Friday, January 26, 2007

Deeper Genesis

Abraham and IsaacThe promised deeper reflections on Genesis.

Reading through the book (as opposed to just dipping in) – which I haven't done for years – I've realised that its main message is redemption by faith.

The patriarchs and their wives were a motley bunch. If you're looking for shining moral examples you need to look elsewhere.

Sure, by the end of his life Abraham had learnt a deep obedience to God which led him to be prepared to offer Isaac. But that was after lying about Sarah twice, and getting into a complete tangle over Hagar and Ishmael, sending them away into the desert to die at Sarah’s jealous insistence.

Lot didn’t like the idea of the men of Sodom sleeping with his guests, but seemed happy enough to let his virgin daughters be raped instead (the same daughters, incidentally, who he later has sex with after they got him drunk).

Let’s just take a check – so far we have lying, cruelty, jealousy, attempted assisted rape, incest and drunkenness. That’s the first generation.

Isaac inherited his father’s faith – but along with it he seemed to inherit his father’s tendency to lie about his wife. He also favoured one son on the basis that he made nice tasty stews for him in his old age. The other son gets the patriarchal blessing however – as the result of his mother (Isaac’s wife) Rebekah’s deceitful scheming.

Jacob appears to have inherited – along with his father’s faith – his mother’s deceitful streak. In fact his name means deceiver – and where do you start with this wily wheeler-dealer? Tricks his brother out of his birthright and blessing, marries two sisters who enter into frenzied competition over who has more children (“Here, have sex with my maid”, “No – my maid!”) Fleeing from his uncle (who he has fleeced – pardon the pun – out of most of his livestock), his wife, Rachel, steals some idol gods (presumably, she wasn’t too sure about Jacob’s mysterious deity at this point), but gets away with it because she lies to her father.

Jacob’s sons? Well, there’s the scarcely justified slaughter of the Shechemites, the selling of Joseph into slavery – and then the disgraceful catalogue of events surrounding Judah’s family.

Briefly: Judah runs off with pagan mate; gets a wife; has three sons; first two die (because they were “wicked in the LORD’s sight”, which feels like a rather superfluous bit of narrative in this chapter of iniquity); daughter-in-law disguises herself as roadside prostitute; unrecognising Judah supplies her with “business” but orders that she is “burnt” when suspected of prostitution (bit of a NIMBY is Judah, you could say...) and relents when it is proved that he is the father of the twins she is carrying.

Twins, incidentally, one of whom is an ancestor of Christ.
No wonder Paul can write: “Before the law was given, sin was in the world” (Rom.5:13). Too right it was!

But reading this catalogue of sin and folly makes one particular verse of Genesis stand out like a beacon: Genesis 15:6

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

This is a verse that Paul makes much of, quoting in both Romans and Galatians. It is a foundation stone of biblical revelation.

Abraham had faith. He believed. And this was what God was after. This was what God could work with. Isaac believed. Jacob believed (in the end!) Theirs' was a righteousness that springs from faith. James, in the New Testament, rightly insists that Abraham’s faith led to actual acts of righteousness – but faith came first.

Even bad old Lot is described in the New Testament as “a righteous man”. What kind of righteousness is this? The faith kind. Because it sure as hell (I use the expression advisedly) wasn’t the works kind.

The message of the first book of the Law, the first book of the Bible: redemption comes by faith. From true faith springs righteousness.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

For 'richly ornamented' (NIV) read 'amazing technicolor' (Lloyd-Webber)

I'm a child of my times, I realise.

I'm reading through the Bible this year and I've got to the last section of Genesis, the bit about Joseph. As I read, I simply can't stop all the tunes from 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' running through my head.

Not sure if this is a blessing or a curse really. But it's quite fun.

Way way back many centuries ago...

Maybe I'll post some more profound reflections next time. In the meantime, I'll close my eyes, draw back the curtain (ah-ah-ah) to see for certain (ah-ah) what I thought I knew...

They don't write lyrics like that anymore...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Go, go, go! Stop?

Last night’s “Friendship meal” left me feeling fairly jiggered, though there was lots of good stuff going on.

Over forty people (and that’s with a few regulars away). Catching up with an old friend. Visit from father-in-law (and in-grace, as it happens!) New faces, newish faces (and old faces – a few people needed an early night.) Prayer with the under-25s. A roaming brother returns. A struggling brother is ghost-like – but there. A hearty meal. Hearty sharing. Lifts home to every corner of Coventry. Hot drink and still time to read in bed before eyes become leaden and another day fades into oblivion.

Tonight, I have a choice of four possibilities. Go to Northampton to join with a youth activity there. Go to London to join our late-night evangelism team. Go to Worcester with another evangelism team. Or stay in and catch up with some rest and reflection.

As my father-in-law said last night, I must do what is right. Which could be any of them. Decisions decisions.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hope springs eternal

We’re about to launch our evangelistic cell group at the university again. Ah, the ups and downs and hopes and disappointments of this cell group!

Strange. Although this group is only four or five people plus an even smaller number of friends, it sometimes consumes more anxious energy and nervous hope than the whole of the rest of the church community that I lead (of about thirty people and numerous friends)...

I guess it’s because, at heart, I very, very, very much want new people to find real faith in Christ. And I want young men and women of substance to join us and put their strength to the oars.

So it matters.

Oh God – bless my cell group!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Ministry of defence

The lines are drawn...Last night, after dinner (a quiet meal, just thirty-six of us), my wife and I prayed with a young sister who's been finding the going tough recently. This was certainly not just a case digging her out of the "poor old me's" (which, alas, shepherding can sometimes come down to...)

This sister is committed, pure-hearted and eager. But she'd hit a wall. We discerned that she was being targetted in the battle - the enemy was seeking to wear her down. So we prayed.

As the Spirit came, we named certain spirits that were seeking to get at her and sent them away; the demonic fog lifted and it was beautiful seeing the lines of tension fall away from her face and peace fill her. And God spoke to her and affirmed her: "I am your shield and your shelter. I am your very great reward."

That's how it is in a Jesus army. It's a real battle against a desperate, amoral and ruthless foe. And in community we're at the front line. We need each other. We need to be able to pray for and receive from each other - and live to fight another day.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Still please yourself?

House family “Together Evening” last night, a time in which those who live at White Stone set aside a whole evening for – you’ve guessed it – being together.

Last night, after the trademark long drawn-out meal, followed by coffee and laughter (we laughed at the famous last words of General John Sedgwick in the American Civil War, “They couldn’t shoot an elephant at this dis−”, at a “knock knock” joke about an interrupting cow, and at a failed joke about an interrupting elephant...)

After that, we went through into the lounge and made cards for each other with encouraging scriptures on them.

My reflections afterwards were a little similar to after last time we had such a gathering (see “Please yourself”, 3.10.06) – that such occasions, though worthwhile and refreshing are, paradoxically, also rather hard work.

It’s comparatively rare for us to have an event where the basic purpose is that people enjoy it. Sure, I would always hope that every Agape meal or worship meeting would be refreshing and enjoyable – but that’s not the ultimate purpose. The ultimate purpose is to give: to build the church up and to worship God.

And, as a leader, you want people to enjoy that, but it doesn’t matter too much if they don’t (or, at least, if they don’t every time).

But here I was last night, sitting, relaxing, enjoying – but with the background tension that I was very concerned that others enjoy themselves. Come on! Enjoy yourselves! Now!

Let me illustrate: the meal was lovely – tasty, imaginative and lovingly prepared. But inevitably, some people aren’t as keen on chicken tikka as others. The coffee and laughter was fun. But inevitably, some people would rather not sit so long on our hard dining room chairs. The card-making was creative and encouraging. But some people don’t flow as easily in “arty” stuff as others.

My conclusion: church, by its very nature cannot function according to pleasing everyone. It cannot be about everyone having “the time of their life”. Because church is, fundamentally, about people who have laid down their lives for each other and for One greater than them. Church is not an interest group. (“Fly fishing for men”, “Tennis for beginners”...) That is why it is difficult for us to all do the same thing together for enjoyment and all find all of it – well, enjoyable.

The thing we truly have in common is Jesus. His cause. Sharing this we become precious to one another and take real joy from each other.

Then it’s not so much what we do. It’s who we are. And when we love one another – that is when “God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”.

I’m not suggesting that everyone ought to have spent the evening worrying about whether others were having fun (that’s my peculiarity!) But I am saying that, if we’re truly church, we ought always to live for the good of our brothers and sisters. And if this is true, then church becomes a wonderful place to be - hard chairs and all!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Getting old?

The silly season is over and life returns to it's normal routine. And I felt rather glad as I sat at my desk at 8.30 this morning.

And how did I see the New Year in this year? I went to bed - at ten past eleven.

So: am I getting dull in my thirtieth year?

Actually, the other day, as I read from 2 Samuel in the Old Testament about David who came into his kingship, aged 30, I had the distinct sense that God was saying that this year would be a discovery year. Coming into full adulthood. Ministry. Stature.

I also read about Saul - who, intriguingly enough, also became king aged 30. But he blew it, after an impressive start. Relying on himself and losing the honour of God, he ended up a spectacular failure.

But there's a (large) part of me that feels desperately sorry for Saul. There but for the grace of God go I or you or any of us. It's so easy to 'get professional', to 'do it our way', to lose any sense of real dependance on God.

If I want to 'come into my kingship' that means the recognition that I can't. Not without leaning on the True King.

But with my God... 'with my God I can leap over a wall'.