Friday, 5 August 2022

Holy Excitement

If we could but show the world that being committed to Christ is no tame, humdrum, sheltered monotony, but the most thrilling, exciting adventure the human spirit could ever know, those who have been standing outside the church and looking askance at Christ would come crowding in to pay allegiance, and we might well expect the greatest revival since Pentecost.
Dr. James Stewart

I've always been a big fan of Star Wars - it was released when I was ten years old - and I still remember the feeling I had first seeing the advertising posters on the London Underground. This week the trailer for the new Disney+ Star Wars series Andor came out. Watching the trailer takes me right back into the same set of feelings. It stirs something deep within. That boy-hood thirst for quest and adventure. The longing for a narrative that is bigger than self. As Luthen Rael says in the trailer: "I need all the heroes I can get".

This week I was also reading a biography of Bill Bright. In it, I found the above quotation from Dr James Stewart. It echos a prayer that I have been praying for these last few months. A prayer for holy excitment. The gospel is dynamite. Jesus is the most compelling figure in history. So why is that that for many, Christianity is dull? To live our lives fully for him should be "the most thrilling adventure the human spirit can know". In recent months I have seen glimpses of such excitment, in my own life and in the lives of others. My prayer is for more. For an upwelling of holy excitement that is contagious. For a new generation of people, of heroes, so sold out for Jesus that it shows in their every action. For the accelerating pace of revival, as everyday people fall in love with Christ and share that love with their friends.

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Holy Discontent

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him
Matthew 9: 9

The next person in Matthew's gospel that we see following Jesus is Matthew, the tax collector. Whilst the fishermen of chapter four might have been unlikely choices, Matthew is downright controversial. He works for the enemy. He is in the words of the pharisees "a sinner". Yet, once again, like the fishermen, he does exactly what he is told. He gets up, follows Jesus, and invites all of his friends to meet him. This is a stark contrast from the teacher of the law in Matthew 8. So why is it that Matthew when called leaves everything and follows, whilst the teacher of the law declares in bravado he will follow and then doesn't?

The clue seems to be in verse 12. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick". Now to be clear, in God's eyes we are all in need of the doctor. As Paul says in Romans we have all sinned and fallen short. The difference is that Matthew recognises this, whilst the teacher of the law doesn't. Matthew's need to follow Jesus outweighs the discomforts of following him. Often our prayers are for an easy life - but it is those who are spiritually discontented who have the impetus to get up and follow.

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

The cost of following Jesus

A teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Matthew 8: 18-19

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the need for action when following the disciple-making Jesus. As we delve deeper into Matthew's gospel, this need becomes even clearer. Matthew eight contains two accounts of people who said that they would follow Jesus. Unlike the fishermen of chapter four, these men both state their intention to follow him, rather than receiving an invitation. In both cases, Jesus immediately raises the stakes. We never hear of either of these men again. The implication is that the cost is too high. Following him is not merely an intellectual decision. It has real-life consequences.

For the teacher of the law, Jesus issues a warning. If you follow me, you make yourself homeless. Discipleship is not a well-paid profession. It is a radical call to leave behind the things in which we place our security. By making our gospel purely about salvation when we die we allow ourselves the easy option of getting on with our lives and avoiding any sacrifice. Yes, Jesus death on the cross is the only sacrifice needed for our salvation, but it doesn't mean there is no other cost. As Bonhoeffer says "Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life."

Saturday, 9 July 2022

Every blessing in Christ

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
Ephesians 1:3‭-‬4 NIV

Recently I have been rereading Ephesians. The opening chapter is a breathless, heady race into Paul's theology - although theology feels far too dry a word for this letter. You can sense his excitement as he writes. Each phrase is practically tripping over its predecessor as he jumps from topic to topic. It's all in there. Predestination, adoption, grace, redemption, salvation, the sovereignty of Christ, revelation, and the Holy Spirit all to the praise of his glory.

Those opening two sentences alone are breathtaking. We have every blessing in Christ and our destination was determined before the beginning of creation. If ever we feel inadequate this is the place to come. Whatever our failings, or our regrets, in Christ we have the opportunity to be presented before God completely blameless guaranteed in advance.

All too often the pressure of life or the lies of the enemy cause us to think or behave as if this were not the case. To feel anything but blessed. To be so conscious of our sin we feel that we can never be worthy of him. Ephesians chapter one is a shot in our arm telling us this is not so. We may not be capable of drawing near to God, but, in Christ he has already done everything that was needed, just as he planned before the first star ever shone.

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Following the disciple-making Jesus

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him
Matthew 4:18‭-‬20 (NIV)

Recently I have found myself thinking a lot about discipleship. Wondering exactly what it is. An immediate glib response would be that it is following Jesus. The question is, however, what exactly does that look like.

Often as I have discussed evangelism with people it seems to come down to offering people the chance to accept Jesus. We give a presentation of the gospel like the four spiritual laws or the three circles, and ask people to say the sinner's prayer. Whilst I have nothing against these methods as a way of engaging people in a spiritual conversation, I don't really see them as having much to do with following Christ. Accepting him as Saviour, yes, but actually following him?

When Jesus called his disciples he did not give a gospel presentation. He simply asked them to follow him. Physically follow him. Stop what they were doing, get up and walk with him.

The implications of the gospel is that the twelve were disciples long before they were Christians. I wonder if by making evangelism all about decision rather than action we are missing an opportunity to truly disciple people?

Thursday, 30 June 2022

New beginnings

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it
John 1: 1-5 (NIV)

Twelve years is a long time. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since my last post. In many ways my life is completely different to the way it was when I started this blog. My Mum, afer many years of Alzheimer's passed away in 2017. I miss her but I said my goodbyes a long while before that.

In other ways life is much the same; I still find myself seeking the Kingdom. It still seems as slippery as ever. Sometimes absolutely, visibly breaking out around me. Other times tantalizingly just out of reach.

When I started this blog in 2007 I was planning to look at all of the references to Kingdom in the gospels. It was a task I never completed. In restarting the blog I hope that it is a task that I will return to. But there are other priorities as well. A broader look at the life and commands of Christ. As someone seeking for the kingdom it is to the Gospels that I return!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Lost in translation

I've been thinking about communication recently. How I can say something which makes perfect sense, only for it to be utterly misunderstood. After the event it can be completely obvious why. It seems the problem has many roots. Cultural variation on word meanings. Contextual elements that I am aware of that others are not. Preconceived ideas about my opinion or position. A poor choice of words on my part. And so on. It happens with my closest family and friends. If those who know me best do not understand; what chance a stranger?

This problem seems all the more important in matters of faith. Words I intend to comfort or reassure can unsettle or disturb. Words I read in Bible translations have changed in meaning since the time of the translator. W H Vanstone reveals in The Statue of Waiting the word used of Judas almost exclusively in all the gospel accounts should be rendered "handed over" not "betrayed".  A subtle change - but a profound shift in emotional energy in the accounts of Jesus' last days.

When all we have of our saviour's message are translations of words written 2000 years ago in a language he himself wasn't speaking, how can we be assured that we truly grasp his meaning? Perhaps not at all. NT Wright's assessment of Paul sees him at the pinnacle of first century theology, in a sudden realisation that the Old Testament was fulfilled in the person of Jesus, but not at all in the way his theology would have predicted.

In such a context, I have no choice but to find ways of letting the Bible surprise me. Keeping my mind open to reinterpreting the message of the kingdom as my understanding of the context broadens, or my appreciation of the character of God grows.