Tuesday, February 02, 2016

"This is my daily bread, your very word spoken to me"


BB Warfield wrote:
"...what Scripture says, God says... whatever it may be found to say, that is the Word of God."
This is derided as Bibliolatry. Book-worship.

Others say - we don't need more Bible, we know the facts - we needs skills and practical help.
Others say - God speaking! Exciting... spurious... weird...

But, if Warfield is right we're rejecting God if reject God's word... and we're distancing ourselves from God when we go Scripture-lite.

For me, lack of Bible in my life leads to lack of faith - since the voice of God brings faith. I drift from Christ. I drift from believing what the gospel reveals of Christ.

I'm studying 1 Samuel 15 this week ahead of preaching on it soon.

In this story King Saul is confronted for disobeying the voice of God (which came to him via judge-prophet Samuel and the Pentateuch). He denies it, protesting than not only is he obeying but he's also worshipping. Samuel replies - do you think God wants your worship if you're disobeying him? You're a presumptuous rebel, an idolator. And then, twice:
"You rejected God's word... so God has rejected you as King." (v23,v26)
Some of this is about Saul's throne, but the issue goes wider and deeper.

God rejects those who reject his voice.

The Father's Spirit-filled Word - his Son.
The Father's Spirit-breathed written word about his Son - that is: The Bible.
The Father's Spirit-empowered word in preaching, and it's cousin prophecy (as it has been said, The Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God).

My standing with the Father is as my standing with the Son, the Scriptures, and the present word of God through his people. There is no other foundation on which to build the church. Faith comes by hearing, faith won't come when his voice is on mute.

Saul finally appears to repent but it's too late for his throne. Perhaps not too late for his soul, though what follows isn't promising. Word-rejectors are judged, as those who stumble and take offence at the Christ.

What hope? Only the other king, the other rejected King. The king rejected by the people for obeying the voice of God. The king who takes our place in judgement, becoming sin for us - dying in the place of word-rejectors, that by the better word of his blood he might bring us through death to life.

All of which leads me to read the Bible. Not because I worship a book but because I know that, like Saul, I am a word-rejector. And either I can cover my ears and continue to go my own way and love the things made in the idol factory* that is my heart, or I can put myself in the sound of his voice.

I want Christ but I'm fickle - but my trust isn't in the strength of my faith and devotion- not in my word but his. Mine is a hope outside of me.

I need the Bible as (and even more than) I need daily bread. I don't read it every day. I don't always do what it says. I'm not always excited to read it. I'm not always blown away by what I read. I don't read it because I don't know the story - I do - I read it because I know it.

I read it with others to temper my biases, confront the planks in my eyes, to serve one another. I hear it in the company of the church to reveal my sin and my Saviour that we might be built up together. I read it to remember my baptism and remember him at his Table. I read it with those who don't know Jesus so they might come to know him. I read it to discover more of God and his fascinating world that my dull heart just takes for granted. I read page by page, being swept up in it's grand story, stopping to examine it's finer details, appreciating it's melodies and symphonies. I read it to learn to pray and love and learn what my salvation is for. I read it to fight my sin and to enflame my affections.

I read it know that this word can harden my sinful heart, and knowing that nothing else in all the world can melt my sinful heart. I read it when I don't want Christ and because I want Christ.

Image: David Wright (Creative Commons)
* John Calvin's phrase.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

A typical Christian: an unnamed, patronised, outcast woman, face tear-stained, hair matted with perfume and dirt, overflowing with love to her Saviour


"My spiritual life has been so dull, dry."
Why didn't you say something?
Why didn't you ask for help?
"I didn't realise until now."
It gets worse! Why didn't I see it before? I'm spiritually dry and cold to the horror of that.

And yet what a moment to be caught in.
What an opportunity for grace.

Learn from two people who met Jesus. A man and a woman, she doesn't speak words but her actions are loud and clear to those who have ears to hear... on the face of it a good man and a bad woman, but more a picture of vibrant faith and spiritual dullness of heart...

He - invites Jesus to his house.
She - seeks Jesus out.
Both want to be with Jesus.

He - is disappointed in Jesus and offended at her. How could the Saviour of the World be there?
She - is received by Jesus.
Noticably, he isn't at all astounded that Jesus would be with him.

Jesus - reads his heart and sets up a senario.
Two people forgiven debts they couldn't repay.
One 500, the other 50.
Who loves most after that?

He - knows the answer.
She - is enacting the answer. She is his teacher if he'll listen.

He - didn't...didn't... didn't... an utter failure of hospitality in his own home.
She - But she... But she... But she... an example of hospitality in the house of another.

Jesus - those forgiven much, and she has much to be forgiven, love much.
Those who don't know much forgiveness, don't have much love.
A stinging rebuke to Simon, if he'll hear it.

She - her faith saves her, she believes the gospel, sees her sin and is forgiven. Go in peace.
He - sees himself as good, better than others, he is insensitive to his sins which are many, his tolerance for sin is high, his view of himself is overrated, his repentance is lacking.

But in this moment, in the presence of Jesus he can put that behind him... if he can cultivate sensitivity to sin he can find immense forgiveness. Not a stereotypical dwelling in sin, but sensitivity, intolerance, sorrow... paired with receiving Christ.

Who can forgive sins? This kind of God, this Jesus who loves the company of sinners like her and isn't ashamed to spend time with sinners like him.
There's more sin in him than he realises. 
There's more love in the Christ than there is sin in him.
The Lord is a God more good than we dare imagine. 
This is the forgiving God.
This is the atoning God.
This is the sinner loving God.

Our love can show in many ways - it doesn't always look like a tear-stained face and hair matted with dirt and perfume. Though it did that day.

There are extravagant expressions - I was drawn to the worship of my first church as a believer, caught in the midst of the Toronto Blessing, for it's genuine raw reflexive response to Jesus... but intense worship meetings are just one way. Sin can be seen and love received in the study, in worship, in prayer, in company, alone, in busyness, in empty landscapes.

It's a question of the heart. The Christian faith rests on an objective outside of me act of atonement for sin. And the Christian faith is experienced in a sensitivity to sin and the reception of the gift of atoning love.

When you know you're sinful - come to Jesus and express love to the one who first loved you.
And when you don't know you're sinful - come to Jesus and ask him to tune your heart both to see yourself as you really are, and so to lead you don't the painful path of repentance to himself.

Here is the antidote to grave sinners and happy clappys, common varieties of evangelicals. We must know our sin but there is no Christianity without application of the atonement to our knowledge of sin... without forgiveness receive and the happy news of the Saviour whose love reaches even me.

She went to Jesus. She gave her heart. Because she was loved by Jesus.

Jesus - You are always welcome.

IMAGE: Creative Commons - BeanieBee

Monday, January 04, 2016

Worse than being wrong is being found out for being wrong


Last month, I opened the frontdoor to see the path sparkling. Not with snow but with little circles of silver and gold. A quick investigation revealed that these were indeed the contents of our advent calender - several weeks worth - eaten and then posted through the letterbox in an elaborate, if flawed, cover up effort. The inquiry quickly eliminated the two year old - unable to reach high enough. The other three people in the house flattly denied involvement, "it must've been someone else" - though one of them looked a little green, as one might, from consuming so much chocolate so early in the morning... the case remains unsolved.

I took it upon myself to offer some feedback to someone I was working with. A lengthy, detailed, picky piece of criticism. Met with a response: where do you get off saying stuff like that? We could query that response but the issue here is me. I began my defence, "If you consider my experience... and given what you did..." I backtracked a bit blaming circumstances "if you realise the pressure I've been under..." before finally falling on my sword "I was wrong. Sorry." Being wrong is one thing. Being found out for being wrong is a whole other thing. I wanted the ground to swallow me up. Just make me disappear. (This was a decade ago, I hoped I've learned from this experience... though sin remains.)

And so to Saul (1 Samuel 13:8-14)- fearful and impatient and proud, Israel's first king assumed the office of priest and offered a sacrifice instead of waiting for Samuel to come and do it. Then in perfect comic/tragic timing Samuel arrives. Wrong, and caught in the act. Quick, defend yourself. "It wasn't my fault. It was the people scattering, it was the enemy advancing, it was you not being here, it was God..." Like Adam, all over again.

Like Richard Nixon in the aftermath of Watergate, claiming: I always acted in the best interests of the nation. Saul claims to be the good guy. It'll cost him his throne.

Like Jose Mourinho blaming everyone else but not, in David Baddiel's words "taking a smidgin of personal responsibility" for the downfall of his title winning team. Though if the fault is with everyone else there's nothing more you can do, so the sack looms.

Like Sam Corey and Jim Giesick murderous con-artists who killed Patricia Albanowski for the insurance money and then characterised themselves as the victims rather than the perpetrators. You can't have people like that walking the streets.

My four year old, me, Nixon, Mourinho, Corey, Giesick, and Saul:
“People of the lie want to appear to be good people. They persistently refuse to tolerate a sense of sin, to take responsibility for their sin, to live with the sorrowful knowledge of it, and to pursue the painful way of repentance.” (Neal Plantinga)
Saul was a fool. A man who mistrusted his spiritual father Samuel, and mistrusted the LORD. But the moral of the story isn't don't be a fool. The Biblical story doesn't say don't be a fool, rather it offers salvation for fools, and the opportunity to feel a sense of sin, to take responsibility for it, to live in its sorrow, and to walk the painful path of repentance...

How? Because Saul isn't just an everyman, he was Israel's king. Their first king. They were ruled by Judges like Gideon, Samson, Deborah, and lastly Samuel. They said: Give us a king like the nations. And so they got the king they wanted - a handsome, powerful, giant of a man... not the king they needed. More Adam than Christ.

When Saul is on the throne, Masquerade rules. Everyone trys to look good but underneath the torrents of sin rage. As the king, so the nation. Saul must not continue to reign - a better king, one of God's heart must reign instead. When Christ is on the throne a wise king rules. One who has nothing to hide. Good through and through. Not an intimidating example, but a qualified substitute, a wise one to take the place of the fools, and bring them into his kingdom. One who allows the good sinner and the bad sinner to confess their sins in the safety of his atoning blood.

His kingdom is one in which vulnerability and authenticity and honesty about sin can happen. Those things are cool today but without Christ they're relational roulette for hipsters. Twenty three million people have watched Brene Brown's TED talk on Vulnerability over the past five and a half years. And it's good to be honest, but as Saul knew it's too dangerous when you don't have one you can trust to carry the weight of your sin... when you've got to make your own case for standing in this world cover-up is key.

Curiously, Brown's study of vulnerability led her back to Christ, and we'd be wise to follow the same path... to feel the sense of our sin and learn to walk as honest fools with the wise one. In him I find that I am wrong. In him I find that I'm found out - and yet, uniquely, am uttery safe.

IMAGE: Luca Rossato - Creative Commons

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Culture, creativity and curiosity


A few things people have made that I've enjoyed in 2015.
  • Best Film: Mad Max Fury Road
  • Best novel: Wise Blood (Flannery O'Connor)
  • Best TV series: Wayward Pines
  • Best podcast: Radiolab
  • Best album: Get to heaven (Everything Everything)
  • Best 'Christian' album: There is a light (Liz Vice)
  • Best non-fiction book: So, you've been publicly shamed (Jon Ronson)
  • Best 'Christian' book: A Wilderness of Mirrors (Mark Meynell)
  • Best training resource: For the life of the world (Evan Koons & friends)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Must we be beautiful people?


"You were never called to be average"
Tweeted the church leader, then retweeted by others, nearly seven hundred times.

To start with, this is like loopy politicians expecting every school to get above average grades... clearly most people will be average... and half might be below average, though granted some will be above average.

And then, there's that this is not remotely Christian. Now, sure, human beings are remarkable, divine image bearers, and I'm not saying we should ignore that. We're wonderfully, uniquely made.

But, the Christian faith isn't about being a star, being beautiful, being a winner. Karma is the worldview for winners. Christ is for losers. Winners can humiliate themselves to follow Christ but it's hard for them to do that.

Christian faith is the story of the Triune God, of the Son who was sent in the fullness of the loving Spirit to utter humiliation, in becoming human, and down and down, to being executed for us.

What are the marks of the Christian life?

 Ordinary. Mundane. 
 Mediocre. Normal. 
 Unspectacular. Plain. 
 Unimpressive. Humdrum. 
 Repetitive. Unseen. 
 Boring. Average.

I used to love to sing 'I'm gonna be a history maker' but really...  in a thousand unseen acts of service, yes...  in the daily dying for my wife, my kids, my friends, my enemies, yes....

The poison of celebrity culture has got in deep. Who are the most influential Christians in the world? Really, all the ones I've never heard of and never will. But we I buy into the game like everyone else. I follow the 'big names', buy their stuff. And I'm not necessarily criticising them. If you have a voice use it for good, but who needs to be a voice... can't I just be happy to be ordinary?

Jesus Christ was un-eye-catching, and the servant-of-all. The least. The disregarded. The excluded. The rejected. Not the darling of a well-lit stage. Not the charismatic leader of a religion, cause or business. Jesus Christ and him crucified, foolishness and weakness, divine wisdom and power.

Nothing necessarily wrong with presenting yourself well. Good design and good communication are important. But Christian faith isn't a product to be sold by hyping up people's value... but by hearing about the one who emptied himself of everything to stand in our place.

Something is dischordant about attempts to create impressive beautiful Christianity. Though, of course, there is something strangely beautiful about the cross of Christ that makes a deep impression on all who will have him.

Image - Creative Commons - Eric Hines