Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Monday, October 08, 2012
Well I thought I would dust off the cobwebs of this here blog and write something since it is a ridiculous amount of time since I last posted anything.
Just thought I would share briefly where I am at. Yes I know you probably don’t care but it is simply for the reason of sharing two songs that I find so helpful when I am spiritually as dry as a bone baking in the desert sun. Which I am right now! We all go through dry times at various points in our spiritual walk and I am certainly no exception. In fact for me it is more a rule than an exception. Sometimes I am there out of my own doing because I am lazy and sinful and often chose the easy worldly options to feel better than the Road Less travelled of spiritual discipline in prayer and meditation on the Bible. Sometimes life kicks you there unexpectedly and before long you are walking round in circles in the sand. Currently both of those are probably true. I got kicked here at the beginning of the year and have stayed there because of the aforementioned.
So what keeps me going in these parched and weary lands that I walk far too often. Firstly the grace of God. Simply if God did not keep me I would have walked away years ago. He sustains me somewhere deep down and stops me from walking away. Where else would I go? (John 6:66-69)
However I have two songs that I find bring me light in the darkness of the soul. First is the aptly titled ‘Desert Song’ by Hillsong. It is an honest statement of declaring praise to God in the midst of hunger and thirst and in spite of it. It reminds me not to rely on my feelings and to rest on the truth of who God is. Take my eyes of circumstances and lift them to the one who sustains all things.
Second song is ‘In Christ Alone’ by Stuart Townend. There is not a greater recent song that declares such deep biblical truth as this does. From beginning to end it encapsulates the Gospel of Jesus Christ so succinctly. For that reason alone it brings water to my soul and reminds me of the profound truth that I am saved by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone in Christ Alone! That is the rock upon which I stand knowing nothing I do can change that truth. How I feel does not change that truth. I cannot earn salvation so I need to flippin well stop acting like I can.
Anyway from one traveller to another I commend these songs to you. The Versions in the You Tube videos are by Natalie Grant simply because I like these versions best! Read the Words and listen to the songs and bathe in the eternal truths of scripture!
This is my prayer in the desert
When all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is the God who provides
This is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flame
I will bring praise, I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice, I will declare
God is my victory and He is here
This is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I’ll stand
BRIDGE: All of my life in every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship
This is my prayer in the harvest
When favour and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be emptied again
The seed I’ve received I will sow
In Christ Alone
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied -
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine -
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
This is not a review of the episode per se but some observations from it.
The recent episode of Dr Who was entitled ‘The God Complex’. This title was given to the Dr, by the Muslim character Rita, for taking charge and giving the impression that he could save everyone.
The basic premise of the episode being that there was this creature that looked like a Minotaur that was very old indeed, had previously set itself up as a God on other planets, they then ‘grew out of’ their need for Gods and built this prison ship for the creature and sent it off on its merry way. The creature and ship formed a sort of symbiosis whereupon the ship scoured the galaxy for people with very strong faith and pulled them aboard whereupon the creature fed upon the energy of their faith once it was suitably invoked. This was done by the people being placed in a holographic 80’s Hotel with many rooms, each of which contained some deep rooted fear for the individual causing them to fall back on their faith.
As an episode it was enjoyable and well done. Particularly David Walliams character who initially appeared as simply a cowardly amusing humanoid alien. Indeed the most invaded race in the Galaxy but actually turned out to be the most sinister, in that he would do anything to avoid being killed including betrayal.
The Tardis ended up there due to Amy’s total faith in the Doctor to save her.
Theme of Faith
‘everyone believes/puts their faith in something’
It is this theme of faith I wanted to comment on. According to the story it was people with a particularly strong faith in ‘something’ that resulted in them being taken. Whether it be a Muslims faith in God, a Gamblers faith in chance and luck or one persons faith in another, as per Amy in the Doctor. Interestingly the character of Rory was given the opportunity to leave as he apparently had no faith at all in anything (I disagree but I will come back to that).
What I found interesting is the observation that even in these times when ‘religious faith’ is seen to be on the wane, many people still believe in something. Dr Who confidential had an interview with the writer Toby Whithouse where he explained in more detail his thinking.
However I believe this should more accurately be stated ‘everyone believes/puts their faith in something’. I believe it to be a universal constant that every human being firstly has faith and secondly puts that faith in something, someone or several different somethings or someones (sorry about the poor english there!).
Put another way every human being gives themselves to the worship/idolisation of something or someone or to the aforementioned somethings or someones. But wait a minute, aren’t ‘Worship or Idolisation’ strong words to use. Yes they are very strong actively ‘doing’ words. They are not passive words at all and this is my point.
Let us define worship as ‘giving of oneself to’, ‘pouring oneself out to’ or ‘looking to XXXXX’ in order to provide meaning, security, worth to that person. The thing that when taken away would prove devastating to the person and is the thing that a person would most fight for if it was threatened.
The Drive to Worship
We all do it! It is a universal human desire to find security, meaning and worth for ourselves. This can be directed towards so many different things in this world and our culture is built around providing these things for us to feed on to satisfy those desires. Whether it be the ultimate relationship, sex, money, power, status, shopping, comfort, then next shiny toy, promotions, pride in ones house, pornography, drugs, alcohol to name a tiny fraction. All of these, some good, some not, serve the same purpose. Their purpose is to fill that aching desire in each of us. That ache that sais “surely there is something that can fill this emptiness inside me!” The ache for something lost or missing. The ache that no matter where we try and look is never satisfied and fulfilled. Sure we can pretend that our comfy well kitted out house, our job and family is all we need to be satisfied. This pretention can go on for years but if we are honest the ache is still there. It is NEVER satisfied and is what drives us.
It drives the alcoholic to keep drinking, the compulsive shopper to keep looking for the next thing to provide that purchase quick high, the adulterer, the promiscuous casual sex, the co-dependent and on and on it goes.
All these things are designed to either satisfy that deep rooted ache or to numb the pain of it not being satisfied.
Misdirected Worship is Idolatry
So if all these things cannot possibly fulfil this deep rooted ache then who or what can? Well I am glad you asked!
We were designed and created by God to worship Him alone. It is the first of the ten commandments in the Bible paraphrased as ‘you shall have no other Gods but The Lord and you shall worship Him alone’.
God designed us to depend entirely on him. He is the only one who can satisfy the deep ache and longing in our heart that each and every one of us has. Only in personal, intimate relationship with Him can satisfaction be found and our deep longing for Security, meaning and worth be found. Only in the Worship of our Creator God can we find all our thirsts met. It is what we were primarily created for, as worshippers.
When mankind first sinned the sin was pride and idolatry. It took God from His rightful place and raised us up equal with Him. The devil deceived our first parents with the lie of autonomy. The lie that says we don’t need God! It is the same lie that the world shouts at us today with all its myriad of pleasures and temptations. All designed to draw us away from faith and Worship of the only one worthy of it. All designed to provide a counterfeit. The Bible calls this Idolatry! Any time we worship, give ourselves over to, something that is not God it is worship in the form of idolatry.
‘The Human heart is an idol factory"’ – Martin Luther
Idolatry is the most serious sin in the Bible. It is an act of Cosmic treason against the creator. It is something every human does completely naturally and is all that is needed to justly condemn us, dead in our sins, for eternity before our Holy creator God. Praise God in His Grace and Mercy He provides for us a way out. Through Jesus Christ we can know forgiveness for our sinful predilection to idolatry. We can be declared righteous before God through Jesus and be given new life and hope for eternity. A life that can know that deep longing and ache satisfied when we quench our thirst in the living water of worship of our awesome creator.
I dare you to have faith in the only one who can satisfy!
Monday, June 27, 2011
I first became aware of the writer Matthew Paul Turner (MPT from now on) when someone I follow on Twitter re-Tweeted one of his tweets. I was curious to read more about him, not because I agreed with what he said, quite the opposite in fact. I don’t remember exactly what the comments said but I seem to remember it was making fun of either Reformed Theology or possibly John Piper. Anyway it was enough to peek my curiosity so I started to follow him on twitter and read some of his Blog 'Jesus Needs New PR' (The blog title may give you a hint of his agenda).
It wasn't long before I stopped reading his blog and some time later I stopped following him on Twitter. The reasons will become clearer.
Any way a few months ago Christian Audio gave away his book ‘Churched’ as their free monthly download. So, since it was free, I downloaded it to see if I could try and understand where MPT was coming from. The book has the following description:
He spent his childhood trapped within the confines of countless bizarre, strict rules. And lived to tell about it.
In this first-hand account, author Matthew Paul Turner shares amusing–sometimes cringe-worthy–and poignant stories about growing up in a fundamentalist household, where even well-intentioned contemporary Christian music was proclaimed to be “of the devil.”
churched is a collection of stories that detail an American boy’s experiences growing up in a culture where men weren’t allowed let their hair grow to touch their ears (“an abomination!”), women wouldn’t have been caught dead in a pair of pants (unless swimming), and the pastor couldn’t preach a sermon without a healthy dose of hellfire and brimstone. Matthew grapples with the absurdity of a Sunday School Barbie burning, the passionate annual boxing match between the pastor and Satan, and the holiness of being baptized a fifth time–while growing into a young man who, amidst the chaotic mess of religion, falls in love with Jesus. (Cited from amazon.co.uk)
Several things struck me after I had finished listening to the book:
Firstly I have no experience first hand of that kind of Fundamentalism. The only thing that comes close was an evening when my first church invited some man to talk about secular music to the youth group. I was about 18 at the time. He was a nutter quite frankly and saw the devil in everything. I quickly learnt to filter out that kind of nonsense.
I have heard about that kind of US fundamentalism and have read the odd article from people with that kind of viewpoint. Not growing up in a Christian home I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a child in a grace filled Christian home let alone one so rigidly moralistic and graceless.
There are some areas of UK Christianity that are very moralistic in nature but I have not personally come across that level of Fundamentalism, described by MPT, in my 22 years as a Christian believer. There were some friends at university that came from a fairly moralistic, Baptist upbringing and struggled to cope living outside of that bubble. With some predictable results of going off the rails a little.
Secondly, although I do not in any way doubt the sincerity in which the book was written, I struggle to accept that much of what was written has not been embellished by MPT’s adult self. I struggle to remember conversations that happened last week let alone detailed conversations I had as a child. Since this book is a series of narratives of various stages of MPT’s growing up it is full of these conversations.
We all filter and interpret our memories through the life lenses we are currently wearing. That is not to accuse MPT of lying or making stuff up. However he has clearly been deeply affected by growing up in such a strict environment and many of the subtle points he is making come through narratives that are time wise his childhood but message wise most certainly his adult self.
Thirdly it can only be by the Grace of God that he is even a believer today. Some of the incidents described are literally ‘you could not make this stuff up’ stories. Enough to crush and stifle the life and soul out of any person.
However, back to the reason I could no longer stomach reading his blog or following him on Twitter. It is fully understandable to be angry and frustrated with the Fundamentalism in which he grew up. Who wouldn’t be? But much of his twitter stream and blogging is filled with poking fun at and maligning anyone who could be broadly categorised as Reformed or Calvinist. Particular targets are the likes of John Piper and Mark Driscoll (which is odd as the fundamentalism that MPT experienced, Driscoll pokes fun at all the time). That is not of course to say that they are above criticism as no one of course is. However Piper, Driscoll and the pastors, teachers and groups they are associated with are as far from MPT’s fundamental experience as you can get. Their whole message is ‘Grace’ which of course is anathema to moralistic fundamentalism.
What saddened and yes annoyed me most was the comments that others made on his blog. Now Calvinists have a reputation for being harsh, but I have never read more angry, insulting and blatantly Un-Christian views than I read from people on his blog comments against anyone in the Reformed camp.
I use twitter and read blogs for one main reason, to learn more about and grow in my Christian faith from gifted and wise teachers and writers. If I find the blogs of the people I follow on twitter no longer serve that purpose or in fact have a negative affect on that purpose I no longer give them my attention or time. Different views on theological issues are welcome, but when those views are nothing more than childish digs why waste time with them.
MPT if a gifted writer and communicator. Sadly however his childhood experience has so blinded him that he seems to now lump anyone who he does not agree with and is on the more conservative side into one category, Fundamental.
No MPT, Jesus does not need new PR, that is a very arrogant. The Church is Jesus’ body on earth despite itself. What everyone needs is to know, understand accept and experience is the unconditional Grace which he freely offers to all. That is the message of true Reformed theology which you seem to so dislike!
Friday, June 03, 2011
10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.The focus was working miracles and distinguishing between spirits and then on v11. Prophecy and tongues etc will be dealt with in a different sermon later in the series. We also had a lively debate, last night, in our small group. This is not uncommon when the spiritual gifts are being discussed.
(Please note the dove picture representing the Holy Spirit is posted slightly tongue in cheek)
Where do I stand on Spiritual Gifts?For the record I will lay out where I stand on what are often called ‘The Charismatic Gifts’. That is the supernatural gifts given in scripture by The Holy Spirit:
- I believe the gifts of the spirit are for today and did not cease at the end of the Apostolic age. Therefore I am NOT a Cessasionist at all. The best term to use would be ‘Reformed Charismatic’.
- I believe God can and indeed does heal people today and know people who have been miraculously healed.
- I believe in prophecy (as in words of knowledge from God about others as well as words from God including pictures etc.. Also words for specific people or the church that are from God about what God wants to do in the future. By way of some examples) I have operated in these gifts myself. NB: With the Caveat the prophecy is always subject to Scripture and is in NO way equivalent to it!
- I believe speaking in tongues is valid, as is interpretation of tongues. I however do not speak in tongues myself.
- There are many other gifts mentioned in scripture and I do not have any issues with them being a normal part of the Christian life and experience.
- The greatest spiritual gift is the gift of Regeneration of the unbeliever to being a believer. The creation of a new Christian life. The must surely be the greatest miracle of them all!
With that being said why did I find Sundays sermon challenging? I’ll come on to that!
On one hand we have the above on the other, I am a self confessed cynic . I very rarely just accept what people tell me without question. If people claim to have been healed I want proof. Very often one must just accept the word of the person and trust their integrity. However I do sometimes wonder why God does not heal more obvious problems rather than the obligatory back ache, arm ache, head ache’s etc… All those are great and fantastic to be healed from. I suffer back problems and would love to not have to worry about it recurring again. We do have testimonies of more obvious physical symptoms being healed. Like legs growing, backs straightening, the deaf hearing. Those I get more excited over as they baffle doctors and are clear undeniable miracles. In my previous Church in Crawley there was a wheelchair bound lady with ME and other disabilities, dependant on medical and financial help, who had been in her chair for years. One night she was healed and to this day I believe is now walking about. A walking talking miracle!
So I am constantly in this tension between cynic vs believer. It is certainly not a helpful place to be and is often lack of faith or just plain unbelief on my part.
I certainly have issues with some of the more wacky things people are claiming and much of this comes from Bethel mania among others, see below. Gold dust and Angel feathers for example just say to me distraction from God rather than glorifying God which ultimately all spiritual gifts must do. I know the bible does not list in exhaustive detail all spiritual gifts or miracles but I find such things unhelpful.
So what was so challenging in Sundays message? The following passage was cited:
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–22 (ESV)Now v21 is often used as a defence against some of the more out there spiritual manifestations and rightly so. However preceding it is v19. We are often in danger of quenching the spirit when we throw out everything, if we detect even one thing that may set off our alarm bells. I find this is exactly what I do. As soon as I detect the slightest hint of theology that I would consider ‘off’ then I switch off.
My biggest example of this is in the case of Bill Johnson from Bethel Church in Redding California. Now there seems to be little doubt that God is moving spiritually in that church in some amazing and miraculous ways. The long list of testimonies of healing is amazing. However I cannot listen to Bill Johnson preach. I have tried and cannot get through an entire ‘sermon’ of his without being very annoyed by it. I certainly have theological differences with him and with his use of scripture and these create a huge barrier. Yet God is using him in ways that are undeniably amazing.
Main two Tension Points!What I massively struggle with is the tension between the fully realised Kingdom of God in the new creation of Jesus return and the now, cursed fallen world that God’s kingdom breaks into occasionally. The already and not yet of the Kingdom. How much can we expect of the miraculous in this age?
The other is the line between how much a part faith plays vs the absolute sovereignty of God. V11 of 1 Corinthians 12 says:
All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.The spirit decides who gets what, when, where and how much.
ConclusionSo on the one hand we MUST ‘test everything’ as I believe there is much counterfeit faux spirituality out there within the Christian church. One example of which I heard recently was an event where the preacher/teacher didn’t once open his bible and it was all about the ‘experience’. Run away, run a mile and don’t look back at that sort of thing. If Gods word is not taught and supporting what is experienced or lip sevice is paid to the word then at least question what you are seeing. Be a Berean (Acts 17:10-11)!
Yet on the other hand we must NOT let our own prejudices and fears of the supernatural ‘quench’ what God is doing even through people I may disagree with theologically. I need to be open to God using me for the miraculous. I need more faith to be honest as I struggle to believe supernatural things will happen when I pray. My struggle with the tension points mentioned above often causes me to choose safe faith over stepping out and taking risks. I must learn to be humble realising how little I understand and trust God always that whatever happens He is Sovereign and works all things together for Good (Romans 8:28).
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Just before Good Friday this year I saw John Piper link to This MP3 by Rick Gamache. It is a narrative of the biblical events of the Thursday evening and Friday leading up to and including Christ’s crucifixion.
This narrative utterly floored me and brought alive the agony and suffering of Jesus like nothing else since seeing ‘The Passion of the Christ’ film.
It is a very graphic portrayal of the physical suffering that Jesus went through from weeping tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane to His death on the cross. It is not easy to listen to in any way. If you have seen Mel Gibson's film you will certainly have had a similar experience with seeing in all its gory detail this same representation of our Lord’s suffering.
However what I have previously failed to entirely, if at all, grasp was what the full meaning of ‘drinking the Father’s Cup’ meant for Jesus.
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:42-44)
So what had caused Jesus such anxiety as to sweat drops of blood? Certainly He new the physical suffering he was to face. However I think the greater stress was caused by peering in to ‘the Cup’. I think I had always assumed the Cup was the horrendous physical suffering of the cross itself. No, the Cup was much more than that.
The narrative brings in to focus the cost to Jesus himself of the subsitutionary atoning side of what He did on Calvary. I had never before thought about it how this narrative describes it.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says: ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’. Never had I realised what this really meant for Jesus. Of course this is only a tiny speck, a splinter compared to what it really meant.
The Son of God, the Perfect spotless lamb, Holy, Righteous and sinless becomes Sin. For those hours He hung there every sin of those whom are His became part of Jesus. He became the filthy, dirty, abominable evil that sin is. Not only that God the Father looked upon Jesus, His beloved Son and poured out His full, complete and terrible, judgement and Wrath against sin upon Him until it was fully spent. For that time the eternal relationship between Father and Son was broken and the Father turned from Jesus in disgust at the sin upon Him. That was the Cup that Jesus drank for the sake of His Glory and our Salvation.
Read the words of that narrative, weep, repent, rejoice and worship at what Jesus did for us. (The PDF can be found HERE)
Then Jesus is startled by a foul odour. It isn't the stench of open wounds. It’s something else. And it crawls inside him. He looks up to his Father. His Father looks back, but Jesus doesn't recognize these eyes. They pierce the invisible world with fire and darken the visible sky. And Jesus feels dirty. He hangs between earth and heaven filthy with human discharge on the outside and, now, filthy with human wickedness on the inside.
The Father speaks: “Son of Man! Why have you sinned against me and heaped scorn on my great glory? You are self-sufficient and self-righteous—consumed with yourself and puffed up and selfishly ambitious. You rob me of my glory and worship what’s inside of you instead of looking out to the One who created you. You are a greedy, lazy, gluttonous slanderer and gossip. You are a lying, conceited, ungrateful, cruel adulterer. You practice sexual immorality; you make pornography, and fill you mind with vulgarity. You exchange my truth for a lie and worship the creature instead of the Creator. And so you are given up to your homosexual passions, dressing immodestly, and lusting after what is forbidden. With all your heart you love perverse pleasure. You hate your brother and murder him with the bullets of anger fired from your own heart. You kill babies for your convenience. You oppress the poor and deal slaves and ignore the needy. You persecute my people. You love money and prestige and honour. You put on a cloak of outward piety, but inside you are filled with dead men’s bones—you hypocrite! You are lukewarm and easily enticed by the world. You covet and can’t have so you murder. You are filled with envy and rage and bitterness and un-forgiveness. You blame others for your sin and are too proud to even call it sin. You are never slow to speak. And you have a razor tongue that lashes and cuts with its criticism and sinful judgment. Your words do not impart grace. Instead your mouth is a fountain of condemnation and guilt and obscene talk. You are a false prophet leading people astray. You mock your parents. You have no self-control. You are a betrayer who stirs up division and factions. You’re a drunkard and a thief. You’re an anxious coward. You do not trust me. You blaspheme against me. You are an un-submissive wife. And you are a lazy, disengaged husband. You file for divorce and crush the parable of my love for the church. You’re a pimp and a drug dealer. You practice divination and worship demons. The list of your sins goes on and on and on and on. And I hate these things inside of you. I’m filled with disgust, and indignation for your sin consumes me. Now, drink my cup!
And Jesus does. He drinks for hours. He downs every drop of the scalding liquid of God’s own hatred of sin mingled with his white-hot wrath against that sin. This is the Father’s cup: omnipotent hatred and anger for the sins of every generation past, present, and future—omnipotent wrath directed at one naked man hanging on a cross. The Father can no longer look at his beloved Son, his heart’s treasure, the mirror-image of himself. He looks away.
Jesus pushes himself upward and howls to heaven, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus whispers, “I’m thirsty,” and he sags.
The merciful centurion soaks a sponge in sour wine and lifts in on a reed to Jesus’ lips. And the sour wine is the sweetest drink he ever tasted.
Jesus pushes himself up again and cries, “It is finished.” And it is. Every sin of every child of God has been laid on Jesus and he drank the cup of God’s wrath dry.