The Truth is in Habaukkuk…

Saturday February 17, 2007

UPDATE: I’ve changed my mind! Over the last couple of weeks thinking about Habakkuk I’ve changed some of my ideas about what some bits of it mean. Therefore I don’t agree with some of the things in this post any more. At the end of the series I’ll try to write a summary which I actually do agree with.

In preparation for a short series on Habakkuk in my one-to-ones with our church student worker I’ve been challenged to work out the sections in the book and what they’re about. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Complaint 1 – why don’t you deal with sin and violence? (1:1-12) Habakkuk asks how long until God will make things right (1:1-4). God replies by saying that he’s raising up the powerful Chaldeans to bring justice (1:5-11). Habakkuk seems to trust God’s plan (1:12).

Complaint 2 – the Chaldeans are worse! (1:13-2:20) Habakkuk doesn’t understand why God tolerates the Chaldeans despite their idolatry (1:13-16) so asks whether God will ever stop them and waits for an answer (1:1-2:1). God reassures Habakkuk that justice is surely coming (2:2-5), that what the Chaldeans have done wrong will be done back to them (2:6-17) and that their idols will do them no good against the LORD in his holy temple (2:18-20).

Habakkuk’s prayer – God is powerful, I’ll trust and be patient. (3:1-19) God, you have worked powerfully, do it again (3:2), a summary of the whole prayer. God has shown his awesome power before (3:3-15) and Habakkuk is confident he save Israel again, so will wait patiently for God (3:16-19).

I’m a bit worried about splitting up what Habakkuk’s saying in v12 and v13 into two different sections. He seems to change his attitude – trusting in v12 and questioning in v13 onwards – but maybe I’m missing something.

I was also a little worried that this outline was Jesus-less. While it’s wrong to jump straight to Jesus whatever the text says, we know that all the prophets have spoken about him (Acts 3:25, etc). Thinking about it, having one nation destroy another was never going to fulfill justice – whether the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks or Romans were in charge they were all as sinful and godless as each other. While God used them for his purposes (in this case to punish unjustice) this could never be the complete solution. The day that Habakkuk was patiently waiting for we are still patiently waiting for. One day, Jesus will return to judge and to bring justice – and until then things will never be fully right. Amen, come Lord Jesus!

That’s what I think Habakkuk’s about – I guess I’ll see on Friday just how heretical I’m being…

UPDATE: A helpful tool to work out the context of Habakkuk which I wouldn’t have found without help is knowing that the Chaldeans are also known as the Babylonians. This, then, puts the prophet shortly before the Babylonian conquest of Judah and hence after the two kingdoms (Israel and Judah) had split from each other.

A series of unusual responses

Friday February 16, 2007

It seems that most of my best days are the ones where I’ve seen most clearly how much I’m a complete idiot. As I’ve mentioned in the post below, theRebelution.com have just released the results of a massive Modesty Survey. Having watched over the last few months as they first announced it, developed it, guarded against legalism and self-righteousness and radiated grace I was excited to see it finished. Convinced that it is a valuable resource to help girls understand guys I pinged an email to some Christian friends to let them know about it. So far, so good, but over the last day I’ve realised that without its proper context my email seemed like a promotion of a set of rules that guys were demanding from girls. This might not seem like the biggest crisis since slided bread but I was concerned that the result could be guys blaming girls for our lust and girls being shackled with a grace-less list of rules.

I don’t really want to talk about me being an idiot, though, but as usual I want to talk about God! He’s used this to teach me how the gospel works out in the everyday things. As I’ve tried to think through and deal with this in a way that glorifies God I’ve had some unusual responses which come from the gospel. I can see clearly that God has been transforming my by his Spirit through his gospel to become more like his Son. The Spirit applies the gospel to us powerfully to save us, and then continues to apply the gospel powerfully to strengthen and equip us for lives of service. So, I’ve been thinking of a few ways in which the gospel has taught and enabled me to respond unusually to being an idiot.

Before I start, though, I want it to be clear that this isn’t a tribute to me. Very few of these were my first response and I know that none of them would have been my natural response if it weren’t for the power of the gospel. I want to reflect on how God’s been changing me and how I can better keep in step with the Spirit and not for a second think that I’m already there. God is gracious, though.

My instinct is to hide my failure from God, the gospel teaches me to come to him. On my best day I wouldn’t come close to deserving access to the throne of God if it weren’t for Jesus’ blood and on my worst day that grace more than covers me. The fact that I see my failure more clearly doesn’t mean that God does and doesn’t change my relationship to him. Hebrews 4:14-16.

My instinct is to be right, the gospel teaches me I’m wrong. Key to the gospel is accepting that from birth I’ve been completely and utterly wrong (in belief, behavior, morals, everything) and in this context the way I view having made a mistake changed. At first my response to gentle rebuke was self defense – “I was right – can’t you see?!” but as I thought about it I realised I had been wrong and became grateful to those who had expressed concern and encouraged me to do better. As Dave Bish says, the gospel gives us permission to fail (note, not permission to sin!) and I’m thankful to those who pointed out my error.

My instinct is to listen to myself, the gospel teaches me to talk to myself. This may sound a little odd, but it’s really helpful advice from CJ Mahaney’s book Living the Cross Centred Life. At first as I thought about things I was being passive – just listening to my varied thoughts and allowing myself to be self-pitying. Instead he urges taking control of what I’m thinking and preaching the gospel to myself – going back to the cross and applying it to my situation. Of course prayer is key here – without the Holy Spirit working through the gospel all the preaching in the world is to no avail.

My instinct is to rely on myself, the gospel teaches me to seek help and advice. God has graciously saved a people so I have plenty of support from Christians around me. Partly this came from teachers (one of Jesus’s gifts to the church in Ephesians 4) as I listened to CJ Mahaney’s message The Soul of Modesty which set everything firmly in the context of the gospel and gave me the opportunity to seek, evaluate and fight the legalism which had crept in without me noticing. It also came from friends, namely my housemate whose wise words were to leave any reply until the morning after I’d slept – truly the best idea of the evening!

My instinct is to panic, the gospel teaches me to trust God’s faithfulness. Fighting my desire to properly think through what the best response would be to my friends’ concerns was the fact that I wanted to act now! That way I could ‘save the day’ and solve the problem before anyone else found the problem. God’s sovereignty, though, tells me that he is in control and working for the best – taking the time to work out the best response (which, in this case, included a night’s sleep and an hour of listening to CJ Mahaney) wouldn’t mess up his plan.

My instinct is to trust what I think is right, the gospel teaches me to come to the Bible. Once I’d worked out what I thought was the right thing to do, I wanted to evalutate my motives and make sure they were right (that I was seeking to serve God and edify others rather than just trying to make people like me more) and was having difficulty. In the end the solution was to go to Scripture – 2 Timothy was where I went this time – to see what the right way to minister is. Once I’d checked my motives and methods against God’s word for discrepancies I was happy to go ahead.

My instinct is to dwell on my own failure, the gospel teaches me to praise God. Tempting as it was just to go over the last day in my head even after I’d dealt with it to the best of my ability it was a huge release to put it aside and turn to praising God. He is the same God, I have the same standing before him, and there is useful work for me to be doing. I’ve had a bad day, I’ll have worse, but thinking about God is so much more profitable and enjoyable.

So what now? Well, I’ve learned practically some of the ways to avoid being quite so silly next time and more importantly I’ve seen a bit more clearly how grace works out in life. Thank God! So there’s new ways for me to serve, new ways for me to mess up, new ways for me to realise I need grace, new ways to draw closer to God. Here I go…

Modesty Survey is out!

Wednesday February 14, 2007

UPDATE: please do read the petition attached to the survey before looking at the survey itself. It would be far too easy to see the results as another set of dos and don’ts rather than in the spirit it was intended. Looking a bit at the history of the survey, it was asked for by Christian girls with a desire for modesty who wanted to understand how guys’ minds work so is designed as a gift to make things clearer, not a bondage to legalism. I want to stand with those who created the survey in affirming our gratefulness to those who dress modestly and that this is only a resource, never a command. That said, do have a look around – I think it’s interesting!

 

TheRebelution.com just launched the results of their massive Modesty Survey! Over 1,600 Christian guys answered questions on everything from glitter lotion and lip gloss to swimsuits and skirt slits! For you girls, it’s everything you’ve ever wanted to ask guys about modesty, but were afraid to ask! For you guys, it’s really interesting to see what other Christian guys think!

 

Most importantly, the survey is presented as a resource to help Christian girls (and guys), not a list of legalistic rules, and it is accompanied by the Modesty Survey Petition (which tons of guys have signed) which encourage young women to focus on the heart, not the hemline, to honor their parents, etc.

 

TheRebelution.com presents the results of the survey as a big St. Valentine’s Day gift from 1,600 Christian guys to all Christian girls—and I can’t think of a better one!

 

Go check it out: www.therebelution.com/modestysurvey

 

But also make sure you spread the word to all your friends. We want as many Christian girls as possible to see it on Valentines Day, so you can repost this post on your blog or forward it as an email.

 

Guys, they are still accepting signatures for the Modesty Survey Petition, so this is an opportunity for you to still share your voice on the topic of modesty!

Share the wealth…

Friday February 9, 2007

It feels like ages since I’ve written anything. Maybe it is, maybe I just have amnesia. Who knows? In the meantime I’ve been loving enjoying and serving God, but look forward to having a chance to come back here and think as I write. Today isn’t the day, though. I just thought I’d share something here I just shared with the fam over at the Criddle Kitchen Table. Because I can’t come up with anything better the second time round, I’ll just have to resort to quoting myself!

Over at The Rebelution, Alex and Brett Harris have just finished a survey of around 1000 Christian guys on what forms of clothing are most/least helpful in our fight for sexual purity. It was requested by Christian girls and has always been based on grace rather than legalism but to ensure it is published and received in the right spirit they’re asking Christian guys (12+ so you’re both in!) to sign a petition affirming seven things about the way we want women to approach modesty. They’re doing a lot of great work over there, and if you want to join them I thought I’d give you the chance…

We are richly blessed (hence the bad pun in the title) to have many chances to serve one another and this is one of them – to let our sisters know how much we value modesty and how we desire grace for them above all.

For the girls – you can’t sign the petition (for, hopefully, obvious reasons) but the results of the survey will be out soon and available from The Rebelution.

Tuesday 30/01/06

Tuesday January 30, 2007

I’ve been taking a break looking through some of the old articles at challies.com. There’s a lot of stuff on there which is really good but, to my shame, today I’ve been looking at the funny ones! Some of them are really good and I just wanted to share. It’s probably worth saying that they are all spoofs and tounge-in-cheek – some of the commenters seemed not to pick up on that!

  1. Reformed Eye for the Arminian Guy – Tim suggests a new TV show
  2. The Doctrine of Hairology – might not sound fun, but really is! About 20 minutes long, though, so takes a while.
  3. Fantasty Church – how many points does your church get?
  4. Allegations of Retirement – Challies Denies All – the name says it all.

Enjoy!

Putting up tents

Tuesday January 30, 2007

From the cartoons you see of people camping it looks like putting up a tent can be a bit of a mission. I wonder whether the hardest part is intentionally first, so that anyone who won’t be able to survive outdoors for a week is detered at the first hurdle and makes it home safely before nightfall. Camping psychology, though, isn’t what I want to talk about. I want to think about a tent which took a lot more effort to set up properly, the tabernacle which a large chunk of Exodus (roughly ch25-40) is all about. The instructions for this tent don’t come with diagrams and often seem completely dull and irrelevant. How can I benefit from them? (I should say, as is often the case, most of this is pinched from other people and I’m hugely grateful to them for showing it to me.)

Firstly, I guess it’s important to remember throughout what is the purpose of this tent. I don’t think it’s explained until after it’s been built (though I’m happy to be corrected on that) but any Jew reading the account would know what it was for. As the climax of the first half of Leviticus is God’s law in chapter 20, the climax of the second half is God dwelling amoung his people. 40:34 says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” God himself lived in the middle of the Israelite camp, and this tent was being built for him.

I think this gives the meaning to the meticulous detail of the design. God is coming to live in this tent, so it has to be right! What’s more, God has to decide what’s right. While God gifted craftsmen (31:1-11) to do the work he didn’t let them sort the interior design. He specified what he wanted exactly and expected them to do it. God is so different and so perfect that the Israelite’s attempts to create something wouldn’t have been good enough. The only way the tabernacle would work is if they followed God’s design. So while reading that the altar was five cubits by five cubits by three cubits and made of acacia wood (27:1) may not be directly applicable, as I read it and the other details I can praise the character of my God who is so holy that only perfection can be a dwelling for him.

What really confused me, though, was that after the design is given (ch25-30) it is all repeated! 35:4-39 record every detail of the construction of the tabernacle – and it’s all the same! Why not, I wondered, just say “and they made the tabernacle according to God’s original design”? What can I gain by reading it all again. The attention to following every detail of God’s instruction is commendable and should be emulated, but I think that’s making the Old Testament about me rather than about God. Can I learn about God from this repeat of the details?

Well, let’s step back from the lists for a moment and look at what happens in between. It’s big! Even as Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving God’s law and the design of the tabernacle in which God will live amoung the people the people are giving up on God. Exodus 32 tells the story of the golden calf – Aaron made a calf for the people and they made it their God. This was a trashing of the very first commandment that God gave to Moses – “You shall have no other gods before me” (20:3). God wants to destroy them and make Moses into a great nation (32:10) which would have been perfectly inline with his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and surely would have been just. Moses asks God to relent, and he does. In 33:1-3 God says he will keep all the people alive and extends to them the promise of the promised land. However, he says that he won’t go with them but will send an angel to lead them. This is grace to a people who don’t deserve it.

But there is more! Moses intercedes again and God graciously agrees to go with the Israelites into the land. I just can’t think of words that sum up how gracious that is. God would have been perfectly just to destroy them for their great unfaithfulness, but is going with them into Israel. He gives Moses the law again and reminds him of the key points of the covenant and it is at this point that Moses gives the detailed account of the construction of the tabernacle.

Okay, that interlude was anything but brief but I think it sets up what’s amazing about the second tabernacle description. It is exactly the same! Before that may have seemed dull, but in light of the idolatary of Israel doesn’t it show complete forgiveness and a fresh start? Not only is God going to stay with his people but he’s going to do it exactly according to the previous plan! Down to the last material and dimension of the tent. So while reading again that the altar was five cubits by five cubits by three cubits and made of acacia wood (38:1) may not be directly applicable, as I read it and the other details I can praise the character of my God who is so gracious he completely forgot the sin of his people.

The holiness of God and the grace of God from a list of instructions – who’da thunk it? Of course the other thing to remember (if you need more) is that all of this is just a picture of the Holy Spirit – God living inside Christians (not just in the camp) forever. That means we need to be perfectly cleaned by Jesus’ blood, and it also means that our sin and rebellion won’t change the plan. Praise God!

Friday 26/01/07

Sunday January 28, 2007

A bunch of us were at a friend’s watching The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the new film version). At one point it was looking like it was about to turn into a chick-flick, with Arthur announcing that Trillian “absolutely, definitely, positively” was ‘the one’. The two mice saved the day from turning into a slushy nightmare with the all-time classic line “What’s all this ‘is she the one?’ nonsense? Take his brain!” Pure genius!

At the same time, I got to rehear the story of another friend’s ears. He’s damaged his earphones so some of the metal wiring is exposed. Now, it seems that when he’s sitting on the synthetic fabric of the chairs in the computer room his jeans become statically charged. This would usually be fine, but if he’s also listening to music from the computer through the dodgy earphones then there’s an easy route for the electrons and he gets electric shocks straight into his ears every time he moves! I saw it happen when he was sitting just in front of me and it really is awfully funny.

Meat pots

Wednesday January 24, 2007

I’ve just been in a Bible study on Exodus 15:22-17:7. In brief, the Israelites have just seen how great God is, and now they’re not trusting him to provide but are grumbling and wishing for the good old days (of slavery, babies being killed and crying out to God) in Egypt. There are two particularly helpful places to go to understand this passage. Psalm 95 is a warning not to repeat what the Israelites did in the desert and Hebrews 3-4 expounds on Psalm 95.

There are three blocks of grumbling: for water, then food, then water again. My first instinct was to feel sorry for the Israelites the first time – after all they’ve not had any water for three day, they hadn’t yet seen God miraculously provide water for them before, and it’s not obvious from the passage that God was upset with them. Indeed, coming to God through Moses was surely the right thing to do even if grumbling was the wrong way of going about it. As the story progresses, though, they get worse and worse (despite seeing more and more of God’s provision) and the third time (at “Massah and Meribah”, 7:7, cf Psalm 95:8) they reversed God’s testing of them (15:5) and put God himself to the test (17:2, Psalm 95:9). The Israelites didn’t do well, and the warning of Psalm 95 is “do not harden your hearts” as the Israelites did.

But exactly what heart-hardening were the Israelites guilty of? Hebrews 3:13 seems to exand, saying “that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”. We see this in work in Exodus – in 16:3 the Israelites deceive themselves saying how good things were back in Egypt (“we sat by the meat pots”). They were under the impression that if they were still in Egypt things would be better. They also made out that God wouldn’t provide what he had promised he would, in 7:3 they said Moses (and so God) had brought them out of Egypt to kill them.

It’s quite easy to think the Israelites were muppets – they so quickly forgot how bad things were in Egypt and how powerfully God had already provided for them. But we do the same all the time. So there were two challenges for us, to help us avoid hardening our own hearts. The first: what is our “meat pot”, the thing we think would be better if we weren’t a Christian. For me at the moment, I think it’s praise from other people. I’ve had a load of opportunities to lead things and I’m grateful for them and have loved doing them and having chances to serve. But I also want to be able to point out how amazingly spectacularly well I’ve done and have everyone think I’m, well, amazing and spectacular. My heart tells me that I deserve it, and that I would be far better off if I didn’t have to give glory to God. That is the deceitfulness of sin, and I want to be aware of it and guard against it.

The second part of the challenge is to work out what we God has promised, but I don’t trust him to provide. Thinking over the last few days, I reckon the answer is sanctification – especially with regards to prayer. I’ve been really trying to improve my praying recently but, though I’ve seen God improve me in amazing ways over the last year, I don’t really trust him to be able to make me better at praying. He can, and he’s promised he will so again that is sin’s deceitfulness. I don’t want any of it!

Hebrews says that I need to hold on to my original confidence to show that I share in Christ (3:14). I am glad of the reminder to search and destroy where I’m not trusting God so that I am not hardened by sin’s deceitfulness, and so I can “strive to enter that rest” (4:11).

Monday 22/01/07

Monday January 22, 2007

We were learning today about how databases of patient data work. It’s actually slightly more interesting than it sounds, but the high point came when our lecturer phrased his sentance slightly unfortunately. He was talking about not wasting space when a set of records are deleted, and a technique whereby:

We can reclaim the memory before eliminating a patient.

Whoops!

LIFE diaries

Monday January 22, 2007

Imperial College Christian Union (ICCU) has just finished our mission. It was called LIFE week and was basically a week of intensive focus on evangelism, with two lunchtime talks each day, action groups (spiritual surveys around campus), a curry night, lots of prayer and various bits and bobs. It really was a blessing, and a huge learning experience for me, and we’re already starting to think about how to make next year’s even better.

One of my jobs each day was to write up what had been happening and send it round to people – as it was impossible for anyone to be at everything, and it was helpful for people who were praying for us to know what was going on. At some point I’ll get round to reflecting on the week properly but now, for the sake of posterity, I’ve uploaded all five of those updates (after a while fighting with my laptop so it would let me!) here.

As a special bonus feature, and because I’m so excited about how cool they look, I’ve also managed to get up the fliers that we had printed. Credit for these goes to David who did a bang-up outstanding job on them!

flier-front.gif flier-back.gif

(Clicking should make them open in a new tab or window and be a lot bigger. I don’t really know what I’m doing, though.)