Saturday, 28 September 2013

Cheap Grace Vs Costly Grace

Dietrich Bonoeffer was a German pastor and theologian in the early 20th century. When the Nazis tried to get the national church "on message" Bonhoeffer stood against them. He would later be sent to a concentration camp and hanged by piano wire not long before the end of WW2 for being part of a plot to assasinate Hitler.

In his book "The Cost of Discipleship" he makes a distinction between cheap grace and costly grace. Something to chew on:

Cheap grace...
"...means grace sold on the market like a cheapjack's wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut-rate prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! And the essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be, if it were not cheap?
. . . In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. . .
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.
. . .
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate." 
(True) Costly Grace...
" the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake of one will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. . .
. . . Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "my yoke is easy and my burden light." { p. 45}

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Humble Servant Who Inherits the World

King David wasn't just a king, he was a prophet (Acts 2:30) and in Psalms 1 and 2 prophesied about Messiah as the humble servant who would appear in weakness (Psalm 1) yet who would be raised up to glory (Psalm 2) The two psalms should be taken as a whole (apparently).

Much of the Bible is arranged in chiasms. A chiasm is a literary form (like a limerick or a stanza is). It works like this:

Statement A
  Statement B
    Statement C
      Statement D (The crux of the story - or the tip of the arrow if you like the imagery)
    Statement C developed
  Statement B developed
Statement A developed

I'm not entirely sure if Psalm 1 and 2 are chiastic, they feel like they are, so have had some fun trying to rearrange them to see if they connect together, following this pattern:

Statement D
Statement A
Statement A developed
Statement B
Statement B developed
Statement C
Statement C developed.

Psalm 1 is in blue, psalm 2 in red, apart from statement D in purple:

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed (Christ), saying,
“Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles."

Blessed is the man (Christ) who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditate on his law day and night.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever he does prospers.
Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. 

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.
Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

Am I trying too hard? Tell me what you think.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Little Note of a Nation

Came across this note in a my wife's study bible - a commentary on 2 Kings 14:23...
"Secular historians report that Omri and Jeroboam were the strongest kings of Israel. Under them, the nations gained new heights of power and prestige. But consistently, the book of Kings gives little notice to political strength. It judges kings on the basis of spirituality, and thus Omri and Jeroboam are dismissed in a few paragraphs.
The wealthy but corrupt state of the nation during this time can be seen in the books by Amos and Hosea, both of whom prophesied in the beautiful city of Samaria. Israel scoffed at these prophets' words of doom, but within 20 years, their dire predictions had come true."

Saturday, 7 September 2013

"Boring Holes in the Bottom of the Church" or Why Liberals might be more Evangelical than Evangelicals... [I hear you choking on your beverages already.]

Having thought a fair bit in recent weeks about how, in our culture, we assume spontaneity = authenticity, two interesting articles appeared on the Think Theology blog yesterday.

Whilst many Evangelicals flaunt their "Biblical fidelity," tacitly mocking the rest, people might actually be exposed to more of the Bible in a liberal anglican worship service than they are in most evangelical ones.


However trendy / relevant you are, you still have a liturgy (that is a form of worship service / meeting or whatever).  The question is, is it any good? Kevin De Young has been thinking aloud.

Finally, my wife stumbled across this article on the Guardian website.  I knew that the bible is a book of symphonic symmetry. Stuff the Da Vinci code, now the data proves it with these lovely infographs.

Source: The Guardian

Source: The Guardian

Monday, 2 September 2013

"Pentecost - A Paradigm Shift" Talk Notes

Audio on the church sermon archive.

Our minds are powerful things, constantly filling in the gaps in our knowledge so that our experience of life feels complete and we understand the big picture as best we can. Sometimes they do it well, but sometimes they get it wrong.

Reading the Bible often falls subject to that mental filling in. Pentecost and the events of Acts 2 are familiar to many of us. But in the absence of information, our imaginations - for better or worse - have done a lot of filling in the gaps. So to help us get a truer, fuller picture of what went on that day, we need the prophetic eyes of the Old Testament and more specifically the Book of Leviticus.

Leviticus is a book many Christians fear and so skim through or skip it altogether. Its rules, routines, rituals and bloody sacrifices all seem too alien to us. There are certain cultural myths we hold which make the reading of Leviticus unattractive:
  1. We assume without thinking that because we have made technological progress, we are superior to our forebears and don’t need to learn from the past.
  2. We assume without thinking that spontaneity makes us authentic and that ritual, routine and religion just turn us into robots.
  3. The place of worship in the Old Testament was a glorified abattoir. Most of us feel more revulsion at the thought of animal slaughter than the crucifixion of Jesus.
But if we could overcome our natural and cultural biases, we would find, for example, that the feasts that God set up in Leviticus 23 join all of history together and prophetically map out in symbols the whole of God’s salvation through Christ all the way from Jesus entering our world as one of us to God’s people enjoying eternal life with the Father, Son and the Spirit in a renewed creation. (See presentation slides for more info.)

So, in Leviticus 23, God command all his people to appear before him with two loaves of bread. What on earth is that about?

The Feast of Pentecost commemorated the first Pentecost, which took place at Mt. Sinai, 50 days after the Israelites came out of Egypt. Moses went up the mountain to meet with an incognito Trinity and he received the Law from them on two tablets, which from a distance at least, look like loaves of bread. Just as we eat bread to sustain our physical bodies, so the law of God was to be spiritual food for the Israelite souls and the imagery of this is all through the bible - e.g. Matt 4:4, John 4:34.

But instead of receiving this law gladly God’s people rebelled. (See Exodus 32) and a day that should have been full of joy and thanksgiving was filled with judgment and bloodshed as 3000 people were executed. For, whilst the law could cage the heart, it could not transform it (we know this from our own, often painful, experience). And whilst through the Law one could draw near to God, only in Christ - the promised one, could one be united to God.

These loaves also point forward to Jesus who obeys and fulfills the whole law in our place and is the true bread from heaven who sustains and restores us. Just as Moses went up the mountain to receive the law to pass on to the people, Jesus ascended into Heaven and received the Spirit whom he poured out freely on all who would come to him and on that day 3000 people were born again.

Pentecost is less a power encounter and more a personal encounter. At Pentecost, God gives us himself so that we would know him, love him and be transformed to be like him.

When Acts 2 opens saying they were all together in one place, that place was the temple along with millions of other Jews and God fearing people all come to celebrate the feast. The house they were in was God's house. And just as the Spirit of God came hundreds of years before to ignite the animal sacrifices and inaugurate his temple (2 Chron.7:1). Now, on the altars of human hearts God comes again to kindle a new fire as he sets up a new home.

But there's more, Leviticus 23 has what looks on the face of it an oddly placed command about sharing your harvest with the poor and the foreigner. What's that doing there?!

In many cultures and in the Bible, land is symbolic of inheritance. When parents die they will usually leave land or property to the children. The Israelites were told by God that they would inherit the land of Canaan after coming out of Egypt. Only ethnic Israelites had any right to the land (Lev 25). So any non-Israelite who wanted to join themselves to Israel like the Egyptians who left Egypt in the Exodus (See Ex.12:38) to worship Israel’s God would have no right to the land and this law was put in place so that Israelites and non Israelites could live and worship God together and Gentiles could share in the inheritance and blessing of Israel.

Fast forward to the end of Acts 2 and what do we see? God's people giving up their earthy inheritance to provide for those in need and testifying that their hope is no longer for an inheritance in this world, but for eternal life in the next. Cheesy as it sounds, love is our greatest witness to the world. Not miracles, not clever books and programmes, but love.

You may not feel like you need the love of God right now. You may not feel like you are sinning badly in life. But if you are not filled with the love of God you will at best do the spiritual equivalent of treading water and have no vision, no appetite and no energy to obey God, be transformed and transform the world.

Pray the words of Ephesians 3:14-21 over yourself, your church family and anyone else you want to see know the love of God.