Thursday, 23 April 2009

Prayer, Abraham and me

Reading Genesis 18:16-33 it struck me how different Abraham's approach to prayer is to most of our praying. We know that we can 'boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence' (Hebrews 4:16) because we are in Christ - because of the wonderful promises of the new covenant in his blood. Abraham had also been the recipient of incredible covenant promises from God - in fact God had made those promises to him in person! He had reason to come with a certain degree of boldness to God in prayer!

But Abraham couples that boldness with a deep sense of his own unworthiness (vv27, 30, 31, 32). He openly recognises that he has no claim on God, and so makes his approaches with the deepest humility - even though he is pleading on the basis of what he knows to be sure - the character of God as absolutely just (v25). How often do you hear prayers (or pray prayers) that hold these two aspects in tension like that? Even though all those promises we have in Christ are gloriously true, we still need to remember what we are by nature - otherwise grace ceases to be amazing grace that thrills our hearts and becomes some kind of anaemic admission that, "Yes, I know I'm not all I should be..."

Do my prayers reflect a deep sense of my own sinfulness and awe at God's outrageous grace, or do I act as though I had a right to be heard simply because I'm 'standing on the promises'?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


When we got back from holiday on Saturday, Sheri's brother John was just settling down to watch Twilight with his girlfriend. We joined them, not really knowing what to expect. At first it looked like it would be a ridiculous chick-flick - the sort you laugh at rather than with! But I have to confess it became quite gripping as the film went on.

Edward and Bella are falling ever more deeply in love, but then we find that he is a vampire (albeit 'vegetarian'!), and as they continue to fall in love he must resist the primal pull of her scent which could send him into an uncontrollable frenzy. That's what makes it so attractive - in a world where we're much more used to love being portrayed as passionate affairs here is something so much more beautiful: a love that is deeply sacrificial and is shown by immense self-control.
Lo and behold, the next day one of Sheri's friends on Facebook posts her status as just having read the book 'and now has unrealistic expectations of men!' We live in a world where this kind of love is seen as unrealistic - you just can't expect a man to act like that! Or can you? We follow a man whose love to all leaves Edward's love for Bella in the shade. I, as a Christian man - particularly as a Christian man preparing for marriage - am called to imitate that love. 'Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her' (Ephesians 5:25). Sounds pretty unrealistic, doesn't it? How can someone as self-centred as me ever hope to do that? Only when I realise that this verse follows on from Paul's exhortation to be 'filled with the Spirit' (5:18). With the Holy Spirit at work within me all things become possible - even to love as Christ loved!
Wouldn't it be great if, rather than believing that such an attractive love belongs only in fiction, our world was confronted with the fact that this love is real and is powerfully at work in followers of Jesus Christ? As human beings made in the image of God we long for this love, but only in Christ is it truly experienced in all its fulness.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Is the past useful?

I find history fairly interesting, at least insofar as I'm curious about most things, though I confess I don't know a huge amount about it. But maybe I should make an effort to find out more. I bought A History of Histories by John Burrow last week, mainly because I liked the cover and it has black-edged pages... but having begun to read I'm finding it pretty fascinating.

Did you know anything about Thucydides? Thucydides was a 5th century BC Greek historian, but more importantly he was 'the first author to proclaim that history should be useful... But Thucydides is too much a realist - even a pessimist - for there to be any glib suggestion that, armed with historical examples, we will be able simply to avoid the errors of the past. Human nature, the narrative tells us, is too powerful and too perverse for this, and rational calculation is only one element in any situation.'

This is illustrated by the response of people to a plague in Athens during 430 BC. One (unexpected?) outcome was an unprecendented scale of lawlessness. Why? 'No one expected to live long enough to be subject to human justice.' What does this say to contemporary views of the innate goodness of humanity? By contrast, how accurately does it illustrate the biblical view of fallen humanity? Other examples are still found regularly - do you remember when I ship ran aground off the coast and shed its cargo? Numerous 'respectable' ordinary people were found on the beach looting whatever they could lay their hands on (which included some pretty snazzy motorbikes as I remember) without the slightest regard to who might legitimately own them... As Burrow says, 'The subject [of Thucydides' history] is indeed human nature, and at times the distance of almost two and a half thousand years can be made to seem to contract almost vertiginously [which means something like 'very quickly, without a moment's notice'!].' Maybe I should read more history - with my eyes biblically informed who knows what lessons I might learn...

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Why blog?

I'm a very orthodox kind of guy - I can sign up to a thoroughly evangelical, reformed confession of faith without a moment's hesitation. I believe and preach penal substitutionary atonement, justification by grace alone through faith alone, God's absolute sovereignty and humanity's total depravity, eternal punishment, the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, and so I could go on.

My problem is this - all too often I allow my belief to remain in my mind, and so not filter down into my heart to affect my life. Why? The reasons are numerous, but one is that I just don't stop to process so much of the information I'm presented with. There's no reflection, no stopping to consider the implications and the impact on me and my life. Consequently it's very easy to be a reservoir of information - a broad but shallow reservoir. Reflection isn't something I do naturally, and besides, life is busy!

So here I am, in an attempt to correct this - to write about what I read, hear or think about. Let's see how it goes...