Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Every story whispers his name

Since my first son was very young Sally Lloyd-Jones' The Jesus Storybook Bible has been staple reading in our house. We've probably read it 60-70 times through. A potent dose of Tim Keller style gospel-centred Bible reading, translated for little people, illustrated by Jago and placed in the hands of parents as they pastor their children.
Cultural alarm bell! We're teaching our faith to our children!!! Are we indoctrinating them? Well, on one level - yes. Everyone is. You can try to keep your kids neutral but that's loaded with presuppositions and convictions and beliefs,... We've sought to thoughtfully teach our children the Christian faith, always welcoming and inviting questions from them. And it's remarkable how they can tell the difference between what's true and what's made up in life... they read our passions and our indifference, and more than that they read our lives with extreme scrutiny. Further, if you can permit a moment of faith, if my children can recognise their parents voice in even their earliest days of life, then if there's a Father in heaven, why shouldn't children discern and recognise his voice even more easily... Of course if it's not true then it's just a story, but isn't it strange firstly how much of an impact Jesus has made on this world, and secondly, how all the best stories seem to echo and imitate 'the true myth'...
Now, I don't hold us up as an ideal family for teaching our kids. We fail and our approach may have not been the best, nor necessarily replicable. Anyone offering a one size fits all approach to anything involving kids is probably on shaky ground.

Before putting the children to bed, we've tended to read some stories and then read the Bible, prayed and open up discussion to any questions, varying our approach and adapting our routine as the children have grown, and as seasons of life have changed - new siblings, illness, behavioural and bedtime challenges and other circumstances have meant many adjustments and corrections to our course.

The Jesus Storybook Bible has probably the most influential book in mine and my wife's faith over the past seven years. On many days, it has been the only book and the only Bible our exhausted bodies and minds could handle. Sweet sustenance in the parched desert of early parenting.

Stepping back a bit, I really think it is one of the best Christian books I've read and I'd recommend it to anyone, parent or not. I might quibble with interpretations in one or two places and I wish that some other moments had been included, but this book is consistently strong. Moreover, me-centred or simply muddled Bible reading is so very common, and this book offers a thoughtfully-clear, engaging and imagination-sparking roadmap. And when you're too tired to read, you can have David Suchet read it to you.

It's taught my eldest son to read the Bible looking for Jesus, affirmed his divinely designed desires that the story should have a happy ending, and challenged him about the state of his little heart.

He's an avid reader and we've recently given him an International Children's Bible (NCV), and he's lapping it up a chapter a day - through Genesis at the moment. Lloyd-Jones has given him landmarks on the vast landscape of the Biblical world, and as my boy discovers there are stories beyond, he's atuned to ask the same sort of questions, to make good connections, and to be drawn further in (and further up) into the story of Jesus,

His younger brothers still use theirs, along with other children's Bible for variety, but we don't turn to the Jesus Storybook Bible as often, at the moment, but I doubt it will gather dust for too long - it's a faithful friend who we'll want to spend time with again.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What's in a name?

In the spirit of Shakespeare we might ask "what's in a name?"

Among evangelicals "nominal Christianity" is disdained. At times we look down our noses at those who are Christians "in name only." Charles Taylor's analysis, rightly or wrongly, suggests that we evangelicals are descendants of a move to take faith more seriously, of zeal and enthusiasm. He criticises this for causing many to depart from the faith. Similarly the study 'Christianity and the University Experience' suggests that evangelical Christianity at University is, observably, about as attractive as it is repulsive, it's zeal draws people to Christ, the same zeal drives as many away.

Jesus, Luke, Paul and Isaiah would perhaps counter: the stone has been laid in the road - some will have faith in him, some will stumble over him. Sociologically, zeal might appear to be the issue. Theologically, Christ is the issue. Moreover, in favour of zeal and consistency, Christ doesn't appear to be one to take lightly. Christianity is a radical departure from death to life, dark to light, Adam-ism to Christ-ism. In the Bible truth matters, a consistent worldview is presented and a story in which one day things are as they should be.

That said...
(a) Are any of us actually close to taking our faith seriously? Whose zeal gets anywhere near what would be appropriate? Relatively speaking, aren't we all nominal believers? Weak in faith? Inconsistent? Mixed up? Sinning though we know better.
(b) And, isn't a kind of nominalism exactly the nature of Christian faith. The focus of faith isn't how faithful or faith-filled we are but the one in whom we have faith, or more rightly, in whose name we're found. To be a believer is to be "in Christ", to pray "in Jesus name" as those whose names are graven on the heart of our high priest.
Paul writes to his friends in Rome (Romans 13), in his implications of the gospel, that they're to put off the darkness and put on the armour of light... to make no provision for flesh and it's desires but rather to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. The day is at hand! You can change! Yet he also says, in Romans 7, that there is a deep tension in life between the flesh and the Spirit - such that we don't necessarily do what we want, we don't always act in accord with who we are... though that's not to deny a genuine change. The Christian does now want to do good, but carried around in perishing flesh still falls short of that new life.

Insisting on consistency is probably problematic. Longing for it - normal and good.

As Luke Ijaz reflects:
There are degrees of faith and some have more than others, but in the end the Christian faith isn't about strength of faith so much as the strength of the one in whom we have faith. Let my life be changed, but let it be the change-bringer who catches the eye. All eyes on The Name.

Here is good news: my past and my present and my future are in the one who is outside me. However experienced or experiential my faith is or isn't, what counts isn't my experience, consistency or zeal. What counts is Christ and him crucified.

In believing the gospel of Christ. I am put in Christ. The zeal of the Lord has accomplished this.

Jesus receives the inconsistent, the failure, the misunderstanding, the rebel and the betrayer. He wants us and claims us as his own by his gospel. Jesus wants the unfinished and the messy. And he wants to put his name on us as we believe his gospel, as we're baptised into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The once beautiful rose of my life might be tattered and damaged that it could barely be called a rose... but, as Matt Chandler puts it, Jesus wants the rose.

He claims me as his own, and my name on his heart. I am his and he is mine. Faced with the situations of life, I want to know him more. I want to trust him more. I want to repent more. I want to be more self-forgetful. The substance of my faith is not any of the my-ness of my faith, but rather that Christ died for sinners, of whom I'm the greatest sinner I know. 

My hope is that my name is on him and his name is on me.
Father... in Jesus name. Amen.

Image: Allng - Creative Commons

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

She forgot me (Hosea 2:13)

Through the unique ministry of Hosea, the Lord charged Israel, 2500 years ago, with forgetting him.

We sing: "Who his love will not remember?" They didn't.

What does it mean that they forgot the Lord?

Don’t hear carelessness. It’s not “I forgot to buy apples.” Or “I forgot Mother’s Day.” 

 Everything in the life of Israel was designed to remind them of the Lord and his salvation.

 • Every reminder on their smartphone…
 • Everything in their wardrobe…
 • Everything in the kitchen cupboards…

The laws, customs, architecture and music of their culture, divinely designed to saturate their society with the gospel.

Put simply, no one in Israel, then, forgot the Lord unless they deliberately suppressed the knowledge he’d given them in the Law. And it's not exactly like those of us who aren't Israelites don't do that either - the heavens have been declaring the glory of God for a very long time, and Jesus is pretty famous...

The only way to forget the Lord was to cover your ears and your eyes… and cry out: lalalalalalalala.

 And, we should note that this wasn’t shutting out an oppressive dictator but the Triune God, the one who in the person of his Son, their loving husband, had rescued them. How could they?

How could they… You and I wouldn’t do that, would we…!?

Image - Creative Commons - Jonathan Grado