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6

On Monday I got up to give an evangelistic talk.  I was expecting there to be Luke's Gospels for all (NIV translation).  There weren't.  No worries, it's a short parable (the Lost Coin), I'll just read it out from my ESV Pocket Bible, right?  What could go wrong?

So I read the first verse of the parable:

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?"  (Luke 15:8)

And then I read it again.

And then I translated it into English for them.

NIV's got:

‘Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

See the difference?

I really like the English Standard Version, but sometimes I wish they actually used Standard English.

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Just to be clear - these thoughts have arisen after talking marriage to half a dozen guys in the last fortnight.  I've never been prouder or more delighted with my wife.  I'm trying to put words to every man's struggle here.  And maybe this will also help wives to see what it is they instinctively (and perhaps quite rationally) fear about their husbands...

Ever since Adam, men have wickedly resented their wives.  That's not the whole story.  Not by a long shot.  On our wedding day we sing "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh".

But remember how Adam reacted when the honeymoon wore off?  He blamed God for the burden of “this woman you put here.”

Every son of Adam has been there – we’re all chips off this old block.  At first we wax lyrical, genuinely besotted by beauty.  But give it time and self-righteous resentment creeps in: “Doesn’t God realize how she holds me back. Think of what I could accomplish if I went solo.

But what was God thinking?  Consider Genesis 2.  “It’s not good for the man to be alone.”  He makes a "helper suitable" for Adam. "Suitable" means “opposite to" Adam – i.e. a counterpart.  By design, wives are not like their husbands.  They don’t naturally pull in the same direction.  This has nothing to do with sin.  In a pre-fallen state, women are intentionally 'opposite numbers' to men.

Therefore to "cleave" together is to form a new unit in which both parties must die to self.  And so complete is this oneness that even the death cannot be considered separately. The husband initiates the dying, the wife receives (Ephesians 5:21-33, esp v25).

Remember how Genesis 2 finishes... it's the man who is explicitly said to leave father and mother and cleave to his wife.  Like Christ, husbands are the ones to decisively change their direction and circumstances, and in that change to sweep the bride up into a new way of being.

But in the flesh, the husband refuses to lose his life. Instead he keeps hold of his old ambitions and resents the wife.

I keep thinking of John Wesley in this regard.  On the morning after their wedding he saddled up to go on a preaching tour.  He wrote to her from the road saying “I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less, in a married than in a single state.”  Unfortunately he lived up to that tragic opinion and had a tragic marriage.  He did not die for his bride in order for them both to find new life on the other side of sacrifice.  He clung to his single vision and demanded that his bride simply fall in line.

But if it's "successful ministry" we want, then there's another way. Because the one-ness of marriage is a fruitful and multiplying reality.  Husband and wife are meant to be so much more than the sum of their parts.  But it's not a simple addition.  It doesn't happen by adding her old gifts and desires to his.

Rather than resenting her, when the husband dies to his private ambitions, there will come a new way of being fruitful in Christian service.  It will take time and it will take self-sacrifice.  But as both seek the Lord for their fullness and as they give it away to each other, they grow in new and surprising ways.  Through this good death the Lord brings forth a life-giving home where spiritual and physical children can find rest.

Husbands, "this woman" was indeed given to you by the Lord. Not "put", "given". As a helper suitable for you. You can either keep your life, resent your wife and blame God, or you can lose your life, nurture your wife and watch Him bring a rich and unexpected fruitfulness.

No?

Seriously, why not!?

It's not just her hubby, check out any of these reviews.

Mark Meynell

Anita Mathias

Ruth Field

Kath Cunningham

Admiral Creedy

Emily Paterson

 Matthew Currey

Not to mention the latest by Steve Jeffery.  It finishes like this:

A New Name is subtitled Grace and healing for anorexia. But it’s about far more than that. It’s for anyone who wants to know how broken people tick - regardless of exactly where the breakage is - and how, by God’s grace, they can be put back together again.

This book is not only for anorexics and dieticians, or even just for “counsellors.” It’s for anyone who cares about badly messed-up people and is willing to live through a tiny taste of the pain they experience in order to help them deal with problems far too big for them to handle alone. It’s for anyone who thinks they might not be a perfect friend or parent or sibling or Pastor, and who wants to avoid making some potentially life-wrecking mistakes (other people’s lives, as well as their own) before it’s too late.

I’ve read a few books on different “personal and pastoral issues” – depression and bulimia and bereavement and so on. Some of them have been pretty helpful. But none of them come close to this. Brutally honest, theologically acute and astonishingly insightful. Alternately heartrending and hilarious. And (for what it’s worth – though frankly it seems almost trivial to mention it) some of the most stylish prose I’ve read in years. Buy two copies, because by the time you’ve finished it you’ll have thought of at least one person who needs it, and yours will be so dog-eared and tear-stained that you’ll be embarrassed to let it be seen in public.

I can't think of another book so consistently and lavishly praised as A New Name.  Get it!

Buy from IVPamazon.co.uk or amazon.com

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Ok, so Christians and evangelism.  Is everyone supposed to look like this guy?

Or do we send those few nut-jobs out on the street so that we can get on with the the kumbaya's, the marshmallows, and "building the kingdom" (insert meaning here).

Well let's see if Trinitarian theology can help.  Worth a shot eh?

The Ultimate community-on-mission is God who is a multi-Personal union moving outwards.  Two things are important here.  First, mission is not just one of the things God does.  His ek-centric (outgoing) life is His very way of being.  Second, the Three do not take on identical roles but Each depends on the Others in order to corporately perform the work.

So now, we are swept up into mission as the Spirit unites us to the One Sent from the Father.  "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." (John 20:21)  We will also share these two characteristics.

First, mission is not just one of the things the church does.  We are sent ones commissioned by the Sent One.  We are created by mission and for mission.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.  (1 Pet 2:9)

It's not that church, from time to time, decides to act in a missionary way.  It is missionary, that is its nature.  So when we became Christians we joined an evangelistic organisation.  If we're in the body we need to know that the body is heading somewhere.  It's always going to the nations to disciple them.  You cannot 'buy into' Christ without 'buying into' evangelism.  The Christian's life and being is now oriented towards this mission.  There is not 'love' or 'unity' as well as 'mission.'  But rather there is love and unity in mission.

You can put this truth two ways - and they both need emphasis: The church is missionary when it's being itself.  And the church is being itself when it's being missionary.  There are acts to be embarked upon, that's true.  But first we need to understand our being.  Being comes first.

But as we contemplate our missionary being we need to consider the importance of roles.

Later in Peter's letter he speaks about two broad categories of gifting - speakers and servers (1 Pet 4:10ff).  And he implores them to get on with their particular giftings.

And that's great.  It's so unfortunate when people think of 'evangelism' simply in terms of the guy in the picture!  And it's tragic when  giftings aren't recognized and encouraged.  We want diversity and we certainly don't want to cram people into the same moulds.  So Peter speaks of different giftings - 'speakers' and 'servers'.  But let's not imagine that he has thereby set forth completely different spheres of operation!  That wouldn't be a very good model of the Trinity.

No, think of the diakonos kind of serving spoken of here (which most basically means table-serving, ie hospitality gifts).  And think of combining this with the speaking gifts?  What if the differently gifted church members collaborated in the missionary task - good food and hospitality and those good with words are liberally sprinkled around the place - what a powerful gospel work!

At such evangelistic dinner parties it is very true that some are performing quite different functions to others.  But they are all being thoroughly missionary.  It's a unified diversity and it's going somewhere - to the nations!

If we get our trinitarian styled mission communities wrong...

The Tritheist church will have the speakers heading off by themselves and the servers serving a quite different agenda.  Some churches will be missionary, others not.  Some parachurch organisations will do evangelism for the church, some will do social outreach for the church, etc, etc, but there'll be no unity on mission.

The Arian church will laud the noble few who do the real missionary work  (i.e. street preaching etc...)  Everyone will feel inferior to the gifted few.  (But perhaps also grateful that it's not them).

The Modalist church will forget giftings altogether and fit everyone into the same mould.  Mostly, servers will feel inferior to speakers and bring them up to speed will involve making everyone stand on a soap-box.

How do you get a healthily Athanasian church?  I dunno.  Keep teaching 1 Peter?  But what will happen when we speak and believe the gospel is that the properly trinitarian church will allow particular giftings to flourish in the service of our one missionary being.

This is an edited re-post from two years ago.  It was prompted by this and this.  And I wrote some more about this back here.

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4

A homeless man sings 'Jesus Blood Never Failed Me'.  Gavin Bryars added an orchestra later.  The whole piece is here, this is the 6 minute version:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta-uxOT9uXA]

Bryars said of it:

In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song - sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads - and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet". This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.

When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song - 13 bars in length - formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism.

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Emma's book is coming out this week.  It's a phenomenal read.  Brilliantly written, brutally honest, incisive, touching and hopeful.  You'll be hooked from the first sentence.

Emma has struggled with anorexia both as a teenager and as an adult. This book tells her story, but more than this, testifies to the grace of Jesus who met her in the darkness and brought her out.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cacDKG-79n4]

This book is not just for sufferers and those who care for them - although it will be vitally helpful for them.  It's a testimony to Jesus.  It's a meditation on the gospel and how it addresses a deadly mental illness, so emblematic of our culture's struggles with food, body, performance and identity.  It's one of the most compelling and vivid accounts you'll ever read of the lies that can enslave a person and how the truth sets them free.

In your families, in your congregations and among your friends, there are people struggling deeply with food issues, body issues, OCD, burn-out, anxiety disorders and depression, to name just a few.  The body of Christ with the word of Christ has medicine.  I don't say "the solution" because "solution"-thinking is a hair's-breadth away from the philosophy behind much of these issues.  But we do have gospel balm that the world knows nothing of.  Yet Christians are often too scared to get close to these issues.

Too often we palm "problem people" off to medical and psychiatric professionals, expecting them to fix it.  Medical and psychiatric help can often be crucial, but A) it's by no means certain you'll find such help - many of these services are incredibly over-stretched, and B) your friendship, prayers and words of grace are absolutely critical alongside professional help.

Emma and I have seen too many people struggling alone with deep problems because their churches have no idea how to help.  Christians feel out of their depth and too easily abdicate pastoral responsibilities to the world.

I hope Emma's book makes people see, "Yes we are out of our depth here.  But that's precisely where Jesus works - out of our depth."  I pray it will equip God's people to see that we have a gospel big enough to handle the biggest issues.  And that churches will start to be the places where these problems aren't hidden or exacerbated, but addressed and healed.

Read commendations here.

Pre-order the book here.

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Click for source

Have you ever heard this kind of claim from an atheist:

Unlike you theists, I am open to change.  All you need to do is show me the evidence and I'll confess on the spot that I was wrong.  If you can prove God I will switch sides.  You theists on the other hand obstinately cling on to the God hypothesis no matter what the evidence.  You call this irrationality "faith."

How to respond?

Do we say "No I'm very open to change, I just think the evidence is better on our side"?

That might sound tempting.  After all it has the air of intellectual credibility about it (if, ironically, you don't think about it too long).  And it's the least we could do seeing as the atheist has been so even-handed with "the evidence."  Besides, what hope is there for genuine dialogue if we're not open to change?

Well let's slow down a second.  What kind of openness is being claimed by the atheist?

Doesn't their claim amount to:

I, the neutral observer, will accept  the God hypothesis if and only if naturalistic evidence meets my criteria.  And of course such acceptance will be eternally tentative, since opposing evidence may arise to dis-prove the God hypothesis.

Let me ask some questions about those bolded phrases...

Are you really a neutral observer?  Is the scientific community, religious community or indeed the human race collectively a neutral observer?  How could you ever know?  What tests could you perform to figure out whether, when it comes to God, humanity suppresses the truth?

If you are assessing 'the God hypothesis', are your investigations being carried out in a way proper to the object of your study.  I.e. is God really a 'hypothesis' to be tested?  And if you think he is, the question must be asked, Which god are you talking about?  Because it doesn't sound like the God of the Bible.  If, on the other hand, God is a Self-Revealing Speaker, doesn't "scientific investigation" look very different?  i.e. Wouldn't a proper correspondence to this Object of enquiry entail listening to His Word?

Who gets to decide what is "evidence"?  Does the Bible count?  Does it count on its own terms, or only when filtered through other tests?  What about encountering Christ spiritually through Scripture or worship?  Wouldn't that be quite a  "knock-down" proof - for some even literally!  Is this evidence allowed at the bar?

Even if you are a neutral observer, even if God is a hypothesis that could be tested and even if the evidence you demand is the right kind of evidence - will you really 'become a believer' on the basis of this evidence?  Surely, to be consistent with your methods, you will merely line up with the God-hypothesis-camp until a better hypothesis comes along?  This is nothing like what Christians mean by "faith in God."

Therefore in what sense are you open to change?  Admittedly, you are open to reshaping certain of your views - and that is a very laudable thing. Few ever do it, so such openness is indeed commendable.  But the openness of which you speak is set within a tightly de-limited, pre-established epistemological system (i.e. system of gaining knowledge).

And if that's your definition of "open" then the Christian is at least as open.  If you show me convincing evidence about a pre-millennial return of Christ (to choose an intra-mural Christian dispute of secondary importance) then I hope I'm open enough to change.  I hope I am.  Obviously, people are biased, obstinate, self-justifying fools by nature (the Bible told us that long before science did), so it might be an uphill battle, but allow me to declare my willingness to change.

So there you are.  I'm open.

Of course, at this stage, the atheist says: "That's not openness to change!  That's just redecorating the exact same house."  To which I say, "Pretty much!  But then, a tentative assent to the God-hypothesis is also just re-decoration.  The foundations and structure of your beliefs would remain exactly the same."

You might rate yourself as a De-Facto Theist on Richard Dawkins' scale, but it's your commitments to a naturalistic method of knowledge that are really God for you.

To inflexibly hold pre-commitments about yourself, your object of enquiry, your method of enquiry and your criteria of judgement is to be "open" in only a very limited sense.   But here's the thing... pre-commitments about Me and God and the World and how I know things are absolutely inescapable!  I can't even begin to think without at least a shadow of an opinion on these things.

Which means none of us are very open.  There is no neutral space between the Christian position and the naturalistic position.  There is only conversion - i.e. a radical re-ordering of my view of self and God and the world.

Does this shut down all conversation?  Absolutely not!  This is the beginning of genuine conversation.  Now that we know where we all stand (and both Christians and atheists are regularly deluded about this), real interaction can happen.  How?  I say "Come on over to my house.  Let me show you around.  For a time, come in on my foundations, my vision of God and self and how to know things.  Experience the world from within these commitments.  See if life doesn't make more sense.  See if you don't confess that Jesus really is the deepest Truth"  And, by the same token, you can say to me "Come over to my house.  Allow me to show you the Magic of Reality as I see it.  Experience the world from within these commitments."

There's great hope for fruitful engagement (though this is a real statement of faith, I acknowledge!).  I believe that there is plenty to be said on the other side of an acknowledgement of our radical differences.  But let's be honest enough to state our differences.  It's not a case of simply assessing mutually agreed-upon evidence with the obvious tools for the job.  It's about show-casing different visions of reality.

This doesn't mean we cast stones at each other's "houses" or dig into our entrenched positions.  Instead it's a call to hospitality.  Let's love our neighbours.

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A three-part round based on Psalm 18.
Two-parters are for binitarians.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpBPEQlEf4Y]

If you listen with headphones you'll be able to pick out the parts more distinctly.

Words:

My God is my Refuge and He is my Rock,
My Stronghold My Shield and My Saviour,
I call on His name and He fights all my foes,
He lifts me up out of all danger

You stoop down to make me great.
You brought me out to a spacious place.

You save your King from His enemies,
We sing to Him for His victories.

Chords: G C D

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My YouTube channel with more songs

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In the autumn a friend of mine is teaching a course on questions Christians are too afraid to ask.  Help him out.  What should he cover?

To get you started, here were the first four off the top of my head:

Hell. Really? Seriously? Eternal torment? For Granny? And I'll spend forever happy about that?
Can heaven and hell really pivot on my intellectual assent to this system of truth?
Where's the joy, freedom, life, hope and change?  Why are Christians (am I) so miserable?
Is this really the best news God could come up with?  Maybe it's true, but it doesn't sound good news to me.

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Over to you...

 

6

The New Testament has many warnings regarding our natural perversion of the gospel.  We need to take them seriously.  But I wonder if, often, we misdiagnose the problems.

Here are five little warning passages from the Bible.  How do you instinctively characterize the bad guys in the following:

Those who walk away from Christ's 'hard words' in John 6

They're headed for lawlessness right? We imagine they can't handle Christ's heavy discipleship programme, that's the problem, right?

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The wolves of Matthew 7:15-19.

They're liberal bishops right? (This is probably the association that Anglican evangelicals make most readily!)

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The wolves Paul warns of in Acts 20:29-32

They'll 'devour the flock' by preaching licentious living, right?

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'The doctrine of demons' as outlined in 1 Timothy 4

Orgies and heathen idolatry, surely!?

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The dangerous "drift" of Hebrews 2:1-3

This must be a drift away from the law.  Mustn't it?

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Come on, admit it.  Your gut reactions cast the bad guys as lawless liberals right?

But no.  The hardness of Christ's teaching in John 6 is his relentless call away from the "works that God requires".  What they find so hard is Christ's insistence on faith alone in His (flesh and) blood alone.  The false prophets of Matthew 7 and Acts 20 are, in the context, the legalists.  The doctrine of demons is asceticism.  The dangerous drift of Hebrews is towards the law.

So, by all means, be warned.  But be warned in the right way.  Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Teach sound doctrine.  Correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction.  Do it because the freedom of the gospel is at stake.  And we dare not enslave ourselves again.

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