Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Why are so many people struggling with their identity?

The article in gospel coalition which questions whether we are making disciples or deists raises some interesting discussion points.

  1. Should Christians be happy?
  2. What reasons for salvation did we communicate to those being saved?
  3. After Alpha ( a good start point, but has it’s own theological glaring gaps) how do we prioritise teaching good biblical theology?
  4. Is our sermonising ‘self-help’ with a biblical flavour, or is it good theology with life application?
  5. Do we expect our thinking to be revolutionised when we come to Christ, or harmonised with our secular humanism?

The ages old precept of read your bible, pray every day is often replaced with journaling [or blogging] and counselling, and our midweek meetings tend to retain a semi-pastoral emphasis rather than seeking to engage with how we understand then apply theological understanding, and tragically few people know how to make alive what they are reading sufficient to share with each other, encouraging and building one another up.   The concept that we are followers of Christ together, having being radically transformed by the gospel, and the regenerating work of the spirit seems to be partially if not totally lost despite our theological reformed (calvinist) bias.

Could it be that the degree to which the common person (one that doesn’t hold a church office) is encouraged to educate themselves theologically has been reducing to the extent that anyone who enquires for themselves is now considered the oddball?   Moreover, I’ve lost count of the number of leaders who suggest their expectation of those in our pastoral care won’t read the bible for themselves, let alone understand what it says. Leadership may then become focussed at compensating for this loss of theological understanding and bible reading, rather than encouraging and working with the spirit to lead, teach and guide.  It’s almost as if for many we’ve understood our ‘service’ culture to be ‘serve me’ rather than serve each other and that we need to be spoon-fed from our leaders rather than running with them to hunt down and consume the meat.  It is wondrously surprising that despite the plethora of translations into understandable language, and the number of copies in the average Christian (sic) home the book is largely unread week to week.  If we truly believe that God is revealed through it’s pages it behooves us to dedicate our time and energy to knowing what it says and living it out.  Proverbs 4 tells us to get wisdom and understanding, and that surely is a call to educate ourselves.. not leave it to others.

But where can the common man go to aid their understanding?

  • Though Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology is a reasonably easy read, most of my contemporaries ironically use it as a reference book to dip in and out of, rather than to systematically read, so that perhaps is not the best starting point. 
  • Discipleship groups then? these could help, except it reinforces a leader, follower mentality which removes ownership of study from the learner – but we all have to start somewhere, so perhaps this has some merit.  Perhaps our midweek groups should do more than ‘unpick’ the Sunday sermon? 
  • What about visiting each others homes daily to encourage one another, to pray, break bread and encourage one another while giving praise and thanks to God? – perhaps that seems too religious?

By far the biggest challenge here is not one about what the church does and doesn’t do to grow followers of Christ – though we need to look at what and how we do that - it is fundamentally that we have miscommunicated what a follower of Christ looks like, and take few steps to correct it.  This lack of clear identity, ‘what a Christian looks like’ allows all manner of alternative outlooks to find a foothold and delay our move to biblical thinking and attempting to change it after birthing people poorly is hard work, problematic and should be unnecessary if we do it right the first time!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Being quiet

I’m quite a loudperson.  I don’t usually need a microphone to be heard in a room, I’m confident to speak to several or few (though I struggle to mingle in a crowd), and I usually have thought through (or can think through quickly) common subjects and discussion topics.  I like to think, enjoy a good debate (political, social or theological), engage with opinionated people who are iron to my iron regardless of view and I ask lots of questions and appreciate the answers.

I find being quiet really hard.  Listening for the still small voice is easier in the quiet than in the noise of an active mind. For me, to be quiet takes extraordinary amounts of effort and patience, and usually people who know me ask ‘what’s wrong’ because their perception is that it’s abnormal (for me).

All followers of Christ are charged with communicating the gospel of Christ, and living a life which displays his radiant glory (words & actions) yet also require humble service and quiet obedience. This dynamic is interesting to present when humble, quiet, obedient, service is by definition almost unnoticed and is certainly obfuscated by verbal communication and demonstrable conviction. I wonder about where blogging fits into the mix.  In many ways it’s a loud activity, communicating to any who stumble upon my musings, and perhaps it gives a glimpse into my heart or head for those with an eye to delve behind the words to the motivation for them.  But is the still small voice evident in the words? is it actually helpful to any cause? Is it quiet, humble, obedience too?

And what of the struggles with my marriage? Surely a man must first lead his household well? – Yet, even when that leading isn’t going to primary plan, does that mean for that season we’re totally useless to God, lest we become hypocrites, believing one thing and doing another?   If I can lose the way here where I have spent most effort, and invested so heavily, isn’t it all the more possible to lose the way in other areas? Shouldn’t that cause me to be silent for now?  - but if a gift is given surely it is to be used – not left unexercised?  It seems to me that if God is the same, yesterday today forever, and if his primary calling to us remains unchanged, and if we’re to be honest with each other as we do life together, then struggles alone do not disqualify us, and disqualifying ourselves only places ground into enemy hands.  We needed saving because we were sinful and we still need his spirit because we are weak. His strength is made perfect in weakness so perhaps I need to be all the more vocal of my own weakness so that He may be glorified in me?  Or have I misunderstood what Paul was talking about?

I need to find the quiet voice that leads the way. There are times I’ll need to be quiet to do that. But perhaps I also need to continue to be noisy in declaring who God is, the extent of his grace, the provision of the cross and the call to his kingdom?  I cannot fear man, what can they do to me? if they kill me, do I not still gain the prize? So death holds no barrier to action..  only my own stubbornness or embarrassment does?

Saturday, 3 March 2012

I am thankful

Lord God, thank you for changing me so much and giving me an abundance of blessing. I am blessed to be counted in your house, part of those who will be with you forever in paradise, saved from the consequences of my own actions, redeemed by the blood of Christ which stained the cross in place of my sins, loved by the Father like the Son and led by the Spirit.  If that is the sum total of all that has been done for me, it would be enough already to be eternally thankful.

But your love continues to penetrate my stubborn heart…

…It softens me when I am cold to change, and proud or belligerent

Your spirit shows me where I have yet to repent, and receive forgiveness – not so that I can be ‘more saved’ but so that I can be more ‘free’.  I’m so sorry that I take inordinate time arguing over every small thing you ask of me, and that my own embarrassment or shame at my actions slows down my readiness to repent when it should be the opposite.  How patient you are with me!  and what a model of patience I have to follow to love others. Thank you.

I thank you that despite myself, I find myself still married, still privileged to father wonderful children, still employable, still trustworthy, still within your eternal purpose, still able to be useful to you, still loved, still cherished, still sung over, still delighted in, still chosen, still wanted.   Thank you. Thank you.

I am never alone, even when I feel so. That I choose not to remember you are with me always, doesn’t change that you are. That I ignore your quiet whisper or that I forget to meditate on your words when I’m afraid, hesitant or sinful doesn’t make any of your words less true or less powerful. How you must despair of me!  You have destroyed nations for less disobedience, yet you spare me time after time. How merciful you are!  Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Is there anywhere I can go to escape you?  Is there some way that I could hide in obscurity where you couldn’t find me? Is there someway I can turn my back on what you have done for me and gain the penalty I truly deserve? Is there any future for me that is not inextricably conjoined with you? Is there some sin I can commit that will have you disown me?  Is there some hurt I can rend on your church that there would be no place for me among it? Is there some harm I can do to myself that would invalidate my sonship?   I have not found any.   Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Though I rebel and frustrate and fight and lose my way, you are faithful, and patient, merciful, enduring, steadfast, gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.  I am truly thankful to know you, and love you however imperfectly.   Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you God.



Psalm 103:8-10  

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

English Standard Version (ESV)