Engaging with our culture: Plugged In by Dan Strange

As light relief from reading books on gender and sexuality over Christmas I turned to Dan Strange’s book – Plugged In. It’s about how Christians can and should engage with our culture, and he gives some helpful principles on how to do it.Plugged In

But why bother? Well … One of the books on sexuality that I read makes the point that whether we like it or not, realise it nor not, we are encultured people. We drink from the wells of our culture; it can shape how we think and live and if we are going to protect ourselves and other Christians we need to think it through and be aware of the messages our culture sends and we receive.

So what are the messages our culture is giving? What messages lie behind the soaps and films we watch, the books we read, the sport we play and the music we listen to? And what is the Christian response to these messages?

I like superhero films and series, and was watching one last night. One of the supporting characters was being encouraged to act on her feelings, to genuinely be herself. The programme played on the emotions – it was set up to have you cheering when she put her feelings above what anyone else thought of her.

The message was pretty blunt, more a slap in the face than a creeping up on you. Be your authentic self and don’t be ashamed of it!

And when you’ve seen that, you start to realise that the same message comes through all over the place in the series. We’re all different, with different feelings and gifts and we should just let them all out! Be yourself. And if you don’t you’re just suppressing who you really are – and that’s not good. We’re all heroes when we live out who we are! (This is just one message from the series, the one I’m focusing on here.)

How do we deal with this from a Christian point of view?

Clearly Dan thinks the latter, and rightly so! Christians can’t separate themselves off completely, so we need to engage at the very least to protect ourselves, others, and to understand and critique the worldviews of others and point them to Jesus.

And he gives us four steps to do so based on Paul’s speech to the Areopagus in Acts 17:

“1. Entering: Stepping into the world and listening to the story: “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship … ” (v 23)

2. Exploring: Searching for elements of grace and the idols attached to them: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To AN UNKNOWN GOD.” (v 23)

3. Exposing: Showing up the idols as destructive frauds: “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone-an image made by human design and skill.” (v 29)

4. Evangelising: Showing off the gospel of Jesus Christ as “subversive fulfilment”: “So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship-and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” (v 23)”

Dan expands on each of these headings, and then, if you want to see this approach unpacked, he gives four examples, drawn from essays his students have given: adult colouring books, birdwatching, zombies and the Japanese domestic toilet (yes, really).

 

What are your hobbies? What do you watch on television? What do you read or listen to? What messages do they send? And how could you respond to that from a Christian perspective as you enter, explore, expose and evangelise? Dan’s book will help you do that: https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/products/24811/plugged-in

 

Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

 

 

 

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Tim Keller: Walking with God through Pain and Suffering: The Christian hope.

keller suffering

As we looked at Job over the Summer I read a number of books on suffering. One of the most helpful was Tim Keller’s book; “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.” https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/products/19793/walking-with-god-through-pain

The book is divided into three:
• The philosophical perspective where he argues that the Christian faith gives the greatest resources to cope with suffering, and indeed grow through it.
• The theological perspective: what the Bible teaches us to help us in suffering.
• The pastoral, practical perspective: “how do we actually walk with God through these times?”

In the wonderful, and very personal, last chapter he writes about the hope Christian’s have that sustains them. John writes the book of Revelation to a suffering people in order that they might endure in their faith. Keller writes:
“And what did John give them so they could face it all? John gave them the ultimate hope-a new heavens and a new earth that was coming. That is what he gave them to face it, and it is a simple fact of history that it worked. We know that the early Christians took their suffering with great poise and peace and they sang hymns as the beasts were tearing them apart and they forgave the people who were killing them. And so the more they were killed, the more the Christian movement grew. Why? Because when people watched Christians dying like that, they said, “These people have got something.” Well, do you know what they had? They had this. It is a living hope.” Page 314.

And then from pages 317-319:
“But how can we be sure this future is for us? The answer is-you can be sure if you believe in Jesus, who took what we deserve so we could have the heaven and the glory he deserved. Donald Grey Barnhouse, who was a pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for many years, lost his wife when his daughter was still a child. Dr. Barnhouse was trying to help his little girl, and himself, process the loss of his wife and her mother. Once when they were driving, a huge moving van passed them. As it passed, the shadow of the truck swept over the car. The minister had a thought. He said something like this, “Would you rather be run over by a truck, or by its shadow?” His daughter replied, “By the shadow of course. That can’t hurt us at all.” Dr. Barnhouse replied, “Right. If the truck doesn’t hit you, but only its shadow, then you are fine. Well, it was only the shadow of death that went over your mother. She’s actually alive-more alive than we are. And that’s because two thousand years ago, the real truck of death hit Jesus. And because death crushed Jesus, and we believe in him, now the only thing that can come over us is the shadow of death, and the shadow of death is but my entrance into glory.”?”
We sing that song “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” and the last line of the last stanza is “made like him, like him we rise; ours the cross, the grave, the skies.” What does that mean? It’s almost like a taunt. It’s like saying, “Come on, crosses, the lower you lay me, the higher you will raise me! Come on, grave, kill me and all you will do is make me better than before!” If the death of Jesus Christ happened for us and he bore our hopelessness so that now we can have hope-and if the resurrection of Jesus Christ happened-then even the worst things will turn into the best things, and the greatest are yet to come.
There have not been many times in my life when I felt “the peace that passes understanding.” But there was one time for which I am very grateful, and it stemmed from this great Christian hope. It was just before my cancer surgery. My thyroid was about to be removed, and after that, I faced a treatment with radioactive iodine to destroy any residual cancerous thyroid tissue in my body. Of course my whole family and I were shaken by it all, and deeply anxious. On the morning of my surgery, after I said my good-byes to my wife and sons, I was wheeled into a room to be prepped. And in the moments before they gave me the anesthetic, I prayed. To my surprise, I got a sudden, clear new perspective on everything. It seemed to me that the universe was an enormous realm of joy, mirth, and high beauty. Of course it was-didn’t the Triune God make it to be filled with his own boundless joy, wisdom, love, and delight? And within this great globe of glory was only one little speck of darkness-our world-where there was temporarily pain and suffering. But it was only one speck, and soon that speck would fade away and everything would be light. And I thought, “It doesn’t really matter how the surgery goes. Everything will be all right. Me-my wife, my children, my church-will all be all right.” I went to sleep with a bright peace on my heart.
C. S. Lewis wrote:
For if we take the Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendor of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling’ with the rumor that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in. ‘When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fitfully reflects.”

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Joyfully giving thanks – Colossians 1:9-14

A Call to SRAs we come to look at this passage on Sunday, here are some words from Don Carson (Spiritual Reformation, pages 109-110) on verses 12-14 that challenge our prayers:

“If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Saviour.

What Paul is saying is that to live a life worthy of Jesus Christ is to overflow with joyful thanksgiving in the light of the salvation we have received at his hand. If we have been transferred out of the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son beloved by God, our only appropriate response is joyful gratitude.

Indeed, as Paul thinks along such lines, his mind is so compellingly drawn to Jesus that he breaks out in a paean to Christ (1:15-20). Of course, it is important for Paul to remind his Colossian readers that Christ is the Lord of the universe, since he was God’s agent in creation, and to tell them that Jesus is not only creation’s agent but its goal: “all things were created by him and for him” (1:16). Because of the syncretism all around them, the Colossians needed to be reminded that Christ alone is the head of the church. Yet Paul reminds them in such a way that he displays the joyful exuberance that he has just been describing. It is the inevitable heritage of those who dwell on the countless blessings they have received from God through the merits of Christ Jesus.

The line of thought in this prayer of the apostle is straightforward. He prays constantly that these Christians will be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Then he tells them the purpose of his prayer: he wants them to live a life worthy of the Lord, utterly pleasing to him, and Paul assumes that such a life is utterly impossible unless there is a growing and spiritual grasp of what God’s will is. Finally, unwilling to leave undefined such expressions as “worthy of the Lord” and “please him in every way,” he fleshes them out with some concrete characteristics of Christians who live this way. His list is not meant to be exhaustive, merely typical, but it is no less revolutionary for that. Christians, he says, bear fruit in every good work. They grow in the knowledge of God, they are strengthened by God’s power so as to display great endurance and patience, and they joyfully give thanks to the Father for the astonishing salvation he has granted them through the Son he loves, Jesus Christ. That sublime thought elicits a burst of praise for Jesus himself.

When was the last time you prayed like that? Does not the example of the apostle suggest we should be constantly praying along these lines?”

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Spark Wonder

 

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Enjoying God by Tim Chester – Word Alive 2019 seminars

enjoying God

These are some notes from Tim Chester’s Enjoying God seminars at Word Alive 2019.  They are by no means a complete record of the seminars, and are my notes – so may not completely reflect what he was saying.

They were helpful seminars, and the book is also helpful and goes into more detail.  I wasn’t 100% convinced by everything, but in general it was a helpful lesson in growing our enjoyment of God.

 

Our [objective] unity with God in Christ (which is all God’s work) is the basis of our community with God in [subjective] experience.  Therefore:

  • An incentive to live in faith – we will enjoy God in Christ more.
  • And assurance – when we sin we fall back on our objective union with God.

When facing struggles, don’t ask, “What must I do?”, but rather, “What am I to learn from this struggle God has allowed me to face?”

In every pleasure we can enjoy the Father’s generosity.

In every hardship we can enjoy the Father’s formation.

Ten lepers were healed by Jesus but only one returns to say thank you and enjoys communion with Jesus.  The impulse that drove him back?  Gratitude!  The power of thankfulness.

Lifting our eyes from gifts to the giver leads to seeing all good things as part of our relationship with God.  “God’s fatherly sweetness.”

God the Father uses bad things in this life to discipline us and to weaken our attachments to this world and strengthen our attachment to him.

The number 1 reason I don’t enjoy God more is not enough repentance.  [A whole new meaning to the Fun Factory at Prestatyn Pontins as Tim Chester said!]

The disciplines of repentance:

  • Repent of every sin
  • Repent of every temptation – say a decisive NO
  • Repent every day
  • Repent every week

How Jesus was in the Gospels is how Jesus relates to us today.  So as we read the Gospels we see how Jesus related to people then, and that is how he relates to people today – to me today.

Hebrews 10:11-14: What is Jesus doing now?  He’s sitting at the right hand of God the Father, work complete, “busy doing nothing”!  He is interceding for us by his very presence so our act of faith is to lift our eyes to Christ.  So what do we do now?  To earn our salvation; to impress God; to impress other people; we are busy doing nothing!  “It is finished!”

Prayer is miraculous.  It is a sign of the Spirit at work in us, and is amazing when we think of who we are approaching.

Don’t just read the Bible for more information but to hear the voice of God.  Pray for the Spirit to help you as you read.  And then pray as you read based on what you are reading.

Most groans are backward looking because things are not as they were.  Christians also groan looking forward, because things are not what they will be!

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The Things of Earth – Joe Rigney

I’ve read “The Things of Earth” recently by Joe Rigney.  He’s looking at how we can enjoy the things God has given us in this world while not idolising them, but rather giving thanks to God for them (and more – read the book).  He’s from the ‘John Piper’ school of thought, so the sub-title is “Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts.”  It tied in well with Enjoying God by Tim Chester and his seminars at Word Alive (which are worth listening to when they come out).

Here’s one quote from 173-174 that certainly challenges! 

“Finally, keep the gospel central. When seeking to be the kind of character that God wants you to be in the story, remember that your main goal is to image God in Christ to those around you. Your aim is to be a walking gospel proclamation. You want to proclaim Christ crucified with your words and in your words. You want to portray him in your actions, attitudes, and demeanour, displaying the appropriate emotional and spiritual response in a given situation.

I’ve personally found that viewing all of reality as communication from God has a tremendous effect on my pursuit of holiness. Because if everything is speaking about God, then I am speaking about God in everything I say and do. And I will be either telling the truth about God or lying about him. I will be either an extension of God’s love for people or a barrier to their experience of that love.’ It forces me to ask, What would God say if he entered the room right now? What does he want said, and how can I say it in my words, demeanor, and actions? I can’t tell you how many times that sort of question has prevented me from saying or doing something sinful or foolish or has encouraged me to enter a room with a deliberate and Spirit-empowered intention to communicate God’s love or his faithfulness or his gladness or his displeasure or his playfulness.

In all of your life, you want to display the worth and value of Jesus and the vitality of the divine life. So ask yourself questions such as:

·         Am I a model worth emulating? Are my patterns of thinking and feeling worth passing on? Is what I say worth repeating? Are my emotional responses appropriate and fitting?

·         Do I weep when it’s time to weep? Do I rejoice when it’s time to rejoice?

·         When courage is required, am I as bold as a lion?

·         When it’s time to give advice, am I ready with wise counsel? When it’s time to receive orders, am I ready to take them with a glad salute?

·         Do I model leadership and initiative when appropriate?  Do I model submission and obedience when appropriate?

·         Do I take responsibility for my actions? Do I model how to humbly receive instruction and correction and rebuke from others?

·         Do I model wisdom and violence in the war against sin?

·         Am I an example of faithful suffering?

·         Do I give thanks always and for everything?

In seeking to live this way, we must remember the grace of God. It is grace that pardons us, grace that heals us, grace that strengthens us, and grace that empowers us to live the Christian life. And when we receive and proclaim and portray Christ in this way, we become the extension of God’s triune fullness in the world. Such a life is what creaturely participation in God’s life looks like on the ground. That’s the ball game. That’s the whole enchilada. That is the great calling to which we’ve been called.”

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Why we should want someone to become a Christian

There are positive reasons and negative reasons why we would want someone to become a Christian; things that would be good for that person and things to avoid. Here are the positive reasons, the negative are the flip side of each of these. Some of these a Christian will only know imperfectly now, but will know perfectly in the new creation.  We can use these as we pray for others.

These aren’t in any order of priority.

1. They will be forgiven and not face God’s anger at their rebellion against him.
2. They will be adopted into his family as his sons and daughters, knowing him as their heavenly Father.
3. They will have the gift of the Holy Spirit living in them, experiencing the presence of Jesus Christ.
4. They will experience the power of the Holy Spirit in them enabling them to break the hold of sin over them.
5. They will become part of the family of God, belonging to the global, and a local, church, experiencing fellowship.
6. They will live to bring God glory.
7. They will have eternal life, being with God forever.
8. They will know satisfaction in God.
9. They will have a clear conscience.
10. They will have a purpose in life.
11. They will have hope for their future, whatever their circumstances are now.
12. They will know God’s creating, saving, Fatherly love for them.
13. They will know the truth.
14. It pleases God!
15. They will be able to pray, to talk with their heavenly Father.
16. They will have confidence in the promises made to Christians in the Bible.
17. God’s Kingdom will grow.

 

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