Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Living Leadership - Marcus Honeysett Sermons

Marcus Honeysett is the author of Meltdown: Making sense of a culture in crisis and Finding Joy: A radical rediscovery of grace , both published in the UK by IVP.
Formerly UCCF London Team Leader, he now works with Living Leadership training leaders in the local church.
I think it's fair to say that Marcus is just a bit of a Christian Hedonist, and a thorough-going Reformed Charismatic.
Marcus Honysett: MP3 Sermons
Philippians 1-2, The Kings Centre, September 2006.
** Philippians 1 - Praying with Joy
** Philippians 1 - How to be mature in Christ
** Philippians 2 - part 1.
** Philippians 2 - part 2.
1 Peter, UCCF Midlands Student Leaders Weekend, March 2006
** 1 Peter 1v1-2v1
** 1 Peter 2v11-3v13
** 1 Peter 3v13-4v11
** 1 Peter 5v1-13
Ephesians 1 & 3, Southampton University Christian Union, October 2006
** Priorities (Freshers Week)
Reading University Christian Union, freshers week:
** Don't Waste Your Life - Marcus Honeysett, October 2006
Above Bar Church, October 2006
** The Transforming Power of Jesus, Acts 3 - Marcus Honeysett
Nottingham University Christian Union , February 2007
** Daniel 9 - Marcus Honeysett

Beeston Free Church

** Marcus Honeysett - Postmodern Challenges to Christian Living

** Marcus Honeysett - Postmodernism & Authority

** Marcus Honeysett - Postmodernism and the uniqueness of Christ

Lansdown Baptist Church, July 2007
** Marcus Honeysett - How to be accepted by God?

Durham CU
** Marcus Honeysett - James 4


Dawkins: Mad, Bad or Sad?

This apologetic from Tom Price (formerly of bethinking.org) is well worth a read, considering the phenomenon of a man in a bit of a trilemma:

Richard Dawkins:
Mad, Bad or Sad?

The Times: serialising The God Delusion. Part 1: Why there is no God - (HT: Adrian Reynolds)

Orthodoxy (on Reformation Day)

To mark Reformation Day 2007 I thought I'd share some observations from the book of 2 Chronicles. This book takes us through the history of God's people from the reign of King Solomon to the exile and the decree that permits their return. We cover many centuries and darkness abounds for much of it. There are glimmers of hope, albeit flickering and imperfect. The book cries out for it's YES and AMEN in the completion of God's promises and offers many lessons for us along the way.
2 Chronicles is about Orthodoxy. Ortho meaning true, doxa meaning worship. It concerns the establishment of a place for the LORD's name with his people, a place of certain forgiveness and a place where the Word of God is found. It's about true worship.
The story begins with Solomon who desires to build a temple for the LORD. His father David had shared this desire but been barred from fulfilling it. Solomon is not held back. With the help of God-fearing foreign kings he builds a magnificient temple. A place of prayer for the nations.

The law of God is moved to be housed there. And in chapters 6-7 Solomon prays to secure this place as a place of forgiveness. God's promises that this will be the case - prayerful humble repentance will be met with forgiveness, but unrepentant rebellion will result in them being plucked from the land.

All seems well until Rehoboam ascends to the throne and somehow manages to mislay the Word of God. This isn't all that easy - it's not a pocket size Bible. Yet he does. The clouds gather from here on in. When the Word of God is lost from the People of God it will not be long before everything begins to rot away. Decline follows with occasional shafts of light but in the absence of God's word people do not drift towards trusting Him.

Then comes Jehosaphat and his friend Ahab. Jehosaphet is a good king but his reforms fall short of God's standards. He removes some idolatry but does not get rid of the high places where God's people worshipped away from God's place, the Temple. He also allies with evil Ahab who hates what God says through his Prophets. Why? Because they don't tell him what he wants to hear. Itching ears abound!

Several more evil monarchs follow before Joash becomes King. He begins to repair the temple. Later however when a prophet speaks words he doesn't want to hear he orders him to be stoned to death. A promising start is ended because the prophets God sends don't always say what his people want to hear – they're invited to enjoy great prosperity if only they will listen and repent... somehow not an attractive offer..

After half-hearted Amaziah comes Uzziah. Another shaft of light until he takes it upon himself to be a Priest-King and marches into the Temple uninvited. He is cut off from the people with leprosy. Orthodoxy matters to God.

Jotham reigns well before evil Ahaz. No good king is able to keep reigning, they all die and few are shown to have instructed their sons well. Devotion to the Lord in a king is short lived when the next generation are not taught. Hezekiah is one of the great reformers of Israel - reestablishing much of the life of the people of God. Pride overcomes him before he repents of this, and then dies. Manasseh quickly undoes the reforms before repenting. Amon then reigns with a commitment to do evil in the LORD's sight.

Josiah is the last of the reforming kings. His reformation is able to advance because he finds the law of the LORD. However he fails to recognise the LORD's word through the unexpect lips of Egyptian King Neco and is killed in battle before his time. The decline is then rapid, like a football club in decline, moving from one manager to another in quick sucession.

The LORD has sent many messengers to his people but they scoffed. The temple stood as a place of forgiveness for the repentant but they discarded the Word of the LORD and neglected his place, prefering to bow to idols in high places. Finally the LORD says enough is enough and sends them into exile under his judgement. And there they remain for a period. Until, King Cyrus of Persia is comissioned by God to return the exiles to their land to rebuild a temple for the LORD - just as Solomon had done at the opening of this book.
Second Chronicles cries out for an Orthodox King. One true to God's word, true to God's way of worshiping, true to God's place of atonement. Yet no such king is found and we're left crying out for Jesus: The Word, the Temple and the Atonement. And yet when he came, like the prophets before, the people killed the Son. Such is the darkness of the human heart.
The reforming kings were bound to fail because they were as sinful as their people. Their limited reformed bring great joy but also frustration as they fail to finish the job – either with the temple or Gods' word. Solomon and Cyrus are committed to the temple but it is only a shadow has now come.

Whilst we are moored much more tightly we too can drift just like Israel and we must be always reforming. Not for reformation's sake but that we would stay close to Jesus. Second Chronicles invites us to come to Jesus. To find Orthodoxy there. To worship in Spirit and Truth, close by Jesus, close by the Cross of Christ – there we meet with God, find forgiveness and atonement and revelation in God's word.

More on Reformation Day:
Katie Luther: Proverbs 31 Woman by Nicki, Catriona & Nita
Challies Symposium

Monday, October 30, 2006

Giving an Answer (2)

Our apologetics is to be Christ-devoted... but, what does that lead to in practice? Three foundations:

1.Ready to give an answer – an apologia

It's the scout motto - “be prepared”. And its common sense for life. When you have an exam to sit, you get prepared. It's called revision! If someone asks you to come for dinner you expect that they will be ready when you arrive. When it comes to conversation about Jesus it makes sense to think hard about what we might say in advance. It matters – because this relates to our discipleship – to wholehearted holiness about God. Life is of course spontaneous but Peter says, get ready. And what are we ready for? Apologia. Ready to give an answer.

The word means a “back-word”. A defence. That doesn't imply negativity, as they say – the best form of defence is attack. A positive answer. If we look at how Paul talks about Jesus in Acts we'll see that he is a master of this apologia. He is an apologist.

Which sounds negative – but its not about apologising, its about giving an Apologetic for the gospel. Defenders of the Faith, doing Apologetics. Apologists. It's the word for his preaching in Acts 22v1, Acts 25v16, Philippians 1v7 and 1v17. In Philippians it's mostly translated as a defence of the gospel. Argument for the gospel.

Elsewhere we find Paul rigorously proving, arguing, persuading people about the gospel (Acts 6v11, 17v3-4, 18v28, 19v8). He uses rigorous argument to explain in words what the gospel is about – as Jesus does in explaining the meaning of his death in Luke 24. Because the gospel is an objective sensible message. It's outrageous and scandalous in much of its claims. But it does also make sense. And a Christian must be ready to give an answer.

One caveat to this is what Paul himself says in 1 Corinthians 1-2. Here he says that he doesn't use wise and persuasive words. So, is he contradicting himself? No. There he says that he doesn't use the rhetoric of his day, he doesn't trick people with clever words and manipulate them into believing with heart-string stories. Rather he argues persuasively and proves rigorously the message of the Cross. He explains and proves from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ – God's saviour. And that will help us as we come to construct some answers we can use.

2.When someone asks for an answer give the reason – a logos

Peter says simply when someone asks for an answer be ready to give an answer. Obvious really! This isn't to say we wont initiate conversation. Our news about Jesus Christ Crucified is too important to be held back and only mentioned when someone enquires.

But, says Peter, at the very least, when someone asks you better have a good answer. And that answer is a logos, a reasonable answer. The gospel isn't ethereal it makes sense.

Notice that this is in the context of suffering. Peter says earlier that they'd better be suffering for genuine Christian faith, and if so they can rejoice in that. And as they suffer for doing good then people will enquire. Apologetics has its foundations in people asking us to speak about Jesus because of the way we live for Jesus. It's the consequence of wholehearted discipleship.

3.Gentleness and respect

When I said attack is the best form of defence some of us rejoiced inside. Some of us love a good verbal fight. We love to get into the argument. Apologetics is not about the fight. Its about the answer to the question and its about Jesus being Lord. Our aim isn't to win a fight, we might lose it, but to be gentle and respectful. Meek and trembling as we answer.

Sometimes the obvious thing to do is to seize on someones poor argument, but the gentle thing to do is not to go for the kill. Why? Because going for the kill can make people look stupid and humiliate them. And ultimately we want to win them to Christ.

This gentleness and respect is the mark of a life lived for Jesus. A gentleness. A humility. Life that isn't proud raises questions. Life that doesn't always defend itself, though it will defend the gospel. Life that doesn't fight for its rights. Life that doesn't fight every charge against it. Life that loves and cares and admits when it gets it wrong.

The other reason we can be gentle is that it's not down to us to win things, ultimately. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit uses God's Word to open people's eyes. And so though we might make the perfect argument, if the Holy Spirit chooses not to open someone's ears to hear that then it wont make any difference. If it all depends on us we have to beat people down – but if we have a high enough view of God's sovereignty then we can be gentle and respectful. Urgent but patient. Clear and kind.

Francis Schaeffer said that love is the final apologetic, it's also the first. James Sire notes that “Apologists must preserve the dignity of the person asking even the most silly question” - just because someone has defective ideas doesn't make them a defective person. And some questions are genuine obstacles, others are simply asked to try and stump us. It's best to assume the best of motives in the questioner, and gentle probe further.
Apologetics, good answers in love.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Study Skill 04: Listen with your heart

This is an addition to an old series of posts from Autumn 2005. In many ways this develops from this recent post on application. My concern there was that God's word requires us to believe God's promises. And, that the book of James particularly expects that this change us.

This post is prompted our church meeting today, on Hebrews 3v1-4v13, which draws heavily on the events of Israel in the Wilderness (see Numbers) and Psalm 95.

The essential point here is that God says in the Bible (attributed as The Holy Spirit speaking in 4v7):
"7Today, if you hear his voice,
8do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,"
So we must ask some questions.

1. Is it TODAY? (the answer is always yes)
2. Can I hear God's voice? (if I am a Christian with an open Bible, he is speaking)
3. Then I must not harden my heart. What must I not do? Act like Israel in the Wilderness. They failed to believe God's great promise of rest, prefering to believe in the circumstances. They grumbled about what God had given them, wished for something better, wished that they were back in slavery once more....

The key is to:
Listen with our hearts
When we read the Bible we do not just listen in our thinking, but our attitude, affections, desires and actions. God speaks to us and his word examines us as we read it.

The goal of reading God's word is not that we should be hardened. Rather, he commands us to soften our hearts - and we can rightly pray for his help in this. We need to hear what God says, and determine to change TODAY.

The application is more than just to read the Bible and pray. Neither of those things are bad results, but we're in real trouble if we wouldn't want to do either having spent time listening to God. When God speaks we're to keep listening - like the people of God post-exile who listened attentively to God's word for hours on end. But God wants to see more happen than this - he looks for wholehearted change.

This may be uncomfortable, our hearts are are deceitful above all things and change doesn't come easily. Admitting that we're wrong is very difficult. Humility is desperately hard but God's forgiveness is more than enough for us - that is to say, however wrong our heart has been it's not too late to admit it and come back to God with a soft heart.

God invites us to enjoy him forever as forgiven sinners... proud in need of being humbled and vulnerable, divisive in need of serving and caring others, arrogant in need of being gentle and kind... but he invites us to change and in our time of need offers more than enough grace.
What is God saying to my heart? What change does he want to effect in my heart? What is that change going to look like? How does it effect the things I love the most? How can I be hardened to sin? How does my heart-change benefit other Christians?
A heart that listens resolves itself afresh to depend upon the Cross of Christ. A heart that listens to God is unashamed to admit past failure, for it delights in the forgiveness. A heart that listens to God seeks the power to have a heart that continues to be soft, knowing that it can be so easily fail again.

Such a heart hits the pillow at night repenting of the day's sin and embracing God's forgiveness at the Cross. And such a heart will awakes each morning to ask, is it TODAY before resolving to harden itself to sin, and soften itself to the life-giving world-changing universe-creating Word of God once more. Once more, because the Cross of Christ is glorious, and our Saviour speaks the final word.

Seven Days

1. Visiting God's church in different places
Last Sunday was a bit crazy but it was great to spend time with God's people in different places. In case you think we were church hoping, we weren't. Instead we were visiting friends and sharing news with partners in the gospel in other churches.

Delighted to hear of new students committing to local church. A month into their time at uni it's time for that to happen!

2. Lost my voice.
Three days of not being able to talk. The voice is one of two vital tools for a Bible teacher. The other being the Bible. Humbling to remember that I shouldn't take that for granted.

3. Didn't quite renew the domain name in time
Wondered where BEGINNINGWITHMOSES.ORG has gone? Er, yeah. My mistake but we've sent instructions to get it recovered. Hopefully that wont take too long.

4. Apologetics
Teaching Surrey students about this at their houseparty. Jesus died to bring us to God! - God is the gospel! - and that's not a blind faith. Some of our faith is in things unseen, but unseen is a long way from untrue.

Lord raise up a generation of warm-hearted and winsome apologists!

5. Exiting
The response of Tim and Tom to studying the Bible.
Esther and Galatians are very exciting because God's gospel is very exciting!

6. "Abstemious"
Horrocks' (surprised) observation on the drinking habits of Surrey CU in the bar post-CU. Remembering together that Luther did his theology with beer... quite right! :)

7. Sing of the Cross!
"Crucified and laid behind a stone, You lived to die rejected and alone. On the cross, hanging there for me. You paid the debt, you made the way so I go free" (P.Webber)

What else is there to sing of! What a gospel! What a Saviour!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Giving an Answer (1)

From Surrey CU houseparty:

“A good case for the Christian faith lays before the watching world such a winsome embodiment of the Christian faith that for any and all who are willing to observe there will be an intellectually and emotionally credible witness to its fundamental truths” -- James Sire

13Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." 15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”
1 Peter 3:13-38
Devoted to Christ

Peter sets out how to “set apart Christ as Lord” in our lives. In essence, how to live Christianly, in a context where there is opposition. Where not everyone will see things our way. Which means, discipleship on planet earth. Christ is the focus of our apologetics. Its our heart attitude to him that shapes our approach.

Who is this Christ – v15a + v18, the one who died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.

Christ who died: The cross of Christ is the heart of Christianity. Without it there is no Christianity. The cross is our theology, our thinking, our feeling, our living.

Christ our substitute: The cross is about Jesus in our place. For our sins. ALL of our sin. Every last one. And everyone to come. We should die for our sins, that would be just. But Jesus dies for our sins. He is punished in our place. And this is the death of the “righteous for the unrighteous” because Jesus did not deserve to die.

Christ our reconciliation: The goal of all this is to bring us to God. The point of the gospel for us is that we come to Jesus. To eternity seeing and savouring Jesus. Heaven is good, because heaven is Jesus. To live is Christ, says Paul. The very essence of Christian life is that you and I are no longer united to sin's slavery. Instead we become united to Christ. John Piper is right – God is the gospel – we get eternity with Jesus! This is our future. This is our freedom. Set free from sin – Christ isn't compelled to sin and our sin died with him. Christ sits enthroned in the heavenly realms, so do we. Christ reigns in life, so do we. Christ is perfect in God's sight, so are we. The ultimate good of the gospel, is that it brings us to God!! The cross is the one and only way that happens which is why it is our message. The result, to bring us to God.

Missing Images...

We're experiencing a technical glitch at beginningwithmoses.org. That means the last four years worth of Biblical Theology resources are offline for now... and also some of the files linked with this blog (images/pdfs). This should just be a temporary problem but we don't yet have a clear timetable for bringing Moses back from the dead. We're believing that he's only asleep and will be back shortly....

Friday, October 27, 2006

Certainty, in our circumstances (4)


As the reversal is completed several events occur. The Amalekite's estates are given to the Jews and an order is granted to allow the Jews to assemble and defend themselves against any one who would attack them. Xerxes order to permit the annihilation of the Jews stands (his word is unbreakable), but it is countered by this.

Consequently at the end of chapter 8 we find the Jews celebrating and full of joy. Indeed many convert to their faith in the LORD. In mid-December the Jews are attacked but triumph over their enemies. Haman's sons are hanged from his gallows and the Jews are delivered from the threat against them.

One thing the Jews don't do is to plunder the Amalekites in 9v10 + 9v15. King Saul was reprimanded in 1 Samuel 15v19 for having done this, seeking to keep the Amalekites possession for himself instead of thoroughly destroying them. The Jews do not fall into his error, their enemy is vanquished.

So, they celebrate in style. The celebration is called Purim in memory of Haman's confidence in the Pur (lots) for his victory over the Jews. The title is ironic for the Jews. Haman believed that chance had fallen in his favour to defeat the Jews he so despised. But his plot returned upon himself. And the Jews rejoice.

As the book concludes it is Mordecai the Jew not Haman the Amalekite who is Prime Minister. Xerxes remains a questionable monarch, prepared to immediately bestow all of Haman's benefits on Mordecai - you'd think he'd become a bit more cautious!

The Jews are greatly favoured and know peace (shalom). God's rest and favour upon them. They don't yet know the fulness of God's promises restoration - but are greatly blessed even in their exile. God's people remain scattered across the world, but their future has been secured - not ultimately by human kings but by sinful people who believed God's promise and took risks.

The promises of God await their fulfillemnt but they know afresh the certainty of God's deliverance. As Esther draws to it's close we should rejoice. We know the great victory of God over his enemies. All God's promises there fulfilled. The Cross of Christ, God's great and final answer to his promises. The great YES!

"And on that final day, the citizens of heaven
Called out to be the new Jerusalem
In multitudes will bow before the throne of God:
One nation called from every tribe and tongue
Great celebration! The glorious union:
The Lion of Judah and the pure, spotless Bride!
All of creation waits for this moment
All your promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ!"

-- Kate Simmonds, In Him I Have Believed, 2004

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Say to your soul

A review of Justin Taylor & Kelly Kapic's edition of Overcoming Sin and Temptation to follow in due course but this is plenty to chew on for now....

"Be sure to get an interest in Christ
if you intend to mortify any sin without it,
it will never be done."

Questions to ask of your soul, p105:

"What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on! Is this the return I make to the Father for his love, to the Son for his blood, to the Holy Ghost for his grace? Do I thus requite the Lord? Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, that the blessed Spirit has chosen to dwell in? And can I keep myself out of the dust? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How shall I hold up my head with any boldness before him? Do I account communion with him of so little value, that for this vile lust’s sake I have scarce left him any room in my heart? How shall I escape if I neglect so great salvation? In the meantime, what shall I say to the Lord? Love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy, consolation—I have despised them all, and esteemed them as a thing of naught, that I might harbor a lust in my heart. Have I obtained a view of God’s fatherly countenance, that I might behold his face and provoke him to his face? Was my soul washed, that room might be made for new defilements? Shall I endeavor to disappoint the end of the death of Christ? Shall I daily grieve that Spirit whereby I am sealed to the day of redemption?"

Mark's Gospel - Cell Notes

(Cell Notes for Reading University Christian Union, Autumn 2006)

"He did this with such breathless insistence, such compulsive narrative intensity, that one is reminded of a child recountuing some amazing tale, piling fact upon fact as if the whole world depended upon it, which of course, to Mark, it did. 'Straightway' and 'immediately' link on event to another, everyone 'runs', 'shouts', is 'amazed', inflaming Christ's mission with a dazzling urgency... Clearly Mark is concerned primarily with the death of Christ, to such an extent that Christ appears completely consumed by His imminent demise, throughly shaped by his death. The Christ that emerges from Mark... had a ringing intensity about Him that I could not resist."
-- Nick Cave, introducing the Pocket Canon of the gospel according to Mark.

Five quotes from around the blogs

A round-up of five quotes from the blogosphere....

"...if preachers don't point you to the Jesus of the Bible, to his I finished work and to the believer's union with him, then they must be pointing in the wrong direction."
-- Martin Downes, commenting at Pyromaniacs

"It is surprising how rarely we then link these great truths with how that should make us act in every day life. How should the truths of Zephaniah 3:17 make us act? I mean, what exactly, should change in our lives as a result of this truth... It's an interesting little case but I wonder how much we've neglected such practical theological thinking in spite of our increased head-knowledge. Let's practise theology with teeth."
-- Paul Huxley, on Theology with Teeth

"Incomplete knowledge is defective knowledge, but those with incomplete knowledge may not be defective people as a result."
--Martin Downes on The Sincerely Ignorant

"...All of them have their own ideas about how the world works, or what life means, or what truth is. Almost none of them will give thought to an unseen God who sits high above them on a throne in heaven. Almost none will consider that as he sees, knows, even governs the events of their daily lives, he is holding them accountable for their actions and thoughts. Almost none are aware of the invisible spiritual realm that buzzes with life around them, inside them. Almost none will look at the world, their bodies, relationships and see the fingerprints of God. Almost none will pray. Almost none realise that their eyes are blinded, their ears stopped, their hearts in stone-cold rebellion. Almost none have taken-hold of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Almost none have resisted this culture's lie that that the great throne in heaven is just another religious myth, and that to believe any other way than they do is abnormal, illogical and naive.
--Dan Hames, on something wierd

"..Pride is a lethal foe.... Pride surfaces itself in an unwillingness to hear feedback, be it a word of correction, instruction and even encouragement. Pride in the cliques says, "we've got it all together and those folks over there need to get with us." Pride in "lone ranger Christians" contends that she/he doesn't need the church. Absent members exhibit pride when they say, "Leave me alone; this is my life." This pride is deadly serious..."
-- Thabiti Anyawile

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cherishing the Gospel

Mark Lauterbach's posts on Cherishing the Gospel are well worth a look. One of the posts gathered there is about a sermon he heard on Numbers 33. He recalls these words:
"...when God speaks of the places where he was faithful, he develops the details. When God writes about the places of failure, he speaks of his care and not their sin. He made this point -- God is forgetful of our sins. He does not summarize our lives as those moments of great transgression on our part. In our self-righteousness we make a monument to our sins and live in endless regret of them. In our pride, we make monuments to others sins and remind them of them. But God records his gracious care of us in our sin so that we see his mercy and not our evil."
Quote Source: Seeing the Gospel

Monday, October 23, 2006

Certainity, in our circumstances (3)


The events of Esther 4-7 once more require us to believe the promises of God against all evidence. The powerfful Haman appears at first to be bound for abolute triumph until things take a turn for the worse, with comedic irony that almost makes you feel sorry for this enemy of God.

Esther & Mordecai: Confident in God's promises.
Esther 3v1 is the highpoint of the record about Haman. At this point he is the Prime Minister and seems free to wield absolute power even against the people of the LORD. By the time Act 2 ends he will be hanging from his own gallows. As the narrative resumes Mordecai and Esther are on stage, albeit separated and communicating by way of the messenger Hathach. Mordecai leads the Jews of Susa to fast and mourn over their impending annihilation. They lie in sackcloth and ashes surrendered to the LORD.

When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."

Mordecai sends word to Esther with absolute confidence, and a degree of uncertainty. Firstly he tell her not to presume that she will survive this holocaust. She may be a secret Jew in the kings house but this should not be presumed to be her security. And then he speaks with great confidence that deliverance will arise for the Jews. Mordecai shows the confidence which allowed him to stand defiant against Haman. He is thoroughly convinced that the Jews will be delivered. He does not know quite how, though he suggests that Esther has the opportunity to bring that rescue. He ponders whether Esther has attained her royal position for this very purpose.

From his confidence in God's promise that he will not allow his people to perish Mordecai acts. By some means or another God will save his people - and it is as likely to be via Queen Esther as anything else. His certainty allows him to act against what might seem wise by circumstantial standards.

Esther commits to take a risk. She will go into the king, against the bounds of the Kings laws, knowing that if she must perish she will. The worst that can happen is that she will die. This is how people can act if their confidence is in God's promises rather than circumstances.

In Chapters 1-3 Esther comes off pretty badly, here there seem to be some evidences of grace as she seeks to live in line with God's promises. She illustrates well the dangers of making examples of sinful human beings in the Biblical narratives. She has flaunted her position and married a foreign king... but now she will seek to use this position for good.

How do we know the difference between the good and the bad? Our discernment surely comes from what God speaks to his people. Here it seems that Mordecai has been acting in line with God's promises - absolutely sure that his people will be preserved by God, and that they cannot bow to the Amalekites. Risky strategies to bring these things together appear to shape his actions.

Haman's boast....
Esther calls a feast with the King and invites one man - Haman. Haman is elated and boasts widely of how favoured he is. In all the kingdom he alone is invited. His stock has never run higher. As he boasts to his wife she suggests that he build a 23 metre high gallows in their backyard from which Mordecai can be hung. Everything is going for him - why shouldn't he do this!

Haman's bad luck?
But then the circumstances start to turn. The king has a sleepless night. He reaches for his books - for the biographies of his reign. That's the ego of the king - when he can't sleep he has people read stories about himself to him. In a bizarre twist of circumstance he reads the story of how Mordecai had saved his life. Those who do good to Xerxes must be honoured so he wants advice on how best to honour such a man.

At that moment Haman walks in and hears the request. Presuming that the King is planning to honour him - who is greater in the kingdom than Haman - he devises a grand scheme. Xerxes explains and Haman is forced to parade his arch-enemy around Susa. Haman goes home to his wife. And she has changed her tune. She now believes that it is impossible for Haman to triumph. Perhaps she also knows of God's promises to his people. Her confidence is such that she must have heard. Yet she is not a believer - and certainly wasn't previously. She's happy to urge her husband on when the circumstances suggest that he can win. But when the tide turns she can only conclude that the Jews will triumph.

The next night they're back at dinner and Esther makes her play. She tells the King that Haman is trying to kill all her people. The king is enraged and leaves the room to think it through. Haman's "luck" is no better today. He begs the Queen to save him, and just as the King returns he is falling upon her body. To the observer it looks like Haman is trying to rape the Queen. Immediately he dragged out and hung upon his own gallows. It's a shocking reversal.

Reversal, by God's promise
Within a day everything has changed. Once triumphant and boldly preparing to make a spectacle of the Mordecai. Now he dies on his own gallows. Circumstantially everything turned upon two moments of tragically bad timing. The guy has no manner of luck. Haman of course, believes in luck - he's a man who would cast lots (pur) to execute his plan against the Jews. Now the pur has turned against him. His fall has to be more than tragic bad luck. No-one falls this badly. It's comical. You'd almost feel sorry for him if he wasn't so arrogant and evil.

The key is found in the confidence of Mordecai and Zeresh. Mordecai knows that God will deliver his people, somehow. Zeresh's confidence leads her to despair. Her husband cannot win, though she once thought so. Mordecai has confidence in God's promises that leads himself, and Esther, to risk everything. God's sure promises don't lead to inaction, nor despair for those whose faith is in God. Rather, Esther does what looks absurd - invites Haman to a feast - and then does what looks insane - blows her cover - but she trust that God will deliver his people.

God's unchanging YES.
Circumstances say its over for the church. Dawkins says we're dellusional. Church buildings are shut down and sold off as shops and warehouses and fancy homes. But, none of this changes the unchanging promises of God. His deliverance of his people is secure. Secure in his word. Secured in the death and resurrection of Jesus. His unchanging YES.

Certainty in God's promises, even in our circumstances, leads us to action. It leads us to risk for God. Risk that ultimately is no risk. The worst that can happen is that a risk leaves us dead - but for a Christian death is gain. We can step out to proclaim the gospel. To take our stand morally. To move somewhere dangerous. To do what seems illogical by the depraved logic of our circumstances. Ultimately, since God's promises are unbreakable, there is no risk for anyone who trusts in the promises of God.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Perplexed to see you...

Many highlights on Sunday. Chief among them must be Dannie at Wycliffe Church and Nathan at Grace Church, for their comically perplexed expressions as they realised we'd just turned up at their churches. Fair enough really...

Great to share excitements about the ministry of UCCF: The Christian Unions with Wycliffe in the morning, and to catch up with friend at Grace Church in the evening - and collect some books from them.

I'll resist any temptation to compare between the three meetings we attended. They were all good, in different ways. A joy to remember that Christ destroyed death, is coming back and wants us to do our jobs wholeheartedly. Great to hang out with God's people.

The downside of the day is that I continue to get more ill, and my voice is somewhat mislaid... alongside my Bible my voice is the main tool of my trade... so that's not ideal.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Certainity, in our circumstances (2)


Esther is a peculiar book in the Bible. It makes no mention of God though it deals with his people. It is only as it is tied into the rest of the Bible, and read within that context that it can be understood at all as anything more than a compelling, comic tale, certified 18 for scenes of sex and violence.

The key to the book of Esther seems to be that God's promises stand even if the circumstances say otherwise. The promises are hidden and only revealed in the confidence of some of the characters - chiefly Mordecai and Zeresh, and to a lesser extent Esther. The book is very pertinent for our age. A time where the church looks finished. Where the Amazon bestseller is Dawkins new book that preaches that God is a dellusion. A world where people fear global warming and North Korean nukes rather than the judgement of God because God's promises seem distant and most people aren't even aware of them.

Getting to grips with Esther 1-3.

Xerxes the Muppet?
On the face of it these pages look like they should be the story of Xerxes (ESV: Ahasuerus). The story starts with him and we're told he rules the world from Ethiopia to India - 127 provinces. By any estimate he was the King of the World. But as we see what happens our estimation of him falls somewhat.

Firstly he holds a lavish party but he is refused by his wife. He wants to parade her before his friends - he calls her to come wearing her crown. Some suggest this means "come wearing only your crown". Either way she refuses to entertain them. Xerxes counsellors fear that their wives and all the women of the kingdom will refuse their husbands if this is tolerated. The king is advised to irrevocably banish his wife and he complies. He acts in anger with great power. Too much power for his own good. And so his adored wife will never come before him again. The man was a muppet, a puppet on the strings of his advisors and ruled by his own authority and anger.

In scene two he is seduced by sizzling Esther. He knows nothing about her but she wins the Xerxes-Factor to become his new beautiful wife. Next up his people are plotting to kill him. And then next up we see his Prime Minister Haman defied and it's taken as defiance of Xerxes. He rashly agreed to sanction a holocaust - every Jew must die because Mordecai defied Haman. It's hugely out of proportion. He's a muppet. This man is not the hero of this story. He's a muppet. We're told he has his own book. And Esther is part of the Bible. And Biblical books begin with Jewish kings reigning when things are going well. Furthermore, God is the hero of his books.

Esther the dubious beauty queen?
The book carries her name. She's an orphan of the Jewish exile. God judged his people and sent them into Exile in Iraq. That exile carried the promise of full restoration of God's people to God's place. She is adopted by her uncle who keeps her ethnicity a secret. Then oddly she volunteers to join Xerxes harem. She's pretty hot but then allows herself to spend a year becoming the most beautiful woman in the world. Then one night she goes into the king's room and seduces him and becomes his wife. This young Jewish girl seduces the most powerful foreigner in the world. This is not advisable. Worryingly some view Esther as a role model. She does some good later, but this is no example - should young Christian girls make themselves gorgeous and then go and sleep with the most powerful non-Christian they can find, whilst keeping it secret that they're Christians? Please no! Esther seems to be slightly-dodgy eye-candy, and in the first three chapters she is no hero.

Mordecai the twit?
This man is a Son of Kish and a Son of Benjamin. This means he's part of the family line that includes King Saul of Israel. He adopts his orphaned niece but then lets her join the royal harem without revealing her background. He saves the king and his name can be found in the Book of Xerxes because of this. He then defies the Prime Minister and because he has gone public about being a Jew he ultimately sentences every Jew in the world to death. He appears to be little more than a fool - something of a hero one day, but then lands himself in deep trouble.

Haman the villan?
This man is the Prime Minister. He is vain. An Agagite he is part of the family of King Agag, the Amalekite King. This makes him an enemy of the Jews, and when a Jew defies him he doesn't pass up the opportunity to pour own the full force of his King's wrath upon the Jews. It's hard to see him as anything but the villan.
So, what's the story?
Xerxes is defied by his wife so he banishes her. He holds a contest to find a new wife, the only qualification is beauty. He uncovers Esther and gives her a lifetime contract. Meanwhile Xerxes is defied by some subjects, Mordecai saves him but then defies the prime minister. Therefore Xerxes sentences Mordecai's people to annihilation at the end of the year. And chapters 1-3 end on this cliff-hanger.

Why is this happening? Why didn't Mordecai bow? Why did Mordecai allow his adopted daughter to marry the king but wont bow to an official? Why didn't he keep quiet about a Jew? How will the Jews survive - they survived Nebuchadnezzar's exile but this looks like too big an ask? What about God's promise that his people would fill the earth?

Why doesn't Mordecai bow?
This is obvious to any Jew reading it, but we probably miss it. Genealogy is everything for a Jew. It matters less for us today. My Brazilian relay is married and her name includes the surnames of both her parents, and her husband. My English relay carries both of his parents surnames, which isn't all that normal in our culture. The fight in Esther is not really Mordecai vs. Xerxes. It is Mordecai vs. Haman. More significantly it is Mordecai Son of Kish, Benjamite and Jew vs. Haman the Son of Agag, the Amalekite. Which clarifies things doesn't it?

Step back a bit.
Exodus 17. Israel are fresh out of Egypt. Rescued by Yahweh. Then King Amalek comes up against them to stop them. This was the moment where Moses prayed from the hilltop - when he prayed they won, when he stopped praying they would lose. After the battle, the LORD declares a war forever between the Jews and Amalekites.

1 Samuel 15. King Saul is up against Agag the Amalekite. The LORD says wipe him out. Saul doesn't and so Saul is deposed by the LORD, he fails to kill of the Amalekites.
And now Mordecai finds himself back in that old battle. The old war is revived. He cannot bow to an Amalekite. And Haman knows it. Haman has the power and takes his advantage, but Mordecai could not let it pass. He wont submit to an Amalekite. He knows that God has promised the survival and restoratiom of his people. But it's a conundrum.

What's the solution? What hope?
1. Mordecai is a hero with his name in the book of Xerxes.
2. One Jew will survive this holocaust, the secret Jew who is sleeping with the King.

Haman appears to have the advantage but our questionable heroes have some angles available - but they're tiny opportunities. But, more than that this book is in the Bible. This book sits among God's promises. Promises through Jeremiah of a restoration. Promises to Abraham of a globally blessed people.

Esther 1-3 force us to believe those promises against the might of the United States of Ahasuerus and the venom of Haman. They ask us to believe that when everything else says God's promises have failed that they do stand irrevocably. Esther is a book that asks us to believe God's promises, against the circumstances. Circumstances say that the story is over for God's people. But the promises disagree.

As we look back at these events through the cross of Christ we see God's yes. God did save them. It all looked to be over but God keeps his people. The cross shows us God's great unlikely YES to his promises. God will make good on his promises. The church will flourish, even if opposed. God's promises stand firm. They are YES and Amen in Jesus Christ....

...do we trust in our circumstances, or God's promises?
to be continued in Esther 4-7, where confidence in God's promises leads God's people to say "risk is right"


Total Church

Tim Chester posts the introduction to his forthcoming book (IVP, Spring 2007)
Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis (HT: Pete Jackson)

Seven days

1. Partnership

Image Source: Funky Pancake @ the event
Churches gathered with one thing in common: God's glorious gospel. Great to be together for the gospel. And now I've set foot in Maidenhead. How exciting.
UCCF: The Christian Unions are all about partnership in the gospel. On Thursday I loved seeing that in action. At 7.10pm I finished my talk in Farnham CU. At 8.10pm I was at Surrey CU (Guildford) where God's same gospel was being proclaimed by Ian Stackhouse. In that hour I walked, and used two nice South West Trains. Oh, and there was the thing with bananas and lemonade which is probably inexcusable, much like Cat's insights about Tescos!

2. Permission to fail

Image Source: Funky Pancake
Pride is so self-deceiving and it's not very nice to have to face up to that. But my sin is not too big. God is God. The gospel is still true. Grace is enough. I don't want to fail, but when I do fail God's gospel does not. This week I think I've seen and hated my sin more than I have for a while. That has made it a difficult week, but also one that has increased my joy in the Lord.

3. Said and done
Let there be light. And there was light.
Be clean. And he was clean.
Get up. And he got up.
Follow me. And he followed him.
Be still. And it was still.
When Jesus speaks, stuff happens. Inevitably.

4. splagchnizomai
A new favourite word. Drop that into conversation sometime soon! It means compassion, as in Jesus having compassion on a leper in Mark 1:41. Early on Wednesday morning we discovered that the TNIV Bible uses a different manuscript giving the reading Indignant instead of Compassion - as in Jesus being indignant at the man being unclean and so cleansing him. The overall meaning of the section is unchanged as Jesus demonstrates his authority to cleanse the unclean. Lessons from this - TNIV is strange and the minor differences in manuscripts don't change the meaning.

5. Hedge ate our wingmirror.

Image Source: Funky Pancake
These things happen, usually at 7.30am, not a disaster though a bit frustrating to throw away money to fix it.

6. Pastors and Students
Student leaders and church pastors together on Wednesday lunchtime. Great to hear the humble questions of these young leaders, and the great advice that was given to them. Their commitment to the gospel is a delight. A helpful reminder also that students really should be able to take a lot of teaching, and that they need it in this unmatched time of change and growth in life.
Wednesday was also the day that Rich came around for dinner. Nice.

7. Verifiability
God has made himself clear and given us verifiable evidence. Thanks to Phil Rout for his lunchbar at Reading this week. Also - notice the way Jesus uses the healing of a paralytic to help people weigh up whether his pronouncements of forgiveness carry weight or not... which leads me on to this morning in Esther with Tom. God's great promises - they are what is real. Circumstances are not ultimate - what God says will happen (see also point 3).

...who knows what the next seven days holds... one thing is sure I must make some serious progress in preparing for the Calvinism-Arminianism "debate" and my "Giving an Answer" seminar... amongst other things... big week ahead! Meanwhile, my Relays head off for a week in Winchester to help the Christian Union in their week of evangelism, and it's school half-term so Em's at home lots!

Friday, October 20, 2006

24 - Day 6 Trailer

Watch the web-trailer for Day 6 of 24
Online from Tuesday October 24th

Certainty, in our circumstances (1)

This is intended to be the first of a series of posts about God's promises. Starting with a adaptation my last post (on James 2), and then moving into the book of Esther, and possibly some considerations of Galatians 5-6. The essential thesis is that the way to live is by faith in the promises of God - real Biblical active faith that effects the way we live, by believing that God's great promises reflect reality rather than circumstances and senarios.

Remember then, James is provocative. A bit of a John Piper or Mark Driscoll of his time (sort of...). He uses shocking illustrations and words that make us stop and think. He kicks off in James 2 by saying there is a thing we might call faith which is actually demonic faith rather than real faith. That is to say that demons believe good doctrine. They probably have better doctrine than much of the church and they also shudder at God, where we may often only saunter before the LORD. Note that in the early chapters of Mark's gospel it is the demon possessed people who recognise Jesus, but that's not saving sight.

Demons can say the right words but their "faith" is blatent rebellion against God. They have ok theology, though they probably still think the cross is foolish. Real faith is more than this. Real faith is like Abraham and Rahab. It has works. It has action.

Consider some of God's promises....
  • 1v2-3
    Christians face trials. God promises that these trials are for our benefit because they teach perseverance. How then should we respond to trials? Not by mourning or complaining. No, they are to be counted as joy.
  • 1v22-26
    Christians read the Bible. God promises that he blesses those who take his word seriously and remember it. How should we read God's word? Not forgetting it but taking what he says seriously. Don't look in the mirror and then forget what you look like.
  • 4v6
    Christians are easily proud. But God promises that he will give grace to the humble, and oppose the proud. A Christian should therefore be humbled. And humility is more than a state of mind.
  • 4v12-14
    Christians plan for the future. God says our lifes are vapour. They'll be gone before we know it. We don't know if we'll have tomorrow so we should plan lightly about our futures. That doesn't mean we shouldn't plan but that we don't trust in our future.
Abraham the pagan and Rahab the prostitute put their faith in the promises of God and it made difference. Lives changed by the promises of God.

When we come to the Bible its cliche to think that the application of sermons and bible studies is "read the Bible and pray". That's a fallacy. There are a few passages that aim to drive us to the Bible afresh (like Psalm 119?) and others command prayer (Colossians 4?) but basically it's pretty much assumed. Think about it... If when we read God's word we become less inclined to read it again that means we're hardening our hearts to it. And that's a very bad thing! No preacher makes that his goal. And neither should we as we read the Bible.

If all we want to do is understand what God's word says then we're likely to end up with faith like demons – very badly deceived. Comprehenision is not enough. If we persue that we're all to likely to become self-decieved in the face of the word.

The word of God is the promise of God. Promises that are YES in Jesus. Promises that require active responses like....
Repentance. Being humbled. Killing sin. Being corrected in how we live. Changing the inclination of our hearts. Pursuing purity. Not showing favouritism. Changing the use of our hands and feet. Being encouraged in our hearts. Becoming obedient to a command. Loving. Rejoicing. Being wisened. Having our hearts broken. Reveling in the promises of God. Mourning over our sin. Boasting in the Cross of Christ. Trembling. Weeping. And many, many more responses...
Hearing the Word of God is not an academic exercise. It is not merely comprehension of a text. It is an encounter with the voice of God. An encounter with God himself. And it will not do to simply understand and shudder. Demons do that. God's word is meant to effect change.

And so it will transform our living. The application of the promises of God is the way to keep in step with the Spirit and to kill our sin. When we act on the basis of God's promises then we will live differently. And that is as true today in the 21st Century, as it was in the 1st Century...

...or back in the time of Esther, which I'm growing to love as a part of Christian Scripture, not to mention its genius comedy and drama. More on that to follow..


What does a Christian look like?

What does a Christian look like? What is the archetypal image of a Christian? James 2 is concerned with this question. Its a controversial chapter that deals with what a Christian looks like. And it blows away a myth. That myth is that “Faith is what I think”. (Mark Dever)

As I said it's been a controversial chapter. The great church reformer Martin Luther didn't get on too well with this. He was the champion of Protestantism – reforming the church from its errors in the Roman Catholicism of 450 years ago.

He observed two key foundations for Protestants:
  • 1.Authority – that it rests with the Bible not with Rome or the Church
  • 2.How we stand before God – that this rests on faith in Jesus blood not my works.
[Thank to Carl Trueman for this clarity]

This is known as “Justification by grace, through faith”. It is the cornerstone of true Christian faith. That we are counted perfect by God, because Jesus died in our place.

And when Luther read the passage we're studying tonight he blew a gasket. He famously called James a “right strawy epistle”. That is to say – something that should just be discarded. And of James 3v1, where James warns few people to aspire to be teachers... Luther is said to have remarked “I wish he'd taken his own advice”. Luther wasn't a fan. So the question is – does this passage contradict everything else... or had Luther not quite understood it. Well, I hope we'll see that there is no contradiction.

Actually James' words are vital for us – they sound vital warnings about the way we live, and about the way we speak. He sticks a big “handle with care” label over our lives. We have to understand that James was a provocative writer which is where some of the problem comes from – he does use Biblical phrasing in slightly strange ways. But, he does it to make a necessary point. And his issue – is what does real faith look like. And one of the key reasons for this is that James writes to suffering Christians. People who suffered for being Christians.

And James wants to be sure that they suffer for real Christian faith. Something he describes in 2v1. “The Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory”.
Its possible to suffer for calling yourself a Christian without actually being one. But its a bit stupid to do that.

James has two key things to say here.
  • 1.Faith is more than assent – illustrated by demons.
  • 2.Faith is active – illustrated by Abraham and Rahab.

First then: Faith is more than assent.
V14, he poses the question - “What good is faith without works?” Is that, “saving faith”. Is it saving faith to wish a hungry or naked believer well, v16, without meeting their need? V17 – No! Faith without works is dead.

Charles Spurgeon said that “If you want to give a hungry man a tract then wrap it up in a sandwich” - meet his need. And it probably works the other way around - “If you want to give a hungry man a sandwich, wrap it up in a tract”.

It has to be said that in leafy Surrey, in comfy Farnham need isn't all that great. But there are needs if we'll see them – there are those on our courses who are lonely. There are many international students far from home who need a friend. And are going to need some help adjusting to our strange British culture.

And we shouldn't be too spiritual about things. It's good to say something, but sometimes we need to take action. If you meet someone at church who says they need someone to look after their kids so they can sort out a problem... should we really just say “I'll pray for you” or should we offer to look after their kids for the evening, or go and fix the problem? What would be more helpful?

James senses a protest, v18, “someone will say”... “You have faith, I have works”... so he requests to see their faith apart from their works and says he'll let his faith be seen by his works. He says – real faith shows in the way you live.

Now, what he is not saying is anything here about evangelism. It's not even on his radar at all. So he's not saying you can evangelise by just living in front of people.

Words are absolutely essential to communicate the faith to people. James knows this – he's writing a letter. This has nothing to do with the erroneous quote “preach the gospel always, use words if necessary”.... Its an error on two counts. One, Francis of Assisi probably never said it. And either way – it's simply not true, Biblically.

Evangelism requires words. Preaching the gospel always requires words – what James is talking about is the way that real faith outworks. And it is more than what we think.

Here's the shocking illustration of his point. V19. He says “you believe that God is one”. I am glad, James responds. But even the demons believe that God is one. They believe that God is Trinity. And what is more, the demons even shudder before God. Actually, if you read the early chapters of Mark's gospel the only people who recognise Jesus are the demon-possessed people – and they are very scared of him. But they're not saved people.

But demons do not have “saving faith” - do they? Of course not. Their hearts, their lives are in utter rebellion against God. But, O, they have a fairly decent theology. They know who God is. And they hate him. And it shows in the way they rebel against his Word.

If faith is assent to who God is. Mental agreement. Simply, what we think. Then we are deeply misled. Demonic faith can tick boxes. Demonic faith knows who God is. Faith like demons - “demonic faith” - even shudders before God. But it doesn't save. V20, “demonic faith” is useless.

Here's the rub of this first point – true faith affects how we relate to God's people.

* In pairs check these references and ask “How does true faith effect the way we treat God's people?” How might we be in the wrong, by the way we live? Look at 1v27, 2v3-4.

Secondly, Faith is active.
We've already begun to touch on this. But we need to take it further. James gives us two illustrations in v21-26.

First from Abraham – known as “the man of faith”, and secondly Rahab – whose faith is also commended. Both are in the hall of fame, the crowd of martyrs in Hebrews 11.
James asks – v21, was not Abraham justified by works? And the same question in v25, was not Rahab justified by works. We should instinctively respond. No, by faith!!
But then we must remember that “Bible words have Bible meanings” and let us consider what James the Provocative is saying.

Abraham he says offered up his son Isaac on the altar. And so his faith was completed, v22, by his works. What he is saying is that God counted Abraham righteous – justified him – v23. And this by faith – but faith was active, not just mental assent. James will not let us get away with thinking that faith is what I think. Abraham was a pagan from the land of Ur who threw his lot in with the promises of God.

He had active faith – even to put his son on the altar – trusting that God would one day provide. A ram was provided that day in the place of Isaac. But Abraham doesn't say – God provided, he says “God will provide”. As Abraham puts his son on the altar he looks ahead to God providing Jesus. The perfect sacrifice for our sins. The one in who we put our faith.

Rahab, v25, took in the messengers and protected them. All the people of Canaan had heard about the LORD's rescue of his people from Egypt. Like demons they agreed that Israel's God was great and powerful. And they even expected to be turfed out of their lands by the LORD.

Which they then were. They shuddered. They were scared. But Rahab is different. She's not self-righteous – she was a prostitute.

Incidentally, have you ever wondered what the messengers were doing in the house of a prostitute? Joshua 2 tells us that they'd just arrived from Shittim.... And Numbers 25 tells us that Shittim was the place that Israel had prostituted themselves with “the daughters of Moab” ...The messengers were probably curb crawling in Jericho. And Rahab was the woman they found. There's no self-righteousness here.

But Rahab does get justified. How? By responded to hearing about God's saving of Israel and trusting that he could save her too. Relying on God's promises. She lived in the place God was about to quite rightly pour out his judgement on... Canaan defined evil... but she put active trust in God to save her – its why she's remembered in the Halls of Faith.

[Thanks to Mike Reeves for these insights]

What Abraham the pagan and Rahab the prostitute put their faith in the promises of God and it made difference. The promises of God were not a badge they wore. The promises of God changed the way they lived their lives.

The application of God's word is not merely to read the Bible and pray. That is pretty much assumed whenever we find ourselves already reading the Bible.....
If when we read God's word we become less inclined to read it again that means we're hardening our hearts to it. And that's a very bad thing! No preacher makes that his goal. And neither should we as we read the Bible.

And prayer is a vital response to God's word but rarely the primary thing the word of God is attempting to do in us. Faith is not just what I think. The goal in studying God's word is not merely to understand it. We don't meet as a Christian Union so we can just understand God's word and fix our thinking. Though thinking matters!

If all we want to do is understand what God's word says then we're likely to end up with faith like demons – very badly deceived. And we are very capable of deceiving ourselves when we come to God's word.

The word of God is the promise of God. And those promises require active responses....

Repentance. Being humbled. Killing sin. Being corrected in how we live. Changing the inclination of our hearts. Pursuing purity. Not showing favouritism. Changing the use of our hands and feet. Being encouraged in our hearts. Becoming obedient to a command. Loving. Rejoicing. Being wisened. Having our hearts broken. Reveling in the promises of God. Mourning over our sin. Boasting in the Cross of Christ. Trembling. Weeping. And many, many more responses...
Hearing the Word of God is not an academic exercise. It is not merely comprehension of a text. It is an encounter with the voice of God. An encounter with God himself. And it will not do to simply understand and shudder. Demons do that. God's word is meant to effect change.

I remember, boldly thinking I was very humble in my first year at University – eight years ago. I agreed that God says he gives grace to the humble – so I wanted to think I was humble....

Recently I was listening to a University lecturer who is part of my church – and he observed that a fault many students make is not to ask for help when they need it.
Suddenly I realised that that was exactly my problem at the end of my first year at University. I was struggling on my course – but “humbly” kept my head down rather than admitting it and getting some help.

I thought I was a model of humility... but I was self-deceived. Incredibly proud. And so was missing out on God's grace to me. Faith effects the way we treat the promises of God. Faith in the promises of God change the way we live.
* Some examples of God's promises, in James, for you to consider in pairs. Ask yourselves – What is God's promise here? What difference is this promise supposed to make in my life? How must I change? 1v2, 1v22-24, 4v6, 4v14
Friends, faith is not just assent. Understanding the Bible will not save you. Faith in the promises of God changes the way we live. And if it doesn't then we better cry out to God to help us change – and we had better make the hard decisions to change! Luther was concerned that people might think that God accept people because they lived differently. James isn't saying that.

James knows that people get justified by God because the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory died in our place. But James writes with due provocative language to shock us into action.

James will not tolerate people living as if “faith is what I think”. Saving faith changes lives. We stand before God on the basis of Jesus' blood, but if our lives are unchanged all the right words in the world wont save us.

The goals of the Christian Union are to live for Jesus and speak for Jesus. This passage doesn't say a great deal about how to speak for Jesus. But it says a lot about how to live for Jesus. And the way to live for Jesus is to get to grips with the promises of God in the Word of God and exercise active faith – to use the promises of God to effect change in our lives.

tags: | | | | | | |

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Henry Martyn 1781-1812

Today in the Church of England calender Henry Martyn is remembered. He was a missionary to India who translated the Bible. Martyn was an assistant to Charles Simeon, the long suffering evangelical vicar of Holy Trinity Cambridge until 1805, after which he travelled to India where he worked with William Carey.

This is the Anglican prayer for the day...
Almighty God,
who by your Holy Spirit gave Henry Martyn
a longing to tell the good news of Christ
and skill to translate the Scriptures:
by the same Spirit give us grace to offer you our gifts,
wherever you may lead us, at whatever cost;

through Jesus Chrits your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Near the end of his life Martyn wrote this: "Whether life or death be mine, may Christ be magnified in me! If he has work for me to do, I cannot die"

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Permission to fail

I'm looking forward to having Josh Harris' - Sex is not the problem (lust is) on my bookstall this term:
"...lust's power will decrease as we relentlessly pursue holiness. Unlike so many books that share a shelf with this one at the local Christian bookstore, Harris holds out lust as a problem, but provides the gospel as a solution. And that isn't even a fair fight..."
--Tim Challies
The only way to fight sin is with the gospel. The gospel doesn't let us deny our sin. And it gives us permission to fail. There is always enough grace to cover our sins, and the Holy Spirit's power to change our desires - so we settle for more of God rather than less with sin. The gospel is not just the answer to sexual sin - it is the way to fight against any sin. And its definitely not a fair fight. God wins! God is God. The gospel is still true!

Talking about my sin, a wise friend said this to me today:
"...if we don't have permission to fail then we might as well quit our jobs cos the reality is that we are helpless sinners who desperately need Jesus to work in us and through us and the more we realise that, however painful that is the better... as soon as the students realise that we are weak and fragile the sooner we can get them dependant on Jesus and not us...
And therefore, as one of my favourite writers notes I can indeed say that I am doing better than I deserve. I deserve to drink the cup of God's wrath. But Jesus drank that for me. Instead I can drink the cup of life, the cup of Jesus' blood for my sins (see Mark 14 if that makes no sense).

tags: | | | |

Forty Years of hurt?

Pete Jackson posts:As does Martin Downes:And less recently, Guy Davies:

Update: The pyromaniacs are concerned that a non-cessationist is triumphing, as nominated by the newest member of The Coffee Bible Club Blog....
Martyn Lloyd-Jones is my Homeboy? (Get yours here)

tags: | | | |

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Theology is The Revolution

Rosemary transcripts this priceless quote from Mike Reeves on theology, from Judges 6....
Theology is smashing up idols - smashing up the idols in our minds and in our world. And not just smashing them up but replacing them with (v26) proper kinds of altars to the Lord our God: replacing them all with Jesus Christ.

The story here is: Gideon is surrounded by the idolatry of the Mideonite regime. And he begins the revolution against it by bulldozing Baal. And that is theology! It's not just reading books, studying languages, whatever. It is about rebelling against the world order, not just the Mideonites' little regime; rebelling against the whole world order as it rebels against God. Rebelling against it, bringing down the system, utterly replacing it; that is theology. Theology is The Revolution.

...Theology is washing our brains by the Mediator rather than being brain-washed by the media.

tags: | | |

Got it wrong

"I was wrong and caught red handed
It didn't work the way I planned it
I wish I hadn't dressed you with that frown
I let you down."

why do I find it so easy to say the wrong thing...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Ridley & Latimer

Today the Church of England calender remembers these Bishops, martyred for faithfulness to the gospel - taking their stand, as JC Ryle records, over the issue of transubstantiation. Martyred in Oxford.

A post from this day in 2005, the 450th anniversary of their deaths

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Together for the Gospel

Tonight nine of our church travelled to Maidenhead for the "launch" of the Reading-Affinity partnership of churches (not sure how many churches are actually involved - maybe 10?).

Will Stileman, vicar of St Marys Maidenhead hosted us, with Graham Cooke of Kennet Valley Free Church preaching from Philippians 1, with contributions from James Muldoon of Carey Baptist Church, and Adrian Reynolds of Yateley Baptist Church.

I'm encouraged to see both Free and Anglican churches entering into partnership - time will tell what God will do through this. Many of the church leaders involved are well known to me through their partnership with Reading University Christian Union which continue to be a source of great encouragement.

Great to catch up with friends, and to meet a few new people in the crowd.

Jesus the Only!

Our pastor Piers Bickersteth spoke this morning starting our autumn series in the magnificent letter of encouragment, Hebrews.

Jesus the Only - Hebrews 1:1-2:4 MP3
  • What God says is authoritative
  • What God done is unique
More: Arborfield Sermons

Creative Arts: Factory

Alistair Duckworth was a student at what is now the University College for the Creative Arts, Farnham (where one of my CUs is). Recently he produced this:

Alistair said, 'I wanted to show that the culture we live in is quite manufactured and so it can often feel that our life is happening to us and that we are just on a treadmill which ultimately leads to death... the trick was to present death as a fact but in a funny way. I wanted it to be light-hearted but at the same time leave you with a bit of a shock a the end.'
Another Farnham grad is Simeon Lumgair

What do you wanna see?

Steven Harris isn't a blogger I always see I to eye with, but he certainly makes some good points. He's also a friend of my brother-in-law, but that's not relevant. Anyways this is spot on:
"I don't want to see Jesus lifted high"

Me neither, not least because when Jesus talks about being "lifted up" or "lifted high" he is referring to his impending crucifixion, not lots of charismatics clapping along singing "We wanna see Jesus lifted high". I always imagine the crowd stood before Pilate yelling "crucify him" whenever I hear that song...
-- World of Sven
The serious point here is that if we're going to use Biblical terms in our songs we should use them the way the Bible does. Good news is that Jesus was lifted up once for all... and he is seated over all things!

Meanwhile my fellow-coffee Blogger, Sam Shearn, quotes this, from Cowper:
Lord it is my chief complaint,
That my love is weak and faint;
Yet I love you and adore,
Oh for grace to love you more!

-- William Cowper, 1768.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Seven Days

Some memories of the last seven days, mostly from work and church...
  1. Pipes not tanks.
    Stephen Abery at Arborfield Church: Generosity
  2. Rain and Trains.
    The rain at pouring through the roof at Reading station on Wednesday morning. Amusing.

    Image Source

    Rather spoiled later that day by four cancelled trains (due to flooding and landslides) and what should have been a 70 minute journey taking 200 minutes.
    Visiting all four of my CUs in three towns using seven trains. Plotting a course through Esther 1-3 to preach from it at Surrey in the new year was thrilling. Such a good little book of God.
  3. Prayer.
    Church prayer meeting. Its good to pray together with God's people! I love the church.
  4. Preacher-boy.
    Ed glories in the gospel, preaching Luke 10 at Surrey CU. Gave me a strange fatherly feeling. Unexpected. Big thanks to Danutia for the lift home and conversation. Welcome back to Reading.
  5. Evangelism.
    Nicola's Christianity Explored article in Reading's SU paper (Spark)
    ...nice contrast to the Pure protests elsewhere.

    Exciting to think about the course starting in just over a week!
    ...and great to think through how to prepare a talk for Biblical Evangelism Conference... John 3:16, enjoy that!
  6. Coffee and the Bible.
    Starbucks Guilford & Farnham. And more and more of Galatians! The food at Chancellors is ok, but its not Roots... Did someone say "change"?
  7. Wedding Bells.
    Sam & Rosie. Engaged! Very happy.
Plus this... (ht: Phil)

Phil Johnson finally spots Paul Huxley's quiz:
"...William Dicks stops here first thing each day. He is surprised (do we detect a note of disappointment?) that he didn't score closer to PyroManiacs in the latest quiz-meme. No worries, William. I took the test and it told me I'm not very Pyro, either. So I took it again and exaggerated my answers to make myself sound like the meanest, most condescending smart aleck possible, and I achieved a perfect Pyro-score. So I think whoever made up the quiz fudged a bit. I'm guessing it's not someone who really appreciates everything we do here..."

...charismata aside, my reckoning is that Mr Huxley *very* much enjoys the Pyros and the rest of the reformed blogs in his meme. Not much that can keep Huxley away from solid reformed theology.

Incidentally, Huxley was once blogspotted by the Pyromaniac: here. Perhaps that'll happen again someday! Tim Suffield just can't stop getting blogspotted....

Winning hearts and minds

Songs are brilliant. They enable human beings to express creativity. They allow us to encapsulate great truth in ways that are memorable and easy to communicate. And they engage both the mind and the heart - a song can unlock emotions in ways that straigh speech may not (though the spoken word is very capable to evoking great emotional response)

Jonathan Edwards was once accused of being too emotional in the language of his preaching. He responded by saying something like - I only raise affections in proportion to the truth considered. Therefore to speak of Jesus, heaven or hell requires great emotional/affectional engagement... whereas the to-do list for a day isn't quite so engaging, generally.

This rule of thumb is a useful one for those who write and select songs for Christian meetings. The New Testament doesn't call this worship - but it does speak of it as singing. Singing to God and to one another.

Jesus sang with his disciples, and the Bible as a whole contains a whole songbook (Psalms) not to mention a book that is a love song (Song of Songs) and many other songs and poems throughout. These are variously addressed to people and to God.

Lyrics vary in the amount of truth they express - some are brief and simple. Others are complex and soar in the concepts and beauty they seek to express. Lyrics are then combined with melodies. A good melody will fit with the lyrics and enhance them - helping to ignite joy at some points, sorrow at others and so on.

But, there's a problem. The church today appears to be blessed with many songs. Not a problem! Many of these are full of doctrinal truth, yet accompanied by dirgy tunes that fail to reflect in any measure the gravity of the truth considered and the expected gladness. Such songs stink of idolatry as great words are reeled off without appropriate response.

Others go as far as being empty of any doctrinal truth but are fitted out with music more emotional than a boy-band ballad. Such songs take us soaring, but to where? Our hearts and minds are in no way tethered to the glorious truth of the gospel that God has revealed. Such songs stink of idolatry and God's people are caught in the hype and emotion with no real content.

Often the latter are said to mark spirit-filled worship, but the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. God's people are said, in Ephesians, to be Spirit-filled when they speak truth to one another, and sing it. When the Holy Spirit isn't speaking. because the only voice heard is our fluttering hearts, how can that be Spirit-filled? Equally in the former case - the Holy Spirit is the one who produces joy and love in the gospel, sorrow over sin, heart-broken repentance. And unemotional encounter with truth is also sadly lacking.

If it doesn't seem too cold - bear in mind I have a degree in Mathematics - here's a suggested graph to test our songs by...

If a song is low in truth, let it stir our affections gently. Where a song is high in truth let affections be duly raised - such that our mind, body and soul is caught up in the great and marvellous works of our God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And let us sing such songs to one another that we altogether may grow as the body of Christ, as God's church for whom Jesus died. Captivated together not by our own intellectual or emotional self-indulgences but in God's glorious gospel.

If our songs are centred upon the Cross, expounding its resounding perfections, its great achievement, its eternal power and glory, God's wrath and mercy, his grace and love... our affections will surely be stirred greatly.

tags: | | | | | | | |