Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Snow Globe or Emmanuel?

Tomlin's 'Glory in the Highest' blaring, Christmas Tree lights twinkling, Pennsylvania Dutch Eggnog on hand - I am beginning to unwind for a quick Christmas break after a breathtaking year. To be honest, at times it has been like a blow to the solar plexis, at others it has been like a mountaineer gulping for air at high altitude, and still others it has been like children gasping in wide -eyed wonder at God's glory and goodness. Breathtaking, all the same.

I have one more message to preach before we take a week to drive up to Seattle to visit some dear friends. It's for our Christmas Eve service. The theme is 'Be still and know.' Peace is certainly one of God's gifts to us in Christ at Christmas. "For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given... He shall be called the Prince of Peace...of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end."
I don't think that the absence of conflict is the peace that God offers though. He does not offer us Utopia, Zen or Suburban Bliss. The gospel is not like one of those Snow Globes, where a perfect world is preserved inside a perspex bubble, and shaking only produces snowflakes.
"In this world you will have trouble, but take courage I have overcome the world." God gives us the gift of Peace through the Incarnation. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, sharing in our flesh, and in our shaking worlds. With us in our trouble, anxiety and sorrow. He offers us the peace of friendship with a perfect King, and the taste of an eternal Kingdom that is increasing no end.

May His peace cause you to gasp in wonder, and breathe a deep sigh of relief, all at the same time.
Happy Christmas.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Invictus Conflictus

While its still fresh in my mind, I want to make a few comments on the Clint Eastwood epic about Nelson Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
First, I thought the movie captured the moment with remarkable empathy and accuracy.
The memories flooded back. It was the day of my 23rd birthday. Our friends who gathered in the Mack's living room that winter afternoon to watch the final, had very little idea that the game would be a momentous milestone in our nations' redemptive history. I must admit to being a little cynical back then that a game could change a nation. In retrospect, I think it did. The legal ending of apartheid was relationally sealed that day in the stadium, on street corners and in pubs as black and white embraced in joy. Thankyou, Mr. Eastwood for capturing the essence of that day beautifully.
Second, massive respect to Morgan Freeman for capturing Madiba's character magnificently - accent, inflection, gesture, and most of all formidable grace. Not so much for Matt Damon and his Bok rugby team I don't think. I found them all little bit underwhelming. In fact, I thought the interplay between Madiba's bodyguards was far more insightful than that of the rugby team, but that's not really my point.

My point is that I feel a bit conflicted overall about the message of movie.

On the one hand, it left me freshly and deeply grateful for God's mercy in raising up a man of peace, who humbly turned the other cheek to his oppressors, and whose example turned a nation bent on revenge, back toward one another. A man dares to put Jesus words into action and a nation is rescued from a bloody revolution. Inspiring, for sure. Miracle, no doubt.

On the other hand, the 'Invictus' theme felt a little hollow to me. The title was taken from a poem by William Henley, which sustained Mandela during his years on Robben Island, and which he gave to Pienaar the South African captain for similar inspiration in leading his team to victory.
It means 'unconquerable'. The poem ends with these often quoted words. "I am the master of my own destiny, I am the captain of my soul.'

So what does Clint Eastwood want us to believe about Madiba?
Was he a courageous, gracious leader who forgave because he had been forgiven, or a chest-thumping, inconquerable hero who mastered his own destiny?
From my vista, there has always been a meekness about his formidable strength.
He has never come across as unconquerable. On the contrary, there has always been a dignified dependence about him.
Not to mention the fact that he often acknowledged his reliance upon God for his strength.
So, Mr. Eastwood, thank you for re-telling a magnificent story, but I don't think 'Invictus' tells the truth about the secret behind Madiba's remarkable character.
"I am the captain of my soul?"
I think Madiba knew who his Captain was.
As I said, Invictus Conflictus.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

pro-life prodigal

A dude in his early twenties came and asked me if he could thank God publicly, last night at our prayer meeting. I'd never met him before, and I don't normally give the mic to strangers, but he didn't want to prophesy, so I I thought, "How much harm could thanking God do?" and handed him the mic.

He tells of his reconnection with his biological mom on face book a year or so ago. She fell pregnant with him about 20 years ago as a 17 year old. Resisting the pressure to abort her child, she gives him up for adoption and loses touch with him. 20 years later they find each other on face book. She is now married, with two children and her family are a part of our church. His first real connection with his biological mom and her family, is on thanksgiving weekend. They bring him to church. He responds to the gospel, having walked away from God as a young teen. God meets with him profoundly. He finds forgiveness. There is life and joy in his eyes as he speaks.He is not faking.

And I am overwhelmed by the reconciling power of the gospel. A son to his mother. A son to his Father.
And then I am struck by the courage of a desperate, pregnant 17 year old girl all those years ago, who gave her baby son the power to choose life.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Carrying Joseph's Bones

I love the details of the Exodus. It's a massive and helpful metaphor for those who have been redeemed by Jesus' blood and are now following Christ.

One of those details is that Moses carried Joseph's bones across the Red Sea and into the desert. Joseph had made his brothers promise that they would take his bones back to Israel when they left Egypt."God will come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place."(Ex 13:17) Moses remembered the request. Everyone else is gathering the best of Egypt's bling before their escape, and Moses has to do some tomb raiding? (speculative,but likely seeing as he was Egyptian royalty) And then he has to lead the Exodus, multi tasking as some kind of undertaker. Awkward. Inconvenient.

Obviously it was the desire of one of Israel's great heroes of the faith to be laid to rest in his homeland, and nothing was too much trouble for Moses to oblige him. But I imagine the bones must also have been an incredible reminder of God's Providence. Almost 200 years before the Exodus, Joseph predicts by the Spirit that God would help his people get out of slavery and get back home.
And then it happens.
Maybe carrying Joseph's bones was more for Israel than it was for Joseph? A constant reminder to a forgetful and nostalgiac people of a God who was before them and would go ahead of them. The Already Previous God, as a friend of mine calls it.

Today's is Thanksgiving. America's best holiday, I think. Wish it was a more popular export than Halloween.
For me, carrying Joseph's bones is about thankful remembrance.
Carrying Joseph's bones keeps me from forgetfulness about God. And from nostalgia about Egypt.
It's a happy discipline.
Not reserved for Thanksgiving Day only.

Monday, November 23, 2009

If you can order Starbucks you can get your head around heresy

May I have a ventedecafskinnymochafrapuccino please? Where there is desire, there is willingness to learn. So why are so many Christians so averse to learning theological words any longer than 5 letters? I think our resistance to getting our heads around the foundational doctrines of our faith makes us more prone to swallow heresy.

Last night I spoke out of Ephesians 4 on how Paul urged the church at Ephesus to be united in what they believed. When we can't agree on what we absolutely believe about God, it's a major unity buster. Of course there is much that we can humbly agree to disagree upon for the sake of unity, but there are some doctrines for which we are called to contend. Settling for disagreement around these truths would not be humility or unity from God's point of view.

"Maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, - just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to you call - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all who is over all and through all and in all." (4:4-7)

GK Chesterton said it beautifully. "What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. What a man asserts is exactly the part he ought not to assert - himself. What he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - Divine Reason"

So what are the ideas which threaten our doctrinal unity? There is nothing new under the sun really. Heresy, like history tends to keep on repeating itself - it just has more hip hair cuts and trendy book covers. We can learn from church history, and keep ourselves from getting blown about by every wind and wave of teaching by being a theologically savvy people. So here are four heresies that are potential unity busters for us today.

1. Arianism (not to be confused with white supremacist Aryanism) - the denial of the deity of Christ
2. Gnosticism - the denial of the humanity of Christ
3. Pelagianism - the denial of the depravity of man
4. Antinomianism - being anti God's moral law because of God's grace.

Do we swallow everything we hear or do we test it to see if its strong enough to hold up under the hammer of Scripture?
So much relational conflict happens in church because there is a lack of doctrinal unity.
Or maybe its because we're just all on edge from drinking too much Starbucks coffee.

talk online at

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thierry Henry's 'hand of god'

I've been told by our web guys that I have to start blogging. That means I am going to have to twitter less. Or just cut and paste my twitters across here, which means my blogs will only be 140 characters, which could mean that this blog could become famous for being the shortest blog in the world. Or not.
Anyway, here's my first shot.
Talking of shots, do you remember Maradona's hand goal in the Soccer World Cup all those years ago? An intentional hand ball from the diminutive genius that the referee allowed as a goal, that proved decisive in the tournament, and was notoriously labelled, 'The hand of God.' Well, last night, Thierry Henry, flamboyant french virtuoso performed a similar illicit miracle, which put Ireland out of the coming World Cup Tournament in extra time. "The hand of God' returns.
Or should I say 'hand of god?'

One important question for us as a bunch of friends journeying together has been; "what does it mean to be Reformed Charismatic for the sake of the gospel"? Is it possible for these seemingly conflicting church traditions to come together, and could it be, that God is intentionally bringing together the best of these two traditions, for the sake of the gospel.

One answer to that question may be that to be Reformed Charismatic means we simultaneously embrace the Transcendence and the Immanence of God. He is God far off, and also God up close. There is a reverence for His Sovereignty, and yet a fervent hunger to partner with Him in seeing His power revealed today. This is good for the gospel. It means that though we are continually trusting Him for more of His power in and through our lives, we will not force His hand. We want to respond to His leadership. God is not our servant. We are His servants. Jesus said,"I only do what I see the Father doing." We want to echo his words. And his life.

How many of us charismatics, in desperation for God to act visibly and powerfully, have tried to make it happen instead of responding to His Sovereign leading? How many times have we succumbed to the pressure to perform, rather than trying to move to the unforced rhythms of His grace. Are we addicted to the spectacular? Or have we considered that God may be working behind our backs more than in front of our faces.

On the other hand, has our view of God's Sovereignty caused us to become spiritually passive?
Do we find ourselves saying to ourselves and others, "If God wants to act he will" Have we forgotten the privilege of partnering with a Sovereign God, who calls us to actively 'stir up the gift that is within us?"

We are so enjoying seeing an increase in Jesus' evident power in our midst. It is one of the signs that should accompany those who believe the gospel. We are hungry for more, not for the sake of the spectacular, but so that many more would trust in Christ.
But God doesn't need our help. He is able.
He doesn't need us to score 'hand goals.'
The world needs the Hand of God.
Not the hand of god.