If you want to study human nature in any meaningful way work for a charity. In provides the whole range of human experience - the glorious ruin of the human condition. You get the highs of seeing hope on previously hopeless faces, acts of love to the loveless, compassion to the needy, courage and honour found in the least likely places, injustice averted and acts of self sacrifice that go unnoticed and unheralded by the world. And you get the other side too: the evil of man towards his fellow man, the greed of the human heart and its insatiable desire for more, the wilful blindness of humanity to the desperate need of humanity and the corruption of all good gifts.
For the last week I've been at the Christians Against Poverty debt centre in Edinburgh following around the two best centre managers in Britain. I had some experience of the ground work of CAP last year when I was volunteering as a befriender but it was good to be reminded of what the work is like.
Back in Head Office, working in Finance, it can all become so distant and detached, nothing more than numbers to be crm unched and expense forms wrongly filled out. Going on visits with the two centre managers closed that distance, bringing you into the homes of clients and seeing first hand their stories and troubles.
For those who think the title is a little harsh on the city of Bradford: my bike was stolen last night so I feel perfectly justified in quoting Obi Wan Kenobi's wise words. What to say about the last month? By all accounts, it's been a time filled with answer to prayer. Before moving down I was praying that God would prepare the way before me and that prayer has been answered quite wonderfully.
Praise be to God, who looks after his children and provides for their needs! I see this in many areas, firstly in the provision of work for the year. The Reach internship has been fantastic so far and a 9 to 5 job has its quiet satisfaction of a good job done well. I see this in the provision of housemates and friends, often a blessing that is easily taken for granted. And I see this so clearly in the church I go to. Christ Church Bradford could not have been more warn and welcoming (or more generous in their offer of food and Sunday lunches!). Working in a charismatic environment means that it is fast becoming a refuge of sanity in my life. Not that charismatic Christians are insane but that it's nice to have fellowship with Christians who are on the same page as me and who don't say things I internally wince at.
It's funny what makes me homesick - generally I don't feel it, being very busy and not having a nature predisposed to being emotional. But I made the mistake of watching a trailer for Sunshine on Leith, a film set in Edinburgh, with Scottish accents, racism against the English and music from the Proclaimers. Ouch, that tugged at my heart!
Every so often, I come across a hymn which gets the Christian life with all its joys and mourning. The following hymn was written by John Newton and is a beautiful testament to the Lord's purpose in sending us difficulties and afflictions:
The title for this piece is one of my favourite hymn lines, a lovely description of the Christian life and one of the easiest truths to forget. The verse springs to mind because Wednesday evening is my church's prayer meeting and as has often been the case of late God was with us and I realised afresh the bountiful joy of the Christian life. For context here's the verse the hymn line is in:
"Fading are the worldlings’ pleasures,
Of all the revivals recorded for us in the Bible then one of my favourites, if I'm allowed to have such a thing, is the revival in the city of Nineveh as told us in Jonah 3. It's a short chapter so I'll quote it all:
"Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened."
Interestingly, the answer to this question is often presented as an absolute yes or an absolute no. If you answered with an absolute no then congratulations for being an antinomian (google it, somewhat to my own surprise I spelt this right first attempt), you're also wrong. And if you answered with an absolute yes then you're probably a Catholic or legalist and likewise wrong. The answer to the question is probably best summed up as a qualified yes (or even a qualified no but I think I prefer the emphasis on the doing of good). It requires a nuanced understanding of salvation and if you're wondering what on earth I'm going on about, please stay with me, at least until I've gone through the arguments.
Of course, one of the cornerstone principles of the Christian faith is salvation through faith alone. Happily, I'm not denying this. But salvation is much broader than we often conceive it to be. Let's spilt salvation into its parts then, sorry if you are put off with the '-ations' but it's good to learn the theological terms involved.
This entire blog post is copied word for word from Justin Taylor's blog. The structure is Mr Taylor's work and the actual poem Mr Hart's work. Very obviously then - this work is not my own. It is worth copying as it is both greatly encouraging and a wonderful depiction of preaching the gospel to yourself day after day. The author gets the Christian life and the continual contrast between the beauty of Christ and the ugliness of our own lives.
The words to “The Grieved Soul,” by Joseph Hart (1712-1768):
1. Come, my soul and let us try
For a little season,
Ev’ry burden to lay by;
Come and let us reason.
What is this that casts you down?
Who are those that grieve you?
Speak and let the worst be known;
Speaking may relieve thee.
2. O, I sink beneath the load
Of my nature’s evil!
Full of enmity to God;
Captived by the devil!
Restless as the troubled seas,
Feeble, faint and fearful;
Plagued with ev’ry sore disease,
How can I be cheerful?
It seems an unprofitable activity, to review one of the worst books I’ve read, but actually the very reason why the book in question was bad is also, at the same time, a healthy challenge. I should probably add that I don’t read a lot of biographies and autobiographies, while I’m sure there are some great ones out there then I’ve never really been particularly interested them. Perhaps it’s an extension of an inherent self-centeredness on my part : why read about someone else when my life is more interesting? Hopefully, that’s only a small part of it.
Anyway, I picked up Comfy Glasgow: An Expression of Thanks by George Mitchell because it had been resting unread on my bookshelf for a number of years (I think around five) and it looked like it could be an interesting account of a Christian living in a deprived area (I based this on the logic that all of Glasgow is more or less a deprived area). It also had a series of good reviews on the back including one by Derek Prime whose name I recognised and generally approved of.
As you may have guessed from the understated title; the book was somewhat of a disappointment. But let’s deal with the positives first: it’s well written and it’s very much about an ‘ordinary’ Christian, not someone who is a big deal, well known or had a Damascus Road conversion. Mr Mitchell lived your bog standard life, if it can be reduced so.
Therein, does not lie the problem. Just because his life was ordinary does not mean it could not have been interesting. In fact, I hoped this would make it better: seeing the trials and struggles of the average Christian. Regrettably, this wasn’t so. Mr Mitchell’s account of growing up is, as a review on the back says: “historically, culturally and socially excellent, doing justice to the great City of Glasgow.” But the issue in question is that the book is not spiritually excellent.
One of the strangest trends in evangelical Christianity is the increasing acceptance of Catholicism; I remember talking to one of my friends and implying that the Pope (any Pope) wasn't a Christian, oh boy, the reaction I got was as though I'd implied one of the great certainties of life was not so. Such are the days we live in, when following the biblical command to test confessions of faith and a person's teaching is met with derision. Any reading of the New Testament letters will reveal a better way: it is our duty as Christians to assess other claim's to Christianity. As Paul writes:
"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ." Colossians 2 v 8
or as John writes:
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." 1 John 4 v 1.
The problem when it comes to the Pope, and to Catholicism in general, is that they speak the same language as us and we share similar moral views. Thus, it makes the work of discernment harder than in other cases especially today when a lot of Christians have been badly taught to begin with. Indeed, because Catholicism does clothe itself with Christians language and does teach some similar doctrines to Christianity then it worthwhile bearing in mind the following passage:
"For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve." 2 Corinthians 11 v 13 - 15.
The fact that the Pope uses Christian language, shares some of our moral values, quotes from Scripture and will even occasionally teach correct doctrine does not absolve us from the duty of judging the entirety of his teachings nor him from the charge of false teaching. The central argument here is that the Pope is an anti-Christ; for his teaching is not in accord with Scripture, he acts to obscure Christ and he receives worship that should only go to God.
It is easy today to take a negative view over the future of the church in Britain; it isn't exactly doing well at the moment. Inside the church then errors abound, reformed truths have been cast aside and the church seems to be trying to conform more to the world than to the likeness of Christ. We're exactly like the woman in Songs of Solomon: "I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My beloved is knocking." We hear the knock of Christ, we hear the thud of our conscience but as we stir we say: "I have taken off my robe - must I put it on again? I have washed my feet - must I soil them again?" We care, but not enough to fully wake up, we want to change but we're too lazy to put good intentions into practice, we know we're not what we should be, we're also unwilling to be more than we are.
Looking outside of the church will hardly encourage us to hope either. Our government has taken the first steps to legalizing gay marriage, not that it is surprising, we lost the battle for marriage decades ago; the tide of secularism is rising and persecution of Christians is a reality closer than we want to think. Society is falling into a type of madness only found when departing from biblical truth, good is called evil and evil good.
Yet despite the darkness of the day then we still have any reason to hope. Sure, looking upon things with the eye of sight gives us every reason to despair but the eye of sight is an uncertain, narrow, short sighted thing that has no foundation. If we look upon things with the eye of faith then we find a new picture, a sure and certain picture, and that of a God in complete control of everything.