I should preface the following statement by saying that I am generally comfortable with the standard social conventions and greetings of western culture; a handshake, a quick hug and perhaps a peck (kiss) on the cheek, depending on how close the two people are. That said, there is something just not right about a man giving a soft handshake. For a long time now I’ve taken to referring to such an encounter as a ‘wet fish handshake’. Like a wet fish, it is just not pleasant – it is limp, perhaps lazy, seemingly weak and usually unexpected. I don’t want to get into an argument around gender stereotypes, but in my experience a soft, non-committal handshake just seems… not worth it at best or a bit icky at worst – sort of like holding a wet fish, except without the cold and the stench (unless of course you’re outside in winter and your handshake partner hasn’t showered for some time). The reason for this article though isn’t really my discomfort with a certain badly handled (excuse the pun) social convention, but rather a concern I have that, in some ways, for many evangelical churches, the culture and even the means of presenting the truth of the gospel have become a bit like a wet fish handshake – hence the title – escaping the evangellyfish culture.
There are but a few events in life that really change a person, perhaps not completely, but so significantly that the effects of the change cannot be denied and become an integral part of the fabric of a person.
So it is, I believe, with parenthood…
This morning, the Easter series at church continued, this time with the theme “imagine a world where death wins”. In some ways we all live in a world where death at least appears to win the mortal battle. As they say, the only certain things in life are death and taxes! Though, for those of us who believe we know that death has not won the war and we delight in the fact that it has lost its sting and will therefore not have a lasting impact on us for eternity. The reason it has lost its power is because of the glorious resurrection of Jesus, who nailed our sin to the cross, fulfilled the death penalty on our behalf and then conquered death itself by rising again. In the words that follow I hope to unpack just a few thoughts about the significance of Resurrection Sunday.
Today is Good Friday, 25 March 2016 – a day to pause from the busyness of life and remember afresh the significance of what Jesus has done for His people.
The title of this post might be confusing at first, particularly due to my use of the term ‘full justice’, but hopefully the meaning of this will soon become clear and you will see as I do the beauty in the truth of the title’s statement.
About a year ago I was asked to speak at an inter-church worship team training/day seminar as one of the guest speakers. The event was organised around a key note session and then breakout groups for each instrument. I had been asked to speak to the bass players breakout group about what worship is and how those who serve the church as part of a worship team can do so effectively. I was then to offer some more specific tips to bass players about their particular role in the overall team (which I may include in a later post). While I was honoured to be asked, I unfortunately was unable to make it to the event, however I had already penned some thoughts which until now have remained unused. I thought I’d post them here and I pray they are helpful to someone.
Over the last few years perhaps no other preacher, teacher or theologian has taught me as much as John Piper. For this reason I feel somewhat strange when I say it has taken me until now to fully read through his magnum opus ‘Desiring God’. I’m sure, however, that others will attest to the fact that this book is not one to rip through in an afternoon. The depth of theology and the paradigm shifting presentation of the Christian’s pursuit of joy in God as foundational to a Biblical understanding of the gospel requires much thought, contemplation and reflection.
“The difference between just doing what comes naturally and principled self restraint is called civilisation…”
– Greg Koukl
Writer’s note: I wrote this post originally in June 2015, around the time of the SCOTUS decision. I didn’t properly publish it for any length of time back then for several reasons, one being that I didn’t want to add to what was (at the time) a climate of extreme emotionalism on both sides of this issue. I hope that as the smoke clears something I wrote back then might be helpful for those still interested in this topic (in December 2015) and particularly for anyone interested in giving the Christian perspective a fair hearing.
It is my hope that upon reading this you still feel able to call me ‘friend’. Let me say I am well aware that we may disagree on this issue and for some of you this disagreement will be quite wholehearted and passionate. However, I believe friends should be able to acknowledge their differences and even have rigorous discussions on such matters without writing one another off as valued human beings based on their differing views. I write this letter not simply to add to the plethora of [often angry] posts on social media in support of or mourning the [at the time of writing] recent SCOTUS decision, but rather to try to respond accurately and consistently to two groups of people;
- Those who have engaged in conversation with me on this issue with genuine interest in the conversation prior to various social media threads becoming entirely cumbersome and genuinely unhelpful as a result of militant, angry or emotionally driven posts that cloud the train of thought of all parties and derail any form of helpful discussion.
- The many friends whom I have seen jump on the social media ‘progressive activism’ bandwagon (so to speak) by painting their profiles with rainbow colours in support of the decision and who may have been wondering why or how I could possibly not do the same with a clear conscience.
Before I continue I would like to make clear what I believe and why I am seeking to write this letter in love for those who struggle with same-sex attraction and for those who have been swept up in the wave of popular opinion in support of the marriage redefinition agenda.
Just over 24 hours have passed since I finished this book, and I am still very much processing the weight of its importance both to the twenty first century evangelical church and to me personally. Before reading The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1899 – 1981 I could have counted on one hand the number of times I had heard of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The few occasions I did hear his name was when it was referenced by prominent pastors and Christian leaders whom I admire such as John Piper and Kevin DeYoung, but I had never come into contact with his life and ministry directly. Out of interest I put this biography on my birthday ‘wishlist’ in 2013, as I wanted to know more about this character who I’d heard reputable sources refer to as “the greatest preacher in the last 200 years”. Thankfully, I was given a copy on my birthday that year. At the time I had no idea just how profoundly the story of Dr Lloyd-Jones’ faith, life and ministry would affect me and indeed this is something I doubt that I currently know the full extent of. Some expansion on this will follow in this post, however I must start by saying I am forever grateful to author (and personal friend/assistant to Dr Lloyd-Jones) Iain Murray for his work on this condensed biography which has introduced me to a man whom I will not meet until I too am called home to be with Jesus, but whose story has caused me to give all praise to God for a life well lived in the service of the Kingdom, a life “worthy of the calling” he received (Ephesians 4:1 ESV).
Following on from Good Friday’s thoughts about the beautiful collision between humanity’s depravity and Christ’s divinity at Calvary, I got to thinking about what it must have been like for the disciples during the Easter weekend. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions and experiences both leading up to that time and throughout Easter! They’d heard the prophesies about the Messiah, but they didn’t want to accept the fact that He had to die. They’d heard John the Baptist telling people to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand before Jesus started His earthly ministry (Matthew 3:1 – 6) and yet they were confused as they had been expecting an earthly political kingdom to release them from Roman rule rather than a spiritual Kingdom set up by a suffering servant. They were finally understanding who Jesus really was and then His life and ministry turned towards the cross. Within the space of a few days they experienced the last supper, prayer in the garden, betrayal by one of their close friends, the brutal floggings and mocking of Jesus by the soldiers, accusers that wanted to pin Peter down as a close friend of Jesus followed by Peter’s denial of that fact, the crowds demanding Jesus’ death, the disciples’ Lord and master carrying His cross and having to be helped by another on the side of the road because the brutality had already tortured his body to breaking point… and then the actual crucifixion itself with darkened skies during the day time, nails through flesh, immense bloodshed, earthquake and the temple curtain being torn in two. Then it is finished. Jesus’ body is buried, the stone seals the tomb and the disciples are left wondering what is to become of it all.
Today is Good Friday. It’s a day that has always carried somewhat confusing or conflicting emotions for me, at least as long as I can remember. It is a day to remember something that is brutal and yet beautiful, horrific and yet heavenly, tragic… and yet triumphant. It is a day that I want to mourn over the way that humans just like me treated the only one who can save us from our depravity and sin, but it is also a day on which I am reminded of how blessed I am to live on this side of the cross. I know that in suffering for my sake, Jesus who was perfect and was in very nature God humbled himself and became obedient to death on a cross, paying the price that bought me out of slavery to sin and death and therefore separation from God into a new life that will last for forever.