Saturday, 30 November 2013

Bonhoeffer on Confession

In our day we are constantly trying to rid ourselves of sin and guilt, either by restitution to make it better, medication to take away the guilty feelings or redefinition so that we have no shame in the first place. However, in Life Together, Deitrich Boenhoeffer defines sin, or rather the knowledge of sin as a surprisingly liberating thing assuming it leads to confession before God. He says [note that when he wrote - 1930s, gender neutral language was not in vogue]:
Anybody who loves beneath the Cross and who has in the Cross of Jesus discerned the wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find that there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anyone who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother. Looking at the Cross of Jesus, he knows the human heart. He knows how utterly lost it is in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin, and he also knows that it is accepted in grace and mercy. Only a brother under the Cross can hear a confession.

It is not experience of life, but experience of the Cross that makes one a worthy hearer of confessions. The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of the psychiatrist I can only be a sick man: in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him, here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who yearns for God's forgiveness and wants to confess. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is not lack of psychological knowledge but lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ that makes us so poor and inefficient at brotherly confession.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Garden of the Heart

Found at:
Popular Western Culture has made the heart the fountain of all truth. There is evidence all around if you want to look for it.

The heart is a pump in both the emotional and biological senses. Biologically it pumps blood around the body - keeping us alive, and emotionally (sometimes seemingly from nowhere) it pumps out all kinds of desires and dreams that make up our emotional life and of which we have to try and make some kind of sense.

To put it another way, the heart is like a garden:
  • Every garden's situation is unique - shape, size, soil make up, climate etc.
  • Every heart is unique - DNA, environment, experiences etc
  • Every garden, left to its own devices, will have elements of beauty e.g. wild flowers, but the overall picture is one of disorder.
  • Every heart, left to its own desires will have elements of beauty - kindness etc, but the overall picture is one of disorder.
  • Every garden, left to its own devices, will ultimately become chaotic and ugly.
  • Every heart, left to its own desires will ultimately become chaotic and ugly - a black hole - sucking the life out of its surroundings.
  • If you let your garden do its own thing, no one will congratulate you for what it brings forth.
  • Yet somehow, in our culture, we expect to be congratulated for allowing our hearts to pump forth whatever it likes.
  • Even well kept gardens need constant attention to ensure they remain so. Weeds appear of nowhere soon enough and choke the work already done.
  • Well trained hearts need constant attention in the same way.
  • To bring order to your unique garden, you need a gardener to show you step by step what to do so as to bring order out of chaos.
  • To bring order to your unique heart, you need to the Holy Spirit of God to show you step by step how to bring forth a beautiful life of holiness (meaning a life that is looking to and looking more like Jesus Christ's).
Only in union with Christ does the diversity of the human heart finally find its highest purpose and expression.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Twilight Plea...

Billy Graham is the most famous and influential modern evangelist America has produced. Here, his twilight plea to the nation is joined with music and testimony:

Friday, 8 November 2013

Human History: Surviving Super Ape or Fallen Son?

When you think of human history, do you think we exemplify the story of the surviving super ape?

Or the fallen son?

In the following fascinating talk, Nate Wilson recounts how C. S. Lewis fought against the spirit of the age in a kind of Myth Wars.  Worth listening to whilst you are doing something not too taxing.

What are the stories that our lives tell?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Better Mediator - Sermon Notes on Esther 4:1-5:3

Audio here.

Last week's story left us on a cliffhanger. Mordecai, due to disobedience of the king's command, has incited the vindictive and nasty Prime Minister Haman not only to seek his death, but the death of all the Jews with him. When Haman asks for the annihilation of a rebel group, the king assumes that he is referring to some small insurgent threat, unaware that the edict he has just sanctioned will mean the slaughter of his queen and a trusted advisor who saved his life.

And so we read on - Esther 4:1-5:3.

Mordecai wails bitterly and wanders through the city to the palace gate, but doesn't go in. The description of his mourning is all around symbols of death:
  • Torn clothes = under judgement
  • Sackcloth = no glory
  • Ashes = returning to the ground from whence he came (ashes to ashes, dust to dust),
  • Fasting = cut off from source of life.
Mordecai and the Jews with him are now on "Death Row" and in their state of mourning they are unfit and unworthy to enter the presence of the king.

At this point, Esther has not revealed her ethnic identity and is unaware of the pronouncement made over her and her people. She is distressed at Mordecai's grief, but assumes it must be a personal tragedy. When she learns of the predicament she is fearful. Yet Mordecai impresses upon her that she is their only hope.

Esther then proclaims a three day food and liquid fast amongst the Jews. A fast that will bring them close to death after which she will approach the king in hope of averting disaster, even if it costs her her life.

On the third day Esther robes up and goes to the king. As she stands at the entrance to the king's court, the king is pleased with her and he beckons her in. As she walks across what must have felt like an infinite distance between the door and the throne, she carries her people in her heart. The king holds out his sceptre and she lays hold of it. He will give her all her desire, and her desire is not self-centred like Haman's, it is other-centred, like God's. And there we leave it on another cliffhanger until next week!

This story is, the gospel in a nutshell. Consider the following:
  • God tests the heart of Mordecai.
  • God tested the heart of Adam, the first human with the tree of knowledge.
  • Mordecai’s disobedience brings sentence of death on all Jews.
  • Adam’s disobedience brought a sentence of death on all humans.
  • The Jews are all cut off from access to King Xerxes – the law cannot be revoked.
  • The human race are all cut off from God for their rebellion – the law cannot be revoked.
  • They have no hope of escaping the coming judgment.
  • We have no hope of escaping the coming judgment.
  • Esther is appointed queen long before this tragedy happens.
  • Jesus is appointed saviour by God the Father before the world was even created.
  • Esther is both Persian royalty AND an ethnic Jew.
  • Jesus is both fully God AND fully human – the perfect mediator.
  • Esther, through fasting, enters the suffering of her people.
  • Jesus, through crucifixion, enters and takes on himself, the suffering of the human race.
  • After her death-like fast, Esther gets up and robes herself in splendour to appear before the king.
  • After his crucifixon, Jesus is resurrected up to Heaven and robed the glory of his own righteousness appears before his Father.
  • King Xerxes loves her, joyfully receives her and will give her anything she asks for.
  • God the Father joyfully receives Christ and will give him anything he asks for.
  • At that moment Esther's heart is that her people come into the favour of the king like she is.
  • At that moment Christ's heart is to share the love he has from his Father with his people.
Our only hope of escaping the judgment of God and coming into his favour again is in receiving and being united to the God man Jesus - his one appointed mediator.

Now that Christ has won the favour of God for you. Will you come in and lay hold of that favour by uniting yourself with his son Jesus - the God-man?

If you are a Christian will you carry your people, (your family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, town, nation) in your heart in prayer to the throne of the king that, one day, they too might lay hold of Christ? If you don't, who will?

Saturday, 2 November 2013

On Money and A Sense of Entitlement

Whilst the two are not inextricably linked, too often in our culture, money and a sense of entitlement go together, at least according to this study they do.

Problem is of course, most of us think this stuff only applies to the people who are richer than we are, forgetting that the most of us are rich by many, if not most world standards. We never search our own hearts to see if that ugly sense of entitlement dwells within.

No wonder Jesus said some pretty blunt things about money.

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God." 
Proverbs 30:7-9