25 April 2012

The Other Book

P3190019In Scotland, the people of God are the ‘people of the Book’. It’s a moniker that points to the Reformation principle of the centrality of the Bible. Augustine wrote about two books, not only the Book of Scripture but also the Book of Nature:

Some people, in order to discover God, read books.
But there is a great book:
the very appearance of created things.
Look above you! Look below you!
Note it. Read it.  (Sermon, Mai, 126)

I get to read chapters of The Other Book most days. The other morning, I paddled my canoe out onto a cold, mirror-calm loch in the early morning sunshine. A short-earred owl was hunting the banks; a pair of black-throated divers took flight as I rounded a headland; geese circled, calling, overhead; pairs of mergansers, mallards and eider swam nearby. The fish were rising. The previous day I’d walked up behind a local hill and watched golden eagles hunting on and off for an hour on the same slope being patrolled by hen harriers. All of these things filled me with joy – and turned my heart to the Creator, who has founded the earth in wisdom.

God’s power and presence are mediated to us in the things that he has made. I am blessed to live in a place where the book is open in front of me every day. But, even in a city the book can be read. In the park in the grass is a world of many creatures. Overhead, peregrine falcons and kestrels hunt, even in urban environments. Take time to look up, or down, and you’ll see them. Look above you! Look below you!

24 April 2012

What is Wisdom?

solomonWe've been discussing James’ references to wisdom in our Bible Study here in Lochboisdale. What is it? Here are our few brief thoughts...

  • wisdom is a gift from God (James 1:5)
  • wisdom is a task, something we do, not simply a theoretical thing (James 3:13)
  • the world has it’s own take on wisdom (James 3:15-16)

We can also say that wisdom is…

  • rooted in understanding the grand purpose of God in Jesus Christ – an extremely important point (Eph 1:17-19)
  • closely associated with understanding God's creation (Prov 3:19)
  • to be taught and learned (Prov 1:7-8)
  • only truly possible through a relationship with God (Prov 1:7)

All of these things feed into the definition I was taught at my alma mater:

Wisdom is living well in God's good, but fallen, world.

Wisdom is a neglected theme in the church. This may be because of its close ties to creation theology, itself a neglected area. There’s a lot more to say about wisdom and I hope to say more on this blog in time.

20 April 2012

Going to Heaven

heavenGoing to heaven to be with God (and, in some versions, Jesus) forever is often held out as the Christian’s greatest hope, the end of the Christian’s journey.
 
It's not true.
 
Going to heaven does not constitute the goal of salvation. If we go to heaven, we are not fully redeemed (Rom 8.23).
 
Whilst it is part of our hope for our ‘spirits’ to be with God in the heavenly dimension when we die, that’s just an interim arrangement. The greatest hope of the Christian is not found in heaven, but on earth. To think otherwise is to deny the real resurrection of Jesus. If the goal of redeemed humanity is some spiritual, rather than physical existence, why did Jesus rise from the dead? Jesus now lives in a redeemed body because the purpose of God as creator is to redeem his creation. In Rom 8 and 1 Cor 15 Paul makes clear that the whole creation will participate in the ultimate redemption – which is the fulfilment of our adoption as sons.
 
We won’t be fully saved, fully adopted, or fully redeemed until that day. The writer of Hebrews understands that all of God’s people will be made perfect together (11.40).
 
The Christian's greatest hope is to live again in a redeemed world - this redeemed planet - with the risen Jesus Christ in residence! The new world is our destination. This of course has tremendous consequences for how we understand our lives, and for how we understand the mission of the Church.

16 April 2012

Filled with Sin

rubbishIs it true to say that Christians are as much sinners as anyone else, and that the only difference is that they're forgiven sinners? Every now and again I come across ministers and others saying things like:

  • Christian’s lives are filled with sin: “we confess our lives are filled with sin”
  • everything we do as Christians is sin: “our best is sinful in God’s sight”
  • even our church worship is filled with sin: “our worship today is filled with sin”

I really hope that these people aren’t right! If Christians lives are really filled with sin, then they are as much sinners as anyone else, and then large parts of the New Testament seem to be mistaken.

Jesus teaches that our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven(Matt 5:20). The Apostle Paul teaches that sinners will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 7. 9-10). John wants Christians not to sin (1 John 2:1). Peter wants our good deeds to be seen (1 Peter 2:12). The prophets and apostles all take the same view: God’s people are chosen and called for obedience. Under the law, this calling was not achieved (Rom 8.3). But in Christ, by his death and his power realised through the Holy Spirit, a God-pleasing obedience can be a reality (Gal 5:19-24).  Jesus Christ did not pay the penalty for sin on the cross so that we would go on being full of sin (Rom 6: 1-4).

The NT urges us to realise the obedient lives of mature disciples, but of course sin is a reality in any Christians’ life. The Apostle John is realistic: we all fail, we all sin.  But we need to remember that we have an advocate in Jesus and a loving father who forgives if we do sin. (1 John 1:8 – 2:1)

But we need to be biblical about what is, and what is not, sin.  And we need to acknowledge not only the reality of our sin, but also the reality of our good deeds. A reckoning of good deeds as sin dishonours God, dishonours the work of Jesus and dishonours the Holy Spirit. A belief that Christian’s lives are filled with sin denies the reality of repentance, the power of Christ’s death, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the reality of our adoption as sons and daughters.

Perhaps the people who say the things at the top of the post would sit down over a cup of coffee and agree with what I’ve written – perhaps their words are mere rhetoric, perhaps they’d claim it’s ‘cultural’. But, when Christian leaders and teachers foster the kind of attitudes at the top of this post, there is a psychological cost to Christians. An expectation of failure and sin defeats the Christian before she or he gets out of bed. A communal focus on failure renders churches ineffective, and holds Christians back from growth towards maturity.