Where He is, there I shall also be!

Where He is, there I shall also be!

Thoughts of unworthiness can come and go.  Sometimes they stay and hover in our mind as though they are the things that matter most, that they are the truth to us being us, or me being me.  We lie to ourselves, thinking that this must be what God really thinks about us!  

Well, I for one am not immune to such thoughts.  I know, as a Christian that I deserve death and hell.  I know I do.  My own sinful nature tells me, my sins acted out tell me, my sins in thought, word and deed.

But.

I am a Christian.  I follow a saving and risen Jesus.  He has defeated sin and death and He is Lord.  I walk by faith and I live in grace.  Not arrogantly, but utterly dependently.  Not slothfully, but watchfully.  Not as if I have achieved anything for myself, but because Jesus has achieved everything for me that I could never achieve.

It’s all grace.  It’s all Christ Jesus.

The following was said by that tortured soul, the Reformer Martin Luther.  He had depressive tendencies, he had dark thoughts, and he knew he was a sinner, yet he said this…..

 

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, then tell him this: I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf, his name is Jesus, the Son of God, and where he is, there I shall also be!”

So of course we deserve death and hell.  That’s why Jesus came to rescue the world, to save it.  Full of sinners as it is, people like you and me.  Jesus ensures we always get what we don’t deserve.  This is the bold confidence we have.

Because of Jesus.  Where He is, there I shall also be!

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Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

In a really well written article in Themelios by Uche Anizor that draws together various ecclesiological strands of Colin Gunton’s thought from multiple sources, we see some really practical outworkings of what the church is and should be and will be in the light of a robust doctrine of the Trinity.  Anizor writes, “Gunton’s relentless attempt to root the nature and calling of the church in the being and action of the triune God opens up a way for a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common, while offering a potentially more fruitful starting point for ecumenical dialogue regarding the nature of the church.”

“a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common.”

We all know things could and should be better; some are disillusioned to the point of desertion; others remain but function in a spiritual wilderness akin to the effects of Ritalin; whilst yet many more recognise a “concrete and realistic perspective” is the only way to live in reality and eschew fantasy.

Thus Anizor opens with these words,

“Conflict in relationships is often rooted in inappropriate or unmet expectations. This commonplace wisdom regarding everyday relationships is no less true of one’s relationship to the church. Our conduct and feelings toward the church are governed largely by our expectations of what the church should be. These expectations, furthermore, are rooted in our understanding of the church’s nature. Ministers who weekly find themselves disappointed with the failings of their congregations would do well to attend to their understanding of what the church is. Laypeople who find themselves regularly frustrated with their community’s shortcomings are advised to do likewise. Disappointment (among other negative feelings) often flows from unrealistic expectations, which sometimes betray an unbalanced view of the church. Therefore, a healthy understanding of the nature of the church is of utmost practical import. Is the church the kingdom? If not, what is it? In what ways, if at all, is the church (and actual churches) a sign of the new Jerusalem? How can we theologically describe this imperfect reality we call the “church”? Colin Gunton provides one helpful response.”

The way forward is offered positively thus,

“First, we examine three related areas that contribute to a fuller understanding of the trinitarian heart of his ecclesiology: (1) the ontology of the church, (2) the place of pneumatology, and (3) the role of a proper Christology.  Then we provide a constructive appraisal. The hope here is that Gunton’s contribution might help free pastors, teachers, and congregants to live and serve in the church with a love and compassion rooted in realistic expectations of what the church is and will be.”

The essay really weaves a fantastic theological tapestry integrating the Pneumatological, Christological and Ecclesiological threads.  We need to know who this God is before we build on ecclesial foundations.  That is why I enjoyed the comments right at the end just before the conclusion, aimed at those pastors and lay people who are tempted to disillusionment at the ontology of the Church:

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The necessity of the ‘upon-ness’ of the Spirit

The necessity of the ‘upon-ness’ of the Spirit

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

Because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives,

And recovering of sight to the blind,

To set at liberty those who are oppressed,

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Luke 4:19-19

 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me:

As it had to be for Jesus, so it has to be for us.

That the Spirit of God must be ‘upon’ us before anything is said or done.

The Spirit being ‘upon’ us speaks of God’s own desire to be present with us.

The Spirit being ‘upon me’ or ‘upon us’ is our recognition that God is near and not far.

 

Because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor:

The Holy Spirit of God is ‘upon me’ for a reason.

There is a job to do.  That job is primarily an announcement.

“And here is the evening news…death, destruction, lies, greed and war…”

This is what happens when the Spirit of God isn’t ‘upon’.

‘To proclaim Good News…’ is to announce the end of death, destruction, lies, greed and war.

To proclaim anything of God is always proceeds the anointing of the Spirit.

‘To the poor….’ isn’t merely an economic phrase. It’s a human quality-of-life-phrase.

The poor are those who do not have the Spirit of God ‘upon’ them;

Because they are being robbed by the evening news.

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The Church is a Mystery

The Church is a Mystery

Whilst I was digging around in some church history today, I came across this nugget of Eusebian observation:
“As the third century drew to a close, the tensions within the church were becoming more explosive.  Eusebius looking back on the situation as he had seen it as a young man could write,

maxresdefault‘But when as the result of greater freedom a change to pride and sloth came over our affairs, we fell to envy and fierce railing one against the other, warring upon ourselves so to speak as occasion offered with weapons and spears formed of words, and ruler attacked ruler and laity formed factions against laity, while unspeakable hypocrisy and pretense pursued their evil course to the furthest end.’ 


It was a grim picture of ecclesiastic strife at the moment of Christianity’s triumph.  Paganism had indeed been defeated.  The world was ripe for religious change, but not for religious peace.”
The Early Church by W. H. C. Frend, Page 114
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And this made me think!  The church had faced all sorts of external pressures and problems, persecutions and heresies.  When peace came, they turned on each other!  This is shocking!
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Nietzsche made a similar point when he observed a church that was brazenly hypocritical; living, as it were, with a great gulf between what she said she believed, and what she actually did.  I suppose this applies to both corporate and individual.  He said,
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“They would have to sing better songs to make me believe in the Redeemer:  his disciples would have to look more redeemed!”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke ZarathustraSICK-nietzsche
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I get what he means about the songs on some Sundays, but I don’t know what he means that those who follow Jesus should look “more redeemed”, I’ve tried to look more redeemed, and my wife asks me if I’m ill, or in pain!
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I suspect Nietzsche meant act more redeemed, although, acting righteously brings its own set of unholy problems;  all manner of good-deeds can mask insidious sin and self-serving righteousness.  Basically, the church has always struggled.  Struggled with what it claims and what it does; or what it believes and what it practices.  Sin could be most seductively and demonically at work under the guise of doing good.  Many a good intention is shipwrecked upon the rocks of slightly off-centre zeal!
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While Nietzsche is appalled at the church he observes (probably a limited observation anyway unless he really was Superman); Eusebius, on the other (and much earlier historically) hand, is quite shocked!  “OMG, they’re turning on…. themselves!”
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The Christmas Dinner

Christmas Day 2016

Turkey

                The Disciples

             Sometimes they acted like turkeys; sometimes they spoke like turkeys.  Sometimes they are just like you and me.  We are the type of people God loves; We are the type of people that Jesus came for.

 

Roast Potatoes

                The Roman Soldiers

Their on the plate, big, brash, hot and bothered.  Just doing their job.  Some of them mix with the other foods on the plate, but mostly they keep themselves to themselves.  Too many and you get full up too quickly.

 

Carrots

                The Pharisees

Pharisees are like carrots!  Some are chopped and boiled in water!  Some are part boiled, then roasted.  Others are coated in honey and baked.  Mine are a Tom Kerridge recipe:  Cooked in butter, sugar, water and Star Anise.  Some Pharisees are plain and boiled in water, trying to trick Jesus.  Others like Nicodemas are much more interesting, and ask Jesus really interesting things like:  How can a person be born-again?  Now that is a question full of flavour!

 

Sprouts

The Shepherds

The sprouts are either loved or hated.  Like 1st century shepherds in Palestine.  They can tend to be a bit wiffy on their own or if they’ve been “with you” for a while – know what I mean?

 

Parsnips

                The Wise Men from the East

A Christmas dinner doesn’t have to have parsnips.  But if cooked nicely can influence the whole dinner.  The wise men are a strange addition to Jesus’ story, they enter stage right, leave abruptly stage left and that’s it.  Would we miss them if they weren’t there?

 

Stuffing

                All God’s centuries old promises fulfilled in Jesus

The flavor of really good quality stuffing, enhancing all it is eaten with.  Just like the OT promises of God that speak of a coming Saviour that will rescue the people from their sins.  Century after century God spoke, and the people waited century after century.  And when God’s promises are fulfilled, the flavor to the rest of the meal of life is incredible.

 

Cranberry Sauce

                Mary

The sweetness of the sauce compliments all the food.  Mary was just an ordinary girl who loved God and was waiting for her Saviour to come.  How would she ever guess she would birth the boy around whom angels and shepherds and strange Eastern men and all the other things would happen?  The paradox is there for all to see:  The creature gives birth to the Creator.

 

Christmas Pudding

                Mary Magdalene

If Peter represents the fool, and Judas the betrayer, and Thomas the doubter, Mary Magdalene is often the one we are too full to stomach.  The religious people thought Jesus not religious to be welcoming such an awful sinner as Mary.  Jesus said, we have to stomach this one:  If Jesus welcomes the worst then we are welcome.

 

Mince Pies

                The crowds around Jesus

Occasionally we get offered mince pies, just like occasionally Jesus was surrounded by great crowds.  Intrigued by this rule-breaking Messiah.  Sometimes we don’t fancy a mince pie, we can’t be bothered.  Sometimes the crowds couldn’t be bothered when they realized Jesus wasn’t their puppet on a string, their court jester, their messianic clown.  They walked away.  Sometimes the plate of mince pies will come round and we will let it go, just as Jesus let the people go.

 

Wine

                All those healed of illness and disease

The Bible describes God’s kingdom like a party, and a party with wine, and that wine is “the very best!”  We live in the old wineskin of this world and in our bodies, and one day we will be in a new world, with new bodies and God’s new wine of the Kingdom.  Jesus’ first coming is like the opening ceremony of the Olympics before the main event.  His Second Coming will begin the main event.

 

And finally, the best is last…

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The Smell of Christmas

The Smell of Christmas

 

Luke 2:7-8  ‘The Smell of Christmas’

What is the smell of Christmas to you?

For the smell of Christmas, we can only go to certain places in the Bible.

We would think the obvious place is the Gospels.

Well, Bingo! in Matthew and Luke;

But not a wiff in Mark and John.

 

Maybe Paul will write something about Jesus coming as a baby…..er, no. Nothing!

Even Revelation starts with the Cosmic Christ walking among the stars;

but nothing of the earthling Jesus lying among the animals.

 

Oh wait….I hear Christmas carol…..

Maybe ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ can help us…

And, through all His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

 

Oh this one irks me!  It really ruffles my feathers!

The writer Cecil Alexander must have been having a brain freeze.

There is something quite wiffy about this part of his song….

And, through all His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,

Where on this tiny rice crisp of a planet did he get that from?

There is only one recorded instance of Jesus as a child, after the flight to and from Egypt.  In fact he was 12, and in the first century, on the cusp of manhood.

Luke 2:41-50 tells us Joseph and Mary journeyed home for a whole day before they realized the 12 year old Jesus was not with them.

When they find him back in Jerusalem (that’s two  days on the road not knowing where he is), in the Temple discussing theology with the professors and doctors, they chide him for “treating them [badly v.48]”.  I mean, where did he sleep; what did he eat; who was he with?  Who provided these things?

Jesus tells them v.49:  “Why were you looking for me?  Didn’t you know I would be about my Father’s business?”  But they did not understand

Thus the line in the Carol that goes:

Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

Really gets my goat!

What manipulative Victorian manure….

Which brings me back to the question:  What is the smell of Christmas?

Maybe ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ will help us!

Silent night, holy night…… 50% right!

How can screaming birthing mothers, animals in a barn, noisy neighbours and choirs of angels singing to shepherds possibly be silent!

Everything about this would freak us out if it happened to us.

But it’s been softened, smoothed, glossed, abstracted and sentimentalized.

Birthing mothers are not silent.

I’ve attended 4 births……..my own three……and of course, my own!

My first words were:  “What’s wrong mum?  Why are you screaming and why has dad fainted?”  Not bad for a 10 second old baby!

Animals don’t respect human social conventions.

They can’t read; They weren’t there when the angel told Mary she would have a son.

They might have thought it was ‘a bit odd’ that big humans were releasing little humans into the barn, but other than that, their toilet habits (for example), would have remained the same.

But we really must avoid this blandness that doesn’t reflect human reality, and therefore, biblical reality.

We need to defy the fantasy makers.

Not just out there in a culture that would see you spend so much in December it wouldn’t even care if your home got re-possessed in January.9780802841285

That’s why credit cards really should be called debt cards.  It’s words; words; words.

And defying the fantasy makers is why one theologian (Don Cupitt) has famously  called Christmas:  “The Disneyfication of Christianity.” (NB. At least he got that right amidst a whole career of re-imagining Christianity in the extreme.  Anthony Thiselton has a masterful couple of chapters in response to Cupitt’s theological vision in Interpreting God and the Postmodern self….but I digress…).

 

Maybe Cupitt’s phrase inspired the song ‘One God’ by the pop group The Beautiful South in the late 1990’s (or maybe vice-versa), with their prophetically provocative lyrics:

d658e184c2e606511c1a788a89427ade-800x800x1The world is turning Disney and there’s nothing you can do
You’re trying to walk like giants
But you’re wearing Pluto’s shoes

[Chorus]
And the answers fall easier from the barrel of a gun
Than it does from the lips of the beautiful and the dumb
The world won’t end in darkness, it’ll end in family fun
With Coca Cola clouds behind a Big Mac sun

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