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Resources for Suffering – Jesus of the Scars

2010 February 21
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by Tim V-B

Another good resource, the classic poem ‘Jesus of the Scars’

JESUS OF THE SCARS (Edward Shillito 1872-1948)

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars we claim Thy grace.

If when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know today what wounds are; have no fear;
Show us Thy Scars; we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong, but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

Homily on Luke 8:22-25

2010 February 20
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by Tim V-B

At my interview for St Bartholomew, Wednesbury, I was asked to give a homily based on the previous Sunday’s lectionary passages.  For your edification, here it is. (Hint: read it out loud to appreciate any alliteration!)

Luke 8:22-25

One of the major themes in Luke, a thread that runs through this gospel, is the importance of God’s word.  He starts by telling us that his message came from those who were servants of the word.  The gospel ends with the road to Emmaus, where Jesus explains his ministry from God’s word.

In chapter 8, just before the story of Jesus calming the storm, we’ve had the Parable of the Sower.  The seed is the word of God, and the good soil is those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it and by persevering produce a crop.

We’ve just had the account of Jesus’ mother and brothers trying to see him, but our Lord replies, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

That’s what a Christian is.  Someone who hears God’s word concerning his Son and puts it into practice.
That’s what defines my ministry.  As the Bishop says in the BCP Ordering of Priests, I cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same.

So just how important is this word?  How powerful is it?  What can it do for us?

Jesus gets into the boat, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.”  They sail, he sleeps, there’s a squall, and they’re swamped.  Well, almost swamped.

“Master, Master, we’re going to drown.”

Jesus stands up and rebukes the wind and the waters.  Immediately we go from storm to silence, from calamity to calm.  All it takes is a few words.

I think we are told THREE things about the importance of the Word.

1. Jesus’ words are the Creator’s words.

“Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

At home, bathtime is my duty.  My daughter, who is 5, has had her tea and it’s up to bath then bed.  So I run the bath and in she jumps.  Normally she wants a story and I have to make up some coherent parable about a duck who’s lost his friend, or whatever suggestion she makes.  If my brain is particularly weary I’ll try to avoid the storytelling by suggesting some game, and splashing water is always a good game.  The waves slosh back and forth, over her, over me, and if it gets a bit out of control I’ll tell her to stop swishing around, but the waves keep going.  I can’t stop them with a word.

Jesus could.  We are reminded of the formless and void creation, the waters of the great abyss, and God’s word bringing order out of chaos.  God alone controls the raging oceans.  Only his word is powerful enough to do that – and here the disciples are shocked to see that Jesus’ words are the words of divinity.  When he speaks, Creation recognises its master and obeys without question.

2. Jesus’ words protect his people.

Without his words, the disciples would have drowned.  His words save them.
We’re about to encounter Legion, driven mad by evil powers, but Jesus’ words save him.
Looking ahead – and I’ll admit that Matthew makes this point more clearly than Luke – the disciples are going to be sent out into the nations.  Psalm 65, one of the readings for Sunday, is a good example of how the nations, in rebellion against God, are likened to a tumultuous sea, raging and swirling against the Lord.  As the disciples, as we, go out into the world in the name of Jesus, we are hopelessly outnumbered.  We have no strength against the waves of changing culture.  Spiritual powers would gladly swamp our boat and take us to the depths.

Yet Jesus is with us.  His words protect us.  Where the church is fearful of the storm, and scared of mission, Jesus says, “Where is your faith?”  Let’s trust his protective, powerful word.  Let’s hear God’s word and put it into practice.

Jesus’ words are the Creator’s words.
Jesus’ words protect his people.

3. Jesus’ words take us to the cross.

We’re always meant to read the gospels in the light of the Old Testament.  We can’t hear this story without thinking of another man asleep in a boat while a storm brings great danger.

Jonah, of course, was sent to take God’s word to the nations.  But he runs away, and on that boat sailing to Tarshish a great storm develops and threatens them all.  He is woken from his sleep, and knows that the only way to calm the storm is if he is thrown overboard, into the depths of the grave.

Jesus is God’s word to the nations.  He doesn’t run away – from chapter 8 verse 1 he has been travelling about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.

But he is sailing straight into a storm.  In chapter 9:51 he resolutely sets out for Jerusalem, he points the bow of the boat into the very centre of the raging waters.  The only way to calm the storm, the only way to protect his people and bring the peace that the angels sang about at his birth, is if he is thrown overboard into the depths of the grave.  He stands silent before Herod, he makes no rebuke, and he is drowned in the waters of death.

But that is our salvation.  That, ultimately, is how the Creator protects his people.

How important is God’s word?  How powerful is it? What can it do for us?

Very important.  Very powerful.  It protects us as we keep on going for growth.

May we hear God’s word and put it into practice.

Amen.

Resources for Suffering – The Long Silence

2010 February 19
by Tim V-B

When we raise the question of suffering with God, which God are we asking?

Are we asking the gods of hinduism, which will tell you that your suffering is the result of sin in a previous life?

Are we asking the god of Islam, who will tell you “don’t question. Submit.”

Are we asking the god most people think of, who sits in heaven on a comfy throne peering down through binoculars at us little ants crawling around?

Or are we asking the God of the Bible.  The God who hangs on a cross, naked, whipped, abandoned, bleeding, dying.

We might walk up to the comfy-throne God and say “what are you doing?  Don’t you care?  Are you so removed from us that all this pain is nothing to you?”

But we wouldn’t say that to God on the cross.

Those who have read John Stott’s The Cross of Christ may remember ‘The Long Silence’ – a short story showing that God has entered the very depths of human suffering.  I’ve posted it here for your use, after the break.  Like most illustrations of biblical teaching, it is open to mis-use. In particular, this story could give the impression that God really is in the dock, and has no claim over us unless he suffered. That is not the case.  Note who is silent at the end of the story: we are.

read more…

Resources for talking about suffering

2010 February 18
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by Tim V-B

I have been doing some work recently on the question of God and suffering.  I’ll post some of the resources I’ve found as well as the work I’ve done.  This question comes up again and again with both Christians and non-Christians, but we shouldn’t try to avoid it because this conversation takes us straight into the good news we proclaim.

First of all,I have on many times used the illustration of a tapestry; we can’t understand why our life is full of frayed ends and dark threads, but we should remember we only see the underside of the tapestry.  I didn’t know there was a poem about this, so here it is:

The Weaver (B M Franklin 1882-1965)

My Life is but a weaving
between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily.

Oft times He weaveth sorrow
And I, in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper,
And I the under side.

Not til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

He knows, He loves, He cares,
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives His very best to those
Who leave the choice with Him.

Announcement

2010 February 16
by Tim V-B

This is my 100th published post (which isn’t much, really) but it’s a good number for an announcement like this.

Last week I was offered – and accepted – the post of Vicar of St Bartholomew, Wednesbury!

I will be Licensed on June 16th in a service at St Bartholomew which will start at 7.30pm.  To all three of my blog readers: you are most welcome to attend.

If you are interested in finding out a bit more about the parish and the church building, these links might help.

Details of the parish at A Church Near You (includes a map of the parish):
http://www.achurchnearyou.com/wednesbury-st-bartholomew/
If you’re interested in photos of the building:
The parish made the newspapers last year:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/celebritynews/6255208/Vicar-wanted-for-town-branded-the-worst-place-in-the-world-by-Jeremy-Clarkson.html
Of course, the church is the people, not the building.  Those I’ve met so far have been very welcoming and I’m looking forward to June.  In the meantime the focus is here in Stone: following Jesus and helping others follow him also.

Lovefilm Offer

2010 February 3
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by Tim V-B

We subscribe to Lovefilm which, if you haven’t heard of it, then this post really won’t interest you!

For the uninitiated, it’s a DVD rental club.  A monthly fee gives you the opportunity to rent DVDs which are sent in the post. You watch it then return it (in a pre-paid envelope).  We’ve just finished watching series 2 of “Chuck” – which I highly recommend!

If you’re interested in giving it a try – for free – then this post will interest you.  We have codes to allow 2 people give Lovefilm a 2 month free trial (worth up to £37).

E-mail me: tim@work_it_out_from_the_address_of_this_blog.net and the first two people will get the code.

I’ll update this post when I’ve the offers have gone.

Lots of free Keller resources

2010 January 28
by Tim V-B

Okay Keller fans. Christmas has come early.

Around the web you can find lots of great Tim Keller sermons.  Steve McCoy has the definitive list here.  The Redeemer site has released 150 free sermons, but there is no easy way of downloading them quickly.  They are organised into 3 main categories: Discovery, Growth and Mission, with lots of sub-categories.  Within these sermons you will find

  • Six sermons that lie behind The Reason for God
  • Six sermons on The Prodigal God

I have downloaded them all, and kept them in their categories by arranging them in a hierarchical folder structure.

Discovery Sermons are here (1.24GB zip file)

Growth Sermons are here (930MB zip file)

Mission Sermons are here (705MB zip file)

In addition, I have compiled all of the free resources I have, from various sources, which are here (1.1GB zip file)

This contains:

  • A number of sermons and lectures from various conferences.
  • Preaching lectures from Oak Hill
  • The 35 part series on ‘Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World’ (together with Ed Clowney) which is available for free from iTunes.  This includes the 189 page handout (pdf format), although the page numbering might not be exactly the same as that used when the lectures were recorded.
  • Sermon series from the recent ‘Renew’ Campaign as Redeemer Church looks to the next 10 years of ministry.
  • Over 30 articles (pdf and html files) on ministry, leadership, evangelism, preaching, church planting, and more.
All these sermons and articles are freely available on the web.  If I have included anything which should not be distributed, please let me know.  (Most of Redeemer’s sermons are for purchase only, and therefore not for re-distribution.)

If anyone feels like producing a document that indexes the free sermons, i.e. goes through Redeemer’s free sermons pages and copies the passage and mini-description for each sermon, that would be an amazing resource!

All in all, this is 4GB containing 250 sermons which will take you 150 hours to listen to.

(If you like this, and are feeling generous, my Amazon wish list is here…)

Even More Keller

2010 January 28
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by Tim V-B

This blog is in serious danger of being a list of posts about Tim Keller. Believe me, I do not spend all my life reading and listening to him. Do you want proof? I have a very large quantity of mp3 sermons by him sitting on my hard-drive which I haven’t listened to yet.

Hmm, that doesn’t exactly prove my case!

Tim Keller Reviews The Shack

Tim finally gets around to reading The Shack and posts a review here.  [HT: Buzzard Blog]  To whet your appetite:

At the heart of the book is a noble effort — to help modern people understand why God allows suffering, using a narrative form. The argument Young makes at various parts of the book is this. First, this world’s evil and suffering is the result of our abuse of free will. Second, God has not prevented evil in order to accomplish some glorious, greater good that humans cannot now understand. Third, when we stay bitter at God for a particular tragedy we put ourselves in the seat of the ‘Judge of the world and God’, and we are unqualified for such a job. Fourth, we must get an ‘eternal perspective’ and see all God’s people in joy in his presence forever.

…However, sprinkled throughout the book, Young’s story undermines a number of traditional Christian doctrines. Many have gotten involved in debates about Young’s theological beliefs, and I have my own strong concerns. But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible.

In his review, Tim references a “good (and devastating)” review from the most recent print edition of Books and Culture: A Christian Review (Jan/Feb 2010.)  I’m pretty sure he means this one here: I am not who you think I am.

For what it’s worth, I read The Shack last summer and enjoyed a lot of it.  There are lots of good and helpful things he says about the problem of suffering and the way we foolishly respond to suffering.  But William Young has a serious problem with authority – he cannot conceive of authority and love coming together, which is why he ends up emphasising God’s love but not his rule or anger against sin.  For someone who tries hard genuinely to allow Jesus to be the revelation of God, it seems strange he misses the obvious fact that Jesus does reveal both authority and love.

Mini-review over.  Back to Keller.

Tim Keller and The Prodigal God

I mentioned The Prodigal God before.   You’ll find a very favourable review of the DVD over at Tim Chester’s blog.

I can’t praise this resource too much – it’s magnificent. The presentation of the DVD is beautiful and the content is dynamite. Even though I was familiar with the material from sermon mp3s and the book, I cried as I watched – twice!

Well, that pushed me over the edge and I’ve just gone and ordered my own copy.  I’m inclined to say “I’ll post a review when I’ve seen it” but, let’s be honest, this blog is so irregular it would be an empty promise.

Finally… the next post will give you easy access to lots of free Keller sermons, in 4 easy downloads.  Watch this space!

Some thoughts on Haiti

2010 January 27
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This post is basically to list a number of articles about Haiti that I’m reading.  This is by no means an attempt to give a fully balanced response!  The earthquake is a terrible disaster and our church, like many others, has been good in responding with prayer and financial help (in our case, via Tearfund).

Last week I read this quote in The Week magazine.

“This is not a natural-disaster story,” said David Brooks in The New York Times. “This is a poverty story.” In October 1989, another quake of magnitude 7.0 hit the densely populated but wealthy Bay Area in Northern California; only 63 people died.

Here’s a few articles that explore this:

“The fault line in Haiti runs straight to France” explores some of the historical problems that left Haiti in such poverty.  I’m not interested in bashing the French, but, as the author states, “in few countries is there a more direct link between the sins of the past and the horrors of the present.”

“Why Tough Love is needed” explores the cultural problems in Haiti.  The country has been exploited and abused in the past.  But there is also  a culture of dependency on others, not least foreign aid.  Haiti needs material assets, but in the long term the country needs the intangible assets of skills, hard work and a desire for change.

“Haiti’s Avoidable Death Toll” makes the point that Haiti’s poverty is the result of severe corruption and restrictions on economic liberty.  Free Trade and transparent justice would dramatically improve the economy.

The conclusion, therefore, is “To Help Haiti, End Foreign Aid” (from the Wall Street Journal).  Lots of foreign money has poured into Haiti over the years, yet reports reveal very little (if any) long term benefit.  Foreign Aid can often destroy the local economy (e.g. if tonnes of food are imported, local food producers are forced out of business).

“More than a million dead” reminds us that 150,000 people die every day, and this article takes us straight to the gospel response.

The Lord has a salvation so audacious He can call earthquakes ‘birth-pains’.  (As can Paul – Rom 8:22).  Certainly they are birth-pains.  But they are birth-pains.  Jesus has a redemption so all-embracing that it will include even these evils.  It won’t simply side-step Haiti, or make the best of a bad situation, it will (somehow!) lift Haiti through this calamity and birth something more glorious out of the pain.

Finally, here’s a sermon by Mark Driscoll who visited Haiti soon after the earthquake.  I haven’t seen it myself, but I think it will be very good.

Update: My interest in these articles is not to accuse the Haitians of deserving the disaster. Of course not. But I am interested in the link between ‘natural disasters’ and human sin.  A lot of people instinctively respond to the earthquake with “There cannot be a good and powerful God.”  I think a better response would be “Humanity is deeply entangled in sin and suffering. Have Mercy O Lord.”

Neither am I suggesting that Disaster Response and Aid should not be given.  If we are tempted to think, “Oh, there’s so much sin to blame, I’d rather not give help” then that means we have entirely missed the point of the gospel.  “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  These posts do show that Foreign Aid needs to be carefully thought about so that corruption and poverty is not maintained.  Most of all, they show us that the people of Haiti – like all of us – need Jesus Christ.

Join Jesus in praying for the church

2010 January 12
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by Tim V-B

You’ve read the post on Isaiah 62, right?  And you’ve read Glen’s post on Jesus praying for us, right?

Okay, now it’s safe to think about our own prayer life.  In Isaiah 62:6-7 Jesus says he has posted watchmen to pray ceaselessly.  We are encourage to “give ourselves no rest” and “give him [the LORD] no rest” until the Church is the praise of the earth.

(Note, see Hebrews 12:22 on why followers of Jesus are the true Jerusalem.)

For a good illustration, taken from my most recent sermon:

One group of Christians took this seriously, and made a huge impact for the growth of Christianity.  In the 1720s, in Germany, Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf had established a community of refugees on his estate, a real mix of Christians.  He called this community Herrnhut, meaning ‘The Lord’s watch’ after this chapter.  There were a lot of tensions between the differing Christian groups, and Zinzendorf’s response was the set up a round-the-clock prayer watch, with the Moravian Christians praying in one hour shifts.

I’ve been in prayer meeting that were several hours long, on this principle.  But this prayer watch lasted over 100 years!

The Holy Spirit came with power upon these Christians, resulting in missionary teams being sent out across the world.  John Wesley was converted through a Moravian missionary.  Some felt called to be missionaries to Caribbean slaves – and the only way to reach the slaves was for the missionaries to sell themselves into slavery.   William Carey, known as the father of the missionary movement, was in fact inspired by the Moravians.

Here were Christians, watchmen on the walls, who gave themselves no rest, and gave God no rest, and the church exploded with life bringing thousands into the Kingdom of God.

(You’ll find this information all over the web e.g. here and here.)