Wednesday, 27 May 2009
i. List the most helpful book you've read in this category;
ii. Describe why you found it helpful; and
iii. Tag five more friends and spread the meme love.
Who Needs Theology? by Grenz and Olson. A very good basic book that I read when i first started college that enabled me to understand what theology was all about.
2. Biblical Theology
Promise and Presence, John Colwell. Completely reshaped my understanding of the nature of God and Church in light of the sacraments.
My 4 years at Spurgeon's College. This has helped shape my theology in more ways than I can explain.
Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. This made me look again at who Jesus is.
5. Old Testament
The Message, Eugene Peterson. This might seem a strange one to put, but it has helped me no end grapple with the Old Testament and be amazed by God through his dealings with Israel.
6. New Testament
What St Paul Really Said, Tom Wright. Concise, readable, essential. ditto
Evil and the Justice of God, N.T Wright. Got my eyes looking at earth and how to bring heaven here.
8. (Church) History
Church History Module at Spurgeon's. Spent 12 weeks reading various sources on Church history.
The Heavenly Man, Brother Yun. Helped me understand Church and discipleship in a whole new way.
Tough one! Loads. The Shaping of things to Come by Hirsch and Frost and Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell. These books and a whole number of different things have helped challenge me and lead me to passionately want to explore new ways of engaging with society with the message of Jesus.
The Lord and His Prayer by Tom Wright. Helped begin to lead me to pray in new ways.
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
'John Walsh, of Irish Survivors of Child Abuse, said he felt "cheated and deceived" by the lack of prosecutions.
The findings will not be used for criminal prosecutions - in part because the Christian Brothers successfully sued the commission in 2004 to keep the identities of all of its members, dead or alive, unnamed in the report.
No real names, whether of victims or perpetrators, appear in the final document.
Mr Walsh said: "I would have never opened my wounds if I'd known this was going to be the end result.
"It has devastated me and will devastate most victims because there are no criminal proceedings and no accountability whatsoever."'
I know God will bring justice, if not in this life, then the next, but I'm sure that is little or no comfort to those who have suffered such horrific abuse.
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
Monday, 18 May 2009
For many, sexuality is about the physical act that takes place between two people for physical pleasure. Yet sexuality is much more than this. Sexuality is about ways we try and reconnect with the world, with each other and with God.
Two people can have sex and never be connected with each other.
It can be ‘just sex’. Neither one invests any emotion into it. Its just sex.
So the only connection is physical.
It’s not sexual at all.
There is no connection.
They are still severed and cut off.
In the beginning God created male and female in his image.
This is what is unique about humans.
Humans were created in God’s image which means all of humanity reflects something of God’s image. So when you look at humanity you can see something of God.
Ever been to a Zoo and seen how animals behave when they are in mating season?
They pace around each other driven by this urge to mate.
A lion isn’t worried about the feelings of the other lion.
They are not wondering if they are loved for more than their body.
The just want to have sex.
Ever been on a holiday or heard of a holiday where people have gone to be ‘wild’.
Maybe you’ve been on an 18-30’s holiday?
It’s about going crazy. Drink loads. It’s about feeling good.
It’s about satisfying your urges
It’s about sacrificing what it means to be human, a temptation to ignore your conscience or a sense of a higher purpose.
It’s about acting like an animal.
Paul talks about the body being a temple of the Holy Spirit.
The Temple in Jewish times was the place where God resided. The place where heaven and earth met.
The place of the divine.
So the body is a place where God is. It is sacred. It is special.
We’re not just a collection of urges and desires and needs, but a place whom God resides in.
In the ancient Greek world people used a phrase to describe what it meant to be human. The phrase was ‘Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food.’ So they understood a person to be a collection of physical needs. So you’re hungry, you eat. You’re tired you sleep. You want sex you go and get it.
This view dominates out society today.
It’s a view that says we’re the sum of our urges.
But God created us different.
He said we’re made in his image.
He says we’re more than our urges.
But we can also go the other way.
We can deny our urges altogether.
We can become like angels.
The bible says that angels are a spirit. A spirit is a being with no body, no physical essence. Marriage and sex and procreation are not a part of their existence. Physical contact is not a part of their existence.
Sometimes people get hurt from a relationship and withdraw from all physical contact. They don’t let you feel or touch or get close. They turn their sexuality off.
They become like angels.
When we deny our spiritual side we end up living like animals. When we deny our physical sexual dimension we become like angels.
Animals and angels.
And both ways are destructive, because God made us human.
It says in Genesis that God creates animals before humans. And humans are then created and something significant happens when humans are created that doesn’t happen with the rest of creation; we’re created in God’s image.
We have a spiritual dimension that animals don’t have.
When we repress our emotions and stifle human physical contact we act like angels and it’s destructive.
We need to get it out.
We need to say how we’re feeling.
We have urges and cravings and desires. We’re crammed full of sexual tension.
We have to talk about it.
Because you’re not alone in how you feel.
Let’s go back to Genesis.
God creates order out of chaos.
God starts a progression in creation out of chaos into order and harmony.
God creates people to continue in that ordering, to continue the work of harmony.
So what kind of world will our energies create?
Will we act like animals and create a world that reflects that?
A world where all we do is give into our urges, satisfying our needs and wants.
What kind of world will that look like?
What kind of people will we be?
What impact on the future does a world like that create?
Will we act like angels?
Will we deny our physical and sexual nature?
Will we try and stay disconnected with each other and with God?
What kind of world would that create?
When we act like animals we are going backwards.
God created animals first.
Then he created humans.
Humanity was a step forward, a progression. We mustn’t go backwards.
Before he created animals, he created angels.
Angels are another step backwards.
We must be human.
The way we approach our relationships needs to be human.
The way we connect with the world, with each other and with God needs to be as humans. The way Jesus connected with everything.
So HOW did Jesus connect?
Sunday, 17 May 2009
Thursday, 14 May 2009
Read Acts 28
The book of Acts is really divided into 2 parts. Chapters 1-12 are about the early church declaring that Jesus really is the Messiah Israel had been waiting for. He was the one who would bring about the New Exodus and bring liberation for Israel. The slaves in Egypt had cried out to God because of their slave-drivers and God rescued them from Pharaoh and took them out of Egypt.
After much toil and heartache on God’s part, they reached the Promised Land. But then they forgot about God and the consequences of their turning away from God was exile out of the Promised Land and into slavery once again but this time in Babylon. But God made a promise that he had not forgotten them and that he had plans to redeem them.
They returned to Israel but nothing was as it was before and they were waiting for the Messiah to come and liberate them from the oppression of the Romans.
The first 12 chapters of Acts are about that liberation and how the early church spread the good news that the Messiah had indeed come and had won the freedom that Israel had for so long been waiting for. But the Messiah didn’t use violence to bring about that freedom, rather he had violence inflicted upon Himself.
Rather than overthrowing the King and claiming the crown, he hung on a cross wearing a crown of thorns.
Rather than clenching his fist around a sword, he opened his hands and had nails driven into them.
Rather than holding a shield to protect himself, he hung naked and vulnerable with a spear piercing his side.
Rather than carrying armour on his back, he wore a Cross.
And it was here that Jesus won the victory.
It was here that all the powers of darkness were defeated and the New Exodus began, a freedom from slavery and oppression under the hand of death and sin.
It was this Messiah and this freedom that the early church preached to Israel that we read of in the book of Acts. And the church explodes in growth seeing thousands upon thousands becoming a part of this vibrant, dynamic and loving community.
Chapters 13-28 are how this message to the Jews spread to the Gentiles. Here we see this liberating message spreading outside of Israel to the world around. Nothing can stop this message! Oppression and persecution cannot stop the power of this message! God is on a mission and by His Spirit he is getting that message out into the whole world that the whole world may experience for themselves the freedom that can be found in Jesus!
So we begin in Chapter 28. Why? So we can retrace the steps of the early church and understand what happened and then at the end of the 6 weeks understand why it happened. Today we hear how Paul continued in the mission that God was on and, I pray, we will then know more fully the mission are continuing in. A mission that was handed to the Apostles, the early church and then continuing century after century until today. And we continue preaching the same gospel in the power of the same Spirit, this same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is at work in us to make this message known and make Christ known in the world!
The final word in the book of Acts in the Greek is Akolytos. This means unhindered or free. This is the framework that Luke wants to paint this book in. Here we have a gospel that is unhindered and cannot be contained because the power of the Holy Spirit is making this message known in the world. Paul may be in chains at the end of the book of Acts but the gospel certainly isn’t! God Spirit is free and the gospel continues to transform lives and today continues to transform lives. Death and persecution and jail cannot stop the good news of Jesus spreading around the world!
Lets go back however to the book of Acts. What we read is of Paul taking the message of the gospel to wherever God leads and perhaps most significantly, to Rome.
Rome is the place where Caesar is and Caesar is Lord. He is the one who the people obey. He controls the political, economic and social climate of the day. He is the one who everyone must swear allegiance to. To deny Caesar is to deny his lordship and his rule. To claim another Lord is to say there is someone greater than Caesar. To say Jesus is Lord is to say that Jesus has ultimate power over all things whether it is religion, politics or whatever. To say Jesus is Lord is to say Caesar is not. It is a bold and provocative statement, and Paul is on a mission to Rome to declare it.
Yet again and again persecution and trouble hit him. Yet again and again God assures Paul that he is with him and that he will get to Rome.
There is beatings and floggings that Paul endures, yet he will get to Rome to declare that Jesus is Lord
Paul is arrested and put on a ship and there is a shipwreck, yet God tells him he will get to Rome to declare that Jesus is Lord.
They are washed up in Malta and a snake bites him. Yet God heals him because he is going to Rome to declare that Jesus is Lord.
And today, we are called to declare that Jesus is Lord.
Rome was the centre of power and rule. Caesar the one who held that power. Yet Paul’s message was that Jesus is Lord and he rules the entire cosmos and that God’s Kingdom is the centre of all power and rule but not through violence and coercion, but by love and grace.
Do you know what I believe was the worst thing that ever happened to the church? Was when it became the centre of power and rule. When it became 'Rome'. And don’t hear me wrong, I am not talking about the Catholic Church, I am talking about the Church as a whole.
In 313 AD the Emperor Constantine became a Christian and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity went from being a religion of persecution and oppression to hold power over all the land. Christianity became the symbol of power. Christianity became Rome. And this is where it all went wrong.
Through the centuries the church became convinced that we should have the power and the sway over all affairs, that we should make the decisions. Bishops had power and sway over all government and Royal decisions. The Church persecuted those who didn't get in line. We had a powerful voice and became power hungry. We became power hungry. And this attitude still remains in the church today in the west. It is so ingrained that we don’t even realise.
Jesus was a man of lowly status and poverty. He won victory, not through coercion or power over the people, but through humility and being nailed to a cross naked. The power of the gospel spreads in the book of Acts, not through power and coercion in the worldly sense, but through persecution and oppression. As Christians we are not to Lord it over people but to be the least of all. To be the scum of the earth. To be the lowliest.
Maybe the Church in the west is in the state that its in today because we got too settled in Rome. We became Caesar.
Maybe we struggle to take the gospel into our communities because we have some idea so ingrained that we should have sway over the country that our voice needs to be heard. That we’re being treated unfairly. Yet read the gospels. Read Acts. We’re the ones called into persecution. We’re the ones whose voices are called to be silent. We are not in power, we are powerless. Yet the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work within us! Only by the power of the Holy Spirit will the gospel spread, not by our might nor by our strength.
Maybe our desire for power has caused us to be lukewarm with the gospel.
Maybe the church in the west is now a symbol for Rome and we have for so long called ourselves Lord. Yet the Spirit is blowing ships in with missionaries aboard calling us to repent and once again realise that Jesus is Lord.
The way of Christianity is one of suffering, it is one of the Cross. So as a church in Mersea we must be prepared to go through the storms of trial and tribulation yet be assured that God is with us and sent us on a mission. A mission to declare that Jesus is Lord.
We must be prepared to be shipwrecked at times but ask God to build a fire of passion within us once again for his name and his gospel. The enemy may well bite us seeking to distract us, yet God is with us and will shake the enemy off and use us to bring healing and restoration into our community.
If we believe we are Rome we must humble ourselves and once again return to the Cross and recognise our utter dependence upon the One who brought freedom, namely, Jesus.
Tuesday, 5 May 2009
The church can be seen as a vine, its roots spreading out across many nations, its branches representing the multiple people that the church is made up of, with Jesus the middle trunk from whom the Christian church grows and finds its purpose. Here we have an ecclesiology, understanding who the church is gathered to, rather than that which the church is gathered from, for we understand the church as being gathered to Christ, rather than the church being gathered out of the world. The church therefore is gathered to Christ and therefore, those who make up the church are those who are ‘in Christ’ and a part of his ‘gathering’. From the words of Jesus in John’s gospel, it appears that the church however is also defined by what it does and the fruit it produces, rather than simply its place within the vine. A church could be understood in terms of how much fruit it bears as a sign to its dependence upon the vine, namely Jesus. Without doubt, in a culture like Britain that is driven by capitalism, anything that is not seen to making a profit and earning success from that which has been put into it is thrown away, so one must resist the same attitude and read into Jesus’ words a western capitalist understanding. How one understands what is good fruit is open to interpretation yet we can see that this fruit comes through God and by being in Christ. Fruit cannot come unless a branch remains in the vine. This picture of bearing fruit seems to be something that is active rather than passive. Something is going on. A church therefore could be seen to be something that is active in its desire to bear much fruit, understood in terms of its being in Christ, by the Spirit. What, therefore, is this fruit and how does this help us understand a community as church?
God is a God who sends. At creation he sent his Word and spoke into creation with his Spirit brooding over the chaos. He sent Moses to free his people from Egypt and sent his people to be a light to the world to reveal who he is. He sent his Son to bring redemption to all of creation and then sent His Spirit into the world to make Christ known. He then sends his church to continue in the Priestly ministry of Christ, baptising and making disciples. Therefore, if God is a God who sends, then the Church is called to continue in that sent-ness, making Christ known in the world. God is understood to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a perfect community that displays complete and perfect love. The Spirit is the personal mediator of the love that is shared between Father and Son, a love that is self-giving and absolute. This perfection of love is therefore a goal of the church to reflect into the world and the communities in which it lives and it is out of this love that the Church is sent.
This is the fruit.
There is a calling by Jesus to remain in his love and to love each other the way the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. Can a church validly understand itself to be church if true love is not expressed, sought or put into action? God is not passive. There is mutual self-giving between Father, Son and Spirit, a mutual and full indwelling between each Person of the Trinity. This activity of love that eternally exists within God Himself is something that the church, by the grace and Spirit of God, should seek to reflect into the communities it inhabits. The earthly ministry of Christ is one of self-giving and total love, committed to the oppressed and needy. Not only that, but as Jesus showed the full extent of his love to his disciples by washing their feet we have a typology of love that the church is called to continue in until Jesus returns. It seems that the greatest struggle that the church faces in the 21st Century is not contextualization (although it is important), is not an understanding of sexuality (although it is important), but an exploration and grappling with how a community loves each other properly. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." It is from the love that is shown and displayed through a community of disciples of Jesus that the world around will know that this community are a church. Yet for love to be seen, for a community to be seen to love, then something visible needs to take place.
At the baptism of Jesus a visible sign of the love displayed between Father, Son and Spirit is seen. The love of the Son for the Father shown in his obedience to go through the waters of baptism. The love of the Father for the Son as he rises out of the waters of baptism and declares that love by speaking out. And the mediation of that love displayed by the Spirit who rests upon the Son at his baptism. Here we have a visible sign of love shown through the baptism of Jesus. Therefore, for a community to visibly be seen as a loving Christian community, to be visibly seen as a church, then visible acts of love need to be demonstrated. Surely, therefore, it is a ‘participation in the communion of the triune God’ that is the goal of all church communities, and this participation is made possible visibly through the sacraments. God is a God who mediates his presence in and through that which he has created. He does not bypass his creation but chooses to speak and act through it. We see this most powerfully through the Incarnation, and therefore, a faithful understanding of whom God is and his action is one of mediation. Consequently, Baptism and the Eucharist are primary examples of how God mediates his love to us and in turn enables us to visibly love one another.
The Eucharist is a symbol, a reminder, that God, in Christ, was reconciling the whole world to himself. Yet it is more than a reminder. The Eucharist is a visible means of grace whereby God administers his grace to his church through this meal. Therefore, as we share in this meal, the Spirit of God feeds us and affirms to us that we have been reconciled to God and that nothing can separate us from his love. In the action of taking the bread and wine, love is actually seen. Furthermore, this meal is a means of grace in the relationships we have with one another. As we receive grace from God, so we can be a means of grace to the community around us. As we receive the bread, the broken body of Jesus, we too can become broken for the community around us. As we receive the wine, the blood of Jesus poured out for us, we too can pour ourselves out for the community in which we live. We receive the grace needed to be a people of grace. Here we have a visible and physical act of love and reconciliation that demonstrates to those present that here we have disciples of Jesus that can also be a catalyst for that love and peace to be taken into the communities the church finds itself in. Yet are the sacraments dependant on a minister and thus is our definition of church dependent on a minister?
Miroslav Volf, in After Our Likeness, interprets Catholic ecclesiology as understanding the church in and through the sacraments, with the office of bishop as an indispensable condition of the sacraments. Therefore, ‘only those local fellowships of believers that are “united to their pastors” are churches in the full sense of the word, others merely exhibit ecclesial elements but do not qualify as churches.’ Without doubt, this writer would want to emphasis the importance of the sacraments (as has already been said) and how they are a visible sign of the love and grace of God. Without doubt, this writer would want to affirm the importance of ministry and the calling that God places on some to lead his people. But without doubt, this writer would want to reject the notion that church and the sacraments are dependent upon the one who is called into ministry. Certainly ministry is sacramental inasmuch that God mediates his presence in and through those who have been called by God to oversee his people, yet for church to be dependant on the minister for it to validly be called church is, it appears to me, is attempting to put the gracious and free Spirit of God in a prison, a prison that cannot hold him. The Spirit defines who the church is in ways ‘far more inclusively, far more surprisingly, far more graciously, than we would dare venture.’ Christian ministry is to serve and the Christian minister is a servant to Christ and his Church. There is no sense of authoritarianism or hierarchy or dependence upon he minister as such. Certainly God has called some and God has given these some to the Church, yet the church exists not because of the minister, but because of the free and gracious presence of God.
Jesus said that when two or three gather together in his name, he is there in their midst. Here we have a promise of his presence. Here we have an understanding that Christ is in the midst of a group who meet together in his name. If the Church is to be defined sacramentally, it’s being gathered occurring through the mediation of baptism and Eucharist, then when two or three are gathered, it happens sacramentally where Christ’s presence is mediated rather than unmediated. Therefore, if two or three gather down the pub for a beer and a chat about Jesus would it be a stretch to deem this as church? But if two or three gather down the pub and break bread together here we have the mediated presence of Christ, here we have church. Furthermore, it appears that Christ’s promise of his presence in the gathering together of believers in his name is a promise that is preceded by a promise of action by God when two or three agree on something. It is a promise of presence preceded by a promise of action. Perhaps it is through the active presence of believers that Christ’s presence occurs and can constitute as church. Here we see church as active and, in light of John 15 also, the church is church when it is bearing fruit, fruit that will last, fruit that is love.
The church is church when the active presence of love is present.
But what if the sacraments are present, but love for one another is not?
Fifty may gather together and break bread together yet hold no love for one another and display no love to the community they are gathered in. Do we have a group of believers breaking bread together, but no church? Two or three may gather together in a pub and seek ways in which they can actively help the community they are in. Do we have church? What is the ecclesial minimum?
Christ’s presence among a group of people is dependent on their confession of him, not merely with their mouths and outward actions, but with their hearts. To declare that Jesus Christ is Lord is to continue in the ministry of Christ to the world in which we live and to the communities we find ourselves in. A group may indeed declare that Jesus Christ is Lord with their mouths, go to church every Sunday, take communion and shake hands with one another, yet could be nothing more than white washed tombs, and thus, not church. Another group could meet in a breakfast café, drink coffee, share their deepest hearts secrets, pray with each other and, it appears to me, be validly seen as church. Yet this writer cannot dismiss that which has been laid before us in scripture and interpreted through tradition, that the church is defined sacramentally where God’s presence is mediated through the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. Yet God is free. His presence is not determined by the people but by his graciousness, in the light of love. This is a love that cannot be faked through meaningless acts and empty words, but it is an agape love. People will know who the church is by the way that we agape each other.
This writer cannot conclude on how far the sacraments define a community as church, only that this writer believes that God mediates his presence and through that which he has created and commanded his disciples to baptise and share in the Eucharist. Yet this, it seems to me, is done in and through the mediation of a community that loves each other. Certainly that community will fail in its call to love God with all that it is and love each other the way Christ loves them, yet if its hearts desire is to fulfil that love, then I believe Christ mediates his presence to them by his Spirit. What is church then? A community that displays love and declares that love within the context that Jesus is Lord. It is a love that is shown sacramentally. Is church dependant on the sacraments though? Or are the sacraments dependant upon love? These are questions that this writer, as yet, cannot find the answers to.
 See Wright, N.T., Simply Christian p 172
 For more on this see Colwell, J., Promise and Presence p 67-72
 It seems that this is Paul’s primary understanding of the church. See Romans 8:1, 12:5, 16:3-10 for examples of this.
 The church as ‘gathered’ remains the primary understanding within Baptist and Free Church understandings. Nigel Wright however argues for us to understand the church as ‘gathering’ rather than ‘gathered, which he sees as static. So we are gathering together and seeking others to be gathering to us. For more on this see Wright, N.G., Free Church Free State p 49-52
 Interestingly enough however, the recent drive by the government to put money into failing car industries could be seen as opposite to capitalism. Yet this writer suspects that the government will willingly pump money into the car industry to keep it afloat so that the car industry can continue to generate vast sums of money for the government. If the car industries fail then the government will lose out on substantial sums of money. So the reasons for such a move, I suspect, is based on capitalist priorities and ideals.
 Matthew 28:16-20
 John 15:9-10
 This is known as the doctrine of perichoresis. See McGrath, A.E., Christian Theology p 325-326
 John 13:34-35 TNIV
 Volf, M., After Our Likeness p 129
 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
 Romans 8:38-39
 Volf, M., After Our Likeness p 130-131
 Colwell, J., Promise and Presence p 258
 Ephesians 4:7-13. Great debates have ensued as to whether the work of ministry is to some, or the whole church. In other words, are some called to be prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastor and teachers, or are the whole Church called to fulfil these offices. I suspect the first option is more likely.
 Matthew 18:20
 Matthew 18:15-20. Here we have something happening. An act of reconciliation. An action of peace. An action of love.
 See Mark 7:1-23
 Matthew 23:27-28
 A great book on love is C.S Lewis’ The Four Loves