Wanted: Wisdom

Wrote this some time back, just found it in the Drafts folder:

where Emmanuel Bristol (City Centre) meets

Last Sunday, we were at Emmanuel Bristol (City Centre) where Jim Walford was continuing their current series on Proverbs with Proverbs 8.

The place of wisdom in the Bible and in the Christian’s worldview and life is one of the artifacts I’ve left in the sandbox for a while, expecting to pick it up for a thorough examination at some later time. And now, it’s been brewing at the back of my mind since arriving in London and idly picking up Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers from a secondhand bookshop.

Why do some people succeed far more than others? Ah, says Gladwell, instead of mere IQ, success comes from a combination of luck (demographic, tide-turning), background (parental models of hard work and relating to others in society, cultural legacies), practice (10,000 hour rule), drive from meaningful work.

Now, this is the world‘s wisdom. But if it is an accurate observation of life, then it should not be dismissed without consideration. Instead, and this is one of the few times I agree with the Associate Trainer, we can take advantage of this use of common grace to determine how to make the most of the abilities and opportunities that God has given us in this life.

Having had quite an exhausting few months of pushing hard for proper Bible teaching in several circles, God had graciously sent refreshment in the form of the love and wise counsel of friends, old and new, from St. Helen’s Bishopsgate in London, St. Ebbe’s in Oxford, and Emmanuel Church in Bristol. After a fortnight, I’m starting to be able to thinking clearly about things, with the perspective one usually only gets from a distance. And the dull lightbulb-above-head is this: I need wisdom.

ESV Bible and Kurst PencilThe beginning of wisdom, says Proverbs, is the fear of God. But how does the pragmatic tone of so many of the proverbs fit into that overarching idea?

How to get wisdom? How to have wisdom to get wisdom?

ESV Bible and Kurst PencilIf wisdom is a matter of life or death – isn’t that too dramatic a thing wrt being a good emotionally-and-situationally sensitive friend?

bread and wine for Lord's SupperTo be continued…hopefully…

In Search of the Best Flat White in Bristol. Or Prayer and Coffee, and the Promise of Mark 10:29-30.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)

It is only when cast upon the hospitality/mercy/generosity of others that one begins to understand the promise in these verses…

For the first pop-in to Oxford this summer, the Ls kindly let me have their spare bedroom in Headington. I was impressed how calm everything was in the house, despite the run-up to Keswick. If I was in-charge of a major national convention, I would more likely be in a mad tizzy than offering lifts to and from town to guests during the day and sitting with them calmly drinking tea and eating cake in the evenings.

One morning, while I was working on 2 Peter in the kitchen over a very slow and late breakfast, JL popped in to grab a drink – “all you need is prayer and coffee”, he grinned.

A week later, with friends in Bristol, JB was making delicious pour-overs on his V60 with Pact Coffee‘s Jammy Dodger (a Brazilian from Fazenda Santa Ines).

For the first few days, I kept forgetting that Bristol wasn’t Melbourne. The sunshine, the full-blown alternative culture that can’t quite be said to be alternative if it was so mainstream, the hipster cheerfulness of its inhabitants sitting out in said sunshine, and the high propensity for purchasing good coffee, almost had me fooled.

But first, the ones that didn’t quite make it:

Full Court Press (59 Broadmead Street, Bristol. facebook) didn’t quite do it for me, despite the high rating on Beanhunter. The Ethiopian Gedeb was completely overwhelmed by the milk.

Full Court Press Specialty Coffee, Broadmead, Bristol   Full Court Press Specialty Coffee, Broadmead, Bristol

Full Court Press Specialty Coffee, Broadmead, Bristol
Full Court Press Specialty Coffee, Broadmead, Bristol
Full Court Press Specialty Coffee, Broadmead, Bristol

Playground Coffee House (45 St. Nicholas Street, Bristol. facebook) was as per tin. It boasted swings and board games and fun little touches, and the staff, true to theme, were friendly and chatty – a marked contrast to the coffeeshop above. A place to sit with friends, though not a coffee destination.

The search for good coffee in Bristol: Playground Coffee House (St. Nicholas Street)
The search for good coffee in Bristol: Playground Coffee House (St. Nicholas Street)
The search for good coffee in Bristol: Playground Coffee House (St. Nicholas Street)
The search for good coffee in Bristol: Playground Coffee House (St. Nicholas Street)

Outstandingly good though, were:

Spicer + Cole (9 Princess Victoria Street, Clifton Village, Bristol BS8 4BX. facebook) – I had their flat white done with Extract Coffee’s Unkle Funka twice. Different baristas on different days, same amazing cherry kirsch chocolate bon-bon bomb. Well done.

The search for good coffee in Bristol: Spicer + Cole (Clifton Village, Bristol)
The search for good coffee in Bristol: Spicer + Cole (Clifton Village, Bristol)
The search for good coffee in Bristol: flat white from Spicer + Cole (Clifton Village, Bristol)

Small Street Espresso (23 Small Street, Bristol. facebook) provided a flattie that was a dark chocolate Cointreau bon-bon. Absolutely beautiful.

The search for good coffee in Bristol
The search for good coffee in Bristol: Small Street Espresso, Bristol
The search for good coffee in Bristol: Small Street Espresso, Bristol

More wonderful and satisfying than even the best coffee in Bristol was to go “home” after, to people who loved God, whom God loved, whom I loved, and who loved me. The brothers and sisters and homes promised in Mark 10.

The search for good coffee in Bristol: Small Street Espresso, BristolLady, I felt that good sans a back massage.

But the Mark 10 list that promises houses and brothers and sisters in this lifetime also includes persecutions. And that is already increasing, as it must. Still, we can look forward to, in the very near future, the certain hope of eternal life.

Bristol Pride Day and Same-Sex Attraction

Bristol Pride Day

The roads leading up to Castle Park in Bristol was heaving with all colours of the rainbow. Outside, there were cheerful vendors offering to colour-you-badd with flags (to be used as capes), stickers, hats, and all manner of accessories.

Knitwit Shaun the Sheep on Bristol Pride Day  Bristol Pride Day

Even Shaun the Sheep (Knitwit edition) seemed to get in on the act with his colourful knits. Past the joking bag-checkers, more rainbow flags flew next to the ruins of an old church with great exuberance in the sunshine, as if to say that the old tired narrow-minded religion was dead.

Bristol Pride Day

Bristol Pride DayI enjoyed dancing badly to 80s music (typical!) accompanied by alot of cheeky banter, and chatting to many friendly people.

Bristol Pride DayLater, I obtained a copy of Iris Murdoch’s The Bell from Books for Amnesty, and after, I filched Ed Shaw’s The Plausibility Problem: the church and same-sex attraction from the Is’ bookshelf. Ed Shaw is one of the editors of Living Out, and his book, I thought, was the most insightful of all the pulp on homosexuality I’ve read so far.

Iris Murdoch's "The Bell" and Ed Shaw's "The Plausibility Problem: the church and same sex attraction"

Rather than spitting from his high moral horse, Shaw sensitively but astutely points out what the issues are. Here are some that I hope I haven’t misread:

(1) mistaking sexuality for identity

The Christian’s identity isn’t in his/her sexuality any more than it is in his/her skin colour.

  • We are God’s chosen children (“…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” (Ephesians 1:4-5))
  • We are Jesus’ brothers (“…for he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers…” (Hebrews 2:11))
  • We are God’s heirs with Christ (“So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:7))

(I recall Vaughan Roberts saying that he didn’t want to be going around giving talks on same-sex attraction because that wasn’t the thing that defined him. Much better to be teaching the full counsel of God!)

(2) mistaking what is genetic to be right

Even if there is indeed a “gay gene”, the discussion about right and wrong is not closed. Because the Bible tells us time and again that we are born sinful.

  • For I know my transgressions,
        and my sin is ever before me.
    Against you, you only, have I sinned
        and done what is evil in your sight,
    so that you may be justified in your words
        and blameless in your judgement.
    Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
        and in sin did my mother conceive me.
    Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
        and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
    Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
        wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
    Let me hear joy and gladness;
        let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
    Hide your face from my sins,
        and blot out all my iniquities. (Psalm 51:3-9)

(3) mistakenly assuming what we think will make us happy must be right

But there is an ultimate authority – God the creator and judge of the world. So our ultimate happiness depends on pleasing him, not ourselves.

  • The law of the Lord is perfect,
        reviving the soul;
    the testimony of the Lord is sure,
        making wise the simple;
    the precepts of the Lord are right,
        rejoicing the heart;
    the commandment of the Lord is pure,
        enlightening the eyes;
    the fear of the Lord is clean,
        enduring for ever;
    the rules of the Lord are true,
        and righteous altogether.
  • 10 More to be desired are they than gold,
        even much fine gold;
    sweeter also than honey
        and drippings of the honeycomb.
    11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
        in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11)

Bristol Pride Day

(4) mistaking the sex act for true intimacy

That’s what Hollywood would have us think. But the maker of the universe speaks of friendship that is closer than a man and wife.

  •    I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
    very pleasant have you been to me;
        your love to me was extraordinary,
        surpassing the love of women. (2 Samuel 1:26)

(And in any case, the marriage relationship between a woman and a man are meant to be a visual hint of Christ’s love for the church. (Ephesians 5:32))

(5) erroneously assuming celibacy as an evil

Really, sex isn’t the barometer of a successful life; living for God is. So Paul says to the Corinthians:

  • I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:7-8)
  • 32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:32-35)

(6) erroneously assuming suffering to be bad

But actually, suffering is expected in this life, as it was expected in Jesus’ life. In fact, it was necessary for him and so it is necessary for us:

  • 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

    34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:31-38)

  • 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

    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 8:18-30)

(7) erroneously assuming that heterosexuality is godliness

It is clear from Leviticus and Romans and 1 Corinthians that same-sex attraction acted-upon is against the maker’s design.

  • 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)
  • 13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)
  • 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. (Romans 1:26-27)

There isn’t any point for therapies that claim to change one’s sexual orientation. What God wants isn’t heterosexuality but godliness, being imitators of Christ.

EMA 2013 Engaging with an alien world (2) – same sex attraction – Dan Strange, Ed Shaw and Charlie Skrine. from The Proclamation Trust on Vimeo.

What Charlie Skrine said during the Engaging with an Alien World seminar at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly 2013 is excellent: the biggest issue isn’t what to do with your sex life, it’s to do with your standing with God. And both people attracted to the same sex and the opposite sex have this problem. So what do we pray for for our children? We don’t pray that they won’t grow up to be gay, we pray that they will grow up to be godly – whoever they find themselves attracted to.