Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Song

The Church is the bride of Christ. Please be careful how you speak to His wife." Dave Campbell, Life in the Spirit conference.

Over the last few years I've been working my way through what Barry Webb calls the 'Five Festal Garments'. I've spent time in Esther and Ruth and Lamentations this week with members of my team.
I'm especially struck this week by the fresh stuff I've seen - this was probably the start of my fourth run at Ruth and the middle of the 8th on Esther and I'm seeing all sorts of fresh stuff. Ruth is so rooted into God's story once you start pursuing the Moab connection rather than just viewing Ruth as any Gentile - and Esther is increasingly clear to me as a story with a Christian shape, one that starts to make sense once you pursue the Amalekite connections. Lamentations is still a 1st attempt but I'm enjoying pioneering with Tuck.
I've also spent time in Ecclesiastes though not since the Autumn - I think I preached on it this time last year, the week my trustly laptop did an Ecclesiastes and died on me.
The one missing piece is Song of Songs...

Matthew Mason writes on the not sex, but church & Christ angle as does Daniel Newman, running with the Puritans and others, albeit with corresponding lessons on marriage (since marriage echoes Christ and the Church). Meanwhile Andrew Jones goes with it being about sex. Many other modern authors go the same way (CJ Mahaney, Mark Driscoll for example).

I sympathise with both and I'm not totally sure which way to go. Though I'm probably on my way back to the first from the second. Not least because I can't help but thinking that the modern angle is a reaction against over sexualised worship songs of the modern era (aka "Jesus is my boyfriend"). Also, it takes something significant to dismiss the Puritans.
Moreover, all Scripture is about Christ, right?

I definitely want to study this book more and soon. To grow my love for the church? To grow my love for Christ?

Ros Clarke writes: The Song provokes a greater love for Christ, a deeper admiration for the land, a more passionate desire for the consummation of our marriage, a more confident assurance in our beloved status and a more patient endurance as we wait for our coming king. Perhaps if we understood this better, we might begin to see a resurgence in the pulpit popularity of this, the greatest of all songs.

Funky Pancake

FunkyPancake has an eye for the mundane:

Review: The Reason for God

Earlier this month Tim Keller's The Reason for God was published. It's a God-Delusion size book on 'belief in an Age of Skepticism'.

Buy from Amazon

Keller opens by examining what he considers to be the top seven questions people ask today about Christianity and belief in God. A brief intermission deals with what is Christianity and sufficient reasons to believe. The second half more directly outlines the core beliefs of Christianity.

Keller writes, like he speaks, with clarity and well considered argument. The book feels like being in dialogue with him. He's careful to show the implications of his argument, both when they advance his cause and where they don't necessarily prove anything. Keller writes out of his experience, peppering his arguments with personal stories of people he has discussed these things with.

He admits to leaning heavily on Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis which is no bad combination for anyone to drink from. This book has all the things I wish Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins had thought about when writing their books. It has the honesty to say that certain arguments don't prove things. It engages gently with opponents without getting carried away into hype.

Keller advocates life in all it's Christianness. He paints a warm picture of humanity, of people enjoying life. I find his comments on the gnostic gospel to be very helpful. He notes how they resonate with the anti-material worldviews of the Greek/Roman world, while the gospel accounts have a "positive view of material creation and their emphasis on the poor and the oppressed that offended the dominant views of the Greco-Roman world." (p106)- whereas the Da Vinci gospels suck up to the views of their day.

I think it ought to be standard reading for UCCF staff and also for Christian Union leaders - this is what good 'lunchbar' style material looks like. This is what thoughtful persuasive evangelism looks like. Keller takes people's questions seriously, getting under the skin of doubts that stand in the way of belief in God. He doesn't brush them aside in a hurry to share the gospel, but takes the time to show that these popular doubts have their problems. With doubts exposed as unnecessary Keller then moves to lay out a warm and persuasive case for Christianity.

The Reason for God is written to be utterly accessible to any skeptic and I'd gladly give it to anyone. This will also be a great resource to anyone in the church who wants to be more thoughtful in their beliefs and their explaining of them.

I'm going to go back and read this book again several times.
As and when you can get hold of copy I suggest you do so.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The self-movement of God

Prozac doesn't work. So said yesterday's headlines. They lead a story that didn't say that. The story was that most people don't need Prozac, because a placebo is at least as helpful to combat their depresssion. Depression, on some scale, is certainly widespread.

Which is peculiar because the evolutionary biologists who killed god, pride themselves on telling us how we're the most advanced generation to have ever lived - seems being advanced isn't a very happy thing. For all our progress we still want to look for meaning. And when they tell us there is no god, we're left to look inside ourselves - to search for the hero within. Except most of us don't have a hero within. Some look outside themselves for discovery and triumph - but most of us can't attain that so we're left to enter the X-Factor and have our mediocrity exposed.

And then along comes the Reformed/Conservative/Evangelical saying 'God not only exists but he's angry with his world'. Hardly comforting! We'd rather hear that god would come and suffer with us or just give us a hug. We're biased by being 21st Century people. This post isn't really about depression, though I'm fascinated by how revealing this week's prozac revelations are. Gear change to how the gospel of Jesus meets this world. It comes offering comfort but get's misunderstood.

The person who wants the hugging god has a problem with a greek word - hilasmos / hilasterion a word that appears in The Bible to describe what the death of Jesus achieved. From the allegations made against the translation 'propitiation' you might imagine no-one has ever thought or wrestled with it, that it was just a careless translation that some wise newcomers have exposed an apparent problem with. John Stott wrote on p113-115 of his BST Romans:

"Many Christian people are embarrassed and even shocked by this word, however, because to 'propitiate' somebody means to placate his or her anger, and it seems to them an unworthy concept of God (more heathen than Christian) to suppose that he gets angry and needs to be appeased. Two other posible ways of understanding hilasterion are therefore proposed. The first is to translate it 'mercy-seat' referring to the golden lid of the ark within the temple's inner sanctuary... Since sacrificial blood was springled on the mercy-seat on the Day of Atonement, it is suggested that Jesus is himself now the mercy-seat where God and sinners are reconciled...
But the contrary arguments seem conclusive. First, if Paul meant 'mercy-seat' by hilasterion, he would inevitably have added the definite article. Secondly, the concept is incongrous in Romans which, unlike Hebrews, does not move 'in the sphere of Levitical symbolism'. Thirdly, the metaphor would be confusing and even contradictory, since it would represent Jesus as being simultaneously the victim whose blood was shed and sprinkled and the place where the sprinling took place.."
Stott observes that to go with propitiation over mercy-seat means departing from Calvin and Luther in this specific translation but no-one said they got everything right. Having considered the mercy-seat translation, and CH Dodd's suggestion of expiation Stott goes on to write:

The main reason [mercy-seat and expiation] are not satisfactory, and a reference to propitiation seems necesarry, is the context... Paul is describing God's solution to the human predicament, which is not only sin but God's wrath upon sin. And where there is divine wrath, there is the need to avert it. We should not be shy of using the word 'propitiation' in relation to the cross, any more than we should drop the word 'wrath' in relation to God. Instead, we should struggle to reclaim and reinstate this language.
Some still object to such a bloody remedy for sin but the necessity of the cross as God's way of propitiating himself towards us shows us quite how serious sin is. We don't need a hug, we need God to deal with the problem of his anger at us, because we can't deal with it ourselves.

When we front up to God and handle his word and the life he has given us lightly we're fronting up to a roaring lion who is rightly wrathful towards us. We imagine we can approach without the blood. We join in 'climbing up to the majesty on high' (Luther) at our peril. By great contrast with all human religion and philosophy God comes to us. He does it all. He acts to justly make himself favourable towards us. And so we may approach, sin-convicted and joining Andrew Bonar in crying not how horrible, but "How Amiable!".

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

We don't need to look inside, but outside of ourselves. To see God moving toward us, rather than us seeking god inside or to climb toward him. The propitiatory death of Jesus isn't the remedy we think we need for our situation, but that's not least because we're misdiagnosing ourselves.
The Christian doesn't just come saying - God is angry with you, but rather 'You and I alike deserve death from God but he has taken the action so that we can enjoy his favour'. That's taken as granted by most people, but why? On what basis can we presume God would be favourable to us? Only because The Bible says so - and the same book says he's both loving and angry, and that he does all that's required to bring us life. Most people don't need prozac. We all need the gospel.

Mike Reeves on Psalm 42, leaning on Martyn Lloyd-Jones 'Spiritual Depression'

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


This is coming with me today:
John Piper - How my pastoral ministry shapes my pulpit ministry (ht: Titus2Talk )

Adrian Reynolds reports on how much I stink. Which is a good thing. He observes a reaction to my talk:

"I rarely want to use physical violence on people,
I could even remain numb around paedophiles at court but he made me so angry".

This rather stunned me. I think I was compassionate and gentle in my speaking, but people really don't like talk of the cross and of wrath.

Train people to do mission work to our dying culture!

Maurice McCracken writes:...what we want to do in UCCF is train people to do mission work to our dying culture! I want to immerse them in the Bible AND in pioneering missionary work, mentoring and frontier mission on Britain’s campuses. I do not want to have a “theological upper hand” card played at me to trump that so someone who could be an effective campus missionary can move chairs, when I’m quite sure that taking a year off secular work for a year of training on Relay will not be wasted, whatever they go on to do. Is it just possible, that apprentice-ships can sometimes be (not always, dear reader, lest you think I am over-generalising) a middle class way to deal with the deaconing that needs done in our churches – “we are all too busy to serve the church, so throw a bit of money to get a graduate in to do it”.

A very accute observation on the middle-class church scene. I, like Mo, see young graduates flocking to be paid pennies to clean toilets and move chairs (and get very good training) but it would make much more sense for us to either get them into graduate jobs for the glory of God - or could you please let us release them into our dying culture for mission. As employees of UCCF of course we he and I have a vested interested why else would we be doing the work we're doing :)

Ever wise, Pete Dray comments very constructively on this issue

Applications for Relay 08/09 close at the end of this week.

Don't waste your life

"I will not simply be sovereign triumph of God’s grace over their rebellious will."analyzed, I will be adored. I will not simply be pondered, I will be proclaimed. My sovereignty is not simply to be scrutinized, it is to be heralded. It is not grist for the mill of controversy, it is gospel for sinners who know that their only hope is the sovereign triumph of God’s grace over their rebellious will."
John Piper on why he quit being a professor to be a preacher

At the weekend someone asked me whether I think I'lll keep on doing the kind of work I'm doing now. Quotes like the above, from John Piper in 1979, are at the root of my answer. An answer which is basically yes. Contexts may change. And it'd be godly to do some other kind of work. Who knows, I may end up otherwise employed... but I have an itch that doesn't go away that is convinced of the priority of getting God's word open with people - proclaiming and heralding the glory of God. I'm happy organising conferences, managing timesheets, being involved in recruitment - because they're means to an end: enabling God's word to be opened with people. Likewise, I'm happy to engage in debates over the atonement and writes thousands of words of other blogging - but mostly because it helps me to think myself clear before I head out the door to go do what I'm meant to be getting on with.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mike Reeves - Psalm 42

Update: 26/2 - Very pertinent in light of recent Prozac news. Headlines that totally missed the point of the research. Research that says not that Prozac doesn't work for som, but that most people on Prozac would be just as well served by placebos or exercise. I.e. There are other cures. The ultimate being what Mike talks about from Psalm 42. Granted medication is needed for some people but the real long-term cure is the gospel. Not just what the wider world needs but what Christians need. Psalm 42 is the antidote to miserable Christians and happy-clappy shallow-smiley other-wise joyless Christians.

And you've got to love the big where Mike gets excited by the instructions for Musicians!

This is about the future. This is about now.

Joshua Harris writes: "Our calling as lovers of the Gospel is to equip the next generation to surpass us in faithfulness and effectiveness. Somewhere there’s a young man or woman praying for a mentor. Get ready. You could be God’s answer to that prayer."

Thats one of the reasons I've loved being involved in the Relay programme over many years. It's why I love investing in my staff team. Seeing the next generation step up to serve is incredibly exciting. So, I love that I'll spend...
  • Tomorrow with Kenny.
  • Wednesday with Su Ann.
  • Thursday with Andy.
  • Friday to Sunday with a whole host of first-time student leaders, sitting where I sat 10 years ago...
  • And then next week interviewing for future staff.
Exhilirating opportunities to open God's word with them, to do discipleship life-on-life, to get on with reaching this world with the gospel we love. This is about the future. This is about now.

Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

The ongoing xmedia debate of my 'sadism' (cross/hell) talk at Exeter is starting to get to the heart of the issue. They say: "To interpret [hilasmos] as "God sent his son to die in our place so we wouldn’t be condemned to hell" is, again, to interpret what the Bible actually says to fit in with a specific doctrine. Throughout the works of the Church Fathers this word, hilasmos, refers to the mercy seat, to the cleansing of sins, to forgiveness, to healing, not to a violent and bloody punishment."

I'm offered an apology at the start of that post. Accepted.

It should be said that this issue is an old one, debated most recently between liberalism and evangelicalism. See Adrian Warnock on Steve Chalke for example. The debate here arises from a talk I gave on behalf of the Evangelical Christian Union at Exeter University.

This is a critique of me using the translation propitiation (as the ESV does) or it's meaning in the NIV footnotes 'the one who would turn aside wrath, taking away sin' (NIV text goes with the nebulous 'sacrifice of atonement'). I didn't want to use the technical term in my talk so I paraphrased it using the meaning rather than the word itself.

This is with reference to 1 John 4v10 in my talk. Though the word also appears in Romans 3v25, 1 John 2v2 and Hebrews 2v17. It's not the only word used to describe what happened at the cross but is pretty vital as to why Jesus had to die.

The debate at xmedia suggests it's better historically to talk of the mercy seat or cleansing or forgivness or healing. This is no new debate. It raged in the past and it's been raging in the last few years (Steve Chalke etc). Let me say that cleansing and forgiveness and healing are wonderful effects of the cross. Propitiation is about God being made propitious - utterly favourable towards us. The question is how does the cross of Christ bring these benefits?

Considering the 'mercy seat' is appropriate. This is the place on the ark of the covenant where the blood sacrifices for sin would be put. So you can't really go for mercy seat without being bloody. Moreover blood does cleanse, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9v22 - see Hebrews 8-10, or indeed read the book of Leviticus, especially chapter 16 which sets out The Day of Atonement). That was the blood of burnt offerings which are offerings for the guilt of sin. Offerings in which the curse of death falls on an animal in the place of the people - just as the curse of death would fall on Jesus at the cross in the place of his people.

In this Jesus is both the sacrifice and the priest who takes the blood into the Most Holy Place (where the mercy seat is), not in the shadows of the OT law but in the reality (see Hebrews 8-10). He who bears wrath so that cleansing, forgiveness and healing can be secured. And more than that so can justification, adoption and the reconciliation of God's people to himself. Jesus taking us back into the Most Holy Place (Eden) with him to enjoy his infinite personal loving favour forever.

The context of Romans is about wrath and justice needing to be satisfied (horrendous offenses against God have been committed and should be punished by the holy God) - and it's by the death of Jesus that God is and is shown to be just and the justifier (i.e. he becomes propitious towards us). The context in 1 John is of love, which is also utterly appropriate since the purpose of the cross is salvation, justification... to adoption. Bringing us who were previously God's enemies into eternal perfect loving relationship with him, enjoying his blood-secured favour. Wrath and mercy meet at the cross of Christ.

Packer provides some excellent help here: It is impossible to focus the atonement properly until the biblical mode of Trinitarian and incarnational thought about Jesus Christ is embraced. The Trinitarian principle is that the three distinct persons within the divine unity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, always work inseparably together, as in creation, so in providence and in every aspect of the work of redemption.... Tellingly, Paul, having announced “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (i.e., wrath-quencher) by his blood, to be received by faith,” goes on to say: “This was… to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:2-26, my emphasis). Just justification- justified justification- through the doing of justice in penal substitution is integral to the message of the gospel.

This reflects my approach of speaking first of Trinity then of the meaning of the cross. The charged leveled was that "To interpret [hilasmos] as "God sent his son to die in our place so we wouldn’t be condemned to hell" is, again, to interpret what the Bible actually says to fit in with a specific doctrine." Far from it, the local and wider biblical contexts tell me what the word means and from that I, with many others, derive this most precious of doctrines.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Noah, his sin, his shame and his sons

Musings in Genesis and genealogies.

Before the flood we're told that hearts of all men are evil. We're also told of women marrying the sons of God and that producing the Nephilim - giants who will recur in the future of God's people, with enemies like Goliath and perhaps even Jezebel who try to wipe out God's kings.

After the flood, we're told again that the hearts of all men are evil. Humanity at this stage is only Noah and his family. Counted righteous by faith, yet still evil. So, it's not really surprising that when Noah gets into the Vineyard business he soon ends up drunk. God's new humanity are as sinful as his old humanity. Something more than a flood is required. And God has vowed (9v15) never to repeat the flood.

In comes Ham, who we're repeatedly reminded is the father of Canaan (18, 22, 24-25). Ham has the opportunity to cover Noah's sin (just as we need Christ to cover our sin with his righteousness?), but instead he gossips it to his brothers who do cover it. When Noah wakes from his stupor he curses Canaan (son of Ham) and blesses Shem and Japheth.

In chapter 10 we get the table of nations, seventy of them. Tempting to pass over this chapter! What do we see. First the sons of Japheth, mariners who spread to fill the earth - including Tarshish. The story of scripture rarely follows these.

Next Ham. His sons are Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan. From Cush comes Nimrod who founds Nineveh in Assyria - a rebel in God's face. That's not the last we'll hear of them, likewise Babylon. Those nations will blight God's people as an agent of divine judgement, except in the revival under Jonah. From Egypt will come the Philistines who will so oppose God's people in later generations until the seed David comes to defeat their giant.

And then there is Canaan whose sons will be populating the land with their sinful ways when God's people come to move into the land God gives them. Among them Sodom and Gomorrah. There also will be the Amalekites who will impede God's people. Saul will have the opportunity to defeat them but it'll take until the days of Esther and Mordecai for deliverance to come.

From Shem will come Abraham and from him God's people, the semitic peoples. Shem's line aren't any less sin-corrupted than the rest. A few chapters later in Genesis 19, Abram's brother Lot will be intoxicated by his daughters who will sleep with him and bear Moab. Judah fares similarly with his daughter-in-law Tamar. In Numbers 25 God's people will prostitute themselves with Moabite women at Shittim, before a few spies head into the land and land up at the house of prostitute Rahab (any guesses why they ended up there?). From that God will bring a hint of grace drawing the Canaanite woman into the line of King David.

Later in the land the people will intermarry with Canaanites as they proceed to do whatever is right in their own eyes. That being largely to follow other gods - the gods of their Canaanite wives. In days of famine the family of Elimilech will run to Moab instead of taking the opportunity to repent and see grace again. They'll intermarry with the Moabites, including Ruth. In something of a reversal of the story of Lot, Boaz and Ruth will give Naomi a new son to continue the line.

The table of nations sets the scene for the troubles of God's people in their sin. Not that the people here are particularly bad in themselves, but they'll ensnare Israel as they go looking for sin and threatening at every turn to extinguish the search for the seed who will save God's people. Guarded by the law and the watchful eye of the Lord God's people will endure against all odds and against their own commitment to self-destruction. As the story of the Old Testament draws to a close with exile, executed through the sons of Egypt and Nimrod, largely for sins committed with Canaanite idols.

We're left to wait for God's promises to find their fulfillment. A fulfillment that will expand to include the nations on a huge scale. Even at this stage of the populating of earth God is interested in all the nations and peopel groups. Along the way these peoples will afflict God's people and occasionally be drawn in. Genesis 10 is the seedbed of troubles for God's people and the seedbed of God's global purposes - already driven by God's commission to Noah to multiply and fill the earth. Genesis, and the genealogies, are vital for seeing the panoramic view of God's salvation story. It's one big unfolding story rather than lots of isolated incidents.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What next? What before.

I've been pondering what to study next with my staff. So far we've eaten from Ecclesiastes, 2 Corinthians and Esther. Probably I'll revisit something I've studied before which means either some more of 2 Chronicles, Galatians, Jonah or Ruth...

And this makes me want to go back to Ruth cos I'd not bothered to explore the Moabite connection much before, other than it having been wrong for Naomi's sons to marry Moabite women: “If Ruth is ‘adopted’ as a daughter to Boaz, then her story becomes the reversal of the original story of Moab (Gen. 19).... (Peter Leithart, ht: the48files).
Figures if genealogy is what unlocks the Book of Esther, why not the same with Ruth! Follow the threads......Esther and the Amalekite-Canaanites.... Israel and the Moabites... And then there is that big ol' table of nations in Genesis 10 - the fallout from Noah his sin, his shame and his sons.
Ruth of course fits more obviously into the Bible storyline as part of the backstory of King David and King Jesus. But, given how much of the story we're told there has to be more to it than just providing the genealogy. More on Ruth at BeginningWithMoses, by David Gibson.

But then again, I could do something new like... Ezekiel.

Lloyd-Jones on the Spirit

Adrian Warnock quotes Lloyd-Jones on Baptism in the Spirit. I have to say I'm still somewhat in flux about my thinking on the Spirit in this area. Not so much what the Spirit of God works in us but in terms of the use of terms like baptism or filling etc. More study required on that. Adrian quotes...

...if you do not believe that it is possible for you to experience the Spirit of God bearing direct witness with your own spirit that you are a child of God, obviously you are quenching the Spirit. That is why so many Christian people are miserable and unhappy; they do not know anything about crying out, ‘Abba, Father’; or about ‘the Spirit of adoption’. God is a Being away in the far distance; they do not know Him as a loving Father; they do not know that they are His children. They may believe it intellectually, theoretically; but...
Reflecting on my own experience, particularly as I've eaten the word of God in Galatians I've received some kind of experience that has helped me to believe that I am in Christ a son of God. I don't think it's particularly far fetched to call this the witness of the Spirit to that. Galatians 4v6 tells me that the Spirit is crying out Abba Father from me, and Romans 8 tells me I can join in that prayer. I find myself reading verses like Galatians 4v6-7 and rejoicing. How good is this gospel? How good does it feel that entirely on the basis of God's promises to his Son and the death and resurrection of the Son I become a Son of God. Adoption isn't just theory, it's too great for me to explain in words... sets my heart a-singing today.

I'm inclined to think that Baptism of the Spirit is at conversion, but that we should very much expect growing experience of his work in our lives. That in part comes from 1 Corinthians 12v13 - For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body. Lloyd-Jones doesn't say we don't receive the Spirit at conversion but that there is more of him to be expected. In that I agree. Pair that up with Paul's insistence in Philippians 1v25 that he works for the joy of Christians, which is part of the fruit of the Spirit's work in those who continue to keep in step with the gospel. Those who live in the grace of God can expect to feel it. "Carried not only from doubt to belief but to certainty, to awareness of the presence and the glory of God" (Joy Unspeakable, p. 87.)

Piper's biography of Lloyd-Jones includes this observation, A Passion for Christ-exalting power:
He insisted that revival have a sound doctrinal basis. And from what he saw there was a minimization of doctrine almost everywhere that unity and renewal were being claimed (see note 53). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and revival will be shallow and short-lived without deeper doctrinal roots than the charismatic tree seems to have.
More see: Inside and outside and The self-defeating strategy of rule-keeping

Amos 7 (part 2)

2. Can you avoid judgement by not listening to it?
This third cycle triggers this question, and the events of v10-16. A clash with the authorities. A new voice appears. It too seeks to avoid judgement. We're introduced, v10, to Amaziah the Priest of Bethel, Vicar at the Church of the Golden Calf. The Cow-priest. What’s significant about Bethel? At Bethel Jacob wrestled God for blessing – tragically now at Bethel God’s curse is falling on his people. It’s like the beaches of Thailand – heaven on earth on Christmas Day 2004. Hell on earth on Boxing Day.

Amos is charged with conspiracy. Why? For speaking the word of God. Reformer Martin Luther said he was accused of being a pestilent fellow who stirred up trouble. His crime? To revive the gospel! Those born of the Spirit are always persecuted. Same today? Claims that Jesus is Lord are probably not considered as political conspiracy, but rather as conspiracy against scientific progress or human freedom. The word of God always conflicting with what we consider to be “our human rights”.

But, Amos did no wrong and so the charges can’t stick. Amaziah tried a different angle. See v12: “go prophesy in Judah” Spout judgement against them! Don’t interrupting our services with your hell-fire talk! We’re a healthy, growing church. Amos, we’re evangelicals!! v13. Can you see what Amaziah is doing here? Amos has observed this before, in 2v12 - silencing the prophets. Amaziah puts God on mute! It’s one thing to ask a child to be quiet. This is God! No-one tells God to shut up. How dare he tell God to zip it? How dare he tell the Holy Spirit not to examine his people?

John Calvin was right, Amaziah is “…worthy of being destroyed by God a hundred times.”
What would you do if you were Amos? Wouldn’t you sneak away quietly? Look what happens. He speaks. Like Peter and John centuries later when they’re ask to be silent – they must speak of what they have heard and seen. This isn’t human courage. The word of God compels him. Amos responds, v14: “I'm just a shepherd - I was no prophet, or son of a prophet, but the LORD sent me to prophesy.” No prophecy originates with man. Prophets speak from God, carried along by the Holy Spirit. Did you see that in v1, v4, v7? The Lord shows Amos something – and asks, v8 – what do you see? Say what you see! Amos didn’t wake up and think – “I want to speak judgement!” He says what God shows him – he speaks God’s word. The prophets words are God’s words. As such, “to disobey what the prophets say, is to disobey God.” (Grudem)

So, v16: "You say don't prophesy, don't preach THEREFORE the LORD says judgement on you and certain exile for Israel." He hated the word of God and so hated God, therefore, v16 is judged. The house of Jeroboam falls and now also the house of Amaziah – his wife, his children, his land, and himself. All of them complicit in sin. The LORD is establishing his kingdom and the old order must fall. Cut off from God for idolatry until Jesus, Son of David, comes to rebuild the house of David. Punished for their idolatry and the itching ears of their Cow-Priest.
True worship sidelined. Sound doctrine ignored. Calvin rightly called it “sacrilegious audacity.”
Amaziah is stealing God’s job, and doing it badly. The resurrected Jesus is the judge, not the Cow-Priest. Therefore, v16 he is judged.

Putting God on mute doesn’t stop God speaking. The word of God doesn’t return empty. God speaks to stake His claim on every single person in His creation. The Cow-Priest is out of his league as he sits pondering “what would I like to hear from God?” rather than “what does God require of us?” Much more than a parking ticket or whether forecast do I like it is irrelevant when it comes to God’s word. Jonathan Edwards asked - What are we that we should think to stand before him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom the rocks are thrown down?”

Yet we stand, not allied to God and his word like Amos – but opposed to him. Mistaking the roaring lion for a pussycat. Passing over parts we don’t like as if they were mere advice and human words. Not to grumble… or to be patient… even the simplest commands seem to be too much for us! Or, I can be clear about how the word applies to someone else, but casually unaware that God is addressing me. Even preparing the sermon it’s something that can happen - I’m good at it, aren’t we all? Ever done it? Of course you have – Oh, we say – I hear it – and isn’t it so clear how X needs to apply it! We’re fools like Amaziah! The Lion roars – his words shot through with wrath for those who wont listen. Tremble as the lion roars. Tremble at his word.

Can you avoid judgement by not listening?
No. Jesus will judge his world and we should take that word seriously.

Can you avoid judgement by seeking grace?
Yes. Emphatically yes, because for all our light handling of God’s word, our idolatry, our deceit against our God – the blood of Jesus is enough! His blood gives permission to admit we’ve failed and to come and take him at his word afresh. There are hints of grace in Amos 7, but for the Christian we see grace in it's fullness. We hear the word of his grace calling for our repentance, calling us to Jesus.

One guiding principle in my role is this: I choose to be uncomplicated.

Neil Bennetts inputs on leadership :
There is a big difference between ownership and freedom when it comes to responsibilities
Big leaders seem to take on the small things with as much enthusiasm as the big things.
One guiding principle in my role is this: I choose to be uncomplicated.
Follow the link to read those in context.

Krish Kandiah on a mission

Evangelist and Evangelical Alliance Director of Church in Mission Krish Kandiah was at Southampton University Christian Union recently.

This is what Relay workers do what they grow up (Krish was one of the first year of Relay).. They also run ministries like Living Leadership, lead UCCF teams, lead churches, raise families and hold down regular jobs like most other people. Once a Relay always a Relay - passing on the baton of the gospel.

Christian Unions like Southampton operate as Mission Teams or Witnessing Communities to bring the good news about Jesus to students. One part of this is to hold a focussed week of events where big questions can be asked and answered and the good news about Jesus announced to people. This sits in the context of year round events and friendship evangelism.

Why do bad things happen to good people
Grill a Christian
Has science disproved God
How can a God of love send people to hell
What about other religions
How can we trust the Bible, isn't it full of contradictions

Events are then followed up with courses, inviting people to local churches and by ongoing friendship.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Seven Days

1. Assorted elswheres:
Faith is nothing (ht: Scriv)
Preaching to those who aren't there (ht: Milton)
Did Jesus ask for Britain? (Pete cites Doug Wilson).

Sometimes he kills us to save us - award winning poetry by Karsten Piper

2. Grace night at Plymouth. How good is the gospel!

3. The Reason for God is looking really good so far. Tim Keller opens by engaging with common objections to the Christian faith, with brief Christian responses - and it looks like he'll go more directly at arguing for Christianity in the second half. Meanwhile, the guys at are still critiquing my last lunchbar talk - which is fine. I'm still learning and trying to engage more carefully questions and provide rigorous and careful answers. Keller should be useful, I've also valued James Sire's Why Good Arguments Fail recently, and I'm about to begin reading John Frame's Apologetics to the Glory of God. Lunchbars are particularly challenging - when you have big question and about 1200-1500 words to respond to it what can you do? Keller is helping me see the importance of engaging with the questions around the question before presenting Christian hope in the area concerned.

As I reflect on the 'sadism' talk, I'm inclined to think that the question I was given to speak on was too ambitious and too technical for the lunchbar format. In the form given it's a question being asked more from within the liberal wing of evangelicalism than anything else. Not sure I've meet many skeptics who ask 'who killed Jesus' - though that's not to say there is no mileage in arguing the exegesis of that issue. On the other hand, the fairness of hell is a key question to wrestle with in the 21st Century.

4. Calm before the storm. This has been something of a desk week (since Wednesday at least) - soon I wont have time to breathe with CU Leaders weekend and interviewing for new staff, amongst other things. Spending Monday and Tuesday with the Team and Nathan was ideal. I ♥ SW Team.

5. Starbucks. Not this week. Did have a Yates's meal with the Plymouth CU leaders though.

6. Karaoke Kings. Just good fun to have our champions provide a live performance on Monday night. Grudem! Plus their plots for variations on the theme... whether they dare pull off a Piper, Carson, Virgo medley for New Word Alive we'll see!

7. Tasty. Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart,for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15v16). ht: Nathan.

Come and have breakfast

From Interface blog

Future evangelical leaders

From a consultation I attended in Oxford back in December hosted by Krish Kandiah with Marcus Honeysett, sadly featuring me being particularly inarticulate (I want to blame end of term tiredness) and with more facial hair than normal.

Terry Virgo on Proclamation Evangelism

From a feature article in NB, UCCF's free magazine. Available by contacting the UCCF office:

"When Luke records the growth of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles, he simply says that the word of the Lord grew, spread, prevailed and multiplied. He doesn't say converts multiplied but that the word did. Proclaimed truth was prevailing. It has power in itself"

"The idea that there was once a time when straight proclamation evangelism was popularly in vogue doesn't bear investigation. Jesus himself was challenge by what authority he spoke and acted.... some have suggested that Christians need to display more humility, but sadly this sentiment is often misplaced. Certainly we should always show appropriate courtesy in presenting our message, but it would be wholy inappropriate to try and communicate humilty by expressing lack of certainty or personal doubt in the actually message we are communicating.... We need to be comprehensible and relevant. We must also stick to the point. We are witnesses to his resurrection. Forgiveness is available. Eternal life can be faced with joy and certainty. Death is defeated. Jesus is alive and can be known. Boldness is not inappropriate when we have good news to tell. "

Pod Bhogal opens NB with a quote from Norman Grubb "The Spirit distinctly came on me to go and speak in no uncertain terms to all I knew personally who had not accepted Christ. I went and pulled no punches, and a number came out for Christ, about sixteen of them. This caused a stire like a touch of revival. As I shared these experiences with others in the Christian Union, it came like a vision to me that every university and college in Britain and the world should have its evangelical and witnessing Christian Union, as we had." That was 1923. And it is happening.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Forum 08

Forum is a national student leaders conference held in September, gathering 700 students from across the Christian Unions. Featuring Bible teaching from John Piper, Graham Daniels, Keith Walker and Richard Cunningham plus creativity from Jo Mango, Delirious and The Mystery Tent

Download talks from Forum 2001-2007 by Justin Mote, Vaughan Roberts, Rico Tice, Nigel Lee, Roger Carswell, Julian Hardyman, Terry Virgo, Graham Daniels, Hugh Palmer and Brother Andrew amongst many others.

Eight kings and the gospel

I was generously given a copy of Milton Vincent's The Gospel Primer this week. Not sure it's available in the UK yet but it's a helpful daily tool to get me preaching the gospel to myself. I'm loving this award winning poem by Karsten Piper: Luke 18:25. Read it, then check the reference. Sam Storms - Acts 20 & Jude, mp3s sounds like it'll be good on the iPod.

Studying the back end of 2 Chronicles today I was struck that there are eight kings mentioned between 35v20 and the end of the book (seven if you go with the slightly shorter ending and finish at v21, which I think I probably do, but anyway...)

Five kings of Israel all of whom fail to recognise the voice of God. Particularly tragic is the first, Josiah, who had previously read the entire law to God's people. His 18 year reign of reformation ends in shame as he dies a death like that of word-hater Ahab. Within 22 years the nation is forcibly removed into exile.

Three are foreign kings and they're all people who speak God's word to God's people. Neco of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and Cyrus of Persia. Israel should have been a light to the nations but the nations had to speak the word to them and call them to faithfulness. And the people still didn't listen.

They were hard hearted and stiff necked in their last days just as in their first days after the exodus. Nothing changed (somewhat of a testimony to the powerlessness of the law). They also had Jeremiah, a man whose heart delighted in God's word (Jer 15v16), whom they ignored. No wonder he lamented. And no wonder, eventually the slow anger of God burned against them. No wonder the land breathed a sigh of relief as it was purged of sin, only to have to start groaning again later, waiting for the true king to come. A king who will speak God's word to his people and to all peoples. A king who will be the Word of God.

Ed Goode - also blogging about Josiah

My copies of Tim Keller's The Reason for God and Tim Challies The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment arrived today so I'm off to read them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Subjective Title

Call it a subjective sense of calling or call it prophecy... what's the difference?. Adrian rightly asks - are the differences just semantics? What is the difference between a subjective sense of calling that must be tested by Scripture and a 'prophecy' that must also be tested by Scripture. Reformed Charismatic CJ Mahaney adds his amen to Adrian's. So does this one.

The only danger we have is when what's subjective rises above what's objective. But which sane charismatics want to do that? We need to have scripture as the foundation under our feet, cherished in our hearts and ruling over our heads. We need to be saturated with the word of God. As Shudall says, we really don't have enough of God's word among us, and that lets subjectivity run riot. Keep experience governed by what God has said in his word and we're free to enjoy experience extensively.

Christians are blessed. Objectively. As in, Galatians 3v9 and 14, So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith... in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. That's identity changing blessing. That's eternity changing blessing. That's good news.

Christians are blessed. Subjectively. As in Galatians 4v15, What then has become of the blessing you felt? A joyful experience of God's blessing that led to sacrificial living. That's not just experience, that's transforming experience. That's good news.

Amen, Adrian for your observation.


It's the much hyped indie-cool film of 2008. This years Little Miss Sunshine, Broken Flowers etc. So great was the hype that we watched National Treasure: Book of Secrets last week instead of seeing it. Sometimes you want mindless junk food cinema. This was much more satisfying than usual hollywood popcorn.

Michael Cera, JK Simmons and Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman and Alison Janney provide excellent support while Ellen Page steals the show as Juno MacGuff thanks her evident talent and Diablo Cody's script. Both Oscar nominated.

The other big unplanned pregnancy film of the year was Knocked Up. This is nothing like that. Where that went for quick laughs this goes for being clever and witty. Centre of attention is Juno MacGuff a "smart alec independent tomboy, cute, refreshing & fun to be around but not cool to date or be seen with" (IMDB review). Juno is almost too clever to be believed but the story is engaging and the performance is compelling and enjoyable. It's a film about growing up and coming to terms with life, for Juno and for the 'parents' she finds to adopt her child.

Pete Dray also saw Juno: love in a broken world

Plus very cool credits using the same font as new word alive. Get that.

Humble Orthodoxy @ UCCF South West

On Monday and Tuesday this week we had the pleasure of having Nathan Smith from Grace Church Bristol join us for our spring Team Days.

I asked him to speak on the theme of Humble Orthodoxy, which was defined as a commitment to believe, live and represent the truth of God's word humbly.

That strikes me as very pertinent for us as a team. UCCF is known as a confessional movement, united in fellowship by a common commitment to the gospel. Covenanted together in ink by our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and his word.

It'd be easy for us to be proudly-orthodox. Other risks are of humble-non-orthodoxy or proud-non-orthodoxy. I long for us to be increasingly humbly-orthodoxy. And the same for the student leaders we serve - many of whom start out in leadership this month.

Humble Orthodoxy 1: Overview - Nathan Smith
Humble Orthodoxy 2: Believe - Nathan Smith
Humble Orthodoxy 3: Live - Nathan Smith
Humble Orthodoxy 4: Represent - Nathan Smith

PDF notes:
Humble Orthodoxy 1 - notes
Humble Orthodoxy 2 - notes
Humble Orthodoxy 3 - notes
Humble Orthodoxy 4 - notes

Liveblogging from RUCU Mission

Not newsworthy by the standards of our culture, you're not likely to hear about it on BBC news. But this is the sort of thing that is really worth hearing about. And it's at least a part of why I love working with CUs. It's not all about events though what's better than than having faithful people echo Jesus' claim on his world. Beyond that most of the really good stuff happens in conversations that you can't see and can't quantify.... Ed's blogging from the mission week at Reading University

The self-defeating strategy of rule keeping

Galatians 4v8-5v1 - The self-defeating strategy of rule keeping - from Plymouth CU, 19 February.

I had the great pleasure of going down to Plymouth yesterday to preach Galatians for them. Grace-packed stuff.

My apologies to them, the talk was 37mins which is a bit longer than I was supposed to do. I do love the gospel though. A lot.

Rather than posting the script here I'll eventually include the material at - probably sometime in June at the pace I'm going.

UCCF Podcast with Mike Reeves

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Set your heart a-singing

"God woos us back, allures us, by showing us his greatness in the Gospel. When I present it to people I want to be saying not only, you can be forgiven and justified but also, this God is so great, why worship something else. When I call Christians to full commitment to God, I'm not just preaching the cross as the place where you can be confident that your lack of commitment can be forgiven, I'm preaching as the place where you'll see that worshipping another God is just stupid and dead and swapping someone awesome and great and alive and righteous for things that are dead and cruel. Grace rocks. For not only allows us to come back if we want to, when we see it moves our foolish sinful hearts to come back and live in covenant with a brilliant stupendous, too great for me to explain in words, Husband. And that, my friends, has set my heart a-singing today." Mo McCracken, back at The Grace Academy

Monday, February 18, 2008

Emergency atonement

What kind of advice do you need when you're running out of time... A very provocative clip from ER about atonement.

ht: JT

Amos 7 (part 1)

What to do with the word of God!

We avoid bad news at any cost. Other people's bad news is an industry called rolling 24 hour news. But our own bad news we don't like. Soon after moving to Exeter we got a parking ticket for parking opposite our house, What do you do with that? Ignore it or pay up? Likewise, an unpleasant exam result, bank statement or credit card bill. Even, the weather forecast. What do you do? Ignore it and hope it goes away, but then you go out and get wet. But, opinion is irrelevant. The question is – is it true?

How about "A loving God who judges". A loving God who has wrath seems inconceivable, which makes the word of God something to avoid. The good God will forgive me, that’s his job. So reasoned Catherine the great, among many others. Popular view? If there is a God then of course he’ll let us into his heaven. Well, me at least. And probably you. We’d prefer to load the Bible with our own ideas of a wrath-less god, but Amos 7 says take note. Take note of the kindness and severity of God.

Two ways to respond when God speaks against you. Two ways to deal with the very real problem of God’s anger. Two questions to ask
1. Can you avoid judgement by seeking grace?
2. Can you avoid judgement by not listening to it?

1. Can you avoid judgement by seeking grace?
Here, in chapter 7, Amos is given visions. He sees locusts coming, v1, to “strip the land clean.”
It’s a devastating picture of God’s judgement. The same Lord who spoke to form and fill the land now sends devastation upon it. The giver of life threatens to cut away their future with the deafening noise of swarming locusts. The word of God terrifies Amos. He calls out v2, “Sovereign Lord, forgive!” The judgement of God is a matter to approach with sobriety and humility.

There is more. The cycle repeats. This time, v4, with the threat of fire. Fire that “dried up the great deep and devoured the land.” A fire so hot that it evaporates the sea and scorches the land. Think of forest fires that we see on the news each summer – this makes them look like a campfire. Again, Amos cries, not for forgiveness only for an end. v5, “cease” – stop!
Notice! He succeeds in part – v3 and v6. So “the LORD relented… it shall not be”.
Judgement is held back. How? Why?

See what Amos says, v1-6.
1) He acknowledges the sin of the people, v2 - implied by his request for forgiveness. They need forgiveness because they sinned.
2) He seeks forgiveness from the LORD. That is, he turns to the LORD who is angry - for grace. Seeking life from the one who threatens death.
3) He pleads promises. He asks "How can Jacob survive?" We might say – who cares about these evil people? But the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made promises to his people.

Notice the irony of the situation – the nation is prosperous and pompous but Amos notes “He is so small!” The nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. In the face of the roaring lion Israel are nothing. Their terrible sins must be judged and the roaring lion is a foe they cannot stand against. They have no defence. Amazingly then, Amos secures a partial relief! [A hint of grace!] Perhaps God is good and not judging after all? No. As we’ll see, in v7-9, Amos cannot fully turn aside God’s wrath. It’ll take more than a man’s prayers.

A brief aside: Did God change his mind? He never does. But it looks like it. What’s going on? Back in Exodus 32, Israel worshipped a golden calf as they do at Bethel. The LORD was furious. Yet he relented as Moses appealed to God’s promises and reputation. Then and here what happens is a non-event. Nothing happens. No locusts. No land stripped bare. No fire. No sea evaporated. So why tell it? Why include v1-6? Why doesn’t the chapter start at v7? I’d have a shorter passage and surely we’d be no poorer? Because, this way God reveals the reality of wrath against sin, and his grace to sinners. Only in part. But nonetheless real. Without these verses we would have only wrath and no hint of grace. This is the grace of God. And then, judgement continues, in v7-9.

The fire and the locusts will come in Revelation 8-9 when Jesus the resurrected, terrifying judge comes to tread the winepress of divine wrath and judge his world. This is the same Jesus who holds out grace to us by taking the wrath we deserve upon himself at the cross.
Can judgement be avoided by seeking grace? Yes - only because Jesus has died to secure forgiveness and stop wrath.

[I think I’d develop this further if I was giving this talk again – moving from the hint of grace in Amos to the flood of grace we find in Jesus. I was cautious because it’s such a small hint, but surely a Christian preaching of Amos 7 enjoys the deep waters of grace more than Amos could… ]

In Amos’ day, the vision continue. A third cycle, v7-9, brings inescapable judgement – see v7, a plumb line is hung. A perfectly straight line marking out God’s judgement. Thus far, and no further. Amos sees this and is given the interpretation, in v8-9.
• v8, The LORD will not pass by them. No passover for God’s people as he comes in wrath.
When God judged Egypt he passed over the Israelites - seeing the blood on their door frames. This time there is no blood. This time there is no relief. No way out.
• v9, the high places will be destroyed –places where they worshipped idols destroyed. The land purged of sin.
• v9, the LORD will rise against the house of King Jeroboam with the sword. The shepherd who failed his people, killed.

[to be continued.... ]

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Seven Days

1. Turf Locks. How is it that we live in Devon?

2. Amos 7. Trembling at God's word. Also, tucking into Lamentations 3 with Andy on Thursday. Awesome.

3. Exmouth CU mission. Small scale. Good times.
  • Question 1 - "Science is neutral. Discuss"
  • Question 2 - "Time doesn't exist. Discuss"

4. Scouting for girls. Fun. Escapist (i.e. my life sucks I wish I had the girl and was James Bond). Pop. Like Athlete mixed with the Beach Boys with too many E-numbers. Crazy rhymes. Don't miss the bonus track. Mixed well with a picnic in the Quantocks en route to Father-in-law's 60th birthday party.

Seeing a proud father watching his son and daughter performing on stage.

5. I ♥ Newfrontiers. Seems that way.

6. Going places. Meeting church workers on Tuesday, and then sadly not getting to the wednesday meeting because of the wonders of First Great Western helping me to incur a two hour delay on a 90minute journey. Here's to taking 2.5 hours to get to Taunton and having to turn around.

7. Orange Wednesday. The crazy decision to see National Treasure 2 instead of Juno. Sometimes you just need something mindless for a couple of hours. This was proof that they really messed up the Da Vinci code film (if you needed that) but really utterly silly.

Funkypancake - photo of the week "space station" and also... Ed does Seven

Ray Ortlund: "This freedom must not remain a 'positional truth' only. That is the force of Galatians 5:1. It is for the exercise of this freedom, the enjoyment of freedom, the spreading of our wings and soaring, that Christ freed us from the endless scrutiny and curse of the law. Let's give ourselves permission to change and grow and stretch and risk and try new things and fail and laugh and try again and find a way and rejoice in that. Today you can make the devil break out in a rash. Assert your freedom in Christ." (MMmmm. Preaching on Galatians 4v8-5v1 in the next Seven Days!)

Five years ago I was a CU guest at Bath mission. I slept on the floor of German-idol superstar Steve Greenhill... Do not imagine this is in the same league as Grudem...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Destination: Jesusified

Meditations on 2 Corinthians 3v18.
We’re doing mission but how does that work out? Are we just mission machines? Should you just be doing evangelism 24 hours a day… doesn’t seem to work that way does it! For a start you have a course to study… and God has made you to need to spend at least one third of your life asleep. That’s very inconvenient if you’re going to be an evangelism machine because that’s a lot of life apparently wasted. Lots of lost mission time. Thing is, you’re not an evangelism machine. You’re a human being. An image bearer of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

1. Image-bearers
You and I are made in the image of God. And whilst that image has been badly marred by sin we’ve seen that we’re being transformed by the Spirit as we see Jesus in scripture back into that image. One glory-degree at a time. Our transformation and our mission have that as a destination.

a) People in relationship
Being image bearers means we are people in relationship. God is Father , Son and Holy Spirit loving one another from eternity past and forever. Three persons in loving relationship. And so too we’re defined not first by what we do but by our relationships. I’m a son of God in Christ. I’m a son of my parents. I’m a husband. All of that way before you get to what I do.

Relationships matter. The first need you had at University was for new friends. We need friends. Not firstly so we can do evangelism. But because we’re human. And you needed food – and we’ll get to that. Relationships matter, that’s why Christian Unions exist as missional communities rather than just operating with solo missionaries. Maybe more impact could be made short term that way, but without relationship something distinctively Christian is lost. We relate together and that matters. We’re relational in mission. We’re not reaching projects but people.

Is your CU the kind of community where image-bearing humanity is evident? Are people welcoming? Do we love to build friendships? Do we have a deep interest in one another?

b) People living life
Not only do relationships matter but life matters to us. The first image bearers living in God’s garden were involved in enjoying arts and sciences. Writing poetry. Naming and classifying God’s creatures. Ordering the creation. Loving one another. Eating God’s good gifts of food with thanksgiving. Christians above all other people should enjoy life. We know what it’s for. We can see all the good things God has made and eat and drink with thanksgiving. We know that the body is good. Jesus has one – and is physically resurrected. Our future is physical in God’s new creation.

God created life and stakes his claim on it – your sleeping and your waking. Your work. Your relaxation. Your relationships. Your pleasures. We can enjoy eating together. We can enjoy exploring the world. We can enjoy studying the world. We can have an interest in politics and history. We can enjoy arts and literature and music and sports. We can enjoy relationships. All of them as God’s gifts to us. Subject to abuse, but also available for right use.

Is your CU one in which Christians enjoy life? Or are they/you living a one dimensional life – where God is only interested in you doing evangelism and so that’s all you try to do? Be human! Enjoy it.

2. By the gospel
How is the image renewed in us? By the gospel – as we see and savour Jesus Christ in his word! The Spirit transforms us one glory-degree at a time. Making us more sonlike, more Jesusified.

a) Different but united
That doesn’t make us clones of Jesus – we’re different, made with different personalities and passions. Different stories and different ambitions. And inevitably with different theological nuances and stylistic preferences.

Yet – because each of us set the eyes of our hearts on the gospel of Jesus we can stand together. The things that unite us are articulated in our doctrinal basis of fellowship – which just means these are the teachings about Jesus that hold us together, drive us to worship and evangelism and delight our hearts.

We can even celebrate the differences – we don’t have to pretend they don’t exist. Within the South West team there are a range of different personalities, theological positions, academic abilities, long term ambitions, nationalities. None of those divide us because the gospel of Jesus is renewing God’s image in us – calling us to be a people together in relationship, a people who together can enjoy life, a people who stand together because we share a passion for the gospel.

See also: THEOLOGY OF EVERYTHING!... Dan Hames "You’ve started to see that the gospel and your relationship with God must have some sort of effect on the way you look at your whole life. Surely the good news about being brought into communion with the Lord of the universe means that you see reality in a new and improved way!"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Noah - Genesis 6-8 (Stu Alred)

Stu Alred preached on our first Sunday at Frontiers Church.
One of a number of things that morning that convinced us that we'd found our home.
Download: Noah was a man - 45mins..

This I call to mind

Back to Lamentations this morning with Tuck. Chapter 3. This is the centrepiece of the book, chapter 3 of 5 with 66 verses compared to the others with 22. All eyes are on this chapter which includes the most known verses in the book "great is your failfulness..."

This is a lament by a man who has suffered affliction, a man who has felt the weight of the rod of wrath. In the opening verses speak of appalling suffering. The suffering is relentless. The man wastes away (v4). He's pierced to the heart (v13). His life is bitter (v15). And the door is shut on his prayers. No wonder he says he's forgotten what happiness is (v17). His endurance is gone. His hope from the LORD has gone (v18). Barry Webb calls this section the eclipse of hope. Appropriate. It's a terrible scene. A distressing insight into the experience of enduring wrath. At this stage the affliction isn't attributed to the LORD, though the previous two laments have stated that explicitly. What if we had to face that? How could we face that?

In v19-20 we find this wrath forever on his mind. He's like a man sleepless at night. He cannot clear his mind of the horrors of his situation. Amid this involuntary remembrance is a more deliberate remembering. He calls something else to mind, v21. This thing brings a rebirth of hope. A rising from the ashes of death. What is recalled? v22-24. Famous words, most Christians will hear melody as they read them. Rarely do we hear their original context. The deliberate recall of a man experiencing great affliction.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."

How in suffering wrath can anyone say that? How can he be under the rod of wrath and still recall the name of God. Jesus faced it. Jesus was beaten with the rod of wrath. This chapter is not about the experience of Jesus at the cross but it gives some insight into the horror of the cross. As this man will reflect, v39, this is the experience of the punishment of his own sins. Jesus doesn't get punished for his own sins but for ours. Not just the sins of one, but of many. He knows the loss of hope and it's rebirth. In Christ I don't know the horror of wrath but I can call to mind the wrath he faced and the name of God whose love is steadfast and mercies ever new.

What follows appears to be the turning over of the character of the LORD in the man's head. He's suffering wrath. He's remembering who God is. He meditates on it. He feels it. He questions. He stretches it out and feels the tensions and struggles of it. The LORD does not willingly afflict or grieve (v33) but here is a man afflicted. What can he conclude - face the punishment of your sin, take it on the cheek without complaint. He engages with the reality of what he deserves and his knowledge that the LORD has new mercies. The LORD is gracious and compassionate and abounding in love - and slow to anger. In his situation these tensions seem almost unresolvable. There is wrath to face. There is hope to find.

In this way, v39 seems to act (as Webb notes) as an arrival. Wrath destroys him but should be faced without complaint. But also as a departure from which the rest of the lament flows. From this departure point he calls out "Let us..." inviting and beckoning the people to examine their hearts and call on the LORD. He has opposed them and blocked out their prayers - yet they turn to him. Buried. Lost. At the point of deepest despair they call. We expect that the LORD will not hear. Yet, v56 - he hears!! And, v57, he comes near!! Now the same people who were previously enduring the punishment of their sins are repentant and they seek God's wider justice on their enemies.

This lament offers an anatomy of wrath endured. It's despair and hopelessness. And also the potential of the recovery of hope. How can the reality of wrath against sin be squared with the reality of divine love? Only in the place where wrath and mercy meet. For the first two thirds of the Bible we must hold what God reveals about himself and the reality of human hearts in tension. Only the cross of Christ brings any resolution. Only at the cross can hope be found.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The detonating effects of the word

In A Passion that shapes nations Charlie Cleverly tells the stories of Bilney, Tyndale and Wycliffe and others. Heroes gripped by the gospel who changed their generation and left a lasting impact. They did it by getting God’s word to us in our own language. Something we pretty much take for granted today. Thomas Bilney noted the extraordinary impact the Bible makes on people. The impact on himself.

<< “The Bible was older than the Church but it felt like new manna to starving souls. It had detonating effects. It did so exhilarate my heart, being before wounded with the guilt of my sins, and being almost in despair. Immediately I felt a marvellous comfort and quietness insomuch that my bruised bones leapt for joy” >>

In generation one of the Church getting the word of God out to people was the overwhelming priority of the apostles. Every day they taught and preached Jesus as the Christ. They acted strategically to keep that happening. And so - “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied” – Acts 6v7. The two things are connected. We're meant to see the connection.

That’s the pattern of the growth of the church.

Spread the word. More disciples. It’s the pattern of world history.
God speaks and everything changes.
God speaks and the universe is created.
God speaks and claims a people for himself.
God speaks and a nation rises.
God speaks and a nation falls.
God speaks incarnate as Jesus walks on the earth to bring salvation.
God speaks and blind eyes and dull hearts are opened to see the glory of Jesus.

As my wife says, the word is meant to explode your mind.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Christian Future of Great Britain?

Doug Wilson - the Christian Future of Great Britain.
(ht: David Field)

On another note, I've been reading Wilson's A Serrated Edge which is a great little book on satire in scripture. It's use isn't popular today because it's mistaken for arrogance, but rightly aimed it's a vital weapon against the idols we're so enamoured with.

The blessing you felt

I ♥ Galatians. Follow the link and find the beginings of some brief devotional musings on this letter that is bursting with the grace of God.

Things that are not here

Sam Allberry: How to read Narnia? - very helpful stuff and he's right, the brilliant Magicians Nephew does make sense if you read it later.

David Field: Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"? It has been already in the ages before us.

David Field: Christians talking with muslims - some sanity in the midst of Canterburygate.

Tom Price: pursuit of humility - long but worth the read.

Lisa Francis at Myspace - listen and enjoy. Thanks to Scott for the reminder. Scott Taylor on West Ham and mission at Reading - man I miss those guys. Though, calling in at Exmouth, Bristol and Exeter missions in the last week has been very cool.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Stu Alred - Bad things, good people (wma audio)
Stick that on your iPod and taste it.
...and there is only one good person.

The All-Satisfying Object of Beauty

Jonathan Leeman:

John Piper’s always talking about standing in front of the Grand Canyon or the mountains and being drawn outside of oneself in the worship of something majestic. He should attend a U2 concert and he’ll see 50,000 people doing just that. Of course they were worshipping….Bono. Not Jesus. Imagine what that stadium concert will be like. Who will tell them about Jesus?

John Piper - Jesus Is Precious Because We Yearn for Beauty

No wonder everything changes when human eyes are opened to see the glory of Jesus in the gospel, on the pages of scripture. No wonder the Holy Spirit transforms us when we see Him. No wonder we become more human when we see Jesus.

Passion for life

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Mike Reeves on John Calvin

Mike Reeves on John Calvin (1)
Mike Reeves on John Calvin (2)
Mike Reeves on John Calvin (3)

Update: Feb 12th. I spent my train journeys today listening to these talks. Outstanding. Not least because they introduce Calvin the man and outline the shape of his Institutes - and the difference between 'Calvin' and 'Calvinism'. I found Mike's observation that the Institutes are structured around the shape of the Apostles Creed to be very helpful. And he's right - the Institutes are wonderfully warm evangelical theology.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Seven Days

1. Speaking for Jesus. Mission weeks at Exeter and Bristol. Students inviting friends to events. Living in front of their friends and sharing the good news with them. Richard Cunningham and Mike Cain's evangelistic preaching. Nice to have the boss staying with us for the week too.

2. Shopping. For a holiday to rest in the summer. For a bigger table for hospitality.

3. Studying with Sibbes. Glorious Freedom and 2 Corinthians 3v18. This is how the universe works. This is how things really change. It's all about seeing. The sight of Christ is a transforming sight. And good times in the pages of Ezekiel - "They will know"

4. Virgo. Those outstanding Forum talks on Romans 6 and 7. Grace unmeasured vast and free! The simple reality of what to do with sinning: "Stop it!"

Recalled by the launch of

Also on the iPod - Piper's biography of his father, and Tim Keller on hell.

5. Starbucks. Park Street, Bristol with internet-sensation Andy over Lamentations 2. Wrath comes from God against rebels and the leaders could have averted it. Costa Coffee, Exeter with Claudia and Esther 4-7. Silent deliverance from impossible circumstances. A Christian story.

"Hope is great. We need caffeine" - Mohinder Suresh, Heroes.

6. Teignmouth. Walking on the beach. Watching the sea as the morning mists lift and the sun shines brightly. Buying fresh bread and coming home for a bacon sandwich and a home made starbucks coffee.

7. Gospel. Michael Bird: The gospel stands at the beginning of the story that explains why there are Christians at all, on the boundary between belief and unbelief – often, for the hearer, prior to a knowledge of the Bible itself. For the person entering from the outside, the gospel is the introduction to the faith, the starting-point for understanding. It then rightly becomes the touchstone of the faith. Since this is where faith begins, it is essential that faith continues to conform to it.

Funkypancake - photo of the week "Lightroom"