Tag Archives: grace

Contemporary vacuum

I recently…

We’re defining recently with the same loose definition as I apply to my idea of regular when I say “my regular blog posts”

… had a discussion, this discussion encompassed many, many different theological and doctrinal issues. The participants in this discussion had a somewhat varied religious backgrounds. There were Roman Catholics, somewhat contemporary Anglicans and a Baptist or two. The Anglicans came from a somewhat charismatic church… I say charismatic, but this is a relative term, they are charismatic in the sense that they have flag worship dancers up in front during worship. That is about as charismatic as it gets, there is also sporadic hand raising, but that’s really the extent of it. So compared to most Anglican churches I’ve been in (and my experience is admittedly rather limited) it’s EXTREMELY charismatic.

When the discussion swung around to salvation and what that is, and potentially what it looks like things went a little wobbly. I suggested (and I was being as broad and inclusive as I could be, possibly too broad) that given a certain time frame the believer should be able to recognize a difference his or her life from before they were saved, to after they were saved. The longer ago the salvific event was, the more stark the difference would be. However, even if we are talking about a really short time frame, the saved person should be able to recognize a change, their new nature should cause a desire for things they did not desire before, and a hate of things that they once desired. This increases as the holy spirit does his work of sanctification in the life of the believer. I was told, to a greater or lesser degree, that this was somewhat misleading, or harsh. Who was I to tell someone that if they have ALWAYS been a Christian, because they were raised that way, that they might be wrong? Well, I’m not here to tell anyone they are not a Christian, what I would like to do is help individuals work out their salvation, and to examine their faith according to what the bible describes. If a broad description of your experience is not outlined in scripture, e.g. you were always a Christian, then you need to examine, for yourself, why that is the case.

Grace is amazing, it is so sweet to hear because it took someone as wretched as me and saved me. I was lost before, but someone found me. I couldn’t see, but now I can. I was so wretched that this amazing grace first had to show me that I was in trouble, and teach my heart to fear God, and the consequences of my wretchedness, but it was that amazing grace that then showed me Christ and all my fears were relieved. How precious did that grace look, at the time that I began to believe it? Now I know that the troubles I have faced, that it was grace that brought me through them. I know that grace will lead me into eternity.

If the paragraph above isn’t shockingly obvious, then it must surely be ringing some pretty serious bells for you. It’s now a few months on from that discussion, and the thought struck me. “All of the people in the discussion would affirm that the hymn ‘amazing grace’ is perhaps iconic of Christianity”. The song encapsulates the ideas that you and I are wretches, that we were blind and lost! Something came along and first had to show us our sorry state and then show us what it had done for us. We were blind to the fact that we were wretches, and had to be show, and then we feared. But that grace showed us that there was a solution to our very desperate problem and our fears were relieved. It shows us that grace is the thing that brings us through dangers toils and snares and it is grace that will carry us to the finish! Grace does this and not us; we have no room to boast.

The hymns taught some fantastic biblical theology, things that we are losing as we move away from them into more contemporary Christian music. I’ll touch on something here that I hope to expand on in a loose series continuation of the problems with church growth. That is the idea that as we divorce Sunday services from the idea of worshiping God and learning about him through the preaching of the word, we begin to lose more than we might be aware of. Worship of God through song becomes something to make the crowd “feel”. The songs become more emotionally manipulative than they extol the virtues and wonder of God. So now we have emotive pseudo Christian spiritual songs making the individuals participating in the event that is the service, ready, hyped up and prepared for the life coaching and ego stroking that is to come. Contemporary worship (not all, but certainly a growing significant fraction) is leaving a gigantic theological vacuum. We no longer learn the very theology and doctrines that underpin a hymn like amazing grace and so it fires no imagination anymore. It doesn’t recall to memory what God has done for us, causing us to once again express our gratefulness in worship, it’s just another song to sing that makes us feel good. It’s amazing to me that I can have a discussion with people where we disagree  about quite specific things, but those same people will sing amazing grace with great fervor, never mind the underlying theology of the song is the very thing they were just denying.

If you are tired of behaving well so that in the end, God might look at your track record and allow you in because your goodness outweighs your badness and you are aware of the fact that you do indeed have quite serious badness to try to counteract. Or you are tired of trying so very hard because God expects it of you, and it’s what you are supposed to do. If you don’t do the good things then God will punish you with financial troubles if you don’t tithe, and you will get sick because you have not been praying hard enough… or your marriage will be in trouble if you don’t jump though spiritual hoop xyz. If you are weary of doing all these works, then come to the saviour in repentance and faith and he will give you rest. His yoke is easy and his burden is light!

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Wedding Dress

I was reading one of my favourite blogs this morning, experimental theology, the blog is the work of Dr. Richard Beck.

He posted this song by Derek Webb (someone I have not heard of, that went solo from a band I am equally ignorant of)

If you could love me as a wife
and for my wedding gift, your life
Should that be all I’d ever need
or is there more I’m looking for

and should I read between the lines
and look for blessings in disguise
To make me handsome, rich, and wise
Is that really what you want

I am a whore I do confess
But I put you on just like a wedding dress
and I run down the aisle
and I run down the aisle
I’m a prodigal with no way home
but I put you on just like a ring of gold
and I run down the aisle to you

So could you love this bastard child
Though I don’t trust you to provide
With one hand in a pot of gold
and with the other in your side

I am so easily satisfied
by the call of lovers so less wild
That I would take a little cash
Over your very flesh and blood

Because money cannot buy
a husband’s jealous eye
When you have knowingly deceived his wife

It’s a striking song for me, and seems to comment quite well on what I’ve come think of as comfortable Christianity. The Christianity that so many seem trapped in and I would have to include myself in that statement. A Christianity that accepts actions and lifestyles that, if perpetrated against any one of us, would result in mouth froth inducing anger and self pity.

If I consider the disparity between my claim of a love for Jesus, and my actions much of the time, a sane rational observer could quite reasonably call me a liar.

Once again I can only feel absolute relief because I know that God is full of grace, and that in Christ there is no condemnation. It’s not my works that save me, or increase my stature in God’s eyes. I do think it is critical to consider the issues of faith and conviction that a song like this raises, as a measuring stick against just how I am doing in the arena of loving God with all my heart, mind and soul.

Most Christians have knowledge that exceeds their obedience, which is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact it can be considered a normal state of affairs. We must just be careful not to end up chasing knowledge, while not seeking the discipline to increase our obedience in line with our knowledge. Many Christians leave a church because they feel they are not being fed, that the sermons are not challenging or deep enough. It would be interesting for me to hear of people moving churches because they were not being encouraged and discipled into obedience in line with their growing knowledge.

Watch Derek Webb perform “wedding dress” live at this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvQRd7D9BDM&feature=player_embedded

(Richard Beck linked it, i’ll be a sheep. I hope it’s not a gross breach of copyright or something)

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Comfortable Language

This is awesome

Awesome

Awesome

This is awesome

Awesome

Awesome

This is awesome

Awesome

Awesome

To start, I decided to use Google to find image results for the word awesome, my tricksy plan was to take the first image from the search results, and then take something that could genuinely be called awesome and contrast the two. I got tired of looking through the following results http://tinyurl.com/yajqcyl for anything actually awesome (giant disclaimer, I have ‘safe search’ on strict, so I don’t know what comes up with it off) I have to admit that the first image would have me say ‘awesome’ but you can consider that geeky weakness.

Awesome:

Adjective

So, the first image can jokingly be described as awesome, but it certainly doesn’t actually inspire awe or wonder in me. However having plastered the word awesome onto the first image we have nowhere to go but equivalency or ‘down’ when looking at the follow up pictures, the last being truly awesome.

I was thinking the other day about how we speak, well, truth be told I think about how we speak a lot, as I am in rather a large number of ‘discussions’. “Never!” I hear you cry, in shock and amazement, yet it is true, I have the odd verbal altercation with a very few people every decade or so. Anyway, the differences, in these incredibly rare discussions often tend to end up being a difference in the definition or perception of a word or phrase. So I have prevailing ponderings about our language and the flippancy (or not) with which we bandy words about. The general trend is to exaggerate with our adjectives, or without thinking, to apply a word to something because it sounds more exciting. I have noticed a trend in myself to define an event as “the most (something or other) EVER”. While it usually is not the most anything ever at all. As a consequence, I could come home from work, having had the worst day ever, and my wife will have the sympathy of a rock, because everything is always the most/least/biggest thing EVER. Indeed, I cry wolf a lot, to stretch a story.

This train of thought lead me to consider the possible connection between the way in which we talk and the way we respond to things we read or hear. I have commented on mankind’s rather terminal (as a species) propensity for ignoring anything that isn’t an immediate and personal threat. Global warming is not an immediate threat, and water has always come out of our taps, so that is not a problem for me, but the risk of cancer from the aspartame in fake sugar must be stopped immediately. Though, this is probably a bad example, as the massive, and massively KNOWN probability of respiratory issues smokers will face are ignored. So a better example would be the immediate and personal risk to me of wearing an outfit that does not match. Utter social suicide… people will be talking for weeks. “YAHAAAA!” you cry with gusto, causing me to spill coffee on my person, “you are being ridiculously flippant with your last example there, Mr. Finger pointing blog writer!” And yet, no, I don’t think that I really am. I see more effort going into avoiding being a fashionable outcast than goes into not wasting water, or whatever other environmental issue you currently wish to focus on. Is this sad and potentially disastrous tendency caused by or, more probably, exacerbated by our desensitization to words/phrases like ‘crisis’, ‘disastrous’ or ‘global warming’. The flippancy extends further by people joking about a particularly cold day “pah, I thought we were supposed to be getting hotter, global warming is a lie. ha ha ha ha.” (Significant looks at the conversation participants to ensure they all got the joke). While I am certainly painting myself to be more serious than the threat of aspartame death from fake sugar, my idea is still worth considering.

We are bombarded constantly by all kinds of extreme adjectives that they are no longer extreme, they are the norm. We have not found any other adjectives to replace them, to ensure that the audience actually gets the urgency of any given situation. The hierarchy of words is in a shambles. I think that this is also evidenced among Christians and/or professing Christians. God is awesome, God is Love. Yet, that packet of chips was awesome and I totally LOVE those glasses on you. Can you see the problem? Oh, we don’t really love like real love. Those glasses just look really good. Mr over exaggerating blog writer must clearly be able to see that it’s just a turn of phrase. Well turns of phrase get us into hot water as well. There are so many discussions being had, right now even, about whether or not a specific scripture was allegory or literal. Whether Christians genuinely, physically and literally receive a new nature, or are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), or whether that is just a turn of phrase is one of the discussions. If it is literal you might expect some kind of evidence, or change in this new creation, if it is merely figurative then perhaps not. If many of these things are figurative, as many are more willing to believe, then the commandments or instructions can be interpreted in any way we choose, being more suggestions than anything else.

As Christians we say certain things, we sing certain things and it’s because that’s just what Christians do… isn’t it? It doesn’t REALLY honestly mean anything, does it? It’s just a nice song; it is not to be taken literally. The song might say something like, “I will go, wherever you will lead me” and either we don’t think about what we are saying, or we just retranslate it, within our framework of how we understand Christianity to be something along the lines of “I will claim to follow you, in spirit and mind, anything intangible, as long as there is no actual change or physical requirement from me, let’s keep this just intellectual shall we?” This invades our speech and we start to sit with a Christianity that is all allegory, figurative speech, personal interpretation that won’t break any perceptions and nothing gets taken literally. The evidence of salvation becomes intangible and open for interpretation by each individual.

Could it be that we draw the definition of the word from the event we are applying it to? Or that our perception of a phrase or word is coloured in the manner we use it most? We have a perception of “romantic husband and wife love” hugely coloured by Hollywood (thanks Hollywood for your ridiculously shallow love) and when that goes away it’s time to move on, to find the new love. We define the love we have for brothers and sisters and friends a certain way too. It is usually not a selfless love; it is selfless to varying degrees but never completely. It can by no means be considered unconditional, given enough time, a spouses love will be killed if not requited, often it has to be requited in a rather specific manner too, love is pretty conditional. Now, when we read in scripture that God is Love we can only call to mind our own perception of what Love is. Or, because we have often heard others profess a love for us, and seen these great Hollywood romances where everyone claims they will be together forever we apply that understanding of unconditional Love to God. We tend to not be so impressed, but true unconditional love is really rather impressive. It is a part of true awesomeness. It is just so awesome that I am left honestly speechless, not because ‘awesome’ has been applied too often to chips and cars, but because an honest look at the literal impact of what actual unconditional Love is (even my poor understanding of it), is just something that honestly does inspire awe. It is quite simply awesome. Most other things just can’t be considered awesome anymore.

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Comfortable Grace

Manflu, a powerful disease.

I have heard very many, if not most, women that moan about how their significant other is a giant ball of baby when he gets sick. It’s true, when I have flu I’m completely useless. There’s that advert for some flu remedy with the background voice going “paaaaiiin, heeeaaaadache” and then the ad reveals it is actually some male ball of sick death in the bedroom crying out his symptoms to his wife. It’s a very funny ad, I think. The men scoff and deny the picture, while the women all nod their heads knowingly. I believe they secretly think it’s worse than the advert depicts. Anyway, so I think men do behave as if they are on the verge of death if they even consider any work. It’s like something came to enforce the ‘keeping the Sabbath holy’ on pain of death. But, here’s the thing. We behave like we are about to die because we are about to die. Men are stronger than women, and our immune systems are just that much stronger again, so for a bug to defeat us, it must be one heck of a super bug. It’s so powerful it doesn’t bother with the weaker adversary that is women, it just goes for the worthy foe, man. So while women get lady flu, and it is by all means bad and what not. Men get MAN flu and that is just so much worse, we behave like we are sicker because we are. The tricky thing about this is that you have to be a man to experience it. It’s about experience, not about argument. It’s not a chauvinist thing either, even though it’s really well disguised as one. It’s a matter of fact, like the fact that men are just uglier than women. Below is the proof, 2 pictures: Normal Lady Flu.

Lady virus

Lady virus bug

 Man Flu death

Please note the tactical nukes

Please note the tactical nukes

Why mention all this deep truth and biological wisdom? Man (-kind, humans, people, us) encounters a tiny, tiny bug, and there are visible signs. Verbosity of discomfort increases exponentially, noses run, stumbling about due to dizziness and tiredness occurs, throats are sore, ears ache, and there’s the coughing up of all manner of unspeakable things.

Slimer (you remember the ghost busters?) is not actually a ghost, he is the product of manflu, just so you know

So, this most long and windiest of points is that you have visible symptoms of this encounter with something tiny. Influenza brings about symptoms, I cannot claim to have it and twinkle about as if all is well and I can actually smell the roses… or anything. If I did, you would call me a liar (or possibly accuse me of only having lady flu). In the same way, Christianity is not some kind of intellectual assent to a series of questions. I don’t believe that salvation is man looking ‘up’, seeing the creator, the God of the universe, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and all that, and going “yah, ok, I’ll believe in you” and then just going about his daily life as if nothing was different. Or even doing all of the above and behaving as if nothing was different except for the expectation that blessing should now fall abundantly on said persons head. “But, now I believe in Father Christmas, I should get stuff!”

The previous blog post was about our unwarranted, and ‘unworkable for’, salvation. That it is only by grace, there is nothing we did, or can do to merit Gods love, or somehow increase it. However, in a similar fashion I don’t think it’s possible to have any kind of revelation along these lines and to remain the same. There are going to be symptoms of this salvation. It only makes sense that there will be. Many will be intangible, or complicatedly quantifiable by third parties. In other words other people don’t have any right to point at you and proclaim salvation or no salvation because they don’t see the things they expect. No one has the power or the authority to proclaim a man saved except God. However, scripture blatantly says to us that we should examine ourselves, test to see whether we have any kind of assurance of the proclamation of salvation. In many places scripture then gives us a mirror with which to introspect. Are these things true in your life, can you say that these things are happening and growing? If the answer is yes, then your assurance is great, if the answer is no then I would say that you should be seeking the answer as to why it is not the case.

When many preachers talk about these ‘evidences of salvation’ many people start to cry legalism. But it isn’t about doing those things to get salvation, it is about seeing those things happening in greater and greater measure and getting greater and greater assurance of being under Grace. This implies that there is no effort required, but I don’t think that is the case either. Often, the greatest evidence for me is a change of desire, you desire your sinful act, after being given the revelation of Jesus your desire changes. You no longer love the sin, you hate it. You genuinely do not want to commit the sin that once you might have secretly wanted to commit, while outwardly claiming not to want it. Then as we grow, we are sanctified in greater and greater measure and more and more things are revealed to us. I dislike the rather common preaching which essentially says that it doesn’t matter what you do in your life, if you said that magic mantra at any point in your life, you have been saved. Scripture does not teach this, it teaches self-examination, it teaches that those who hold firm to the end will be saved. It teaches that Grace is a free unwarranted gift, but this Gift brings about a new nature. A new creation, God has begun a work. This work has tangible effects! You cannot be the recipient of this free gift and not experience a fundamental change. The person that claims he is saved but is comfortable in his sins, that is not driven, encouraged and disciplined by the Holy Spirit needs to start to wonder why this is the case. Scripture would not teach that the Lord disciplines the ones he loves if this were not the case. If there is no discipline in a child’s life when they do things wrong, then you can say that they have derelict parents. God is not a derelict parent, you will fall under his loving discipline.

You will note the lack of specific scriptural reference, in this post, that is intentional. You must go and do the work, find the things in scripture that I claimed were there.

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