Sunday, May 27, 2007

Additive Free Gospel

At the end of our first Galatians Bible Hour I quoted some lines from an old Sankey hymn: here it is in full...

Nothing either great or small -
Nothing, sinner, no;
Jesus did it, did it all,
Long, long ago.

'It is finished!' yes indeed,
Finished every jot:
Sinner this is all you need -
Tell me, is it not?

When He, from His lofty throne,
Stooped to do and die,
Everything was fully done:
Hearken to His cry.

Weary, working, burdened one,
Wherefore toil you so?
Cease your doing, all was done,
Long, long ago.

Till to Jesus' work you cling
By a simple faith,
'Doing' is a deadly thing -
'Doing' ends in death.

Cast your deadly 'doing' down -
Down at Jesus' feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
Gloriously complete.

P.S. My nostalgia-fest of hunting through Sankey & Redemption threw up a number of hymns with fantastic words... so expect some others to be appearing in due course.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Day of Shame

It’s official – I’m over the hill (well actually if only I had been – bear with me it will all become clear). For the first time in over 20 years of hill climbing I gave up – yes I was the panting struggler holding up the rest. Now I could spend some going through a list a mitigating circumstances: the foul wet weather, my rubbish jacket so I was soaked to the skin before I was half way up the first hill, the bad decision to have muesli along with my full cooked breakfast, that I gave up only after climbing two Munro’s (which many might consider a respectable tally in itself) – but the plain truth was the other four climbers were fit for more (5 more in fact) while my respiratory system was operating about as impressively as a Scottish election. As I trudged my way back down the mountain I reflected that the day would not be a total failure if I could at least get one sermon illustration out of it – so here goes….

Heavy on my mind was that I had done the same climb in 1996 – what had happened? On that occasion we had done in it in the snow even having to use rope at one point to get over a nasty overhang of ice. On Saturday the overhang that caused the problem was sitting over my belt. 11 years of little decisions – the bedtime snacks, the mid-morning chocolate bars, the bus to save the 15 minute walk. None of which on their own were ‘terrible’ or ‘reckless’ but over the months and years add up – and then one day you find yourself lying in a gale between two rocks shouting things like, “I’m fine, you go ahead, I’ll follow on in a bit’. Oh the humiliation!

I suppose for most of us that’s the way our spiritual life goes – negatively or positively. We are not in general the result of some massive stand-alone decision we took to be really good or really bad spiritually. We are each the culmination of years of little decisions. Little decisions that in themselves weren’t ‘terrible’ or ‘reckless’ – just a decision one day not to pray - but then repeated the next day, the decision to skip reading our Bible because we were rushed, to miss the evening service, to not get involved in that activity. Each one defensible at the time – never taken with the intention of wanting to be spiritually flabby – but they mount up, they have a collective effect.

Conversely, and this is the good news, you don’t become a great man or woman of God overnight – you don’t blitz the Quiet Time for a few weeks and end up sorted (that’s just exhausting, unsustainable and leads to despondency). Rather it’s the little decisions, to spent a few minutes in prayer today and then tomorrow, to read a passage of the Bible rather than rushing straight to the next thing, to get to the Prayer Meeting etc etc. All very unspectacular at the time – but they mount up and in 5/10 years you’ll end up spiritually fit enough to tackle ‘spiritual mountains’.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Freedom & Service

Some more from Eugene Peterson's wonderful book: 'A Long Obedience in the Same Direction'

Psalm 123 - Service
'The basic conviction of a Christian is that God intends good for us and that he will get his way in us. He does not treat us according to our deserts, but according to his plan. He is not a police officer on patrol, watching over the universe, ready to club us if we get out of hand... He is a potter, working with the clay of our lives, forming and reforming...

The experience of servitude is recurrent through history. And the experience has never been happy... Masters get lazy and become scornful of those under them. The cry 'too long our soul has been sated with the scorn of those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud' is believable..

We live in a similar slavery. True, we have, in our country, abolished the institutionalised forms of slavery and all but elimanated a servant class, but the experience of servitude is still among us and is as oppressive as ever. Freedom is on everyone's lips. Freedom is announced and celebrated. But not many feel or act free. Evidence? We live in a nation of complainers and a society of addicts. Everywhere we turn we hear complaints: I can't spend my money the way I want; I can't spend my time the way I want; I can't be myself; I'm under the control of others all the time. And everywhere we met the addicts - addication to alcohol and drugs, to compulsive work habits and to obsessive consumption. We trade masters; we stay enslaved.

The Christian is a person who recognises that our real problem is not achieving freedom but in learning service under a better master.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Great Expectations

A Lesson for Christians from the 'Blair Years'

So Tony Blair has finally announced his departure from office after 10 years as Prime Minister. The media of course have been in overload with their reviews, reflections, special supplements and assessments on the ‘Blair Years’. One repeating theme has been ‘how much have things improved since 1997’ – accompanied by a flurry of opinions on the perceived positives and negatives. What I find striking is, whether you think things are better or worse, that the big issues in politics remain largely the same - Health, Education, Crime, Interest Rates etc. Indeed these were key issues in 1987, in 1977 and so on.

Yet every new generation of politicians rises up with confident promises about tackling our problems, delivering world beating standards and giving us satisfaction in all these areas. Often key to the solutions suggested are the need for ‘radical changes’ or a ‘new approach’. So in the 1980s & 90s many told us Scotland’s problems in these areas could be dealt with if only we had Devolution. Now we have Devolution and other voices tell us that the solution lies in Independence. Well this isn’t to be political (in a Party sense anyway) but I absolutely guarantee you whether Scotland becomes Independent or not the very same issues will still be problematic in 10/20… years from now. You see for all the radical changes and new approaches we never seem to get to that place where we can rest contented with the big concerns/issues of life put behind us.

Ok – just in case you were thinking you had clicked The Herald website by mistake – what’s the relevance of this in our Christian lives. Well it is that we live our Christian lives all too often under the same illusion – that our frustrations and problems can be dealt with by some great new fix. That if only we make this change to church or have that experience then everything will fall into place – final spiritual satisfaction and contentment will be delivered. The reality is that no matter how many times you change your church structure, reinvent your services or initiate a new ministry the big struggles of the Christian life – purity, obedience, faithfulness, living sacrificially, being Christ and other person centered etc – will continue. You can be Conservative or Charismatic, High Church or Low, Trendy or Tight, and the day to day battles of your Christian life will be exactly the same.

If you are waiting for a lightning bolt from heaven that will make your life finally sorted then you are on a road to disillusionment with the Gospel. Yes, there are high points and times of great blessing on the way – but the warp & weft of so much of the New Testament is: keep on going, persevere, be an over-comer, fight the fight, resist the devil, endure hardship, don’t give up, hang in there – an emphasis and tone reflective of a life that involves going against the grain in this world.

Now this isn’t to suggest a counsel of despair – just as the Health Service can doubtless be improved so can our personal and collective walk before God. A good idea is a good idea and we need to change to keep up with and tackle the different circumstances and challenges of life. But where many were na├»ve in May 1997 to think a change of government could make problems go away - Christians should remember that ultimately their hope is not in creating the perfect church or discovering some secret formula for spiritual success but in the coming of the King and establishment of His Kingdom. Until then our contentment is to 'keep on keeping on' knowing His presence and provision in the battle.

Church Planting

Check out this 8 minute video by Mark Driscoll on Church Planting - it's got MD's usual edgy feel and non-PC bluntness - but I thought it was a real challenge to Christian men... GOOD SOLDIER VIDEO