Saturday, March 19, 2016

But Jesus Wins: Parenting conversations sat on the bathroom floor with my 7yo

I thought a fair amount about how to share my faith with my children. Some say you shouldn't teach your kids what you believe imagining there's some sort of neutral approach, but we all pass on our worldviews - and besides that, whatever we say, our kids see what we really believe...

For all the preparation in advance I'm not sure anything can really prepare you for joys and anguish of day in day out parenting!

It is a wonderful privilege to teach my boys about Christ. I do that for my day job with others but my home is my first congregation. And was uncharted territory, as I didn't know Christ til I was 18, though my wife came to know him aged three.

I thought about family Bible reading, good resources like Jesus Storybook Bible, Thoughts to make your heart sing, Every thing a child needs to now about God, Gospel Project for Kids Church Curriculum... regular gospel-shaped conversation, the freedom to ask anything, the safety that the cross of Christ brings, understanding that my kids will see me sinning so they better see me repenting too.... Nothing more or less than an ordinary Christian life, in which I fail terribly, live inconsistently, and have a whole lot of repenting to be doing. At best we are "people in need of change helping people in need of change."

In the middle of this we quite accidentally adopted Before the throne of God above as our family lullaby. It was the song that caught on that helped settle our firstborn to sleep in the early days of baby screams. It just happened to be the song that 'worked.'

Now a couple of thousand nights later all three boys know this well and request it before bed each night. It's a classic, reborn with a fresh arrangement, and dripping with Tabernacle-shaped Trinitarian Theology.

Now, my seven year old gets bad dreams. And it troubles him that Jesus doesn't seem to take these away - hard to get that you really can ask about anything, but not everything is promised. I wrestle with that, don't you? My boy is a sensitive soul, and I think his growing faith is probably a part of that sensitivity - he gets that there is sadness and injustice and darkness in the world and it troubles him.

What can be done? As we sat next to each other, on the bathroom floor, backs to the bath - a frequent location for heart-to-heart conversations with him for some reason -  talking I found myself turning to words he knows so well...
"When satan tempts me too despair, and tells me of the guilt within.Upward I look at see him there who made an end to all my sin."
I asked him what he thinks this means...

When we're sad and hopeless we look inward and downward, and the devil wants us not to trust Jesus... Looking up is the opposite of that. Why look up? To look away from our situation and from ourselves... to Jesus! The dream is bad. The day can be dark. You wake up in tears. What can you say to yourself in that moment? "BUT JESUS WINS."

(I think Neil Gaiman gets this in Coraline where he riffs on GK Chesterton to say: "Fairy tales are more than true, not 'cos they tell us that dragons exist, but 'cos they tell us that dragons can be beaten." -- more richly the gospel tells us that the evil is real, but much more that it is defeated at the cross of Christ)

That's not easy to say in the middle of the night, though it's never all dark - the stars and moon shine, and in the morning the sun rises unstoppably... though the darkness closes in, it never overcomes the light - and the light shines and overcomes it all each and every morning, seedtime and harvest, until He comes.

That parenting moment - learning and re-learning the gospel in conversation with my son was precious and stirs and sustains my heart too. I can tell these things to him, and I know he'll be watching me, and I'll be watching... I can say it, but let me also entrust myself to Jesus that his cross means that in the end "all the sad things will come untrue..."

Image - Creative Commons - Bob Doran

Monday, March 14, 2016

Silence and beauty

Over the last couple of weeks I've read two of the most poignant books I've read in a while. Shusaku Endo's Silence and Makoto Fujimura's Silence and Beauty. Silence is the classic 1966 novel by a Japanese author that will soon be on the big screen as a Martin Scorsese's passion project starring Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield that asks: is there a God? Silence and Beauty is the forthcoming reflection and engagement of a brilliant Japanese-American artist on Endo's book.

Silence tells the story of the persecution of Christian missionaries in Japan, the whithering of the gospel after initial growth in the 17th Century. Sebastian Rodrigues and his co-workers are called to deny their faith. The moment of denial will be in trampling on an image of Christ. A perverse attempt to get a Christian to deny a faith that is all about Christ being trampled upon...

Throughout the novel Rodrigues fights to stand firm in his faith, wrestling with painful questions, while watching the faith of those around him fail, in an act of cruciform denial. His story is told in the form of letters and narrative over 260 pages.

Makoto Fujuimura is a Japanese American artist who I've appreciated on various subjects since I first encountered him last year in Evan Koon's For the Life of the World video series. He engages with the tension of silence and beauty in Endo's story, considering weakness, brokenness and trampling in the gospel story in both his own life and proximity to 9/11, and Japanese culture.

Silence and Silence and Beauty were an imagination stretching and heart-wrenching pair of books to read and meditate on the suffering and humiliating weakness at the centre of the the Christian gospel, a message that turns upside down the self-confident assertions of humanity. Nothing exposes the human heart more than the stone of stumbling, the rock of offense that is Christ and him Crucified, the beautiful one who didn't catch our eye and was trampled under foot.

I bought Silence from Amazon and receieved a free digital review copy of Silence and Beauty from IVP via NetGalley.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

"Why can't we value the unoriginal pastors, who simply love their people and aspire only to pass down the faith handed to them?"

Yes! Great question from Jake Belder. 

Preach the word, love the people. 

And as Glen Scrivener puts it Evangelism is pastoring non-Christians. Pastoral care is evangelising Christians. 

As my friend Matt said to me the other day - If I have people and a Bible, what else do I need. 

It's "boring" and unimpressively plain looking, but innovation and fads are for heretics - the living and abiding word of God is where life is found.

Not that I'm anti-systems - if they serve people in helping them to hear about Jesus.
And I'm not anti-vision - if it's about the gospel for and to people.
And I'm not anti-strategy - as long as it's about ensuring that by all means at whatever cost, people get to hear about Jesus.

But we have to keep our eye on what this is actually about.

Image - Creative Commons - David Wright

Monday, March 07, 2016

Welch's Questions on Anger

I spoke at Grace Church on Anger, observing Saul's murderous heart towards David (1 Samuel 19:1-16), and the way that Jesus says...
[21] “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  
[22] But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment;
Jesus "the good teacher" puts us firmly on the hook defining our anger as murder. We forfeit our lives when we kill others in our hearts. If we only take Jesus as a teacher we're in deep trouble. We need Jesus the murdered God, the innocent one who forfeited his life for us - a perfect exchange that gives us his life for ours, and shows us the different way of love.

We might not want what Jesus gives, but the murderous state of the human heart needs acknowledging and answering some how.

Where our anger leads us to harm others - in murder or countless other horrific acts - there are and must be consequences - that's why we have criminal law - but there is also the opportunity, in light of those consequences, for a new start with Jesus.

Anger needs to be resolved between me and God, and between me and other people. Imagine a society where genuine reconciliation was possible?

Ed Welch asks some penetrating questions:
  • Do you enlarge the category of anger to include you?
  • Do you include details from the Sermon on the Mount?
  •  Have you recently confessed your anger, to both God and the injured person?
  • Have you asked those closest to you, “When have you seen me angry recently?”
  •  When will you ask them?
  •  Is the real cause of your frustration/anger usually something or someone other than you?
  • Do you understand the real cause is not “Them” but really “I want and I’m not getting what I want”?
  • Do you know that Jesus was never angry because of something done to him?
  • Do you care?
  • Are you ever wrong?
  •  “Do you have a right to be angry?” 
The last of those questions was asked of Jonah. Jonah was angry because of God's kindness to other people.  That pesky deity forgiving those people... though is it really circumstance or persons who cause our trouble?

Martin Luther
“We foolishly blame our anger on people or situations that trouble us. Trouble doesn’t make us angry, but proves that we are angry. Let us learn from trouble the state of our hearts.”  
I'm tempted to sweep my anger under the carpet, to leave it festering at the back of the fridge like a forgotten yoghurt pot waiting to explode... or to take it out on the pavement as I run. Neither seems like great treatment for deep heart disease - for as Jesus would say - the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart...

Credit to Jonah: in his anger he went to God in prayer, meeting him in the middle of his sin.
“True prayer should pour out the whole soul and every inward feeling before him.” John Calvin 
 More here: The Angry Person: Always the last to know
Image: Creative Commons - Caleb Roenigk 

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Spurgeon's Questions on Rebellion

In 1 Samuel 15, Saul is confronted:
“Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”
Rejection of the Word, Incarnate, Enscriptured, Proclaimed, is rejection of the LORD himself. No wedge between the Triune God and his creative, re-creative gospel word..

So, B.B. Warfield said: what Scripture says God says...

Charles Spurgeon asked these questions of his church 150 years ago...
  • Is there anything that you are neglecting?
  • Is there any sin in which you are indulging?
  • Is there any voice of conscience to which you have turned a deaf ear?
  • Is there one passage of Scripture which you dare not look in the face, because you are living in neglect of it?
  • Let Samuel’s voice to Saul come to you, and set you seeking for more of Christ. 
Jesus asked a lot of questions, and I need to ask myself good questions and ask others to ask me them too.

Above all I need the one who entrusted himself to his Father, who is the Father's Word, who knew what it was to be rejected by all, and was enthroned in that rejection on a Romae cross. All so that word-rejecters might be put to death and re-created by the same Word that created all things.

See also Primer by FIEC: Issue 1 - True to his word.

Friday, March 04, 2016

The resurrection answers death

How does the resurrection help with the prospect of death? 
An ultimate reality for every one of us, and a present reality, whether close at hand for us, or for those we love. I’m aware there are a couple of big issues in 1 Corinthians 15: 21.
Firstly, Adam, portrayed as a real + influential on your life.
Secondly, there’s Jesus, resurrected from the dead.
Paul asserts that there was an Adam who took the world down to death. The idea of “Original Sin.” What can we say here?

[With thanks to Glen Scrivener for his 321 TWO material] You might ask if it’s true – that’s a good question. Let me ask back, if not this, what is your origin story, how do you explain this broken world? Can your way of doing it account for your experience of life? You might ask if it’s fair – the sin of this Adam leading the world into death. If it even happened, we ask, how and why should the sin of Adam affect me??

In 1269, Johes de la Bysse fled from France to the Sussex coast. His decision means there are Bish’s in Britain… he shaped my history, my appearance, even 747 years later, my very existence…

While I love to think of myself as a self-made man, very little about me is down to my decisions. Though not denying our individuality, the Bible prefers to look at humanity as a family. More alike, related, than apart. Chips off the old block. Sinning, stuffing up, of our own accord and from the family likeness. Heading towards the sting of the great enemy death.

Look more closely, and we see that Paul writes in v22 about being IN ADAM or being IN CHRIST. About a fundamental connectedness – v23, of belonging.

[With thanks to Rory Shiner's idea in his book One Forever] Picture an aeroplane. If you want to get where the plane is going it is no good to watch the plane and be inspired, nor to sit yourself under it, no you have to be in it. Your destination depends on what you’re in, to whom you belong. So too, Paul says:
If you belong to Adam you go where Adam goes – to death.
If you belong to Christ – you go where Christ goes, to resurrection from the dead. If you're in him, what happens to him happens to you. The seed dies and bears much fruit. The firstfruits followed by the whole crop.
Where we think of ourselves as six billion+ self-defining people, Paul says two men define the world. You can disagree with that, but he’d say – it’s happening. Death reigns and we can’t beat it. Can you relate? The Christian faith dares to say, ‘of course you can, we’re related…’

Jesus, dead then raised. Resurrection is unusual. And it has been the message of the Christian Church for 2000 years. So look at the Christian faith – often poorly represented by people like me –fundamentally a faith of love, weakness, service, inclusion… not the stuff of conspiracy and power play…
Either the church exists as the result of a deception, con or lie. Which is just bizarre.
Or, could it be that the resurrection of Jesus caused belief in the resurrection of Jesus? Did people believe it happened because it happened?
I wonder what you make of those two things? You might have lots of questions, which is totally fine.


‘By one man, death. By the other man, resurrection from the dead.’

In v19, Paul admits that if there is no resurrection, if there is hope only for this life then the followers of Jesus are pitiful. People with their hearts deceived. Failing to juice life for all its worth. Deluded and deluding others.

 The IF is worthy of serious consideration. There is much room to explore and consider and question here. But Paul is bold too. He’s done his work. He’s experienced this Living Jesus. And in – v20 – “but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” He dares say there is more than just “this life.” But what?

Look at Adam and Christ. These were people. With bodies with all the ordinarily bodily functions of bodies. Born. Lived. Died. And the resurrected Jesus ate breakfast with his friends.

Then see that Jesus is described – v20 – as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. That sounds like a euphemism for death, but if those who belong to Christ are on the plane, they go where he goes, their death is far more of a falling asleep and awaking. We think of death more strongly, for lack of evidence to the contrary, but if Jesus is raised then…
As I think of my Gran, in her eighties, as one who belongs to Christ, as her body fades away she is not reduced to a dash between the dates she was born and one day dies. Her story is not almost over. She is heading towards the evening of this life, likely to fall asleep in the not too distant future, and then to awaken when Jesus returns, resurrected with Jesus, resurrected like Jesus, her body restored, freshly alive with all the vigour and strength of her life restored to that she knew from her wartime evacuation as a child to even the recent years of her early eighties tending her garden. I am comforted by this as I see her fade. I’m lifted by this. She will have been comforted by this, though perhaps wouldn’t be able really to articulate much of that now. If Jesus isn’t risen, then considering my Gran in that way, and indeed myself, surely makes me pitiful – deluded – foolish. 
The Biblical storyline takes death seriously. No pretending it’s not there. No attempting to minimise the horror of death. An unbeatable foe. But one defeated by Jesus who first died and then was raised from death. As my Gran well knows, seeds die to bear much fruit, and the firstfruits of the harvest are an indicator of what's to come.

What do you make of that? How do you look at death? What story makes sense of how you feel about death? Where is your comfort?