Metamorphe's Weblog

Christian thinking in today's world

Uganda today and the East African Revival

Why we need Ugandan Christians (and why they might need us)

As part of the Wycliffe Hall Mission Week I took a small group of Students to Uganda to work with our sister college Bishop Barham Christian University, Kabale. This is located in the South West corner of Uganda, in the District of Kigezi, just an hour from the border with Rwanda. Kabale is about 7,000 feet above sea level and set in lush rolling hills. The air is a little “thin” and temperatures are less oppressive than in the capital Kampala where we began our journey, although the town centre is bustling, noisy and mucky, with red mud over all the roads and in the air. With a population of 50,000 people, Kabale acts as a district hub for an estimated 2 Million people scattered around the nearby villages.

The location itself is significant. Church Missionary Society missionaries brought Christianity to Uganda in 1877, arriving in Kabale in the early 20thC. The impact of the Gospel was enormously accelerated by the East African Revival which crossed over the border from Rwanda. It was warmly received in Kabale and from here emanated throughout East Africa.

The hub from which so much evangelistic zeal and worship emanated is the site where Bishop Barham Christian University now stands. The theological college students make up a small fraction of the 2,700 University cohort, but the Christian ethos pervades throughout.

We had the great pleasure of preaching in the chapel and nearby in the cathedral, teaching the Ordinands and sharing part of their training experience. We also taught in the local prep school and high school and visited local churches.

Why we need Ugandan Christians

The East African Revival lives on! Evidences of revival are strong, revealed for me in at least the following four ways

  • Worship is at the heart of community life

With African rhythm and harmony all you appear to need in order to sing praise to God is a drum! In fact adding extra amplification and electronic instruments (in my view) tended to distract (plus the electricity supply itself is pretty unreliable!)

The Luganda theme chorus was sung several times at every meeting we attended “Tukutendereza Yesu, Yesu Mwana gw’endiga, omusaayi gwo gunnaazizza, nkwebaza, Mulozi” (“We praise you Jesus, Jesus the Lamb, your blood has cleansed me, Saviour, I praise you”). It is quite complex to sing because of the interlocking harmonies – but the power of the message is evident and heartfelt.

Another aspect of worship is the power of testimony: yes, the preaching is important, but so too is the lived experience of the gathered Christians. A couple of us attended a Testimony and Praise meeting at All Saints Church in Kabale. It was hard for us to follow (all in Luganda) but person after person told their story of God’s mercy and faithfulness, interjected by “Praise the Lord” to which the response is “Amen”! There is power in a living, recent testimony of God’s work in a person’s life.

  • They Pray like they mean it!

Worship and prayer, of course, belong together. But the prayer meetings are worth a mention on their own. We attended the Graduation Ceremony, a rather long and tiring affair, followed by several delightful parties and celebrations. I was very tired and felt a little tetchy at being woken up several times during the night by what I had assumed were student graduation parties. Contrition eventually set in when I realised that what actually woke me was an all-night prayer meeting – marked out by corporate and public repentance and intercession for God to pour out His Spirit again!

Think about how hard it is to revive the traditional midweek parish prayer meeting in England. If we could but encourage some of the urgency, repentance and expectancy that marked these meetings I am a sure that we would delight to gather together as they did.

  • They Demonstrate Sacrificial living

For many Ugandans life is pretty good. There is not the level of poverty which I have witnessed in other East African countries (particularly Tanzania). The land is lush and fertile and the economy in Uganda is growing. Nevertheless, clergy tend to be self-supporting through modest subsistence farming. There is plenty of fresh mango, pineapple and other fruits. But main meals are pretty much the same lunchtime and evening. It’s the “not-the-Atkins diet” – high carb content with Rice, “Irish” potatoes (roasted) and Matoke (cooked bananas) accompanied by a piece of scrawny chicken or chewy beef/mutton. Don’t get me wrong, we were generously and graciously hosted. But we were guests who were humbled by the sacrifices they made for us and mindful of the material trappings which tend to distract us western Christians from simple living.

  • Theirs are Mission-focused Anglican structures

The Diocesan office was a hive of Gospel focussed activity. Bishops, Archdeacons, 5 talents workers, theological college staff and diocesan educators were there to resource the local church, be active in evangelism and church planting. Alongside this was a genuine desire to serve the whole person: education, health, community care and church growth belong together. I guess in a previous generation that was true for England too. Now, it seems, the church looks after the narrow sphere of the “spiritual” whilst the state looks after welfare and other social needs. I think that things are changing in England, but it seems to me that for a long time we have made Gospel preaching the centre of evangelical ministry out of anxiety that we will slip into “social Gospel” (and that has been a real danger). But giving the Gospel feet and hands as well as lips and ears is surely something we need to learn again from brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

Why might Ugandan Christians need us?

Do we have anything to offer to Christians in Uganda? Not much, I think. But, they are keen for genuine partnership with us and it was great to be able to sit down with the Principal of Bishop Barham and confirm our mutual commitment to giving and receiving from each other in partnership.

Here are three things which with which I think we can be of some assistance.

  • Training

Even the undergraduate theology students who came with me were able to provide good pedagogical assistance to the college. Having enjoyed full time “High” School and, generally, undergraduate study in a non-theological discipline, and now completing another BA or higher in theology, they were able contribute to classroom conversation. Education is a gift! I come away from time spent preaching and teaching in Africa realising how fortunate I am to have been surrounded by such good teaching – which can easily be shared. And, they are eager to receive it!

  • Resources

The internet possibilities are opening up in East Africa with occasional wifi access, internet cafes and a computer lab in the library. Thanks to the generosity of Wycliffe Hall Students (and a generous charity baggage allowance!) we were able to take nearly 200 books for staff and students and a new laptop computer with logos software and office suite for the use of the teaching faculty. In England, we are spoilt for resources and when we share them, they are grateful! This extends to our time too. Short-term missions cannot achieve very much, but medium (3-6 months) or longer term is a great way to share your gifts with the wider church.

  • Preparing to live in a Post-colonial/post-Christian nation

I hesitate to write this point. What I mean by it is that colonial influence, whilst largely positively received in Africa, is an embarrassing topic in western culture, not least because of some the baggage we exported. Are the Anglican structures we exported the best way to manage an African group of Churches? Is it really necessary for Africans to wear a heavy, hot cassock and surplice to lead a service? These are relatively minor points, of course.

More significant though is the conversation about life the other side of Revival. Praise God for the evidences of its continuation. However, as we often say, God has no grandchildren.

I had a delightful hour helping an excellent female ordinand with her final project before graduating from Bishop Barham. She asked me for advice on how to go about evangelism. My initial reaction had something to do with grandmas and sucking eggs. But she had hit upon an area which with which I think we might be able to help.

Evangelism, for Ugandans is very much Church based, consisting of inviting people in to hear the preaching of the Clergy. In our post-Christian country we have realised that this is not necessarily the most effective strategy. Through the successes of “Alpha” and “Christianity Explored” we have seen that effective evangelism is not only a matter of explaining the Gospel clearly, but also of doing so on the territory of the non-believer. Although I would very much hesitate to recommend a strictly teetotal culture to do their evangelism in their local bar (nothing like a British pub, really!), the challenge to meet non-Christians where they are, is important.

It may well be out of desperation that we have arrived at innovative non-church evangelism. But, we now know that evangelism happens outside the boat, in the secular sea around us, seeking to drag as many souls aboard as possible. Out of necessity, we have been evangelistically innovative

Having said that, I found myself saying on more than one occasion: “Please pray for us because many of those who sacrificed greatly to bring the Gospel to you no longer believe it… we need you to remind us of the things we once believed”.

Our visit to Uganda was a wonderfully enriching experience and it was a great joy to be reminded that though cultures and nations separate us, what we have in Jesus Christ binds us to other Christians more than anything else.

 

  • I am very grateful to Jovahn Turyamureeba (Vice Principal Bishop Barham University College) for his book “The East African Revival and its impact on my life”, from which I have drawn several insights for this article

April 1, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Feeding and being fed

Today was the first time back in my home congregation in Oxford since Christmas.

It was great to be among friends, familiar liturgy and good preaching.

I have been speaking and preaching at other churches during January. I find this to be a great privilege. I feel particularly energised when I preach, especially so when the passage has come to me with freshness, or when people speak afterwards about new things they have taken on board. Both of these happened over these past few weeks. On lady came up to me after I made reference to “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (see Mark 15:34). I said that this was single most influential verse in enabling me to grasp the Gospel. I had always been perplexed that the Son of God - who had been so close to his Father - was apparently abandoned at the time of his greatest need.  But of course, the heart of the Gospel is that the Son not only stood in for me at the cross (my substitute), but He bore the weight of the wrath of God’s punishment for me (providing propitiation):

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior! (Philip Bliss)

So, when a congregation member excitedly reports that they have understood this verse for the first time, well, it was worth preaching a sermon for that one person alone!

But I also felt fed whilst sitting back in the pew: participating in corporate worship and feeding on the word along with brothers and sisters in Christ. It is unhealthy to not want to be fed regularly yourself so we should receive as well as give.

Both giving and receiving is part of worship; feeding and being fed is necessary. Exercising our gifts is exhausting but often energising and generally encourages us. Being fed is also very necessary to build reserves for the week ahead. We must do both. Paul was particularly positive about the Philippian Church, and not least because of their partnership in the Gospel: “…you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.” (Phil 4:11).

Just as in the life of the physical body we need to feed, exercise and thereby be able to nourish others – the same is true in the body of Christ. Let us enter into partnership with one another in giving and receiving.

January 26, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Preaching in the New Year

John the Baptist has dominated the readings and theme of my first two sermons of the year.

Actually, rather: John’s unflinching testimony to Jesus has been the main theme: John is the messenger, but Jesus is the message; John is the witness, but Jesus is the word: John must decrease and Jesus must increase. That’s not a bad way for me to start the year.

At St Peter’s Church, Lake Mary, Florida I preached on Matthew 3:13-17 and was struck by the thought that Jesus’ Baptism is not only the start of his public ministry, but also his inauguration as priest – preparation for his “second baptism” of death on the cross. You can listen to this sermon here.

The second sermon was preached at St John the Divine in Houston, John 1:29-42. John invites his disciples to “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, 36). Echoes of God’s provision of a lamb to spare Isaac (Gen 22)? Perhaps Isaiah 53:6-7? Or, maybe, the Passover lamb which substituted for the firstborn in every Israelite household thus sparing them from the angel of death? Whichever of these themes is more dominant in John’s thought, the Baptist invites us to “behold, consider, ponder and marvel at” the lamb…. more here

January 21, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

The 2013 phenomena which reveals a lot about ourselves

The 2013 phenomena which reveals a lot about ourselves!

Barack Obama did. David Cameron did it (see). Even the Pope is at it (here). And now, it finds its own spot in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The “selfie” is in fashion. Actually, it’s the word of the year for 2013. I’ve taken a few myself.2013-10-25 10.35.13

The self-portrait is nothing new: Van Gogh found the time to paint thirty of them. A certain artistic talent was essential to achieve this (which I know I don’t have!), but, perhaps more significantly, considerable time was needed too. You cannot paint them in an instant.

But why do we engage in this peculiarly modern phenomenon?

Technology

ImageOf course, we now have the technology, which helps. Picture-taking was revolutionised with the advent of digital cameras (so non-photographers like me can take lots of snaps and then select the best ones). But with a smart phone in our pockets, every moment can be captured in an instant – and uploaded for all to see.

Several British newspapers have picked up a piece of research pointing out that Facebook is becoming passé for teenagers with a friend-request from your Mum facilitating a hasty exit! (See). Instead, it seems, they prefer Instagram and Snapchat. The latter being particularly helpful because, once sent, the image is only viewable for a matter of seconds – any incriminating evidence can soon disappear! (see)

What does my selfie say about me?

Please like me?

Is the selfie a desire for approval? I think that this is part of the attraction.  How many “likes” will I get? I, for one, am glad that Facebook didn’t introduce a “dislike” button! For many people, perhaps particularly teens, our sense of self-worth is tied up with a feeling that I am “liked” by others.

Is this who I am?

At one level our identity is found – not online, nor in a virtual world – but in who we are as individual people. Both Cicero and Shakespeare thought that “the eyes are the window to the soul.” My face is uniquely me – like it or not!

Am I my public face?

Inevitably, the selfie is a pose. “This is the picture of me which I would like you to see rather than the images which you might already have of me.” Quite wise: I am glad that all the Christmas snaps of me have not appeared in public! Nevertheless the selfie is a projection. And, of course, true beauty and worth lies beneath the skin.

What does the selfie tell me about my desire to be “liked” by God?

We will see His face

God lives in unapproachable light; no one can see him and live (1 Tim 6:16; Exod 33:20). But, God has “shown his face”, so to speak, in the incarnation (Jn 1:14) and, Jesus promises that the pure in heart will see God (Matt 5:8).

Sin separates me from God and makes me self-absorbed. However, when I am in a restored relationship with God I long for him and his glory far more than for the approval of other people. Back in the 1970s Paul Vitz wrote of the danger of narcissism and self-absorption. He spoke about the hallmark of the modern age in his ground-breaking book “Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship”. The selfie is very much image of today. It says a lot about our desire to be liked, but this desire will only find fulfilment as we seek His face.

Wouldn’t it be great if the word of 2014 was Christ-“like”? Off-of self and fascinated by God’s true image bearer.Image

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

GAFCON2 reflections, Nairobi, October 2013

Reflections from Nairobi, October 2013, Simon Vibert

GAFCON2 (the Global Anglican Fellowship Conference) has just finished.

Choosing Nairobi as a venue has caused considerable anxiety over recent months. The airport was nearly destroyed by fire in the summer and the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab attacked the Westgate shopping Mall only a matter of weeks before the start. However, I am so grateful that it was held here.

Our hosts, All Saints Cathedral and Archbishop Wabukala, have done such a marvellous job, both in their welcome to us and the exemplary organisation.

I was not present in Jerusalem in 2008 for the first such global conference. I sense that the movement has gone from strength to strength since then. There were nearly 1300 delegates, 331 of whom are Bishops, and 27 Anglican Provinces. There has been a great spirit of unity among the 120+ UK delegates, although it is sobering to note that there were more Nigerian Bishops than the entire UK contingency!

The week began with a presentation of the impact of the East African Revival which swept Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and beyond, in the 1930s. I was deeply moved to hear of the key themes of brokenness, calls to repentance, Christ-centredness and visibly changed lives through the work of the Holy Spirit in individuals and communities.  In the 1970s these key themes were rediscovered and a new wave of revival swept through East Africa.

It was fitting that our closing Holy Communion service incorporated an extended time of individual and corporate confession and repentance. Whilst the Jerusalem Declaration rightly makes the following point (no 13):

 “We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.” (http://fca.net/images/uploads/jerusalemdeclaration.pdf)

 a notable feature of this conference has been the reminder that all of us need to repent as a necessary component of expecting God’s blessing, and also to do this together in corporate worship.

 Others will write more extensively on the conference (see http://gafcon.org/conferences/nairobi-2013) these are some of my highlights:-

  • The daily expositions from Paul’s letter to Ephesians have been of a very high quality and also they have been very pertinent. Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that the unity they have in Christ transcends racial, sexual and religious boundaries. Christ achieved peace and reconciliation at the cross. This has been demonstrated so powerfully in the multi-cultural diversity of the conference delegates which finds a unity in Christ Jesus.
  •  An excellent and perceptive address was delivered by Dr Mike Ovey (Principal, Oak Hill College). I particularly resonated with his comment that liberal-minded preachers today think that they are being prophetic when their message chimes in with the dominant agenda of the culture. The hallmark of prophetic preaching, rather, is to faithfully preach God’s word, perhaps particularly when it challenges the prevalent pagan world-view.
  • I was amused to be told by a Nigerian Bishop that if they want to punish an errant cleric they send them off to teach in a theological college, which made me wonder what I have done wrong! This attitude also reveals a rather concerning under-appreciation and under-investment in theological education, a dominant theme of the conference.
  • We enjoyed a tremendous unity among British delegates discussing the UK scene and possible implications of the soon-to-be released Pilling Report. My own sense is that the AMiE (Anglican Mission in England) will continue to provide assistance with some of the tricky, albeit relatively isolated, problematic issues in England. At the same time, a broader conversation about the possible ramifications of a revision of the Church of England’s position on Homosexual conduct would have huge implications. For me, and for many others at the conference, this would reflect a departure from the clear teaching of the Bible and would lead to a fracturing of relationships within the denomination. It was particularly good to hear from British Bishops, all of whom feel intense pressure in seeking to maintain biblical convictions in a hostile culture. We prayed for them and pledged our support.
  • It was great to meet so many people whilst on the Wycliffe Hall stand. There was considerable interest in theological education, although for many delegates the expense and disruption of full time study would be difficult. However, it seems to me that Wycliffe Hall’s place as an excellent centre for undergraduate and postgraduate study and the commitment to training a new generation of evangelical leaders is critical. Nevertheless, I am also convinced that more short courses, accessible and cheap publications, as well as taking up invitations to teach around the world, will continue to be a great stewardship of our rich resources.
  • The process of arriving at the final words of the Nairobi Communiqué and Commitment was complex in recognising the need to:
    • Speak for Global Anglicanism;
    • Be aware of the varied (some negative, but many very positive) experiences of working within the Church of England.

    The final wording of the statement was greeted with much enthusiasm and thanksgiving (see http://gafcon.org/conferences/nairobi-2013)

  • I had a very stimulating lunchtime conversation with the Nairobi Cathedral Development Officer who gave some great insights into the troubles in Sudan and Somalia. He believes that Sudan will arrive at a peaceful settlement when the border issues are resolved (although this may take time). He believes the Somalian problems will go on much longer, mainly, he says because of the small Christian influence there. “In their language”, he told me “there are no words to say ‘I forgive you’, the only way you recompense is by paying a fine.” He urged me to pray for Christian growth in Somalia.

It is rare to come back from conferences like this feeling refreshed and energised. Yes: GAFCON2 was exhausting and the days were long and the politics continues to be complicated. But overall I feel nourished, encouraged and prayerful. I am hopeful that this will last! Thank God for the health of the world-wide body of Christ!

October 27, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 3 Comments

Twits with Twitter

Our stressful world is full of a lot of angry people

It would appear that people are angrier than they used to be. Anger, we know, raises stress levels sends adrenaline and cortisol pumping around your body. And there would appear to be some very pumped up people in our world.

Management consultants run anger management workshops to diffuse office tension. The “Speaker” in the House of Commons has to rein in intemperate outbursts. Peaceful protests on the street turn violent as people vent their frustration.

I suspect that one of the reasons why the world feels angrier is because the modern life enables us to communicate instantly and globally with no necessary thought to human relationships that might be involved.

For example, read any news article online and then look at the thread of reader comments afterwards. Some of the vitriol and venom is shocking. And yet, meet those same people face to face and most would never dream of speaking in such a cavalier way.

If you remove the relationship with someone then you are able to bypass any awareness of how they may respond to what you are saying to vent your anger and frustration. Once in relationship with someone language become more tempered and measured.

The current media controversy as I write relates to twitter posts directed at a feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado-Perez, and the member of parliament Stella Creasy because they campaigned for a famous female face to be printed on the new banknotes. Torrents of abuse, including threats of rape and murder, have come their way. The finger has been pointed at censorship of the social media itself and Twitter have attempted to absolve themselves by saying that it is individuals who should be punished. Fair point. However providing a medium for uncensored and anonymous hate speech should also, perhaps, be considered culpable. In fairness, they have now acknowledged that point (see http://news.sky.com/story/1122451/twitter-admits-failing-rape-threat-women).

Of course, this is not the same thing as saying that anger is caused by relative anonymity of what we are able to say in a facebook, twitter, etc. However it does illustrate the point that there is a two-way link between a broken relationship contributing to anger and anger being able to be expressed and left unchecked where there is no relationship with the person against whom you are venting. As one write has put it: “A perfect storm engenders online rudeness, including virtual anonymity and thus a lack of accountability, physical distance and the medium of writing.”[i]

Ephesians 4:26 contains some very practical advice. If you go to bed angry you won’t sleep. First, sort it out, then with a clear conscience you will be more likely to sleep.

But Ephesians is saying much more: the quotation from Psalm 4 is set in the context of dealing fairly and faithfully with our neighbour, practically displacing anger (and other sins, v31) with conversation which will build people up and not tear them down (v29) and acting in kindness, compassion and forgiveness (v28, v32).

Anger is controlled when God is first in control of your heart. His anger is just and righteous because human attempts to dethrone him and puff ourselves up. His wrath is turned away when our sin is atoned for, and it is diffused in our lives when we love God best and our neighbour next.

Simplistic? Maybe. But some of the best wisdom is just that: think about the relationships that should be healed and built up with words and actions, and try not to speak into an anonymous vacuum. Relationships matter.


 

July 31, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Convicted!

Technology convicted me this weekend

Yesterday was our first day out with a new SatNav. The deep Russell Crowe Aussie voice is calming and reassuring (particularly for the female ears).

 But my first try-out revealed rather more about my stubbornness and independence than I had intended to divulge. Ironically, it was the words I spoke to my wife – out of my own mouth! – that brought about my own conviction.

 Reaction one –please turn off the verbal directions

 Being told what to do by someone else – even an electronic voice – was irritating. I preferred observing the Satnav screen and making my own way. As I journey through reading the Bible in a year I recently reread the bizarre story of Balaam and his donkey. That stubborn old mule – Balaam – failed to heed the words of the Lord and needed rebuking by his donkey:

 The angel of the LORD asked {Balaam}, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.” (Num 22:32-33)

 Finally, Balaam gets the message and confesses his sin for failing to hear the voice of the angel of the Lord.

 What are you like at asking for, and then heeding, directions? God has given us His Word and His Spirit to instruct and to guide us. I must not turn the volume down or allow it to be drowned out by the hullabaloo of modern living. Pump up the volume (particularly when your instinct is to do the opposite!)

 

 Reaction two –please turn off the speeding notifications

 The Satnav reminders were convicting and uncomfortable. But rather than ensuring that I always drove within the law, my conscience felt more comfortable when the notifications were turned off. We do the same thing in the spiritual realm, don’t we?

 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at their face in a mirror and, after looking at themselves, goes away and immediately forgets what they look like. (James 1:23-24)

 The warnings of the bible are there for our own good and failing to heed them is to self-inflict harm. Talking back to the Satnav helps no one!

 

 A better way – “Be wise; Be warned; take heed; listen; have ears to hear….”

 The bible has a lot to say about, first hearing and then, heeding God’s word.

My driving experience yesterday reminded me of the need to be less stubborn and to be better at listening: first to the words from my own my which convict me; then, secondly, to the voice of Scripture.

 I’m still not sure I am going to turn up the sound on my SatNav, but I will renew my pledge to hear and heed God’s voice, something which God strongly encourages:

 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.  Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. (Psalm 32:8f.)

March 17, 2013 Posted by | bible, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Preparing for suffering with the help of Job

Job 6 – “When words are like wind”

 In “Blue like jazz” Donald Miller wrote that he did not like Jazz because it didn’t resolve. He didn’t like God for the same reason.

Job helps to answer the question: what do you do with the unresolved, and how do you love God when life doesn’t make sense?

Miller argues that he eventually learned to love Jazz when he heard a street saxophonist “playing his heart out”, utterly absorbed in the music. When you love God you learn to live with the unresolved. Job helps us feel the heart of God.

Job is a complex and detailed book. The following four points are intended as an introduction to the long exchange between Job and his three so-called friends.

1. The value of Job

“If I did not have Job! It is impossible to describe all the shades of meaning and how manifold the meaning is that he has for me. I do not read him as one reads another book, with the eyes, but I lay the book, as it were, on my heart and read it with the eyes of the heart… just as the child puts his schoolbook under his pillow to make sure he has not forgotten his lesson when he wakes up in the morning, so I take the book to bed with me at night. Every word by him is food and clothing and healing for my wretched soul. Now a word by him arouses me from my lethargy and awakens new restlessness; now it calms the sterile raging within me, stops the dreadfulness in the mute nausea of my passion. Have you really read Job?” (Soren Kierkegaard in Repetition ).

Kierkegaard encourages a deep absorption into Job in order that we might be immersed in the “melodic line” of the book and find our dependence on a God who knows what he is doing, even in spite of appearances to the contrary.

2.  The unhelpful role of his friends

As some have observed, perhaps their most useful contribution was when they wept with their suffering friend and said nothing. Unfortunately, they broke their silence all-too-soon! (2:13). Not everything they said was wrong, in fact, someone once remarked that they spoke “the right words at the wrong time”.

For example, Eliphaz

-        4:7 – do the innocent really suffer? Have you examined your heart?

-        4:17 – you are presumptuous to think that you are “right with God”

-        5:9ff – God is so much greater than you, so don’t question his plans

-        5:17ff – God sends suffering to discipline and correct us

-        5:27 -  He is confident that “he has the mind of God” …

  • How easy it is for “friends” to presume to know definitively what God intends to teach in this or that circumstance…

 

3.  Job as a model of innocent suffering (6:1ff)

Job’s responses are helpful

-        6:2f – My suffering is very real (“if it could be weighed”)

-        6:4 – but my suffering drives me To him not from him

-        6:8-10  – heaven would be more preferable to suffering on earth (Phil 1:21)

-        6:14-20 – The comment attributed to Teresa of Avila “God, if this is how you treat your friends, have you no wonder you have so few of them?!”

  • Job hasn’t gone that far — he finds himself comforted by God’s consistency, but deeply troubled by his so called friends    
  • Undependable (v15) – like overflowing streams, thawing ice
  • And like caravans which have gone of course 9v18ff)
  • They are confident that they are going in the right direction,  but in fact they are way off track
  • V24ff. Look, I’m not saying this because I am unteachable…but your arguments are not convincing (namely that I must have sinned; and that is why I suffer)
  • V28ff. You are judging me, but won’t look me in the eye; you believe you know my heart and my integrity
  • V30 But, in fact, I am suffering innocently — I have not spoken wickedly not been malicious to anyone. Cf v10 “I have not denied the words of the Holy One”

-        Consistently throughout Job, he is held up as a model of one who – though he suffers greatly – he is innocent.

 

4.  Job points us to Christ

 1.      Jesus denied a simply link between sin and suffering

 John 9:1ff – “who sinned that this man is suffering?”

  • Jesus’ answer implies
  • There is a connection between sin and suffering, but it is not simplistic;
  • There is an answer to suffering but that too is not simplistic

 2. Jesus taught: We are blessed when we suffer unfairly or unjustly (Mtt 5:10-12)

 3. Jesus is the sinless suffering par excellence (1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:13-18) … and unlike Job, his suffering deals with the very problem of sin and suffering

It is sometimes said: “Suffering makes you bitter or better”.  The way you react to suffering depends on your prior commitment to trust God in whatever circumstances he brings your way. A deep engagement with Job and his sufferings will help the Christian prepare for the trial, testing and difficulties of life.

February 7, 2013 Posted by | bible, Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Existential Threats

Cambridge University have announced the foundation of a new Centre for the study of Existential Risk.

Its purpose? To consider the threats posed by four main areas:-

  • Climate Change;
  • Artificial Intelligence;
  • Nuclear War;
  • Rogue Biotechnology

The centre is to be led by professor of philosophy, Huw Price, a professor of cosmology and astrophysics, Martin Rees, and Jann Tallinn, the creator of Skype.

Apocalyptic disaster from nuclear fallout has long been thought to be a real threat. We are increasingly aware of the impact of climate change and aware that advanced biological or germ warfare could wipe out large numbers of the human civilisation.

Media coverage of the launch of this centre has focused on the advances in Artificial, or Super Intelligence, which raises the potential that “we are not the smartest things around” and, it is posited, could potentially threaten human survival.

These are real concerns. Somewhere beneath the Blockbuster movie hype is buried a genuine anxiety that humanity could well destroy itself. 25years ago Neil Postman’s perceptive book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” elicited one commendation “This comes along at exactly the right moment…we must confront the challenge of his prophetic vision”.

Postman argued that 1984 had come and gone. George Orwell’s book of that name feared the banning of books and the imposition of totalitarian oppression, reducing human beings to a mindless existence. But the world of 1984 was free from many of Orwell’s imagined threats. Aldous Huxley was more prophetic, though, in “Brave New World”. Here the threat is the trivialisation of culture, the preoccupation with image and feelings and the drowning out of truth in a sea of irrelevance. The threats which Huxley imagined could much more easily be implemented through artificial intelligence and out-of control biological forces.

But, Christians maintain, the existential threats to our existence pale into insignificance when you consider what a dreadful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).

As the Church approaches the season of Advent we prepare ourselves for Christmas. Not, in fact, by thinking first of Christ’s coming as a baby in the incarnation. But rather, we think his return as judge and king. When we ponder a final day of judgment we approach Christmas to welcome the saviour with open arms.

It might be that, as in the days of Noah, God will use natural means to execute the destruction of the world. But, nevertheless, the controlling initiative comes from outside of our world. Ultimately we will not destroy ourselves, but God will come back to wrap everything up: it will be a day of final destruction, initiated by the Judge of all the earth (see 2 Peter 3).

So, in the, we might say, the threats to the end of the world are more apocalyptic than existential. I wonder, will our Cambridge professors give my thought to this threat?

 

November 26, 2012 Posted by | bible | , , , | Leave a comment

Some biblical wisdom on dealing with Stress and Worry

These thoughts have been going through my mind as I work on my forthcoming book on Stress!

What is quite clear is that everyone seems stressed; everyone worries (at least in the western world). And, because Christians are not exempt they are also tend to add “guilt” to the list, assuming that believing in a sovereign, loving God should mean that we don’t worry and don’t feel stress.

We cannot expect perfection in this life. Moreover, we live in an overstretched world; consequently we often feel close to breaking point. Of course, the Bible has plenty to say about how to live a life trusting God and with an expectation that God will supply all that we need in Christ (e.g. Phil 4:19- “… my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”). But how can we put this into practice?

As I have continued to ponder this issue, two dominant themes from early days as a Christian have returned to me. In my teens I attended a large Sunday night youth group. I remember a talk which I gave entitled:-

God wants warriors not worriers

The theme was that we dissipate worry by getting to work fighting for the cause of the Gospel. It’s not bad advice, of course.  But, again, I ask: how does this work in practice? If you tell a worrier not to worry then you add to their worries their own anxiety over worry itself!

When Jesus told his disciples “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25) He spoke about the futility of worry (you won’t live any longer by worrying – actually it is likely to have the opposite result!); He said: you need not worry because your heavenly father looks after the lilies and the birds, so how much more will he look after human disciples; and He encouraged a God-directed focus so as not to be preoccupied with the affairs of this world. “Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness…” (v33).

My other regular teenage activity was night fishing. After several hours peering into the water, imagining my float was about to go under, ever expectant of hauling another fish out the water, exhausted, I finally went to bed. But then sleep was elusive as my mind was swimming with the sight of fish swirling around my mind!

Worry causes sleeplessness, of course. Not least because the mind is filled with all the activities and stresses of the day, swimming around the mind!

Part of the answer to sleeplessness is the redirection of one’s gaze. Christian meditation is not about emptying the mind, but rather filling it with thoughts of God. Telling a worrier not to worry doesn’t help. But assisting them focus on the God who won’t give us up and won’t let us down, is the perfect displacement.

This leads me to a related thought which also came from my teenage youth group.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

We used to end every Sunday evening singing the same song:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

These were good thoughts: staying focussed on Jesus does put this world properly into perspective. This is consistent with the advice we find in the Bible: “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

More on this anon, but before I finish writing my own book on the matter, you might like to check out two helpful recent IVP books on these matters:

* The Worry Book. Finding a path to freedom (Will can der Hart & Rob Waller); and

* You can Change. God’s transforming      power for our sinful behaviour and negative emotions (Tim Chester).

November 18, 2012 Posted by | bible, New Testament | , , | Leave a comment

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