Two weddings and no funeral

I am conducting a wedding this Saturday afternoon for the daughter of a good friend. Many months ago they begged me to set the date aside for the wedding, as they particularly wanted me to officiate. (I guess I’m just so handsome!) I was duly flattered and marked my diary with a big cross. But it nearly didn’t happen.

Three weeks ago I was conducting another wedding for another good friend, but I was not happy. My discomfiture was caused by a leg pain, which had been brewing over a couple of days, and had reached the point of making standing quite difficult. “ Will you, ouch, take this woman to be your lawful wife, eeek?” I saw the GP on the following Monday morning and by Tuesday evening I was in ICU hooked up to all sorts of monitors. Diagnosis: deep vein thrombosis with pulmonary embolisms. Apparently not a good story. A bit like playing Russian roulette.

The ICU ward is a fairy wonderland, aglow with twinkling lights, alive with bubbling springs of oxygen, staffed by quietly ministering angels. (Indulge me – I want angels in my fairy grotto!) It is definitely the business class of hospital accommodation, if you are awake and pain-free enough to enjoy it.

But it is also a place of life and death, a place where urgent questions thrust themselves rudely upon an unprepared consciousness. “What on earth am I doing here?” “How did this happen?” “Will I see July?” It seems likely that my condition dated back to our return from an overseas trip in mid May. My leg had first been painful then, and my persistent cough had started then. So for five weeks I had been running round doing gym and all manner of stuff with a time bomb in my leg. So much for taking aspirin before a long haul flight! So much for wearing compression socks! Note to self: need a better plan next time.

The crisis has passed. I am now at home. The leg pain is 90% gone. The cough is greatly improved. My blood is now thinner than Oliver Twist’s gruel. They won’t exactly tell me the bomb has been defused, but it seems it is a whole lot safer.

With the passing of the crisis, the direction of the questions changes. No longer is it “Will I survive?” but rather “What does this change?” Confrontations with our own mortality are supposed to change us. This is supposed to be the tipping point, the moment of great revelation where we set aside the humdrum in order to embrace our true destiny. This is the place where we make bold resolutions about the rest of our life.

I have had plenty of time to reflect on these things as I laze on the couch at home, trying hard not to re-embolize my lungs. The startling answer to these questions is actually, “Not much”. I wouldn’t change much. I actually love what I do. I am privileged to do what I do. I cannot imagine a more fulfilling way to spend the next ten, twenty, thirty or whatever years.

I am a servant of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The prophet Habakkuk declares that, “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14). I get to be part of that. I get to reconnect people who have lost touch with their life-source. I get to plug people in to a revelation of heavenly glory in Jesus Christ that totally eclipses every earthly aspiration.

If an evangelist is motivated to rescue people from a lost eternity, then I am not really an evangelist. If being an evangelist means persuading the uncertain to sign on the dotted line for Jesus, then I am not an evangelist. If an evangelist is concerned to win the allegiance of the sceptical then that is not for me. (But thank God for evangelists!)

If, however, it is about seeing people wasted by the overwhelming love of Jesus, to the point of being useless for the games of this world, then count me in! If it is about seeing people live with a far-away look in their eyes (Heb 11:16), then I am right there. If it is about recolonizing earth from heaven (Phil 3:20), then I’m on board.

And this is what I get to do, seven days a week, and I’m paid for it! My brush with mortality changes only this, that the task has acquired a new splendour and a new intensity.

It’s time to prepare for a wedding….

Footnote

If food, chocolate and prayers are a true measure of love, then I am a profoundly loved person. I have been overwhelmed by the response of a huge number of people to my sickness: first my amazing wife and family who have risen in valiant support, then the elders of Hillside who have stepped in and taken up the slack, then many, many people for their various expressions of love and support. Thank you. You are all amazing!

For Jill’s side of this story check her blog here.

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Red Ferraris and the will of God

A pastor is called to care for a group of people who differ from people in general. The difference is that those in the pastor’s charge are “born again” to use the heavily worn, but still biblical phrase. It may well be the case that among the flock are those who, for religious reasons, consider themselves “Christians” but who have in reality never experienced what Jesus described as being born again. That is not my concern today. Rather I want to ask what it looks like to pastor someone who has truly been born again.

Something has happened to this person. They will “never be the same again”! We know that they are forgiven, justified and adopted and all the so-called “objective” works of salvation have been completed on their behalf. But something more has happened. A natural baby who has completed the birth process has become in himself a viable member of the human race. He is fully equipped for physical life. Spiritually a person is born again and becomes a viable participant in the new covenant in himself. We are equipped with all it takes to participate in the new covenant. We are fully equipped for spiritual life. (We still need to be equipped for ministry, but not for life.)

So what is this new covenant? Well it starts like this, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jer 31:33). A born-again person comes pre-loaded with God’s law written on their hearts. What do we imagine that looks like? The Decalogue chiseled out again in human flesh? Which particular laws? The heart is the seat of feelings, desires and passions as well as thoughts and will. So it must mean at the very least that the desires of our hearts are innately in tune with the will of God. If not, then what is the point? Come back Moses, all is forgiven!

It means that the baseline assumption is that my desires are a reflection of the will of God. Now you can push this to silly extremes: a Christian cannot sin — no. If I desire it, it must be God’s will — no. Of course there are qualifications. But here is my point – we have become obsessed with the qualifications to the point of obscuring the fundamental alignment God has achieved for us by writing his law upon our hearts.

Much pastoring is based not on Jeremiah 31, but Jeremiah 17 – the heart that is desperately wicked and deceitful above all else. Surely this speaks of the unregenerate heart? For many pastors the fundamental assumption is that the desires of a born again person are still so profoundly opposed to the will of God that the Christian life is a prolonged re-enactment of the garden of Gethsemane – not my will but thine! Jesus endured Gethsemane (and Golgotha) so that we don’t have to. He has redeemed us not to a life of daily mortification, but to LIFE where the dying has already been accomplished.

Can we trust people to have desires that are not diabolical? Does distrusting the motives of people’s hearts really help protect them from sin? Do poor decisions stem more from wrong desires or from acting out of fear? Why did Jesus need to say, “Fear not!” so often, but never uttered the words, “Desire not!”? If God’s people are ungenerous, is it usually because they are secretly coveting a red Ferrari, or because they live in fear of poverty?

Now Paul does say that he dies daily, and Jesus did invite us to take up our cross and follow him. Why? Is this a necessary survival technique for believers in a sin-filled world?  Is this really about dealing with ungodly desires and the wickedness of our hearts? Or is it speaking of the nature of ministry? We die indeed, but not to deal with our deceitful hearts, but for the benefit of others. That is called love.

Can we trust that God really has done a miracle with His people? Can we trust that God has filled their hearts with wholesome desire? Can we allow them to dream? Even if it is of a red Ferrari?

From the translator

Welcome to Found in Translation, a blog devoted to the dream of a coming kingdom and a beautiful church. One day we will have attained to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, and be prepared in all respects to receive our bridegroom. It is the day of glory to which all history points and for which the whole of creation waits with bated breath.

There are of course many blogs with not dissimilar themes, but this is a blog written from a particular perspective — that of the translator. I have spent my life as an alien in a foreign land, and grown to love it. I have lived cross-culturally and in the process I have necessarily become a translator. I have had to learn how to translate from South African English to my native British version and vice versa. Then later to and from Brazilian Portuguese. But the real delight has been not so much to translate language, but rather perspectives and understandings: in fact to be a cultural interpreter.

The great imperialist deception of the 19th century was that British culture was clearly superior to any other and was in fact the only one that really mattered. The great liberal deception of the 20th century was that all cultures stand on an equal moral footing and must be accorded equal treatment. In fact there is merit in each and every culture, as well as a darker side. The anonymous observation sums it up:

 “Heaven is where the police are British, the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and it is all organised by the Swiss. Hell is where the police are German, the cooks are English, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and it is all organised by the Italians”

Culture is the inescapable context of human social existence: we cannot live without it, any more than fish can live without the sea. But culture is not always harmless: we can never afford to be seduced by the obvious rightness of our own culture into devaluing the culture of others. Our own culture feels safe and self-evident, and we resist the inroads of “foreigners”. (I am British and will continue to balance peas on the back of my fork for no good reason other than that is how I was brought up.) The fact is that good things are hidden for us in other cultures.

Translation takes what is good in an alien culture and expresses the point in a form intelligible to the home culture. It is not in the first instance about changing anything, only the more modest goal of understanding. But through understanding comes the possibility of valuing, and through valuing, desiring, embracing and then changing. Fear of course will stop us ever starting. But perfect love has cast out fear…

So being a cross-cultural kind of person I have trouble with labels and boxes. When people ask what kind of church we are, I try my best to help them understand, but there is no single label or brand that works for us. I am the charismatic in the theology lecture, the intellectual in the Holy Spirit fire tunnel, the bible expositor in the revival meeting, the prophet to the cessationists, the scientist who delights in revelation and of course the pastor who rides a motorbike to work.

It’s not that I don’t want to fit in. I am not at heart a rebel or anarchist. But I have so great a reverence for God, for the sanctity of His church and the greatness of His kingdom that I never want to get too comfortable with what any one group has decided that looks like. I never really was a company man, because I never really believed the propaganda. I do believe! I do believe that God is always good, that He has redeemed me through the blood of His Son, that His kingdom is coming now, that the church is His body on earth, that He has destined me to be His son from all eternity. But please don’t make a box out of it!

So this blog is written with the perspective that just maybe some people who don’t fit in “our group”, whatever that is, might have something worth understanding. The heart cry of unity finds fulfilment not through massed stadium meetings or interdenominational prayer movements, but through valuing one another. Too many of us are all ears and have no use for hands or eyes, in Paul’s metaphor. And valuing one another comes through understanding and understanding comes through translation.