The Valley of Vision

A Puritan prayer from The Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty
thy glory in my valley.

Reflections upon Reflections: General Synod and all the Sydney Women

AdelaideI realise this is a few months old, but someone pointed this out to me today. Some reflections on General Synod from the Newcastle Diocese. Here’s some of what Bishop Peter Stuart had to say.

The General Synod did not talk about human sexuality as part of its business. There were behind the scenes conversations and a mood that suggested avoiding further tension and division. In some ways the building blocks for that discussion were being put in place at this General Synod recognising that actions in other parts of the Anglican Communion and the mood in the broader community will require our national engagement.

It is also impossible to come back from the General Synod without sensing that we have become a more conservative church and will in the foreseeable future become more so. The election for clergy members of Standing Committee saw nominations equally split between two dominant groups for which how-to-vote tickets then circulated. The result was likely to go one of two directions and it went conservatively. It was good to note that our Archdeacon Arthur Copeman was elected with wide support! The makeup of
the General Synod is changing from those that made it possible for the ordination of women and supported A Prayer Book for Australia.

It’s an interesting read, and pretty fair report from someone who, no doubt, is not happy about the moves towards becoming a more conservative church.

But here’s the stuff that really caught my attention.

It is impossible to come back from the General Synod and say that women in Sydney are not involved in ministry.

While I’m very pleased about this, it really does show how much egalitarians misunderstand complementarianism. The suggestion that in a complementarian diocese women would not be involved in ministry is, quite frankly, ridiculous. So I’m really pleased that it was clear at Synod that this is not the case.

Then there’s this.

There were a good number of Women Ministers present each of whom is engaged in creative ministry yet none will be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate as would happen in this Diocese. At the heart of this position is 1 Timothy 2:12 which those in the tradition of Gore might see as a household rule limited to the time and context whereas those in the tradition of Ryle would see as an enduring command. I was moved by the ministries I learnt about but deeply saddened by the position that means that the insights and learning of these women are not available to men through teaching ministries. I came away with the view that the inclusive God witnessed to by the breadth of scriptures calls us beyond boundaries of race, gender and economic status in discerning leaders in his mission through the Church.

While I’m sure the intention of what’s written here is to point out the value of the ministry of the women he met, when I read this I hear the exact opposite. Let’s look at the first sentence for staters. Notice the word ‘yet’?

There were a good number of Women Ministers present each of whom is engaged in creative ministry yet none will be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate as would happen in this Diocese. [emphasis added]

The implication being that there is something about the ‘creative ministry’ of these Women Ministers that is somehow lacking because they won’t be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate. Far from valuing the ministry of women, this values the position one holds.

And again,

I was moved by the ministries I learnt about but deeply saddened by the position that means that the insights and learning of these women are not available to men through teaching ministries.

In this case it’s not the position someone holds but who they teach that provides the value of their ministry. I didn’t get to meet Bishop Peter at Synod and it’s not the ministry I do he heard about, but as one of the ‘Women Ministers’ to whom he is generally referring, I’m insulted at the thought that anyone would be saddened by hearing about what I do. While Egalitarianism claims to be about gender equality, it’s actually about gender uniformity. There is no room for any kind of difference between men and women. So, as a woman, if I don’t do what a man does, I’m not equal to him.

This is a doctrine that at it’s core places value on anyone, not based on who they are – people made in the image of God and saved by the death & resurrection of Jesus – but based on what they do. Whether or not I’m a rector, or whether or not I teach men, shouldn’t factor into the discussion about the value of the ministry I do. But for Bishop Peter, anything less then women being rectors or teaching men, just leaves him ‘deeply saddened’.

I came away with the view that the inclusive God witnessed to by the breadth of scriptures calls us beyond boundaries of race, gender and economic status in discerning leaders in his mission through the Church.

I actually completely agree with this. And I love to ask the Bishop why he doesn’t consider the women he met to be leaders in Jesus’ mission through the Church? They are.

Traditional Sexuality, Radical Community

From the Gospel Coalition 

I looked nervously across the table, fidgeting with my coffee cup. Do you realize what you’re asking of me? he questioned. We’d been meeting for more than an hour, talking about his struggle with same-sex attraction and his decision about whether to enter into a more intentional relationship with his boyfriend. He’d been part of our church and community group for a couple of years, always intelligent and effervescent, exhibiting many marks of a mature Christian. Yet my friend’s dark internal struggle had finally reached its culmination, and here we were together in a coffee shop, grappling with the reality of his decision.

Do you realize what you’re asking of me? I did. I was asking him not to act on his same-sex desires, to commit to a celibate lifestyle, and to turn away from an important romantic relationship. Yet as I reflect on that discussion, I now realize I didn’t fully understand what I was asking of him. I was asking him to do something our church community wasn’t prepared to support. I was asking him to make some astonishing and countercultural decisions that would put him out of step with those around him. In many ways, I was asking him to live as a misfit in a community that couldn’t yet provide the social support to make such a decision tenable, much less desirable. No wonder he walked away.

Several years have passed since that conversation, but it’s convinced me of the vital relationship between sexuality and ecclesiology. There are many churches like ours that believe there are two possible paths for followers of Jesus to live obedient sexual lives: heterosexual marriage and sexual abstinence. But among churches that are committed to a biblical sexual ethic, there are few, I’m afraid, that make living out that ethic possible for the average person dealing with same-sex attraction.

I’m now convinced any church that holds a traditional view of sexuality must also foster a radical practice of Christian community in which living out a biblical sexual ethic becomes possible and even attractive.

This is a great article on the need for Christian community to a place where living a godly, counter-cultural life plausible, practical and attractive. While it focuses on Christians who have same-sex attraction, there’s lots in here that is true of all single Christians. Though this is an important distinction to remember

Those of us who are heterosexual must realize, however, that even though God is calling us to the same thing (chastity), our LGBTQ friends will experience this calling differently. When heterosexuals commit to chastity, they do so knowing they may meet someone, get married, and be able to have sex. When those tempted by same-sex attraction commit to chastity, though, they’re doing so knowing that unless God changes their sexual desires, they may never know the intimacy of a sexual relationship.

Of course for those of us who are still single in our mid-thirties, the possibility that we may never marry is very real. And, speaking on behalf of women, we live every day with the unforgettable sadness that every day that passes brings us closer to the possibility of never having kids. It does often feel like I have to bear this burden on my own. But Christian community should provide a better way.

Now picture the other scenario. Bob’s been introduced to Jesus by a community group at the invitation of a colleague. The group shares deeply and vulnerably, confessing sin and praying for one another. As Bob struggles with the prospect of chastity, he looks around the group and sees ways others in the group have embraced hard things because of the gospel. At least two other singles in the group are straight and have also embraced chastity. There’s a married couple who are honest about their struggles and failings but committed to not leaving each other despite the immense pain. Another person wasn’t willing to participate in the fraudulent activities of her company, and lost her job because of it.

In this scenario the demands of Jesus don’t lessen for Bob, but he does look around and see he’s not the only one being asked to lose certain things for the gospel. He sees a mixed community of married and single, same-sex attracted and straight, all bearing their crosses together and helping one another bear those heavy burdens. Our gay friends must see a church community in which all of us—not just those who battle same-sex attraction—are facing the demands of the gospel and the struggle against sin.

This is so important. I’m thankful for my married friends who are honest enough to share their struggles with me. Because it reminds me that the grass on their side of the fence has just as many muddy puddles as the grass I’m standing on. When I see the hardships that come with marriage, I’m much more likely to see the goodness of singleness. This is how I persevere.

But here is the most important challenge for churches.  Honour singleness & demystify marriage.

Another way we can create healthy countercultural plausibility structures is by removing marriage from the idolatrous pedestal on which it’s often placed. At times marriage, and the presumed sexual joy therein, is cast as such an objective for Christians that it starts sounding like the supreme goal, surpassing Jesus himself. Talk about “family values” cements this idea, suggesting God’s basic desire for human flourishing is for you to be married and start a family and, if you’re not experiencing that, then hurry up and try.

But the great chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, isn’t describing love between husbands and wives or parents and kids but love between Christians in a church community. The Bible sees the church, not the nuclear family, as the primary level of relationships in our new kingdom life.

Further, we must return the New Testament’s high honoring of the single life. Whenever we treat singleness as a “second tier” calling or minor league to marriage we’re communicating to our single brothers and sisters that they’re experiencing less of the full human experience. This is obviously not the case. Jesus was single, and he was the perfect human. Paul advocated for singleness and even dubbed it a “higher calling” than marriage: “He who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Cor. 7:38).

Imagine a community in which many celibate singles, both same-sex attracted and straight, are taking full advantage of their singleness as they live the life of the kingdom together. Imagine a community in which sex and marriage are seen as good gifts but not ultimate gifts—indeed, things a follower of Jesus can live without. In such a community, the possibility of a single life of chastity wouldn’t be the fate worse than death it’s sometimes portrayed to be.

In short, we should not call our single friends to sexual abstinence until we create the social environments (plausibility structures) that make such a life meaningful and viable.

Spot on. Read the whole article here.

Book Review: True Friendship by Vaughan Roberts

9781909611511The past 2 weeks I’ve been taking advantage of school holidays (i.e. no SRE to teach) to give myself a little reading time each day. I’ve been working my way through Don Caron’s Love in Hard Places which is excellent, but a tough read. So today I decided to take it easy and start Vaughan Roberts’ True Friendship instead.

What a great book! Which I can say because I finished the whole thing in about an hour.

Friendship is such an important topic. Despite the multitude of social media that supposedly keeps us connected, one of the biggest needs we have is for true, deep friendships.

True Friendship is …

Crucial, Close, Constant, Candid, Careful & Christ-centred.

The book starts by reminding us that the Bible is a story of friendship. A friendship between God and man, ruined by sin & restored by God himself. The gospel is a message not only of restored friendship with God, but also restored relationships with others. We are called into a new community.

[Christians] have been called, as brothers and sisters, to belong to Christ’s family, as we travel along the way of the cross throughout our lives, with our eyes fixed on the destination of the new creation to come, which Christ will introduce when he returns. It is a long journey, with many challenges along the road. We will often fall and need someone to pick us up; waver, and need another to spur us on. Let us resolve therefore to obey the Bible’s instruction: ‘let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds … let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching’ (Hebrews 10:24, 25)

Roberts’ quotes a colleague of his who once said of her friends “For those of us who are single, our friends are our lifeline”. I love this. It’s so true for me. And yet as I read this book I realise how easy it is to forget how important friendships are, and therefore how important it is to put in the effort required to do friendship well.

Chapter 2 reminds us of what we should already know – there’s a big difference between being Facebook friends with someone and actually being friends with someone. There’s also a difference between friendship and marriage – though marriage should be more than friendship, it should not be less.

The Bible certainly has a very high view of marriage, but it is not designed to bear the weight that is placed on it when a husband and wife expect all their relational needs to be met by one another. The result is that they not only put impossible burdens on each other, but also give insufficient attention to other friendships. Single people suffer from the same delusion, too often believing the lie that they are bound to experience miserable isolates live unless they can find a spouse. In their commendable desire to protect marriage and the family from contemporary challenge, churches can unwittingly become part of the problem by giving the impression that romantic olive is an essential ingredient to human flourishing.

Something that really stands out to me is the need for friendships to be candid. I hate criticism. Yet I recognise they need for it and that, when it comes from a friend, it is motivated by love. As Oscar Wilde says ‘a true friend stabs you in the front’.

Above all, what we need from out friends is the application of the gospel in our lives. The ministry of God’s word is not limited to those with public responsibility for preaching and teaching out churches, but is shared by all of us. We are to teach and admonish one another with all wisdom’ (Colossians 3:16). As we seek to be helpful to out friends, we need to ask how we can bring the gospel to bear on their lives.

Very helpfully the book both starts and ends pointing us to Jesus. The final line of the book says

[Jesus] is the perfect friend who enable us to be true friends ourselves.

At the end of each chapter Roberts has helpfully includes some questions for reflection & discussion that are worth taking some time to prayerfully work through. It’s a great book and definitely worth the short amount to time it takes to read.

You can buy it here or as an ebook here.

Faith like Hannah

Today we started a sermon series on 1 Samuel. Here are my reflects on Hannah from 1 Samuel 1.

If I’m honest, I have mixed feelings about Hannah. On one level we share a deep sadness. We’re both childless women who desperately want that to change. But that’s where the similarity stops. Because Hannah got what she wanted. And so I wonder what can I learn from Hannah, when there’s no guarantee my story will end happily ever after.

For me there’s 2 things that really stand out about Hannah. Her mistake and then what she does right.

In the first 17 verses Hannah is miserable. Verses 7 and 8 tell us she wept. And her husband describes her as being downhearted. Verse 10 says in her deep anguish she wept bitterly. In verse 15 she tells Eli she is deeply troubled, then in verse 16 she talks about her great anguish and grief. She is utterly miserable.

She’s miserable because she’s made a mistake that many of us do. She has defined herself and her life and her happiness by what she doesn’t have. That’s the reason Peninnah is able to provoked her to tears. Both Hannah and Peninnah really only care about what Hannah’s life is missing. Not what she has already. Her Husband Elkanah notices this too. He asks her why are you downhearted? Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons? Elkananh loves her and makes sure she is taken care of. So it’s no wonder he is surprised that she is so utterly miserable.

Hannah is so focused on what’s missing, that she can’t see the good things that are right in front of her.

Don’t we do the same thing? I know I do. It’s easy to daydream about a husband and kids, and forget that I get to sleep in at least once a week. I don’t have to check with anyone before I make plans. My time, my money, my energy, my holidays are all my own.

What do you daydream about? And what good things are you missing while you daydream?

It’s not that wanting things is bad. Many of the things we really long for are good gifts from God. But focusing so much on the things we don’t have that we forget to be thankful for the good things we do have will only leave us weeping bitterly. Just like Hannah. That’s her mistake.

But then she does something right. It’s something that’s very ordinary. She prays.

Despite her sadness, she responds in faith. She acknowledges God’s sovereignty. She’s not bitter towards God, she’s not angry with him. She knows he is the Lord Almighty and she turns to him with the very deepest desires of her heart.

Verse 11 says

And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

As she’s praying Eli the priest, thought she was drunk. She quickly corrects him – ‘I’m not drunk. I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.’

Hannah’s response here challenges me in my own sadness and desires because I have to ask, is that how I respond? So often I’m very quick to pour out my soul to family and friends, or pretty much anyone else who’ll listen and be sympathetic.

But Hannah says “I was pouring out my soul out to the Lord.

It’s easy to be caught up with sharing your problems with everyone else and forget to share them with the one who can actually deal with them. If you are convinced that God is completely in control of all things, and if you are convinced that he is good and loving all the time, why wouldn’t you pour out your soul to the Lord? Hannah’s prayer is ordinary, but it’s the response that makes the most sense.

Hannah’s prayer was turning point for her. In verse 18 we read that as she got up and left the temple ‘Hannah’s face was no longer downcast.’

We could easily assume that Hannah’s attitude changed when she a baby – when she gets the thing she wants. But the changed happened before that. Her prayer changed her attitude, her disposition, her ability to cope with he sadness. That change happened well before God in his grace gave Hannah and Elkanah the child they longed for.

I have a mug at home that someone gave me years ago and it say ‘prayer changes things’. To be honest I’ve always found it a little cheesy and I never use it. But as I read Hannah’s story those 3 words keep popping into my mind. It’s true that prayer changes things. It changes us. When we pray we remember that our God, our Father in heaven knows us and loves us. Hannah prayed that he would not forget her. And he didn’t.

He hasn’t forgotten us either. To be sure of that we don’t need to look any further than Jesus. Hannah’s love for God lead her to keep her vow and give her son to live in service to God. God’s love for us lead him to send his son die in place of us. We have even greater reason to respond in faith than Hannah did. We know that in Jesus we have forgiveness, and the hope of eternal life. Our biggest need is already dealt with.

For all the other things we want, the deep desires of our hearts, we can pour out our soul to the Lord in confidence, knowing that he has not forgotten us.

Hannah prays again in chapter 2. She starts her prayer by saying ‘My heart rejoices in the Lord’.

You may never get the things you want. I may never get the things I want. Hannah teaches me to express my faith by praying. She teaches me the right response in sadness – to pour out my soul to the Lord. And she reminds me that I have many reasons for my heart to rejoice in him.

Forgiving the unrepentant. Is it necessary?

Or even possible?

This series of posts from The Briefing are a few years old but an excellent exploration of this question.

I’m also slowly working my way through D.A. Carson’s Love in Hard Places. This quote is particularly challenging

Over against the personal hatred that some people thought was warranted on the basis of their selective reading of Old Testament texts, Jesus mandates something else: “Love your enemies,” he says, “and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). Here is a vision of love that is rich and costly: it extends even to enemies. It is manifested not least in prayer for enemies. We find it difficult to hate those for whom we pray; we find it difficult not to pray for those we love. In no one is this more strikingly manifest than in Jesus himself as he writhes on the cross and yet prays for his enemies, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). If Jesus is our example as well as our Lord, what arrogance, bitterness, pain, or sloth could ever justify our failure to pray for our enemies?

Don’t focus on the absence

The is what I call ‘the messy shelf’. It’s a space on my bookshelf reserved for all the books I’m currently reading.

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The Jesus Story Book Bible usually finds its way here. Today I used it to at our local pre-school to tell the story of Zacchaeus and his life changing friendship with Jesus.

The next book along is John Stott’s Through the Bible Through the Year. It’s a great devotional book that takes you through the Bible in a year, with a Bible reading and a daily reflection each day. I’m almost at the end and I’ve loved reading it. I thought that sharing part of today’s reflection on Revelation 4:1-6 would be a perfect return to blogging after a rather long absence.

It is immensely significant that, when John peeped through the open door, the very first thing he saw was a throne, symbol of the sovereignty, majesty and kingly rule of God.

***

We seize on the assurances of the Revelation that one day there will be no more hunger or thirst; no more pain or tears; no more sin, death, or curse, for all these things will have passed away. It would be better and more biblical, however, to focus not so much on these absences as on the cause of their absence, namely on the central dominating presence of God’s throne.

 

 

The problem with forgiveness

I’ve been pondering this for the last few weeks. The problem with forgiveness is it’s hard. When we’re hurt, the precious and sought after ‘I’m sorry’ rarely satisfies. It never changes what happened. It certainly is no magic fix to relationships. So even when we’ve heard the words, we must choose to put aside our hurt if we are to forgive. As much as we’d like them to, no-one can take the hurt away. We absorb it ourselves. True forgiveness means giving up the desire for vindication (or revenge).

But what about when forgiveness seem impossible? Like when a man walks into a school and shoots 26 people. How does anyone forgive him? Even if an apology helped, it’s not possible. Not even the strictest of guns laws will restore the life that was lost. No mental health care improvements will ease the pain for those who grieve. How do we begin to even contemplate forgiveness in this situation?

As Christians we remember that we have been shown overwhelming forgiveness. That our own sin, which is just as evil as this man’s, has been dealt with on the cross. We remember that true justice is not ours to enact, but God’s. A day will come when he will judge in perfect righteousness. And we cling to the promise that Jesus will return and the world will be as it should.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:1-4

And we pray come, Lord Jesus!

God redeems the despised things

At church we’re coming to the end of a 14 week sermon series in Levitcus and Numbers. I’ll admit that I was not particularly looking forward to 3 months in these Old Testament books but I’ve loved the way we have been constantly pointed to Jesus. I have been (once again) amazed at what Jesus achieved for us on the cross.

Today’s sermon was from Numbers 21

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

I was especially struck by this thought from the sermon:

A few chapters earlier (Num 11:6) the people had complained about the manna God gave them to eat. They took what should have been hope of life (food in the middle of the desert) and made it detestable. In chapter 21 God takes what is detestable (a snake) and turns it into hope of life.

Then this from John 3:

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

Once again, God takes what looks detestable and turns it into the ultimate hope for life everlasting.