Thursday, June 23, 2016

Where Do You Place Your Hope?

Is this political year getting to you - and depressing you - like it is to me? I renewed my hope by reading this piece by Stephen McAlpine - Christ's Parousia Is Our Salvation Not Christian Politics
Hey I went into Christian bookshop, Koorong, this morning (just for academic research purposes of course), and guess what?
Hidden  on the shelves behind The Women’s Devotional Study Bible, The Men’s Devotional Study Bible, The Spirit-filled Life Application Bible, and The Prosperity Gospel Bible (is that even a thing?) was the 21st Century Western Christians’ Guide to Modern Politics Bible
What a find!
And the latest edition comes with “how to vote” cards in the upcoming US Presidential election, the soon to be upon us Australian Federal Election, and the Brexit campaign in the UK. Pretty nifty huh?
And as is my wont  with new editions I went to a specific text to see if they got it right. And here’s how one of my favourite test-case texts, Colossians 1:3, reads in the 21st Century Western Christians’ Politics Bible:
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when  we pray for you, since we have heard about your faith in the political process, and of the love that you have for those Christians on your side of the political fence, because of the hope laid up for you on election night.
Nailed it right there.  Faith. Love. Hope.  All directed in this age of course.  All focussed on the goals and plans of this age.  The 21st Century Western Christians’ Political Bible should sell like hot cakes.  Maybe not in Syria, but Sydney certainly.  Maybe not in Poland, but definitely in Perth.
Ok, I jest, but is it that far from the thought patterns of many Christians in the West (both progressives and conservatives) today?
For two things struck me after the dust stirred up around my Hanoi Jane post had settled, in which I called out progressives for their lack of gospel eschatology.
Firstly, if Facebook comments  – often merely faux intellectualism posing as academic rigour – are any indication, we’re in trouble. There’s Buckley’s chance of a civil conversation with the secular framework about our social disagreements if we can’t have a civil conversation amongst ourselves.
Modern Western Christians are struggling to do Gospel conflict well at the moment.  Pure and simple.   They have drunk deeply from the tainted Kool Aid in the political punch bowl.
But secondly, and more importantly, eschatology has fallen off the Christian radar, particularly, though not exclusively from the progressive crowd.
So much so that my state conviction that our hope is grounded not in this age, but in the age to come, was sneeringly referred to as “neo-fundy”.
Now to be fair, this lack of a robust eschatology is a politically conservative problem too. Or it was, right up until the point in which many conservatives realised that the culture war was lost.  After all, the hope of the Moral Majority in the US was to “take this country back”. Since that’s not going to happen, where should we look? (No, the answer is not Donald Trump).
Here’s my concern: Since when did it become an arcane historical curiosity for Christians to believe what we’ve believed since the resurrection? Since when was it reactionary  to believe this: Christ’s parousia will ultimately rescue us, not Christian politics?
For that’s what we believe, right?  That Christ’s parousia will ultimately rescue us, not Christian politics? Don’t we?
That’s why Colossians 3:4 states (in the ESV)
When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory
Note the use of the word “ultimately” in my statement. It’s a great caveat. A robust eschatology does not negate doing good in this world, or render it redundant, but rather, it gives it shape and meaning. Our ultimate rescue is through Parousia not Parliament.
What does a robust eschatology give to our politics? Here are three things to start with:
1.Humility.
Modern politics is so often proud, angry, and determined to have its way.  We fall into that trap all too easily.  The primary reason it is so, is that politics imagines that it alone is our salvation.
Our eschatology reminds us that we are ultimately not going to change the world to fit our own image.  In fact we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, and our ultimate conformation will occur at His return.
2. Charity.
There’s not a lot of that in politics, and precious little of it among Christians in the political process.  And that goes for all sides.
How can we, who will share eternity with each other, in which Jesus is undisputed, self-declared, unelected King, think for one moment that our side is the right side on everything, bar none?
3. A High View of Human Life
Eschatology, rightly understood, means that you will pray for and help the refugee who comes here by boat, and you will pray for and help in any way possible, the unborn child.
The progressives will hate you for the one, and the conservatives for the other.  And rightly so, for you are shaped by the politics of the age to come, not the politics of this age.
The Lord is returning to judge the world in righteousness because it’s His! He owns it.  He owns every life on the planet.  He gets to decide its worth. Every human life on the planet is created Imago Dei.  That means you don’t get to scorn or shun the boat arrivals, and you don’t get to scrape the unborn out of a womb.
It matters not a jot where you think the official journey of the asylum seeker originated – Afghanistan or Indonesia – they belong to God and are created Imago Dei.
It matters not a jot whether you think life begins at conception or life begins at birth, that life is not yours to take, it was created for and by God.
God owns all life and his judgement on the final day through Christ will silence a lot of loud-mouthed naysayers on both those issues.
Now whatever else you call this perspective – neo-fundy, non-academic, no-room-for-it-in-the-academy, let’s be clear: eschatology is central to the Christian faith.  When it falls off the radar then all sorts of utopian fancies stir within us. Utopian fancies that are proud, loveless, and view humans who do not meet their criteria as “persons” with disdain and indifference.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Revelation of Our Hearts

Are you content? If not, maybe it says something more about you (and me) than about our circumstances. Discontentment Says Something About You, Not Your Circumstances by Philip Graham Ryken (Via Crossway)
Grumble, Grumble
In Exodus 15, the Israelites camped by the springs of Elim for several weeks, lingering under the palm trees and taking long drinks of cool water. Then it was time to move on. They were on a spiritual journey—a pilgrimage that reveals the pattern of the Christian life.
The spiritual geography of Israel's exodus from Egypt can be mapped onto the experience of our own souls. Although there are times of refreshing, usually they do not last for long. Soon it is time to head back into the desert, which is a place of testing and spiritual growth.
The Israelites headed deeper into the wilderness. Soon they were tired and hungry, and once again they started to complain. Whining was Israel's besetting sin. It started when Moses first went to Pharaoh and people complained that he was making their job harder instead of easier (Ex. 5:21). They grumbled at the Red Sea, where they accused Moses of bringing them out into the desert to die. The grumbling continued more or less for 40 years, as they became a nation of malcontents.
Discontent With God
Our own complaints are not caused by our outward circumstances; rather, they reveal the inward condition of our hearts. Really, the Israelites had nothing to complain about. They were not running out of food, but were confusing what they wanted with what they needed. This is often the source of our discontent: thinking that our "greeds" are really our needs.
The Israelites also exaggerated the advantages of their former situation. "Remember the good old days?" They said. Looking back with longing on their time in Egypt, they imagined themselves bellying up to Pharaoh's buffet. Yet it is doubtful that, as slaves, they were ever treated so lavishly.
Israel's attitude is a warning against the great sin of complaining. Although they complained to Moses, they were really grumbling against God. By saying that it would have been better for God to let them die back in Egypt, they were really saying that they wished they had never been saved.
We need to be honest about the fact that all of our dissatisfaction is discontent with God. Usually we take out our frustrations on someone else. But God knows that when we grumble, we are finding fault with him. A complaining spirit indicates a problem in our relationship with God.

The irony, of course, is that God always gives us exactly what we need. For the Israelites, this meant manna in the wilderness. For us it means the true Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Facing Your Pain

I needed to read this. Maybe you do too.  Ignoring Your Pain Will Only Hurt You In the Long Run by Jarrid Wilson
Pain can come packaged in many different ways. While one can encounter this burden through the loss of a loved one, another could have lost a job or even found out that they’re battling a life-threatening sickness. Regardless of how; pain is very, very real. Pain is not something we can avoid in life no matter how hard we really try. It’s a vital part of our human existence, and if treated correctly, will harvest much wisdom and knowledge.

I’ve heard the phrase “Just push through the pain” more times that I can count in my lifetime. And what seems like an encouraging an inspirational memo for those going through a tough time, any doctor will tell you that this is simply not a good idea. Why? Because ignoring the pain you have now can possibly cause further damage in the future. It’s important to fix what is broken.  Ignoring the hard parts of life will only make life more difficult.

Pushing through the pain is just as bad as ignoring it. You must acknowledge your pain in order to find healing and redemption. If you’re struggling with depression and anxiety, then maybe it’s time to fully admit that you’re struggling so that you can find help. If you’re fearful of what the future has in store for you, then maybe it’s time express that fear to a friend or loved one so they can better understand what you’re going through. If your heart is hurting and you’ve yet to open up about the pain, then maybe it’s time to drop your guard and start letting people see your brokenness. People can’t help you if they don’t know you need it.
Regardless of what you are going through in life, you must choose to look your pain in the face and make a conscious decision to fight, not flee. Pain can sometimes be a tricky subject to deal with, but it’s better to deal with it rather than never attempt at all.

There were plenty of times in my life where I ignored what I was going through because I thought I didn’t have enough time, or that my pain wasn’t that big of deal in the grand scheme of things. I couldn’t have been more wrong about my assumptions of how to deal with pain, and it was until I found myself googling painless ways to commit suicide that I realize how badly “pushing through the pain” had truly affected my life. I never one thought to reach out to people because I was afraid of what others may think. I failed to realize that we’re all broken in some way or another and that not reaching to anybody quickly put me in a corner of loneliness and despair.
The moment I found hope was a moment I’ll never forget. It was a moment where I chose to accept the reality that I was hurting and open myself to the comfort found in the truth of God and actions of those around me. I found people who related to my struggles and found themselves just as broken as I had felt. It was a rejuvenating experience to admit my pain, to really own it instead of trying to ignore. I learned throughout my life that time and time again, pushing through the pain will only make things worse.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Stupid Phrases

Everyone knows someone who has been through a crises. Everyone seems to get it wrong when it comes to helping that friend. Everyone needs to learn these lesson- please read Stupid Phrases For People In Crises by Marilyn Gardner


  1. God will never give you more than you can handle. While some may believe it is theologically correct, depending on your definitions, it is singularly unhelpful to the person who is neck-deep in a crisis, trying to swim against a Tsunami. A wonderful phrase recently came from Support for Special Needs. They suggest changing this from “God will never give you more than you can handle” to “Let me come over and help you do some laundry.” This strikes me as even more theologically correct.
  2. It gets better. Yes, yes it does. But right then, it’s not better. And before it gets better, it may get way worse.
  3. When God shuts a door, he opens a window. Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe he just shuts a door. Maybe there is no window. There was no window for Job. There was a cosmic battle that raged as he sat in distress. There might not be a window. And if Job’s friends had kept their silence, perhaps God would not have told Job to pray for them at the end of the narrative.
  4. Did you pray about it? Again – theologically correct. “Don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything…” but in a crisis, you don’t heap guilt onto pain and suffering. At a time of deep pain in my life, someone said this to me. I looked at him in silence, and then with a shaky voice I said: “We haven’t been able to pray in three months–so no, we haven’t prayed about it.” I was in so much pain– it was like he had slapped me. Pray for the person, but please, please leave the clichés at home.
  5. God is good – all the time. Another one that is technically theologically correct. But is it helpful to say this when someone has just lost a child and is screaming at Heaven? Is it helpful to say this to the person who just had their fifth miscarriage? Is it helpful to say this to the woman going through a divorce, because her marriage could not hold up under the stress of a special needs child? They may say it, and we can nod our heads in agreement. But for us to say this from a place that is calm and safe will probably not be helpful.
  6. But for the grace of God go I. “But why you? Why do you get that grace and not me? Why am I the one in the crisis? Was God’s grace withheld from me?” Those are valid responses to that phrase. I understand the phrase, and I’ve used it myself, but it doesn’t help the person who is in deep pain.
  7. Don’t worry. God’s in Charge. Yeah? Well, he’s not doing a very good job then is he? God is in control, but it brings up some serious theological implications about God’s role in the crisis. Instead of a theology of suffering, we might want to think about a fellowship of suffering. Because a fellowship of suffering leads me to sit with a person and say “It’s too much to bear – may I sit with you and bear it with you?”
  8. Maybe God needed to get your attention. Thank God no one ever said this to me during times of crisis – because I might have to punch them in the face with a knife. That’s all.
  9. Maybe it happened for a reason. Remember what I said about punching someone in the face with a knife? Yeah – that.
  10. Just call me if you need anything. While I want to appreciate this, the fact is that people in crisis usually don’t have the ability to call, so they won’t. Even if you don’t know someone well, you can bring them a meal or drive them somewhere.
  11. I could never go through what you’re going through. Come again my friend?? This does not comfort. A false elevation of the character and ability to cope of the person going through the crisis only serves to further wound and isolate. The one who is going through a crisis longs to be on the other side. They wake up and breathe deeply, only to remember the awful reality of their situation, and wish they didn’t have to go through it.
  12. When I think of your situation, I’m reminded how blessed I am. No. No. No. First off, this is theologically completely incorrect. The beatitudes heap blessing on those that mourn, on those who are meek, on those who are poor in spirit — not on those who are safe, secure, financially stable, and proud. Those in crisis are not an illustration of how blessed everyone else is. In  the counter intuitive, upside down way of the Kingdom of God, blessing looks completely different than what we in the West have made it to mean. There are big problems with our use of the word and concept of blessing.
So what do we do? How do we respond?
I think those are difficult questions, but the best analogy I have for people in acute crisis is looking at them as burn victims. Caring for burn victims is divided into three stages that overlap.
The first is the emergent or resuscitative stage. At this stage priority is given to removing the person from the source of the burn and stopping the burning process. The big things to think about are fluid replacement, nutrition, and pain management. Translated into crisis care, this means we’ll bring meals, coffee money, and pick up children from day care.
The second stage is the acute or wound healing stage. At this stage, the body is trying to reach a state of balance, while remaining free from infection. During this stage, patients can become withdrawn, combative, or agitated. This stage can be a lengthy and unpredictable stage. Burn victims, like people in crisis, often lash out at those closest to them. Translate this into listening, listening, and listening some more.
The final stage is the rehabilitative or restorative stage. The goal at this stage is for a patient to resume a functional role within their family and community. Reconstruction surgery may be needed. Encouragement and reassurance are critical to the person at this stage. This would translate into going on walks with the person, taking them out to a movie or dinner, having them over for coffee or a meal.
Burn care has a lot to teach us about loving and caring for people in crisis. And those who care for burn victims rarely use clichés — they are too busy caring.
In February, I wrote a piece called Toward a Fellowship of Suffering, and I’ll end what could be a cynical post, with words from that piece.
“There is something about suffering that longs for someone to sit with us through the pain. It’s the fellowship of suffering. It’s the words ‘you are not alone’ put into action. The sitting bears witness to our pain. More than a card or a casserole, the familiar, patient presence of another says to us ‘it’s too much for you to bear, but I will be with you, I will sit with you.'”

Monday, June 6, 2016

Grace All the Way Down

Can't say too much about grace! Here's Jared Wilson:
In his book A Brief History of Time, physicist Stephen Hawking shared this well-traveled anecdote:
A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”
According to Christian theology, what is the ratio of grace to works in the salvation equation? 1 to 0. Not one speck, not one microgram, not one atom of works there. It is all grace or no grace. Wring and wrestle all you want, but it is grace all the way down.
This “all-the-way-down-ness” of grace is essential to authentic Christianity. Thus Paul’s logic in Romans 11:6—if salvation is by grace, it cannot be by works, because if it’s by works, it’s no longer grace, and if it’s no longer grace, it’s no longer Christianity.
And you see the depths of the impact of grace in the way Paul speaks about the remnant in Romans 11:5-6 being chosen by grace, saved by grace, and sustained by grace. Clearly, grace runs deeper than simply inspiring a conversion experience.
The importance of distinguishing between works and grace in Christian teaching is not simply to distinguish the doctrines and definitions but to distinguish what actually works to transform people and what doesn’t. The truth that every other religion in the world misses is this: commandments have no power.
Another thing we notice in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 is a rather peculiar bit of information about this information we call the gospel. The gospel is news, yes, but it appears to be more than just mere data. It’s like a newspaper headline—“Son of God dies for the sins of the world”—but it does things no other newspaper headline could ever do.
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, we see that the good news of grace isn’t just power enough for our conversion (“you received”) but for the ongoing declaration of our definitive justification (“in which you stand”) and the progressive sanctifying work we are undergoing and future glorification we will enjoy in heaven (“by which you are being saved”).
It is important to think about the gospel this way, not just because this is what the Bible teaches about the gospel, but because it helps us distinguish the gospel’s power from the law’s power. In our churches too often we believe the way people change is by receiving more instruction. Instruction is good, and we need it. There’s lot of instructions in the Bible, and we shouldn’t ignore them. But the way the Bible says people actually change, deep down in the heart, where the sincerity is seated that makes our behavior worship of God instead of worship of self, is by believing in the gospel.
In 2 Corinthian 3:18 Paul says that it is by beholding the glory of Jesus Christ that we are transformed from one degree of glory to another. Truly “seeing” Christ in the gospel as supreme and satisfying and saving is what empowers us to worship him. The law cannot do that!
But we do the logic of the law and think it works the other way. And so does everybody else. We know how people change—we just tell them to get their act together! But do you know that what will change the world is not a millisecond of your complaints against it? This is why every day on Facebook our friends and families link to article after article of opposing political and religious demagoguery and nobody ever changes their mind. Certainly nobody ever changes their heart because they were told to behave differently.
So while every other religion and philosophy in the world says change comes from within and “salvation” (however it’s defined) is achieved by the right behaviors, only Christianity teaches that real change comes from outside of ourselves and that salvation is achieved by Christ’s behavior. And because only Christ’s historical, atoning work provides eternal life, it is only this work that goes all the way down to our deepest needs.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Loving and Yiefding

'Observe again that Paul has exhorted husbands and wives to reciprocity. . . To love therefore, is the husband's part, to yield pertains to the other side. If, then, each one contributes his own part, all stand firm. From being loved, the wife too becomes loving; and from her being submissive, the husband learns to yield.'

St. John Chrysostom (HT:Holy Fathers)