Based not on the art of dying, but on the resurrection of Christ, a new, cleansing wind can blow into the present world…. If a few people really believed this and let it affect the way they move in their earthly activity, a lot of things would change. To live on the basis of the resurrection – that is what Easter means. Ibid.Bonhoeffer speculates that a time will come when the ‘resolving and liberating’ word of resurrection will be heard in the midst of so much confusion. In this Easter season, my prayer is that the time has arrived for the word of resurrection to be heard afresh in the Church.
24 April 2017
15 April 2017
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Rom 8:11 NIV)
86% of Active Christians plumped for ‘Another life where your soul lives on (e.g. heaven/hell)’
16% of Active Christians plumped for ‘Reincarnation (e.g. starting a new life in a different physical body or form after death)’
13 April 2017
1. it happened word-for-word as described in the Bible;
2. the Bible account has elements which are not to be taken literally.
1. I believe that there is life after death (e.g. reincarnation, heaven, hell)
2. I do not believe that there is life after death (e.g. reincarnation, heaven, hell)
11 April 2017
Lord, I’ve been broken, although I’m not worthy, you fix me – now I’m blinded by your grace, you came and saved me
You saved this kid, and I’m not your first, it’s not by blood and it’s not by birth, but Oh my God, what a God I serve
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV
The Christian life is a process, one which is started by the gospel becoming central to all aspects of your life. For that reason, change is one of the most important components. It’s impossible to meet with Jesus and stay the same. Let’s hope and pray that as these artists continue to be open with their faith, they are also open to the change that we are all in need of.
They stay the same, no they never change, ain’t nuttin strange… / They wanna hang, just wanna party, kick some slang, sip on some Bacardi…
Think about this, then think about that / think of what they do, think of how they act… / they say God knows my heart, but that don’t get ‘em off the hook…
They don’t want to learn, they just want to know… / They just want the watch, don’t want to know the time…
They don’t want to become, they only want to be… / They just think he’s gracious, what about his wrath?
They might not be sheep, they might be the goats…
They say that they’re we, we used to be they / we had our last night, we live in a different day
28 February 2017
Last Sunday evening I was preaching the third of three sermons on Genesis 3 – the last few verses of that chapter. It’s the part of the Story of Adam & Eve where they’re driven from the Garden of Eden, that place of fruitfulness and beauty in the presence of God. The Garden is the place where they function as God’s Image, human beings of god-like character able to relate fully and joyfully to one another and to all the riches of the created world. But they’re driven out, because this isn’t enough for them. In a way, they want to be gods. It’s a deeply poignant story which speaks about loss to all of us, that speaks about the realities of human nature.
I often reflect on the incredible power of the created world to stir deep longings in our souls. A few Saturdays ago, George Monbiot wrote eloquently about it:
I believe we possess a ghost psyche: a set of capacities that helped secure our survival in more dangerous times, but that now are vestigial. I picture this as a seam of intense emotion, buried so deeply in our minds that we can seldom find it. I believe this because, on rare occasions – in all cases when immersed in the living world – I have been confronted with a set of feelings that are so rich, raw and thrilling, so different from anything else I know, but at the same time so strangely familiar, that I have had no way of reconciling them with the rest of my emotional life. I believe that on these occasions I have inadvertently triggered a kind of genetic memory, an ancient adaptation to the circumstances that once shaped our lives.
You’ve probably experienced it yourself. I’ve experienced it encountering a deer in the woods (like Monbiot) in the early morning light; or travelling in a small boat surrounded by leaping dolphins; or crouched on a high mountain ridge watching an eagle ride the updrafts. I’ve experienced it in the solitude of a remote glen, or of a mountain summit, but mostly it’s been in encounters with other creatures.
Does Christianity offer an account of this? An account of these rich and raw emotions, which are strangely familiar? Something more substantial than a ghost psyche? Or perhaps a Christian understanding of this ghost psyche…? I believe it does. The lost Garden represents a lost reality to humans – something yearned for and understood in our deep (sub)consciousness as being lost.
The opening lines of the ancient Jewish and Christian scriptures tell us that we are created for relationship, not only with our creator, not only with one another, but with the natural world. We are created to live alongside, and to relate to, all of God’s creatures. The first man is Adam (the Hebrew for ‘soil’ is adamah), and he’s formed from the earth. This simple truth sets a trajectory for all of the scriptures – that human beings are inextricably bound up with the earth, with the natural world. This is our home, it’s where we belong. That fact that many Christians will baulk at that statement (thinking thoughts such as ‘where’s that Bible verse that says that heaven is our home?’ Let me save you some time – it’s not there), only shows how far we have travelled from this anchor of truth.
The sense of primal joy (and sometimes primal fear) – that deep, seemingly genetic memory – recalls something fundamental to our being human. And yet it is, in some deep sense, lost. We’re unable to grasp the wholeness we are created for, to hold in our minds the value and beauty of the natural world. And we’re unable to live lives which ‘fit’ into this beautiful world, that ‘fit’ in love, joy and peace alongside these amazing creatures. We are created to Image God – to represent him – in his world. Yet, we can’t.
That’s why, for so many people, these joyful and ecstatic encounters with nature are often accompanied with a sense of the transcendent. A sense of reaching for something, or someone, that’s out of reach. People of all kinds of belief (and none) often describe to me the spiritual feelings they get whilst in the outdoors. There’s not only a sense of a lost Garden, but of a lost God, our Creator, who we are also created to know. The hopeful message of Christianity is that there is a way back.
Thinking these thoughts brought to mind again a beautiful little film based on the writings of John Muir, the Scottish naturalist and environmentalist. Take a look, and hear words which resonate so much more deeply when heard as a Christian:
‘A lifetime is so little a time, that we die before we get ready to live. But here in the wilderness, surrounded by beauty beyond thought, the landscape carried me back into the midst of a life infinitely remote.'
3 October 2016
Last week and the week before I was lecturing to the first year class of the Practical Theology course at ETS. My lectures were part of a module on the Great Commission, using a sentence from the Lausanne Covenant for its structure: ‘World evangelisation requires the Whole Church to take the Whole Gospel to the Whole World.’ The Lausanne Covenant is worth a read, if you’ve not come across it, as is the Manila Manifesto. Anyhow, my lectures were on ‘The Whole Gospel.’
What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the Good News (that’s what Gospel means)of Jesus Christ – his life, death and resurrection. The Gospel is also the Gospel of the Kingdom – a summary that wraps up into the Gospel a load of context from the Old Testament. It’s the Gospel of Resurrection and New Creation too. The Gospel is multi-facetted and rich. We have a tendency to package it, to pare it down. Tom Wright recalls John Stott speaking at a NEAC meeting:
I remember a long time ago now in the 1970s when we had one of those NEAC conferences, and John Stott gave the summary speech and he said, "People are always saying: what is the irreducible minimum gospel?" And I remember him saying "I don't want an irreducible minimum gospel, I want the whole gospel."
As Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen write, in their excellent The Drama of Scripture,
We cannot grasp the meaning of the story of Jesus until we begin to see that it is in fact the climactic episode of the great story of the Bible, the chronicle of God’s work in human history. 135
So, there’s a lot to say about the Gospel, a lot to explain, a lot that’s rooted in the backstory of God’s dealings with Israel – the covenants, the promises of the Kingdom. But Gospel summaries have their place. Paul summarises the Gospel in several places in his writings. One, in First Corinthians, goes like this:
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached… By this gospel you are saved… For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that the Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve... Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Here, Paul summarises the events of the Good News of the coming of Jesus. But the hooks to the wider story are there: what does the title Messiah mean? What is the story the Old Testament scriptures relay? And, as Margaret Mitchell has pointed out, Paul wraps up his own encounter with the risen Jesus in this Gospel narrative.
If we are going to speak about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we need to know it. We need to know how to speak about it; how to summarise it as any particular situation demands; what language to use. Often these summaries just provide the ‘hooks’ for later, extended conversations about what Almighty God is doing through and as Jesus Christ. The more we understand the Gospel, the more effective our speaking of it will be (and not only so, but also our living out of the Gospel, and the formation of our lives and characters by the Gospel). And right there is the task of Christian discipleship and growth – to know the Gospel. Not some irreducible minimum, but the rich, full-orbed Gospel of the King and the Kingdom.
In the last lecture, we thought a little about how we might summarise the Gospel and I encouraged the class to give it a go. I’d encourage you to give it a go too. Here’s my quick effort in three short paragraphs.
The Gospel is the good news that God is keeping promises he made long ago. Promises to deal with all of the pain, evil and injustice in his world. Promises to save a broken and sinful humanity from itself, and promises to save a groaning planet from a broken and sinful humanity.
The Gospel is the good news that the human Jesus is God, come into his world to make these promises come true. He died on a cross to put people right, so that they could be forgiven for their sins. He rose from the dead, breaking death’s power, and is alive. So, he can give people a new start, a new kind of life in a new kind of community; and one day, in spite of death, to give them another life – an unending life – in a world put right and set free.
The Gospel is the good news that if you change your path, put your trust in Jesus, and follow his path, this can all be yours – as a gift; no payback required.
5 September 2016
Over the summer I was preaching on Isaiah 63-65. One of the themes I drew out was the importance of our response to God’s grace in his covenant promises. God has called his people to be his servants, to be a light to the nations – and yet here in these chapters we are brought face to face with the moral and religious failure of God’s people in Isaiah’s time and their failure to repent. In applying this, I spoke on the importance of our response to our baptism, the event which marks our receiving of the promises of God in Jesus Christ. I referred to Romans 6:4, where Paul writes:
We were buried therefore with him into death by baptism, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Paul is saying that baptism marks an identification (‘with him’). The identification is with Jesus Christ – as the one who has died. Our baptism is not the place or time where we are buried with him, it’s the means by which we are identified with his burial in history (as Moo points out: Romans, 361, 364-5). And, since we are identified with him in his death, we are also to identify with him in his risen life. Baptism marks our identification with Jesus Christ, an identification to which we need to respond. Theologically, I would argue that this identification is a covenant identification – it is based on God’s promises, not our faith.
The point I made about baptism during the Isaiah series was this:
Baptism is a symbol of cleansing, of holiness. It is a symbol of dying to one way of life and entering into a new way of life in a new community. As we are made members of the vine through baptism, there must always be a response to baptism - the response of faith. We are too accustomed to thinking of baptism as something that points backwards - that it shows something that has happened in the past - our coming to faith. Baptism does point back to something – to the promises of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but also points forward, calling us to faith and to faithful living each and every day.
In Romans 6:4, baptism demands a response: that we walk in newness of life. For Paul, this newness of life springs from faith (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11). And so, baptism demands the response of faith – it is a call to faith, to a life of faith. Too many of us think too little of our baptism. We ought to reflect upon our status as baptised people. Our baptism (whether we remember it or not, we remember the fact of our being baptised) calls us to holy living. This is reflected in our membership questions here at Kilmallie & Ardnamurchan, one of which goes like this:
Remembering your baptism, do you humbly promise to do your best to live as a holy disciple of Jesus Christ, relying on God’s grace through the Holy Spirit?
The response to baptism also ought to have a clear goal. Our faith ought to have a strong future component (we don’t often think about this, despite Hebrews 11). This is clear in Romans 6:5:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Here’s the connection to Isaiah 65, which describes prophetically this resurrection life. The clearer we are about this goal, the clearer we will be about what our response looks like in this life. After I preached on this, I remembered a blog post from a couple of years ago, which can be found here. It makes the same point in a slightly different way and brings out the connections between the experiences of the OT people of God, our response to baptism, and the future hope to which we’re called – this time from 1 Corinthians 10.
14 June 2016
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 1:3-4 ESV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made… (John 1:1-3 ESV)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)
5 May 2016
Today, Thursday 5 May, is the day of the Scottish Parliament election. In the last election, national turnout was 50% – hardly a ringing endorsement of our democratic process! Anyone with the right to vote should vote. And especially Christians.
Most of us are probably familiar with some of the arguments as to why we should vote in elections. Voting gives the people a voice, and it places power in the hands of the people, not in the hands of elites. Perhaps we’re a little less clear on these today because the voices of large media organisations, lobbying groups and parties often drown out the voice of the people, and because wealthy and privileged elites, despite our democratic process, still hold a lot of power.
But, we have to remember that in many countries around the world the people have no power at all, are ruled by dictators, and have, will, and do risk their lives for a chance of democracy. Even in Britain, it’s less than 90 years since women achieved equality in democracy. Many women campaigned and suffered to eventually gain an equal franchise in 1928. We shouldn’t take our democratic process for granted. Democracy (especially Western democracy in the 21st Century) is flawed, but we have to remember Churchill’s words:
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965), Hansard, November 11, 1947
But why should Christians vote? Surely our business is the kingdom of God, not any earthly kingdom? I’m afraid that some radicals have argued this view. It doesn’t stand up to scrutiny – not biblically, not theologically. My view is that Christians, more than any other kind of person, ought to engage with the democratic process through voting. Here’s why…
- Let’s start with Jesus. Jesus said, when asked about paying taxes, ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ (Matthew 22:21). That’s not exactly a radical cry for dissociation from the state.
- The Apostle Paul writes that we ought to be subject to governing authorities, and pay taxes (Romans 13:1-7). He tends to couple this attitude with showing love and courtesy to everyone, whoever they are (Titus 3:2). He writes that we ought to pray for rulers, and all in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2), so that we can live quiet and dignified lives.
- The Apostle Peter echoes Paul’s words (1 Peter 2:13-17). Christians in the Roman empire ought to submit to the emperor, or his governors. When we remember this is during the period before the Roman empire accepted Christianity, these words take on a radical (and contemporary) nature. Peter puts it well: ‘Live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a cover for evil, but for serving God. Respect all people, love the Christian family, fear God, honour the emperor.’
- Back in the Old Testament, when God’s people were in exile in pagan Babylon, God’s word came through the prophet Jeremiah (29:7): ‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ If we, as God’s people in our generation are going to take God’s call seriously, we cannot disengage from our democratic process.
In the Reformed tradition in which the Free Church stands, it’s been understood that God’s Common Grace to all people means that we share common interests and common goals. The State and the Church are two bodies seeking the common good in different ways in God’s world. That’s why in the confessional document of the Free Church we read a call for Christians to get involved in the political system:
It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth (WCF 23.2).
If it’s lawful, then it’s good. We’re not all called to be politicians, but we must at the very least, engage in the democratic process with our vote. And the fact that we’re generally voting for people with little or no Christian conviction doesn’t exempt us from our responsibility:
It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honour their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience' sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, does not make void the magistrates' just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them (WCF 23.4).
So how should Christians vote today? Here’s my recommendation:
- First, we should vote with an eye to how the candidates and parties stand with respect to the Church. That’s important. Do they see a place for the church in our society? Do they listen to the views of the church? Are their policies going to make life difficult for Christians, or make it less likely that others get to encounter Jesus in the Gospel? These are all important, and we have to take an interest and make a judgement.
- Second, we should vote with an eye to the prosperity of our communities. Christians ought to believe in the local church, and ought to believe in seeking the good of their local communities. Which candidate will be best able to represent the local community? Which party’s policies will be best for my community?
- Third, I’m struck by how the apostles link in our relationship to the state with the idea of respecting all people, and seeking their good. We’re not just voting for our own interests. We have to take seriously the call of God to care about the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed. How will my vote work for those who have no voice, who live in social and economic deprivation? I’m afraid that too many Christians buy into the mantra that it’s solely my family, my pocket, my wallet that’s important.
- Fourth, we should vote with a more biblical idea of human prosperity. The idea behind Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign phrase, ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ is rampant. There’s more to life in our communities than money. We need to think about the environment, the family, the culture. We need to reject the narrative (which is so depressingly prevalent in the Brexit debate) that votes will follow the money. Let’s not be gerrymandered.
That’s a lot to think about, but that’s why Christians should be engaged as they’re able; should talk about and discuss politics; and should engage with their local MSP. And all prayerfully, and in the attitude of seeking the Kingdom of God. Different Christians are going to take different views – and that’s fine. The church should reflect the political differences that are out there in our communities. Christians of all political hues should be involved and engaged.
If we’re going to make a difference, we as individuals and churches need to be engaged. Let’s vote today.
20 April 2016
On Sunday night in Kilmallie Free Church we were looking at Day 5 of the Drama of Creation as presented in Genesis 1. On Day 5, God pronounces a blessing of grace on birds and aquatic life, before human beings have entered the stage. The Creator relates to all his creatures. The flourishing and prosperity of all creatures is the Creator’s purpose. Anyway, I promised a quotation from Dave Bookless, author of Planetwise…
If we forget we're made in God's image, we become only one creature among millions, nothing more than a highly evolved ape with no greater rights than any other species… The opposite danger from forgetting we are made in God's image is to forget that we're made from the dust of the earth. This is a much greater danger for Christians. Environmentalists have often blamed Christianity for our current ecological crises, using Genesis 1:26-28 to argue that Christians believe humans can exploit and destroy as they wish to…
If you speak to people in the green movement today, many will have accepted this view and consequently blame Christianity for the world's mess. They have a point. It is not hard to find quotations from preachers saying that the world is there for us to use and enjoy as we like. Too often churches have remained silent when the forces of destruction have been at work. Too often Christians have been so other-worldly as to be of no earthly use. (p.33-34).
We share the gift of life with all God’s creatures. God relates to them, and he has delegated the task of care – to ensure their flourishing and prosperity – to us, created as we are as God’s Image. That’s why as Christians we ought to care about habitat loss, about pollution, about animal welfare. And we ought to care enough to act.