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.'