Monday, May 31, 2010

Preaching: Grace

I plan on reading a lot about preaching over the coming weeks, so I’ll be using this space to air some brief thoughts on the subject.

You know a book is going to be good when you’re underlining stuff in the preface. Such is the case with Tom Long’s Preaching from Memory to Hope. Writing about the kindness of a stranger that affected the life of his great-grandfather and all who came after him in the family line, Long says,

The more we know of life, the more we know that all that we have is gift, all that we are is grace.

I think one of the central tasks of preaching is to bring people to this perspective. If we are not at a vantage point where everything we see is the stuff of grace, then we do not see as we ought to see and we do not know as we ought to know. Good preaching should lead us to the humble knowledge of a world graced by God -- a world “charged with the grandeur of God” -- for this is the kind of knowledge that produces love.

And as with all preaching, this counteracts some things deeply ingrained into our minds and hearts - our misguided sense of entitlement and our delusions of self-sufficiency. The gospel of the kingdom works against such things, for it announces to us that at the heart of reality is a God of self-giving love who calls us to freely receive that love and to freely give it to those around us, enemies and friends alike.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Authority of Scripture

The most powerful argument for the truth of Scripture is a community of people who exemplify the love and power of the God that they have come to know through the New Testament. Apart from the witness of such communities, formal arguments for the authority of Scripture carry little weight.

- Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reading Material

Here's some reading material on sexuality that might be worthy of your time:

Modesty and Men

Before young women face undue pressure to monitor their male peers’ sexual purity, Christian communities ought to provide a biblical context for why we pursue modesty in the first place — and make sure both men and women get the message.

Two evangelical leaders with two different views on the Civil Partnership Bill:

View 1 - The realist
View 2 - The idealist

(Though I don't know what side of the fence I fall on (if any) and can only offer a provisional coment, for what it's worth, I don't think the second view really is ideal (to use Patrick Michel's word). Christianity is not about imposing things from the outside in, but about a radical change from the inside out. It is about life in the Spirit; a life that is at once free of the law and the fulfillment of the law. To impose Biblical ethics on those living "in the flesh" (to borrow a Pauline phrase) is actually to place a yoke on them that we too have been unable to bear.)

Daniel Kirk on Christian Sexuality:

And the model of self-giving love is where, it seems to me, we so often go astray at the get-go when it comes to sexuality. The call to give up our lives so that another might live flies full in the face of our desires for sexual gratification. Whether it’s the stereotypical guy who’s looking for the physical pleasure or the stereotypical woman who wants to know that she’s desired and accepted–or the very real people who are a mash up of both of these and a whole lot more–sex is an activity in which we are seeking our own.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Mythology of Iron & Wine

Sam Beam, the singer-songwriter who records under the nom-de-disque of Iron & Wine, is as far removed from your average rock star as it's possible to be and still sell records. Like Will (Bonnie "Prince" Billy) Oldham, he sports a beard big enough to nest a family of puffins, behind which he lurks quietly, evading the less welcome attentions resulting from his recent celebrity.

A friend asked me if Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine) is a Christian? My inkling -- to paraphrase Andy Gill above -- was that he mentions Jesus, God and faith as much as it's possible to do and still not be a Christian. Some Google searches (what else?) confirmed this, with Beam identifying himself as an agnostic.

The explanation for his frequent use of biblical imagery is that he was raised in the "Christ-haunted" landscape of the South:

We went to a Presbyterian church, sometimes a Baptist one. All kind of different but all loved Jesus.

Of Christianity, he says,

That was my mythology as a kid. Those were the stories that we learned how to live life (from). I didn't have Zeus and Athena. We had Jesus and Job.

I know the word "mythology" comes with all sorts of connotations, but I quite like the way Beam phrases his Christian past. Our faith is not a set of abstract principles about an "unknown god", but a mythology, or to use a less controversial word, a story, centered on the man Jesus. Paul makes this clear in the latter of half of Acts 17, where we trumps the stories of the Greek gods with the story of the one true God, made known through Jesus. He is giving these Greeks a new mythology, a new story that will dismantle the old ones and create fresh ways of living and moving and being -- ways consistent with the story of Jesus's death and resurrection.

Though Beam has grown to question the truthfulness of the Christian story -- and let's be honest, we all do to some degree when we look at the broken world around us -- God remains in his thoughts and in his songs in a way that many Christian artists would do well to learn from:

You have your three big things that you can talk about, basically, if you’re going to write something that actually means something to you as a human being, which is Love, God and Death. That’s basically the thing. Love, which occupies a lot of our time, because we don’t like being lonely. God, because everyone wants to know that there’s a reason behind what they’re doing and what the hell is going on. And death is just the reality of your finite time here.

If you've yet to be converted to Iron & Wine, here's a song that's been swirling around in my head for the last week. It merges each of the "three big things" into one simple and beautiful piece of art.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

iPhone Worship

Is there anything the iPhone can't do? There appears to be an application for everything, as shown on this classic Late Night With Conan O'Brien clip (which is probably the funniest thing you'll watch all week).

To prove the point, the following is a video a friend of mine posted on Facebook. It's of an Irish Christian band called Rend Collective Experiment playing 'How Great Is Our God' on four different iPhones, each using a different instrument application, or something.

It's seriously, seriously impressive, and kind of funny to watch too.

The future of music?

The Motherhood of God

One aspect of God that you don’t often read about is his motherhood, probably because “his motherhood” sounds ridiculous. But it must be remembered that much talk of God is freighted with analogy, including his gender. God is neither male nor female (which may be why Paul can say that “in Christ there is neither male nor female”). Of course that’s not to say that masculinity and femininity have no relation to God. God created human beings in his image, so our maleness and femaleness reflect the image of a God who subsumes both, or even brings both into perfect union.

In the book of Isaiah, the motherhood of God is a word of promise spoken to exiled Israel. YHWH says to his people,

You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love. I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child.

This unique role of women -- that of “nurse” to a hungry, dependent child uncomfortable in their new surroundings -- offers an insight into the character of God, and thus the actions he is prone to undertake. God nurses, God comforts, God carries, God treats with love. Picture a mother holding her newborn baby in her arms, feeding him when he is hungry, singing to him when he is upset, loving every little detail about this new creation; picture this, and you begin to get a fuller picture of who God is.

Jesus also creates a snapshot image of motherhood, but applies the image to himself. Lamenting over impenitent Jerusalem, he says,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

The picture here is one of a mother’s protection for her own. This echoes some passages in the Psalms, which speak of abiding “in the shadow of [YHWH’s] wings”. There the children find refuge in times of trouble, the strength of a devoted mother in times of weakness and vulnerability.

One of the interesting things about Jesus’s application of this maternal image to himself is how blurred it makes the lines between “gender roles”; how close it brings the “complementary” nature of “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood” together. Jesus as image of God brought the two into one. His maleness didn’t preclude him from embodying the characteristics associated with motherhood. In fact, for Jesus to really be the image of God -- “the exact imprint of His nature” as Priscilla writes in Hebrews (oh no he didn’t!) -- male and female had to become one in him, for God is one. And so they did.

None of this is to say that father’s should start breast feeding their children, of course. Nevertheless, the image of a child being nursed at its mother’s breast is one that God is not hesitant to apply to himself in order to reveal the kind of God he is and the kind of things he desires to do (nurture, sustain, love, etc). The man Jesus fully revealed this maternal instinct, and whether male or female we too are called to embody the motherhood of God, displaying all the compassion, care and comfort that a mother has for her beloved child.

Metaphorically speaking, you can milk anything with nipples.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Most Excellent Way

This is lengthier than -- and slightly different to -- most of what's on offer here, but it will still only take about 5 minutes to read and even less time to forget. Go on. Do it.

I discussed love with couple of friends recently; one an idealist, the other a realist. To my idealist friend I became an idealist, though I myself am not one under the law of idealism. To my realist friend I became a realist, though I do believe in the kind of true romance that causes two likable protagonists to get married after spending a solitary evening together and to subsequently get caught up in a string of wacky adventures directed by Quentin Tarantino.

I’m in the process of re-evaluating everything I know -- or rather, would like to think I know -- about love. After all, there are few more important things to know (and to know about) than it. Love is at the centre of everything; it’s our raison d’etre…at least according to my sister, anyway. The apostle Paul pinpoints it as the most excellent way. So excellent that if we have everything else but we have not love, we have nothing.

Unfortunately, we have been sold a lie about love by the culture around us, though it is a lie not too far from the truth. The lie is the following: Love comes to us pre-packaged, ready to roll. It is a prize or a treasure waiting to be found, and when it is found you live happily ever after, constantly feeding yourself on this precious resource. Love, for want of a good analogy, is like a giant chocolate bar, to be consumed for your own pleasure. To apply a line from Kevin Devine’s critique of Western society, “We want everything we see and when it’s gone we just want more.”

Think of all the films that end with a couple finally getting together, be it finally kissing, finally having sex, or increasingly rarely, finally marrying. In such films, the prize has been won; the treasure has been discovered; the chocolate bar has been unwrapped. These moments are sold to us as the zenith of love. The lucky couple has reached it, now go ye and do likewise - that’s the greatest command of our time.

And so off we go, nibbling away on assorted sweets until we stumble across the bar for us. We chase something that’s supposed to be the end, but the reality is that it is only the beginning. A date, a kiss, even a wedding, is but the start of love. As a leading Canadian philosopher once said, love can touch us just one time but it lasts for a life time. A life time, people!

True romance does not come to us like a product from a vending machine. Say the right words, make the right girl laugh, and you will not receive a thing called “love” in return for your payment. For love is primarily not something received, but something given. We see this in the definitive love story of the world; the one between God and man. God did not redeem because he was loved and because he took; he redeemed because he loved and because he gave. His loving was his giving; His giving was his loving.

Now of course there exists the dynamic of gift and reception. A gift is precisely something to be received. I make no mistake about it: love must be received if it is to have its full effect on the lover and the beloved. Nonetheless, our destiny is not only to be loved. We are created and called and destined to be lovers in the image of God.

This goes against the grain of our hyper-consumerism, which compels us to constantly ask the question “From where can I take love?” Thus we mistake love for being two people taking from each other; two people using each other for their own ends. In such a relationship, sacrifice is replaced with satiation. Take, take, take; use, use, use. The cardinal sin is to deny oneself, to lose oneself for the sake of the other.

But the fundamental structure of the universe, the story of creation told in the Bible, and the deepest realities revealed by Jesus point in the opposite direction. We are most truly ourselves when we deny ourselves -- that is, deny our selfish ambition and “rightful” claim to things -- and instead consider others greater than the self. We find life to the full when we lose our lives for the sake of others. In a world where we see everything and everyone as an object, this deep reality makes no sense. When we begin to see people as subjects, however, we will find that our life of love takes on a new dynamic more fulfilling and more satisfying than we ever could have known. For objects cannot make themselves known, they cannot love; but subjects can.

(When we wholly objectify the person we try to love, we then become confused as to what love looks like and why we actually love them. This is where all that movie mumbo jumbo comes in - I love you because your hair gets wet when it rains; I love you because you always know who the bad guy is when we watch Scooby Doo; I love you because you do something quirky with some part of your body when you’re nervous; I love you because you remind me of my mother.)

Song of Songs -- a book in the Bible which a creepily giddy Rob Bell calls a “collection of Hebrew love poems that are so explicit and erotic that young Jewish boys weren’t even allowed read them until they were older” -- repeats the following exhortation a number of times: do not awaken love until it so desires. This is why I said earlier that the present culture’s lie about love is not far from the truth. The love between a man and a woman is a mysterious thing. It can build slowly over time between friends, or it can catch complete strangers unawares. Love awakens when it wants to awaken, and when it does it becomes the stuff of fairytales and stories; a transcendent power worth telling of.

Despite some the above scepticism, I do believe in it -- the pushing chocolate-covered candies, or in some cultures, a chicken. I’ve seen genuine love grow between a shy, realist, geeky man--boy from Massachusetts who thinks a sermon tape makes for a perfectly good gift (but then so do I, so who am I to judge?) and a forthright, idealistic woman--girl with dreams of true love and the irrepressible will to pursue it, even if it means sending little emails back and forth for hours on end while two younger siblings moan about her hogging the computer. I’ve also seen a more orthodox awakening of love; some conversations, some stalking at her local church (which quickly became his local church), some dates, regular and thoughtful gifts, lots of golf. The romance was perhaps more organised and economical, but it was no less real, no less risky, no less adventurous.

Being present at both of these couples’ weddings as an at once proud and humbled brother has opened my eyes that little bit more to the wondrous, mystical nature of love. A great awakening does await. But for this awakening to fulfil its potential then love itself must be ready to get out of bed (a far cry from our modern mindset that equates love with us getting into bed). And for love to be ready, we must be ready to love. Not ready to take, ready to use, ready to consume; but ready to love, as it has been made known through the cross of Christ.

I’ll end with an extract from a Richard Hays wedding homily, quoted by him in The Moral Vision of the New Testament. He says everything I want to say more succinctly and eloquently than I ever could:

What does love look like? There are so many counterfeits abroad. How will we recognise it when we see it? Over and over again, the Scriptures answer by pointing to Jesus’s death on the cross. The love that comes from God expresses itself in sacrificial self-surrender. Jesus surrendered power and divine prerogatives and gave himself for us. That is what love is: self-giving for the beloved, not self-seeking to possess the beloved. Love that only seeks its own gratification is finally a disappointing and destructive illusion. But when we know the overflowing love of God, we let it flow through us to others.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I could never be a famous songwriter for several reason. One of them is that my life has been too tame. Hard living for me consists of eating two packets of Haribo Kiddie's SuperMix in a row. Unless the slogan changes to "Conversation, sweets and rock'n roll", I just won't cut it.

One artist who does have stories to tell of decadent living is Kevin Devine, a New Yorker with a history of drug abuse. The best compliment I can pay to him is this: he writes songs in such a way that almost makes me wish I had a nasty cocaine habit, just so I could write like he writes.

In 'You'll Only End Up Joining Them', he describes his addiction in as, er, good [?] a way as I've heard:

And I can't say that it's a sickness, more like a stranger I ask in
And later realize, was a strangler
Slipping nooses in my den
But I was lonely so I asked him, "Could you tie that one on me?"
It wasn't his fault, I was eager, and I was weak.

Loneliness breeds addiction (and vice-versa), at least in Devine's life. Is this true in general? Anyway, have a listen to the song below and go out and buy the album it's taken from. It made #5 in my top 20 albums of 2010 (which, by the way, would be quite different if I did the list again). Do recommendations get more credible than that?

Yes. Yes they do.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Robin Hood

Now, where's that flammin' mongrel who told me this would be good for my career...

Dreams really can come true. On Tuesday night I dreamt that Robin Hood -- the fourth collaboration between Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe this month -- was a massive disappointment. On Thursday night in the real world, this was confirmed.

I had quite high expectations for Robin Hood. Scott and Crowe produced the goods -- or at least some good -- in Gladiator, so I had little reason to doubt that they could create something compelling out of this popular legend. While Robin Hood hasn’t been camped up to the same degree that Batman was when the caped crusader reached his nadir in Batman and Robin, there was certainly room for improvement after his last "serious" big-screen outing in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. This felt like the right time for a makeover; the time to make the definitive Robin Hood film.

What we get instead is a feature-length episode of Xena: Warrior Princess without the lesbian undertones. And oh how they were missed.

Things get so bad that at one point the film turns into a sort of medieval rom-com, with Robin Hood and Lady Marion having to pretend to be married, much to Robin’s amusement and the fair lady’s disgust. At this stage I was just glad not to see Matthew McConnaughey join Robin’s band of merry men and make a bet with them that he could woo Marion before Robin could. Although on second thoughts, that might have made for a more entertaining film. It also would have been fun to hear who could do the worst English accent between the two male leads. Crowe changed his around five times, none of which were ever close to being convincing. I can only imagine the level of butchery that McConnaughey would have reached.

My advice is to skip this dull mess, whose sole highlight comes in the last minute of the film. If you’re desperate to feed this part of your brain, simply switch on an episode of Xena. It’s just like Robin Hood, but with lesbian undertones.

Tense Hope

There is a tension to Christian hope. On the one side, we have the hope of new creation. The material world is a gift from God, and though at present it is experiencing labour pains, the hope of the world is similar to the hope of a pregnant woman: after the pains emerges an inexplicable gift that is cherished beyond all previous experiences.

What's more, it is humanity's hope of resurrection bodies that paves the way for the rest of creation to be redeemed. We are not waiting to cast off our physical bodies and join a non-physical reality of pure bliss. Rather, we are awaiting the redemption of our bodies, which -- along with the resurrection of Jesus -- is the definitive "Yes" to creation.

In short, there is a joyous material dimension to Christian hope that must not be overlooked.

But this material hope is counterbalanced -- even superseded -- by another hope: the hope not of new creation, but of the Creator. Ultimately, it is the Giver of material gifts that Christians put their hope in; it is His presence that is longed for more than anything else. Yes we earnestly desire the gifts, but the greatest gift is the Giver himself, and our hope is that he will one day make his dwelling place with human beings in such a way that deep, intimate knowledge of him will not only be possible, but inescapable -- "the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea". To quote Brueggemann for the umpteenth time, our hope is that "the human person may appear in the presence of YHWH naked, defenseless, unashamed, and unafraid." What a hope -- to walk unafraid with YHWH. The good doctor goes on to write that,

The promise of presence and communion is important because it tells powerfully against the commoditization of contemporary culture, as expressed in market ideology and as it invades the ecclesial community as well. If the promise concerns only God's gifts, then God becomes only instrumental to human hope, and the hoper lives in a world of commodities, which in the end give neither joy nor safety. Thus it is affirmed that YHWH is the true heart's desire of human persons, the true joy of human life, and the sure possibility of life lived in hope.

Now, let me tell you about a little thing I like to call a "God-shaped hole"...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It Was The One-Armed Man

I find it amusing when people today say that they want to be a “New Testament church”. I know what they mean to some degree, but I like to pretend that they’re hankering for the good ol’ days when church members were getting drunk on communion wine and sleeping with temple prostitutes. Oh to be a New Testament church like the one in Corinth, eh!?

Speaking of temple prostitutes (there’s a segue you don’t hear too often), one of the Bible verses that has long-bewildered me is found in Paul’s response to the Corinthians’ liaisons with some women of the night. Having explained that sex with a prostitute creates a bond that is not easily broken -- “the two will become one flesh” -- Paul goes on to write,

Flee fornication. Every sin which a man may do is outside the body, but he doing fornication sins against his own body.

Flee fornication. That much is understandable. This is no arbitrary law to be kept for law-keeping’s sake, but a way of life that promotes our own good and that of others when we abide by it and causes us and others harm when we turn away from it.

But what about the next sentence? The belief that “Every sin which a man may do is outside the body” does not fit easily into the overall context of 1 Corinthians, nor into the theology/ethics of Scripture in general. Our bodies are either instruments of righteousness or instruments of sin. The univocal witness of Scripture is that what we do with our bodies matters, so how do we explain this verse?

The way I have usually heard it explained is that sexual sin is of a different class to all other sins. When we misuse our sexuality we are harming our own bodies in a deeper way than when we commit a more run-of-the-mill sin. Sex is an intimate thing, and so its abuse has intimate consequences.

I don’t necessarily question this diagnosis of sexual sin, but it has always seemed to me to set up a false contrast. After all, Paul usually groups sexual sin in with others like greed, envy, and bitterness, without marking it out as being “internal” as opposed to “external”. And besides, what does it even mean for greed or envy to be committed “outside the body”? That doesn’t make any good sense.

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this exegetical conundrum? Thanks be to God through Richard B. Hays our scholar.

This particular section in 1 Corinthians starts with the much-loved phrase, “All things are lawful for me”. This is not a phrase of Paul’s creation, however, but a Corinthian slogan used to justify certain sinful actions. So the exchange between the Corinthians and Paul goes like this:

Corinthians: All things are lawful to me.

Paul: But not all things are beneficial.

Corinthians: All things are lawful to me.

Paul: But I will not be enslaved by anything.

The next Corinthian slogan is more long-winded than most (if not all) translations allow for. As Hays argues, however, we must include all of the following lest we end up with a Platonic dualism of bad matter and good spirit:

Corinthians: Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy both one and the other.

Paul: The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

Here (and at the end of the section) the body is affirmed as God’s good creation to be used for His glory. It is not something to be destroyed, but something to be redeemed. That is its raison d’etre.

And so we come to the most pertinent Corinthian--Paul exchange. How do you solve a problem like sins outside the body? Just assume that Paul never said it. Assume this, as Hays does rather convincingly, and you end up with the following back-and-forth:

Corinthians: Every sin man does is outside the body.

Paul: But the man guilty of sexual immorality sins against his own body.

Paul isn’t contrasting sexual sin with all other sins (and he's certainly not making it sound worse or more grievous, which is a possible and lamentable result of the usual interpretation). He’s simply exposing the fallacy of the Corinthians’ argument. To paraphrase Paul's intention:

You Corinthians say that what we do with our bodies is of no consequence. You say that sin is not a bodily matter. I say that it is.

The coup de grace comes in the next verse, where Paul makes the astounding claim that our bodies are the dwellings places of the Holy Spirit. But let’s not go there just yet.

For now, all you need to know is that if there is a verse you find difficult to swallow, just assume that the church in Corinth came up with it. You wouldn’t believe how liberating it is to think that “Love your neighbour as yourself” is a Corinthian slogan, for example.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sex, Money, and Power

Reading the book of Jeremiah, Counterfeit Gods, and The Screwtape Letters simultaneously has created a wonderful confluence of thought that I never foresaw. Idolatry is named and shamed (or in Screwtape's case, praised) in each text, with a similar cure offered to those who desire to stop turning something good into something ultimate.

Keller's diagnosis is simple and direct:

The human heart is indeed a factory that mass-produces idols.

The Big 3 -- sex, money and power -- get separate treatment in his book, with each idol shown to dehumanise the human that creates and worships it. But Keller does not end on a note of despair:

Is there any hope? Yes, if we begin to realise that idols cannot simply be removed. They must be replaced. If you only try to uproot them, they grow back; but they can be supplanted. By what? By God himself, of course. But by God we do not mean a general belief in his existence. Most people have that, yet their souls are riddled with idols. What we need is a living encounter with God.

C.S. Lewis says things as only C.S. Lewis can. At the end of The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape is resenting the loss of a human to the Enemy's (God's) camp. He had instructed his protege Wormwood to create a continual flow of idols in the life of this new Christian, but the game is up. The young demon's efforts will be futile, for the Christian has discovered what Keller was talking about. So Screwtape laments:

All the delights of sense, or heart, or intellect, with which you could once have tempted him, even the delights of virtue itself, now seem to him in comparison but as the half nauseous attractions of a raddled harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at his door.

Such words of conviction and promise as found in Counterfeit Gods and The Screwtape Letters can only be uttered because of the primary utterances of God. Speaking to his beloved Israel, through the weeping prophet Jeremiah, YHWH says, people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. - Jer. 2:13

These are no shallow evils with a silver bullet solution. The problem, as YHWH goes on to say, is deep-seated:

The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart... - Jer. 17:1

What an image. The heart bears the marks of idolatry as if it were irrevocably engraved into the human constitution. The desire for counterfeit gods, the need to fashion our broken cisterns, is burned onto our innermost being. But YHWH would not let such engravings have the last word. He would do something new:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. - Jer. 31:31-33

Only the presence of God is powerful enough to remove words engraved with the tip of a diamond and to replace them with words of life. The lie of idolatry is that joy can be obtained when people create their own gods. The truth of the gospel is that joy abounds when God creates his own people. The vocation and privilege of the church is to be that people; people who, says Paul,

...are a letter from Christ...written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

God Is Not A Micro-Manager

I'm stealing the following quote from the blog כל־האדם

It's found in John Goldingay's Old First Testament Trilogy, and makes me very much want to read it.

The First Testament story never talks about God having a plan for the world or a plan of salvation or a plan for people’s individual lives, and the story it tells does not look like one that resulted from a plan. God certainly had an aim, a vision, some goals, and sometimes formulates a plan for a particular context, but works out a purpose in the world in interaction with the human beings who are designed to be key to the fulfilling of those goals. God is not a micro-manager who seeks to make every decision for the company, but the wiser kind of executive who formulates clear goals but involves the work force in determining how to implement them, and also recognizes that the failure of members of the work force will require ongoing flexibility in pursuing these goals. The story does not give the impression that from the beginning God had planned the flood, or the summons of Abraham, or the exodus, or the introduction to the monarchy, or the building of the temple, or the exile, or the sending of a messiah. It portrays these as responses to concrete situations, while all are outworkings of God’s purpose and character. Our security lies not in the world’s actual story being the outworking of God’s plan (that would be scary) but in its unfolding within the control of an executive who will go to any lengths to see that the vision gets fulfilled–even dying for it. In this sense the lamb of God was slain before the world’s foundation. God has always been that kind of God.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

African Surf Music

My debut album of off-the-cuff instrumentals is taking shape. The latest addition has been in pipeline for a while, though only recorded this weekend. I turned it into a kind of slow-motion-surf song/African mood piece without fully realising what I was doing. Quite happy with the outcome though.

So if you want to hear what African surf music might sound like, have a listen. (For best results, use headphones.)