Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Gospel Gathers Outcasts (Acts 8:26-40)

1. Our Spirit-filled mission
It’s the evangelists dream. When we first met Philip in 6v6 we’re told, along with us he was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. The Spirit-filled Philip fresh from revival in Samaria is walking along the road and comes upon a guy reading the Bible. And Isaiah 53 at that, and he asks you to explain it to him (30-31).

The scripture is read, and the Eunuch asks: “About whom does the prophet speak, himself of someone else?” to which Philip gets the opportunity, v35: “beginning with this scripture he told him the good news about Jesus”.

And almost matter of fact the guy believes, repents, is baptized and rejoices, going off to found the church in Ethiopia while the Spirit carries Philip off elsewhere, v40, to preach the gospel. Wherever he Philip preaches the gospel, such is the Spirit-filled life.

All of which is great if you’re Philip and your course/house/team mates happen to be reading Isaiah 53. Not to easy when it’s you and me and they’re only reading FHM and Facebook.

Look, what you have got here is the logic of our CU gospel projects. Say to your mates: you know me, you see how I live, you know its because of Jesus, you’ve never consider Jesus as an adult. Why not take an hour to read Mark’s gospel, and then to chat about it with me for an hour over a coffee or a beer. Of course you can wait until they people ask, but sometimes you may get to make a first move. 

New life comes by the word of God so what we see with Philip here is going to be fairly normative - and if those who aren't Christians never have the opportunity to hear of Jesus we shouldn't be surprised if no-one believes. If we’re going to get anywhere this year and see changed lives – people who live like Christianity is real, live lives of love, and have the confidence to get God’s word into people’s hands, and to engage their questions, and explain about Jesus is going to have to be part of it. It was the pattern of the church in Acts 6v7– “the word of God increased, the number of disciples multiplied”. It’s the 1st commission, be fruitful and multiply – as sex makes babies, the word of God makes disciples.

But, I don’t think that that is primarily what Luke is doing here. It’s great, but more is going on here.

2. Our humiliated Saviour
In Samaria Philip encountered Simon the Sorcerer who was into power and impressiveness. The Ethiopian is reading Isaiah 53. I believe in tongues and prophecy and healing as much as anyone, but our message is of a humiliated Saviour.
V9-11 Simon: amazed... somebody great. …paid attention to him… power of God that is called Great… they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them
V32:33 Jesus: Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter… silent… humiliation… justice was denied him… life taken away.
The contrast is striking. In a world that is addicted to impressing, salvation comes through humiliation – first of Christ, and then of us also. The Christian life is like it’s Christ, one of obscurity, of suffering, of loss of life – of sinking into the waters of baptism to rise to the joys of resurrection life in Christ. Christianity isn't shock and awe it's about a suffering servant, the kind of message the serious and clenched will mock. This is our gospel.

3. Our far-reaching salvation
There’s more. It’s not just any one who is reading Isaiah 53. It’s an Ethiopian Eunuch. A foreign Eunuch. An excluded outsider. A man who (v27) is just on his way back from worship at Jerusalem where his outsider status would have been emphasises, despite his grandeur. Stephen’s spirit-filled preaching told everyone that the LORD doesn't dwell in the land and in houses but meets his people outside of the land, good news form the nations. And then here, Isaiah 56:3-8, which perhaps Philip continued on to as he gave his fully formed presentation of Christ to the man (we know he taught baptism as he explained the gospel v37), goes further.
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”  For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”
The Eunuchs were outsiders and dry trees, but through the gospel – no more! The outcasts will be gathered in, as spirit-filled missionaries take the gospel. The church on mission is a place to be finding all the outsiders and outcasts of this world.

Much helped by The Word of His Grace by Chris Green (IVP).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

MP3: The Matchless Love and In-being (Richard Sibbes)

I've blogged through The Matchless Love & In-being this summer here, so I thought I'd read/preach it for you if listening is easier than reading. Download: Richard Sibbes - The Matchless Love & In-being, Sermon 1, 65mins - read by Dave Bish
It's long, and in places a bit dense and hard to follow, but oh is it sweet!

I'm modernising the text a bit, latest version of that is here PDF: The Matchless Love & In-being. Even having 'preached' it I'm aware of more edits to make it more accessible, so I'll aim to update the text again next week.

Noah's Theological Geography

Passages like Genesis 9:17-11:9 are asking to be overlooked - at the heart of it is the 'table of nations' pinned between 'naked man sins with fruit' and 'the fall of the city of giants'. What's going on? These are the early days of a new creation - the new Adam stood on a mountain amidst a formless world and now like his forefather he stands with three sons Shem, Japheth and "Ham the father of Canaan" (repeated for emphasis). The new Adam is uncovered and humiliated in his tent by one of his sons, while two cover him.

Noah prophesies a blessing on Shem, and on Japheth and curses Canaan to serve them both. A new order enters the family - the blessing is with Shem, but Japheth has blessing as he dwells in Shem's tent, but not so for Canaan. These are the fathers of nations and they now relate theologically.

We draw maps by terrain and by politics, and we can draw them by theology. Shaped by Noah's prophetic vision we meet the costal peoples of Japheth, who will find blessing as they seek covering in Shem. From Japheth including Tarshish where a Shemite will perversely run for cover instead of going with the gospel to Nimrod's city Nineveh.

Next we meet the descendents of Ham (father of Canaan) among whom are Egypt, Sodom, the Philistines and the city builder Nimrod. Cain who was of the evil one was the last city builder and that isn't a good example to follow. Abram will later look to a city - whose builder is God - let God build cities not man. And there is Shem's blessed line (the Semitic people) - the line of Eber (the Hebrews) whose family proceeds to two sons Peleg and Joktan in the days when the world divides.

In those days of division the new human race gathers on the plain of Shinar under the serpent Nimrod's leadership to resist God - rather than scattering into obscurity and filling the earth as God had said they want to stay and build a city, and a name for themselves. They don't get far - God comes down to them, but he sees the evil they could commit and just as Adam was exiled to keep him from further evil, so too Nimrod and all the peoples are scattered and given different languages, they are the babblers from Babel. Frustrated in their sin, humiliated and sent to the ends of the earth. Pride is parochial and in seeking to stay and make a name for ourselves, the humbled are extended beyond themselves into obscurity and blessing.

As they scatter a Shemite will be promised the land Canaan occupies, he'll flee to Egypt and face a tyrant, his nephew will desire the land of Sodom. Place and people groups will not just be incidental but important to understanding what's going on... though as the gospel unfolds even geography and genealogy can be overthrown and anyone from anywhere will be able come into the blessing of God.

When our church meets

Here's what it looks like when we meet:
Frontiers Church Exeter from Custom Creative Solutions on Vimeo.
ht: Andy Arscott

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Antidotes to Chronological Snobbery

One of my staff team has confessed his sin online. As a Christian he's already a confessed sinner, but now he's adding chronological snobbery to the offences of his heart. CS Lewis coined the term and invited us to cure this form of progressive pride with the breeze of the centuries. If you'd like to feel that breeze then the latest Theology Network 'Table Talk' podcast will help:

 The Reformation: Mike Reeves chats with Mark Dever about the essential theology of the Reformation, how it is relevent to theology and Christian lives today, and how we can get some of the Reformation fire in our own hearts!

Also worth a look: Mark Dever is reading from Richard Sibbes sermons and commentary each week. Download.

And you can taste the Introduction of Richard Sibbes' The Matchless Love and In-being here, read by Dave Bish (10mins) - the sermon itself would be well over an hour - I'll record that soon. Until then you can read my modernised and lightly edited PDF of The Matchless Love & In-being (two sermons)

A chronological snob probably doesn't like the Bible and likes to think they're part of the first generation of real Christians since the New Testament. Couldn't be further from the truth, many have gone before us - and the Reformers and their heirs, like Richard Sibbes, are just some of the friends we'd benefit from spending time with.

If we love Christ we'll love the church

From the end of Richard Sibbes' sixth sermon in Bowels Opened. The argument is simple - Jesus loves the church, so if we love him can we really claim to not love that which he loves?
1. Let us not claim to love Christ but not the church.

Let us be like our blessed Saviour, that where we see any saving goodness in any, let us love them; for should not our love meet with our Saviour's love? Shall the church of God be the love of Christ, and our hatred? Shall a good Christian be Christ's love, and shall he be the object of my hatred and scorn? Can we imitate a better pattern? Let us never think our estate to be good, except every child of God be our love as he is Christ's love.

Can I love Christ, and can I not love him in whom I see Christ? It is a sign that I hate him when I hate his image. It is to be wondered at that the devil has prevailed with any so much, as to think they should be in a good estate, when they have hearts rising against the best people, and who, as they grow in grace, so they grow in their dislike of them. Is here the Spirit of Christ?

2. Let us love the church.

Let them likewise be here reproved that are glad to see any Christian halt, slip, and go awry.

The best Christians in the world have that in part, which is wholly in another man; he has flesh in him. Shall we utterly distaste a Christian for that? The church was now in a sleepy condition, and yet, notwithstanding, Christ takes not the advantage of the weakness of the church to hate her, but he pities her the more, and takes a course to bring her again into a good state and condition.

Let us not therefore be glad at the infirmities and failings of any that discover any true goodness in them. It may be happen to us before long. It casts them not out of Christ's love, but they dwell in his love still; why should we then cast them out of our love and affections? Let them be in our love as they are in Christ’s love, notwithstanding their infirmities.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mike Reeves Video: Why do we need to know the love of God?

This is the second of four teaser videos for Transformission. Transformission is the annual one day conference hosted by UCCF in the South West, for the University & College Christian Unions, for all CU members and any friends of CUs who'd like to come and benefit from the day, stand with the Christian Unions in prayer. Join us and be transformed for mission.

We gather to have our hearts warmed by Christ as we prepare for another year of united mission on campus to make Jesus famous, in faith that God will save people and add them to the churches.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Life and Ministry of Richard Sibbes: Friendly with people and with God

Mark Dever comments...
"Sibbes's move from Cambridge to London in 1617 is likely explained by his talent for fostering friendships, combined with his obvious gifts as a preacher. Sibbes's skill at making and retaining friendships" (p214)
This seems consistent with the warmth of Richard Sibbes's gospel, a man as heart-felt and heart-warming would be inevitably friendly, someone you'd want to be with.

Sibbes was converted to Christ while a student at Cambridge, and Rev. Erasmus Middleton documents in his Evangelical Biography (1816):
"he became the happy instrument of bringing some souls to God, as also of edifying and building up others... His learning was mixed with much humility, whereby his was always ready to undervalue his own labours, though others judged them to breathe spirit and life, to be strong of heaven, speaking with authority and power to men's consciences. His care in his ministry was to lay a good foundation in the heads and hearts of his hearers... though he was a wise master builder... still taking all occasions to preach the fundamentals to them. His humility was less a wonder...finding how often his thoughts dwelt upon the humiliation of Christ...  Indeed he was thoroughly studied  in the holy Scriptures, which make a man of God, perfect, thoroughly furnished for every good work; and as became a faithful steward of the manifold grace of God, he endeavoured to teach it to others, and to store them with knowledge, wisdom and spiritual understanding. He was a man  that enjoyed much communion with God, and like John the Baptist, was a burning and shining light, wasting and spending himself to enlighten others. He was upon all occasions very charitable, drawing forth not only his purse in relieving, but his very bowels in commiserating, the wants and necessities of the poor members of Christ....  His sermons on Canticles 5 are so excellent... very profitable and excellent help... to kindle in the heart all heavenly affections towards Jesus Christ"

Delight in God Only (Francis Quarles)

The puritan poet (1592-1644) wrote:

Without Thy presence, earth gives no reflection:
Without Thy presence, sea affords no treasure;
Without Thy presence, air's a rank infection;
Without Thy presence, heaven itself no pleasure:
If not possess'd, if not enjoyed in Thee,
What's earth, or sea, or air, or heaven to me?

The highest honours that the world can boast,
Are subjects far too low for my desire;
Its brightest gleams of glory are, at most,
But dying sparkles of Thy living fire:
The brightest flames that earth can kindle, be
But nightly glowworms, if compared to Thee.

Without Thy presence, wealth is bags of cares;
Wisdom, but folly; joy, disquiet, sadness;
Friendship is treason, and delights are snares;
Pleasures, but pain; and mirth, but pleasing madness:
Without Thee, Lord, things be not what they be,
Nor have their being when compared with Thee.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gospel People are Refreshing Company

What do you do with the tricky bit in the middle of Galatians - you know, chapter 4:8-5:1, the bit with the naughty allegorical bit? Chew on it and enjoy the sweet taste of the horizontal implications and effects of the gospel.

Q1 What does it mean to be a Christian? (4:8-11)
Paul gives a wonderful description of being a Christian here. Knowing God. Better than that, being known by God. A mutual relational knowing. The Triune God is the lover who adopts us in his son as sons, who pours his Spirit into our hearts crying Abba Father - he knows us!

Tragically the Galatians have turned, or returned, to slavery. They're eagerly embracing what Paul describes as devotion to not-gods, to worthless and elementary principles, to remembering days and months and seasons. And in case they didn't see it's misery he calls it slavery. But, they're not quite returning to what they used to be enslaved to, but it's very similar. Paul equates their old pagan idolatry with their new law keeping.

As Paul, perplexed, pleads with the Galatians we get a picture of how gospel-people relate, and how non-gospel relate. Behaviour reveals belief....

Q2 How do non-gospel people relate to others? (4:12-5:1)
See the false teachers. They make much of the Galatians - for themselves, to shut them out from Paul. It feels great to hang around the false teachers - they make you feel special when they're around, but it quickly fades, just as the joy they had when Paul came with the gospel has now been extinguished.

In the latter part of the chapter we see that these Slavery Teachers are not just manipulators but mockers, they persecute the Free people. One moment they're sweet talking you, the next they bully and deride with their abrasive and harsh attitudes. They bite and devour God's people with their silver tongues and their behind-your-back critiques.

The whole allegory thing is to show that the Slave Teachers are like Ishmael and Sinai whereas Gospel-People are like Isaac - children of promise. The Slavery Teachers relate to Gospel-People like Ishamel to Isaac and they're best avoided and cast out. The company of Slavery Teachers drains the gospel-life out of the party, so why would you invite them in?

Q3 How do gospel people relate to others? (4:12-5:1)
The gospel does something different.

"Without Christ I am a fish out of water;
with Christ I am in an ocean of love.
~Sadhu Sundar Singh
The gospel gave the Galatians joy when they received it, a perceivable experiential sense of blessing, it made them care for Paul in his sickness, even self-sacrificially. The same gospel gives Paul a motherly anguish of child-birth not for his own reputation but for their growth in Christ - they're life in Christ as Christ is formed in them.

Gospel people aren't manipulators or mockers, they're motherly in their care and love for people. People of the gospel are refreshing to be with, and I want to be one of those kind of people - pray for me! Someone who knows God, better still - is known by God, and longs for others to know God too, to know the freedom that Christ set us free to enjoy. When you spend time with a gospel person you leave knowing you're better off for being with them, better off because of Christ.

Good affections: Where Richard Sibbes leads us

I've been blogging through some of Richard Sibbes works for a couple of months now, and there's a lot more to come. Helpful to catch the trajectory of this puritan hero, as shown in David Larsen's The Company of Preachers:
 "Sibbesians set their clocks not on preparatory disciplines but on (1) the direct experience of the Spirit's indwelling, 
(2) the joys of Christian fellowship 
and (3) the divine attribute of overflowing love.... "
Larsen also notes the 'Calvinism' of Sibbes but describes it 'as of a freer spirit, with a balanced view of experience and feeling' with a puritan biblicism and very high view of preaching. An early reformed charismatic then...

(charismatic in the experiential sense rather than continuation of gifts)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Christ comes out of love to us, welcome him into your heart

Richard Sibbes continues to explore the relationship between Christ and people as he concludes the fifth sermon of Bowels Opened. Christ is shown to be knocking at the door of the church, but not all welcome Christ. In some cases Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts but we don't open to him (Matt 25:41). Such people may want some distant connection to Christ, they "entertain him in the outward room, the brain; they know a little of Christ, but, in the heart, the secret room, he must not come there to rule."

Let us hear his word
 "For the entertaining of his word is the welcoming of himself, as it is, Col. 3:16. 'Let the word of God dwell plentifully in you.' And, Let Christ dwell in your hearts by faith,' Eph. 3:17. Compare those places; let the word dwell plenteously in you by wisdom, and let Christ dwell in your hearts by faith. For then does Christ dwell in the heart, when the truth dwells in us. Therefore, what entertainment we give to his truth, we give to himself."
Not all welcome the word of God, they do not welcome Christ.
"...for the motions of his Spirit, who are there at this time, who thus live in the church under the ministry, who cannot say that God thereby has smote their hearts, those hard rocks, again and again, and awakened their consciences, partly with corrections public and personal, and partly with benefits? Yet notwithstanding, what little way is given to Christ! Many are indifferent and lukewarm... let us strive to hold Christ, to entertain him. Let him have the best room in our souls, to dwell in our hearts. Let us give up the keys to him... to let him rule as the husband rules in his family, and a king in his kingdom. People resists because they know if they open to the Spirit of God, he will turn them out of their fool's paradise... they repel the sweet motions of the Spirit of Christ, and pull away his graces, building bulwarks against Christ, as lusts, strange imaginations, and resolutions, 2 Cor. 10:3-5."
What is the loss is there if we welcome Christ? Only gain!
"He comes with all grace. His goodness is a communicative, diffusive goodness. He comes to spread his treasures, to enrich the heart with all grace and strength, to bear all afflictions, to encounter all dangers, to bring peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Spirit. He comes, indeed, to make our hearts, as it were, a heaven.... to empty his goodness into our hearts. As a breast that desires to empty itself when it is full; so this fountain has the fulness of a fountain, which strives to empty his goodness into our souls. He comes out of love to us.... If we have not comfort presently when we desire it, let us attend upon Christ, as he has attended upon us, for when he comes, he comes with advantage... The longer we wait, he comes with the more abundant grace and comfort in the end, and shows himself rich, and bountiful to them that wait upon him, Isa. 40 etc."
He comes out of love to us! Not to employ us, not to enslave us, not to destroy us - but in love to be the church's husband. Why would we not welcome him?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Top 10 Unanswerable Questions

Search engine Ask Jeeves reports that these are the top 10 unanswerable questions from the past decade:
1. What is the meaning of life?
2. Is there a God?
3. Do blondes have more fun?
4. What is the best diet?
5. Is there anybody out there?
6. Who is the most famous person in the world?
7. What is love?
8. What is the secret to happiness?
9. Did Tony Soprano die?
10. How long will I live?
BBC News

Monday, September 20, 2010

Holy People are Presence People

Moses in Exodus 33:16 Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
When you read Exodus it's mostly a book about The Tabernacle yet most people make the ten commandments the big deal...  the jealous God who saved his people out of the hands of the tyranical Pharoah is about imtimate relationship more than he's about passing decrees. We're called to be holy (distinct) people which means we're people with whom God goes. We say "I know whom I've believed" and "the holy Spirit dwells within" me (2 Timothy 1).

Mike Reeves Video: Why is Transformission important?

Transformission is an annual one day conference hosted by UCCF in the South West, for the University & College Christian Unions, for all CU members and any friends of CUs who'd like to come and benefit from the day, stand with the Christian Unions in prayer. Join us.

We gather to have our hearts warmed by Christ as we prepare for another year of united mission on campus to make Jesus famous, in faith that God will save people and add them to the churches.

Mike Reeves joins us this year to speak on Love of God. Audio from previous conferences on The Glory of the Cross, The Word of God, and Union with Christ is available from Theology Network

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Torn in Mark

Two things are torn in Mark's gospel - the heavens: Mark 1:10 and the temple curtain: Mark 15:38. At the 1st torn the Father speaks his love of his Son & the Spirit comes, and at the 2nd torn?

The Son is abandoned so that in him we, whomever we are, can know the love of his Father!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Christ comes to the church so cherish Christ

Sibbes calls us to cherish having Christ for:
"Time will come that the devil will set upon us with sharp temptations, fiery darts, temptation to despair, and present Christ amiss, as if Christ were not willing to receive us.... labour to cherish good conception of Christ. This is the finisher and beginning of the conversion of a poor sinful soul, even to consider the infinite love and condescendence of Christ Jesus for the good of our souls."
The greatest need we have is hearts that cherish Christ.
It's why preachers are appointed - to portray Christ to the hearts of his people.
It's why we worship, to cherish him. Yet we ask: will he come to us as we cherish him?
"We need not wonder at this his willingness to receive us, when we first know that God became man, happiness became misery, and life itself came to die, and to be 'a curse for us,' Gal. 3:13. He has done the greater, and will he not do the less?"
And so we should ask: 
"Is there such love in God to become man, and to be a suitor to woo me for my love?"

The soul thinks, he desires my salvation and conversion. Which kind of people does Christ come to. We might object because of our unworthiness. But:
- I am poor: ‘He comes to the poor,' Isa. 14:32 and 24:19.
- I am laden and wretched: ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and laden,' Mat. 11:28.
- I have nothing: 'Come and buy honey, milk, and wine, though you have nothing,' Isa. 55:1.
He takes away all objections! But I am stung with the sense of my sins: 'Blessed are they that hunger and thirst,' etc., Mat. 5:6. 
But I am empty of all: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,' Mat. 5:3. 
You can object nothing, but it is taken away by the Holy Spirit, wisely anticipating all the objections of a sinful soul. When we are converted, these thoughts, entertained with admiration of Christ's condescending, are effectual to give Christ further entrance into the soul, by which a happier communion is wrought still more and more between Christ and the soul of a Christian.
His love is enough to come to us, desiring a more intimate relationship, "a happier communion" between Christ and our hearts. Nothing can prevent this. No sense of weakness, emptiness, wretchedness on our part - for his love is great! The gospel tells us clearly - he came to the cross for us, he will come to our hearts.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Super-instinctive Bible Reading

Instinct; A natural aptitude or knack; a predilection;
Super-instinct; A super-natural aptitude or knack; a predilection;

To see the gospel in the Scriptures is a super-instinct that comes from the Holy Spirit and by faith.

Those who believe Moses see that he wrote about Jesus (John 5:46), those in whose hearts the Spirit burns (Luke 24:32) see that the Scriptures are about Jesus and his gospel (v27, 45-48). Super-instinctive Bible reading ends with faith and worship and changed lives, without that there is only hardness of heart, idolatry and sin.

Some argue boldly today that the Scriptures are not all about the gospel of Christ. Jesus and the apostles, it is understood, were denied this insight when they showed that the whole volume reveals the gospel. When such rebellious people prevail it's no wonder that people don't want to read the Bible, they dull Spirit's sword and upset the faith of many. When the Spirit prevails and the gospel is seen to shine from every page of Scripture the church is secure and awakens.

Now, don't get me wrong - exactly how to rightly see Christ in the Scriptures isn't always easy, it's a matter of much super-sweat and super-tears in the preacher's study, and on the preacher's knees as the preacher wrestles to believe, to receive, and to enjoy Christ.

The heart of a Christian is the home and temple of Christ.

We're still in the fifth of Richard Sibbes' infelicitously titled sermon series Bowels Opened (1687) on The Song of Songs, here considering Christ's knocking on the door of the church.

Christ has two homes - the heavens, and "the heart of a humble broken-hearted sinner".

But, How can Christ come into the soul? 
Answer: By the Spirit, saying:
"Open your ears that you may hear my word; 
your love, that you may love me more; 
your joy, that you may delight in me more; 
open your whole soul that I may dwell in it."

The Christian and the church is his home:
"So with Christ. A man will repair his house, 
so Christ will repair our souls, 
and make them better, and make them more holy, 
and spiritual, and every way fit for such a guest as he is."

How shall we know whether Christ dwells in our hearts, or not?
"If Christ is in the soul, there comes out of the house good words... When we hear men full of gracious sweet speeches, it is a sign Christ dwells there... Christ would move the whole man to do that which might edify and comfort."

And there is uproar
"When Christ was born, all Jerusalem was in an uproar; so, when Christ is born in the soul, there is an uproar. Corruption arms itself against grace. There is a combat between flesh and spirit. But Christ subdues the flesh little by little... God's image is stamped upon the soul where Christ is; and if we have opened unto the Lord of glory, he will make us glorious."

He will do it:
"Christ has never enough of us, 
nor we have never enough of him till we are in heaven; 
and, therefore, we pray, ‘Your kingdom come.' 
And till Christ comes in his kingdom, 
he desires his kingdom should come to us."

He cries out
"Open... It is a stupendous condescendence, when he that has heaven to hold him, angels to attend him, those glorious creatures; he that has the command of every creature, that do yield presently homage when he commands, the frogs, and lice, and all the host of heaven are ready to do his will! for him to condescend and to entreat us to be good to our own souls, and to beseech us to be reconciled to him, as if he had offended us, who have done the wrong and not he, or as if that we had power and riches to do him good; 
here greatness beseeches meanness, 
riches poverty, all-sufficiency want, 
and life itself comes to dead, drowsy souls. 
What a wondrous condescending is this!"

Christ comes down to us, to make "the heart of a sinful, sleepy man his house"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Spreading Goodness in Genesis

Two relationships dominate the Bible, and they're on screen within the first pages of the Bible. Sonship and Marriage, the shape of the spreading goodness of the Triune God.

Spreading Goodness and Sonship in Genesis 1
In Genesis 1 we see the Father, Son and Spirit creating spreading good form, light and fullness into a formless,dark and empty world. Day by day it's good as form comes through the cutting of darkness with light, through the separating of day and night, heavens and earth, land and sea. It is good. Form comes through heirarchy as the sun and moon are appointed to rule on behalf of God as the ages begin. It is good. Creatures appointed to fill the world - ultimately a man and a woman together. It is very good.

Everything that happens is good, flowing from God himself, and what God creates out of his love is then appointed to spread and multiply in goodness - they're to be fruitful and multiply, the man and woman are to have offspring - sons to fill the world, ruling under God. Sonship.

Spreading Goodness and Marriage in Genesis 2
In Genesis 2 the emphasis shifts as we see the man and a "not good" then provided with a bride. Marriage begins and is marked by unashamed intimacy, displaying the marriage of Christ and the church.

Spreading evil in Genesis 3-5
A perfect marriage until humanity commits spiritual adultery and all the freedom and life is lost. The man and his wife lose relationship with one another and with God. Their marriage is tainted and in need of redemption. Sonship is also perverted in Genesis 3. A son will triumph but another will strike at him. In Genesis 4 we see this battle in action as Cain strikes Abel, fatally and a substitute is born, Seth. As the world is filled with generation after generation death reigns and instead of goodness spreading the whole earth is filled with evil.

God is making himself known as he sets up the grammar of his gospel at the beginning of the world, leaving us crying out for new creation - for reformation, for the light of the world, for fullness in Christ.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mike Reeves on The Song of Songs

Mike Reeves concludes his series, with Angus Moyes, on being secure in the saving God by opening up The Song of Songs, a great gospel book, taking us into the marriage of Christ and the church, of union with Christ, which blows away all accusation that justification is a legal fiction, the book that took the reformation public.
Mike Reeves - Song of Songs (62mins)

How does Christ come into the church?

Richard Sibbes continues in Bowels Opened Part 5 to consider how Christ comes to the church. We must remember that "Christ speaks to the spouse here" - we are considering the relationship he has with she who has the Spirit of God already, one who could help them to open the door.
For good and gracious men are moved first by the Spirit, and then they move; they are acted first by the Spirit, and then they do act by it, not of themselves; as the inferior orbs move not, but as they are moved by the superior.
But what about at conversion?
He knocks at their hearts, and opens together with his speech. Then there goes a power that they shall open; for his words are operative words. As it was in the creation, ‘Let there be light,' it was an operative word, ‘and there was light,' Gen. 1:3. Let there be such a creature, it was an operative working word, and there was such a creature presently. So he opens together with that word. With that invitation and command there goes an almighty power to enable the soul to open."
And so to in raising dead Lazarus with a word.
"So Christ by his Spirit clothes his word in the ministry, when he speaks to people with a mighty power. As the minister speaks to the ear, Christ speaks, opens, and unlocks the heart at the same time; and gives it power to open, not from itself, but from Christ. Paul speaks to Lydia's ear, Christ to her heart , and opened it, as the text says, Acts 16:13, whereby she believes;
But why does Christ work this way?
"Christ works reasonably and "freely by a sweet inclination, not by violence. Therefore when he works the work of conversion, he does it in a sweet manner, though it is mighty for the efficaciousness of it. He admonishes us with entreaty and persuasion, as if we did it ourselves. But though the manner is thus sweet, yet with this manner there goes an almighty power. Therefore he does it strongly as coming from himself, and sweetly, as the speaking is to us, preserving our nature. So the action is from him, which has an almighty power with it. As holy Bernard says, ‘You deal sweetly with my soul in regard of myself’; 'that is, you work upon me, as a man with the words of love, yet strongly in regard of thyself. For except he add strength with sweetness, the work will not follow; but when there are both, an almighty work is wrought in the soul of a Christian... to say: 'I knock; open to me, my love, my dove,' etc."
Christ's approach to the church is both sweet and powerful, for he longs not simply to move our actions - that we open the door, but to win our hearts that we would give them afresh to him. Christianity is not of behaviour and outward actions but of desire and love. Our relationship with Christ is far deeper than formalism and ritual, it is a bond of deep and intimate love. This is not a relationship of dictator to his people, but of the great lover Christ to his people. It is Christ at the door, the most lovely and beautiful who laid his life down for us.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

That's how to talk at a Wedding

Richard Walker gives a wonderful Wedding Address:
"The Father and the Son are not vying together to make sure they get 50% of the airtime each. Rather, the Father says to the world Look at my Son, isn’t he wonderful and all the father’s delight is in him, such that he forgets himself. The same is true of the Son, who loves and honours the Father in everything, denying himself and being obedient to death, even death on a cross. And all this is done in the fellowship of the Spirit.... The Father, Son and Spirit are not introverted in their love, they are not selfish, they seek to share everything they have with creation, even with selfish creatures like you and me who stuck have stuck two fingers up in their face, they love to share and welcome back into this love all who will listen and welcome them into their hearts...
Your new life in the community is to reflect this same spreading goodness of God. You must love God first and best of all. Of all humans, you must love each other first and best, but that love must never become an introverted kind of love, the kind of love that back in your teenage years could see you spend all night snogging in a dark corner at the school disco, ignoring everyone else...
Chris and Becca; let your home be a home where the spreading, life-giving love of God is deeply and enduringly demonstrated. If you only love people like you, then you’re no better than anyone else, for even evil people have their mates round for parties. Let your home be a place where you not only welcome friends and family, but also those who are not like you: the poor, the needy, the disabled and the vulnerable; the annoying, the socially awkward, and yes even those few odd people who seem to have the knack of rubbing everyone up the wrong way. Love them well and continuously. Love them like God loves them and then you will be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Forum 2010: Our God is lovely and beautiful and met with us

Last week was our annual national student leaders conference at The Quinta in Shropshire. I've been going to this conference for many years, first as a student, then a volunteer and more recently on staff. I enjoyed camping with South West students and looking ahead to CU weekends and mission weeks with Bath Spa and Cardiff later in the year.

What I love about UCCF is that its a fellowship that is all about the gospel. This has always been the case but this year the gospel seem to have relaxed us, made us more generous and loving toward one another and more sensitive to the Spirit. As we gathered to behold our saviour we knew our hearts being changed, in our relationships with God and his people, and for mission.

The conference was also marked for me by brilliant heart-engaging teaching - a peak for me perhaps was Mike Reeves on John 20, listening to that will blow you away for 35mins. His final Dig Deeper track session on The Song of Songs is worth a peek too.

I also had the privilege of teaching a track with Nay Dawson on Transformed by our Gracious God and seeing students set free by the grace of God. It was a joy to unpack Galatians with them. You can listen in to them, with the group-work editted out here: Part 1 (41mins) -- Part 2 (68mins) -- Part 3 (46mins)

Download Talks from Forum 2010
Access other media from Forum 2010 on Facebook

Friday, September 10, 2010

Seven ways that Christ comes to the church

It is wonderful to know, from Sibbes, that Christ comes to the church but: "How does he knock?" Sibbes answers: In every kind of way.

God comes to speak to us in our own language,
1. In mercy and in correction, by his word and his works.
2. By invitation
3. By the good example of other Christians
4. His ministerial knocking:
When he was here in the days of his flesh, he was a preacher and prophet himself, and now he is ascended into heaven, he has given gifts to men, and men to the church, Eph. 4:11, seq., whom he speaks by, to the end of the world. They are Christ's mouth, as we said of the penmen of Holy Scripture. They were but the hand to write; Christ was the head to indict. So in preaching and unfolding the word they are but Christ's mouth and his voice... So the ministers are Christ's mouth. When they speak, he speaks by them, and they are as ambassadors of Christ, whom they should imitate in mildness... So Christ speaks by them, and puts his own affections into them, that as he is tender and full of bowels himself, so he has put the same bowels into those that are his true ministers.... He speaks by them.
5. By the Spirit:
. Oh! the Spirit is the life, and soul of the word; and when the inward word, or voice of the Spirit, and the outward word or ministry go together, then Christ does more effectually knock and stir up the heart... Now this Spirit with sweet inspirations knocks, moves the heart, lightens the understanding, quickens the dull affections, and stirs them up.
6. By the conscience

Summary: We see what means Christ uses here his voice, works, and word; works of mercy and of correction; his word, together with his Spirit, and the conscience, that he has planted, to be, as it were, a god in us; which together with his Spirit may move us to duty.

7. And the whole Trinity knocks:
"Whilst Christ thus knocks, all the three persons maybe said to do it. For as it is said else where, that ‘God was and is in Christ reconciling the world,' etc., 2 Cor. 5:19. For whatsoever Christ did, he did it as anointed, and by office. And therefore God does it in Christ, and by Christ, and so in some sort God died in his human nature, when Christ died. So here the Father beseeches when Christ beseeches, because he beseeches, that is sent from him, and anointed of the Father. And God the Father stoops to us when Christ stoops, because he is sent of the Father, and does all by his Father's command and commission, John v. 27. So besides his own bowels, there is the Father and the Spirit with Christ, who does all by his Spirit, and from his Father, from whom he has commission. Therefore God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit knock at the heart. 'Open to me, my love, my dove, my undefiled;' but Christ especially by his Spirit, because it is his office."
But, we might ask: why does he wait - why does he not force his way in? (to be continued)

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Christ comes to the church in love

The church knows the voice of her husband. And he comes to her. Richard Sibbes shows us three ways from Song 5:2 (Bowels Opened, Sermon 5).
1. He knocks. 2. He comes, even waiting for her to answer. 3. He names.
Christ still desires a further and further communion with his church. Even as the true soul that is touched with the Spirit, desires nearer and nearer communion with Christ; so he seeks nearer and nearer communion with his spouse, by all sanctified means. Christ has never enough of the soul. He would have them more and more open to him. Our hearts are for Christ, who has the heaven of heavens, and the soul of a believing Christian for himself to dwell in. He contents not himself to be in heaven alone, but he will have our hearts. He knocks here, waits, speaks friendly and lovingly, with such sweet words, ‘My love, my dove,' &c, ...Christ desires further entertainment in his church's heart and affection that he might lodge and dwell there.
What if we are estranged from him, if he seems distant? Sibbes argues that this is often caused by our keeping of bad company instead of being with the church "evil company is a great dampener" and also from "discontinuing religious exercises" we lose a sense of his love "when we do not prize and value, as we should, the communion that should be between the soul and Christ." Yet Christ does not neglect those who are wayward from failing or weaknesses - he knocks! Christ is God and God is love "So Christ, as God, is all love to the church". This is always the case:
"If he be angry in correcting, it is out of love; if merciful, it is out of love; if he is powerful in defending his church, and revenging himself on her enemies, all is love."
He loves us and we know this because he knocks:
"He knocks, that we should open, and let him come into our hearts, into our more intimate affections and love. Nothing will content him but intimateness"
We might ask how does he knock? (to be continued)

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Church knows Christ's voice.

The two great relationships in the Bible are Father-Son, as in The Father and his Son Jesus and our adoption (this is our relationship with The Father), and Husband-Wife as in Jesus and the church (this is our relationship with Jesus), both relationships happen through the Holy Spirit - who expresses our sonship and flows from Christ the head on to his body the church.

This week I have the exciting prospect of teaching student leaders about Adoption and I'm gutted that we'll probably only have time to touch upon on the sweet reality of Espousal Theology, of the church's relationship with Christ - something that Richard Sibbes was particularly gripped by - and no where more than in Bowels Opened. Walking through the series we're up to Sermon 5 of 20 and we're in The Song of Songs 5:2
"It is the voice of my Beloved that knocks, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled; for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night." SONG 5:2.
He opens with a recap of the previous sermons before laying out two signs that the church is not in a desperate dead sleep. 1. The church acknowledges Christ's voice ('It is the voice...'). 2. Christ comes to her ('he knocks')

However sleepy the church is, if she is the church she knows the voice of Christ 'my sheep hear my voice'
"He has a spiritual taste, a discerning relish in his ear, because he has the Spirit of God, and therefore relishes what is connatural, and suitable to the Spirit. And surely so it is, that this is one way to discern a true Christian from another, even by a taste in heating. For those that have a spiritual relish, they can hear with some delight things that are most spiritual. "
By contrast those who have itching ears...
"No sermons will please them; no bread is fine and white enough; whereas, indeed, it is their own distemper is in fault... If Christ himself were here a-preaching, they would be sure to cavil at something, as then men did when he preached in his own person, because they labour of lusts, which they resolve to feed and cherish.
But people ask: how do we know the word of God to be the word of God? has such a majesty and power to cast down, and raise up, and to comfort, and to direct with such power and majesty, that it carries with it its own evidence, and it is argument enough for it, 1 Cor. 14:24, 25; 2 Cor. 10: 4, 5.
What is the reason there be so many that apostatize, fall away, grow profane, and are so unfruitful under the gospel, notwithstanding they hear so much as they do?
The answer is, their souls were never founded and bottomed upon this, that it is the word of God, and divine truth, so as to be able to say, "I have felt it by experience, that it is the voice of Christ...."
The Christian is different
"...take a Christian at their worst: when he is asleep, he loves Christ, he will do nothing against him. ‘I can do nothing,' says Paul, ‘against the truth, but for the truth,' 2 Cor. 13:8. He will do nothing against the cause of religion. There is a new nature in him that he can not do otherwise. He cannot but love; he cannot sin with a full purpose, nor speak against a good cause, because he has a new nature, that leads him another way. Christ is her beloved even when she sleeps. Take a Christian at the lowest, his heart yearns after Christ. Acknowledging him to be his beloved, there is a conjugal chastity in the soul of a Christian. Holding firm to the covenant and marriage between Christ and it, he keeps that inviolable. Though he may be untoward, sleepy, and drowsy, yet there is always a conjugal, spouse-like affection. 'It is the voice of my beloved,' etc."
O to love his voice, to have a hunger to hear him speak!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Christianity with an "Oh!"

This isn't new but it's worth reading again and again: Jared Wilson on A Christian Instinct not Typology which leads us to see the gospel in all the Scriptures. Wilson cites John Piper saying the problem with commentaries is that they lack Oh!'s (though you should try Pete Lowman's Gateways to God which does!) - Wilson says the answer is gospel wakefulness, and I love that term for it.

Glen Scrivener has the Instinct as he shows from Exodus Ooo nice this is a Jesus bit (on why people preach Jesus from Exodus 12 but not 1-11...). 

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Where does the gospel begin?

Fred Sanders of Biola, whose book on Trinity The Deep Things of God (US) / Embracing the Trinity (UK) is out this month speaks on the gospel in John's gospel.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Gospel Awakens the Heart

Having shown eight ways to stay spiritually awake Sibbes continues first to win us to being awake, and second to wake us up with the gospel.

Getting hold of Sibbes isn't easy. Banner of Truth will sell you his complete works for £95 and they publish two other books. I'm working from some low quality scanned PDFs of the complete works, including the sermon series Bowels Opened. 

What does gospel wakefulness look like?
(from the end of sermon 4)
"When he is in his right temper, he is an excellent person, fit for all attempts. He is then impregnable. Satan has nothing to do with him, for he, as it is said, is then a wise man, and has his eyes in his head. He knows himself, his state, his enemies, and adversaries, the snares of prosperity and adversity, and of all conditions, etc. He being awake, is not overcome of the evil of any condition, and is ready for the good of any estate. He that has a waking soul sees all the advantages of good, and all the snares that might draw him to ill. What a blessed estate is this!"
Please, more of that. And that means more of the gospel. In Sermon 5 Sibbes draws us in that direction. He's known for his Espousal Theology - captivated by the marital relationship of Christ and the church that is so clear in The Song of Songs. He reflects that:
Take a Christian at the lowest, his heart yearns after Christ. Acknowledging him to be his beloved, there is a conjugal chastity in the soul of a Christian. Holding firm to the covenant and marriage between Christ and it, he keeps that unviolable. Though he may be untoward, sleepy, and drowsy, yet there is always a conjugal, spouse-like affection. 'It is the voice of my beloved,' etc. ...
The gospel-wakeful Christian longs for Christ but might wonder if Christ will receive one who is so prone to sleepiness...
As the true soul that is touched with the Spirit, desires nearer and nearer communion with Christ; so he seeks nearer and nearer communion with his spouse, by all sanctified means. Christ has never enough of the soul. He would have them more and more open to him. Our hearts are for Christ, who has the heaven of heavens, and the soul of a believing Christian for himself to dwell in. Christ is not content to be in heaven alone, but he will have our hearts.... How can Christ come into the soul? He comes into the heart by his Spirit... 
The heart never has enough of Christ, nor he of us!
Let us remember this and be awoken:
We need not wonder at this
his willingness to receive us,
when we first know that
God became man,
happiness became misery, and
life itself came to die,
and to be 'a curse for us,' (Gal. 3:13)
It's the gospel. It doesn't just wake up the heart like absorbing caffeine from a hot beverage, it's more like injecting adrenaline into a vein. "When a Christian has a heart and grace to awake, then his love, his patience, his faith is awake, as it should be. He is fit for all conditions, to do good in them, and to take good by them."

Stephen Hawking: God Didn't Create Universe

Stephen Hawking claims Gravity created the Universe. The newly launched @GrillaChristian pointed me to this series by Andrew Wilson and Graham Marsh from Kings Church Eastbourne. Audio and Video at Orgins: the big questions.

See also Tom Price: Stephen Hawking - Gravity Made Us drawing on Oxford Professor John Lennox in the Daily Mail: As a scientist I'm certain Stephen Hawking is wrong. You can't explain the universe without God

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Eight ways to stay Spiritually Awake

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) was among the warmest of the Puritans and a true heir to the Reformers, a man of affectionate, experiential, heart-centred evangelicalism continues to lay out the sweetness of Christianity in his series on the Song of Songs, Bowels Opened. There's not much of Sibbes online so I'm hoping this blog series fills a gap and introduce you to the man who was known as The Heavenly Doctor and The Sweet Dropper.

In the fourth sermon, having begun by showing the necessity of gospel wakefulness he asksHOW DO WE KEEP OUR SOULS AWAKE, ESPECIALLY IN DROWSY TIMES?

1. "None will sleep when a thing is presented of excellence more than ordinary... What made Moses to fall from the delights of Egypt? He saw the least things in religion were greater than the greatest things in the court, even in the world. 'He esteemed the reproach of Christ better than the greatest treasures of Egypt,' Heb. 11:26."
2. Make the heart think of the shortness and vanity of life. Strive to be in grace even at the end.
3. Grace is necessary.
4. Keep faith awake: "It is not the greatness alone, but the presence of great things that stirs us.... Now it is the nature of faith to make things powerfully present to the soul; for it sets things before us in the word of Jehovah that made all things of nothing, and is Lord of his word, to give a being to whatsoever he has spoken, Heb. 11:1. Faith is an awakening grace. Keep that awake and it will keep all other graces waking... When faith apprehends, and sets this to the eye of the soul, it affects the same marvellously. "
5. "Labour for abundance of the Spirit of God... Christians should know, that there is a necessity, if they will keep themselves waking, to keep themselves spiritual... let us keep ourselves in such good ways, as we may expect the presence of the Spirit to be about us, which will keep us awake."
6. Keep ourselves in as much light as we can. Sleepiness comes with darkness.
7. Labour to stay in the fear of the Lord. "those are most gracious, spiritual, and heavenly, that are the most awful and careful of their speeches, courses, and demeanours; tender even of offending God in little things... he grows in the knowledge of the greatness of God, and the experience of his own infirmities, as he grows in the sense of the love of God. He is afraid to lose that sweet communion any way, or to grieve the Spirit of God. "
8. "Keep company with waking and faithful Christians.... It is one of the best fruits of the communion of saints, and of our spiritual good acquaintance, to keep one another awake... So, many men die by lawful things. They eternally perish in the abuse of their liberties, more than in gross sins. "

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A Christian is what his heart is

Richard Sibbes continues from the Song of Songs in the fourth of his Bowels Opened series:
“I sleep, but my heart wakes, etc.” SONG 5:2.
He defines the heart as "all the powers of the soul, the inward man" and observes:
(1.) There is good and evil in a Christian. We are mixed. We can be sleepy. (2) A Christian may know how it is with himself. 
"In a dungeon where is nothing but darkness, both on the eye that should see and on that which should be seen, he can see nothing; but where there is a supernatural principle, where there is this mixture, there the light of the Spirit searches the dark corners of the heart. A man that has the Spirit knows both; he knows himself and his own heart. The Spirit has a light of its own..."
(3) We should acknowledge the good and the bad - not bearing false witness against ourselves, not denying God's work in us nor our sin. The Christian then (1) though sleepy knows themselves to be that (2) still sides with God (3) even when sleepy (4) has an awakeness of heart (5) remains inwardly awake
"there remains affection answerable to their judgment, which, though they find, and feel it not for a time, it being perhaps scattered, yet there is a secret love to Christ, and to his cause and side, joined with joy in the welfare of the church and people of God; rejoicing in the prosperity of the righteous, with a secret grief for the contrary."
What to do with this?
1. Magnify the goodness of God that continues in us by his Spirit. Consider God's mercy in doing good to us when there was nothing good in us.
2. Enter our hearts to find the grace of God. Like Peter say "Lord, you know that I love you".
(1) God's children never totally fall from grace: Though we may be drowsy our hearts are new. "There is always a seed remaining. An immortal seed that we are begotten by... there was life still in the root... a man may say of a Christian in his worst state, His life is in him still; he is not dead, but sleeps; 'his heart wakes.'"
(2) This is the testimony of Scripture and of God's people: "These two never fail on God's part, his love, which is unchangeable, and his grace, a fruit of his love; and two on our part, the impression of that love, and the gracious work of the new creature... There is always spiritual life... Let us comfort ourselves, therefore, in this for the time to come, that in all the uncertainty of things in this life we have today and lose tomorrow, as we see in Job, there is somewhat a saint may build on that is constant and unmoveable. 'I am the Lord, I change not; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed,'"
3. A Christian is what his heart is. God does not just want the heart but "...A sound Christian does what he does from the heart; he begins the work there. What good he does he loves in his heart first, judges it to be good, and then he does it... The church says "I sleep" but "So far as he says he is asleep, he is awake. Now, the church confesses that she was asleep by that part that was awake in her. Other men do not complain, are not sensible of their sleepiness and slumbering, but compose themselves to slumber, and seek darkness, which is a friend of sleep."
4. Being awake is a blessed state.

But, how do we keep our souls awake? (Tomorrow)

Bigger Dreams for the Church