Saturday, 25 December 2010

Come and worship Christ the King

Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
You who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Shepherds, in the field abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
See: there shines the infant light:

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
You have seen His natal star.

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy says: come, break your chains.

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Though an Infant now we view Him,
He shall fill His Father’s throne,
Gather all the nations to Him;
Every knee shall then bow down:

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Peace & goodwill this Christmas

Christmas is a fun time for most of us, because everyone’s happy and nice to each other. We meet our family – sometimes people we haven’t seen for years. And we give each other gifts and reminisce about old times and share our hopes and dreams. And it’s all fun and lovely.

But then we hear things like this:

Each year police and support services prepare themselves for a spike in domestic assault cases over the Christmas to New Years’ eve period. A combination of financial strain, families spending more time together, and increased alcohol consumption contribute to the rise in figures.

Nina Funnell, ‘For many women, ‘tis the season of fear, not joy’, National Times December 21, 2010

The prophet Isaiah spoke to people who were oppressed and afraid, because they were under threat from their enemies.

Isaiah 9:1-2:

1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan. 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

Isaiah’s talking about real, historical places. Zebulun, Naphtali, Galilee and the Jordan River. They’re in the north of Israel – in the area that was the first to be attacked by enemies. That’s why they lived in darkness, and the shadow of death - they were always under threat by their enemies.

Think of North and South Korea. There’s only a few hundred kilometres between the two capital cities, Pyongyang and Seoul. The two nations are technically still at war with each other – so they’re always afraid, always ready for war. Death could come to them any time – they live in the shadow of death.

We too live in the shadow of death. We’re not at war with another country. But we don’t have peace in our lives. Some of us really do live in the shadow of death – we’re battling cancer, or some other life-threatening disease. We all have some tension in our families – someone who won’t talk to someone else, and that makes Christmas lunch kind of awkward because they’re in the room together but everyone knows they won’t even look at each other, let alone talk to each other…

Isaiah explains the root cause of this breakdown, this tension, this war we experience. It’s simple, but profound: it’s because we have rejected God.

The prophet Isaiah says some really harsh things against his own people. He tells them that all their religious rituals are useless. In fact, they’re worse than useless – they actually make God mad. He compares his own people to Sodom and Gomorrah – the worst, most disgusting cities in the Bible.

And it’s all because they rejected God.

Isaiah 1:2-3:

2 Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

The people were worse than animals. Pets know where their food comes from. They respect their owners. The people of God don’t even know that much. They bite the hand that feeds them.

We’ve done exactly the same thing. God has been very kind to us. He gives us everything we have: families, friends, homes, jobs. But we reject him, we tell him to get out of our lives.

We don’t do it directly. We just ignore him.

Imagine going to someone’s place for Christmas lunch, and then barging in, talking to all the other guests, and merrily helping ourselves to the food – but completely ignoring the host. We don’t even say thank you. In fact, when the host comes to us to say hello, we deliberately turn our back and ignore them.

That’s how we treat God. We live in God’s world, and enjoy all the good things God gives us; and then ignore him.

That’s why God gets angry with us. How would you feel if you were the host at Christmas lunch, and your guests ignored you like that? First you’d be surprised; then you might be sad; but eventually, you’d get furious!

The amazing thing is – even though we reject God, and even though he’s angry with us, God still loves us enough to offer us peace through Jesus .

Isaiah 9:3-5:

3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

The people have gone from sorrow to joy. They were in darkness and gloom and distress. Now they’re partying – like at harvest time, or like when the last English wicket fell in the third Ashes test match, levelling the ashes at one all, and the whole of Australia rejoiced…

They’re happy because God has got rid of their enemy. The defeat of Midian refers back to an episode in Israel’s history. It’s recorded in Judges chapters 6-7. The people of Midian had conquered God’s people, and were ruling over them. God raised up a leader, Gideon, who defeated the Midianites, and released God’s people from their oppression.

God can defeat the people's enemies. He’s done it before; he’ll do it again. Only this time, it’ll be better than Midian. There’ll be world peace; no-one will need any weapons any more, they can all be burned in the fire.

And the way God will defeat the people's enemies is – through a baby.

Isaiah 9:6-7:

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Children don’t normally win wars. You don’t put a baby in front of a tank. But this isn't any ordinary baby.

  • He’s a ‘wonderful counsellor’: he’s going to know how to do the right thing, and teach wisely - with a wisdom greater than Solomon;
  • He’ll be an ‘everlasting father’: He’s going to look after the people like a father cares for a family; and, he’s going to be everlasting: he’s going to be from eternity, to eternity;
  • He’ll be the ‘prince of peace’: we've already talked about how the baby will bring world peace - only Jesus can really do that, because only Jesus fixes our rebellion against God;
  • And he’ll be ‘mighty God’ [Hebrew El-Gibbor, also used in Isaiah 10:21] - God would become a baby! Only Jesus can fulfil that!

And this child will fulfil God’s promises to David. Again, this refers to what God had done in Israel’s past. King David had defeated the enemies, and brought peace and security to God’s people. God promised David that one of his descendants would rule the world for ever – see 2 Samuel ch 7. This descendent from David will destroy God’s enemies, and bring peace, forever.

But it won’t be just this child doing it. The last phrase of the passage says “The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” God himself will act, in and through this promised child. That’s why we know it’ll work. When we try to do things, it doesn't work – because we’re weak and ignorant. When God does stuff, it works; because he’s wise and powerful, so he knows how to do things so that they last, forever.

Only Jesus could be this promised peace child.

  • Jesus really is divine - it’s not an exaggeration; he is himself mighty God;
  • That’s why he’s everlasting - he’s from eternity, to eternity;
  • Jesus really is God acting in the world - so the peace that he gives is for everyone, and goes on for ever, because he gives us peace with God;
  • Jesus is descended from David; he is David’s greatest son;
  • And he really does rule for ever - with him, it’s not an exaggeration, it’s real – because he rose from the dead, and lives for ever.

This is why Jesus can fix our main problem: our rebellion against God. When Jesus died on the cross, he wasn't just dying physically; he was taking all the punishment we deserve for rejecting God. So he fixes up what’s really wrong with the world: our rebellion against God. And because he’s fixed up our rebellion against God, he can rescue us from the evil powers that really oppress us: the powers of sin, death, and the devil.

So the question for all of us is – do we have peace this Christmas? Not just peace with our family & friends. Not just peace with ourselves – our sickness & worries. Peace with God!

Have you accepted Jesus as who he really is? God in the flesh; God’s chosen king; everlasting father; mighty God? Have you accepted the freedom from sin, death and the devil that he has won for us?

May the Lord bless you all, this Christmas and always.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The best Christmas gift is ourselves

It’s the last week before Christmas. Many of us are probably stressing about last-minute Christmas gifts.

But really - why worry so much? The best Christmas gift isn't stuff. Most of us have more things than we know what to do with anyway.

The best Christmas gift is – yourself. Christmas is a time when we can meet family members and friends, and catch up and chat and joke and laugh and share our lives with them.

And that makes sense because on that first Christmas day, God gave us a gift. Not a thing; not a toy. God gave us – himself.

The Apostle John says, at the beginning of his gospel:
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:14a The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
Jesus is God. And in giving us Jesus, God gives us – himself. On that first Christmas, he came to live with us. Not just visit - to live, to make his "dwelling", his "home" with us.

It’s the difference between tourism and immigration. When we go somewhere as a tourist, we just look at things, take photographs and souvenirs - and leave. We don't form any lasting relationships.
But if we immigrate, then we're here to stay. We have to find a house, and a job, and a school for the kids, and everything else.

God didn’t come to earth as a tourist. He immigrated.

But even that isn’t enough. Not only did he come as a human. Not only did he live with us. He gave himself, as a human, to death for us.

We worry about the cost of our Christmas presents. Is it too much? Is it too little? If it's too much, we'll embarrass the person we're giving it to. If it's too little, we'll insult them.

Jesus didn’t think about the cost. He paid the ultimate price, to give us the ultimate gift. He gave his own life, on the cross, so that we could have eternal life.
You can't love anyone more than dying for them. You can't give yourself more completely to someone than dying for them. So, seeing as Jesus is God, we have, in the cross of Christ, God giving himself - absolutely, completely, without holding anything back - to us.

And it wasn’t just any death. It was death for our sins. Because we rebel against God, reject him, tell him to get out of our lives.

The Apostle John says:
John 1:10-11: He was in the world, and though the world was made
through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own,
but his own did not receive him.
Jesus made us. But we don’t receive him. We lock him out of our lives.

Imagine visiting someone for Christmas lunch. And the host goes outside for a moment. While they’re outside, we lock them out. Then we keep partying inside: eating their food, unwrapping their presents, while our host is outside, banging on the door, saying “what do you think you’re doing?”

This is what we do to God. We insult him, lock him out, and cut ourselves off from life with him. That's what the Bible calls 'sin'.

But even in the face of this, God still gives himself to us.

John continues:
John 1:12-13: Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Jesus died so that we could be God’s children; part of God’s family. He died so we could come into God’s presence with that same confidence and acceptance that we have when we visit our parents for Christmas lunch - or that our children have when they come round to us. Jesus made a home on earth, so that we could have a home in heaven.

It’s the last week before Christmas. Time to be thinking about last-minute Christmas gifts.

First, let’s think about the gift God gave us on that first Christmas. God gave us himself, in Jesus. Jesus gave himself to death on the cross. So that we could be at home with God.

Then, having considered that, let’s think – what gift are we going to give – to God?

Jesus told us to ‘love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength’. He said, if we wanted to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him.

God doesn’t want our time. He doesn’t want our money. He wants us. Our selves. Heart, soul, mind and strength. Because, on Christmas day, that’s what he gave to us.

The famous 17th century composer J. S. Bach got it right:
Beside thy cradle hear I stand,
O thou who ever livest,
And bring thee, with a willing hand,
The very gifts thou givest.
Accept me: 'tis my mind and heart,
My soul, my strength, my every part,
That thou from me requirest.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Free Church of Scotland permits hymns and musical instruments

News flash: the Free Church of Scotland, one of the most significant Presbyterian denominations which split in the 1800s from the Church of Scotland, has permitted hymns and musical instruments in its churches. To be precise, they have given "liberty to its congregations to sing hymns and use instruments, if individual Kirk Sessions [Church Elder's Committee] so choose".

Yes I know that sounds really lame, but bear with me while I explain why it's important.

The Free Church is theologically conservative, but has also been historically energetic. They set up New College at the University of Edinburgh, which now hosts the School of Divinity - that is, the university's theological faculty. They sent missionaries to Africa, India (Calcutta, Bombay, Poona and Madras), Canada, Australia (!) and the Middle East. Their theology was probably the closest to the Old Princeton Presbyterianism of Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield.

A lot (most? all?) of this energy has come from the Free Church's theological strength - their focus on the Bible, allied with a thoroughgoing Westminster Calvinism. An aspect of that theological strength has been a conservative view on the Regulative Principle - the view that Sunday church worship (and all of life) must be regulated by the Bible. If it's not permitted in scripture, it's not permitted in church. That's why this church historically hasn't used musical instruments, or sung anything beyond Psalms - which of course are inscripturated songs therefore permissible.

But now, as noted above, they've permitted musical instruments and songs beyond the Psalms.

I think this is a step forward, in that I don't subscribe to such a biblically prescriptive view of the regulative principle as noted above. I think the Bible gives us principles which regulate our response to God - our "worship" - in any and every situation. But I also think God gives us the responsibility of thinking deeply about how to apply those principles in any particular historical and cultural context.

So, let's speak to and teach and admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and Spiritual songs (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). God breathed out the Holy Scriptures for our teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). So if we meditate deeply upon the Bible, and express Biblical teaching in songs that are carefully crafted so that they're easy to sing, memorable, and with tunes which fit the mood of the words, then we'll be achieving what Paul means in these verses. I think this step by the Free Church will lead to more evangelism, and more authentic worship - worship which is simultaneously biblically faithful, culturally engaged, and deeply personally satisfying.

But of course I could be wrong. This could be a step backwards - a compromising with culture, a loss of biblical and theological clarity, the beginning of the end. We'll have to wait another 50 or so years and see.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Kingdom and Eternal Life in the Gospel of John

John Dickson, director of the Centre for Public Christianity, is at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. He posted the following summary of an exciting paper by German NT scholar Jorg Frey, in which, John says, "with one simple insight, he resolved a major 'problem' concerning the differences between John and the three other Gospels." He kindly let me re-post it:

* * * * *
Scholars have long pointed out that the central theme of Jesus' preaching, according to Matthew, Mark and Luke, was 'the kingdom of God'. It is everywhere in those Gospels. John virtually ignores that theme, preferring to speak of a nebulous 'eternal life' instead. This was seen as one serious against John's reliability. It does look like a serious problem.

Prof Frey, after outlining the problem, pointed out that in John 3 in the Nicodemus story we find the first and only references (two of them) to 'kingdom of God' AND the first references to 'eternal life'. In fact, if you read carefully - especially in Greek - they are parallel expressions. After this point, John drops 'kingdom of God' and has Jesus speaking consistently of 'eternal life' instead.

So, what's going on? Simple, said Frey. John has flagged for readers that 'eternal life' will now be the synonym for 'kingdom of God' in the rest of his Gospel. Frey explained that the sensitive context of John's social situation may have made 'kingdom' language sound subversive against the Roman empire, and so he dropped it, not in a wholesale way, but by giving us a more acceptable equivalent expression.

Moreover, if we ask: But how could John have felt permission to do this? The answer is provided by Daniel 7 and 12, Old Testament texts which were very influential in early Christianity. There we discover a huge reference to 'kingdom of God'. But we also find references to God's people reigning 'forever and ever; yes, forever and ever', expressions very suggestive of 'eternal life'. In fact, in Dan 12 we find the exact expression 'eternal life'.

In other words, John hasn't perverted Jesus' 'kingdom of God' preaching'. He has transposed it into biblically appropriate and sociologically acceptable language.

That's the gist.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Schreiner, Thielman & Wright on Justification

N. T. (Tom) Wright is famous (or infamous) for his view on justification, which many (myself included) take to be closer to a Catholic, synergistic view than the classic Protestant view - which we insist is the Biblical view.

To simplify the debate (without, hopefully, distorting it too much): Wright says "justification" refers to the church - God accepts those who identify with Christ as the mediator of the covenant. The "Lutheran" or "traditional" response is that such a view makes our act of identification with Christ meritorious - it waters down the idea that justification is an entirely gracious act of God, springing entirely from his willed generosity. The "Lutheran" view of justification is that it is a judicial declaration which sets the sinner in a perfectly right relationship with God. God is therefore the active agent in justification; humans are merely passive recipients. Wright replies that the Holy Spirit is active in empowering the believer to trust and obey. This achieves the same result as the "Lutheran" view - God is still the active agent in justification - but, Wright contends, his view is theologically and anthropologically richer, in engaging the whole Trinity in justification, and seeing faith and obedience as a whole-person response.

Both sides of course claim to be Biblical and publish books and blog posts and beat each other round the head with Bible verses (*sigh*).

Anyway... the Evangelical Theological Society just hosted a debate between Wright and two of his critics: Tom Schreiner, professor of New Testament at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Frank Thielman, Presbyterian professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School. Unsurprisingly, the blogosphere has promptly gone ballistic. The foll. ppl have posted summaries & comments:
Enjoy!

Friday, 19 November 2010

In the future, our sexuality will be fulfilled and transcended

In our previous post, we saw that Christ restores our sexuality in the present, by reaffirming heterosexual marriage, and modelling contentment and self-control. In the future, our sexuality will be transcended in God’s new creation.

The restoration of our sexuality, while real, will always be incomplete in the present - as will be all aspects of our human restoration. The Bible looks forward to a new creation, a new universe, where everything that is corrupt and painful will pass away, and we will only ever enjoy life and peace and safety. Only in this new creation will the effects of sin – of our willed rejection of God – be finally dealt with, and our human wholeness completely restored.

In this new creation, our sexuality will not just be restored, it will be transcended. The bible talks about God’s relationship with his people as a bride and bridegroom. In one of the final chapters of the bible, the Apostle John sees this vision - Revelation 21:2, 3:
2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”
The image is of God taking his people home, to live with him, like a husband taking his wife to their love nest. The new creation is like an eternal honeymoon. The joys, pleasures and fulfilments of sexuality will be fulfilled, and transcended, in the eternal joys, pleasures and fulfilment of relationship with God.

This future hope empowers present contentment and self control. People with a regular sexual partner can enjoy sex, without demanding it be ‘perfect’. Single people can affirm their sexuality, without expressing it, because it will be fulfilled and transcended in the new creation. We can control our desires now because the pleasure of seeing God face-to-face will be, literally, better than sex.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Healthy sexuality in the present

In our last post, we saw that Christ restores our sexuality - but we yet await a final restoration. In the present, sexual restoration involves three things: (1) the normativity of heterosexual marriage; (2) contentment; and (3) self control.

We have already seen Jesus validate marriage in Matt 19. Committed heterosexual marriage remains the context wherein to enjoy sex. If sexual partners are committed to each other for life, then sex is part of that shared life together. It is not just a one-night stand. We can encourage them to conduct their sexuality in such a way as to serve each other, and give each other the best possible sexual experience, over their whole life.

The normativity of sex within marriage calls for sexual contentment, both within and outside marriage.

Life with a regular sexual partner, married or not, still involves unmet sexual desires. Constant sexual satisfaction is a myth – it only happens in the movies. So, within marriage, we are called to contentment – to be grateful for what our partner can give us, not constantly demanding more. If we are content and grateful like this, then sex becomes an act that draws the sexual partners together in genuine mutual joy. Lack of contentment turns sex into a weapon – something to be used to get what you want.

Because sexuality is intrinsic to being human, single people can still view themselves as sexual beings, even if they don’t express their sexuality actively. Singles are to be content – that is, genuinely comfortable with themselves, happy, fulfilled – until they get married, or even with a lifetime of celibacy. Jesus was single and celibate. It is possible to be a fulfilled, happy virgin.

This contentment is allied with self control. Sexual desire is, prima facie, good. But we are called to manage those desires. The bible assumes that we are not merely victims of our passions, but that we can use our minds and will to control those passions, and channel them into useful, healthy, constructive pursuits.

And this contentment and self-control is also fuelled by a future hope of a fulfilled, transcended sexuality - which will be the subject of our final post.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Christ restores us to wholeness - in hope of final restoration

In our last post, we saw how our rejection of God - sin - affects us all, including our sexuality.

Because we’re all broken people, we need someone to fix us from the outside.

Jesus forgives us for rejecting God. And, he restores us to human wholeness. This is what he achieved in his cross and resurrection. Think of Jesus’ death on the cross as the ultimate sickness – sickness to death. And think of his resurrection as the ultimate healing – so healthy that he can never die again. He takes the consequences we deserve, so we can enjoy the life God always planned for us.

So, Christians are always hopeful. It doesn’t matter how bad a situation is, how much someone’s failed themselves, or failed anyone else – they can be restored by Jesus. We can always say to anyone: hang in there; don’t give up; there is hope.

This restoration is real, but in this life, partial. We'll explore this more over the next few posts.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Our rejection of God damages our sexuality

In our previous post, we noted God's pattern for healthy sexuality is heterosexual monogamy.

We've already seen that sex is not the original sin. Sexuality is implicated within our sin - but it's a victim of sin, not the perpetrator of it. The Bible presents sin as damaging our sexuality, along with the rest of our humanity. In Genesis 3, sin is presented as a willed rejection of God’s rule over our lives. It’s an attitude: “I don’t want you, God, to be in charge of my life; I want to be in charge of my life.” This active rejection of God affects our whole being – including our sexuality.

In Genesis 3:16, God lays out one of the consequences of rejecting him:
To the woman he [God] said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
This turns the previous blessings of sexuality, in Genesis 1 and 2, upside down. In Genesis 1, man and woman were commanded to have babies – “be fruitful, and increase in number”. Now, childbearing is painful. In Genesis 2, man and woman were madly in love with each other. Now they’re going to fight each other.

So I take it that sexual problems are a normal abnormality. They’re normal in the sense that everyone will have some problems in the area of sexuality – from unrealistic expectations of amazing sex (how come it's always so perfect in the movies…?), to unmatched desire ("not tonight dear, I've got a headache"), to acute gender dysphoria. Everyone is going to have some struggle somewhere, because we all reject God; we’re all broken people.

They’re abnormal in that we know it shouldn’t be like this. We long for that joy, honesty and fulfilment which was there at the beginning. And that longing is true – because that’s how God meant it to be.

How can we escape from this body of death? Next post...

Saturday, 13 November 2010

God’s pattern for sexuality: Heterosexual monogamy

In our previous post, we saw how sexuality is a good gift, from God, for our pleasure and for procreation of life.

Sex is so good, that God gives us a pattern within which to enjoy it. It’s like driving a car. A car is a good machine, useful for getting from place to place. But if we don’t control the car – if we deliberately break the rules, or if we just let it go wild – it’s dangerous. It can kill people.
Similarly, sex is good. But it needs to be managed and controlled, or else it can be dangerous.

Both Gen 1 & 2 present sexuality between a man and a woman, in the context of a committed relationship.

It's heterosexual. Genesis 1:27 says “male and female he created them”. In Genesis 1:28, the command to “be fruitful and increase in number” presupposes child-bearing sexual activity, which, until very recently, was heterosexual. In Genesis 2, God creates a woman, Eve, as a companion – to stand beside the man.

And it's a committed, lifelong relationship, ie: marriage. Genesis 2:24 says “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” That one-flesh union indicates a lifelong, intimate sharing. Jesus himself confirms this in the New Testament. Matthew 19:4-6 records Jesus as saying:
4 “Haven’t you read,” he [Jesus] replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
But we mustn’t just assert this pattern, as if everyone who conforms to it is a good, clean-living Christian. When we contemplate God’s pattern for our lives, it becomes clear how we all fall short of it. More on this in our next post.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Sex as a good gift from God

In our previous post, we thought about the implications if sex were intrisically sinful.

In contrast, the Bible tells us sex existed before sin. The first two chapters of Genesis have the stories of how God made the world. Sin only comes in chapter 3. So chapters 1 & 2 are about pure humanity – humanity before sin.
Genesis 1:27-28a:
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth…”
To be in God’s image is to be like God, while not being God. One of the first aspects of being like God is having babies - which would, for us humans, involve sex.
Having children images God because God gives life, and loves life. God is Father - and fathers have children. God is not sexual in himself; but our sexuality is an irreducible element in our imaging of God's life-giving nature.
So, our sexual nature is tied to being in God’s image – which means it’s tied to our basic humanity.
Then in Genesis chapter 2 we have the story of Adam and Eve. Genesis 2:23-25 records Adam's response when he first met Eve:
23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Notice how physical and visual this is. The man and woman are ‘bone of bone’ and ‘flesh of flesh’ – it’s very carnal, very physical. And they were naked before each other – it’s very visual. So, the physical pleasure of sexuality is good. And the visual stimulation of sexuality is good. God made it that way.

In fact, it's so good that God gave us instructions on how to best enjoy it. We'll explore God's good pattern for sexuality in our next post.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

God, self and - er - sex...

Back to everyone's favourite topic: sex!

These posts are adapted from my presentation a couple of weeks ago at the 'sexuality and religion' panel at the annual conference of the Australian Soceity of Sex Educators, Researchers and Therpists (ASSERT). It represents my continuing efforts to arrive at a comprehensive, Biblical view of sexuality, with a view to helping all people - Christian or not - to live healthily with this very important aspect of human life.

*****

Some people think Christians believe that sex is the original sin. That is, God considers all sexual activity to be intrinsically and irredeemably wicked and offensive. To have sex is to offend God.

If this were true, it would have two effects.

First, it would give us a warped view of God. God becomes the cosmic killjoy. Because the one activity that gives us greatest human pleasure is deemed to be the one activity that most offends God.

Secondly, it gives us a warped view of ourselves. If we believe in God, we don’t want to sin; we want to please God instead. So sex becomes an activity full of guilt and shame, instead of joy and happiness. And to be saved – to have a full relationship with God, to “go to heaven” – means to become asexual. The more holy you are, the less sexual you can be.

In contrast, the Biblical view is that sex is immensely good, because God created sex, and created us as sexual beings. More in the next post.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Shout outs: kids staying Christian; Stuart Townend on Corporate Worship

Couple of excellent posts out in the blogosphere:

Monday, 8 November 2010

What is it about late winter - early spring?

September is a flat month for me. And has been for the last coupla years. As in I find myself running on empty, not really motivated to do anything. The results are lagged - witness my lack of blog posts in October.

I suspect it's just mid-year exhaustion. Especially with a hectic winter - MYC, SweatCon and Religion in the Public Square conferences.

I'm not too worried coz I'm not alone. When commented on this to an older minister, he nodded and said "[school] term three is death term." Even Erik Raymond of Irish Calvinist says he's been suffering from blog coma... although when I scroll down his blog he's been posting every day for the last coupla weeks... oh dear... (*intimidated*).

Anyway... I'm back in the blogosphere now. More posts on the way.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Over at Irish Calvinist, Erik Raymond has an excellent post on pastors dealing with the resistance - "pushback" - that sin creates in congregations. Pastors need to take and land punches.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Newbigin on Government, the Cross, and the Kingdom of God

Lesslie Newbigin on government. Shades of Oliver O'Donovan. This'll be my last Newbigin post for now.
Kingship in the human sense - the authority to rule over a people - is, according to Scripture, something authorized by God and also something constantly corrupted by human sin... Jesus did not set out to destroy the rule exercised by the Roman and Jewish establishment. By manifesting and exercising the true kingship of God, he exposed their corruption and thereby... disarmed them, robbed them of their pretensions to absolute authority. He exercised his kingship by bearing witness to the truth - to the one great reality against which all claims to reality have to be tested (John 18:37). All kingship from Calvary onward is tested and judged by the standard of the true kingship established there...

[The church] has the duty to address the governing authority of the civil community with the word of God... the church reminds them of the fact that - whether they know him or not - Christ is the judge before whom they must stand in the end to give account of their stewardship of the power he gave them. With that responsibility comes, necessarily, the duty of regular and public prayer for the governing authorities.
Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Eerdmans, 1986): 126, 129.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Newbigin on Justice, Freedom & Equality

Lesslie Newbigin has a fascinating take on freedom & justice as mutual relatedness based on inner-Trinitarian relatedness. Is this from Barth?
... the Bible is informed by a vision of human nature for which neither freedom nor equality is fundamental; what is fundamental is relatedness. Man - male and female - is made for God in such a way that being in the image of God involves being bound together in this most profound of mutual relations. God binds himself in a covenant relationship with men and women to which he remains faithful at whatever cost and however unfaithful his covenant partner is. And people and nations are called to live in binding covenant relations of brotherhood. Human beings reach their true end in such relatedness, in bonds of mutual love and obedience that reflect the mutual relatedness in love that is the being of the Triune God himself...

True freedom is not found by seeking to develop the powers of the self without limit, for the human person is not made for autonomy but for true relatedness in love and obedience... Nor will the quest for equality create real justice, for justice - the giving to each of what is proper - can only be realized in a mutual relatedness in which each gives to the other the love and obedience that enable all to be truly human. Apart from this, the quest for justice become self-destructive, since it is of the very essence of fallen human nature that each of us overestimates what is due to the self and underestimates what is due to the other.
Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Eerdmans, 1986): 118-9.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Newbigin on Capitalism

Some of Lesslie Newbigin's most caustic insights relate to Capitalist economics.
Traditional Christian ethics had attacked covetousness as a deadly sin... [but] the eighteenth century, by a remarkable inversion, found in covetousness not only a law of nature but the engine of progress by which the purpose of nature and nature's God was to be carried out... In the economic realm the basic law is that the free operation of rational self-interest will alone secure general well-being... Each person must be free to better his condition as far as he can, and he alone is the judge of what is better. There can be no imposed or even generally accepted norm of what is good...
The driving power of capitalism... is the desire of the individual to better his material condition... The name the New Testament gives to [this] force is covetousness. The capitalist system is powered by the unremitting stimulation of covetousness...
The result is that increased production has become an end in itself... Growth is for the sake of growth and is not determined by any overarching social purpose [beyond the temporary satisfaction of unlimited desires to consume - which Newbigin takes as internal to the model]. And that, of course, is an exact account of the phenomenon which, when it occurs in the human body, is called cancer.
Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Eerdmans, 1986): 109, 111, 113-4.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Newbigin on Augustine on Government

The church father Augustine famously argued that love is [should be...?] the foundation of all human government - not just Christian. Here's Lesslie Newbigin's summary of Augustine's argument:
[Augustine] insists that love is the basis of [all human] society; even in their wars men are in fact seeking peace. But peace is only possible where there is order, and order depends on proper government; but government in which one is subordinated to another is only right is the one who is called to govern does so for the sake of those he governs - as their servant. The motive power of order is therefore love... Love, not natural justice, is what holds even the earthly commonwealth together... love creates order first in the family and among neighbours and then, by extension, in the city and the nation... Faith working through love is the foundation of justice, and without justice there is no commonwealth.
Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Eerdmans, 1986): 103-4.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Lesslie Newbigin

Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) is my nemesis. Okay, maybe not exactly that - but he is my opposite. I'm a Subcontinental who moved to a Western nation and moved from Anglicanism to Presbyterianism; he was an English Presbyterian who went to South India as a missionary and eventually became an Anglican Bishop.

Newbigin was heavily involved in ecumenical movements. He was instrumental in creating the Church of South India - the Indian equivalent of Australia's Uniting Church. He was also significant in the World Council of Churches. His work on a missionary encounter between the Gospel and Western culture helped spawn the missional church movement.

From my perspective, Newbigin isn't strong enough of the Bible itself as revelation, and (consequently...?) too optimistic of the Church as bearing God's revelation. But, his analysis of Western culture is, I think, spot on. I'm gonna post some quotes over the next few days.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Where morality comes from...?

Totally random - I came across this when searching for visual aids for a Bible talk & promptly fell off my chair laughing.

From Discover Fun - http://discoverfun.com/


Friday, 3 September 2010

Self-centered so-called Christianity

Interesting article from CNN on how some teenagers see Christianity as nothing more than therapeutic self-esteem-building. More teens becoming 'fake' Christians. It's based on research by Kenda Creasy Dean, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. See also Ms. Dean's book, Almost Christian.

I came across this with Tom Harrick's challenge about the danger of false gospels still ringing in my ears. This is the result of theological syncretism: it's what happens when we accommodate the gospel to the post-modern desire for self improvement. It's another gospel - which is really no gospel at all. David F. Wells of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary has been warning of this for years. See especially his No Place for Truth (1993), God in the Wasteland (1995) and Above All Earthly Pow’rs (2004) (all Eerdmans).

Thursday, 2 September 2010

An ordination song

I didn't have this song this at my ordination - but I should have.
Lord of creation, to you be all praise!
Most mighty your working, most wondrous your ways!
You reign in a glory beyond us to tell;
And yet in the heart of the humble you dwell.

Lord of all power, I give you my will,
in joyful obedience your tasks to fulfill.
Your bondage is freedom, your service is song;
and, held in your keeping, my weakness is strong.

Lord of all wisdom, I give you my mind,
rich truth that surpasses our knowledge to find.
What eye has not seen, and what ear never heard,
is taught by your Spirit, and shines from your Word.

Lord of all bounty, I give you my heart;
I praise and adore you for all you impart;
your love to inflame me, your counsel to guide,
Your presence to shield me whate'er may betide.

Lord of all being, I give you my all;
if ever I disown you, I stumble and fall;
but sworn in glad service your word to obey,
I walk in your freedom the rest of the way.
Jack C. Winslow (1964)

Monday, 30 August 2010

Tom Harrick's sermon at my ordination

At my ordination last Friday, Tom Harricks, one of my colleagues from Moore College, preached the sermon. He's on the pastoral team of St John's Anglican Church in Parramatta - which happens to be the church my parents attend.

Tom spoke on Galatians 1:1-5 & ch 6. His main point was: all that's necessary for false gospels to triumph is for servants of the true gospel (ministers and others) to do nothing. His sub-points were:
  1. The true gospel is the Apostolic one, given by God through the Apostles, including Paul;
  2. We need wisdom to recognise and resist false gospels;
  3. Ministers of the true gospel have the kind of character Paul describes in Gal 6: caring for others; being wary of temptation; walking by the Spirit, not the flesh; etc.
A very encouraging word, not only to me, but to the church congregation, and the dozen ministers & elders from Hawkesbury Presbytery who were there for the ordination.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Ordination Charge

At the end of my ordination last Friday, Keith Walker, the Moderator of Hawkesbury Presbytery, read me this charge:
You, Kamal, have been called by Almighty God in his fatherly love to the ministry of the Word and Sacraments and ordained by the Church and have now been appointed to the Pastoral Charge of St Mary's, I charge you anew in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to walk worthy of the vocation to which you are called, with all humility, with long suffering, forbearance and peaceful behaviour, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the upbuilding of the body of Christ.

Take heed to yourself and to the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseer. Love Christ and feed his flock, taking the oversight of it, not as one who lords it over the people committed to you but being an example to all in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity.

Give attention to reading, to exhortation and to teaching. Do the work of an evangelist. Do not neglect the gift which is in you. Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Pray always, watching with all perseverance. Thus shall you save both yourself and those who hear you; and in that day when the Chief Shepherd shall appear you shall receive a crown of glory which will never fade away.

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that Good Shepherd of the sheep, make you perfect in every good work to do his will working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
You can find the Presbyterian ministerial ordination service, including vows, at the Public Worship & Aids to Devotion website.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Ordination

Yesterday, Fri 27 August, I was ordained a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. This was the culmination of eight years formal preparation:
So I've finally arrived. I've worked hard for that "Rev" title. Now I can get the position & recognition I deserve.
Right?

Ummm... except...

John 13:13-14: Jesus said:
13 You call me'Teacher' and'Lord', and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.
1 Peter 5:2-3
2 Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Ajith Fernando on service & suffering

Ajith Fernando is the national director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. He's written a challenging article in the Lausanne Global Conversations about lifestyle expectations in ministry. To Serve Is to Suffer.

The Global Conversations are 12 key issues that will be discussed at the Cape Town conference on world evangelisation in October this year.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Religion in the Public Square CD & downloads

Reformers Books has put together a CD of the presentations from the Religion In the Public Square conference. Includes papers on Reformed public theology, religious freedom, euthanasia, abortion, commerce, economics, business ethics, and sexuality. Includes my paper on The Best Sex For Life - the one that got reported in the Melbourne Age, and led to my follow-up article in the National Times.

Also, you can download the conference papers for free. 25 presentations, 12.8 MB, nearly 300 pages. Enjoy!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

More Bryan Chapell on ministry founded & fashioned on grace

As I mentioned in my previous post, Bryan Chapell's approach to ministry is going to have a major multiplier effect. Here's more:

God's provision of saving, sustaining, and glorifying grace is the golden thread uniting all Christian Scripture and enabling all Christian faithfulness [...] all world honoring God [...] find proper motivation and enablement in love for Christ. The wonder and joy of these truths for those preparing for church leadership comes with the understanding that God is not calling them to ministries of guilt-manipulation, arm twisting and doctrinal haranguing.

As Christ's ministers emphasize grace, they are not compromising holiness but rather are promoting the power of the gospel for all endeavour that is truly Christian. [...] We learn to see ourselves as he [God] sees us in Christ. We learn to treat others as he [God] has treated us through Christ. As a consequence, the joy that is our strength floods into our lives to drive us to greater levels of Christian humility, love, and commitment. Thus, presenting the doctrines of grace in a warm and winsome way is not the converse of holy boldness; rather, courageous compassion is the compulsion of humbled and grateful hearts that have bowed before the wonders of God's sovereign mercy and now yearn to extend the blessings of his everlasting covenant to all he loves from every tribe, language, people, and nation.
Bryan Chapell, ‘Here We Stand: Rooted in Grace for Reformation and Transformation’, in All For Jesus: A Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Covenant Theological Seminary, Ed. Robert A. Peterson & Sean Michael Lucas, Mentor, 2006. Pages 16-17.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Bryan Chapell on ministry founded & fashioned on grace

Bryan Chapell is president ("principal") of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Covenant is the official national training training college of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which is one of the major Evangelical Reformed denominations in the USA. Best-selling author Tim Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian Church New York, is probably the PCA's best-known minister.

So, Bryan Chapell's the guy in charge of the training college of one of the major Evangelical Reformed denominations of the largest Christian nation in the world. That means his personal impact will be multiplied all over the world, for a significant period of time - just because of who he is & where he happens to be.

Well, here's a sample of what he says about ministry.

Alarm over the encroachments of secularism, while understandable, has led some too quickly to equate biblical spirituality with legalistic observance of Christian disciplines, cultural conservatism, or creedal compulsion. At the same time, concerns to boost the gospel’s impact have too often led to an unreflective promotion of worldly satisfaction or success as evidence of God’s blessing (demonstrated in churches promoting themselves through consumer strategies indistinguishable from secular appeals).

As contrary as these legalistic and consumer approaches to faith may seem, they actually spring from the same source – the error of attempting to establish one’s standing before God on the basis of human achievement or acceptance. […] [T]he corrective for such deviations […] [is] a return to the heart centre of our historic faith – the message of sola gratia [grace alone]. By reminding ourselves and others that grace alone is the source and sustenance of our salvation, we turn the heart to Christ for initial justification, continued sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Self-serving and performance-driven spiritualities die when we preach the gospel to ourselves each day.
Bryan Chapell, ‘Here We Stand: Rooted in Grace for Reformation and Transformation’, in All For Jesus: A Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Covenant Theological Seminary, Ed. Robert A. Peterson & Sean Michael Lucas, Mentor, 2006. Pages 14-15