Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Entwined Stories

I had the great privilege of sharing at our (Church of Christ the King Watford) Christmas Service on the evening of last Sunday. It is always a difficult message to prepare as a Pastor because it seems that you need to make it fresh, or new, each and every year, even though it is obviously the same theme. Christmas is the only time of the year that there is a 'retained' inclination within the people of the UK to actually attend a church service, so it is important that each of us as leaders uses it as an opportunity to bring the gospel to the ears of those who do attend.

The theme that struck me this year was to highlight how the stories of Santa and Christ intertwine at this time of year in a way that actually muddies the water and destroys any clarity about what may be true and what is fantasy. The story of Santa is a fun one, even a good one. It is one that is meant to bring smiles, and expose us to a season of peace and goodwill, so that must be a good thing. But the joy does not last, in fact 'Experts' say that the last Tuesday of the month of January is typically the saddest day of the year. So you have 5 weeks to enjoy any good feeling that may have come with the Christmas rush.

The Christmas story of a Saviour born as a child is riddled with reports of peace to all men and goodwill. In Isaiah chapter 9 where the birth of Christ is foretold over 700 years before the event, we see some stunning phrases about the eternal reign of Christ, the peace that will last forever as the 'government' rests upon His (Christ that little baby) shoulders. This is the essential point of departure for the two stories. In fact, the way to see the difference is to imagine a world without either of the two stories.
A world without the story of Santa and his industrious elves leads to quite a mundane, even if less chaotic, end of the year without the hope of receiving that 'super gift.'
A world without the story of Christ... well that is a world without a hope; it is a world where the horrors of the World Wars; traumatizing stories like the murder of Baby P (see story) have no conclusion; and where there is nothing to deliver us from our own passion for genocide.

Think about it...


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Normally have a rant about this time of year, but I think I will keep you from that this year.
All I am going to say is have a brilliant Christmas filled with the knowledge of the presence of the Saviour once in a manger- Jesus Christ.

In Him


Proverbs for Starters- Part II

Well let us kick off the musings on this brilliant book with the theme, the Theological/Practical context, that undergirds all of its words. Again and again through the book you will get words like Wisdom, Understanding, Discernment entwined with this phrase "The fear of the Lord." All those other terms, all of life in fact, if you take this book as a guide to living, grows from this soil-bed of fearing God.

This makes so much sense because if God is creator of all that is reality, if He is the orchestrator of the rhythms of nature and all the laws that make creation exist in balance and harmony, then it will do us an immense amount of good to know Him. But you do not truly know God if you do not fear Him. He alone is awesome (a word sadly abused by our American friends, now adopted by the English), He alone is worthy of this deep-rooted consuming respect and honour. And this alone is the path to living life well (My brilliant philosophy professor at Uni told me that wisdom is simply the knowledge to live life rightly in God's world).

That is what Proverbs wants for you: to live life well. I think when we are younger or if we are immature we want to live life excitedly or quickly; Proverbs does not see that as meaningful or worth our pursuit. Proverbs has greater goals for us. Proverbs wants us to live the great life of peaceful, abiding relationship with God and is loaded with practical tips to enable such a life. In my 30s I now know that I want to live that life.
So, "The fear of the Lord." Do you think this would be a label for your lifestyle: He/She FEARS THE LORD. It in itself is a constant pursuit that must be renewed by an ongoing fixation with knowing and loving Him more.

Again, read this book, it's loaded!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Proverbs for Starters- Part I

One of the things I set out to do at the beginning of this time of R&R in the States was to spend time daily in the Proverbs. A central reason for this (there are several) was that in 1998 when I had a time of really stuffing up my relationship with Christ through pursuing my own ego, the Proverbs was a section of Scripture that radically pointed me back to the person of Jesus.
So with a time of rest available and a desire for restoration as the reason for this rest Proverbs was definitely a book I wanted to live in for a season.

Proverbs are a unique section of the scriptures as they seem to resemble very few other books in approach or outlook. Some scholars/individuals may go as far as to say that there seems to be no references to Salvation or God's redemptive plan and in this sense the Proverbs are 'out of place' in Scripture. I think people are reading the Proverbs trying to find in them what was not intended by God to be in them if they were to have that outlook.

The Proverbs are within a section of the Scriptures known as Wisdom Literature and in that lies the greatest clue to the Hermeneutic (means of interpretation) one should hold when reading this book.
Also the Proverbs seem to have little continuity (I say 'seem' as in reality there is much continuity) in comparison with other sections of Scripture, the Gospels or more Historical books for example. It is a book loaded with short 'pithy' statements. And I think for a consumer generation like ours (also one that is 'unwise', self-centered', Godless, riddled with 'foolishness') that makes it a simply magnificent book to read- repeatedly and regularly.


So with that in mind, I am going to take time to do only my second 'series' of musings (see series on What we're Looking For). Again, they are only mine, they will definitely not be any where near the best thoughts available on the Proverbs or anything for that matter, but your invited to pop in and check them out.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

The enemy known as 'The Self'

Still pressing on in Lloyd Jones' Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, which is simply exquisite reading for any who would choose to partake. In a chapter entitled Denying Self & Following Christ Lloyd Jones highlights a commitment made by George Muller and then writes a brief but hard-hitting excursus on Muller's words. I thought I would let you see both:

Muller: "There was a day when I died, utterly died, to George Muller and his opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame of even my brothers and friends; and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God."

Lloyd Jones writes
"I wonder whether we have ever realized the extent to which the misery and the unhappiness and the trouble in our lives is due to one thing only, namely self... There is no question about it. Self is the main cause of unhappiness in life. 'Ah,' you say, 'but it is not my fault; it is what somebody else has done.' All right; analyse yourself and the other person, and you will find the other person probably acted as he did because of self, and you are really feeling it for the same reason... Most of the unhappiness and sorrow, and most of our troubles in life and in experience, arise from this ultimate origin and source, this self."

Lloyd Jones preached in a way which is very unpopular in our current pop-psychological-extremo-self-esteem boosting culture. He calls upon us to read ourselves and challenge our own hearts and lives. I concur with him, we must look at our hearts and see where the self is crowding out the work of God.


Monday, December 8, 2008

More Charnock: Love 'the first spring'

Still immersed in what is proving to be a simply stunning little book. Here is another excerpt (Commenting on Ephesians 5:2, "And walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us an offering and a sacrifice..."):

"['He loved us'] This is the first spring of all the actions of Christ towards us, and the passion of Christ for us. There could be no other motives with regard to us. Our misery might excite his pity, but his affection produced his passion. He loved us, as God, in common with His Father; he loved us, as man, by a participation of our nature. In this love, their is His divine will as a priest and His human will as a sacrifice. He pitied us while we were insensibly hurried down by the devil to a gulf of perdition. Love was the only impulse. Love excited Him, love prepared Him, love sent Him, love offered Him. The highest assurance of His love was the loss of His life. THE EXCELLENCY OF THE FRUIT SHOWS THE GOODNESS OF THE TREE."

My heart simply radiates at these insights into the astounding love of Christ for His chosen people.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Charnock on Christ Crucified

"He [the sinner without Christ] instead of craving the pardon of his Judge, he flies from Him, and when his flight would not advantage him, he stands upon his own defence, and extenuates his crime; thus adding one provocation to another as if he had an ambition to harden the heart of God against him and render himself irrecoverably miserable.
God so overlooks these, as in immense love and grace to settle a way for man's recovery, without giving any dissatisfaction to His justice, so strongly engaged for the punishment of the offence. And rather than this notorious rebel and prodigious apostate should perish according to what he deserves, God would transfer the punishment (which he could not remit without a violation of His truth and an injury to His righteousness) upon a person equal to himself, most beloved by Him, his delight from eternity, and infinitely dearer to Him than any thing in heaven or earth...

It was love that would restore man after the fall; there was no more need to do this than creating the world... But that he might wind up His love to the highest pitch, he would not only restore man, but rather than let him lie in His deserved misery, would punish His own Son, to secure man from it. It was purely His grace which was the cause that His Son "tasted death for every man" (Heb. 2:9)."

Glory to God

A Dose of Theology

On Saturday I chose to start a new book that I brought over here to the States as part of my reading schedule. It is a book by a puritan writer, and once again I sat there astounded by the theological depth and the sheer passion and love for God that is evident in every sentence. The book is Christ Crucified (click on title for link), by a man called Stephen Charnock.
Reading it, brought about a clash in thought. Firstly, I was so grateful to read such lofty, God-glorifying thought on Christ Crucified; yet I found myself saddened that in that brief first chapter I probably encountered more deep, solid, inspirational theology on the cross then I have stumbled upon in all the contemporary reading, and preaching I have been exposed to in the rest of the year.

Preaching the theology of the cross, the wonder of the cross, the fruits and effects of the cross seems to be a lost art. In fact it seems to be "out of vogue." There are so many other self-help topics out there. So much need to talk about who we are as churches and the difference we are going to make to society... but everything we preach is without foundation or meaning unless it draws us to and evokes in us a renewed fascination with Christ Crucified.
More and more I see that the teaching of men like Tim Keller & Edmund Clowney is of absolute importance for this generation of church leaders and particularly those who preach and teach. Their constant call is that we would preach Christ in all of Scripture; literally they would say that in every section of scripture there is a legitimate, necessary way to speak of Christ and Him crucified as its fulfillment.

I am challenged, even as I think upon a series on Joshua after Easter I am burdened that every sermon would draw my people from Joshua as the deliverer to the great deliverer.
The book is obviously written out of a desire to share the burden and passion of the Apostle Paul who writes these words in 1 Corinthians,
"For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified."

Let that be our fixation.