Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2016

MP3s from 3 conferences that could help you share your faith

My wedding certificate lists my occupation as evangelist. A teller of good news. I was on the UCCF relay programme at the time. It's always been a passion in my Christian life --- in part because my formative years as a believer were as part of a Christian Union, the first Christian books I read were by Becky Pippert and Bill Hybels...  though honestly an unevangelistic Christianity doesn't really make much sense. Evangelistic ministry isn't just evangelism but also includes equipping other for witness.

I drift from time with people outside church, and I drift from courage to speak up, I struggle to be patient, and I struggle to believe that Christ is for all. Other people help me.

I ended up at three conferences this year that have been helpfully corrective to the trajectory of my year, to my dull heart, and to decisions we've made as our family have relocated this year.

I hope they coudl help you too.
1. Advance UK. Advance is part of the newfrontiers family connecti…

Trampolines and Brick Walls: Don't flex on the gospel, do flex on everything else to love the church and advance the gospel.

In his 2005 book Velvet Elvis Rob Bell argued that the church has a problem because we think of theology as like a brick wall - rigid and systematic, whereas we should look at our theology as being more of a trampoline - flexible and in which some of the springs can be safely removed. The analogy seems really attractive, though it's pretty flawed - not least because you could removed more bricks from a wall than springs from a trampoline before everything would fall apart... but beyond that it's also woefully ignorant.

In writing to Galatians Paul wont have any of this anti-doctrinal faith. He tackle gospel denial and says it's Father-desertion... he speak of gospel truth and it's about the Father's revelation of the Son. It's life-filled, relational, and write-down-able. And accuracy matters - because it's curse-worthy to believe a different gospel, and to teach others to hope in something contrary to Christ. Theology is about the knowledge of the Father …

The Greatest Gift - Of Sainsbury's and the Incarnation

The nativity scene can seem sweet, inspiring and utterly removed from our day to day experience of life in this broken world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Step back and we find that in the beginning was The Word - a communicative being, who was with God. The Word is also called the Son, Jesus. And God is called the Father. Both are God. This is the Triune God. And from eternity past the Father has been giving the gift of himself to his Son and the Son likewise to his Father in self-giving, overflowing love in the Holy Spirit. Love that created the world, and love that steps in...

Sainsbury's Christmas advert is on the money - the greatest gift we can give is ourselves... though, you have to ask how that makes any sense in a secular material worldview? But through the lense of the Christian faith it makes perfect sense. In Biblical terms, it's love that is at the heart of the universe.

The Christmas story is the story of God with flesh on, God in meet, God becoming…

Spot the difference? Reflections four months after re-locating.

In last four months we've moved from a provincial city in the South West of England to a larger city in the Midlands. Lots of things in our lives are different now... wise friends counselled us in August that there is difference that is good, difference that is bad, and difference that is just difference.

Much is similar. 
We still live in the UK. We're still in a church that uses a mix of old and new music, and where the normal ministry approach is based on expositional bible teaching. Sunday meetings are basically very similar. Both are in student cities, and in both most people in the church came to faith in a different church somewhere else in the UK. A majority of both churches are middle-class graduates. The local UCCF staff worker is a member of our church in both cases, and the church is popular with students.The speciality coffee scene is strong in both locations.Some things are different, and could be bad or good depending on various factors...
Politically, we've m…

God's Purpose in Election: 4 things we do. 6 things God does

The question of God's sovereignty and our freedom in salvation (and life more generally) is no easy question. On one level it's an unresolvable tension. In his book "How do you know that" Ellis Potter suggests something of a solution - to not try to fit the two things into a pie chart - a percentage to God and a percentage to us... there's no satisfactory solution there. Rather than flattening to a 2D plane, what if we consider them as two intersecting discs, our experience of freedom and God's purpose.

Both real, certainly experienced as real. What can we say?

Limiting ourselves to Romans 9-10... Our angle on the painful dilmma of friends and family who don't know Jesus when you do... and then God's.

What do we do?
1. WE HAVE ANGUISH AND SORROW (9v2) Paul has "unceasing anguish" and "great sorrow". There is no permission to go any further in this conversation if we're not similarly affected. There is a right emotional tenor to …

Leviticus with a seven year old

For several years we read The Jesus Storybook Bible with our first son. It's given him a solid biblical theology and eye for the gospel. At Easter we gave him his first Bible, the International Children's Bible (NCV) and he and I have been reading it since then, from Genesis, through Exodus and recently into the opening chapters of Leviticus.

We ended Exodus with the shock of Moses being unable to enter the Meeting Tent. And then God calls, speaks and says... and we're listening in.

Early on we've noticed the repetition. Initially my boy was annoyed by this but it's helped him learn brilliantly - which is part of the point. We're keeping the pace up as we read which serves to draw attention to the repetition that we might miss if we read more slowly. With some variations, we're seeing that coming to God involves this sort of journey...
1. His rescued people sin.
2. That makes them guilty.
3. They can present a sacrifice, which must have nothing wrong with …

The affections of a Father

I love my five year old. He's a brilliant boy who has some special needs - nothing particularly severe, and likely the consequences of his epilepsy. We don't really know.

In the opening moments of church this morning I'm sat with him on my lap. I'm one of the ministers, but with no formal responsibilities this morning. The boy is restless even before the service begins.

We open with some notices and a reading from Psalm 103. The boy is getting louder and more distruptive. "We're a big family"says the service leader.Welcome to the family! (and truth be told: we are welcome.)

Then he reaches Psalm 103:12
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; A moment of grace - I'm tempted to get annoyed with my son. I shush him. I'm frustrated. But in that moment - I'm reminded and refreshed - I am the restless five year old in the arms of the Father from whom every family gets its name, the Father o…

What kind of society do we want to live in?

It's hard not to be deeply affected by Sally Phillips documentary A World Without Downs. This is an investigation into two of the biggest human questions. She opens, winsome, engaging, self-deprecating, to camera:
What kind of society do we want to live in?And who do we think should be allowed to live in it? We all have to answer those questions.
We all do answer them.
The question is what answers we give and why.

For decades/centuries we've lived in 'the story of progress' or 'the myth of evolution' as CS Lewis dubbed it. Not a scientific comment so much as a narrative that says, change is better, we're advances, and survival of the fittest, and our happiness must drive us forward. I recognise this story - I grew up in it, I grew up believing it and many of its implications, it's hard to let go of it.

For the church this grates in part because it's parasitic on Christian hope - as John Gray notes, how on earth does the secularist justify a moral st…

Sow to the Spirit?

Galatians 6v8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. What does this mean?

In the final paragraphs of Paul's letter to his friends in Galatia what is he saying?
(a) Eternal life comes from good works?
(b) Or, something else. Everything in Galatians says that option (a) can't be the case. You can't write for 5.5 chapters about how it's not what we contribute and then say it is. Context kills that, though sooo many commentators play that dischordant note.

Throughout the book two categories are established...
Faith / Spirit / Sonship vs. Flesh / Law / Slavery. In chapter 5 those under the law will not inherit as they are slaves - their life will be marked by the works of the flesh. The works are an inevitable consequence not disqualifying acts. Likewise, those who live by the Spirit crucify the flesh and the Spirit produces fruit. But fleshly acts aren't disqua…

Church in a student city?

I've written in the past some Top Tips on finding a church for Christian Students.
Christian student? Research churches. Visit a few. Commit soon. Join a home group and love people. Get on a rota. Setup a standing order. — Dave Bish (@davebish) September 17, 2015
Church in a student town? Be hospitable, unshockable, patient, intellectually rigorous, passionate about CU, equipping for graduate life. — Dave Bish (@davebish) September 16, 2016How about from the perspective of a Church in a Student City? 
If you have students in your church and/or are a viable option then be available to students.

There are two Universities in our city and though we do get students from both we're no where near being a local church for one of them... as prospective students from Trent Uni have done Student Linkup I've usually suggested they try a nearer church than ours. For Nottingham Uni we are 300 metres from the edge of campus or a mile from its centre... so I think we're a pretty goo…

I went to a Parkrun

I've been running for a couple of years. I woke up a week after my 35th birthday and had the motivating realisation of quite how out of shape I was and that this would only get worse if I didn't do something about it. I worked my way up to 5km and then to 10km, running 4-5 times a week over the first three months and maintained a habit of doing 2-3 10km runs a week since.

We've moved to Beeston and I decided to join a running club and start doing the Beeston Parkrun five weeks ago. Running with others is still very new for me. To be honest, the idea of a running club and timed running had intimidated me before, but I'm enjoying it and haven't felt any of the pressure I imagined might be the case.

Some observations...
1. I'm reasonably fit but way behind some. I'm averaging a top 60 finish out of 180-220 people which feels good. PB currently 24:37. 2. Running with others makes you run faster as they pull you along, or it destroys you in your head as you see…

Psalm 2: The Word of His Wrath

The British Government responded harshly to Guy Fawkes conspiracy. Hung for his crime. And remembered for his conspiracy even 411 years later.

What of the human conspiracy to dethrone God?

Psalm 2v4 – heaven laughs 
And – the LORD scoffs 

On the one hand, it’s laughable and futile… heaven says “as if…”
The crowds mocked Jesus in his crucifixion, and mockery means what the next verses says:

Psalm 2v5 – he rebukes in anger 
And – he terrifies in wrath Heaven’s anger is stirred. 

What is the terrifying word of God's wrath?

Heaven speaks. ‘I have installed my king on… my holy mountain’ 
The true king is the Lord Jesus, the LORD’s Anointed one.
When is he lifted up? Where is he crowned? At the cross.

 God’s word of wrath against human sin is the cross of the true king. Not immediate judgement on the world… Not to hang, draw and quarter us… No. To put forth the true king to bear the wrath stirred by human sin. To offer himself in our place.

 It’s unimaginable that King James would’v…

Psalm 2: My name is John Johnson

In the early hours of Saturday 5th November 1605 a man claiming to be John Johnson left a cellar underneath the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, and was promptly arrested. Inside were found many barrels of gunpowder. So ended an 18 month conspiracy led by Robert Catesby and involving the arrested man – not called John Johnson but Guido Fawkes.

Catesby, Fawkes and co had sought to kill King James and replace him with his daughter Elizabeth. A political move to suit their own purposes. Who will be on the throne? They said; we will choose.

Three thousand year old song, Psalm 2 describes a similar kind of conspiracy on an altogether grander global political scale. In v1-3 the kings of the earth plot together.

1. Who is the conspiracy against? 
V2 The LORD and his Anointed 

 That is to say, the Father and his Christ. We do sin against one another but Psalms tell us that our real problem is with the LORD and his Christ – human beings conspire against God, to overthrow him and place thems…

Who's in and who's out?

Image -  Paul Hiebert via Theodigital
Paul Hiebert's 1978 paper 'Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories'poses the question of what's required to say someone is or isn't a Christian. He poses the senario of an illiterate peasant in Indian who professes faith after hearing the Christian gospel once. What would it take to say they're actually a Christian?

This sort of thinking could be applied to other things too - I'm a member of a running club, Suppose there's a person has paid up but never runs... and there's another person who runs with us but hasn't formally joined... who is the club member? So too, political parties etc.

Hiebert looks at the way Christian faith is popularly considered to be a bounded set - with a clear boundary between Christian and not a Christian based on orthodoxy or orthopraxy, where the key task is to get someone over the boundary. There's much good in the model, but Hiebert's question is - what about his new…

Mission as prophetic dialogue

Some interesting observations on Christian mission from Roman Catholic priest Stephan Bevans' paper Mission as prophetic dialogue.Not my general 'go to' for insight, but I enjoy reading widely, learning from the differences, learning from what's good even if sometimes there are bones to spit.

Bevans, with Roger Schrader, begin with God:
That mission is dialogical is rooted in the reality that God... is dialogue. God is not a lonely monad but a communion of persons, distinct from one another and yet one in identity and purpose... This communion of giving and receiving Love overflows into the entire cosmos that God created out of sheer grace, and calls it into communion with Godself. This is what we mean by God’s mission, the Missio Dei. Union with Christ brings us into the life of God.
Through Baptism, Christians share the very life and of the Trinity, and so they are enjoined to carry out God’s mission in the same dialogical way. Concretely, this means that Christians…

I went to church: 5 things I learned

As we've just moved from Exeter to Nottingham. I've no desire to compare our old and new church families - they're unique, similar in many ways, shaped by their respective history, people and communities.... and we're newbies in our new church just getting oriented.

In this post I want to reflect on five particular strengths that impacted me from our time at our previous church.

All churches face different challenges at different times in their pursuit of faithful communication of Christ through the words and lives of their members. A cookie cutter approach won't do, and much prayer, thought and action is needed.

I hope you'll hear questions and issues to think about here rather than prescriptive answers.
1. Gospel Environments. Everything communicates. It's possible to say true words but to deny them by the way the tone or posture they're said it. What do people expect? Is the setting welcoming or explicitly or implicitly excluding? Does what's sa…

Great is thy faithfulness

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou has been Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Jesus my brother,
Always to catch me when often I fall,
Bursting with joy to bring me to Thy Father
Faultless and pure; with no blemish at all.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Spirit my helper,
Promise of grace and salvation assured.
Lifting me Christ-ward when I’m worn and burdened,
Giver of peace as my heart is restored.

(Additional verses: Matt Giles)

Image: Ray - Morning Dew, Creative Commons.

We're all foreigners, widows and orphans (gospel-shaped ethics in the Law)

I'm reading Exodus with my seven year old. In chapter 2:23-25 we read:
 The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. The LORD acts and says in chapter 4:
 22 Then say to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so that he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.”’ Which, through the defeating of the Pharaoh brings the people to worship God. There, before being taught of the LORD's beautiful means of atonement through the types and shadows of the Tabernacle and Priesthood they're given some hard-hitting case law to help them build a community life that reflects the heart of God, being "holy as I am holy..." The tone is very much …

An introduction to the Psalms

A few thoughts on the Psalms...

1. Psalms are for singing. Today some churches only sing Psalms. Certainly they were part of the songbook of the early church who were told to sing Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. It's objected that if you sing the Psalms only you wouldn't sing the name "Jesus" though you'd sing lots of his titles and in my view develop a deeply Trinitarian worship life that is theologically and emotionally rich.

 2. Psalms are poetry. Look for lines that repeat ideas or themes. Subtle changes add nuance and weight to the lyrics. Psalms also use images and illustrations to help us not just think but see, not just reason but imagine.

 3. Psalms is a structured book. A song book can be arranged by author, title, theme etc. The Psalms are arranged theologically. In an age when we barely see a whole verse projected on screen we need to learn that songs have context – in other Bible books and within the book of Psalms itself.
 "Moses gave to the Is…

Penal Substitionary Atonement for Kids

My son and I are reading Exodus. We've reached chapter 21, the brief section of law before the instructions on Tabernacle and Priesthood. A recurring theme was the phrase "put to death" as the consequence of sin.

e.g.
v12 “Anyone who hits a person and kills him must be put to death. 13 But if a person kills someone accidentally, God allowed that to happen, so the person must go to a place I will choose. 14 But if someone plans and murders another person on purpose, put him to death, even if he has run to my altar for safety.  Which made sense to him though it feels very alien in our culture. He's got some decent redemptive history and biblical theology from the Jesus Storybook Bible, we've read Genesis and Exodus 1-20, and he's got a good eye for the shape of the story.

Then we read verse 15
“Anyone who hits his father or his mother must be put to death. Which produced one of the more viceral reactions I've seen from him in Bible reading. And a cry of &quo…

Why didn't Christ come earlier if humanity has always needed saving?

I was asked this question recently. I like questions because they help me think. Jesus is a great asker and answerer of questions. What would you say? A few thoughts.

Jesus was born, lived, died and it's claimed was raised from the dead, 2000 years ago. Eyewitnessed and leaving an impression on human history that is hard to deny.

Why then? 

Bible writers tell us Jesus came "at just the right time" (Romans 5:6) and "when the set time had come" (Galatians 4:4).

The Bible daraes to speak of a mysterious thing called time. From Genesis 1, evening and morning, seasons... not just time but a purposeful progression. Time is  a curious and intruiging thing.

But why the wait?

The misconception is that this was a delay to salvation. Salvation was, the Bible says, planned before creation, and was always available. It's clear that Enoch, Abraham and Ruth, David, Anna and Simeon and many others knew the LORD.  There was no lack in revelation. The Triune God made himself …

I went to a Cupping

On Thursday evening I went to my first Cupping. This is wine-tasting for coffee-lovers.

We gathered in the very cool offices of a local web company, a table set with boxes of with samples of some newly roasted coffees, bowls and spoons, with seven of us gathered for a couple of caffeine tasting hours.

We tried out five coffee roasted by Dave Stanton of Crankhouse Coffee. Dave is a friend of a friend, who runs his own roasting business. We buy our church coffee from him because it's good coffee, and because as people who love our city we choose to support a local entrepreneurs and culture makers.

We began by looking at the beans and seeing the difference in appearance between washed and unwashed beans. They were ground and we took in the different aromas. And then we added water and waited for four minutes. We took in the aromas again before slurping from our spoons and looking for the different smoothness, acidity, and flavours.

Dave presented us with Kenya Kainamui AA, Kenya Kia…