Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Response to IK...

Ian! Great to hear from you...

A few initial thoughts that pop into my head as I read:

Firstly: This is no prosperity gospel!!! I can assure you of that. The same man who wrote the above blog also preached this:

(or if the video is not working, which it isn't at the moment)

...which is pretty hard hitting, but makes it very clear John Piper does not preach a prosperity Gospel!

I see your point though, but if you read my earlier blog, which this post is a response to, my initial direction was that we should not be pre-occupied with the blessing/reward. I highlighted a bit of the above writings of JP which said it much better than I did! I think if our sole motivation is the reward, then we should start worrying...but I’m sure this is not what JP is saying, and neither I.

As Lewis (see earlier post which inspired these last few blogs) also writes, God is to be obey on the basis of simply who He is. He goes onto say how:

“God is such that if (per impossibile) his power could vanish and His other attributes remain, so that the supreme right were forever robbed of the supreme might, we should still owe Him precisely the same kind and degree of allegiance as we do right now”
Pg 185, Surprised by Joy
C.S. Lewis

So (not wanting to get too caught up in Lewis’ quote) what comes first in all this is God’s glory.
It is not a case of needing/wanting to be happy and stumbling upon that in Christianity. We are however, built to be happy, and as Piper says, “obeying God is the only route to final and lasting happiness”. Piper writes more extensively in his well-known and read book ‘Desiring God’ that “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever”. I strongly encourage you Ian (and everyone else!) to get hold of a copy of this book and have a read.

In fact, I have a spare copy, and will give it to someone who promises to read it! But yes, our purpose in life is not to be happy and have great comfort –that’s not the picture we get from the Bible, or indeed the verse I’ve put below! I was also blogging about Hebrews (the book) a few weeks back, and especially Chapter 11, where these great examples of the faith “did not receive what had been promised”.
One other thought:

40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Acts 5:40-42

Nothing much to say, it just popped into my head!

I’m not sure if I’ve answered any of your points, or put my thoughts across well, but what I would strongly suggest is to put the blog from Piper needs to be taken in context, and read his book ‘Desiring God’. It’s probably worth noting he’s no crazy American randomer with some controversial thing to say, but a man searching after God with his whole heart, committed to Biblical truth, and has a reputation for being ‘solid’!

Ps. I hope you don't mind me making a post out of this! It just seemed easier... :) Let me know your thoughts.

Also check out Will Eley's post for more on Idols and Satisfaction in God....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Joy & John Piper...

This is in response to my earlier post, in which I seem to have waded too deep into the theology of Christian Hedonism without realising! But here is a good little post from John Piper about the subject, and arguing against the view that Joy/etc is not to be sought.

He says it much better and with a much clearer structure than I have. Basically, a part of what I was thinking is this > *

I would really like to see JP and CSL have a discussion about this.

I have put a few things I find interesting in Italics...

We Want You to Be a Christian Hedonist!
By John Piper August 31, 2006

What Is Christian Hedonism?
My shortest summary of Christian Hedonism is: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

We all make a god out of what we take the most pleasure in. Christian Hedonists want to make God their God by seeking after the greatest pleasure—pleasure in him.

By Christian Hedonism, we do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. We mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. We should pursue this happiness, and pursue it with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy you cannot love man or please God.

The Difference Between Worldly and Christian Hedonism
Some people are inclined to believe that Christians are supposed to seek God’s will as opposed to pursuing their own pleasure. But what makes Biblical morality different than worldly hedonism is not that Biblical morality is disinterested and duty-driven, *but that it is interested in vastly greater and purer things. Christian Hedonism is Biblical morality because it recognizes that obeying God is the only route to final and lasting happiness*. Here are some examples of this from the Bible:

Luke 6:35 says, "Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great." It is clear when Jesus says “expect nothing in return” that we should not be motivated by worldly aggrandizement, but we are given strength to suffer loss by the promise of a future reward.

Again, in Luke 14:12-14: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor . . . and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." That is, don't do good deeds for worldly advantage; rather, do them for spiritual, heavenly benefits.

Should Duty Be Our Main Motivation?
But some will say, "No, no. These texts only describe what reward will result if you act disinterestedly. They do not teach us to actually seek the reward."

Two answers to this objection:

1) It would be foolish to say, "If you take this pill, I’ll give you a nickel," if you expect the desire for the nickel to ruin the pill. But Jesus was not foolish. He would not offer blessing to those who obey him and then hold it against us if these blessings motivated our obedience.

2) Even more importantly, there are texts that not only commend that we do good in the hope of future blessing, but command it.

Luke 12:33 says, "Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail." The connection here between alms and having eternal treasure in heaven is not a chance result—it is the explicit purpose: "Make it your aim to have treasure in heaven, and the way to do this is to sell your possessions and give alms."

And again, Luke 16:9 says, "Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal habitations." Luke does not say that the result of using possessions properly is to receive eternal habitations. He says, "Make it your aim to secure an eternal habitation by the way you use your possessions."

Therefore, a resounding NO to the belief that morality should be inspired more by duty than delight.

Don’t Be Too Easily Satisfied
Hebrews 11:6 teaches, "Without faith it is impossible to please [God]. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” You cannot please God if you do not come to him looking for reward. Therefore, faith that pleases God is the hedonistic pursuit of God.

As Christian Hedonists we know that everyone longs for happiness. And we will never tell them to deny or repress that desire. It is never a problem to want to be satisfied. The problem is being satisfied too easily. We believe that everyone who longs for satisfaction should no longer seek it from money or power or lust, but should come glut their soul-hunger on the grace of God. We will bend all our effort, by the Holy Spirit, to persuade people that they can be happier in giving than receiving (Acts 20:35); that they should count everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus their Lord (Philippians 3:8); that the aim of all of Jesus' commandments is that their joy be full (John 15:11); that if they delight themselves in the Lord he will give them the desire of their heart (Psalm 37:4); that there is great gain in godliness with contentment (1 Timothy 6:6); and that the joy of the Lord is their strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

We will not try to motivate anyone with appeals to mere duty. We will tell them that in God’s presence is full and lasting joy (Psalm 16:11) and our only duty is to come to him, seeking this pleasure.

(Adapted from John Piper’s article, Christian Hedonism: Forgive the Label, but Don't Miss the Truth.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Surprised By Joy...

What I picked up for some light reading has in fact turned out to be something far deeper and thoughtful than your everyday testimony. In this autobiography, Lewis talks you through his early life and later his philospoical thoughts in his typically clear and descriptive way, leading to the point where:

"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."
Surprised By Joy

It is not hard to see from his account of his life in the early chapters, how Lewis was able to have such a clear grasp of Philosophy/Theology to come to this point, and reading this book makes me mourn the lost of the culture Lewis grew up in, when reading books -in particular what we ignorantly now call 'the classics' without any idea what they are (I speak for non-English Lit students!)-, learning Greek and Latin, reading and knowing Plato, Homer and a whole trail of ancient writers, not only in English, but the original, as Lewis did with the 'Great Knock' around chapter 9. Surely we have lost a great deal in this day and age with such learning replaced with Gameboys and televisions.

The main theme, or to be more accurate -'thread'- throughout the book is his 'experience' and search -that is "enjoyment" & "contemplation" (Pg 174)- of 'Joy'. Instead of reviewing it any further though -you may aswell go and buy it on the cheap from Amazon or somewhere like I did. Instead there a few things I wish to comment upon after reading this and having my mindset turning...

One relates closely to what Lewis' purpose is in writing this: Joy, and how it is found.Lewis throughout the story (please do read it for yourselves to fully understand what he means by 'Joy') discovers that:

"Only when your whole attention and desire are fixed on something else -whether a distant mountain, or the past, or the gods of Asgard -does this 'thrill' arise. It is a by-product. Its very existance presupposes that you desire not it but something other and outer"
Pg 136

Joy is a 'by-product' of seeking something else. It will not come if we seek the thing itself. We won't find it if is the very thing we pursue. When you are completely unaware or unconcerned by attaining it, focusing instead upon "something other and outer".

Now, again, Lewis describes the siginificance of this further in the book. But what strikes me about this point, this observation of pursuit of a thing, is that it seems (as far as I can tell, while also being aware of the over-simplicity of such analogies) that this is very similar to our own relationship with God and our experience of Him. We so often search for an 'experience' of God, going to church, praying and worshipping through music/singing, and want to 'feel' God's presence, or somehow 'experience' Him. I struggle to find the words to describe what we look for, but maybe you know know what I mean. This experience of God is not a bad thing -God in his gracious nature does give us this, gives us the Holy Spirit. I won't go into examples now, but again I'm sure you get my side-point. But in my own past, and through talking with and observing others, this is what happens. We want to get this feeling from interaction with God and church, and without realising this becomes our aim each week or even day, and when -unsurprisingly- we don't find it often, and increasingly less so, we find ourselves struggling with our faith. People I have recently talked this through with seriously doubt their faith, and worry they have completely backslidden. There are of course many reasons and other helpful advice that comes with this, but Lewis gives us a extremely helpful insight into how we can avoid this -one I myself have unconciously taken at some point in my last four years of seriously persuing God.

The only ways we will 'experience' God are firstly- by God's grace, unconditional on our spiritual condition. Secondly, which comes from Lewis' observations, if we persue God himself, and not any experience of our own or benefit for ourselves.

"I have never seen how a preoccupation with that subject at the outset could fail to corrupt the whole thing. I have been brought up to believe that goodness was goodness only if it were disinterested, and that any hope of reward or fear of punishment contaminated the will"
Pg 185

Lewis laments the fact that so often a faith is shipwrecked by a preoccupation with a reward, namely that of Heaven, or 'experience'. If we want an 'experience' of God, then we shouldn't go looking for that, in the same way that Lewis writes we cannot find Joy if that is what we are seeking -it is merely a sign post to something better. We need to focus ourselves entirely on God's glory, not our pleasure. We need to worship Him in church not with the thought in our mind we might feel good if we do. We need to read our Bible cover to cover, not just looking for verses that talk about about experiencing God, looking to pursue holiness in all areas. If you are struggling with a lack of 'experience' of God, then leave this worry behind and seek to glorify Him more and more in your worship of Him, and don't worry about yourself. He will take of that.

It's kind of like this...

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
Matthew 6:33

Jesus says it best as always. If we seek Him first, His glory, His way in our life without regard for ourselves, then He of course will pour out blessings upon us. If we want closeness with Him, we must seek Him entirely, not anything for ourselves. We know that He is gracious, so surely we can do this with confidence!

Thats what the Bible does tell us, God is gracious, longing to bless us and to gloryfy himself, and point to and admire our great Heavenly Father.

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23

Got Questions...?

I like questions... And this is a quality site that I hope to spend more time exploring, which is about questions. It has Biblical answers to pretty much everything I can think of, and I'm pretty sure having checkout their Statement of Faith/DB etc, they are 'sound'. Good times. They offer an impartial explanation (where necessary) and then maybe give what they think, sometimes. But generally, it is a really helpful resource, so go enjoy!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Power of Forgiveness...

This is something we can often forget as we get so caught up in confidence in the Word of God, apologetics, theological strength of the Bible and so on. This is all good and helpful and so on. But forgiveness is something so powerful that totally goes against what the world has to say about how we respond to others hurting us, sinning against us, whatever. All sorts of things that the world shouts ‘Revenge!’ at us. Part of that comes from our sense of Justice which CS Lewis so clearly argues in the opening chapters of ‘Mere Christianity’ comes from God. But our deceptive hearts (Mark 7:21-23, Jeremiah 17:9) twist that to jealousy, revenge and back biting, amongst other such unsavoury things we are all so often capable of. But we see Jesus forgiving left right and centre. Brother Andrew makes it his priority to offer forgiveness to the Muslims he reaches out to. See this talk at least from Forum 2007, and just read all his great books! It’s so powerful! It messes with people’s minds...we ask for their forgiveness! Listen to this talk from Dr Richard Winter.

The gospels are littered full of parables and Jesus’ teachings on this. I will myself listen to these talks again and come back with a more biblical blog post. And I’ll read through all of the gospels to find the aforementioned parables and teachings from Jesus. But recently talking through with different friends, I realise again just how powerful it is. I struggle to communicate what I mean again trying to repeat words said last Saturday. They aren’t really coming! Ask me in person if you would like to discuss it and get excited about the Gospel together.

But what other religion offers such love and unconditional forgiveness? Can you think of one that compares to what we freely receive? So many arguments and disputs could so easily solved by us putting aside our pride, and apologising for our part –however small- and asking forgiveness. Our pride so often gets in the way. Think of all the films or cartoons that the whole story is based upon two estranged people that both think the other is to blame, and should be the first to apologise. The film ends when, by whatever the plot is, the one of them having the guts to say sorry –probably after some near death incident- which then immediately results in the other stumbling over themselves to take not just thier part of the blame, but often all of it!

Imagine the goes me attempt at writing out the one in my mind:

Chap 1: Look, all this, really all my fault. I should’ve ........... I was really .........
Chap 2: No no, it was really my fault. I shouldn’t have ............... If I hadn’t, you wouldn’t have ............. . I was out of order.
Chap 1: But you wouldn’t have had to if only I had .......... I’m very sorry for my actions.
Chap 2: No, I’m the one who should be sorry..... etc!

These two are very polite in their delivery, but can you picture us in our lives living this out?
Asking forgiveness, motivated by the forgiveness we have received and a desire to reconcile (I love that word. I might have to even write a blog on it!), even when it is not deserved, will convict the other of their own need. It heals us and the hurt inside us.

And Reading University Campus needs to hear about this forgiveness. We all secretly long for it:

“I wonder what I’d do, if I could wake up every morning, with a clean slate.”
Keane, ‘Pretend That You’re Alone’, Perfect Symmetry

Well, you know what? You can. God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die in our sins, and gives us new life having broken the chains of sin, making us slaves of righteousness -and then, not slaves, but as Jesus said, 'friends', even 'brothers' (John 15:15, and somewhere else I'm not sure of...)

Yes theology is great. Yes apologetics works. But at Reading, I feel people here don’t all (many do, which we welcome very much so!) care about the historicity of the Gospel of Mark. They care about love, security, acceptance, exam stress, sex, relationships, freedom, peace... forgiveness. They don’t always realise this, but that’s what people here think about, and they are questions we all have. Most people aren't philosophers, and if we are reaching the whole of campus, we need to engage with the questions that people secretly have. The reasons they drink their loans away, sleep around, get consumed by a social group of club that has no real value, pursue acceptance and glory in sports teams, so many things which are in themselves great things -sports, drinks, money, relationships, sex, friendship, lock picking. But when they get into our sinful hands....we make idols of them (See Will Eley's 'Idol Chatter'). We need to show that we have those questions too, but a different answer to them....Jesus’ blood. Grace. Forgiveness.

More on that when I get hold of the NWA 09 seminar talks...I will return to this issue with Biblical ammunition...but don’t hold your breath! Go listen and read for yourself, and unleash the power of forgiveness to the people around your and mend broken relationships. Do it now. The blog won't have been updated and will still be here when you get back...

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Few Reflections of a Few Verses...

(Originally written at the same time as the Reflections on Hebrews post)

Now I think of writing this, the list of verses that I sincerely love keep popping into mind. We’ll see how far I get...

Again, I don’t intend to attempt any amazing exposition of these, but read them and digest them for yourself and hopefully be challenged and encouraged. I don’t know if you find this, but its really hard to explain things that have struck you, encouraged you, or depressed you after the moment has passed. And as that is what I’m pretty much expecting to do, you shouldn’t expect much commentary!

[The first one I have removed, as I noticed a trend in some of them, and thus affording them a whole blog post to themselves!]

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

Romans 3:23-24

There is more to be delved into either side, but studying this in a committee meeting last week, I was struck with the very simple fact that v24 comes after v23. Let me explain: I know v23 off by heart. It’s quoted so often in our ‘gospel presentations’, becoming a buzz phrase for the condition of this world, of which is truly a very accurate description of all of us. We have all sinned, and in doing so fallen short of God and His great and immeasurable glory.

But, I have never before noticed that immediately after this crushing verdict, comes v24: “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. No questions. In the same sentence, as if a great beam of light has shone into the verse, God has rescued us by his Grace! I have so often quoted v23 with a downcast heart –which yes, is entirely appropriate because it is so true- without realising in the same sentence we are told of the awesome, yes ‘awesome’ free gift of Grace that is given without question. Do you get my drift? This is where one is again reminded of the ‘better hope’, of wave upon wave of Grace over us, summed up in Romans 5:6 and especially Ephesians 2:4-7. I hope you understand....


Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
Pro 27:17

Because it’s good to talk, challenge, and talk about Grace and it’s victories in our lives...


13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him/the cross (NIV).

Colossians 2:13-15

I love how what seems like such a defeat for Jesus, and triumph for evil, in fact...the greatest victory ever! I once saw a friend of mine who was into heavy metal music quote a song lyric on his MSN name thing. Something like: “your washed up religion is broken and dead” –in reference to the cross and Jesus death. But no! He has triumphed over them. God has defeated death once and for all.

I have nothing more to add but sheer awe at the comprehension of the Cross this verse brings, the angle it takes. I hope it moves you too...


As anyone on my RUCU Events Team or the old RUCU Events Week Planning Team will know, I love 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2. Maybe I will, at another time, ‘expound’ these verses, as I love it so much as to write a blog on it! Now you know you’ve made it when I get round to writing a blog about you/something! Anyway, recently, v15 has really struck me:

15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
2 Corinthians 5:15

We, who live because of what Christ has done, do and should not live for ourselves –I am not to live for myself and my own desires, whims, whatever- but for Him who died for me. I am so convicted of that line in the hymn, ‘When I Survey’ which I love singing so much: ‘Demands my soul, my life, my all...” which, in light of the great and fantastic and awesome thing Christ has done (see Colossians comments above!), demands my whole life to follow him, in the footsteps of Christ and those listed in Hebrews 11 (see previous blog post). Wow. God doesn’t just require our obedience, he deserves it. So that’s what struck me lately.


A similar list to the one in Hebrews that is an inspiring list, can be found in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, straight after the section just commented on. I decided to keep reading for once...and found the example of Paul so challenging:

3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honour and dishonour, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.
2 Corinthians 6:3-13

Fussing about exams pales into comparison after reading what Paul has gone through. In each of these circumstances, it is a given that God is the same. I read this and know what Paul means in Philippians:

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 3:10-13