I really hope that all had a blessed safe and happy Christmas 2009!
I have had a lovely time down in Bristol and Newport with my family. Christmas always is a special time for spending it with family and friends - and mine was great. Especially celebrating the recent birth of my baby nephew. It was lovely sitting around the table looking at my large and extended family and feeling incredibly grateful for each and every one of them. One of my presents from my Mum and Dad was the latest John Piper book I requested; "Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ" - the 5th volume in his biographical series that Piper gives at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors - which I duly read on Christmas Day afternoon and was challenged by.
One of his biographical chapters was on William Tyndale and Piper had some insightful comments. Piper was talking about William Tyndale and why his translation of Scripture attracted so much persecution - particularly from Thomas Moore. Why was this? Piper wrote;
"There were deeper reasons why the church opposed the English Bible; one doctrinal (justification) and the other ecclesiastical (the papal, sacremental structure of the Roman Catholic Church).
The church realised that they would not be able to sustain certain doctrines biblically because the people would see that they are not in the Bible.
And the church realized that their power and control over the people, and even the state would be lost if certain doctrines were exposed as unbiblical - especially the priesthood and purgatory and penance".
Is the modern church so different? Why does a church write on it's website; "... although we would ask that any convictions that would differ from those of the pastoral team be held to privately and not espoused publicly"? What is so wrong with discussion and debate? Of course I agree that trouble making and gossip can never be right, but I don't see in the New Testament where Paul the apostle (for example) EVER commanded that differing convictions be "held privately and not espoused publicly". On the contrary - Paul was aware of the Corinthian's differing views to him and wrote eloquently arguing his case as to why they were mistaken.
I find similar themes in a blog post that Jeff Purswell wrote called; "They Stand in the Very Stead of God". Purswell said;
"No. You are not sharing thoughts. You are not Jay Leno. You are not a talking head. You are standing in the very stead of God. Oh, that is a frightening thing. It’s not only a divine message you are bringing but you are meant to be a suitable vessel for that message".
I must admit I'm still undecided about this (although pretty nervous about Purswell's statement). I was raised to deeply honour preaching. My former pastor Dr Stanley Jebb spoiled us with two hour-long sermons on a Sunday and one mid-week where he would week by week faithfully expound the Scriptures to us. I passionately believe in the Ephesians 4 Ministries of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers. But to assign them this level of standing for God? I'm not sure.
What happens simply when pastors get it "wrong"? And they do. I've sat and watched two men do 180 degree turns in theology and declare they got it wrong. One is documented here; "Why I left the Charismatic Movement". So if Purswell was correct - when was that preacher in particular standing; "In the very stead of God"? Before the change in theology and practice or after? Or can one get it wrong standing in the very stead of God and being a "suitable vessel"?
But all those are just a few thoughts that I will take into the New Year. The slightly sad and painful part of Christmas for me was that for the first time this year - we were not together as a family. I went down on Christmas Eve and left Boxing Day but one of my siblings was not able to be there until the Sunday 27th December. I needed to be back in Birmingham for work commitments but was very keen to see my entire family as we rarely manage to get together these days now my sisters have their own families. However my parent's church scheduled a meeting on the Sunday 27th - which of course I would not have been welcome at.
My sibling was arriving in time for church and of course the family would have then been away at church until at least 13:00. It seemed pointless to me staying in Bristol alone waiting for them to return from church. So I had to leave Saturday night. And as I was driving back - I must admit to getting pretty upset. I've always been close to my family and have loved them dearly. It's not always easy being single particularly in a Christian environment where marriage is pretty much expected. Having a large and thriving family makes up for that - or did - until SGM. I'm sad. I wonder what SG leadership would feel about family unity.
Family/church? Shouldn't it be both? Anyhow - there are some Christmas thoughts.
All in all it's been an absolutely horrid year. BUT! I earnestly believe that the devil brings trials and temptations to try and wreck our faith in the God of Abraham - the God who blesses lavishly and in abundance. The devil doesn't really care about the manner of the trials - to him I suspect as long as the end is achieved, the means are whatever works. If he can drain a Christian to stop believing that God is good and He loves His children then the job is done. That Christian will stop praying, stop worshipping, stop witnessing to the goodness of God and generally stop being "salt and light".
Have I stopped believing in the goodness of God? NEVER! I won't pretend there has been manifest Presence of God where there hasn't. I won't pretend I've been blessed financially or socially where I haven't. But I have a home to live in. A bed to sleep on. Food to eat (mostly!). Clothes to wear. A job to go to. And for that - I give total and pure thanks to God!
Roll on 2010!!