Thursday, December 21, 2006

Caption competition #3

(Taken last night on a Jesus Army holy rampage through Coventry...)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hearth felt warmth

Last night, about fifty people crammed into one of our country community houses’ lounge. It was a special night of vision for New Creation Christian Community.

We sang the songs of Zion, some brothers shared Kingdom of God teaching, we listened to some community-inspired poetry read aloud – and finished with soup, hot crusty bread and gingerbread men round the open fire.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Unrighteous mammon

Just written some of our church’s weekly bible study. Here’s an extract. I’m writing about Luke 16:

Having dealt thoroughly with the Pharisees’ self-righteous contempt for sinners (ch.15), Jesus now deals with their own abiding sin: love of money (v.14). He uses the story of a worldly-wise manager who gets himself out of a tight hole by dodgy dealing. Jesus’ point is this: if worldly people use their heads to get by in their generation (that is, in this world), then the sons of light ought to use their wealth in a way that invests in eternity (v.8-9). Worldly people know how to look after themselves in this life; Christ’s people ought to know how to store up treasure in heaven (Matt.6:20) – principally, by sharing their money within the brotherhood (v.9, 12:32-33, Acts 2:45).

Predictably, the worldly Pharisees sneer at this (v.14). Jesus responds with a powerful story illustrating God’s favour towards the poor and His judgement of the rich [v.19-31].

At death, all wealth will fail (v.9 – the Greek word means ‘an eclipse’. Death blots out wealth like an eclipse. See 1 Tim.6:6-10, 17-19): we can’t take money with us when we die!

I then pose this question:

How do you invest your money in eternity?..

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Zion revisited

Since I wrote the last post, there’s been a certain amount of discussion about the term “Zion”.

On the one hand, it’s a term that is charged with a certain amount of vision and emotion for many in my church (as I explained in the last post).

On the other hand, as a word in its own right, it clearly has some much less positive associations – like blowing up Palestinians in the Middle East, for instance.

(And for some it’s that place in The Matrix...)

In other words, it’s a loaded word. And it’s also rather fuzzy – what exactly does it mean (even to members of the Jesus Army who tend to use it, rather loosely to mean “us”)?

Scripturally, it’s fairly clear. “Zion” is a frequently-used Old Testament word. Strictly it is the name of the fortress in Jerusalem, but it became synonymous with Israel as a whole. This is the way we find the word used in the Psalms and the Prophets.

In the New Testament, it seems clear that the word “Zion” (along with words like “Israel”, “kingdom”, “nation” and “Jerusalem”) came to denote the church as well as the literal, physical nation of Israel or city of Jerusalem.

Galatians 4:26, 6:16; Hebrews 12:22; 1 Peter 2:5-10; Revelation 1:6 etc. etc.

Such words sometimes took on a spiritual meaning and applied to the church and sometimes still referred to the earthly or natural city/nation. (At times, it can be a tad difficult to distinguish with certainty which is which, especially in “difficult” bits like the book of Revelation...)
Perhaps the part of the point of the word “Zion” is that it is mysterious – and highly-charged (it wasn’t for nothing that the writers of The Matrix called their city of freedom “Zion”). Zion is an ideal. It is the vision of the kingdom coming in. A taste of heaven on the earth. Reaching out for a better society, a Utopia... the kingdom of heaven.

We can’t fully have it this side of eternity. But nor should we just sit about waiting for “pie in the sky when we die”. We live in the creative tension between “now” and “not yet”.

When we speak of Zion, we should do so with care. We’re really not into blowing up Palestinians (or anyone) – but we do want to press into the kingdom of God as much as possible and live the prayer:
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The songs of Zion

Last night, one of our brothers got us singing Zion songs before dinner. Songs like:

Zion, dwelling of God.
Zion, rich brotherhood.
My heart loves to belong
Joined to the stong
Nothing shall break
Nothing shall shake
This bond of love.

Zion is a very special word for us. Used in the Bible to designate the people of God, for us it’s become almost a family name, an identity. We are Zion. A people for God, a people devoted to King Jesus (just as the inhabitants of Old Testament Zion were devoted to David), a shining city on a hill.

While we were singing, I became filled with what I can only describe as impossible joy.

My heart loves to belong. Here’s another Zion song we sing:

My heart is held and planted in Zion
And world and death and sorrow
Can never part this bond we have.

Almighty King to You alone be given
The worship of this people.
Purchased by blood and grateful.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Philosophically speaking

Someone posted a message on a religious debate forum about the soul - what is it? they asked. Anything at all?

Various people responded: most were pooh-poohing the whole notion of a soul, saying it was just Christian mumbo-jumbo to make them feel better about dying. Which may sometimes be true, but that's certainly not all that can be said. So I wrote this. If you're philosophically-minded at all, you may want to check it out.

It is worth noting that the idea of "the soul" is not just a Christian one.

Plato taught that human beings have a soul which he saw as a spark of the divine world of ideal forms within each individual. (Eastern philosophy often teaches similar ideas, but let's stick to the West for now). Aristotle followed Plato in the belief in a soul, but linked it far more closely to the body. Humans, he taught, are an embodied soul or a souled body.

Hebrew thought saw humans as having souls and this belief arose from the Hebrew understanding of how humans were created by God (who is spirit) out of physical stuff (dust or earth). Thus man has a physical, tangible existence (body) and an invisible, immaterial part (spirit) which are fused in one human being (soul).

Christian thinking on the soul has been largely formed as an amalgum of Greek and Hebrew thought. Augustine, the ancient theologian/philosopher based his thinking on the Bible (Hebrew) and Plato (Greek). Aquinas, the medieval theologian/philosopher based his thinking on the Bible (Hebrew) and Aristotle (Greek).

Before atheistic materialists rush to say that there is no such thing as a soul (and this view also has very ancient credentials - Greek philosophers Democritus and Epicurus believed that existence is nothing but uncuttable little bits of matter - atoms - flying through empty space or void), they need to think through some other questions:

What is love? (Are they really happy to conclude that their feelings for their lovers and children are merely chemicals in the brain - which, in turn, are merely atoms and molecules flying randomly through the void?)

What is thought or intelligence? (When an atheistic materialist decides that the universe is merely atoms, what actually is it that decides that the universe is merely atoms - can atoms decide that they are merely atoms?)

Do they ever actually make decisions (or is it all the result of a pre-determined machine - the universe - that came about by chance?)

The soul, as properly conceived by Christians (and others), is not simply a woolly and sentimental wish for an afterlife. It is a serious and reasonable explanation for the data of human existence as we all experience it.

(Next time, I'll post something down to earth - about chocolate cake or something - I promise...)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Through the wardrobe

Again, I feel a post coming on inspired by a comment on a previous one:

I assume that you are using Narnia as an example of dreaming of the kingdom....

Well... yes and no. I mean, yes, obviously. I dream of the kingdom: it’s a dream that fills my days, “a dream that will take all the love you can give” as the Reverend Mother sings in The Sound of Music. And, yes, Narnia is a picture of the kingdom, in a way: a place of beauty and magic and – Aslan.

And yet, no. I was dreaming of Narnia! As we drove along the M1 that morning, I glanced out at a beautiful belt of pine trees and my heart yearned. Have you ever felt that strange longing, that aching desire inside for beauty, for peace, for adventure, for something somehow magical. Well that’s how I felt.

CS Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia calls this yearning feeling “joy”. This may sound odd – we tend to think of joy as a kind of extreme happiness. But he meant the longing within us, the hunger for the eternal. “God has put eternity in the hearts of men” it says in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Or as another author, GK Chesterton put it more bluntly:

Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.

Sounds outrageous? What Chesterton meant is that we all have a desire within us: Lewis’s “joy”, the Bible’s “eternity in our hearts”, the Reverend Mother’s “dream that will take all the love we can give”. We may look in all the wrong places – like a brothel, for instance – to quench that desire. (Desire can certainly “give birth to sin” (James 1:15), but that is a perversion, a twisting of its proper purpose.) Yet the longing remains, panting and pointing to something. To something or Someone we desperately want.

And that’s where the kingdom comes in. We’re really hungry for God and for Zion whether or not we quite know it.

One day Christians will receive the kingdom in all its fullness, though I’m inclined to believe that even when we see God “face to face” we will still forever journey deeper into Him together.

In the meantime, we “know in part”. We glimpse the kingdom through worship, through brotherhood in community, through the shared mission of church.

And I dare to say that things which stir our desire for eternal beauty can be helpful in this. I’m not advocating visiting brothels or some kind of existential selfishness. But that doesn't mean that wholesome things which stir our imagination and cause our hearts to yearn, cannot help us on our way to God.

I’ve written a lot (again). But I don’t think I’ve said all that can be said on this one. Far from it. So maybe I’ll do a part two some time... In the meantime, I’ll let Lewis have the final word:

All joy...emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings.