Monday, 23 February 2015

On Pillaging Corpses

So the obvious follow on question from the last post is how do we apply the Old Testament Law today? Is it binding?

Many try to divide it up and say that the ceremonial law can be ignored, but the social / moral law of the OT cannot, but it's just not that easy to divvy up simply. Like trying to take the golden thread out of a multicoloured jumper. You might succeed, but what use is the thread to you without the jumper and what state is the jumper left in?

Or to talk more morbidly as per our title, if the law was crucified with Christ and in Christ, then choosing which bits apply and which don't is like dissecting a corpse and keeping the organs you think are important or that you like the look of… Very Frankensteinian, not very new creation.

Unfortunately, I'm not going to give a clear answer, (cos I don't know it). Suffice to say that we study the OT law with the help of the Spirit to gain wisdom. In the OT, the law was a custodian of God's people (Gal. 3:24), but now it is an adviser. Before it ruled over us, (Gal. 3:23) now it advises God's people on how to rule (Matt. 5:14, 16).

The early church gave guidance to the Gentile churches (Acts 15:20), but rather than being the final word on the subject, I think it is the beginning of a process of growing in wisdom which is to last the whole of the church age and which all God's people are involved in as they work out what it means to bring the fulness of the kingdom of God into all of creation.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Law Crucified, Wisdom Resurrected

When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he gave them a prohibition - they could eat of ANY tree they wanted, but not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Given that earlier, EVERY tree and plant was given for food, this ban can only have been a temporary one, otherwise you have an internal contradiction within the opening chapters of the bible!

In the bible, the "knowledge of good and evil" is less about "experience" and more about right judgement. Those who judge rightly pass tests, prove themselves to be mature and ready to rule over creation - ready to step into the destiny they have been assigned. This was why Adam and Eve should have refused the serpent, they would have exercised sound judgement and God may well then have led them straight to that forbidden tree and said, "Now you can tuck in." But they didn't, they took what they had no right to take and became like the serpent, twisting the truth to their own advantage.

God gave Adam and Eve a rule - a law. Following that law should have led them seek God's help to work out what that rule meant in every circumstance they found themselves in, which would in turn have led to wisdom and maturity.

The Law in whatever form it comes, is never able to account for every eventuality, but understanding the spirit in which it was written and applying it faithfully in every eventuality where it comes to bear is the way to maturity.

King Solomon was considered wise (at least at the beginning) not because he applied the law in a robotic way, (for often there was no law for a given circumstance), but because he perceived the true nature of what was in front of him, and over which he applied the spirit of the Torah (Deut. 17:18-19).

The same is true in our journey from childhood to adulthood.  There are some laws our parents laid down in our family lives which were temporary - e.g. "When you play outside, don't go beyond the end of the road." to "Don't steal. Some of those rules we no longer live by - I have gone way beyond the road where my parents live, others we continue to live by - "Do not steal." Knowing the categories in which each of those fall, and making new categories for situations we never had to face in our childhood is a function of wisdom and maturity.

Now when Christ died, the law died with him. Indeed he was the embodiment of the law - it was perfectly fulfilled in him. But the law, in and of itself was not bad, but good. Why should a good thing from God be consigned to the grave? The Law was not guilty of sin, we were.

Just as Christ died as the embodiment of the law, he rose again having transformed the law into wisdom. The law went through a chrysalis moment at the cross.

In Acts 2, God did not reissue a revised Law like he did at the first Pentecost at Mt Sinai about 2000yrs previously, he poured out the Spirit who gives wisdom.

The point being that as we read the Bible with the help of the Spirit we might understand how to apply the whole of God's Law - the word of God, to all of life in every glorious and inglorious variation.

As God takes up residence in human hearts, (John 14:23), the people of God have now been given to rule over creation. Not robotically to apply the law, but in the power of the Spirit of Wisdom (who is the same Spirit who wrote the Law!!), to bring all of creation into the same joyful, overflowing happiness of the life of God which they now experience.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

On Hats and the "Problem" Lent is for Moderns

In a blogpost here, Alastair Roberts makes a brilliant observation of what the practice of Lent is like for Modern Christians:
Perhaps a parallel can be drawn between the ways that hats function in men’s clothing today as opposed to a century ago. Whereas the hat was once ‘uniform’, signifying one’s office or station in life, and was worn by almost all men in certain contexts, now the hat is an item of personal and often eccentric expression. When I wear a hat today, I am typically expressing my personal style and individuality in a manner that makes me stand out from the crowd. Even were I to wear the exact same clothing as my great-grandfather, I would communicate a sharply different set of social messages. The contemporary aficionado of traditional liturgy can be akin to a man wearing a top hat: whatever he may intend, it will be perceived—and will all too typically function—as a personal affectation, rather than a uniform expression of his submission to an identity held in common with others. The passage from a world of given identities to one of extensive choice isn’t easily reversed, as even in our attempts to accomplish such a reversal we are typically often reasserting the semblance of the former through the mode of the latter.

I am struck by the degree to which our choice, autonomy, and individualism shape even those concepts that we may appeal to against them. In our celebration of ‘tradition’ we can often be little more than appreciative consumers of some nostalgic antiquity, rather than being subject to the tutelage of our forefathers in the faith. ‘Liturgy’ is often less about common worship than it is about personal aesthetics. ‘Community’ can stand for individuals’ quests for the ‘passing frisson’ of togetherness (Searle), rather than a genuine submission to the Church and its leadership as defining realities in our lives. For all of the celebration of ‘story’ over the last few decades, the ‘big story’ that people speak of is seldom permitted to assign its meanings and assert its authority within our lives and world and rather becomes a source for the individual religious subject’s selective self-definition. In our quest for authenticity, we risk establishing a simulacrum of the historical Church, a sort of ‘living museum’, which looks like the original reality on the surface but whose deeper dynamics have been substituted for radically different animating forces.
That's not to say that it has no value, (and Roberts isn't arguing against the practice), it's just that its full value will never be appreciated by us who breathe a cultural air (personal choice etc) which is so different to the one in which these practices were birthed.

So God bless you if you are marking Lent in some way, and God bless you if you aren't doing anything specific.

Whatever your choice, (and that's kind of "the problem…") may you know the living God better and more joyfully by the time we get to Easter.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Alive by Grace Through Faith in Christ: Notes on Ephesians 2:1-10

Introductory Remarks
  • Having set out what God has done for his readers – the Ephesian believers, and telling how he is asking God to complete what he has begun in them, he now works through the same story of salvation again, but looking at THE BIG ISSUE OF THE DAY - how BOTH Jews and Gentiles were cut off from God, and how in Christ BOTH Jew and Gentile have been saved, but whereas before, the Jews had elevated status, now, BOTH Jews and Gentiles have been infinitely elevated in Christ and have received ALL the same blessings as each other.
  • Paul’s letter would presumably be a summary / reminder of all he taught them when he was there for three months (Acts 19:8).
  • The foundation for Paul’s teaching is the Old Testament – the better we know it, the better we can understand what he says.
  • These ten verses are a brilliant summary of our condition and God’s action. They also totally slay any notion that we might be optimistic about the human race without God. Responsibility for our actions is part of the glory of being human – being made in God’s image.

Our Dire Predicament: v1-3
Verse 1
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins
  • You = Gentiles – majority of Ephesian church.
  • Dead = separated from God (which is why you can still sound like you’re living)
  • Transgression = external, crossing a boundary and stealing what isn’t yours, creating debt
  • Sin = pollution, a contagion that spreads and takes over every element of your nature (think Ebola, but worse)
Verse 2
in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
  • All prompted by the following of the devil – deceiving us that we could and should live without God – seeking a glory and reign all our own (John 8:44).
  • All are slaves to this corrupted nature through the spirit of disobedience at work in us.
  • Genesis 3-4 plays this out and is the foundation of Paul’s teaching. (For more on this, come to Bible School!)
Verse 3
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
  • Us = Paul + Jews. Whilst on the outside, God picked them out and drew them near, giving them the law which helped them order their worship and their society as they waited for the promised Messiah and ministered to the world, they were still full on the inside of all the same corruption that the Gentiles had (see v1-2, also Isaiah 29:13) They were like “Christians” who come to church and go through the motions out of comfortable/cultural familiarity or the desire to get out of hell free, not love of God.
  • Together, Jew and Gentile were all heaping up God’s wrath upon their heads. The greatest problem we have is not the devil, or the world, it’s God who is justly outraged at our rebellion against him. Our outrage towards things like ISIS and Boko Haram are a glimpse of God’s wrath towards the human race.

The Love of God is the Turning Point: v4
Verse 4
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,
  • Like a vet moving towards a rabid dog who has just tried to bite him, God moves towards us in mercy and grace, not because of any good he sees in us, for all we have is enmity towards him, but because God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit is an eternal fountain of love and life.

God’s Gracious Action: v5-10
Verse 5
made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
  • At the cross, God took all the consequences of or sin into himself, judged and destroyed them. So that now, all who answer the call of the Spirit are made alive – that is: made fit for his presence, cleansed from the corruption of sin and have all their debts to God and creation paid off. (John 17:3)
  • We contributed nothing to this in the same way that a dead person contributes nothing to their resurrection.
Verse 6
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
  • However, not only has God cleaned us up, he has poured out honour upon us. He hasn’t just made us fit for his presence, he has made us to reign with him, he hasn’t just paid off our debts, but he has filled us to overflowing with the immeasurable richness of God, who is the Holy Spirit, he hasn’t just called us co-workers with his Son, he has made us his sons and daughters whom he loves with the very same love with which he loves the Son! (John 17:23)
Verse 7
in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
  • The Church in her elevated status and authority is the testimony to the world (this age) and the Heavens (the age to come) – the angels and demons that God is not only powerful and clever, but more than that, good kind, loving, faithful and infinitely diverse in the expression of his beautiful new creations (us), like an artist who constantly produces masterpieces out of dung! Not because God selfishly wants credit as many ignorantly assume, but because he joyfully can’t help himself – he loves to share his goodness and see others flourish. (And yes he IS worthy of praise – in case you were wondering!)
Verse 8
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
  • Paul reiterates the point – Salvation is nothing from us, all from God. We don’t “make ourselves wake up”, the alarm goes off, will you switch it off and go back to sleep or will you hear it and awaken to the brightness of day that is here?
  • Faith is receiving and believing what God says and has done. If faith is centred in our willpower, then the opposite is doubt; if it is centred in God, the opposite is unbelief.
  • We need faith not only to believe the goodness of God, but also how bad we really are too. Human eyes can neither see nor believe the depth of their own depravity or the magnitude of the love of God. Unbelief (refusing the testimony of the Holy Spirit about Christ) is the only unforgivable sin.
Verse 9
not by works, so that no one can boast.
  • If anyone could boast about earning salvation, Paul could, but he doesn’t, he knows it’s crazy (Phil. 3:1-11).
Verse 10
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
  • Just as we walked in the pattern of this world, now we have been recreated in the image of Christ, so we should think, talk and act in a way that reflects that spiritual transformation.
  • We have been called into an adventure and a mission mapped out by God, which is to be like God and share the immeasurable grace we have received with the rest of creation, with family, friends, colleagues, church family, public life, the environment, the tribes and nations of the world etc. to the praise and glory of God.

Suggested Questions for Reflection / Discussion in Lifegroup
  • To see the Dead Come Alive video by fullofeyes again, click here.
  • Try to summarise this bible text in your own words, it will help you understand it.
  • Was there anything here that you found new / offensive / difficult to accept?
  • When you normally talk about becoming a Christian or the Christian life, how do you describe them, what language do you use? How might this bible text help you to understand and describe them better?
  • Now that you’re “awake” in God, what are the things that make you want to ignore him and go back to sleep?
  • What are the good works that God has prepared for you to walk in?

Sunday, 1 February 2015

A Communion Prayer

We had communion today at church and for the occasion I wrote a prayer, based in part on the passage we were looking at this morning in Ephesians 1.

We said it together before eating and drinking. Liturgical communal praying is, of course, nothing new for many of our brothers and sisters around the world and down history, but for us, it was something a bit different...
Heavenly Father,

We are gathered here before you
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
as your adopted sons and daughters,
united to your beloved Son Jesus Christ,
who has redeemed us from all our sin
by the shedding of his own precious blood.

As we eat this bread
and drink this fruit of the vine,
we give you thanks and praise
for all that you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have done.
And we ask that together you would strengthen us
in the knowledge of the Truth,
deepen our understanding
of the Hope to which you have called us
and intensify our longing for you
and all that you love,
that we might joyfully and obediently
prepare the whole earth for your sure return.