Friday, March 31, 2006

Apathy and Discernment

Challies on the future of the church:
"In our day churches are filled with people who simply do not care about the purity of the church. There are countless numbers of professed Christians who care nothing for any type of theological precision or defining characteristics of the faith.

There is a shocking apathy among those who profess Christ. Coupled with this apathy is a terrible lack of discernment and a lack of appreciation for those who value and display discernment.
Too often evangelicals seem not to know how to discern truth from error, and just as often do not seem to care. Apathy and a lack of discernment together make a potent force that forms a serious threat to the church--perhaps the most serious threat we face today.
So many other threats--the pernicious new doctrines that arise, the loss of confidence in the Bible, the rise of teachers and leaders who deny fundamental doctrines--these would be swept away if evangelicals simply stopped being so apathetic and displayed some godly, biblical discernment."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Nigel Lee: Gaining Christ

Ant writes that Nigel Lee has finished the race:
"Nigel Lee died in the early hours of this morning after his long battle with cancer. He is now with the Lord he loved and served so passionately. Brilliant for him, but sad for those who remain. Remember his family in your prayers. And be inspired by his example, to use all you have and are, to serve Christ, and to serve him until you too make it home."
I had the priviledge of working with Nigel on the Reading University mission in 2001. It was a really hard week of mission. Nonetheless my memory of the week is spending time hearing him faithfully preach Christ daily, even to small numbers, always with great joy. That week taught me many lessons about evangelism and about ministry for which I'm most grateful.

The last time I saw Nigel was when he spoke at Forum 2003 on 1 John as I started work on staff with UCCF. An exhilarating week in God's word. His service most impacted me though through the way he served those served in UCCF before me, those who passed the baton to us the current generation of staff, relay and students... Andy Shudall writes about Nigel Lee (and here). As does Nigel Pollock.

In the last few months both Nigel Lee and Bob Horn have been taken home, both by cancer. They led the ministry of UCCF in the 1990's for which many of us are most thankful. Now they have the greatest joy of finding that death is gain, because death is gaining Christ!

UPDATE: - Thanksgiving

Marcus Honeysett remembers Nigel Lee (Evangelicals Now)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Spirit-filled Church: Filled with the Spirit (Marriage)

Paul's teaching being filled with the Spirit continues with an explanation of submission in reverance to Christ. The first concerns marriage, the second parents and children and then finally masters and slaves....

Ephesians 5v18-33

There are words for husbands and wives, but we must note that in v32 Paul says he is first teaching about Christ and the Church. The way that Christian marriage works will teach us much about the way that Christ loves his church... his people, predestined in love to be in Him... chosen before time to be made holy by his sacrifice...

Christ is the head of the church and saves it - v22-24
The headship fo husbands over wives teaches us about Christ and the church, and from this wives should submit to their husbands. And this echoes their submission to the Lord. Submission is a dirty word in the 21st Century western society. But we must see Christ as the model of submission here. From this an order is established - Christ: Church.... Husband: Wife. This submission benefits the one in submission rather than being oppression. If we view wives submission as oppressive then we would have to veiw submission to Christ as oppressive. Only someone who does not know Christ would conclude this.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her - v25-28
The model turns around and husbands are instructed to love their wives - a command repeated in v25, 28 and v33. Its not natural - we have to be told.

What does this love look like? Christ's love:
  • Gives himself up for her
  • Sanctifies her cleansing with the word
  • To present her as holy
In the same way - v28 - husbands should love their wives. Such love is sacrificial and beneficial to the wife, just as Christ's love benefits the church. Christ's love saves making the church spotless, but the husbands life is also for the wives splendour. This is a far cry from any thoughts of oppression.

Further we should note that Christ's sacrificial love was for the unlovely church. The church who was enslaved to sin, under wrath and stained by sin's ugliness. Likewise a husband's love is not simply to love when the wife is loveable, but to love always. And to love sacrificially.

Christ nourishes and cherishes the church as his own - v29-32
Christians are part of Christ's body. So Christ nourishes and cherishes us. In the same way husbands leave their parents and become one with their wife. And so their love for their wife should be to cherish and nourish. To love and care for their wife. Paul is not interested in feminism or chauvisim, but creationism - a creation mandate of the order of things.

Paul confesses that its a profound mystery and teaches amazing things about Christ's love for the church and Christ's union with the church... Just as the Trinity is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit loving one another, now the same love is found with Christ and his church. Christ the image of God, and male and female in the image of God... united Christ. Love divine, all loves excelling. Christ and the church - a most profoundly wonderful mystery - announced in Eden, before the fall through the creation of male and female and their marriage!

Christ and the church are a model for marriage - v33
Much as Paul is teaching about the church he is also teaching about marriage. And here he wants the husband to show Christlike love for his wife. The husband is to be so Spirit filled that he pursues what pleases the Lord, understanding the Lord's will... and in that to lead his wife, in speech and sacrificial service.

And the wife should likewise respect her husband. Or rather reverence.... just as the church has for Christ. Much grace is required - much filling with the Spirit so that we would live worthy of our calling.

This is a challenge to us and our ideas of how marriage should be. But we must not take offense at this, any more than we should take offense at Christ's love for his church.

Rather they are exhilarating truths that should impact the way we live together as Christ's church, in Christ. True Christian marriage must be Spirit-filled. Left to our own devices and reverting to our sinful nature husbands will not love like Christ, nor wives submit like the church.
Father, fill me with your Spirit that I would love my wife as Christ loves the church... that I would teach her the word, that I would cherish and nourish her. And give her the grace to submit even as I fail to love like Christ. Let us live together worthy of our calling under Christ's headship. And help us know Christ's love in all its fulness. Amen.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Putting Amazing back into Grace

"The Spirit's calling grace is the "straw that broke the camel's back." And that camel's name is Pride"
Michael Horton's Putting Amazing back into Grace is one of the best books I've read. He cuts to the heart of the reformed faith and calls us to savour the great doctrines of grace. Horton is aware of our struggles with them and presents the heart of the gospel with warmth, clarity and strong argument.Too often our Christianity is man-centred, preoccupied with our efforts, our commitment, our faith rather than with faith's object, Christ! Too often, despite our efforts to avoid it, it ends up being all about me. Only the doctrines of grace and the Holy Spirit's work will change that.

Get it from Amazon

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Spirit-filled Church: Filled with the Spirit

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?

The reality is that this is a hot question in the church today. Probably it shouldn't be but it is. Some consider it to concern fresh-experiences of the Holy Spirit. Others have talked about it as us having the Holy Spirit and then leaking, so requiring re-filling. Is being Spirit-filled something that happens as we pray for one another? Is it the way we practice our faith?

What we need to consider first is what this passage says!
  • Addressing one another in songs
  • Making melody to the Lord with all your heart
  • Giving thanks to God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
  • Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ
This doesn't tell us how to be filled but rather what it looks like to be filled with the Spirit. Its all about how we relate to one another - in speech and submission. And it concerns the way we speak to one another. Its about how we relate to God - in thanksgiving and song.

According to this being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a subjective experience for us to have. The Spirit-filled church is one living in the unity of the Spirit, united to Christ and one another.

What God says in Ephesians 5 is that we should seek to find what pleases the Lord and what his will is. It is this that is described as being Spirit-filled. The alternative to which is grieving the Spirit. This might seem to be simply acting differently in our relationships. But the exhortation is to be filled with the Spirit. Or even, to be being-filled.

This is both something to do and to pursue. It is something to seek from God and to live out. This seems very similar to the exhortations of Galatians 5 and Romans 8 to keep in step with the Spirit and set our minds on the Spirit.

The filling of the Spirit is a sovereign work, we observe believers elsewhere being filled. It must be right to pray for ourselves and others to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It is something we are to seek, commanded even! When we see people filled with the Spirit in the Bible various things follow. Sometimes they speak the gospel in foreign languages (Acts 2). Other times the word of God is spoken boldly (Acts 4). Other times joy (Acts 13). On other occasions, true speech and submission in relationships in the church (here in Ephesians).

Being filled with the Spirit we must surely be mindful not to grieve the Spirit through divisions and dissentions, but rather to maintain the unity of the Spirit in speech, song and submission. And to do so would be to live worthy of the calling we have recieved.
The final part of the description of the Spirit-filled church is about submission. Paul gives an exhortation to submit to one another - out of reverence to Christ. This is not a blanket submission (caricatured by Christians at a doorway - after you, no after you...). Christ-fearing submission works out in the creation order of particular relationships - in marriage, with parents and children, and the master-slave relationship. This requires further expoloration in another post.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Let God speak!

Following on from When God Speaks, pleading for people to get the Bible open... Here's something from Peter Adam, part of a longer article coming to in April.

Expository Preaching is the preaching of the message of a book of the Bible, usually verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, by explanation and application of it to the congregation. It was the preaching method of the Reformers, and that of Early Church preachers like Augustine and John Chrysostom.

Here are 15 Incontrovertible Arguments in favour of Expository Preaching:-

(1) Preaching through the books of the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, respects and reflects God’s authorship. God did not gives us a book of quotable quotes, nor a dictionary of useful texts, nor an anthology of inspiring ideas. When God caused the Scriptures to be written the medium that he used was that of books of the Bible. If that was good enough for the author it should be good enough for the preacher.

(2) Expository Preaching reflects God’s respect for human authors. One of the most beautiful features of the Bible is the way in which God causes his truth to be written and yet does not over-ride the individual writer, but respects their place in history, their vocabulary, their spoken and literary style. If God is so careful to respect the human authors of the Scriptures we should endeavour to do the same by reading, studying, preaching and teaching their books in the order in the way in they wrote them.

(3) Expository Preaching respects the historical context of each part of the Bible. The Bible is not a set of timeless truths removed from historical context, but each book of the Bible is firmly rooted in history, and the perspective of its human author. We do most justice to this historical context when we preach texts in their context, that is in the writing in which they occur.

(4) Expository Preaching respects the context of salvation history. The unfolding drama of salvation is brought to us within salvation history; and each text, verse, chapter and book has its place within that salvation history. The best way to preach these books is to link them to their place in salvation history, not to extract from them trans-historical, theological, pastoral or devotional themes.

(5) Expository Preaching should help us to unfold the deep Biblical Theology of the Bible, the content and message of God’s unfolding revelation, and seeing every part of the Bible in the light of the gospel of Christ, and the message of the whole Bible.

(6) Expository Preaching preserves Biblical shape and balance. It gives the same focus and concentration that God gives in the Bible. Other people’s topical preaching inevitably misses this balance. It is more difficult to see the same imbalance in our own topical preaching!

(7) Expository Preaching ensures that we preach on difficult topics, verses and books. I would not choose to preach from the text ‘I hate divorce’ unless forced to do so by a sermon series on Malachi. I would not choose to preach on Romans 9-11, but preaching my way right through Romans forces me to do so. Lectionaries are no help, because modern lectionaries seem to go out of their way to avoid difficult topics, even cutting poems and stories in half to avoid embarrassment. Expository Preaching will at least make us preach on the difficult parts of the Bible.

(8) Expository Preaching saves time in preparation and presentation. Preachers need to do a lot of work in preparing their sermons and finding the historical context, and need to convey the context of verses in which they preach in the sermon as well. If we move from text to text as we move from sermon to sermon, or if we move from text to text within sermons, we will be less and less inclined to give the context of those texts and more and more inclined to take them out of context. [Of course ‘the text’ is actually the whole book: only preachers think of ’the text’ as a short extract!]

(9) Expository Preaching provides a good model of exegesis. We ought to preach and teach the Bible in a way in which we hope people will read it. People should pick up good models of using the Scripture from us. We do not want to encourage people to flip through the Bible, picking out verses that look encouraging or inviting. If we want people to read the Bible as it is written, that’s the way we should preach it.

(10) In Expository Preaching each sermon forms part of a divine sequence. The sequence is that of the writer of the book of the Bible. Following this sequence means that our teaching and their learning is cumulative as each sermon prepares the way for the next, and each sermon summarises the message of the last and shows its sequence in biblical thought.

(11) Expository Preaching makes sense! Even the most convinced post-modernists among us still read books from beginning to end. This is because it’s a remarkably sensible way of reading a book. Why would we adopt a different model in our reading and teaching of the Scriptures?

(12) Expository Preaching teaches people the Bible. Its assumption is that the Bible is relevant and effective as it comes from the mouth of God. It assumes that the information in the Bible is important for us; that these things were ‘written for our learning’.

(13) Expository Preaching provides an accessible, useable and safe model of Bible teaching and preaching. If one of our tasks is to encourage lay people in ministry, then the best thing to do is to provide them with a model of teaching which they can use at any level. It is not good to encourage people to flip through the Bible, taking their favourite verses out of context. It is a good work to show the people a model of Bible teaching that they can use to their benefit and the benefit of those who learn from them.

(14) Expository Preaching helps people to avoid repeating their ten favourite themes. Every preacher has ten sermons. The difficulty comes for the preacher and the congregation when they are repeated for the tenth time. Of course, no method can stop the determined preacher from mounting a hobby horse and riding it to death!

(15) Expository Preaching follows God’s syllabus for us. One helpful way of viewing the Bible is to see it as God’s syllabus. In it God lays out the way of salvation and what human beings need to learn in order to turn to Jesus Christ in faith and obedience. The Bible is the syllabus that God has provided – why would we replace it with another of our own invention?

One of the Homilies on the reading and knowledge of Scripture includes the following memorable words “let us reverently hear and read Holy Scriptures which is the food of the soul. Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testament and not run to the stinking puddles of men’s traditions, devised by man’s imagination.”

Adam's article then continues with five completely effective ways to avoid boredom in expository preaching. Catch it at in April!

UPDATE: Read the full article: Arguing for Expository Preaching (Peter Adam) at

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Spirit-filled Church: Grieving the Spirit

In Ephesians 4v30 we're warned against grieving the Holy Spirit. This is towards the end of a chapter that began with instruction to maintain the unity of the Spirit (v3). In God's amaing plan to bring everything under Christ's rule he creates a united people. That unity in Christ happens through by the Holy Spirit. The third person of the trinity who unites us.

The body is to grow by exercising Christ's gifts so that it doesn't get blown around by the waves and winds of false doctrine. John Piper illustrates this as a challenge not to be jellyfish and leaves, but rather to be made into dolphins and trees... transformed together by Christ... transformed as we live together and speak the truth to one another.

The argument continues with more and more focus on the way God's people speak to one another. The essence of relationship is speech. We could speak lies to one another, arguing and fighting. Or we can speak truth and peace. Anger that leads to sin gives the devil a foothold in the church, which is a far cry from the unity of the Spirit.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. -- Ephesians 4v29-32

We're called in our relationships not to oppose the Spirit, not to grieve him... What then? We should throw out bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, slander and malice. These are the chief ways that the Spirit is grieved: broken relationship in the church.

The unity of the Spirit is not a vague concept, rather it is God's supernatural work of creating the unity of the church. People who would once have been alienated from one another now in unity. Not that relationship is not possible outside the church, but the unity God is creating is to be deeper and longer lasting....

The Spirit-filled church must commit to relationships and not tearing one another down. Speaking the truth of the gospel in our relationships... supporting one another. Likewise there can be no churchless Christianity... becoming a Christian brings us into relationship with God and Christians. And in those relationships we cannot say I love you but that doesn't mean I have to like you. True relationships require commitment, time and communication.

Grieving the Spirit happens in broken relationships. We're in disobedience to God and are paining the Holy Spirit. We must repent. And where possible seek reconciliation. The Spirit has created unity, let us live in that.... Pursing kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness... just as we are forgiven in Christ.
"Let us cry aloud to the Holy Spirit, who is certainly grieved with his church, and let us purge our churches of everything that is contrary to his Word and to sound doctrine, and then the Spirit will return, and his power shall be manifest" -- CH Spurgeon

Friday, March 24, 2006

Confidence in Ministry

This is a highly abridged and re-worked version of a talk I did at Reading CU last week. This was for a pastors prayer group:
Confidence. What does it look like to be confident? Confident in life? Confident in ministry? We're told to be self-confident by our culture. Confident in our achievements, education, influence, image... we're not immune. We see the size of our congregation... the response received... the hours we work... Most pastors work 60 hours a week... yet those we serve expect more like 45 hours a week... fairly normal working hours! (Ref: Peter Brain - Going the Distance) Are we trying to justify our existence... to them? To God? To ourselves?

Self-confidence is folly and yet very appealing because it makes much of us. It's like Cats and Dogs. "A dog says, "You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me, you must be God." A cat says, "You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me, I must be God."" (Cat & Dog Theology)

So easy to be Cats. How do we stand against self-confidence? Calvin said that “the heart is a factory for idols” (HT: David Powlison). Our sinful hearts bent on self-justification.... inventing reasons for self-confidence.

Paul swiftly disposes of the idols of self-confidence. How? Not with more self-confidence but by comparison with Christ. Self-confidence vs. “seeing and savouring Christ” (John Piper). No contest!

We know we need righteousness – it's why default to justifying ourselves. But only Christ can give us legal and relational right standing with himself. The free gift of right standing with God. From God, by faith. Christ brings us to Christ!

Knowing him in sufferings – displaying his great worth as we let everything go for his sake! Knowing him in resurrection...displaying his great worth as we see and savour him forever!

Luther was right, justification by faith is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls!

Christ brings us to himself. So we should glory not in self, but in Christ (3v3). --- Hearts stirred and minds preoccupied with him. Not self-confident, but Christ-confident... and preaching Christ so that others would become confident in and delight in honouring him.

John MacArthur said that if we take care of the depth of our ministry – sinking deep roots into confidence in Christ – then God will take care of the breadth. (HT: Jonathan Moorhead)

We're not to be measured by the measure of our faith... or the size of our ministry...or the hours we work... but by the magnificence of our Christ! Obsessed with seeing and savouring him!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Spirit-filled Church: Five Foundations

What does God tell us about the Holy Spirit and the Church, in Ephesians?

God's amazing plan is to establish Christ over all (1v10, 1v22). Everything God is doing is drawing attention to Christ. All the work of the Spirit points us that way. The Spirit implements this work of Christ-exaltation. The Spirit effects this work of Christ-exaltation. He is self-effacing in his work, not drawing attention to himself but pointing us always to Christ - the Spirit-filled Church must be a Christ-centred church... without the Spirit we wont look to Christ... with the Spirit we will be drawn to him.

Firstly, we're sealed with the Spirit. 1v13
The Holy Spirit is a marker of God's grace to us. The Spirit is God's guarentee of God's work in our lives. This is something objective in our lives. God says - "mine". God says "got you". When? When we heard and believed the good news of God's amazing plan. We heard and believed the word of truth - the good news of salvation. The Holy Spirit is God, marking us as God's loved elect people.
So? As believers of the word of truth, about Jesus, we should be assured of life and every blessing in God!

Secondly, we're given access to the Father 2v18
Once we were divided. Divided from one another. Divided from God. Separate. Hostile. Opposed. By the death of Jesus God's elect are united to one another and to God. And how do we have access to God? By the one Holy Spirit. Not strangers, but belonging in God's presence!
So? Know that we have acess to God! And come, pray!

Thirdly, the Spirit revealed the gospel to us! 3v5
God's amazing plan is described as a mystery. Biblical mystery is not mystic and unknowable. Biblical mystery refers to what God has kept concealed, and then revealed. By the Holy Spirit the good news of God's amazing plan is revealed.
So? Be glad that the gospel is revealed, and preach the unsearchable riches of Christ! Be spiritual - be gospel!

Fourthly, we're God's dwelling place 2v22, 3v16
4A - In The Church
God tells us that as church we are the place where God lives. We're like the temple. We're the home of God on earth. A holy temple in the Lord... where God presences himself by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, at home with his people.
So? Know that God is with us! Love Christ's church. Love being Christ's church. Seek God's presence in the community of God's people.

4B - In Our Hearts
Not only does God live with us, but also in us. Working in us, strengthening us wih power... revealing the love of Christ to us. We know the love of God - from the Word of God and by the Spirit in us. We don't muster up knowledge of God's love. Th e Holy Spirit is God, at home in his people.
So? Pray to be given power to know the love of Christ! And pray it for others. Let the Holy Spirit point you to Christ.

Fifthly, we're united in the Holy Spirit 4v4
We're told earlier in Ephesians that Jesus Christ, by his death, unites God's elect with one another and with God. A double-unity. In union with Christ, and in union with one another. Bonded together. God describes this bond of peace (where once there was hostility) and the Unity of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God marking us, God with us and God in us. The Holy Spirit is God, the glue between us.
So? Live humbly together, with gentleness and patience... worthy of this calling to be God's people. Unity works out in our relationships, so relate! Be Christ-like to one another rather than opposing the Spirit's gospel-uniting work.

  • Grieving the Spirit
  • Filled with the Spirit
  • Fight and pray with the Spirit

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

When God speaks

One of the struggles of ministry is that people very easily try to put God's word aside. We remember what we know and forget where we learnt it. We become familiar with the truth and think we know how things work. And so God's word gets put back on the shelf. And I begin to rule.

It matters because God's word is the way God rules in my life. Without the word Jesus is not being Lord in any practical sense. Of course, just because I have the Bible open every day for my work doesn't mean I will pay attention to it. I'm quite capable of reading it and then forgetting it. My sinful nature looks to tempt me. And I'm easily convinced by it.

Paul teaches Timothy about the importance of guarding God's word, and thus God's gospel. It must be remembered, reflected on and taught constantly.
2 Timothy 2v14-19 God is sovereign and requires changed lives, so you rememember to teach the gospel of grace
People catch themselves in pointless disputes and gossip. Such things drown God's word in sin and irrelevance. They corrupt God's people and they corrupt the Bible teacher sinking their work in shame.
Instead the call is to unashamed work - work done in the presence of God, knowing that lives must be changed by the gospel. God requires it of his people. But change doesn't come from coolness or clever ideas, from relevance or remarks... change comes from God's word. It must be taught faithfully. God is sovereign, let him rule in our lives by his word.

2 Timothy 2v20-26 God is sovereign and acts to change lives, so you remember the power of the gospel of grace
Further the work of changing people is God's work. He changes lives. We must be ready for service, ready to be used by him. We must flee from sin and temptation. We must be fit for his work. And then we labour with patience and kindness and gentleness... trusting that God will work to change people. Only God can grant sinners repentance. Let it start with me, and let me teach trusting in his power to change lives.
I'm reminded afresh that I must be immersed in God's word, and I must look to God to change my life, and those I minister to. I've been reading James, a much neglected book, faith extends from thinking into life, from private into public life.... though in my line of work public faith so often seems easier than private faith. It remains: What the Bible says, God says..., I must listen, Lord help me listen.
"you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" 1 Peter 1v23
God's word brought me to life... it will sustain me. It will stand forever!
"This is my daily bread,
your very words spoken to me"

-- Marie Barnett

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Spirit-filled Church: Ephesians

We've been studying Ephesians with church this Spring. Its mind-blowing stuff - showing us God's amazing plan... his cosmic, corporate plan to gather his church in Christ. Loving the church!

Sunday morning was our AGM in the service so everything else was cut down a bit - a few of us then gathered again in the evening with our pastor to explore Ephesians 5 in a bit more depth - a real life Coffee Bible Club....

I wanted to explore a theme from that:
what does Ephesians say about the Holy Spirit?
These are the specific references:
  • 1v13-14: The guarentee of redemption
  • 2v18: The means of access to the Father
  • 2v22: The way God lives in the church
  • 3v5: The revealer of the gospel
  • 3v16: The way Christ dwells in our hearts
  • 4v3: The bond of our unity
  • 4v30: The one who is grieved by division in relationships
  • 5v18: The one who fills us to live with understanding and wisdom
  • 6v17: The Word of God is the Spirit's sword
  • 6v18: The one in whom we pray my plan is to spend some of this week exploring some of these a bit further before we reach the latter part of Ephesians 5 this coming Sunday.

Meanwhile during John Piper's sabbatical various preachers are teaching on Toward All the Fullness of GOD Through Christ. The latest of which is:
Wayne Grudem - Eph 5v18, Being filled with the Spirit
New sermon link
(HT: Adrian Warnock

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Issues: Unity in a Christian Union?

UCCF: The Christian Unions stand united on the basis of shared vision, values and doctrine.

Our Visional Basis of Fellowship is to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the student world - by students living for Jesus and speaking for Jesus

Our Valual (?) Basis of Fellowship is with evangelical unity (detailed in the doctrinal basis) and student leadership (supported by Staff, Relay and local church)

Our Doctrinal Basis of Fellowship are recognised evangelical distinctive doctrines about the gospel and scripture. (See Doctrinal Basis). Such statements are the historic norm of the church, and are constantly disputed by those who would avoid these life-giving, life-changing truths.

Defined from the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14 this is unity from the Spirit's confession that "Jesus is Lord". Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians Paul says that all Christian conviction is the Spirit's word, the mind of Christ which is "according to the scriptures" and concerning "Christ and him Crucified".

Christianity has always been confessional, all confessions are imperfect but they capture essentials in the context of false teachers who would undermine them. In the case of the Christian Union the our confession contains only matters of salvation and matters central to doing evangelism together (such as maintaining an historic high-view of scripture).

Our confessions are exclusive, but also radically inclusive... the streams, tribes and denominations of the church overcome by shared convictions in the gospel. Such unity in Christ promotes worship, evangelism and discipleship.

All truth comes propositionally (such as that statement). One could argue that our statement could be phrased in a more narrative form that would be more accessible, but it is what it is!

What's not covered?
Our doctrinal basis of fellowship does not specify positions on many issues - such as spiritual gifts today, womens ministry and many othe things. Shared convictions on the gospel are the basis of fellowship, this means we seek to work together even when we differ on other matters. This isn't to say the issues don't matter (mostly they do!)- but that difference in them should not prevent us standing together in the gospel.

This means that we must not break fellowship when we differ on these matters. So, if someone doesn't think, on good conscience that a woman church not teach then they do not have the right to break fellowship if a woman speaks at a Christian Union meeting. Likewise the cessationist cannot break fellowship if a prophecy is shared. Similiarly one should not break fellowship over an issue such as not having women speakers, or the absence of particular gifts of the Spirit.
(As indicated earlier in this series 1 Corinthians 14 does not address the issue of women teaching.... it is however a common issue faced by CU, and some principles for dealing with such matters can be derived. That issue seems to be abouyt authority. In a Christian Union authority somewhat dubious since most members are unmarried, and sit under the authority of the elders of their respective churches for most matters of teaching)
1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that we cannot say "I do not belong" nor that "I don't need you". The body belongs together, in all its diversity of gifts - united in common confession that "Jesus is Lord".

If I would follow the Holy Spirit then I simply do not have the right to opt out of being united with brothers and sisters in the Lord. Since evangelism flows best from the context of Christian community it will always be advantageous for Christians to band together as a "mission team" rather than work disperately in tribes or denominations on the same missionfield.... in the gospel such tribes stand united.

That said, how you find a working balance is a tricky issue! It is not always done rightly, and since much rests upon the make up of individual groups specific solutions ought not be global nor permanent... but rather considered carefully, reviewed regularly and lovingly communicated. We must be generous and gracious to our leaders and brethren as these things are worked out in practice.

Above all 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us that love is over-riding as a principle. What I want to see happen is insignificant compared to protecting and caring for others. I should allow myself to be laid down for another, allow myself to be wronged. The gospel is too important for personal preferences to be entertained, and I do not have the right to break fellowship just because I'm uncomfortable with something that is happening.

Further, whatever action is taken must be for the strengthening of the body, as 1 Corinthians 14 insists. This surely means not going out of my way to defile the conscience of my brothers and sisters.... whilst recognising that someone will always be wronged. Whether prophecy or not, whether women speaking or not... there will be someone wronged.... let us pursue love and clarity of contribution.... open dialogue with open Bible's where conflict arises and time permits.

Above all let us press onto fulfill our vision to see many won for Christ on the campuses of our nation... strangely enough in the heat of sharing the gospel, or seeing someone won for Christ most of our common squabbles cease to seem the major barriers they have been before. On the frontlines we do not have the luxury to endulge to disputes... much more important is the defense and explanation of the gospel to those who do not believe, preaching Christ that they may call on him and believe, and so be saved!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Issues: Prophecy in a Christian Union?

This is not a UCCF policy document.
These are simply my reflections on scripture. The application of scripture in a Christian Union on matters secondary to salvation must be done with due care, prayer, understanding and explanation.
Different contexts will mitigate somewhat different applications, depending on differing needs to consider, protect and love other Christians and their consciences on these matters.... with due attention to what God's word says.

Christian Unions are interdenominational mission teams. They unite Christians in evangelical convictions from across streams and denominations to do evangelism on campus, with student-leadership.

This inevitably means a mix of different convictions about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Christian Union isn't the local church but it does exercise a degree of self-care in small groups and central Team Training meetings. In these members are exercising some ministry among their peers.

Should that include prophecy, in a context where not all members would acknowledge its continuation as a gift?
1 Corinthians 12-14 don't explicitly define prophecy (though I have inferred some descriptive definition), or in my mind give any evidence to show that this gift, or any other have ceased yet. They affirm strongly that they will cease – but only at the point where we gain face to face relationship with God – at Jesus' return. All gifts cease then since they are not required to bring revelation or growth.

My instinct is that many people are cautious about prophecy because they want to safeguard the sufficiency of scripture and because they've experienced charismania first hand, or heard of it. By charismania I mean the excesses of charismatic ministry – something that Corinth was certainly marked by.

Paul doesn't prohibit prophecy in Corinth, rather he instructs the church in Biblical service. This is always the way. Something good is not to be excluded, but to be handled rightly. Biblical teaching is always a good response to confusion! Bad examples of the exercise of charismatic gifts should not lead us to presume "cessationism" or even an "open but cautious" position. We're letting experience and circumstance drive our theology and practice when we do that.
We need Biblical theology and Biblical practice. And Paul commands it. Prophecy is to be pursued and is not a threat to the sufficiency of scripture, but rather a beneficial gift for the body - which scripture insists we eagerly desire it! The teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14 commands that prophecy be sought, within God's boundaries and framework for that. A Biblical framework from 1 Cor 12-14 is along the following lines:
  • 1.The Spirit brings confession of Jesus Christ as Lord. Prophecy should bring glory to Jesus Christ with a gospel focus.
  • 2.The Spirit's work is for the common good. Prophecy should benefit the body in growing in Christlikeness.
  • 3.The Spirit's work is done in love, for edification. Prophecy is given not for the exaltation of the prophet but for the benefit of the body. No love, no gain. No love, empty ministry.
  • 4.Prophecy is to bring revelation from God – imperfect knowledge of him now, ahead of ultimate perfect relationship face to face. Prophecy should bring true revelation about God. That being the case a prophetic contribution to a meeting will be comprehensible, in the language of the congregation and will make sense.
  • 5.Prophecy must be weighed and tested – it has no inherent authority when given. It should not be presumed to be true just because someone says it.
Prophecy "always" or "never" is not a neutral position in a group with a range of views. And in CU in the UK we would expect to find both charismatics and cessationist, representing the Evangelical church in the UK... distribution of that in a particular location will reflect which home churches people have come from, and to some extent the recieving local churches.
Seeking unity in the gospel is the chief concern, but nonetheless practical policy is required. Things have to happen some how or another! The first concern is Biblical principles. If every time a prophecy was shared the above principles were applied then this would certainly remove some problems and relieve some fears. Even those who considered prophecy to have ceased would surely find some edification from something under these terms.

Unity in the gospel requires that we maintain fellowship when we do disagree on other matters. If we were to divide over the issue of prophecy or something else we would be making our view on it the basis of our fellowship. This is divisive which would be particularly problematic when the Spirit's work is supposed to bring unity.

Should prophecy be given in Christian Union meetings?
These are meetings for training in evangelism. Such meetings should include, prayer for evangelism, teaching, worship and other contributions and service to build the body. This is a narrow population (just students) with a narrow vision (campus ministry). Each member is part of a local church where a wider population is gathered.

Would prophecy be of benefit?
Prophecy is about bringing partial knowledge of God. This is useful, so love as it is true, and comes in an attitude of love.

Can the Christian Union sufficiently test prophecy?
Possibly, but not necessarily. The congregation is a slice of a normal church community, lacking age and experience. Christian Unions are student-led, which inevitably leads to lack of experience and possible lack of maturity. However, mature ability to test is not age related. I would suggest that prophecy should not be forbidden, nor entirely normal. Prophecy can be tested by the gathered congregation, and with help from a Christian Union's Advisory Board.

We're not given much detail on how to test things, just as in the matter of specific definitions of prophecy. The Biblical language is about weighing a revelation. This surely includes testing it against Biblical testimony. Scripture remains supreme in authority and overrides conflicting claims from supposed “prophecy”. The challenge is when a prophecy is non-Biblical, as opposed to Biblical or un-Biblical. This might be predictive or simply a word about a specific sitauation. Such an utterance can still be tested with Biblical principles and its affects for the edification of the body. Clarity in Biblical doctrine will become essential for the process of testing to be done – which raises issues when the gathering may not be well educated in Biblical Doctrine.

A lack of Biblical Doctrine can be countered, of course, by regular rigorous Biblical teaching. This is useful for prophetic testing in the first place. It also has vast benefits in knowledge of God and for Christian living and evangelism. A Christian Union, or church, pursuing prophecy without pursuing Biblical Doctrine has problems that need addressing.

Good gifts like prophecy could distract us from the glory of the gospel... but this would be be odd because true prophecy will always draw our eyes to Jesus... the Spirit knows no other ministry. The Holy Spirit transforms the church and helps her to grow. Something called the Spirit's work that doesn't do that is strangely perverted and much mistaken.

As 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us, all gifts are temporary - it is love that endures, and it is that which endures that we should invest in above all. Love which benefits God's people, love which we know in the gospel itself.

Four final points to summarise:
1. In the Christian Union its likely we will differ in our view on prophecy today. It's not a “fellowship issue” so we must find a way to live together! We have a doctrinal basis to our fellowship – but the convictions that unite us are core-convictions. So we can have fellowship and disagree on other matters – such as this.
2. If we do exercise prophecy it must be gospel-centred (12v3). The Spirit's word is all about the Cross (ch1-4). The goal is unity and growth in the gospel.
3. If we do exercise prophecy it must be tested. This means we must be serious about doctrine so we can test it. Also, why would we seek contemporary revelation if we don't seek God's word in the Bible. That would be absurd.
4. Whatever gift is exercised or contribution made then love is essential (13v4-7).
Gifts are for the common good, and everyone is needed – everyone has something to contribute. We exercise gifts to protect and help one another. What we want is not the point. Let everything be done in love, let everything display the magnificience of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
More Reformed Charismatic Blogging: See Adrian Warnock

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Issues: Disgraceful for a woman to speak?

This is the first of three additional posts dealing with particular issues raised by 1 Cor 12-14, particularly in the context of a Christian Union. In all, my thoughts from scripture not any form of UCCF policy statement. The next two posts will consider prophecy in CU and unity in CU.

When I approached 1 Corinthians 12-14 I knew it tackled Spiritual Gifts, I'd forgotten that it also raises issues about the role of women in the church. This post does not going to attempt to deal with everything in the area of women's ministry. 1 Corinthians 14 doesn't deal with whether women can teach, but rather with women's role in testing prophecy....

1 Corinthians 14v33a-35

1. Some say remove it from the Bible as non-biblical. This is because it appears not to fit. But it's there in the early manuscripts... and we can't just go editing the Bible just because it jars with us!

2. Some say its about gossiping women. But Paul says that the reason is submission because of law. Probably this means the creation order of male and female in Genesis 2v24 – fitting with God's order... and God being a God of order is the big reason for our orderliness. Submission is a dirty word in the 21st Century but Biblically its not. This is difficult for us to overcome, but as always Christians must take their lead from the Bible not from the culture.

3. Total silence then? No. 1 Cor 11v5 says women can pray and prophecy. Paul is not contradicting himself within a few chapters. The silence required is not total silence

4. What's the difference between teaching and prophecy? Prophecy is described as sponateous revelation. Teaching is explaining the Bible. Prophecy has no authority whereas teaching appears to have some. Doesn't prophecy instruct? Yes, but it is till distinct from teaching. Be aware of the tangent issue of whether women can teach in the church. Its important but its not what this chapter is about. On authority – note that leading a Bible study appears to carry almost no authority since the group tests everything. And particularly a CU group which is a peer group, and unlikely to include married couples.

5. The context here is testing prophecy. If women are not permitted to test prophecy in public then we have an issue of authority in view. The particular case appears to be an issue of a wife testing her husband's prophecy in public... and maintaining divine order in the public meeting of the church.

7. This is the second reference to silence here. The first is v28 - there for the sake of order uninterpreted tongues are to be silent. The tongue speaker then goes to speak to himself and God, rather than to the congregation. Likewise women are instructed to be silent rather than raise questions in testing prophecy. The argument is authority and above all divine order, since God is a God of order.

My conviction is that this is about the testing of prophecy. And whilst men and women can both prophesy. Women are not permitted to test prophecy in public, in the church. This only occurs at all if we've taken 14v1 seriously and are eagerly desiring prophecy. The responsibility is with men to test what it said, in an orderly way for the glory of God and the growth of the church.

But that's church – what about CU?
It's not the local church, but general principles probably still apply in Christian fellowship. We must submit to scripture, keep our focus on the Spirit's word about the gospel – Christ and him Crucified. United in him, seeking to grow and love one another... and work to see Christ proclaimed on campus.

In a public meeting order is important. If there is prophecy it's testing must be careful. In a small group the Bible study is tested by everyone, so too any prophecy would presumably be tested by the whole group.

Women are clearly allowed to enquire in 1 Cor 14, but at home rather than in the church. The issue there seems to be wives testing their husbands prophecy in public. Any CU meeting is peer group community rather than the formality and breadth of the local church so everyone largely stands as equal so probably testing together is fine....

This of course begs the question of whether prophecy is happening in the first place... and how to you stand united when some people think women can test prophecy and others don't even think anyone can prophesy! However you do it, do it in love for the advance of the gospel.

Last year I blogged on: Should our CU have women speakers?

Further Reading:

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Christian Spirituality: 1 Cor 14v26-40

  • What is the goal of anyone's contribution to a meeting?
  • How are tongues to be exercised?
  • How should prophecy be exercised?
  • How and why should it be tested?
  • What will be women's role in this?
  • Why this role?
  • What is Paul's conclusion to these chapters (v39-40)?
  • What does it mean, from ch12-14 (and in view of ch1-4), to be fitting and orderly?
  • What specific challenges must we take action on from these studies?
Contributing without chaos
Every contribution is to be for strengthening the body. People may bring all sorts of contributions, a song, a word, whatever someone contributes it is not for themselves but for the benefit of the body, for its growth in the gospel, in unity in Christ.

Tongues are limited to two or three and must be translated. Without that the person must be silent... without clarity there is no benefit to the body.

Again, two or three are to share prophecy. Like tongues the gift is under the control of the person exercising the gifts. A prophet prophesies for the benefit of the church not self-seekingly (which would lack love). If another prophecy comes while one is speaking they can step aside - they do not need to have their say, its about hearing God not about hearing them.

What is given must be tested by the congregation. This implies that prophecy doesn't have any authority. There is no room for the prophet to attach words like thus says the Lord to their prophecy. They cannot do that. Prophecy needs testing. The authority lies with the congregation who weigh it.

What is it tested against? Scripture, what else! This should remind us that we shouldn't pursue prophecy to the exclusion of doctrinal depth. How can we say we're serious about God's word if we wont study the written word and only pursue contemporary revelation. Churches most serious about prophecy should be the most serious about careful teaching of God's word. Note also that much Old Testament prophecy is rebuke and call to repentance, and is never ego-massaging....

Prophecy is:
  • Gospel-centred - confessing Christ and calling for repentance (though it may also be more specifically directive, from NT example)
  • For the common good to strengthen others faith - the contribution of any Christian to the congregation must be for this purpose (this presupposes the next qualification...)
  • Clear and intelligible. Those who hear it must be able to understand it sensibly in their own language. Faith does not grow by ignorance or merely observing a phenomena.
  • Non-authoritative. It must be tested and weighed by those present (though it would seem not with wives testing their own husbands prophecy, for the sake of order)
  • Given by male or female. It can be given by male or female members of the congregation. The prophet is in control of themselves when speaking and can stop speaking to allow another to speak. Only prophecy given in love is useful so a prophet will be happy to step aside for the good of others.
  • Not Bible teaching but spontaneous revelation.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Christian Spirituality: 1 Cor 14v13-25

  • Why is clarity important for individual believers?
  • Why is clarity important for believers together?
  • How does this shape our motivation to pray together, and the way we do that?
  • Look up Isaiah 28v9-13. What is the purpose of unintelligible tongues there?
  • What then will tongues point unbelievers to?
  • What will prophecy point an unbeliever to?
  • Summarise the big idea of v1-25.
  • How can we ensure that our meetings have clarity?
For the individual Christian
Whilst an uninterpreted tongue has some benefit for the individual exercising it is more beneficial if what is happening is understandable. The tongue-speaker's spirit is able to speak to God and be edified, however their mind is unfruitful. What they should do? The greater good will come if they ask God for interpretation. That way their mind and spirit are both fruitful. Paul isn't down on tongues at all - its a gift from God which he has more than anyone else. Nonetheless its richer for an individual not just to have tongues, but also interpretation so that they will understand what they're praying.

For the gathered Christians
Gifts exercised without being intelligible don't benefit the believers, however if a prayer is understood then others can say “Amen” and their faith is built up. This is a massive challenge to us to pray together, and to see that benefits one another. My faith grows by hearing and agreeing with someone elses prayer. Amen is not a mumble to close a prayer but a means of growth, a strong agreement in the gospel! Let us pray together in plain language. Let's not speak in languages we don't understand - no need to pray in old English as if to be more spiritual. Useful prayer for the Christian community requires the ability to understand one another.

For the unbeliever who comes in
We're given a reference from Isaiah which speaks of how an unintelligible message from God proves unbelief. What happens is that Israel will not listen to plain prophecy. God exposes their sin and calls them to repent in clear words. Since they don't listen he proves his judgement on them by using words they can't understand. The strange words become a sign of judgement on unbelieving Israel.

From this Paul posits that tongues are a sign for unbelievers – in that if everyone speaks in uninterpreted tongues an unbeliever will say the church is mad. We expect a sign will point people to believing. But, Paul says tongues act as a sign of judgement on an unbeliever. Their unbelief is exposed as they can only conclude that God's people are insane. Strange language cannot benefit an unbeliever, its only benefit is to expose unbelief and prove judgement on them. That's hardly a goal that Christians would want to pursue.

Prophecy however is a sign for believers, in that an unbeliever will come in and be convicted of sin when they hear it. They hear God's word plainly and can be convicted of sin. Not only does plain language benefit the individual believers faith, and that of Christians together, it also has an incidental evangelistic benefit. Or, rather a really powerful affect as God's word (in the form of prophecy) brings about conviction of sin and new life!

All contributions to a Christian meeting must have clarity.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Christian Spirituality: 1 Cor 14v1-12

After the strong warnings of chapter 13 we might be tempted to hold off from exercising gifts. But the Biblical response to bad use of gifts isn't not using them, its using them rightly. And so Paul continues to show us the most excellent way - the way of love and using gifts for the common good.
  • Remind yourselves of the main teachings of 1 Cor 1-4. Keep this in mind as you study this chapter.
  • Why does Paul say prophecy is better than tongues? Who benefits from prophecy?
  • What does Paul want the Corinthians to do? (v1, v12)
  • What would that look like in practice?
Paul contrasts prophecy and tongues and their use in the church. As he describes them we can begin to infer something of a descriptive definition of prophecy. Prophecy brings a revelation from God that can be understood intelligibly. The result of this prophecy will be the strengthening and comfort of the church.

Tongues on the other hand, unless interpreted, cannot benefit the body even though they're good for the individual. Above all Paul says the priority is to exercise revelatory gifts so that the body will grow. And growth only come by understanding intelligible revelation. My faith is not strengthened by hearing an unintelligible spiritual language, or someone speaking drivel in my own language.

Growth comes from hearing something that I can understand. The first challenge for us in chapter 14 is the priority of contributing with clarity. In verses 13-25 he'll illustrate this point for the individual, the gathered believers and for an unbeliever who comes in.

Already our working definition of prophecy has to be gospel-centred (the Spirit brings confession of Christ), and for others benefit (the common good). And the attitude it is given in has the power to nullify it (whatever the revelation if it lacks love its nothing).

To this we now add clarity. New Testament prophecy is not vague or unspecific. It is not mystic or unclear. It must be a revelation that we can understand.

This makes me doubt whether the current practice of someone getting a "picture" is really prophecy. Prophecy is a clear message itself... perhaps if it begins with a picture then its "interpretation" is actually the prophecy. Much that is labelled as contemporary prophecy is not clear and inteligible. Such things do not qualify as prophecy. Prophecy is beneficial because we can understand it... and the message we understand will grow the church.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Gift of Hospitality

This weekend we've had the blessing of recieving the gift of hospitality. Not so much by exercising it (though we love that too), but in recieving it from others. Big thanks to Big-Eye-Tony, and Funky Pancake and his family for the company and the food yesterday and today. Yummy! Church in action.

This week is 1 Corinthians 14 week on the blog. On Monday-Wednesday I'll be exploring the passage, and then on Thursday to Saturday exploring some particular issues that arise, particularly in the context of a University Christian Union.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Pray like a Calvinist!

On Thursday at Surrey CU John Benton spoke from Acts 4v23-31 on How can Christians find courage?. John spoke gently and sensitively, carefully explaining the word of God.

It's humbling to sit at the feet of such a wise and experienced pastor. Youthful enthusiasm is often so full of confidence and fresh ideas, but our generation have so much to learn from those who have gone before us.

Through John, The Bible once again proved itself to be exactly what we need. No surprise - this is God speaking, and without God's word student mission is meaningless. And it is mission we're gathered to do.

The passage concerns the response of Peter and John after they're released from their trial. Their crime was preaching Christ. They were asked to stop but refused. How do they respond? What we find was spot on for a student missions context. The Spirit of God speaking through his word. Brilliant!

They pray to the Sovereign Lord! They pray to the speaking Lord! And they ask for him to act - to consider threasts, to embolden them to preach Christ and that God would stretch out his hand in power, providing objective proof! All this so that the pre-eminence of Christ would be seen.

The only way to pray is if God is Sovereign, the ruler over all. And far from preventing action a high view of God's sovereignty spurs God's people to action. And not just to prayer, but emboldened to preach and for God to act to save people through them.

The place shakes, showing God's presence (as at Sinai). They're filled with the Spirit. They become bold in preaching God's word. And many are healed (chapter 5). The Word of God is prohibited from being preached. But God's people cannot stop preaching, and they cannot cease to pray.

We didn't do it, but I think our response should have been to get down on our knees for the rest of the night and pray desperately to the Sovereign Lord for power to witness on campus. I think we missed what God was saying that night. We can only repent and turn again in humility to pray. Calling on the sovereign Lord to empower us, what else can we do?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Podcast Shudall!

Bring on the Shudcast!US-based ex-Relay Jordan Gropp has started a web campaign to get Andy Shudall to upload audios of the Bible teaching that he's doing in New Zealand, with Christian Unions there. This is a noble campaign.

Andy has taught several generations of Relay workers in the UK the abundant grace of God faithfully from the scriptures. He did the same at my wedding.

The essence of Relay is passing on God's grace so you could make a case for the rest of us simply blogging (and living) God's grace (there are legion current and ex-Relay bloggers....). Still, Andy is far away and we'd all love to hear his cheeky scouse voice remind us again of God's grace. Bring on the shudcast!


Join the campaign by adding a comment on Jordan's blog

Andy's blog | Andy also began The Bible Coffee Club

Christian Marriage

Pyromaniac Dan Phillips asks some great questions about Christian marriage.

Really challenging - at the heart of every situation the gospel must be central. Tim Rudge advised me a month before I got married that marriage is "two sinners living under the same roof". Further advice observed that marriage is about when "sinners say I do". And in that context the first point is not that Em is a sinner, but that I am. And above all we're both dependent upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Seeing and Savouring Jesus!

The MP3's of talks from our recent UCCF regional Leaders weekend are starting to get put up on our website. Our South East ones aren't there as yet, but you'd be mad to miss Marcus Honeysett's talks on 1 Peter at the Midlands weekend.

Listen in to Christian Hedonism for young Christian leaders!!For more from Marcus, see Finding Joy

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"Not simply be analyzed"

"Then, about ten years later, came the fall of 1979. I was on sabbatical from teaching at Bethel College. My one aim on this leave was to study Romans 9 and write a book on it that would settle, in my own mind, the meaning of these verses. After six years of teaching and finding many students in every class ready to discount my interpretation of this chapter for one reason or another, I decided I had to give eight months to it. The upshot of that sabbatical was the book, The Justification of God. I tried to answer every important exegetical objection to God’s absolute sovereignty in Romans 9.

But the result of that sabbatical was utterly unexpected—at least by me. My aim was to analyze God’s words so closely and construe them so carefully that I could write a book that would be compelling and stand the test of time. What I did not expect was that six months into this analysis of Romans 9 God himself would speak to me so powerfully that I resigned my job at Bethel and made myself available to the Minnesota Baptist Conference if there were a church who would have me as a pastor.

In essence it happened like this: I was 34 years old. I had two children and a third on the way. As I studied Romans 9 day after day, I began to see a God so majestic and so free and so absolutely sovereign that my analysis merged into worship and the Lord said, in effect, "I will not simply be analyzed, I will be adored. I will not simply be pondered, I will be proclaimed. My sovereignty is not simply to be scrutinized, it is to be heralded. It is not grist for the mill of controversy, it is gospel for sinners who know that their only hope is the sovereign triumph of God’s grace over their rebellious will." This is when Bethlehem contacted me near the end of 1979. And I do not hesitate to say that because of Romans 9 I left teaching and became a pastor. The God of Romans 9 has been the Rock-solid foundation of all I have said and all I have done in the last 22 years.."
I started to re-read John Piper's The Justification of God at the weekend. It's mind-blowing ministry-inspiring stuff to see God, to realise he must be heralded and adored, not simply analysed.

Quote HT: Doctrine Matters
Sermon: What is Romans 9 about

Monday, March 06, 2006

Christian Spirituality: 1 Corinthians 13

Previous Posts:

V1-3 Love is essential
  • Recapping what we saw in chapter 12,
    what is good about tongues and prophecy and other gifts?
  • How can they be totally devalued, according to v1-3?
  • How does this challenge the Corinthian lust for gifts?
  • How must our priorities about gifts / love change?
We come to one of the most famous passages in the Bible. Its the classic passage read at Weddings,... and yet it is in the middle of three chapters on what it means to be spiritual, in a letter to a church in charismatic chaos. Rather strange text to pick for a wedding! And yet we see the appeal, words about love.

Paul begins by speaking about tongues, prophecy and self-sacrifice. All of them he says are nothing without love. We've just heard of the great good of gifts and of serving one another, but now we find that these can all be nullified if one essential thing is missing. Love is essential. This also means that self-sacrifice is not the definition of love, a notion that would be popular today.

These are challenging words – forcing me to examine my motivation. If I am a Christian Union Staff Worker but have not love... If I blog but have not love... These are uncomfortable words. Yet Paul is showing Corinth, and us, the most excellent way. He's not saying pack up shop, give up, quit. Corinth is in chaos but Paul teaches them a better way.

v4-8 Love is edifying
  • Who does love benefit?
  • What does love do?
  • How does this challenge the Corinthians? (see 5v2, 10v24)
  • What difference would it make if people exercised gifts in love?
What then is love? And what's so good about it? Love is not proud – but the Corinthians are. Love is not self-seeking, but they are. Love protects rather than promoting self. In essence love is edifying, love benefits others. It is possible to speak in tongues, prophesy or exercise self-sacrifice for our own sake – that would be meaningless. Only when combined with edification of the body is it of any good. Is all the Corinthian's impressive ministry totally meaningless? What of mine?

Only when gifts are exercised for the common good are they of any benefit. And Paul intends for ministry to happen – he intends for us to get stuck in and to love. This standard of love is not beyond reach. Rather, as 14v1 says it is something to pursue. Go for love. Go for love.

v9-13 Love is eternal
  • What is the difference between gifts
    (prophecy/tongues/knowledge etc) and love here?
  • Why do we need gifts now? (9)
    When do all gifts cease? (9)
  • Why will they cease? (12)
  • Why is love better than gifts?
Finally Paul says, love never fails. Prophecy, tongues and knowledge will pass but love is eternal. Love remains. Now we have partial knowledge of God, mediated by faith – and so we need the ministry of these gifts, and others. But a time will come when all gifts will cease because they will not be needed. When Jesus returns – in heaven we will not need gifts, only love in the presence of God.

When the perfect comes then imperfection passes. This is about knowledge of God. When we grow up we put things away, when we are fully grown into Christ then we'll be in heaven. Now we see a poor reflection, but one day we'll see face to face. This doesn't say we'll know everything. It says we'll have unmediated intimacy with God. Knowing fully rather than partially. Knowing face to face.

It's as if now we have a fuzzy black and white TV... and when we gain the High Definition Plasma Screen TV why would we want the old TV? Now we see the true picture partially. One day we'll see more. We'll have relational perfect relationship with God.

Some want to say that the perfect has already come (i.e. In Scripture). But that requires this to be as good as it gets. And the Bible promises us more than the good relationship we experience now. In the meantime let's pursue the gifts on offer to us to know God. And let us do it in love. There is faith, hope and love. But love is the greatest – it remains forever... all else passes away. Without love all else is nothing.

This chapter is a strong rebuke to the proud and self-seeking. And yet again there is no hint of "stop using gifts". Paul has the care of a pastor, the skill of a teacher and says, go for it but do it right. Paul is a reformer, constantly drawing even crazy Christians back to the gospel and gospel living... demonstrating the nature of love.

I'm forced to examine my motives, and then not rest in gloom at spiritual blahness™... but rather to get on my knees and pursue love from God. To pray for help to exercise gifts to confess Jesus as Lord, to grow the body... to benefit others rather than advance my cause. And then to get off my knees and get into relationship with the body of Christ... to take responsibility to love rather than react, to trust rather than suspect, to persevere rather than give up. To suffer together. To rejoice together. When an opportunity to serve comes, particularly one that is in view then I must humbly be examined by God - and my heart needs to be transformed.

Meanwhile, no weddings in view... except perhaps the wedding of heaven. And that is definitely something look forward to.

Section headings borrowed from Mike Kendall, St Neots Evangelical Church.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Charles Simeon

Charles Simeon (1759-1836) was born in Reading. Most of his life was spent serving as the vicar of Holy Trinity Cambridge for 54 years, amidst much suffering. He once wrote that a nominal Christian is happy to prove the importance of the crucified redeemer.... but the true Christian delights in the cross, rejoices in it, glories in it and shudders at the thought of glorying in anything else.

His ministry was a model for many, and his influence lead to an increased evangelical presence within the Church of England. To gain some perspective on Simeon's ministry we could look at someone like John Stott whose global gospel-ministry in the Church of England has been similar.

John Piper's biography of Simeon:
MP3 Version | Text Version

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Tony Blair: doing God?

Tony Blair is back in the new for his Christianity. Years back Alistair Campbell ruled that Blair in public politics doesn't do God. And yet now he calls God back into the equation. Comments in the BBC News report about tonights interview with Michael Parkinson conclude Blair is justifying his decision to go to war. But from the clip I saw yesterday I'm not sure that's what he was saying.

Seems to me that Blair was saying that either our conscience judges us, or God does for our actions. That is not to say "God told me" but rather I'm accountable to God for what I did. Meanwhile Evan Harris of the Liberal Democrats and the National Secular Society warns about allowing private religious faith enter public politics. Classic secularism!

And yet the Bible things that all of life is fair game for God. Moreover God is God over all of it. That doesn't mean we can necessarily say "God told me" to go to war. But rather that a Biblical Worldview is supposed to shape all of life, not just private life. The Bible knows nothing of a private faith, other than to comdemn it. It is deeply insulting and erroneous to consider Biblical faith to be private irrelevance - indeed it would be heinous hypocrisy if Blair's beliefs didn't shape the way he lives, raises his family and does his job.

The Bible tells us much about life when we remove accountability to God from the equation. A life live under the sun, rather than under the fear of God is, in the words of Ecclesiastes: meaningless, futile, vanity... Life is very different depending on whether or not you consider yourself accountable.

Tony Blair is right to consider himself accountable to God. I don't think that necessarily means he can claim a divine mandate for the war on Iraq, and I don't think that's what he said. But we must all remember that we stand accountable to the God who made all things, and rules over them. Whether Blair's actions fit with a Biblical worldview is another matter altogether.

BBC News Report | Interview transcript

Acts 3v1-4v4 : Amazing (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

Jesus is Amazing

Peter says – don't be amazed at us – look at Jesus.
You killed him but God raised him. God glorified Jesus – do the same!!!

If I saw someone is glorious that's just my opinion. When God speaks it's a different thing. He has authority. And he says Jesus is glorified. Risen and glorious. Amazing.

Jesus is amazing – resurrected and witnessed. Cornerstone of the gospel. Peter and his fellow eyewitnesses testify. Spirit-filled witnesses to God having glorified Jesus.

Be amazed at Jesus! And see that the resurrection is vital
Talk about it with people. Can you defend it?

Forgiveness is Amazing

Remember who Peter is talking to. It's the mob who murdered the Messiah.
It's the crowd who cried "Crucify him!" Peter says they were ignorant – no excuse. Culpable.

In fact God was fulfilling his purposes. If they repent then
a) their sins blotted out / wiped out
b) times of refreshing come from God.

Look at who got forgiven! These were the people who killed Jesus and he will forgive them. All your sins can be blotted out! All of them! Freedom from guilt and invitation to refreshed life in Christ.
Do you know that all your sins are forgiven?

God's Promise is Amazing

Was the resurrection God patching up a plan that man spoiled? Had ignorant man caught him out? Ignorantly killing the one person who could save them....
No! It was God's plan! And again we prove ourselves inhabitants of Huxley's world – its not that as Orwell feared books have been banned. Its that we don't bother to read them. We don't know the scriptures.
Peter preaches Christ. Just as Jesus taught on the Emmaus Road and said that all the scriptures were about him... Peter does the same

  • Jesus is the suffering servant who was punished in our place for our sins. Died and risen.
  • Jesus is the Davidic King who Samuel had said would rule forever. Risen and reigning.
  • Jesus is the Mosaic Prophet who would speak God's word, and how we deal with that determines our eternal destiny. Risen and revealing God's word.
  • Jesus is Abraham's seed who brings the blessing of the Holy Spirit to the nations – granting repentance to people. Coming to turn us from our sin. Our new life is in Him!
The reliability of a witnesses testimony rests upon whether it matches the facts. This week you got an email saying what CU was doing... the way to find out if that's true was to check it matched the facts. The email said that our UniSword meeting yesterday was in TB4. Check the facts – thats the toilet cleaner's cupboard... But when it comes to the testimony of the Bible against who Jesus is. Perfect match!

First response – the anti-resurrection Saduccees get Peter & John arrested. They don't believe and they know that the case for the resurrection is convincing. They have to silence these eyewitnesses. Everyone saw the healing. Peter & John saw the resurrection.

Meanwhile others are convinced. They believe the evidence – the church grows to 5000, at thats just the men! Go speak of the resurrection! Paul later wrote that if there was no resurrection then Christians are fools... But if Jesus is resurrected....

Discussion Questions.
Q1 – Can you defend the resurrection?
Q2 – Why does it matter that Jesus is risen?


Friday, March 03, 2006

Acts 3v1-4v4 : Amazing (Part 1)

Is anything amazing anymore?
She's living the dream. Chantelle Houghton. A genuine It girl for the 21st Century. Famous not for being famous, but for “not” being famous.

Big Brother might have been the vehicle but this is not George Orwell's world. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Aldous Huxley however feared we'd be drowned in a sea of irrelevance and triviality. This is our brave new world.

Richard Dawkins fears that religion has taken away our sense of wonder. Dawkins has the wrong foe. It is the entertainment industry that has stripped us of wonder.

And what are we left with. Chantelle's vacuous cry of “o my god”. We're dying of banality. What is more astounding? That the media continue to pedal her before us, or that we continue to allow ourselves to be amused to death by her.

Everything is astounding.
And nothing is astounding.

And so we come to an event that brought a city to a stand still. It wowed them. Not a story of fake sheikhs or fake celebs. But the story of a lame man.

In the 21st Century we expect health and the torrents of banality that surround us mean we probably don't even blink at this. This is Huxley's world and we're sinking fast.

But Jerusalem is astounded. Peter and John can't help the man financially. But speaking with the authority of Jesus they command his healing. And it happens.

Everyone sees it. Everyone hears it. Everyone is a witness. And Peter says – yes be astounded. But not at us, and not at it. No, there is something more amazing.

Within minutes he'll be arrested for saying these things.. the religious police are closing in on him...

Concludes here

Intro inspired by Neil Postman's remarks in Amusing ourselves to Death and a quote in The Shadow of the Wind about the banality of life.

This is the beginning of a talk given at University of Surrey Christian Union on March 2nd. I'll post the rest of the script soon.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Christian Spirituality: 1 Cor 12:12-31

  • What image is used in v12?
  • What is this supposed to teach us?
  • What objections are raised in v15,21?
  • What is wrong with the objections?
  • How is each objection refuted?
  • What sort of diversity is good for the body?
  • App: How must the way we treat one another change?
  • App: How must my desires change?

Whatever our roles in the body we are one body in Christ with one Spirit. One with many different parts. We cannot say that we do not belong. Everyone is needed – we should not be jealous of others or want to be what we are not. No-one is useless. The body would be wierd if it was all one part. God arranged it as it is - and either way you can't opt out!

We cannot say that someone else does not belong. We are not self-sufficient. Everyone has a part to play – though some may require extra modesty and attention. The parts we might think we don't need get extra care and extra honour from God. He arranged it and honours each part.

Furthermore our diversity leads to greater unity. We are dependent on one another, unable to live without each other. If we were each all-stars then we could live without each other – God arranges us interdependently, and united under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Together confessing "Jesus is Lord".

We suffer together, we rejoice together. This is a challenge to our relationships with each other - to share our lives together, in the highs and lows. You don't share the pain of people you don't know, nor the gain.

This is real supporting fellowship in action. Unity expressed in relationship - how else could it be? Unity is not institutional, it is relational. Unity is created by a label, but by fellowship. We belong to one another, irrevocably - none self-sufficent, none useless. We'll live together as God's people for eternity as his body.... may as well get used to that and enjoy it!

The chapter ends with a slightly odd twist. Having told us to accept who we are. Telling us that every contribution counts. However he then ranks a few of the gifts and having made it clear that no-one has every gift, he tells us to seek the greater gifts - to desire them. That's a direct command to our affections. Unavoidable.

What it looks like is that whilst we should accept who we are, since the gifts are for the common good we should seek the greater gifts so that we can be more beneficial to the body. There are some gifts that the body really needs to grow - apostles, prophets, teachers etc. Let our prayer then be - "Lord, give me apostleship, and if not that prophecy, and if not that teaching etc..." I cannot see how else to read this. Paul's structuring indicates that revelatory and leadership gifts are particularly needed. Followed by miracles...

Our desires are commanded to seek the greater gifts... The temptation if we don't heed this chapter are that we seek greater gifts for our own benefit and advancement. Rather, we pursue the gifts God gives so that Jesus will be proclaimed as Lord, and his body grow together. Our understanding must be that spiritual is gospel. We must see that gifts are for the common good and are given by good. We are diverse in gifts and this is good – we need everyone and that helps unite us. Some gifts are however more useful than others – and we should seek that which will most benefit the body.

My understanding is challenged, my actions and affections commanded. "Lord, help me change... empower me to confess Christ, equip me to exercise gifts to benefit the church."

Adrian Warnock continues his series: now talking about words of wisdom