Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Have Yourself A...

It's that time of year when the Kellys, the Clearys and the Wilburs gather together for some festive cheer in the form of Secret Santa. I can pretty much predict what's going to happen: We go to Wilburs and lounge around on their sofas for half an hour with faces that don't really suggest it's Christmas time. Then when my two nephews become completely uncontrollable we decide to finally exhange gifts. My aunt suggests we do it based on age, so that the youngest gets their present first (I think we should set this rule in stone, just so that she doesn't continually have to suggest it). Each person opens their respective gift in fear and trepidation, hoping in their heart that maybe this year they'll get something they actually need, but knowing in their head that this poorly wrapped present will prove to be just as useless as last years disaster...and the year before that...and the year before that...and the...

On opening said useless present, there will be one of three reactions - 1) jovial indifference, where a joke is made to clear the air, because after all it's Christmas, and who really cares about presents?; 2) mere indifference, where you're just not sure how the recipient feels; and 3), blatant disappointment, where someone who really should have known better gets visibly upset about the standard of present received. I won't name names, but everyone falls into one of these categories, and you know who you are with regards the third one!

There may be a game played after this, unless the Clearys decide to go home early. Toward the end of the evening we'll have a quick discussion on how we are going to do things differently next year, or perhaps we'll just decide to cancel the whole thing because "it's a bit much".

Well, it hasn't been either changed or cancelled yet, and I hope it never is. Some things are best left untouched, because it is their imperfections that make them the perfect moments that they are.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


This isn't terribly original of me, but I recorded a version of 'Naked As We Came' by Iron and Wine which is pretty much the same except with an electric guitar added to the mix. I haven't ventured to record anything of my own creation (mainly because I don't have anything of my own creation to record) so for now this is as good as it gets for me.

I have to say I do rather like the addition of the electric guitar. I just tend to make things up on the spot when it comes to recording an electric guitar track, and sometimes that doesn't go very well. But this time I think I managed to get my point across so I'm relatively pleased with the results. I even included a riff remarkably similar to 'No Surprises' midway through the song, without actually realising it until I listened back. So in other words, this recording is the definition of unoriginal: it's a cover where the only difference is the inclusion of a riff from another song. Oh man, that's low.

Anyway, feel free to let me know what you think. Just don't be too honest.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christian Logic - Pt 2

In the first part of this two part epic, we looked at the myth that says you have to smarten yourself up in order to become a Christian. The illustrative question was "Do I have to stop sleeping with my girlfriend in order to become a Christian?", and Charles Price's rather surprising answer -- and the answer I agree with -- was that you don't have to stop doing that. There's nothing you can do or stop doing to make yourself more acceptable to God...well, almost nothing, which is where part two comes in.

I have no idea about what kind of person asked Charles Price the above question, but I'm going to assume it was someone genuine. Someone who really was seeking to become a Christian. As said already, Charles Price's answer to this person was "No. You don't have to smarten yourself up to become a Christian". However, that wasn't the end of the conversation. Mr Price went on to say "You become a Christian and allow Jesus Christ to come and live within you and I guarantee you this: within a very short time you will become very uncomfortable about sleeping with your girlfriend".

This young man had put the cart before the horse. He thought you had to clean up your life first, and then Christ comes in. But being "born again" doesn't happen like that. Jesus makes His home in our lives, and He cleans us up. To use some theological terms, this guy was trying to sanctify himself in order to be justified before God, but our sanctification is not our own work. Our sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is this work to which Charles Price alluded to when he said that "you will become very uncomfortable about sleeping with your girlfriend". And moreover, our sanctification only begins when we have already been justified. And we are not justified based on what we do or don't do, but based on our trust in Christ.

There is a very important word I haven't mentioned yet, and that word is repentance. I won't go into the ins and outs of the word, but at its root repentance means to have a changed mind. Now of course you can have a changed mind about specific things. We're told in John's gospel that the Holy Spirit will convict people of sin, and as He does this in individual lives people will begin to change their mind regarding certain practices. They will begin to see the error of their ways.

However, the biggest change doesn't so much have to do with the realization of specific sins, but rather it's the all encompassing change of mind that says "Left to my own devices, I am at emnity with God. I am a great sinner, and I need a Saviour". We change from being independent beings to very dependent beings. We adjust ourselves to the revelation of God found in Jesus Christ. Our opinion about ourselves changes, and our opinion about God changes.

And so back to the question again. "Do I have to stop sleeping with my girlfriend in order to become a Christian?". No, you don't. But if there is a genuine work of God in your life and if you are completely submissive to Him, this is something that you will want to stop doing. This will be the fruit in keeping with your repentance. You will have a new appetite for righteousness that you never had before. The Holy Spirit will bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God, and you will desire nothing more than to please your heavenly Father.

Am I making becoming/being a Christian sound easy? Well if I am, I don't mean to. One could be forgiven for thinking that I'm implying that you don't have to give up anything or sacrifice anything in order to come to Christ, but nothing could be further from the truth. You don't just have to give up some things to become a Christian - you have to give up everything. Everything you are and have must be surrendered to the lordship of Christ. As Paul said, you become "not your own". You throw what you think you know about life into the bin, and you rely on what Jesus knows about life.

Of course this isn't a dramatic one-off transaction where everything that is wrong in your life is fixed. Our sanctification is an on going process. We are changed by degrees, but no matter how many years we are Christians we still struggle with sin. We know lusting is wrong, and yet we do it. We know we shouldn't lie, and yet our lips can be full of deceit sometimes.

But the wonderful truth of the Christian life is that it is not our behaviour which makes us belong to God. It is our belonging to Him by faith in Jesus that changes our behaviour. The Holy Spirit establishes that connection before any kind of behavioural change occurs. We can't do any good work or stop doing any bad work in order to belong. We belong because we believe that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and was then raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4). We belong because we can say with the apostle Paul,

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." - Gal. 2:20

Will this produce a change in conduct? Absolutely, but only because our very character will be continually changed and molded by the indwelling Spirit of God. Trying to "stop sleeping with your girlfriend" before this character change occurs will be utterly useless. The belonging must come first, then the behaviour.

The bad news is that this tendency towards self-righteousness doesn't go away even when you do become a Christian. I know this from vast experience. We still try and do the right thing and fix ourselves up so that God will be pleased with us, but all of this is completely detached from Him. We strive to do His will, but we strive with our own strength, with the result usually being an external righteousness which desires nothing but the praise of other people rather than the praise of God.

But as Paul said to the Colossians, "as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him". None of us received Christ by doing good deeds. We received Him by faith, and that is how we continue in Him. That's the logic of Christianity. Sola gratia, sola fide, sola Deo gloria - by grace alone, through faith alone, and for the glory of God alone.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christian Logic - Pt 1

What do you say to someone if they come to you and ask "Do I have to stop sleeping with my girlfriend to become a Christian?"?

You may not ever encounter such a person with such a question, but then again you may. Perhaps it won't be this exact question, but there's always something that stands in people's way; something that they have to address before they go ahead with the deal. Now my point here isn't to discuss the topic of pre-marital sex, or any kind of sex for that matter ("phew", you say, and rightly so). This question is like a spring-board, and a very good one, which is why I'm using it. I myself have never had anyone ask me this or anything like it, but one Charles Price was asked this very question by someone, and he gave an interesting answer. His answer was "No".

"No"!? That doesn't seem right, does it? You don't have to stop sleeping with your girlfriend to become a Christian? I mean would that be what you would say to your potential convert? Talk about getting off on the wrong foot. And even if you're not a Christian, if someone asked you this question you'd still probably know enough to say that "Well of course you do. That's part of the deal, and what a crap deal it is, eh?".

Well, "No" was Pastor Price's answer to this full-blooded young man, and after much deliberation in my own mind, I have to say I'm in full agreement.

Given the nature of what this guy asked, it seems only logical for Christians to say that you most assuredly have to stop doing that to become a Christian. However, nothing could be more illogical, at least for a Christian.

The reason for this is that the Christian life isn't logical as our natural selves define logic. And so while naturally speaking, the only logical answer for Charles Price to have given this young man was "Yes", there was another logic at work which made "No" the right answer, the godly answer. This logic is what Aslan called the "deeper magic" in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; it's the logic of grace.

(I said "logic" and "logical" a lot in that last paragraph. I apologise.)

If this man -- or any other man for that matter -- has to give up sleeping with his girlfriend to become a Christian, then grace goes out the window and the entire basis of the Christian life collapses. If "Yes" is the right answer, then we're left with a religion where you have to bring yourself up to the required standard, and then God is forced to let you in because you fit the bill. I've probably described many people's "Christianity" in that last sentence, but nothing could be further from the truth.

If you're a Christian and you're struggling with this, think of it another way - Did you have to stop lusting to become a Christian? Or did you have to stop lying? I can only assume that you didn't. And so this same principle applies across the board. To become a Christian, you don't have to draw up a list of sins and vow to stop committing them. It doesn't work like that, simply because it can't work like that.

Charles Price went on to say to this guy, "You don't have to smarten yourself up to become a Christian". I would go a step further and say that God doesn't want any of us to smarten ourselves up in order to come to Him, nor are we able to do so. To try and bring ourselves up to "the standard" is completely counter-intuitive in God's mind, because by employing a DIY scheme of righteousness all we end up doing is actually usurping the role of Christ, and undermining the power and efficacy of His cross.

No fixing up on our part is needed before we approach Christ, nor can it be done. We can only come to Jesus as we are, poor in spirit and desperately needy. If anyone is thirsty for Christ, we must not tell them to go away and sort their lives out before coming to the Saviour we claim to know. It doesn't matter what the sin is - it cannot be removed by human effort, and so Christians have the responsibility to tell people as much, rather than imposing on people a list of demands to adhere to in order to become twice as much a child of hell as they are a Christian. Jesus Himself said,

"If anyone thirsts, let Him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" - John 7:37-38

He doesn't specify any prerequisites, and neither should we. It's sola gratia, by grace alone. Such logic fights against our human stream of thought, but it's the only way any of us can be saved, so all we can do is be thankful that God's ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

Charles Price went on to say something else to this young man. Something very important, and something I'll talk about in another post. Maybe even the next one. Ooh, the suspense!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Goodbye My Lover(s)

Have you ever been in love with someone who isn't real? I have...multiple times. I'm sure this says something quite worrying about my emotional health, but lets just ignore that for a second and get back to unreality. As I look back on my TV watching career, there are two women who stand out for me. Two women whom I'd have committed a serious felony for. Two women whom I would have eloped with at the drop of a remote control. Two women whom...ah, you get the point. Anyway, those two women are Brooke McQueen and Lana Lang. You may not agree with my choices, you may think they were horrible characters on crappy TV shows, but frankly, I don't care. Love covers a multitude of sins...or something.

I bring this up now not because I want to take you on a disturbing journey through my teenage years of fantasy love. That's a journey we'll take another, say, never. No my dear readers. I bring this up because I just found out that Lana Lang will never again be seen in five episode's time. I'm not sure what's happening to her (though if the picture above is to be believed, then perhaps Clark ties her up and leaves her to burn), but I know she is just not going to be shown on Smallville any longer, and so this is a sad day indeed.

Losing Brooke was hard on me, especially so suddenly and without any kind of plot resolution whatsoever. There she was, rejected by Harrison, standing in front of Nicole's speeding car, and that was it. Gone. I checked the forums, I checked the news sites, just hoping against hope that Popular would come back and Brooke along with it. But alas, nobody was dumb enough to make my dream come true, and Brooke McQueen remained sleeping with the fishes, lost in a sea of prematurely canceled TV shows.

Then along came Lana. Sweet, pure, innocent Lana. Never mind the old adage 'Once bitten twice shy'. It was love at first sight, and it lasted the guts of six years, until it finally came to the stage where Smallville had gotten so bad that watching it made me hurt, both emotionally and physically. Even the draw of Lana Lang wasn't enough to keep me coming back for more, so just like that I stopped tuning in to new episodes. However, knowing that Lana lived on was enough for me, even if I wasn't at all interested in what she or any of her friends were up to.

But now this. This...this...travesty. She's leaving, never to be seen again. Her character is finished with, soon to be joining Brooke McQueen in the morgue. Oh to be in that morgue with them! Given that I'm slightly more grown up, there's a good chance that nobody else fictional will be joining them. And so this is it. The last of my fantasy crushes. Rest in peace, Brooke and Lana. Rest in the knowledge that you were always so much hotter than Sam and Chloe.

Of course as a sort of corollary of falling in love with a TV character, you tend to fall in love with the actress too. And so I thought I'd check and see what Kristen Kreuk is up to these days. Maybe she's making something of herself, which would certainly soften the blow of losing Ms Lang. I started to get really excited, pondering all of the various projects she could be working on now that her schedule is cleared up. Perhaps some new show aimed at teenage girls for me to get addicted to? Perhaps a romantic comedy starring Mark Ruffalo? Oh the possibilities!

But no. Here's what Kristen Kreuk is now working on:

Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li

Yep. She's doing a computer game-based movie, because those have always worked out real well for the actors involved [?]. As a rule of thumb, if you find yourself starring as a computer game character, then you need to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if you're really cut out to be an actor.

That said, I'm totally going to go see this movie on the off chance that it makes its way to Irish cinemas, or just cinemas in general. I mean I went to see Hit Man in the cinema. How much worse could this be?

But enough about Hit Man, enough about Street Fighter and the frightening possibilities that a movie based around Chun-Li entails. This is Lana's moment, and here's the scene of hers that will feature long in my memory. Tom Welling is in it too (not that that's a bad thing...I mean He is freakishly good-looking). Oh, and there's some kissing at the end, and some pretty bad acting throughout, so watch out for that. Still though, I just love this scene, especially in its context (which I won't take the time to explain). The music, the cheesy dialogue - it's got it all, and for me, it cemented Lana's place on the list. Enjoy, if you dare...

The Birthday Scene

Monday, December 8, 2008

I Am Still Learning

Most people know the Beatitudes, right? Or at least the general format - Blessed are the...., for.....

What are they, though? And how are we supposed to read them? Take the first one for example:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What do you read that as? Some nice words perhaps. Or maybe some kind of entry requirement for the kingdom. However, if I've learned one thing this past semester -- and I'd like to think that I have -- it's that the Beatitudes are not at all what I thought they were. For me, they were just some nice words. Largely meaningless to me personally, but nice sounding all the same. The most common view of them is probably that they're entry requirements: "If I can just make myself poor in spirit, then I'm in" etc.

Well, as Dr Autry pointed out, there's more to them than originally meets the eye. And it doesn't take a Greek scholar to see it. You just have to read the text carefully, and the truth of the passage just presents itself like one of those 3D pictures that were all the rage about 10 years ago. Take the first Beatitude again, but this time, lets make a Line A and a Line B from it:

A - Blessed are the poor in spirit
B - for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

The question Dr Autry asks, and the question I now ask you is, why is Line A true? Why are the poor in spirit "blessed" (or even "happy" in some translations)?

Well, the text says that they are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. That little word "for" is sometimes a relatively meaningless word, but here it means "because", thus linking Line A with Line B. And therefore Line A is true because Line B is true. The poor in spirit are blessed, because they get to be a part of the kingdom.

So then we come to Line B. Why is Line B true? Why does Jesus say that "theirs is the kingdom of heaven"? Think about it before reading on...

Well, since you didn't think about it, I'm not going to tell you. No that's not true. I'm too excited not to tell you! This is where most of us stumble. Line A is true because Line B is true, but Line B is true not because Line A is true. A plain reading of the Beatitude never suggests as much. Read it again if you're not convinced. Rather, Line B is true simply because that's what God wants to do. God wants to include people in the kingdom of heaven. God wants to be merciful. God wants people to see Him for who He really is. Line B is true because that's God's will.

I mean how can one become poor in spirit in order to enter the kingdom? Can I just shut my eyes really tight and make myself poor in spirit, and then God will have to accept me? No, I can't. But that's the liberating thing. I'm already poor in spirit! Left to my own devices I'm a mess! All I can do is acknowledge this spiritual bankruptcy, and that's where God meets me with His offer of the kingdom.

The context in which we read these Beatitudes is also important. These sayings of Jesus are part of the gospel which He preached. That is, they're part of the good news, as is the saying "You shall be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect". A lot of the Sermon on the Mount doesn't sound like good news if we're honest. In fact, it sounds like terrible news. If I lust I've committed adultery? Yikes! Anger is akin to murder? Oh dear.

However, when we read the Beatitudes and the other teaching of Jesus as descriptions of His own character, then we begin to see what's going on. Jesus might as well have been describing His own earthly life with these sayings, but He didn't come to earth just to give us the supreme example to live by. If that's all He came to do, then He could have just come down, said these things, and then zapped back up to heaven. But that's not how the story goes. He was on His way somewhere when He said these things, and that place was the cross at Calvary. He didn't come to change the rules or to give "New law". He came to change people, by cleansing them from their sins and imparting to them His very life; a life characterised by all the things taught about in the Sermon on the Mount.

There's a whole lot more I could say on the matter, but I'll leave it to you to think about it and to kick yourself for never reading the Beatitudes the way Dr Autry reads them!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

You Cannot Be Serious

In wandering my blog to and fro (something I do rather pathetically often if we're going to be honest here), I stumbled across a link on the map section (the place where you can find out how many hits I got the previous day...not many in case you're wondering). The link had the intriguing title 'Single Catholic in Galway'. Hmm...are they reporting that there is only one Catholic in Galway? If so then that's just not true, because I went to an all-Catholic secondary school consisting of about 600 people, and I can safely say at least two of them are Catholics. At least two, and maybe even more. However, maybe this website is just implying that there is now an available Catholic in Galway who perhaps just got out of a very serious relationship and is looking to start up something again, so first come first served? Well, the heading is misleading, because underneath it reads "Date serious catholic singles in Galway with PARSHIP -serious dating". That's "serious" twice, so I think they really mean it.

More to the point, is it just me or is that the least appealing call to dating you've ever heard? I mean are there people out there who go for that kind of thing?

Guy - "Wanna go out with me?"

Girl - " thanks."

Guy - "Did I mention I'm serious?"

Girl - "Really? Well, maybe..."

Guy- "And Catholic?"

Girl - "OK I'm in."

It's certainly a bizarre selling point, but on second thought, maybe that's where I've been going wrong this whole time. As a fun-loving Protestant, chances are I've completely cut myself off from the market. If this webiste is anything to go by (and I for one see no reason for it not to be), then what women actually want is a man who takes life seriously, and who believes that the bread and wine really become Christ's body and blood (amongst other things). Who knew?

Well since I'm not about to change my personality nor my beliefs, I'm just going to have to find love the old fashioned way: keep updating this blog until someone -- anyone -- stumbles across it and decides that they want to befriend me on Facebook based on my cute profile pic and my cutting sense of humour.

Is he serious, is he joking? Add me as a friend on Facebook and find out...*

* I'm joking. Please don't do that.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Lord, Lord"

In doing a study of Colossians 1:15-20 for my Biblical Interpretation class, I became very aware of the following: Jesus is Lord, and I am not. And to go even further with that, allow me to be so bold as to say "Jesus is Lord, and you are not".

This is the foundational truth of Christianity, but the truth of the declaration doesn't merely apply to Christians. Jesus is Lord, regardless of whether you think He is or not. Becoming a Christian doesn't involve "making Jesus Lord" as tends to be said in popular Christian-speak. You can no more make Jesus Lord than you can make a choice about who your birth mother is. You can of course deny your birth mother, and not acknowledge her status or her authority, but that doesn't change the reality of the situation. In the same way, we can deny Jesus, buy into the ideas that He never existed, or act like His existence was irrelevant, but that doesn't change what's true. We might like to think we can control our own individual worlds, but how much real power does something or someone which at one point didn't exist really have? Not as much as someone who is self-existent, that much is certain.

Which beings me to my point. Christians affirm that Jesus is Lord. Get us to complete the sentence "_____ is Lord" and hopefully we'll all get the right answer. However, though Christians acknowledge Him as Lord in theory, the practice of many lives doesn't appear to line up with the affirmation, which sadly is probably why a lot of non-Christians are skeptical about this fundamental truth.

When I look at my own life, and then the wider world of which I am a part of, I see masses of individuals who think of themselves masters of their own destiny - Christians and non-Christians alike. Yes we as Christians say that Jesus is Lord, but is that the reality on which we base our lives? Is that what we believe in our hearts and display with our actions?

I (and I'm sure I'm not alone on this) can think great things about Jesus. I can declare wonderful truths about Him, and even believe them to some degree. However, at the end of the day, my Christian walk still revolves around me. I have certain desires and goals, and because of how sufficient Jesus is, I'm sure He can meet my needs and help me to fulfill all of the things on my list.

My list can be a good list of course. It can consist of being a 'holy' person, being a good friend, finding a wonderful wife, discovering ways to use my gifts. We all have our lists, we all have needs that we want met and goals we want to accomplish. There is of course nothing wrong with any of those things, provided they are consistent with Scripture of course. (Despite what Creflo might tell you, one of the deepest human needs that God wants to satisfy is not that we get our hands on one of these, or one of these, or some of this.) God does want to meet needs, and to grant desires. He is a generous God, and He knows how to give good gifts to His children.

However, have you ever noticed where our "needs" come in the Lord's prayer? I think it is no coincidence that they come after we say "Your kingdom come, Your will be done". When we truly acknowledge Jesus as our Lord, we want what He wants above anything else. It's not that we shun our own personal happinness in exchange for a life of misery. Instead, our personal happinness becomes rooted in Christ. We are only happy when we are doing His will. We are only content when we are serving Him, when we are growing in knowledge of Him, and when we are growing the likeness of Him. None of this takes us out of the real world and into a monastery. Christ's lordship of our lives takes place in our homes, in our work places, in our churches, and wherever else He leads us. This is what it means for a Christian to be a "light of the world". We are a people who shine in darkness because we have submitted ourselves to the Light that is Christ Jesus. We are intimately joined to Him, and the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit makes visible the invisible. His kind of life shines through us to all who need it, even if they don't know they need it.

We face an uphill struggle for this to become a reality however, because in Christian culture today there is rampant expediency. And not just in the places you'd expect it, but in many unexpected places too. We are not wondering how better we might serve Christ, but instead we wonder when our lives are going to get "better" because of Christ. We wonder when becoming a Christian is finally going to pay off. Maybe you're not in this group, and that's wonderful, but I certainly am. I can carry an attitude that says something like "Well I know you saved me on the cross Jesus, but what have you done for me lately, eh?" The bottom line is that if all Jesus ever did for me was die on the cross, then He did more for me than any person ever can or will. When I lose sight of this truth, I lose both my love for Christ, my willingness to submit to Him, and as a result, my usefulness to Him.

The "willingness to submit" that is where the battle lies. We want the good parts of being a Christian -- hope for a future, occasional experiences of nice emotions, a sense of being forgiven, a community of similarly-minded friends, and if you're a guy, a very promising male to female ratio -- but we don't want the bad parts -- full obedience, rejection, lack of sensual fulfillment, a private religion that only God sees. Of course all that seems good to us isn't always good, and the "bad" things listed above don't have to be bad. However, the only way to embrace the "bad" parts of Christianity and thus fulfill our role as Christ's disciples is to live by the Spirit. The more of us we relinquish to Him, the more we will find ourselves delighting in obedience, in purity, and in our relationship with God (cultivated by prayer and Bible reading). We will submit to Christ's lordship not just because it's the right thing to do, but because nothing will make us happier. However, the more we live our Christian lives by the flesh, the more we will rely on what Christ can do for us rather than what Christ can do in us and through us. We will go about our lives in whatever way seems best to us, trying to make ourselves happy, and when we need it, we will try and tap into that sense of being forgiven, or that emotional experience of being truly loved. This may work for a time, but it will not last. Something must give, for we cannot serve two masters.

Therefore we must choose every day to serve Christ. We must acknowledge that He is Lord with both our lips and our actions. We will of course fail to please Him sometimes, for all fall short of God's glory. But we must to be quick to repent and to fall back in line again, and continually rely on His Spirit within us to produce hearts that delight themselves in the Lord.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." - Matthew 7:21-23

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Non-Calvinist's Take On Romans 9

Having passed through Romans 9 in my class on the Book of Romans, I thought I'd briefly share the bones of what was taught by a non-Calvinist in the form of Dr Arden Autry.

Overall, as uncomfortable as chapter 9 of Romans would appear to be for someone not of the Calvinist persuasion, Dr Autry dealt with it rather well, which I guess is hardly surprising given that he has basically lost count of the amount of times he has taught the book in his lifetime (somewhere close to 30 I think).

For me, a previously unstressed key to reading Romans 9 is the fact that it's part of this almost separate train of thought in Paul's writing. Taken in context, chapter 9 fits in with Paul's examination of the question of Israel and the Jews. He begins the chapter by lamenting the lack of faith in his people, and continues to focus on them throughout the next 3 chapters. Does this mean that everything he has to say is irrelevant to us today? No, but it does mean we have to be careful about how we interpret things that Paul meant to be very specific. In the Calvinist propaganda that I've read, not once has anyone mentioned the context in which this discussion on predestination is presented. That's not to say they're all wrong, but I would say that there's a very good chance of misinterpreting a text when we approach it with preconceived ideas that must be true. Calvinists and non-Calvinists are both guilty of this, which is why I would hesitate to fully identify myself with either (although by saying that I'm in the worrying position of taking a Brian McLaren-style approach to theology which might claim something like "I am not a Calvinist, but I am also not a non-Calvinist", or "I'll get back to you on Calvinism in 5 years").

Dr Autry's take on the references to Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau did not involve him denying their divine appointment by God. However, are we told where Ishmael and Esau's final destination was? The passage doesn't say that Isaac was predestined for heaven but Ishmael for hell. The passage is concerned with Isaac's role in salvation history which was established and actively brought about by God.

The same can be said for Pharaoh, who in my view actually poses one of the biggest problem to Calvinists. If we're to treat the case of Pharaoh as Calvinists do the other cases mentioned, then we must conclude that God hardens the hearts of everyone who is not "elected". However, to my knowledge, Calvinists do not concede that God actively works in people to make them refuse Him. This "hardening" is seen as God just taking the restraints off Pharaoh's heart and allowing him to be utterly evil. However, the Bible seems to make it clear that God was actively at work in Pharaoh's heart to bring about redemption and to make known His name throughout the world. To the best of my knowledge, Calvinists tend to water this down and make it "passive" interference on behalf of God in order to suit their standpoint that Paul is talking about all individuals in the history of the world in these passages, and not just the ones chosen to be a part of redemptive history. In my opinion this results in slightly skewed hermeneutics of Romans 9. We lose the plain meaning of the text to the original readers in a sea of theological abstractions, and we start reading into the text possibly beyond what it meant for the church in Rome and what it means for us today.

Does this mean that I think Calvinists have it wrong? Not necessarily. Romans 9 is by no means the only place where election is talked of, so it would be both foolish and wrong to dismiss this doctrine, because it's in the Bible unequivocally. However, by using Romans 9 as a pivotal passage for supporting their viewpoint, I think Calvinists lose the intention of the writer, who says at the beginning of the chapter, "I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." This is not the opening statement of someone who is about to embark on a cold discussion of the final destination of every living soul, but the lament of someone who is desperate for his people to come to faith in Christ.

There are of course other arguments to be had based on Romans 9, and I'm not suggesting that any one person has it right, but these are thoughts worth chewing on if you find yourself totally dismissive of anything resembling non-Calvinism.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

No Deal

Allow me to break from the status quo by briefly examining one of the most compelling, dramatic, and worst television shows on the air today. I'm aware that I could be describing many shows by using those three words, but the show that's on my mind having just watched it on More 4 (incidentally, can anything good come out of More 4?) is 'Deal or No Deal'. I understand that to most of my readers this show is completely foreign, or at least the UK version is, so I'm alienating quite a few of you, but since this is my blog and all I'm going to be self indulgent just this once (not counting that time I wrote half a recap on One Tree Hill of course...or the countless other times I've been self indulgent).

If you've ever watched 'Deal or No Deal', see if you can identify with some of these observations:

1 - Noel Edmunds is the sleaziest man to ever live. Everything about him just oozes sleaze - that golden/grey hair of his slicked back, those cowboy-esque boots he wears, the tight jeans, the flashy shirts, the endless flirting with anything resembling a woman. He's got it all. Of course this makes him perfect for his role as host of the most uncultured show on television since, um, Noel's House Party [?], but you just can't help feeling the need for a long shower after having watched him slither about for 40 minutes, nor can you help fearing that one day you'll turn into him and start chatting up your college-aged nieces and doing other such slimy, pervy things. This isn't to say that Noel Edmunds chats up his nieces, but if I told you he did would it surprise you?

Noel has obviously not had the easiest ride in life, so I'm not going to be too harsh on him (though I fear I may be guilty of that already). After all, he seems to be maturing a bit when it comes to women, which is evidenced by Wikipedia's comment that "Edmonds has recently stated that he is not ready to get seriously involved in a relationship so soon after his second divorce". Granted that's a bit like Steve Stauton saying that San Marino have tightened up their defense by only conceding 8 goals as opposed to the 13 they shipped in the previous game, but at least both Noel and San Marino are on the right track, right?

One other slightly odd thing on his Wiki page is found under the 'Personal Life' section. We're told there that "Edmonds has commented in favour of stricter immigration policies in the United Kingdom, feeling that the country is "full", as well as building more prisons and reducing crime and youth violence". May I ask, does anyone actually care what Noel Edmunds, presenter of the tacky gameshow Deal or No Deal, has to say on topics such as immigration policy, infrastructure, and crime? I sincerely doubt it. The only opinions we want to hear from Noel Edmunds are those that deal directly with Deal or No Deal, and even then he should keep those to a minimum.

2 - There's always a fat guy amongst the 22 contestants who's the "strategy expert". He's usually old - you know, been through it all before; seen everything - and whenever there's a decision to be made, he'll provide the "sage" insight that apparently everyone else on the show is completely oblivous to.

For example, if there are 5 boxes left, 4 of which are medium sized and one of which is the £250, 000, he'll say to the person playing the game something along the lines of "You have to be careful, because if you knock off the 250, 000 you won't be in as strong a position, so think long and hard about this decision". By adding that last part, he makes it seem as if what he has just said has opened up a whole can of worms, when in reality he's just done what I like to call a Borris Becker, i.e. stated the bleeding obvious.

The person playing the game will nod their head knowingly of course, as if they understand the profoundness what the "strategy expert" just said, and thus will take their time in making this difficult decision, when in reality they know what exactly they're going to do as soon as the options are made available. Am I accusing Deal or No deal of conjuring up tension and drama out of nowhere? Never!

3 - There's always a gay guy on the show, and he always does something wacky and gay. (As a sidenote, he's usually hit on by Noel Edmunds.)

4 - You can expect to see at least one moderately attractive woman on the show, though as soon as she begins saying things your attraction to her quickly turns into blinding hatred, where you'd give anything for her to walk away with the 1p box.

5 - 90% of the people who play the game are the most annoying, idiotic people you're ever likely to see on television. It's as if they just take 22 of the guests on the Jeremy Kyle Show and drag them on to the set of Deal or No Deal so that they can inflict further misery on all who watch daytime TV (of which I am a chief offender). They're the kind of people who shout a lot, get excited over nothing, and act as if nothing in life phases them. Even when they go from having the opportunity of banking £30, 000 to having to decide between banking £30 or risking it for a full £50, they'll maintain their defiance and treat the banker as if he's a moron, when in reality he's just dooped them out of 30, 000 quid. They'll put on an 'I don't care' face and lap up Noel's flirtacious houndings, while their timid significant other sits in the crowd wondering how they ever got involved with such a repulsive dimwit.

Unfortunately, when things go well for such a person you can expect to see much kissing, hugging, promises of streaking, talking of holidays to Ibiza, and from the overweight women, that frantic arm-waving which leaves the tricep area flapping to and fro in what has to be one of the most unattractive sights you're ever likely to witness. However, does is turn Noel Edmunds off? One can only hope so, because if not this, then what!?

Despite all these things, and many, many others, there is something so addictive about Deal or No Deal. If you don't nip it in the bud and change the channel before you care about nothing other than seeing Charlene walking away with the minimum amount of money possible, then you're in for 40 minutes of pain and personal anguish which will leave you in need of nothing short of a shower and a prolonged dose of The Wire to cleanse you and to restore your faith in both people and television.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ashes for Beauty

I've mentioned Dallas Willard before, and even given you a picture of what I imagine he looks like. If you don't know what I'm talking about then visit a previous post here. I mention him again because I've started reading his book 'The Divine Conspiracy' again, having gotten to chapter 5 and then proceeding to cheat on it with some other books such as 'Holiness' by J.C. Ryle, 'Loved by God' by R.C. Sproul and 'Stop Dating the Church' by Joshua Harris, whose penchant for talking about 'dating' is rivaled only by R.C. Sproul's penchant for talking about 'election'.

Anyway, without further delay, here's a quote from 'The Divine Conspiracy' which really captures the Jesus we read about in the Gospels, and the Jesus Christians should be presenting to those with ears:

"Our hunger for significance is a signal of who we are and why we are here, and it also is the basis of humanity’s enduring response to Jesus. For He always takes individual human beings as seriously as their shredded dignity demands, and He has the resources to carry through with His high estimate of them."

By way of qualification, that's not to say Jesus thinks we're all perfect, nor does He treat sin lightly. The message here is that when our search for significance in things like money, sex, power and intelligence leaves us still empty, when we're on our knees crying out for help, Jesus treats our pleas with the utmost compassion and sincerity. When we come crawling to Him, He shows us the wounds on His hands and sides, tells us our sins are forgiven, imparts to us His very life, and bids us to stand and be recognised as sons of the living God. People are God's most prized creation, and it is only by joining ourselves with Him do we begin to know who we are and why we are here.

Dear Readers

As a reader of this blog, I assume you're aware that I'm undertaking a year in Scripture School at the moment (I say this with rueful confidence, given that a significantly large percentage of my readers are immediate family members). And as a reader, you're probably also aware that output has dwindled over the past month or so. Well, I'm here to inform you that these two things are very much linked.

I haven't lost my verve for blogging, nor have I run out of things to write about (quite the opposite in fact). With all I'm hearing and reading and learning, I'm just bursting with fresh ideas and insights demanding to make their way onto cyberspace. However, I am but one man, and a notoriously lazy one at that. So as such, when I do decide to write, my immediate concern is to answer as many assignment questions as possible. Blogging, while enjoyable, feels like channeling my energies in the wrong direction. I mean if I'm going to write, why not just write things that help me to attain my goal of completing Scripture School?

Of course none of this is to say that I'm going to stop posting here. All I'm trying to do is explain what has already happened, because I've quite literally received one -- if not two -- queries as to why I'm not blogging as much any more. So there's your answer.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

ESV, 1 - 2 - 3

In case you're not yet aware, there is a new Bible on the shelves now that basically makes all the other Bibles out there redundant. Here is what some of the biggest Christian leaders of our time may or may not be saying about it:

"The ESV Study Bible is the only resource you need to be a godly person. It's so good that I'm seriously beginning to question our need for the Holy Spirit."

"I've been reading the ESV since 1987, over 10 years before it was actually written. And while I haven't actually read any of this new study Bible, I just wanted to make people aware that I've been reading the ESV long before it became the cool thing to do, so there."

"If you don't own the ESV Study Bible, then you may be going to hell."

"If you want to know what the Bible really means, then you have no choice but to rely on the interpretations of the people who wrote the ESV Study Bible. They are right, and if you don't agree with them, then you are wrong."

"As a Pastor, I won't let anyone inside my church unless they've got a copy of the ESV Study Bible, leather bound preferable. I mean how else are they going to grow as Christians if they don't have this essential resource?"

"The ESV Study Bible is the second coming."

"The ESV Study Bible forgave me my sins and imparted its righteousness to me."

OK so none of these are actual quotes, but my point is, calm down conservative Christian world! This isn't a new Bible. We're still using the same one as our forefathers did centuries ago, and I assume these solid group of Christians whom Mark Driscoll trusts haven't come up with any new interpretations. I know none of the people in the video below or in some of the articles I've read share any of the fake sentiments listed above, but I think the hype surrounding this Bible has been just a tad OTT. As Charles Price says,

"The Bible is true, but it's not the truth - Jesus is the truth."

The Pharisees believed that the Bible was true, but that wasn't enough. They missed the fact that it pointed to the truth, which is Jesus. I wrote the following down during my "Life of Christ" class with Dr Autry in relation to the Pharisees:

"The students of the Scriptures had the subject of the Scriptures right in front of them, but they didn't recognise Him."

We must be careful that we don't make the same vital mistake, even with a great resource like the ESV Study Bible.

All that said, I've got a copy of the ESV Study Bible coming my way. I mean just take a look at this video and tell me you don't want one:

Justify Full

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Weakness = Strength

Since I'm, you know, too busy to do a proper post, I thought I'd share an answer of mine from the 'Taking It Personally' section of my Old Testament Survey class. The topic was the Exodus, and here is something fresh I got out of it upon reflection, and something that applies as I prepare for Saturday:

For me, God’s initial exchange with Moses through a burning bush is something I continue to learn from to this day. Before this special encounter took place, Moses had gone from being a somebody in the house of Pharaoh to being a nobody in the wilderness. He left the courts of Egypt, and joined himself with the Hebrew slaves. Upon murdering an Egyptian, he fled to the wilderness, where I’m sure he suffered much trial and hardship. But such things served only as preparation for the task ahead.

One of my favourite films as a child was the epic – and I mean epic – “The Ten Commandments” directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Having watched it again for nostalgia’s sake in the past year, I was struck by a piece of narration added in to progress the story. When describing Moses’ predicament upon fleeing Egypt and entering the wilderness, the narrator says in that deep tone of his:

He is driven onward through the burning crucible of desert, where holy men and prophets are cleansed and purged for God's great purpose, until at last, at the end of human strength, beaten into the dust from which he came, the metal is ready for the Maker's hand.

Profound words, and probably a reasonable description of Moses’ state when he encountered God that life-changing day.

From Moses’ response to God, it’s clear that he felt pretty useless, pretty unqualified, though we can be sure that he was well educated and trained from his time in Egypt. However, his time in Egypt was in the past, and his present condition was less than pristine, which was why he was so hesitant to obey God.

God had different ideas though. Moses’ weaknesses were in fact his strengths. As we read in Corinthians, “God chose the weak of this world to shame the strong”. It was only when he was at the end of his own strength that “the metal was ready for the Maker’s hand” so to speak. Moses might not have understood this, but God surely did.

I would do well to remember and live out this truth in my own life. So often I’ll either charge in to do “God’s work” on my own strength, or I’ll shy away from doing the will of God because I don’t think I’m qualified enough to do it. God sees things differently though. He doesn’t pretend not to see my weaknesses. He doesn’t just make me stronger. More than that, He is my strength.

When Moses asked God “Who am I?”, God’s reply was not “You’re Moses, the great leader”. It was simply “I will be with you”. God never tells someone to do something in their own strength. He promised to be with Moses, and He promises to be with me when I step out in obedience. As Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “He who calls you will do it, because He is faithful.”

There is great comfort to be found in reading God’s exchange with Moses in Exodus 3 and 4. The comfort of knowing that my weakness doesn’t only not disqualify me, but it actually qualifies me; the comfort of knowing that God’s power is always available to me when I chose to obey His will.

(Dr Arden Autry summed this up as only he can by quoting from a teaching he heard recently - "God has no problem with human weaknesses, only human strength")

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Young At Heart

This Saturday I'm boldly going where I've never gone before. I'm doing something I've thought about quite a bit, but always come up short on. I'm flirting with disaster, disapproval, disdain, or simply disinterest. I'm talking to the youth in our church.

It all came about because of this blog of mine. My friend Paul took something I love and used it against me! Since he's heading up the organisation of this youth day with two others from the church, he decided he'd ask me to get involved, since some of the issues he wants to address are one's that I've written about here. Well, since I had no good reason at the time to decline his offer (I've thought of several since, but I guess it's too late to pull out now), here I am, preparing to give an hour long 'workshop' to two different sets of youth.

First of all, what's a workshop? It's a term I've heard used a lot in Christian youth circles, and even a word I use myself, but I'm really not sure what it entails. Based on past experience, it generally involves a talk about sex, questions along the lines of 'How far is too far?', and if someone is really in the zone, the big 'm' word will make a cameo appearance. However, this seems like too narrow a definition for a youth workshop, so I intend to break the mold. I'm pretty crazy like that.

My talk will not be about sex, though in any given youth talk its bound to come up in one form or another. Instead we've decided to do two workshops - one on the mind, the other on the heart. The internals of Christianity if you will. I'm involved in the one on the heart, which is good, because the Bible has quite a bit to say on this topic. To be honest though, I was hoping to do a topic a little more vague than 'the heart', but I guess there's no harm in getting specific with these young people [?]. OK so talking about the heart is about as vague as talking about God or life, but in my preparation so far I think I've narrowed it down enough so that what I have to say is relevant. And if I've learned anything from the emergent movement (and it's distinctly possible that I haven't), it's that being relevant is all that matters. If the cross isn't deemed relevant, get rid of it. If the cost of Christianity doesn't appeal, then don't talk about it. This is what's required when talking to young people today, right?

Well, not in my opinion, which is why I've always struggled over the tension between what young people want to hear and young people need to hear. These two don't always line up, which creates a problem. Tell them what they want to hear, and you won't be doing them any favours in the long run. Tell them what they need to hear, and they might not listen.

My approach to preparing this talk is to tell them what God wants them to hear, and that is His Word. It may not always be the prettiest thing to hear, it may not tickle the ear, but it's good news. The less of me and the more of God these young people get, the better. That's all I think I can do at this point.

My next challenge is to then present God's Word to them in an engaging, understandable way, which means that favourite words of mine like 'propitiation', 'sanctification' and 'substitutionary atonement' have to take a back seat and be replaced by phrases such 'Jesus took our sins', 'Jesus makes us pure' and 'Jesus died on the cross instead of us'. Although now that I think of it, wouldn't it be cool if the youth of today knew what the word 'propitiation' meant? there's a thought.

Overall though, I'm excited about what will happen, and hopeful that God will use me in whatever way He sees fit. Do pray for me if you're so inclined, and pray for the young people too. Thankfully for them however, we four (Paul, Aisling, Rachel and I) are just the warm up act; the comedian before...Pink Floyd come on stage. One Dr Arden Autry is speaking in the evening time, and I have no doubt that even if everything we say is utter rubbish, his sermon will be a propitiation for our workshop. See, you can use the word 'propitiation' seemlessly in everyday English. That's it decided so - Young People of GCF, prepare to learn a new word.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Oh Me Oh My

I was directed towards a song by my discerning sister a few days ago (note: I didn't say critical...I said 'discerning'. Completely different [?]). She recited some lyrics from said song and I basically looked at her with an expression that said "What the mess are you talking about?". Well, to help you understand my utter confusion, here are the words she said:

So take me as You find me, All my fears and failures, Fill my life again. I give my life to follow Everything I believe in, Now I surrender.

I didn't recognise the song from these verses, but I had heard it before. It's called 'Mighty to Save', and it appears to be the latest big hit to come from the small, underground ministry that is Hillsong. They're flying below the radar at the moment, but I'm sure you'll hear of them soon enough. Lets just hope that they don't sell out and start putting on big concert-type worship sessions that perhaps do little but appeal to people's emotions. It would be a shame if that were to happen.

OK so I'm being exaggerative for the sake of sarcasm (**slaps his own hand and vows to get back to the point**). The point of this is to show you just how confusing these lyrics are. Before I do that, there are some positives to be taken from this song, so all is not lost. The chorus is incredibly catchy, and I do like its words also. However, if ever a song was built around a strong chorus, this is it.

The way I imagine it is that Mr Morgan was inspired with this great chorus, and performed it for people to much delight. His listener's then asked "That's great Reuben, but what about the verses?", to which he replied - "Don't worry, I've got them covered. Now, if someone could pass me my book of Christian cliches I'd be much obliged." I could go on and tell you that Darlene Zschech had actually borrowed Reuben's book to write a new album of her own, but I fear I'd be labouring my point.

In examing the meaning of these couple of verses, allow me to make a fairly obvious observation by quoting them again, with emphasis added:

So take me as You find me,
All my fears and failures,
Fill my life again.

I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in,
Now I surrender.

Dare I say, typical Hillsong?

Then there's the actual meaning, which for the most part escapes me. The first line "Take me as You find me" is a popular Christian catchphrase, but it's pretty redundant if you ask me. I mean how else is God supposed to "take" us? There are instances when a similar phrase works however. For example, there is a song which goes, "You take me as I am, and You make me as You are". In this case, that phrase works, a) because it is indicative and b) because of the contrast it sets forth. In 'Mighty to Save' however, no such contrast exists, and it just doesn't work for me.

The state the singer finds himself in is in a state of fear and failure, which isn't the most positive thing for a Christian church to affirm corporately. As a personal confession, these words are no doubt true in people's lives at different times, but in Christ we are not known as failures. Not because of merit on our side, but because of merit on His side. You could argue that the line "Fill my life again", is a plea, asking for us to be filled with this truth again, to be filled with the perfect love that drives out fear. You really have to read between the lines to come up with this conclusion however, because nothing more is said. Had the next verse expanded on what we need to be filled with, I wouldn't have many problems. But instead, it begins with a completely new train of thought, and not a very solid one either.

From being in a place of fear and failure, the singer now decides that "I give my life to follow everything I believe in", proving the point that while Christians may not tell lies, they certainly sing them. But apart from this being unattainable, it's probably not the best thing to do anyway. For example, some professing Christians "don't believe" in no sex before marriage. I don't say this to judge, but to illustrate that it's probably best to give ourselves to what God believes rather than what we believe, for what we believe isn't always true and right. Now I'm not saying that Reuben Morgan is encouraging us to go with our own desires, but the lyrics are ambiguous, which is a dangerous thing. By saying "I give myself to follow everything I believe in", what are you affirming? Very little if you ask me.

The verse then finishes with a line that contradicts the previous two. Having just sung that we're going to give oursleves to things we ourselves believe in, we now sing that we surrender? Huh? Surrender to ourselves? That's the meaning that makes sense given the context, but it certainly doesn't make scriptural sense. I assume this means that "I surrender to God", but why do the previous two lines point to a different conclusion? So many questions, so few answers in these lyrics.

In short, it's not a good sign that if you just read these two verses without any knowledge of where they came from, then there would be nothing substantial to affirm beyond doubt that they are taken from a worship song. Read them again if you don't believe me. Should the verses of our songs really be so shallow, void of lyrics that explicitly point to God?

Such verses follow a similar pattern to a Nooma DVD - ambiguous to the point of having little true meaning. Once again though, I have to give credit where credit is due. The chorus really is quite good, but the verses...well...not so much (the first two which I haven't quoted aren't much better to be honest). Bob Kauflin may just have it right when it comes to Hillsong - strong on the musical side, weak on the lyrical side, and heavy on the subjective side. That about sums this song up I think.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

History Matters

"Some religions, ancient and modern, require no historical basis, for they depend on ideas rather than events. Christianity is not one of these." - Everett F. Harrison

This is the opening line to a book called "A Short Life of Christ", and what an opener, eh?

The book is part of my reading list for Scripture School (or SS for short, though I'm pretty certain Adolf Hitler wasn't employing Scripture School to enforce his racial ideology, so best be careful not to confuse the two). A fine book it is, with this one line standing out among many others of similar profoundness.

I don't know about you, but I don't care too much for history. I'm a man who lives in the here and now, and so I don't concern myself with past goings on. I'm reminded of that little exchange between Bart and Krusty the Clown, which nicely sums up my position:

Krusty: Aw, heck: now where am I gonna get a danish?

Bart: Here's a danish, Krusty!

Krusty: Gimme, gimme, gimme! [devours it] Now that's danish! Where'd you get it?

Bart: I stole it from Kent Brockman.

Krusty: Great! [realizes] Uh, he didn't touch it, did he?

Bart: No.

Krusty: Good job, kid! What's your name?

Bart: I'm Bart Simpson. I saved you from jail.

Krusty: [not remembering] Er, I...

Bart: I reunited you with your estranged father.

Krusty: Er, uh, I don't know...

Bart: I saved your career, man! Remember your comeback special?

Krusty: Yeah, well, what have you done for me lately?

Bart: I got you that danish.

Krusty: [grateful] And I'll never forget it.

My point is that I can be so like Krusty, acting with complete disregard for everything that's happened, and caring only for what someone can do for me now.

Such thinking easily carries over to my Christian life, with unhealthy results. I tend to 'Greek up' my Christian experience, reducing it to a supreme knowledge of how the world works or the meaning of life. It may be a well intentioned thing I do, but it misses the point - the point being God's actions in history, and His actions even today.

When the Christian life becomes a list of great ideas, it loses both its power and its relevance. Yes, the Christian life is a really good way to live. I'd even go so far as to say it's the best way to live. Love your neighbour, forgive, be kind, don't steal - these are all desirable virtues. But they're not the basis on which our faith lies. They're a result of our faith, sure, but the faith of a Christian should go much deeper than simply believing that copying Jesus is a good way to live. This is similar to what I wrote about in my last post, but it's not so much the 'how' as the 'what lies behind the 'how''.

The Christian doesn't simply put his or her trust in ideas. Trust is placed in God - the God who acted in history, and who still acts today. Christianity depends on this history, because without it all it is is a dead faith. As Paul said to the Corinthians, if Jesus wasn't raised from the dead then his preaching is in vain, and so is everyone's faith. It's meaningless and futile unless there is a real historical root.

This is why the cross should be such a point of focus for the Christian today. Jesus' death and resurrection is our equivalent of the Red Sea crossing, only greater and more powerful. To meditate on it and inform people of it is not something that is irrelevant to our culture today. This event is the epicentre of God's action in history, and it's the event that separates Christianity from all the idea-based religions and ways of life that we are so easily drawn to. It's an event that is as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago, because it still bridges the gap between God and humanity - something no idea can claim to do.

The fundamental confession of a Christian isn't something ideological. It isn't anything to do with values or morals or good ways of living. The confession is a simple one, rooted in history and just as real today. It's "Jesus is Lord".

Those who reject Christianity most likely don't do so because they don't think it's good to love your neighbour, or treat people well, or to tell the truth. They do so because they reject the history of it. They don't acknowledge God as their Creator, and they don't acknowledge that they needed someone to die on a cross for their sins. You can explain to someone all the good that is involved in the Christian life, but until they can acknowledge the historical truth, and until they can say "Jesus is Lord", they will forever find themselves not being good enough, and not tasting of the grace of His Kingdom.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What If?

"If you type 'google' into google, you'll break the internet."

I heard some people making fun of someone who actually thought this, and I couldn't help but laugh. It was one of those times when you wish you could just jump into a conversation, simply because you have all these jokes that you desperately want to share.

Another little funny thing happened a couple of days ago too. I was chatting with my friend Paul in the kitchen and Dad came in after work. Dad then asked Paul what time he finished work at, and Paul said that he worked from 7 to 3.30 that day, to which Dad replied "Wow, 7-3.30. That's a fairly short little shift, isn't it?"

What shift did Dad work that day? Well, he worked 8-4.30, which is roughly the same amount of time as Paul spent at work. Oh's exactly the same amount of time Paul spent at work.

Still though, I can sort of see Dad's point. Doesn't 7-3.30 initially sound like less hours than 8-4.30? Maybe we Kelly's are just crazy like that.

To complete this highly comedic post, here's a joke that a blog-writing cousin of mine introduced me to a while ago, and without his permission, I'm going to post up here now.

There was once this monk, who following the tradition of hand copying scrolls, goes down to the cellar of his abbey in search of an original copy. He doesn't return for hours and is eventually discovered by a younger clerk. He is in a corner of the cellar, sobbing. When asked what's wrong, he says, 'Celebrate... celebrate.. it says celebrate, not cel-i-bate.'

Monday, September 29, 2008


I stumbled across the above picture on this blog, and I gave a good chuckle when I looked up the verses. Here's James 4:9 and Philippians 4:4 to save you the bother of looking them up yourself. See how kind I am?


Would you sell your eyes for five million euro? Ten million perhaps? I heard that question asked today on UCB TV, and it got me thinking. More specifically, it got me thinking about the fact that I wouldn't do it, and I doubt there are very many non-blind people that would. In other words, my answer revealed to me that my eyes are priceless. There is no amount of money you could throw at me that would make me give up my eye-sight. It's just not going to happen, so I'd appreciate it if you would stop hassling me about it.

The UCB show went on to briefly relate this question to the soul. I don't know about you, but I believe I have a soul. You can study all the various parts of me under a microscope (though I'd really rather you didn't), but none of your findings will reveal much of Declan the person to you. You can surgically remove my heart or my brain, but they won't tell you anything about what I like or what I know or how I feel. There is something invisible, something unreachable in me that makes me who I am. And it's this something that makes me knowable to people, and ultimately, it makes me knowable to God.

We can call this the heart of a man, the soul of a man, the spirit of a man. Ultimately, its simply the invisible attribute of ourselves that gives the visible attributes life and meaning. My leg itself won't have much use or purpose if its detached from my body, and my body won't have much use if its detached from life.

The point I'm getting at in a roundabout, meandering way is that the soul matters. In fact the soul is vital, in the original sense of the word. The soul is life itself, because what are we if we have not got it? Well, we're no different from animals. But of course that's absurd, because we are very much different from animals. We don't think it unusual or wrong if a tiger mauls a man to death in the jungle. We don't bring that tiger in for questioning and make him stand before a jury. We understand that tigers aren't accountable as we are, because they don't have souls. They have no inner being that they need to feed and nurture and grow. We as humans however, do.

The point I wanted to get at in the previous paragraph before I meandered some more is that we need to be very wary of our souls. We wouldn't dream of selling our eyes for all the money in the world, yet we can treat our souls as if they were of no value at all. This applies to Christians and non-Christians a like.

For Christians, we can fall into the trap of thinking that once we "accept Jesus into our hearts" that's it, job done. Next stop heaven. However, we fail to realise that eternal life starts here and now. The new creations that we become when Christ comes into our lives are not going to die. These renewed spirits of ours are what we've got, from here to eternity. Therefore we must be careful to feed them, and to keep them from being tarnished. This is part of what sanctification entails, and it's a reality that is lost on many Christians today I fear, myself included.

For non Christians, neglect of the soul is perilous. As Jesus says to His followers,

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." - Matt. 10:28

I wonder how people who think Jesus was just a good teacher feel about such a statement. These words come in the midst of some pretty hard lessons, but they emanate from the same lips as the One who said that "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."

It is clear from Jesus death on the cross that He values our souls. He values that which is unseen with the naked eye, but unmistakeably real nonetheless. He values it so much that He warns people about neglecting it with such strong words. What Jesus is telling us in this passage is to forget about our eyes, and start thinking about our souls. He's telling us to stop putting so much weight on things that will eventually perish and start putting weight on the things of eternal importance (not the only time He gave such a lesson it should be noted).

That's not to say you should sell your eyes for ten million euro if you get the chance. It's to say that if something so temporal as our eyes are of that much value to you, how much more valuable should the soul be?

I remember an episode of the Simpsons when Bart sold his soul to Milhouse for $5, simply because he didn't believe he had one to begin with. I feel like many people today would be just as hasty to do similar business, not realising what it is they are relinquishing. (In case I've left you in suspense, Bart did eventually realise the error of his ways and managed to get the piece of paper that said "Bart Simpson's soul" back, and promptly ate it.)

We must all be careful not to make such a mistake with our souls, because if we are to believe Jesus, it will be the biggest mistake of our lives.

I finish with another question: Can you say with the hymnist "It is well with my soul"? There are few questions of greater importance than this one, so think carefully.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What's So Good About the Gospel?

I just heard from a high ranking source in NUIG Christian Union that next weeks meeting will be a discussion based on the question "What is the Gospel?" This excites me very much.

I've lost count of the amount of times I've heard this question asked over the last few months, and every time I reflect on it I'm never fully happy with what my own answer is.

There are a few snappy little sentences that sum up the Gospel quite nicely - "God with us", or "Christ in you, the hope of glory". These I like, but to a lot people they don't mean very much. They might sound very nice (and I think they do), but what's the meat of them?

I'm reminded of that scene in the cartoon version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when Beaver mentions Aslan's name, and all the kids suddenly display beaming smiles of hope, despite not really having a clue who Aslan actually is.

The same thing can happen with these short little Gospel summaries. You can be left with a smile on your face upon hearing them, but then ten seconds later you're scratching your head wondering what it's all about.

I'm not going to attempt an exhaustive Gospel message in this blog, but I will quickly look at Romans 1:16-17, which reveals what the Gospel is and why it is so powerful.

First off, the what:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." - Rom. 1:16

In other words, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation. To understand our need for salvation, we need read nothing more than Romans 1:18-32, or even take a long, hard look at ourselves. To understand the means of salvation, we need look no further than the life (and death…and then life again) of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel is good news because it addresses mans most fundamental problem – sin. When we realize our sinfulness in all its totality, only then can we see our need for salvation.

The reason Paul is so enthusiastic about the Gospel, the reason why he's willing to go to prison over it, and even die because of it, is because it is a message of salvation. It is a message that will save people, even from the very sting of death itself, because it deals effectively with the fact we have a holy God, and we are an unholy people who deserve wrath. Doesn’t such a message sound like something worth dying for?

We may then wonder how such salvation is possible. Is the Gospel basically God throwing us a rope to grab onto, and if so, then what's the point? Escapism?

Paul says why the Gospel is the power of God in the next verse, as he writes,

" is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...For in it the righteousness of God is revealed..."

That little word "of'" is ambiguous to say the least, but in this context we can take "righteousness of God" to mean two things, which makes the ambiguity necessary. First, it means that the righteousness that God Himself possesses is revealed. In the Gospel, we see God for who He really is. After all, as Jesus said, "if you have seen Me you have seen the Father". God made Himself known to humanity by being "with us" in Jesus, and to behold Him is to behold the very essence and character of God. In fact it is to behold God Himself.

Secondly, the “righteousness of God” refers to the righteousness that comes from God; the righteousness that is imparted to us by God Himself, which is also His own righteousness. This, above all else, is why the Gospel is good news. God hasn't just thrown us a rope. He has actually come down to our world in order to restore us and redeem us.

As Dr Arden Autry says, “Salvation isn’t about God taking us out of creation. It’s about God coming down to creation and restoring it”. These are simple words, but how often do we miss the whole point, and make Christianity sound like some belief system that takes you to a different plane of thought completely unrelated to the world around us. We damage ourselves and damage others by turning Christian salvation into an escape hatch, instead of living it out and relating the utter truth of it.

And the truth of it is that this holy and just God is also a God who desires restoration, and He accomplishes this in us by imparting His very life into all who believe in Jesus Christ. This is what Paul is talking about when he writes about the “mystery” that was hidden for ages. He reveals that mystery, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. That is, our hope of being restored to being men and women who perfectly reflect the character of God. We do not become God, but we become His image bearers, as we were originally intended to be. This only comes to fruition when we die of course, but here on earth we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another, until that day when we see Him and become like Him in pure perfection.

A holy God pronounces unholy people righteous by faith, and they can now live at peace with God and in fellowship with one another, with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

Doesn’t that sound like good news? I think so anyway.

There’s a lot more to be said about the Gospel of course, and certainly at lot more that could be unpacked from these verses, but here's a little taster anyway.

Song of the Week #5

I've been inundated with emails begging me to my post the song of the week, and since I hate to disappoint, here it is.

The song is called 'Lump Sum' and it's taken from the album 'For Emma, Forever Ago' by Bon Iver. The way I came across this album was through teletext actually, which is a little strange I know. I occasionally go on to page 377 where they do album reviews, and this album was not only reviewed, but if memory serves me correct it got the full 5 stars, so I decided to check it out.

Needless to say, I did, and I've been going back to it ever since, though I'm not 100% sure why. I'm not a huge fan of his voice, I can barely make out a single line of his lyrics, and the guitar work is nothing special. But yet somehow the music just seems to draw me in. You'll have to hear it for yourself to understand what I'm saying, so without further delay, here it is. Be sure to let me know what you think, because I'm interested to hear what others have to say about this Wisconsin Wood-Cabin Man.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Christian Facebook Group

Look at me, trying to do anything but finish my assignment on The Person of Christ. It's like that time I learned how to play Snakebite Boogie by Clive Carroll, just to avoid doing my final year project. And let me tell you, there are few more difficult songs to learn than it. I've known how to play it for two years now, and I can still only manage to make it sound about 60% right, which kind of sucks actually. Because even though what I'm doing is in reality very difficult, it just doesn't sound quite right, so it's difficulty is lost on people, and I don't look as impressive a guitarist as I should. In other news, I'm both proud and self-seeking.

Anyway, my quick post here is in relation to that Facebook group that's doing the rounds. It's called The Great Big Christians In Ireland Experiment (Christians on Facebook). The 'experiment' is to try and get all the Christians in Ireland, who are also on Facebook, into one group. Well, I've decided not to join this group for a couple of reasons:

1 - I think it would be cool to be the only Christian in Ireland (who is also on Facebook) not to be in the group. I mean I'd basically be the reason for this experiment failing. That sounds like a good conversation piece in any Christian setting.

2 - I'm really stubborn.

3 - Here's my real reason. I just feel like it's slightly misleading. There are 1007 people in the group now, but who's to say they are all Christians? I have no reason to believe they aren't but I have no reason to believe they are either. The only ones I know to be Christian are the ones that I know personally. That's not to say you can't know someone is a Christian if you don't know them personally. It's just to say that a mere profession isn't exactly worth much. I mean if you ask every American whether they're Christian or not you'll probably find a significantly large portion say they are, yet the behaviour of American society in general would seem to suggest otherwise (not to pick on America or anything [?]).

A group like this just reminds me of those forwards that say 'Pass this on to all your friends if you're not ashamed of Jesus' or something like that. What's the point? Jesus obviously isn't overly concerned about lip service and such. Maybe I'm wrong, but I happen to think that His goal for the Church isn't one big Facebook group with every Christian on it. Not that there's anything wrong with that. There's just about that picture, but maybe it's just me. I mean what's next? A Facebook application that provides you with your daily devotional?

I know the point of this experiment isn't to show our non-Christian friends that we're Christian. This group was probably started out of a good heart, and most people join it not to prove that they are Christian, but because they are Christians, they are on Facebook, so why not accept the invitation? The whole thing just seems a bit pointless to me, but hey, if people are using this group to pray for each other and encourage each other and so forth, then far be it from me to diss it. From the 'Recent News' section however, it seems like a numbers game so far, but there's one number you're not going to get Mr Nelson!

Predestined To Be an Arminian?

In his book A Generous Contradiction Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren claims to be both a Clavinist and and Arminian. For those of you who don't know, this means that McLaren thinks that salvation is based solely on God's soveriegn choice, but he also believes that it's based on God's will and our choice. This is of course a massive contradiciton, and I have no doubt it's not the only one to emanate from the pen of Brian McLaren.

My point here however isn't to diss Brian McLaren, though I guess I've managed to do that anyway (you only have to read the full title of the aforementioned book to come up with enough fodder for doing so). My aim is to relate my own struggle with the Calvin/Arminius debate.

To be honest I didn't even hear of such a debate until a few years ago, at which point the Arminian way seemed most 'correct' to me based on my current knowledge of God and the Bible and so forth. However, upon listening to several Calvinist viewpoints, and reading some material by R.C. Sproul (who pretty much manages to talk about Calvin's doctrine of predestination every second sentence, no matter the topic....Okay I exaggerate, but he's a Calvinist through and through) the Arminian view is not quite as sturdy as I once thought.

Above all else, it seems to me that Romans 9 should really settle the debate, with verse 16 being the core of Calvinistic doctrine:

"So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy."

How does an Arminian respond to this text? How can anyone say that salvation depends both on God and our choice when a verse like this is contained in the Bible?

I must admit, the Arminian way sounds fairer. To have our salvation based on God's sovereignty and our free will seems like the right way to do things. However, with our own natural free wills, can we ever choose God? What makes one man choose to follow Christ and another man choose not to follow him? Both are born into the same sin. Both have been inwardly corrupted because of the Fall, so how can one choose God and one reject God?

The choices we make in life are based on our desires. The question is, can some people's natural desire be to turn to God? When God offers salvation, does anyone on the earth have the natural capacity to accept that salvation and put their faith in God? If so, why them and not countless others?

In Romans 3 we are told that "no one seeks God". This seems to me to indicate that out of man's natural free will, there is none who chooses God. Therefore, we need God to plant in us the desire to seek after Him, and so even our seeking after God depends not on us, but on God.

You might think "Well what about my free will? Doesn't this just make me some kind of robot?" This is a question I asked of Calvinism, and the answer lies in the source of our decision making - our hearts. R.C. Sproul puts it this way:

"To be sure, for us to choose Christ, God must change our heart. That is precisely what He does. He changes our heart for us. He gives us a desire for Himself that we otherwise would not have. Then we choose Him out of the desire that is within us. We freely choose Him because we want to choose Him. That is the wonder of His grace."

This line of reasoning is compelling, and so I'm very interested to see how Dr Arden Autry approaches Romans 9 from the viewpoint of a non-Calvinist (though not quite an Arminian). He likes to joke about this big debate by saying " I guess I just wasn't predestined to be a Calvinist", which I think is pretty funny. However, the arguments put forward by Paul in Romans 9 cannot be ignored. And you certainly can't set Scripture against itself by saying John 3:16 disproves what Paul says, just like you can't say Jesus is not the Creator but a creature, based on Colossians 1:15. The question is, do we interpret Romans 9 in light of John 3:16 and other similar passages, or do we interpret these other passages in light of Romans 9 and the likes?

There may be an Arminian line of reasoning that makes sense of Romans 9, but I can imagine that much is read between the lines to try and make it fit. What leaves me leaning toward the Calvinist view is the fact that Paul asks the rhetorical question "Is there injustice on God's part?". If he was preaching an Arminian doctrine on predestination, such a question would not arise, becasue the Arminian viewpoint clearly demonstrates justice in action. However, when hearing the Calvinist argument, that's almost the first question on everyone's lips, and Paul is quick to address it.

I don't claim to have made up my mind to become a Calvinist. At the end of the day, such a debate is of secondary importance, and there are Christians who really don't care what side they're on, which is fine. However, grappling with the nature of God and salvation is something that intrigues me, so I can't just ignore such a debate. I would be interested to reading some comments from others, Arminian's and Calvinists alike, and even people who have no partiality towards either. What is it about Calvinism that you don't agree with? Why do you believe Arminianism to be the right way? How are we to interpret Romans 9?

Welcome to my labour of love everyone!