T.M. Suffield

The Motion of God

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Sunday, June 4, 2023
If we chase after experiences we won’t find them, but that if we look to worship God in spirit and truth, we will have dramatic and dynamic encounters with God by his Spirit that will change us, change our churches, change our towns and cities, shake the foundations of the earth, challenge the powers successfully, and occasionally be just a little bit strange.

In my last post in this series filling out my ‘eucharismatic’ manifesto, I argued that the church exists to worship God, and therefore our primary purpose is worshipping God.
However, if you’ve been following along, you might think that this is an odd first step when I have argued that the church is defined by her encounters with God, which seems to shift the focus to us. That’s not right, church isn’t about us, it’s about God.
Except, I’m a Reformed Charismatic; Calvinistic in my understanding of salvation (and more). Which means I want to argue an important point that affects what happens on Sundays, but also everything else in the entire cosmos. It’s this: God always moves first.
When I repent what I discover is that in the counsels of the Almighty God, he first chose me and elected me to life, the Spirit regenerating my heart so that I can respond in faith to his call and repent. When God calls, he makes what he calls for happen.
When I move towards God and meet him, I will always find that he has moved first. God’s kindness is gratuitous, it overflows, what we call grace or gift is how God always works with his people.
It’s because of the Lord’s gracious posture towards us, his movement, that we can speak of the gathered Church as a series of encounters with God, or even of the Church itself as the mystery of the bride encountering the husband, the son encountering the father, the army encountering the general, the Temple bricks encountering the divine presence of Yahweh filling the holy of holies.
When we gather to worship God, he will have graciously ‘presenced’ himself with us. And before you cry that ‘God is everywhere’ and so can’t be especially present, you’re going to need to go and look at the holy of holies again.
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Reenchanting the World

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Saturday, May 27, 2023
So much of the faith is weirder than we’re used to thinking, not just the sensational stuff like angels and Nephilim, but ‘simple’ concepts like Union with Christ. It’s the heart of the Christian view of salvation, yet I rarely hear it talked about in our churches. It’s weird, it’s enchanted, it makes us much smaller and the world much bigger—there are depths beneath your life that we cannot fathom, ‘full of mystery and hope’ as B. F. Westcott puts it.

Walter Bruggeman, in his book Interpretation and Obedience, said that:
The key pathology of our time, which seduces us all, is the reduction of the imagination, so that we are too numbed, satiated, and co-opted to do imaginative work.
We’ve lost our ability to imagine, and the world is flattened for it. The horns of Elfland are silenced, but for those who have heard them there is a hollowness to the sound of this little world, that yearns for something greater.
That yearning, that longing, is the spiritual gift of dissatisfaction, and the ground of joy. Imagination is one of the ways to get to it.
Perhaps you aren’t convinced that we’ve lost our ability to imagine, you can imagine perfectly well, thank you very much! And you can find flights of imaginative fancy cast in glorious technicolour on large and small screens everywhere you go. This is of course, true.
I could point to the two pitfalls of Hollywood at the moment: either the nostalgia trap where we remake old stories again less well or retell the stories of very recent history, or the sequel trap where the films that really make money are just the same story churned out over and over again in different configurations (here’s looking at you MCU).
At the bottom they are of course the same pathology; they’re a lack of new stories to tell. Though, to gently nuance myself, telling the same story in different configurations is an imaginative literary trope that we call ‘typology’ and is all over the Bible. I don’t think the writers of Marvel films are doing this, but you could do something that has repetitive elements with great literary artifice if you are a very skilled writer.
Bruggeman was writing before this was the case in our visual storytelling, though, and you would be able to come up with counterexamples that demonstrate originality, I’m sure. The real way we can tell we’re losing our imagination is that all the fun stuff is now confined to fiction.
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Reading the Whole

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Friday, May 12, 2023
Putting aside that it’s easier to understand a text when you read it all, it is how they were written. Paul expected his letters to be read as a whole and for the church to hear them like this. There’s nothing wrong with reading shorter passages and expounding them—the Bible itself does this frequently—but if we do so without ever catching the whole then we are missing something we’re supposed to have.

A couple of weeks ago I ran an event in Birmingham called ‘Reading 2 Timothy‘, where we did exactly that: read the book of 2 Timothy over the course of a Saturday morning.
It’s a Bible study, which probably doesn’t seem that revolutionary. It probably isn’t that revolutionary, to be honest, but I’ve not seen it done like this elsewhere.
The aim is to read all of the book, within the timeframe we’ve given ourselves so that we can read it in context.
There are six reasons why that’s a good idea:
When we read a particular passage in the context of the surrounding sentences, we understand get insight into what that particular passage does or doesn’t mean.
We can widen the same principle out to the book as a whole: when we read a passage in the context of the whole book we get insight into what it means.
But, more importantly, when we read books of the Bible as a whole we start to understand the thread of the argument they’re making. Most people I know struggle to grasp a sense of a book as a book, there are multiple reasons here, but one of them is that we read in an atomistic way. When we read as a whole, we can follow the story that’s laid out for us.
We also then get to ask questions like, “why did the author put this paragraph here” assuming that the structure of the book itself will teach us.
It’s also difficult to notice the literary artistry of a book without being able to read it through in a sitting (or in four gulps across a morning in this specific case).
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Son of Man

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Thursday, May 11, 2023
Son of Man is the bigger and grander title, and we should read it in two ways: one as here in Psalm 8, the Son of Adam, the Serpent-slayer. The other as in Daniel 7, where Daniel extends the promise of the new Adam to show us that he is God come himself. Son of Man, after Daniel has prophesied at least, is a messianic title larger than just any King, and it’s a title that claims you are the one who will sit at the right hand of the Ancient of Days.

Psalm 8 is about Jesus. Which is not a ‘big’ claim, the Psalms are the book of Christ and they all tell his story in one way or another.
Psalm 8 is a kingly Psalm, that connects itself to the creation and the early chapters of Genesis. We could fruitfully notice the parallels with Psalms 18 and 118, and the way they’re followed by a series of Psalms that also have parallels (9, 19, 119) that echo the initial pillars at the start of the Psalms (1 & 2). We could also note the similarities in those numbers.
But that, interesting though it is, is not what I want to draw your attention to.
In verse 4, here from the ESV, we read:
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Which sounds all wonderfully poetic, and we assume it means something like the NIV’s rendering:
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
Except that I think that’s missing the point, and like the NIV often does, scrubbing Jesus out of the Psalms in the name of inclusivity. If the ‘man’ here was meant to stand for ‘humanity’ then broadening the meaning to clarify and update the usage makes perfect sense.
Let’s follow the thread of the Psalm to see if that’s the case.
In verse one we have an affirmation of God’s ends in creating the world; God created in order to making his name majestic in all the earth:
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
We end in the same place in verse nine. David then says that the Lord has established his strength from the mouths of babes, because of his foes,
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
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Welcome Requires Walls

Written by T.M. Suffield |
Tuesday, May 9, 2023
We need difference—the difference between the Church and world is what we usually call holiness—and then we need to behave like Christians and radically welcome people within the bounds of our homes and churches, without having to knock down all the walls, expecting that the encounters around the table will change all of us.

Sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it? We think we know that to welcome is the very opposite of having a wall up. We’re wrong.
Ivan Illich taught that the welcome of hospitality requires a threshold. By definition, we need to move over a threshold in order to be welcomed. If there is no threshold to move over, I can’t welcome you.
To put it another way, if someone isn’t in some sense an outsider, I can’t welcome them into my space. Why not? Because if they’re already an insider there’s nothing to welcome them into.
We live in cultures that don’t like this from two angles. Either, we loath the idea of walls—groups that are not accessible to everyone without a process of entry—from the angle of inequality, imagining that the only way to get true equity is to tear down the walls.
Or, we are so radically individualistic that we’re instinctively allergic to the idea of welcoming someone into something private enough to have walls. From this angle we either bridle at the idea of walls because we can only imagine welcoming people in the broad public square, or because we cannot imagine welcoming someone into our lives.
I don’t think either of these thrusts is at the surface, these operate at the level of the stories that we live by, the ‘Social Imaginary’ that describes the space we live in, but that’s why the phrase “welcome requires walls” sounds paradoxical to us.
I think this is an important concept for Christians to get hold of if we think, as I do, that hospitality is the solution to many of our societal problems. If hospitality should define both the church and the ‘city,’ and is a broad principle that flows to us from the Cross and is encountered at the Lord’s Supper, then we need to understand that tearing down the walls doesn’t help us.
To take the most literal example, if you come into my home then I’m going to do my best to make you welcome. We will eat together and I will endeavour to treat you like you belong. Nevertheless, it isn’t your home, because if it was then I wouldn’t need to welcome you. You must cross the threshold into my world.
My world comes with my rules, even if we’re talking about as mundane things as which items you can stack in the dishwasher after we’ve eaten, or where the teaspoons live. If I’m a good host then I may well try to make you welcome by shifting some of my rules in your direction: perhaps I won’t serve something that I’ve discovered you don’t like to avoid making the threshold too difficult to cross.
You are still crossing into my world. This is always the case when we eat with someone, we enter their world. That’s as it’s meant to be—not least because we learn how to behave at a table by the grand hospitality of God in the Lord’s Supper. We enter his world as we come to eat, which has his rules. We’re invited, we’re welcome, our transgressions are forgiven, but we don’t pretend for one minute that this is our table.
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God in the Pit

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Saturday, May 6, 2023
We think God’s job is to make our lives nice and easy and straightforward and most of all comfortable. It’s not, and that’s not the path of joy. There is no joy to be found there, only disappointment multiplied. God instead wants to give us himself, nothing more (as if there were more!) and nothing less. There’s a sticking point, though: the gift of God in the pit is not receiving, which will drive our modern mind mad. It’s longing.

Larry Crabb tells story after story in his book Shattered Dreams of people whose lives have been upended by grief and pain and the unexpected mundanity of living.
Tears have become my deepest form of worship, some reflect. They discover deep desires for God, and then a new hurt on top of the cavalcade of grief: he seems to have disappeared. We don’t know where he is. We can’t find him.
This hurt is, Crabb asserts, a hopeful hurt. We find as we push into the pain that there is joy available in God, even if we aren’t happy at all. How does that work? It works because we learn to long. And longing is the ground of joy, of participation in God himself for his own sake.
We struggle with the idea of unfulfilled desire. Many of us will have been able to get anything we want, until we can’t. Even then we’re surrounded by people who can get what they want, often instantly. Even deferred fulfilment sounds like a wound to our machine-catechised souls.
You’re not a smartphone, you’re a tree. And, as Joel Ansett points out, in his song Tragedy is Not the End, your tears are shaped like seeds. That longing, that unfulfilled desire for a world that’s right, that we treat as though experiencing it is the very depths of Hell, is supposed to be a signpost to something greater. It’s longing that takes our hand and leads us towards joy. As Lewis famously said in The Weight of Glory, if we discover a desire within us that cannot be met by anything in the world, then maybe, just maybe, we’re made for another world.
I don’t mean to be trite; longing is a good guide but the path to joy is lined with daggers and full of hairpin corners. It is no easy road. Nothing worth having is ever easy.
Grief is most often how we first learn to long, whether the dull, weary griefs of older relatives dying, or the sudden sharp griefs of loved ones snatched from us unexpectedly, or the aching absence of the grief of what will never be however much we miss it, or the tiny death-by-pinpricks of the grief of dreams smashed into a thousand pieces.
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Childlike Delight

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Sunday, April 30, 2023
We’re meant to grow up into Christ (Ephesians 4). And yet doing so will make us delighted children. There’s something so wonderfully restful about the idea of being able to take pleasure in the same thing over and over again. It’s a sign of the way sin has twisted our tastes and desires that we are unable to do so.

There’s a quote from G.K. Chesterton I’d like to share with you:
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
It’s one of the 16 quotes I have pasted up on my wall above my desk where I’m writing this post. I could think about it endlessly.
I wonder if to some of us it sounds oddly irreverent, suggesting that God is like a child, even though he asked us to be like them (Matthew 18). I think his impulse is right, that sin makes us old—in the sense of decayed—and that the regenerating power of the Spirit is new life in the sense of youth.
We should be careful here, we live in an age obsessed with youth in a way that Chesterton didn’t, and it’s also paradoxically true that we are supposed to mature (1 Corinthians 14) through our Christian lives. We’re meant to grow up into Christ (Ephesians 4).
And yet doing so will make us delighted children. There’s something so wonderfully restful about the idea of being able to take pleasure in the same thing over and over again. It’s a sign of the way sin has twisted our tastes and desires that we are unable to do so.
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The Martyr Complex

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Saturday, April 15, 2023
Essentially, dear sweet people who love Jesus very much think it’s Godly to absolutely crush themselves with responsibilities in and around the church community. It isn’t. Please stop it. This might be motivated by a desire to ‘work’ our salvation or to ‘strive’ towards Jesus. It might be motivated by a sense that we’re supposed to kill ourselves for Jesus (no, we’re meant to kill our selves—harder but less hard work). I think most of the time it’s neither, it’s more likely that they’re good hearted people who take on more bit by bit over time and don’t think it’s OK to say “no” to something.

So often I meet people in churches I’ve been involved in or from elsewhere who are working incredibly hard for Jesus. It’s laudable but it rarely looks to me like the Way of Jesus.
Jesus taught a way of ease, with kind yokes and light burdens (Matthew 11). We should be disciplined (1 Corinthians 9), but we shouldn’t be driving ourselves into the ground.
So often I meet people in churches I’ve been involved in or from elsewhere who are drifting for Jesus. It’s distressing, but I wonder if the church has really done very much to help them get away from it.
Stop Being Martyrs
I think that one of the reasons some people are drifting and others are driving themselves into the ground is because the overworked don’t ask those with no discipline to do anything.
I understand why, ‘ask a busy person if you want something done,’ the business proverb goes. It’s true too, as anyone who has led people knows. They’re competent and do things well and it’s all straightforward. Great, but those aren’t values of the Kingdom. I love it when everything in my church is done really well, why wouldn’t I? But when that gets in the way of asking something else to do anything it’s not a good desire. It’s actually my sinful desire for perfection and it needs to get in the bin.
I don’t think the only problem is that the leaders won’t ask them to do things, they don’t ask because it’s easier to ask the same old people. Which isn’t good, but why do those same old people keep saying, “yes!” with such (fake) enthusiasm? I think it’s because they’re martyrs.
This is especially prevalent in people who helped to plant a church or are on staff, but it can appear wider than that. Essentially, dear sweet people who love Jesus very much think it’s Godly to absolutely crush themselves with responsibilities in and around the church community. It isn’t.
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The Need for Christian Formation

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Friday, April 7, 2023
The answer to formation is not “more preaching” it’s community. You need to be in thick community with other Christians who you talk to every day. That takes years of work, so you need to start by starting. It’s OK if the good stuff comes for your generation’s children, keep plugging away at genuine community. Don’t assume that a midweek group is this, though it can be a place to get to know people to do it with. If you’re a church leader, your people won’t live this way unless you do.

It’s common for people to point out that in the average church you’ve got at best two hours of people’s time a week to use to form them towards Christ—you might get a third of them for another two hours midweek—and everything else that is trying to form them has about six and a half days to do so.
It’s a fatal equation. We start with the fact that we are being catechised by everything we view on our phones, all the TV we watch, the games we play, the ads we see, and a bunch of structural artifacts in the world at large. All of it shapes us.
The classic way of framing it is that the Christian is more formed by their favourite Insta influencer than by their Pastor. That might be true. I think this is a real problem, but to get the shape of it right I’d like to push back in two directions on the way I’ve framed it.
Firstly, the things that are forming us are forming us in lots of directions. Some of them are bad, some of them are explicitly towards Christ, the vast majority are mixed phenomena. For example, it’s not so easy to say that the motorcar is explicitly terrible and should be eschewed by all people, even though it has had a long series of unintended effects on the way we understand and interact with the world and the church, some of which I think are really bad.
It’s not that the content we’re consuming might happen to be Christian, I’m a little leary of the idea of Christian content in the first place, but even if we assume it’s all good stuff my point is that all the other things that form us do so in a variety of directions. In other words, we can formed in ‘good’ directions that Christians can use to form themselves towards Christ by things that are not necessarily forming them towards Christ per se. All truth is God’s truth.
Though, I’m not sanguine about the average Christian’s ability to find dredge gold from the bottom of a murky pond without swallowing a whole lot of pond water. We need training and formation to learn how to do this.
Secondly, I don’t think counting the number of hours we do something is the only way to see the impact it has on us. Preaching, for example, is an act of encountering Christ by the Spirit in the text. It is inherently more powerful than the vast majority of everyday activities.
However, it’s also the case that we think modern devices like smartphones have greater formative effects on us than most technology that existed before them. I say ‘we think’ because everything here is very new and we’ve opened ourselves to a whole world without really thinking it through. The principalities and powers are strongly in evidence.
The problem isn’t as simple as counting the hours—which means the solution won’t be to be ‘in church’ for more hours than we’re outside of it.
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Language Matters

Written by T.M. Suffield |
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
When we use inhuman words to describe ourselves, we slowly imagine ourselves less human. In time we become less human because our metaphors matter. In the church, the great Spirit-filled vehicle of becoming more human as we become more like Jesus, more like the world that sin made us forget, we should be especially careful to use metaphors which advance our shared humanity.

The words that we use create the categories that we think in. Language is upstream of thought.
Which sounds like a completely crazed thing to say, I imagine, though I’ve touched on the concept before when explaining why we can’t be ‘fixed’ and why ‘family’ is not a helpful term to use for the church, unless you actually are one.
The metaphors that we use are often inspired by the world around us, but they come with an implicit set of assumptions that then create categories for us. Almost as though our metaphors are ploughs that run furrows down the fields of our minds. To think across the furrows is difficult work and can sound bizarre to those who thoughts flow neatly and clearly along them.
This is the principle at play in Orwell’s famous novel 1984. Language is tightly controlled, with the dictionary being reprinted regularly, because the words we do and don’t use surround the edges of our thinking like fences that keep the sheep from straying. It’s a rare sheep who decides to play on the other side of the fence anyway—these madmen are sometimes those who revolutionise the way we approach our lives and thoughts, and sometimes they are just madmen.
Language makes an incredible tool of control, and often unwittingly we let forces we are unaware of control us through its use.
You can see this at play in most of our lives. To take a church example, imagine a church is Complementarian by conviction—which means that they understand the Bible’s witness to be that elders or pastors are, by definition, men—like mine is. Then imagine that they are concerned that their application of true Biblical principles can unjustly prevent women from serving in ways that God would call them to: I think this is common, though plenty of Complementarians would disagree with me.
That church then calls women into a variety of ‘leadership’ positions that are not eldership, depending on their convictions as to where they draw those lines. If they start to use the same terminology to speak of all of these various people, office-bearers or not, perhaps calling them all ‘leaders’ generically, then to begin with their Complementarian convictions will be fine.
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