Friday, December 31, 2004

Pitiless Indifference?

Whilst the rescue efforts begin and aid is finally getting through to the survivors I see that the press are raising the seemingly inevitable questions about why? In one sense it is refreshing to see people raise the questions, and yet I wonder whether we really ask the right questions.

How can religious people explain something like this? (The Guardian - 28/12/04), At a loss for an explanation (letters responding to the article)

We live in a society that has dedicated itself to scientific naturalism, a society that take Richard Dawkins as its authoritative philosopher. And yet we seem unable to accept what it proposes. In his terms, surely we have to simply say that this is the pitiless indifference of the universe. That in a scientific world devoid of the divine then bad stuff happens, though even that goes too far doesn't it? Stuff happens is surely as far as we can go.

The reality is that our scientific society has no comfort for us. All it can say is that the world has tectonic plates, the very things that are necessary on a planet if it is to support the life that it has now taken away. Earthquakes are an inevitable partner of a planet that has life on it. This on one level is a very real answer to why this all happened. I do not deny this reality. And yet it doesn't seem to satisfy the question of "why?", (unless your name is Richard Dawkins).

In the midst of this people turn on religion to explain things. Do people want an answer? Are they trying to catch us out? Whatever the motive, like Jesus let us respond to peoples questions.

In times past people had a grasp on reality. Written off today by 21st Century arrogance as examples of "medieval superstition" our ancestors knew that God was in control of all things. They may not have been able to answer exactly "why" such things happened but they knew the comfort that God stands, so some degree, behind all things.

How as the waves approached fired further insults at God? I remember seeing the results of the survey into "what the world thinks about God", earlier in 2004. In the West we consider suffering a problem preventing belief in God, yet where there is suffering such objections are not found. Many, as the waves approached, surely sought mercy in their suffering.

The waves swept away the rich and the poor, the Christian and the Muslim, the Buddhist and the Scientific Naturalist. Death is a certainty for us all - much as we like to deny it. It is a great mercy that we too are not swept away. Surely judgement is deserved, we are not innocent. We are not innocent in our actions towards God. Neither are we innocent towards each other, at the end of a year where we've fought wars, let poverty remain. And I am no better than anyone else.

How did Jesus respond to such events in his time on earth?
Jesus was faced with testing questions in the aftermath of a fallen tower. People came to see him apportion blame. He would not have us play the blame game, it is not our place. Ours is to see that God is indeed the real ruler of the world who will one day judge each and everyone of us. Each of us needs to turn back to God for mercy- we cannot run the world ourselves, nor our own lives. This mercy, and escape from deserved judgement is what Jesus came to live and die to achieve. Knowing the mercy of God on us we can then surely weep with those who weep and seek to help those in need.

This week I've studied Jonah, in the midst of storms he confesses who his God is, "I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land". Life is not meaningless. Human lives are worth savinbg. God is real and is the one who made a world capable of supporting life, and who acts to save lives. He is not impotent in times of suffering. These events are tragic not mere examples of pitiless indifference. There is mercy for us even if our lives have been marked by pitiless indifference towards God. There is comfort with God if we will recognise him for who he is.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Devastation in South East Asia

This morning the reports say that nearly 70,000 are known to have died after the South East Asia Tsunami/Earthquake disaster, and the number keeps rising. No easy answers seem to fit in the light of such events. Here though are three articles by John Piper, on living in the light of the tragedies of this world.
Don't Waste Your Life (after the 2003 Iran Earthquake)
Humane Confidence vs. Destructive Doubt (after the 2004 Beslan tragedy)
Tsunami, Sovereignty & Mercy

Give to the South East Asia Disaster Appeal (via Tearfund)
Disasters Emergency Committee

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Fools Play This Waiting Game

These days, everyone's a good guy
These days, scales are in your favour
Man says, “I never did, I never hurt
Never double crossed no-one”

Been double crossed by my own mind
(self confused we need therapy)
I say, “Can't be free, defeat myself
Never did my best”


No defence, unclean hands
Guilty man, a godless friend
No defence, filthy rags
Take me in, Take me home

These days, the truth stands twisted
These days, they think things in reverse
Man says, “I’m good, God knows I am
I hold the future in my hands”

Only fools play this waiting game
(Can’t win better quit and walk away)
I say, “I failed, I broke the rules
Ignored your every word”


Lyrics © Dave Bish, 2004
Music © Emmalee Bish, 2004

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Who rules the world? How can I be happy?

At Christmas time we surely find ourselves seeking happiness in all kinds of ways. Most years we even do this by attempting to shut ourselves off from questions concerning the state of the world. Escapism cures the pain. We surround ourselves with the experience of Christmas, of family and friends, of carols and mince pies, mulled wine and gifts. For most of us normal life shuts down, the roads are empty and the shops are closed. We emerse ourselves in a fairy tale, wishing for a white Christmas.

Yet every few years disaster or conflict breaks into our solace and ruins the story of Christmas for us. Our pursuit of happiness is interupted by raging wars and the fragility and flaws of our leaders. Is anyone in control? Who really rules the world? These questions seem to stand at odds with our escape to happiness. And yet their answers should really coincide.

Let me take you back into the historic story of Christmas. To the middle east at a time when it knew the heart of the biggest story of all. Not some fairy tale but the big story, the one that explains it all, running from start to end over the whole world. The action is set in the middle east, Israel - that great war-torn land whose pain is perhaps most likely to interupt our Christmas cheer.

Around 33 years on from the birth of Jesus a strange event occured in Jerusalem. Early in the morning a small gathering of men appeared to be drunk. (This of course, not so strange). Yet these men were speaking in all the languages of the world! The streets were busy with rush hour traffic and there was much confusion and much mockery of this small gathering.

One of their number stood up to address the crowds. He spoke to explain what was happening. Peter called the crowd's attention back to a song by Israel's greatest King, David. In this song David had looked to the coming of the great King who would rescue his people, and he said there is fulness of joy in the presence of this King. Not just one night of joy. Not just some Christmas cheer. Pleasure forever.

The song that told the big story said that the King would never be abandoned to death. Many thought David spoke about himself, but Peter reminded the crowd that David was dead and buried. Peter was speaking about a month or so after the death of Jesus, and Peter connected the song to the events of their day that the crowd were more than familiar with. These crowds had called for the death of Jesus as a trouble maker. Peter spoke of Jesus saying that he was the King that David had spoken of, and that this King Jesus was not dead, like David. This King had been raised from the dead, and now raised to rule from heaven. This is the big story- one King ruling the world, seeking followers.

The chaos they were seeing was the result, Peter said, of God coming to live with his people - by his Holy Spirit - and causing his people to speak in the nations of the world to explain this. One hundred and twenty followers of the King entering further into the big story and being equipped to tell it to the world.

Peter went on, saying that God had appointed Jesus ruler of all and the rescuer of his people, the same Jesus whose crucifixion the crowds had called for weeks earlier. Here, Peter says, is the one who truly rules the world. And here is the one who can rescue us from the mess we're in. Here is one who can save us from ourselves. Here is one who can save us from God's punishment coming upon us.

The careful historian Luke who records these events tells us that the crowd were cut to the heart and ask Peter "what shall we do?". Faced with this Jesus some kind of response is required.

Peter called the crowd into the story. He called them to turn from their fairy tale. To give up on the lie they kept telling themselves. The lie that they could do without God. The lie that life would be ok. Peter called them to put the old story to death and find new life in the big story. He invited them to believe in this King Jesus, and be baptised. A symbolic act of going under water and emerging from it. Dying and emerging into new life. A life to be lived at the heart of the big story.

And this invitation into the big story isn't just for Jews like Peter. It's open to anyone anywhere. That's why the first 120 in the story were speaking all the languages of the world. Calling out into the stories of the world to invite people into the big story.

Here is the Christmas good news of great joy (that was what the angels said). Here is news for any on whom God's favour rests. An invite into the big story. The question for us is - what will we do? That's what the 3000 strong crowd around Peter asked. The choice is simple. Stay in your fairy tale and face the unhappy ending. Or leave it behind and enter the big story, and find real joy forever by living under the true King whose story it is.

Myths rise up against the big story suggesting that you can enter it by going to church. Or that you can come in by good deeds or being nice. None of these is the true story. The true story is of the King who came and died so the punishment we know we deserve wouldn't come upon us in our fairy tale. He was punished in our place. A substitute. All we need do is look to the King and believe, and then enter into the big story. Three thousand joined the story the day Peter spoke. Many millions have since then.

Who rules the world? Jesus, the King and teller of the great story.
How can I be happy? By living with Jesus, under Jesus rule, stepping into his big story.

Read about these events in the words of the historian Luke. Luke wrote a meticulous two part history of the life of Jesus and the spread of his followers throughout the world. These books are called Luke's Gospel and Acts and are part of the Bible, the book that tells the big story about King Jesus.

Friday, December 24, 2004

2004 Top 10... Films I've seen (released in 2004)

I've been thwarted often this year by local cinemas only showing really mainstream stuff so there are some I wanted to see that I've not yet been able to. As before, comment your top ten.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Charlie Kaufmann does it again!
2. The Incredibles
Comedic Capers all the way!
3. I heart Huckabees
A bit disturbing but quirky and I liked it. Shame we had to go to Oxford to see it.
4. Shrek 2
More of a good thing and Puss was hilarious.
5. Finding Neverland
Nice bit of drama.
6. Starsky & Hutch
Simply funny! Never saw the originals but nevermind...
7. School of Rock
Also funny and Em (being a nusic teacher) loved it.
8. The Day after Tomorrow
Gotta have one blockbuster in there, and it was so much better than Troy, King Arthur etc.
9. Stage Beauty
Missed at the cinema but caught it on TV last weekend, Shakespeare in Love again but still good.
10. Farenheit 9/11
Very biased and I thought he got a big bogged down but still quite insightful and interesting.

Just outside the top 10 were heartwarmers like The Terminal, the stupid-but-Tom-Hanks-funny Ladykillers and the really disturbing Butterfly Effect. Being married there were a whole load of romantic comedies I had to watch this year which I hardly dare admit to having seen. Eternal Sunshine probably cuts into that genre and hit the top of the list!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

2004 Top 10... Places I've drunk most coffee

1. Dol.che Vita at University of Reading
2. Sorrento at University of Surrey (since Sept 2004)
3. Cafe Mondial at University of Reading
4. Roots at University of Surrey
5. Costa Coffee in Reading Station
6. Coffee Republic at The Oracle, Reading
7. Costa Coffee in Ottakars, Guildford
8. Starbucks in Guildford
9. Caffe Nero in Winchester
10. Caffe Nero in Reading

After which I descend into a whole load of places I've drunk one cup in...Mine'll be a Mocha or a black Americano thanks... Good Coffee, Strong Coffee! Drinking coffee is of course not so much about quantity but the quality and the company and the conversation. That kind of chart however would only end up offending, so I'm not going there.

Funny Letters from 2004

Words from the readers... the year's funniest letters (The Guardian)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

2004 Top 10... Places I've slept

1. Home 265
2. My Parents 18
3. The Quinta 16
4. Skegness 11
5. Em's Parents 10
6. Southampton 6
7. Isle of Jura 5
8. Canterbury 4
9. Hothorpe Hall 4
10. A hotel in St.Ives 4

My top ten's of 2004 continues... but I'm lacking inspiration as to where to take this next... Please note the above is approximate and the list of places extends beyond ten...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

2004 Top 10... Christian Books I've read this year

1. Stop Dating the Church, Josh Harris
(best book on church I've read, prophetically relevant)
2. Shadow of the Almighty, Elisabeth Elliot
(Biography of martyr Jim Elliot, here is the man who knew it was no sacrifice)
3. The Supremacy of God in Preaching, John Piper
(teaching the bible to make God look really good)
4. One Thing, Sam Storms
(Really helpful book on delighting in God, great illustrations)
5. A new way to be human, Charlie Peacock
(people/presence of God, easy to read, and by an artist which is cool)
6. Temple & The Church's Mission, Greg Beale
(people/presence of God, big book but worth pressing through it)
7. Cinderella with Amnesia, Michael Griffiths
(second best book on church, 30 years old and prophetically relevant, tragically)
8. Christ and his People, David Peterson
(on Isaiah/Old Testament, shows his working really helpfully)
9. Life's Big Questions, Vaughan Roberts
(bible overviews of key topics, with bible study outlines)
10. Sacrifice, Howard Guinness
(by the guy who went round the world planting the CU movement)

I've restricted myself to one book per author. The ranking isn't particularly strict and probably has most to do with how much they've influenced me. These are simply the best of the many books I've read in 2004. Selected from well over 100 titles. Why not "comment" yours...

Don't Waste Your Life



Just browsing Amazon tonight and saw a great deal on a special edition of Don't Waste Your Life by Piper, which includes a DVD of a talk on the same theme.

"You don't have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, perhaps just one, and then be willing to live for them and die for them.
The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing. If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll on into eternity, you don't have to have a high IQ.
You don't have to have good looks or riches, or come from a fine family or a fine school. Instead you have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things-or one great all-embracing thing-and be set on fire by them."
(p. 44)


Buy Don't Waste Your Life (with DVD) from Amazon
Don't Waste Your Life (website)
Read the preface

Monday, December 20, 2004

Stand With Us!

Leaders and visiting speakers of the Christian Unions I work with are asked to sign a confession of faith. Often called the Doctrinal Basis or DB this document outlines the core convictions of the Christian Union as well as a it's core vision and strategy.

Such documents are much maligned, often viewed as checks of soundness, objects for exclusion or marks of judgement upon those who cannot sign them in good conscience. This is not the intent!

Confessional Christianity is the mainstream historical form of Christianity. In creeds and statements Christians have expressed their beliefs as a form of celebration and worship, in the act of preaching and teaching, to unite together - not merely around the title "Christian" but a specific Biblical definition of this.

Why be specific? Because what we believe is important. It matters who Christ is. It matters what his life and death achieved. It matters what the future holds. It matters what our priorities today are. As Christians these things are important.

As a basis of unity such statements are inclusive as much as exclusive. They welcome in those who share the convictions stated. The term "doctrinal basis" would make better sense to be called "the basis, in terms of doctrine (beliefs), of our fellowship". That is to say, we have a fellowship, this fellowship is on a particular basis, and that basis is our beliefs.

Confessions of belief do of course also function to root out false teaching. This is not a measure to prevent freedom of thinking, but rather to protect fellow believers from the damaging affects of false teaching that parades as true teaching.

Particularly where I find myself working on the frontline of missions, as the church should always find itself, the dangers of false teaching and the joy and life of true teaching should always be a concern. These things matter because Christianity is committed to truth as revealed by God in the Bible. They matter because spiritual health is rooted in truth, revealed by God in scripture and applied by the Holy Spirit. We must take care that those who take positions of teaching and leadership are in accord with sound doctrine.

And as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1, this is the "sound doctrine of the gospel of the blessed God", or as martyr Jim Elliot translated, the sound doctrine of the gospel of the happy God.

The Christian Unions basis of fellowship can be found here:
Stand With Us!
or Doctrinal Basis (external link)

Meaning

Just finished Peter Williams book (I wish I could believe in meaning). V.interesting refutation of nihilism and naturalism as inconsistent and incoherent. Whether its adherants would buy his arguments I don't know. The book is a bit long and a bit dense with quotes from people but beyond that is very good. I particularly appreciated the sections on beauty, a concept hard to justify if the universe is meaningless, and yet something it's very difficult to deny when living in this universe.
I Wish I Could Believe

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Christmas, is about Christ

This is a plea to preachers, please preach Christ at Christmas. In the last few years I've sat through Christmas sermons telling me Christmas is all about Mary, or all about Joseph. Whilst I don't belittle them, they are not the stars of the story (I'm sure they'd agree). And more so they are not who Matthew or Luke are writing about either. Neither has in mind that we model ourselves upon Mary or Joseph (actually they're not even out to have us model our lives on Christ, in most cases they are determined to show how he is like no-one else). Both gospel-writers are deeply concerned that we see who Jesus is and why he was born. That is what we desperately need to be taught about.

Let's not presume we know. Let's not think we can assume Christ. Rather let us remind ourselves all the more about him. As I've taught through Matthew 1-9 this term I've been overwhelmed by Matthew's portrait of King Jesus. Having my faith stirred. Being convicted again of my need to repent of my sin. And shown again the joy of the greatest treasure that is found in King Jesus and his kingdom.

We need to hear more of the baby who was born. The baby who grew to become a man. The man identified from heaven to by God's son. The man who died on a Roman cross to bear the punishment for our sin. The man who rose from the dead and invites us into eternal life and joy with him. The man who asks not for our perfection, but for our repentance. Only that we turn from life against him and follow him. Only that we enter into new life in him.

Please note, Christmas is about Christ.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Reaching the 10 and the 90

Here's a couple of ideas for student mission...

Firstly, how do we reach the 10% of people that our CU (average about 1% of the student body) knows...
Evangelistic Bible Study

Secondly, how do we reach the 90% of people that we just don't know...
Lunchbar

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Word of the Year - 2004

Mirriam-Webster
report that:
Blog noun [short for Weblog] (1999) : a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer


Is the Word of 2004, that which has been searched for more often than any other word on their dictionary. The top ten is completed by: incumbent; electoral; insurgent; hurricane; cicada; peloton; partisan; sovereignty; defenestration. Probably, I'm the thousandth person to blog this fact... such is the nature of blogdom (which probably isn't a real word yet).

What we're looking for on google

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A light shining in the darkness of my heart


"Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."
Psalm 51v10-12, The Bible.


Church meeting this morning took us back to the aftermath of King David's adultery with Bathsheba, words David writes after Nathan has confronted him with the depths of the evil he has committed.

Being reminded of these things gives me no reason to stand superior to him. In my own ways I am as evil. As David says, it is against God that he has sinned (v4). Yes, we wrong each other time and again but our true offense is against God. To be confronted again with this highlights the serious peril of the human condition as most of humanity continues to pursue independence from God. Against God have we sinned.

Talking over coffee we considered the ease with which we seem to be able to omit the above from our message. It is deeply unpopular. And yet it is central. I spoke at the Reading University International Cafe (Small World Cafe) last week, interpreting a Nativity play, unpacking the words of the Angel - Good News of Great Joy - A Saviour, Christ the Lord. And yet this news carries no appeal or apparent usefulness to us if we see no need of a saviour.

This news however is only good when we know the favour of God upon us. Only when we are called into repentance from our sin. Only when we call out to God for a new heart, a steadfast spirit, his lasting presence by the Holy Spirit. Only then do we know the true joy of salvation.

Our offenses against God are not overlooked. They cannot be taken lightly. Christmas brings good news of great joy because the baby is born to grow up and die. The one who comes from God proves himself as such. The one who is innocent dies in the place of us the guilty ones, if we would only look to him for rescue in our time of great peril.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Freedom

It's one of the great ambitions people have. A great desire of the human heart. One of those things that points towards a reality that we seem yet to have acquired. What is freedom and how is it acquired and retained? Common wisdom suggests that freedom is the ability to do whatever we want to do, to cast off all restraint. Thus a society in which everything is permissible is the ultimate place of freedom.

As I've wandered through Paul's letter to the churches of Galatia with my Relay worker and some students this term I've been shaken and inspired by the nature of real freedom.

Paul is a staunch defender of true freedom. He will not have it taken away. Paul says we're right to observe the natural captivity of humanity. We are enslaved to sin and to law. Bound and gagged. And yet when the message of "justification by faith in the death of Christ" comes we can be freed. When we are at last counted clean in the sight of God, not by our efforts but by the work of God then we are able to be set free.

And yet set free we find ourselves oddly drawn back to our captivity. Institutionalised by legalism and sinful behaviour. Sin remains in the life of the believer for the sinful nature remains alongside the Spirit. Whilst the war is won battles are lost along the way - their conflict means we do not do what we would want.

Sin is a reality to be acknowledged but not embraced. In the stark reality of the presence of sin in the life of believers we are not to indulge ourselves in more sin, nor are we to shackle ourselves with law. Both of these paths are disastrous. Both paths lead to the loss of Christian Freedom.

As Paul calls the example of his confrontation with Peter in chapter 2, and drives it home in the Galatian churches different but equal failing the message is clear. To deny Christian Freedom is to deny the value of the death of Christ. (2v4,21)

The life of the believer speaks either of the great worth of Christ's death (that which Paul portrays in his preaching which originates from divine revelation), or our life speaks of the emptiness of the death of Christ (2v21). It will do one or the other.

As Paul concludes his letter he exhorts his readers to boast not in outward things but only in the death of Christ. This is where believers should revel and rejoice*. There is no other ground in which to see the joy of freedom.

Freedom should spark joy. Paul notes that as slavery engulfs the Galatians, joy has been lost (4v15). That surely stands as a test for us. Do we know the joy of a dog walking with our master (5v22) or the misery of being a stray or chained dog.**

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholy lean on Jesus name
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand***

I find myself forced to confront in each moment of life the question:
am I making much of the Cross of Christ by enjoying my Christian freedom, or am I making nothing of the Cross of Christ by the misery of the chains of law and sin....? Only when I make much of the Cross of Christ am I truly free.

---------------------
*in his excellent book, The Cross of Christ, John Stott helpfully notes that "boast" is more like revel or rejoice.
** illustration borrowed from David Horrocks
***lyrics by Edward Mote

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Let me entertain you?

"How will our people ever come to feel in their bones the awful magnitude of what is at stake in the eternal destiny of the unevangelized, if our homiletical maxim is to start with a joke and keep the people entertained with anecdotes along the way. How will the people ever come to know and feel the crags and peaks and snowcapped heights of God's glory if our preaching and worship services are more like picnics in the valley than thunder on the ice face of Mt. Everest?"

John Piper, the pastors role in world missions

What would Jesus say to... you?

I've just spoken to a small gathering of students at Reading Uni (about a dozen of us in a little teaching room)on the topic of: What would Jesus say to you?

The question is not immediately easy to answer. Jesus wasn't much into formulaic responses to people but dealt with them in their situation. He did speak generally to crowds too and essentially his message was always the same.

We turned to a 3000 year old song - Psalm 2 - for answers. Here we find the writers diagnosis of the world, shaking it's fist at God and claiming to have no need of him anymore. Whether atheist, agnostic, following other gods... ignorant or well informed this is easily observable. The world claims to have outgrown God.

And how does God answer this? The songwriter takes into the throne room of heaven and tells us that God is laughing at us. He finds our fist-shaking to be pathetic and unimpressive. God is not shaken by our efforts to eliminate him. Instead God appoints his Son ruler of the world, giving it to him as an inheritance. Jesus now stands as judge over all - the world is his.

And so let the King speak - and he does. He advises us to take the path of wisdom. To seek God and live under his rule. Avoid the deserved judgement and come after him - find the greatest joy in him. Know that this great King of the world died under God's punishment so we need not. He died that the name of God need no longer be scorned and mocked. He died that we might live to declare the great name of the one who created us.

On the surface of things it may seem more rewarding to follow our own path, to be independent of God but it is fruitless folly in the long term. Man cannot survive independent of God. The creature will not last long unless the Creator sustains him. And darkness will overshadow what could have been joyful life.

What would Jesus say to us? His judgement is very real, more real than we could imagine. Your eternity is at stake. God's reputation is at stake. What would Jesus say to us? The life that is found in him is better than we could imagine. Your eternity is at stake. God's reputation is at stake.

The road of independence carries much appeal but the better way is to find protection with the true ruler of the world. Strange as it might seem our best interests for life and happiness coincide with God's. He is not a kill-joy.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Evangelism or Deception

"...The more you adjust or obscure biblical doctrine in order to make Christian reality acceptable to unbelievers, the less Christian reality there is when they arrive...If you alter or obscure the biblical portrait of God in order to attract converts, you do not get converts to God, you get converts to an illusion. That is not evangelism; that is deception..."

John Piper on Romans 9

Martyrs Today

In The Times today I read some responses to an article from the previous week, the offending article's main thrust was that since Christians don't do suicide bombing then they don't believe in the after-life. The responses indicate the utter ridiculous nature of the argument. Christians very firmly believe in after-life, as well as life now. The key flaw in the argument of course being that Christians (for all the failures counter examples could produce) don't believe in killing our enemies, we believe in loving them. And if that means laying down our lives for them then so be it.

The article also claims that Christian Martyrdom doesn't happen anymore. This of course is patently false - perhaps not in western Europe, but we don't need to travel to far to find examples in large numbers. Christians live under the banner - "to live is Christ; to die is gain". Normal Christian experience to believe and to suffer for believing (Philippians 1v21,29).

We were in Oxford last weekend and stood at the foot of the Martyrs Memorial, which proclaims just that message. Remembering men who died for their Christian convictions - killed because they wouldn't recant on their beliefs. Not killed for violent acts or attempting to kill others, but simply for refusing to abandon Biblical convictions about the grace that is found in Jesus Christ. This was just a few hundred years ago in England.

These are the kind of Martyrs needed today. People who will, in John Piper's words engage in, "Doing Mission When Dying Is Gain". People who will lay down their lives to bring the Word of God in all it's truth to the peoples of the world, that those peoples may come to find life in Jesus Christ also.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Lord, let your glory fall?

Following my last study project on The Sovereignty of God in Romans 9 I'm going to spend the next five months looking at the question of:

How to preach 2 Chronicles 1-7?

This combines my two major interests of the church/presence-of-God/temple with my interest in developing a Christian understanding and application of the Old Testament. The ideas isn't just to do something theoretical but to engage with the text and a way that results in life changing application to the life of the Christian. I've not looked much at 2 Chronicles before apart from doing a re-write on Matt Redman's Lord, let your glory fall a couple of years ago.

If anyone has any ideas, tips on useful sermons or study guides on 2 Chronicles that'd be much appreciated!


And now let's move into a time of nonsense?

Nick Page's new book on Christian worship songs (And now let's move into a time of nonsense) is both funny and cutting... essentially as a writer he looks at the language we use when we sing - and the way that most of it makes absolutely no sense unless you spend half an hour searching dictionaries and the Bible... and thats before he turns on the mixed metaphors and poor quality of writing. Makes me think again about some of the drivel I've written.

This book is one that musicians and songwriters and worship leaders ought to read... my concern is whether those who need it most will read it. It's high time we started singing sense, and how much richer our worship will be when we do!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Treasure

Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” Matthew 13v44, The Bible.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Delighting in the details

1pm. Sat on the steps at All Souls in London sipping a Mocha in the company of two friends. The conversation is very surreal and the northern one is taking a kicking from an old aquaintance whose briefly back from the US. Earlier I'd arrived punctually at Kings Cross only to find his train getting progressively later as time passed. Such can be our rail system though it served me well today - except at Edgware Road where our train decided to stop for 8 minutes. Like robots under the station announcers control everyone stands and disembarks to board the incoming train on the next platform. Back at Paddington the chocolate machine was sold out of everything. The delay at Kings Cross causes me to spend 52p on a bar I'd tried to get for 50p earlier in the journey.

From All Souls we depart to Brick Lane for lunch and more surreality and a touch of seriousness. I don't quite recall how we got there, except that I don't think we walked the whole way - which is what normally seems to happen. The waiter gives us loyalty cards valid til 31/12/2006... Not knowing how we got there I will probably struggle to benefit from that. Maybe I should auction it on eBay.

My feet begin to ache and I imagine I'm a bit dehydrated. Still we continue! Into the Aquarium where we're acosted by two very strange tourist guides before being fleeced for the entry fee. They say watching fish is relaxing. Probably true.

Emerging from the depths of the embankment the sun has gone down and rush hour begins. We wander past Downing Street whilst some minor important person queues to enter. Our journey continues via the Trocadero and Hamleys to McDonalds near All Souls. We've come almost full circle. A milkshake later my companions both head north and I return westward to Paddington and home. I'm reminded again of the account in the Curious Incident about this station. So easily I miss the details. And yet the details make the difference in life.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

In my imagination

I was always an avid reader as a child, I read books like I breathed air. I think I was nine when I read Lord of the Rings, and ten when I read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Books always facinated me. Bookshelves still form an integral part of the furniture of our house and they're overflowing with all sorts of books.

Somewhere along the line - I think maybe when I was 16-18 and I dropped Arts subjects for Sciences at A-Level (why did I do that??) - I stopped reading fiction. I've returned in fits and starts since then but this year I think I've managed to get back into the habit again and discovered a whole load of new titles that have captured my imagination and taken me into their world.

I've really enjoyed Five People you meet in Heaven, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, To kill a mockingbird, Life of Pi and Eleanor Rigby over the last few months. Today on the bus I finished Ian McEwan's Enduring Love which is really good. The film of it is out soon but I kind of think I'm happy with it as I've imagined it to be. Where to go next?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I never made a sacrifice?

"Anxiety, sickness, suffering or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charisties of this life... all these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.." David Livingstone, Dec 4th, 1857 (quoted in Desiring God: John Piper, p243)

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain what he cannot lose"
Jim Elliot, Martyred, Jan 8th 1956 (quoted in Desiring God: John Piper, p251)


Reading these quotes again today captured much of the challenges of the Reading houseparty to me. Once again I find myself pierced by the famous words of C.S. Lewis that expose what so often holds me back:

"It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant bythe offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Monday, November 22, 2004

God's Global Eden Project?

Had a nice restful day today, much needed after a hectic fortnight!

These final two talks from the Reading CU houseparty were aimed to be a gentle encouragement and envisioning time about the work of missions for the joy of the peoples of the world in the glory of God's rule. As it turned out Michael Ramsden's material the day before really laid the foundations for this which is a real work of God's sovereign grace in the situation.

God's Global Eden Project (1) - Psalm 67
God's Global Eden Project (2) - Matthew 8-9

These were very challenging for me to prepare and I'm still amazed to see the greatness of God's global vision!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Weight of Glory!

Home from Reading CU's houseparty. What a fantastic weekend! Digging into the heart of the gospel, into Christian Hedonism and the greatest treasure of all that is found in Christ. Michael Ramsden spoke fantastically on Saturday and got everyone looking forward to him speaking at the CU's carol service and mission.

I spoke this morning, twice on God's Global Eden Project. This seemed to follow on well from Saturday which was good! Really trying to ground what we'd seen of God's glory and the joy found in him as we looked at Psalm 67 and Matthew 8-9. I edited my notes a bit over the weekend so I'll hold back uploading them til I've added in some of the changes.

I'm well excited from seeing what God has been doing in the CU this weekend and also having to chew over some stuff myself. Just great to have my vision of Christ lifted again and to be reminded of the sheer pleasure that is found in him alone.

Loving the Church

Sam's a star - he's put the audio of my Reading CU-"What about Church" talk online...
What about Church (audio)
What about Church (script)
What about Church (powerpoint)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Memory

Trying to avoid the clich├ęs
I end up creating my own
There’s mystery in my madness
Can I remember my own name?

From one place to the next
Another hungry crowd
Looking for a memory
I can only tell what I’ve heard

They think we met before
But I’m not quite so sure
You saw my deepest secrets
When I put myself on the line

(c) Dave Bish, November 16th 2004

Bittersweet?

You look alive today but
Are you going down the wrong road?
Though the views are electric
But the taste is bittersweet

When you’ve seen the sunrise
How could you ever prefer the night?
The silence calms the storms
But the air is full of fear

Heaven seeps through the curtains
There’s hope in these four walls
One day I’ll walk in freedom
There’s hope for this poor fool

(c) Dave Bish, November 16th 2004

Saturday, November 13, 2004

One Big Story!



BeginningWithMoses.org is a web project begun just over two years ago, through a wierd sequence of events which I might recount another time I ended up as the webmaster of the project. Basically it's a tool and resource to help ordinary people like you and me study the Bible, and to help preachers preach it better. We gather together the best articles and book reviews and commission briefing papers. The briefings are sermon texts with comments edited back in. Comments that explain why the preacher said what he said, and didn't say other things. Comments that explain the difference it makes to put the passage in the context of the whole Bible (what we call "Biblical Theology") as well as flagging up some of the common mis-interpretations of the passage. It's updated every month with new material so why not take a look!

BeginningWithMoses.org - The Biblical Theology Briefings

Friday, November 12, 2004

I love the church!

Seriously, I do. Last night, after several months chewing it over, was my talk on Church at Reading CU. Strangely this is just the third of about 10 talks in two weeks which has the danger of me feeling lost in the middle of endless amazing opportunities to teach the Word of God to people. Anyhows, I think it went well I just hope I did justice to the material.

What about Church (Script PDF)
What about Church (Powerpoint HTM)

The next major project is two talks, again for Reading, on "God's Global Eden Project" from Psalm 67 and Matthew 8-9. This kind of develops the church theme further and explores God's purposes to gather people into his presence for his glory and our gladness.

And in the meantime just the small matter of a talk on Colossians 1 for Surrey CU. Last night, whilst I stood up to preach in Reading, Surrey held their first grill-a-christian event. Reports from Guildford suggest it was a good night with about a third of those present non-Christians. And rumours suggest heaven was celebrating afterwards. It was a joy to see the guys in Reading praying for those in Surrey, and also for Bournemouth whose mission week is next week. I love the way that God has landed a weak fool like me in this ministry. Amazed.

I also love the church! And we've pretty much got started at our new church now. Arborfield & Barkham Churches. Amazing little community of believers gathered around God's Word. As we commit ourselves for the foreseeable future to being part of God's story locally in Arborfield I'm sure that there will be many little stories to tell along the way. Leaving Wycliffe hasn't been easy but we feel a strong sense of calling to get stuck into ministry in the ol'Church of England long-term and to being part of this community.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

New Way to be Human

Spent last night in Egham. A new experience. I was invited to give a talk to a new CU at Royal Holloway University. A great opportunity to speak to a gathering of about a dozen students, committed to mission on campus. Our passage for the evening was John 9 - Blind Man Sees! And he does. I was rejuvinated as I prepared, seeing the way in which Jesus comes both to illuminate the darkness and yet to blind people at the same time.

Evil and Virtue are defined in the narrative of John 9, and they have their focus on what you do with Jesus. Recieve or reject? Love or Hate?

Here are a few of my conclusions...


1) As you confess Christ in corridor, course and clubs, some will come and confess Christ like you do. Some will encounter the greatest of all joys in life. Seeing the only Saviour! Seeing the Light of the world who died to save them. Some will do that.

2) But others will become more and more hardened as you confess Christ before them. The simpler you put it the harder they will get. They will stand opposed to Christ and to you who confess him You will be opposed by outright rejection of Christ and yourselves.

3) A third group, really belong in the second group. They will strike you with abject apathy. People who are so blind that when you portray the Crucified Christ before them will say “that’s nice”. And walk on by.

That is the worst blindness of all. Christ who is so supreme and so wonderful and such a shining light treated not with distain but with deference. Outright hatred of Christ I can understand, honestly – the light of the world exposes sin and people hate that.

Apathy to Christ is the greatest proof of spiritual blindness. Christ cannot simply be ignored. But it will happen. And when it does simply keep confessing him. Don’t be tempted to change the message. Don’t be tempted to modify your messiah. It might be tempting but it would be the equivalent of closing your own eyes to him. Confess the Christ of Scripture. Open the Word with people and show them the story of Jesus. Invite them in. Run evangelistic Bible studies with people. Some will believe. Some will not. Nonetheless, confess Christ.

Jesus came to judge, to divide and bring life and death. Blind eyes will be opened. And eyes who think they see will be blinded. Since he is the judge it is who do decides who will come to life.



Meanwhile on the train I finished reading Charlie Peacock's great book
New Way to be Human. Which is, as it's subtitle suggests, a provocative look at living for Jesus. Charlie writes as only an artist could, inviting us to join the story of God-people-and-place. With my interest in "Biblical Theology" it's great to see people writing from this perspective... calling us into the big picture of God's dealings with humanity, God's desire to have us in community with each other and with him. Much recommended.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Stop Dating the Church!



In the last couple of weeks I've discovered the work of Joshua Harris and CJ Mahaney from Covenant Life Church in Maryland USA. Both write with a solid commitment to scripture and above all to the centrality of the cross of Christ.

CJ quotes David Prior's BST Commentary on 1 Corinthians as a favourite quote...

"We never move on from the cross, only into a more profound understanding of the cross"

(Quoted in CJ Mahaney The Cross Centred Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing and Christ our Mediator: finding passion at the cross)

Both have written short accesible books which open up the old truths so clearly. CJs books are all about being Cross-Centred which the students I work with will tell you is one of my passions... always banging on about the gospel!

Harris' has written on my other passion - the church. I'm preparing to speak to Reading CU on the topic of Church in just over a week which I'm really looking forward to. As I've studied Ephesians 2v11-3v11 again to prepare it's been great to have the writings of Harris, GK Beale (The Temple and The Church's Mission) and Michael Griffiths (Cinderella with Amnesia) alongside me, sharing my passion and putting things clearer than I often can.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Jesus, everything we could never be

Often Matthew 4 is portrayed as a manual on resisting temptation. This really isn't Matthew's intention. Matthew is writing a book about Jesus - not about us. In this passage the big idea is that Jesus is very different from us. It becomes plainly obvious that we cannot substitute ourselves into this story in the place of Jesus.

At his baptism we see Jesus fulfilling all righteousness - as opposed to Israel who don't. Where Israel have sinned and been sent into exile for it. In chapter 3 John has announced the end of that exile and now the King has arrived. King Jesus is unlike Israel. He is righteous. Like them he is described as the Son of God. But this is a son with whom God is well pleased. Jesus is the righteous son of God.

Having been through the water Jesus is led by God into the desert where the devil will tempt him. This time of testing is very reminiscent of Israel's time of testing in the desert. Israel failed the test and was found unfaithful. Jesus is true to his calling as God's son and remains faithful throughout. It is significant that he quotes from the Word of God the commands God gave Israel to which they were to be faithful. Jesus is the faithful son of God.

Jesus is highlighted here as everything we could never be. Matthew is portraying the King before our eyes.

Implications -
1) When we fail we have one who prevailed. Jesus who did not fail. And it is him God looks upon. What great assurance and hope. As the righteous son Jesus will die in our place. However well or badly we fare he is righteous. Let the grace of God in the face of Jesus humble us and sends us repentantly to our King.

2) In the face of testing on our faithfulness we again have the faithful Jesus to look upon. To gaze upon him and be transformed. Not focusing in on the temptations to find remedy verses but filling our vision with Jesus. Let the heavenly anthemn drown all music but it's own! Fix your eyes on King Jesus, who is very unlike us for he is righteous and faithful. Find in him everlasting joy!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Make Much of the Cross of Christ!

I've been really affected by studies in Galatians with my Relay worker, and with one of the students I'm discipling. Amazed and delighted to see the sufficiency of what God has done for me in the death of Jesus... see for yourself... Galatians - What's at Stake? Make Much of the Cross of Christ

Friday, October 08, 2004

Amazing Grace and Antibiotics

Amazed again and again by God's grace that takes me from being separated from God to set apart for him through the death of Jesus in my place. This week has been an amazing one where I've felt very affected by the work I've been doing in setting God's Word before people.

At the same time I've been tackling an ear infection with the help of some disgusting antibiotics. But in all things give glory to God - it's only an infection, God created scientists who could make antibiotics, God created doctors to diagnose me, God created pharmacists to sort out this horrible pills, God is at work in me sustaining and changing me day by day. (see also John Piper - How to Drink Orange Juice to the Glory of God)

Spoke again at Surrey CU last night. Second talk in the series in 2 Timothy. This time on authentic discipleship, what it truly means to follow Jesus: The Authentic Disciple - 2 Timothy 2

This week on the train from Basingstoke to Guildford I've been reading The Glory of Atonement which is a practical but kind of big collection of short essays on the death of Jesus and how important it is. Very challenging especially the chapters applying it to preaching and Christian living and keeping the Cross central to all things. Meanwhile preparing some studies in Galatians where Paul urges the reader to live in line with the gospel and not as if the death of Jesus were meaningless.

Monday, October 04, 2004

“You’re Dave Bish”

Just been listening to some old tapes from when I did the amazing Relay programme back at the turn of the century! When the Matrix was new and Fight Club had already become the best film ever. Anyways, it reminded me of my first minutes at the first Relay conference when I walked down a corridor of the Severn Lodge, Quinta and was greeted with the words “You’re Dave Bish”, by a guy with the name Pod scrawled on his badge. My reply “Erm, Yeah,… and you are?”

The more I write online the more I reveal of myself. The more I preach the more people presume to know who I am but don’t actually know me at all. Last week I was preaching Titus to some Cell Leaders, explaining the way Titus was to minister with sound doctrine and sound lifestyle to model gospel living. I wondered how much people really see my life. How much do I invest everything in the work I’m doing? Am I a mere professional some of the time? Do people see my faults and my gifts? Do they see my failings and my successes, and how I deal with both of those kinds of situations.

I might spend every day doing gospel ministry but it cannot be mere professional ministry. Gospel work is about God and it is about people. Being detached can’t really be an option. It hurts more to give everything, but who ever said it wouldn’t?

Friday, October 01, 2004

Gospel Driven Life

Preached on 2 Timothy 1 at Surrey Uni CU tonight, first in a series of four talks in 2 Timothy. Know what you’ve believed, Know whom you’ve believed…. And so testify about the gospel, suffer for it, guard it and so live a Gospel-Driven Life!

2 Timothy 1 - The Gospel Driven Life

Sunday, September 26, 2004

God's Passion for God

God's passion for God motivates all he does, including saving sinners. Comes as a bit of a shock to see that God's first love is for himself rather than for his people - but it is his love for himself that is the foundation of his love for his people.

Exodus 32 - God's passion for his Name (PDF Script)
Exodus 32 - God's passion for his Name (PDF Article)

Script and accompanying article on Exodus 32. This is part of a study I've been doing over the summer - further articles on Exodus 33, 34 and Romans 9 to follow over the coming weeks.


Saturday, September 18, 2004

Life Matters from here to Eternity!

Just home from Forum, our national Christian Union leaders conference in Shropshire. This was my fifth time at Forum and it has to be the best. A real sense of being in it together, of partnership in our vision of making disciples of Jesus in the student world as over 500 Students, Staff and Relay joined together for a week.

It was great to see about 20 from Reading University Christian Union there and great to see God challenging, inspiring and envisioning them. Julian Hardyman of Eden Baptist taught from Hebrews and Richard Cunningham stretched our thinking and our vision under the simple title of "Life Matters".

Forum was directly preceded by the first Relay conference of 2004/2005. Amazed again by the sufficiency of God's grace for the proud and the weak, the struggling and the sinful. Shaken again by Biblical perspectives on discipleship as soldier, athelete and farmer from 2 Timothy. And a real delight to see lives being changed by God.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Relay!



Heading off to the first Relay conference of the year. Relay is our (UCCF) discipleship training programme in a student context. Personally I think it's one of the best one year discipleship opportunities, but then my wife and I both did it so I guess I might be biased. The wonderful thing is that it's all about grace, teaching it, living it, enjoying it.

Somehow I'll be teaching the Pastoral Care seminar which probably isn't something people would immediately connect me with, but I'm really looking forward to it. Just feeling priviledged to be involved in the programme and seeing God transform the lives of those on it.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Church is beautiful!

Church is awesome. As an institution the church probably has one of the worst reputations in the world, down there with all the things we love to hate. But church is awesome. It is. I've been reading Ephesians 2v15-3v11, preparing for a talk in Novemeber... Amazing to see the who, what, how and why of the church!


2v15-18 Who is the church?
A new humanity created by God at the cross where Jesus died.
2v19-22 What is the church?
The place where God lives!
3v1-9 How is the church?
By the preaching of the gospel to all peoples.
3v10-11 Why is the church?
To declare the gospel to the heavenly realms.


God's big plan from the beginning of time has been to create a global people whom he lives with. Human rebellion delayed this but God's purposes are being achieved! Because of the death of Jesus a new humanity, reconciled to God and to each other is made - a new community, that is what church is - not an institution but a family. A family where absolutely anyone is welcome.

And it is a house where God lives - with Christ as cornerstone, and the Bible as it's foundations, inhabited by God! God's dwelling place. God doesn't live in church buildings but in Christian people all over the world.

The church is made by the preaching of the good news about Jesus Christ to all peoples - anyone is welcome. As people hear the goods news they believe, and that is all that is required to join the church - to turn from life apart from God, and come on in.

And the result - the church a declaration of God's good news, God's purpose to the heavenly realms. This isn't something the church has to try to do - it simply is this.

The church is great. And the invitation to join is open! Come and join the people of God. Too often we look a shaby shadow of what we really are but that is because the church is made up of imperfect people saved by Jesus. Too often we, the church, forget who we are meant to be... like cinderella with amnesia...

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Faith is not a leisure activity

As of today wearing symbols of religious faith is illegal in French schools. As a Christian my faith should be evident by my character and actions rather than any external clothing etc. Such things can hardly be legislated against. But are the French going too far? Is this secular fundamentalism? And how much further a step is it for them to ban speaking about faith? Will speaking the name of Jesus become illegal?

Secularism presumes to tell all "religions" that they are wrong whilst denying that it holds convictions of faith inself. And it pushes religious convictions into the private sphere of life... something that Christians (and Muslims) must refuse to do. My convictions as a Christian are universal convictions affecting my entire world view, affecting my approach to every situation. Such things cannot be confined.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Where reality and the internet connect

Driving back from Cambridge we passed the Amazon warehouse... odd to be reminded that Amazon does exist in the real world too.

In August I was browsing the shelves in FOPP Books in Cardiff looking for Anglo-saxon literature (Beowulf). Four weeks later I find myself pre-ordering Douglas Coupland's Eleanor Rigby online. It's not quite the same!



Douglas Coupland views the world from an incredible angle, seeing some of the misery and meaningless that dominates peoples lives in the late 20th and early 21st Century. His insight is always readable, sometimes frightening and makes me glad that I have an unchanging real hope.

Meanwhile the revolution continued night as the first music downloads chart was broadcast. Westlife at number one. Someone save us! Maybe one day we'll never buy books or music on the high street, maybe not... Flying without wings? Shopping without shops?

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  • About

    To help you see where I'm coming from here's some information about me. This should help to keep me accountable.

    thebluefish.org.uk
    The site started out sometime in 1998 as a spin off from the University Christian Union website I was running at the time. The idea was to put some quality articles online to explain what Christians believe and to pose big questions about like.

    about Dave
    I'm 25. I grew up in a liberal-anglo-catholic church environment and became a Christian when I was 18. God graciously used the evangelical ministry of Spring Harvest and individuals to teach me the gospel, along with the Anglican liturgy which taught me the truth weekly.

    My early experience of church led me to think nothing about sin nor about grace and left me thinking that God was distant... though with some sense of relationship.

    Around the age of 18 I became aware of my sinfulness and had no cure. I reasoned into legalism and dipping into the Bible misread the Old Testament law to think I should attempt to atone for my sin. The law did what it does and I knew myself a worse sinner, but still no cure. Praise to God then that he showed me through the liturgy and songs of church, and through the few bits of the Bible I knew of that Jesus was the cure I needed. It's been a delight since then to discover that the same grace that saved me is the grace I live by:

    Not the labor of my hands
    Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
    Could my zeal no respite know,
    Could my tears forever flow,
    All for sin could not atone;
    Thou must save, and Thou alone.

    Nothing in my hand I bring,
    Simply to the cross I cling;
    Naked, come to Thee for dress;
    Helpless look to Thee for grace;
    Foul, I to the fountain fly;
    Wash me, Savior, or I die.
    (Rock of Ages, Toplady)


    My church background since then is largely Arminian, Evangelical and Charismatic, at churches in Bath and Reading, UK. We're now part of an Anglican church near Reading.

    I'm thankful for all the churches I've been part of for directing my life to the Lord. Today I'm a self confessed Christian Hedonist with a Charismatic/Reformed/Calvinist theology - for those whom those terms are useful.

    I'm working as a Bible Teacher and Evangelist with the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (My Page at UCCF.org.uk)

    influences
    Reading the Bible in 1998 the year after I became a Christian I discovered the word so in Acts 17v16 which connected Paul's distress at idolatry with his move to speak of Jesus in Athens. I think Dick Dowsett may have helped me find this since I'd been at the UCCF Forum conference where he'd preached Acts not long before, but I don't remember.

    From 2000-2002 I was on the UCCF Relay programme which was a formative time for me. Big thanks to Andy, Rachel and the Relay team for making grace so alive as the source of my life.

    The grace-filled Christ-exalting ministry of UCCF has shaped me in my faith. This is largely why I work for the ministry today. I sat in my interview and thought "I'm gutted if I don't get this" because this ministry stands for all that I do. Since early in my Christian life UCCF Staff have cared for me, I remember the kindness of Chris Sinkinson helping me get started on personal Bible reading at a CU Leaders weekend in 1998.

    Today, it's a huge priviledge to serve on the South East UCCF Staff team and be part of the Relay programme too. My students know that I work hard to recruit them to do Relay after graduation... because they need to get deeper into the glorious grace of God.

    Whilst on Relay I read John Piper's Let the Nations be Glad and was blown away reading the first page. I saw there my discovery in Acts 17 put more eloquently and clearly. John Piper is probably the single most influential author I've read. Citations from his work mark much of mine and I happily use his terms. My hope is that I never knowingly plagiarise him but I confess his thoughts have so affected mine that it occasionally feels like I must be copying him.

    The other major influence on me comes through the ministry of Vaughan Roberts and Graeme Goldsworthy who taught me about Biblical Theology. In September 2002 I stumbled into involvement in beginningwithmoses.org, for which I am the webmaster. That project is run with Dave, Jonny and Andy.

    Ultimately this site exists partly because I love to write articles and poetry (you'll find over 200 songs/poems of varying quality on site if you look hard enough), partly to resource the students I work with, partly because I think clearest when I have to communicate my thoughts, and chiefly because I hope God will look big through what I write.

    Tuesday, August 31, 2004

    The World and the Word

    Spent the weekend in Cambridge for Sarah Sanderson's (nee Kent) wedding. Second outing in a week for my new suit (after the wedding of the new Mr & Mrs Hearn) and a chance to watch people prancing around at the evening Ceildh. Granted I was dragged onto the dance floor once in the evening but dancing really isn't my thing. Still my uccf colleague who was also at the wedding seemed to be very taken with it, despite early protests. On Sunday we dropped in on Rock Baptist cos another colleague Al Macinnes was preaching there - soon to start as their Church Evangelist. Al's big plea is for churches to hire Evangelists as their next full-time staff member. If one thing is lacking in the church this could be it.

    Al opened up Psalm 19 for us, encouraging us to read the book of the world and the book of the word to see God's self-disclosure of himself, with primacy given to the Word which reveals the LORD, as opposed to the World which reveals God. Some see too little in the world, others too much... but God is definitely spoken of by the World. A challenging talk to respond to, to call on our Rock and Redeemer.

    Sunday, August 22, 2004

    Debbie wins Silver!


    Debbie Flood wins silver at the Olympics in the women's quadruple sculls. Debbie was a cell leader in the Christian Union when she was at Reading University,... this makes her the first Olympic medalist I've ever met. We knew she was set for rowing greatness then and now she's got it. (Has to be said I've not seen Debbie for at least a couple of years, but congratulations to her!)

    "I'm a Christian and believe this is where God's put me."
    (Debbie Flood, August 15th 2004)

    Reported on BBC Sport Website

    Saturday, August 21, 2004

    More than pie in the sky when you die



    Eternal hope makes all the difference. To End All Wars is one of the most moving films I've seen in a while, and to think we nearly went to see The Village tonight instead (though doubtless M. Night Shyamalan has created another excellent film). As I write cell notes on the Sermon on the Mount to see people attempting to put it's principles into practice as these POWs did adds a greater realism. Further challenges too from Sam Storms today - how much does a vision of eternity transform the way we face sin or the troubles of today. Much in line with To End All Wars, what practical real difference does having hope make? Have we become too earthly minded to be of any heavenly use? Is it not the perspective that todays treasures and troubles are only momentary that aids the Spirit's transformation of us as we gaze at the eternal joy ahead of us?

    Friday, August 20, 2004

    Developing a passion for the beauty of God!



    Developing a passion for the beauty of God is the subject of Sam Storms new book One Thing which I've been reading this week. In the same words as John Piper he tells of the way to glorify God being through out satisfaction in God, our enjoyment and delight in the glory of who our God is.

    Storms quotes from Augustine's record of his conversion...
    “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, O Lord my God, my wealth, my salvation.”

    Capturing the same spirit as C.S. Lewis....
    we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, ignorant children preferring to make mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are too easily pleased...

    It is as we gaze upon the majesty and beauty of Jesus in scripture that we are transformed - 2 Corinthians 3v18

    The battle against sin is fought and won not through legalistic rules and regulations but by seeing the supremacy of the beauty of God as incomparably greater than the supposed joys of sin.

    Sam Storms, One Thing (Christian Focus, 2004)

    Read the first chapter of Sam Storm's earlier book Pleasures Evermore (NavPress) [PDF, 145KB].

    Wednesday, August 18, 2004

    Over to blogger

    So here we go, proper blogging on the thebluefish.org.uk, the manual html blogging is over and its hello Blogger. Nothing much else should change, except that this page will be easier for me to run!

    [I've transferred the old files over onto blogger]

    Saturday, July 31, 2004

    Silence

    Summer! Finally its warm and the skies are blue! Had a good short break in Cardiff last week, catching up with friends and chilling around Cardiff bay. The rest of the time is writing cell notes on Matthew 3-7 (awesome!). More to do in the coming weeks. Meanwhile I'm listening to Tim Hughes' new album When Silence Falls... possibly the first CD I've bought this year... well worth it. Made a few changes to the Cell Page to make things more accessible

    Friday, July 16, 2004

    Changes

    Just back from a couple of weeks working in our head office in Leicester. Helping redevelop our website resources. First pro-web work I've done in four years... sharpened me up a bit... hopefully the benefits of that will show here and at beginningwithmoses.org over the coming months. Commuted from my parents most of the time which was good if a little retro... haven't worked from there for several years... Shock recent news is that at 52 my Dad is starting a PGCE course this year to become a science teacher....

    Friday, June 18, 2004

    Passionate about the word

    Christian Union Staff training this week - on supervising RELAY (recent graduates on our discipleship training in student context) and teaching the bible.

    Tough challenges from Marcus Honeysett to dynamic effective God glorifying discipleship and to not making the Bible bland when we teach it, instead to teach to the glory of God, with passion not to simply pass on information but to build faith and joy rooted in the truth in God's Word!

    Recommend reading John Piper's The Supremacy of God in Preaching

    Wednesday, June 16, 2004

    Felt needs

    "if it was my job to meet felt needs was it would take no holy spirit, no gospel, I know what your felt needs are, I can make you feel really good by stroking them... you're all vain, if I tell you, you look really nice you look this morning you'll like me and come back to this church and probably give, if I tell you you're smart and intelligent we'd grow a big church. It's easy to meet felt needs takes no holy spirit, no god, no gospel. What's the hardest thing in the world is to wake the dead is the hardest thing, to open the eyes of the blind, to give ears to the deaf,..." (John Piper, 14th Dec 2003, to his own congregation).

    Monday, June 14, 2004

    Cross

    Had a good weekend down at Romsey Baptist Church which is a great venue. I did two of the talks (on 1 Cor 1 and Galatians 6) which are above, and Steve Philpott did the others. Girls weekend ran parallel to us at Above Bar Church Southampton.

    Friday, June 11, 2004

    Holiday in Jura



    Jura, Scotland. Wonderful Holiday. Hours from anywhere. Time stands still. And yet I'll look to heaven, even the nicest bits of this fallen world aren't a patch on the place that I'm living for.

    Saturday, May 22, 2004

    Great David's greater son

    Spoke at Reading CU last week on 2 Samuel 7 - Great David's Greater Son. Desperate to see God glorified and enjoyed by all. In him is fulness of joy forever. His love is better than life. In him is pleasure forever more. And the way to get this is through believing in God's great King Jesus who died on a Roman Cross 2000 years ago so that we could come to know and enjoy God as our saviour, Lord and treasure.

    Been working on cell notes on Isaiah 6:1-9:7. The big idea in these studies in Isaiah is that Judgement is imminent for Judah but the prophet calls them to trust in the Lord. Applying this to us we are called to fix our eyes on the faithful one, if we hear his word then we will live. So, let us FIX OUR EYES ON THE FAITHFUL ONE, JESUS CHRIST. The key question is what will you do with Christ? Will you stumble over Christ and so remain in your sins and face judgement? Will you find in him sanctuary and salvation because he died for your sins?

    Monday, May 17, 2004

    Birthday at QMC

    Reached a quarter of a century today and visited Queen Mary College Basingstoke Christian Union for the first time.

    Thursday, April 22, 2004

    I exist to make Jesus famous

    Vaughan Roberts tells the story of a 14 year old girl asked to write a vision statement for her life, she wrote - "I exist to make Jesus famous". Her heart is the same as that of John Piper who says "Mission exists because worship doesn't".

    Christians are utterly committed to telling the world about Jesus because the world treads the glory of Jesus name under their feet and this is not acceptable. The Name of Jesus is greater than any other. His beauty and love are beyond all others. It is better to spend just one day knowing Him than a thousand years elsewhere. The chief end of man is to glorify God and that means enjoying him above else. Turning down potential joy in other things and investing everything in Jesus Christ. Boasting in nothing but the Cross of Jesus Christ. Considering all else loss compared to knowing Jesus. Living all out to make Jesus famous.

    He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose - Jim Elliot

    Tuesday, April 20, 2004

    Fame academy

    Finished a cell resource today 'fame academy' to equip cell groups for mission. And I wrote this stuff...




    No Christian is perfect. No Christian has all their theology perfectly correct. We all carry error in different areas. None of us is particularly keen on Christians having error in their thinking and practice. Truth is important. Truth is constantly under fire. The natural tendency of man is towards error.

    So what do we do about it? Often the first step has been to call down fire on those in error. Let me suggest that this is not the best first step. It seems to me that we must do several things before we can possibly get to that point. First, watch our own life and doctrine. Just as Jesus said, get the plank out of your own eye. Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.... if we claim to be without sin we decieve ourselves... I have responsibility for myself before I have responsibility for my brother.

    Second, I do have responsibility for my brother. I do not want people to fall into sin and error always leads to sin. I want to save others from that. My first concern with any person is to see them repent and come to know the truth. That is as true for Christians as it is for non-Christian. Both can have errors, albeit to different degrees and in different ways. Both need to repent of error and believe what is true, and then live it out.

    DEALING WITH ERRORSo,

    1. Don't expect people to get it all right first time. We all learn gradually. Some things in faith are more important than others. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 singles out some things as being of first importance, matters regarding the death and resurrection of Christ and the witness of scripture. Naturally this means other things are of secondary importance. We need room to grow and learn and get things wrong without being written off. We must have permission to fail. This means not assuming that "no-one could believe that", or "only fools believe that". That does not give people room to change their minds and is very confrontational.

    2. 2 Timothy 2 speaks of those in error. It speaks of people whose error will spread like gangrene and destroy the faith of others. And yet these people are to be taught the truth in gentleness and kindness. Why? So that God might grant them repentance. We teach kindly. God brings knowledge of the truth leading to repentance.

    3. James 5:19-20 makes the same point. Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover a multitude of sins. The point is clear - we want people to turn from error to truth. Some people respond well to confrontation and will turn from their error. However in most cases direct confrontation or worse still being denounced behind your back simply hardens us in our ways. If you want to correct someone you probably need to have a relationship with them and talk face to face over time. Correction is always in the context of the fellowship of believers.

    4. One cannot avoid 2 Timothy 3 and Galatians 1. There are those who want to carry the banner of Christ but who preach an altogether different gospel and who love themselves and money. People who are unholy, ungrateful, treacherous, abusive and the like. Undoubtedly there probably are people like this around. They are dangerous people and Paul says that without exception people like this who preach a different gospel deserve condemning. Even if Paul did this he should be condemned. Note here that this is about the content of the gospel. Poor methodology in handling the Bible may lead to error in teaching but this is not the same as error in motive. Those who teach must stand accountable to God for what they teach and it's affects but poor teaching often stems from lack of training rather than false motives.

    In this day and age it seems that we start with this approach to error very often. If this is to be our course of action then we must be very clear with what we're doing. This approach says "we don't want you to repent we want you to go to hell". It is a very strange believer who will readily say this. Those deserving this are those in whom Paul says in 2 Timothy 3 there is no good and no godliness. Some appearance but no reality.

    We may feel that other apparent believers are in this group but how well do we really know them? We must not think that different methodology and even secondary emphases are this kind of error. They may well be mistaken. They may have a different personality or way of expressing their faith, more reverance, more joy, more cautious, more excitement. There may be rash youthfulness. There may be reactionary against other believers. There may be fear of change. There may be unrecognised damage to other believers. There may be well be an unknowingly undermining of the work of others. And I stress, often unknowingly. Throwing mud and condemnation at such people will not bring repentance. It will only bring further reaction. It will also not commend the gospel to others. Very often we sing the same songs and read the same books as these people (which doesn't mean we believe the same thing but does suggest we're not that far apart). Again let me say that relationships where truth can be taught lead to the possibility repentance. And Truth must be taught - let us hear, affirm and act upon what is true.

    UNITED IN THE THINGS OF FIRST IMPORTANCE FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOSPELThe body of Christ in our nation is small. We need each other. We have things to learn from each other. Yes there is error. There is error amongst the charismatics. There is error against those who wouldn't want the label charismatic. There is error amongst the conservatives. There is error amongst those who don't like the label conservative.

    It seems that the only solution is to cling hard to those things that are of first importance. We each carry convictions which we consider to be important. And they often are. But there are matters that are important above all of them. As Paul reminds his readers in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared. This is the heart of the gospel - and it is in the gospel and only in the gospel that we can find our common ground, our unity. Together we must stand, with the scriptures in hand and the message of the completed achievement of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, taking the punishement for our sin and bringing us to eternal life by faith in his blood. Holding fast to these things inevitably means holding a little looser to other matters of belief or methodology. There is room for difference on things that are not of first importance.

    To build relationships and speak the truth in love. And that means truth and it means love. To teach the truth with kindness. And that means truth and it means kindness. To seek always to teach ourselves and to be repenting. To pray desperately that others repent and to teach kindly so that they might be granted repentance. And to be generous and gracious, leaving room for others to grow.

    If we must compare, let us compare the worst of self with the best of the other. Let us attend each others conferences and look for the best in them. Let us build bridges between churches to that we may learn from each other. If you are charismatic and looking for a year of training then do the Cornhill Training Course. If you are conservative and looking for a mission opportunity then be part of Soul in the City. Offer to help. Offer to serve. Offer to learn. Let us show mercy as we ourselves were shown mercy by God. Let us show mercy as Christ did for us when he died for us.

    There is a dying world that treads the glory of God under its feet every day. This world needs the gospel. This world is in serious error about God. This world knows nothing of the glory and goodness and grace of our God (indeed perhaps all it knows is of the division of the supposed people of God). This world will not worship him. It needs to repent. And so we must go together and speak of sin and judgement, but also speak of grace and forgiveness as together we give them the only thing we have. Christ crucified.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2004

    Eternal Sunshine

    Saw the new Charlie Kaufman film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at an Empire preview last night. Fantastic film. Just go and see it...

    Saturday, April 10, 2004

    Spring Harvest 2004

    Just back home from two weeks at Spring Harvest's two student weeks in Skegness (Student Evolution and Word Alive). Glad to be home but how refreshing.

    Student Evolution saw about 600 students gather for a week of teaching and worship. I found Nicky Gumbel's expoistion of Ephesians and a series on church by Ness Wilson and Rev. Chris Russell particularly helpful. Evening celebrations were also good. Mike Pilavachi opened speaking on how the Spirit has been given for mission. Esther Stansfield reminded us that all of life matters. Pete Greig prophesied on the need to see things as God sees them. Simon Ponsonby of St.Aldates Oxford was excellent in speaking on the need to expect more - that we don't have all of the kingdom now but we do have some of it! Challenging us that we should want more of God to bless the world not just for ourselves. This was a theme in the week - that we are blessed by God to be a blessing. Simon challenged us to get into Romans 5-8 and understand what we have in Christ. Ness Wilson spoke on Holiness from 2 Corinthians 5-6 - urging us to deal with sin at the cross, taking hold of the calling we have from God. Roger Ellis gave the parting talk from 1 Thessalonians 1:4-9. As the students left site I reflected on the week, inspired afresh for evangelism amongst students, reminded that I've been chosen by God for a purpose and am empowered by the Holy Spirit for that work of evangelism. I was also challenged to get deeper into the Bible.

    Within half an hour people were arriving for the second student week, Word Alive. This time 2000 students gathered for a programme that carried roughly the same shape. The venues were naturally somewhat fuller and the range of seminars was broader. Bruce Milne unpacked Ephesians for us. The highlight of the daytime programme was a series by Vaughan Roberts on Understanding and Teaching the Bible using Ezekiel as an example text. The evening celebrations began with Vaughan Roberts speaking clearly on the Spirit being given to empower us for mission in this age of proclaiming the gospel, starting us off in a series in Acts. At the subsequent celebrations Nigel Beynon, Richard Cunningham, Ian Marlow, John Risbridger and finally Roger Carswell challenged and inspired us from Acts to get stuck into evangelism. We considered the opposition we'll face but the exclusive claim of Christ as the only name by which anyone can be saved. Richard reminded us that opportunties to talk about Jesus are all around us if we will take. Ian showed us that the gospel is for all people, reminding us that we must speak of the cross and of judgement and that we must unite around the gospel. John showed us how Paul spoke of Jesus in Athens and shared his dream for studentdom as he leaves UCCF for local church work in Southampon....
    I have a dream of a movement of students who have taken hold of Jesus as their Lord. Who take seriouesly the Lordship of Christ in all of life, as God's truth for all humanity. Challenging false assumptions. Putting the case for Christ. Supporting each other. We can see it happen.

    On the final morning Roger Carswell spoke faithfully from Acts 28 about the need to continue in evangelism. To continue expounding the Bible, testifying of God's work in our lives and trying to convince and persuade people to accept Jesus as Lord. To be creative and above all to be Biblical. To be book-people, convincing the uncoverted about Jesus from Moses and the Prophets. Sticking with the same old gospel message. And in the ways that only Roger Carswell can he told some recent stories of opportunities he has had to speak of Jesus.