Archive for the ‘sermons’ 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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DETOX/RETOX

Posted 21/1/09

As noted at the end of the prior blog, last week was an interesting one. I described it to a church friend last week as ‘detox’. She assumed this to mean I was taking time off from Bible study and the like. When I told her I was actually endeavouring to do the opposite she enquired as to whether I then meant ‘retox’. It’s true, but if I’m perfectly honest I was actually trying to detox myself  – from sinful patterns that I felt I’d become trapped by in December. As it is, I knew the only way of this realistically happening was by setting my mind on godly things as recommended in 1 Corinthians. I have been setting about this in a pretty literal way, filling my time (probably at the detriment of work, tbh, but that isn’t a long term approach) with pre-school quiet times, MP3 sermons on the journey to school, subscriptions to a host of blogs from leading evangelicals, writing this, re-engaging in debate with various atheist sites (a risky endeavour given the extent to which it disheartened me last year – a post to follow on that), reading Tim Keller and throwing myself into the organisation of the aforementioned lads’ weekend away. I know these things can’t become idols in themselves; I know they don’t transform in themselves (quiet times excluded – given their content of God’s word and prayer) and I know this is unsustainable. However – I believe my reasoning is relatively sound, as is my ‘detox’ terminology.

The fact is, we are ‘what we eat’. Having consumed little but junk of late, through my eyes and ears as well as through my mouth over Christmas, much of my output has been similarly rubbish. Whatever the pitfalls of an over-the-top compensatory response, reading about Jesus, thinking about Jesus, talking to others about Jesus and hoining my apologetics is far more healthy a way to spend time. Similarly, I did need to purge myself of various things, with the Spirit’s help. I needed to break the patterns of spending my time thinking and worrying about unhelpful things, and thus feeling more like a slave of sin than of righteousness. I don’t suggest that I am endeavouring to do so by works – but the grace that allows repentance calls too for a practical response in ourselves.

The time when I am least obviously sin-afflicted (don’t worry, I’m well aware it’s still very much there – usually in the form of swelling pride) is when I help lead a kids’ Christian camp in the summer. It would not occur to me on such a week to swear, to bitch, to fixate upon ugly sexual preoccupations, to drink to excess etc etc. Now I have thought about why this is so – it’s not an automatic process based on the inherent godliness of ‘doing a Christian camp’. Nor is it a front and a facade. My conclusions are that the following conditions there exist: 1. No idle time. There is no busier time in the year. Every second and more are accounted for. There’s no time for doing anything untoward!! 2. No ungodly stimulus. It is the only week of the year devoid of television, magazines, billboards, non-Christian company, the internet and everything else sexualised and materialistic that we take for granted. 3. Preoccupation with godly things.  Every spare moment on camp is spent praying, writing talks, planning Bible studies etc etc. There is little time for anything else. I am well aware, honestly, that watching movies, drinking beer and playing sport with non-Christian friends can also be ‘godly things’. However, for these purposes it is worth noting that the Bible, on camp, is rarely closed. And that’s a good thing. So I guess I’m wondering, whilst remaining in the world, how best to apply these lessons to an everyday life. And… to be honest I’m not sure I have the answers yet.

But this I do know – last week felt a LOT better than those that preceded it. It is amazing how quickly you can become conversational and useful in terms of arguing biblically and engaging in relevant issues – particularly given how unlikely such concepts felt immediately beforehand. If there is any value in such an upbeat posting (the more laceratingly self-immolating I am, the more thanks I usually receive!), let it be that this is the effect of but a few days – God is generous in allowing us to grow. No-one in God’s family is ever rubbish enough to need give up on themselves entirely…