Sunday, March 30, 2014

Find me in the city

In the beginning, the creator paints in the broadest of brushstrokes.
The sky and the land, the land and the sea.
Cutting through the formlessless to give it form.
With the technology of language 'let there be light'.
The creator creates sub-creators who live in each of these.
Filling up what was empty with the possibility of fulness.
The birds of the sky, fish in the sea.
Animals and Homo Faber on the land.
To each he says - multiply and be fruitful.
First the Creator, then the sub-creators.
Make more of you like you.It is good but not finished.
Good but incomplete.
And to humanity last of all he says - have dominion.
It is very good but not finished.
Very good but incomplete.
Add the detail. 
Wield language and name animals.
Duckbilled platypus, a pig and a cow.
Take up tools and work the land.
Sub-create form and fulness, make a garden for praise.
A fracture, a scar, a cut in what's good.
Now, cultivate the wilderness of the land into habitats for life.
Garments to clothe you.
Farm and hunt.
Make fields and roads, irrigation systems.
Bridges, storehouses and distribution centres.
Make music.
A boat.
Learn and discover, imagine and innovate.
Taste and see that the LORD is good.
Explore the ends of the earth and all its landscapes and colours.
Spread out and bring order to chaos.
Pitch tents and built altars and bury your dead.
Bake bread.
Entertain angels.
In this place I will meet you, in the mud and the dust.
Learn to paint and have houses with doors.
Paint blood on your doorposts.
Construct what you see according to plan.
Write these things down.
Build houses and gardens, marry and have children
Work for the good of those around you. 
The urban legend of a wall visible from space.

Then the murmur of global communications.
Take the road to your family home.
The original language embodied.
Raised in the home of a skilled worker.
He speaks.
And walking towards the city.
Executed by an engineers woodwork.
Go to him there.
Outside the city.
Use the technology of roads.
Shared language spreads his goodness fast.
Go with him there.
Councils and creeds.
Libraries and Abbeys.
The Printing Press.
Empires on which the sun never sets.
Creativity in the art studio and creativity in the lab.
Develop tools to communicate and tools to understand.
Sail for the missionfield, out there.
Or build knowing those feet will walk here too.
Schools and sewers.
Fight against the frustration and the decay and the futility.
Parlimentarians and Toilet cleaners.
Bin men and Dentists.I believe I can fly.
Physicists, authors and customer service officers.
I have a dream.
One small step. One giant leap.Geeks in garages. IKEA. Google. iPhone.
Artisan coffee.
Write the next line.
See God's image in people.
The God who validates work.
Knowing physicality and order.
Fulness and form.
The first technologist leads the way.
From a garden in the wilderness.
To the end, in a Temple, a garden that's a city.
No disembodied future.
A renewed physical world.
With God.
With God who says:
Find me less in uncultivated wilderness.
Find me more in your work.
Find me where it's busy.
Find me where you are.
Find me in the city.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Less policy; more gospel theology

People who follow Jesus differ. Maintaining unity isn't easy. How do you do it? We need something better than requiring conformity.

In Romans 14, Paul identifies one cause of difference as being due to the strength/weakness of faith. He anticipates in Rome's church that people will look at the cleanness of food and the specialness of certain days differently. All food is clean and all days are holy for someone who follows Jesus, but some have weaker faith and don't embrace that freedom.

Principle 1. Welcome as God welcomed you (neither the weak or the strong in faith should judge the conservatism or liberty of the other).
Paul addresses how they welcome one another - 14:1-3. Knowing God's welcome of someone else (and yourself) defines your welcome of others. A strong faith appreciates God's welcome deeply, and is surely exponentially welcoming.

Principle 2. God cares about the heart more than its actions (tick box pastoral care isn't the gospel way).
We can want to keep everyone in line - but people aren't meant to live for people. We live for Jesus. And you need to get what you do right with him...  which can look deeply contradictory as one person's read on what will honour Jesus isn't quite the same as another person. The question is - what can I do with thanksgiving, what can I do worshipfully... for one they eat, another doesn't... one keeps a day special, another doesn't... and so on. Messy! The heart matters more than the outward action.

Some things are objectively right and others wrong. And Paul stands very confident for himself....

Yet, in the same breath, Paul takes the conscience very seriously. He who says he is 100% sure that foods are clean (Jesus said so!) values personal thinking and conscience very strongly.  If your faith is "weak" so that you can't bring yourself to fully live in the freedom you have in Christ, that's not something to take lightly. It's really serious:

Which stands as a strong warning to take care of our conscience. He says in the previous chapter that we should be submissive to authorities "for the sake of conscience" - because if we tolerate a rebelliousness towards government in our conscience it'll multiply a sense of rebelliousness in other decisions we face.

Principle 3. Certainty doesn't make you dogmatic, it makes you flexible (gospel-depths mean you're less shockable, less worries about other people, more self-forgetful).
Paul has deep convictions about what he believes. He is convinced. Certainty doesn't make for dogmatic approaches... Paul sees that certainty leads to flexibility. And the stronger the certainty the more flexible we should be - especially on things that aren't 'gospel issues'.

 e.g. The Kingdom is not a matter of food and drink... so don't fall out over food and drink. Don't make something secondary into a headline... don't divide over something that you can viably flex about. Ask what's good for the gospel more than what do I want. Ask what really matters and what really shouldn't.
The conscience can be re-calibrated and corrected... and it can be seared. We should take seriously what we think to be good and bad so that we don't harm ourselves... and also so we don't harm others. Those in Christ aren't to seek to destroy the work of God in others by riding roughshod over the conscience of others in Christ.

In matters of unity then....
Let's avoid making issues of things that aren't gospel/kingdom issues. There are hills to die on and there are hills not to die on. There are issues that should define us and issues that surely shouldn't.

Let's embrace the ambiguity and messiness of accomodating one anothers consciences. That'll draw some flak, it'll look messy and inconsistent, but guarding the gospel means guarding people's consciences.

Let's give room for faith to grow rather than destroying one another in a quest for neatness and people-pleasing.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

No God in the Old Testament unlike Jesus

Luke is a meticulous historian, gathering up eyewitness evidence about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But he's also a stellar theologian, interpreting the eyewitness testimony he records in light of the writings of Moses and the Prophets and Psalms to show the necessity of the death, resurrection and subsequent global proclamation about the Christ.

Luke says: this Jesus who was eyewitnessed is that Christ of the Scriptures.

Luke reports that Jesus' coming will bring forgiveness of sins like the sun rising for a new day (Luke 1). As Jesus dies Luke tells that the sun's light failed. Yet at dawn on the third day the Son comes, telling his witnesses that forgiveness is to be heralded to all people groups. No imperialistic imposition, but warm beams of divine love shining out from the risen Son.

Mike Reeves has said "there is no God in heaven who is unlike Jesus" and Luke would agree wholeheartedly. The Son reveals his Father whom only he knows.

But, Luke can go further and say that there is no God in the Old Testament who is unlike Jesus. There are gods who are most unlike him, vicious, lonely, manipulative idols whom Israel and the surrounding nations foolishly chase, but the LORD, the God of Israel is Jesus-shaped.

For us that raises questions because we live in days where we are prone to read a violent god off the pages of the Old Testament. There is wrath no doubt. There is divine jealousy. And exile and death. Pointing to the Christ's suffering...

Luke says: the message is clear - God's story with Israel sets the stage, provides the grammar, and all points to Jesus of Nazareth being the long expected Christ, the Son of God. There is much to wrestle with, but much is clear too: The Christ will suffer and rise, and repentance and forgiveness will be proclaimed to all peoples.

Could it be that to get an insight into Jesus' Emmaus Road bible study is to read Luke's gospel? Luke tells of the things that have been fulfilled (accomplished - Luke 1:1), things that the Old Testament had told must happened, the very theme of Jesus' third day teaching. Things to make your heart burn warmly within you, especially when taken with Bread.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Jesus enjoyed wine. Jesus had blisters.

I love this short video from Tanya Marlow

On Sunday I was reflecting on the resurrection appearance of Jesus with his friends in Jerusalem. I appears and they are doubting and troubled, though they become joyful and marvel. They assume he's a spirit but Jesus' kind of spirituality isn't 'spiritual' -- it's embodied, physical. Unlike Plato, unlike Mani, unlike so many of today's secular religion that struggle with bodies and food and sex and death, the follower of Jesus finds one who validates and values all of these things. And amazingly, there is now a physical human body in the life of the Triune God... and one day, he'll be back here on this planet, walking with his followers... and the frustration will be over, the blisters will heal and the wine will be better than ever.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Can we talk about talking about Jesus without sounding sinister?

On Sunday I spoke for our church on Evangelism. Usually talks on evangelism aren't presented in evangelistic contexts, but our church is exactly that. We operate on the assumption that we're not just gathering followers of Jesus but all kinds of different people. 

For me it felt like the latest in a long line of real-life exercises contextualisation, trying to embody the good news of Jesus so it can be heard by our city. It was hard work but I really do think its possible to talk about pretty much anything to do with the good news of Jesus with anyone - you just need to think hard about your tone and your language and your heart.

The follower of Jesus doesn't exist in a bubble away from everyone else in this world. But if we live like we have our own sub-culture we'll start to use language (which reflects attitudes) that is at best rude, and at worst at odds with the very good news we believe.

Terms like "Non-Christian" are major red-flags, for example. Conceptually I agree that the divide exists but to label 95%+ of the population with a term they'd never use to describe themselves is really strange and counter-productive. I want everyone to have the opportunity to explore the claims of Christ and to be assured that there's no hype or pressure or forcefulness going on.

Evangelism is a dirty word for many. Evangelism sounds sinister. Something unpleasant you "do" to people. I decided to take that head on attempting to take apart some of the bad stuff and suggest other ways of seeing things. There really is good news to be considered and I want to do whatever I can to enable others to consider Jesus for themselves and to know that telling that to others is not at all weird. In the end, evangelism only means telling others good news. And Jesus left people as witnesses, with personal experience and written testimony. Plenty that can be considered. 

I wanted those who were exploring with us to have an opportunity to explore further, in some cases in the hope that they might begin to follow Jesus, and for others to see that they might be involved in telling others what they've seen.You can hear/read how I went about this here. Far from perfect, but hopefully some small steps in the right sort of direction. I took Luke 24:36-53 as my text, with these headings:
1. Witnesses of Physical Evidence
2. Witnesses of Written Evidence
3. Witnesses with Heavenly Power

PDF script: Hearing God Speak through Telling Others. (I speak without notes but it is scripted in the preparation)

Monday, March 17, 2014

He was known to them in the breaking of the bread

On Sunday we considered Hearing God Speak through Communion. I was personally refreshed to consider this again and then to take and receive the bread and wine - physical proclamation of the good news of Jesus. We saw, from Luke 24:35 - "how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread."

Leithart puts it this way in a sermon on Luke 24:  
"But Word by itself is not enough. Even after Jesus has explained everything about Himself in the Scriptures, the two disciples still don’t recognize Him. That occurs only when He breaks bread with them It is the same for the church throughout the ages: The Word without the Bread is merely intellectual, detached from the things of real life; the Bread without the Word turns into a magic act. When the Scriptures are taught and the Bread is broken, then Jesus can be known."
Elsewhere he also notes from the structure of Luke 24:
"the point of the structure is to highlight the mission that the disciples are being given. Through an encounter with the Risen Jesus in Word and Meal, the two disciples go back to the base of operations in Jerusalem and are transformed into witnesses."
Spare half an hour to hear Stu's sermon here:  
Hearing God Speak through Communion.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Resurrection - Unbelieveable? (Michael Green)

Here's New Testament scholar Michael Green speaking to students at Bristol University on the resurrection of Jesus.

Friday, March 07, 2014

#WGUK14 Here is love (Matt Giles version)

Matt Giles has added some extra verses to a well known hymn and taught them on Friday evening at the Worship God UK conference.

Here is love vast as the ocean
Loving kindness as the flood
When the Prince of life our random
Shed for us his precious blood

Who is love cannot remember
Who can cease to song his praise
He can never be forgotten
Throughout heaven's eternal days

Here is love, that conquered evil
Christ the firstborn from the grave
Death has failed to be found equal
To the life of him who saves

In the valley of our darkness
Dawned his everlasting light
Perfect love in glorious radiance
Has repelled death's hellish night

Here is love vast as the heavens;
Countless as the stars above
Are the souls that He has ransomed,
Precious daughters, treasured sons

We are called to feast forever
On a love beyond our time
Glorious Father, Son and Spirit
Now with man are intertwined

The Gospels - Unreliable? (Michael Green)

 Well worth watching 83 year old ever-energetic New Testament scholar Revd. Dr. Michael Green speaking to a crowd of students at Bristol University on this vital question:

Thursday, March 06, 2014

The resurrection has NOT already happened!

There are people in the church who say "the resurrection has already happened." They may not use the phrase but the idea is gangrene. It is deathly. It is setting up a snare for people. It is the stuff of shipwrecked faith. It cuts off the blood flow and leaves parts of you dead. Dangerous stuff.

But, really? So says Paul to Timothy (2 Timothy 2).

Now, be clear. In the same chapter he says that Jesus is "risen from the dead." That resurrection has already happened. Our champion has his victory! But there is another resurrection to come.

The Christian life is union with Christ.
It is "if we have died with him, we will also live with him."
Repeated in parallel: "if we endure, we will also reign with him."
Death and resurrection. The cross and the crown.

But where are we today?

Some want to say we're in resurrection and reigning now.  I'd like that.

And in some senses we are. It's absolutely certain. As sure as Jesus' resurrection. Where he has gone we will go too. As for the King so for his people! We are seated in the heavenly realms as Paul says elsewhere.

But, here and now? Death or resurrection? The cross or the crown? The former in both cases. We might taste both at times, but predominantly now is on one side of this. Paul gets it as he tells the story (in 2 Timothy 4, based as GK Beale argues on Psalm 22's death and resurrection) of David and Jesus and himself and Timothy... there is a crown, after you die.

Understandably, with great longing and in anticipation of what's to come we can be tempted to get ahead of ourselves. But, if we have an over-realised discipleship (ORD), claiming for today what is largely ahead of us, we invite gangrene and ruin ourselves.
  • ORD can't handle Sin. We'll imagine that sin isn't a problem in life. We'll presume too much victory over our sin. And so sin will slip under the radar. We'll not take care to keep from the seduction of Dame Folly and to pursue the song of Lady Wisdom with due care. If you think there's only life and reigning then you'll forget to put sin to death, forget to have the Scriptures correct and rebuke your heart to lead you deeper into the love of Christ.
  • ORD can't handle Suffering. We'll imagine that the Christian life is to be triumphant and free of pain and tears. And one day it will be in the renewed creation. But as yet, this is not that day. If you think there's only life and reigning then you'll have no category for suffering, no grasps of the Psalmist's cry "we're dying all day long" (Psalm 44, cited in Romans 8) to make some sense of this fractured and fallen world.
It is more appealing to say that you can have it all today, that we can experience the fulness of resurrection life. But it's unreality. It's delusion. For now we die. Victory awaits but before that the race is hard. Day after day as we trust in the gospel that proclaims the death of death in the death of Christ, and the unveiling of life and imortality for any through faith in Christ.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

God's engineers and toilet cleaners: thinking about technology

I've been pondering the effects of technology on life, particularly through the lens of Christian life, ahead of a seminar on the subject at a conference later in the Spring. Some early sketches.

Many Christians measure their spiritual health by their personal bible reading. Yet, for 1500 years until the invention of the printing press that wasn't really possible for the vast majority of believers. They accessed the Bible, some times in their own language, as it was taught publicly, but wouldn't have imagined personally reading its pages.

Gutenberg's printing press changed your spirituality, though it made possible Popish indulgences that so provoked Luther. Technology changes your world. Technology, good, bad, neutral...

Christian conferences are also the fruit of technology that enables large residential and meeting facilities to be built and rapid transport to get people there, not to mention the technology that spreads word.Technology, good, bad, neutral...

Or think of the last century, weapons of war killed more people than any other century... and the tools of medical technology saved more lives than ever before. Some technology is only destructive, much can be used for good and bad ends. The tools of carpentry gave Jesus' adopted father his occupation, and were used in crucifixion. Roads can be an eyesore and spread pollution but Rome's roads allowed the quick spread of the good news of Jesus. The camera is the tool for capturing family memories, an artists eye and the abusive acts of the pornographer.  Technology, good, bad, neutral...

Among students we speak of a Christian approach to being an accountant or entrepreneur, engineer or educator. And people reply: what about a Christian approach to being a janitor? But the question is misplaced. We have toilets to clean because of ceramics and pipes and sewers and the great work of engineers... to create technology that has changed lives and increased health, and needs a degree of maintenance to remain good for us. There may not be a holy way to clean a toilet, except to do the work well. Technology can benefit life and create good work at all kinds of levels. Technology, good, bad, neutral...

We easily miss technology like the protestors against fracking who arrived dependent on the oil industry by car to sleep in nylon tents and sit on plastic chairs, heating clean water on their oil based stoves to drink coffee shipped on boats and planes fueled by oil...  Technology, good, bad, neutral...

Because of the physical and digital technology of the early 21st Century we find ourselves as members of the global village - interpreting our lives in light of events that would otherwise have had no bearing on us, our minds filled with things from outside our context... and now not learning things we would've previously have learned as we presume on the provision of Google for every day knowledge. In another age my wife wouldn't have a phone number and when distance separated us we'd only have been able to write by 'snail mail',... a little more recently I'd have learned her phone number from dialing it repeatedly... today it's information I can access but have never taken the time to learn. Technology, good, bad, neutral...

We're easily unaware of the technology we use, just as its not strange to hear people talk about getting away from the bustle of the city to be in creation, when you're arguably in a higher part of creation surrounded by divine image bearers in a cultivated and engineered landscape than you are alone in an place that hasn't been formed and filled by humanity.

In the early chapters of Genesis we find metal workers and musicians, technologists. Acts of being human, likely not by believers... but how much more should those who believe God seek to fulfill, in a fallen world, the mandate to have good dominion across the world, and to form and fill it, after the image of the God who shone light into darkness... into a world in which, through technology, you find yourself able to read, and access information, via an electronic device, powered by technology, with a body that has been sustained and nourished by food and water that reached you through a whole range of technology.