The Rubber hits the Road

theologyTheology is really easy to talk about. It is easy to sit down around the table with the steam of hot coffee rolling around the edges of the cup, having your bibles open and your notebooks at the ready. It’s easy to say words like penal substitution and Calvinism and eschatology. They roll around your tongue and you spit them out.

It’s easy when your twenty something to see the world as black and white and carry theological debates in your pocket. You can argue about the pie in the sky until the blueberry filling squirts you in the face.

I feel like I am in the business of talking about theology. I can read the arguments and thrash out a theological position. I can quote scripture and I can also tie myself in knots with the straw from the thousands of straw men I create. And it’s good to talk, it’s good to work these things out and question and ponder.

But theology isn’t just about talk.  It isn’t just about the debates or late night discussions about predestination.

I think the rubber hits the road when life smacks you in the face.

Last week I was watching a programme where cameras followed around 4 families in their every day life. One family had a daughter and her partner expecting a baby but their were complications. They lost the baby. During this the mother makes a comment about religious people having faith and believing in God and how he comforts them. I think she really wanted that, deep down I think she yearned for that comfort.

Thing is, it’s easy to have a sound theology and all the right arguments, but when something like this happens its hard, it’s messy. It isn’t so black and white. I wanted to tell them that Jesus really loves them.

As Christians when suffering comes along we are caused to wrestle with the truths of scripture and God’s character. We ask: Who is God? Is He good? Does the death and resurrection of his Son matter? Does God understand my suffering?

I guess the heart of theology is believing in the middle of my suffering.
It’s clinging to Christ while in pain.
It’s believing in the resurrection when death knocks on your door.

I think theology tastes and feels different when you walk that road. It also sounds different when you walk that road with friends.

I haven’t really gone through great suffering, but ive walked with friends who have. The way they talk about God is different, theology has a different musical note. It’s no longer pies in the sky, but its real and it has to be wrestled with. It’s not about being right or wrong as in a debate, but it’s about clinging to Christ and finding joy and hope.

I think theology is good to talk about. But things aren’t always clear-cut. The part where it really takes effect and really matters is where theology meets real life.

And so, rich theology often comes alive when you go through an experience. Suddenly theology is no longer abstract but its earthy, weighty and holds more significance for you. The Hymn “O Love that will not let you go” by George Matheson, was birthed out of a painful experience of rejection and loss. The reality of the Lord’s love and comforting promises in a time of suffering becomes not just mere words, but wonderful truth to cling to, so that he can sing in his anguish verses like this:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

What beautiful theology! What a beautiful Christ we have! This is theology in action and I feel the best kind of theology there is, a theology that doesn’t just stay at the edges of the table, but overflows into our lives and helps us cling to our beautiful saviour in times of trials and darkness.

Jesus or Cheesus?

Ned_FlandersReading the Guardian on my friends table last night I came across an article. An article entitled “I bang my head against the wall when evangelicals turn Jesus into Cheesus No PR agency in the world could sell the disturbing message of a broken man on the cross. That’s why we get Jesus-lite” 

This caught my attention. Why is this in the paper? Giles Fraser writes about Evangelicals display Jesus and that it often turns into a Cheesus PR campaign.

My guess is that he hates this falseness. Perhaps he sees a hypocrisy in contrast to the Jesus he has read about? It’s interesting to see how he feels Christians come across to the world and the Jesus they are presenting.

So who is the Jesus he has read about? This is what he says:

“The disciples run away, unable to cope with the impossible demands placed upon them. The hero they gave up everything to follow is exposed to public ridicule and handed over to Roman execution. And the broken man on the cross begins to fear that God is no longer present.

The fact that this is not the end of the story does not take away from the fact that tragedy will always be folded into the experience of faith. Even the resurrected Jesus bears the scars of his suffering. A man who has been through something like that will never smile that cheesy smile or think of faith as some sunny suburban upspeak.”

The suffering Christ is devastating, its weak, it brings about judgement, darkness, the weight of sin suffering placed upon his shoulders. Jesus doesnt bare a cheesy smile. Jesus cries out in pain. This isn’t a bumper sticker moment.
This moment should make us weep.

But it also gives us great joy. This is what Giles Fraser is missing. He says:

“Which is why, for the worst sort of Cheesus-loving evangelicals, the cross of Good Friday is actually celebrated as a moment of triumph. This is theologically illiterate. Next week, in the run up to Easter, Christianity goes into existential crisis. It fails.”

The cross looks like failure to the world. It looks weak and pathetic. But it IS a moment of triumph. Those evangelical cheesus Christians have it right – it’s a place of victory.

It is finished – Jesus cries.(John 19v30)

A wave of hope washes over me. My sin is dealt with. The punishment has been paid for in full. The blood shed is covering me.

The_Cross_religious_Renaissance_Mannerism_Antonio_da_CorreggioAt first glance the cross looks like a massive fail. But then look again. There is no failure here. My sin is being dealt with. The Father is showing how much he loves us by sending his Son to die for us. (John 3v16) Come and look at the cross again. 

Giles Fraser concludes with:

“But the problem with PR Christianity is that it can easily transform Jesus into Cheesus, which is a form of Jesus-lite, a romantic infatuation, a Mills & Boon theology that makes you feel all warm inside. The Gospels, however, tell an altogether more disturbing story. And there is no PR agency in the world that could sell the message of a man who told his followers that they too would have to go the way of the cross. That’s the problem with Cheesus. He won’t really suffer and he doesn’t ever die.”

In some sense he is right – we don’t want a Cheesus. We don’t want Jesus-lit or a mills and boons theology. But we DO want the cross and we most certainly want the resurrection. Thats what puts a smile across our face – Jesus is alive. Giles Fraser is right, a cheesus wont ever suffer or die. And we don’t want that Cheesus. But we want a Jesus that suffers, dies and rises again!! That is the good news of the Gospel.

And who is this PR agency that he believes could never sell this message? The message that we all must die to ourselves and carry our cross? Who possible could be this PR agency? Well, for the last 2000 years the PR agency has been the bride of Christ – the Church. The church is the one that beckons people to come and see Christ, come and die to yourself, come and find comfort in this suffering servant who deals with your sin and come and rejoice in the resurrection. Sometimes we get that wrong and it can look like a cheesus. But we as the church are the ones to display Christ to the world – a suffering christ, a weak but triumphant Cross and a glorious resurrection.

Collection of Webs (26)

Here are some great blog posts on the internet at the moment:

Death to January – Blog post by Emma Scrivener: “A time of fresh starts, resolutions and beginnings.  But how do you make them, when you’re in the same body, with the same mind, the same relationships, the same job (or lack of), and same struggles? This month it’s harder to trot out the same excuses.”

Is the bible a book about God? – Written by Dan Hames: The Bible is specifically a book about the Son of God. So long as we say that the Bible is a book about ‘God’ in the abstract, and not fighting hard for the centrality of Christ to the Bible, we’re depriving him of his rightful place, and ourselves of vital spiritual sustenance.

Welcome to the Crazy Church Family – by Bryony Young: “I have come to the conclusion that my Church is simply a glorious ruin. Glorious because we aim to glorify God and a ruin because we are still a work in progress.”

Boots – by Tanya Marlow: “Most days I am actually okay about being ill; I kind of accept it and get on with life. It doesn’t feature much in my thinking. Today is not one of those days.”

Three is the Loveliest number – Article by Mike Reeves: “For the health of the church and our faith, we must be proud of who our God is. And since the Trinity is no mere theological icing resting atop our God—since the living God is Trinity—we must be resolutely and thoroughly Trinitarian in all our ways and thoughts.”

Christmas: The Suffering Servant

BookofJobAdvent Day 13:

Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. (Job 1:1 ). And yet he endured great suffering. He lost his family (apart from his wife) and his home. During this trial he has three friends who are more of a burden than a help.

The book of Job is rich in content, there is so much in there and one aspect I want to draw on is how this man, who seemed so blameless and yet was put through such suffering. A suffering where:  “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10)

It seems unfair and we cry out, why must the innocent suffer? Why must we go through trials?

Perhaps we cry out “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22)

But here is a shadow of what is to come. An innocent man, more innocent than Job, a man who is blameless and upright will go through extreme suffering.

Jesus is a greater Job, he does not sin at all but instead “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). He does it all for the sake of us, enduring suffering so that we don’t have to. Jesus is the true and greater suffering servant who suffered so much he dies and then is raised to life. He is also the great comforter in our suffering, the one whom we look to during our seasons of suffering because we know that he understands fully what we go through.

Out of the suffering and death of Christ comes life and comfort for our souls.

Christmas is about the birth of the suffering servant.

A New Name Review

I finally got my hands on Emma Scrivener’s new book – “A new name – Grace and Healing for anorexia”. This is such a good book that I read it in a day and just found myself very moved and challenged by Emma’s story. When you pick up this book you may thinking that it isn’t for you because you don’t have anorexia, but as my friend Emily wrote on her blog – “So why read A New Name? Because we are all sick, and we are all sinners. And Jesus is the one who has come, like light into a dark, cold place, to bring life and freedom by giving us Himself.”

This is a story that all of us could read and on different levels identify with whats going on. I think Emma is a fantastic writer, her words grip you on every page and she carries you along her story that can make you laugh or move you to tears. She is honest and open and that’s what I like about it, she connects with the audience and isn’t afraid to paint the real picture of anorexia and the real picture of having idols.

The part that captured me most was when Emma met Jesus and saw the Lion and the Lamb. As I read her experience it seemed truly breath-taking. It reminded me of who Jesus really is – a husband sacrificing himself for us and inviting us  to be with his Father who has his arms wide open for us. Emma found her identity in Christ. This is a wonderfully testimony to read and she is honest in saying it’s not all over, she isn’t riding off into the sunset with a Happy Ever After Flag…she is still fighting and from her blog she is not hiding her battles but she is reminding us who she is in Christ.

This is why all Christians and non christians should read it. We are all broken and all running after idols that never satisfy us. Emma is really honest about this, yet often we aren’t. Often I am not – I want to hide away my sin and idols. But what Emma has taught me is that my identity isn’t in them but in Christ and those idols don’t own me because I am free in Christ, therefore I don’t need to hide or prove myself to anyone and neither do you. She shows us that there is always hope and that Jesus will never leave us.

Buy this book. Read her blog. Encourage her and be encouraged that Jesus loves you and your identity is in him.

Bruised Reed: Bruised and Yearning

What does it meant to be a Bruised Reed? Well Sibbes described being bruised as:

“The bruised reed is a man (or woman) that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help, and by misery he is brought to see sin as the cause of it…This is such  as our Saviour Christ terms `poor in spirit’ (Matt. 5:3), who sees his wants, and also sees himself indebted to divine justice.” (page 3 and 4)

To be bruised is to be in some form of misery, seeing your sin and knowing that only Christ can quench any thirst. Sibbes goes on to say: “He has no means of supply from himself or the creature, and thereupon mourns, and, upon some hope of mercy from the promise and examples of those that have obtained mercy, is stirred up to hunger and thirst after it.”

As we are bruised and in some misery or heartache, we find no comfort in anything of this world. It is true that some things in this world can comfort such as family, love, chocolate but in the end they soon fade and they soon fail. So we hunger for more, we hunger for an ever-lasting comfort that will soothe our misery and bind our wounds.

And so we hunger and thirst for Christ because in the darkness and in misery, Christ is the only one you can cling to. And therefore there are always great hopes when being and feeling like a bruised child of God because the Gospel can appear very soothing when we grasp it and remind ourselves of it in times of heartache.

So Sibbes then shows us how being in a season of misery, of being a bruised reed and yearning for Christ can bring about good things in our lives:

1. The Gospel becomes sweet to us! Sibbs says: “Again, this bruising makes us set a high price upon Christ. Then the gospel becomes the gospel indeed; then the fig leaves of morality will do us no good.” As we look to Christ in our pain and suffering we see our suffering servant and his words become sweet.

2. It makes us more thankful to God“and, from thankfulness, more fruitful in our lives” As we look upon the face of Christ, we cannot help but be full of thankfulness as we endure and after we endure such bruising which will result in more fruit in our lives.

3. Aligns us with Gods ways “Likewise this dealing of God establishes us the more in his ways, having had knocks and bruisings in our own ways.” With such misery, it can remind us of Christ our suffering God and remind us that he knows what we are going through and sometimes he uses our suffering to remind us that his ways of working in us can be different to what we expect.

4. To humble us“After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks. Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy.” We are often very proud, I know my heart is and I know when you meet someone who is going through a great suffering or misery that there can be a humilty about them that may not have been there before.

5. To encourage us“Such bruising may help weaker Christians not to be too much discouraged, when they see stronger ones shaken and bruised.” Christianity isn’t about being strong, but it is about the weak and the poor and the poor in spirit and Christ ministers to these people.

Do you find that encouraging? I think with suffering it can be so difficult to understand and many answers are trite and perhaps you disliked what Sibbes is saying.

But I hope you can see two things:

1. Our God is a suffering God. Jesus is our suffering God, who has gone through suffering and knows what misery and darkness there is in that pit. It gives me comfort that Jesus knows what is in the darkness and he can shine a light through it.

2. God never wastes the season we are in, he enriches us and shapes us for our good! We hear that often and it isn’t satisfying when you may be going through a long period of darkness. I don’t have all the answers, but I think what Sibbes is saying that this isn’t wasted time, it isnt worthless and Christ is always your comfort through it.

So I want to end this post with one more encouraging thing Sibbes says when we encounter people who may judge us as we struggle like a bruised reed –

“Ungodly spirits, ignorant of God’s ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken-hearted Christians as miserable persons, whereas God is doing a gracious, good work with them. It is no easy matter to bring a man from nature to grace, and from grace to glory, so unyielding and intractable are our hearts.”