Friday, 26 February 2010

We're not nomophobes (part 1)

Some of you know that my fiance and I are intent on reading through the whole bible together. The current plan is to read one book of OT then do an NT book then a Psalm then back to OT and so on and so on. We've already done the first OT book which was a really instructive and edifying time (including the initially intriguing chapter 38).

More recently we've been looking at Matthew's gospel and I must confess that it has been somewhat hard-going given its unfamiliarity (of the 4 gospels I'm only barely au fait with Mark and know John's gospel a little bit and, I've been to theological college!).

In addition to my struggles of unfamiliarity. Another area where I have been challenged is in the way Matthew presents our adherence to the law as a good thing - something to be diligently embraced. Think for example of

Matthew 5:17-20 - "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.


Matthew 7:12 - So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.


Matthew Matthew 22:36-40 - "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Verses such as these have led me to wonder if evangelicals whilst trying to reiterate that salvation is all of grace alone, have unwittingly abandoned a key motif of Scripture namely, that nomos ("the law") is good?

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Quote of the week

"Good taste like good morals is acquired and built"

Brad Belschner, In Defense of Sauerkraut, 10

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

What a dude!

One of my favourite books is titled "If: Questions for the Game of Life". Essentially, this book contains 500 questions, meant to be a stimulus for good and interesting conversation in an informal setting. Furthermore, the questions can also be used to gain insights into one's ambitions, priorities and desires in a more indirect rather than intense or superficial manner.

One of my best questions in this book is: If you could have a dinner party at which anyone - either living or dead - could come, which 5 people would you invite? I love this question because in part it reveals who one's heroes are: those whom we think are remarkable in some way.

My list of which 5 people I'd like to have, keeps changing but there is one person who regularly features on it. His name is Polycarp and as I reflect on how brave and unflinching he was in his commitment to the King of Kings over 1,800 years ago yesterday, I give thanks to God for strengthening him in his hour of need, and look forward to meeting Him at the greatest dinner party of all.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Hey dream, I'm gonna call mama

For some strange reason, I've had an unusually high spate of nightmares. The most recurring, has involved me standing in front of a mirror, finishing getting dressed up on the morning of my wedding, and s-l-o-w-l-y realising that - agony of agonies - I have no speech prepared.

As I begin to comprehend my predicament + the fact that there is such little time before having to stand up before friends and family (and of course the lovely R) the agonising questions begin: How I'll begin the speech? Should I try to be funny or shall I just keep it simple and sweet? Will I remember to thank everyone? Will I be able to effuse about the lovely R in the exact manner that I want to? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrgh!

One quiet afternoon at work, I found myself thinking back to my childhood as I tried to recollect how I dealt with horrible experiences way way back then... After some pondering I realised I couldn't think of any specific remedy that my folks had for nightmares but what really struck me was that rather than give us one simple answer, rather than say to us if you have a bad dream just say "Hey bad dream, I'm going to call mama" they were steadfast in modelling to us a life devoid of worrying and over-anxiety.

Whatever the situation that we faced, mum and dad were never lacking in thankfulness to God. Were it that we'd had a tough day at school, or that one of us was not too well, or even when one evening we heard that one of mum's close relatives had died, my folks were unwavering tin turning to Scripture, in giving thanks to God, and in saying to us little ones when we looked worried something to the effect of "Do not fear, God is near."

Only now as I reflect on this, do I see that mum and dad taught us such an invaluable lesson. That to follow Christ means being convinced that nightmare or no nightmare,
God works all things for the good of those who love Him.

As this sinks in, it is hard to overstate how thankful I am for the example of such godly parents and for their unyielding trust in God's goodness.

So now with less than 3 months to go before I leave mummy and daddy and be united to the lovely Miss M, how I pray that I would remember the many things both said and seen about our great saviour - He is near... Therefore awful dreams - I will not fear.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

It's all potentially dangerous

A post that I'd written for some friends was put up on their site last Sunday and since then it has generated considerable comment (see Polycarp beats Valentines at

I was essentially arguing for Christians/the Church to re-think how they order their year and saying that instead of following the world's festivals/yearly routines, we should instead pattern our year on something more like the medieval Church year (the same post appears here

Understandably, some of the comments against this view are concerned that such practice carries with it lots of dangers such as the veneration of the saints and the embrace of empty/self-justifying ritual. I completely agree.

Nevertheless, we want to be careful when we make such criticisms. Everything in God's creation carries with it some dangers. In other words, it is all potentially dangerous. Think about it. Money, sex, food, alcohol are areas where abuse and misuse easily occurs. Thus Scripture has warnings for us to be careful how we handle each of these things. But notice, it never says X is dangerous therefore it is to be abandoned. This would be to fall for the ascetic error of denying the goodness of creation and retreating into a supposed pure enclave (as some attempted to do with the establishment of monastries). For us to abandon and reprove the use of something in creation, we would need Scripture to say

"X is dangerous because it is sinful" rather than simple "X is dangerous" (which is a statement that I think applies to all creation)

I want to suggest therefore that a more biblical approach before repudiating an issue because of it has inherent dangers, is to ask a follow up question i.e. If X is dangerous, in what ways is it dangerous? Once this question is answered clearly - Scripture in hand - we will be in a place to see that there are ways in which alcohol, food, sex, money and even the Church year can be embraced without falling into sin.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Contentment in the air

I'm really thankful to God that in his wisdom and providence, I was born and raised up in Kenya. It is a beautiful country and its people are generous and rather laid back. The other thing that I'm increasingly aware of (having now lived in the UK for 10+ years) is how Kenyans tend to take everything God gives them without much grumbling. There is a sense of contentment in the air. I notice it most when I go and visit really poor relatives back home and they don't spend their time moaning about their lot in life and are usually glad to give of all they have (e.g. cooking up the few eggs they had been saving for their Sunday 'feast'). Unlike these poor relations, I've actually noticed that since being in the UK (where we/I have so much) I have become more and more discontent.

One of the places where this ugly friend has reared its head is in my search for a curacy. Some of you know that for many months, I've been looking for a training post and now that I've found one, I've ironically found myself comparing this new God-given opportunity with the curacies that my peers are in or about to begin. You'd think I'be spending my time giving thanks to our generous Father but instead I find myself secretly battling with questions such as - how did so and so get that curacy? Why Lord are you sending me so far from London? Why is the curate's house where I am going not like.... and on and on.

So I was very attentive last Sunday when our minister said that the passage we would be considering would be on contentment. Here is the passage we were looking at

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
"Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence,
"The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?"

Hebrews 13:5-6

Notice how we as Christians are those who are to be content with what they have. We are not to be those who say/think (as the world does) I'll be content when I have that job, or when I look like so and so, or when I have a boyfriend or girlfriend, or when my children start doing very well at school. Instead, we are to be those who are content with what we have.

And what is it exactly that we have? Well if you are reading this, you have life, you have electricity (or some source of power), a computer, most probably a roof over your head, food, family and on and on and on.

There is more though. When in Hebrews 13 we read "be content with what you have" we should also be thinking BIG for that is what Scripture expects us to do. Here I am thinking of Romans 8:31-32 which says

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

So Paul says that if God has gone so far as to give us His son, how will he not give us all things. Dear Christian, fix your eyes on Him who is our all, certain that in Him we have peace, and joy, and life, and hope, and relationship, and family, and the world. Surely this is good reason to be utterly content with what we have and how foolish we are/I am when I believe the lie that my life would be better if...

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Just forget it

Three sisters, ages 92, 94 and 96, live in a house together. One night the 96-year-old draws a bath. She puts her foot in and pauses. She yells to the other sisters,'Was I getting in or out of the bath?' The 94-year-old yells back, 'I don't know. I'll come up and see.' She starts up the stairs and pauses 'Was I going up the stairs or down? The 92-year-old is sitting at the kitchen table having tea listening to her sisters, she shakes her head and says, 'I sure hope I never get that forgetful, knock on wood.' She then yells, 'I'll come up and help both of you as soon as I see who's at the door.'

So what happens next...

Yesterday I preached at a lovely church in the Sussex countryside ( I was preaching on Psalm 130 which is one of the six penitential Psalms. The first two verses convey something of the awfulness of sin with the Psalmist crying out "Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord." Such anguish is probably amplified by the reminder in verse 3 that if the Lord dealt strictly with our sin, none of us would have any hope. So it is with much relief and joy to read in verse 4 that "...with you (God) there is forgiveness". And the heart skips for joy at this point. Sin is awful BUT with our God there is forgiveness

Now here is my question. Verse 4 reads thus "But with you there is forgiveness, therefore..." Given the story as I've explained it so far, how do you think this verse should end? Pick a word and then turn to Psalm 130:4... Pray...

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Polycarp beats Valentines any day

A few days ago in conversation with one of the intelligent van den Broek boys, I suggested that Christians need to be reticent as regards celebrating Valentines day. The challenging questions that followed, forced me to carefully assess my views on this issue and here I want to articulate something

At the outset I want to say I'm not anti-romance (contrary to Ron's ooops popular opinion!). Rather my concern in raising this issue, is with a view to consider carefully those things that we assimilate from our culture.

As many of you know, Valentines is meant to be a day when those who are courting, those who are betrothed to be married or those who are married express their affection for one another. In most cases this translates to the man getting flowers for his beloved as well as the couple enjoying an intimate meal. Now there is nothing wrong with any of these things per se.

However, I wonder if we Christians sometimes simply join in with what the culture says is a good thing without considering how a Christian celebrating such a festival would differ. Now please hear me carefully – I am not saying that celebrating a festival which the surrounding culture celebrates is necessarily wrong. In fact I would argue that many of the festivals and celebrations which our culture celebrates find their proper place and true meaning in a Christian setting. What I am saying however, is that we need to consider everything we do in light of Scripture and ask ourselves how a Christian celebrating Valentines day (or for that matter Mothers day, Christmas, Easter etc) would differ from how the world celebrates. I think this is a basic application of verses such as 2 Corinthians 10 :5 where Paul writes that 'we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.' It also follows from passages such as Colossians 1:16-18 where we are told that 'all things were created by Him and for Him... so that in everything he might have the supremacy.'

I wonder if one way to ensure that the days, weeks and months of the year display Christ's supremacy is for us to consider patterning our lives around the much maligned notion of a Church year. No doubt this sounds like an archaic and possibly odd idea for some but I want to offer two reasons why I think following the church year will be of immense benefit to us.

First, the Church year follows the story of the main events in Jesus' life: his birth at Christmas, his death on Good Friday, his resurrection on Easter Day, his Ascension forty days later, and his sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. Other lesser known festivals/seasons such as Advent and Lent are also linked to the great stories of salvation: Advent is meant to encourage us to consider Christ's final second coming whilst Lent is meant to help us reflect on the great sacrifice that Christ paid on the cross. The benefit of following these seasons as the year unfolds is that it provides Christians/the Church with a very clear framework with which to teach and live the gospel. Thus as we consider the bible readings that are appropriate for the season and as we mediate on how these readings fit into God's big story of salvation we will become more immersed in the gospel and become more the people God calls us to be.

Second, by following a church calender the wonderful story of salvation will be easily transmitted from one generation to the next. This will therefore help Christian families and the church to pass on the gospel message to the next generation (Psalm 78:4-7). Furthermore, following a church calender will also help us to evangelize the lost since over time they will become more familiar with the bible's storyline and we will not be starting from further back as we often find today when we engage in evangelism.

Instead therefore of organizing the year into the patterns dictated by the world (valentines, mother's day, summer holidays etc) shouldn't we be organizing our year to reflect Christian priorities? One example of this was kindly provided to me by the lovely Ruth Field. Last week as we were thinking of a good reason to get some friends together for some food, fun and fellowship, Ruth suggested we meet on or around the 23rd February for this is the date on which the Church has historically remembered a great Christian martyr: Polycarp. What a fabulous idea and for me, remembering this great hero of the faith rather than partaking in soppy sentimentalism, will be the highlight of my February.