Monday, October 17, 2016

Leviticus with a seven year old

For several years we read The Jesus Storybook Bible with our first son. It's given him a solid biblical theology and eye for the gospel. At Easter we gave him his first Bible, the International Children's Bible (NCV) and he and I have been reading it since then, from Genesis, through Exodus and recently into the opening chapters of Leviticus.

We ended Exodus with the shock of Moses being unable to enter the Meeting Tent. And then God calls, speaks and says... and we're listening in.

Early on we've noticed the repetition. Initially my boy was annoyed by this but it's helped him learn brilliantly - which is part of the point. We're keeping the pace up as we read which serves to draw attention to the repetition that we might miss if we read more slowly. With some variations, we're seeing that coming to God involves this sort of journey...
1. His rescued people sin.
2. That makes them guilty.
3. They can present a sacrifice, which must have nothing wrong with it.
4. They can put their hand on it's head to take their place.
5. The priest cuts and burns it up.
6. The aroma of this sacrifice is pleasing to the Lord. God smiles!
7. They belong to God (NCV for atonement)
8. They are forgiven.
9. As the Lord commanded.
The whole book is a picture of what Jesus the True Priest and True Sacrifice accomplishes and it's memorably, vividly, repetitively teaching us the grammar of atonement... who we can be 'in Christ', in the presence of God.

We noted, with relief and joy, the journey from Moses being excluded from the Meeting Tent at the end of Exodus to Moses and Aaron entering it at the end of Leviticus 9. Christ is revealed and the people shout with joy

"O perfect love, O perfect sacrifice, 
fountain of life poured out for me... 
I am found in Jesus." (Neil Bennetts)

Image - Creative Commons, Daniele Civello

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The affections of a Father

I love my five year old. He's a brilliant boy who has some special needs - nothing particularly severe, and likely the consequences of his epilepsy. We don't really know.

In the opening moments of church this morning I'm sat with him on my lap. I'm one of the ministers, but with no formal responsibilities this morning. The boy is restless even before the service begins.

We open with some notices and a reading from Psalm 103. The boy is getting louder and more distruptive. "We're a big family"says the service leader. Welcome to the family! (and truth be told: we are welcome.)

Then he reaches Psalm 103:12
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
A moment of grace - I'm tempted to get annoyed with my son. I shush him. I'm frustrated. But in that moment - I'm reminded and refreshed - I am the restless five year old in the arms of the Father from whom every family gets its name, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and all those graciously adopted into his family. He's not embarrassed with me. He's not chiding me. He's being compassionate with me. In Christ, mine are "...the affections of a Father who will never let [me] go."

As the first song begins, we exit to the foyer to spin around and dance and jump and wrestle properly, before his group starts. "Son I love you," I whisper in his ear, and his eyes shine brightly.

Image - Creative Commons - tonko43

Friday, October 07, 2016

What kind of society do we want to live in?

It's hard not to be deeply affected by Sally Phillips documentary A World Without Downs. This is an investigation into two of the biggest human questions. She opens, winsome, engaging, self-deprecating, to camera:
What kind of society do we want to live in? 
And who do we think should be allowed to live in it?
We all have to answer those questions.
We all do answer them.
The question is what answers we give and why.

For decades/centuries we've lived in 'the story of progress' or 'the myth of evolution' as CS Lewis dubbed it. Not a scientific comment so much as a narrative that says, change is better, we're advances, and survival of the fittest, and our happiness must drive us forward. I recognise this story - I grew up in it, I grew up believing it and many of its implications, it's hard to let go of it.

For the church this grates in part because it's parasitic on Christian hope - as John Gray notes, how on earth does the secularist justify a moral statement about change being good, it's stolen hope. It also grates because built into the DNA of the church is the ethos of Old Israel from the Pentateuch that calls for sacrificial care of the widow, the orphan and the foreigner, that is to say for the vulnerable who cannot provide for themselves.

This is not rooted just in a law given to a community, but in the heart of the Triune God whose salvation for humanity is precisely helping those who cannot help themselves - a category which in ultimate terms includes all of us.

It's an ever present concern for the church - what kind of society are we... who is welcome here? As it should be for a parkrun community, a school gate community, an office culture and so on.
Cat Caird muses on the disturbing parallels to the film Gattaca. The brilliance of scientific endeavour appears to have pretty much made Gattaca possible, the question is whether we're prepared to go there or not. Just because we can, doesn't mean we should?

We need to ask what kind of world we want to live in? We need to ask why our answer is compelling? We need to ask how our answer can be justified? And we probably need to get beyond asking what kind of world we want to live in to ask what kind of world is this...?

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Sow to the Spirit?

Galatians 6v8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
What does this mean?

In the final paragraphs of Paul's letter to his friends in Galatia what is he saying?
(a) Eternal life comes from good works?
(b) Or, something else.
Everything in Galatians says that option (a) can't be the case. You can't write for 5.5 chapters about how it's not what we contribute and then say it is. Context kills that, though sooo many commentators play that dischordant note.

Throughout the book two categories are established...
Faith / Spirit / Sonship vs. Flesh / Law / Slavery.
In chapter 5 those under the law will not inherit as they are slaves - their life will be marked by the works of the flesh. The works are an inevitable consequence not disqualifying acts. Likewise, those who live by the Spirit crucify the flesh and the Spirit produces fruit. But fleshly acts aren't disqualifying, and neither is there to be assurance in Spirit-fruit.

In Galatians what we do isn't where assurance is found. The whole book is designed to get the Galatians looking outside themselves to Christ as the way they get righteous, he who gives the only true ethnic marker of God's people - The Spirit.

Surely then, sowing to the flesh is to put yourself under law, whereas to sow to the Spirit is to believe the gospel. Fruit, to some degree, will follow but the believer's boast is the cross not the self and what we have or have not done - none of these things are anything, only new creation counts - what God has done by his gospel word.

The life I now live, isn't my life - it's only faith in the Son.

Which means...

  • The Christian faith is gospel not just ABC but A-Z (Galatians 3:1-5) - the Christian life is our union with Christ, hearing the gospel word with faith.
  • The Christian community can be honest about sin (Galatians 6:1-3) - the presence of sin isn't disqualifying, only the absence of the gospel, and our absenting ourselves from the Father who revealed his loving Son (1:6-9, 1:16) who gave himself for us (2:20). We are more sinful than we even know, but the gospel is sweeter than we can imagine. Imagine the freedom to stop striving, to stop faking and hiding, that's sonship.
  • Don't worry - not saying sinning is ok. Set your eyes on the cross and you're looking at the place where flesh is put to death and life in Christ is offered - no better place to convict of sin, no richer place to have your heart changed - to enter the battle between the old habits of the flesh, and the your new life as an adopted son in God's family.
We reap what we so, or much more: we reap what he sowed, watered and grew for us. No person is too good for that, no person too bad, no one has the wrong ethnicity or history. The gospel really does say, in Jesus' name: you are always welcome.

Image - Creative Commons - .martin.