Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Sorry, Psalm 139 Isn't About You

Aren't they cute??
But they aren't the point.
Picking up a thread from here, the more I live, the more I see how much those of us who call ourselves Christians - without thinking - interpret the Bible in a massively self/modern-culture centred way. You and I need help to flee it.

If, like me, you've been on the (Western popular) Christian circuit long enough, then you'll be familiar with that myopic approach from reading Psalm 139. The approach that says you're the centre of God's universe to the exclusion of everything else. He puts you centre stage. For example, have a look at this video:

This video tells me nothing of Jesus, but that is exactly who Psalm 139 is about.

Psalm 139 should be read like Psalm 22, King David, is writing prophetically about Jesus, not himself.

Here we see, Jesus speaking to his Father about his forthcoming incarnation.

Verses 1-3 and throughout, Jesus speaks of the perfect mutual indwelling, loving fellowship that he has had with the Father through the Spirit since eternity past.

Verse 4 Jesus has only ever spoken what the Father has given him to speak.

Verse 5 The hand (Spirit) of the Father was clearly on Jesus.

Verse 8 No fallen human has ever ascended into Heaven - they can't and it's heresy, not poetry, to suggest they can. Satan and Adam both had a go and failed. Jesus has and has done so by virtue of his own inherent righteousness.

Verse 9 is a poetic image of verse 8. The sun is being described here. The only person equated with the sun (which each day symbolically ascends into the heavens and descends into the earth/grave) in the Bible is Jesus. Jesus is the only mediator between Heaven and earth.

Verse 10 Jesus on the cusp of his becoming a frail human and being planted inside the womb of a woman.  He will be away from direct face to face fellowship with his Father, but he knows that by the Spirit, his Father is always with him as he plunges down into the darkness of a fallen cosmos to redeem that pearl of great price - the Church.

Verses 13-15 Jesus speaks of his Father's care for him as he is being formed by the Spirit in the womb of Mary.

Verses 16-17 speak of how the Father has prepared the Old Testament for Jesus to read so that he would know, with the help of the Spirit, what his mission was and how to accomplish it. Jesus went to the cross with the promises of the Old Testament ringing in his heart.

Verse 18 speaks of resurrection, victory and vindication, even death did not sever the eternal fellowship of the Father and Son.

Verses 19-22 Did you notice that these verses were absent in the video above. If we read this Psalm focussed on ourselves then we have no idea what to do with them - they are an embarrassment. But if it's about Jesus, then it's obvious. Jesus after his resurrection and ascension is asking the Father to do what the Father has already said he would do for his Son namely; vindicate the Son and defeat their enemies.

Verses 23-24 The Psalm closes like it opens: Jesus, the obedient Son, humbles himself before his Father's scrutiny for the vindication of his cause.

See how close the love is that the Father has for the Son and the Son has for the Father, altogether in the unity of the Spirit. It is into that love, that the Church has been swept up.

This Psalm is only about you and me to the extent that it tells us what are the blessings and benefits that we derive from being in Christ - clothed with his righteousness. It's not about you and me per se, and I for one am grateful, because I need a victorious champion, an awesome and merciful saviour in my life, not a deceitful mirror.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Are You Still Sitting Comfortably? Then I'll Continue...

Last week I posted some excerpts of a video on evangelising unreached people groups. I found the full length of that video here. I also found the next part of the story:

For an 80min animated presentation of the whole bible plotline, click here.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Making A Way Where There Is No Way

During World War Two, if there were to be any hope of freeing Europe from Nazi control, the Allies needed to find a way of accessing the European mainland.

The problem was that the Nazis had turned Western Europe into an impenetrable fortress, and would stop at nothing to keep it that way.  They would fight to the death to keep its ports and would destroy them completely rather than see them fall into Allied control. What were the Allies to do?

What the Allies did was nothing short of ingenious: they made a way where there was no way:

The making of that way was no less than an all consuming effort on the part of everyone involved - and everyone was involved.

Not all of the roles were glorious. Not everyone got to be part of the headlining offensives that caught the nation's eye. Some of those inglorious roles are obvious - like the people who built the harbour parts, ready to be towed across the Channel.

Others are not so obvious, like the soldiers who were, to all intents and purposes, sent on a suicide mission when, after being parachuted in behind enemy lines, they had to fight the Nazis and do nothing more than distract them whilst the Allied engineers sneaked onto the mainland and take all measurements needed in order to construct this incredible harbour.

Moreover, much of the harbour was lost in the towing process. Of the 13kms of floating roadways that left the UK, only 7kms worth reached Arromanches due to a freak winter-like storm during the summer of 1944.

Nevertheless, the Allies persevered; driven by moral imperatives not financial returns and the establishment of this harbour was pivotal to the eventual victory of the Allies and the liberation of Europe.

There is much symmetry here for the Church:

The Church of Jesus Christ, after the pattern laid down by her saviour, is in the all-consuming "business" of making a way where there is no way.  A task that requires nothing short of total self-sacrificial effort on the part of everyone involved - and every Christian is called to be involved.

Not all of the roles are glorious (in this life). Not everyone gets to be part of the headlining missionary endeavours that catch the (Christian) media eye. Some of those inglorious roles are obvious - like those who do the behind the scenes management for routine meetings and special events.

Others are not so obvious, like those who choose to become nobodies - even misfits - in the eyes of the world and who through their love and sacrifice are happy to see others to reap the rewards of their efforts in this world, whilst they await the joy of their Heavenly Father in the next.

This is not a business where x amount of effort returns x amount of benefit in this life. There will be times when people appear to pay the ultimate price for what seems like little or no gain; when it seems like everything is going crackers and nothing makes any sense anymore.

Nevertheless, victory is certain and the Church, filled with the Spirit of her Saviour, will persevere, driven and powered by divine love, not worldly (vain)glory. She will continue, like her saviour, whatever the cost, whether through simple friendship or martyrdom, to make a way where there is no way and bring freedom to those bound in darkness, welcoming them into the same divine love that she has come to know.

Pondering this, I realise that whilst I've understood something of what it means to give; I've a long way to go before I understand what it means truly to sacrifice.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Are you sitting comfortably..? Then I'll begin!

When in Sudan this summer, we're looking, amongst other things, to do a Bible overview day with the local church. That will have it's challenges, not only because most people there can't understand English, but also because most people there can't read or write!

The prospect is exciting and terrifying all at once!

Terrifying because I can't hide behind handouts - what I give personally from my mouth, through the (intermediary) interpreter, is the only thing they'll get.  What I forget, they will not be able to cover in a bit of personal study afterwards.

Exciting because it forces me to look at what's really real and where my confidence lies! It forces me to look to God and give of myself. It forces me to think in (truly triune) relational and personal terms and not just how I can vomit a load of facts and arguments over people.

All in all, this gives me a much heightened anticipation about the whole thing, more than I've had in a long time back here in the UK, where we've been robbed of in our sense of occasion by the endlessrepeats-recycledblogs-Facebookshare-podcast-always-on culture of life - hooked up to the matrix of Western capitalism.

When everything is available all the time - very little is really exciting anymore - except in the most superficial sense.

So I'm looking again, with renewed interest, at some stuff I came across about 10 years ago from New Tribes Mission!

Here's a video exemplifying what they do amongst the indigenous peoples of the world. I never tire of watching this! (2nd vid = 6mins not 10)

The credits at the end sum it up beautifully: Is God calling you to go to a people, just like them?

Meanwhile, I'm left thinking about how I can cram into one day with an interpreter, what Mark did personally twice a day for three months!

(Paul had two years; God had 4000! :-S)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Contrition From An Unlikely Source

Last night our monthly Biblical Thinking Forum was on the Prophets.

We took Jeremiah as an example. He's the one I identify best with since he was single, the son of a preacher man and his writings are long and not in (chronological) order - his book is the longest of the prophets.

Once you get over the dated animation, cheesy music and the fact that many of the characters sound like Dick Dastardly or the Gumbys, this is a great set of videos.

In fact, God used these three videos so powerfully that we actually had to stop and pray after watching them! I was too busy faffing with my notes to suggest that we prayed. Moreover, and to my shame, I feared people would be too preoccupied with the cheesiness of the clips. Fortunately, someone else had more faith than I and was sensitive to what the Spirit was doing and called us to pray! What a blessing! :-)

The last part of clip three, has to be one of the lowest points in the whole Old Testament. The people refuse to believe that all the trouble they have suffered has come from the LORD for their rebellion against him and instead redouble their efforts to worship their false gods.  What blindness this is....

They refused to be caught up into the life of God.

I don't want to be like that!

Will you refuse the Living God?

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Together on a Mission 2010

If you don't blink, you might spot RFC's very own Cameron on the following video!

I managed to get down with a couple of others for the last night of the conference. It was a real privilege to hear of what God is doing in many lives and places around the world!

My overall impression though was this:

What a small and unlikely bunch of people (when you think how big the world is) who are having influence far beyond anything they could do themselves for this reason alone: they serve an awesome loving God!

Oh Lord, grant that it may ever be thus!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

On Catching Sand

Another amusing and perceptive video. This time from an advertising guru. I posted another (funnier) talk of his here.  The million dollar question is: what would you have put in the 4th quadrant of his table?

What is it that costs you nothing and that money cannot buy, yet is priceless and brings untold benefit to you and others?

Have a think and then scroll down for my two pence worth of an answer.

I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege-works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, "Wisdom is better than strength." But the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.

The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.

Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Ecc. 9:13-18

TED groupies also have given their suggestions here.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

How the Law Kills - An Anecdote from A Child Day Care Experiment

The following video is interesting, but the most fascinating bit for me starts at 6:50.

Shirky talks about a social experiment performed at a child care centre and how the imposition of a fine on parents for the late retrieval of their children had exactly the opposite effect to the one intended by the creation of the said fine.

The payment of the fine, rather than encouraging early arrival, absolved the miscreant parents of any guilt of arriving late.

The problem was that introducing a contractual/legal element to the parent-teacher relationship killed the organic, relational generosity/obligation dynamic that existed between them. No doubt, even those who continued to pick their kids up on time, felt a level of depersonalisation and distance when they received the rather heavy letter informing them of the new "fine" regime.

Law is impotent in every way. If it doesn't birth the opposite behaviour in us, it will at best birth a very clinical and impersonal relationship, one based on what each party owes rather than on love and mutual appreciation.

Either way you and I are stuffed apart from Jesus.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Seeing What Life Is About - Enjoying The Grace of God

Yesterday evening, I went to a NewFrontiers Regional Celebration, put on by the Beacon Church, Camberley.

It was a wonderful and stirring time of worshipping the God who is Father, Son and Spirit and hearing of and praying for missionary endeavours around the world.

One of the songs we sang is a favourite of mine, but I hadn't sung it in a while:

There was a time in my life when I was suspicious of all this emotionalism. And true, it's not about how much you jump up and down at a Christian meeting that counts, but the obedience that comes from faith in Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, if the good news of Jesus produces nothing in you that manifests itself in any kind of spontaneous, gratuitous holy exuberance, then what good news have you received? Not the true good news, that's for sure!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Proper Sport ;-)

This weekend, the world's largest annual sporting event (something our sibling rivalry with the French refuses us permission to admit)... le Tour de France began.

I'm not infrequently caught bemoaning our culture's obsession with watching a bunch of overpaid men chase a reinforced balloon around a pitch. I just don't get it! But in truth, there's nothing less vain (in fact maybe it's moreso) about watching a load of overpaid men chase each other round the countryside in Lycra, yet for some reason, I think that pursuit is more noble and worthy of my esteem!  I'm such a hypocrite!

223km was the first proper stage yesterday, including three crashes! (One caused by someone's dog wondering onto the road!)

I managed 100km on Saturday, but only with a break for lunch in between, and I didn't get up to do the same the following day!

They probably completed their distance (more than twice mine) in about the same time as I completed mine!  And they will get up and do it again tomorrow and the next day for nearly three weeks!