Reading the Bible

Ken 18 Nov , 2016 0 comments Past Journey

Over the years my approach to the Bible has changed. I shall resist the temptation to say overmuch about this here, but I will give you the basic principles that I have learned.

Principle 1: The Gospels are the centre on which everything depends. It is no coincidence that there are four Gospels. God is wanting to bring them to our attention – he is underlining them, double underlining them and then colouring them in. The Old Testament provides the context and the epistles provide the commentary. And it is also the whole of the Gospels that are important – not just the last few chapters, with Jesus firmly at the centre.

Principle 2: The Bible is reliable and rooted in history. I hold scripture far more loosely than I used to. The Bible is an ancient set of texts, deeply rooted in history. We need to take them for what they are, and not for what they are not. They were written by those inspired to write them and preserved by the community. A work of (largely) men, but with the Spirit involved throughout. Now, while God is infallible, we are not – as the footnotes in any modern Bible will attest. So, what we have is, in some way, a mixture. Which is a view that can be unsettling. Yet, I am fully convinced the Bible remains reliable.

I have worked for many years with digital communications and all are prone to error, but we have numerous ways to ensure those errors don’t damage the message. If we can do it, why do we doubt God’s ability to do the same? God is more able to preserve his truth – even in a text entrusted to us.

Principle 3: The story matters. Ever since the Greeks, we have sought to understand scripture theoretically. Yet that is not how it was written. It is primarily books of poetry and ancient narrative. For sure, it is deeply rooted in history, but its concern is not that of the modern historian – or scientist for that matter. It is the story of a relationship between a God and his people. To then decompose that story into verses to create a system of theology is, in my view, a travesty. We need to recapture the story that the authors were telling. The story really does matter – as does our place in it.

Principle 4: All important truths are simple. I am increasingly struck by the power in the important truths, which are always easy to understand. There is no difficulty in understanding that God came as man, was crucified and rose again. You could spend your life deliberating the consequences of those truths – which is largely what the Apostle Paul did. For sure some of his deliberations did get complex, but they are all commentary on those simple truths. The icing on the cake.

The corollary of this is that if it is complex, then it isn’t important, so don’t worry about it too much.

So, over the years I have learned, somewhat to my surprise, that the Bible does not need my protection, it is for my benefit. I need it to do its work on me, to soak myself in its narrative and to allow myself to become a part of its story, a story that will utterly demolish me – if I but let it. And that is what reading the Bible is about. Not that we understand it, but that we allow it to change us forever.

Boiling it down

Ken 04 Nov , 2016 0 comments Past Journey

Falling off a ladder can be painful, as I found out earlier this year. I had let go without giving any thought to the weight in my other hand. My centre of gravity was in the wrong place as I realised when I began to fall backwards, away from the ladder and away from anything to hold on to. Fortunately, the ground was not too far away, so my injuries were not too severe.

A few days later I was mobile again, but my knee was prone to seize up if I sat down for long – which put a stop to my using the computer and further posts to this site. I had not meant to stop for long, but this caused me to take a step back and ask myself some awkward questions: What was I trying to do? and where was this heading? A complex mix of trying to bring clarity to my thoughts while grappling with what the gospel looks like today, a gospel with the Kingdom at its centre. Beyond that I didn’t really know.

Over the years I had approached these questions from different angles. “A Journey Shared” was from the pespective of my own journey; “Two Kingdoms” tried a more conceptual approach, while “Kingdom Awakening” explored the topic from the imagination and story. All three approaches had something to offer, but none did what I was setting out to do.

Of course, my public blogs have not been my only writing and there were many notes I had written for myself. Hundreds of pages in fact. It is my way of processing what God is saying to me. A lot of the material was still significant, but also there was much that was past its sell-by, and no longer relevant. Somehow it seemed to me that what I needed to do was to bring it all together and boil it all down. What have I really learnt over the years? What was God saying to me? Of course, this means going through all of my writings and reshaping or deleting most of them. Some of them I was very proud of at the time, and deleting them can feel like killing your children. Yet, whenever I have done this in the past the end result has always been to produce something better. (Deleting my writings that is, I’ve not yet killed my children.)

My goal is to boil down a lifetime of writing. Yet this will be more than just a rehash of old ideas. As I distil down all that I have written I am hoping it will bring out new connections and a sharper focus. I am reminded of the passage in John’s Gospel, “The wind blows where it pleases; you can hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”. I have a similar sense about this project. I don’t know where it is going, but I hear a distant sound. My trust is that I will hear the sound more clearly and that you might hear the sound too.

A dream, a word and them bones…

Her bridal dress was in tatters. She turned around and smiled, but it spoke only of death, her flesh barely clinging to her body. The only thought in my mind was, how could she still be alive? She looked as though she had died long ago and been rotting in the ground, and yet still she lived…

I’d been up in the night praying about a warning against the antichrist in one of John’s letters. A warning that we would be deceived if we did not preserve the truth that was within us. Yet it was my own thoughts I was touching, not those of God. I had given up seeking God and was heading back to bed, when some words entered my mind, “I’m wooing my church back”. In an instant my perspective changed. John’s warning had not been enough. It was no longer warning lest the church become deceived, but a realisation that we had been deceived already.

Ezekiel looked out upon a valley full of dry bones. It was desolate without any sign of life. Yet God was asking, can these bones live?

The church has drifted a long way from its first century roots. Yet, my dream still horrified me, because I knew the corpse was how God saw the church and I was shocked. It was a hopeless picture, just as Ezekiel’s was a hopeless picture. But just as God breathed life back into those dry bones, so he is wooing back his church back. Toronto was the start of something. In the early days we expected so much, and it is easy now to look back and wonder what it was all about. Yet God is once more breathing on dry bones. Life is coming back.

Anti-miracle – an ambiguous piece

I was feeling anxious as I stood before everyone. I had not come to the meeting intending to be at the front, but God had spoken and I was responding. I stood anxiously, feeling vulnerable, for it was not supposed to be a healing meeting, but God said he was going to do a miracle and I had no doubt. God’s voice is somehow like that. It is more certain than the ground on which we stand. It has substance. I just needed to say a few words, to call her to the front, declare what God was going to do, and he would do the rest. A miracle.

But what if I am wrong? What if I had not heard correctly? Declaring a miracle that does not happen? Due to my error. A God who, yet again, would be seen to fail to deliver. Because of me. Yet, I was sure of what I heard. Almost certain. Maybe I should only say that I think I heard? Hedging my bets. Or maybe I should be vague? Still, I was pretty sure I heard. Reasonably sure, anyway. My faith had evaporated and I crept back to my seat. Having said nothing. It was all I could do.

I do know that God was going to heal her. No doubt. It was the time. All I needed to do was to declare it and God would do it, but I could not. All I could do was mourn at what could have been.

It was a dream. But that night I learned how hard faith can be. It is more than just hearing. It also requires confidence to act, a confidence that failed me then. Maybe it is only God’s graciousness that he does not speak more, for that night I was left devastated.

It seems obvious to me now, but it has taken me a while to realise the importance of the confidence in what we hear, a confidence that is gained through the small things: listening and then acting, until it becomes instinct. It is a lesson that I did not learn at the time, a lesson that only now I am beginning to understand.

Burning Fire of Love

I saw the throne of God enclosed in fire, a fire of love that reached out to me and relentlessly drew me in. My only desire to be consumed. Yet, as I drew near to the throne I became aware of God’s holiness. It too burned with a white intensity, so strong that even my most righteous deeds appeared as filthy rags. I was crushed by my sinfulness before so righteous and holy a God and could no longer stand. For a while I found myself being torn apart between the brightly burning love that drew me and the holiness that made my very existence unbearable. I was confused, with no hope of resolution, when I became aware of being clothed with the righteousness of Jesus. I knew my righteousness could never be enough, but I was now able to walk forward because my faith had clothed me in the righteousness of Christ. It was more than enough and opened the way for me to approach the throne of fire. Almost as soon as I felt the joy of that all-consuming love I found myself back at the beginning, but with the question ‘What if I had not been a Christian?’. And my journey began again…

The throne burned no less brightly. Even after a life of rejecting God I was no less loved, no less welcome. The love drew me, if anything, more strongly, because I knew it was what I had been looking for all my life. For the first time I belonged and had a home. Again, I became aware of God’s utter holiness and was crushed by my utter uncleanness before such a God, but now, with growing alarm, I realised the horror of my position. There was no Jesus to clothe me. I had not had faith and now it was too late. Frantically I looked for an answer, but there was none. The flame of God’s love did not go out. I knew that God’s love was reaching out to me still, but I could not bear the sense of my sin. The closer I came the more intolerable my own vileness became. I was being ripped apart. I became distraught before the holiness of his presence and needed to run and hide. But there was nowhere hidden from God. I wanted to call to the mountains ‘Fall on me’, but even the mountains would not hide me from my torment. The stronger God’s love burned, the more wretched I felt. There was no escape from the pain of knowing such love – a love that in spite of my sin would still welcome me, that even grieved that I did not come. But I could not come. I could not bear to get near.

I felt that, as a kindness, I was allowed to go to a remote dark corner, far away from the throne of God’s love, where my misery would be less. Even in this cold dark place the fire of God’s love still burnt brightly. Even there the sense of God’s holiness could not be escaped. Along with this was the unbearable pain of a conscience that was now suddenly alive – torturing me with the works of my own hand. And I, of all men, was most wretched, and most miserable. I was being eaten away from within, with a worm that does not die and in a fire that cannot be quenched. Before me lay an eternity of torment without end. As the vision ended I held back my tears as best I could.