Archive for December, 2011

Luke Commentary sans Greek

Posted: December 31, 2011 by J in General

Here it is, as promised, in a user-friendly version with very little greek, and what there is all transliterated and translated.

Happy New Year!

And the answer is…

Posted: December 31, 2011 by J in General

YES Al Green, you have it. The answer to our Who Am I is Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology, chapter on Solitude. Well done.

How does it feel to be the ONLY one who knew that, Al??

Speaking of the only one, those of you following this blog will have realised by now that I’ve only read one book this year! A bit embarrassing…

Thanks everyone who had a go. You’re the best. Well, at least the second best…

Here’s the quote again:

[Whoever takes up the gospel] must be prepared, precisely because of what he thinks and says in the practical sphere, to displease the masses… In such a situation a [Christian] person may easily become bitter, skeptical, perhaps even bellicose and mean. He may become inclined, as an accuser, to turn permanently against his fellow men on account of their lifelong folly and wickedness. Precisely this, of course, may not be permitted to happen. If the ethics of evangelical theology does not wish to convict itself of falsehood, it must be represented, for all its definiteness, only by the greatest serenity and peaceableness.

 

An ethical Who Am I?

Posted: December 26, 2011 by J in General

Now Christmas Day is over, relax with a beautful Who Am I about ethics

[Whoever takes up the gospel] must be prepared, precisely because of what he thinks and says in the practical sphere, to displease the masses… In such a situation a [Christian] person may easily become bitter, skeptical, perhaps even bellicose and mean. He may become inclined, as an accuser, to turn permanently against his fellow men on account of their lifelong folly and wickedness. Precisely this, of course, may not be permitted to happen. If the ethics of evangelical theology does not wish to convict itself of falsehood, it must be represented, for all its definiteness, only by the greatest serenity and peaceableness.

Who wrote this?

Gospel Opportunities at Christmas

Posted: December 23, 2011 by J in Church, Mission

Christmas provides some pretty special gospel opportunities. At that time we have neighbours who are in a positive frame of mind about Jesus, and willing to spend some time celebrating him;  others who are especially lonely, and others who are struggling to pay the bills.

At my church we haven’t managed to do much at all, just a carols night. We’re all a bit tired, for one thing! But also we have habits at Christmas that are obstacles to mission.

So it’s left me thinking about the things I wish we were doing.

Here’s some ways I suggest we Christians could (and maybe should) be responding to Christmas in order to proclaim Christ at this time of opportunities.

1. We can spend Christmas Day showing hospitality to lonely and needy people in our neighbourhood. They will never forget it if we do: it’s the day in the year where hospitality will mean most to them. We could do this as a local church by holding a lunch for local people. Or we could do it in our homes, inviting a few lonely neighbours over to share in our family Christmas, maybe making it an open house sort of thing.  This is maybe a better option, inviting them into our lives, while lunch at the church hall is a bit more impersonal. To do this we’ll probably have to tell our wider families we’re not coming on Christmas day. Of course, there’s nothing to stop them coming to us!

I can’t think of a better way to display the grace of Jesus at Christmas than by caring for and standing with the ones he cared for and stood with. Course, that means we need to know who the lonely people in our communities are!

2. We can make up Christmas hampers. Big, fat Christmas hamper groaning with all sorts of useful Christmas foods, maybe a big ham for starters. Get a couple of grand together, buy in bulk, make up 20 or so of these at $100 each, give them to people who are struggling at Christmas. That would make it a real help, rather than a token. People don’t like to take money, but a christmas hamper feels more acceptable.

If we’re not giving to the poor around us at Christmas, what’s the good of telling anyone about the generous gift of God, of the one who ‘though he was rich, yet became poor for our sakes, so we might become rich’?

Of course to do this we need to know who are the people in our community struggling to pay for Christmas!

3. We can help people to celebrate Jesus by creating creative events where they can do that without unnecessary discomfort. Events where they can have time to sing over and hear and see and reflect on the Christmas story in ways that work for them. Incredibly, people still like to do those things at Christmas. Instead of moaning that they only want it at Christmas, we could just help them do it really well.

Here in my neighbourhood that seems to mean a carols night. Christmas day service I think might be a less effective way – everyone is busy and rushed, and they just don’t come anyway. If people don’t like sermons but do like singing carols and watching dramas and holding candles at Christmas, then why not get them singing and watching and candling, and leave sermons for another time. Whatever helps them get closer to the Jesus story. At our Carols, our Tongan pastor led a prayer of thanksgiving for the community for God’s blessings this year, and especially for Jesus. I heard afterwards how many visitors had appreciated that prayer in particular. If people are wanting to give back thanks to God, wouldn’t we be mad not to help them?!

Of course to do this we need to be in touch enough with people to have a feel for what would work for them as a celebration!

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These seem to me to be three common-sense starting points for making the most of the unique gospel opportunities of Christmas. I wonder how many of them your church is doing. Us, this Christmas, mainly just no.3.

Apology

Posted: December 22, 2011 by J in General

I have been ticked off for lobbing all that greek at you. I am sorry, I think I imagined I’d transliterated it all. But I see I haven’t.

I’ll try to get onto that, and repost it when it’s more user friendly. Less greek , and transliterated.

 

Luke-Acts: a fresh reading

Posted: December 21, 2011 by J in General

I’ve been writing up the studies in Luke that we’ve done in our gatherings this year, in the form of a commentary. Here’s the intro material plus Luke chapters 1-3. Happy reading!

Luke-Acts a fresh reading

The Threat of God Incarnate

Posted: December 17, 2011 by J in Mission, Theology


We said in an earlier post that an extreme incarnation – where God in Jesus took on fallen flesh like ours – would be a terrible threat to our comfortable middle class existence.

Why so?

It’s about closeness. We asked, how close has God come? If he has come that close, to become truly one of us, then he’s come all the way. The greatest difference in the universe – the difference between Creator and creation – has been bridged or unified. At the heart of God’s mission plan to reclaim his world, is solidarity. Fellowship. Coming near. Entering in to our experience, in all its sin and misery.

If that’s the mission plan, what does that mean for us evangelical Christians? It means radically redefining mission faithfulness. It means that if we think we can take part in God’s mission to his world, then coming near is going to be at the heart of our activity. Our faithfulness in mission can be measured by this yardstick: did we get close to the people we were hoping to reach for Christ? Did we enter into fellowship with them? Did we share in their experience of life, in all its messiness, moral ambiguity, and downright degradation? Did we share their tears and joys, their worries and hopes and – everything? Did we get close enough to understand how to serve them and show true friendship?

If God in Jesus really became one of Adam’s fallen race, then this is where mission faithfulness is at: are we willing, like God in Jesus, to touch the unclean ones?

Our middle class existence relies on walls of protection which we build up against the outside world. Our neighbours? – our church buildings have walls and no windows. We all go in and boldly declare Christ where no one can bother us or be bothered by the gospel.

Our money? We protect it in bullet-proof banks, so that we can spend it all (or almost all) on ourselves. That’s the middle-class way. After all, our affluence is what sets us apart from them. It’s the mark of a decent life.

The poor and working classes? –  we make sure we live in different suburbs where we don’t meet them. Our children go to schools in nice areas where they won’t meet them. If the schools aren’t effective barriers, we go private.

People whose lives are ‘sinful’ or broken? – we have all sorts of ways of distancing ourselves from them. We’re so good at it we don’t even notice we’re doing it (over-busyness is one classic technique). But the result is unmistakable: by and large our church members don’t form close friendships with ‘sinful’ people.

My time at bible college gave me a taste of this. We spent four years in a suburb full of such people: troubled, needy, sinful. But it was as though they didn’t exist. We were a little island of Christian academia, and who knows what might have been out there in those murky waters? We were certainly never encouraged to find out. For four years our next batch of leaders learnt the art of insulation.

Being so well insulated from the sinners around us, we Christians have developed a style of evangelism which is about getting people to listen to presentations. We seem to imagine that if we can achieve that, if we can have a conversation about Jesus, or bring them to a bible talk, or whatever, then we’ve been faithful in mission. As if God had just lobbed a letter down from heaven, rather than coming to walk amongst us.

But if we’re taking part in the mission of God incarnate, then of course the cost is going to be much higher than that. Mission is going to require us to get involved with people, to sweat and suffer and maybe even bleed with them, to get the taste of the degradation of their lives – i.e. to learn to really love them. Costly love – that’s step one when you’re on mission with Jesus.

So that’s the threat of the incarnation. Now the question is, how many of our middle-class protective barriers will have to come down before we can begin to be faithful to Jesus in mission? How much will it cost us? And will any of us be willing to pay the price?

Jesus a sinner?

Posted: December 14, 2011 by J in General

We have been exploring the idea that Jesus inherits Adam’s fallen humanity. And especially the worry that if he does, he inherits his guilt and curse as well.

Why does this idea bother us?

Perhaps because we want to say Jesus was a perfect, pure, spotless sin offering at the cross. That’s an understandable concern: his sacrifice must be acceptable to God. Let’s give this some thought. What are the conditions for Jesus’ sacrifice being acceptable? What do the Scriptures say? Not much, actually. To make an effective sacrifice, ‘he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect’, he needed to be ‘merciful and faithful’ (Hebrews 2:17). His offering was ‘fragrant’ to God when he ‘loved us and gave himself up for us’. The blood of Christ was ‘like that of like that of a lamb without defect or blemish’ (1 Peter 1:18), and this picks up on the Mosaic requirement that the sacrificial lamb be without blemish (e.g. Exodus 12:5).

In what way is Jesus like a lamb with no blemish? Peter doesn’t explain. But soon after he speaks of ‘purifying your souls through obedience.’ It’s not too much of a stretch to see Jesus’ faithful obedience, his not committing sin, as the way in which he is like a lamb without blemish.

So the requirements seem to be that Jesus become one of us, become like us, that he be able to sympathise with us and be merciful, that he be faithful to his calling, that he love us and give himself willingly. These are conditions Scripture sets out for Jesus’ becoming an sacrifice acceptable to God.

However, it’s hard to find anything in Scripture that suggests Jesus’ offering of himself would not be acceptable if he shared our fallen human nature.

Seems that maybe our worries are not needed. We don’t need to deny that he shared in Adam’s sinful humanity in order to preserve his effective sacrifice. In fact, if we deny his fallen humanity, we call his sacrifice into question: he was not made like us.

It’s enough to say – as all the NT writers say – that Jesus was faithful, and hence a sin offering without blemish.

Jesus – what sort of human?

Posted: December 13, 2011 by J in General

We left ourselves on the horns of a dilemma in order to go and consider a key text in Romans 8:3.

The dilemma is, if Jesus was NOT a man like us, subject to every temptation that we face, then he could not act as our priest make a sin offering for us (Hebrews 3:17). But if he WAS like us, then he has a nature like ours, sinful and fallen.

They both sound pretty bad don’t they. I can’t think of any way to make the first option sound better, but the second I think is worth exploring a little.

If Jesus was made ‘like us in every way’ (Heb 3:17) and took on flesh (fallen humanity) then he put himself under the power of sin and death. C.S. Lewis thinks it was easy for Jesus to obey his Father through life. But if he’s like us in every way, then it wasn’t. He was plagued by wicked and dark thoughts, like we are. He was destabilised by changing moods like we are. He had areas of personal weakness where the evil one would hit him hardest – like us. He felt the pull of temptation, the attraction of sin as his fallen nature responded to its siren call. He looked in himself and was distressed by what he saw there. And distressed, he cried out to his Father to save him. ‘Father take this cup from me.’ His baptism was a confession of his need to be renewed by the Spirit of God, released from sin, transformed from ‘flesh’ to ‘spirit’ (from old creation to new).

And yet, through all these struggles and griefs, he is enabled and empowered by the Spirit to love and obey God his Father. He is tempted, terribly tempted – but he does not sin. He follows his calling to be a faithful son.

By this account, Jesus comes very close to us indeed: right into the misery of our fallen and lost condition.

Can we accept this picture of Jesus? If not, where is the sticking point? Is it the thought that, if Jesus has a fallen sinful nature, he is offensive in God’s eyes, his very existence is guilty before God? The worry that if Jesus inherits Adam’s corruption, he inherits his guilt and curse as well?

If so, why does this idea bother us?

Isn’t this exactly what we believe about Jesus: that he took upon himself our guilt and shame, and became offensive to God? That he inherited our curse? We believe it at the cross. What about through the rest of Jesus’ life, starting with his birth? What if Jesus’ very incarnation was a part of his sin-bearing? That would make his whole life an act of atonement, with the cross as its culmination.

What if at the cross Jesus wasn’t taking responsibility for sinfulness unconnected to him, but rather for sins which really did belong to him because he has taken them up by becoming one of Adam’s sons.

This would charge his incarnation, his birth, with a great deal of meaning. It would charge it with gospel importance.

That would be something worth talking about in a Christmas message!

What do you reckon?

A seductive gospel

Posted: December 9, 2011 by deadfliesmike in General

Our house flooded again last week.

As I cleaned up I found a piece of paper with this on it. I don’t think I’ve posted it elsewhere

Christian evangelism is a seduction, a wooing, a romance,  declaration of love and desire.
In an increasingly unromantic world, it is a strange and foreign form of speech, and so difficult to listen to. Both those who hear and those who speak the gospel may be tempted to view it as one of our more mundane forms of speech and thinking and truth.

Modernism eschews romantic truth. Instead it yearns for the alpha male. It searches for the truth powerful enough to force itself onto anyone. Beauty doesn’t enter the equation. It longs for the decision to be taken away by force. And we may attempt to present the gospel of Jesus in this way, as evidence that demands a verdict, as self evident to all.

No womder post-modrnism reacted against this brutal truth, this rape of the mind, the compulsion, but also the strange desire for it. And so post modernism is suspicious of desire. It first embraces ugliness, and then recognizing it’s own compulsive fetishized desire for ugliness, retreats into the isolated, comfortable masturbation of irrationalism. Post modernism can bear no children.
And we may attempt to present the gospel in this way, from the atomized individualism of self help christianity, to the ugly, voluntarist God of hyper Calvinism, ironically enshrining our freedom from the compulsion of desire by presenting such a soveriegn, evil-underwriting God that following him has nothing to do with self – yet secretely valourizing our heroic desire to submit to ugliness.

Yet the God of the gospel seduces us with his beauty. Beauty in himself, and beauty for us. He neither forces himself upon us, not is he ugly and undesirable, nor is he lacking in desire for us. Instead he is the goal and end of our best desires, he is life and peace and joy, he is where we find ourselves made new, the gospel is a call to fall in love.