Saturday, 27 December 2014

Liberal Life & My Vision For 2015

I love living in a liberal society I really do, but I'm becoming increasingly concerned about it as well.

By liberal I mean loose and tolerant. It's wonderful to live in a culture that has so few taboos and even the ones it does have are there to try and preserve the spirit of liberalism and acceptance. Wonderful, but also a bit unnerving especially since things move so fast nowadays.

Who knows what popular culture will be prizing and demonising in 50 years time.

It seems that even the most open-minded of people could well find themselves on the 'wrong side of history' if they refuse to keep pace with the flow of ideas and the shifting of values.

Four times. Four times this year I've heard in varying formats the idea that for some people paedophilia is a normal perversion, a birth defect like say diabetes (as one expert suggested in a recent documentary). The underlying point being made in each setting was that since this is a real struggle for some, the rest of us really ought to work harder to understand and empathises with them. Recent findings suggest that paedophilia is the result of a person's hardware and therefore not something that can be helped. I don't recall hearing this idea once in any year prior to this one and so each time it's stood out to me:

  • Once in an article in the Telegraph reporting on a study done by Cambridge University.
  • Once as a storyline in a recent BBC Drama
  • Once in a documentary on Channel 4
  • Once in police statement in a recent news article

Now to try and speculate where these recent discoveries and new found sympathy for paedophiles is heading would only sound like apocalyptic scaremongering, so I won't even try. Besides one would hope we can trust the pooled wisdom of society to keep our children safe. One would hope.

But it still concerns me, and not for the reasons some might think.

In the past few decades there has been a healthy amount of balance and correction brought to some of our extremes. Alienated minorities in society are being given a voice, being shown to be fully human and thus fully deserving of dignity and respect. All of these moves have been good things in my opinion and worthwhile and valuable redresses to our social consciences. Therefore it isn't the 'discoveries' that some of these studies into paedophilia have concluded that's the problem for me. Of course paedophiles are human beings and not monsters, of course they're sexually perverse and deserving of help and sympathy. That's not the problem.

What worries me is that more and more as a society we seem to be drawing our conclusions about what 'ought' to be done and how people 'ought' to be treated by looking at what 'is'. What I mean is because some people are... addicted to food, image obsessed, unable to settle down, free spirited etc. we really should allow them to just be like that, we ought to. We ought to provide NHS gastric bands for the gluttonous, cosmetic surgery for the... or be more tolerant and approving of the unfaithful or work-shy. We ought to because that's what life is.

Those are oughts being dictated by an is, and it's worrying because it's no way to make policies or change laws or play with our social conscience. Yes people have been treated badly, ostracised, alienated and abused because of their difference but no that doesn't mean we should swing the other way either.

A friend of mine who's an expert in philosophy points out that the whole 'is-ought' thing is a logical fallacy (an error in our reasoning). It's clear that when our 'is' determines our 'oughts' we can end up in a lot of hot water. It's a case of the tail wagging the proverbial dog.

Now, going further (and again avoiding scaremongering) why this concerns me is because as a society we appear to have lost a clear larger storyline into which we believe our lives all fit and find their meaning. We are adrift from meaning. Add to that an observation that we have become less and less community or society minded and you see why I might be a littler worried. More and more what motivates us is, Me and My comfort. We are being encouraged to embrace our individualism and selfish ambition, encouraged to search for Self-actualisation and Self-fulfilment. Personal happiness is now allowed to lead and motivate us. So we find ourselves not caring what a new piece of legislation may do as long as I can still get the pay rise I deserve for the hard work I've put in at my job. Or we care less and less how the passing of a new law might change things for my kids as long as I can still go on holiday next year with my friends, as long as I can upgrade my standard of living or maintain it.

When I say that we've lost our bigger storyline for living that's perhaps not entirely true. It is instead that we've traded a common, all-in-this-together for the common good, or for God's glory or for human development narrative for a narrow me and mine storyline. We've always had this built into our hardwire it's just that now we've been given permission to promote it and not be so coy about the whole thing. We've been given permission to do so by what our wider culture celebrates. We've been given permission to dream of being famous rather than virtuous or successful rather than helpful. Our attention is allowed to shift from a wide-angled image of history to a narrow and individual one.

So... Britain wants out of Europe, Scotland out of Britain and Cornwall out of England. Independence is prized over Togetherness and My short term happiness over Our long term aim.

That's why for all its beauty and generosity, liberal life gives me cause for concern. If our mantra is 'anything goes' then it can be assumed that in time anything will. We're less concerned with how something might affect us just as long as it doesn't unsettle me.

(now I appreciate that all this reflects a very cynical view of human nature, but I speak my own experience of my own personal selfishness. I may, of course, be wrong to project that onto everyone else but something tells me that I'm not too far off...)

As 2014 draws to a close I'm going to make it my aim to seek my meaning and purpose for living in the larger storyline of what God has created me and called me to do and be:
I am a husband, a father, a son, brother and friend. I am a member of God's family the church, a pastor in it and a part of God's great storyline of redeeming and restoring planet earth, something that occurs when we prize his Son above Our/My ambition.
I have been called to die to myself daily to serve and honour my wife with my life and to bring the power and activity of God to bear on the stuff of my life. And this calling is something I am unable to do on my own...

Thursday, 25 December 2014

What Jesus Means To Me

It's Christmas time! But what's all the fuss about? This is a short blog on who Jesus is and what he means to me.

If you've ever wondered why a baby in a manger means so much to so many people here's something I read recently that will help. You see although the Bible doesn't have too much to say about the Christmas card scene of oxen and donkeys, swaddling cloths and inn keepers it does wax lyrical about the identity and implications of just who the baby in the crib is:
Jesus Christ, God's perfect Son, is the Beloved of the Father, the Song of the angels, the Logic of creation, the great Mystery of godliness, the bottomless Spring of life, comfort and joy. We were made to find our satisfaction, our heart's rest, in him. 
We can get distracted by so many things and not just at Christmas time as well. We in the church as much as those outside take only fleeting glimpses at Jesus before 'graduating' onto something else:
It's not just our self-focus, though; we naturally gravitate, it seems, towards anything but Jesus - and Christians almost as much as anyone. Whether it's the 'Christian worldview', 'grace', 'the Bible' or 'the gospel'; as if they were things in themselves that could save us. Even 'the cross' can get abstracted form Jesus, as if the wood had some power of its own. Other things, wonderful things, vital concepts, beautiful discoveries, they so easily edge Jesus aside. Precious theological concepts meant to describe him and his work get treated as things in their own right. He becomes just another brick in the wall. But the centre, the cornerstone, the jewel in the crown of Christianity is not an idea, a system or a thing; it is not even 'the gospel' as such. It is Jesus Christ.
Beautiful! Jesus is all in all. Jesus makes me burst with delight. Not some religious ideas or some ancient philosophies but Jesus, the person, my friend and saviour. I find it so strange (from an objective point of view) that such fierce and strong emotions could be felt simply by reading the words above off a page. Yet it isn't the words that excite me but the truth they bear witness to. Jesus is my saviour, my Lord, my God yes - but he is so much more. He is the life in my veins, the song of my heart, the delight of my soul. His goodness to me satisfies like nothing else, his richness, his kindness, his mercy, his happiness shared, his compassion, his leadership, his teaching and even his rebuke, everything about him fills and enriches every part of me. I cannot comprehend not least explain the richness and the strength of such feelings. It may be fuelled in part by a good cup of coffee or some favourable circumstances but I know that it is much richer and more substantial than that.

One author in light of all this, wrote to a friend with this advice:
Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief. Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love and repose in his almighty arms... Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in him.
Jesus is all in all. The greatest influencer and driver of history, the world's true king and the rescuer come to redeem us from our sin.

I love Jesus and Christmas gives me the clarity of perspective enough to see it and boldness I need to say it.

Happy Christmas!!

Monday, 22 December 2014

God the Father: Grace & Truth

Devotional reflections on the Father from John's gospel


This morning's full reading can be found here
'and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.'
John 1:14 

To begin with, let's ask a couple of questions about this verse: What is glory and whose glory have we seen? 

Glory; it's a hard word to properly define and explain. It's a word that's similar to majesty except less inseparable from royalty, and it's shinier in appearance. The dictionary uses words like resplendent, honour, praiseworthy to describe it. It could also be simplified to mean 'value' or 'worth' and in this sense John (the writer of this gospel) is saying, 'we have seen his value.' or 'we have seen how worthy he is'.

But whose value or worth is John talking about? We can't just assume we know the answer to this.

The answer John provides is 'glory as of the only son from the Father', and what I find so fascinating here is the way that it reads - only son from the Father - it sounds like a title or name. Jesus is (take a deep breath) the 'only-son-from-the-Father', rather like how many of my friends from Africa have names that actually mean something, like my friend Msizi, who's name (Msisiwhethu) means 'God is my helper'.

Jesus is the one who isn't just called 'The-Only-Son-From-The-Father', he actually lives up to it. He is the only one whose entire life and being can claim to be like that of the Father's enough that it can be said of him that 'he's the true son'. Based purely on Jesus' character, behaviour and life God the Father could say (and does) 'you're a true son'.

Understanding this is important, and understanding it means that whatever we can say about Jesus' character we can say about his Father. Jesus has always been 'Son', therefore it is true that God has also always been 'Father'. God is a creator and a ruler, but before he was those things (before he made anything or ruled over anything) he was still Father.

Finally it can also be said that since Jesus is 'full of grace and truth' the Father is also, or more accurately - the reason the Son is FULL (bursting to overflowing) of grace and truth, is precisely because the Father is.
This is our God and as one author puts it: 'there is no God behind Jesus' back.'


Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that the Son is different in character to the Father; that the Son is approachable and the Father austere, that the Son is full of grace and the Father lacking in it.

This is not the case and we must adjust our thinking about the Father if we're to know him as he really is, rather than as we've come to think he is by taking our lead from the poor imitations of him we are surrounded by.

If this is a problem for you why not use today's prayer to begin a 'decluttering' of wrong ideas about the Father:


Thank you Father that you are FULL of grace and truth. Help me to 'get my head around that'. Help me to know you as you actually are, not as I've been conditioned to think you are. Help me to see how you manage to hold both grace and truth in tension and aren't soft or lacking in either of them. Help me as well to behave like you toward others and show them the kind of grace and kindness as well as truth that you have shown me.