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Stewardship of Money and Living in London on a Student Budget

September 30, 2014 1 comment

It’s that time of the year when sunny days get colder and the student hordes throng the streets of London. I’ve had a good time meeting the first arrivals, urging them to make the most of their few years abroad.

rocket, fig, proscuitto, mozzarella salad with linseed vinaigretteIt’ll be a sad thing if all they had to show at the end of their degree was, erm, a degree, selfies in front of tourist attractions, signed menus from Michelin restaurants, and a life partner to eat in said restaurants with. There’s much more to life, boys and girls! Away from the usual societal crutches of home, this is the perfect opportunity to think carefully and independently about life – to investigate properly what truth is and so set valid life goals according to that truth. After thorough investigation, Christian claims, as set out in the Bible, seemed overwhelmingly true:

  1. the deadly problem we all face is that we are all under the wrath of God for failing to acknowledge him;
  2. nothing we can ever do or say will be able to turn away God’s wrath on the Last Day;
  3. but God sent his Son Jesus to save us from this – if we trust that what God promised is true – ie. that Jesus’ death is sufficient to save us from the consequences of our sin.

Because this is such an important thing for this life and the next, I would highly recommend everyone to research this for themselves. A Christianity Explored course is a great place to start! And London universities are well served by good churches like St. Helen’s Bishopsgate and Euston Church.

While the important stuff gets sorted, there are also daily necessities to consider. (Ah but, really, who ultimately provides us with money to buy food with, enables food to grow as they should, regulates the seasons, gives us breath?) As a student at a Bible course, living off my own savings, I had to be careful about spending, but also not let frugality be an idol; to be so able to work the budget as still to be generously hospitable about housing and feeding people. We usually think that “good stewardship” of God-given money consists merely of avoiding conspicuous consumption, but miserliness too fails to properly invest God’s money for his work.

Food
Because the United Kingdom produces its own food and local food is more likely to be less expensive, it is best to eat the season.

Street markets are your best bet for fresh food. I don’t mean the organic hipster places but the “ethnic” sort in East London – for example, along Whitechapel or in Shadwell. Vegetables are usually sold by the bowl – £1 for whatever is in the bowl. And I have managed to bargain for more to be stuffed in the same bowl…

Check London Farmers Markets for more English/continental produce. Although basics are on the whole more expensive, this is for you if you care about provenance. And there are some bargains at closing time or on things that don’t usually figure in the modern London kitchen – like duck hearts, other offal, pork bones for ramen bases. Even the more posh farmers’ markets are worth checking out: I’ve gotten good bags of pesticide-free fruit and vegetables for £1 each at the Marylebone Farmers’ Market and chicken carcasses for stock (but with enough flesh left on it for a meal for one or two) for 25p each at Borough Market.

It’s also worth being a regular at your local butcher and fishmonger who may throw in stuff for free once they get to know you.

wild blackberries wild blackberry tart

Foraging has saved me a bundle on fruit and herbs. But obviously you need to be sure not to poison yourself, especially with the mushrooms. Check out recipes and advice at Forage London.

Marked Down GroceriesIf you really need to use a supermarket, you can compare prices at mysupermarket.co.uk. There isn’t a particularly generally cheap(er) mainstream supermarket: Tesco and Sainsbury’s might sell different goods more cheaply. Lidl, Aldi, and ASDA, although not known to be upmarket, have own-brand products that stand up to more expensive own-brands: like olive oil and charcuterie. Check for Great Taste Awards as well. There are also treasures in Lidl’s wine bins (eg. Bordeaux second growths).

Waitrose does really deep discounts on well-kept but expiring food. I usually snap these up for the freezer – good for lazy evenings and unexpected guests. It’s also worth signing up to be a Waitrose member for free coffee (espresso, cappuccino, latte) and tea daily, additional discounts, and a free well-written magazine every month.
Marked Down Groceries Marked Down GroceriesThe other great thing about Waitrose is that it applies original bulk-buy discounts to stickered items. In this instance, Waitrose technically paid me £0.11 to buy 18 sausages off them!

Marked Down Groceries Marked Down Groceries
Marked Down Groceries Marked Down Groceries
Marked Down Groceries Marked Down Groceries

Marks & Spencer stores tend to clear out their bakery sections at a good yellow-stickered discount about 6.00 p.m. (store-dependent) every day so you can get proper bread/pastry your dinner/breakfast there. The city center stores are also good for discounts on dairy items like milk and cheese.

Approved Food has a bit of a niche selling food near or past its best before date at good reductions.

Coffee
Brewing your own probably gives you a better cup and saves you loads off Costa lattes. Worth checking out online coffee companies for promotional discounts – eg. Pact Coffee delivers your first order for only £1.

Clothes
By the fact that everyone can tell me a mile away by my clothes, it is clear that I don’t really have much experience in this area. But for fig leaves that don’t look too cheap, TK Maxx has good stuff. There are loads of charity shops around. Also look out for clothes swaps.

For camping/hiking/walking clothes, footwear, and accessories, try the Army Surplus Store

Hair Cuts
Get them free by being a real live model for hairdressing students or juniors. Have a look at this Time Out article for details.

Cookware, homeware and home electricals
Check first if anyone has anything to give away on London Freecycle or Gumtree or a whole list of alternatives on the Guardian Green Living Blog or on the London Re-use Network. Otherwise, compare prices at:
Robert Dyas
Argos
Lakeland
Poundland, 99p shop, 98p shop…

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse
Reuse jars as cups and for storage. Reuse can and coffee cups as pen and pencil holders. Reuse fruit crates for shelves. Reuse wine cases for bookshelves.

Transportation
Cycling around London is free, though you’ll need to acquire a bicycle and an all-important bicycle lock.

Bicycles
Freecycle, Gumtree, . Or ReCycling and other sites listed on Bike Hub. Cycle training, if you live in Tower Hamlets, is free.

bicycle maintenance club bicycle repair and maintenance tools

You’ll want to keep your ride in good shape, so pop down to the free bicycle maintenance workshops.

Trains
The Man on Seat 61 has good advice about this.

Leisure Activities
It helps to live in areas that the government thinks need a leg up. In Tower Hamlets, for example, there is free tennis and relatively cheap admission to swimming pools.

For theatre, opera, concerts, check out the TKTS website for discounts, or (if appropriate) hunt for student standby tickets or platform seats.

Lots more tips at moneysavingexpert.com.

Summer Camp, More Goodbyes

August 18, 2014 Leave a comment

Mid-goodbye-hug, I was bundled into a moving car and whisked to the rail station by the coast, where a train was about to depart for London. I yearned to linger and prolong 11 days of magnificent gospel partnership…but there was a Glaswegian-Norwegian wedding to witness and celebrate.
defrosting a fridge in the sunIf the same team would have me, I would fly any where in the world to work with them. They were a fantastic mix of commitment to God and his word, godliness, Protestant work ethic, absolute craziness, humility, creative problem-solving, ruthlessness in dealing with sin, patience, sportsmanship, prayerfulness, servant-(arm-down-a-blocked-loo)-leadership. And all this in the extraordinary context of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (authentic gospel ministry looks weak and so brings glory to God alone), which we were studying for the week.

Burgers and duck fat roast potatoes

Breaded and deep-fried pork loin

Meringue and lemon tart
After the wedding, a week of last meals with good friends and neighbours. I never thought I’d be the one at the door, sending off people going to do work amongst the Chinese in some other bit of London, amongst the posh people in the West Country, amongst the prosperity-gospel-deluded in Africa, amongst the youth in Australia…

Hainanese chicken rice dinner - very good with John Crabbie's Traditional Cloudy Ginger Beer

This dinner was sponsored by the Duck: duck confit with duck eggHow do you say goodbye? Would that we could squeeze all that love and respect, and all those memories of fierce arguments and of sitting around in companionable silence, all the serious conversations and nonsensical banter, all the snuggling comfortingly in similar weaknesses and navigating our differences, into a small locket and carry that, warming our hearts, for the rest of our lives.

But we can’t. So we eat, and drink, and chat, and take selfies, and wash-up, then someone says,”Sorry, but I need to go. Otherwise, no one gets a sermon on Sunday”. And we part, and life goes on, because there is so much more to be done, and God will give us other partners for the work and companions for the journey. Until we meet again in the new creation.

Smashed meringue and lemon tartOur not-very-smashed version of Massimo Bottura’s Oops I Dropped The Lemon Tart.

Saying Goodbye

July 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Saying goodbye.

dinner with neighboursWe said goodbye to the first of our neighbours in the same way our neighbourly relationship has always been conducted – over a shared meal, laughter, much banter. He will carry a suitcase of meagre possessions to a wet, windswept land and there speak the good news.

He is thin man not given to grand schemes. His hugs are strong and his handshakes, firm.

globe artichoke with lemon butter dipglobe artichoke with lemon butter dip

grilled corn with paprika, fromage frais and parmigiano reggianogrilled corn with paprika, fromage frais and parmigiano reggiano

parsnip chips with parmigiano reggianoparsnip chips with parmigiano reggiano

homemade cherry ripple ice-creamhomemade cherry ripple ice-cream

We lingered over the table till it was late.

See you later, we said. See you in the new creation.

Clarity in Epistemology, Theories of Truth, Precision in Communication, Facets of Reality, and More Photos of Food

July 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Sunday lunchIn between the innumerable barbecues (the English sort requiring shielding with brollies from the London rain) and having people round for dinner, have been pondering the necessity of clarity in thinking about things and precision in communication. (The Tutor first raised it when we were chatting a few months ago about the setting up of apprenticeship schemes in churches. Female Tutor thought this was one of my (very few) strengths, i am not so certain as most of this blog demonstrates… Was also talking about this with Online Bookshopkeeper and wife last month.)

ox cheek, green beans with hazelnuts, sweet potato mash, grilled aubergines and tomatoes with mozarella

Clarity in Epistemology

Possibility of Clarity
But before we even consider the subject, the question should surely be whether there is even the possibility of epistemological clarity*, both for the unbeliever with his unregenerated mind and for the believer living in this fallen world?

One of the most common presuppositions in modern thinking is that the human mind and all it generates (theories in various sciences, humanities) should have the utmost claim to the authoritative interpretation of reality. But if Scripture is right**, human brain power cannot be the ultimate in the process of evaluation, because it is corrupted by sin:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practise such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practise them. (Romans 1:18-32)

  • If God has established objective reality (“truth”), and
  • humans because of their refusal to acknowledge God as God by worshipping him or thanking him,
  • have suppressed the truth about God, then
  • they have become so corrupted in their thinking that they are unwilling and unable to know the truth and act accordingly.

This is why Jesus didn’t say that we just need to try a little harder to be good or to turn over a new leaf, but that we need to be born again to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3) – we need a whole new existence.

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9b-18)

However, as human theories in the sciences and humanities attest, mankind has not been completely blinded to the truth. We have still been made in the image of God (though now flawed), have still been allowed to live in God’s world, and can still observe, dimly, consistencies in the way the world works and, with what we have termed as chemistry, physics, biology etc, have attempted to categorise and explain these consistencies and so predict the outcome of things.

The sad fact is that in our arrogance, we assume that this common grace, this cataracted view of reality should then be the basis on which we judge God. We are ignorant that we are like blind men feeling bits of an elephant.

beef bone marrow with panko and gentlemen's relish, blue sirloinPresuppositions
“How can you believe in God when science says otherwise?” is the usual question thrown about. But this challenge is founded on shaky presuppositions**.

Fundamental to all human thinking, whether in the sciences or in economics or philosophy is that which we call logic and reasoning. However even these are merely epistemological theories following the use of the human mind or human perceptual apparatus. While it is possible that the existence of synthetic a priori stuff or observable phenomena may point to the self-consistency of the Creator, our theories about them cannot limit him, since he alone has established reality and we are merely poor half-blind observers of it. Good try, Descartes, Kant et al.

Further, in logic theory, most science is based merely on inductive reasoning – that is, that its conclusions are merely possible or probable, given the truth of the premises. So its conclusions are actually a not-completely-adequate subset of a not-completely-authoritative theory. To base one’s evaluation of the truth on “what science says” is therefore quite erroneous.

Even further, the scientific method is only one of many ways that humans have come up with to acquire knowledge and analyse the truth. We do not consider the truth in a court of law or in a history book (or even in a newspaper) by requiring similar empirical or measurable evidence.

a forest of carrot and beetroot greensa forest of carrot and beetroot greens

grilled aubergines and tomatoes with basil leaves

Clarity
So then, clarity. There is a sense in which we can and should engage people’s minds in pointing them to the truth. Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles all used language and argument to communicate the truth.

Wonder how many apologetic strangleholds can be broken (humanly at least) by attending to, and interacting with, the other party’s theory of truth. Most of the time, the other party relies on some background in his thoughts but is not yet aware of (i) his truth presuppositions; and so (ii) the diverse methodologies proposed by humans for determining the different sorts of truths. For example, he may assume that all truth must be proved by the narrow epistemological method that pertains to proof of scientific hypotheses, and so neglect the whole school of historiography and historical method in determining the veracity of an account of an event in the past.

But ultimately of course, a change of mind that comes with re-birth, is the work of the Spirit, who is likened to the wind – it blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes (John 3:8).

stack of grilled tomatoes, aubergines, mozarella with basil leaves and balsamic reductiongrilled aubergine, tomatoes, with mozarella

Precision in Communication

There is a need for clear thinking in the minds of believers too in their theology and doctrine. (For further discussion.)

Additionally, since we should already be of the same mind, there should be precision in our communication with each other (as well as in apologetics of course). How many good-faith arguments (cf. bad-faith trolling) might have been nipped in the bud by parties:

  • having clarity on the exact definition of terms used in the argument – most of the time i find i have been arguing at cross-purposes with someone because we’d neglected to first lay out the contents of the package we called “faith” or “gospel” or “God’s sovereignty” or “reading the Bible for ourselves”;
  • not succumbing to the false bifurcation that so besets so many political rallies; humbly considering that differing views may be complementary rather than contradictory.

Note that none of this suggests that reality is relativistic (in the sense that there is no objective reality, or that such objective reality cannot be determined). Rather, it wonders whether objective reality is so faceted and our human understanding so limited that the same thing needs to be described in several ways that are complementary and not contradictory to each other. We should not quarrel over the priority of one Scriptural facet over another, if Scripture itself does not prioritise one over the other.

rhubard and pear compote, fromage frais and double cream, shortbreadcompote of rhubarb and pear, shortbread crumble, fromage frais and heavy cream

strawberries and cream

*disregarding for the moment questions as to the absolute value of clarity
**how a fallen mind can establish this is a whole other discussion, Münchhausen et al

For own reference, currently reading:
Vern Sheridan Poythress’ Logic
Vern Sheridan Poythress’ Symphonic Theology

Kitchen Experiments and Hermeneutics

June 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Now that School is finally over, have been using rainy days to consolidate and masticate on things. Naturally, this has required the presence of Activities of Minor Distraction – like cooking and baking, the products of which have been greatly appreciated in the innumerable socials that have mushroomed now that summer is really here.

Just like a sustained period of playing around with food gives even an amateur like me some sense of the flavours and textures of ingredients and an idea of how they might fit together, so the last two years of having to handle and teach the Bible daily have been very useful for getting a tiny feel of how God’s word in Scripture works.

So a re-look at my hermeneutics, with loads of chatting with great people in both the Local Church and wider family – not a major revamp but a tidying-up and ordering of material. Hermeneutics isn’t just the preserve of biblical scholars and pastors and teachers – it is essential to understand what God is saying in his word because God’s word is essential to the life of his people; every debate in Christian history would, at least in part, be concerned with hermeneutical issues.

smoked tuna
smoked tuna on Poilâne sourdough bread

Untitled
tenderstem asparagus, rocket leaves, broad beans, Pomo Dei Moro tomatoes, mozarella cheese on Poilâne sourdough bread

rump steak, candied radishes, rocket leaves, baby carrots
rump steak, candied radishes, rocket leaves, baby carrots

ox cheek with red wine and port sauce, on wasabi mash potato
ox cheek with red wine and port sauce, on wasabi mash potato

Parking some transitional thoughts here for the moment (to be demonstrated at a later time: how each of these points should be backed up by Scripture):

  1. Assumptions: (i) that the original text of the Bible is God’s word to humankind; (ii) that God has a message that he wanted communicated to its original hearers/readers (as the case may be) and also to his people thereafter; and (iii) that there is therefore a primary meaning to the text (that must be adhered to, precluding postmodern subjective personal “I like to think that this is saying” interpretation) and it is comprehensible to humans.
  2. Original languages and translation issues. The first step in biblical hermeneutics would be to understand God’s word in its original languages – mainly Hebrew and Ancient Greek. This isn’t something that most of us can do, given that we do not have working knowledge of those languages. But if we are reading the Bible in another language, then we need to keep all the issues of translation (see Robert Stein on The History of the English Bible.) in mind as we exegete (one version of) the English Bible: for example, many words in one language may not have an equivalent in another language, so translators would have to make a decision how to render the meaning of the word without inserting it too awkwardly in the sentence. As a poor alternative, D.A. Carson suggests reading several good (query: good) versions in the destination language.
  3. Comprehension skillz. The basic toolkit laid out in books like Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach’s Dig Deeper (and its very imaginatively-named siblings) is useful, but the tools themselves need to be wielded with discernment and finesse in different passages and books of the Bible, without accidentally taking anyone’s eye out. Experience is needed to know which tools to use together and which ones might take precedent over another in each context. Then there are other more specialised instruments generally useful in comprehending any text, eg. understanding the use of rhetorical devices.
  4. Logic and textual context. Beware errors of reasoning and inference (see Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies and Must I Learn to Interpret the Bible). Remember also that meaning is linked to context. Consider the concentric circles of context: immediate context (eg. in an epistle, its place in the argument), book context (how that particular human author uses language, themes), biblical theological context (eg. covenantal – words might be used differently in the two covenants), canonical context (“analogy of the faith” – Scripture is its own interpreter, because behind the whole of Scripture is one Author – see Michael S. Horton’s (am i the only one who feels compelled to scream “Horton hears a Who” everytime i see his surname?) Interpreting Scripture By Scripture). Beware “canon within a canon” (see Carson’s Biblical Interpretation and the Church).
  5. Historical and cultural context. God has not given us a culturally or historically-neutral textbook. Beware erroneous generalisations. In relation to injunctions: (i) beware absolutising one-off commands; (ii) understand God’s rationale behind command – what God wants and so how to apply in different cultural context.
  6. Beware presuppositions. Be aware of how your own historical, cultural, theological presuppositions are affecting your reading of the Bible.
  7. Getting to Christ. In respect of point (4) on biblical theology and canonical context and point (6), consider (i) the Biblical evidence for Jesus Christ being the controlling factor in all exegesis; and (ii) what this actually means! Consider law and gospel, redemptive-historical, covenantal, typological, anti-type, kingdom of God (God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule), promise-fulfilment etc perspectives. See Graeme Goldsworthy’s Biblical Theology and Hermeneutics.
  8. Remember that it is God’s word: therefore, any exegesis is done reverently, with a view to sitting under his word.
  9. Reality check. Remember that we are fallen creatures – therefore our intellect is imperfect. Yet, remember also that we who are God’s children have God’s Spirit within us.

homemade scones scones with homemade strawberry jam
afternoon tea from scratch – homemade scones with homemade strawberry jam

raspberry bakewell cakes
raspberry bakewell cake

deconstructed apple pie
deconstructed apple pie – apple confit, crushed Digestives, homemade caramel, whipped double cream, cinnamon dust

strawberry watermelon gluten-free cake
strawberry rosewater watermelon gluten-free cake

strawberry cheesecake
stacked strawberry cheesecake

John Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God

 

Easter Lunch and Spirit-filled Worship

April 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Easter lunch

We get a long weekend over Easter here in the UK – Good Friday, then Easter Monday. Loads of locals legged it home for the break so it was nice to have the “left-over” people round for lunch after Easter service. A mish-mash of people who hadn’t met before – some had been at the Local Church for almost a decade and some had only visited three times, but all chatting happily and discussing life and doctrine by the end of the meal.

The English lamb shoulders were superb. Bunged 4.5kg in the oven at 120°C just before leaving for the Easter service and they were just about done by the time I’d managed to extricate myself from various happy chats to run home and turn off the oven. Seasoned only with salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary, the meat was tender and sweet and flavourful without the stench of sheep.

at the butcher's

shoulder of English spring lamb shoulder of English spring lamb
shoulder of lamb

To accompany the baby sheep, we had “truffled” potato dauphinoise and roast carrots and parsnips, and a simple salad of spinach leaves and strawberries with poppyseed dressing:

potato gratin

Before pudding (blood orange almond cake and lemon cream tart), we’d gotten to what it looked like to live as Christians. Happily, because i live in a house full of church associates, Bibles were quickly produced and Romans 12 was pointed to.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

It’s far too insipid and trivial to think of worshipping God as merely a matter of singing and dancing; it is about giving our whole selves over to God, to be living sacrifices. It would be frankly ridiculous to think that God would be interested in just the things produced by our vocal chords or flailing limbs over the period of a few hours – our man-made idols might accept that, but not the real and living God of the whole creation.

And we begin to be able to worship God rightly in our living by first being transformed by our already renewed minds (see previously in Romans). We start by having a right view of ourselves, especially in relation to the church:

For by the grace given to me I say to every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Worship doesn’t start with wanting the opportunity to use our talents to the full within the body or some other form of self-fulfilment; it starts with understanding that we all contribute to life in the body of Christ, and also that we are innately inter-dependent (“individually members one of another”!). And so we serve with the right attitude.

blood orange cake

lemon tart, with blood orange cake looking on

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

How diametrically opposed to the hell-ish reality described in Romans 1:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practise such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practise them. (Romans 1:18-32)

The changed life of the Christian detailed in Romans 12:9-16 sounds great, we might say, but it seems more like one of those things to nod about and aspire to, with the knowledge that, like so many New Year resolutions and diet fads, we will never really stick with it. Yet, it is absolutely vital that Christians not conform to this world as described in Romans 1:18-32.

This is not a matter of following the rules of the new club we’ve joined, but a fundamental change in us – we once did not and could not rightfully honour God and now we have both the desire and ability to do so. We were once dead in our sins but are now alive in Christ; we were once slaves of unrighteousness but are now slaves to righteousness etc…why would we want to go back to eat our own vomit?

We can now worship God rightly because Jesus has paid the price for our sins so God’s wrath no longer remains on us and his judgement is no longer against us. And we do so with the third member of the Godhead himself – the Spirit. Again, how frankly ridiculous to think that we somehow control the Spirit by inviting him to our “Sunday Worship Sessions”, and even more frivolous, asking him to perform magic tricks like making people faint or giggle or have gold fillings in their teeth.

The Spirit does a far more important job of enabling us to worship God rightly with miraculously changed lives! And not only that, as we pray constantly for God’s help in living in a way that pleases him, the Spirit gloriously helps us – magnificent assurance that God will help us persevere to the end:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8)

pink Spring girliness Easter lunch - pudding

Ministry Trainees, Vicars, Vicars’ Wives, and the Radical Mind of Christ

April 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Holland Park, Kensington, London

Holland Park, Kensington, LondonIt is now light at 7 a.m.. There are long days of blue skies and sunlight. The air is fragrant with blossoms and new love. Bitty carpets of bluebells cover Holland Park. Spring is here, and we’ve spent the last few months soaking in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 1:12 – 2:11)

lamb shoulder

The whole centre of Paul’s life is Christ. This means that:

  • he is less concerned about the motive of rivals in preaching the gospel than he is about the good that comes from it – that Christ is proclaimed, and so he rejoices even in hypocritical preaching! His emotions are tied up not with his own reputation or the relative success of his competitors’ ministries, but with the advance of the gospel (the good news about Jesus Christ);
  • every part of his existence – his life and his death, is devoted to the exaltation of Christ. He considers not himself (nor does he glory in his own self-denial) but what is best for the church, what is best for his brothers and sisters in Christ;
  • the engine for such Christ-centred living is not Paul’s innate maturity but the object of his focus: the example of Christ, who himself was obedient to the Father, even to death on a cross; and
  • he is confident this will please God because God exalted Christ for his obedience.

This mindset is one which all Christians should have, and must constantly be conscious to have. But church associates, ministry trainees, and vicars and their wives, are not automatically innoculated against the tendency to do otherwise.

Holland Park, Kensington, London Holland Park, Kensington, London

What does it mean to live for God alone as someone in full-time paid ministry or as the wife of someone in such a job? On the back of the Rector having spoken to those of us who might find ourselves in the latter position, have been thinking through various scenarios, and The Minister’s Wife: privileges, pressures & pitfalls by Ann Benton and friends has been a useful companion.

Pride, perfectionism, people-pleasing, comparison are common pitfalls, she says. Sinfulness would be manifested by us not being driven by love of the Lord and his glory or care for his people, but by our reputation and wanting Our Ministry (or, in the case of ministry wives, their husband’s ministry) to be the most successful and acclaimed.

Some possible scenarios:

    • where there is personal injustice: has gossip, slander, sabotage, misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise) of your motives, or the sheer sinful one-upmanship of others, led to damage both to your reputation and your ministry? There is right indignation at the injustice of it all, of course. But perhaps we take it even more badly because our pride has been hurt – we are more concerned about how other people view us, than how the all-seeing all-knowing God sees us. So we seethe with resentment, anger, jealousy, discontentment. We want people to be well-disposed towards us, otherwise we are full of self-pity. Ruth Shaw gives good advice:
      • even if they have not repented, react in a Christ-like manner – in view of God’s mercy, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, live at peace with everyone if possible (Romans 12:1);
      • take time to work through these issues. There is a danger in the sort of spiritualised denial that pretends the problem doesn’t exist. Yes, it hurts and yes, relationships are broken – the grief and loss take time to come to terms with. See Psalm 55-57;
      • recognise where wrong has been done and call it “wrong”. Write down the issues and what the Bible has to say about them. Then scrap the list because God tells us not to keep a record of wrongs;
      • trust God with justice and mercy, as Jesus himself did when treated unjustly by others (1 Peter 2:23);
      • repent of anger, bitterness, and resentment in your own heart: “in my heart unresolved anger often replays the tape of others’ wrongdoing over and over again, and it begins to cultivate seeds of resentment that can grow into bitterness, which often bears fruit in my thoughts and my actions as slander or even revenge. I just can’t keep that sense of outrage to myself, so I make others pay with their reputation, or else I avoid them and give them the silent treatment. Hebrews 12:15 challenges me to beware of the roots of bitterness that can cause so much harm.”;
      • pray for those who have wronged us. Wanting vindication is natural, and life can seem harsh and unfair… until we have see it in right humility in the light of the cross.
    • where there is non-personal injustice: “So-and-so is such a hypocrite: he is such a smooth-talker but secretly manipulates people for his own ends; she is all pal-ly with people at church, exaggerating the pleasure of seeing them and praising outrageously, but then bitching about them behind their back. If people knew what he/she was really like, they wouldn’t keep going on about what a wonderful godly staffworker he/she is.” See above.

Holland Park, Kensington, London

    • where there is not only failure to appreciate the work we are doing, but also rampant ingratitude, and constant criticism. Days and hours are spent working on the sermon or Bible study, much energy is spent ministering to the new Christian, encouraging the mature Christian, counselling the weak and weary, dealing with the admin, putting on events etc; the vicar’s wife is left on her own for hundreds of evenings every year; family holidays are disrupted because of this or that emergency. But members of the congregation don’t think the minister is doing enough. They criticise his sermon, his pastoring, his dress-sense, the way he spends his time and money… Here’s a mash-up of the wisdom of older women, Ruth Shaw and Lizzy Smallwood:
      • beware that we might be proud in our opinions of ourselves in our positions of Christian leadership. We are over-sensitive and take things the wrong way. We hate people pointing out our faults. We have an entitlement attitude and believe that we are not being treated as we think we ought. We boast about our achievements, and tell little white lies to make ourselves look better before others;
      • accept that criticism is an inevitable part of being a leader – politicians, managers, teachers, celebrities all face it to varying degrees, and Christian leaders are not immune. It all started in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve distrusted the authority of God and God’s people have, since then, distrusted their God-given leaders (eg. Moses, David, Elijah…sometimes for good reason!);
      • learn contentment and humility – they are inseparable!;
      • develop simple strategies for responding to specific criticisms – (i) stop and listen; (ii) consider the source of the comment; (iii) respond with grace; (iv) move on…

lamb shoulder roasted with rosemary and garlic

  • where we feel we are falling short of the standard of a minister/minister’s wife. We aim for a tidy house and perfect food for visitors. The new pastor’s wife dashes about cooking meals, offering hospitality, visiting, preparing Sunday school, running Moms and Toddlers, and the youth work, and women’s meetings. Both parents expect children to be models of godliness, well-taught and well-brought-up. Good wisdom again, mostly from Ruth Shaw:
    • guard against thinking that we have to prove ourselves to God – there is no need to justify our existence or prove that we are up to the job. The whole reason why the gospel is good news is that we have failed miserably at meeting God’s standards, yet we have been justified because of the blood of Jesus. Our identity is therefore in Christ and not in our severely limited achievements;
    • conversely, beware escapism – claiming that we are not in minister’s wife mould and therefore the congregation should have no assumptions or expectations about us. We are secretly angry at imposition of church on family life, and by so doing sabotage the good work that our husbands can do amongst God’s people;
    • we should not confuse pleasing people with serving people;
    • hospitality is not about showing off our home or our cooking skills, but is a servant ministry that creates opportunities for encouragement;
    • guard against thinking that there is no place for weakness an failure in ministry. We and our critics tend to work on a worldly value system that compares us with other people and most often judges us as below standard. This should be no surprise to us – we are weak while others give the appearance of being strong and competent; we do fail where perhaps others seem to succeed; we do make plenty of mistakes where others appear to get it right, but the reality is that God uses weak people. Our weakness, resourced by his grace, often proves to be the best frame for his glory.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Pan-fried Salmon and Samphiresalmon and samphire

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