Thursday, November 19, 2009

Heaven & Earth, God & Caesar

Some thoughts for our BCP Communion service using the readings for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity (Philippians 3:17-end and Matthew 22:15-22):

Our readings raise the issue of the relationship between heaven and earth, God and Caesar.

In our epistle, we have a contrast between two examples, two cultures: those who are earthly minded and those who are heavenly minded.

The earthly minded are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, their god is their belly, and whose glory is their shame.

And then, in contrast, there is Paul and those who live according to his example.

Our citizenship is in heaven, from whence we also look for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Just as Jesus is able to transform our lowly bodies, so too he is able to transform this world.

Jesus is able to subdue all things unto himself, including this world and all its powers.

So in the meantime, we are to live as citizens of Philippi, or of Eastbourne, but above all as citizens of heaven.

As the modern song puts it: “There is a higher throne, than all this world has known.”

Whatever our commitments here on earth, we have a higher loyalty.

So the wicked earthly minded Pharisees and Herodians try to entangle Jesus in his talk:

“Is it lawful to give tribute – to pay taxes – to Caesar?”

Show me the tribute-money, Jesus says.

Whose image is on the coin?

Easy: Caesar’s.

So Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”.

Simple: yes, the money is Caesar’s, pay it to him.

But that is to think about the coin in an entirely earthly minded way.

Think again.

Whose image is on the coin?

It’s a depiction of a man.

So whose image is man?

Man is made in the image of God!

The coin bears the image of God.

This coin, and indeed all things belong to God.

Yes, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.

All things are God’s.

Remember that even Caesar is God’s creature – Caesar belongs to God.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the King of Kings: Caesar is rebel a subject of his Empire.

So we are to pay our taxes – God requires it.

Our duty to God includes all our other duties.

We love God and we love our neighbour.

Our duty to God provides the ground and basis for all our other duties.

If there were no God, then there would be no obligation for me to love my neighbour.

Without God, it might be survival of the fittest and if I could get one over on my neighbour and get away with it, that might be the best thing to do.

From an earthly minded point of view, why not fiddle your taxes if you can evade Caesar’s enforcers?

In the end, Jesus gives us a coherent vision for earth and heaven.

Sometimes Christians are accused of being “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use”.

C. S. Lewis would have disagreed. He said:

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

“Aim at heaven,” Lewis said, “and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.

This is an earthly meal with a heavenly meaning.

As we eat here on earth, we commune with the risen Christ in heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We pledge ourselves to live here on earth as citizens of heaven: To render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.

And we have prayed: “your kingdom come, you will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.

We commit ourselves to doing all we can to make earth a bit more like heaven.

And we look for the coming of our Saviour from heaven who will subdue and transform all things.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Happy Bible Verses

Here is a fairly random selection of some Bible verses about happiness / the Blessed Life / Joy etc. Various translations. (2 pages of A4 Word Document).

Monday, November 16, 2009

C. S. Lewis Quotes (some on happiness etc.)

On Thursday I'm due to speak evangelisticly on Happiness. Any quotes, gags, tips etc. welcome.

In the course of my preparation, I've come across the following C S Lewis quotes:

Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

I sometimes wander whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes.

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (The Weight of Glory)
I thought he'd also said some good stuff about joy and the pursuit of happiness and it's elusive nature? How, if we focus on our joy, rather than on God as the object of joy, joy vanishes? Asking "am I happy?" can be a great way to make yourself miserable?

Also at the back of my mind there's some C S Lewis tagged idea about praise and gratitude (and the expression there of) heightening joy? When we enjoy something, we naturally want to share it with others and celebrate it etc.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lying about lying

We not only lie, we even manage to "lie" about lying.

In Churchill's phrase, lies become terminological inexactitudes.

As Alan Clark put it, lying becomes being "economical with the actualité".

Thursday, November 12, 2009


THINK before you speak
Is it True?

(J John, Ten)


Mistakes, jokes, fictional stories, parables, hyperbole, social conventions, and conjouring tricks are not lies. Deception is often part of sports or games and that’s fine. It’s not a sin to throw a dummy pass in rugby! Special effects in films or dramatic illusions in literature are fine even though you might say they intend to deceive.

In Luke 24:28 Jesus acted as if he were going further even though he knew the disciples would ask him to stay and he would. Jesus’ misdirection was a blessing that stirred up holy desire.

Euphemisms, exaggerations, half-truths, spin, stretched excuses, baseless flattery, posing, phoniness, telling looks and misleading silences can be effectively lies.

Some favourite lies include:

Little white lies
Lying about our age
“I was sick”
“I’m not here” – when the phone goes
“I’ve already done it”
“I have it right here”
“It’s in the post”
“I’ll call you”
“I was just about to call you”
“I’ve been meaning to call you”
“It would be great to see you. You must come round sometime. We must do lunch”
“It’ll only take 2 minutes”
“Congratulations! You’ve won a prize in our £1 million draw!”
“I’m fine, yeah, great. How are you?”

We can bear false witness by our actions as well as by our words.

"Does my bum look big in this?"

"Does my bum look big in this?"

How should one answer?

I think it depends what the person is really asking.

They are unlikely to what a precise analysis of the proportions of their posterior, although I suppose just perhaps they might want some friendly fashion advice.

If what they want is a bit of appreciation and encouragement, then I don’t think it’s a wicked sin to affirm that they look lovely, even if their bum is big, and it's not your duty to tell them that last bit!

When we're finished the Passion For Life Prepared for Mission material, we're thinking of studying Galatians in our homegroups. I've been agonizing over what chunks we might tackle it in and I reckon it might go something like this, though I'm not perfectly happy with it.

Introduction to Galatians & Galatians 1:1-10
6:1-18 & Review

Preaching Plans

I hate having to come up with passages and titles for sermons before preparing the sermons (!) but here's my stab at what I'm going to attempt on Sundays in the New Year:

10th Jan AM – The Meaning of Life (Ecclesiastes 1)

13th Jan PM – Father & Son (John 8:12-30)

14th Feb AM – (Valentine’s Day) – True Love (1 John 4:7-21)

21st Feb PM – Paternity Tests (John 8:31-59)

14th Mar PM – Blinding Light (John 9)

28th Mar AM (Palm Sunday) – The King Comes! (Matthew 21:1-11)

4th Apr PM (Easter Sunday) – Why the resurrection matters (1 Corinthians 15:1-34)

25th Apr AM – Living With Death – (Ecclesiastes 2)


If anyone knows of any convincing structures or useful outlines of the book of Ecclesiastes (especially ones that lend themselves to a sermon series maybe of about 6 sermons!) I'd love to hear about them.

This from Barry Webb drawing on de Jong's 1992 work has the look of objectivity about it:

1:1 Introduction

1:2 Motto

1:3-4:16 – Observation

5:1-9 - Instruction

5:10-6:9 - Observation

6:10-7:22 - Instruction

7:23-29 - Observation

8:1-8 - Instruction

8:9-9:12 - Observation

9:13-12:7 Instruction

12:8 Motto

12:9-14 Epilogue

(5 Festal Garments, p87)

But quite what the coherent themes are in these sections (if there are any!), and what the snappy titles for the termcard should be?

All is vanity and a chasing after the wind! Foggy vapour everywhere.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Tongue

Our tongue is less than 0.045% of our body weight

(J. John, Ten, p62)

Cf. James 3:3-6

The Victorious Cross

The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration which is awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces.

Yet, it is even more important that we remember The Victorious Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ who laid down his life not only for his friends, comrades or country but for his enemies (Romans 5:6-11).

(Stolen from the Vicar's sermon for Remembrance Sunday which can be found at our church website.)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Lay Presidency

A friend sent me this interesting article: ‘Lay Administration’ and the Sixteenth Century
Churchman 113/4 1999 by Robert C Doyle

News to me: Luther does seem to countenance the minister devolving the right to celebrate the mass to others, doesn't he? (pp2-3)

The sure mark by which the Christian congregation can be recognized is that the pure
gospel is preached there. For just as the banner of an army is the sure sign by which one
can know what kind of lord and army have taken to the field, so, too, the gospel is the
sure sign by which one knows where Christ and his army are encamped. We have the
sure promise of this from God in Isaiah 55 [vv 10-1 II, ‘My word’ (God says) ‘that goes
forth from my mouth shall not return to me; rather, as the rain falls, from heaven to earth,
making it fruitful, so shall my word also accomplish everything for which I sent it.’ ...2 in
this matter of judging teachings and appointing or dismissing teachers or pastors, one
should not care at all about human statutes, law, old precedent, usage, custom, etc even if
they were instituted by pope or emperor, prince or bishop, if one half of the whole world
accepted them, or if they lasted one year or a thousand years. For the soul of man is
something eternal, and more important than every temporal thing. That is why it must be
ruled and seized only by the eternal word; for ... Human words and teaching instituted and decreed that only bishops,
scholars, and councils should he allowed to judge doctrine.... The ordinary Christian is supposed
to await their judgment and obey it ... Christ institutes the very opposite. He takes both the right
and power to judge teaching from the bishops, scholars, and councils and gives them to everyone
and to all Christians equally when he says, John 10 [v 10], ‘My sheep know my voice’. Again,
‘My sheep do not follow strangers, but flee from them, for they do not know the voice of


Therefore, whoever has the office of preaching imposed on him has the highest office in
Christendom imposed on them. Afterward he may also baptize, celebrate mass, and
exercise all pastoral care; or, if he does not wish to do so, he may confine himself to
preaching and leave baptizing and other lower offices to others - as Christ and all his
apostles did, Acts 4 [6:4].

Nevertheless, Luther is still talking about people being appointed to offices.... I'd like to read more of him on the subject.

The Tyndale quote later on is interesting too (p8).

‘They will haply demand where it is written, that women should baptize? Verily, in this commandment, “Love thy neighbour as
thyself”, it is written
that they may and ought to minister not only baptism, but all other sacraments also in time of
need, if they be so necessary as they preach them.’

I haven't read the whole article in detail and I fear he might be over egging the pudding when he says that "the evangelical Reformers were not unsupportive of lay people administering the sacraments". But I think the basic point that for the Reformed the question is not whether it is possible for a lay person to celebrate the Lord's Supper but whether it is appropriate is important.

I can see that lay presidency might be practically helpful and might de-spookify Communion helpfully but I'm not inclined to advocate for it because:

(1) I think it tends to undermine the connection between the authorised ministry of the Word and Sacrament
(2) It weakens the possibility of church discipline which is connected to excommunication
(3) It undermines the special role and office of the Presbyter which in any case is in a bad way in our circles
(4) It is a departure from the mainline practice of the catholic church and might harm church unity when there are more important battles to fight
(5) Limiting presidency to the ordained is a way of preserving good order

However, I grant that one could imagine ways of off-setting some of these issues and finding helpful orderly ways of regulating lay presidency.

Maybe helpful alternatives would be fewer small and declining congregations or more Presbyters?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Church discipline, theological controversy & the internet

Prof John Frame has some good and useful stuff to say about how we have neglected church discipline and how theologians are often guilty of ignoring the principles of Matthew 18 and of damaging the reputations of others, especially over the interweb. The Doctrine of the Christian Life (P&R) pp842-3 are well worth reading and almost worth typing out. Look out, he warns, for "the self-appointed modern guardians of orthodoxy".

Many theological controversialists today set themselves up as Internet gurus, declaring brothers and sisters to be excommunicate on their say-so alone, showing contempt for the authority of the church, which alone has been authorized by God to make such judgments, and violating God's standards requiring protection for the accused. Many of these have no scruples about spreading lies to anyone who will listen.

Godly deceit

Prof John Frame gives 16 examples of Bible passages in which someone decieves an enemy without incurring any condemnation, and sometimes even being commended:

Ex 1:15-21
Joshua 2:4-6; 6:17, 25; Heb 11:31; James 2:25
Joshua 8:3-8
Judges 4:18-21; 5:24-27
1 Samuel 16:1-5
1 Samuel 19:12-17
1 Samuel 20:6
1 Samuel 21:13
1 Samuel 27:10
2 Samuel 5:22-25
2 Samuel 15:34
2 Samuel 17:19-20
1 Kings 22:19-23
2 Kings 6:14-20
Jeremiah 38:24-28
2 Thess 2:11

The Doctrine of the Christian Life (P&R) p836

Frame adds: “It does appear that the Bible passages listed above, which justify deception in certain cases, all have to do with the promotion of justice against the wicked, especially when they seek innocent life.” (p839)


"Rather than retaliating in kind they are to retaliate in kindness"

a passion for life Prepared For Mission Bible Study notes p70, 73 commenting on Romans 12:14-21

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Presumption of theological innocence

Speaking of the 9th Commandment, Professor John Frame says:

We have the responsibility to put the best construction on other people's words and behavior, unless there is cogent witness to the contrary, what the Bible calls "two or three witnesses." That means we are to give one another the benefit of the doubt, on the principle of "innocent until proved guilty." I suspect that adherence to this principle would substantially reduce the amount of theological controversy.

Doctrine of the Christian Life (P&R), p832

Monday, November 02, 2009


C. H. Spurgeon encourages us to make prayer the key of the morning and the lock of the night. Cf. Psalm 4:8 and Psalm 5:3. (From the Vicar's sermon last night - available on church website)

I'm back!

Just to let you know that I'm back in the study after 3 weeks of jaunts (conference, study leave and holiday) and slowly catching up on emails etc. The moment I have a thought that might be of some interest or use to anybody out there I'll be sure to let you know! :)