I Passed My Exams!

Yes! It’s true!

The big surprise was that my best mark was in Hebrew – just crept into the ‘1st class’ category. I just scraped a pass with Job. Pastoral Principles was a little better. In both of these I did not do enough reading to justify better.

However, I can breathe a big sigh of relief.

I Passed My Exams!

Church of England Nonsense

As a non-CofE Christian, I would be the first to admit that I do not really understand the CofE. The heirarchical structure seems to bear a striking resemblance to Saturn’s rings: the closer you look the more levels of complexity there seem to be. Why?

It seems to me that the battle over women in the clergy was lost in 1994. Why there should now be a particular fight over the women as bishops without bringing into question women priests is unclear to me. Perhaps someone could enlighten me?

It seems simple: women are excluded on the grounds of 1 Tim 2:11-15. This trumps any appeal to ‘tradition’, which appears to be the main argument against.

There is much made of the fact that many women ‘feel called’ to the priesthood. This raises the interesting question of what constitutes a ‘call’. The women in question seem to have wholly subjectivised the whole thing. Because of an inner feeling, they demand the right to be made priests/bishops etc. I listened to The Bishop of Fulham, John Broadhurst, on Channel Four News last night (who, on the whole, made a pretty ham-fisted job of opposing the motions, IMHO) argue that it was not for individuals to claim a calling but for the church to call. I agree with this. There needs to be both subjective and objective elements. Subjectively, a man (!!) must have a sense of call and purpose about what he is contemplating. But objectively, the broader church must check that he is gifted and qualified (though the guide for this is not tradition, but Scripture). For this reason, a woman can never be called to the ministry, no matter what feelings dwell within.

But this argument will never win the day amongst the liberals. They are only interested in the politics. So looking at it politically, as I see it, there will come a crisis. But it will happen when the liberals realise that the only reason the CofE is viable is because the conservatives financially shore it up. Then the liberals will come back from the brink. They will schmooze with the conservatives in order to preserve themselves. The question then is whether the conservative evangelicals will have the courage of their convictions to once and for all deal with the theological gangrene that they live with every day.

Church of England Nonsense

Our Limited Capacity to Understand

Loraine Boettner, in his The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, deals with the problem of evil, a problem with which all theists must come to terms with at some point. Calvinism gives the most adequate explanation, yet even the Calvinist must always bear in mind the following comment:

Our mental vision can no more comprehend His deep mysteries than our unaided physical eyes can endure the light of the sun. (p.251)

Our Limited Capacity to Understand

Study


Study
Originally uploaded by Dancers.

This is where it all happens – the study. Complete chaos. Not quite recovered from frantic exam work. In fact, not recovered at all. Believe me, you can’t see the full glory. Needs to be fixed, but WHEN?

Fan is highly necessary – it’s due to hit 28C this afternoon.

Keyboard looks crooked – poor photostitch software.

Study

Sunday

We had an unusual Sunday today. I had been asked to lead both services at Little Hill Church down in Leicester. So it was an early start for the family to get there on-time.

I had been before back in March to take some mid-week Bible Studies in Haggai, but this was the first time I had preached on a Sunday. It is a lovely fellowship – very warm and friendly, full of godly people who care about the gospel and the glory of Christ. I preached in Matthew 7:21-23 in the morning, warning against vacuous profession of faith and that giftedness was no ticket to entry to the kingdom, but that doing the work of believing in the One sent was.

The service was followed by a fellowship lunch – yum.

In the afternoon we were looked after by Faqir and Margaret. We had a good time of fellowship.

In the evening I preached on John 12:1-8. I blogged on this a couple of days ago, so you know the thrust of my thinking. I had the rather strange event of coming to the end of my notes rather abruptly and not really finishing very clearly. Though in my prep it was clear enough, something strange happened in the delivery. This has happened before. Though there are practical lessons to learn from this, I was immediately reminded that preaching is a spiritual activity, an act of trust, where God chooses to use weak earthen vessels for His glory alone. Sometimes the preacher needs to be humbled because he relies upon his methods.

Nevertheless, I am encouraged.

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! (Ps. 133:1, NIV)

Sunday

Get Together


Paul
Originally uploaded by Dancers.

My mate Paul tells me this is his good side.

Anyway, we had a good time today. Ashbourne Baptist, Grace Church Belper and Derwent Free Church got together for a picnic at Carsington Water.

Weather good. Friends good. Food good. Games and fun good.

Paul’s good side not so good.

Get Together

Two Models of Discipleship

John 12:8 has come up in discussion in previous posts. Jesus almost seems to be uncaring in his comment that

You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. (NIV)

I am preaching through the gospel of John at the moment. I have found it a tricky book. Jesus’ words often go in directions I do not expect. I find myself asking why he said that in this place!

Recently I preached on 12:1-11. I confess, I did not major on verse 8. There was too much of the context to be able to give it much time. But the context is illuminating.

It is a warm setting. Friends are gathered together enjoying one another’s company. Perhaps they were telling stories, laughing together. In the midst of this, as events unfold, we find a contrast between two kinds of discipleship.

Firstly, we have Mary. She had been close to Jesus. She saw how much Jesus was affected by the plight of humanity. After all, Jesus wept in the face of the death of Lazarus. But she realised that Jesus was the only true hope for men and women. He was the resurrection and the life and she now knew it. She could have been like her sister and served at the table. What greater privilege could there be than to serve her Lord? Yet her desire was to do more for him.

Imagine being one of the disciples enjoying the social occasion. As you do so you become aware of a fragrance filling your nostrils. An exotic, expensive fragrance. Others notice it too, and a hush descends on the gathering. You become aware of something almost unseemly going on at Jesus’ feet. Mary has cracked open a jar of expensive perfume and is washing them in it with her hair. Wow! Shouldn’t someone say something?

Nard was used sparingly, in times of death in the family. It was probably an heirloom, handed down from parents. It was expensive, brought from the Himalayas. Now Mary had blown it all.

Mary only had eyes for Jesus. Her devotion was absolute. She would do anything for him as long as it was for him.

Such devotion can appear reckless and wasteful. This was true of Judas Iscariot. In him we see a second kind of discipleship. On the face of it we see someone concerned about others. He was concerned about the waste. Why not sell it and give the proceeds to the poor? He may even have got angry about it. After all, people die for lack of food. Don’t you get angry?

None of the disciples at the time gainsayed Judas. He had a point, didn’t he? The poor are hungry and we could have helped, they think. But later, as the disciples and the gospel writers reflected on these things they realised that in Judas other motives were in play. He wanted some of the money for himself.

The interesting thing about Judas is that he was so close to Jesus. He could not be distinguished from the others by outward appearance (except by Jesus himself, of course). But eventually the state of his heart was revealed in his actions. He had no true devotion to Jesus. Only an outward appearance of it.

The significance of all this for us? There is of course a simple answer: have a heart like Mary, not Judas. But this would be mere moralising.

There is a more difficult answer, the implications of which are more radical. You see, though the poor exist, and they must be attended to in a godly society (Jesus does not deny this need), there is one thing that is most important which takes precedence over every other concern – that of absolute and utter, selfless and sacrificial devotion to Jesus Christ and his kingdom. The balm applied to Jesus’ feet heralds his imminent death, a death necessary for the overcoming of the power of Satan and death itself in order that men and women may be drawn to to him. Jesus Christ solves the ultimate problem, the last and greatest enemy – death. He reverses the curse on Adam’s race and inaugurates a new kingdom, a new creation. In his resurrection he was the first fruits of that full harvest of which his people are part. It was into this that Mary was drawn. To call others to this reality is the desire of all true disciples. It takes precedence over all else.

In Judas we see that this concern was absent, for all his outward appearances. Though his outward concern for the poor is laudable, in one sense, we see the tragedy of his life and it fills us with great sadness. Likewise, when we see men and women today seeking to put concern for the poor as a top priority we warm to it – to a degree. Yet without seeing a concern to submit to Jesus’ lordship, there is greater sadness. When there is concern for the poor without submission to the Lord we naturally remember tragic Judas.

Two Models of Discipleship

Rumble over Live8 and the Bible

…And in the red corner we have … Phil Johnson … who was singularly unimpressed with the weekend’s Live8 events.

In the blue corner … Sven … who is singularly unimpressed with Phil’s unimpressedness with the Live8 events.

Phil doubts the credibility of vacuous celebrities in their campaigning. In fact they are more than doubts – he likens them to Judas who gave the impression of caring for the poor but in reality was only concerned to get his hands on the cash.

Strong stuff, and it would not surprise me to find it is a valid comparison on the Last Day. But it remains for the Last Day, not for now. Let the Lord sort that out.

For me, I fully support the Blair and Brown initiative, and if the Live8 events help then good on them. One big issue is trade. It must be dealt with. For years now I have felt that the CAP and trade tariffs against African nations are abominations that must be ended. The US and Europe are guilty of using the strengths of their economies to subsidies the weaknesses and thereby penalise the Africans for whom our weaknesses are their strengths. Perhaps this is simplistic, but this seems to me to be what is going on.

The other is getting good governance in Africa, but frankly I have no idea how to get this. Sin runs deep in all of us.

In the other corner, Sven vents his spleen over Phil’s commens he really does not engage with him. You see Phil argued that since Jesus said that the poor will always be with us (John 12:8) then “Make Poverty History” is a vacuous slogan. Sven, on the other hand, says there are hundreds of other verses and stories in the Bible where we clearly see that overturning injustice and unfairness towards to poor is one of the central issues. Well, frankly this is a daft way to approach the Bible. He seems to think that if you snip out all the verses that agree with you and then snip out all the ones that don’t, then put them on a set of scales then whichever has the most verse-votes wins! He makes no attempt to account for Jesus’ words, which we must.

So here’s my take. Yes, there are plenty of verses that speak of justice and getting rid of oppression of the poor and defenceless in the Prophets. This is simply to be a characteristic of God’s holy people. Israel was to be marked by it. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Now the reason was simple. The covanantal arrangement which God established with the nation of Israel was never intended to be the God’s final word. You see, though God’s promises to Abraham seemed to have been fulfilled – they had reached the promised land, right? – things just did not go well. There was decline into sin and disobedience. The corruption had not been dealt with. The sins were flagged up (as Sven rightly notes) but also, more covenantal promises are given, pointing to a future day of blessing. There is to be a New Covenant (Jer. 31:33,34) and a new heavens and earth (Isa. 66:22). The New Covenant brought in with Christ. The new heavens and the new earth are yet to be fully realised.

The implications of this are that though the ethic of justice is commanded in the prophets, and should be increasingly a feature of inwardly-renewed yet outwardly-decaying Christians (2 Cor 4:16), it will not fully be seen until return of Christ, when all things will be consummated and the new heavens and earth realised. In this way we see that the words of Jesus are true – there will always be the poor, because the world is yet riddled with sin and corruption and ever will be in this age – but that the ethic of justice remains true for his people nonetheless.

Sven has a seconder, the ever-controversial John. He says that we are to see the Bible’s “real values, not the ones we are told that it teaches”. He thinks that Sven has shown us the real values. But how can he have if he has made such an inadequate ‘argument’? He has just picked out a few verses he likes better than others.

Rumble over Live8 and the Bible