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!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bus Drivers Are Jerks

I just spent a little over 12 hours in Dublin between yesterday and today, half of which I slept through. Considering I took a 4 hour bus ride there and back, that may sound like folly, madness, idiocy. However, once you've seen Sun Kil Moon play live, then you'll understand.

As an avid fan I was going into the gig with a mixture of excitement and caution. I just wasn't sure what their live sound would be like, because a lot of their songs have reasonably complex arrangements, with guitar over-dubs galore. However, by the end of the second song I was just blown away. They started with a low key version of Glenn Tipton, and followed that up with a Red House Painters favourite of mine, Make Like Paper. The crunching electric guitars were in full swing, as were the several-minutes-long solos, and it all came together perfectly for what was probably about 10 minutes of pure audio bliss. So yeah, Make Like Paper was definitely the highlight in a show full of highs.

They did a few other 'big songs', such as River, Tonight The Sky and Duk Koo Kim, all of which were brilliantly executed. Since most readers probably don't know many of these songs (not for lack of trying on my part), I'll stop talking about them any second now, but suffice to say you're missing out on one of the hidden gems of our generation if you have yet to give Sun Kil Moon a proper chance.

I managed to actually rope three other people to come along with me, which was great. Three ex-Encounter heads at that, which was doubly great - Ellisha, Keith and Luke. I knew Luke was coming a while back, but Keith and Ellisha were latecomers, buying their tickets an hour before the gig.

Much to Keith's disappointment, Sun Kil Moon were not a Korean band, but he didn't let that setback spoil his night, and unless he was lying to me (and he better not have been lying to me, his disciple of all people), he seemed to think highly of Mark Kozelek's latest project.

Luke and Ellisha seemed to enjoy it too, which was nice, although to be honest I really didn't care whether they did or not. No I'm just kidding. I did care. My taste in music is like my baby. If you don't like it, then I may just not invite you to my birthday. That's how personal I take it, so it was good that they at least pretended to like it, even if they weren't fans.

It was of course great to catch up with these fine people too. I hadn't seen them in probably close to two months, so some hang-out time was definitely the order of the day.

On a slightly different note, I did have a few strange/annoying experiences on the trip, which started from the very beginning. I went to get the Bus Eireann bus to Dublin outside the college, but when I got on, the bus driver told me to get the bus behind him, for reasons that still baffle me. I mean his bus was almost empty, so it's not like he couldn't squeeze me in. He did say the bus behind was a non-stop bus, so maybe he thought I'd prefer that one, but since when have bus drivers been a people to look out for the comfort of others? There are exception of course, but as a rule of thumb, all bus drivers are grade A jerks. This I learned at a young age, and it's a statement that continues to be true with every passing bus journey.

Anyway, I did as the bus driver said and waited for the non-stop bus. However, as I stuck out my arm to wave it down, the non-stop bus lived up to its reputation and (not surprisingly now that I've had time to think about it) didn't stop. In fact the bus driver didn't even have the decency to look me in the eye as he drove past. Maybe not seeing the look of contempt on would-be passengers faces helps him sleep at night.

Needless to say, I was very put out. I actually had to walk around for a bit and compose myself, because I was just incredibly ticked off. I started getting paranoid, thinking that this was all a big conspiracy on the part of the bus drivers. As if they had planned this at the station.

"All right. I'll pull in and tell him to get the next bus, and you just zoom on by and pretend to not even notice him. Got it? Oh and remember, if you do have to pick someone up and they give you a 20 euro note, make sure you look at them as if they just insulted your mother and sister. Then give them the change, but act as if it's the most painful, difficult, and time consuming thing you've ever had to do, and that if they make you do it again you may just kill them."

Anyway, I calmed down and got the City Link bus soon after, which probably arrived in Dublin earlier than the Bus Eireann bus ironically enough.

My other weird experience was having a man squeeze soap onto my hands in a very tiny and otherwise unassuming bathroom, and hand me some paper towels after had I washed them (that kind of sounds like a prison story, doesn't it?). I've never had that happen to me in a bathroom before, and quite frankly I hope it never happens again. Some men were actually just not bothering to wash their hands in order to avoid him, but almost in a trance-like state I went through the whole procedure, and came out the other side a slightly emasculated and confused man. Some man time with Keith and Luke cured that right up though, so I'm back to normal again.

I did tip the guy 50c though, which I consider to be a very generous tip given the service on offer. I mean he basically spared me the trouble of applying a small amount of pressure to a soap dispenser, and helped me avoid the less than arduous task of raising my hands to pick out a paper towel. These are things I really don't mind doing on my own. In fact I rather like doing them on my own, unaided by strange men bearing soap and paper towels. I guess I just like my trips to the bathroom to be as private as possible. That said however, had he offered to clean the toilet seat for me before I used it, then we'd be in business. I'm talking 2 euro minimum for that kind of service. Which reminds me - who are these people that don't clean up after themselves? They're ruining it for the rest of us, because there's no way I'm cleaning up something that isn't mine. Anyway, I better stop before this post stoops any lower.

Good times in Dublin, Sun Kil Moon are the greatest band ever. That's about all you need to know.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

God Really Does Hate Figs

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the passage in Mark 11 where Jesus curses a fig tree. With the help of R.C. Sproul, I presented a reasonably good line of thinking as to why Jesus might do such a seemingly capricious thing.

Enter Charles Price to complete that line of thinking.

I watched the final part of his series 'In the Beginning' last Monday, and I have to say it was one of his best (I think I say that about all his sermons, but whatever). He was talking about the Fall, and its various consequences.

To give you an extremely brief overview, Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they ate of the forbidden fruit, and thus ruined things for the rest of us. After they did this disobedient deed, we're told two things in the very next verse - they became aware of their nakedness, and as a result, they did something about it.

Do you remember what they did? Well, just to remind/inform you, they made some clothes for themselves. And more to the point, they made the clothes out of, that's right, fig leaves.

This I find amazing. Not the fact that they managed to sew fig leaves together in order to make clothes (though that is impressive). But the fact that the Bible is so consistent, so beautifully symbolic, right the way through from Genesis to Mark and beyond.

As Charles Price says, 'fig trees represent human effort'. I mentioned in my previous post about the fig tree Jesus encountered appearing to be good based on outward appearance, but on closer inspection is was useless and flawed. As R.C. Sproul points out, this is an object lesson, where the fig tree represents someone who appears to be righteous, but the external appearance is covering over an internal deficiency.

As we see on closer inspection of Genesis however, this wasn't the first time a fig tree performed such a devious task of deception. Adam and Eve, feeling naked and exposed, decided to try and cover over their nakedness by clothing themselves in fig leaves. They tried in their own effort to appear 'righteous' by an outward manifestation. But this didn't work for them, and it certainly doesn't work for us today.

With regards Adam and Eve, God intervened mercifully by shedding the blood of an animal, and clothing them with garments of skin. This was a foreshadowing of what God has done for us, when He intervened by shedding the blood of His Son, that we might be clothed with righteousness.

And so fig trees, from the very beginning, symbolize human effort, which is not what God requires of us in order to be made right with Him, and which gives Him reasonable grounds not to like fig trees very much (though of course there's nothing inherently wrong with a fig tree). I just find it remarkable the way the Bible comes together like this, and the way such profoundness can come from the most simple of details.


Here's a Youtube link to the aforementioned Charles Price sermon. I recommend you give it a watch (although I haven't actually seen it all yet, but I'll remedy that soon enough).

Charles Price - In The Beginning

Monday, September 15, 2008

Think About It

Here's some food for thought: was Reverend Camden the original Emergent Leader? That notion just dawned on me a couple of minutes ago, so I wanted to share it and see if any former Seventh Heaven watchers who don't value their dignity would come forward and support my claim. Come on now, don't be embarrassed. It's liberating to tell the truth.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Song of the Week #4

This week sees the return to a more melodic style of music, or as some might call it, a more manic depressive style of music. I've been a fan of 'Owen' (not his actual name - his real name being Mike Kinsella, but lets not go there) for a few years now, having first heard of him through a Red House Painters forum topic entitled 'If you like Red House Painters you'll also like...'. In fact I got quite a few artists from that particular topic, so I'm very much indebted to it.

His music is, if nothing else, just really good background music - kind of like the music of Iron and Wine. By way of illustration, let's just say that if I were to make a movie, and if I were to add a scene involving a montage of a guy and a girls everyday life after a breakup -- you know, lonely walks in the park, sitting at home looking at old photo albums -- then the music playing over that scene would definitely be something by Owen (or perhaps 'Song For a Blue Guitar' by Red House Painters...ooh, tough call. Maybe I'll post the latter on the blog and then I'll add a poll to let my readers decide. That will create intrigue, right?).

(As a side thought, would anyone be up for co-writing a movie with me based on that one imagined scene I just described? Would it help if I told you I have previous experience in the film industry?)

Anyway, the song in question which is this weeks much coveted 'song of the week' is called 'One Of These Days' and it's taken from Owen's latest offering entitled 'At Home With Owen'. It's actually a song I've only just become familiar with, but I'm really liking it. I just love the way his lyrics are so normal. This might seem strange in print, but he actually manages to fit the words 'acoustic guitar strings' into this song without it sounding out of place or silly. Or at least I think so anyway.

Like Kevin Devine, I've had the pleasure of seeing him play live (at the same gig no less), but he didn't play for very long which was a little disappointing. Still though, he's an artist I'm always coming back to listen to, and maybe you'll end up liking him too, just as you did Sun Kil Moon and Kevin Devine and Rogue Wave........................*cough, and then sheer silence*.

Just so you know, 'Owen' has actually been quite a big influence on my guitar stylings too, what with him being a huge proponent of the beautiful DADGAD tuning. He's by no means an amazing guitarist, but some of his finger picking is particularly pleasing to the ear, especially when he does some overdubs. So anytime I end up finger picking in my spare time, or indeed on the church music team, I usually end up sounding something like Owen, which I think is no bad thing.

Anyway, here's the song. Enjoy, and let me know what you think, if you indeed think anything about these songs at all (judging by the level of response I get, people either don't have any opinions, or they detest the songs so much that they feel like they'd hurt me if they told me the truth, and so they're waiting until they actually like a song before commenting. If that's true, then keep it up. Sometimes the truth really does hurt a little too much).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Blessed Are The Greek?

Just before I go to class, I thought I'd quickly share one of the many interesting things I've learned over the past three days. I'm never been one to be overly concerned about what the Greek root of a certain word is and so forth, at least from a spiritual growth standpoint anyway. But sometimes such knowledge can really bring a Bible passage to life.

An example of this is found in Romans chapter 1, when Paul quotes that

'The righteous shall live by faith'.

However, as Dr Arden Autry pointed out, in the original Greek text, the words in that sentence are actually ordered

'The righteous by faith shall live'.

While both sentences are true, there is a distinct difference between them. Since I don't have time to go into the nitty gritty, I'll leave it to you to reflect on the respective emphases, and if you want to leave a comment or write me an email based on any findings you, um, find, then please do so. Let's make this interactive people! I'll try and do a post on this again in the near future so it would be cool to have a whole collection of thoughts instead of just the thoughts of this tired, old brain.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mind Myself

For those of you who don't know, I'm about to start a year long course at the Emmaus Scripture School. In fact I start in less than 7 hours. This semester (I can't believe I'm calling periods of time 'semesters' again) I'll be taking 4 classes - The Life of Christ, Romans, Biblical Interpretation and Old Testament Survey. I have to say that I'm honestly excited about all 4 of the classes. There isn't one that I wish I could skip - unlike my previous stint at learning, when classes had names such as 'Metric Spaces', 'Topology' and 'Differential Equations'. Oh the pain of it all.

The benefits of doing this course are fairly obvious, but there are also a few things I need to look out for. It's very easy to distort a good thing, so I must be wary of that as I progress through the year. I guess one of the key verses when undertaking a course on the Word of God is found in James, where he writes,

"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."

This, above all else, is something I need to constantly search myself for. I don't want this year to become an exercise in hearing and learning, but with no change to character or lifestyle. If all I attain from this course is better head knowledge of the Bible, then I will not have achieved the courses goal. We are called not only to renew our minds, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

I agree with Charles Price when he says that all true spiritual experiences start in the mind. I mean "to repent" literally means "to change mind". But if what happens in your mind doesn't sink into the heart and work itself out in your day to day actions, then it will constitute a 'dead faith'.

R.C. Sproul writes,

"We can affirm a sound theology and live an unsound life. Sound theology is not enough to live a godly life. But it is still a requisite for godly living. How can we do the truth without first understanding what the truth is?"

This is almost a paraphrase of what James writes. Hearing the Word and being able to get 100% in a theology exam is not enough. Yes we are to hear the Word and let it penetrate our minds. Yes what we think matters, because as R.C. had written earlier, "when our thoughts are corrupted, our lives follow suit." But as I said before, if what we think doesn't change what we do, then our thoughts are worthless before God. A renewed mind and an understanding of the truth are necessary stipulations for spiritual growth, but as Sproul writes, these things are not sufficient in and of themselves. He says that,

"Without the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the mere presence of doctrine, even sound doctrine, will leave us cold."

This coldness is what I think I most need to be guarded from, and if anyone is reading this then some prayers in this area would be greatly appreciated.

Pride is another pitfall. Doing a course like this could so easily leave me thinking I'm better than other Christians, simply because I've taken a year out of my life to study the Word of God. It's up to me to continually humble myself before God and others, realising that it's not me, but the Spirit of God who brings His Word to life and writes it on my heart. It will be all too easy for me to detach the Word of God from the Spirit of God and allow myself to be puffed up by 'my own' knowledge, but this must not happen. I'm just thankful that I'm surrounded by a solid family and solid friends who have looked out for me spiritually up to this point, and who I know will continue to do so throughout the year.

There's more I could say, but I'll leave it at that for now. I'll be sure to keep you all updated on how things are going, and to share some of the wonderful truths that I'm bound to learn. However, given that I'll now actually be doing something with my life, my blog posting might get a little more infrequent. Then again, it might not. We shall have to see.

I'll end with the quote that hangs on the door of the room in which I'll be taking the classes. It reads,

"I am still learning."

Monday, September 8, 2008

Did God Really Say...?

Just in case your finger isn't on the pulse of pop music today, there is some 'big news' floating around which I was unaware of until yesterday. Now normally I like to keep myself abreast of all the goings on in the current stars' lives, but somehow this piece of information escaped me. The current big star in question, the pop star all the kids are talking about is of course one Sir Cliff Richard (as if I needed to tell you).

Sir Cliff, like pretty much every other person who considers themselves even remotely famous (I'm looking at you Jaap Stam), has written an autobiography. And if that simple fact isn't 'big news' enough for you, well there's more. It's what is contained within the pages that is the real news. Cliff (and forgive me if I'm about to shock any life-long fans of his), has, um, well, a male "companion". In teenage girl speak, he is now bff's with a former priest by the name of John McElynn. I'm not implying anything about their relationship; I'm just saying. And also, in completely unrelated news, Cliff also writes in his autobiography that the Church of England needs to allow gay marriages.

Like me, you may be a bit cynical about this. He has admitted to having a male companion (do people still use that word?) and also admitted to wanting a change in the Church's stance on homosexuality. The temptation here is of course to put two and two together. But since Cliff hasn't explicitly said he's gay, I'll refrain from making that seemingly glaring deduction.

What I will comment on are Cliff's in-no-way-self-serving views on homosexuality, as quoted in his autobiography. In fact, Cliff's views are possibly shared by many, so I shouldn't restrict them to being the views of only one man with an ex-priest as his companion. That would be narrow-minded of me.

Here's the extract I'll explore:

I think the Church must come round and see people as they are now. Gone are the days when we assumed loving relationships would be solely between men and women. It seems to me that commitment is the issue, and if anyone comes to me and says: 'This is my partner; we are committed to each other', then I don't care what their sexuality is. I'm not going to judge; I'll leave that to God.

Based on this extract, there is one prominent question in my mind, one question that everything hinges on, and that is, 'Does Cliff believe what the Bible has to say?' He talks about God, but does he believe God?

Cliff says that 'gone are the days when we assume loving relationships would be solely between a man and a woman'. Well, I feel I must remind or inform my reader that if you were to pick up a Bible and start from the very beginning, it would only take an hour, maybe less (depending on how quick a reader you are), to come across the days when relationships were no longer exclusively between a man and a woman. We're not told of any 'loving relationships' between men, but we do know that men were with men, so in all likelihood there were some 'loving relationships', whatever that means.

The point I'm getting at is that homosexuality isn't a modern phenomenon. It's not something that has been conjured up in the last 100 years. It's not something God just didn't see coming, and therefore He hasn't been able to make His views known on the matter. The days when men were exclusively with women are long gone. Cliff seems to think that 'sexual liberation' was something fashioned in the 60's, but if you believe the Bible (and if you don't, then you should really consider a different religion to Christianity), then you will be aware that free, hedonistic attitudes to sex have existed almost since the beginning of time.

So in one sense, Cliff is actually right. Gone are the days indeed. However, the days are long gone, and God has not remained silent on the issue. His Word has not left itself open to re-interpretation on homosexuality based on a cultural swing (which actually swung in Genesis 19). Therefore when Cliff states that "The Church needs to come round and see people as they are now", he is basically calling for an absolute truck-load of Scripture to be ignored, or to be dismissed as being culturally irrelevant. True there are many laws in the Bible that have been abolished by God based on cultural changes or the New Covenant, but we don't get to just pick and choose which ones to do away with and which ones to keep. We live under a theonomy, not an autonomy.

Based on faithful biblical interpretation, it's as clear as day that God's views on homosexuality were not cultural. I mean if you think they were, then you might as well say that lust is no longer a sin, because they didn't have widespread internet pornography back then, so Jesus didn't really take into account our culture today when he talked about this issue in the Sermon on the Mount. It's absurd to try and twist the Bible in order to justify ourselves, yet we are of course all guilty of this. From homosexuality to lying, we all try and excuse our actions by calling into question the Word of God. For this practice I certainly don't single Cliff out.

When we read about Satan's role in the Fall, the very first thing he says to Eve is 'Did God really say...?'. He didn't present sin in its true colours, he didn't tell Eve to flatly disobey God. He came to Eve and brought the Word of God into question. There is no device of the devil more devious than this, and so we are to be constantly on our guard, knowing unequivocally what God's Word teaches us.

No Church has the right or the power to change the Word of God. Or at least no Church should have the right or the power. Only Jesus Himself, the Head of the Church, can alter anything, but since He has already given us everything we need for life and godliness, there is no biblical reason for a change in the Church's stance towards homosexuality - just like there is no biblical reason to change our views on lust or lying, no matter how committed a liar you are.

Cliff goes on to say that "it seems to me that commitment is the issue'" "It seems to me"? Based on what, Cliff? Well we're not told why it seems to Cliff, but I'm guessing his autobiography doesn't go into his reasoning, so we're left in the dark. As a word of caution however, the phrase 'it seems to me' is a dangerous one when it's not backed up by anything but our own gut feelings or preferences. If you can point out instances in this blog when I say something like that but give no attempt at sound reasoning, then do please inform me, because I need to cut any of that nonsense out.

Anyway, Cliff seems to think that commitment is the issue. Not heterosexual marriage, not homosexual marriage, not even heterosexual commitment. Cliff has widened the path so much as to encourage every single person involved in a committed relationship to just keep it going, because commitment -- and nothing else -- is the issue.

This may sound very kind and loving and so forth, but it really isn't. By saying "I'm not going to judge; I'll leave that to God", we may think Cliff very noble and biblically minded. Not so.

Say a Christian friend of mine comes to me and says, "OK Declan. So I'm sleeping with my girlfriend, and I know the Bible doesn't actually approve of that, but we're committed to each other. Is this alright?". Would I be loving that person well if I just replied "Well, it's not my place to judge, so go ahead. After all, it seems to me that commmittment is the issue God is most concerned about". No, I wouldn't. In fact I'd be bringing judgement upon myself by saying such a thing (Isa. 5:20).

Loving that friend would involve setting him straight. It might not be the easiest of tasks, but it would demonstrate a heart that truly cared for him - a heart that wanted God's will for His life. I wouldn't be judging him by revealing God's Word to him, showing him the error of his ways, and strongly encouraging him to turn to Jesus in repentence and live a godly life. Judging is something entirely different. We are called to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), and I would hope I have the courage to do so in such times.

Jesus said that He didn't come to judge the world, but to save it. He could have judged the world then and there and we wouldn't have had a leg to stand on, but He didn't. Instead He came to save us, which begs the question - Save us from what? Well, to cut a long story short, from the penalty of sin, which is the wrath of a holy and righteous God. If you want a passage that falsifies everything that Cliff Richard and others of a similar viewpoint say, then you need look no further than Romans chapter 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things...For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

It doesn't get much plainer than that. Of course we know that's not the end of the story. We know there is hope, despite the fact that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". As I mentioned earlier, Jesus came to save the world, not to judge it. But one day the whole world will be judged by God (as Sir Cliff rightly noted), and His wrath will be poured out on all unrighteous suppression of the truth.

However, the message that Cliff seems to be heralding is for us to exchange biblical truth for a lie, which is eternally damaging for all who believe it. He can sugar coat it with nice words, but that's what is at the heart of the little extract I quoted earlier, whether he intends it or not. And of course one cannot be saved if one doesn't acknowledge the truth.

Now I'm not saying that we go around telling practicing homosexuals that they are destined for hell a la Wetboro Baptist Church (who, for the record, are just flat out wrong in all that they do and teach). Though 'homosexuals end up in hell' (whatever that means) is found in the Bible (1. Cor 6:9), it is not the message that we are called to teach. We might as well go around preaching that coveters, liars and extortioners are on their way to hell too, if that's our job description. And what's more, we might as well go around preaching that everyone is going to hell, including us, because as Paul makes clear in the first three chapters of Romans, we all stand guilty before God as transgressors of His righteous law.

We are called to make disciples - to teach people. But not to just teach people according to our preferences or ideas. We are to teach people the truth, which is Jesus Christ - the Son of God who died for our sins and was raised to life. We are also to teach people what is true - as it is revealed in God's word - in the light of Christ's redemptive work.

Cliff Richard, in calling for a change on what God views as sin, is not teaching what is true. You may not think he's teaching at all, but unfortunately he is. When he says that he thinks commitment is the issue, he's teaching us his ideas, and some will read that and think, "You know, maybe Cliff is right". Well, if I haven't made it clear enough already, Cliff isn't right. Not because he's out of sync with my preferences. Not because 'it seems to me' he's not right. But because the Bible clearly teaches something different to what Cliff is teaching.

You may wonder, "Well so what if he's teaching this wrong view of sin? Isn't teaching faith in Jesus enough?". A short answer to that is 'no'. Jesus said that you will know who men follow by their fruits. You cannot encourage someone to profess a faith in Jesus without encouraging them to live godly lives. The two go hand in hand. Our faith alone saves us, but saving faith produces works and a desire to obey God, because Jesus is now Lord of your life. As James writes, 'Faith without works is dead'. By teaching wrong views on sin, you are not producing disciples of Jesus, but disciples of some other person who is like Jesus, but not the real thing.

As with Eve in the garden of Eden, the Word of God is being questioned when ideas like those of Sir Cliff Richard are put forth. Cliff might as well be asking, "Did God really say that homosexuality* is a sin?". It's a cunning question, and we must be careful to know just what exactly God does have to say on the matter, as unpalatable as it might be for some people.

* When I say 'homosexuality', I'm talking about someone who has given their life over to the practice. There are Christians who no doubt struggle with homosexual desires, but look to God to overcome them, just as there are Christians who battle with heterosexual lust (i.e. every single male Christian). And of those who have adopted the homosexual lifestyle, it's of course the Christian's job to love these people as our neighbours. This piece isn't supposed to act as a speech every Christian must say to gay people. After all, you can have all the correct doctrine in place, but if you have not love in your heart then it will profit you nothing

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Song of the Week #3

Back once again due to overwhelming popularity, it's the next installment of Dec's song of the week. This weeks number comes from a band called Rogue Wave. At least I think they're a band. Maybe it's just a guy with the coolest name ever. I mean could you imagine if your name was Rogue Wave? Just think about the kind of person you'd be for a few seconds..................................annnnd we're back to reality. Man my name is so boring.

Anyway, the band or person in question is Rogue Wave, and the song is 'Eyes'. I may be wrong, but I don't believe that this particular song is on any LP. I only came across it when I heard it on an episode of 'Heroes', and I liked it very much. It's catchy, it's fun, and it repeats the phrase 'In your eyes' over and over. What more could you want?

Friday, September 5, 2008

At The Foot Of The Cross

I've gone to a DVD night every second Thursday for roughly the past two and a half years now. It's run by the Galway City Baptist Church, and they're very gracious for doing so. Anyway, last night we watched 'The Kite Runner'. Needless to say, I hadn't read the book, so I went into this movie not knowing what to expect from it, save for subtitles.

(On the topic of subtitles, as I was telling someone yesterday, every time I'm about to watch a subtitled film I always groan and complain about the fact that I have to 'work' while watching a movie. Then when I watch the movie, reading the subtitles becomes so effortless, and really adds to the overall experience. I'll proceed to make a mental note of that fact, lest I approach the next subtitled film with similar dread. Of course, the very next film I watch that contains subtitles will be greeted with boos and disapproval, and me once again complaining of having to 'work' while watching a movie. Never mind the fact that I've enjoyed nearly every subtitled film I've seen. That all goes out the window. How quickly we forget, eh?

This same viscious cycle applies to the film 'Waterworld' also. The first time I watched Waterworld I thought it was rubbish, which it was - just like virtually every film critic has ever said. However, every time Waterworld appears on the small screen (usually Thursday nights at 9.30pm on RTE 2), I say to myself, 'You know, maybe it's not as bad as I think'. And so I'll watch it in the vain hope that it may well be a decent flick. It's not, and I resolve straight after to never watch it again on the grounds that it really is as horrible as every one says. Of course next time RTE 2 decide to pull it out of the fire, Declan decides to give it another chance. Foolish Declan.)

OK all of that aside, I really enjoyed 'The Kite Runner' (as a warning, I don't want any of you pretentious purists telling me that the book is better than the film). There were quite a lot of issues to think through afterwards, which is always a good sign. And moreover, there were numerous religious themes and parallels to be drawn from the story, which I always appreciate in films (as long as they're handled with subtlety, just as Mel Gibson did with his acute film 'The Passion of the Christ' [!?]).

One of the more impactful scenes in the film is quite an horrific one. To give it some context (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT FOR THE REMAINING PARAGRAPHS), we're shown the story of two friends - one a servant to the others father. The servant (Hassan) is the braver of the two. He's only a boy, but he shows great moral courage, and displays all the characteristics of a true friend. The other boy is weak in comparison, and this weakness is no more evident than when his best friend is cornered by a group of older teens. These teens want to take the kite that Hassan 'ran' (I want explain what that means). Hassan refuses, stating that this is the kite which he ran for Amir, and he's not going to just hand it over.

All the while, Amir is watching this unfold from a far. He sees his best friend's display of loyalty and courage, but this moves him not an inch. He doesn't intervene, he doesn't cry for help. He just watches, paralyzed with fear and lacking any conviction. Hassan is beaten to the ground - kicked, punched, and eventually raped. Amir can't just stand by and idly watch any longer, which leads him into action - his action being to run the other way. He sits on a step and waits for his friend to emerge, hobbling quietly from the alley, blood dripping to the ground.

Amir plays dumb and greets his friend as if nothing happend. Naturally enough, Hassan is keen to do likewise.

The friendship between these two boys begins to deteriorate, all because of shame. Not because of shame on Hassan's part, but because of the shame that Amir feels for all that he didn't do. Amir can barely look his friend in the eye. Every time he sees Hassan he is reminded of his moral cowardess, his moral failings. He's too ashamed and too proud to admit of his wrong doing, so he sees no other choice but to get Hassan out of his life, for he can't bare to have him in it any longer.

He does this by falsely accusing Hassan of stealing, thus forcing Hassan and his family out of the picture. This is but temporary relief of course.

Having moved to America (the story leaps forward a number of years), Amir has graduated from college, is a successful author, and has married his childhood sweetheart (and by 'his childhood sweetheart' I mean 'a girl he knew for about 5 minutes'). However, he is beckoned back to Afghanistan by a friend of his fathers. He is given a chance for redemption.

Hassan has died, but his son has been taken prisoner by a Taliban official, Assef. Not too surprisingly, this offical is the same youth who violated Hassan's innonce all those years ago. To cut a long story short, Amir goes to Assef's house, and demands that Hassan's son leave with him. Assef proceeds to beat Amir to the ground, as he did Hassan that day. However, the boy (Hassan's son) slings a brass ball into Assef's face, and he and Amir escape. More importantly, Amir is finally redeemed.

Such a story might not seem true of you or me, but it is. We may not think we have blood on our hands like Amir did, but we do. History and the Bible tell us that every single person on this earth has the blood of a man on their hands; has the death of a man on their conscience. We are all guilty, just as Amir was. And just like Amir, we all know we're guilty. Romans 1 speaks of this knowledge. The question is, what do we do with this guilt?

There are really only two options. We can own up to our guilt, confess our wrong doing, and seek forgiveness and restoration. Or, like Amir, we can try to suppress our guilt and our shame. We can try and remove the Hassan from our lives, so that we don't have to look him in the eye and feel that brokenness over and over again.

However, as it was with Amir, this is but a temporary solution. For although we can change our environment, our very hearts carry in them the knowledge of right and wrong, and we know that we have wronged.

I was reading in a book the other day that when we see Jesus for who He really is, we can only either turn away or shamelessly adore him. The prostitute in Simon's house could have either turned away in sheer guilt and shame in Jesus' presense, or else bowed down at his feet and worshipped Him. She chose the latter, and her sins, though they were many, were immediately forgiven.

Unlike Amir, we dont have to make amends for our wrong doing by doing something right to balance the books. Jesus' death on the cross was enough to pay for all the sins of the world. So what do we do? Well as Paul says in his letter to the Galatians,

"...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."

To rest on that faith and live out of that faith is to be restored. To turn away from Jesus, to suppress the truth, to try and banish Him from your life, is to live in shame. It is to live with blood still on your hands. We have all been guilty of this from the beginning of our lives, and even I as a Christian find myself negoatiating the truth in order to appease my sin. It can't be done however. I can't hide, I can't cover up, I can't make excuses. All I can do -- all anyone can do -- is go to the foot of the cross, where love and sorrow meet, and where the wrath of God is satisfied, bringing forgiveness and restoration to whosoever believes.

Religious thoughts aside, this is a pretty good movie, so check it out if you can.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Long Expected Baptism

So I'm getting baptized this Sunday...full immersion of course (sprinkling is for babies, quite literally). It's been a long time coming, that's for sure. I mean I 'accepted Jesus into my heart' at the tender age of about 8 or 9, so waiting another 13 years before being baptized isn't exactly Biblical practice when it comes to baptism. In fact Biblical practice seems to be that someone can only be converted when they're within 10 yards of a water source, such is the immediacy of new believers' baptisms as told in the Book of Acts. But seriously, what really is correct procedure with regards baptism? Infant baptism, adult baptism, post-Junior Cert baptism, instant baptism? I've always found the act of baptism to be a strange beast, which is why I've just ignored it for so long.

I guess I just never understood it's significance. I almost treated it like circumcision, in that it was something the people of old had to, but in the 'New Covenant' it didn't really matter what outward actions were undertaken. There are of course no Biblical texts to support such a stance, but that was some of the reasoning going on inside my head for quite a long time.

I also developed quite a cynical attitude to baptism. I'd see people being baptized in our own church, but then in a few weeks or months or years they'd be living lives that didn't really reflect any kind of spiritual growth or renewal, so what was the point? Was baptism just some kind of seal of salvation which then permitted people to live however they pleased in the knowledge that their name is written in the 'Lambs Book of Life'? Being a devout legalist, that didn't sit well with me.

Also, being as stubborn as am, I never wanted to just do something because that's what my parents wanted. I didn't want to be baptized solely to please my parents. I mean baptism is supposed to be an outward symbol of an inward reality (I think). I didn't want that inward reality to be 'at least now my parents will stop asking me to think about being baptized'. I wanted the decision to be baptized to be my own, which is why I have problems with infant baptism. I don't believe the Bible explicitly has problems with it, because we never read anything about infants being baptized or not being baptized. We do read about households being baptized, so you'd expect some infants were baptized, but it's never made clear.

Anyway, after a long and painless process of ignoring baptism, I decided a while back that it was time to take the plunge. I wasn't sure when exactly I'd do it, but I had in mind the next baptismal service in our church. Unfortunately however, I was away at Encounter when it was announced, so when I came back they had already taken names and organised a teaching on why one should be baptized. I just shrugged my shoulders and said 'Next time'.

I was handed a second chance the very next Sunday though, when the church announced that anyone else who'd like to be baptized can sign up for it and get the teaching in a couple of weeks. I suppose that kind of confirmed for me that this was the right thing to do, so that's what I'm doing in 4 days time.

I know I kind of brushed over the 'why?' question. I went from being a baptism cynic to wanting to get baptized in the space between paragraphs. To try and explain that shift in thinking, I guess over the last few months I've been really learning about what it means to be a Christian. I sort of drifted through the previous 13 years with a very childish approach to the Christian life. The kind of approach common to many children brought up in Christian homes, where you're utterly dependent on the Christianity of your parents, even though you should be able to stand on your own two feet. I sometimes wondered to myself 'When I leave home, will I keep this up? Is this just my parents way, but not my way?'

Well after 13 years, I can safely say that this is not only my way, but it is the way. Jesus described Himself as 'The Way'. I mean what other way is there that brings life? People will search until the bitter end of course. They'll look to drink, they'll look to sex, they'll even look to something good like marriage, but they will remain lost; they will remain unsatisfied. Any honest person who has looked to these things for completion will say as much - of that I am convinced.

I've finally come to a point where my faith isn't blind. I used to think faith had to be blind in order to be authentic, but not so. The Christian life involves being called out of blindness and into sight. You step out of darkness and into light. It's not just some fool's hope to hold onto during this life. It's not insurance for a safe passage to heaven, just in case such a place exists. The Christian life is the only kind of real life available to the world. In fact it's the only life that actually is life. You only have to taste but a small portion of all the other kinds of 'life' available to realise their emptiness.

So for me, being baptized will be a symbol of this sure faith, as well as an act of obedience of course. The bottom line is that Jesus was baptized, and so should I be (I probably could have wrote that one line and just left it at that. Oh well.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

God Hates Figs

I came across a funny website name whilst doing some light reading on Fred Phelps and his slightly misguided attempts to sanctify the world. I won't link Phelps' website here, but in looking at what Wikipedia had to say on it, I found a section listing various parodies that were based on it. One of the comical websites was, citing Leviticus 11:12 as its influence. The other one, which brings me to the topic at hand, was (which doesn't appear to be in existence anymore). This website uses the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree, found in Mark 11, as the basis for saying that God does in fact hate figs.

Humorous websites aside, this got me thinking about that little passage in Scripture. If you aren't overly familiar with it, the story goes that Jesus was hungry, saw a fig tree in bloom, went up to it to eat of its fruit, but found no fruit on it. Mark tells us that it wasn't the season for fig trees. So what did Jesus do? Well, he cursed the fig tree by saying "May no one ever eat fruit of you again".

Taken at face value, I found this puzzling. If it wasn't the season for fig trees to bear fruit, then why is Jesus cursing a fig tree for not having fruit on it? That seems unreasonable and arbitrary to me. I mean what's Jesus trying to teach his disciples by doing such a seemingly whimsical thing?

Enter R.C. Sproul.

In a message of his entitled Scripture and Culture, he uses this text as an example of things that can get lost in translation based on environments, culture and geography and so forth, and as a reason for explaining why it's important for us to try and understand the culture of Jesus' time in order to better understand the meaning of certain texts.

In proposing the apparent problems of this text to a former Seminary Professor of his, Sproul received a very good answer. This Professor was an expert in the Palestinian culture and landscape and so forth, and told Sproul that while there is in fact a season for fig trees (just as there is for strawberries and so on), there is one fig tree that bears fruit out of season. It would be like finding strawberries growing in January.

This would seem to be the tree that Jesus encounters, because we are told it's in bloom or in 'full leaf', despite the fact that we are told in the next sentence that 'it was not the season for figs'. In other words, this fig tree should have figs on it. So Jesus doesn't just curse a tree for no specific reason and with no specific lesson in mind. Sproul calls what Jesus does here an 'object lesson'. (I'm not implying that Sproul coined the term 'object lesson', just in case you're wondering.)

Jesus saw a tree from a far that appeared to have life and be bearing fruit. However, on closer inspection, he found the tree to be a fraud. Its appearance was deceptive. We're not told why exactly it wasn't bearing fruit, but we are told that it was in 'full leaf', so it should have been bearing fruit. The object lesson here for us is a warning against hypocrisy.

We can all look good from a far away distance. We can all dress up our characters as well as our bodies on Sunday morning, and have the appearance of real spiritual life and growth. We can form a set of rules such as the church at Colosse did ("Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch"), and do our best to keep them in a vain attempt at holiness. These things might look good at first glance, but on closer inspection, they are hiding our real selves. The lack of a true internal spiritual reality is being covered over by external 'godliness', which God can obviously see right through, but which we as human beings find more difficult to spot unless we get closer to such a person (which is hard, because such a person usually doesn't want to get too close to anyone).

This object lesson acts as both a warning and an encouragement to me. It's a warning in the sense that if I'm relying on myself and my own external performance, then I've missed the Christian life completely. Don't get me wrong here - living the Christian life will produce obvious external behaviour, of that I am sure. But when we detach the external from the internal, we are left as this fig tree was - seemingly fruitful from a distance, but on closer examination, void of any kind of true life which produces real fruit.

The encouragement is that it's not actually up to me alone to produce fruit. It's when I am joined with Christ, when I 'abide in Him', then I will bear fruit, for without Jesus I can do nothing (John 15). This isn't to suggest some kind of lazy Christianity where we just sit back and do nothing.

I'm reminded of the time when I was out golfing with my father one day, perhaps when I was in my early teens. My dad talks a good game, and so stepping up to the tee you are never short of advice to mull over - "Bend the knees", "Keep your eye on the ball", "Spread the legs". A particular favourite of his was, "Let the club do the work". Well, having become utterly frustrated at one point during a round, my dad offered me that sage advice - "Decie, just let the club do the work". I had had it up to here, so I just said, "Right, Okay", and threw my club on the ground, ordering it to "do the work". Well, it didn't. Of course it didn't. The club could do nothing without me attached to it, and yet in a sense my dad was right. The club was indeed useful; it could certainly do things; it had an important role to play. However, as my rather petulant display of frustration demonstrated, it was dependent on my empowering it, so to speak, in order to achieve its purposes.

In this rather pathetic golfing analogy, we are the clubs and Jesus is the golfer. To live in dependence on Him means that you are a club placed in His hands, and what He wants to do through you will be done. That's His promise. Conversely, if His will is not being done through you, then you may be trying to do it yourself, which is as redundant as a golf club lying on the ground.

Examining this passage just goes to show you the importance of thorough Bible reading and understanding also. Taking it at face value, I was left wondering just what exactly Jesus was doing here. Does God simply hate figs!? Learning about the culture and the context gives passages like this deeper meaning, so it's vital we try and do so whenever we're unsure about certain texts.

If you want to see pretty much the polar opposite approach applied to Scripture reading, look no further than the aforementioned Fred Phelps (no relation to Michael, though coincidentally, Michael's fathers name is also Fred).