Archive for the ‘Book of James’ Tag

DURING THE OPERATION…

My wife is currently in surgery having her tumour removed. I have fulfilled my pledge not to blog about her condition prior to the operation. However, I feel it’s important to make clear how powerfully God has been at work during this time. I want to do it now because I don’t know the outcome of the operation currently ongoing. I have every expectation, and would do with all good reason even if I had no trust in God, that things will go fine and that full recovery will ensue. However, I don’t want what I write to be perceived as coloured by the knowledge of a happy ending, or otherwise.

The fact is, to this point, my wife and I (I may just call her N for this post! I don’t want to use her name, despite the fact most readers will know her, as she has nothing to do with the blog and deserves her cybersphere anonymity until she chooses otherwise!) have seen such great growth and so many blessings. I know I have touched upon it before, but it really bears repeating. This has truly been a humbling season and one that I think will have greatly strengthened our continuing witness and testimony.

Blessings of Support

Let me make absolutely clear that the church doesn’t have a monopoly on compassion or practical love. To pretend otherwise would be to insult the cards, texts, chats, offers of food and, well, the love of our many non-Christian mates, family members, colleagues and, in N’s case, the brilliant community she shares in at the gym (crazily fit career women who each set their alarms before 6 every morning in order to make the same classes – it forges a strong common bond!). Had we never been to church we would still have appreciated a great deal of great support.

Even so, this is the time to be part of a church! Particularly a good one. A lot of atheist websites, often tarnished by personal experience for which some professed Christians should be highly ashamed, work from the starting point that church is a negative, tedious, grasping, judgmental, hypocritical body at every level – something they are doing a good service by liberating people from. To them I would cry out that on every level, in every way, you would do the cruellest and most brutal thing to take this community from N and I! Where to start? 

·        There’s the weekly comfort, prayers, encouragement and hugs from open, compassionate, honest people who care.

·        There’s the food rota that sees me fed for the next two weeks!

·        There’s the pair of absolute legends who have given up days to free us from DIY hell and get the kitchen sorted for Nina’s convalescence (the bathroom and bedroom are next in their sights!)

·        There’s the whole group of church elders who packed into our tiny lounge – sitting on the floor and allowing the cat to walk all over them – as they prayed together with N

·        There’s N’s prayer triplet in which she can confide and confess

·        There’s our small study group who have prayed, planned and done much to build N up via study of God’s Word

·        There was dinner at Perks’ house and the amazing e-mail he sent just prior to the op. Very precious to N I know – this is a pastor who truly gets involved (and Pete – if you’re reading – you guys have been absolute stars too)

·        There’s the church member working at the hospital who spent time with N outside of visiting hours both last thing last night and first thing this morning. And another training at the hospital who just now texted offering to provide N with any supplies she needs!

·        There’s the almost ridiculous number of texts, cards, letters, gifts etc we have both received – sometimes from people we barely know!

This is not just nice people being nice out of a sense of duty. Every part of this points to Christ and affirms the love of God. The kindest thing of all has been the sharing of Bible verses and insights that N spent last night looking over and feeling powerfully protected. These are people changed and motivated by the gospel. These are people committed to counter-cultural servant-heartedness. And they have served as wings to carry us through a difficult time.

Blessings of growth

There is more to write about this later. I will be less forthcoming as some of it is private. But let me just say that N has changed. So many prayers have been answered. She has such a love of her fellow Christians. She is so outward-looking and keen to serve others as she has been served. She is so hungry for the Bible. She is so confident in the Lord’s protection – all the way into theatre. She has always been a naturally stressed and anxious person. The good night’s sleep she got last night, her calmness approaching general anaesthetic and brain surgery… even the grateful heart she has having lost half of her hearing for good; it would all have been impossible to comprehend before the incredible journey of the past few months.

As Reformed (repressed?) Evangelical types, we are often accused of underplaying the role of the Spirit (laughably by some of not even ‘having’ the Spirit!) but let me make this clear – N may not prophesy in tongues or swing from the rafters in church, but she could not be more clearly Spirit-filled if indeed she had a halo of flame! Overnight there is a completely new fluency and familiarity in prayer. Overnight there is a desire to smash idols and share the gospel. God changes lives – and His plans are better than ours.

And finally…I sat next to a man at the London Mens’ Convention. He asked me to pray for his wife and I asked him to pray for mine. He spoke of his wife’s deep depression. It all began with a medical ailment that she suffered last year… and it caused her to lose hope – to abandon hope in a situation she considered beyond the pale. That grieves me. It has bugged me ever since. It was so different to my account. That woman needs someone, wherever she is, to grab a hold of her and to turn her around. The practical love of Christians should point to the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus points us to assurance, victory and life everlasting, even as he himself bleeds and dies in fearful agony. This life can be tough. And painful. And lonely. And frightening. But, as Christians we are enabled by the Spirit to be those who show ‘patience in the face of suffering’ because we can see that ‘the Lord is full of compassion and mercy’ (James 5) and that our eternal blessings are assured. This is our greatest witness, and it’s a witness that has been powerfully noted anew by many people around us in the weeks of preparation for this operation. God is truly good and to be trusted.

 

 I’ll let you know how the op goes…

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ADVENTURES IN THE BLOGOSPHERE

UPDATE 6/2: This is a post about evangelism. I didn’t, until today, realise that this was a sackable offence! Unbelievable…

 

typingI had a bit of a spiritual slump in the latter part of last year. You can read about it here. I’m not sure I was entirely accurate in that post however. I wrote that my ‘year’ had been characterised by a lack of passion/enthusiasm etc. In reality, looking back, it was the second half of the year; the period following my dalliance with the atheist fraternity – in particular the atheist friend named on this site as ‘Bob’. Truth is I got burned – it wasn’t so much on account of the published conversation, but more the ill-fated attempt to subsequently set up a joint blog whereby we’d argue the toss and put forward our two sides of various issues. The concept has legs, I’m sure, but at this time, Bob had more time, more friends on board and, much as I hate to say it, is generally better read, better informed and very talented in the field of debate. In short, I was getting my ass kicked – the truth may have been on my side, but it was very much struggling to make its voice heard. The upshot was, not used to being made to feel a bit silly and bested, I got a little disheartened, maybe even flirted slightly around the edges of doubt and, as James 1 warns, resultantly felt much like a ‘double-minded man’.

 

So, fast forward to January… it was with some reservation that I ventured once again into the atheist arena as part of my rehab schedule. My wounds still raw, and my schedule just as busy, it was perhaps a foolish thing to do. I am determined, however, to demonstrate the sturdiness of the Word by not conceding defeat to worldly wisdom. And, just in case, I was taking very much on board that ‘the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing’ (1 Cor 1:18). Different from last time, I was also taking with me a wingman! Phil is ideal in this context – intellectually sturdy, intelligent, a professional writer and with a real heart for the lost and the debate. He came on board the project, albeit with reservations relating to how profitable it is to evangelise by blog, it being so removed from the real business of relationship. We also discussed the inevitable reality that these atheists would most likely treat us with intellectual disdain, maintaining focus upon those ‘unproveable’ suppositions that aim to keep us on the defensive.

 

And so into battle we went. And so many many thousands of words were written by the both of us throughout the comments section of Bob’s website – covering a whole range of topics and feeling somewhat like a second job for a while there. Phil’s offerings tended to be more calculated, reflecting the fact he is indeed again better read (and probably cleverer too), whilst mine tended to be of the characteristically ‘heart on sleeve’ variety, and strongly influenced by the Tim Keller book I was reading at the time! And did we win?? Well, I’m not sure anyone got converted along the way… so was it worthwhile?? Well I suppose that depends upon what we were trying to achieve:

 

I wanted to dispel the notion that Christians are scared to think, and are perhaps even anti-thought. This I believe we achieved. The tone we met began characterised by scorn (less from Bob, who is a friend after all, but more from those other atheists, often American, who frequent his site) but certainly evolved to treating us as proffering arguments and ideas worth discussing. The more we came back at them and their ‘open and shut’ assumptions, the less willing they seemed to plumb the old line of our mental delusion or ‘brainwashing’. It was clear that we too had thought things through. Their language is often of putting Christians in their place and fatally slashing their feeble arguments to pieces. I feel we may have helped reveal that this is not always so easily done.

 

I wanted to give them the gospel. Lest we forget, whilst we can’t make people believe (only the Spirit can do that), we are nonetheless called to tell them the good news of Jesus’s substitutionary death for their sins. Within a number of discussions, and often by way of clarification (particularly regarding what actually makes someone a Christian), we were able, more than once, to clearly state the gospel. How they respond to that is now their responsibility.

 

I wanted practise in apologetics. This was a tough crowd. I know no-one anywhere who has read more or studied more than ‘Bob’. He has read the Bible cover to cover more than once and quotes it extensively in his responses, along with a wide variety of other sources. He has the inside track on archaeology of the Old and New Testament period, his parents are both university scientists and he is funny to boot. And then there were others far more combative in their exchanges. These guys seem to spend all their time doing this! I wanted to get out alive knowing that others would be easier to butt heads with by comparison. And I was right. I finally asked a good (and Oxford-educated) friend yesterday where he stood on all this business. He said ‘atheist’ but had nothing whatsoever in return when challenged on questions of morality or the unlikeliness of universal origin. This is, to be honest, probably going to be the more common scenario than for us to be mowed down by well-drilled responses regarding the anthropic fallacy.

 

So where to end? Well I’m out of there for a while. I can’t give all my time to the atheists after all! My wife, job, church etc have to come first. Bob and his mates probably remember the affair as no more than a minor and inconsequential intrusion that temporarily drew an extra 100 hits a day to his site (slightly galling from one who more commonly receives 10!) but only time will tell whether our short-lived labours are destined to bear fruit.

It’s important to remember that it’s the Spirit who saves, and that whilst our best efforts are lame in of themselves, they are potentially life-altering in harness with Him. It’s never going to be about me and my ability, whether with or without a wing-man! There is, however, something to be said, I’m sure, for making visits to the front-line.     

JAMES, IDOLS, HAPPINESS AND PREACHER GEEKDOM

Posted 24/1/09

STUDYING JAMES

KG and House Groups are both now tackling the book of James. I don’t know if most there will be already familiar with its content. However, I have just finished studying it in my quiet times and, may I say, it’s REALLY challenging! Perks has referred to it as the ‘great little book’ of James. Yes it is. But it’s also the ‘difficult little book’ of James, so we need to be open to the work of the Spirit if we are not to founder on verses such as ‘a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone’ (2:24) (taken out of context, this clearly causes us all kinds of headaches. That’s why atheists love to throw it our way!)

It is full of huge challenges; regarding our relationship with worldly interests – ‘get rid of all moral filth’ (1:21); and calling us to social justice – ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress’ (1:27).  It also gives us ample scope for debate, considering our expectations of God, particularly regarding healing; ‘the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well’ (5:15).I also became particularly aware that the stakes are high in James. Obviously it should be read in the knowledge that it is part of a whole in which God’s gift of grace is made abundantly clear. Even so, we shouldn’t skip lightly over the fact that we are warned ‘Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged’ (5:9) or, a few verses later, ‘Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned’ (5:12). We like to quote these verses with the scary endings omitted, but they should serve to remind us of sin’s horrific consequences.

In short then, it should be fascinating, but I hope people ask the questions rather than remain fretting over them afterwards.

PREACHERS

My good habit drive is still going – not necessarily for the same reasons it began… Yes I am still trying to keep sin at bay and I want to focus on God and all these good things. But, by nature, I’m also obsessive and a lover of knowledge… whereas I was previously funnelling that into being a music geek, film geek and football geek above all else (with maybe a little bit of history geek in there too), I am now genuinely having a whale of a time as a ‘preacher geek’. I am collecting my MP3s of Stott (professorial), Driscoll (brash), Piper (surprisingly fierce), Carson (occasionally high-pitched), Richardson (approachable), Tice (surprisingly posh for one called Rico), and Perkins of course – fascinated by their different styles and biblical interpretations; then subscribing to their blogs. There’s a whole world out there, being uncovered in my journeys to and from the workplace…!! It is so easy, though, to make these men the idols (I think Andrew P may already be a victim, having seen him become giddy as a schoolgirl when told Tim Keller was coming to London!). They are good leaders because they constantly, unerringly, point their listeners to the Bible. It’s a good thing too because, in this digital age, its not just the thousands in their churches that could be very easily led astray by anything said in addition to, or contrary to, the message of that good book.

HAPPINESS

It is my increasing conviction that we should not expect happiness or pin too many hopes upon it. So often the unevenness of the Christian walk is largely because of disappointment at our circumstances (the impounding of a car, for example!). In reality, most of human history has been a study in misery! This is a depraved old world, after all, capable as it is of lovely moments along the way. As a teacher, I tell my classes that for most in medieval Britain not even drinking water was available and few survived infancy. In Tudor times, stealing an apple was a hanging offence, and yet many did such were their desperate straits. Victoriana sees Jack the Ripper untraceable as the whole of Whitechapel was populated by the wretched gin-soaked poor – women on the game, whole families in half a room and most with no fixed abode. The world wars brought little more satisfaction as families and homes were left in pieces… in fact, only our parents generation have really birthed these expectations of comfort – luxury even – and long well-travelled retirement. And what has it resulted in?? Record levels of depression in the West!! Happiness is in fact rare and fleeting. This perhaps wasn’t a surprise or a tragedy when people were more fixed on the ‘prize’ that awaits us at the end of Philippians 3’s ‘race’. However, in an atheistic version of the world worldly happiness is all we have to cling to, so no wonder people are depressed!

IDOLS

This month has been chock full of talks and blogs on idols. I have been told more times than I can remember how Martin Luther stated that all sin first requires us to break the first 2 commandments (pertaining to loving things other than God). This relates to the notes above. All unhappiness is generally idol-based. We think we need things other than God, or are entitled to them. We then get upset when we don’t get them, or they fail to deliver. In fact, idols beget idols. We’re fat so thinness is an idol – we’re thin so fashion is our idol – we’re fashionable so attention is our idol etc etc. Most think they’d be more fulfilled by a wife, by kids, by a holiday, by a promotion, by the gym etc etc. All good ideas but, as Driscoll says, ‘don’t let your good things become your god things!’ He also says that a handy way of discovering your idols is by imagining your personal hell and your personal heaven – the things you’re lacking in the former, and blessed with in the latter, are probably your idols. This, idol-busting, really is the stuff of the Christian life!! (Following last night, my idol may just be Jenni’s roast pork dinner…)