Friday, August 30, 2013

Scribblings on The Book of Daniel


Daniel is something of a pop-favourite when it comes to Bible books. Especially in the student world, because y'know, he was, like, a student, away from home. And that's cool as he works out where not to compromise as he studies, and then you get the challenges to pray even if it's illegal and so on. And then thankfully we run out of time before the crazy stuff in the latter part of the book.

The really famous bits? The lions den and the firey furnace. As Larry Osbourne comments, those aren't really the point because most people thrown to the lions die, and most people thrown in fire die. But something amazing is going on.

The book of Daniel is about dreams and politics and wars and the interactions of a refugee with the Government officials, and about the coming of life to God's people.

Six headings from  book by book with my further notes

1. Praise be to the Name of God forever (Daniel 1-2)
-- Christ the true exiled son pictured in the story of Daniel. We want to live wisely but we can't. But Jesus is the wise one who was exiled for us to enable us to live wisely.
-- Christ the true revelation, author of history - who speaks to power. We'd fear to speak and not have words to say, but Jesus is the revelation of God to the world. Those who know him have words to say.
2. The fourth looks like a Son of God (Daniel 3-4)
-- Christ with those who trust him, especially in trouble...  Our integrity fails, but he stands - and comes to be with us.
-- Christ the true king over all others. (Centre of chapters 2-7)  We're looking for leaders who can bring life and peace, we need this great king.
3. My God sent His Angel (Daniel 5-6)
-- Christ the true judge of all - live in light of him. Unjust leaders should be held accountable, and us too. He brings justice.
-- Christ the true Saviour. He faced the lions (Psalm 22 & 2 Timothy 2) and was raised up to life. So he brings us through death to life.
4. One like the Son of Man (Daniel 7-8)
-- Christ who is given authority over all. Snatching power is folly but wisdom is in receiving.
-- Christ the divine (8v28) - fall down and worship him like John in Revelation 1.
5. A Man dressed in linen (Daniel 9-10)
-- Christ the wrath averter through his death on the cross. Only he can save.
-- Christ the all glorious one.
6. The Great Prince who protects your people (Daniel 10:10-12:13)
-- Christ our strength til the end. His words are life-giving.
-- Christ in whom we shine. The wise shine like stars as they hold out the gospel word.

Some scribbles as I've been reading Daniel recently.

1. Daniel is royal seed, without blemish (1v3-4). I mean, just look at those verses. It's right in tune with the melody. Typology all over it. Royal Seed. Without blemish, like a pleasing sacrifice. Daniel is either going to be like Jesus or make us cry out for a true seed. Daniel's story is going to show us the Christ somehow. In pictures, Daniel and his friends experience cursed exile, death and resurrection. They are gospel-revealers who trust the LORD when no-one else does. Daniel is "Greatly Beloved" (10:11).

He is wise, and as 12:3 says those who are wise "shall shine like the brightness of the sky above... like stars.."  Daniel is the backdrop for Paul's famous words about followers of Jesus who are 'without blemish' and 'shine like stars.' (Phil 2v15)

2. Away from home... Exiled. This away-from-home-ness is about being under divine curse. Daniel will experience the full length of this from Nebuchadnezzar to Cyrus. This Son of God going to the cross more than leaving home to go to University. I don't mean to under estimate the dislocation and loneliness of University but Daniel goes beyond that. Exile is also a picture for Christian life today - people made for a renewed creation still living in a frustrated world. Both Daniel's suffering and his engagement with his culture has stuff to say to us about life today.

3. Daniel studies the language and literature of the Babylonians, as Moses did the science of Egypt, and Paul the poets of Greece. HT: Calvin. There is application there for us here. It is good to be fascinated, to study, to learn. Would Daniel have been used to speak gospel to the kings of Babylon and Persia if he didn't know their world deeply? God gave him learning and skill but I think that means he spent time in the books and he excelled. Daniel is also a long term civil servant or politician, working from the throne-room of the kings of the world for a lifetime. Outside of work we only really hear of his prayer life and his visions which often leave him physically ruined.

4. Christ is also present in this book. Who's that in the fire with the other three guys? Who's that giving Israel into Nebuchadnezzar's hands and giving Daniel favour and wisdom. That's interesting by contrast to Esther where Christ isn't on stage. Why is that? And what implications for today... God seen, God unseen...
  • Who is the Angel who saves?
  • Who is the man clothed in linen? "Thus glorious did Christ appear" (M.Henry)
  • Who is the revealer of mysteries?
  • Who is the one like a son of man?
  • Who is the one with the appearance of a man?
  • Who the God who gives Israel over to Babylon, who gives favour and wisdom and kingdoms.
  • Who is the anointed one who will be cut off to avert wrath? (9v26, 9v16) "the angel predicts the death of Christ" (Calvin), "surely a reference to the crucifixion of Christ." (ESV Study Bible)
5. Christ is also prophesied in this book. Kingdom, then kingdom, then a kingdom: and then the kingdom of God that is forever. There is a large vision here of what happens in the gospel - set on the stage of global politics. Uncomfortable, horizon stretching stuff. No surprise when Jesus turns up telling people that God's kingdom is at hand. On the other side of that, we're adverse to authority figures and monarchy isn't exactly a compelling image either. Books like Samuel, Chronicles, Kings, Esther and Daniel probably go a long way to shaping how we're meant to think about kingdom language. But, do we know their song today?
What's Jesus' kingdom like?

6. There's a chiasm in chapter 2-7, the themes match in 2 & 7, 3 & 6 and 4 & 5, and this section was originally Aramaic so it would stand out. Likely one in 8-12 too in Hebrew. I like the way the words and the structure of the words convey the message. It needs to be read as literature. Everything communicates. And, there's a big emphasis on the Most High is King (similar to Daniel's name meaning God is judge). These chapters also talk to us about revelation - Daniel is in on the counsel of God, in on dreams like Joseph and other prophets, he communicates and mediates God to the king. Knowledge by revelation. Mysteries aren't mysterious they're things that God reveals... the chief mystery: the gospel.

7. Here be weirdos. The latter chapters of Daniel are the "historic home of cranks and loonies..." but I'm going to ponder it. What's clear is that kingdoms will rise and fall at the whim of one who will establish his kingdom forever. It may getting pretty grim along the way... Daniel's visions of what's to come make him physically sick and without strength (10v8), as good as dead at the sight of the man clothed in linen (very like John's vision in Revelation 1)... though it was God who made him supernaturally well in chapter 1, and it is the speaking of "the one having the appearance of a man" (9v18) of whom it is said "as he spoke to me, I was strengthened." (9v19) "The word of his grace is alone effectual to redress all our grievances, and to rectify whatever is amiss in us. One touch from heaven brings us to our knees, sets us on our feet, opens our lips, and strengthens us" (M.Henry)

The wise will finally understand... though Daniel the wise one seemed not to (12v10), yet he shall rest and awake to resurrection life (12v2).

What do you see in Daniel? What haven't I noted? 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gospel convictions aren't the same as gospel posture


In Center Church Tim Keller discerns a difference between theological foundations, philosophy of ministry and practice. Three important things that aren't the same thing. There is a journey to make so that these things sync up.

An organisation, ministry, church or individual isn't faithful merely by holding to the right theological foundations. They have to be worked out in practice.

As much as I can discern this was one of the key critiques made by the first generation of Newfrontiers leaders forty years ago. They were Baptists who saw the theological foundations of their churches having no impact. Dusty irrelevant documents. I think they slightly mistepped by then not wanting to write stuff down... though by the strength of their own unwritten convictions and relationships By the grace of God I think they built a good house in which I enjoy living.

What was needed was to take those gospel convictions and lead them through to the right gospel implications leading to the right gospel practice.

So, I work for an evangelical ministry and belong to an evangelical church. We're evangelicals. We want everyone to hear of Jesus and respond to what he has done for us through his death and resurrection. We want everyone to join him in the renewal of all things.

But have we build an evangelical house on our evangelical foundations and are we populating it with evangelical life? It's a question I want to be asking myself. A gospel-shape means that this probably should be built from the ground up, but the reality is that life is messy and change happens in different ways, at differing pace... and lots of genuine life happens and is then undergirded with theology.

Some examples...

The gospel tells me that people are either Christian or they're not. But the implications of the gospel are invitational. A gospel shaped approach considers more journey and next steps, whilst holding to tight underlying categories. The conviction manifests not with fixed categories but with the intention to see people move. Because I'm persuaded of the importance of people coming to know Jesus I should be more inclined to treat people as people, first and foremost as my fellow human beings, people just like me. I can't, but Christ does, and so in him I can begin to.

And, the depth of confidence we might hold in the gospel shouldn't express in fence-building but more like gathering to a campfire... our confidence in the life-changing power of the gospel means we need not be defensive or insecure but generous and welcoming.

The gospel answers our fundamental problem of being whole-hearted members of Adam's helpless race rather than being in Christ.  Gospel faithfulness is often pitted against felt needs. But, properly communicated the gospel is the conclusion of the story that our felt needs, sometimes distorted, are searching for. Why shouldn't the gospel of the God who seeks us and finds us where we are should be addressed to our felt needs?

The gospel of Jesus is described in the Bible with military metaphors but in 21st Century Britain that carries connotations of crusades and jihads and violence.... the very opposite of the gospel. Amazing encouragements about the defeat of evil by the love of Christ are heard as aggression and antagonism. Perhaps, to use them would be to run against the grain of the gospel?

The same probably applies to the tone of preaching. Many British evangelicals lean heavily on the ministry of confrontational American preachers (and I've done that, and benefited from them)... but to communicate so confrontationally in Britain makes your message repellent rather than persuasive.

The gospel gives boldness but that should express in tenderness.

The gospel tells me that divine judgement is real and frightening and good. The implications of that however should shape a ministry to be anguished and weeping and full of love. On the one hand wrath isn't the opposite of love but the expression of it against those who are harmed. The seriousness of the human race facing judgement doesn't outwork in a fire and brimstone denouncement of people, but in broken-hearted movement towards people, to be with them, to contend for justice and bring them to see the love of God for themselves.

A gospel-shaped approach wont just talk about these kinds of difficult subjects in off hand, tick-box ways... they're too weighty for passing comments. The shape of the gospel means I want to be understood, communication matters and I take responsibility for communicating... I don't blame the listener if they misread me even if sometimes it might be their fault.

The self-knowledge I've gained from knowing Jesus points me to exceeding generosity with others, to assume the best of others. A Christian is objectively the most secure of people. Nothing can separate a follower of Jesus from his love. Nothing. Because of this a Christian is free to be vulnerable, and weak. Without Jesus I would hide, but in him I don't have to be plastic and pretend that everything is fine.

Those who are deepest rooted in the gospel should be most like Jesus, most generous, most affected. And when I'm not like that I need to be asking myself whether I really know Jesus all that well. A terrible dislocation has happened when those things that I hold to be true aren't shaping me, when the way I am looks like I don't believe what I'm saying.

Sometimes I catch myself in that, other times someone else helps me see it, and I need that. And the more I grow, the more I know my need for help. Something 'gospel-shaped' about that, though constantly using that word without defining exactly what I mean by it is probably counter-productive, but hopefully you're catching something of what it means from its implications.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Hunger Games


Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games was published in 2008 with a film released in 2012 featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson and others.

A gripping story
Tim Keller's observation is true: "As hope based creatures we respond to the beauty of narrative." My work keeps me immersed in the true myth and I don't make time to read as much fiction as I should. But, life is better with it. I watched The Invention of Lying last week. It floats the idea of a world without lies in which (unnecessarily) there are no actors, no fiction...   horribly lifeless and subhuman.

I read The Hunger Games in two sittings while on holiday. I was gripped. I'd seen the film earlier this year. I knew where it was going, but story has the power to catch us up and carry us along, drawing us into another world with characters who tug on our emotions. Suzanne Collins has written a book that is hard to put down.

The character's self-consciousness of their media, the effect of imagination - the girl on fire - and romance, the fear, the taste of greener grass, the value of human life, the happy face of a totalitarian and abusive ruling class crash into our world as we read.

An uneasy hero
Katniss is a strange kind of self-sacrificial hero; noble and yet comprehensively playing to the cameras. Fighting for survival, and to win. The climactic moment grates for me - it'll take more than that to change the world, though the way love disarms oppression is something to chew on.

Nate Wilson is highly critical of the decisions Katniss makes and the way she isn't revolutionary enough.. I find myself agreeing with him. I do think Collins portrays our darkness, and even Katniss is tainted by it and unable to break the system that defines and controls her. The book breaks into our superficial optimism.

In it's broken world, Mark Meynell observes, "we really get to know Katniss, in all her doubt, confusions and even less attractive qualities. She is not a cardboard cutout heroine." Katniss comes across uneasy with the story she has to follow and yet compliant with it. Perhaps its less that she's a true hero and more that Collins is using Katniss' story to reflect our badness. Peeta seems more heroic in many ways, but too passive .

The darkness in us
The dystopian world in which The Hunger Games take place seems far fetched yet probably not so much darker than ours. Perhaps more brazen with its child killing than we allow. The story wraps everything in spectacle and entertainment which feels all too recognisable today.

Meynell, for Damaris, and Sophie Lister at Bethinking.org both reference Neil Postman's excellent and disturbing observations in Amusing ourselves to death that Aldous Huxley's vision of the future is more tangible than that of George Orwell. For me The Hunger Games sits somewhere between, the Capitol entertain themselves with the tool they use to oppress the watching Districts.

As a teenager my favourite books were Lord of the Flies and 1984, and this feels like it sits in that kind of company. Reflecting the darkness of our hearts, what control or the lack of it can reveal, and showing our desires and longings. I expect I'll read The Hunger Games again, and I'll get hold of the second and third books too.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Story of the Son


Luke has a clear voice as he writes to Most Excellent Theophilus. Phil Moore argues that Luke-Acts is the defence papers for Paul's trial in Rome, arguing that Paul (and the message he preaches) should be accepted not opposed. To prove the case he tells the story of the Son, for Judge Theophilus and for us. Luke writes that:
  • Only the Son knows the Father (10:22).
  • But the Son can make the Father known (10:22).
  • And those who hear him are taught to pray 'Our Father' (11:2)
  • Which is the prayer he prays with joy. (10:21)
  • In the garden in anguish, "Father, if you are willing..." (22:42)
  • And in death... "Father forgive them..." (23:34)
  • And "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit..." (23:46)
  • For his Father introduces him as he is numbered with transgressors.
  • In baptism, "My beloved Son." (3:22)
  • And transfigured "My beloved Son (9:35)
  • And genealogy agrees (3:38)
  • Though the devil raises doubts (4:3,9)
  • And the locals doubt him, "Joseph's son?" (4:22)
  • Yet, the Temple is his Father's house (2:49)
  • And his Father sent him to the vineyard (20:13)
  • And the people killed him to steal his inheritance (20:14) ... though in truth he died to share his inheritance with us!
  • Similarly, the younger son in his most famous parable wished him dead (15:11) for in that story, 'the father' pictures Jesus the Son (The father in the story really is Jesus not his Father. Similarly the woman and shepherd in the related parables are also pictures of Jesus).
  • He is the Son who reveals his Father, to catch us up into his Triune life, to be with him (23:43), welcomed and embraced not as slaves but as sons who share in his inheritance and joy.
  • This is the Son who came like the life-giving sunrise (1:78), whose death saw the sun's light fail (23:45), and who rose victorious with the dawn on the third day (24:1), to shine his life giving beams of forgiveness to all nations (24:47).
  • Jesus is the Son who is the Christ (4:41), the Spirit-anointed (4:18), the Christ of God (9:20).
  • Luke tells us Jesus is the Spirit-anointed Son of the Father... Trinity revealed. Revealed to invite the nations to become Spirit-anointed adopted sons of the Father. Called, by the Father's word through the Psalmist, to the resurrected Son (Acts 2:33), the Son of God of whom Paul spoke (9:20)...
And today? Might we tell of the God who introduces himself in person, inviting us not to a lifestyle or to heaven but into the dynamic life of the divine family through the sending of the Son. A god like any other god we could imagine, but we don't imagine... for we know him only because he has made the first move to introduce himself to us. He ran out to embrace us (15:20), and came out to entreat us (15:28) to join his joyful celebration.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Interview: Clive Parnell (Amazing Love)


Clive Parnell is a former colleague of mine on UCCF's team for nine years. He has just recorded a new album. The album is available by download from Monday 12th August. You hear the first two tracks for free. Having listened to a free copy I really appreciate this album lyrically and musically - both in the original tracks and his versions of 10,000 Reasons and Our God.

DB: Who is Clive Parnell, what's your journey, what's your story?
CP: Good question - you would probably be better asking my wife or kids if you want the real answer. I started life in Kent but moved to Scotland in my teens and became a Christian living in the highlands at 18 after a couple of pretty or ugly rebellious years. Before coming to faith I had a lot of energy and creativity but did not have a lot of focus.

When I became a Christian I began to learn the guitar and write my own songs. I then went to study theology and worked in a church before setting up a Trust using music to reach people with the gospel. I got married to Grace and have three kids and a puppy which makes life quite full! Following on from working in a church I was in band called indigoecho for 7 years and we did a lot of touring and made 2 albums.

I then worked for UCCF which was not in the game plan.  It was the only interview I have been at where I was saying I am not sure this is for me. After much prayer and conversation I ended up saying yes and worked with them for 9 years. This gave me a chance to speak, train and play music all over the UK and the world and It was an amazing journey.

The next stage of the journey has led me to become a Pastor at Kirkliston Community Church near Edinburgh. I am involved in teaching and training people in the church and this also allows me to serve by leading worship and encouraging the arts.

DB: Tell us about the album, Amazing Love? What's influenced you musically and lyrically... 
CP: The album is about love and specifically about the love of God. My time in UCCF allowed me to receive some rich teaching. I had a number of theological blind spots and began to understand God's grace and revel in the love of God.

It was really good to be able to hear teaching from the likes of Mike Reeves who taught me so much about the trinity and the love of God. I also spent some time reading Andy Murray (not the tennis player but the puritan). He has lots to say about the love of God and it struck me just how important this area is. We often think of romantic love but to think of the love of God that is eternal and made known in Jesus is amazing.

I was also influenced by spending two years studying an MTh in Biblical interpretation. I did my 20,000 word dissertation on - Is Luke 15:11-32 about the Prodigal son? I began to look at the outrageous love of the Father and how there is so much joy, celebration and party involved in his love. His love overflows and he welcomes us into his loving feast.

Aside of the theological blurb I have described the musical influences are mostly to do with Black gospel music and a couple of soul/roots artists. I went back to listening Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Candi Staton and Ryan Adams. What struck me about black gospel music is the truth and rawness of the lyrics alongside uplifting music. It is music that remains the same in good times and bad times.

I am concerned that many worship songs are focused on creating the same sound as the latest bands like Bastille or not so latest bands like The Killers that we forget the local church. Many songs are written for 5,000 people and in too high a key. There are however some great songs out there and I have recorded three "10,000 reasons." "Our God", and "Faithful" which was written by a friend David Lyon.


DB: What are your hopes for these songs...?
CP: I have written these songs to bless the local church. I am a singer/songwriter and a worship leader and I don't see a divide here I am writing songs for the church and for anyone who will listen. I would love to see churches using these songs in worship and equally would be blessed if people played it in their car on a Monday morning.

The reality is hardly anyone has heard of me but my prayer is the songs get out there and people engage with them.

DB: Why is music something you're passionate about?
CP: Music is something that has always been there for me. My brother who is three years older than me always played music and I was introduced to the latest tunes all the time. I went to big gigs as young as 12 and it has always been in my life.

I love music because it is a beautiful gift from God and I believe it reflects his beauty.

There have been times where I have played a gig and people have been crying at the front and said afterwards they were so moved by certain songs, I was just pleased that they not crying because of my singing! Music is seen as key in the bible too - 150 Psalms, and many songwriters, David, Moses, Miriam and Mary.

I believe that being human involves our heads and hearts and I think music is great at speaking to our hearts.

DB: How does being a musician work with being a pastor? 
CP: It works out ok - for a while I struggled with becoming a pastor as I thought either it is teaching/preaching or music. Somebody once said to me why can't it be both. I have always had music and theology in the mix and I have had to come to a place that says this is who I am and look to be a good steward of these gifts.

I wrote some of the songs and led them in our Church before recording the CD and some of the songs came out of teaching so there is some joined up thinking in the mix. There are different seasons for doing music and teaching but the most important thing is that I faithfully and lovingly serve God and others.

DB: How are you able to help your church engage with music in our culture more widely?
CP: We are running an arts festival over the next couple of weeks called Connected and have artists who are critically acclaimed such as Emily Smith and Chasing Owls (fresh from Glastonbury).

We are also putting on an art exhibition and hoping to engage people in art and culture. Art leads to conversations because it is often subjective it creates opinion. We pray that there are many people who become connected in conversations.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

“But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth?"


It's common today to think that either there isn't a God, if there is then that God wouldn't want to be in relationship with us and certainly not be involved in anything dirty and physical...  and hence Richard Dawkins ridicules the idea of a god interested in what we do with our genitals.

GOD with HUMANITY on EARTH.

This kind of God whose story the Bible tells. A God who is irrevocably interested in living with people on this earth.

It's the thread running through the opening chapters of the Bible, chapters that are often considered controversial because they clash with scientific inquiry (I'm not sure they do particularly), tell a story of the God who forms and fills a Temple for himself - the land/earth... in which he wants to live with his people. The story builds as he spreads goodness around and creates a life filled place, puts man to work in a temple-garden at the centre of it. Then in Genesis 3v8 God himself, the Word of the LORD, comes walking on earth.

And so the story unfolds as this God continually seeks to live with people, even though the world has fallen and been frustrated, evil spreads where goodness should. But, those who walk with the LORD have the opportunity to join God in the renewal of all things... (the following are hardly distinct categories...),
  • As they rejoice in the good things, making music and enjoying the colours and tastes of the world, educators and artists and writers and musicians and coffee drinkers... fascinated people who know that everything is interesting. We need education, formation, that can stretch our imagination and cultivate creativity.
  • To resist the decay and curse and frustration, dentists, midwives and bin men, town planners... big-hearted people who ensure that though everything is tainted by sin this isn't the worst of all worlds.
  • And as they recognise the image of God in people and treat them well, those in the service and hospitality industries, psychologists, happy people who sell from call centres, entrepreneurs and manufacturers who enhance the quality of life. 
OneLife suggest seven spheres of life: Arts and entertainment, Business, Education, Family, Government, Media and Religion.

I long to see University students with a huge vision of the life ahead of them and the study they're doing. And to see church youth work inspiring teenagers to study the world and arrive at University with holy ambition to join in the renewal of the world. I appreciate I'm not expert in youth work and that it's a struggle enough just to get teens to church and hit some basic holy living... but perhaps the thing is to aim higher and wider? In the same way that a church that makes a big deal of global mission tends to be better at reaching it's own city, those with a large vision of life might hit the "basics" more. Something generous there, something God-shaped.

Dorothy Sayers resonates: How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?

Few become world-changers but all can have an effect in their sphere of influence, wherever it may be - at home, with family and neighbours, at work...

All of them impacting lives and intriguing those they meet to ask for the reason for the hope that they have. Sadly they often fail, showing that not only the world as a whole but each and every person who lives here need to be renewed by the God who seeks us.

It's worth noting here that the essence of walking with the LORD then isn't just private piety and avoiding certain taboo sins, but it's a positive direction of life that is fully engaged in this world, that makes time for people and politics, that values work as good and important. That doesn't just teach teenage boys to avoid p0rn but does so by envisioning them with a high view of people made in God's image to be served and honoured rather than objectified and showing them that there is so much in this world to captivate them that's better than a few pixels on a screen. And it extends to think of ministry as what church ministers equip the church to do, not so much what the ministers themselves do, that wont retreat from the public square but can't help but having a bearing on all of life.

Famously, the newly converted William Wilberforce asked his vicar friend John Newton (former slave trader of Amazing Grace writing fame) whether he should leave politics and become a pastor. Newton insisted he stay in the workplace and we live in the good of that. Some are called out to equip others, but the Biblical norm is for people to stay right where they are, though almost inevitably those who follow Jesus tend to become more upwardly mobile as they catch a bigger vision of life, of people, of work (though in a broken world some will equally fall back because they wont compromise and wont act unjustly.)

There's a global temple to be built, and it was foreshadowed three thousand years ago and King Solomon completed a major construction project in Jerusalem. He built a model of the world which showed how God and man can dwell together, and the world was intrigued and came to see. Anguished and hopeful he asked if it was really possible that God and humanity might live together on this earth! (2 Chronicles 6:18) And it is and it was. For a time, until Solmon's people persisted in ruining themselves and others rather than letting rivers of life flow from this micro-temple to renew the rest of the world. God moved out and kicked them out of the land. And the land breathed a sigh of relief.

"Can it be that God will actually move into our neighborhood?"

In Roman occupied First Century Palestine, the Word again walked on earth - as he had on many previous occasions - this time in a physical body, as one of Adam's helpless race - up close and personal with us.

God with bones and blood. With taste and sight. A beating heart and dusty feet. With eyes to see the beauty of landscapes and buildings and art and people. With ears to hear music and a mouth to join in the song.

God come to once and for all put the fallen world to death and begin a resurrection culture, a new humanity led by him. Subsequently he sent the Holy Spirit to live in people in every culture and ethnicity who can join him in the renewal of all things. 

A project that will finally be completed when he at last returns to make the whole of creation his temple as it was meant to be, and in a sense there will then be no Temple because the dwelling of God will be with man forever on earth....  ensuring that this world isn't just a house but a home, a grand design. Til then this is a good place to live, forming and filling, spreading goodness, to make a home in which God and humanity can live.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Saying less, saying it better.


Don Carson says that we must be self-theologising, doing our own theological work in our contexts. John Owen, he says, didn't republish Augustine (though I'm sure he read him), he did his own work for his own day, standing on the shoulders of giants but not just repeating their words.

Lewis hits it:
 “Our business is to present that which is timeless (that which is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow) in the particular language of our own age. . . . We must learn the language of our audience. And let me say at the outset that it is no use at all laying down a priori what the “plain man” does or does not understand. You have to find out by experience. . . You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential. It is also the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning. A passage from some theological work for translation into the vernacular ought to be a compulsory paper in every Ordination examination.” via The Gospel Coalition
 We have to settle for saying less on every occasion, but in so doing we'll understand what we say and actually communicate something. I know the temptation to try and say everything in a half hour sermon, but trying to be exhaustive is exhausting, and I know as a listener that its better to say less and say it better. Sounds like hard work, but work worth doing. And, anything less is probably just shooting the breeze.