Sunday 18 June 2023

The curse of Babel

Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages.
Genesis 11: 7 (NLT)

At first glance the curse of Babel is obvious. God confuses the people with different langauges. The people scatter and form different tribes and nations.

In our modern world, much is being done to reverse this curse. The number of spoken languages is in decline as more people move into cities and minority languages drop out of use. State-sponsored education promotes common languages even in countries with many different people groups. The media and the internet promote content in majority languages. Automated translation tools, for all their flaws are becoming more accurate and prevalent.

Despite this, communication remains a complex subject. Even people who speak the same language use words differently. Our upbringing, our community and our gender shape our understanding. Even when we think people understand they often don't.

As I have explored the subject of discipleship I have come to realise that the curse of Babel is all-pervasive. People with different giftings cannot understand why everyone doesn't see the problem in the same way. Denominations and churches become obsessed or even split over differences in theological interpretation.

Differences, however, do not have to be devisive. In 1 Corinthians Paul says that we are one body, made of many different parts. As reflected in my previous entry, scattering is part of God's plan, in order that the church may bless the whole earth. As we learn to celebrate our different viewpoints and talents we can reach everyone, and not just people who think and speak the same way that we do

Sunday 11 June 2023

The God who scatters

They said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”
Genesis 11: 4 (NLT)

In the opening chapters of Genesis, God lays out his plan for humanity. In the opening chapter we find this instruction for Adam and Eve to "Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it." Sadly Genesis goes on to recount man's departure from this plan. By chapter 11 mankind is in full-scale rebellion to the way of God.

I have always been taught that the sin of Babel was to try and build towards Heaven. That the tower itself was threat to God - as if some construction of human hands could somehow assail the very dwelling place of God. Recently, however, I have come across a different view. It is not the building project which God opposes. It is the coming together. Verse five tells us that God said "Look. The people are united...". Their fear is his intention. That they should be scattered. The outcome, God's intervention, is to find another way to fulful his intention. If the people won't spread out of their own accord, then he will scatter them.

The same is true for the church. In Acts 1 Jesus tells his disciples they will be his witnesses in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the Earth. When they stay in Jerusalem, persecution bubbles up to scatter them. It is as they scatter that the gospel is spread and the church grows.

The temptation remains today. We love our festival gatherings, and large churches. But the call of God is the same. Go into all the world and make disciples. It is not until we scatter that we will see the fulness of his blessing.

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?