Something about Heaven (a world of love)

Something about Heaven (a world of love)

“Heaven, fellowship with the Trinity is…the end for which all human beings were created” so says Jerry Walls in The Logic of Eternal Joy.

He’s right.

Today I attended the funeral of a couple who lost their beloved daughter to a premature birth.  I have rarely witnessed such Godly grief, such dignity in mourning.  In fact, I never have.  They were quite remarkable.  Why?  Because they know who they are in Christ.

All pettiness of daily living was exposed for the sham it is.  Reinhold Niebuhr expressed it well when he wrote that we were not to be preoccupied with  “the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell.”  Such is much of our lives.  We are so preoccupied, that when tragedy strikes, we’re surprised!  It is a perverse irony that doesn’t see the pathetic blasphemy of such a state!

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Lord, being a pastor is impossible!

Lord, being a pastor is impossible!

I am re-reading the brilliant book by Dave Hansen ‘The Art of Pastoring’ and the same day I came across this wonderful article by Mandy Smith re-printed below.hansen

There is a dynamic in being a pastor that is quite incredible.  We are neither managers nor mechanics; farmers nor chefs; social workers nor nurses.  And I am grateful for those who do these things.  Yet pastoring with integrity is most certainly not “running the church” (God forbid), but it is about being squeezed by Heaven’s Hands whilst living and loving in this pressurised mixed up world, often perfectly encapsulated by individual congregations around the world.  Too many people bemoan “the state of the church” myself included – but take one minute to think about it….how can it be anything but, this side of Glory?

bartonMy own church is no exception (and they are entirely innocent of anything this blog produces😉, and whilst the list below is an accurate reflection of pastoral ministry, it ebbs and flows with varying degrees of weight and emphasis throughout the points on the list in a pastor’s ministry.

I am totally confident in the Gospel of Jesus Christ to break rocks to peices and re-make old, sin-tired hearts anew.  And that process by definition is hard, tough, gritty, life-changing and will divide people.  That is why P. T. Forsyth is right to say that the Gospel, when proclaimed faithfully, will both attract and repel its hearers.  The Gospel is a dividing thing, and so it should come as no surprise that churches are places, under Gospel proclamation, that wrestle, Jacob-like, with the Angel of the Lord, until a new person is formed.  The church is not a happy social club where we are meant to just “get on” and “be nice”, not a place where things should be smoothed over into a kind of bland conforming mediocrity, but a gathering of sinners learning what it means to be the New Humanity created in, through and by, the atoning and redemptive work of Christ.  The church should be a lot rougher, not smoother.  And that’s how grace works:  Grace doesn’t work or isn’t needed in a wonderful, open, tolerant, all-loving, all-embracing community (this is how some people wish the church was) – how can it?  To exercise grace, there must be un-grace and disgrace. To exercise patience, there must be impatience and all manner of urgencies.  To exercise true agape love, there must be self-love and no-love, etc, etc.

Sinful men and women all of us.  And some of us sinners go on under the call of God to be pastors.  And it is these pastors who face what I think are astonishing complexities in everyday life, simply because we are going about the business of the Kingdom of God – and that is terrifying in its own right.  Jesus builds his church, and this sometimes (often?) despite the church, despite me.

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The mirth of believers

The mirth of believers

We live in a broken world, with astonishing levels of violence, rivalry and scapegoating.  And only a fraction of it makes the news.

But one of the most counter-intuitive resistances human beings can do, and should do, is to laugh.  Laughter is what makes us human, and since we are all made in God’s image, as Sydney Harris says, “God cannot be solemn, or he would not have blessed us with the incalculable gift of laughter.”

The New Testament does not have one single account of Jesus laughing.  But it would be a mistake to think he never did.  Jesus was most gloriously free and always unashamedly himself.  He wore no religious masks.  Laughter is not less than holy, but an actual fact of it.

I can’t read the story  of the seemingly rude encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman in which Jesus refers to her as a dog – as anything but Jesus humourously teasing out of her a response that is a product of true faith, faith that sees.  I suspect he even had a wry smile on his face as he did so, and so did the spiritually astute woman (Mark 7:24).

Sometimes our churches can be communities that are reduced.  Places of simmered down spiritualities.  Dour, serious, pious!

Maybe we’ve thought that to permit laughter is to allow victory to the devil.  Some people get very serious when they get religion.  That’s a shame.  Maybe they think laughter represents weakness, corruption and foolishness of the flesh.

I think one of the holiest sounds in our churches, or anywhere, is laughter.

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Mushy Squishy Touchy Feely

In two separate articles by two different theologians, separated by continents (America and Europe), and 100 years, I read the budding frustration of what was happening within Sunday School education, followed by the flowering of the present state of adult education in the Western church today.

P. T. Forsyth was suspicious of the effeminate in contemporary religion in his day.  The same charge has been levelled at the church today: a place for women, children and the deluded.  I’ve heard that said with my own ears.

In an address to the Sunday School Union in 1900, Forsyth set his sights on the shapelessness of what passed for Sunday School teaching:

PTForsyth“The Sunday School is too much left to well-meaning and hard-working people, who, with all their earnestness, have no experience of controlling others, and no sense or power of discipline.  The teachers are . . . . gentle and fear to hurt feelings; or they are too tender about ejecting black sheep . . . . They have young ideas about what Christian love means.  They are too anxious to be loved and not enough concerned to be obeyed . . . . I am afraid that many teachers have more interest in the affections of their scholars than in their souls.”

P. T. Forsyth ‘As Congregational Minister’ by Clyde Binfield in ‘Justice the True and Only Mercy,’ pg. 172-3

Admittedly, some of his language needs qualifying today.  I would want to rephrase notions of control and discipline; ‘ejecting black sheep’ is a little mysterious; and finally what would mean to obey in this context?    I am not afraid of these notions, just that my 21st century conditioning requires that of me, as any misreading/misapplication of this could quite easily slip into authoritarianism.  The thrust of Forsyth’s comment is about right, and continues to be about right for today.

What Forsyth bemoans in the bud, Michael Hardin bemoans in the flowering.  For if Forsyth was right (and he was), the inevitable consequence will be what Hardin observes in today’s church:

In his ‘What The Facebook’ (pg. 65-66) he writes,

WTF“…I have met thousands of Christians and have been in countless churches.  Sadly, most of those I have met do not know their Bibles….How can we encourage Christians today to take the Bible seriously enough to pay attention to its narrative flow, to its novelistic detail, to its story or plot line? . . . . .

. . . .We desperately need more and better Bible education in the churches.  Adult Sunday School classes in so many churches teach little more than pabulum.  There is no real thinking going on or engagement with the actual text of Scripture.  Often education in the church has become a mushy squishy touchy feely “what do you think?” as though the pooling of ignorance is beneficial.  It is time for the rest of Christianity to knuckle down and for everyone to learn how to read Scripture, to learn its story and reap its benefits.  If we don’t get serious about our biblical literacy we might as well cede the Bible to the Fundamentalists and that is something I will never do.  Will you join me?”

Obviously there are exceptions here and there.  These comments are macro-observations by two sharp cultural critics who have a high value on theological and biblical literacy.

 

 

SUN

‘Let your light shine’

A Devonshire Summers day

 

Prophecy: “Ad hoc cries of an expressive, diagnostic, or tactical nature, delivered as ‘spontaneous’ mini-messages” it is not!

Some thoughts……

On Prophecy

Broadly speaking, my view is that prophecy is either an anointing of the Spirit or a gift of the Spirit, depending on which form of prophecy is in view.

I believe that the biblical prophets had a unique anointing that nobody else has had since the closing of the canon.

The canon of Scripture is slightly disputed in that 1 Enoch is part of the Ethiopian canon. It is interesting that 1 Enoch correctly predicts the ambiguity surrounding its future reception!  Beyond disputes about the extent of the canon (there is no canonical statement about the limits of the canon!), I am a cessationist when it comes to the anointing of the biblical prophets.

I am not a cessationist when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, since such a view seems absurd given Paul’s and Peter’s view of the church as a body that grows out of each part doing its work and administering God’s grace in its various forms.

To distinguish between more and less “spectacular” gifts in this respect seems arbitrary, since each part of a body remains important. To say that any gift has ceased is to say that a part of the body has become unnecessary, which is precisely what Paul warns against.

To distinguish between the inaugural and the continuative has some validity: the Scriptures constitute a once-for-all inaugural revelation; but the Holy Spirit relates the Scriptures to us ever-freshly in a continuing manner. However, when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, the inaugural vs. continuative distinction becomes invalid as stated above, and it is better to speak in terms of anointing (inaugural) vs. gifts (continuative).

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Understanding a Mystery

Understanding a Mystery

Israel or Palestine – where is it heading?

A sermon by Richard Matcham based on Romans 11:25-36

“Lord I pray that the raw nerves and thin shells this topic will likely touch upon, will enlarge the capacity of us all to engage truthfully with the text and the world, and challenge us to be contentedly discontent with mystery, that we may be more loving to one another, and truly worship you in all your unsearchable and inscrutable ways.  Amen”

Have you ever been in a discussion with someone, on a topic that really interests you, and at the crucial point of insight, understanding and genuine learning, you hear the comment, “Ah, we can’t ever know that, it’s a mystery!”

We often deploy the “mystery card” because it seems to be a way of protecting our own limited understanding on a subject.

Take for example, the Trinity (you know what I mean)!

I’ve faced this situation quite a few times over the years, especially as a young Christian man in my mid-20’s, hungry to learn and know God.

“The Trinity,” we shout, “it’s a mystery.”  And with that mystical phrase, the conversation is closed, and genuine biblical understanding is shoved into the cul-de-sac of frustrated, genuine enquirers, where they stay until they learn to stop asking awkward questions!

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Your absolute and indestructable identity

EATING YOUR TRUE SELF

“Jesus says, ‘If you eat this bread you will live forever’ (John 6:51).  It is so interesting that he chooses taste, flavour, and nutrition as the symbol of how life is transferred and not intellectual cognition.  If you live by the momentary identity that others give you, that’s what dies when you die, and you’re left with nothing.  Your relative identity passes away, but it is like the painful erasing of an unwanted tattoo.  When Jesus says he’s giving himself to you as the bread of life, he’s saying, as it were, ‘Find yourself in me, and this will not pass or change or die.  Eat this food as your primary nutrition, and you are indestructable.’  This is your absolute and indestructable identity.

We all slowly learn how to live in what Thomas Merton would call the True Self – who you are and always have been, in God.  Who you are in God is who you are forever.  In fact, that’s all you are, and it’s more than enough.  Everything else is passing away.  Reputations, titles, possessions, and roles do not determine our identity.  When I hand out the Eucharist bread I love to say to the assembly, ‘You become what you eat.  Come and eat who you are – forever!’ You access Great Truth by absorption and digestion, almost never by analysis or argumentation.”

Richard Rohr, YES, AND…