Saturday, July 29, 2006

Checking out

That'll do for now. Blogging should resume sometime in mid-September. I'm off to enjoy the summer sun, read some books and relax away from the screen before returning to work for the Relay1 and Forum conferences (drop in a comment if you'll be at either of those).

Friday, July 28, 2006

Ashrei temimei derech

O how I love thy holy law!
'Tis daily my delight;
And thence my meditations draw
Divine advice by night.

My waking eyes prevent the day
To meditate thy word;
My soul with longing melts away
To hear thy gospel, Lord.

How doth thy word my heart engage!
How well employ my tongue!
And in my tiresome pilgrimage,
Yields me a heav'nly song.

Am I a stranger or at home,
'Tis my perpetual feast;
Not honey dropping from the comb
So much allures the taste.

No treasures so enrich the mind;
Nor shall thy word be sold
For loads of silver well refined,
Nor heaps of choicest gold.

When nature sinks, and spirits droop,
Thy promises of grace
Are pillars to support my hope,
And there I write thy praise.

Isaac Watts, Psalm 119, pt 5 "Delight in Scripture"

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I ♥ Biblical Theology

"I love Biblical Theology.
And I love it for one reason.
It helps me know Jesus Christ better"
Nicholas Piotrowski, reviewing books by Graeme Goldsworthy & Vaughan Roberts at

Loads more of that sort of thing at

Most of the year we update it monthly, except in July & August... so while its static why not catch up on some of the outstanding articles and papers we've managed to unearth, commission and gather!

"Church and Theology Today:
What is Really at Stake?"
Theology for All: Annual Day Conference
Saturday 30th September 2006
10.00 am - 4.00 pm

Speaker: Professor Carl Trueman,

Carl is currently Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He previously served on the Faculties of the University of Nottingham and the University of Aberdeen. A specialist in 16th and 17th century theology, he has also written extensively on contemporary evangelical theology, edits the student journal Themelios, and has a monthly column in the ezine, Reformation 21. Dr Trueman's books include Luther's Legacy: Salvation and English Reformers, 1525-1556; The Claims of Truth: John Owen's Trinitarian Theology; and The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historic and Contemporary Evangelicalism.

(details t.b.c.)

10.00 Arrival & coffee
10.30 1st Session
11.30 Coffee break
12.00 2nd Session
1.00 Lunch
2.00 3rd Session
3.00 Tea break
3.20 Q&A
4.00 Finish
Duke Street Church,
Richmond, West London, UK.

Cost £10.00 TFA members
/ £15.00 non-members
Lunch and refreshments are provided.

For Details and Booking (required) contact:
0116 204 7682

Location and Directions can be found at

*Theology for All is the new name for the Tyndale Fellowship Associates.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Should Doctrine be Preached to the Unconverted?

Douglas Groothuis asked:
Why do so few sermons revel in the glory of Jesus Christ's matchless achievements and the eternal blessedness of knowing him? Why are so few sermons even focused primarily on God?
Perhaps it is because we forget that "real preaching is born in long and laborious study of the Word of God and in the agnony of the preacher soul" (Machen, p73).  Perhaps it is because forget that The Cross is where our life is found, where our righteousness is declared.

Spurgeon wrote:
"More and more am I jealous lest any views upon prophecy, church government, politics, or even systematic theology, should withdraw one of us from glorying in the cross of Christ.” (C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students, I.83).
And as Mark Dever commented:
What stops us from so glorying in the cross? This is my threatening enemy.
What will encourage us to glory in it all the more? This is my loving friend.
Enemies abound, and we need many friends to urge us back to the cross. John Gresham Machen sounds a warning from 75 years ago, if we'll listen:

...According to the tendency of religious work which is prevalent at the present day, Christians doctrine, including the central doctrine of the atonement, is to be presented to people, if at all, after rather than before they have been saved.

The advocates of this method sometimes have kind things to say about doctrine; it is necessary, they admit, in its proper place. A man who has already entered upon holy living, some of them no doubt say, will go on to study his Bible and will attain an ever more correct view of Christ and of the meaning of Christ's death. But at the beginning all that, it is held, is unnecessary; at the beginning all that is needed is surrender of the human will. What a man needs to do first, it is thought, is to put away his sin by his own act of surrender; there is time enough later for doctrinal instruction.
Whether that non-doctrinal, anti-intellectualistic method of religious work is right or wrong, it may be observed at any rate that it is quite contrary to the New Testament from beginning to end. The New Testament does not, in the manner of these modern religious workers, offer a man salvation first and then preach the gospel to him afterwards; but it preaches the gospel to him first - with the blessed doctrine of the atonement at the center of it - and then, through his acceptance of that gospel, it brings salvation to his soul.
It was to the unconverted people that Paul preached in Galatia the message of the Cross of Christ; and when they accepted that message - that "doctrine" - they were saved...
--J. Gresham Machen, Notes on Galatians p165.First published in Christianity Today, 1931-1933.
The content of the gospel needs to be said. The doctrine must be communicated. But... the gospel of Jesus must be communicated and that effects much we say... and how we say it... More on that here:
You can't say that. Hard questions, real people, offensive Bible verses.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Crowd of Martyrs says look at Jesus the Champion

Hebrews 12v1 tells of a great cloud of witnesses, or a great crowd of martyrs who cheer us on as we run the race.
"As saints of old still line the way,
retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear their calls and hunger for the day,
when with Christ we stand in glory"
-- Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
They cheer us to look to Jesus, our champion - which is what the next verse tells us to do. I'm preparing to preach on this twice in September to 18 year olds going off to University.... in doing so, I unearthed this by Spurgeon:
Where shall language be found which shall describe his matchless, his unparalleled love towards the children of men. Upon any ordinary subject one may find liberty of speech and fullness of utterance, but this subject lies out of the line of all oratory, and eloquence cannot attain unto it. This is one of the unutterable things—unutterable, because it surpasses thought, and defies the power of words...

...Christian men! If Christ endured all this [detailed in Hebrews 12v2], merely for the joy of saving you, will you be ashamed of bearing anything for Christ? The words are on my lips again this morning,—
“If on my face for thy dear name,
shame and reproach shall be,
I’ll hail reproach, and welcome shame,
my Lord, I’ll die for thee.”
--Thomas Haweis
Oh! I do not wonder that the martyrs died for such a Christ as this! When the love of Christ is shed abroad in our hearts, then we feel that if the stake were present we would stand firmly in the fire to suffer for him who died for us.
CH Spurgeon Sermon 236 on Hebrews 12v2.

The stories of the Hebrew Christians, of Moses and supremely Jesus himself call us, as Luther wrote, to:
"Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God's truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever."
Meanwhile Douglas Groothuis has a lot of questions about preachers and preaching.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Anyone seen Copernicus?

Where's Copernicus when you need him? Apparently on the mind of an African Reverend and on the pages of Christianity Today magazine. Ben Wright asks: Is America the centre of God's activity in the world?. Sitting here in the UK its obvious that that's not the case... and before you bite back the UK isn't the centre either.

He quotes Reverend Niringiye from the Church of Uganda:
If you really want to understand the future of Christianity, go and see what is happening in Asia, Africa, Latin America. It's the periphery—but that's where the action is.
All of this quoted from an article in Christianity Today

Wright concludes:
This seemed rather God-centered to me, and I'm grateful to be reminded that American Christianity is not the once-and-for-all apex of the history of the Church.
To start the global thinking IVP in the UK have a series called The global Christian Library, edited by David Smith and John Stott:

Stott obviously is an Englishman with a lifetime of global vision. Joe Kapolyo is Zambian, Samuel Escobar from Peru and Roland Chia is from Singapore.

Niringiye ends:
Whether in Africa or America, the Cross is not an easy place to be—it is the symbol of our faith, but we do not love the Cross. "Come down from the Cross" is the cry not just of the Jewish leaders; it's the cry even of us Christians. We want Christ to come down from the Cross. We don't like the Cross.
That's where we'll find the centre of God's activity. At the cross, whereever men and women glory in the cross the fame of God will surely spread. Stott's book pleads that we do that. Calling us to stand together at the foot of the cross.

HT: Thabiti Anyabwile

What's driving you?

Chan Kilgore on:
Jesus-centred reformed theology

A passionate plea to be theologically driven in church planting rather than merely pragmatic.

(25.8MB; 56:29mins)

From Mark Driscoll's Acts29 Boot Camp, 2006.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Me, my money, and my God?

Here's another angle on the money issue. This is a bit of a tangent from the continuity or otherwise of the law....

What connection is there between the widespread minimal giving mentality, of keeping money for ourselves, and an over-emphasis on my personal relationship with God? Put the other way, if we had more sense of becoming a Christian being about joining the people of God would that reset the balance and fuel our generosity...

I remember seeing a poster that suggested that the church has AIDS, because there are Christians who do. But we're more concerned with me. Likewise, has the Church has simultaneously given its heart to Mammon, and is starving... And we're often more concerned with our own bank accounts than with other believers...

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis write in session seven of The World We All Want:
When she was Prime Minister of the UK, Margaret Thatcher once said: ‘There is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families.’ One of the problems we face in the West is that of individualism. Individualism is the attitude that the most important thing is me: my happiness; my fulfilment; my dreams! I am the centre of my world; this is my world and I am God!
They continue:
...Christians will be lovers: lovers of God and lovers of others. As a result, the church will be a place of provision, security, acceptance, abundance, joy, peace and rest. An outpost of the world we all want right here in the middle of the world we all know!
If we sought to keep less in step with me and my place in society, and more in God's footsteps would we not pursue sacrificialy generosity? He is, after all, ultimately generous/gracious... and he calls Christians to keep in step with the Spirit of God...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Effective engagement on campus?

Dan Denk of IVCF (IFES in the USA):

Campus engagement is based on the development of InterVarsity witnessing communities (working in cooperation with other Christian groups on campus) that are of sufficient size and quality to effectively pursue the following aims:
  • Evangelism: saturating the campus with the gospel so that everyone has been confronted with the claims of Jesus Christ in word and deed and in a manner which encourages response. This usually requires a 1:10 ratio; that is, 10% of the campus being witnessing Christians (Matt 28:16‑20).
  • Engaging particular groups: making the gospel known in each of the geographical sectors of the campus, each residence hall, each special interest group, each ethnic group, each club and fraternity, each academic major and department; including faculty, staff, and administration (I Cor. 9:19‑23).
  • Engaging the college/university structure: bringing God's truth and justice to bear on the campus newspaper, student government, campus radio station, residence hall staff, special activities and events, administration policy, dispersion of funds, and the sports program (Amos 5:7‑24).
  • Challenging personal and public morality: proclaiming and demonstrating a Christian perspective on issues addressing the university community related to personal morality (homosexuality, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, cheating) and public morality (racism, war, economic policy, world hunger, materialism). (Micah 3:9‑11, 7:1‑7)
  • Engaging the marketplace of ideas: seeking to integrate Christian thought with the intellectual issues discussed in the university setting (scientific research, the arts, politically correct thinking, ecology, economic theory). (Acts 17:22‑34, Dan. 1)
It's immediately obvious that we're in a different context in the UK. The idea of 1 in 10 students being Christians is hard to imagine, we might just be making 1 in 100 at best.

That said, where could we engage more effectively? How do you make a noticeable impact with so few? What more can be done on a relationship level? What more can be done on the other fronts?

What could our pursuit of developing witnessing communities (Christian Unions) learn from the priorities Dan Denk asserts, and from others worldwide? Where are things working well? What are the encouraging stories? What are the challenges we face?

Fresh Coffee and New Warnies

All new design at The Coffee Bible Club

Meanwhile, Adrian revives the Warnies™ and adds two new winners, both longtime "two star" entries on thebluefish blogroll:There are also honorable upgrades for Phil Johnson... TeamPyro replaces the now silent Pyromaniac. And John Mark Reynolds is replaced by his group-blog at Middlebrow.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Grace & Marriage

I recieved a happy email yesterday from a friend:
...we are getting married next May which is pretty exciting in itself, I keep having to pinch myself coz it’s happening to me! If you had one tip…
Here's four tips from Joe Lee. Read the story at Conflict: Gospel Truths at the marriedlife blog. Here are the principles from it:
  • 1. The Gospel - The Gospel gives us hope in the midst of a conflict. Christ died on the cross to resolve our greatest conflict.
  • 2. God’s Sovereignty - God sovereignly allows conflicts to take place to make us more like Christ. God did not want my marriage to be characterized by my sinful craving of my wife’s approval. He wanted me to see my desperate need for him.
  • 3. God’s Grace - Where sin is revealed, God’s grace is poured out. God’s grace to me was how my wife was responding my encouraging me. My sinful craving caused me to judge my wife and not see the grace that she was extending to me.
  • 4. Your spouse is not your opponent. Think together as you work through a conflict.
See also: Two Sinners under the same roof - June 29, 2006

Meanwhile, tomorrow, in Brazil, is Phil and Carolina's wedding:

Carolina will be coming to Reading to be one of my Relay workers from September.

How much should we give?

Ant drew our attention to Andy Hickford's recent Christianity Magazine article, something which drew a lot of very strong mailbag response in the issues since Easter. Some extracts:

...When it comes to Jesus and the law, it can be a bit confusing. Matthew 5:17 says that Jesus came to fulfil the law. Romans 3:31 says that he upholds the law. In Romans 7:6 it says that Jesus released us from the law and in Ephesians 2 Paul writes that Jesus abolished the law! So, just what is the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament’s laws?! Basically, Jesus replaces the Old Testament law. In him it is all fulfilled and upheld, because he completes it. We are released from its regulation and condemnation- that’s what meant by ‘He abolished the law.’ However, its wisdom and history is fulfilled in Christ.
How does this work with Martin Downes' observation that instruction on parenting is take straight out of the law and applied for Christians?
...most Christians I know don’t need freedom from tithing – or even freedom from the guilt of not tithing -they need freedom from consumerism. Like the Pharisees before us, it’s so easy to ‘strain the gnat’ of doing our tithing exegesis, only then to swallow the whole cultural camel of ‘Bigger, Better, Newer Faster’ – of more. The early church father Cyprian was right ‘on the money’ for today, when he said of his generation “Their property held them in chains, chains which shackled their courage and choked their faith, hampered their judgement and throttled their souls.”
Is the real issue with the way we spend rather than give? I find it very interesting that the church father's pick up on exactly the same issue... we easily blame our culture for the way that money compromises us but this pre-dates our capitalism. Could it be that we're so compromised that there is no escape? If not, where is the freedom going to come from?
I try to navigate my choices with John Stott’s great summary of the Christian’s attitude to money – ‘generosity simplicity and contentment’ as my mantra. I try to keep Petersons lovely translation of Mathew 6 foremost in my mind ‘ What I am trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so occupied with getting, so you can respond to Gods giving.’ But if I’m honest, whilst helpful these things don’t solve my dilemmas....Maybe these decisions are not supposed to be made from some rule book, but in conversation with the law giver himself - a life-long journey of changing seasons and themes.
Is giving just going to come back to subjective decisions and prayerful exercise of wisdom? Or, can we develop some guiding principles to help us along the way? The letter response to Hickford that most sticks in my memory is one that feared that if obligation to tithe was removed giving would fall meaning that pastors end up out of work, is that a valid fear?

Thursday, July 20, 2006 be continued?

Over the last few months I've turned my attention to think about Charismatic Gifts and to Divine Sovereignty.... At the end of June I was wondering whether I was free from the tough questions.

And then I ran headlong into another one. This one manifests itself in different issues: You can start with infant baptism and tithing, and you could chuck sabbath in the mix as well.

Anna Mack asked me to do something about understanding the law, in early 2007, and now I've hit an issue where I need to work it out!

The tithing issue is the pressing one as I work on my money study. Israel did it(although it looks like it was more like 23% than 10%), should Christians be tithing? And if not, then what?
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets;
I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."
-- Matthew 5:17, ESV
My instinct is that if Jesus fulfills the law then we're not expected to. The law is like rules that apply to someone else, not to us. Never to us. Imagine the foreign exchange kids in their yellow backpacks not allowed to take them off, I'd be a fool to imitate them... the rule about yellow backpacks doesn't apply to me.
"Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law,
imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed"
-- Galatians 3:23, ESV
So when it comes to money what would it mean to live by faith? What does keeping in step with the Spirit look like when it comes to my bank balance? Doesn't the shadow point us towards something for us? If sabbath points us to our eternal rest in Jesus... what about tithing? Where is the continuity? Where is the discontinuity? What changes, what should stay the same? I'm not expecting to resolve this one in a soundbite but I'd appreciate some thoughts

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Our God is a great BIG God (5)

2. Election is not by works (Romans 9:10-13)

This is really important. We've said that you get saved because God chooses to save you. Now, you might think that that's because of something in you.

What was it like a school when you played sports – when did you get picked? Up to the age of 15 I was tiny and not very good at sport as a result. I'd be among the last picks. Then at 15 I shot up the best part of a foot in height in just over a year... the moderate skill that I'd been working at was added too by some bulk and physical power... Everyone still thought of me as the little kid but eventually they noticed.... finally when we had our year photo arranged in height order, it came as a shock to many that I was stood among them... Not my fault that I'd shot up to 6 foot.

Whether its outward appearance or performance, we live in a world that is all about how you do. And you get picked based on how good you are at something. You got into Reading University because you achieved the required grades. When you get a job you submit your CV and have an interview to try and impress them. Its all works based.

You could almost be forgiven for thinking that God might work the same way. Surely, he picks the religious – the ones who go to church. Or surely, he picks the spiritually minded.. Surely, he picks the introverts, or the extroverts... the clever or the stupid. We edit criteria to include or exclude ourselves depending on whether we want to fit or not.

But how does God work. Paul takes us to Israel-Generation-2. To Isaac and Rebecca and the birth of their twin sons. See v12, she, Rebecca, was told “The older will serve the younger” - “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”. Which is to say that God chose Jacob; and didn't choose Esau. But why?

The explanation comes in v10-11. See what it says, tracing the argument back from v11 to v10. See, God chooses Jacob over Esau:
i.before birth...
ii.before actions...
The bad guy, the younger son inherits. And this was God's purpose in election continuing.

As Jerry Bridges has said:
Your best days don't put you above grace... your worst days don't put you beyond grace
... why? Because it has nothing to do with your works. God's purpose in election is to save whomever he wants! On the basis of himself! -- You're not a Christian because of what you've done... or will do. The only thing in your favour is your depravity and sin... your utter unlikeliness. God saw the depths of your sin and delights to show grace.

Before I was a Christian I was nice and religious as well as being a hypocrite and a bully. I lived different lives in different places with different people. And it sucked as a way of life. But God saved me. My religiosity was self-righteousness, and my other behaviour was just unpleasant a lot of the time.

But God called me. Not because I deserved it. Chosen before birth, and then saved. He saw the sin in the depths of my heart and he saved me, age 18 six weeks ahead of University. I'm sure in doing so he spared me from further potential ruin.... freed from having to show my “good” side who knows what might have happened.

All glory to him and no credit to me. If I was clever I ought to have figured out the gospel a bit sooner – I'd been to church all my life.... Sure it wasn't a great example of a gospel-church but I wasn't without access to the truth. Church of England litergy is packed with truth...

I was an avid reader who owned two largely unread Bibles at the time I became a Christian... not to mention one week at Spring Harvest... Christian parents... Christian friends... a few Christian CDs that people had given me.. God called me on the basis of “his purpose of election” so that I couldn't take any credit at all. My only boast: Jesus. That is his purpose in election.

Lets stop and feel one of the implications of this: Many try to say that if you believe in election then you wont do evangelism – you'd just wait for people to come and get saved. But that's the opposite of the real application! Election empowers evangelism.
God’s initiative empowers you to overcome and we need to be a generation that knows this...The heroes of the Bible were not thinkers, not philosophers, they were fighters.”
- Tom Shaw, cited by Tim Suffield (I think I'd want to say not just thinkers...)
Why? The world looks hopeless – people are not interested in believing... we're a small minority... But election says, contrary to appearances, God has people he will save!

Moreover. No-one has any good reason not to believe, because election is not on the basis of any desire, effort or heritage on our part. I'd love to expand on this but the simple truth is that no-one has a good answer to the question:
“Why shouldn't you become a Christian?”
They can't say: not good enough...
Can't say: not Christian family...
Only - “I refuse to”
And that is a terrible reason to avoid believing in Jesus. What kind of person would hear about the glories of the grace that is in Jesus Christ and say – I don't want that!! It's no excuse... So, go and preach the grace of God to God's world! Paul pleads this with us with tears... These are words of anguish for those who do not know Christ... and of passion for the glory of Christ.... a passion to see people saved, who are without excuse.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Our God is a great BIG God (4)

1. Election is not genetic (Romans 9v6-9)

Election is not genetic – not all Israel are Israel. Here's the point, v6, not everyone in Israel is “Israel”... not everyone descended from Abraham is a child of Abraham. Behind this is Romans 4. Essentially – being physically a child of Abraham doesn't make you a true child of Abraham in the faith.

Take the Argentina Number 10 shirt. Diego Maradona's shirt. Several have worn it after him... Ortega, Saviola, Riquelme... maybe next Messi... Raising hopes of Argentina having a new Maradona. But there's nothing magic about the shirt... wearning it doesn't make you worldclass.

Consider Abraham – He had two sons. Isaac and Ishmael. One was truly part of God's people – Isaac, and the other wasn't – Ishmael. Both genetically his children.. but that didn't make them God's people.

Rather – it was God's word, God's promise that declared Isaac as a child of God... and Ishmael not. Isaac was born because God promises that it would happen – v9 – against all odds. God said.

Even back in generation one of Israel it simply wasn't the case that being able to claim that you were related to Abraham made you anything special.

I don't know if you have any famous relatives. I have one... Percy Bysshe Shelley. A seriously depressing guy who lived fast, died young and got expelled from Oxford Uni for distributing his essay “The Necessity of Atheism”.

Maybe one day I'll write “The Necessity of Christian Theism”... and we'll see what happens. Anyway, point is... just because he and I are related that neither makes me a great poet, though I try, nor an atheist... which I'm not!! --- You get elected by God on the basis that he says you're elected... not because you can claim some family heritage.

And that's true for us too. You might be a minister's kid... you might have a great Christian heritage, but it wont get you saved. The only thing that saves you is that God chose you. Where is your confidence – in the word of God – his promises, or where you've come from?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Our God is a great BIG God (3)

Meanwhile: Our God is a great BIG God (3).

We join Paul in the clouds, glorying in the gospel! Full of joy at the grace of God. But... lets just throw a spanner in the works for a few minutes. You see, its all well and good for God to say – believe my totally secure promise. In fact its brilliant. God calling us to believe his word.

But hasn't this happened before? Wasn't Israel previously secure in the love of God? Has God's word failed for them? Doesn't that mean it might fail for us? From the heights of joy, to the depths of anguish.... V1-5. What a turn around... from 8v39 to 5v2... from the heights of joy to the depths of sorrow. What could possibly turn things so sharply? Anguish so deep that he would give up his salvation to save Israel. He's not saying he can. He made it very clear that Jesus Christ is the one and only person who can give his life to save others.

What he is doing is dropping a hint of Exodus 32 in here. He echoes Moses' cry to let himself be blotted out to save Israel, after the Incident with th Golden Calf. We'll return to that incident in a while because it lies very strongly behind this chapter.

Question is - does Israel's failure to gain salvation mean that God's word has failed? I mean, they had adoption, glory, covenants, law, worship, pormises, patriarchs, and thats before you even remember that Jesus descended from the Jews... genetically speaking. God has given Israel a lot!

So, its fair to ask isn't it – has God's word failed.. Does God's word not do its work? If not then Romans 8v38-39 is not a promise we can cling to. What does he say? No. God's word has not failed. This is emphatic. v6 It is not as though God's word has failed. That, Paul observes, is the wrong conclusion to draw from the vast numbers of unbelieving Jews.

But it remains – they've not believed. Everything else will explain why. As we travel through that I pray that the clouds open to reveal grace afresh... and something fresh of God's glory. Five things to say in chapter 9 and we'll draw out implications along the way...

As Paul writes these things it is tear-stained theology. He is in simultaneously in tears of joy about God's salvation plan, and broken hearted for those who are perishing. We must see the apostles heart as we consider these things. They are hard to swallow in places, but are never cold-academic musing. Paul is 100% heart and 100% mind. And he is evidently carried along by the Spirit of God; no man on his own would write the things Paul writes here.... we wouldn't imagine God to be this big, nor permit ourselves to be so low.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Very Different Son

Download: The Very Different Son - MP3 18MB
Sermon on Luke 4:1-13 from Arborfield Church, July 16th, 2005

Question – How do you respond to temptation to sin? I'll define what I mean by sin in a few minutes, but for now run with what you think of when I say “temptation to sin”

Approach 1: License
If you're anything like me then quite often you take this approach. License is the approach that does nothing to resist. Temptation rings the door bell and walks straight in. No resistance. We do this because we're easily pleased.

A few weeks ago I was buying lunch at Greggs in Reading... just a sandwich... but why not a sandwich and a cake... a little of what you like is good for you isn't it? Before I knew it the words were out and the money was handed over... on the way out of the door I walked past a friend. Caught in the act!

We settle for what temptation offers. It happens to us all, by weakness, negligence or deliberate fault. We confess that together when we meet here. The church is a family of self-confessed sinners. If you're a visitor today you're not sat with the self-righteous of our society. We're a family of imperfect people who have come to God for forgiveness.

And many of us who call ourselves Christians still live this way. We get charged with hypocrisy, and we have to hold our hands up. We admit our sin. No point pretending! We know. The world knows. And God knows. Sin lingers like a bad smell. And temptation never goes away. What is this sin thing? What comes to mind? Sin is about prizing ourselves above God. It happens as we decide that we rule.

Twelve days ago was American Independence day. Celebrating their independence, from us. Not exactly a British festival! Sin is our declaration of independence from God. And God is not celebrating. Whether in weakness, negligence or by deliberate fault we all do it. We make our declaration of independence from God.

Approach 2: Legalism
Some of us respond to temptation by sinning. Others try and resist it. This can be called legalism. We use rules. A swear box? An Internet blocker? It sometimes looks religious, but being religious is another form of declaring independence from God. Saying I'm good by my own strength! I triumph over temptation!

We think, I'll do good and go to church and that will make things right. And then we hear that Jesus responded to temptation by quoting the Bible so we say, lets be like him! Been tempted? Read the Bible! A struggle, but surely it'll settle our debts?

Yet this all ends up miserably. Wrapped up in all sorts of rules... and none of it seems work. A far cry from the freedom that Jesus speaks about... Some sin looks “bad”, like license to sin. Some sin looks “good”, like this legalism. Both declare independence from God.

Approach 3: Look at Jesus
The Bible will offer us a different way. Look with me at Luke chapter 4, on page 1030. Luke is a master historian. He's concerned to be accurate so that we can have certainty about our beliefs. Luke doesn't believe in blind faith. And he gathers his evidence about Jesus from the Old Testament of the Bible, and also from eyewitnesses of the events that he records. He ties everything back to the Old Testament of the Bible so that we can see the explanation of the events. Here, God has just said that Jesus is his Son. Then, Luke has listed the history of Israel – a whole nation who are called “sons of God”... right back to Adam, the first son of God – see that at the end of chapter 3.

And the question for us is: what kind of son of God is Jesus? As he paints his picture he's trying to get us to think about an earlier event. I don't know if you watched the last England football match, when it went to a penalty shoot out. What were you thinking? Stadium. Lush grass. England players. Three lions on a shirt. The goal. You probably wanted to see those black and white pictures of 1966... But you couldn't help thinking of Stuart Pearce or Chris Waddle in 1990, or Gareth Southgate, or David Batty... all those disappointments. And you found yourself asking, will this year be different? Isn't 40 years of hurt enough? Here, Luke sets the scene, from the eyewitnesses and it looks like something before.

Look at the first two sentences, marked, 1 and 2:

  • In history, Israel were rescued from Egypt and came out into the desert. Now Jesus is in the desert.
  • In history, Israel was in the desert for 40 years, Jesus is here for 40 days.
  • In history Israel were led by God, now Jesus is led by the Spirit of God.
  • Israel had been hungry, so is Jesus. Israel was called God's son, so is Jesus.
  • Israel was tempted, or “tested”, and they failed... Jesus is about to be tested... what will happen... will he fail or will this son of God be different?

I did GCSE Art at School. I was an average artist, I suppose. Two years later my sister came to do GCSE Art at the same school. Now, my surname, Bish, is a bit distinctive so she probably caught the eye. And the teachers must of thought, “Bish”, she'll be another average artist... And then she arrived... same dark hair, family likeness... same odd surname.. And yet my sister wasn't like me; she's an outstanding artist...

What about Jesus? Will he be just like everyone who came before him... or will he be different? Israel was tested, now Jesus is tested... And what's the test about? Its all about the same issue that every temptation is about: who rules. It's always been about that. Adam, the first man, the first son of God was tested by the devil. The devil told him that if he declared independence from God he would be like God... better off going his own way... And Adam fell, Israel fell... What about Jesus? As Jesus is tested three times he responds with quotes from Deuteronomy chapters 6-8.

His words are from some teaching Moses gave to Israel. Warnings against repeating their mistakes. In the desert Israel distrusted and disobeyed God... what will Jesus be like? Three tests. All essentially the same. A penalty shoot out. Will Jesus trust God or will he make a declaration of independence?

v3-4. Jesus' life.
It starts with an outright challenge... Its a classic challenge: prove it! We'd do it – if someone came in claiming to someone famous we'd seek some evidence... How do you prove you're the Son of God? Satan suggests: take a stone and turn it into bread... go on, you're hungry... Jesus replies swiftly with some famous words... Sentence 4... “It is written” - which means “God says” - “Man does not live by bread alone”.

Israel didn't trust God to provide for them. They wanted to be independent and go back to their old slavery in Egypt. They looked at the shop window and got the price labels in the wrong places. They thought that slavery was better than life with God. We get it wrong too. Jesus didn't. Jesus lived by God's promises, by God's price labels.

v5-8. Jesus' future.
Scene two. Sentence 5. Jesus and the devil on in a high place. Its cinematic. The devil shows Jesus the world in an instant, a whirlwind tour – the first man to see it all. And then the test. Look at sentence 6. “You can have the world”. Have it all! The price is high! What would you pay to gain the whole world? Would you sell your soul to the devil? That is what Jesus is invited to do. Sentence 7 - “If you will worship me”. The devil does have some dominion over this world... but it is not his to give away.

We rent our house, we have some dominion over it, but we can't sell it. Jesus knows how things really are. Sentence 8. “It is written: worship the Lord your God and serve him only”. Israel fell. They thought that what God offered wasn't as good as what they could get for themselves. God offered them the world.

The Promised Land, a symbol of an eternal inheritance: a new heavens and a new earth! Israel thought that independence was a better offer... In time Luke will show us that Jesus will inherit the whole earth. But he will not claim it by selling his soul to the devil. No, he will win it by submitting himself to death on a Roman cross. It looks like a weak way to win, but that shows again how different Jesus is. Unlike Israel and unlike us, Jesus will do things God's way.

v9-12. Jesus' trust
Scene 3. Sentence 9. Another challenge: if you're the Son of God.... jump off a building and God will save you... The devil takes God's promises to keep his people and misapplies them. Its the oldest trick in the book. Like some people say, “you can twist the Bible to say whatever you want...”

So we imagine that the Bible tells us to quit sin and then God will love us. But actually it says we're loved because Jesus has overcome our sin. Tiny change. A world of difference. We need to get God's word right! Here the issue is about how you apply God's promise to keep his people safe.

What would you do if you knew a speed camera actually had film in it? You wouldn't drive past it above the limit, just to test it. You'd trust it works, and stay safe. You don't prove trust by trying to break it. Trust in God is proved by trusting, not by testing. And Jesus trusts God. He is very different to everyone who came before him. Unlike them, he trusted God's promises perfectly. And in that way, he is also very unlike everyone who comes after him. You and me included.

You might have asked yourself “What would Jesus do?” and tried to do the same. Luke's point is none of us is like Jesus. Everyone fails in the face of temptation... All except one: Jesus. And that is very good news. It is THE good news.

What do you do with this?
Firstly – look at Jesus and be rescued. Admit you've declared independence from God and ask for help. Become part of Jesus' family. God will see only Jesus' success, not our failures.

Secondly – don't fight temptation by doing nothing or by being religious: Odyssesus travelled home from the Battle of Troy past the Island of the alluring but deadly Sirens. He could do nothing but he and his crew would have died. Instead he blocked the ears of his crew and tied himself to the mast... allowing himself to hear their song, but take no action. He used rules to fight temptation and lost his heart, as good as dead.

Instead look at Jesus. If you're a Christian, you are not in Adam's family any more. Instead you're in Jesus' family. Jesus who passed the test. Jesus who won the fight that we do not and cannot win.

Jason, of the Argonauts fame, also sailed past the Siren's island. He took a different approach. He hired Greece's greatest musician to play a louder better song. The sirens song was drowned out and they had safe passage. You might be right in the middle of sin today. It might feel too late to pull out. Too far gone? Not true. Never true. God will pull you out, if you will look at Jesus. A great Christian hymn says this: “Hark how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own”. When temptation comes, forget independence. Look up at Jesus.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Our God is a great BIG God (2)

What makes Christianity different? A debate once raged as to what was the distinctive thing about Christianity, compared to other world faiths. After much debate, C.S. Lewis walked in and simply said: grace.

Those very famous words in Romans 8v37-39 tell us much of grace. Sinners secure in the love of God. Terry Virgo calls it: “God's lavish grace”. The clouds open when we discover the reality of grace, with fresh wonder, such that “God's grace defies our comprehension”.

I love grace – and so I love the scriptures because they're full of grace. Even a few words on grace can make you want to turn to praising God. But... back to Virgo... he says:
“Few joys can be compared with discovering the wonder of God's grace, and I now set this material before you, certain that, if you will give yourself to reading it with an open heart and a willing spirit, your whole experience of Christ can also be transformed. You can be set free to enjoy his grace, to celebrate his love, to be certain of your freely-given righteousness, and to make him known to others”
The Bible bleeds grace on every page and so we turn there to be fed by our God. Dan Philips has written:
“If [studying the Bible] doesn't increase your passion, and your love for God, you're not doing it right"
And that's my aim. Turning to Romans 9-11 to have our passion and love for God increased.

People think Romans 9 is hard to understand. Listen, its not simple but I don't think it is hard. The hard thing is for us to believe it. Not because its fanciful but because God's word here seeks to demolish our sinful pride and put us on our knees and faces before God. Its that hard teaching that has made it a disputed passage in the history of the church. Disputed by people who want to make it not say what it plainly says. Church history can teach us – learn from it – read John Piper's biography series, for example.

Whatever the bad press, this is the Word of God. Mark Driscoll writes about the importance of having “solid reformed doctrine” and says:
“If you don't know what that means, the gist is that people suck and God saves us from ourselves. For more details... just accept a plain reading of Romans, particularly Romans 9-11”.
And that's the plan as we explore God's grace in Romans 9-11. I want us to find a plain reading of it. You might disagree with some of the detail – but let me challenge you to examine your heart if you find some of this to hot to handle. If we disagree with the Bible then we're wrong. The Bible bleeds grace, we must not take offence. The Bible bleeds grace...

Hove, actually

So last night the scheming turned to action and we surprised Kath by turning up at her house for a birthday BBQ. Making people happy is fun.

Lots of people (pictured: Anna, Roz and Jon) stole Kath's clothes. Kath is so UCCF that she owns a million CU hoodies, and Mark was going sailing:

Em, SteffyB, Kath and Nay playing losing at Swedish Sticks:

Mrs Dawson and Mrs Bish:

Kath writes about it: Birthday Surpises. On the way home we nearly had a surprise when we very nearly ran out of petrol.... made it to Asda on the fumes around half-midnight, just in time to buy some stuff for brunch.

Like the sailor said "prophecy is easier when you know what is going to happen."

Grace Transforming

Milton Stanley quotes Scot McKnight:
I see two major approaches: first, preach discipleship harder — rail away on the weakness of individual Christians today and highlight those weaknesses by showing just how committed Jesus wanted us to be. I would say I followed this approach from the time I read Bonhoeffer as a sophomore in college until I began teaching college students when it dawned on me that such an approach might get the whole notion of gospel and law mixed up.

So, the second approach is to speak of God’s embracing grace, of the gospel of God, and of the power of God’s Spirit. It would be unwise to choose between these, but I will offer this: If it is God’s grace that transforms, focus on God’s grace, God’s Spirit, and the gospel as the power of God for all of us in every way imaginable.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Our God is a great BIG God

I've been studying the "easy" subject of Spiritual Gifts after which I decided to gorge on Romans 9-11 for a while. Just for fun! Had the opportunity to teach some of that at Reading Family Church last month, and to work it through with some keen students, so here it is in bitesize blogpost. Why hit the hard doctrine? Because:
"Young people today don't get fired up about denominations and agencies. They get fired up about the greatness of a global God and about the unstoppable purpose of a sovereign King." -- John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching
Get into it with this introduction: Romans 9 - Breathless and Heartbroken.  

And our hearts don't just drift towards believing in such a big God. God reveals himself and if you want a big vision of God Romans 9-11 is a great place to go. Its warm and tear-stained stuff from a man wrestling in the agonies of prayer for his people. It stretches the mind but stretches the heart even more, will we believe the plain meaning of God's word? To get you in the mood here's a fun BIG God song:
Our God is a great big God, Our God is a great big God,
Our God is a great big God, And he holds us in his hands.
He's higher than a sky scraper, and he's deeper than a submarine.
He's wider than the universe, and beyond my wildest dreams.
And he's known meand he's loved me, since before the world began.
How wonderful to be a part of God's amazing plan.
Our God is a great big God
-- Jo & Nigel Hemming. Copyright © 2001 Vineyard Songs
And try this too: Have you heard the good news? Is your Christianity good news or just a necessary evil, a get out of jail free card or the best news ever? It's easy to shrink Christianity down into something mediocre, but when you see what God has actually done in Jesus it's big and amazing.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wish List

Absolutely Dependable Human Beings

Mark Heath shares from a TOAM seminar by Philip Greenslade:
The story of Josiah... there was much economic and even religious activity, but the word of God had been lost. Josiah learned that God must have the first word in everything.... The story of Josiah's son Jehoiakim [he] tried to destroy the word, but discovered that God always has the last word.... The Jehoiakim church is a church that cuts bits out of the word of God to tame it, and make it culturally acceptable. But is the Josiah church honouring the word? Do we simply assume that people know the "apostle's teaching" or are we giving space to expository teaching. This is central and vital - so we need to do it, and do it well.

The third story is of Jesus being handed the scroll in Luke 4. He pointed out that Jesus himself chose to expound scripture, rather than telling his feelings, vision or his life story. This seemed to me to be a word of mild rebuke to charismatic churches whos sermons are less and less likely to be expository and instead focus on explaining plans and vision for the future, or testimony from recent missions etc.... we too need to "take up the scroll" and be confronted with the "stories of God". God's first and final word is Jesus, and opening the scrolls speeds the momentum of God's story and provokes a reaction. The Bible is like dynamite... let God's word consume you and affect your emotions.

Greenslade closed urging newfrontiers to "stay faithful to the written word of God as you follow the Spirit wherever he leads". It is interesting that Philip was invited to speak on this topic to newfrontiers as the emotion of "mourning" over sin and acknowledging of the depravity of the human heart is not a major emphasis of our group of churches. The worship is increasingly focussing on being extravagantly joyful, and only quietens down to be intimate. Songs of lament, crying for mercy are not to be found in our repertoire. Similarly, sermons strike a consistently truimphant tone, and the Puritan emphasis on the soul's war against sin is rejected in favour of emphasising the power of the Spirit.

As I have already mentioned, while not overtly critisising newfrontiers, Greenslade seems to be concerned that though a church may believe that it is honouring the Scriptures, in fact they are being neglected, as less and less space is given to "opening the scrolls". Ian Stackhouse sounds a similar warning in his book "The Gospel Driven Church". I tend to agree with them on this point - I am concerned at a growing biblical illiteracy as young people grow up hearing many motivational talks but few biblical expositions. Any reminder of the importance of letting God speak to us through the Scriptures is in my view a timely one.
See similar reflections in a different context from David Jackman. Jackman's challenge not so much to spark more expository preaching, since he can safely assume his audience love exposition. Jackman insisted upon expository exultation: Preach the word.

More exposition of the word! More expository exultation! Encouragingly, many already have the best of both worlds. Greenslade speaks to Newfrontiers, Jackman to Proctrust... my experience of both is limited but appears in God's grace to have been amongst the best examples - people who take Scripture seriously and preach it with due passion, gravity and concern for God's glory. But none of us will naturally stay there. We don't just drift towards exulting over God's word. We must keep reforming, not for the sake of reformation - but for the sake of drawing closer to God's best for us.

We all like to think of ourselves as absolutely dependable... but we are not. We must listen intently and humbly to scripture. We must not wholly accept what others say, but rather exercise discernment, testing against scripture. And that necessitates that we do wholly accept what Scripture says. Always coming back to scripture, always praying that God would incline our hearts to him. Praying that he would miraculously open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, our hearts to believe his word. And as we reform, there are many fallible friends who can help us along the way.
"I want to stand among the people of God, as a fellow struggler, a prodigal in the Father’s gracious party, and hear that my sins are forgiven." - iMonk

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Spice up your life

Maurice McCracken starts blogging his 1 Corinthians 12-14 talks from RELAY3 last month:
"Why do 1 Corinthians 12-14?

I suppose the real question for me is, why not do it? Many of us will be used to being asked by students about some of the issues in this part of 1 Corinthians and saying “whoops, secondary issue” and moving on. Now, in the context of a mission team where the discussion could be needlessly divisive in a particular situation that may be the wisest thing to do, but we don’t want you to get the impression that issues like the role of women and so-called charismatic gifts are totally off the agenda. The point of a secondary issue is not that we never talk about it, but that we say that the truths of the db provide us with gospel unity, and we agree to have different views on secondary issues.

In saying that, even on the most contentious issues in this passage, there is plenty that we can all agree on, and that we really need to know, so the fact that secondary issues are mentioned does not, it seems to me, mean that we need to ignore the passage. However, before we get into it, and just as a note of warning, we do need to be careful with passages like these ones, not to ask lots of questions of it that Paul just isn’t answering....."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Christian Students Mental Health

Rachel Matson has put this resource together, I'm sure it can be very helpful for all of us who are involved in student ministry:

Students are particularly vulnerable, as they are exposed to many stressors. Living away from home, being lonely, not being able to get a good night’s sleep (particularly in halls!!), having new financial responsibilities, probably having an unhealthy diet (pasta and baked beans hardly supply all we need!), and the pressures of study, etc.

Add these to the usual stresses we all face in life, and it’s little wonder that in your work you will meet many students struggling with mental health problems. This site is intended to equip you to help those students, and to know where your limits lie.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Kermode, Virgo and Driscoll

You have to listen to Mark Kermode's very funny ranting against Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, which is bound to be high quality nonsense. Film reviews from July 7th. These are live on Simon Mayo's Radio Five Live programme every Friday, and good to download too. What Dr. Kermode fails to realise is that we know its like a silly theme park ride... we know it is mindless. But we like that kind of fun, once in a while. And given that Capote and Munich were the last two films I saw its time for a bit of sunsoaked drivel.

Meanwhile, Adrian was at TOAM and loved Terry Virgo and insists that you get familiar with Terry by listening to his Romans preaches from last Septembers UCCF Forum conference - they were best with the front-row seat I managed to bag for most of the week, but they work well on MP3 too! Key quote:
"Lets go and make Jesus famous"

HT Clokester: Mark Driscoll's interview in Christianity Today makes good reading - bring on a revival of chilled-out solidly-reformed Christianity in the UK please! Key quotes:
I am also honest about the pain of pastoral ministry—how pastors are sinners too. I hope the book is funny enough to start to put the "fun" back into fundamentalism.

Reformed theology offers certainty, with a masculine God who names our sin, crushes Jesus on the Cross for it, and sends us to hell if we fail to repent... I came to Reformed theology by preaching through books of the Bible such as Exodus, Romans, John, and Revelation, along with continually repenting of my sin. I am, however, a boxers, not briefs, Reformed guy. I am pretty laid back about it and not uptight and tidy like many Reformed guys.

I have thousands of books in my library and lean most heavily on dead guys for theology and modern stand-up comedians for preaching tips. In the end, I am an old-school, Jesus-loving Bible-thumper with a penchant for the portrait of Jesus in Revelation as an ultimate fighter with a tattoo down his leg.
Time to get on with preparing my talk on Luke 4v1-13 for church next week... Jesus, where we cave to temptation he stood firm!

Friday, July 07, 2006

From fear to faith

Ex-Relay worker Nathan Burley launches a new interview blog which will be interesting to follow.
When Nathan met... Liam Goligher:
Liam Goligher is Senior Minister of Duke Street Church, Richmond-Upon-Thames. He has also been involved in student ministry in the UK and eastern Europe, and has pastored churches in Ireland, Canada and Scotland. His new book, The Jesus Gospel: recovering the lost message, is published today.
"'Bible doctrine doesn't need to be reinvented for each new generation, it simply needs to be rediscovered. The best interpreters act like tour-guides who've lived in the area for a long time, know the language and local history, and can reveal surprises usually missed by day-trippers in a hurry. Liam Goligher is one such guide. He traces the blood-stained path of God's rescue plan for mankind, casting fresh light on biblical events and making the Cross stand out so ruggedly that you could splinter your finger on it."
- Greg Haslam, Westminster Chapel
This morning as I walked through the fields at 5.30am I was thinking about questions on my annual review. One of the questions is about my "training and development needs"... And I found myself thinking: I don't care all that much about Skills, I just want to be reminded of God's promises and encouraged to keep being a Christian from the Bible, and to pray the same.

Skills do matter of course, but I can't help thinking that my students will do better evangelism by loving God's grace than by learning two ways to live. Of course they need a deep and accurate sin-killing passion-enducing belief, which is the sort of thing that just overflows into evangelism and godliness and other things.

Likewise a person gripped by the gospel and gifted by God will preach God-exalting truth Some training in skills can tidy things up a bit, but as I've said before I don't think you can skill passion into people. Its a work of God's word and God's Spirit (which obviously coincide very strongly!).

I'm working through Mark 1-8 to write some cell group notes for Reading University Christian Union to use in the autumn. This morning was Mark 5, where Jesus casts out demons from a man. This man is told simply to tell people what the Lord has done for him, so he goes and tells people what Jesus has done for him. Its the outworking of discipleship. We tell people what God has done, in Jesus, in us.

Two quotes from James Edwards' Pillar commentary on Mark:
“Whenever the person and work of Jesus are highlighted, so, too, are discipleship. For Mark, the revelation of Jesus as God's Son is not an isolated datum that transpires in a vacuum. Jesus' self-disclosure occurs in the presence of insiders so that they may be enabled to hear, comprehend, and increase in faith. Who Jesus is lays a claim on what his disciples may become.”
And reflecting on fear and faith in Mark 4v35-5v45:
“Most people, if they were asked, would probably say that they would like to see a manifestation of God. But this story is a cold shower for such religious pipe dreams: when God manifests himself in Jesus most people ask him to leave”
The disciples are more scared by Jesus stilling the storm, than by the storm. The Geresene people are more scared by Jesus casting out demons, than by the demoniac himself.

When Jesus is revealed to us change happens. Either we become hardened to him, fearful of Jesus. Or, we recieve his word and have faith in him. Thats not a matter of methods, but of sovereign grace at work in our lives.

The thing about blogging is that its blimmin addictive
-well at least blogging for God's glory is.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Life is like a box of chocolates?

Adrian Warnock is at the new frontiers leadership conference:
Together on a Mission,
kindly liveblogging for the rest of us.
(Note to self, don't be jealous).

Anna Hopkins reflects on anxiety in the Christian life.

Sam Best says one of my favourite phrases: I love church.

New Zealand based Scotsman, Nigel Pollock invites us back to the cross
"If I could get students of today into a room I think the one thing I would tell them is to cling to the cross. I began to understand the importance of the cross at my first inter varsity conference it has taken me a lifetime to begin to appreciate its meaning. So I would say to todays students, come to the cross, humble yourselves at the cross, seek to grow in your understanding of the cross, proclaim the cross boldly, never grow tired of taking up the cross or talking of the cross. The cross is at the very centre of all we believe, all we do and all we are”

The John Piper Audio Archive appears to have grown recently. Now including some sermons on RISK from 1987, and Galatians from 1983.

"Risk is Right"

The risk series covers most of the material behind Piper's EMA talk in three 30 minute talks. This really is essential listening. Notes from EMA: Risk is RIGHT

EMA Talks now downloadable at £2 each:

Next EMA 2007 line-up now announced: Tim Keller, Vaughan Roberts, David Jackman, Dick Lucas, and Richard Cunningham.

Pod & Ally write about Interface Arts. Kath Paterson reviews the excellent Finding Joy far too briefly.

Mark Driscoll posts a paper on some FAQs in the book of Genesis.

Free download track from the forthcoming SGM CD The Valley of Vision:
Download: The Precious Blood

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

On Writing

So here's the think, I'm attempting to write a book. I'm enjoying it, though I find it a challenge to turn on the creativity during working hours. More than that I might be a bit of an introvert but a day on my own in front of a laptop isn't entirely my idea of fun.... I love being with people. I think its also going to affect my blogging.... you see, my mind is rather pre-occupied with the subject matter... but I can't blog that because if I publish everything here it rather defeats the point of writing the book.

And then it occured to me I could publish what I have written so far this week, we're standing at around 8000 words:

Happy reading.... of course this wont really stop me blogging. For a start I have several other projects I'm working on in parallel to the book writing (- some stuff for the september Relay and Forum conferences, some Cell notes on Mark 1-8, a talk on Luke 4), not to mention all the other drivel going around in my head every day. And this is suppposed to be my relaxed month...

I found this quote somewhere earlier:
"The more we enjoy of God, the more we are ravished with delight" ~Thomas Watson
I suspect its a bit optimistic in this life, albeit finally true. I'd love Watson's observation to be true of what I'm writing. I hope to write (book or otherwise) that which is thoroughly steeped in Scripture, well argued and well presented, and that it would lead people to be "ravished with delight" in Jesus.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sparks capable of igniting a preacher

One reviewer has written:
"The Art Of Prophesying carries sparks capable of igniting a preacher. It should be beside every minister's desk as a book to turn to again and again."

The Art of Prophesying by William Perkins is one of the books I picked up at the EMA bookstall last week. Its a short book by the puritan Vicar of St. Andrew the Great, Cambridge. Its title would attract many people, however it is not the gift of prophecy that concerns Perkins. His concern is the ministry of prayer and preaching, a ministry he derives from observing the ministry of the Bible's prophets.

As he writes:

"Every prophet's task is to speak partly as the voice of God (in preaching), and partly as the voice of the people (in praying)."

He summarises that preaching involves:
1) Rereading the text clearly from the canonical Scriptures.
2) Explaining the meaning of it, once it has been read, in light of the Scriptures themselves.
3) Gathering a few profitable points of doctrine from the natural sense of the passage.
4) If the preacher is suitably gifted, applying the doctrines thus explained to the life and practice of the congregation in straightforward, plain speech.

The heart of the matter is this:
Preach one Christ,
by Christ, to the praise of Christ.
This is an examining book - testing my handling of the text and its application to God's people. Much like David Jackman's comments in his EMA address, Perkins will not permit preaching to be reduced to cool observation. Perkins would have the preacher excercise a higher and divine calling... the noble task of bringing God's word to the church.
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. - Article 19, Church of England

One last word to keep the preacher from getting above himself, from Josh Moody in his new IVP book The God-Centred Life:
"Given that Balaam's donkey was used to convey God's message, we might go so far as to say that, biblically speaking, it is quite clear that intelligence is not necessary for usefulness in the Lord's service." (p. 113)
The task is great, the preacher could be anyone God gifts and equips to serve. (HT: Towner)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Images from the end of the year

Featuring some RUCU bloggers...
Sam Best | Anna Hopkins | Ed Goode | Ceryn Oakes

See also some classic images from the end of last year

Ultimate Realities

How do you mobilise a people into mission? In September I have a few of speaking engagements to do just that. A couple to send freshers off to University... another to prepare current students to make the most of freshers week. What do I need to teach them? I'm persuaded by John Piper's argument in his introduction to The Supremacy of God in Preaching:
"Young people today don't get fired up about denominations and agencies. They get fired up about the greatness of a global God and about the unstoppable purpose of a sovereign King.
I will talk about the vision of Christian Unions but that is not ultimate. The vision of Christian Unions is one I've given myself to serving not because Christian Unions are ultimate, but because the of global greatness of God. His fame and reputation are ultimate. The grace of God wrought into the lives of many is ultimate. Our ministry in Christian Unions is a means to an end, a means to seeing God become famous on campus, and worldwide. This must be our desire and our joy. This must occupy our affections and our actions. Piper continues:
The first great missionary said: "We have recieved grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among the nations" (Romans 1v5). Missions is for the sake of the name of God. If flows from a love for God's glory and for the honour of his reputation. It is an answer to the prayer, "Hallowed be thy name".
The motivation for missions is not us, it is his Name. It was a vision for God's reputation that enabled Paul to lay his life down. I was listening to an interview on student ministry in the USA recently.... it was bemoaning people trying to be cool to connect with people... pursuing relevance as an end in itself. At the end of the interview the challenge was made that real connection will come by telling people about the glory of God and calling them to lay their lives down for Christ. What is cool? This is:
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? - Mark 8v34-37
A vision of God that is big enough that we will lay down our own rights and preferences, even our lives, for the sake of making Jesus Christ famous... giving up self to gain Christ and have others gain him also. Jim Elliot is a Christian Hedonists hero... look at his reflections on October 28th 1949:
Piper concludes:
So I am persuaded that the vision of a great God is the linchpin in the life of the church, both in pastoral care and missionary outreach. Our people need to hear God-entranced preaching. They need someone, at least once a week, to lift up his voice an dmagnify the supremacy of God... God himself is the necessary subject matter of our preaching... so many of [our people] are tragically starved [of that]
There is I'm sure need to teach people to articulate the gospel well, and to think hard about peoples questions etc, but above all people need to catch a vision of the glory of God. You can't skill that into people, passion for God comes through an encounter with the Word of God and the conviction of the Spirit of God. Only then are our eyes opened. Such a vision of grace and glory will offend the proud, but to those God humbles it will always be the sweetest food for the soul. He must be the content. We need BIG God theology, BIG God songs, BIG God life.... you get the idea.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Grace that sustains

Talking one of my favourite people, from the other side of the world, on Skype last night, he said:
I think grace sometimes makes the hard times harder - it means we don't ignore suffering, or try to escape it: but face up to it; but in the hard times we discover the value of suffering and find joy, and the hope that will not be taken away.
Living by grace takes away the pretense. When you live by grace you can't just say its all fine and think you're respectable and nice and always happy. Grace exposes all that and gives freedom for failure, honesty about struggles and about the hardness of life.

But, grace also sustains. As Piper defines it:
Not grace to bar what is not bliss,
Nor flight from all distress, BUT THIS,
The grace that orders our trouble and pain
And then in the darkness is there to sustain
Grace is secure. And no failure or suffering or struggle, darkness or trouble can keep us from God's secure grace. It remains. It endures. And by grace we are kept. By grace, and grace alone, I can believe that I'll wake up in the morning as a Christian.

Having finished reading Numbers I turned to Deuteronomy. Moses preaches there:
For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt
God chose his people, to be his treaured possession. And he loved them with a secure love. But, Israel were not loved because they were numerically great but rather because God loved them and promised love to them. Similarly and more securely Christians stand in the love of God in Christ. Not loved because we are strong, great or irresistable to him. But we are loved because in the Lord Jesus Christ he loves us and promises love to us. A sure hope that cannot be taken away.

My friend, departed to give a talk on the role of a staff worker. I hope he told them something along the lines of "believe God's promises and encourage others to do the same". Richard Baxter begins his The Reformed Pastor with a charge:
See that the work of grace be thoroughly wrought in your own souls. Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace if God which you offer to others... commend the riches of the gospel from their own experience.
How I must pray that the work of grace continues to be thoroughly wrought in me... killing my sin, and keeping me in Christ.

David Osborne on John Owen: Your Spiritual Well Being (HT: Thabiti Anyawile)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Over again then...

Don't wanna hear the news
What's going on, What's coming through
I don't wanna know, Don't wanna know
Just wanna hide away, Make my my escape
I want the world, To leave me alone
Feels like I feel too much, I've seen too much
For a little while, I want to forget

I wanna be numb
I don't wanna feel this pain no more
Wanna lose touch
I just wanna go and lock the door
I don't wanna think
I don't wanna feel nothing
I wanna be numb
I just wanna be
Wanna be numb

Can't find no space to breathe, World's closing in
Right on me now, Well that's how it feels
That's how it feels, Too much light
There's too much sound, Wanna turn it off
Wanna shut it out, I need some relief
Think that like I think too much, I've seen too much
There is just too much, Thought in my head
Numb; Pet Shop Boys, 2006.
The music on the BBC's end of programme scenes.

Series: Romans 9-11

Our God is a great big God

An ongoing series unpacking Romans 9-11.

Series: Galatians

I never quite got as far through this series as I'd intended. However, I will be studying Galatians with Ed & Carolina in Autumn 2006 so perhaps the rest will get worked up on here then...

EMA: John Piper - Sustaining Grace

Following the first talk on risk is right we were reminded: that we will risk only by passion for God's glory when we know the great reward and tresure in Christ. We must preach the glory of the THEN so people will suffer NOW. You cannot be too heavenly minded... and then Dr. Piper turned to Sustaining Grace:

1. Enduring as a Christian: pray to stay a Christian
2. Enduring in word ministry
3. Enduring where we are as long as we're called to be there
4. Enduring in marriage, even in hardship

In our time endurance is not valued. Everything has to change. So, how do we endure? Sustaining grace is the answer. Defined in Piper's poem:
Not grace to bar what is not bliss,
Nor flight from all distress, BUT THIS,
The grace that orders our trouble and pain
And then in the darkness is there to sustain

God can prevent the pain but often he doesn't. Instead he proves the grace to sustain. This happened with Paul in 2 Corinthians 12. Piper also cited a number of examples from his own church.

We then turned to Jeremiah 32v36-41. Jerusalem has been given into Babylon's hands by God. But, v37, God will gather them from the hand he had driven them to. Sustaining grace will triumph... but that doesn't avert the trouble.

Can we say "God will bring me back?" What is our assurance? Ourselves? Our will? We are so prone to wander but dependent on grace. Pray to be kept in Christ, in ministry. Pray to be kept from sin, whatever the cost. Reformed theology must always lead to prayer (and also to evangelism). Only God can do it. Only God can keep me a Christian tomorrow.

Jeremiah 32 contains New Covenant promises that are secured in Jesus blood. They are for us.

1. God promises to be our God if we belong to Jesus - v38. God uses all he has to see that we remain his.

2. God promises to change our hearts and give us love and fear of him - v39 & v40b. God doesn't just watch, he acts! God keeps the covenant. Sustaining grace is Sovereign grace. Grace is irrestistable, not because we don't resist, but because God overcomes our restistance.

3. God promises that he will not turn away from us or let us turn away from him - v40b. The only basis for me believing tomorrow is God. He keeps me. And God will honour the needle of truth, in the haystack of error (Packer) - so even Arminians are kept by God (!). Keeping us even if we don't believe it. But, we must believe it.

4. God promises to do this keeping with the greatest intensity of desire imaginable -v41. He loves to do us good. We have small capacity for joy but when infinite power ishappy - God is full of celebration. He rejoices to sustain us. Can I concieve of an intensity of desire greater than ALL God's hgeart and soul? NO. All the world's desire for everything woudl still be less, six billion people for a life time is still nothing compared to God's desire to sustain us. A thimble versus the pacific... no even greater.

Sustaining grace in action will mean we can risk and the world will have to ask - what reason for the hope we have?

This talk was a passionate display of reformed doctrine that inspires action and deeply intense worship. We sang Be Thou My Vision in response with real convinction. I was struck again by God's work and glory described here:
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, in the day or the night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
Be Thou ever with Thee, and I with thee, Lord;
Be Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Be Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
Be Thou my whole armour, be Thou my true might
Be Thou my soul’s Shelter, be Thou my strong Tower:
O raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Be Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Be Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
O Sovereign of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, Thou heaven's bright son,
O grant me its joys, after victory is won;
great heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be Thou my Vision, O Ruler of all.
So simple, God is sovereign and his grace sustains... delivered with appropriate passion... why isn't every sermon like this? Why isn't my life more God-centred, God-exalting, God-enjoying.

EMA: John Piper - Risk is Right

See also Ant Adams notes on this talk

Take risks for God.

Effective pastoral leaders
create an atmosphere in which
the prudent and status quo people
cannot control the church.

The next step is risky.
What might God be calling me to in the next year, two, five...

An action than exposes you and others to loss or injury
Risks are good. Not all risks are good. BUT more risks than we think are good.

Question: Why does the possibility of risk exist?
Answer: Ignorance.

We don't know what is coming tomorrow. God does so God cannot risk. Jesus didn't risk: it was all PLAN. But we don't know. So, we can risk and we must. We don't know if we'll die before the talk finishes. When God says "enough" then it is over. Its an awesome thought. You need to be right with Jesus.

We cannot avoid risk in sleep or anywhere. Minsitry and mission are not risk free. There are no closed-countries. Risk is right.

1. 2 Samuel 10v11-12.
Joab and Abishai vs. Syria and the Ammonites. Be courageous and may the LORD do what seems god to him. They don't KNOW. They fight for Christ's glory. Find someone to stand and fight with!
"Brothers, let's fail at something"
We can't do anything if we wont risk failure.

2. Esther 4v15-16
You've got to risk it. Risking against the law on threat of death. "If I perish, I perish". We need Esthers and Joab's today.

3. Daniel 3
Refusing to bow to the monument to be burnt alive. v16-18. No need to answer, God can deliver us. If not, we still wont serve idols. We know God can deliver. We risk because he might not.

4. Paul - Acts 21
Paul is bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem. 21v10, "You'll be delivered to the Gentiles". v13, Paul is ready to be imprisoned and to die: for the name of the Lord Jesus. v14. The will of the Lord be done.

And that is after 2 Corinthians - Paul catalogues his suffering in 2 Corinthians 11v24. Paul almost KNEW suffering would come. Suffering awaited him everywhere. How is our willlingness to suffer?
"Risk loks inexplicable to the grandparents"
The non-Christian parents of a missionary from his church said: "if you don't come back from China alive, I'll kill Piper". And John Piper says: THAT'S A GOOD THING.

v24-28, there is danger everywhere. Paul never knew where the next blow would come from. He was safe, no-where.
Safety is a mirage
Yet so many Christians dream of security. Risk is normal. Risk is right. Go for this kind of pastoral leadership.

What cost if we wont risk?
Joshua and Caleb were voted down and God's people were sentenced to 40 years in the wilderness. Forty years of fruitlessness.

What kind of risk should we take?

1. Relationships.
Confronting people in their sin... when you know that will mean trouble.

2. Money.
We don't have much, so preach RISK MONEY ahead of time. Create a money mindset of risk. Luke 21v1-4 shows a woman giving out of her POVERTY. No prudent! Risky! We are so rich and secure that we don't dare to risk. Our hearts are revealed by our risk.

3. Witnessing to the gospel.
Evangelism is risky. We'll be criticised. Some killed... so that people will hear the gospel. Open your mouth.

4. Ministry Ventures.
Be entreprenuerial. God for it. Spurgeon-like entreprenuers are needed. Pray that God would show us that risky venture.

How is this possible?

Romans 8v32. Since God did not spare his son he will give us all things... Future grace is rooted in past grace. No ultimate risk because we follow Jesus inseparably. It will work out for our good. To paraphrase Luke 12v4:
Fear not; you can only be killed.