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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

All of us are worshippers

Made in God's Image - designed for relationship
Mankind, made in God's image is a worshipper - not because God is a worshipper - but because man was built for relationship with someone Greater. In the same way that the Triune God dwells in perpetual love and communion with Himself (see the Gospel of John as an example), so we are designed for relationship.

For us, that longing and need for High relationship takes the shape of worship: we long for something (SomeOne actually) infinitely greater than us who will satisfy the desires of our hearts, fill up our empty souls and inexhaustibly intoxicate us with their greatness and beauty.

Another way of putting this is to say that our inbuilt desire for relationship is a dependant one; we know that we cannot survive by ourselves, and so we look outside ourselves for someone or something to lean on.

Now, of course the man without God doesn't fess up to this longing, and yet absolutely everything about his life belies his worship. Take Richard Dawkins, one of the world's greatest worshippers, as an example.  Unhappy to be a small ordinary scientist he has found his big Mission in life, to which he has given all of his energies: to rid the world of religion. Everyone around him can see that he could not live without this Mission, that it - and all its multiple components such as fame and money - motivates and drives him.

A frank admission
In 2008 a famous American writer and thinker David Foster Wallace tragically committed suicide. No friend of Christ, he was nevertheless able to see with a rare clarity that we are all worshippers. And even further, that if we worship small created things rather than the Creator, they will eat us up.

Read this as a sermon....

"Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship--be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles--is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness."

"Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings."

"They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing."

Some sermon.
Only true worship leads to true happiness.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Worship leads to Service

Worship only Worship?
Is it possible for a community of Christians to worship God but do nothing for the lost? To prioritise worship at the expense of evangelism? By 'worship' I mean here singing God's praises, praying and enjoying God's Word.

Of course it's possible, but is it right?

Acts 13 verses 1-3
In the church at Antioch, the saints were worshipping the Lord and praying. And it was in this context that the Spirit told them to set apart Paul and Barnabas "for the work to which I have called them." Worship led supernaturally to service, naturally.

Worship leads to Service. Service flows out of worship. And this is to be expected, for the following reasons:

(1) God is a worker (John 5:17). How on earth can we be said to honour a Worker without trying to  follow him, and his hard-working Son?

(2) God loves the world (John 3:16). How can we be said to love the God who loves the world and not love the world he loves?

(3) God calls us to serve the world in love (e.g. Matthew 5:13-16).

So if you find a community that says it worships but does not serve you have found at the least a distorted community, at worst a disobedient community.

The justification of apathy
Tragically Christian communities that have become detached from the world through laziness or so-called 'unworldliness" often end up justifying their position. They say things like "all that make disciples and be my witnesses stuff was for the apostles and early church."

Little by little they become a spiritual ghetto, drifting ever more eccentrically away from the world and the Gospel, while the world around them dies for lack of bread of life.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Why we need a new generation of commentary writers!

Why I am angry
I am preparing to speak to a wonderful group of ordinary people this Sunday from Luke 5. So I get out my commentaries (only after meditating on the passage myself, of course!). And I trawl through far too many pages of explanation (on just 11 verses) looking for nuggets of insight and revelation. (I am convinced that it is much easier to write a long commentary than a short one, which explains the existence of so many long commentaries and the sparsity of short ones).

And then I get to this "corker" of a comment: 

"We are on more solid ground when we refer to the parabolic interpretation of the miracle drawing on clues from within the pericope. Most transparent is the nexus between catching fish and proclaiming the word: success in fishing, under Jesus' authority, is a prophetic symbol for the mission in which Peter and the others will participate.."

No I didn't understand it either.

My clever word checker has never heard of "pericope" before and thinks I should change it to periscope. Perhaps I should, won't make much difference to the intelligibility, and since we are talking about fishermen and fishing boats....

For the unlearned, pericope is "I know the scholarship lingo" fancy-speak for the humble word paragraph.

Good money was paid for this commentary which has supposedly come from an evangelical stable. And then I  get this kind of incomprehensibility - you can see why I'm mad.

Who are they trying to help (or impress)?
These kinds of comments which are liberally sprinkled through these kinds of commentary make you wonder why the guy (or gal) wrote it. Did he write it to help us ordinary preachers (in which case he plain doesn't understand our needs) or did he write it to impress his friends or peers (who will after all write the blurbs which sell the books which pay the bills, which helps to write more books, which.... )

What the church needs is commentators who have no other desire but the edification of God's people. They do not think when they write "what if Professor Dr Rev Clever Kloggs reads this? He'll turn up his nose and give me a duff review in The Journal of Incomprehensible Scholarship." They don't think "I want to impress that pastor with my deep learning." Instead they write to please Christ (which means to feed his flock).

They do exist
Thankfully such commentaries do exist. And invariably they are written by pastors on the beat not academics with their heads in the clouds. Look out for them and sell your shirt (or ipod) to get them.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

How do we maintain the balance between the dynamic and the static?

The two aspects of Church Life: Static and Dynamic
There are two aspects to church life, according to the NT. First of all, there are those static elements. We need to feed the flock, sustain the ongoing fellowship, teaching and life of the church. Spiritual life is not automatic but must be maintained and nourished.

But then there is also the dynamic aspect to church life. This is its outward mission to the world, its evangelism, its kingdom growth.

No church has got these two in balance or proportion!

Imbalance (1) Too much Dynamic
You might think this imbalance was impossible, but not so. Churches - very often led by men whose primary gift is evangelism - place too much emphasis on outreach. You end up with tons of young believers, but if you are not careful, the church ends up a mile wide and only an inch deep.

Imbalance (2) Too much Static
By far the more common imbalance in Western Christendom is the tendency to be inward looking, concentrating on the needs of the existing believers.  In this case you end up with fat sheep inside (and totally lost sheep outside).

Enter - the NT
The first five books of the NT (Dynamic) demonstrate the balance when placed alongside the rest of the letters and Revelation (Static). The Pentateuch of the NT reveals the dynamic growing, expanding ministry of Jesus, first in his ministry and then through the church by his Holy Spirit. The rest of the NT display nurturing care for the flock.

Churches that focus only on the letters end up with fat sheep (fat by the way = unhealthy). Churches that focusonly on Acts end up with harried and thin sheep (equally unhealthy).

Input and Output
Another way of putting this is to say that the church has been blessed (static) in order to be a blessing to others (dynamic). And only when churches and individuals give out as well as take in will they grow and mature.

Living Seas and The Dead Sea
Living seas give out as well as take in. There are enormous ocean currents that carry water and nutrients and heat into and out of the oceans of the world. Without this the oceans of the world would be all input and no output.

But there is one wierd sea, wierd because it is all input and no output. It's got a ton of nutrients in it, but nothing can live in its waters. So as well as being weird it is dead.

Churches - or Christians who are all input and no output become wierd
- and eventually die. Isn't this what happened to the Amish? Without output, they became an eccentric community spiralling away from the real world. Soon they put secondary truths first (and that always results in putting primary truths secondary). Now, so far away from the world, they cannot even relate to the world.

Only when there is both output as well as input in our lives will there be balance and the beauty of Jesus in our lives and our communities.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

New Arab Spring or old-fashioned Winter Rebellion?

A good thing?
While the small-minded West imagines that any rebellion in those "backward" countries is a good thing - for they are becoming more like us "civilised" nations (read: they're adopting the same form of government as us; read: Western pride) - I have often wondered how a Christian within those countries would think about the rebellion. A good thing or a bad thing?

What shall I do with Romans 13?
In particular what shall a Christian in those countries make of Romans 13 and other passages which speak of a humble respectful view of those in government - no matter who they are? "The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.." (verses 2-3). If anyone lived under tyrannical regimes, it was the first Christians, and no-where do we find them rebelling against their rulers.

Instead we find a submissive spirit "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king...or to governors.." (1 Peter 2:13) and again, "Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities." (Titus 3:1).
The blunt fact of the matter is that the Scriptures do not sanction one form of secular government over another. For good reasons. All world systems are flawed root and branch - but in different directions. Although democracies may be easier on the body, they may be far more lethal to the soul. While dictatorships may be more difficult on the body, they may in fact prove more beneficial to the soul, for in those environments, true faith in Christ shines and the great multitude of false ones wither and die.

Scriptures, instead of espousing any political system, view all authorities (dictatorships and democracies) as appointed by the Supreme and Sovereign King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Grabbing the ear of the Dog
The great danger in the present situation for the West (I almost wrote 'us', forgetting that I refuse to be called a westerner) is to become involved in a dispute that has nothing to do with them and reap the fruit of Proverbs 26:17, "Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own."

For this set of disputes may turn out to be, not an Arab Spring, but just an old-fashioned Winter of Rebellion.