Thursday, May 31, 2012

Six thoughts on the Psalms

The Psalms are the biggest book in the Bible and probably hold the dearest place in the hearts of those who read them. They're a collection of songs, mostly by King David but with a number of other lyricists contributing - Asaph, the Sons of Korah - Levites, and many unattributed.

They speaks to the full range of human emotion and are rightly identified as giving permission to say what you're actually feeling. A Christian finds themselves inside the conversation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and needn't worry about what's appropriate to say - there is room to rage as well as to adore.

Six things I find helpful in navigating the Psalms.

#1 Five books.
There are five books of Psalms, marked out in the structure in most Bible's. There is a rough correspondance in themes between these and the five books of the Pentateuch. You'll find lots about trees and the blessed man in Book 1, as in Genesis. Deliverance in Book 2, like the Exodus. The Sanctuary in Book 3 etc.

#2 Headings matter
Don't skip the bits about David or the Sons of Korah, this sets the context. The Sons of Korah are resurrection men (check the background in Numbers). Don't miss Maskil, Gittith and words like Selah.


#3 Psalms on the lips of Jesus
Before you put a Psalm in your mouth, hear it in the mouth of Jesus. Jesus prays these before and more fully than we ever do. Steve Collier shows how to do this beautifully here: Psalm 22, Psalm 23 and Psalm 24. When you're with David in the Bible its always worth asking, how would Great David's Greater Son pray this Psalm?

#4 Read it like a book
Psalms feels like a song book where we can assume that you can just dip into Number 4 and then number 78 and then number 114. And you can, but the songs are arranged purposefully, not by Title or Theme but as sections of Scripture next to one another. Some of the plot is particularly clear (as above in Psalms 22,23,24).

#5 Let the Psalms speak of Jesus
These are songs of The Blessed Man, set on the Holy Hill whom the world raged against - take refuge in him. Hear the Son cry to his Father. Hear the gospel loud and clear in the Psalms like the NT writers, early church and most Christians until the last couple of centuries have. The second Adam rejoices and exults, and in his death knows what it is to be forsaken and to thirst. Songs of the Exodus and the Sanctuary and of persecution in the wilderness all speak of Jesus. We always need to "hook on" to the bigger story. Let the Bible's story of the Triune LORD, of Jesus the LORD who saves fill the Psalms with meaning.

Iain Campbell: "if Jesus is not the God of the Psalms, I do not know who he is at all." 

#6 Sing
In the end, sing. Join the songs of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Feel liberated to sing, and sing all the more richly as you let the Psalms sit in the context of their book and of the whole sweep of God's story.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Six thoughts on Proverbs


Proverbs can feel like the ultimately accessible book. Pithy sayings that are immediately available and applicable. What are we to make of this book? We have it as we have it - what to make of it's form? What is its message?

I'm no expert, but here's six things that seem worth considering...

#1 Proverbs claims to be by King Solomon.
Like the Song of Songs, and stands as one of the three books (with Ecclesiastes) recognised as being by David's son, though the authorship of all three would be disputed by many. These aren't the words of any old wise person, but of the King. Words for a nation, words for the community - but words that immediately carry a Messianic direction. It's going to be about Jesus.

#2 It offers itself as a book of riddles, asking who can solve the problem! 
Intriguing. The sayings are easy to fit in your mouth but rather chewy, requiring some meditation and careful application. After a while one has to ask whether we're meant to just apply them straight to ourselves or not... the final riddle is the riddle of the wife in chapter 31. Who can find such a woman?

#3 The book comes in five parts, like the Psalms and Pentateuch. 
Five books of Moses, of David, of Solomon. You have to ask why? Part 2 and 3 appear to be a jumble of sayings. Some even suggesting, there is purpose earlier and then Solomon gave up. No attempt is made in the middle sections to collate themes, and so tempting as it is to extract the proverbs from their contexts perhaps they are to be chewed upon as they come? That's not to say - don't collate the themes - it's in the image of God for us to seek The Scheme of Things, but before we schematise, let's hear Scripture as it comes.

Some of these are attributed to Hezekiah's men, suggesting at least some later editing beyond the days of Solomon. Divine inspiration is big enough to handle this. Parts 4 and 5 are brief and more coherently composed. Similarly divine inspiration can handle sections of the Proverbs being borrowed from other wisdom sources in Egypt and beyond, and included where they are in the context of this book in its five parts, and within the Canon. All creation sings of Christ, but we only recognise its song by the word of Christ.


#4 Chapters 1-9 are a coherent proverbial story.
"What do you know when you know a story?", it has been asked. A lot in the case of Proverbs! 

The king teaches a prince about who to marry, primarily. With Solomon evidently not being the Messianic Son of David, we have to ask whether his son will be... or his son... or his son. This is a classic gospel story. Will this son be like the First Adam and give his heart to folly, or will he be a second and last Adam who could give himself to Lady Wisdom? A similar question can be asked of The Blessed Man in David's Penta-songbook. Is he so wise that he is the wisdom that was with the Father before creation itself? The Son will take a bride... but who? This is gospel. The righteous one will be blessed. This is gospel. The cross may not be fully spelled out - though it is unsubtly implicit in all the talk of marriage. The stage is well and truly set. The Christ is the Wise one, and those who trust him become wise in him. Christ is our wisdom. His name is Jesus.
(Much credit to Peter Leithart's The Dramatic Structure of Proverbs.)

Proverbs 8 is vital to understand Christ. In the early church and perhaps as recently as Spurgeon and others, it has been obvious that this referred to Christ. The heretic Arius said it implied that Christ was created, to which the church fathers said it means Christ is "begotten not made!" - and then in our day we say it's not even about Christ at all... let us recover the one at the heart of all the Scriptures.

#5 Who is the Proverbs 31 wife?
Is she a model for all women - a high capacity stay-home Mum running a global business from the household? A soul-destroying portrait of perfection or a source of inspiration? Or is she rather The bride of the Wise Son? Might the story climax with his spotless bride? A portrait of the church? Is the answer to the riddle - the Son who gave himself to win a bride for himself?

#6 First The Son, then us in the Son.
Because the kings son is wise then there is wisdom for us to follow as we entrust ourselves to the son who was tested and disciplined and remained faithful. As we live in him with changed hearts and relationships, our hearts, our words, our work, our relationships begin to become more wise. Not simplistically rule keeping but wisely following Jesus, bearing much fruit in him. Wise living and Spirit-filled living coincide. Live by a list of Proverbs and you cut yourself off from Christ, live in Christ and Proverbs are rocket-fuel in your renewed heart, love languages, patterns by which to be entrusted to Christ, to live with his people and to serve all who bear his image in his world.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Six Words on Knowing the Love of God

My puritan hero Richard Sibbes preached a sermon called The Matchless Love and In-being from John 17 about what it means to live in the answer to Jesus' prayer that we be caught up, by the Spirit, into the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A prayer answered at Pentecost and every day as we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit - who makes us burst with the love of God.

The full sermon is in my edited volume The Sunshine of the Gospel and here's an extract:

 1. The Father loves Christ, because he is the first object of his love, his own image.
Christ represents God’s attributes, and whatever is good in him, in every way exactly. He is the Jedidiah, the beloved of the Lord. He is the true Isaac, the true matter of joy. He is the first Son, the first beloved.

2. After Christ, the Father loves all that are Christ’s with that love with which he loves Christ. 
There is love of God that gives us to Christ and now we speak of his love in our salvation. He loves Christ, and he loves us in Christ, and not otherwise.

Love moved him to give us to Christ. It must be such love and mercy, and so apprehended, as must be without offering violence or wrong to other attributes. His justice and his holiness must not be wronged.

Therefore though he loved those whom he knew before all worlds; yet in salvation to set his love upon them it must be in one who would make satisfaction for them, since they are sinners. God would have, in our salvation, the glory, as of infinite love to man, so of infinite hatred of sin, and likewise of infinite wisdom, in reconciling these together.

How could he show more his infinite hatred of sin? To punish sin his Son must become incarnate, to be a payment for sin and to take it away.

How could the Father show his infinite love more, than by giving such a gift as Christ, and his infinite wisdom, than to devise such a way as to bring these two together, justice and love, to reconcile them?

God loved those he foreknew to everlasting life, yet he intended in salvation to do it by showing his glory, that justice might fully be satisfied and especially that his mercy and love might triumph.

What in God stirred up a fatherly heart? What stirred him up to reconcile justice and mercy? His love! God loves us in Christ and only in Christ; because in Christ only his wrath is satisfied. Christ only is the mediator, the only treasury of the church to convey all to us. The adopted sons find their excellence, and all that they have, in the virtue of the natural Son.

3. The love of God to us is in Christ, loving us in him, as electing us, and doing all good to us in him.
This is the ground of all other favour and graces. He sets it here for us to see, ‘I have declared, etc., that the love with which you loved me may be in them,’ etc. What! Does he not say, that I might be merciful to them and pitiful, and that they may have other graces that love me? This is the spring of everything: ‘I have manifested your name,’ your gracious name, that in the apprehension of that they may find my love.

When we feel the love of God and of Christ, know that all other graces flow from this. All grace wrought in us begin with God’s love to us first. Pity and mercy and love come from God’s shining in our hearts first by his love that shapes and frames the heart to all duties and graces and to the first grace of love to God.

How can we love him unless we have an apprehension of his love first? You know iron, and stones, and things that are cold of nature, if they have any heat, we say it is the sun that has heated them, or the fire that has warmed them, because in themselves they have no heat.

Any goodness in the creature, any pity, mercy, or love to God, implies that there has been first the fire, the light of God's love to us. This love in them will be enough to set them on fire on all good things whatever. ‘We love him, because he loves us first,’ 1 John 4:19. We know him, because he knows us first, Gal 4:9, and we choose him, because he chooses us first. We joy and delight in him, because he joys and delights in us first.

Everything good we do is a reflex from him.

 4. This love of God to us may be known, and ought to be known of us. 
It may be known experientially and with an applied knowledge.

5. The way to know God's love to us, is the manifesting of his name in the gospel.
This follows from what has already been said.

 6. Christ being in us. 
We may know God’s love to us and we should labour to know it.  Not generally that he loves us, but that his love is in us, that it is incorporated and invested into us, so we can taste it and be sensitive of it. This is the goal of Christ’s prayer. How will we know this love? By the manifesting of God’s name by Christ. He is no hypocrite, he does not pray for something he will not work for.
The verse contains this blessed act of Christ.
1. What he has done: ‘I have declared your name’ 
2. What he will do: ‘and will declare it’ 
3. The end of it: ‘that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’

Sibbes goes on to define faith as apprehending the love of God in Christ. Faith is what happens when our hearts see the love of God in Christ. As the church father's delighted to say, we become God - entering into the relationships of the Father, Son and Spirit. We participate in the divine nature, we're caught up into their life by virtue of our union with Christ. So, Christ' prays. So, let us expect.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Six approaches to The Story of Joseph

A question about interpretation of the Bible.

Take the story of Joseph, Genesis 37-50.

#1 A feel good hero
A story inspirational enough to inspire Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Is his 1970s Disneyfied reading the true meaning?

#2 Joseph a christ
Or what about the classic interpretation of Joseph for most of church history - that Joseph is a Type of Christ, a beloved son who suffers and figuratively dies, but who is raised up to feed the world? In this, telling the dreams is revelation of the way that he'll lovingly provide rather than arrogance. Jesus says Moses wrote about Jesus...

Or, a more modern reading, that it's a story about either (three variations on 'Be Joseph'):

#3 Suffering in general
People might mean things for evil but God is always working for good?

#4  Providence in general
Similar to the previous, with an encouragement that you might be falsely accused etc but nonetheless finally vindicated. Both #3 & #4 major on the summary verse in 50:20 about the brothers evil intent and God's good plan.

#5 Lessons in Leadership,
With warnings to not to be arrogant (even if you're right) and to flee temptation and so rise to greatness like Joseph, but also to plan for the future, hear God etc. Application to leadership is of course possible from each of the above options too - from a search for the hero inside, to the kind of leadership we see in a christ, and how to face suffering and hardships etc.

Should we teach all of them? Some of them? Only one of them? Or something else?

#6 ?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Six reasons for a Christological reading of the Song of Songs


I'm persuaded that The Song of Songs has a BOTH-AND meaning. It has much to say about marriage and also much to say about the True and Greatest Marriage, the Typical Marriage, the Real that all marriages echo and shadow - the marriage of Christ and his people. Because:

#1 Marriage is really about Christ.
This is Paul's argument in Ephesians 5. Really, he's talking about Christ and the church, though he's talking about marriage. That doesn't mean husband's and wives don't apply Ephesians 5 to their marriages, but that they're meant to finally look to Christ and his church. The greater and eternal marriage sets the stage for our smaller and temporal human marriages.

#2 History
By far the dominant reading of this book historically is to take it Typologically, pointing to Christ. This is to say we've got really got to it's meaning, intention or application if we've not heard it speak of Christ's love for his people. We might draw a true word for human relationships but the road goes further. Sometimes Typological commentators slip into fanciful allegory - but those who leave the song in the human bedroom do the same! To say it's *just* about human marriage a popular view today, but is the minority view in the story of the church. The Reformers, Puritans and Church Fathers, Edwards and Spurgeon were not bad handlers of the Bible. They were persuaded that Christ casts his shadow over all of it.


#3 The Language of The Song
This isn't just love poetry it's love poetry about a Shepherd King and the one he loves, with wilderness and myrrh, about 'the lover of my soul' and love that's strong as death. The Song is written in the language of the Pentateuch, the language of the LORD's relationship with his people.  It's not just any old poetic language and imagery, it's gospel-laden.

#4 The Beauty of Christ
Christ is beautiful and we need the wasfs of The Song, the love poems that call us to dwell upon the beauty of Christ, to let our hearts sing of him. Human marriage needs the intense contemplation of poetry too, but so does the church's relationship with her Saviour.

#5 He loves us
Some are reluctant to speak of this, suggesting it's not substantial enough or is subjective etc. The Love of Christ for his people, demonstrated at the cross, won at the cross, flowing from the eternal love of the Trinity is unmatched and has to be sung of forever. The Song gives words for this relationship - and we do sing it even when we might not realise it. "For I am his and he is mine", "Altogether lovely". The Song serves, in this, as an antidote for individualism because it invites our first thought to be of Christ and the church, though Galatians 2:20 tells us he also loves ME, leading careful exegetes to say that The Song does speak of the church but also of each of her members.

#6 The Divine Romance
Martin Luther lifts his language for the gospel from the genre of The Song, Hosea and Ezekiel to speak of the King who marries a prostitute. Why should divine romance ok from Hosea, Ezekiel and Psalm 45 but then not The Song? Jesus is the husband to the church, who has a divine jealousy for us - whose love burns when we're seduced away, whose love laid down his life for us, whose love is our hope. Human marriage has union between husband and wife because there is union with Christ through the gospel...


What do you think?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Six thoughts on the Bigness of God

I like the song, so does my toddler:  

Our God is a great big God, Our God is a great big God, Our God is a great big God, And he holds us in his hands. He's higher than a sky scraper, and he's deeper than a submarine. He's wider than the universe, and beyond my wildest dreams. And he's known meand he's loved me, since before the world began. How wonderful to be a part of God's amazing plan. Our God is a great big God (Jo & Nigel Hemming. Copyright © 2001 Vineyard Songs)

No beef with the song, but what are we talking about when we talk about our God being so BIG?

Six thoughts:

#1 The bigness of God isn't creation magnified.
The heretic Arius thought that we should conclude that god is the Unoriginate behind the originated creation. Impersonal, powerful and yet would you want to know the god of the Jehovah's witnesses... as they will tell you, he doesn't really want to know you - prefering to keep his distance.

#2 The bigness of God isn't OMNI
The Greek philosophers figured that god is a god of great attributes, bigger than everything else. Omniscient. Omnipotent. Omnidextrous etc. Like creation but bigger. Might leave you awestruck but not so safe. Attempts to impress leave me strangely cold... Start personal (see below) and then we can certainly talk in terms of the extent of his knowing and power etc. Then we get a knowing that isn't a spying big brother but a caring father, a power that isn't abusive and controlling but sufficient to save and give life.

#3 The bigness of God is small
The Triune God sends out his son, to assume human flesh and make his dwelling among us so he could heal us. The God who weeps, who loves, who eats, who aches with compassion for us.

#4 The bigness of God is shameful
Our God is so big he chose to die on a cross. If this was a popularity contest that was about impressing the world then this is a very strange way to go about it. It looks weak and foolish rather than strong and powerful.

"he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, 
and no beauty that we should desire him."

#5 The bigness of God looks like Jesus
So big he's who you know when you know Jesus. Introduced personally. The Son introducing God as Father. You don't have to see a big landscape to see god, you have to see a person. (And that's why you can see the finger prints of god at least as clearly among people as being alone by the sea or the moors... because nothing looks like Jesus more than people, and even more people loving one another).

#6 The bigness of God is self-giving love.
God's love is big. His glory is his giving. He didn't come to wow the world but to woo. He didn't come to impose upon us but to serve. His sovereignty isn't in spying on us but in caring for us. His sovereignty isn't a thumping fist but a kind hand. Look at Jesus, just look at him. His Father and the Spirit sing of his giving love.

Our God is a great big God. So big he was crucified. So big that he loved. So big that he doesn't seek our performance but freely and lovingly gives all that he has to us.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Six Questions Every CU Leader Should Ask

Andy Stanley recently released a podcast of six questions every leader should ask. Read Six points or better still, listen: Podcast
  1. Which gauges should we be watching?
  2. Where are we manufacturing energy?
  3. Who needs to be sitting at the table?
  4. Who is not keeping up?
  5. Where do I make the greatest contribution to the organization?
  6. What should I stop doing?

Leadership (or Administration) is a grace gift. The questions leaders face might feel less than spiritual but they need asking. What we do is based on what we think matters - for good or for bad. Stanley questions are asked in a growing church situation. Let me translate them to a CU where leaders serve the University by leading the Christian students in mission.

Lots of the life of CU isn't 'organised' but relational involvement in the mission of God. Leaders will choke that mission, or they can faciliate and resource it. Asking good questions will help.

1. Which gauges should we be watching? 
This might not be the president's job but someone should be measuring what's happening. 
Sometimes we can get oversensitive against numbers but numbers are people - and there are a lot of them who don't know Jesus. In the South West we're 750 Christian students among about 75,000 under-graduates. Ninety-nine of every one hundred students isn't a Christian. Perhaps 98 if you account for Christians not in CU - but 'student in church' suggests that's all.
The student-world is fast paced and has a short memory. Past performance indicates future trajectory and we need to learn quickly. When are the peaks and troughs in the student year? When do events draw a crowd and when don't they - and why? Who are we reaching? Are we reaching anyone? How are the numbers at the prayer meeting? Which people should be in the CU who aren't - and how can we win the because we need them? Who is tracking guests who come to event? Are you using an effective 'Like to know more' system to help people journey with Jesus? Are people quickly contacted?
Some people in your CU will be data-geeks - deploy them to serve the CU's mission.

2. Where are we manufacturing energy? 
What are we doing because it's always been done rather than because we believe in it.Ask around, try to learn why it was happening - should it be rebooted? Or should it be axed to make space for the next thing? A common temptation here is to cut time where students have the Bible open because it doesn't appear to have immediate mission cash-value... you can over-fill someone's diary but if we're not encountering Jesus together in his word we drift to apathy or guilt-driven mission.

3. Who needs to be sitting at the table? 
Decision making. CU committees can spend huge amounts of time in committee meetings trying to make all  the decisions. A CU team can afford to meet briefly, fortnightly, to check the gauges. Most decisions don't need 8-10 people to make them. A camel is a horse designed by a committee. Release control and let the right people make the decisions.  Different decisions need to be made by different people.

Also, who are the key leaders in the CU for the decisions you need to make? They might not be 'the committee' in every case. Planning evangelistic events think about your most gifted evangelists. Have them in the room. What kind of opportunities can your best inviters make use of? What kind of contexts allow your best evangelists opportunities to talk with those who aren't Christians? What opportunities can involve the best evangelists the local church has?

4. Who is not keeping up? 
In a church context, someone might start out leading a youth group of 10 and help it grow to 100 but then not actually have the capacity to maintain or grow the work further. In CU the best translation is to ask, do we have the right people in the right places? Are we giving time consuming pastoral or administrative roles to evangelists? Are we burying pastoral people in paperwork? Etc. 

5. Where do I make the greatest contribution? 
A question to ask of myself and to ask others to observe about me too. The CU exists to give every student at our University the opportunity to hear of Jesus and respond to him. What role am I playing in that? How do I need to change? Who am I discipling? Which Christians and non-Christians am I teaching about Jesus? Which friendships should I invest in more?

6. What should I stop doing? 
If you're a Senior Pastor in a big church like Andy Stanley is, you might get to write your own job description and staff for your weaknesses....  the point though is about giving yourself to what you're best able to contribute to the CU's mission. Not an excuse not to do the hidden, weak and uncool acts of service - but an opportunity to ask: what - that I'm responsible for doing - could someone else do better now or grow to do?
Ask yourself - what would the next guy do? If (and when) they get rid of us... do what they'd do.
What would a great leader do - entrusted with our vision?

There are other questions a CU leader should ask too, like what does Jesus mean to me?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Six words to reveal the heart

About decade ago Donald Miller wrote a book that I probably should have read, it was recommended to me but I never got round to until this year. Towards the end he wrote:

"Alan went around the country asking ministry leaders questions. He went to successful churches and asked the pastors what they were doing, why what they were doing was working. It sounded very boring except for one visit he made to a man named Bill Bright, the president of a big ministry. Alan said he was a big man, full of life, who listened without shifting his eyes. Alan asked a few questions. I don't know what they were, but as a final question he asked Dr. Bright what Jesus meant to him. Alan said Dr. Bright could not answer the question. He said Dr. Bright just started to cry. He sat there in his big chair behind his big desk and wept. When Alan told that story I wondered what it was like to love Jesus that way. I wondered, quite honestly, if that Bill Bright guy was just nuts, or if he really knew Jesus in a personal way, so well that he would cry at the very mention of his name. I knew then that I would like to know Jesus like that, with my heart, not just my head. I felt like that would be the key to something.

SIX WORDS: WHAT DOES JESUS MEAN TO ME?

I "talk Jesus" for a living. I've been doing it for about a decade.
In 10 years of ministry you read some books and you come to know some stuff.
And you can start to think you know what you're talking about.
Facts and figures are questions I could answer.

But it was never meant to be about expertise in a subject.
Paul, whose ministry felt like childbirth wrote to Christians in Turkey (Galatia).
They were turning their backs on Jesus and he said:
"You have come to know God, or rather to be known by him". 

When did I ever think it was firstly about me knowing God, I'm known.
Known, not in the omniscience kind of knowing that people might attribute to their gods.
But known personally, in all my insecurities, flaws, weaknesses.
And yet known. Yeah, a tear-stained life would be a good thing.

Look at Jesus, just look at him... "who is your beloved?"
Her heart sings, and I listen. And I see.
"Where is your beloved that I can seek him with you?"
Ask me good questions. Please.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The God Who Failed?

Chris Oldfield is one of our London CU staff, and in this talk at LSE he sets up a dialogue between Professor John Gray and the Apostle Peter (from 1 Peter 1:1-11)
"The belief that a new kingdom was at hand was the heart of his message and was accepted as such by his disciples. The new kingdom did not arrive, and Jesus was arrested and executed by the Romans. The history of Christianity is a series of attempts to cope with this founding experience of eschatological disappointment." (Black Mass, John Gray)
vs. A living because of the resurrection of Jesus.
The empty cry of frustration vs. the weight of glory...

Chris Oldfield - 1 Peter 1 - Living Hope & Reasonable Faith (mp3, 27mins)
Chris Oldfield - 1 Peter 1 - Living Hope & Reasonable Faith: Powerpoint

Forgotten is the minor key (Dave Bish, What you think matters)

Saturday, May 05, 2012

What's so wrong with adultery?

In The Times today Alain de Botton has a piece that is provocatively advertised which is a trailer for his next book "How to think more about sex".

Can the reader think differently about adultery? De Botton argues that part of our problem with adultery and with marriage is a belief in idealism. We think marriage is easy and that adultery will counteract the challenges.

He's not making moral statements about adultery being right or wrong; he's saying people get adultery 'wrong' if they think it can 'fix' the obvious and inevitably difficulties of marriage. Which could be said of all "sin" - we follow our hearts but outside of Christ on the promise of joy, but there is futility, frustration, emptiness...


I find Alain de Botton fascinating. I've recently enjoyed his book Religion for Atheists and his Channel 4 series on Happiness and Architecture.

He feels like a non-Christian liberal churchman, in that he argues that todays atheists should obviously not believe in God but should embrace the models of community and education and kindness that religions offer. Where Richard Dawkins sounds like an angry Anglican atheist, wanting a moral existence but still bearing a grudge against the house that formed him, still perhaps secretly believing that god might burn him for his insolence... Alain de Botton is more relaxed. He reads like a happy man pusuing happiness, an honest thief who happily steals the church's silver, at peace with his atheism. If the only option with Dawkins is to unsuccessfully invite him to debate, with de Botton I can imagine a dialogue, a polite conversation over a glass of fine wine... in which I'd probably leave feeling a little patronised but also helpfully provoked.

On marriage, de Botton says "there is no answer to the tensions of marriage if by answer we mean a settlement in which no party suffers a loss". Beyond a little realism and tolerance he doesn't really have much of an answer. The Christian says, of course marriage is a fight, and one in which without Christ it's hard to survive...  there is always "a loss" or a cost.

Love worth having always costs someone. Life follows death.

My wife and I recently spent a weekend away with a dozen couples from our family of churches, all of us in leadership in our churches, getting support to grow in our marriages. Some friends asked: are you struggling? Shocked that we'd gladly seek help. We're always struggling, always wanting help to grow together.

Marriage is two important to not invest in.

Of infidelity de Botton comments "if one partner should happen to slip, the other might forgo fury in favour of a certain bemused amazement". As a general principle of grace and forgiveness in a relationship that's helpful, though adultery is more than just a "slip", which I think he does recognise earlier in the article.

Personally and honestly, approaching our 10th wedding anniversary this summer, I think our marriage is in better health than its ever been, better as we grow older, better as we grow in Christ, which brings both growth in self-giving, humility, generosity... and I thank God that by the grace of God, with much bickering, argument and stubbornness (along with countless priceless moments) we've made it this far!

De Botton asks "Is monogamy an impossible ideal?" Yes and no.

Alain has a slightly pessimistic hopefulness saying "spouses who remain faithful to each other should recognise the scale of the sacrifice they are making for their love and for their children... fidelity deserves to be praised - ideally with some medals and the sounding of a public gong - rather than discounted as an unremarkable norm."

The whole story of the Bible demonstrates that humanity failed to be monogamous with our loving maker, and the same corruption marks our relationships with one another to varying degrees.

We think we'll be happy elsewhere, but its a lie. There is one who truly loves, who is always faithful and his love is poured out for those who are utterly unfaithful. The ideal, that for which we have an inconsolable longing is... well, beyond our grasp but has come to grasp hold of us at the very greatest cost.

 Hear Alain de Botton in Bristol on May 16th  
Alain de Botton: How to think more about sex

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Be strong and courageous!

Generations of good hearted believers have been sent into action, into martyrdom or monasticism, mission or church planting with the LORD's words to Joshua ringing in their ears. Be strong and courageous. But will it really do to cast ourselves as Joshua in this story? Like David vs. Goliath?

Joshua is Moses' heir which immediately makes him something of a saviour for his people.

Moreover he is promised successful conquest not just of a strip of land but from the Med to the Euphrates....  more land that the people ever had, even at the height of Solomon's reign. Joshua is promised the world, if he will be devoted to the word of the LORD.
" Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."
Read your Bible's Oh Heroes! Or, perhaps that means to cast him as a King (Deut 17)? For the King will hold to the law, never wavering from trust in the LORD. The King whose LORD will always be with him...

The people cry that they will obey Joshua, as their fathers did Moses.
"Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:7-8 ESV)
Trust him and live, distrust and die. This is faith in a Saviour not about dutiful obedience. The people have faith in their Saviour King, the LORD and his Anointed... though they'll waver.

If I'm Joshua who must obey me? If I'm the people, who do I obey? To obey is surely to trust the Saviour, as the people entrusted themselves to Joshua. Joshua, the one whose name is Jesus....

(Some say it's about me not Jesus.... but we can't just read ourselves into a text.
Some will say I'm reading Jesus into the text... but the Scriptures are about him before they're about us, and they're only for us because they're about him. He casts his shadow over all the Scriptures and it's good exegesis to see how.)

Having a saviour who can take the land is good news cos honestly I'm weak and fearful. He however trusts his Father and his Father was always with him - bar one moment when he was forsaken, and that for me.

With Jesus it's not "come and see how good I look" as Ron Burgundy would say. It's not I can do it... it's see what he has done. Joshua is a type of the true Joshua, imperfect and only a shadow, but a shadow nonetheless, who will enter into the land alongside the the Commander of the LORD's Army, Joshua and Jesus together.