Monday, May 24, 2010

Toppling the little gods

Last night at Greenview we were looking at 1 Samuel 7. We noted, among other things, that in seeking the Lord the Israelites were called on to put away their idols. Israel had been struggling for 20 years – the Ark of God, symbolic of their relationship with God Himself, parked up in Kiriath Jearim. Life had been infiltrated in the meantime by a bunch of little gods. It was upon these Baals & Ashtoreths that Israel had pinned its hopes for ‘success’ in life. For a 10th century BC Israelite it was these little gods who offered the promise of good crops, freedom from disease & personal safety. Now, of course, in 2010 we have Asda, the NHS and Theresa May to look after such concerns – but let’s be in no doubt our own little gods are still ‘alive & kicking’.

The little gods of ‘recognition’, ‘possessions’, ‘beauty’, ‘status’, ‘pleasure’, to name some of the more obvious ones, still clamour for our affections, energies and time. These are the little gods that promise to deliver us happiness, a sense of value, significance and meaning in life – if we simply attend to their shrines.

A while back the peace & quite of an afternoon stroll in the park was interrupted – moving along the road came a blinged-up hatchback, inside two young guys with shades and designer gear, one hand on steering wheel, the other arm casually resting on the open window, all accompanied by the thump thump of music pounding out from the car stereo. Two guys, whose gods (at that moment) were so clearly ‘self image’ & ‘possessions’. The whole scenario was one of people whose sense of self-worth, having value & being significant was totally bound up in looking cool, being admired, and having the desired kit. In other words, ‘I will be worth something if other people think I’m worth something – my life will have significance if others are impressed by me’.

We might not be quite so blatant in showing our neediness – but the little gods are never far away from most of us. The little gods that say, ‘recognition is what you need, if you get recognition you’ll be happy’. So pursue ‘recogntion’, make sure you get it – serve the god of recognition. The reality is of course that the little gods only ever deliver – insecurity, competition, vulnerability & stress.

Israel had to put away its little gods and turn to the only one who can give settled peace, security, value & significance – the Lord. For them it involved a physical clear-out – statues & shrines consigned to the skip. But it would entail more than that – patterns of behavior, daily schedules and their very mindset would need to be changed. Putting away idols in Israel would entail much more than a change of d├ęcor. It would require determined, conscious and tenacious decision making in their ongoing lives.

If we know anything about ourselves it is that the same will true. Toppling our little gods will require the same kind of thought-through planning and choices. It will mean, for example, that….

1. Having performed some act kindness or having been servant-hearted or sacrificial in some area of life or ministry, that no matter how much it ‘kills us’ and goes against the grain of our natural instincts – WE WON’T MENTION IT!
2. That having come into some money or realizing we had more than we thought, that rather than it being another opportunity to treat ourselves – WE GIVE IT AWAY!
3. That having received an invitation to some cool social event, but there being a Christian activity to which we had already planned to attend & we know needs support – WE TURN IT DOWN!

These things are hard for us, precisely because they defy all that the little gods want us to do and tell us will actually make us happy. But only by such determined, premeditated and flesh-denying decisions will the little gods be put away in our lives.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Personal Failure

'I’m convinced most serious Christians live their lives with an almost constant low-level sense of guilt.'

Words from Kevin DeYoung in another excellent blog on 'Feeling Guilty' . It's a helpful blog because it addresses a very real issue for so many of us - labouring under a weight of expectation (often our own & sometimes other's) about the kind of Christians we feel we ought to be. I feel guilty because...

1. I don't feel I pray enough - I'm sure that's objectively true a lot of the time - but what is 'enough';

2. I don't feel I'm organised enough - there are 100 & 1 mini-projects, visits, books to read, etc etc - that I never seem to get around to. I can generally 'be on top of' 3 or 4 things at any one time - beyond that I'll be in 'shambling buffon' mode - which is unfortunate when you're supposed to be competently involved in about 20 different issues at any given point;

3. I don't feel inspirational or dynamic enough - in the world of Driscoll, Piper, Dever & Warren it's hard not to feel like a bumbling dullard;

4. I don't feel I'm networked enough - where to start? Where do people get the energy (never mind the hours) to do the basic job, pastor a wife & kids, fit in the hobby that well-balanced people are supposed to have!, and keep up with the 'movers & shakers';

5. I don't feel I'm evangelistic enough - Bible teachers are generally intimated by evangelists. Notions of parts of the body having equal honour go out the window here - evangelists 'do it', they are the 'real thing', their ministry area is the one that gets results! Nobody would dream of expressing disappointment or disapproval because a person gifted as an evangelist doesn't cut it as a preacher - but turn the tables!

I could go on (this is really just therapy for me but you get to look in). There is a tension of course - in many areas my old sinful nature does need 'a kicking' at times. 'Self-deprecation can be used as a smokescreen for negligence (e.g. we are called to do the 'work' of an evangelist whether we're good at it or not!). But nevertheless there is the reality that actually we will - in ourselves- never be good enough. Our contributions are not sufficient, our efforts not adequate, our abilities not requisite.

So we must first preach to ourselves what we preach to others - in Christ my sins are forgiven, my failures are compensated, and my deficiencies made up. My usefulness & value to God is not my output, organisation, ministry connections, or array of spiritual gifts - but in being identified with & dependent on Christ. It is both immensely humbling and incredibly liberating. It is grace.

As Tim Keller puts it:
When my own personal grasp of the gospel [grace] was very weak, my self-view swung wildly between two poles. When I was performing up to my standards – in academic work, professional achievement, or relationships – I felt confident but not humble. I was likely to be proud and unsympathetic to people. When I was not living up to standards, I felt humble but not confident, a failure. (The Reason for God, p180)

Only a tenacious hold on grace in our lives will allow us to be both humble and confident. When we grasp grace then we can start to live with the underlying emotion in our lives being gratitude rather than guilt.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Political Failure

It was interesting to note how many times during the recent election campaign that politicians referred to the need to renew 'a failed / discredited political system'. It was the same approach as that taken during the Expenses Scandal itself - i.e. 'the current system of expenses has failed'. The implication being that well meaning politicians (from all parties) had been victims of a defective working structure. In other words, the politicians weren't to blame it was the environment in which they were forced to operate.

But of course not all politicians submitted dubious or dishonest claims - yet they worked within the same structures. The reality is that the 'system' did not fail - the people in it did. What hope for a society whose elected law-makers are no longer trusted to make fair and honest judgements about their own expenditure? Like primary school children, MPs will now be constantly supervised in order to stop them misbehaving - the notion of self-restraint can no longer be applied to highest offices of public service.

None of this, of course, is a surprise to those who know their Bibles. King David was just one of a long line of rulers who found that it was easier to govern a nation than their own hearts. If ever we wanted a picture of human fallenness our current politics gives us it. Well-off comfortable people who use power & privilege for self-enrichment - and then claim to be victims when caught.

The answer, of course, is ultimately not more rules but the Gospel. The Gospel that confronts human sinfulness without excuses. The Gospel that reorientates our view of ourselves, others and the world around us - so our value is no longer in what we possess & accumulate but in being precious to God; so others are no longer to be exploited & used but to be served and esteemed; and where this world is under God's rule and thus a world in which we will be held accountable to Him for all we do. The Gospel that offers forgiveness from all our greed and selfishness - and which offers the ability to live righteously not under compulsion but freely out of Spirit given desires.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Check out this trailer for the new Youth Christianity Explored Course 'Soul' - looks top notch.

See HERE for more details.