Monday, October 31, 2005

The Necessity of Atheism (1811)

My relative Percy Bysshe* Shelley got kicked out University for distributing leaflets on the necessity of atheism. I find strange irony that almost two centuries later I'm engaged in the opposite endeavour on university campuses in the UK.... I hope over the coming weeks to write some answers to his questions. If anyone else wants to try, feel free to...

*the Bysshe bit got changed to Bish somewhere between 1811 and now

Grace on the road: Part 4 of 7

Part 1 - Eternal life is for those who know Jesus
Part 2 - Eternal life comes to those who ask
Part 3 - Eternal life transforms this life

Part 4 - Eternal Life is for the Humble
LUKE 13v22-14v35:

Our journey with Jesus into the nature of Authentic Spirituality continues. Now we’re confronted with the nature of true greatness… in a radical confrontation with religious pride and selfish ambition Jesus redefines what it means to be great. To follow him will mean being last, being humbled. And ironically this will in fact entail great gain – great exaltation for us. We’re warned to make sure we know what we’re getting into, but the rewards are infinite.

13-30. Luke again shows us Jesus interacting with people on the road. Here, as he goes along teaching, someone asks him a question – “are only a few going to be saved”

Jesus turns a potentially academic question back on those listening. “make every effort to enter” his words are urgent. A plea for them to respond to what they’ve heard. Urgent because, “many will try... and will not be able to”. Many will find themselves unexpectedly locked out of life. Cut off from the world that was made for them.

They’ll be able to plead their encounters will Jesus. They saw him in the crowd. But they must be known by Him, not just know him. In a celebrity age we’re so clearly aware of this. It is not the same to know lots about someones life as it is to actually know them.

There will be much misery and anger when people are locked out of life – Abraham will get life, so too Isaac and Jacob, and the prophets… but many will not. Even large numbers from the nations… but not those who expected it as their birthright. Those who look like the last candidates for life will gain it… those who look the greatest will be locked out of life.

31-35. Jesus continues to walk towards his death… and the Pharisees approach him to warn him of the danger he faces from Herod. But Jesus is steadfast they will not keep him from his business. They want to stop him from preaching, but he knows what his life is about. He knows why he entered this world. He has come and will go to his death in Jerusalem (v22). It must be that way. For Jerusalem kills the prophets – those who will inherit life, killed at the hands of many who will be locked out of life. Who will see him?

1-24. Luke moves us on again. And we find Jesus on the Sabbath, in the house of a prominent Pharisee. They plot to kll him. The self-exalters have been warned, yet still Jesus will go to them. They watch him carefully, watching for any kind of mistake. A sick man comes to Jesus – Jesus asks the Pharisees, the experts, would it be unlawful to heal the man… they are silent, and so Jesus heals him. Jesus asks them again – would you pull your ox out of a well on the Sabbath… they have nothing to say.

They simply seek high places for themselves – but Jesus warns them to humble themselves… they can be exalted later… but if they remain proud they will be moved down. True greatness will be about humility. That will be the mark of authentic spirituality.

And there is warning against false humility - inviting others for dinner is the mere appearance of humility if really it is seeking to advance the social-standing of the inviter. Familiarity with Jesus and acts of false-piety are not what is required.

The conversation continues at the table. Jesus is acknowledged for his fine words – blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God. What an image of life – a great banquet, guests of King Jesus. And Jesus replies. True. Jesus tells of how many will be invited. And then they will be called to come and take their place at the table… but respond only with empty excuses. Trivial. Stupid. Nonsensical. For there is no good reason to turn down a place at the banquet. And so, in their absence the low-life will be brought in. The unexpected welcomed. And the first invited people will be left outside.

25-35. All of a sudden Luke takes us back out on the streets with Jesus. Jesus tells the crowds around him of the cost of truly following him. V28-30 spell it out in the language of building – check you can afford to build before you lay foundations, or 31-32… before going to war, check you can win… else seek peace. If costs the world to follow Jesus… make sure you’re prepared to pay the price. But know that it is worth paying! Don't just start well – continue to the end!

And the assurance flows through these incidents. Those who leave everything for Jesus will gain life. True Greatness – Humility! Authentic Spirituality is for the Humble.


What does it mean to achieve “true greatness” – for us, for our friends…?

vv24-27, What are the main points Jesus' makes in answer to the question in v23?
vv28-30, Who gets eternal life? What doesn’t qualify?

What are the pharisees trying to do?
What does Jesus say about Jerusalem?
How does this clarify 13v30?
Why is Jesus going to Jerusalem?

What is Jesus point when he talks about seating arrangements? (see v11)
What does this teach about who gets eternal life?
What is wrong with the excuses people make?
What does this parable teach about the availability of eternal life?

Jesus uses two illustrations to make a point – what's the point? What does this teach us about who gets eternal life, and how?
Summarise What is Jesus’ message about the nature of authentic spirituality?
How can we develop humility in the cell community?
How does this affect our message to the world?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Relevance of Preaching

"Preaching must be relevant, I'm sure we would agree. But was does "relevant" mean? Who determins what is relevant and on what basis..... we frequently begin by "scratching where it itches". We start with a commonly felt need or problem, which may be anything from low self-esteem to animal rights or global warming. There is nothing wrong with such an approach, and, indeed, it may be necessary in some situations. But reducing the Christian message to a pragmatic one of helping us feel better or make the world a better place to line in.... the gospel not only defines the problem and God's response to it, it should also define the Christian buzz words that we use to assess sermons and talks. One might be tempted to say that two thousand people at a convention can't be wrong when there is almost total approval of the speak's addresses. At the risk of sounding a little cynical, I would have to say that it is entirely possible for them to be wrong. So much depends on what people have been taught to expect. It is not only possible but highly probably, unless we are constantly vigilant in this matter, that human nature will take over. In short, what is relevant is defined by the gospel; what is helpful is defined by the gospel. The first question to ask is not, "Was it relevant?"; "Did I find it helpful?"; or "Were we blessed?"; but "How did the study/sermon testify to Christ and his gospel as the power of God for salvation?"" Graeme Goldsworthy, p61-62, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture
I read this before our church meeting today. David Horrocks then preached on the aftermath of the flood in Genesis 8v15-9v17 pointing us to the goodness of God to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Goodness in providing a new way of dealing with sin (8v20). Goodness in renewing his blessing on humanity (9v1)
Goodness in making a promise (9v8-11). Highly relevant!

The Value of Church History

Listening to: The Story of Calvinism, by Phil Johnson.
Church history is vital to know - to see the errors that have come again and again, and to be drawn again to the truth. I become a Christian as an arminian by default, like Phil Johnson did, before latterly seeing that the Bible teaches a calvinist teaching on God's grace and God's sovereignty... rather than elevation of free will. Calvinism is much misunderstood and much maligned and yet full of life, since it is the teaching of the scriptures. Listen and learn :)

Reading: Five English Reformers, JC Ryle
JC Ryle writes with a strong anti-catholic polemic, but quite rightly draws our attention to the heart of the gospel, and the need to stand for it. I'm struck reading the stories of the martyred reformers that they stood against transubstantiation - that is, that the bread and wine of communion actually become Jesus' body and blood. What's so bad about that? That it turns the thing into a re-sacrificing of Christ... in which case Christ's death was not sufficient, nor obtained solely by faith... and it perverts christian ministry into priesthood. In essence, the gospel is denied. Such things are worth standing against, we must continue to do so.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

"the true heart of the Bible's message is 'I love you'"

Recieved this in a e-mailout this week...

"One of the truly bizarre things about Christianity is the way we humans see the message through tinted spectacles. And not always rose-tinted, either.

The Bible seems to say contradictory things. (I know I'm going to raise a few eyebrows here, but bear with me for a while.) One of the most frequently repeated phrases talks of God's "steadfast love and tender mercy". Yet in other places it refers to God's "fierce anger", sometimes directed towards nations who were abusing his own people, sometimes directed to his own people themselves. How can we square "fierce anger" with "steadfast love"?

Part of an answer begins with the Bible's insistence that there is a fundamental unity at the heart of things. The Lord your God is One. So if God's people experience painful times then God must lie behind that experience; there is (as a famous politician used to say) no alternative. So painful experiences like that were attributed to God's "fierce anger". It didn't really fit the picture they had of God's steadfast love and tender mercy. The "fierce anger" was the anomaly they found hard to fit into their system. It bugged them so much they lost sight of the "steadfast love".

At the beginning of his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul unpacks this a bit further. He's talking about sin, and in the course of his conversation he mentions of list of things that, today, might provoke lurid headlines in the tabloid press -- or even in Spark! Many of us would say in response "there's the heart of the problem; if people stopped behaving like that everything would be fine." But Paul makes it clear that lifestyles like this are the consequence, not the cause, of the problem. God is saying, in effect: "OK, I've given you the choice. If you really want a life that has no space for me, that's fine, go ahead, you shall have your heart's desire. But don't be surprised if things don't turn out quite the way you thought they would."

And all this happens because of our habit of looking at God through spectacles that see only God's "fierce anger" and not God's "steadfast love". So we despise the fiercely angry God, and don't see the God of steadfast love. Remember, the message God wants you to hear is "I love you", not because he's kidding you and the real agenda is "fierce anger", but because that truly is God's nature.

If you think God's fierce anger is getting at you, or even the idea of God's fierce anger, then remember the true heart of the Bible's message is "I love you".


**** ***** (Methodist Chaplain)"
Erm, helpful to address a conflict that is sometimes observed beween God's wrath and love.... however I think the chaplain finds the wrong solution...

Like it or not, God is wrathful - he hates sin, and he hates sharing his glory with anyone else. Yesterday Ed and I were studying Ezekiel 35-36, God will not let the nations magnify themselves over him.... God will act for his own glory. He is jealously angry for his own name. Our problem is our deep lack of zeal for God's name. A really big problem for us, one that puts us on the wrong side of God.

Yes, undoubtedly God loves. But before he loves us, he loves his own name. And his love for his name, and for us are clear to see. Not by sweeping his wrath under the carpet, but at the Cross of Christ, the centre of all our theology, all our faith... the place where God's love, wrath and righteouessness are most revealed, the place where wrath and mercy meet...

Elsewhere on the same theme as the chaplain, but bringing truth rather than denying it, Phil Johnson brings us more of Spurgeon.... no punishment required?. Helping us to see that Messrs Chalke et al, are certainly out of line with baptist history, and out of line with scripture.

Jesus rules by his word

January 1997, an interview at Warwick University. I was offered a place to study Maths, conditional on getting AAB in my A-Levels. Last night I returned to speak to the Christian Union, on Mark 4v1-34.

I'm delivering this talk again somewhere else soon so any comments/feedback welcome.


Theme – Jesus rules by his word
Aim – That we submit to Jesus' rule, believing his word and receiving forgiveness from him!


Charlie Brown says - “It doesn't matter what you believe, so long as you're sincere” - is truth now irrelevant, surpassed by sincerity... didn't feel like that as David Cameron was asked if he took drugs as a student... his refusal to answer met with great offense....

Some try to say, truth is a thing of the past – arrogant... unnecessary... And yet no one likes to be lied to.

Someone once said that if someone tells you that there is no such thing as truth... then they are asking you not to believe them. So don't. We simply can't live without making truth claims.

Much of the problem with truth claims comes from problems with authority.... we don't want others to rule over us. This is the age of independence. We want autonomy.

And as students you've recently gained much of that... leaving home transfers much authority from teachers and parents, to you. You decide when or if to get up... you decide when to eat... you decide whether to attend lectures.

But you're still under authority. The University has authority – expressed in words – to be able to throw you out if you fail you exams. Truth matters in the exam hall.... And your stomach speaks loud and clear over you if you don't shop and don't eat.

Our distaste for authority probably comes from a distaste for being told what to do. Isn't authoroity repressive and restrictive? Are so are words then since they're used to control & command... we rebel! We say, if I ruled the world... it'd be better.... so though does George W. Bush and beauty queens pleading for world peace.

Truth and authority are part of life. And even the most verhment postmodernist still expects you to rightly interpret what they write in their books.
Friends we find ourselves gathered around an open Bible.... around a book that is all about Jesus Christ... we're searching for the truth, and we'll find that the truth is searching for us. He'll invite us to consider his words, and to accept them... with vast consequences. He's not looking for us to accept what isn't true – that would be to ask for us to be na├»ve. And he's not looking to show us that its not true and ask us to accept it... that would be insane. No, Jesus invites us to hear him speak and accept what he says on the basis of that.

In chapters 1-3 of his book Mark has shown us Jesus. Walking, talking and doing stuff. And the picture is a bit weird:

On the one hand Jesus is doing exorcisms and healings. He's forgiving people and teaching with authority. He's walking around like he owns the place. And even God speaks from heaven to say – This is my Son. Hey everyone this is God walking on the earth. Clothed in human flesh. Come take a look. Listen in! And people are – the crowds are vast around him. Whole towns flocking to him.

And yet, on the other hand.... Jesus is accused of being demonic and blasphemous and lawless by some. And even his own family say he's insane. And those who oppose him like this begin to plot to kill him.

This is no Jesus meek and mild loved by everyone. Jesus is causing a stir. Jesus is dividing the crowds. Some people say – Oh if Jesus walked in here I'd believe in him. The beginnings of Mark's book about Jesus suggest otherwise. Many who met him hated him.

As we reach chapter 4 Mark continues to tell us about King Jesus. The book is all abot King Jesus... and we find Jesus again among the crowds. Preaching from a boat a little off shore. There is perfume and poison in the air. Some listen with bated breath... others seek to catch him uttering heresy.... he opens his mouth to speak... four parables... familiar words to many of us.... he speaks... .

The big message is this:


Jesus starts with a parable. Seemingly the carpenter turned preacher and miracle worker is abandoning his message to educate in agriculture. Its about seeds and soil. V9. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” There's something here... but what is it.... we must read on.

And so that brings us to the hard teaching of v10-13.... not actually that hard to understand. Its sort of straight forward... but it may be hard for us to accept.
   10When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12so that,
   " 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
      and ever hearing but never understanding;
   otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'[]"
    13Then Jesus said to them, "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?

Jesus teaches the secret of the kingdom – another way of saying – the gospel of Jesus Christ – his good news. They are given it, but outsiders have it hidden from them. He is deliberate and careful in his teaching.

WHY? V12 - “so that”
Jesus quotes Isaiah 6, modified slightly – healing in Isaiah becomes forgiveness here.... Parables, contrary to popular thinking, are not mere illustrations, but expressions of Jesus' rule... they enable Jesus to teach in such a way that some will see but not perceive, and hear but not understand...

WHY? V12
Because otherwise they might turn and be forgiven. Jesus teaching examines its hearers declaring forgiven or unforgiven over them. Some will receive the gospel and find forgiveness. Others will reject the gospel and are held back from forgiveness – judged by Jesus. Jesus teaching serves to bring forgiveness to some, but also to express God's judgement to others.

“Some will be pardoned
...and some will be punished”

This is probably difficult teaching for us to get. Not because its hard words but because they test our hearts. It's not new teaching – Isaiah did the same.... God's rule being expressed through words.... Jesus offers forgiveness. King Jesus has authority to give life through his words. Nothing new. It's been going on since the day Jesus spoke the Universe into being.

And v13 – Jesus says that its essential to get this. The parable that preceeded is the test case for all of Jesus' teaching. Fail to get this and you fail to find forgiveness. This is strong language! This is Jesus ruling by his word, bringing life and death.

What is so special about this parable? We need to see Jesus' explanation of the parable. His agriculture lecture turns out not to be about agriculture! Its about his teaching.

V14 – the farmer sows the word. The seed is the word. His teaching. And there are different responses to this word. As Jesus expresses his rule there are different responses. It seems that only one in four has an ultimately positive response....

v15 – satan snatches away the word from some

v16-17 – others receive with initial joy but then have no root so die in the face of opposition, opposition that comes because of the word... persecution... ridicule...

v18 – others receive the word but are then choked by “the cares of the world”, “the deceitfulness of riches” “desires for other things”.... receiving the word is supposed to take over – to lead us to Jesus as our greatest treasure of all... and yet for some other things will always have more appeal.

These are the “outsiders” who fail to find forgiveness. It looks grim. 3 out of 4 get a bad result. These are the ones worked by the parables so that they do not get forgiveness. And yet as the parable ends all is not lost.

V20 – BUT, those who were sown on good soil are the ones who “hear the word and accept it”... and bear fruit 30, 60, 100 times...

These are the “insiders” - the word brings them great life and fruitfulness and forgiveness. They find King Jesus! They hear! They accept! They bear fruit! This is Jesus ruling by his word, bringing life and death.

As Jesus speaks he examines people. Notice that throughout this chapter again and again “he said” “he said” “he said”. As he speaks the word is sown.... the parable lived out in what he is doing. I've used a more literal translation tonight to highlight that. More dynamic translations can mask the repetition to make things more readable.... Jesus is speaking again and again... examining us as he does so...

The bottom line is the way that we respond to the word, to Jesus' word – the gospel – determines whether we find forgiveness. We might like to try and work out which of four categories someone is in... but that's not the point. 3 of 4 end in death, 1 in 4 to life. Every person who hears Jesus' word, who reads these pages is being examined by the word. There's no fence to sit on. No neutral ground. This is Jesus ruling by his word, bringing life and death.

The parable is mindnumbingly simple. And yet the truth it expresses is mindblowingly wonderful if we will humble ourselves to receive it. What you do with these simple words of Jesus rule says whether you get life or death. This is Jesus ruling by his word, bringing life and death.

This is the grace of God in action. How? Because you don't have to be a good person to receive Jesus word. This gospel is offered to the good and the bad, to the wise and to fools.... Jesus offers forgiveness... He is the King of Grace... God's great king who alone can forgive....

The problem for us is that we want to presume that forgiveness is our fight. Its what the good God does – he forgives... isn't it? No forgiveness is not a right, its not something we deserve. Its the very opposite of what we as rebels against God's rule deserve. Its something that has to be given by God and which comes at great cost... the cost of Jesus' life laid down in place of ours. This is the word of the gospel, this is Jesus rule... bringing life and death.

The hard hearted will refuse God's offer – his gospel message.... but know this – King Jesus comes as a rescuer.... he comes, speaks, rules... to offer life – but not on our terms – life under his rule... life rescued by him. This is the word of the gospel, this is Jesus rule... bringing life and death.

As we examine Jesus words... he examines us. How we handle God's word says everything about where we stand with him – or rather, how it handles us says it. The gospel comes to rule, dividing between us... will we accept Jesus' word – his gospel message...... If we have a problem with his word, then we have a problem with him. This is Jesus ruling by his word, bringing life and death.

Jesus concludes with three more parables... testing and examing our hearts. We'll consider them briefly.

21-24 Jesus rules by his word revealing himself
When we see the double-edged purpose of Jesus word, to judge and to give life we might think he's being evasive and making it hard for us. But with a parable – he reminds us that he is revealing himself to us – a lamp shining, not to be hidden, but to be seen....... Jesus is not being evasive. Some reject him – but thats not because he's not available to be accepted.... Will we take offense and cover our ears... or will be accept his rule and his offer of life? Jesus rules by his word revealing himself!

26-29 Jesus rules by his word, working in us.
The Word of Jesus works those who hear it. It speaks to us. None of us has a neutral relationship to the words of Jesus. Either we believe them and they approve us, or we refuse them and they deny us. The Word is working in us, working us over. We don't need to be harranged by the word or pinned to the wall by a preacher – but it works us.

A parable explains it – its like a seed growing... all by itself.... will we let the word work our hearts... will we let the gospel shine light where there is darkness and expose our rebellion against God? Will we let it expose our need of forgiveness... and then accept its offer of forgiveness. The word is not dead and inactive – is examining us. Jesus rules by his word, working in us!

30-34 Jesus rules by his word, from weakness to fruitfulness
Someone, even Jesus expressing his rule through his teaching might not look impressive enough. It might look feeble, but this is God at work and even a small thing can have the biggest impact.

A parable ilustrates – the word looks weak, like a mustard seed, that seed grows into a vast plant... the gospel might look like a weak offer of grace to people who need forgiveness... but that is the power of God. Will we accept it? Jesus rules by his word, from weakness to fruitfulness

Jesus is ruling, will you accept his rule?
Does the gospel have its rule over you? Is Jesus King over you? While you study your degree will you let God's word examine you daily? Will you let it master you? Jesus is ruling, will you accept his rule?

Someone objects, Jesus wouldn't keep people from forgiveness... King Jesus rules, and the reality is that some reject his rule. It'd be tragic if you took offense at Jesus teaching. Jesus is the King, and as rebels we deserve judgement... take offense at this and you exclude yourself from the forgiveness he would offer you... you place yourself under his judgement. Everyone is accountable to God – where will you stand? Jesus is ruling, will you accept his rule?

Someone objects, Jesus isn't like this... No, he is. It'd be tragic if you tried to form your own kind of Jesus... a lost Jesus found by you, shaped in your own image. That would be to stand over King Jesus, not under his rule... that would be to opt out of forgiveness. This is the King of grace offering life. Jesus is our judge, we are not his judge. Jesus is ruling, will you accept his rule?

Jesus is ruling, will you call others under his rule? We must first apply this to ourselves, but what then for you as a Christian Union, corporately and scattered?

Quite simply if you're to bring others to know Jesus them the word will be the means. You'll not need gimmicks or flashy presentation – but simply to faithfullly share God's word with each other – teach the gospel daily and weekly... to everyone. Jesus is ruling, will you call others under his rule?

Words will always be necessary for this task. Open up the Bible with those around you. About 15 years ago, here at Warwick two freshers decided to do that. They gave out copies of John's gospel to everyone on campus, inviting them to come and study the Bible. For a time, there were two non-Christians for every member of the Christian Union, coming to Bible studies each weak. That might look a weak approach, but that is how God's rule extends... how the gospel spreads... It's not magic or bible bashing... its simply calling people to consider Jesus. he is speaking... . Jesus is ruling, will you call others under his word?

Friends, let us live under the rule of the gospel – under the rule of Jesus' words. King Jesus, who rules by his word. Amen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Elizabethtown & the cinema in 2005

Just home from free empire preview of Elizabethtown. Superb, funny.... all about life. Probably the best film I've seen this year.

Directed by Cameron Crowe (Vanilla Sky, Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire), starring Orlando Bloom (with an american accent, hmmm), and Kirsten Dunst (v.funny). A rambling journey of discovery - bit like Almost Famous I suppose.... Guy loses a company like Nike a billion dollars and meets a girl as he learns to enjoy life. And as always with Crowe, to the accompaniment of an excellent soundtrack.

FILM 2005: Updated, October 2005.
Not a classic year at the cinema yet but looking a whole lot better now than earlier this year....

1. Elizabethtown (superb, success, failure, life)
2. The Island (mindless fun)
3. Hotel Rwanda (deeply moving)
4. Hitchhiker (crazy fun)
5. Broken Flowers

6. Melinda and Melinda
7. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (not quite the royal tennenbaums)
8. Hitch (funny i suppose)
9. Sin City (wierd, cool)
10. A Lot Like Love (life, plan, love)

And some we missed at the cinema from 2004 and saw on DVD....
1. The Village
2. Garden State
3. Enduring Love
4. Collateral
5. House of Flying Daggers

UK Film Releases 2005

thebluefish - FILM 2004: Top 10... Eternal sunshine, Incredibles, Huckabees....

Monday, October 24, 2005

Now thats what I call pastoral care

"If the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he knows the Lord's will but does not mean to attend to it, you are not to pamper his presumption, but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved. Do not suppose that the Gospel is magnified or God glorified by going to the worldlings and telling them that they may be saved at this moment by simply accepting Christ as their Saviour, while they are still wedded to their idols, and their hearts are still in love with sin. If I do so, I tell them a lie, pervert the Gospel, insult Christ, and turn the grace of God into lasciviousness."
Ouch. C.H. Spurgeon. (HT: Rebecca Writes) Can you imagine the offense that would be taken if we did that today? Are we offended by Spurgeon? Or perhaps by Jesus himself?
See also: Spurgeon Archive, by Phil Johnson - today blogging Spurgeon on Substitionary Atonement

Grace on the road: Part 3 of 7

Part 3: Eternal life affects this life, be ready, repent

At first glance this long section might look quite unconnected. But its not!
An overall theme of how Eternal Life transforms this life. The saying often goes that some people are too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use. This passage totally refutes that. In fact we see that only the heavenly minded will be of any real earthly use.

13-21. The parable of the Rich Fool. This is a simple parable. The point is explicit at the end – this life is accountable to God – we should be rich towards God not storing up riches for ourselves. Life is more precious than earthly treasures – and when God calls us to account that is all we have. Be rich towards God.
22-34. The theme continues. One might easily turn when told to let go of earthly treasures, to worry…. And Jesus now addresses anxiety. Over and over he shows the futility of worry… our lives are valuable, God will provide for us. This must be believed. It is a belief issue. And in conclusion – where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. A life of materialism (13-21) or anxiety (22-34) betrays an absence of eternal life.

35-59. The theme continues, though its focus changes a little. Jesus speaks of being watchful (37), and later of interpreting the times (56) – like weather forecasting. Interpreting the times is then connected to reward (44) or punishment (48). The latter tied to how much is entrusted to us. The same is said later in v59 – see the need to settle your disputes else prison will come. Settle your account with God.
We also see hints of what Jesus brings – and peace in this world isn’t one of them (51). In fact judgement is coming. Jesus speaks this himself. These are strong warnings. There are accounts with God to be settled. There is debt to deal with. There is poverty that needs to be made history. Our standing with God in this life is of fundamental importance for eternal life.
Interpret the times. Take action.

1-9. Now the theme intensifies further. Luke tells us of people coming to see Jesus. They tell of human atrocity carried out by Pilate, and of a natural disaster as a tower collapsed. The enquiry is concerned with whether this was punishment for sin. But Jesus is emphatic – do not think that these people were being punished for sin. Do not think they were worse sinners than you. Rather, v3 and v5, interpret the times – REPENT, or you too will perish. You will die – but you may also perish. The point of pain is repent…. This is not portrayed so that you can draw a line that says God strikes one person down to make someone else repent… rather than when in God’s sovereign world suffering happens our interpretation should not concern why God allowed this suffering… but rather… have I repented. Jesus simply turns the spotlight on us.

The same point rises from the parable that follows the conversation. A final warning is being given. This life now offers your final opportunity to repent. Do so. This has huge implications for us and for friends, family and those not known to us. The situation is urgent.

10-21. Jesus comes to bring news of impending judgement, but also news of available life. Jesus declares freedom, v12, 16. He does wonderful things (17). The kingdom is spreading from little to infect the world.

Eternal life affects this life, be ready, repent

Are material things good or bad? Does God care about your debt, your money, your possessions?

What is Jesus’ view of life?
What appeals are made to disciples? (v22-34)
How do we then combat anxiety?
Summarise the point of this section.

READY? 12v35-59
What is the result of failing to interpret the times?
What will you do with your understanding of the times?
What will that look like in your life?

REPENTANT? 13v1-21
How must we interpret the times? (1-9)
How does Jesus tell us to respond when we see natural disaster or human atrocity?
How does 13v10-17 contribute to this?

From what you’ve seen in 12v13-13v21…
How is eternal life affecting this life? (be specific)
How does readiness and repentance mark your life?

Grace on the road
Part 1: Eternal Life comes by knowing Jesus
Part 2: Eternal life comes to those who ask, not those who act

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Grace Church Bristol

This weekend we visited the in-law's an took the opportunity to visit some friends, Matt & Lizzie, at Grace Church, Bristol. Grace Church is the only Sovereign Grace Ministries church in England (there are also two in Wales). So, apart from hearing CJ Mahaney at the New Frontiers conference in July, this was our first first-hand encounter with SGM. Superb!

The church is small and very friendly - they advertise themselves as being "by his grace - for his glory" and that rings true in action. The wonders of the Cross and the importance of God's word are evident in their meeting. It was great to sing truth-packed songs like Before the throne of God Above and A Debtor to Mercy Alone.

Pastor Nathan Smith preached on the Omniscience, Omnipresence and Omnipotence of God from Psalm 139, in a series on the charater of God. He directed us to join David in praising God because of his character and to be humbled and comforted. This really struck me - we easily think that God knowing everything abouts (because he is always with us) might be a reason for fear, BUT - for someone trusting in God's good news its not scary but comforting and exhilerating - magnifying the extent of God's grace to us!

A number of the church, including Matt, are off to the Sovereign Grace Small Group Leaders Conference in the USA this week. Should be great - and they get to stay with Jeff Purswell.

Great to see what they're doing down in Bristol and to have fellowship with them for a morning. I'm sure we'll visit again. I realised again in the last week that there are "christians" around who seem to hate christians and church.... and yet if we humbly decide to love the church we get to participate in it and enjoy it. Sure its imperfect at the moment, but it can also be wonderful.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Never forget where you've come here from

JC Ryle, Five English Reformers

(newly added to my unwritten wishlist: J.C. Ryle, Five English Reformers)

Ant observes that dead guys have lots of important things to say. And Mo is talking about God and reminded me that there is nothing new under the sun. I caved and subscribed to the briefing this week - great to read up some reformation history. Latimer was a legend. Garry Williams is coming to our church in November to give us some more reformation history. Superb. (Kath, before you flame me for getting the briefing, somehow I'm now also a semi-regular reader of theguardian, humbled i've stopped reading the times)

Church history and personal experience are so helpful as guides (under, not over the Bible). My church experience of anglo-catholic-liberalism, toronto-style-pentecostalism, evangelical-baptist and most recently anglican-conservative-evangelicalism is such a help to be able to understand the wide range of people I work with, but also to gain clarity as to how it looks to live under the rule of King Jesus.

Sometimes we find ourselves divided by fundamental disagreements over truth, and at other times because we simply speak different languages. The latter is easier to overcome by patience and understanding. And even the former can be, not by overlooking big issues but because the gospel changes lives! Latimer shows me that - a zealous papist who became a zealous protestant martyr. My life testifies. And ultimately Jesus testifies on every page of the Bible. God works in people and turns them from dead sinners to people who enter into eternal life! Amazing!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Galatians (Part 5 of 10) - Sons not Slaves!

Parts 1-3
Part 4: Christians are not under law, we never were

Part 5 of 10: SONS NOT SLAVES

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

1. Christians have a new identity - sons of God. This isn't just something that is done, thought or felt. Its a matter of being. How is that attained? By faith in Jesus Christ. By belief in truth. And that entails two things - being baptised into Christ and being clothed with Christ. Death and resurrection of the old life, lived not as a son.... and putting on Jesus as clothing - something that covers completely, giving a share in his identity. Look at a Christian, and, imperfectly, you see Jesus.

2. And this is something for all Christians. Three times he says "all". Major emphasis. The alternative message being taught in Galatia might have led some to think that only a few were sons, that others required more. There is no room for comparison or need of it. All are one - whoever they are by race, gender or class - the people of God are united.

3. Paul ends this section with an IF...THEN... conclusion. If they belong to Christ, which they do... then they are Abraham's seed, and so heirs. Paul went into great depth previously to show that God's promise was not to Abraham's seeds but seed - meaning one. Now Christians get the identity of Christ, they belong to him, clothed in him, in Christ - and so as far as the promise is concerned it applies to them. Still to only one, but that one now includes many. A promise to 1 to the power of the number of Christians.

"What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."

To help us understand Paul says the same things again, slightly differently. We have a brief illustration about an heir who while he is a child only looks like a slave... but then at the set time he steps out from under guardians to inherit the estate.

Paul says, "so also"... we as children were enslaved to the basis principles of this world. But at the set time we were redeemed. How? When God sent his son. That gave us the full rights of sons. And so, with that being the case, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who cries out Abba - Father. In Jesus we move from our old slavery to sonship. This is done by God's action - twice God sends. First his Son Jesus, and then the Spirit of his Son, The Holy Spirit. The Spirit who was part of the inheritance of the promise to Abraham. And thus confirms our sonship. Interestingly it is the Spirit, not us, who then cries out Abba (unlike in Romans 8) - thus we see God himself confirming our identity as sons.

The conclusion - we are no longer slaves, but sons. And so inheritors! A new identity. A community of sons in Christ. Free from slavery! Our status is achieved irrevocably by God's sending of his Son and the Spirit!

Next: Galatians 4v7-5v1: FREEDOM - JOY NOT MISERY.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Douglas Coupland: jPod (Due 2006)

jPOD - Douglas Coupland

"A lethal joyride into today’s new breed of technogeeks, Coupland’s forthcoming novel updates Microserfs for the age of Google.

Ethan Jarlewski and five co-workers whose names start with J are bureaucratically marooned in jPod. jPod is a no-escape architectural limbo on the fringes of a massive Vancouver game design company.

The six workers daily confront the forces that define our era: global piracy, boneheaded marketing staff, people smuggling, the rise of China, marijuana grow ops, Jeff Probst, and the ashes of the 1990s financial tech dream.

jPod’s universe is amoral and shameless. The characters are products of their era even as they’re creating it.

Everybody in Ethan’s life inhabits a moral grey zone. Nobody is exempt, not even his seemingly straitlaced parents or Coupland himself, as readers will see.

Full of word games, visual jokes and sideways jabs, this book throws a sharp, pointed lawn dart into the heart of contemporary life. jPod is Douglas Coupland at the top of his game."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Grace on the road: Part 2 of 7

Part 1: Eternal Life comes by Knowing Jesus

Part 2: Eternal life comes to those who ask, not those who act:

Journeys on the road to Jerusalem with Jesus, walking through Luke 9v51-19v27. Once again some really familiar content, once again too much to consider everything....

1-13. Jesus is talking about prayer but more is in view. Jesus is again spelling out what it means to have eternal life - as in the previous section. The portion of the Lord’s prayer here is a thoroughly God-dependent prayer…. For God’s name to be honoured… God’s kingdom to come… for God to provide… for God to forgive… And Jesus assures us that God will answer. A friend would respond in time. God will certainly respond, and give good gifts. In fact – if we ask our Father he will give us the Holy Spirit.

This is the second of four Holy Spirit references. In 10v21 Jesus’ rejoiced in the Spirit, and in 12v10 is the warning against blaspheming the Spirit, and 12v12 assurance that the Spirit will give us the Words to say. Having the Holy Spirit, in Luke’s writings, is the same as knowing Jesus. So when Jesus says – ask and you’ll get the Holy Spirit he is talking about getting eternal life. When he says denying the Spirit is deadly – its an eternal life issue. And when he says the Spirit will give you the words to say – it’s because you know Jesus. ASK!

14-36. This next section has to do with wrong religion. After this Jesus will teach about true religion. The people do two things. First they say Jesus works by the devils power. Second they say that he should provide a sign for them.
To the first Jesus shows the folly of this. Satan wouldn’t turn on satan…. And besides Jesus is only doing what they do. God’s kingdom is coming to them. One woman misses the point entirely in v28-28. She says “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed”. Jesus silences her: No! Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. Don’t worship his mother. Hear Jesus and respond.
This takes us to the second issue. Jesus teaches the Sign of Jonah. This is his standard response to those who seek signs. And it is terrific! Their sign seeking shows how evil they are. Evil Nineveh – had only the Sign of Jonah… they have the Son of Man who is greater than Jonah. The Queen of the South came to Solomon… they have the Son of Man, wiser than Solomon. Nineveh and the Queen of the South judge them for their sign-seeking. Those people repented when they saw the work of God. Forget your sign seeking. REPENT! Ask Jesus for life!

37-12. True religion. We find Jesus at dinner with the religious. They take offense at him, and he pronounces great woes upon them. Woe to them for their hypocrisy – clean on the outside only. Woe to them for their religion misses the point. Woe to them for leading others into sin (44 – unmarked graves, defile those who walk over them). Woe to them for burdening others… prophet killers, opponents of God. Do they repent? No, 54, they try to catch him out and trap him. But… the truth will be revealed (2). Don’t fear men however, fear God! God has the power to give and take life, not men. Fear God. Trust God. Don’t speak against God (9), but acknowledge him (8), he will sustain you and teach you (12).

Authentic Spirituality doesn’t have to defend itself, it admits sin and asks Jesus for Life! God will give forgiveness of sin. Authentic Christians are not “hypocritical saints”, they are “forgiven sinners”. DON'T ACT! JUST ASK!


If we asked people we know, “what kind of
people are “spiritual”?” what answers might we

11v1-13 Ask!
What are the priorities of the prayer in v1-4?
What is the point Jesus makes in v9-10?
(Illustrated in v5-8)
To receive the Holy Spirit, in Luke, is the same as
to receive life/Jesus. What does v11-13 show us
about how to get eternal life? (fitting with 10v21-42)

11v14-12v12 Don't Act
v14-16, what two ways do the Jews attack Jesus?
17-28, how does Jesus respond to the 1st attack?
29-36, how does Jesus respond to the 2nd attack?

What does Jesus criticize the Pharisees for in 39-44?
What is wrong with these things? How are the Pharisees
What does Jesus mean when he says everything will be
made known – v2-3? When?
Who should be feared by Jesus’ disciples? V4-8 Why?
What does fear involve? V8-12
What will it mean to acknowledge Jesus?

How do you get eternal life?
What stops people from getting eternal life?
What ways might we be pursuing “false religion”?
How might we fear people rather than God?
How will we develop true religion in our lives?

Musings on the same at
Beautiful Simplicity (1)
Beautiful Simplicity (2) (poem)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Martyred 16 October 1555

What a day to stand and preach the gospel (though of course no more special than any other), but reminded that 450 years ago an hour or so away in Oxford, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were martyred for defending the gospel.

Famous last words:
"Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God' grace shall never be put out."


Today I preached on Sabbath at church.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6...
the timer counts down in anticipation. Nervous. Excited. A wedding day. The day exam results are published. Waiting for a call after an interview. The last day of the Ashes series. Or simply that feeling as the clock ticks towards 5pm on a Friday afternoon...

The things we hope for spill backover into our lives. The things we do pointing towards the hope we have.

An athlete rises early to train in anticipation of one day crossing the finish line at the Olympics.... a student rises, slightly later, to study in anticipation of getting their degree. Ambition shapes our actions. Patterns of life reveal our priorities.

Let's turn to Genesis 2v2-3....
1. God's Rest – Hope of Heaven!
2v1 - Thus the heavens and the earth weree completed in all their vast array... v2-3 “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

Three brief things for us to see here about God's rest:

It's complete
After six days of creating that which is good God is finished. After six days of good work God looks and says: it's done. He stands back and looks at his masterpiece and downs tools.There is nothing more to add. Job well done.

It's blessed – fruitful
With the job done, God then blesses what he has done. He declares that it is blessed. He declares it fruitful. Not to commemorate the six days, but to mark the completion. This is a state of fruitful completion. It is full of life.

It's God at Rest
No more is God at work. This is God at rest. A simple description. God at the climax of creation, at rest.

There is no instruction or command here. It's not about us. We're not here. This is all God. Approved by God. Ruled by God.

We recognise it don't we? It's heaven! Perfect creation where we know that perfect relationship between man and God is possible. A place where God is most honoured.

We'll think about “God's rest” and “Heaven” interchangably this morning. Genesis 2 gives us a first glimpse of heaven – and as we read on signpost after signpost will point to this.

2. For Israel rest points to Entering God's Rest
This place: God at rest is “the world we all want”. This is the world where everything is “all as it should be”. Complete. Fruitful. And yet this is not the world we all know.

In the 1990's novelist Alex Garland told the story of young travellers who dreamt of finding paradise on the beaches of Thailand. Searching to find The Beach. Searching after paradise.... paradise in the same beaches that we saw engulfed by tsunami last Christmas.... somehow the pursuit of paradise fades. Paradise lost.

As we read on in Genesis the story is somewhat similar. And yet paradise is not so much snatched away as thrown away. Deliberately destroyed. There is treason in paradise as God's word is rejected.

Paradise is fractured beyond human repair. And humanity is excluded from God's rest. Cursed. Shut out.

But all is not lost. As the story continues through the Bible the hope of entering into God's rest remains. As Israel are released by God from slavery in Egypt the offer of rest remains for them.

Turn with me to Exodus 20v8-11 on page 78 of the Bible.
Genesis 2v2-3 is quoted, explained and applied to Israel. And modified slightly..
Genesis 2v3: God blessed the seventh day and made it holy

Exodus 20v11: The LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The LORD establishing a pattern of weekly work and rest for his people.

Why? So that they would look to “God at rest”. The LORD draws their attention to their hope of heaven. V8--- they must work six days and then rest for one day. This will point them --- v11 – to the hope of heaven, to God's completion of creation. A signpost, hardwired into life, pointing to heaven

What is God doing? He is not teaching good “work-life” balance. The events of Genesis 1 were not a cycle of creation, but a one off. Creation doesn't point to weekly life – its the other way round --- Weekly life reminds us of creation and rest. A signpost to the hope of the world we all want.

Israel had the signpost but tragically they didn't follow it. They stood and worshipped the signpost. And so we're told they missed out on God's rest, they missed the hope of heaven.

3. For Christians believing in Jesus points to Entering God's Rest

So, what about us? Its common for Christians to presume that anything that applied to Israel applies to us. We often draw a line from Israel to the church. But we cannot and must not do this. Christian application of the OT needs to have reference to Jesus Christ.

And actually Israel don't give us a pattern we really want to follow – they missed out on the hope of heaven... they enshrined the sign... they hardened their hearts...

Our situation is different. Now Jesus has come and lived the perfect life, died the perfect death and risen to sit in heaven, resting at God's right hand.

So what does this mean for us?
Turn with me to Hebrews 4v1-11, page 1203 ---- Let's explore this: Hebrews 4v1 tells us that the hope of entering God's rest remains! Hope of heaven still stands! And we're told to be careful not to miss out on it.

Why? V2 –----- because like Israel, the gospel has been preached to us.... they heard it and it had no value to them because they did not combine it with faith. They heard God's promise and offer of rest and did not believe.
But ------- v3 – we who have believed do enter that rest. V3 ---- God said that faithless Israel would not enter rest – but we do!
V9. We are told there remains a sabbath-rest for God's people. Not the great hope of a weekly day off – no, something greater the hope of heaven.Available. Accessible.

But we're not asked to keep Sunday special. The laws that God gave to Israel don't apply to us. We're saved by grace to live by grace. Everything is about believing in Jesus – not about doing things.

But we do love the idea of laws to obey. We seem to be able to invent them for fun! But those old laws are gone – now we live by the Spirit, we live by grace!
---------- Sabbath was a signpost for Israel pointing to heaven. Jesus is our signpost to heaven. Sabbath was a shadow. Jesus is the reality.

Some argue that a weekly sabbath is written into creation.
But Genesis 2 portrays sabbath only as the climax of God's work... not part of a cycle.... While human wisdom tells us to take time off it is not a biblical mandate.

It's true that work might become an idol. But idolatry is not remedied by law. Enforcing a weekly day off cannot change the heart of a workaholic. It will only frustrate us. And actually if we want to insist on copying God's creation then many of us need to increase our work from five days a week to six!! :)

Some want to insist that a weekly sabbath remains in force for Christians. We may differ on this, but when the Bible tackles the subject we get some strong answers.

In Galatians 4v9-10, he calls is gospel denying slavery to be observing special days. In Colossans 2 he says that observance cuts us off from Christ. Deadly. And in Romans 14v6, observance is something that could be tolerated where faith is weak...

Do you get the picture? Law only distracts us from Jesus. Law keeps us from heaven. No holy days – not sundays, not christmas, not easter.... we have no recourse to opt out of work. The early church couldn't opt out of their obligations to their masters – neither can we
-----------The hope of heaven: God at rest. The goal of our lives. Israel observed sabbath to point to it. We believe in Jesus. The Hope of Heaven.
---- How does that work?
---- What does it mean?

>>>> First, every day can point believers to heaven.

It's not the case that Sundays point us to heaven, but that the rest of our time doesn't. Every day can point us towards heaven as we believe in Jesus. ----- As every new day dawns we remember God's mercy... we remember that heaven is a day nearer...

--------- Whether we work, rest or play life points to heaven. We don't need a pattern of work and rest to point us to heaven – we only need Jesus.

Its said that some people are so heavenly minded that they're of no earthly use. ---------- The simple truth is that only the heavenly minded are of real earthly use.

>>> Second, meeting together points believers to heaven.

And we do gather on Sundays there is a particular purpose to our meetings – pointing us to Jesus as we preach the gospel to each other... as we look to sharing heaven together. Our meetings should always be heavenly minded.

>>>> Thirdly, all work points believers to heaven.

It's really tempting to think that people like Piers, Tim and myself are the ones who do holy work. By holy we're meaning things that matter to God, that are able to honour him – And we are set apart to teach the Bible, but that doesn't make our work more important than yours.

We might think that “normal work” are only useful to fund us “gospel workers”. It is needed for that but it is so much more than that.

We might think that “normal work” is only useful when it creates opportunities to “talk about Jesus”. It is needed for that but it is so much more than that.

All “Men at Work” is a signpost to heaven. Whatever your job it is a way of living out your belief in heaven, whether that means looking to the removal of curse on hard work, or expressing God's concern for people, truth, the design of God's world, looking beyond the weekend and the paycheque...

Everything we do is of interest to God – all of it can be heavenly minded activity. How can we do that?

The climax of creation is God at Rest – the hope of heaven. And God invites us to share in this.

Not just on Sundays, but every hour of every day of every week, whatever we do, as we believe in Jesus.


In pursuit of the truth - Derek Bigg
Sabbath - Andrew Shead
Tithing - Jack Heald

Friday, October 14, 2005

Why do we believe in God?

Why do we believe in God?

Ahead of a forthcoming BBC TV series, and book - THE STORY OF GOD, Robert Winston was writing about the subject in yesterday's Guardian. Exploring whether belief in the divine was based on our nature or nurture he stumbles around unable to find clear reason why we should believe.
"Although religion might be useful in developing a solid moral framework - and enforcing it - we can quite easily develop moral intuitions without relying on religion. "
Ultimately, it seems concluding that:
"So religion does not seem to be produced by a specific part of our psychological make-up. Is it more likely, then, that religious ideas are something of an accidental by-product created by other parts of our basic blueprint, by processes deep in the unconscious mind that evolved to help us survive?"
Or maybe, God is believed in because God is real? Just a thought... We posture and postulate about this, but at the end of the day - a real God who seeks to be believed in will be believed in by some. And as someone who believes God is real - the Bible tells me that what I need to do is simply to know Jesus, and to ask for life from him. Mindblowingly simple really.

My first reflection on Robert Winston's article was disbelief and frustration and anger at his poor argument. I considered a blogpost to totally rubbish it. On further reflection I would rather see him become a Christian than spend all my time refuting him. Why should he not come to know Jesus? What good reason can he honestly give for not asking for eternal life?

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

The talks from this conference are now online to download for free (HT, Justin Taylor)

Also, thanks to Adrian Warnock for pointing out Theopedia (Wikipedia, for Theology)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Christians are not under law, we never were!

Galatians 3v15-25 is hard to understand. Really hard. But Oh it's worth the hard thinking. It's been great to day to spend several hours rubbing my nose in God's word, with Dave & Debbie. And here's what I'm thinking:

"Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no-one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case" v15.

At first glance that doesn't seem very "everyday" to me. But the idea is of a promise between people. An unbreakable commitment. A rarity today, but hopefully we still have the idea of a promise. Where a promise must be kept - a promise that can't have extra conditions added to it, or be cancelled out by anything. So the scene is set.

"The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds", meaning many people but "and to your seed" meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise;l but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise." v16-18

First we come back to God's promise to Abraham. Paul looks at it and interprets it. He tells us that the seed (or offspring) of Abraham should not be read as the many people of Israel, but as refering to one person, namely Christ. He explains by saying that this means that the law, given later, doesn't set aside the promise - because a change in terms would step away from the promise, and that's not going to happen.

What??? Paul is saying a promise was made, not just to Abraham but also to Christ. While that promise was waiting for fulfillment, in Christ, the law was given - but this didn't set aside the promise, because you can't change a promise. It stands.

"What, then, was the purpose of the law?" v19a

Good question!

"It was added because of transgression until the Seed to whom the promsie referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however does not represent just one part; but God is one" v19b-20

It's not immediately evident how that answers the question! We get some indication of the purpose of the law: "because of transgression", though how or why that is the case isn't yet clear. And then Paul starts talking about mediation of the law. Law comes through angels and a mediator (Moses?). But the mediator represents two parties - and God is one, not two. Er? I think this draws further distinction between the promise and the law. The promise from God to Christ, the law between Israel and God.

"Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?" v21a

Is God offering two ways to life? Are the promise and the law rivals to each other?

"Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to thsoe who believe" v21b-22

No! Paul is adamant. Law doesn't give life. If God had intended for the law to give life then it would have done. But it doesn't. So law and promise aren't two things from God trying to do the same thing by different methods. Rather, we know from the Scriptures that the world is prisoner of sin. This means that people are unable to get free. They are unable to gain life by obedience to law. They can't help but sin. So the only hope for the world is to believe in Christ - and receieve the promise.

"Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law" v23-25

Til Jesus comes, Paul says, we (Israel - Jewish Paul writes) were prisoners under law. Prisoners of sin, and then further locked up by law. Why? So that the law could lead Israel to Christ, supervising them. But then Jesus comes, and God's promise is fulfilled. So, the law that has been in force since 430 years after Abraham has done its work. It's no longer required to lead Israel to Christ - they have Christ himself.

So what?
Paul undercuts everything the invading false teachers are doing. They're coming to a Gentile church and imposing law. Paul says - you, Gentiles, were never under law - and even Israel are no longer under it. Obedience to it is not required of you. These are laws given to another people, in another place, for another time. They came from God but they're not for you.

So too we're not under law. We're not obliged to keep it. And we (Gentile Christians) never were! What freedom!

This begs several questions!
Why do Christians try and make people keep the law?
How pointless is that!

What do we do with the law since its part of scripture which Paul tells us elsewhere is all useful to equip God's people?
I'd suggest we see from it how Israel were pointed to Christ, and we see something of God's character revealed - what we don't see is law's to obey.

How do we then live?
Ultimately in Galatians that answer waits til chapter 5. That tells us to live by the Spirit! And that might look similar to law obedience, but it really isn't. It's more about putting on a new self, and being transformed into the image of Christ. It's not about keeping a list of Christian laws. It can't be. Going for law serves only to deny the Cross (2v21) - and that has got to be a bad idea. Justin Mote said in teaching Leviticus, this should make us cry out "Hooray for Jesus!" In him we find life and righteousness and receive the Holy Spirit!

G.A.M.E.S with Calvin

Paul Huxley is blogging some quality stuff on calvinism. Worth reading. Meanwhile on my way home from supervising my Relay workers today, I had a think about things as I understand them. Try this for size:

G - God always acts for God's glory.... so should I.
A - Abundant grace because of the Cross... to save and keep me.
M - Maximum joy is found in God... so seek joy not sin.
E - Election implies evangelism... no one has a good excuse not to believe.
S - Suffering is normal for now... so don't seek your own comfort.

Probably not comprehensive but they're things exciting me today :)
Also v.excited to see from Galatians 3v15-25 that we're not under law, and were never under law! More on that later.

Monday, October 10, 2005

"If he didn't have the Bible he'd have nothing to say"

Tim Challies reflects on the Desiring God Conference. I don't quote this to exalt John Piper, but because it really challenges me about my preaching:
"When Piper preaches he seems to do little more than bridge one Bible verse to the next, building to a deeply biblical conclusion. With some preachers you begin to feel that they could get along just fine without the Bible, but with Piper you feel that if he didn't have the Bible he'd have nothing to say."

God's Gift to Mankind: Self-Awareness or Salvation?

Mitch Albom, in his interesting & thoughtful short novel THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN writes:
"This is the greatest gift God can give you: to understand what happened in your life. To have it explained. It is the peace you have been searching for" (p37)
Abraham at CI SONGS offers a different perspective in his song, The Gift You Give
"From you our life arrives
And into you departs.
Then we begin to live.
You are the life of lives.
You are the heart of hearts.
You are the gift you give.

You are the soul of every soul
That comes to you to be made whole.
You are the one for everyone
Who longs for life—life in your love—
To finally see the beauty of
The gift you give of Christ the Son."
Is God's best gift to us self-awareness? Or perhaps something of greater worth?

Grace on the road : Part 1 of 7

Over the next two months I'll be walking through Luke's gospel each Monday. I'll follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, from Luke 9v51 to Luke 19v27.

This is a journey full of the most familiar stories, but ones that we almost always take out of context. In context they might mean something unexpected for us – but they will be full of life and grace. Luke piles up the stories to teach us, carefully arranging his material.

And he teaches us about Jesus, and about grace.... not about us and not full of guilt-trips that so often come from our study of the gospels. We begin at Luke 9v51 to 10v42...

**Nearby, Ed Goode is on the same road.

This is a big passage to start with. There is lots of stuff in it and one very familiar parable. We don’t have time to explore everything – we need to be disciplined in working through things quickly. This will be rewarding when we see the bigger picture. The question raised at the start of the good Samaritan parable recurs at the end of our journey, with the rich young ruler. This is a key question: how do I get eternal life? The answer is made clear if we will see it.

57-62. The big thing to see here is that following Jesus is costly – but Jesus spells out the cost. Why? Because it is worth it. The costs don’t outweigh the benefits. Hold that thought!

1-20. Here Jesus sends out his disciples. But this is not a mission training manual. You will have to avoid getting bogged down in all the detail here… at least for now. The key place to focus is on what happens when the disciples return from their mission. It’s been an impressive adventure! They’ve achieved great things. And Jesus says – don’t rejoice in these great exploits. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven. In other words, “that’s great! But it’s even better that you know Jesus”. The seriousness of needing to know Jesus is spelt out in his words about “the day” when those who reject him will be judged.

21-42. Now we’re getting to the heart of the issue. 21-24 and 38-42 will give us the key. Firstly we see Jesus speak to the disciples – he tells them that is great that they have come to know him. We see Jesus rejoice in the Holy Spirit because he has been revealed to the disciples (21), these little children. The Son reveals himself (22). And now the disciples see what kings and prophets longed to see. Knowing Jesus is the key!

When we come to Mary & Martha we see the same thing. Martha welcomes Jesus but then gets busy. Mary however sits and listens to Jesus teaching – she simply lets Jesus reveal himself to her. She comes to know Jesus, like the disciples. This is better by far.

And in the middle of these we find the lawyer, (25-37). He comes asking how to get eternal life. He knows the law. He’s an expert. Jesus tells him what he already knows. But the man wants to justify himself, justifying his question. So he presses Jesus’ for legal detail – who is his neighbour, who must he love. The parable then sets up the Samaritan and the victim. Jesus pushes the man beyond his limits. The man wants to try to earn eternal life and Jesus says it’ll take love beyond your limits. Love that all the religion in the world can’t do. Love that is outrageous. Here we don’t see the response, though the man’s attitude suggests lack of genuine desire (29). When the question re-surfaces with the rich young ruler we’ll see explicitly that rather than humbling himself and knowing Jesus the proud walk away sad.

So it is for the lawyer – you can’t get eternal life by what you do. No amount of mercy or missionary endeavour can earn you life. You simply have to know Jesus, to have him revealed to you (21, 22), to let him teach you (39). And that is better than anything else! Better by far!

With that established, we are then free and secure to go and be merciful and attempt great things in mission… for our future does not depend on our performance in these things. Luke is determined not ot write about us, but to write about Jesus!

Starter: Imagine a Questionnaire...
what answers would get on the streets to these questions:
What is authentic spirituality? How do you get eternal life?

9v57-62 – What it means to follow Jesus
It costs to follow Jesus, what does this tell us about how good it is to know Jesus?

10v1-20 – Knowing Jesus is the ground for joy
Where are the disciples told to rejoice after their great evangelistic exploits?
What does that say about the value of knowing Jesus?
What are the consequences of not knowing Jesus?

10v21-42 – Knowing Jesus is Primary
What does Jesus teach his disciples about knowing him?
What does the Mary/Martha story teach us about this?
So, what is the point of the good samaritan parable?

What is Authentic Spirituality?
What might be getting in the way of us knowing Jesus?
What might keep us from treasuring Jesus above everything else?
What might we now do, knowing Jesus?

Authentic Spirituality is not about what you do… it’s about knowing Jesus!

Political Questions

Two political stories chipping further away against the "christian" roots of the country. I'm no believer in this ever having been a christian country, nor in the real benefits of imposing "christian" laws on people.

Legalism is no good for believers, how can it be any good for non-christians, other than making them think that Jesus Christ wants to restrict them. Hearing people speak in favour of these bills on the radio they're clearly wanting to move away from Christianity. And yet the Christian gospel is all about freedom and life, grace and hope.... something people don't seem to understand.

Meanwhile people still make moral arguements for these new laws - though unable to give any grounds for those things when they're stepping out of a supposed judeo-christian framework. The Bible tells me that human thinking gets depraved and twisted. I think that's what I heard in action today.

I have questions...
Should Christians be seeking to spare society from applying its non-christian worldviews? Should we just point out to people the implications of the road they're going down? When life is so cheapened why do people still care about being a burden or sparing others pain? Did the early church try to stop sinners from sinning? Should we simply get about the business of preaching the gospel into our society? Do we do better to win hearts to the value of life, by beliving in Jesus, rather than fighting against the law? What will I do if the law decides that speaking about Jesus constitutes religious hatred? Will I go to prison?

Some articles that prompted me to write...

Euthanasia Bill
Euthanasia debate moves to Lords; BBC News - October 10 2005
We don't need this law: Peter Saunders; Christian Medical Fellowship - October 7 2005

Religious Hatred Bill
Enthusiasm fades for hatred bill; BBC News - July 17 2005

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Kinky Boots in Earls Barton

New film Kinky Boots is set in Earls Barton which is where I lived from 1983-1997, during which the story was happening...

Galatians 1v1-3v15 (Questions)

Here's my study questions on Galatians 1v1-3v1 (three studies). These are freshly written for this year, somewhere on site are probably some earlier studies I wrote last year.... I'm astounded again to see the freedom we have in Christ, to see the value of the Cross and God's revelation of the gospel.

Galatians 1.

God's Gospel
What has God done? (3-5)
Why has God done this?
How do we feel in response to this?
How might we try to save or keep ourselves?
How does our response to it relate to God's glory?

God's approval
What accusation is Paul countering here? (6-10)
Why might Paul be accused of trying to win approval?
How might we seek to win approval?
What if we were rejected?

God's Revelation
What is the source of the gospel? (11-24)
Why would Paul want his readers to know this?
How will we keep God's revelation central to our lives, and our ministry with students?
What might distract us from this?

Galatians 2v1-3v1 “The Cross-Centred Life”

1-10 United in the gospel
Why did Paul go to Jerusalem?
What does he expect?
What happens?

11-14 Conflict over the gospel
What does Peter do & why?
Why does Paul oppose him?

15-21 The Meat of the Issue
How does a person get justified?
What if we're found to be sinners?
What if we rebuild law? Where is our life now?
What has Jesus done? What if we return to law?

So, 3v1
Why does Paul tell the story of 2v1-21?
How does this help us to respond to the presence of sin?
How does it help us examine our lives for legalism?
How does it help us view the importance of the cross?
How can we develop a life that say the cross is big, not meaningless?

Galatians 3v1-14

v1-9 “O You Dear Idiots of Galatia...” (JB Phillips)

v1-5 What is Paul's point in these verses?
How does he defend that from the Galatians experience?

v6-9 What is Paul's point in these verses?
How does he use scripture to argue that? (Gen 15v6, 12v3)

Summarise the content of the gospel:
Summarise the offer of the gospel:
Summarise the requirements of the gospel:

v10-14 “Justified before God”

Paul's focus is on being “Justified before God”

v10 What are the affects of being under the law?
How is this defended from scripture? (Deut 27v26)
V11 What does the law not do?
How is this defended from scripture? (Hab 2v4)
V12 How does the law work?
How is this defended from scripture? (Lev 18v5)
v13 What has Christ dones?
How is this defended from scripture? (Deut 21v23)
v14 What are the affects of this?
What is the “blessing of Abraham”?

Why do you think Paul is so rigorously backing up his teaching about justification from the Scriptures? - He's used six citations in just eight verses... is he just proof texting? (Consider how those he is refuting would have argued their case)

Summarise how a man is justified:
Summarise what it looks like to have been justified:

Aircon for my soul

For a while I'm putting any new songs that I write over on this blog: Aircon for my soul. Output of songs is a little slow because we're hoping to do some recording in the next few months, so am focussing more on existing stuff than writing new ones.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

King of the World?

The Rock Badger is blogging about the Sovereignty of God. If you've not been there before, now's a good time to start. Here's the first two of his posts on this:

Songbird without a song

I have lost my voice and i want the whole world to think and appreciate the small things in life! Like being able to speak...communicate and express yourself verbally... We take so much for granted and when we lose something, we begin to appreciate it more. Thank you Lord for small mercies...

Desiring God Conference (Live-Blogged)

Doug McHone (Coffeeswirls) and Tim Challies are blogging from the Desiring God conference on Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.

This from Justin Taylor, interviewing John Piper caught my eye:
Q. You’ve become known as a champion of God’s control of All Things. Did you grow up with this belief?
A. no I didn’t start off believing this way. My dad lived the sovereignty of God. He doesn’t call himself a Calvinist and calls that a bad word. The act of regeneration precedes and enables faith, but he disagrees with this, and is totally inconsistent, but he’s my dad and I love him. Growing up, I heard and absorbed a lifestyle of radical dependence of God. At college though, I denied the full sovereignty of God. At Fuller Seminary I saw evidence of God’s sovereignty. I would go home after class and cry because my whole world seemed to be coming apart. Romans 9 devours free-willers like me. In time, my mind was conformed by the word of God.
What Paul writes in Romans 9 nailed things for me too. At the end of my first year on UCCF Staff, I'd already have happily taken a calvinist tag, though with a fair degree of uncertainty, particularly having spent the first six years of my Christian life to that point under Arminian pastors.

Several students asked me to help them understand Romans 9. I stumbled through it with them. I then undertook six months of study of the chapter in the company of Roger Forster & Paul Marsden (God's Strategy in Human History), and John Piper (The Justification of God).

I still get frustrated when people keep reverting to "free will" to explain sin or suffering and so many other things. Where is that in the Bible? I recognise people have real questions about these things, but its not up to us to pick doctrine by what we like...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Living La Vida Cruzcentrica

Dave, Debbie and I resolved to keep the Cross-central to our lives. Here's something from about half a century ago, I think helps us, from A.W. Tozer - The Old Cross and the New:

Unannounced and mostly undetected there has come in modern times a new cross into popular evangelical circles. It is like the old cross, but different: the likenesses are superficial; the differences, fundamental.

From this new cross has sprung a new philosophy of the Christian life, and from that new philosophy has come a new evangelical technique -- a new type of meeting and a new kind of preaching. This new evangelism employs the same language as the old, but its content is not the same and its emphasis not as before.

The old cross would have no truck with the world. For Adam's proud flesh it meant the end of the journey. It carried into effect the sentence imposed by the law of Sinai. The new cross is not opposed to the human race; rather, it is a friendly pal and, if understood aright, it is the source of oceans of good clean fun and innocent enjoyment. It lets Adam live without interference. His life motivation is unchanged; he still lives for his own pleasure, only now he takes delight in singing choruses and watching religious movies instead of singing bawdy songs and drinking hard liquor. The accent is still on enjoyment, though the fun is now on a higher plane morally if not intellectually.

The new cross encourages a new and entirely different evangelistic approach. The evangelist does not demand abnegation of the old life before a new life can be received. He preaches not contrasts but similarities. He seeks to key into public interest by showing that Christianity makes no unpleasant demands; rather, it offers the same thing the world does, only on a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamoring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers, only the religious product is better.

The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. To the self-assertive it says, "Come and assert yourself for Christ." To the egotist it says, "Come and do your boasting in the Lord." To the thrill-seeker it says, "Come and enjoy the thrill of Christian fellowship." The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.

The philosophy back of this kind of thing may be sincere but its sincerity does not save it from being false. It is false because it is blind. It misses completely the whole meaning of the cross.

The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said good-by to his friends. He was not coming back. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all of the man, completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more.

The race of Adam is under death sentence. There is no commutation and no escape. God cannot approve any of the fruits of sin, however innocent they may appear or beautiful to the eyes of men. God salvages the individual by liquidating him and then raising him again to newness of life.

That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world, it intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our old life up onto a higher plane; we leave it at the cross. The corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die.

We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum.

God offers life, but not an improved old life. The life He offers is life out of death. It stands always on the far side of the cross. Whoever would possess it must pass under the rod. He must repudiate himself and concur in God's just sentence against him. What does this mean to the individual, the condemned man who would find life in Christ Jesus? How can this theology be translated into life? Simply, he must repent and believe. He must forsake his sins and then go on to forsake himself. Let him cover nothing, defend nothing, excuse nothing. Let him not seek to make terms with God, but let him bow his head before the stroke of God's stern displeasure and acknowledge himself worthy to die.

Having done this let him gaze with simple trust upon the risen Saviour, and from Him will come life and rebirth and cleansing and power. The cross that ended the earthly life of Jesus now puts an end to the sinner; and the power that raised Christ from the dead now raises him to a new life along with Christ.

To any who may object to this or count it merely a narrow and private view of truth, let me say God has set His hallmark of approval upon this message from Paul's day to the present. Whether stated in these exact words or not, this has been the content of all preaching that has brought life and power to the world through the centuries. The mystics, the reformers, the revivalists have put their emphasis here, and signs and wonders and mighty operations of the Holy Ghost gave witness to God's approval.

Dare we, the heirs of such a legacy of power, tamper with the truth? Dare we with our stubby pencils erase the lines of the blueprint or alter the pattern shown us in the Mount? May God forbid. Let us preach the old cross and we will know the old power.