The shocking truth about Christians

Shocking!

In preparation for our new sermon series and to get me into the festive mood, I am reflecting on Genesis 3 and the fall of humanity. This is the idea that our forebears (Adam and Eve), though in perfect relationship with God, the creation and one another, listened to the lie of the serpent (the Devil) and so committed treason against the one who made us. As a result we fell from this state of perfection and alienation instantaneously destroyed our intimacy with God and with one another. This fall spread: brother murdered brother and hatred, perversion and death infected the human race…

Fast forward a few thousand years to a man sitting at a table eating and drinking with people who profoundly felt the effects of this fall – the tax collectors and sinners. People who paradoxically embraced the fall while simultaneously feeling its alienation (for this is the nature of sin). Imagine the reaction of the man as these people recounted the stories of their lives: the shady dealings, the sordid encounters under cover of darkness, the abuse and shameful secrets.

Did his jaw drop open, eyebrows raised in utter disbelief?

No! This man was the God-man. He was there when humanity chose its fateful path. He was the promised one, who would crush the head of that deceitful snake and remove our alienation. He looked at the adulterous woman and rather than being shocked at her depravity pointed to the sin that pervades us all.

Jesus was ‘unshockable’. Why? Because the manifestations of sin in our lives are a logical consequence of our fall. Paradise is lost and decay is its replacement. If we have an understanding of the Doctrine of the Fall this shouldn’t be big news to us either. The shocking truth about Christians is that we should be ‘unshockable’!

Yet Christians can sometimes stand slack-jawed when confronted with the horror of sin in people’s lives. The result is we look naive and people tend not to be truly honest because they think we won’t understand or that we’ll faint like some Victorian debutante. Jesus knew the ravages of sin in people’s lives and met them head on.

This is not to say that we remain emotionally unmoved or jaded by sin. We should rightly display compassion, encourage repentance and hate that Ancient Serpent who wars against us and against our God. But when someone confesses to a secret life or to a past of deep perversion, folly and rebellion we should never be shocked. The shocking truth about Christians is that we are the ones who should have our eyes wide open to the realities of the world around us. We are the ones who should understand the consequences of the fall in people’s lives in such a way that we look with compassion and not with shock!

The Pastoral Team and members of City Church Dublin feel the effects of the fall in their lives and are ‘messed up’ in a host of different ways (you just need to get to know us to see it). We want to understand these effects as a church in order that we might be ‘unshockable’ and provide a safe context for people to be honest.

As we begin our 3 week series on the incarnation of this ‘unshockable’ Christ, our hope is that in understanding our own fallen-ness we might run to the one who came to slay that Dragon, to establish a new kingdom and to love the unlovely.

Incarnation: The God-man comes
This Sunday from 7pm
Listen to the first talk in this series here.

Why Jesus never went to college

Trinity Campanile

In the midst of preparing a pair of talks for the Christian Union in Trinity College Dublin this week, I started thinking a bit about college. In today’s society, we have a near obsession with college education, looking for the perfect qualification for the perfect job to bring us perfect happiness. So why is it that Jesus never found it necessary to go to college? These reflections are what I came up with:

  1.  Jesus already knew more than anyone could teach him
    As fully God and fully man, Jesus did not suffer from the curse of Adam’s sin from which all other people suffer. Among the various other shortcomings we inherited from Adam (mortality, a sinful nature, etc.), one effect of the curse is a dimming of our mental capacity [Romans 1:21-23]. This means that even the human component of Jesus’ knowledge already surpassed that of any human teachers. We see this clearly in the story of the young Jesus in the temple [Luke 2:41-52]. Additionally, through the intimate relationship Jesus had with his Father gave him access to knowledge that no others could know. For example, Nathanael under the fig tree [John 1:47-49], what people were thinking [e.g. Matthew 22:18, Luke 5:17-26]. There was simply no human education that could have instructed him.
  2. The Jewish college system simply would have taught him about himself
    Before anyone tries to argue that there were no colleges in Jesus day, we should note that there were first-century equivalents. In the Jewish system, the brightest of the young boys would have trained in the old testament (law, prophets, and writings), memorizing all of them by the age of 14 before studying under a particular Rabbi. But as Jesus tells two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, the law, prophets, and writings testify about him [Luke 24:25-27]. Of course there was also the Greek Academy, but the Greeks were really only interested in how the world works, which is much too simple a field of inquiry for him through through whom and for whom the world was created [Colossians 1:16].
  3. Jesus didn’t find his identity in his profession
    Jesus trained as a carpenter. He didn’t earn millions trading bonds, consulting businesses, or designing cities–he made tables and chairs. So often we tie our estimation of people to how much money they make or arbitrary levels of dignity we associate with their jobs. Jesus knew that his identity was not affected by the fact that he worked with his hands. Jesus knew his identity depended only on what his Father thought about him. This is the same Father with whom he shares an intimate, eternal, perfect connection of divine love. No wonder, he was always working as his Father worked [John 5:19-28].
  4. No education could have prepared him for his true earthly vocation
    Particularly in John’s Gospel, where Jesus continually references his ‘hour,’ [e.g. John 2:4; 5:25; 7:6; 12:23, 17:1] we see that all of Jesus’ ministry was focused on a singular purpose: his sanctifying death on the cross. As Jesus travelled through Israel healing the sick, announcing the new Kingdom, and gathering sinners to himself as disciples, each parable, sermon, and miracle served to identify him as the Messiah and to teach about the Kingdom he was introducing. Even this earthly vocation was something that simply could not be performed by any other men and certainly could not be taught. No amount of studying or research could have prepared him to endure the onslaught of the full wrath of the Father–that which was due us, not him–that Jesus faced on the cross. Only God’s power, inherent in Jesus’ divine nature was available to face such a torment. And thank God it was.
  5. No education could have prepared him for his true heavenly vocation
    The vocation of Jesus post-resurrection is primarily expressed in two titles: King and Mediator. As King, Jesus is the ultimate ruler of the universe, to whom every knee must bow and tongue confess as Lord [Philippians 2:9-11]. In this role, Jesus–through whom all things were created–holds all things together by his power and holds authority over all powers and dominions [Colossians 1:16]. Though human kings may be taught mathematics or politics as children, the ultimate King requires no such education. Similarly, as Mediator, Jesus stands between us and the Father, representing us to Him and Him to us. Because of this role, when the Father looks at Christians, He sees not the filth of our sin, but the righteousness of his perfect Son. It is because of this role that we receive all the benefits that Christ earned by his perfect life. No political science or law degree could have prepared Jesus for this role.

So now that we’ve seen a few important reasons why Christ did not require an education, but before you drop all your classes and take up carpentry, I’ll close with a pair of thoughts on why we shouldn’t feel guilty about pursuing (or not pursuing) a college education now.

  1. As Christians, we’re called to work
    Just like God gave Adam instructions in the garden, we also have instructions today. Our ultimate mission is to bring honour to him, and this works out in a number of ways. Probably the most important one is the way that we represent Christ to others. This involves both our behaviour (in that it is God-honouring and represents him to non-Christians) and our verbal witness as we share the good news of Jesus with those around us. Our choice of college and career affect our mission field but not our mission. The second way is to serve the world around us by our normal, everyday work. All legitimate professions provide some benefit to society and that is part of your service in God’s created order. Working well, and doing it in an other-person-centred way is God-glorifying service. Using your job to simply climb up the career ladder and achieve your own happiness is not.
  2. We can serve God with or without college
    Just like Jesus didn’t need college to perform his service, not all of us need college to do ours. Our ability to share Christ with others is independent of our college education, but some course choices might qualify you for a career in a field that is largely unreached. Of course, you have a chance to reach people during college too. And if you decide not to go to college, you may be better able to serve a different community. Choosing a course is not about finding your dream job or becoming famous; it’s simply a matter of assessing your interests and abilities and looking for a way to use them to bring glory to God in something you can be passionate about. If you think you can bring more glory to God in college, then go for it. If you think you can bring more glory to God without college, go for it. Either way, ensure that in all your work, you work in the name of the Lord [Colossians 3:17]. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a plumber or a physicist, you can use your job to serve God.

So to finish off, when we sit in lecture theatres or libraries long after we wish to be there, or stay up late writing essays that should have been finished much earlier. We shouldn’t simply ask whether or not we’ll get the grade we want or the job we want or even the acclaim we want, we need to ask whether our behaviour, our course, and our attitude honour Christ. Just don’t waste your time in college (or your college degree) by failing to use it to bring glory to the one for whom college simply wasn’t necessary.

A Little Leaky Love Cup

Leaking cup

Wouldn’t it be nice to be a cup? Cups exist in their cupboard community with other cups of various shapes and sizes, their quiet lives orientated towards one thing… fulfillment. They long to be filled with coffee, tea or the occasional hot chocolate. Without this they become nothing, hollow shells with only the odd stain as a reminder of what they once were.

We often think of ourselves as though we are cups. Where our needs and longings are only met when our little cup is filled with love, joy, acceptance, stuff, power, spouse, money, sex. Being full of these things is our idea of Heaven. Hell therefore, is the feeling of emptiness when those things inevitably run dry, leak away or evaporate. In this understanding, God would simply exist to fill our cup with whatever our hearts desired. Like a bearded, over qualified butler!

Yet the Bible sees us not as cups designed to be filled but as mirrors designed to reflect the glory of the God who created us and by doing so we find the source of unceasing joy!

However, this is not the way things are. Back in the garden, our first parents sinned, meaning they willfully smash their mirror and used the broken shards to reflect themselves instead of God and so has the rest of humanity ever since. Like Narcissus who became so obsessed with his own image that he wasted away, our sin turns us in on ourselves and ultimately leads to death.

The solution therefore is not to be ‘filled’ but to be put back together; to be oriented back towards our creator that we might image him to the world. This is what the Bible calls sanctification: being made every day, little by little, piece by piece, into the image of Jesus Christ, the one who “is the image of the invisible God.”

A theology of DRINK!

Father Jack

Think of certain cultures around the world and various stereotypes spring to mind. Switzerland? Cookoo clocks and Toblerone. France? Cigarettes and shrugging. New Zealand? Hobbits and rugby. Think of Ireland and a whole host of things may come to mind: weather beaten old men in flat caps, leprechauns with pots of gold, folk music and Riverdance! But I’m sure it doesn’t end there, as one (non-Irish) friend remarked to me recently, “you guys have two states: drunk and asleep”.

While he might have been slightly overstating his point there is a kernel of truth… we do love a drink. Whether it’s a pint of ‘the black stuff’ or something a little harder, we are at heart, sociable creatures who like to ‘go for a jar’ or raise a glass to your health.

On Thursday (26th September) people all over Dublin will join together with pints of Guinness to hail the great man himself, Arthur Guinness, the visionary founder of the drink which bears his name. I say visionary because upon acquiring the site of the brewery some 250 years ago, he signed a 9000 year lease! He planned on Guinness sticking around and whether you like the taste of it or not, it’s not going anywhere soon!

This means that questions about Christians and alcohol are perennial in a city such as ours. That is why I want to take a moment to sketch a basic theology of drink and hopefully begin to answer some questions.

  1. If you drink don’t get drunk. I know I’m stating the obvious here but for the Christian there are clear injunctions in Scripture against drunkenness [Ephesians 5:18]. The idea here is not that God is some sort of divine party pooper but a father who cares for his children and doesn’t want to see them get hurt or harm others when they are “locked”. Moreover, some people drink to excess as a form as escape or refuge. For Christians to get drunk with this motivation, it says that your Heavenly Father is an insufficient comfort for you in times of stress and difficulty. As a church family we need to seek to remedy that by pointing people to Jesus and mediating the comfort and acceptance of the gospel to one another.
  2. It’s okay to drink (as long as your conscience permits it). The nature of sin is to take good things that God has given us and to twist them into something wicked and dangerous. Sex isn’t bad; it is a good gift which we pervert and cheapen by using it out of the context of marriage and by indulging in pornography. The answer is not to avoid sex but to use it rightly. So it is with alcohol. There are plenty of instances where alcohol is enjoyed by God’s people and by God himself [John 2:1-12]. Jesus is the guy who turns water into good wine, not wine into water! And in the end when the prophets look forward to the grand heavenly banquet, what’s there? Well-aged wine!

    On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. [Isaiah 25:6]

    Glass of Chateauneuf du pape, anyone?

    For some, of course, the answer will always be “no” and for various good reasons. If you come from a culture (e.g. Some Asian or South American cultures) where the very idea of a Christian drinking is difficult for you then it is right that you abstain and that those who see no problem with it love their brothers and sisters in Christ by not making them feel uncomfortable. Equally someone who has had a problem with alcohol in the past and who is seeking to walk in holiness should be encouraged to not drink and we need to support people in that.

    The principle behind this comes from Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 concerning food sacrificed to idols. Some Christians saw that the idol had no significance and so ate with a clear conscience. Others believed that idols were evil and so could not have any association with them. Paul writes and tells these Christians that the idol is indeed “empty” but that they still shouldn’t eat it because it would “defile their conscience” because they believed in their heart that it was wrong. He then turns to those who have no issue and instead of telling them to grab another plate he tells them to be loving towards their “weaker brothers” by “setting aside” the right to eat!

    In our context this means that the onus is on those of us who think that drinking is okay to look out for those for whom it is an issue. Sometimes that will mean setting aside our rights.

  3. However! There are some who come in the guise of the “weaker brother” and assert that someone cannot be a Christian and drink alcohol. At that point, salvation becomes by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone as long as you drink tea alone. The last part of that sentence shatters the gospel of grace by adding in a ‘work’: abstinence. You can be a Christian and drink because your eternal soul is not dependant on your blood-alcohol level but on the death of Jesus.
  4. Finally, some might say that Christians shouldn’t drink because it serves no purpose. Think back to the example of sex. They might say that sex, in the right context, is to be enjoyed but it is also fruitful. It binds two people together and it (God willing) produces children. Alcohol, by contrast serves no ‘good’ purpose. However, I feel that people miss a wonderful truth about the way God has ordered his world. God could have created order in his world so that humans found nourishment from bland pellets sneezed out by baby walruses. But he didn’t! He created an array of foods, food combinations and the means to make drinks, including alcohol. Why? Because food and drink remind us of the abundance of God’s generosity and goodness both to humanity in general and to Christians in particular. Simply put, the food that you enjoy and the drink that you consume is, in fact, God’s love made tasty!

So, this Arthur’s day feel free to raise a glass of whatever you prefer whether alcoholic or not and remember the abundance, goodness and loving kindness of your Heavenly Father!

Sláinte