Propoganda – Cynical

I recently read a BBC news article that says they’re banning Fairytale of New York on the radio…(or at least their ‘radio 1’, and they’ll play a censored version). Because ‘young listeners were particularly sensitive to derogatory terms for gender and sexuality’.

I’m not really one to engage in the so called ‘Culture Wars’, especially on the blog. (I don’t know enough, and I’d probably knot myself in inconsistencies!) But when my brother informed me that the same radio station is happy to play WAP – I found myself feeling pretty cynical.

And I wanted to share one of my favourite songs by a rapper called Propoganda:

In the song, he aims his words at both ends of the spectrum, those on the right and the left, both those running to ‘trump rallies’ and the ‘white and woke’. I can’t articulate it near half as well, so please do listen to the music!

The song ends with this refrain:

I don’t take too kindly to being lied to
If I could look inside you
And I’ll hate you if I fear you
And we fear what we’re blind to
So if I sound cynical… It’s ’cause I’m cynical

Propoganda, is a gritty-Christian artist, who presents his faith in an honest, down to earth, deep and profound way. It’s not the poetry of a perfect man and his faith, but a man who struggles with his religion, wrestles with it’s people and remains faithful to his God. I’d also recommend songs: Crooked, Precious Puritans, Three Cord Bond.

And that’s just my opinion. 😉

Question: in a world of increased ‘fake news/media’ and yet increasing atheism, in a world where leaders are frequently found guilty of hidden crimes and betrayal…do we think the [western] world is becoming more cynical – or more gullible?’

In conclusion, it doesn’t really bother me if Radio 1 want to play the song or not. (I’m not a real radio listener anyway!) Upon reflection it’s odd that the article played on my mind so much, after all as a Christian surely I want to see less and less ‘derogatory’ language for gender and sexuality.

I just wish they could acknowledge the inconsistencies of the culture, to see how crooked we all are (left and right). It’s like how the culture wants (so-called) “sexual-liberation” and yet takes offence at an underwear billboard because it “sexualises” men/women. It’s like how the culture want us to stop judging people on their appearance, and yet would refuse a job to someone who arrived to an interview in jeans and t-shirt. I don’t get it, surely it’s one or the other. It’s like the Pharisees who taught that people should honour God, but could insult their parents in order to do so. It’s like me when I preach on patience, and then am unfairly-angry with my wife for “making me late”. Inconsistent.

Deep down I long for the world to realise it’s inconsistencies because I hope that it will lead them back to Christ.

Systematic Theology 6: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (2) Clarity

One of the reasons we are studying Systematic Theology is because it helps to equip us to carry out the Great Commission; it helps us to make disciples. When Jesus says ‘make disciples’ there are three aspects to this: going, baptising and teaching. This is relevant because in order to teach a subject, it is important to have a good overview of the topic. But not just an overview, but an understanding of how all the parts fit together. Studying Systematic Theology is great at helping us with this!

In this week’s post we’re continuing our appreciation of the four characteristics of Scripture by looking at The Bible’s – Clarity.

‘The Clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it’.

Notice how carefully crafted this sentence is. We are able to understand the teaching of the Bible IF we read it seeking God’s help and with a willingness to follow.

This is something the Bible claims for itself. When it says that even children (Deut 6:6-7) and the ‘simple’ (Ps 19:7) will be able to understand it. Furthermore when Jesus is criticising the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, He never blames the Old Testament for being unclear, instead He simply says: “have you not read”?

It is true however, that the Bible can have complicated and confusing parts. Even Peter says as much about the letters written by Paul (2 Peter 1:20). But this verse also reminds us that we should attempt to carry out interpretation in the context of the Church.

The Doctrine of the Clarity of Scripture is significant for believers because it encourages us that: we are not too foolish or stupid to read scripture and understand it sufficiently. I think this is so important. As I know many Christians who would not feel entirely confident opening the Bible, reading it, and expecting to understand it. The Clarity of Scripture tells us, that if we are genuine in our desire to obey Scripture, and we truly seek God’s help, it is very possible!

Notice that the qualities for understanding scripture are not, educational/intellectual but rather moral and spiritual (1 Cor 2:14).

So then, if Scripture is so easy to understand why does it get misunderstood so much. Why are there still disagreements? Wayne Grudem gives three reasons:

  1. We are still waiting for further events in Salvation History, this is why many Bible-believing Christians today have different views on the end times as an example.) Whilst we have all that we need to know in order to be saved and have eternal life in the Bible, there are events that will need to happen before we ‘know in full’ (1 Cor 13:12).
  2. We have a lack of faith or hardness of heart, the problem may be with us, we are refusing to believe difficult or uncomfortable truths, or to submit to God’s law in our heart.
  3. Church Disagreements produce greater unity in the end, I’d not thought about this before. But Grudem’s optimistic view is actually faith filled in the Clarity of Scripture. When Christians disagree, and can manage the disagreement in a community of love, it produces thought and reasoning and understanding that would not be possible without the disagreement in the first place. As we wrestle with ideas, teachings and commands, and humbly ask each other questions, and present alternative ways of understanding we can discover the truth. In this sense it is so important we read the Scriptures within the context of the Church.

Finally, as a preacher there were two keywords that I learnt from studying this doctrine, a little trivia for myself. #nerdlife 1) Hermeneutics – the study of correct methods of interpretation. 2) Exegesis – the process of interpreting a text of scripture.

Tuesday Tools: Take the Initiative

I recently read through the Book of Jonah and one of the things that struck me was the complete lack of initiative on Jonah’s part. For those who don’t know, Jonah is the man who God told to go somewhere and preach, who then refused, got eaten by a fish and then spewed out and given another chance to obey God.

So where is Jonah’s lack of initiative? Firstly, it is God who tells him to preach. He doesn’t see the need, and if he does, he has been ignoring it til now. Secondly, in an attempt to flee God’s will he joins a ship heading in the opposite direction. A storm comes and all the sailors are trying to work out a solution. Jonah is burying his head in a pillow when they ask him to help.

Rather than immediately explain that the storms are probably here because he’s disobeying God, he lets the sailors draw lots (in the middle of a storm)…only then (when he is found out) does he explain. Even then its the minimum amount of information. At every point Jonah is hesitant and reluctant, every time he is waiting for someone or something to initiate for him. Be it God, a storm, a lot draw, a fish, a plant to be provided, an immature attitude to be corrected…

Thankfully, the Bible goes on to tell of a God who is not so reluctant, or stagnant, who does take the initiative to rescue us (- even while we were still sinners!)

I found this table produced by John Maxwell, it summarises why we fail to take initiative, perhaps you can relate (I know I can):

But initiative isn’t just a useful approach for living the Christian life. It is also a great benefit in many other areas.

1) Building Friendships – Over the last few weeks, I have taken the initiative to plan getaways with several groups of friends, and a couple of meet ups. I have been so surprised how eager people are for meeting. Likewise, another friend recently took the initiative for meeting with me. It is an amazing feeling when a friend makes the first move. It communicates value, both to me and to the friendship.

2) Exercise – One of the reasons I don’t struggle to exercise regularly is because I take the initiative. I don’t wait for motivation to strike, I just start lifting. Even when I don’t feel like it! Often, it is only when I have started that the mood actually “takes me”. This also applies to studying, reading, working, and lots of other areas. If we want something done, we need to take the initiative. We won’t be spoon fed.

3) Battling Sin – We are all tempted, each by certain things. Sin abounds in our human nature. But we don’t have to be passive about it in our life. If we struggle we lust, let’s take the initiative to put in place accountability procedures, remove trigger points as far as we can, learn to process and understand our unwanted behaviours. What battles do you face? Think of three things you can do today to take the initiative against it. For me, I recently realised how frequently I was buying things from Amazon on an impulse. So I took the initiative to uninstall the app on my phone.

What do you want to happen, what do you feel needs to happen, where would you like to be in five years time? Now take the initiative.

Theology of the Old Testament

The introductions in the ESV study Bible seem a little like the trailers before a film at the cinema! Anticipation is building and I find I’m almost halfway through my popcorn! (Will definitely need another Pepsi from the counter before the actual film starts)

“The following trailers have been specially selected for this film”

My summary of this introduction, as usual my three favourite things are highlighted

This introduction gave less of an overview of the Old Testament, and more of an overview of it’s themes and style. Rather that trying to identify a single over-arching theme for the whole Old Testament and in so doing over-simplify and miss other themes! It suggested a better approach would be to see it as an ‘Unfolding Story’, with the various parts (law, prophets, history etc) all contributing to this story in different ways.

I think my notes above, are comprehensive enough to grasp without my spelling it all out again. So I wanted to share the three things that stood out to me.

1) Monotheism doesn’t just mean there is One God. Monotheism in the Old Testament means that as followers of God, we need to have an exclusive loyalty and devotion to One God. This is a move from comprehension towards application. It’s not enough to know that there is One God, we must also follow One God. This is easier than it sounds, especially when you consider Keller’s list of “counterfeit gods” (dreams, relationships, money, success, power and glory). Jesus reiterates this in the gospel when He says that you cannot serve two masters! And so the Old Testament reminds us that there is only One God who is worthy of our worship and devotion.

2) One of the ways the OT communicates this Grand Unfolding Story, is through the repeated Eschatology (which I understand to mean something to do with the future). Over and over again, the OT story is pointing towards a glorious future for God’s people, one that is brought about by a Messiah – aka Jesus! This was important to me because, it reminds me that Scripture is all about Jesus. And likewise, my life, as I read Scripture and immerse myself in the Bible, should also mirror this pattern. My prayer after reading this introduction was that I could say like John ‘He must increase, I must decrease’. Let everything I do point towards Him.

Even my social media presence should point towards Jesus, Tony Reinke said: “my social media feed must glorify someone because my life must glorify someone. So who is getting glorified in my feed? That’s the humongous questions we all face as image bearers in the digital age”.

3) God wants to restore humanity to it’s original purpose, He wants to rescue us from sin, and this is what He will do (has done) in Jesus.

As a heads up, we’ve got two more introductions before Genesis 1:1. One an introduction to the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), and the other is an introduction to Genesis. Then we begin. So far I’ve not got to use the commentary on Genesis, but will start that when I start reading. Thanks for reading this, and I would appreciate any feedback via ‘comments’ as to what works well and what doesn’t about these posts.

Finally, I want to end by Returning to the Question (as my History teacher would say)…why am I studying the Bible? Why am a I taking hours out of my morning, that could be given to sleep, reading, exercise or writing? It is because I want to have a dynamic relationship with God, I want to grow into a posture of receptivity and learning. And I want the number one teacher – in my life – to be God’s word (Not Piper, Keller, Willard, Ferris or twitter). May His true, perfect, good and transformational Word transform me. I want my life to be all about Jesus, and so I am going to devote my time to sitting at His feet and listening!

To Him be the Glory!

BRT – 2 Corinthians

I have not been blogging regularly, so the next few posts are all a catch up of the last few weeks (feels like months) of my BRT notes:

  1. 3:18: This verse connects the idea of “contemplating the Lord’s glory” and “being transformed into His image”. This verse was significant for me, because so often I rely on other things to transform me. For example, sermons, mentors, books, even scripture. These things can all be used by God to make me more like Christ, but this verse reminds me that keeping my eyes on God’s glory is a sure way to be transformed. My prayer is that I would be like the lady who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened, rather than busy myself with other “good works”. Then I will reflect His beauty!
  2. 4:16 “Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day”. This for me emphasized the importance of God’s work on my heart over what goes on on the outside. God is doing a good work in me, even if my outside doesn’t show it. For example I may not be able to exercise for a week because I pulled a muscle in my shoulder (actually happened), but God is building my character inwardly, strengthening me, encouraging me, and leading me.
  3. 7:10 Godly sorrow leads to repentance that leads to salvation (& earnestness, eagerness, indignation, alarm, longing, concern, readiness for justice)…worldly sorrow brings death!  Part of this verse was a challenge to the kind of sorrow I often feel towards my sin – more of a worldly sorrow it seems. And part of it reminded me to pray for true sorrow for my sin.

Driven Dilemma (3)

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Once a week, a group of 3 lads (including me), read a chapter of a book and then meet up at our Pastor’s house together to chat about it. A couple of weeks ago we started “On the Human Condition” – St. Basil. We usually seem to only read the long-gone olden day theologians, which makes a nice change from my regular reading. The discussion began to border on motivation and drive. So at the risk of annoying everyone, and taking us down a tangent which was totally irrelevant, I put forward my recent dilemma about being driven for God’s glory. I didn’t regret it!

My Pastor, Andy, told me about when he was young he read an interview about an Olympic Runner (I think it was a runner) who got a gold medal. The article basically explained how many sacrifices the runner made in order to get the Gold medal. In other words he was driven to get the medal, and would sacrifice anything to get it: family, money, nice food, time, energy etc. Andy said when he read that as a young twenty something he was really inspired. If a man can give up so much just for a medal, how much more should I give up and be driven by a desire for God’s glory! 

Andy said that although this language of running a race and stripping off everything which slows us down is biblical (1 Cor 9:24-25, Phil 3:12-16). That there is definitely a cost to following Jesus, a cross to carry, a driven-ness that should be there. It doesn’t necessarily work itself out in the same way.

Pause. I want to be careful not to misinterpret what he said. I want to be careful that I present this well and correctly. I am not saying, or going to say, that living a life worthy of the gospel isn’t to be difficult, isn’t to be costly – BUT active, surrendering, submitting, sacrificial, with “every effort made” and “making the most of every moment”.

However…when we run the race. The driven-ness for God’s glory, does work itself out differently. It works out through our lives, deeply. The Joy of the Lord, which is our strength, demonstrates itself in our marriages, our work, our friendships, our exercise, our eating, our sleeping. Not separately for them.  (Tension: There are seasons where God calls us to fast from food, exercise, to rest from work and even to surrender certain friendships up to Him.)

So what does this actually mean, in relationship to my dilemma: How does my desire for God’s glory drive me to a greater degree than the desire for my own glory.

  1. I think it means, that I should expect this new sort of driven-ness to produce in me a different sort of fruit than what the other one did. Whereas one produced an appearance of holiness, sorted-ness, success, etc – this one may produce humility, dependency, patience, love, joy.
  2. I think it also means that the things I am going to need to sacrifice as a result of this desire, to an extent, will be different from the old. For example, whereas before I may have needed to sacrifice sleep in order to get up early and have a work out, I may need  instead to sacrifice self-dependency (2 Cor 1:9) so that I can rely on Him for my strength.

Thanks for bearing with my rambling again, as I try to work these things out! I am sure this isn’t the end of it, but I am excited to see what God is unearthing!

Aside from being comforted to know that my pastor has struggled with these questions, I am reminded of the power of God’s body (the Church) working together to build up; encourage; teach and sharpen each other!

The Driven Dilema

Excuse my mess as I try to present God’s work in me.

I read a couple of books last summer which have had a major impact on my life. Largely because they challenged my thinking about driven-ness.

Firstly The Spiritual Man – Watchman Neeadmittedly I didn’t finish this book. (In fact I barely got half way.) Watchman Nee as far as I know, is a 20th Century Chinese Theologian, and therefore does not have an extremely westernized version of Christianity. He points out (in the first half of the book) that a lot of what we do – we do out of the “flesh”, rather than the Spirit. Basically a large part of the message to the Galatians. And that when we do good works and “kill sin” from the strength of the flesh, it can easily lead to pride rather than sanctification. (Or at least that’s how I understood it, like I said still have to read the other half…and I want to do it with someone else).

Secondly, was a Gordon MacDonald book: Ordering your private world. MacDonald has yet to write a book which hasn’t been helpful for me in terms of understanding the state of my heart. In the first section of this book MacDonald points out the difference between a life which is “called” and a life which is “driven”. According to him a driven person is one who works really hard in order to feel called, and a called person is one who knows with confidence that they are called by God (loved, accepted…) and their work flows from that. And as I read the descriptions, I realized that my life definitely rode on the driven tracks!

Therefore I began a process of stripping away some of the unhealthy driving forces in my life: desire for recognition, affirmation, success, appearance of holiness, security. All things which in their proper place probably aren’t too bad but when they become the driving force behind your actions, any progress doesn’t lead to God’s glory but yours. This was a surprisingly painful thing to do, and I’m not convinced I am on the other side. I still spot new reasons why I seem to need recognition and approval, and have to pray about them, soak the lies in the truth of scripture, and ask for help from friends.

(As far as possible, I have been trying to do all this “in the Spirit”, rather than in my own strength. I am learning that this is much more about the posture of my heart than effort, (but it would probably help if I finished Watchman’s book).)

Trying to keep this blog post readable and short-to-the-point is a challenge. It has been almost a year long process, with many different roads of thought contributing to the discussion in my mind..So, long story short, where am I now?

As I stripped away the driving forces in my life, I became more and more aware that I wasn’t replacing them with anything. But what was there? My mind told me that I should be driven by a desire for God’s glory, let my life be driven to lift Him high – anything else seemed to fall short. But in my sinfulness, I couldn’t muster the level of driven-ness for God’s glory as I had for my own…

And so a lot of things stopped still including, frequent workouts, my reading of a book a week, my early mornings, even my punctuality and attendance at uni. I became a disorganized person (ironic given that one of the books was: “ordering your private world”). Maybe my private world is more ordered now, and its a matter of bringing my outside in order again – this time with a healthy motive. I am unsure. Maybe I need to have a greater glimpse of His beauty…

 

 

Why so serious?

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It has been a few good days since I last blogged, the main reason for this is because it is a half term holiday. So a lot of my schedule has been temporarily put on hold. My wife is a teacher and so we’ve tried to make the most of this week-off, in order to catch up and spend time together. We spent the first few days meeting up with our parents and siblings.

On one evening we were at my parents and my wife asked my Mum, a good question,  “What is God teaching you at the moment?”. Inevitably that resulted in the question being turned back on her and then my Dad and myself. So what was my answer?

Not to take myself too seriously, learning to laugh at myself – particularly around people I don’t know too well. Be willing to look the fool.

I think it’s quite self-explanatory, but here are some examples. Around community group and other various Christian meetings (or even social gatherings), I like to appear “clever” and “thoughtful”. So I am often quiet and withdrawn, admittedly a large part of this comes from my inclination towards introvert-ism, however there is also a sinful cause that I want to have a particular appearance. I want people to think I am clever, thoughtful, “mature”. I believe this is rooted in/from pride.

In worship I may feel like clapping, singing very loudly, raising my hands – but I don’t want to have the appearance of one of those “emotional Christians”. At work, I want to have the appearance of being a “hard-worker”, who doesn’t joke around but always works hard. (Again, there is an element in this which comes from my desire to “whatever you do, do as unto the Lord”.) However this striving for a certain image, severely restricts my ability to form meaningful friendships at work.

Aside from feeding my pride, this attitude affects my relationships: as I limit the sides of me which I allow people to see.  It affects my ability to evangelize: because telling someone about Jesus risks looking stupid.

Jesus as God, You did not take yourself too seriously or consider Yourself above “looking-like-a-fool”. Thank You for giving up Your heavenly position in order to rescue me. I ask that I would receive and grow a healthy perspective towards myself, as a result of looking towards You, and be able to laugh at myself more readily. Help me put to death pride in me, and let me only ever boast (inwardly & outwardly) of the Cross! Amen 

 

Distraction or Blessing

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Our Church is a young family church, so there are a lot of young couples with young children from 0-10 years old. I haven’t counted but there might be as many, or more-than, of these kids as there are adults! During the worship (singing time), it is a common sight to see kids running between the aisles, standing on chairs and even innocently looking over their parent’s shoulder – pulling goofy faces at the people behind.

It occurred to me, that there were very few people focused on singing wholeheartedly to God, as most were trying to discipline/entertain their kids. Even some non-parents, enjoyed picking up a kid they knew and tickling them. As the hard(& cold)-hearted, prideful and legalistic man I can so-easily be (Especially when I have forgotten that worship isn’t just about songs!), I found myself getting rather irritated by the whole scene.

These kids are out of control, they are distracting everyone from giving God the glory He deserves! How can I close my eyes and seriously worship God when x’s baby keeps sticking his tongue out at me! 

Uh-Oh! I hear the familiar-small voice: “Let the children come to me”. Which urges me to bring the issue to God. “How can I worship You, when all these kids around me are distracting me?” Slowly some of the answers, that other people seem to have already grasped, came to me:

  • Worship is more than songs it life (Rom 12.1-2) and therefore Church is not the only place I can/should be worshiping God.
  • These very kids, noisy though they are, without making any conscious effort are screaming out the wonders of God. That He provides, that He creates, He cherishes.
  • Being a parent gives someone the opportunity to experience even a fraction, of the love that God feels for His children (us) and the pain He felt at Calary! Just like being a child can (sometimes) help someone experience a fraction of the Fatherhood of God. What a better sight as an onlooker, to bring someone close in worship, I am privileged to see this play out!

Finally, at this moment in church, the kids brought me closer in my relationship with God. As they revealed issues of my heart. Lord protect me from being like pharisee and please soften my heart in this area towards the kids in our church. Show me why I am tempted to feel this way, and help me put to death this legalism which is so subtly still at work within me. Amen.