Archive for the ‘idolatry’ Tag

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…) 

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LADS WEEKEND AWAY

Posted 11/1/09

I just got back from a CCB Lads’ Weekend Away and wanted to post a few immediate thoughts on it…

a) It was brilliant. Genuinely. Why? Well the teaching was great – encouraging, wise and challenging; it was great to hang with mates and get to know them better; the discussions was frank, honest and helpful (and very much of the sort we wouldn’t been having if there had been girls around the table!); the setting was awesome; the card games were competitive… I feel very well served by the weekend I just had – if a little knackered.

b) Cross-pollination is helpful. I know that last year it was done as a ‘dads weekend’ and a ‘lads weekend’. That may be necessary as dads, in particular, do face distinct challenges. However, it was good for the church that morning and evening chaps got to know each other properly – the wisdom of the more mature among us proved invaluable for spiritual input, but also as a reminder that they still face many of the same challenges as the ’20-somethings’ (a category I can apply to myself for one more month!). The healthy mix of worlds was, I think, best summed up by the music requests on Saturday evening – Rolf Harris followed by The Prodigy! An eye-opener for everyone…

c) Summary of the material: Perks spoke twice; on lust and idolatry. The former contained great practical advice and honest appraisal. Having examined David and Bathsheba, I will remember for myself the practical conclusions that David should never have had so much idle time on his hands, should never have ventured onto the roof in the first place, and, having placed himself in moral danger, should then have jumped off the slippery slope at the earliest possible stage instead of letting things develop beyond any original intention! It is vital to understand the combination of true forgiveness and hard consequences that he subsequently faced. The latter talk’s concept that all sin is first a consequence of idolatry, valuing other things more than God, was complimentary to the material of the first talk but built upon it – the idea of us addressing ‘the heart’ first and foremost was particularly unfamiliar and instructive.  

The Driscoll e-book ‘Porn Again Christian’ was challenging and led to good discussion. Even so, I am not entirely behind it. Much of what it says is important – pornography is tearing up the young men of the church and we all need to stop making excuses, particularly for the sin that often accompanies masturbation. However, I felt it was unhelpfuly harsh, particularly on that very issue of taking things ‘in hand’… there seemed an acknowledgement that married men have ‘needs’ and need a ‘Plan B’ when full sex isn’t an option. However, it seemed not to imagine that single men have any such requirement, essentially telling them to stop everything and, if necessary, get married (quite clearly not the simple option in many cases – particularly to the oversexed 15 year old, living in this hypersexed world!)… the instruction is particularly tough when married to the graceless assertion that ‘men who remain enslaved to sexual sin will die in their sins and wake up in the eternal torments of hell’. Not if they place their faith in the perfection of Christ they won’t. Having identified the guilt that so traps young Christians on account of these issues I’d like to see Driscoll’s book offer a little more compassion and a bit more practical advice alongside the unmistakeble wake-up call.

Sunday saw Pete leading a session on the decisions we make as men – really fascinating and, to me, totally new stuff on the source and process of our ethics. His second session sent us away with a Bible to look up and share our favourite passages concerning the nature of Christ – again, original and hugely rewarding. Perhaps my favourite moment was when we then sang together – a bunch of often repressed men, comfortable with one another, ganing in volume and passion throughout our rendition of Amazing Grace, all but taking the roof off with the certainty of that awesome final verse.

d) I hope the girls are as well served next week as we have been. Our church has a deliberate lack of female leadership from the front, but this can make it tough to offer our girls specific teaching of the stature offered by Pete, Perks, or any other Co-Mission leader (assuming none of them are invited). It does worry me that Nina has rarely been challenged or held accountable in the way I have been over numerous meals, drinks and coffees from the likes of Angus, Ed, Perks and others among our CCB senior ranks. There is an idea I’ve heard expressed around our neck of the woods that girls automatically look after one another whilst men need the extra help. I have seen little to support this (no criticism of our girls – I just mean their femininity isn’t some automatic shortcut to Christian growth and mentorship – many just feel like fish out of water in the strange old world of church!).

Lots there – thanks for the great weekend anyone who was there. I’ll post soon regarding my New Year Detox (Retox?) folowing December’s particular rubbishness. It’s been an interesting start to the year…