Friday, November 30, 2007

The best of men have need to be awed into the discharge of their duty

Now to Paul's famous last words to Timothy. The apostles last will and testament. Before them comes a sober warning about life. This is the coffee to clear your head and prepare you for what comes next. Books abound that tell us how to live our best life now. How to have purpose on earth. But here is ultimate reality, revealed in 4v1. Paul peels back the curtain so we can see reality:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and kingdom, I give you this charge: Maybe you're familiar with that scene at the start of the book of Job – where we see the throne room of heaven. From Job's angle we see his life falling apart but from the throne room of heaven we're told what's going on.

There's another in 2 Chronicles 18 about a prophecy to judge Ahab. God sends a prophet to trap the God-hating king. It looks like a random death in a battle but Ahab was tried and convicted in the courts of heaven. That is where the real decisions happen... We might think that Parliament is seat of power. I might imagine that my Team is run from the tiny office at the back of my house where I wrote this talk. No! The seat of power of the Universe is the presence of God. Israel knew that. The model God gave showed the Lord seated on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place, where the blood would be put to atone for their sin. All authority is with the slain lamb, Jesus, seated on his throne.

As the Dutch Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper put it – there is not once square inch of all creation which Jesus does not look at and say 'mine!' Jesus will come again and all will be resurrected. The elect to life, and the rest to judgement. The future dominates the NT writers thinking. Peter and the writer to the Hebrews both say that the great problem is that having neglected God's past activity people disbelieve what he has said he will do in the future.

If only the current inhabitants of planet earth realised what the future holds. The end will come – not in a blaze of global warming but in the glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus to renew all things. And Paul charges Timothy in view of this. As Matthew Henry put it – the best of men have need to be awed into the discharge of their duty.

Timothy can like Paul, v8, look to the crown of Jesus righteousness being given to him – secured in the promise of God before time, and in history by the blood of Jesus' cross. Nonetheless as he reads these words the enscripturated charge comes into his life, carrying all the shock that God's voice always carries in it's syllables. What is the charge, feel the weight of glory as v1 gives way to v2. How will the church stride forward?

Learning grace all over again

"I've discovered new depths to the power of the gospel to plumb the depths of human sin, to call it out and to minister grace and eternal life. People who were once just full of sin are now full of grace because of Jesus. It is a privilege beyond expression to serve God in ministering the gospel of grace as one of those people, to people who need to know God's glorious grace..." Shudall's reflections

Questions to ask if you're a finalist

Will you be learning and growing and being trained in the main things of grace and gospel, or Things That We Think Are Cool Right NowTM? ...several more questions here

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Shed & Symphony

Tonight we went to see the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra performing in Exeter. Prior to that we got about three quarters of the way through building our new garden shed, which amusingly appears to be a bit too small to fit our bikes in... but I'm sure the lawnmower will be happy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Everything he knows is wrong

Had the Staff team together today to review Transformission and plan our next regional event - a Leaders Weekend in the Spring. We opened with the Bible, looking at what last night felt like strange choice but today seemed very appropriate: 2 Chronicles 32v9-23. Sennacherib, the mighty king of Assyria comes to attack Judah in the days of the great reformer Hezekiah. The story is also recorded in Isaiah 36-37 and 2 Kings 18-19. Sennacherib has swept all before him and now he arrives on the doorstep of the people of God.

Strategy 1 - v9-15, Doubt.
  • v10 - in what are you trusting?
  • v11 - Hezekiah has misled you...
  • v12 - Hezekiah took away your high places, leaving you only one altar.
The last of which they did in worshipful euphoria after they'd celebrated passover for the first time in years. Sennacherib sows seeds of doubt - "if only you still had your idols". Though it's clear he still thinks he could beat them. He has a whole career of experience behind him. He's like EJ Smith, captain of the Titanic: "....26 years of experience working against him. He figures anything big enough to sink the ship they're going to see in time to turn. But the ship's too big, with too small a rudder... it can't corner.... Everything he knows is wrong." You almost pity Sennacherib as you watch him on the pages of the Bible facing off against God. He has no idea what's about to hit him. Everything he thinks he knows about the God of Israel is wrong.
Strategy 2 - v16-18, Intimidation.
Then more of the same, but louder - v18. He rages, v16, against the LORD and against the LORD's annointed. Words reminiscent of Psalm 2v2. He mocks and blasphemes like people will against the LORD and his annointed in Mark 15, as Jesus hangs crucified. They, v17, cast contempt on the reformer and his God. Psalm 2 would tell him to be silent and serve the LORD but he rages. This isn't just a deluded pitiable man but he is evil.

Sennacherib is out of his league, he's bitten off more than he can chew. v19 - he is speaking of the LORD as he did of the gods of the nations who are the work of mens hands. His fatal error - he mistakes the Creator of all for a human creation.
Of course he beat the gods of the nations. He has a big army and their gods are imaginary. Anyone can beat imaginary gods. Now he faces off against the LORD instead of serving him. Hezekiah and Isaiah respond, v20-23, in prayer. And the LORD sends an angel (picture the throne room of heaven, the LORD asks - 'anyone want to get rid of this raging king?' - though a bit more serious since the angel comes in wrath against people). Sennacherib skulks off back to Nineveh and, v21, into the house of his god - Nisroch, where his sons kill him. His own god unable to protect him even in its own house. And, v23, the nations catch a glimpse of the glory of God - seeing his fame and salavation.

Contrast that to chapter 30 - Hezekiah gathered God's unholy people into the house of the LORD to celebrate passover. They came wrongly and ill-prepared and should have been judged, but in the LORD's house they are saved by the passover blood and the prayers of the king. They have a God who is real and can save. To count the LORD and the made-up-gods of the nations in the same bracket was extreme folly. The idols people love to make aren't real, but the LORD is. Jesus is the proof of that - check his story, his death and resurrection.
  • In Jesus, Christians are safe, in the true house of God.
  • Under Jesus' blood, Christians are safe because of the true passover lamb.
  • And under Jesus' intercession, priest and king, our salvation is secure.
Probably following just one of those lines is enough but I couldn't pick - though I'm inclined to think that in 2 Chronicles with the major focus on the temple that the house theme bears pursuit. Wrath awaits the raging nations - they overshoot themselves - as we see in Isaiah 37v23-24, they don't realise who they're mocking.... this is the LORD. One strategy remains for the people of God - pray towards the house of God (Jesus) because of the passover blood (Jesus) because of the intercession of the King (Jesus). Find refuge and salvation in Jesus, just like the church in Acts 4, who also recalled the raging of Psalm 2v2... asking not for relief but for boldness to speak of Jesus. God's enemies will be judged, his name must be proclaimed and his people will be saved definitively and forever.

Driscoll UK

Adrian Warnock reports on Mark Driscoll preaching in Scotland!. Nice to know he'll travel and that he'll keep preaching the word. Something to load onto your mp3 player after you've listened to Transformission.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

(more) Books...

The last six months worth of IVP books just arrived. Note that Staff Priviledge prices mean I only pay one pound in five for these. These plus yesterdays delivery will keep me 'in books' for a very long time. They also leave me with a shelf-shortage. And the new Don Carson OT/NT Commentary isn't even out yet.

We Don't Do God?

The media returned to Tony Blair's We Don't Do God statement at the weekend. Alistair Campbell commented:

"the former prime minister always asked his aides to find him a church to attend, wherever he happened to be, each Sunday. Because he's pretty irreverent, he swears a fair bit, if he sees a very attractive woman his eye will wander and all that stuff, he doesn't look like your classic religious sort of guy,"

said Mr Campbell. Which is fairly revealing about what Campbell thinks religion is supposed to look like, for right or wrong. What are the marks of real Christianity? Elsewhere, Dan Phillips is on the US election trail observing how candidates often say: "My religion will not influence me one way or the other in office." (which is to say, we don't do god...). Which he notes well:

...can only mean one of three things:

1. The speaker is a liar
2. The speaker is a hypocrite
3. The speaker can't rub two live neurons together

None of those are particularly commendable characteristics in a leader.

As one commenter on this blog noted "Jesus is Lord" is a very political statement. It's a matter of worldview - and worldviews definitely do effect the way we think about things. I spent this morning considering Sennacharib's worldview with Joe. The King of Assyria took the view that he could beat anyone in battle whoever their god was. And he had a trackrecord on his side. His problem was that he thought that every god was a fake, and he treated the LORD as like one of the idols of the nations, gods made by people - as opposed to him being the God who made people. Sennacherib had beaten all the non-existent gods of the nations, what he neglected was that the LORD is real. He took on the LORD, overstretched himself, saw his army flicked aside by the LORD's postman before he was slain in the house of his own god, who couldn't protect him. Unlike the LORD who protects his people from others and from his own wrath when they hide in the LORD's house under the passover blood (See 2 Chronicles 30 + 32 for more on the story).

Whatever we worship effects the way we live - whether idols who make us dance to the rhythm of our own hearts, or the LORD who calls us to live all of life under his rule.

Kinder-Calvinism and Bloody-preaching

This is my kind of Calvinism:

The second way to understand the letter is to see it (along with the numerous comments that follow) as abundant evidence that, to many, Calvinists come across as self-righteous, condescending, arrogant, unfriendly, argumentative, and even stingy. The fact that we're not all that way is irrelevant in the same way that it didn't matter to Molly that I had done three things to show I appreciate her—she still felt unappreciated. Her frustration was true because, whether or not I was grateful to my wife, I was perceived as an ingrate. Similarly, the frustration in the letter is true because, whether or not the Calvinists in the letter-writer's church are good folks, they come off as proud and divisive jerks. -- Abraham Piper on kinder Calvinism.

"That is my longing for our day—and for you. That God would raise up thousands of broken-hearted, Bible-saturated preachers... What gives preaching its seriousness is that the mantle of the preacher is soaked with the blood of Jesus and singed with the fire of hell. That’s the mantle that turns mere talkers into preachers.” Cat is reading John Piper in Preaching the Cross

More on this: Breathless and Heart-broken

Monday, November 26, 2007


The lovely people at Good News Crossway have sent me some books to review. I'm going to go away and do that, and then I'll post some reflections in due course. This may take some time.

Scriptural Salivation

If you want stunted growth as a Christian put your Bible on the shelf to collect dust. If you want to grow then follow Calvin's wise words...
  • Believe nothing unless the scriptures convince you of it.... there are no grounds for believing what God has not spoken.
  • Let the Holy Spirit penetrate your heart to persuade you... studying the word is studying a book but it is an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Act accordingly.
  • Let the scriptures subdue your bold rebellion by showing you the majesty of God. Notice the language of, v16, rebuke and correction. God's word should require change of us since we are not living perfectly godly lives.
Be like a dog. Martin Luther saw a dog staring at it's meat and wished he could be likewise with the word of God. Unwavingly salivating over the words of God written. Taking every opportunity to feast on Jesus in his word. We don't read the Bible because it's a requirement for Christians. We read it because the word that said 'let there be light' recreates our hearts to see Jesus. It shows us what we were made to see and enjoy. Transforming us from the inside out. What is the place of the Bible in your life? Pete Lowman pioneered Christian Unions in Russia, taking God's word across the nation in the 1990s. He writes (in Gateways to God, Pete Lowman, Christian Focus): every sense, the growth of the church is inseparable from the spread of the Word,as we read it personally, as we gossip it, as we feed on it at home groups, in public exposition and proclamation. This is depth, this is power, this is spirituality.
Matthew Henry says: O that he might love our Bible's more, and keep closer to them. If you want first century growth then don't try to chain the word. It is not chained and God will have it heard, even if the rocks have to start talking. Word people are life-people. Such people want nothing else than to live a godly life in Christ Jesus (v14) – whatever the persecution that follows. Seriously, what are we doing with that verse? It's a promise....

What does godliness look like? It loves the word of God and so trades money for persecution, love of 'pleasures' for the joy of suffering for Christ... Tasting and enjoying the word of God, equipped to face whatever comes. Make a difference in this world not by chasing relevance and style but by going for substance. Too much dessert is bad for you, but you can eat all the word of God you like. What'll happen? It'll just keep sizzling in your heart!
What's the place of the Bible in your life?

Pray – The Ministers Bible, p346 (The Valley of Vision)

Change starts in the pulpit

Mark Dever is reading Bob Kauflin's forthcoming book 'Worship Matters':

"I know worship pastors who wouldn't be in their present church unless they were being paid. That's not good. Salary shouldn't be the primary means of determining where we serve. And you shouldn't work at a church you wouldn't attend." Don't you love to read a rarely stated but important truth put clearly? Of course, pastors can go to a church hoping to change it, but without the pulpit, in a position like "minister of music" that would be very difficult.

I grew up in a church where much change was attempted by people who didn't have the pulpit... the place got repainted musically but longterm nothing has changed when the pulpit isn't gospel-driven, when the word isn't preached. Dever & Kauflin's observations hold. Jesus rules his church with the scriptures as his sceptre - preaching of the sound doctrine of the happy God must be central. As Josh Harris puts it in Stop Dating the Church, when joining a church, make it one you can join 'as is'. And the key question is do they love, live and teach the Bible?

Sizzling scriptures

2 Timothy 3v10-17 Gospel power.

By contrast there is Timothy. In chapter 1v3-5 we're given some biography. He learned the gospel from his mother and grandmothers as they taught him the scriptures from childhood. The same way each of us learned it. One way or another, the message of the scriptures reached us whether through the reformers and bible translators, through preachers and authors, through songwriters and church leaders. Somehow, somewhere along the line the scriptures came to you. For me it was probably through the fruit of Wycliffe & co's Bible translating, the liturgy of Thomas Cramner, the songs of Graham Kendrick.... The scriptures have a two-fold effect:
  • Enwisening for salvation. 3v15
  • Equipping for living. 3v17.
One message. Two effects. One gospel to start and to finish. Jesus for salvation and Jesus for living. No extras required. No more than grace just more of it. David Prior observes we never move on from the cross only into a deeper grasp of it. Why do the scriptures have this effect? Look at v16. The scriptures are described here as God-breathed. That is to say they are exhaled by God. Written words on the breath of God, as all words come on breath. Not 'inspired by' but 'expired by' Wayne Grudem observes that all the words in scripture are God's words in such a way that to disbelieve any word of scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God. The Scriptures are God's words written. So, what's it like when God speaks? Here's the strategy, consider the examples in scripture and we'll see how we should approach all scripture. Start at the start. Think of the first time God spoke (not the first thing God did - remember before time he gave us grace in Christ! - and the Father, Son & Holy Spirit were living in loving fellowship for eternity past)... God said: let there be light. And there was light! Matter of fact. Said and done. Utterly effective.

What God says happens simply because he says it. His words are universe-creating. That is phenomenal authority. Then He speaks to the waters to divide them. It happens. Try it yourself – it will not work. But when God speaks such things are easy. And the authority of God's word wratchets up a exponetially when we meet Jesus, whose every move fulfils all the scripture, and who rules the church by his word. The same words, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4v6 open our blind eyes to see the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus. No surprise that it was the scriptures that made Timothy wise for salvation.
This is what the words of God do.
Glory-displaying. Heart-changing.
Soul-converting. Sin-killing.
Nation-shattering. World-renewing.
God's word is unchained.
Thursday, April 21st 2005. My sister's 24th birthday. I awoke at 5.45am to go to the bathroom. I felt some water on the floor with my bare feet, barely awake and thinking that I'd need to mop up the tiles in a hour or two. I did what I was there to do and then went to wash my hands. Reached for the taps and then was flung back across the room with a jolt. The metal taps had become electrified. Standing in a pool of water probably didn't help me very much as the shock passed through my body. Woke me up good and proper. Sizzling.

What are you expecting when you come to the word of God. Are you expecting to read just any other book? Or are you expecting and electrifying experience that jolts life back into your soul. The scriptures sizzle with the power of God. And so any ministry built upon the word will be dynamic and life-changing. Full of power, unlike the fakes surrounding Pastor Tim.

The fakes have only devilish imitation. But with the scriptures Timothy has the most tasty words of all – sweeter than honey, and like a Christmas Pudding coated in alcohol his ministry will sizzle with divine power, aflame with the Spirit of God, ultimately more impressive than all the spark and style of the fakers. The scriptures bring us to salvation. They show us the grace of God in Jesus and by them we are enwisened, and come to repentance. Simply, read the Bible to become a Christian. But, as we saw before. Grace to save. Grace to strengthen. So too, scriptures to save, scriptures to strengthen. It's not that the Bible reveals Jesus so we can become Christians and then we move on to something different to keep us going. No, the same scriptures teach us all we need for life.

They are, v16, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. So much so, they equip us for every good work!! The life-giving promises of God-spoken strengthen us in grace. Powerful-Christianity is going to be scriptural-Christianity. When the Bible is open real change starts to happen. The effects will be unpopular (v12) and persecution is assured. But, what could we want to do than every good work? And how could we do them if we are not equipped?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Style over substance?

2 Timothy 3v1-9, Godless folly.

Now for the dessert. Christmas pudding. We begin with fakes. My most embarrassing moment, or one of them at least, when I worked for Natwest was taking in a fake note over the counter. Faking is stupid, but it happens. Imagine you were England football Manager and someone offered you a Beckham-a-like for your team. It'd be fine for the media stuff, but on the pitch... Or imagine you started plagiarising. Imagine you were so good at it that you got all the way through to a PhD viva wit it. And then you spent four hours being grilled on what you know... and it all falls apart. Faking isn't new. In 3v8 we meet some ancient fakers. Jannes and Jambres. God had saved Egypt through Joseph but soon after they'd forgotten God. When God told them to let his people God they refused. Pharoah was given signs by Moses and his flukeys imitated Moses, move for move.

Likewise in the first century. Paul and Timothy were teaching the word but so were others. Teachers who had style but no substance, puff but no power. They had the language. They had the image. But that was all they had. People who, v2, are self-lovers, money-lovers. Instead of being, v3, lovers of the good. They have the style and the image, v5, a form of godliness. But they deny it's power. God-haters. Style is fine for a while, but it soon goes out of fashion. Style-driven pursue relevance but are are condemned to irrelevance.

Style ministries persecute the church with delusions of power. They avoid Jesus prefering rules, rituals and experience. Catchphrase Christianity that sounds spiritual but lacks power. I'm wont name-and-shame today's fakes. But, know that like Timothy you need discernment. So devoted to the real thing that you see fakes a mile off. Fakes, v7, are 'always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth'. They have delusions of progress and the appearance of being spiritual but time unmasks them as empty. With no power for change they can only poison the church.

They're parasites on the church and Timothy has to learn to live with them. We considered that in chapter 2. They avoid it to avoid it's embarrassment and shame, to avoid the hardship that godly people must endure. There are illusions of growth but no real substance. They wear the Emperors New Clothes, with their fine words and highly endorsed books. (and popular blogs?) But, v9 in the end everyone will see. In due course the wrath they deserve will come to them...

Seven Days

"Mirrors are made to teach us to delight in our own beauty"
CS Lewis.

"Everyone is godly. We all look like our gods."
Mike Reeves on idols.

"Philosophy talks about God's Omni-'s, Trinity talks about love and the gospel of grace"
Mike Reeves on Trinity

"A sinner is man curved in on himself"
Martin Luther

"Gnostics were monists who said creation is a cosmic fart"
Mike Reeves on Dan Brown's errors.

"Sin looks in, salvation looks to Jesus. Faith isn't about how much I trust Christ, it is trusting Christ."
Mike Reeves

"Atonement is an event within God and offered completely freely to us. Jesus comes into the presence of the Lord, bringing his people on his breastplate. And we find ourselves as loved as the Son."
Mike Reeves on John 17.

1. Triple-Mike. Thursday & Friday with Mike on Trinity. Saturday at Transformission. Mike is 'my theology advisor' !

2. Wisdom dancing at creation. A real highlight at new staff training this week - Tim Rudge on being human (with evident help from CCEF). The changes might be entirely in me, but it feels like UCCF has got a breath of fresh air over the last few years from things like Tim on Humanity, Mike on Trinity, Clarke on Scripture and the Cunningham drive for persuasive evangelism. Big-up the senior leadership guys.

3. This is the sound of inevitability. Watched with friends.

4. Running in rural Oxfordshire. 7am each morning!

5. Tasty food and 2 Timothy with the RUCU. More like 8 days ago, but worth remembering.

6. Martyn Joseph Live at the Barnfield Theatre. Vegas, Exeter. Unbeatable live, and the new CD is pretty good too.

7. House 3. Arrived.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

UCCF: Transformission mp3s

Today was Transformission, the UCCF South West Christian Unions missions conference in Exeter.

Two hundred Christian students gathered to gaze on the glory of Jesus in the gospel through the scriptures, interspersed with an hour on the streets of Exeter researching spiritual beliefs.

Many thanks to friends from the South West Missions Partnership, Sovereign Grace Ministries, IVP and IFES joined us and to the Exeter CU guys who served practically.

Mike Reeves speaking on the glory of penal substitution throughout the scriptures:
Transformission - Enjoying the cross (1)
Transformission - Enjoying the cross (2)
Transformission - Enjoying the cross (3)

Also available to download from

Friday, November 23, 2007

From harmony, from heavenly harmony

A little Trinitarian creation music from John Dryden for yesterday (St Cecilia's day) as heard today to Handel's music at UCCF New Staff Training on Trinity. Contrasting monadic views of god that led to music without a beat, like gregorian chanting... and trinitarian's music which is full of difference. Celebrating the nature of Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit loving one another. Woop!
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began:
When nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
'Arise, ye more than dead!'
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
In order to their stations leap,
And Music's power obey.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began:
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in Man.

Bible words have Bible meanings

Like, God, for example. Meaning - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Or like, Death. Meaning under curse rather than ceasing to exist.
And hence in the death of Jesus we see God bearing the curse, not some how ceasing to be. When a friend of mine objected to the idea of Jesus being God AND dying because God is eternal, part of the problem was that he was using human definitions.

But then as God says through Isaiah: thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," (Isaiah 55:8). That is, everything we think we know about God simply isn't true.
What we need is to get our thinking about God from his word - which comes like life-giving rain to us that bears a harvest of joy (see the rest of Isaiah 55 !). Which makes it puzzling as to what I'm expecting to know of God without an open Bible? Something better than enjoying the eternal pleasures of God instead of his curse (life instead of death)? Something more powerfully revealed than what speaks of himself in his written word?
I'm practically-atheist when I wont pray.
I'm practically-liberal when I act like it's not by God's word that I know him.
Neither are desirable or tenable positions for life or ministry.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

UCCF Student Evangelism Podcast

Get the Evangelism Podcast

Helping students to live and speak for Jesus all over Great Britain.

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007
Cold Contact and World View surveys

In our first evangelism Podcast Clive and Andy discuss cold contact evangelism (sometimes known as first contact).

Transformission: Student Missions Conference

"A nominal Christian is happy to prove the importance of the crucified redeemer; but the true Christian delights in the cross, rejoices in it, glories in it and shudders at the thought of glorying in anything else."
Charles Simeon

South West Christian Unions Student Missions conference.
Enjoy the cross. Speak the cross. Live the cross.
Transformission - November 24, Exeter

What is the antidote to youthful passions?

Find that and we find the way to deal with the infection in the church, and in our own hearts. Three foundations for Pastor Tim, and for us...

V24 – To be the Lord's servant.
V19 – The Lord's firm foundation, he knows his people.
V25 – The Lord gives repentance, so we don't have to beat it out of people.
The antidote to gangrene, and more importantly to the arrogant quarrelsome teacher is the Sovereignty of God. The power of God wielded through his unchained word.The unashamed worker v24 is the Lord's servant, he must serve under the sovereign rule of God. He presents himself, v15, to God. He is not autonomous. He is dependent on the word of God. The sovereignty of God is central to the dynamics of change.

And he believes two key things that transform his ministry. Firstly, v19. That the Lord knows his people. People love to draw lines and it is necessary at times, and possible. We deliberately unite as a Christian Union for mission around the gospel. People lie about what they believe. But God knows us. He knows our hearts. And he wont be messed with – notice, v19 – those who confess the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness. We are accountable to God – by grace called to a holy calling.

People look independently minded but God speaks. And he says – he has people who are his and he knows his people. We are not our own. This is a real 'take your hands off' doctrine to be believed. People are not ours. Not our hall group. Not our CU. God's hall group. God's CU. God's church. No-one can fault God's concern for his people – the Son sent into the world to save the worst of sinners. Do we believe that God's people are God's people? Or does our behaviour say we believe people belong to us?

Secondly, v25, repentance is granted by God. The teacher works in hope of God granting repentance to his people. Repentance. Change of mind 'metanoia'.
See it in the story of Esau in Hebrews 12. There he sins, is full of tears but is not given repentance by God. There the application is if you deliberately sin don't presume you will be able to repent.

Same teaching here – God gives repentance but with different application. God gives repentance so you teach the word of God and let God bring repentance.
Faith comes by hearing the word of God not by the persuasive powers of people. That's how change will happen in others, and how it will happen in us. My heart will only change as God wields his sovereign power through his word.

Are these the sprouts we can't swallow? Do you want control? Or will you incline your heart to God's word to believe? Will you, join Timothy, in believing in the Big God. When we think people are big and God is small then we'll resort to clinical arrogance or cosy inaction with one another. But, when we sees the glory of the sovereign God then how could we do anything but embrace inky and kind ministry - 2v24-25, teaching with patience and gentleness. Timothy must do that with Philetus and Hymaneus.

Some error is deliberate. Other error is like Apollos who was ignorant. He needed to be taught. Priscilla & Aquila taught him. Growth happens in community – we all need people who will rub God's ink in our faces. It means when I work with Christian Unions I'm less interested in big strategic things and in helping the Committee run things well. Instead I want to get God's ink in their hearts, developing their beliefs, leading them to the wise decisions they need to make.

The souls of men and women are in the hands of God not at the mercy of any of our powers of persuasion but rather in the blood of Jesus and the word of God. God's reputation is at stake in the way we handle the word of God and the people of God. Our behaviour shows our belief.

I want to be like that Beer-drinking Bible-freak Martin Luther who led the Reformation for us 490 years ago. He said: -- I taught the word. Apart from that I did nothing. As I slept and drank Wittenberg Beer the word did everything.

That's what the Lord's servant does –teaches the word of God to the people of God trusting that God will change people. And Timothy can only be the Lord's servant because God first saved him. Because God gave Timothy repentance. When God is big, when we believe he changes hearts by his word then [as Dan Hames says] "we'll see minds explode, hearts ignite, and faces go all smiley".

How does the way you treat the people of God and the word of God reveal your belief in God?

We dream of idols

Hanging out with Reeves at UCCF new staff training...

When we think of “God” we don’t know what we’re talking about. We dream of idols. Look at the religions of the world and its obvious that there is no universal understanding of what God must be. Which 'god'? Allah, Zeus, Dagon??
Only in the Bible do we get the doctrine of Trinity. The Christian distinctive.
Gregory of Naziansus (the greatest ginger theologian [yet]):
when I say God I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit. None of your divine substance stuff...
They are what they are in relation to one another: Father, Son & Holy Spirit loving one another.

* Until Mike Chalmers

God, whose word I praise

Yesterday at The Mill we were enjoying the glorious scriptures. Several times books from Powlison & Tripp were recommended which makes this quote (HT: Justin Taylor) worth a look: Powlison on the relevance of the word.

Praise his word... Psalm 56

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Inky and Kind

Paul charges Timothy to be an unashamed worker before God (v15). Otherwise known as, 24, 'The Lord's servant' or an instrument, v21, for noble purposes. There was a task to do, and it very clearly connected to God. Change happens through people. But how?

Handling the word (15)
Ah, an inky ministry. Not just coffee and conversation or tea and sympathy, but get the Bible open. What else were you expecting me to say! Working with students it's not my job to drink coffee. I read the Bible with people. Getting God's ink into your face, and into your heart.

How do you handle the word without being ashamed? Firstly, v15 – handle it rightly. Accuratedly. Of course, Timothy's content, his message had to be the sound doctrine of the glorious gospel of God. It had to remain as the apostolic gospel. 1v13 – the sound teaching. 1v14 - The good deposit. The word would have to be rightly cut. Straightly. Accurately. That looks like it walks straight into the clinical camp. Open Bible. Quick and sharp. Correct and rebuke! Sort it out.

And yet... and yet... watch for the sprouts. Timothy is in danger. Danger of, v16, quarrels among others... and v24, he too should not quarrel; instead he must be kind. What we see is that unashamed ministry is INKY and KIND. Actually the more you look at this part of the letter it seems Paul's not so much concerned with the false teaching but with Timothy's heart.

Timothy might be tempted to become a spiritual surgeon performing amputations on the people of God. Paul wants something else for him. More than just tea and sympathy, but also more than scriptural sword-fights. Belief and behaviour always go together. The way Timothy handles the people of God and the way he handles the Word of God will reveal his heart.

The unashamed worker needs to beware of youthful passions, v22. Which isn't so much rampant youthful sexual sins as arrogance. The youthful mindset that sees everything in black and white and loves to pick a fight. Loving 'foolish and stupid arguments'. The heresy hunting youth, in whom a little knowledge is dangerous. Observe it when the Christian's first response to a talk is to identify what the preacher, despite his preparation, study and experience, got wrong. Self-righteously furious at bad teaching but unconcerned to humbly study for themselves. I've been that unteachable Christian, have you? I left a church a few years back partly because of a number of practical and theological issues, but also because of my own unteachableness.

A little knowledge is dangerous. Youthful passions are ungodly and should be fled. Everyone believes what they think is right, else they would change... will we take time to understand one another carefully, able to articulate others beliefs in their own terms? And then at last responding. What is the antidote to youthful passions?

The big football question

Not how did that happen, but why did we spend vast amounts of money on a national stadium with a roof and then leave it open on such a rainy night...

Burn the heretics?

First the meat, now the veg. Be warned about the sprouts. What's your vision for your Hall, your street, your course, the University? Do you want to see days like those of the New Testament church? Do you want to see great growth and wonders they saw, the word spreading and many added frequently? If so expect trouble. Expect false teaching. Wake up and see it's already here. The big question is how do you deal with it? Help is at hand because most of the NT is written to correct error. Watch for the sprouts.

First let's just check what he was facing. v17. The gangrenous teachings of Hymenaeus [see also 1 Timothy] and Philetus. People who have wandered away from the truth. How? v18, they say the resurrection has already taken place. Not the resurrection of Jesus – Paul himself said in 2v8 that that has happened. More likely they were saying we have all of the future now. Not 'now and not yet'. All now.

Paul wrote to Ephesus and said we're raised and seated with Christ – that much is true. We are alive! But there is more to come. Matthew Henry observed: Whatever takes away the doctrine of the future state overthrows the faith of Christians. Or as Paul said: if only for this life we have hope we are pitiful fools. They said – this is as good as it gets. And Paul replies – gangrene! Toxic! And never creative. Always just good teaching put it in front of a carnival mirror which to skew and distort it horribly. Such errors are obvious in the cults, but they also crop up in the church – maybe not in full-blown form but nonetheless gangrenously eating away at the glory of God's grace.

How does heresy work? G.K. Chesterton noted: Heresy always affects morality if it's heretical enough. Heresy is about beliefs. But it's cause is often moral behaviour. We believe wrong things to permit wrong behaviour – v16-18 indulging, ungodly, wandering away, gangrenous. Belief and behaviour go together. Where are the threats to us? Easy to undercook or overcook food. Too easy to twist the word. And we're all blind to our own errors. We look in the mirror and see exactly what we want to see. None of us thinks we believe wrong things, else we'd stop believing them... How can we deal with it today? How can we deal with trends towards error among us? How could Tim respond in the first century? Two classic approaches...

The first is clinical. Get in there. Short and sharp and cut the problem out. It's bold, it's brash. It's quick. Burn the heretics. Remove the problem.

The second is cosy. Get alongside people. Offer some tea and sympathy and make it all go away. 
What's at stake is how change happens...
What are the dynamics of change for the people of God?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What's Dumbledore got to do with it?

House Season 3 arrived! Woop. As House puzzles over things he stumbles over many things that might work and that might be important, but eventually disgards most of his ponderings in favour of the one thing needed.

I suppose JK Rowling did that with Harry Potter - she must have had vastly more ideas than she included in her huge books. Like that 'revelation' that Dumbledore was gay. The problem there is that she never once revealed that in the book - so surely the issue of his sexuality is up for grabs by the reader isn't it?

In preparing a talk the 'revelation' is all there. Nothing is hidden. But the preacher still can't cover everything. I remember once hearing a student scream frustration that there hadn't been much talk of the Holy Spirit in CU meetings for a few weeks - mostly because we'd been going through the early chapters of Romans. And then you hit chapters 5-8 and there's a whole lot more about the Spirit. The preacher hasn't got to tick every box, he needs to distill the big idea of the passage at hand. Other stuff has to remain untouched for a while. I had 4 talks on 2 Timothy, if I'd have had 16 it'd then loads more detail could have been explored. My Calvinist biases (probably) showed in this first talk, though I tried not to be too strong either way given that in a CU context there is room to differ on what Election is about.

[I'm reminded that Wesley & Whitefield differed strongly on the issue and eventually agreed to not spend too much time talking about it lest they break their strong missionary partnership. Issues shouldn't be avoided but there are sensitive and careful ways to approach them (more on that in 2 Timothy 2v14-26!). ]

Many of my other theological biases on 'secondary matters' (ones on which it is possible to disagree and still work together in evangelism) wont have come through in this first talk, or indeed the rest of the weekend. Where I stand on baptism, charismatic gifts, women's ministry and a whole host of other issues didn't and couldn't come up. The text never took us there. - another weekend with another part of God's word and they might have been inescapable!

My agenda is set by the passage (more on that in the posts ahead) but I can't include everything. These days I seem to go into 30 minute talks with about 1700 words of script, that's not a lot to have. When it came to 2 Timothy 1v1-2v13 I'd shot myself in the foot by tackling such a long passage, but as I'd pondered the manuscript of the book a couple of months back it seemed like one big section - with it's repeating themes of not being ashamed, suffering, guarding the gospel, grace etc.

But to preach what I preached (Saved by grace, strengthened by grace) meant I had to leave a load of really good God-breathed things in my study, like...
1. The biographical encouragement to Timothy about the genuine nature of his faith (though I pick that up a little in chapter 3).
2. The encouragement to fan into flame the gift that dwells in him - and a whole lot of stuff on the indwelling of faith and the Spirit in the Christian... guarding the deposit of grace by grace is inextricably linked to the work of the Holy Spirit but I'm not sure I had space to explore this very far, though I'd have loved to.
3. Detail on the nature of enduring hardship as a Christian - I made reference to it, but didn't have space to unpack and feel the force of.
4. The stuff on God's faithfulness and our faith or faithlessness.
All of which is good stuff for future study and potentially the blog allows for some extra-canonical exploration on top of the weekend's talks. What mattered most was the overarching concern of Paul to remind Timothy of the grace he knows in Christ - a concern that would put backbone into this believer.

Death, once an enemy, now a friend

Briefly, see the power of God's word! Not just to save us but to strengthen us. 2v1 – grace saved Tim and he must also be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus or to be strengthened by the grace. We sing that grace has brought us safe thus far and grace will bring us home, and yet we live like grace saves and works get us home. The challenge is to keep the Main Thing as the main thing. Grace and nothing else.

God doesn't say grace to save and then works to stay saved. No – it's grace to start and grace to finish! How? Because grace abolished death. In 2007 we've remembered 200 years since slavery was abolished. 2000 years ago Jesus abolished death. He destroyed it! 1v10. Remember Jesus!

Death faced us all but now, as John Owen put it we see the Death of Death in the Death of Christ. The Father sent his Son in love to bear the wrath his elect deserved. The curse of death earned by our sin. Our salvation was promised before time but secured in history. The result of which being that in Christ we don't face wrath but instead all the favour and love that the Father has for his Son. And so, as Matthew Henry put it: Death, once an enemy, now a friend. We will still 'die' and we have died with Jesus. But having died, like him, we rise with him!

The resurrection of Jesus isn't just proof that Jesus was telling the truth. Jesus is the first-fruits of a whole new humanity – a people who die with him and rise with him. Christians are re-born graced-up people! 1v10, we will die but we'll live forever with Jesus. Resurrection life looks to Jesus next appearing, 4v8.

Jesus, 2v8, the risen King on David's throne – exactly as God had promised In 2 Samuel 7. A son of David ruling all things forever. Get yourself into the OT story and find a bigger view of Jesus. Get yourself a gospel big enough to be the same gospel the Bible gives us! A gospel big enough to reach from before time, right through to after it. A gospel big enough to save and strengthen you. A gospel in which King Jesus does everything and we do nothing.

And then enjoy the view! Enjoy the sound teaching. Enjoy the good deposit. Enjoy the glorious gospel. The problem of sequel is defied not be reinvention and pursuit of relevance but by grace. Remember the applications. Paul wanted Timothy to avoid shame and teach the gospel. Charles Spurgeon was right to say:

“How can a man be ashamed when he believes that God has given him grace in Christ Jesus before the world was? My name is not in Doomsday Book nor in Burke's Peerage; but it is in the book of God's election, and was there before the world began... No doctrine like it for putting a backbone into a man."
Grace puts backbone in the Christian! It wakes us up from timidity to boldness. In God's gospel we find the greatest treasure – one so vast that there is no ground big enough for it to be hidden in. When you see the gospel, then, 2v2, why would you do anything but teach it to others. It's the overflow of the gushing river that is the grace of God.

Grace gives the Christian the backbone to suffer like Paul. And, 2v3-6, to face hardship, discipline and suffering and say 'I made no sacrifice'. To, 1v14, guard the gospel by the Holy Spirit. Taste the meat of the gospel in your mouth. Saved by grace, strengthened by grace.

How does it feel?
  • Is it devastating because all that you once held dear is being cut out from under you? Come and hear the word of God's grace and believe God doesn't look at what you do.
  • Is it liberating and comforting because you no-longer need to impress? Not to begin as a Christian, nor to go on. This gospel really is such good news – let it bubble up in your heart.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What happened before the beginning?

There is a lie that persists today. The lie of Karma-Theology – that God loves good people. It's a tragic lie 2000 years after Jesus came showing us that God saves, v9, by grace. All the more absurd because God said the same to Abraham a further 1800 years before. Grace was always God's way. Yet people prefer karma. We are saved not by what we have done, but by God's purpose and grace.

a) not by works but by God's purpose
This is the killer blow to karma theology. Do we deserve to be in with God? No! v9 – it's not because of what we have done. You're not a Christian because you're good. Or spiritual. Or prayerful. Or a church-attender. Or a Bible-reader. Or an evangelist. Or because of any other thing you might do. God isn't looking at your behaviour. He doesn't save you and me because of what we've done.
  • For some of us that is devastating because we've spent our lives trying to show we're good and religious. Grace takes the ground out from under you, but in the same breath has given you permission to fail and repent and receive grace.
  • For others this is liberating. It's liberating because it means you can take off your Pharisee Mask. You can stop faking that you're good and admit that you're not.
You can join the company of sinners saved by grace. A place where there is permission to fail. And permission to repent. Where we're not judged on our good behaviour but on the basis of Jesus. God doesn't look at your behaviour, only at Jesus. There is freedom to get it wrong. Freedom to admit to having sinned. Freedom to admit that you've rebelled against God. Freedom to receive grace. What comfort! Yet still we protest – what about my deeds... and God says, they're filthy rags. And someone else says – what about my filthy rags, and God says – what of them! I see Jesus.

b) before time
Grace v10 – before the beginning of time. Our deeds aren't even part of the equation. John Calvin who is a wonderfully warm writer about God's grace wrote:
'Before we were born, we were enrolled in His register;
He had already adopted us for His children. ' Our testimony might tell a different story, that it was our decision, our choice. But 2 Timothy comes back and reinterprets our experience... it re-writes the dates and it re-writes who did what. The script is totally reworked.

We default to thinking it was our free will to choose God, but , but 1v9 is clear – it is God's purpose and grace that runs the universe. The throne room of heaven is where the decisions really get made. That isn't to say that I didn't respond to the gospel, Paul says in 2v10, that he endures for the sake of the elect – those God has chosen. He preaches so that people would believe. But, the reality is that before God said 'let there be light' be had poured out his grace upon you! And a gushing river it is! What can we do? Calvin says:
Let us yield the whole to His mercy, knowing that we cannot boast of ourselves, unless we rob Him of the honour which belongs to Him.
Quit trying to impress. Anchor your soul in the grace-word of God. In his word from before time, and in his word in the death of Jesus for you. Christian, let the word of God send a shockwave of grace into your life. Let the word of God produce faith in you.

I ♥ doctrine

“Once you’re exposed to [doctrine], you see the richness in it for your own soul, and you’re ruined for anything else.”Josh Harris at Challies.
I ♥ doctrine, sound gospel grace doctrine that is. I meet students in the UK who aren't keen on Josh Harris. It seems his books on dating (or *not* dating) aren't all that popular over here (which is probably because they're written to a specific cultural context of US homeschool kids... I dunno). But you can't beat Josh Harris' book 'Stop Dating the Church'. It's a great pocketsize book on how to love the church - and he clearly articulates the importance of being part of church where the word of God is loved, lived and taught - where doctrine matters. And I love that. I love that about Sovereign Grace Ministries . I love it about Christian Unions. I love it in 2 Timothy. And I love the sound of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists (Colin Hansen, 2008).

I love it when students develop a hunger for God's word. I loved hanging out with the Reading guys who are so dear to my heart, and opening the Bible with them - in preaching, but also between sesssions - mostly as it happens over Romans 9... all comes back to the doctrines of grace. Sometimes they divide and lead to controversy when sinful people consider them coldly and arrogantly. But, when the Spirit engages our hearts with the joy of heaven and the horror of hell they can ignite the soul with a vision of God like no other. Then we see that God is big and people are small... the gospel amazing and people wonderfully saved by God.

Update: Josh Harris is offering some clarity for people like the students referred to above who've not liked some of his books. Let me further re-emphasise, if you've not read Stop Dating the Church... WHY NOT?? WHY NOT?? Leave this blog now, go buy it and read it: This is the link you need to follow (and get Sex is not the problem (lust is) too while you're over at Amazon. It's very good and will make you want to read John Piper's Future Grace which is also excellent)

'CK' Mahaney?

from Nathan Burley

The problem of sequel

The last two weekends I've been away at Conference centres teaching students, first from Exeter CU and then from Reading CU. We've looked at 2 Timothy. I've had four sessions at each weekend which is enough to get a taste of the book but no where near enough to explore all the detail. I'll post the scripts in bitesize posts over the coming days.
Pull up a seat, grab a knife and fork and let's tuck into a roast dinner. A lavish Christmas Dinner of a book. 2 Timothy. First the tender meat, then the veg. And then tonight dessert, and finally some coffee.

If you went to the cinema this summer then the chances are you saw a sequel. Or rather, a threequel. Summer 2007: Rain and Threequels. Spiderman. Shrek. Pirates of the Caribbean. With the possible exception of The Bourne Ultimatum they illustrate perfectly the problem of sequel. The first film was great, the sequels were poor.

So it is for the church. Don Carson observes the plight of a church called The Mennonite Brethren: ...the first generation believed and proclaimed the gospel and thought that there were certain social entailments. The next generation assumed the gospel and advocated the entailments. The third generation denied the gospel and all that were left were the entailments.

The problem of sequel hit and within two generations. Initial zeal swept away as it later was with the Wesleyan and Welsh revivals. Initial gain, but the sequel bombed. The problem of sequel is one of the challenges behind this letter, 2 Timothy.

What do you do when the apostles die? When generation one of the church hands over the baton to generation two? This year Reading CU has been going for 80 years, Exeter CU for 50... but what will keep it going today and tomorrow and beyond?

We need 2 Timothy. Paul's last letter, written from a Roman prison cell to Timothy, leading the church at Ephesus. God's answer to the problem of sequel... Let's eat the tender meat of the gospel, a large slice of grace from 1v1-2v13.

At the heart of it all – Timothy is 1v8, not to be ashamed to testify about our Lord and 2v2 to entrust to reliable men the things he has heard from Paul. This however, 1v8, requires that he 'join with [Paul] in suffering' and 2v3 'endure hardship'. If he does this then, 1v14, he will 'guard the good deposit that was entrusted to [him] – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.' Those are Paul's applications to Timothy. How will Paul prepare Timothy to do them? He wont just tell him. Christianity isn't about keeping commands. What will wash away, 1v7, the timidity of Timothy? Paul's strategy is simple. Paul reminds Timothy of what he has entrusted to him. Telling again of, v13, the good deposit and the pattern of sound teaching. God's good news about Jesus Christ. And he outlines it in v9-10...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Click here

November in the student mission world is a busy time. Intensive training for CU mission teams and many opportunities to do exciting things. Blogging sort of slips down the agenda, so before I run out of the door to Plymouth today here's a few things I spotted: Photo from the Funky Pancake.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A message for all who want to live a godly life...

Marcus Honeysett at Rock Baptist Church, Cambridge, glorying in the gospel in John's gospel and the inevitable prospect of persecution coming. On the coming of Normal Christian Life to British Christians...
Marcus Honeysett - Making Sense of a Culture in Crisis (mp3)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Christianity with backbone

Charles Spurgeon on faith and election from 2 Timothy with great clarity:
Oh my friend, you will never get faith by trying to make yourself have it. Faith is the gift of Christ! go and find it in his veins. There is a secret spot where faith is treasured up; it is in the heart of Christ; go and catch it sinner as it flows therefrom. Go to your chamber, and sit down and picture Christ in holy vision, dying on the tree, and as your eye sees, your heart shall melt, your soul shall believe, and you shall rise from your knees and cry, "I know whom I may believe, and I am persuaded he is able to save that which I have committed to him until that day." Spurgeon on The Sweet Uses of Adversity

"How can a man be ashamed when he believes that God has given him grace in Christ Jesus before the world was? Suppose the man to be very poor. "Oh," says he, "what matters it? Though I have but a little oil in the cruse, and a little meal in the barrel, yet I have a lot and a portion in everlasting things. My name is not in Doomsday Book nor in Burke's Peerage; but it is in the book of God's election, and was there before the world began... No doctrine like it for putting a backbone into a man." Spurgeon on Salvation altogether by grace
The shockwaves of election are what we need to get a grip upon. Paul writes his last letter to timid Timothy and reminds him afresh of the gospel of grace. Specifically, 1v8-9 how he is saved by God's grace. Not by works but before the purpose and grace of God before time. Before God even said 'let there be light' he was writing a sealed letter with our names in. Not because we're special but because it is in his nature to be overflowingly gracious.

No wonder the application for Timothy is to take a stand, to be unashamed, to face suffering and hardship for testifying about the apostolic gospel of Jesus Christ. Election is a beautiful doctrine that puts backbone into timid-Tim, a doctrine for the Holy Spirit to write on his heart through the Scriptures. Subduing his rebellion, as Calvin says, with the Majesty of God - with this doctrine that magnifies God and silences any contribution to our salvation that we might boldly try to claim. And in the same breath giving us a doctrine worth telling our world about.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Trumpet Sounds

More thoughts from playing in the Pentateuch last week.
Leviticus 25v9 "Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land."
Once every fifty years the High Priest makes his annual sacrifice of atonement (to turn aside wrath and remove sin), taking blood into the Most Holy Place and the heart of the Tabernacle/Temple, and then he emerges to sound the trumpet. Announcing Jubilee. Andrew Bonar:

Does the Jubilee represent the preaching of the gospel? Some argue that it does, because Isa. lxi. 1, 2, as used by Jesus at Nazareth, seems to be clothed in the language of the Jubilee. The true answer to this is,that Jesus was the High Priest who blew the jubilee trumpet throughout all the land of Israel, when He proclaimed, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand!" That kingdom which He preached brought in its train "the opening of the prison door to the bound, deliverance to the captive," as well as"glad tidings to the poor." But then Jesus seems to have intended to proclaim, at that time, only that the rights and privileges of the jubilee year should belong to all His true Israel.
The principle of Jubilee was being banded around without reference to the atonement a few years ago to cancel third world debt. I'm quite happy to see excessive debts cancelled by western nations, but if we're going to talk about Jubliee, it has to be tied in to atonement.

When that happens we're talking about a vastly superior Jubilee than just the cancellation of monetary debt. Jesus offers the perfect sacrifice as the propitiation for our sins and the expiation of our sin - going into the Most Holy Place for us.

C.H.Spurgeon says:

So that one of the effects of the atonement was set forth to us in the fact that when the year of jubilee came, it was not on the first day of the year that it was proclaimed, but "on the tenth day of the seventh month." Ay, methinks, that was the best part of it. The scapegoat is gone, and the sins are gone, and no sooner are they gone than the silver trumpet sounds, "The year of jubilee is to come,Return, ye ransomed sinners, home." On that day sinners go free; on that day our poor mortgaged lands are liberated, and our poor estates which have been forfeited by our spiritual bankruptcy are all returned to us. So when Jesus dies, slaves win their liberty, and lost ones receive spiritual life again; when he dies, heaven, the long lost inheritance is ours. Blessed day! Atonement and jubilee ought to go together.

Jesus made atonement by his blood. He has entered into the Most Holy Place, and one day he will come back out to sound the trumpet. 1 Thessalonians 4v16:

"the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Musing on Giants

These are some musings from playing in the Genesis sandpit with Mike Reeves and his model Tabernacle last week... This may be fairly incoherent but I'm mostly noting it so I can come back to it later and try and investigate further.

In Genesis 3 God promised a seed to come from Eve to save people. They've been kicked off the Mountain (Eden.. rivers flow from mountains, and we later find that the Gihon flows from Jerusalem... from the Temple... Ezekiel 47 etc...) and need a way to get back in. Angels block the way, as they will in the model of Eden (Tabernacle). How important it is that we're acquainted with the models so we can understand the real things (Exodus 25... Hebrews 8 etc). Big question: How can anyone get back into Eden? How can anyone get back into the presence of God? The big picture tells us that Adam fell down the mountain and Jesus will climb back up it. But there's plenty to be written from Genesis 3 before that is achieved.

Eve bears children in Genesis 4 but they're not the saving-seed we're looking for. By the end of Genesis 4 people are starting to call upon the name of the Lord and in Genesis 5 Enoch gets taken back into the presence of God. But, in Genesis 6 we see 'sons of God' having children with women. 'Sons of God' is clearly a tough one to interpret - but we see them again in Job 1-2 where they are angels. So, run with that. Their seed are Nephilim, giants. Demonic seed which provoke God to announce that in 120 years judgement will come (the Flood).

Nephilim recur after the flood. Nimrod? And certainly the inhabitants of the land in Numbers 13. God's people are scared off from entering the land because of them and judged by God for their unbelief. The demonic seed again stopping the people of God entering the lands. Later the Nephilim Goliath tries to defeat God's annointed king, but David wins. Could it also be that Jezebel-the-Sidonian Queen is Nephilim... and her daughter Ataliah the one who tries to destroy the sons of Judah. Trying to stop the Seed from coming? Polluting the line of David - or at least the one from Solomon. Jesus of course comes from David's son Nathan to Mary... with Solomon's line cut off because God rather than Joseph is Jesus' Father...

In time Christ comes. The Seed. The one who can offer all the sacrifices for our sin. The one who can go past the angels and into the Holy Place. Adam fell down the mountain, Christ climbs back up. And, we are found 'in Christ'. God provides the Seed. God solves the problem. God welcomes us back up the mountain in Christ. Union with Christ is then key (as Calvin notes) - because there is no other way into the Most Holy Place than in Him. He's there already, and on the final day of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) he'll come back out and sound the trumpet!


Lunchbox - videos to get people thinking about big issues

Lunchbox has been designed with Christian Union lunchbars and missions in mind. Each film is designed to provoke questions and ideas about the subject, without trying to point people to an answer.

Lunchbox is designed for student evangelism but it could also be used with adult groups and older youth. You could use it in a seeker group or anywhere where you want to get people to think about what they believe.

Watch Lunchbox online at

Name UCCF: The Christian Unions next Gospel Project and win an iPod Nano

Name UCCF: The Christian Unions next Gospel Project and win an iPod Nano

Imagine the gospel in the hands, heads and hearts of a generation of students - a generation without Jesus and without hope. 400,000 Gospels handed from student to student at over 150 universities and colleges in the UK. Imagine your course mates, friends, and housemates having the opportunity to hear and respond to the life-changing claims of Jesus Christ. Imagine UCCF’s Gospel Project 2008.

Thousands of students have had a real encounter with the living God as they’ve met with Christ through his Word. 2008-09 is the year of UCCF: The Christian Unions fifth Gospel Project, and our vision is bigger and more daring than ever. In 2008–2009 Christian Unions across Great Britain will take part in a massive nationwide operation to distribute copies of Mark’s gospel on every campus where there is a Christian Union.

Gospel projects provide CUs with an accessible and contemporary-looking gospel, which is ideal for both personal evangelism and large-scale events. They are a perfect platform on which to build missions; great to be read with a non-Christian friend, and of course, are a completely free resource for students.

But … we need your help!

The 2008–2009 Gospel Project is as yet unnamed, and we want you to help us name it! We are inviting you to suggest a name for the Gospel Project 2008. If the name you suggest is picked as the winner you will receive a shiny brand new iPod Nano* complete with loads of helpful talks from past UCCF conferences.

The name will need to be snappy and interesting. It will also have to reflect the thrust of Mark’s gospel, covering the key things he’s trying to communicate. Mark wants his readers to understand who Jesus is and what he came to do.

The last Gospel Project was called Life, and was based on John’s gospel. The one before that was called Identity, (also Mark’s gospel). Get your thinking caps on and be creative!

Email your entry to by Friday 23 November 2007.

*UCCF staff and their families are not eligible to win the ipod.

Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF).
Registered Office: 38 De Montfort Street, Leicester, LE1 7GP. Registered Charity No. 306137.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Dynamics of Change

There are two ways I see ministry happening. Speaking from my own experience, and observing those around me.
1. Clinical Ministry. This is short and sharp. It wants instant results and often gets them. Bible-bash the error out of people. Burn the heretics. Keep things pure. It's confident and concerned for the truth.
2. Cosy Ministry. This is coffee drinking with people. This is tea and sympathy. It's friendly but you wont see a Bible anywhere because people need some loving.
When Paul commissions Timothy he calls him to 'unashamed work' which will entail 'handling the word' (2 Timothy 2v15). And, handling it rightly. It must be inky. That looks like 'clinical' ministry. But... Timothy is warned to beware of 'youthful passions', which looks like arrogance and quarrelling. The very things that are the marks of the clinical camp. The kind of approach that is most interested in seeing everything in black and white and delights to fight.

Timothy is to do a different kind of word ministry. His much be marked by patience and gentleness. It must be kind. It'll take time, on the surface it'll look ineffective and lacking in fruit. But it'll produce a fire that burns all night.

How will Timothy go for this kind of ministry?

1. By knowing he is the Lord's servant (presented before God, for the master's service). It's not his ministry, his people to work with. (v24)
2. By knowing that the Lord knows his people (v19). He demands responsibility and accountability from his people, but above all the people of God are God's people.
3. By knowing that the Lord gives repentance (v25). Change only happens when God gives the gift of repentance - which he does through the teaching of his word.
As a UCCF staffworker committed to student leadership it'd be tempting for me to hold the CU leaders hands and stand behind their every decision, watching to stop them ever making a mistake (as if I really know best in all situations!!). But, if I'm prepared to do inky-kind ministry then I can stand back, away from the decisions and just teach the Bible to people. I can let the word do everything. I can let the word change the hearts and shape the convictions of student leaders. From those convictions they can then make good decisions to advance effective mission on campus.

Paul seeks to shape Timothy's ministry but his higher concern is Timothy's heart. Does Timothy believe that God is sovereign and that God's word changes lives? The way Timothy handles the word of God and the people of God will reveal his belief in God. Behaviour always reveals belief.

When I've tried to micro-manage a CU I've not believed that God is sovereign.
When I've charged in all guns blazing I've not believed that God is sovereign.
When I've not opened the Word I've not believed that God is sovereign.
As I study this chapter I hear the word of God. And faith comes by hearing! I feel him working on my heart to change the way I resolve to word. Like that beer-drinking Bible-freak who led the reformation, I want to be able to say: I taught the word, apart from that I did nothing. The word did everything.

The word did everything

Andy and I have just spent the weekend on the edge of Dartmoor with the Exeter Lopes & Hope hall groups. It was great to be able to teach them 2 Timothy (me) and have Andy teach seminars on prayer and contentment. I'll post the mp3s of the weekend when I get the chance. Next week I'll be off on my own to the Reading University CU houseparty to work through the same 2 Timothy material with them (with some necessary edits to my notes).

I've felt this little last letter from Paul strike into my heart with it's message of salvation by grace and life by grace. And even more than that, the sizzling power of God's word - what he says is the way things change, he is the one who really knows his people, he is the one who grants repentance and whose word is the only remedy for sinfully itchy ears.

Blogging has been a bit light recently because I've been working on these talks, later in the month I'll probably chop the scripts up into blogsize bites which should keep things ticking over for a good week or two.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Sandpits and giants and other tasty bites

"The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of the triviality we drink in every night" - John Piper, Hunger for God.

Meanwhile, we've just had 3 days of feasting on God's word with Mike Reeves (with the UCCF South East & South West teams), particularly in Genesis but with some pioneering into the lands of dragons and giants, playing with his plastic model of the Tabernacle and the geographical details of Eden. I still need to digest that meal but it was certainly fun to have Genesis as our sandpit for six hours.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What kind of God...

Michael Ots popped in for a cuppa yesterday. He's in Exeter doing his
What kind of God...? series at the University. (follow the link to watch them)

What kind of God has only one way?
What kind of God sends sincere people to hell?

What kind of God allows violence in his name?
What kind of God doesnt stop suffering?
What kind of God doesn't make himself clear?
What kind of God limits my sexuality?
What kind of God is still relevant?
What kind of God would send his son to die?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Engaging with Barth

I don't really know much about Karl Barth, which is one of the reasons this book and it's accompanying website are going to be really helpful.

There's an all star list of contributors who you can read about at

The book has nothing to do with me, but I did put the website together for David Gibson and Daniel Strange, the editors.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

There is no colour in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice

9v35-38 The Implications – Jesus comes to give light to some, and blind others.

Jesus hears about this and follows the man up. He questions him – does he believe in the Son of Man. Jesus is revealing himself to the man. And v38, the man bows down and worships him. How else can we respond to Jesus but to praise him? To trust in him, to say he is the Lord! And this is exactly what was meant to happen. Remember back in v3, we were told that the point of this whole incident. The point was to reveal God – the light of the world shining to open the blind eyes of this man. And seeing Jesus leads to savouring Jesus – to worship.

Jesus is the light who shines in the darkness, to reveal the glory of God. And yet, in v39 exposes the religious. v39, “For judgement I have come into the world, so that the blind will see, and those who see will become blind”. They ask about themselves- “Are we blind too?”. No, they think they can see which amplifies their guit. Caught in the sting. Blinded by the glory of Jesus. More blind than the blind man ever was. Indifference is the same as outrage. It's all unbelief.
John writes to bring belief not unbelief. But we might say what's the big deal with unbelief?

Pastor Jonathan Edwards notes: Unbelief is evil because it sets the glory and excellencies of Jesus at nought. How about you? Me? What does your heart make of Jesus? The only strategy I have is to show people Jesus.
  • Jesus the light of the world, shining to show us God's glory.
  • Jesus more wise and insightful than agony aunts and academic scholars.
  • Jesus more breathtaking than sunsets and sunrises.
  • Jesus more majestic than sporting triumphs and first class degrees.
As John Piper observes:
"There is no deeper reality and no greater value than the glory of God in Christ. There is no prize and no satisfaction beyond this. When you have this, you are at the end. You are home. The glory of God is not a means to anything greater. This is ultimate, absolute reality. All true salvation ends here, not before and not beyond. There is no beyond. The glory of God in Christ is what makes the gospel gospel"
What happens when you – here in John 9 – come face to face with Jesus? All we can do as a Christian Union is to study the Bible to see Jesus. Looking for God to transform us, penetrating our hearts and persuading us about Jesus. It's the strategy to be a Christian Union, and to reach the Uni. Why not invite someone, even this week, to consider Jesus – to let him walk off the pages and receive sight and life from him?

The man sat at the roadside for a lifetime waiting for God's plan to be put into action that day. Waiting for the moment he would see colours for the first time. Waiting for the day he would see creation and see it's creator. Seeing the glory of Jesus. Sight acquired through the sin-bearing wrath-averting God-and-man-reconciling death of Jesus. The path that the Light of the World was walking. What we see as we survey the cross of Christ is the beginning of our seeing. Because of the cross we see with Calvin that “There is not one blade of grass, there is no colour in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice”. Like the blind man in his first moments of sight we begin to see colour for the first time.

Above all else we see Jesus. We see so that we might answer that we would not be happy in heaven if Jesus were not there. We are only satisfied with Jesus. As Jesus walks off the page into our lives we see Jesus. And when we see Jesus we are home.

Seven Days

I don't feel like my feet have touched the ground in the last few weeks. I've been all over the place and I'm enjoying it.

1. Helping Hames write some lyrics by email. Can't wait to hear what you've come up with.

2. The generosity of friends. I thank God for his grace in you.

3. Bridge Strikes and Replacement Buses. aka, going to Falmouth to invite people to see and savour Jesus.

4. Judges. I read it. I don't really understand it. But, I am glad we are not without a king. We have King Jesus!

5. Fixing the blind in my office. That room is now officially usable, albeit lacking some furniture. Ideal cos I have some serious talk preparation to do in the next two days on 2 Timothy 1-4.

6. Grace books. That'll be the stack of resources next to my desk to help me with 2 Timothy 1. Like John Calvin:

"...let us yield the whole to His mercy, knowing that we cannot boast of ourselves, unless we rob Him of the honor which belongs to Him. Men have endeavored to invent cavils, to darken the grace of God."

Also there are books by Michael Horton, Marcus Honeysett, Terry Virgo.

7. More Calvin, in reference to 2 Timothy 4:

"Many there are that would gladly have pleasant things taught them; they would make pastime of the Word of God, and recreate themselves thereby; thus they seek vain and unprofitable teaching. They would bring error, contention, and debate into the church, and endeavor to bring the religion we hold into doubt, and obscure the Word of God."

Whoever is not satisfied with Christ alone, strives after something beyond absolute perfection

John 9v13-34 The Trial – a comedy of false assumptions...

Jesus disappears from the scene for most of the rest of the story and we're left to watch people try and figure things out. What we find is a comedy of errors, false assumptions and ignorance exposed. Listen to their questions, observe their motives. What we have here is a classic sting operation, the case of the man whose sight is restored exposing the blindness of the authorities.


Immediately the authorities have a problem. The ask what happened and then pronounce judgement. The man tells them what Jesus did and they declare “this man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” - v16. There is no compassion. There is no joy. There is no awe. Rather they seek to use this amazing event to disqualify Jesus on a technicality. He healed on a Sabbath, a Saturday. And since, God doesn't work on Saturdays they say Jesus isn't from God.

They have what looks like a blindingly obvious work of God and yet their assumptions prevent them from seeing. It happens today – people assume “God could not do this or that”. We might be tempted to say that they're putting God in a box, but it's more subtle than that. God is not nebulous and undefined. He is who he has revealed himself to be. We are not at liberty to make our own judgements above and beyond what he has spoken. We can only believe what the scripture tells us about God.

We find people starting with their own ideas about God, like all human religions do – saying God must be like this or that. Someone says they believe in God, but which God – what God? The God who heals on Saturdays or the one who doesn't? Jesus however, v5, has come into the world to do the work of God. And it would seem he doesn't care for their pre-existing assumptions about God. Jesus is who he is.


They question the man again. He says – Jesus is a prophet. Now we're getting to the heart of it. It's not so much the Saturdays issue anymore. They're desperate to exclude Jesus and so they say – God couldn't have done it AND you were never blind. They cry, hoax. It's blindingly obvious that the man can see. That empirical evidence is simply unavoidable. And so they have to say – ah, he was never blind! They draw the scientific conclusion – if he sees today he must have been able to see yesterday. How do you prove it – ask his parents, they'll say he could always see and the case will be closed.


His parents arrive but wont play the game. They confirm that he was blind. They're invited to bring interpretation, but they wont. Why? Because they don’t know? No, look at v22. John tells us that they know exactly what is going on. The authorities have decreed that it's a sin to say Jesus is the Christ – whatever the evidence says. The evidence is blindingly obviously saying that Jesus is the Christ, God's rescuer and King. But they will not accept it. It happens today. People say its nice that we have faith but they wont push the implications. Then, as today, if Jesus is the Christ you can't be indifferent. It effects everyone. To say it is to have to say that a billion Muslims are wrong, and that the majority of people on earth are headed for hell. They spin a complex web of arguments to try and avoid it but everyone can see what they're doing. They're desperate to be rid of Jesus. They hate him. But the light continues to shine...


The temperature rises. The authorities have the courage of their convictions. If its a sin to say Jesus is the Christ then it must be virtuous to say Jesus is a sinner. “Give glory to God by condemning Jesus”. V24. It's strong stuff. People don't mind critiquing Christians but few will say a bad word against Jesus. They look for 'the Christ' to come but they want him on their own terms, Jesus doesn't fit for them. John Calvin puts it well saying: “Whoever is not satisfied with Christ alone, strives after something beyond absolute perfection”


With Jesus identity in full view we reach the heart of the issue. They recall the man. They ask him the same questions again. He answers back saying – do you want to follow Jesus? You're very interested? v28. That really annoys them, so they turn on him with insults. They say – “You’re his disciple, we follow Moses! We don’t know where Jesus is from”. Back in John 5v44 Jesus has already said that all the evidence in Moses, in the Old Testament points to Jesus being the Christ. They kick him out, outraged.
They'd made their minds up before the conversation began. For all their clever arguments and explanations the real issue is their refusal to believe in Jesus. The issue isn't intellectual, it's moral. And yet, shining the light of the gospel working of Jesus into the situation is the only remedy. It can result in only two outcomes - diagnosed blindness or people who see the glory of Jesus.