Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Wishes...

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counsellor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay Him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever! Amen”
Paul Book of Romans

This is the resounding resplendent truth behind Christmas. The mighty Yahweh who alone is King of Kings and Lord of Lords having no equal, the big G among all the little gs of culture purposed with His only begotten Son to bring salvation to mankind. A child was born, His name—Jesus! Fully God fully man wrapped in a manger bound for Golgotha to live a life and die a death that would satiate the demands of God for a perfect sacrifice for sin.
How foolish! How wise! How confusing! How glorious! The depth and riches of His understanding, the masterful brilliance of His grace filled rescue plan.
Christmas was the first visible moments of His stunning dawn of salvation. O how deeply I love this wonderful God!

Middle Class Jitters

Often I find myself a paradox. You may query what I mean. Well I am really struggling at the moment with ‘middle’classness’, and yet if I assess my cultural standing then I am certain that I am middle class. If I were not a Christian I do not think there would be any issue. It would be lovely to languish in almost complete comfort but for a number of absurd luxuries. I may have to drink £5 bottles of wine instead of £100 bottles of wine in order to enjoy an evening out with the mates, but red wine apparently it has to be, and half-decent wine to boot. Aside from minimal issues such as that things are not too difficult if you are residing in the middle class camp.
But how much of my life reflects the Kingdom mentality that Christ called me to? When I think about how much conversation with friends and peers is built around a slight lack of quality in a meal or the difficulty one faces when delayed in a queue at an ATM, I am not sure Christ would have been caught up in similar conversation.
Please understand that in my heart I have no desire whatsoever to be hyper-spiritual imposing some 21st century legalism upon myself and others. That is the last thing I would want to be accused of…but I do want to be ‘Christ’ to this South East London suburbia and beyond.
Culture is a very powerful thing (I am not sure if you have heard the story of slowly raising the heat on a frog in water which will eventually boil without jumping out) it permeates you and defines you unless you are willing to challenge it and to constantly assess your heart with the inspectoral brilliance of the divine word of the Lord. And it is the word of the Lord (particularly the beatitudes (Matt 5)) that strikes my mind and heart with clinical brilliance affecting my thoughts about myself and others in this particular area. How much of our faith is actually Western Materialism with a dose of Christ? This is a question that Francis Schaeffer would demand that we repeatedly ask ourselves.
I am Christian before I am ZimboEnglish. I am certainly Christian before I am middle class. I will not be judged for the quality of wine I drunk while here or the speed with which I got myself on the 'Middle Class Mortgage madness bandwagon'; I will be judged for how much I lived out the heart of Christ that now rules my heart to a lost, hopeless world!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Malachi Update

Well what do I say about this incessant delight that God has given us as a son. He continues to amaze and astound us on a daily basis. He is definitely learning that he will be raised by a community as people in the church come alongside us and show him a love that we in one way cannot show as his parents. This communal love is something that I pray will prove a great strength in years to come enabling him to relate to many others and work through things with others that he may not feel able to with us.
He remains blonde haired and blue eyed which is something that we were certain would have changed by now. He has learned to ‘parachute,’ which I am sure leaves you flabbergasted as you question, “What at such a young age?” Well... let me explain. It is the ‘parachuting’ motion, which for him for now is crawling. He literally balances on his stomach and can spin on a dime as he changes direction to drag himself from here to here. We really hoped he’d be crawling by 6 months, but now our hope is Christmas.
He is conscious of everything that exists down to minute detail. He will spot a small white piece of cloth on a carpet from about 3 metres and hunt it down to discover what it is. Put all his toys out on the floor and he will spend 5 minutes fixated on a tag hanging off a piece of clothing. Today in our ‘Morning with Malachi’ session he showed off his new trick which is as follows: He gets up on his haunches and shakes his head dizzily from side to side for no understandable reason and then of course looks at you to see if you are sharing in the wonder of this thing that only he must be able to do. It is the combination of these two things that I think makes it funnier. He does something that is completely random but then basks in his own wonder at how he is able to do something that surely no other person is able to do. Still not willing to burst his bubble.
He is legendary!

Emotional Discipleship

Recently read a book called The Emotionally Healthy Church. It highlighted some interesting things with regards to how we disciple people within the church.
Often there appears to be a strictly ‘spiritual’ focus to our discipleship encouraging people to study the scriptures and to journey forward in their understanding of the spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting silence etc. Peter Scazzero [author] makes this confession as the pastor of a church
I have misdiagnosed people who have come to me for help. When someone who had relational problems or emotional issues, I applied every spiritual remedy I knew. Unfortunately, many people remained sick and some even ‘died’ under my leadership.”

This is a terrible confession to have to make but one I think many leaders of churches or various ministries within the church would similarly need to confess if honest. He continues
Today, I no longer simply pray and hope for the best. Each of the above people required a level of discipleship that went beyond a skin deep, superficial, quick fix… As a leader I had to undergo a revolution in the way I understood and approached discipleship.
The sad truth is that too little difference exists, in terms of emotional and relational maturity, between God’s people inside the church and those outside who claim no relationship to Jesus Christ. Even more alarming, when you go beyond the praise and worship of our large meetings and conventions and into the homes and small-group meetings of God’s people, you often find a valley littered by broken and failed relationships.

His points are valid, and, tragically true! This revolution in discipleship is maybe something that many of need to consider. I see it as a need to look into what has shaped people emotionally. We can use the phrase ‘get into the word and pray’ as a cop out for actually investing deep, meaningful ‘Jesus-like’ time with the people we are leading looking into the things that have shaped and moulded them emotionally.
People can often be your poster children of biblical knowledge and church attendance but be immature and dangerous emotionally, tossed about like waves of the sea, as one biblical author would say.
Conclusion? Well let us in no way hinder our desire to disciple people spiritually (if you are not doing it, or involved in it, get started) but maybe we need to take a long look at how we help ourselves and others develop emotionally and work through things (often deep and powerful) that shape us on this level.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Earlier this year I heard a very wise teacher muse on prayer for a while. His musings were wonderful really. I left that time conscious of a wonderful place of faith that is possible for us in prayer but also desperately aware that I am in that place terribly infrequently.
This ‘place of faith’ that he spoke of would be when we have a conscious awareness of being ‘within the throne room of God’ in a similar way to Isaiah’s encounter with God described in Chapter 6 of the book in his name. Here we see that Isaiah is actually in a place where he is overhearing the voice of Yahweh and the declaration of the angels. My wise teacher friend noted that he thought a place similar to this is possible for us in our prayer life; coming to a place where we are ‘conscious’ of having open court with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

As certain as I am that I want often to reach this place in prayer, I am sentient of an ache within alerting me to a shallow prayer life on the whole. I was mentored in prayer for almost 6 months before I left the USA to come to England and my mentor had a strategy of prayer that worked on a similar premise. One needs to get to a ‘place of abiding’ in the heavenlies with Christ before interceding in His name and with His power. (See John 15 where we read the stunning words about abiding in Christ and receiving all that we ask for in prayer.) On leaving the USA I went through a time of pain that I think has sidelined me from this deep place of prayer ever since.

I am certain that many of us are nowhere near the place of prayer that is available to us that has with it such glorious effect. I dare you to join me in longing for that place of faith in prayer where we are in the throne room having open court with the King.

Martin Lloyd Jones on Revival via Piper

Piper in his A Godward Life brings the thoughts of Martin Lloyd Jones upon revival to the fore. I think his thoughts are brilliant but also helpful as only 2 weeks ago I was having a conversation about the ‘reality’ of revivals. Here are some of Lloyd Jones’ words:

The greatest problem confronting us in the church today is that the vast majority of professing Christians are not convinced of the reality and the desirableness of revivals.” Lloyd Jones distinguishes them from evangelistic campaigns put on by the church and writes
A revival is not the church deciding to do something with respect to those who are outside. It is something that is DONE to the church…the whole essence of revival is that it is something that happens to the church, to the people inside. And they are affected and moved and tremendous things happen.

What happens? Lloyd Jones answers, “…It is in a sense a repetition of the day of Pentecost… the essence of revival is that the Holy Spirit comes down… What the people are conscious of is that it is as if something has suddenly come down upon them. The Spirit of God has descended into their midst, God has come down and is amongst them. A baptism, an outpouring, a visitation.”

[People] immediately become aware of His presence and His power in a manner that the have never known before…Spiritual things become realities…[these things are] First and foremost the glory and the holiness of God…and that leads inevitably to a deep and a terrible sense of sin and an ‘aweful’ feeling of guilt… Then they are given a clear view of the love of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, especially of His death upon the cross… They begin to get a concern for the members of their own family… There is a constraint that is driving them. They talk about it to people…and begin to pray for them… Others who are outside begin to join the meetings and say, ‘What is this?’ So they come in and they go through the same experience.

Pray for revival!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Non-flammable Memories

Confronted by death this morning. The lovely wife and I had to attend her grandad's cremation. An ironic twist to it is that as we are stared in the face by this stark reality we also celebrate the knowledge that our little Malachi is 6 months old today. I guess death is no respecter of what joy may be taking place in the rest of the sphere of life.
One has to think when death knocks on your family door. If one can move on and not think about it at all then they are probably a little shallow. I have often heard it said though that we are a culture that does all in its power to sanitize death and to remove it from our immediate consciousness at all costs--this seems true as I have not been directly confronted with death more than I can count on one hand in my 31 years. So, in my thinking I certainly concluded that if what is burnt up in that coffin (in very much the same way as the cheaply made wooden coffin that surrounds it) is all that is life and as it become ash that alone is all that made up the 'years' and existence that passed before than life is truly meaningless. All the value put upon it, pursuit and effort made to maintain it and cherish it seems extremely pointless.

What I thought as I drove alone to the crematorium was that as there is something that lives on longer than even the memories of that person. Speaking to someone who was at the crematorium just 3 weeks before for the service of two still born twin girls I knew that their memories would last infinitely longer than there brief physical existence.
Not only is there something that lives as long (longer) as the memories but it shares another similarity with memories-- its non-physicality.
The reason it is so hard for us secularists to believe that there is more to humanity than that inflammable body is that we can't touch it. But as certainly as you will never deny the memory of my wife's grandfather to her is the certainty that there is this non-physical component of us that lives on after death.

As I thought on this I did wonder why a world so certain that all that counts is this body and the material pays such immense attention and respect to the end of it. Why is death something so confrontational? Why do we not just cast dead people upon some recycling system; discard of them like some over-used sofa that no longer serves a purpose?
I think we all know that will never happen.
We as humans are of infinite value indwelt by the image of the infinite God.

Theological Mystery

There are several glorious truths of the Christian faith that I would call mystery: The trinity, predestination and salvation by faith along with several others. Now I have often wanted to explain what I mean by that, and that this mysteriousness does not mean that we must not seek to look into these things and know more about them. Well I have found someone speaking of it who is far more wise, intelligent and able than I to give some insight to this 'theological mystery' J I Packer. Read his words as he speaks about it with particular attention to the doctrine of atonement:
What sort of knowledge of God’s action in Christ’s death may we have? That a man named Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate about AD 30 is common historical knowledge, but Christian beliefs about his divine identity and the significance of his dying cannot be deduced from that fact alone. What further sort of knowledge about the cross, then, may Christians enjoy?
The answer, we may say, is faith-knowledge: by faith we know that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Yes, indeed; but what sort of knowledge is faith-knowledge? It is a kind of knowledge of which God is both giver and content. It is a Spirit-given acquaintance with divine realities, given through acquaintance with God’s word. It is a kind of knowledge which makes the knower say in one and the same breath both ‘whereas I was blind, now I see’ (Jn 9:25) and also ‘now we see as in a mirror, darkly . . . now I know in part’ (1 Cor. 13:12). For it is a unique kind of knowledge which, though real, is not full; it is knowledge of what is discernible within a circle of light against the background of a larger darkness; it is, in short, knowledge of a mystery, the mystery of the living God at work.
‘Mystery’ is used here as it was by Charles Wesley when he wrote:
‘Tis mystery all! The immortal dies!
Who can explore his strange design? In vain the first-born seraph tries. To sound the depths of love divine!
‘Mystery’ in the sense (traditional in theology) means a reality distinct from us which in our very apprehending of it remains unfathomable to us: a reality which we acknowledge as actual without knowing how it is possible, and which we therefore describe as incomprehensible, Christian metaphysicians, moved by wonder at the world, speak of the created order as ‘imagery’, meaning that there is more to it, and more of God in it, than they can grasp; and similarly Christian theologians, taught by revelation, apply the same word, for parallel reasons to the self-revealed and self-revealing God, and to his work of reconciliation and redemption through Christ.

…Now the atonement is a mystery in the defined sense, one aspect of the total mystery of God. But it does not stand alone in this. Every aspect of God’s reality and work, without exception, is mystery. The eternal Trinity; God’s sovereignty in creation, providence, and grace; the incarnation, exaltation, present reign and approaching return of Jesus Christ; the inspiring of the Holy Scriptures; and the ministry of the Spirit in the Christian and the Church — each of these (to look no further) is a reality beyond our full fathoming, just as the cross is. And theories about any of these things which used human analogies to dispel the dimension of mystery would deserve our distrust, just as rationalistic theories about the cross do.
It must be stressed that the mystery is in each case the reality itself, as distinct from anything in our apprehension of it, and as distinct therefore from our theories, problems, affirmations and denials about it. What makes it a mystery is that creatures like ourselves can comprehend it only in part. To say this does not open the door to scepticism, for our knowledge of divine realities (like our knowledge of each other) is genuine knowledge expressed in notions which, so far as they go, are true. But it does close the door against rationalism, in the sense of theorizing that claims to explain with finality any aspect of God’s way of existing and working. And with that, it alerts us to the fact that the presence in our theology of unsolved problems is not necessarily a reflection on the truth or adequacy of our thoughts. Inadequate and untrue theories do of course exist: a theory (the word comes from theorein, to look at) is a ‘view’ or ‘sight’ of something, and if one’s way of looking at it is perverse one’s view will be distorted, and distorted views are always full of problems. But the mere presence of problems is not enough to prove a view distorted; true views in theology also entail unsolved problems, while any view that was problem-free would certainly be rationalistic and reductionist. True theories in theology, whether about the atonement or anything else, will suspect themselves of being inadequate to their object throughout. One thing that Christians know by faith is that they know only in part.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Moltmann on Jesus' Pain

May I try allow Moltmann give us a glimpse into the ‘true inner pain and suffering and death’ of Christ?

"Socrates died as wise man. Cheerfully and calmly he drank the cup of hemlock…for him, death was a breakthrough to a higher purer life… The Zealot martyrs who were crucified after the unsuccessful revolts against the Romans died conscious of their righteousness in the sight of God, and looked forward to their resurrection to eternal life… The wise men of the Stoics demonstrated to the tyrants in the arena, when they were torn to pieces by wild animals, their inner liberty and superiority.
The Christian martyrs too went calmly and without fear to their death. Conscious of being crucified with Christ and receiving the baptism of blood, and of thereby being united forever with Christ, they went to their death in ‘hope against hope.’

Jesus clearly died in a different way. His death was not a ‘fine death.’ The synoptic gospels agree that He ‘was greatly distressed and troubled’ and that His soul was sorrowful even to death… Jesus clearly died with every expression of the most profound horror. How can this be explained?
…We can understand it only if we see His death not against His relationship with the Jews and the Romans, to the law and political power, but in relation to His God and Father, whose closeness and whose grace He Himself had proclaimed.

Moltmann goes on to express that this is the theological dimension of the unique pain of the death of Christ. He says to understand His death rightly we have to look at the life, context, and ministry of Jesus. Jesus constantly expressed closeness to and unique fellowship with this ‘Abba Father’ He proclaimed; Christ identified Himself with the Yahweh God in an inimitable way. Moltmann summarizes the pain of death thus:

"…Anyone who lived and preached so close to God, His kingdom and His grace, and associated the decision of faith with His own person, could not regard His being handed over to death on the cross as one accursed as a mere mishap, a human misunderstanding or a final trial, but was bound to experience it as rejection by the very God whom He had dared to call ‘My Father.’
…Not until we understand His abandonment by the God and Father whose imminence and closeness He had proclaimed in a unique, gracious and festive way, can we understand what was distinctive about His death."
Crucified God (147-51)

First Christmas Thought

Christmas season is upon us, along with its barrage of inane information enlightening us as to its meaning. Of course much of it is very near the truth—NOT!!

When one thinks upon the magnitude of this moment theologically one can only become painfully pi**ed at how our culture has transformed the meaning of Christmas. What do I mean? Well think of the word, it is Christmas: the birth of the Christ. At this time around 2000 years ago God became flesh, the incarnation took place, and He who is the very image of the gloriously incomprehensible God was born in a dingy nasty manger in Bethlehem, Palestine. WHAT?? How is this possible, why would God do this? So that we can immerse ourselves in a commercial landslide devoid of any reference to this glorious truth, I tend to think not.

No, this wonderful miracle of God taking on flesh to ‘tabernacle’ among humanity was the first ‘visible’ part of a stunning salvation plan. Only one who was fully man and fully God could die for sin and be a perfect sacrifice to satiate the anger of God towards a world who had distanced themselves from Him and were therefore destined to eternity without a chance of restoring relationship with Him. You will probably hear it a thousand times this Christmas from various sources, but may I be one of the first to remind us to linger upon this glorious truth as we journey through all the distracting twinkle of commercial Christmas.