Posted by: duncandrews | August 6, 2015

Life with Jesus: a receptive life (Colossians 2:6-7)

Well, I’m going to give this blog another crack!

At Trinity South Coast, we spent most of last term reading through the magnificent letter of Paul to a small, unimpressive group of Jesus’ people in Colossae. I’ve posted before on this little gem, but thought I’d gather some more thoughts together flowing out of this latest journey through it.

These verses are the heart-beat of everything Paul wants to say; and they’re incredibly liberating and important words for those small, unimpressive groups of Jesus’ people 2000 years after they were written:

Beggar's handsSo then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

-Colossians 2:6-7

I find what Paul is saying here staggering, and I need to constantly come back to it. He wants his readers to know how to go on in the Christian life, how to progress and grow; but there’s a particular dynamic to this progress and growth that’s unique to the Christian gospel.

The Colossians had received something wonderful. They’d been taken from darkness to light, from being God’s enemies to full members of his family, a chosen people, holy and dearly loved. Their membership in this family wasn’t performance-based, it wasn’t driven by anxiety or fear. Being born again into God’s family, becoming a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom, beginning in the Christian life is simply to humbly hold out our hands in faith to receive God’s amazing free gift of this new identity; to receive Christ Jesus as Lord.

And for Paul, as far as our life in Jesus is concerned, Christians never move from being receivers to being contributors. We don’t get to a point at which we can take things on our own from here, thanks very much Lord. We are always and only ever unworthy, deeply loved receivers.

What struck me looking at this again was how deeply offensive this is; but at the same time how beautiful and liberating. It’s offensive to my pride and self-sufficiency, to my Babel-ish desire to make a name for myself. But it’s wonderful. It means that, at last, here is a life that is not about performing.

It’s a constant temptation to base who we are on what we do. It’s so ingrained in us, and comes from something very dark within us. At heart our rebellion against God is a rebellion against humble dependence upon him; so we base who we are on what we do, to sink our roots in ourselves, to build ourselves up, to be strengthened in our own works.

But Jesus reorders our hearts so that being a dependent receiver is not something to rail against but something to rejoice in. That I find so freeing. The gospel flips it all around – it doesn’t let go of what we do. It’s important how we live and Paul’s got a lot to say about it as we read on. But in Christ, what he has done, not we do, is the defining core of our life.

And what he’s done is there, always, simply to be received.

Posted by: duncandrews | September 1, 2014

What Is Seven: a birthday poem

Goodnight, my love,IMG_4941
goodnight Three-Plus-Three!
When you wake up in the morning,
I don’t know what you’ll be.

Goodnight, little one,
goodnight Two-Plus-Four!
Whatever will you look like
when you open up your door?

For I’ve heard this is momentous,
The Great Age of Six-Plus-One.
How much taller will you be?
How much faster will you run?
Will you still hop like Peter Rabbit,
or shoot off to explore the sun,
or hide with Misters One and Three
writing notes and making sneaky fun?

But, ah! I know, I think I know,
I know the Mystery of What Is Seven.
It’s the same as when you were Minus One:
a gift. A precious gift from heaven.

Posted by: duncandrews | August 15, 2014

A Receptive Life: Luther, the gospel, and doin’ your best

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/90/Lucas_Cranach_d.%C3%84._-_Martin_Luther,_1528_(Veste_Coburg).jpgFor some time I’ve had a bit of a fascination with the great reformer, the guy who sparked a theological revolution that changed the world, the brother like no other, Martin Luther. I like the guy. Probably because he’s so different from me. His boldness and courage and intensity and intellectual consistency are pretty frightening, but I find them incredibly compelling.

Anyway, I’m in the middle of a series of three open lectures at the Bible College of South Australia, on Luther’s theological ethics – how his theological breakthrough transformed how he saw life, from its the big picture right down to the gravely bits.

Just keep doin’ your best…
As a teenager I loved Keith Green’s song, He’ll Take Care of the Rest. Keith, the Christian pop-rocker with a white-man’s-fro, was a bit of a hero for me. The chorus of the song repeated the refrain:

you just keep doin’ your best,
and pray that it’s blessed,
and Jesus takes care of the rest.

I suspect Keith would want to distance himself from this connection, but every time I hear that song now, I think of the theological movement that left Luther a broken, deeply anxious and afflicted man. The Medieval Scholastics held the via moderna, which taught that ‘God in his infinite mercy ascribes value to human worth, … [allowing] human beings ‘to do that which is in oneself’ (facare quod in se est)’ (MacCulloch, Reformation, 110‐11). God had made a pact with humanity, agreeing to justify anyone who ‘did what they could’. (BTW, Keith Green lovers, I know he didn’t mean it in this way!)

The great problem for Luther was that he could never be sure if he had done his best, done ‘what was in him’. He wrote, ‘though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. … Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience’ (LW 34:336-7).

Luther’s decisive breakthrough, however, came as he lectured through the Psalms and Romans. ‘The essential centre of Luther’s discovery consists in the recognition that in Christ, God’s son, true man and true God, God freely gives us his righteousness, wisdom and strength. This is the content of the gospel and this faith believes and therefore is justified.’ (Brecht, Martin Luther, 230)

This ‘discovery’, or perhaps more accurately ‘re-covery’, of the gospel was explosive for Luther. Over the next few posts, I’ll explore a couple of his early and seminal theological works, before examining the way his theology shaped his understanding of the practicalities of every day life. If there’s one thing I admire Luther for most, it’s having the courage and determination to let what he believed about God and the world and the gospel actually direct and shape his understanding and experience of life. I find it exciting and compelling – and hope you will too.

Posted by: duncandrews | July 10, 2014

Othniel: living in the victory of God

I’ve recently had the privilege of leading our church through one of the most wild and wooly episodes in the Bible’s story: the period recorded in the book of Judges. It’s been a fascinating and at times depressing ride; Judges is filled with chaos and violence and characters who promise so much but often fail to deliver. But through it all God remains unbelievably faithful, and by the end of the book it’s only a miracle of his grace that his people survive at all.

The first judge we looked at was one of the better ones – not the most exciting but certainly one of the best. Othniel was raised up by God to save his people from the ‘doubly wicked’ overlord that enslaved them, and through him God gave the land rest for 40 years. Here’s where we landed:

 

Othniel was God’s instrument, God’s chosen deliverer who had God’s Spirit on him. But Jesus is God himself come to save, who not only has the Spirit of the Lord on him but who pours out his spirit onto his people. Othniel was a good judge, the best judge, but in the end he went to his grave, just like Ehud, Shamgar and the rest. But Jesus, our great deliverer, isn’t dead. He defeated death. He didn’t just bring rest to one piece of land; he has won a universal rest in the new heavens and new earth that he is bringing in. And His victory goes on, not just 40 years, but forever. By his spirit poured out on us, and through his word given to us, he is just as much with us today as Othniel was with the Israelites.

And isn’t that something to sing about? Isn’t that something to celebrate? Isn’t that something to rejoice in?

The people who celebrated VE Day were just so happy and full of joy. They sang because they knew two things: the horror of the enemy, and the certainty of the defeat. It’s the same with us, living in the victory of God.

But if the reality of God’s victory in Jesus doesn’t fill us with joy, it may be on the one hand because we’ve forgotten the horror of our enemy.

Our world is very good at sanitising sin, at hiding death behind closed doors, at making light of the devil. And it’s hard to really rejoice that Jesus has defeated sin when we’ve sanitised it, death when we’ve hidden it. But these are terrible enemies. Doubly wicked doesn’t being to get at it. They are the enemies that have enslaved and destroyed and distorted all humanity ever since the fall; and in Jesus they are defeated!

But perhaps on the other hand you are all too familiar with the horror of enemy. You know the cruel sting of death, the destructive consequences of some sin, some enslaving idol. It’s the certainty of their defeat you struggle with. And it’s hard to rejoice in God’s victory when you aren’t sure of that victory.

If we have any hope in the pain of this life it’s not in ourselves, it is only in Jesus. I want to read out one verse from John’s gospel – 16:33

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”

In this world we will have trouble. Lots of it. But in Jesus we may have peace. He has overcome the world. He has promised to return, to wipe every tear away and make all things new. So take heart. Rejoice in the great victory of God given freely to you in Christ.

Posted by: duncandrews | April 23, 2014

nothing but the blood of Jesus; a song

What can wash away my sin?
What can make me whole again?

For my pardon, this I see:
For my cleansing, this my plea:

Nothing can for sin atone,
Naught of good that I have done.

This is all my hope and peace!
This is all my righteousness!

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

 

 

(Words & music by Robert Lowry)

Posted by: duncandrews | January 30, 2014

Guidance for life

ImageA couple of months ago I spent a bit of time reading Psalm 25. It’s been rumbling around ever since, and something that has particularly stuck with me is the way the Psalm talks about guidance.

Basic to Christian faith is the claim that God is involved in his creation – so involved he crashed into it in the person of Jesus, whose power and presence is active today in his Word and through his Spirit. This isn’t an aloof and disinterested involvement, but a profoundly personal and loving one. In this context the question of guidance can bear a significant weight – how this personal God, who has poured his love out for me in Christ and is at work in me by his Spirit, leads and guides me through life. Should I wait for a bolt from the blue when making important decisions? Will God nudge me one way or the other? Should I to long for a direct experience of God speaking to me?

What struck me in Psalm 25, a psalm that talks a lot about guidance, is that David is almost entirely preoccupied not with being guided in his own ways, but with being guided in God’s ways:

Show me your ways, LORD
teach me your paths
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Saviour,
and my hope is in you all day long. (v4-5)

 

Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way. (v8-9)

 

The LORD confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them. (v14)

There is a good, willing, powerful guide who guides the humble. But where does he guide them? What’s the nature of the guidance? The strong emphasis in the psalm is that God guides us in his ways. He teaches his ways. He shares the knowledge of his covenant, his great plan and promise to renew his sin-scarred world to make it a place of life and peace, to bring forgiveness and freedom from sin, to turn rebels into worshipers. He opens eyes to see just how beautiful and cosmic and life-giving his ways are.

There is a more direct, immediate guidance – v12 claims that God will instruct those who fear him in the ways they should choose – but the overwhelming preoccupation here is with God’s ways. David doesn’t even ask for that more specific guidance, he just states that it is true, that God will instruct in that way. What he asks for, longs for, is to know, not primarily his own ways, but God’s ways – his covenant, his work in the world, what he has done and has promised to do. And David’s confident that as that happens, as he immerses himself in the ebbs and flows of God’s ways, as he has his desires and thoughts trained by God’s desires and thoughts enacted in the gospel, as that happens God will guide him through the specifics of his own life.

I thank God for stories I hear of God’s particular guidance, and I don’t doubt He can and does do it. But, at least from Psalm 25, it seems to me that the challenge for us is to like David long first and foremost to know, be immersed in, be shaped and trained by the good, eternal, liberating ways of God.

Posted by: duncandrews | October 18, 2013

Nate, Who Is Three

It takes a while for you to smile;IMG_2661
but when you do – once you’ve stared through
everyone that’s around without a sound,
eyes burning holes into their souls;
once you know what’s what, what’s new and what’s not –

THEN IT’S ALL ON! And you’re suddenly gone,
without a trace on some great race,
or to find on a quest a buried pirate’s chest,
your booted feet clomping their beat,
your eyes wide and wild just like a pirate child;
or, as you declare with your mess of straw hair
that you won’t let us clip for fear we might slip
and your ear destroy; “No, dad, I’m a BOY.”

A Boy, don’t you see? A Boy Who Is Three.

Posted by: duncandrews | September 1, 2013

poem for a six year old: Spring

For me, Spring is bird-song,Image
blossom buds bursting out,
suddenly the world’s shout
that darkness is almost gone.
But there is more, too;
for me, Spring is you.

For me, Spring is a slanting sun,
a long-awaited irruption of light
and colour and sound and smell and sight;
hope fulfilled, and hope begun.
Something finished, something new,
for me, Spring is you.

Spring, for me, begins with laughter,
a memory of scrawny limbs and face,
sparkling gift of the Father’s grace,
a lovely joy, both now and after.
Yes, little one, it’s true:
for me, Spring is you.

Posted by: duncandrews | May 21, 2013

Whitsunday; a poem for Pentecost, by George Herbert

¶ Whitsunday.

Listen sweet Dove unto my song,
And spread thy golden wings in me;
Hatching my tender heart so long,
Till it get wing, and flie away with thee.

Where is that fire which once descended
On thy Apostles? thou didst then
Keep open house, richly attended,
Feasting all comers by twelve chosen men.

Such glorious gifts thou didst bestow,
That th’ earth did like a heav’n appeare;
The starres were coming down to know
If they might mend their wages, and serve here.

The sunne, which once did shine alone,
Hung down his head, and wisht for night,
When he beheld twelve sunnes for one
Going about the world, and giving light.

But since those pipes of gold, which brought
That cordiall water to our ground,
Were cut and martyr’d by the fault
Of those, who did themselves through their side wound,

Thou shutt’st the doore, and keep’st within;
Scarce a good joy creeps through the chink:
And if the braves of conqu’ring sinne
Did not excite thee, we should wholly sink.

Lord, though we change, thou art the same;
The same sweet God of love and light:
Restore this day, for thy great name,
Unto his ancient and miraculous right.

Posted by: duncandrews | May 16, 2013

Out of the storm: a short poem

Job 38-41

Ah! Infinite starburst, searing light,
heat white hot, your flaming handsIMG_1098
smallest twitch and lightning is put to flight,
a cord to bind Orion where he stands.

In terror my ashen eyes have now seen
what before my ears had only heard,
and I am consumed, repentant, husk obscene.

And yet, to me you speak a word.

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