On Sunday evening I spoke on Proverbs 5-7 which has much to say to the subject of unfaithfulness.
Proverbs 7 has an extended parable about a simple youth who mindlessly walks past the door of danger and finds himself enticed in, as an ox to the slaughter. And it struck me in preparing that so often these things happen, not because people are planning and plotting affairs (although the Ashley Madison story says otherwise) , but simply because people are daft enough (what Proverbs calls ‘folly’) to walk too close to that door.
It’s a bit like a domino rally – knock the first domino over and who knows where the thing might stop. I encouraged our folk to think about three areas where they might be skirting too close to the door (or the first domino) – touch, time, and tech.
Some people are more touchy-feely than others and so there is potential for a lingering hug, or a hand on an arm or leg, to be misunderstood by someone else. For some folk it may be they spend long periods of time with someone else – perhaps a work conference away, or a ‘quick drink’ after work. If people are tired or emotional we may find someone else who ‘really listens’ to us in a way we might feel our spouse doesn’t. A seed is sown. The line between friendship and ‘something more’ is perhaps blurred in our imagination for a few brief moments. For others it may be the way we use technology – text messages, facebook messages, whatsapp etc etc. Do we secretly quite like a flirty text conversation with someone else?
It’s clearly not an easy subject to be prescriptive about – different personalities in different situations mean we need wisdom (according to Proverbs). But if we’re in any doubt we should exercise care and caution. A misunderstanding is a seed sown which may be allowed to germinate and grow. The domino rally is under way. Proverbs 7 would urge the wise to steer a wide course round the door that leads to unfaithfulness.
Or to use my analogy, don’t play dominoes!
I was doing a bit of work in Luke 19 today and noticed something I’d not really picked up on before. It’s the bit immediately after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem when he goes to the temple and drives out the merchants. Then he quotes from two OT passages. All too often I read the OT quotes in NT books and move on, without stopping to consider too carefully where the quote is from and whether it might have a greater significance. In this instance Jesus quotes two very significant OT passages.
First he quotes from Isa 56 – ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer.’ In context Isa 56 comes at the start of the third major division in Isaiah’s prophecy. The section (Isa 56-66) looks toward a future deliverance, salvation, and restoration for God’s people. Isaiah 56 promises a day of salvation that will come to include all nations. Good news!
Second he quotes from Jeremiah 7 – the ‘den of robbers’ bit. Jeremiah 7 is Jeremiah’s first (of two; see Jer 11) temple sermons which he delivers in the gateway to the Jerusalem temple. The sermon is full of Deuteronomic language and covenantal themes and basically promises that God will come in judgement to destroy the temple because of the people’s wickedness. Bad news!
And Jesus sticks those two well-known prophecies together – one about salvation and one about judgement. Huh? Which is it? Has Jesus come to bring judgement or salvation? Of course the answer is both. For the theologically aware reader we realise that actually it is through judgement that salvation comes. It is as Jesus bears the punishment for wickedness that the way is opened up for people from all nations. It is as one ‘temple’ is destroyed, that another one emerges welcoming all people to come to the place of forgiveness, sacrifice, and cleansing. As one ‘temple’ gets beaten and torn, the place of intercession is opened up. As evil and wickedness are cast, even carried, out, the nations are invited in. How? Because there is a place where Jeremiah 7 and Isaiah 56 are brought together – a place where wrath and mercy meet – where God, the Just, is satisfied to look on him, and pardon me. Amazing news; amazing grace!
Over the summer I re-read The Weight of Glory – a great collection of C.S.Lewis’ addresses. In one address, ‘Is Theology Poetry,’ Lewis recounts what he describes as one of the ‘the finest myths which human imagination has yet produced.’ Here it is, heavily abridged:
“the infinite void, matter restlessly moving to bring forth it knows not what. Then, by the millionth millionth chance the conditions at one point of space and time bubble up into that tiny fermentation which is the beginning of life. Everything seems to be against the infant hero of our drama. But somehow life wins through. With infinite suffering, against all but insuperable obstacles, it spreads, it breeds, from the amoeba up to the plant, to the reptile, to the mammal. Dragons prowl the earth. Then comes forth a little naked, shivering, cowering creature, shuffling, not yet erect, promising nothing, the product of another millionth millionth chance. Yet somehow he thrives. The Cave Man eventually becomes the true Man – master of science and nature – controller of his own fate – a demigod who now rules the planet. Man has ascended his throne. And now, mark the final stroke of genius. All this time Nature, the old enemy, has been steadily gnawing away. The sun will cool, the whole universe will run down. Life will be banished. All ends in nothingness as darkness covers all.”
The drama appeals to us – the early struggle of the hero, his conquering against the odds, the tragic ending. A fine fairytale, but, as Lewis would observe, a fairytale nonetheless.
I really believe that small groups are a crucial part of our discipleship process. They offer a unique environment of life-on-life prayer, support, encouragement, accountability, and growth. On Sunday I gave the following ten reasons as to why our folk should be in one of our midweek prayer and Bible-study groups if they aren’t already:
- You’ll find a warm welcome from friends who will encourage you and pray for you
- You’ll grow in your knowledge, love, and service of the Lord Jesus
- You’ll go deeper in applying God’s word to your life and situation
- You’ll find a place where you can use your gifts in encouraging and praying for others
- You’ll find a place to practically work out the 59 ‘one-anothers’ of the New Testament
- You’ll see, experience, and hear first-hand accounts of answered prayer
- You’ll get to experience the joy of accepting and offering hospitality
- You’ll enjoy great social times (which mostly revolve around food!)
- You’ll have a group of people to connect your friends into
- You’ll have a great time!
What would you add to this list?
This week marks 5 years since I started working with our wonderful church family here at Grace Community Church, Bedford. I’ve learned so much I couldn’t begin to list it all. Many of the things learned have reinforced the things I’ve learned elsewhere – the importance of character, working hard at preaching, drawing alongside people, the value of one-to-ones etc etc.
There’s one thing I’ve learned here that has taken me by surprise, and that is the value of hospitality. Of course I knew (in theory) that leaders should be hospitable and have meetings in their homes and occasionally get people round for Sunday lunch, but I massively underestimated the power of food and homes in the whole process of welcoming and discipling people.
We now have people in our home for food more often than not on a Sunday (and often people in mid-week too). We’ve found it’s a great way to welcome new people, to disciple, to share griefs and joys, to demonstrate love and generosity, to get to know people better, to socialise our own kids (they love it btw), to encourage, and to begin to infuse some of the Grace DNA into others. It’s one of the church’s core values and now I can see why. When a significant proportion of your folk are good at hospitality people in the church grow and new people get integrated much more quickly and easily. If there’s one thing that I suspect many churches aren’t doing that would make a huge difference it’s this – get as many people as you can regularly, habitually opening up their homes and sharing food with new and old alike.