Drought, Floods and God’s Abundant Provision

The Telegraph today has picked up an ironic contrast which Archdruid Eileen noted as long ago as last Thursday: that ever since the authorities declared an official drought and a hosepipe ban in most of England, it has hardly ceased to rain. In the Archdruid’s words,

We continue to be concerned about the drought. At the moment it’s droughting cats and dogs. For the last week it’s been droughting down in buckets. And yesterday there were a couple of inches of standing drought on the drive.

Students braving the weather whilst shopping in Bournemouth, DorsetAfter a brief respite at the weekend, at least here in Essex, the rain started again today, and is forecast to continue until the end of the week. So quite likely before long we will simultaneously have an official drought and an official flood disaster.

So why the continuing hosepipe ban? Well, I guess this week no one will be wanting to use a hosepipe to water their garden, but they might be tempted to use one to wash their mud-streaked car. But the real point seems to be that the water authorities are more concerned with refilling their reservoirs than with providing for their customers.

I can’t help being reminded of these words which the Lord spoke through Jeremiah:

My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

Jeremiah 2:13 (NIV)

Jesus warned us not to worry about storing up treasure on earth, but to trust God to provide. As we have seen in the last few days, God abundantly provides his people with water, and with every good thing, when they are in need – but sometimes he makes them wait until their broken cisterns have run dry, their own resources are at an end. We shouldn’t be worrying now about refilling our cisterns or reservoirs, the literal ones or the figurative ones, but should make good use, with thanks, of the bounty which God sends us from heaven.

Done with living like a Christian

I’m Done With Living Like a Christian Kurt Willems writes at Red Letter Christians I’m Done With Living Like A Christian (originally at his own Pangea Blog). Concerning all the things he used to do as a Christian, he says:

This past week made me realize that doing all these things won’t change the world.  That’s because the world can’t be changed unless God changes me. …

For me, it’s time to stop doing.  It’s time to simply be done.  Done “doing” because the Holy Spirit invites us to stop and to “be.”

I want to know Jesus.  I want to hear Jesus.  I want to be empowered by Jesus.  Not simply in theory as I do the good things that he calls us to do, but as the natural outflow of intimacy with God.  The former way “gets the job done.”  The latter way changes the world.

For me, this means a new-found intentionality of placing myself in a position to hear from the Spirit. …

In principle this is something I have been learning over the last few years. What we do by human effort, even with the intention of serving God, is often frustratingly hard work with little fruit. When we do things “as the natural outflow of intimacy with God”, they receive his blessing and naturally produce an abundant harvest.

But I need to work more on “placing myself in a position to hear from the Spirit” …

Do read the whole post.

Did Jesus live in Nazareth according to the Sermon on the Mount?

Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere, is very hard for anyone to live up to. I certainly don’t do so myself, although I do make it my aim.

This is so hard that some Christians teach that the Sermon was never intended to be lived up to, but only to provide an unattainable standard of excellence to show us humans how sinful we are. This is the Unconditional Divine Will View or the Repentance View, numbers 10 and 11 of the 12 interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount listed in this Wikipedia article. The implication of these views, and indeed of several of the other views in this list, including the dispensationalist view, is that the Sermon should not be understood as practical instructions for Christians living normal lives in this world.

This view is challenged by the implications of what I read today at Bill Heroman’s NT/History Blog. In the latest instalment of his long series on Jesus’ life in Nazareth, Bill writes:

In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus tells us that God rewards those who fast secretly, who put oil on their heads and wash their face, so that no one will know they are fasting. If rewarding such behavior means God likes that behavior, then Matthew must be implying this behavior was characteristic of Jesus before his baptism. …

If this is not valid, we would have to assume that Matthew thought Jesus was inventing new strategies for fasting which he’d never practiced himself. That certainly doesn’t seem to fit Matthew’s high opinion of Jesus and would actually place him closer to the showy hypocrites just decried in the same series of statements. …

Therefore, if we take the original passage as an historical teaching of Jesus, according to Matthew, then we may also take the inversion of it as a historical aspect of Jesus’ life in Nazareth.

If Bill’s line of argument is valid, then Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere must be based on his own practice.

There is a step which I don’t think Bill has actually proved, that Jesus’ teaching reflects his practice before he began his public ministry, and not just during this ministry. But the alternative would have to be that his baptism marked a radical change not just in his way of life but also in his basic attitudes. This would be inconsistent with the Christian teaching that Jesus was the sinless Son of God not just from his baptism but also from his birth. Also in this case, given that the Sermon on the Mount occurs early in Jesus’ ministry and doubtless some of his hearers near Capernaum would have known him from his time in Nazareth, one would expect some references more like “Don’t do as I used to do” alongside those of “Don’t do what the hypocrites do”.

The implication of this is that during the “hidden years” of his life at Nazareth, working as a carpenter (Mark 6:3) in Joseph’s workshop and living with his mother, brothers and sisters, he was leading his life according to the standards which he later taught in the Sermon on the Mount. This further implies that it is possible to live according to these standards, not only while living apart from the world but also while living a normal family live and doing a normal job.

I note also that at this time Jesus was not filled with the Holy Spirit in the same way that he was after his baptism. So it is hard to argue that being filled with the Holy Spirit is a prerequisite for living according to the Sermon on the Mount. Anyway, this is no excuse for Christians, who are already filled with the Holy Spirit even if this is not always evident in their lives.

So why are so many of us Christians quick to find reasons why we don’t have to obey Jesus’ teaching? Could it be just a little bit too uncomfortable and demanding? Does living according to the Sermon on the Mount sound a little too likely to lead us to rejection and even death, as eventually it did for Jesus? But isn’t that what we are called to as Christians? Isn’t that what Jesus meant with these words?:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Matthew 16:24-25 (TNIV)

The “right to spend” must not be a stumbling block

The newspapers’ scandal of the week here in the UK is that many of our MPs have been caught out claiming inappropriate expenses. These are mostly sums which they technically have the right to spend, and claim back, but which the people of this country, or at least the newspapers, consider excessive. On this matter Bishop Alan has had sensible words to say.

In this context Matthew Malcolm, an Aussie studying here in the UK, has posted an interesting but painful retelling of part of 1 Corinthians 8-10, with the principles outlined there reapplied to the acquisition of wealth. He calls this, in comparison to the commoner application to alcohol, “a far more attentive application of these chapters for Christians today”. Here is an extract from Malcolm’s piece:

But watch out that this “right to spend” of yours does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if someone should see you with your knowledge, making a down payment on a Range Rover, won’t their conscience, being weak, be built up to indulge in a hunger for wealth?  So the weak is destroyed by your knowledge – this brother or sister, for whom Christ died.  And thus, sinning against brothers and sisters and damaging their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

As Matthew himself responds, “Youch”.

Loving Jesus with all your heart

David Ker has posted another rant about “Jesus is my boyfriend” type songs, in this case specifically “Let My Words Be Few” by Matt Redman. (Is it something about the Mozambique air that makes David rant? At least he withdrew his one about Tutu.) In a comment in reply I threatened to write a post “Jesus really is my boyfriend!” This is that post, but I have reconsidered the title as I don’t want people to think I am female or gay.

So, is it right for Christians (male and female) to relate to God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the same way as a girl relates to her boyfriend, or a boy to his girlfriend? Is it proper to sing in worship “Jesus I am so in love with you”?

I would suggest to start with that if that is not actually an improper statement it is wrong for any Christian to criticise other Christians for choosing to worship in this way. If it is not helpful for you as an individual or for your church to worship with such words, then you are not obliged to do so, and can ask your church’s worship leader not to choose this song. But if the words are proper worship of God, and presuming that at least one person, the songwriter, found them helpful for his worship, then I really don’t think it is right for anyone to criticise or mock.

In the case of this particular song, as Ferg noted in a recent comment on this blog, Matt Redman has stated that he regrets including these particular words because of the misunderstanding they have caused. I think the remark is in this interview (thanks to Eddie for the link) (but I can’t check just at the moment as I have to be quiet after midnight).

So, to get back to the question, is it proper to sing in worship “Jesus I am so in love with you”? The starting point here must be that we are commanded to love God with all our hearts and souls, indeed with our whole beings, not just with our minds. I know that the Greek and Hebrew words used for “heart” didn’t refer to the emotions in quite the same way as “heart” often does in English. But the conclusion is inescapable that our love for God should involve our emotions as well as every other part of us. And as Jesus is God incarnate we are surely called to love him in this same way, that is, with an emotional love and not just a cerebral or a practical love.

The Old Testament image of God as the bridegroom and Israel as his bride is taken up in the New Testament with the church as the bride. In Ephesians 5:25-33 the love of a husband for his wife is seen as a reflection of Jesus’ love for the church, a love which led him to the cross. Paul doesn’t explicitly teach that wives should respond in love to their husbands (rather, he uses the controversial word often translated “submit”), but this is surely the implication of the teaching elsewhere that the church should respond with love to Jesus’ love on the cross.

The Song of Songs is a beautiful love song in which a man and a woman express their love for one another, in emotional language, even showing romanticism although that word is anachronistic. There is a long tradition in the church of applying parts of this to the love which the church should express towards God, effectively turning it into an expression of “God is my boyfriend”. Isaiah 5:1-7 is explicitly called a love song, but is in fact God addressing his people, so this gives biblical justification for using this genre of love between God and humans.

So it seems to me that Christians should feel in their hearts love towards God and Jesus – a love which I feel. Indeed I would suggest that someone who does not have any feelings of love towards God or Jesus has not really grasped what it is to be a Christian. If this is true it is surely right to express our feelings of love in singing to Jesus love songs, mirror images of the song of Isaiah 5. What better words for such a song than “Jesus I am so in love with you”?

And if our song is a love song, it will of course have what David calls “Trance-like melody… ooshy-gooshy lyrics … Repetition”, which are part of the genre of modern and ancient love songs – look at the Song of Songs, but of course we don’t know its original melody. Just as a boy and girl who are truly in love will not time their embraces, no one who has true and deep feelings of love for Jesus will want to ensure that their love song is “only four minutes long”.

I wonder, if we men restricted our expressions of love to our wives and girlfriends to four minute cerebral recitations of their character, how much would they appreciate that? Instead what they want is expression of true love from the heart, in which we indeed “let our words be few”, little more than “I am so in love with you”. And if that is how we please our human loved ones, surely that is a part of how we should show our love to our God.

It's Better to Forgive

I drafted this article for Baddow Life newspaper, which is distributed free by the three churches in this parish to the over 6,000 homes in the area. Thus the intended readership is non-Christians as well as Christians. This is intended to be part of a set of articles on forgiveness. If it is published it will not be in quite this form.

A woman I knew argued with her husband regularly and kept bringing up how he messed up some travel arrangements on their honeymoon – which was more than 40 years ago! She looked at everything he did in the light of that incident, and because of that she could never find peace or happiness in her marriage. She thought she was punishing her husband, but in fact she and her children were far more harmed by this.

This is so often what happens to people who refuse to forgive others, whether for small matters as in this case or for huge ones such as the loss of a loved one. Even after the worst of tragedies, as long as the bereaved hold on to the wrong that has been done to them, they continue to suffer the pain of loss and can never move on to rebuild their lives. Instead they find themselves in a pit of bitterness and depression. They may claim that to forgive would dishonour the memory of their loved ones, but would those loved ones really have wanted to be remembered in such misery? And if this is true after awful disasters, how much more does it apply after trivial hurts!

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” – in these words the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we can only expect to be forgiven for what we do wrong if we forgive others.

It is of course not easy to forgive. But it is the only way to get out of that pit and move on to live a normal life. I remember how I felt some years ago when my fiancée suddenly broke off our engagement. For weeks I could think only of how to get back at her. But then a wise Christian friend reminded me that even if I could find ways to hurt her I would end up hurting myself even more. When he counselled me I ended up in tears in a public foyer. But with this help I was able to put the matter behind me, forgive and move on.

I’m happy to say that that woman in the first paragraph did eventually find a way to put the honeymoon incident behind her and forgive her husband. And so they were able to enjoy their last few years of life.

Who is this Jesus that we must believe in?

I found at Jeremy Myers’ blog this retelling of the story of the Good Samaritan, apparently taken written by Quester from a book:

One day, a theologian decided to challenge a street preacher. “Preacher,” he asked, “what must we do to be saved?”

“What is written in the Gospels?” the preacher replied. “What do you read there?”

The theologian answered answered: “It is through Jesus that we are saved. We must believe in Him.”

“You have answered correctly,” the preacher replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But the theologian wanted to justify himself, so he asked the preacher, “And who is this Jesus that we must believe in?”

In reply, the preacher said: “A man was walking downtown, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stole everything, even his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him to die. After he died, Jesus came to him, wearing a frayed loincloth and a crown of thorns. Blood dripped from his hands, feet, brow and side. He was beaten but not broken, and there was a fanatic gleam in his eyes when he raised his head to snarl,

“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” (Mt. 25:41b-43)

Again, Jesus came to him, blond and blue-eyed with a sad smile and a pure white robe. He sat in the midst of quiet children and clean sheep and gently told the man,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Mt. 7:21-23)

A third time, Jesus came to him, almost unrecognizably: a young, Jewish man with traces of sawdust on his faded blue jeans. When he saw the man he took pity on him. He went to him and healed his wounds, tears of compassion falling down his face. Then he took the man up in his arms, and carried him to our Heavenly Father. “Look after him,” he said, “I have paid for any debt he may owe.”

“Which of these three do you think was a saviour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The theologian replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

The street preacher smiled, “Go and do likewise.”

Hmm. Which Jesus do we believe in? Which one do we imitate?

The Prodigal God

James Spinti has got me thinking with a series of posts about Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God, recently published in the USA and soon to be here in the UK. Each post consists of a quote from the book and one of James’ “idle musings”. These posts start here, then here, here, and here, with probably more to come as James seems to be less than a third of his way through the book.

Keller, and James, manage to put their fingers on some raw spots in today’s church life and perhaps also in our personal ones. Here is an example of Keller’s writing, from this post:

We see that the elder brother “became angry.” All of his words are dripping with resentment. The first sign you have an elder brother spirit is that when your life doesn’t go as you want, you aren’t just sorrowful but deeply angry and bitter. Elder brothers believe that if they live a good life they should get a good life, that God owes them a smooth road if they try to live up to standards.


The Exchange Made at the Cross

There is one, and only one all-sufficient basis for every provision of God’s mercy: the exchange that took place on the Cross.

Jesus was punished
that we might be forgiven.

Jesus was wounded
that we might be healed.

Jesus was made sin with our sinfulness
that we might be made righteous with His righteousness.

Jesus died our death
that we might receive His life.

Jesus endured our poverty
that we might share His abundance.

Jesus bore our shame
that we might share His glory.

Jesus endured our rejection
that we might have His acceptance with the Father.

Jesus was made a curse
that we might enter into the blessing.

This list is not complete. There are other aspects of the exchange that could be added. But all of them are different facets of the provision which God has made through the sacrifice of Jesus. The Bible sums them up in one grand, all-inclusive word: salvation. Christians often limit salvation to the experience of having one’s sins forgiven and being born again. Wonderful though this is, however, it is only the first part of the total salvation revealed in the New Testament.

From “The Divine Exchange” by Derek Prince (1995), p.19 – posted here partly in response to this.