Boldness, fear and hope

I received this in a letter from a friend. I’m posting it anonymously with his permission.

This evening some of us got together and talked about answering questions we get asked here.   As you can imagine there are wide opinions about how to respond.  Some of the questions considered were, ‘Do you have a Bible you can give to me?’  ‘What does the Bible say?’  ‘Which place do you think is the best, America or *?’  Some questions are easy enough to answer.  With the more ‘sensitive’ questions, however, many people, however, seem to err on the side of caution.  They are concerned about physical safety for themselves, for their expat colleagues, for local brothers.  ‘Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ gets quoted a lot.

Reading the Gospels or Paul, or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter, I don’t see the concern for extending life on this earth that we seem to often give it.  Read the first few chapters of Acts.  Stephen and Peter are not prioritising life on earth.  True, they are not throwing it away (although it sometimes seems like it!), but their priority is proclamation of truth – testifying to the one they know and have seen and experienced.

One guy who spoke up today was like a breath of fresh air to me.  I talked to him afterwards and he told me about a couple of people that he learned from.  When he first came here he asked the question, ‘Who is seeing fruit?’  One or two people’s names were mentioned.  They are BOLD people.  One has been forced to leave the country, the other hasn’t had the easiest of times.  They have been criticised here by their expat brothers and sisters for bringing trouble.  But they have cast the seed wide and have proclaimed to any who would listen and now people know freedom and forgiveness and God as a result.

I read a booked called ‘Living in the Light of Eternity’.  It seems to me that Jesus and the apostles lived in the light of eternity.  Dying here was not a failure because life is more than what we see here today.  They were living for something other than what most people live for.  As the result of different priorities, as the result of living as an ambassador for Someone, status, wealth, friendships, and life itself were viewed through a different lens.  Success and failure are measured differently.  Not that we are driven by a need to ‘succeed’.  But we can certainly say that it is not necessarily a failure if boldness results in persecution.  And it’s not a failure even if our friends are persecuted as a result (if it is, Jesus failed).

This guy I was talking to has seen people come into freedom.  One thing he mentioned was that local brothers would benefit from seeing us be bold.  What are we modelling for them?  Do they learn fear and back-peddling, and not-wanting-to-offend from us?  Or do we emanate confidence, security, contentment and a reliance upon the King rather than a fear of man.  How many times are we taught not to fear?  I forget what prompted Jesus to say it, but he said we should not fear those who can only kill the body, rather we should fear him who can cast our bodies into hell.  How many references to fear are there in the gospels?  Many.  When faced with ‘hard’ questions, or instructions by the authorities to be quiet, how often do we hear from our colleagues here that we should ‘obey God, not man!’.  On the other hand how often do we hear that we need to think about the greater ‘good’ of the community, and just be quiet, or couch truth in more acceptable terms.  I fear that these mainly unspoken expectations of silence rather than breeding security, cultivate fear.  Instructions to be ‘careful, wise, discerning, not offending where you don’t need to offend, etc’ are all good instructions but I think they often mask a fear of the consequences for speaking up.  Sure, be wise.  Sure, make the gospel the only offense.  But know that the gospel DOES offend.  When Jesus was opposed almost from the outset (and not in the form of gentle, polite questions) he was not surprised and he did not draw back.

Ok, that’s my rant over.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to be speaking on street corners.  Although maybe a little of that is what’s needed.  Joke.  (I think.)  I talk the bold talk in this letter, but I’m not convinced I walk that walk.  Fear is contagious, and I know I have caught some.  Pray that I would walk in step with the Spirit, learning to love Jesus more, grasping all opportunities I can because they are a joy to be grasped.  Pray that I’d learn to ask, ‘What liberating truth does God want to reveal to this person?’ rather than, ‘What consequence will speaking to him have for me?’

The good news of the Trinity

I have an article on ‘The Good News of the Trinity‘ published at the excellent theologynetwork.org. Here’s how it begins …

In our culture Friends have become a television programme and Neighbours are experienced vicariously through Australian soap operas. We’re living in an increasingly fragmented and isolated society. It’s not just community that’s fragmented, but truth itself. Truth is now a matter of individual choice. We’re left with little shared basis for community life or social cohesion … In this context the doctrine of the Trinity is good news.

 

4Gs in F – a New Song

Here’s a new song that I wrote ages ago, but I’ve just realised I’ve never posted it on the blog. It’s an attempt to express in song something of the pastoral significance of the 4Gs that I’ve talked on the blog before.

Weary of striving to make it alone,
fearful of failure or trying to atone,
I hear ‘It is finished’, Christ sits on the throne:
Jesus, I rest in you.

2. Weary of fearing what others may say,
needing approval to feel I’m okay,
when Jesus alone is the Lord I obey:
Jesus, I rest in you.

3. Weary of chasing the lies of this world,
finding its treasures an empty reward:
my beautiful Saviour, most glorious Lord,
Jesus, I rest in you.

4. Weary of needing to be in control,
brooding on worries, disturbing my soul:
the Stiller of storms who alone can console,
Jesus, I rest in you.

5. Weary of memories recalled with dismay,
burdened with guilt that I can’t sweep away,
when Jesus has cancelled what I could not pay:
Jesus, I rest in you.

Here’s the music: Weary of Striving (Jesus I Rest in You). You can also sing it to the tune of ‘Just As I Am’.

The astute among you will notice there are five verses. One of the Gs gets two verses. I’ll leave you to work out which. But here’s a clue. Both my daughters are named after this ‘G’. It’s the second name of one and the other’s first name is the Hebrew word for it.

Tim Chester © 2007 c/o http://www.thecrowdedhouse.org. May be copied and used freely for non-profit personal and congregational use.

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The 4Gs – truths to set you free

In my book You Can Change I identified four liberating truths about God. I suggested that underlying  all our sinful behaviour and negative emotions is a failure to believe one of these truths at a functional level. Embracing, believing, trusting, delighting in the appropriate liberating truth therefore has the power to set us free from sin – though we need to recognize that this typically involves a daily struggle – the fight of faith. These four liberating truths offer a great diagnostic tool for addressing sin in our lives and in the lives of others. The four truths are:

1. God is great – so we don’t have to be in control

2. God is glorious – so we don’t have to fear others

3. God is good – so we don’t have to look elsewhere

4. God is gracious – so we don’t have to prove ourselves

Last year I visited Soma Communities with whom The Crowded House have a strong partnership. Readers of this blog will know Soma have been a strong influence on us.

Soma Communities have been using the four liberating truths a lot. They have coined the term ‘the 4 Gs’ as a short description for them. Caesar Kalinowski emailed me today saying, ‘We continue to be absolutely rocked by the 4 Gs … We now do them each time at Soma School due to the overwhelming response to the material.’ They have four free audio messages on each of the 4 Gs based on talks they gave in Estonia.

You Can Change purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US is available in the UK from IVP and is being published by Crossway in the US in March 2010. I notice Crossway already have You Can Change on their website with a cover design (below). In the meantime you can buy the UK edition from Amazon.com.

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Love is all you need

I’ve just been reading the final discourse of Jesus (John 14-16) and was struck by the theme of love.

1. Love is key to knowledge

John 14:22-24: Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple with that name) said to him, “Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?”  Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. 

The prerequiste for knowledge is love. This was the arugment of Augustine. Jesus reveals himself to those who love him. The Father makes his home in those who love him. Knowledge is relational. We know this from human interaction. We disclose to people we love and trust. Knowing someone in a significant way goes hand in hand with loving someone.

There is a counter-truth: those who do not love God can never truly know him. 

This means knowing God begins not with investigation, study or philosophy. It begins with love ad obedience. It begins with the fear of the LORD.

2. Love is key to obedience

John 15:9-16: “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.  When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command … is my command: Love each other.”

Again we are in the territory of Augustine who (along with Luther) said: Love God and do what you want. Love creates genuine obedience. The alternate form of obedience is legalism. But legalism is self-serving. The legalist obeys for what obedience brings to them. Love obeys for the sake of the other – for the sake of God – and only that is true obedience.

And again there is a counter-truth: the world hates Jesus and it hates his followers (15:18-25).

3. Love is key to mission

Here we are straying somewhat from the final discourse:

John 13:34-35: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 17:20-26: “… I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me … May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me … I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

The world will know as Christians love. If love is key to knowledge then love is also key to apologetics.

Is depression a sin?

I’ve been sent a couple of questions on depression. One was in response to my book, You Can Change, asking if I think depression is a sin. The other is from David Wayne, a pastor in Maryland, in response to my series on communities of grace. Here’s what David wrote:

Here in the US, the therapeutic culture defines and narrates the story of depression.  The psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists are the great high priests on these issues, high priests to whose wisdom we ill-informed pastors must bow. I do know and understand that, by and large, the church and many of us pastors are given to flippant and pious platitudes in response to depression.  On the other hand, since the therapeutic culture gets to narrate the story of depression, when we pastors seek to frame a biblical story of depression we are usually ruled out of line and hurtful.  For the most part, depressed people in my congregation, or others who are under the influence of any kind of counsellor simply will not listen to me.  They will tell me what their counsellor says about how I am to help them and it is my job to receive instruction from them and to never contradict the authority of the counsellor.

Here’s my response to these two questions.

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New TCH Statement of Faith

In The Crowded House we’ve recently written a new statement of faith. We’ve tried to write it in a more narrative form with a minimum amount of theological jargon and with some passion. Here it is …

We are a people longing eagerly for the future

We are waiting the arrival of a new heaven and earth, which God will bring about through his transforming power. A day is coming when Christ will come again to establish his reign of justice and freedom. He will create the home of righteousness which his people crave, banishing forever sin, Satan and de ath.

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