Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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Paying the price

I wonder if, for too long, the Christian faith has been presented as an easy option?

Let me start by stating that Jesus has paid the price for our salvation, once and for all. We are saved by grace, not as a result of our own righteousness. In this way, the price that we simply cannot afford has already been paid, fully and unequivocally, and salvation is free. BUT…

However, it is not salvation that is at issue, so much as it is the life of a disciple.

To paraphrase Bill Hybels, if the Christian faith is only about salvation, why are we still breathing? Why is it that we are not, as soon as we believe, taken into heaven? What happens after salvation? It is after we are saved that God asks us to pay a price. We don’t have to pay it, but we are given the opportunity to do so over the rest of our life on Earth.

Richard Taylor, at #RMLC2014, talked about an aeroplane where the ones who are in first class are simply those who are willing to pay the price expected to upgrade from standard seating. All of the passengers are heading for their destination, but some have paid more and so find more on their journey. The difference between standard and first class is not where one travels, it is how one travels.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)

These words of Jesus do not say that there is a cost to salvation. Anyone can hear the words of Jesus, comprehend the meaning and believe in the truth. Yet, there is a difference between those who believe and those who follow. Following Jesus costs more, but it means more too.

To follow Jesus we must give up our own preferences and life choices. We must choose to submit our future to him, living in a way that is consistent with his teaching, even if it is different to what we have always known. This might mean that we strain, or even lose, relationships with family and friends who do not agree with us or understand our faith. It might necessitate a change in our priorities of time and effort. Following Jesus will almost certainly mean that we have to sacrifice our need for control over our own destiny, choosing to live by faith instead of knowledge.

Following Jesus ALWAYS leads to change. We will change, our lives will change, our relationships will change and our view of the world that we live in will change.

The Cost of following Jesus is simply that we have to follow Jesus, wherever he leads us… even when it results in derision, persecution and, possibly, death.

Why? Because Jesus Christ is the only way for the people of the world to be reconciled to the God who created them. He is the only way to be forgiven from sin and the only path into the presence of the living God. Further, the people of this world NEED to see the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. It is through the lives of the disciples of Jesus that they will find the evidence of the truth of salvation by grace. We are the body of Christ!

To be saved does not mean that I need to be a disciple of Jesus. I don’t have to pay that price. But, because I am saved, how can I not follow? How can I not dive into God? The question is this… am I willing to pay the price so that my fellow men and women of the world might taste and see that Jesus is the way to full and wonderful life?

“Where else can I go? With you, Jesus, are the words of eternal life”

End Note – This blog is the result of my thoughts following the @RMChurches Leadership Conference in Norwich (#RMLC2014).

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Happy Christmas! He is in it with us!

Christmas cogitation part 9

For me, one of the most important verses in the Bible is also the most important verse of the Christmas period.

“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the Only Begotten Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NIV)

I like the translation in Message too;

“The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.” (John 1:14 MSG)

Jesus is the Word. He is the beginning and the end. It is this Word that is incarnated in the person of a human baby. He takes the form of a human being, just like us. Why? So that we can be rescued to be just like Him.

Human beings are separated from God by the sin of pride. It is our pride that leads us to conclude that we do not need God. That we can find our purpose and being in the world we live in by our own actions. This is simply not true.

Without God, there is no purpose or meaning for us. We are formed by God to walk with Him. Our purpose is to live in relationship with God and as long as we do not do so we will forever be disconnected and lost. When we walk alone we are simply not doing what we are supped to be doing. We are like a shoe that is being used as a doorstop. In some way the shoe is up to the task of keeping a door open, but this task is so much less that the purpose that the shoe was intended for.

In the midst of this beautiful, broken and suffering world, humanity is lost and alone. Struggling to create a place of meaning and significance, yet doomed to failure since our meaning and significance rests in God. We will only ever find eternal meaning and significance when we live the life we were created to live. When we walk with God.

God sends His son, Jesus, to be born, live, walk, suffer, die and rise in the same world that we live in. He literally moves in to the middle of the neighbourhood where we live, so that he can point us towards the Father. Jesus is in it with us.

That God would make and enact such a plan is the proof of His glory and the evidence of his commitment to the people that he created. Jesus directs us to the Father, evidence of His grace and the truth and that the only true purpose for human beings is found by being close to Him. We are adopted by God, as beloved children, as a result.

I simply love this concept. Jesus is in it with us! He has moved in to the same situation that we live in, for the profoundly simple reason that we need to be offered a way to come to God. We cannot do it for ourselves, so Jesus does it for us.

An idea and truth that is worth celebrating.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!


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Weird Family

It really is a good thing that the decision as to who can be a disciple and who cannot is not up to me. I think I would make decisions based upon my assumptions and prejudices. If it were up to me there would be no Bolton Wonderers supporters for a start. Jesus sees things in a very different way than I do.

We can choose our friends, but we cannot choose our family.

I thank God that I was not able to choose my family! There are some of them who I would never have spent the time to get to know, because they are very different to me. I am sure that they would say the same about me too. The simple matter that they are family, however, means that I have been very blessed to have had the opportunity to spend time with them and get to know them. I love them. They are a strange bunch, some more than others (you know who you are!) but they are pretty amazing people. I am far, far richer as a result of knowing them.

The community of disciples, those who call Jesus master and follow Him, is not just like a family. It is a family.

He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’ (Matt 12:48-50)

Jesus did not call people to follow him because they were similar to him or one another. He called them because they all had the same bloodline. The disciples of Jesus are unified…

  • By sin – All people, prior to knowing Jesus, are helpless sufferers from sin (Romans 3:23).
  • By call – All people are called by Jesus to follow (Rev 3:20). No one is refused, but all people have the free will to refuse.
  • By grace – All of those who accept the invitation to follow are saved as a gift. Not because they deserve it, but because Jesus loves us (Eph. 2:8-9).
  • By adoption – All who follow Jesus are adopted into the family of God. They are sons and daughters, children of the same Father (1 John 3:1).

Every disciple of Jesus is part of the family of God. It is made up of some weird and wonderful people (I am the weirdest and my wife is probably the most wonderful), but each and every one of them is a mother, brother, father, daughter, brother and sister. Both the New Testament and our daily experience tell us that we are exactly like a family. With the same disagreements and dramas, loves and likes. But united by belonging and blood.

We cannot choose our family… we can only choose to love them as the Father loves us.


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Keep your distance

In Exodus, we see that under the leadership of Moses the people of God witness some incredible things. Each of which shows them that God is on their side and WANTING to rescue and nurture them.

  • The plagues of Egypt. Miraculous disasters aimed at their enemies, which led to their freedom from slavery.
  • The guidance of God by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.
  • Protection from the armies of Pharaoh by fire and water.
  • A miraculous escape route through the depths of the Red Sea, walking on dry land between walls of water.
  • The utter defeat of the mightiest army in the world when Pharaoh and all of his chariots are overwhelmed by the Red Sea that opened to let the people escape.
  • Food was given to them on a miraculous and massive scale. Manna and Quail.
  • Water purified by a stick and, later, gushing from a rock.
  • A pyrotechnic display on Mount Sinai that results in tablets of stone and the law of God.

God gives them event after event as evidence and help, amply showing His favor and grace for the tribes of Israel. God systematically removes the limitations that stand between the people of Israel and the presence of God. He leads them to a place where their sin is no longer a barrier and they can hear his voice… and what happens?

“They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Exodus 20:18-19)

The people believe a lie. “Do not have God speak to us or we will die”. After all of the evidence that they have witnessed, they seem to believe that God has literally moved heaven and earth so that they can be destroyed.

Even though Moses has told them that, by the commandments of God, the people can be enabled to draw close to God, they simply will not step out in faith and into God’s presence.

“Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (Exodus 20:20)

Moses assures the people that they have no need to be afraid. God has turned up, in person, to instigate a relationship with them. He tells them that their sin ordinarily makes it impossible for them to know God’s presence, so God has offered them a way to get past their sin and know Him. By the law, God is opening the door to His presence and their faith is under test… but still they keep their distance.

“The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:21)

As I read this passage I am struck by the simple matter that the people’s fear is what stops them from knowing the presence of God. It is not their faith.

They believe that God is God and that Moses is His man. That the words of Moses are trustworthy and that they need to follow them, yet, they pass the opportunity to hear the voice of god for themselves because they a fearful. It is, after all, a very dark cloud!

I wonder how many of us have passed up the possibility of drawing closer to God for fear of what might happen?

Here is a question – Does God love us?

For me, the answer is a resounding “YES!” and yet I find that I quiver in fear in case I fail time and again. God is my Father and He loves me. First, he would not set me up for failure. Second, even if I did fail, he would not let me hurt myself or His plan.

I guess I am wondering around in order to ask a simple question of myself and others. Do I believe the voice of my fear MORE than I believe the Word or God? We do what we believe… what does my action say about what I believe?

More cogitation needed, I feel. Any thoughts would be appreciated…


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I don’t want balance… I want Truth

It is always great to receive comments following a blog post. Keep them coming readers!

After a recent post, where I offered some suggestions about useful web resources for theology, I received a comment from a friend who offered me some alternative sites with some theological views that were different to the ones I had offered. I would summarise them by saying that they were less Reformed and more Post-evangelical. He suggested that they might offer some balance to the sites that I had suggested and give people some alternative ideas. This got me to thinking…

Do I want balance on this blog?

I did have a look at the sites and they were very interesting. But I did not particularly agree with the theological perspective from which they were written.

This is not, in itself, a problem. If a person is a mature Christian and interested in theology, then there is nothing to fear from reading ideas and opinions that are different from their own. In fact, it can be both healthy and educational.

When I was studying theology I looked at many ideas that were properly opposed to my own theology. I had severe concerns about the writings of Fredrik Schleiermacher, Rudolf Bultmann and John Spong, who were on my reading list. There are also whole swathes of the works of Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and Karl Barth that cause me some trouble. In honesty, even now, there are certain things that Mark Driscoll teaches (who I recommended in my previous blog) that I am not sure I agree with.

But that is OK. People do not need to agree with me to be saved. They need to believe in Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life. If it were up to me, Bolton Wanderers supporters would not get into heaven and anyone who thought computer games were a waste of time would be dancing on the edge of heresy.

One of the things that Mark Driscoll teaches, which I have found incredibly useful, is that idea of Closed and Open handed issues. Mark says that the closed handed issues of theology are those for which one would face death to uphold. Among these would be the divinity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, the Sovereignty of God, the Trinity and so on. The open handed issues are those which, were an agent of evil to hold a gun to my head, claiming that they will pull the trigger if I did not back down, I would back down. One of these, for me, might be 6-day creation. I am in no doubt that God Created the heavens and the earth, but I am not really sure I would take a bullet over whether he did it in a literal 6 days or a metaphorical 6 days. (I am sorry if this offends you, dear reader).

As far as I am concerned, on the closed handed issues, I do not want balance, I want truth. On the open handed issues, I am open to discussion.

This Blog is my own work and my own ideas. I am concerned less with balance, and more with expression of what is bubbling up inside of me. There are aspects to it that people might not agree with and that is OK. If you believe that Jesus is Lord and have accepted Him as your saviour, then I am happy. You might be wrong on some things, but that is the most important one and the rest we can discuss (vigorously if necessary).

In our society, it is not acceptable to say that someone is wrong. It is believed by the majority of people that, as long as a person’s belief does not hurt anyone else, they have a right to hold that belief and that it is ‘true for them’. This is a travesty of truth. If a person is wrong, then they are wrong. There is nothing wrong in my pointing it out to them, or their pointing it out to me. It is what one does to that person when they are wrong that matters.

You might be wrong… but I promise not to burn you at the stake or hand you over to the inquisition. I hope that you will offer me the same respect. I don’t want balance, I want truth! But I don’t need to stone people when they disagree with me.

It comes down to this…

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

It is not about being right; it is about how we treat people when they are wrong.

I hope that this does not read as too much of a ramble and I would be fascinated to have people’s thoughts on this subject. I look forward to your replies.


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Paint yourself Blue!

Even as I read this passage from Philippians I feel my heart racing and my blood rising. I feel a Braveheart moment coming where I look across the valley at the enemy and feel the call to battle. I want to (metaphorically at least) paint myself blue and charge naked at the enemy with my sword in hand. I feel the call to sacrifice everything, even my life, in the cause of Jesus because there is nothing of more import or value than being found in Jesus.

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God is by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9)

In comparison to knowing Jesus and being found in Him, everything else pales into insignificance. When I find Jesus, He is wonderful, vibrant HD colour in comparison to 8 inch, valve driven, cathode ray black and white. There is nothing in the world that is as wonderful or fantastic as knowing Jesus. Every other thing that I could have or inherit is not just rubbish in comparison, but toilet detritus. Every other thing is worthy only of flushing in comparison to knowing Jesus and being found in Him.

This makes me so excited! It makes me take a moment and consider who Jesus is and what he is like. I remember what it was like the first moment when I got up and followed him as my response to his sacrifice and call. It makes me consider afresh the amazing nature of His love for the world that he would leave the Father and take the form of a man and make the ultimate sacrifice on the cross so that the punishment for my sin is paid. I am made alive in Him. Everything else is death. It is shadow in comparison to the life and color and resonance and wonder of Jesus.

HE IS ALIVE AND I AM FOUND IN HIM.

How is it then, that the Christian faith is most often simply a grey, boring, lifeless institution? Is this really the fullness of our inheritance in Jesus and the result of His love and sacrifice? A bland, liberal, middle of the road social club for bland, liberal middle of the road people who fool themselves into thinking that they are ‘radical’ and ‘accepting’ but find the teaching of Jesus too radical for them to accept?

The Church is called to be a reflection of Jesus. A taste of the kingdom of God in a world that is lost in sin. If Jesus is vibrant colour with the full and incredible healing power of God’s Spirit then the Church should be the same. This Jesus who is worthy of total sacrifice is the model of what it is to be a Christian and the image to which the Church should conform.

When I look at the church, however, it does not make me want to paint myself blue and charge at the enemy. (For a start, the pews would get in the way). If I am honest, when I look at the church, the beloved bride of Jesus, it makes me want to walk away. There is so little vibrant life in comparison to the life I find in Jesus. Why should I dress in grey when there is a coat of many colours on offer?

I would rather paint myself blue and charge than dress in grey and cower!

But I cannot walk away because the church is the bride of Jesus. If I walk away I will not find Jesus, because Jesus is with the Church. The Church is the Bride of Christ and he has purchased (as in olden times) with a price so high that only the Son of God can afford to pay it by His blood. The Church is beautiful in His eyes and He is profoundly in love with her.

The fact that the Church often chooses to dress in grey is not a reason to consign her to the rubbish heap. The matter that the church of Jesus has become so used to wearing grey that it seeks to, falsely, justify grey as ‘the will of God’ and ‘the real intention of Jesus’ is not sufficient reason to walk away. Jesus loves her and is coming back to reclaim his bride.

The Church needs a makeover and there are 2 things that need to happen…

  • First, we, the Church, need to look at Jesus instead of the world.

When I look at Jesus I feel my blood rise and my chest fill and the strength of a warrior course through my spirit. I feel that in Him there is a cause worth living for and fighting for and, if necessary, dying for. When I look at the cross I know that my freedom and life has been paid for with the blood of an innocent man and I perceive the overflow of my heart in response. Oh, to be found in Jesus! He is world changing, life transforming, sin saving, life giving and I am his man forever and always.

When I look at the world I feel myself lose hope and sink into despondency.

  • Second, we, the Church, need to remember that we are the beautiful bride of Jesus.

Chosen, purchased and being prepared for unity and new life with Him. Not dressed in grey and enrobed in defeat and fear. Dressed in the image of our vibrant, wonderful, colourful Christ Jesus, who taught the truth, healed the sick, confronted sin, offered salvation and opened the way to God the Father by utterly destroying the power of sin! We are His chosen people, a royal priesthood, the bride.

When I look to Jesus I find motivation and power in the Holy Spirit to BE who Jesus calls me to be. I find the courage and power to charge naked at the enemy so that the battle is joined. The enemy is not the Church…

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

This is no empty and dead religion! I have no idea how we let it seem like such… But it is time to get out the blue paint and charge!

Does anyone want to borrow my blue body paint?


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Burdens 3

I have a good friend who likes to ask a question whenever he hears a sermon or reads a book. “YBH?” “Yes, but how?”

In previous blogs I have looked at Contentedness and I have looked at Burdens, twice. I have said that our burdens come from God (Luke 9:23 and 14:27) and that we are called to be content in all circumstances despite our burdens (Phil 4).

YBH?

How do I carry a burden without being crushed under the weight of it?

All disciples carry burdens, yet our burdens should not drive us to distraction or overwhelm us. Instead, our burdens should drive us to our knees! The way we are able to carry the burdens that the Father has shared with us is by prayer.

The burdens of God should not drive us to depression or make us buckle under the weight. They are not our burdens. We should not take them to ourselves and neither should we quail at their enormity. As I have written previously, burdens should all be handed to Jesus (1 Peter 5:7). Burdens should drive us to pray.

When we pray, we come into the presence of the Living God and we begin to see things according to their proper perspective. Time and again, we see in scripture that God is so much bigger than anything we can face or fear.

In the meeting with Goliath, David hears the giant warrior ridicule God’s people and sees the fear in the reaction of the whole army of God. David says, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the army of God?” (1 Sam 17:26). He knows that the true battle is not between the giant Goliath and men, but between a man and the Living God. When David faces Goliath on the battlefield he says, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty… for the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:45-47). This young man could have been overwhelmed with fear in the same was as his brothers and his king, yet he saw the true perspective. Goliath was not a giant, be was a man facing the Almighty and living God.

The burden we carry is the burden of our Father. Who is our Father? He is the true and living God. Creator of heaven and earth. The One who raised Jesus from the dead and saved us from the sin that we are powerless to defeat in our own strength. He is the only God. The One who accomplishes the impossible and rescues the lost. Our God is Almighty, all powerful and all sorts of other amazing things.

“Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God’?

Do you not know?
 Have you not heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
 They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:27-31)

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer and ministry and he exemplifies them. Time and again he goes to a solitary place and seeks the Father for the next step. Most strikingly, on the night of his trial he is overwhelmed by the enormity of the burden that he carries and prays in the Garden of Gethsemane;

‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:42-44)

The proper response to the burden of God that, when we do not hand it back to God, threatens to overwhelm us, is prayer. It is in the place of prayer where we come to discern the will and direction of God and receive the power to carry it through. It was true of Jesus and it is true of us.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

  • The place of prayer is where we are aware of the wonderful love of God. It causes us to overflowing with the true reality in our whatever predicament we find ourselves. We are saved! He is Lord! We are His!
  • The overflow of this reality is evident in our living to those around us. It is evident to all.
  • We do not need to be anxious… we need to take it all to the Lord. Anxiety is ours alone; peace is of God.
  • Peace comes to us from the certainty in faith that it is all in God’s will through Jesus Christ. It is His burden and we can give it back to Him.
  • The peace that transcends understanding is in Christ. It is this same peace that we find in Philippians 4; the secret of contentedness in all situations.

God shares His burden with us, as a Father to a child. Therefore, we should take it back to Him as children to our Father. It is His burden that we share and so we do not need to take responsibility for it. Our responsibility is to be close to the Father so that we can discern the direction that he moves in. Our responsibility is relationship and our relationship flourishes in prayer and intimacy with Him.

YBH?

  • Prayer. In all things.
  • Pray!
  • Seek God!
  • Pray!
  • Discern!
  • Pray!
  • Act out of relationship!
  • PRAY!!

Burden is a call to intimacy and prayer. Our sense of the burden of God should not drive us to ministry, but to prayer. Nothing we do can make a dent in the mission of God because only God can accomplish that mission. In prayer, however, we go with the flow of God and share in His work, mission and accomplishment as children with their Father.

And Finally…

As Christians we spend a deal of time and energy complaining and moaning about stuff. We struggle with the weight of responsibility in ministry and mission and find ourselves overwhelmed by the scale of God’s mission in a world that rejects the very notion of God. We grumble about our leaders, our churches and our contexts; claiming that we do not have what it takes to do what God wants us to do. Claiming that we do not see the Kingdom of God because we do not have what we need… but we do not pray!

We will try anything else before we try prayer. We will not lay down the burden, ignore the pressures and simply pray because we see only the burden. We are afraid that if we lay it all down then things will not get done and we will not see God’s will. We say that we will pray, but we are too busy at the moment. We say we will pray when we have done what needs to be done!

IT IS NOT OUR BURDEN TO CARRY! IT IS ONLY OUR BURDEN TO PRAY!

The truth is that, UNLESS we lay down the burden at the feet of the Lord we will not see the true power and will of God. As long as we take the burden of God for our own, we will see nothing but the burden we carry. God is so much bigger than we can conceive or imagine; yet we cannot see Him because we carry this enormous burden. PUT IT DOWN AND LOOK. PRAY! Don’t say that it doesn’t work until you have done it.

YBH? Pray!