Monday, 15 January 2018

Resolved #2 – To Walk in Step with the Spirit


I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This is a lightly-edited re-run of one from January 2011.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh... If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law... Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Galatians 5:16, 18, 25

How are the resolutions looking this far into January?

Surveys show that among the most common new year’s resolutions are the determination to enjoy life more, lose weight, get fit, learn something new, find true love, get a better job, pay off debts, and reduce stress. And yet, ongoing research confirms something we already suspect – perhaps from personal experience – that the majority of us will abandon our resolves by mid-January, with many of us not making it beyond the first week.

Still, the making of resolutions at least implies a felt-need for transformation of some kind.

Reframing resolutions – with the help of Paul’s letter to the Galatians – begins with a reminder that Christ has set us free (5:1, 13). But the freedom Christ gains is a freedom to live in the Spirit.

Those who walk by the Spirit (5:16) and are led by the Spirit (5:18), who live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit (5:25) are no longer under the authority of the Mosaic economy; nor are they bound to ‘gratify the desires of the flesh’, that way of life marked by alienation from God and each other. Instead, the death and resurrection of Christ and the giving of the Spirit have ushered in a new era in which the Spirit animates our ongoing covenant relationship with God, just as he promised through his prophets.

Of course, as Paul notes, there is conflict and struggle. Fruit needs to be cultivated; lasting change does not arrive overnight.

And that’s why the walking metaphor is so apt. Unlike the dramatic moments of decision or fresh resolve we sometimes make at this time of the year, walking suggests a more regular pattern – ongoing, mundane even – a process which takes place in the everyday where we live and where we work – on the commute, in the home, at the office, on the squash court, in the checkout queue.

In such contexts, we discover, it’s the consistent, everyday actions that make a difference, as we continue to walk step-by-step – our lifelong process of transformation into the likeness of Christ through the ongoing work of the Spirit.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Jonathan Tame and Luke Tame on Reimagining Social Welfare


The latest Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre is available online (here, from where a pdf can be downloaded), this one by Jonathan Tame and Luke Tame:


Here is the summary:

‘Britain’s social welfare system is facing a long-term crisis in sustainability, particularly due to the size of the government’s unfunded pension liabilities. On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation we look to Geneva as a case study in an approach to social welfare shaped by Christian principles. We examine how Calvin and the city-state set up an integrated system for welfare provision through the General Hospital, and poverty prevention by strengthening families and education. Five main themes are drawn out, which provide some historical distance to our own challenges regarding social welfare. The paper then considers how marriage and extended families could be strengthened, and local churches and Christian organisations can become welfare advocates in their communities.’

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Resolved #1 – To Stand in Freedom


I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This is a lightly-edited re-run of one from January 2011.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery... You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
Galatians 5:1, 13

The start of a new year prompts thoughts about new beginnings: new diets to keep, new regimes of exercise to follow, new patterns of study to adopt, new determination to show more appreciation to colleagues, new undertaking to spend quality time with the children, new commitment to work on the house...

Human beings have habitually marked what has been seen as a ‘new year’. And the resolve at such times to ‘do better’ goes back at least to ancient Babylon. Something about the turn of the calendar carries with it a pervasive and powerful desire for a fresh start, a clean slate.

Indeed, many wise Christians down the centuries have encouraged the discipline of renewed reflection and fresh resolve at this time of the year. And we should celebrate genuine change where it occurs. But church history and practical experience warn us of the dangers of trying to secure ‘salvation’ through keeping a set of ‘rules’ or following a certain ‘code’, with the risk of looking down on others who don’t quite make the grade, or despairing with ourselves that we can’t manage it either.

To such people comes the message of freedom. It’s a message the Galatians needed to hear. And in a first-century Roman context, it would have conjured up images of being freed from slavery. Christ has set us free! For the start of a new year, then, comes a reminder that the heart of the Christian faith is not mere potential for self-improvement, but freedom, won by Christ – that we are free from the pressure of having to do things to gain favour with God, free from trying to prove ourselves to ourselves and to others, free to submit to the rule of Christ.

Like Eustace – the boy-turned-dragon – in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we will give up in frustration if we try, by ourselves, to remove our ‘dragonish’ scales. Only as we submit to the sharp claws of Aslan will we discover what it is like to be set free from our old skin, to be made clean, and then dressed in new clothes.

May this be the year not when we discover our own capacity for self-improvement, but when we discover afresh Christ – and the freedom he brings.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Preaching and Worship Resources


Although currently in a Beta version, Preaching and Worship, billed as ‘curated resources for preachers’, looks helpful in providing links to exegetical notes, sermon outlines, suggested illustrations, etc. It’s a collaborative project of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and the Christian Classics Ethereal Library/Hymnary.org. From my scan, several of the links lead to articles which are also linked to at ‘The Text This Week’, which is also a valuable resource.