well loved children's classic, if they got caught by their pursuers (government or rebel soldiers), they were either killed, raped, kidnapped or taken away for torture and interrogation as their attackers sought to systematically wipe the indigenous people off the land. It's a horror I cannot begin to imagine.

Books like this are good for me.  They remind me that fiction is a poor substitute for truth and how much of a strange bubble prosperous Western life is. How long til it bursts I wonder, and it will burst.

That the suffering brought by the Fall is more keenly felt by the rest of the world's population than by those, like me, who by Western birth, have been able to vaccinate themselves from many of the world's ills.

That when you have nothing left to lose, you can be much more single-minded about the pursuit of what's right. I don't care what people say about how accumulation of wealth is not evil per se (they are right) it handicaps us chronically, pure and simple. Whilst it may be morally acceptable for an athlete to run with a rucksack of rocks on his back, no athlete serious about taking the prize would entertain the thought. If he did, he would be thought a fool, not only by his mentor and peers, but also by those who turned up to watch him compete.  All eyes are on the church. Oh that we might live up to what we have received and attained.

They remind me that the phrases: "Jesus is Lord" and "That no one comes to the Father except by him" must never be allowed to sink in my thinking to the level of trotted out cliché. Christ is still not named across vast swathes of continents encompassing millions of people. Sovereign grace means a Christian can sleep sound, but not easy.

I'm going to Sudan this summer God-permitting to visit a friend from my church, Naomi, who is building a school out there. I look forward very much to meeting the people and hearing their stories. With God's help, I will leave with them something worth keeping.

You're welcome to borrow/have the book, just ask. :-)

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Gospel Déjà-Vu

I only noticed it the other day, when preparing a talk.  The Old Testament revelation kicks off proper in Genesis 22 when a father lays his only son on wood and sacrifices him on a mountain. It then ends in 1 Kings 8 with God among his people, the people that he has given to Solomon, his wise king, in the land of their inheritance!

Sounds to me much like the plot-line of the New Testament which kicks off proper when the Father has his only and beloved Son laid on a cross of wood and sacrificed on a mountain. It then ends with this Father among the people that he has given to his Son - the righteous King, in the land of their inheritance - the (re)new(ed) creation.

Jesus was the only truly expected man in history.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Are You A Truth Seeker Or An Order Seeker?

All of us are born curved in on ourselves, and thus bent on a hatred of the Truth, but the echo of the image of God in each of us means we still yearn for intelligible meaning from the complex universe in which we find ourselves birthed. We know we can't live in chaos, it's just impossible. Even the most ardent philosophical anarchists who rail against the rule of law admit the need of some level of interpersonal order built on a mutually agreed foundation of common sense.

We aren't Truth-seekers, but we are order-seekers.

Of course we all want truth (with a small "t"). We all want to know whodunit? Or, who sent us that Valentine's card? Or who ate all the leftover Banoffee in the fridge? Or how do we reform the Welfare State? Or how does a Bumble Bee fly? Or, how do we feed an expanding world population..? Or what will people think of me after I'm gone? But when it comes to Truth (with a capital T) we are less concerned. Yes, we all want to find a unifying principle (e.g.) and/or cause (e.g.) around which to organise our lives - for life is more predictable/meaningful then, but we aren't bothered about Truth so long as there's food on the table, something on TV and someone significant with whom to enjoy those things.

If we (and I definitely include me here) aren't careful, those of us who call ourselves Christians, can come to view Christ in this way - the genie who orders my world for me and helps me to make sense of it. We say we want Truth, but really we just want tidiness and order - God on our own terms running things how we want them to be run.  We want him to feed us and fetch for us whilst we continue to stare at our navels.

Into this human/self centred preoccupation for tidiness and order, for me and my own, Jesus declares:

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.* For I have come to turn
 " 'a man against his father,
 a daughter against her mother,
 a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -
 a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'

"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

The Pursuit of The Truth is a wholly different enterprise, beyond anything we natural-born navel-gazers ordinarily understand.


* Note that when Jesus talks about bringing the sword, he is not looking for his people to declare a military war on those who hate him, he will do that himself at the time of his Father's choosing, he is simply saying that through his death and resurrection, the assumed ties of loyalty between kith and kin will be severed for ever when people come to him.  All people everywhere will ultimately be defined not by ethnic origin, family line or personal achievement but by whether they belong to Christ or not.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Are You One Of The Few?

The greatest miracle that God can do is to take an unholy person out of an unholy world, make that unholy person holy, put them back in an unholy world and keep them holy.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Watch This...

Washer's opening gambit "Jesus - the only expected person of history" is awesome to ponder - Psalm 139 is Christ speaking - not David or me. (Since when did David or you or I ever rise on the wings of the dawn?).

I count myself among the old men who look for Christ in every line of Old Testament.

I need a mighty God who can wrestle me to the ground and save me.

Your blood is not as precious as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself exemplified this. He expects nothing of you that he did not first expect of himself.

Disciples have certain properties. If they lose those properties, they are no longer disciples.

A plough horse, not a race horse, mentality is necessary in the Christian life.

The missionary is like a painter. They only become famous after they're dead.

The more the church asks for the Spirit and waits for his communication, the more she receives.