Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Reasonable Faith Debate

Last night at the Westminster Central Hall, debate between William Lane Craig and Lewis Wolpert, chaired by John Humphreys on the question of : Is God a delusion?

Craig opened with his five arguments why God is not a delusion. These are found in expanded form in his booklet God, are you there? Wolpert replied, beginning with a sincere apology to all the theists in the room (probably 1800 out of 2000 at a guess...). He said he was sorry but we only believed because it made us feel better, conceding that we may have a happier and longer life... but such are the benefits of being stupid (which it seems we're supposed to believe we are). Ultimately Wolpert simply said that there was no evidence and kept asking who made God?

This was a bit disappointing because he didn't engage seriously with Craig's five arguments for God's existence, merely dismissing them. The two atheists sat in front of me really didn't like Craig's arguments. He played at a high intellectual level, constructing his premises and arguments clearly. Probably to some this came across as American arrogance in comparison with Wolpert's more British (though he's South African) self-deprecation and confessions of ignorance - which almost exposed him as an agnostic in the fire-side chat with John Humphreys at the end of the evening.

It felt like Wolpert either didn't want to play, or couldn't. Debates are more fun when they're a bit more close run. Still, there are more debates to come so perhaps they'll be more evenly matched. In the meantime, Craig showed that there are good reasons to believe in God - both philosophically, scientifically (which he was very keen to emphasise), theologically and experientially. In his final summary Craig made a warm and personal invitation for people to read the New Testament evidence about Jesus' resurrection. This didn't go down well with the two atheists in front of me "now he's preaching"... if that's what asking people to engage with evidence then perhaps we need more preaching!

Tom Price sums up how the Craig-Wolpert debate went down...
Cat went with the guys from Surrey CU
Paul was selling books
Matt reflects on some serious assertions
Jason wanted his money back for more thinking Christianity.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Alvin Plantinga on Richard Dawkins

Review (ht: Albert Mohler)

The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ad absurdum, by Alvin Plantinga

"You Might Say that Some of His Forays into Philosophy Are at Best Sophomoric, but That Would be Unfair to Sophomores"

Buy The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, from Amazon

Live large, drink deep

"...we speak frankly, but not crassly, about sexuality because if our people do not get their information from the living words of scripture, their thirst will compel them to drink from the toilet of pornography and perversion"

Human beings are thirsty beings. We can't survive long without water. But it's not just our bodies that thirst. Our eyes thirst to be filled with wonderful patterns of refracted light. Our ears thirst for different frequencies of sound. Our minds thirst for ideas and answers, and our hearts thirst for affections and for eternity. Our spirits thirst for God.

We're locked into a room called history in which there isn't enough water to quench us. But there is some. And there is something more. Reverberating into the room are the words of the living God. And these words are the not just water, they are living water. The stuff that wells up in us to eternal life.

Those words give a deeper satisfaction than any sound or sight, and they also enable us to experience real joy in the tiny glimmers of greatness in the room. They enable Becci Brown's genius 365 concept to work. And yet, some are repulsed by what the words reveal. They hate them.

"Because our God rules over everything and is good, we are free to laugh, especially when times are tough. In our kingdom culture, good food, good drink, good friends and good times filled with laughter stand in contrast to the worry, hurry and busy of stressed and depressed people who do not trust God"

I want to take life so seriously that I can really enjoy it. I want to get a taste for all the good things of life.

"...we believe that God truly cares about the minutiae of our lives. In our kingdom culture, theology is intensely practical and connected to how we live every day as we work our jobs, clean our dishes, and brush our teeth to the glory of God. The Wisdom Literature contains some of our favourite biblical treasures"

Above quotes from Mark Driscoll, Radical Reformission.
This book was released around the same time as his Confessions of a Reformission Rev and is likewise very good. A refreshing and eloquent challenge to be missional in all of life. The chapter on 'the sin of light beer' is a particularly good challenge on how to avoid compromise and legalism. And it makes me want to learn to brew beer. Apparently he teaches people in his church how to do this!

In Confessions Driscoll talks about how books like Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs were in his early expositional series to his church. It's no coincidence that his people are enjoying the riches of life with refreshing honesty if this is the stuff they're studying. I've gotten a taste for Ecclesiastes and now I'm longing to get deeper into Proverbs and The Song. It must be the case that the more we wrestle with wisdom the more we'll see of the Lord Jesus who is the very wisdom of God.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Graeme Goldsworthy Interview

Biblical Theology Interview
Graeme Goldsworthy on Biblical Theology
by Justin Buzzard.

"Biblical theology consists in the study of what the Bible teaches as the Bible teaches it."

Graeme is on the advisory board for and his books are a resource that should be on the shelves of every Christian. We need Biblical Theology to understand God's word the way he revealed it.

Raise the Titanic!

James Cameron thinks he's found Jesus tomb. If he had that would destroy Christianity. Contrary to Richard Dawkins opinion we're not fundamentalists - we have criteria that would change our minds... (namely, if Jesus were not raised from the dead).

(ht: Gareth Russell)
Responses from: Michael Spencer - iMonk and Ben Witherington

Meanwhile Faith vs. Secularism in the Guardian. Read it just for the humility of Dean of Southwark, Colin Slee (paragraph 3). More interestingly Christianity is on the line at Westminster Central Hall, as Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig faces off against Atheist Lewis Wolpert, chaired by BBC Radio 4's John Humphreys, on the question of Is God a Delusion?

More on that at Is God a Delusion?

Life will leave you thirsty

Wisdom is needed to live in life. Wisdom doesn't start with years lived, but with the Lord feared. The epi-centre of wisdom is Jesus. Not just someone with wisdom, he is God's Wisdom.

The Teacher, writing Ecclesiastes 1, shows us that life is vapour. It's his thesis in his book. It's the theme he keeps repeating back upon. The Teacher gathers a wealth of evidence, even in his prologue to show that life can't deliver... The first key lesson to derive from the book is to BE HONEST. We need to be honest that life can't fill us up. Life is like fast food, it can make you feel bloated for a few moments but nothing more. We'll waste our lives if we try quench our thirst by drinking 'life'.

That's not to say that life isn't full of amazing things. It is. There are great things to see in God's creation - sunsets and landscapes and people. And then there's all the great stuff that God enables people to make. The same applies to the ear. The world is full of amazing sounds, birdsong and symphonies and all our mp3s. But, the honest reality is that none of this stuff has the power to satisfy us entirely. They're all there to be enjoyed. It'd be demonic to overreact and abstain from things that can't fill us (1 Timothy 4:1-5). But face facts, they can't fill us anymore than rivers can fill the sea. And they're not meant to. That's God's plan. He designed the universe to be structured and repetitive.

The only final satisfaction comes from Jesus Christ. In this life we still don't get the fullness of Him. It's easy for a Christian to imagine that they can't live a wonderfully fullfilled life because they're a Christian but it doesn't work that way. Christians have to live with emptiness now. We don't want to admit that - we'd rather just believe that 'life is meaningless' is for those who aren't Christians. No chance. Even with Jesus life is often humdrum. Monotony. Repetition.

William Lane Craig says: ...people occupy their time and their thoughts with trivialities and distractions so as to avoid the despair, boredom, and anxiety that would inevitably result if those diversions were removed.

Life has despair, boredom and anxiety built into it and we ought to be honest about that. I think there are times in life when we have to change down gear, accepting that some of life will be trivia. That probably means I ought to warm to small talk... maybe it means a bit of TV isn't that bad an idea, but at the very least it'll be healthy to stop and watch the world go about it's repetitive business once in a while... taking in the moments of happiness life offers, however fleeting.

Life is vapour, don't waste it by imagining that you can quench your thirst on life. Live it, with honesty. If we think otherwise we'll be living a lie. We can seek to deceive ourselves but our lives with be mere fantasy. Wisdom invites us to live in the real world. To have our 'joy anchored in reality' (Barry Webb). The idealism of youth is no bad thing but without a dose of reality we'll end up cynical and sorely at disappointed or we'll live a delusion. We want life to be everything, but that is nothing more than the man delusion.
Life will leave you thirsty.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Seven Days

Links of the week:

Ed Goode on Gospel Foolishness

And.. Starbucks talks about Darwin....

1. Vapour

Life and Laptops... and the pleasure and priviledge of preaching Ecclesiastes to the students at Reading.

2. Old times

...with re-discovered friend.

3. Big Story!

Enjoying Galatians 3 with Matt - Paul's glorious exposition of the Old Testament to show that by faith two Gentiles could be sons of God!

4. Soup

Back to supervision with Ed and Carolina. Always a pleasure.

Soup is also good when enjoyed with the Staff team, as in on our Staff Day on Thursday in the company of Prof. Dawkins and Psalm 3.

5. Seeing people in the street

Tom from TVU and then moments later, Jenny from the bank - and at last they're refurbishing it, only 4.5 years after they said they would.

6. Parents

Spending Saturday with my parents. Burgers at Tootsies, walking in Dinton Pastures.

7. In Praise of...

The Mango Smoothie. Mmmm. Simple, and yummy and healthy.

Don't Waste Your Life - Vodcasts

DWYL Part 9 - A Wasted Life

"God is not interested in the American Dream. But millions of people still waste their lives pursuing the short-term pleasures of this world. They have never discovered that God’s steadfast love really is better than life. Our desire is that Jesus Christ would explode into your life and produce a single, holy passion for his name. In this passion, you will be set free from small dreams and weak visions. Christ will be so valuable to you that it will feel like no loss at all to give your life to his cause. You will come to the end and realize that you have everything if you have him. Jesus says in the book of Mark, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” You have one life. For your own sake and Christ’s, don’t waste it. "

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Pierced for our transgressions

Pierced for our transgressions
Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution
by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey and Andrew Sach
Published 16th March 2007 (UK)

"Pierced for our transgressions is probably the most significant book on the doctrine.. since The Cross of Christ. It is timely and urgently needed. Let the exposition of this magnificent doctrine both inform your mind and warn your heart." - Mike Pilavachi, Soul Survivor

"I will make it required reading for all the students I teach.." Michael Ramsden, Zactrust
I don't want to overplay the significance of this book - but it's encouraging to see the breadth of endorsements, from The Proclamation Trust to Soul Survivor, from Newfrontiers to Affinity, Anglicans and Free. Could it be that we've finally found the one thing that can bridge the divides in evangelicalism in the UK? We've stood apart as a fragmented people, defined by a million differences and endless hyphenations. But the one thing that ought to be able to unite Christians is the thing that has been staring us in the face all along... Christ Crucified!

Friday, February 23, 2007


Rumour has it this guy is the next big thing in music....

Maps... James Chapman - I think I went to primary school with him!
Maps on MySpace

Life is vapour (mp3)

Reading University Christian Union - Life is Vapour - Ecclesiastes 1v1-11, Dave Bish (MP3)

Barry Webb pictures books of the Bible as items of clothing to wear in different situations. Ecclesiastes is a garment to wear when you're done with triumphalism and cant, and ready to face life as it really is. I like that. A lot.

Charles Simeon - Online!

Charles Simeon's works are now online with the Logos Bible Software

Adrian Warnock has a deal which offeres 25% off Logos Bible Software on his blog.

Charles Simeon is a quality (dead) guy, the one who talked about how nominal Christians understand the cross, and real Christians love it, revel in it... and shudder at the thought of boasting in anything else.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Life is vapour

...and so is my laptop. Or least the software... and thus I am unable to run windows, access my files... get to a script I've been working on on Ecclesiastes for tomorrow (ironically). I can get limited internet access away from home, but for now... that's it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Pastoral Refreshment Conference

Dave Burke spoke at the Living Leadership - Pastoral Refreshment Conference. Talks are online (text).

Here's an extract....

The Pharisee within
Inside every Christian there is a Pharisee trying to get out. The legalist within longs to torture us, or other people, with our failures and shortcomings. Imagine this conversation:
“Read Exodus 34, there is no hope for you. Obey the law or you are doomed”
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love”
“But this is God’s law, it’s clear ans simple, he blesses the obedient and curses the failures.”
“He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or reward us according to our iniquities”
You should be afraid, you have gone too far, you have failed too frequently and too often.”
“As high as the heavens are above the earth, so gret is his love for those who fear him.”
But sin is sin is sin!
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgrassions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him”
You are free from the law and living in God’s fatherly grace. Let me put it this way, you don’t have to succeed in ministry to earn his love; he loves you anyway. You may choose never to go to church again, never to read your bible again, never to pray again, never to preach again. His love for you will not diminish by one fraction of a nanometer.
That is grace!

Long time since the summer of '97

It's nine and a half years since I left school. It's also nine and a half years since I became a Christian. The later happening somewhere between my last A-level exam and getting the results. And last week someone I went to school with walked back into my life. The last time he and I spoke I wasn't a Christian, and I don't really know where he stood back then (may a seventh day adventist??) The last decade has been a long time... and a lot has changed. Back then I didn't know what the grace of God was. I didn't know that the cross was important. Now I know I can't live without the grace that comes through the cross.

Easy for me to forget that. The change in my life in the summer of 1997 was probably not very obvious at the time. I was already a church goer before that, and superficially nice enough... though the heart was seriously dark. Becoming a Christian was something that happened privately for me - a weekend home alone in which I sat down and faced up to who I am, and who my God is. The only people with me that weekend were the dead guys who wrote the Anglican liturgy that taught me the gospel... add to that a childhood of unexplained Bible readings every Sunday morning, and the evidence of changed lives in a few people I knew.

Intelligence didn't save me... I should have worked it out sooner. Spiritual interest didn't save me... my interest was on the wane throughout my mid-teens. The only reason anything changed that summer was that God broke into my life and showed me that the grace of God at the cross of Christ was the only ground on which I could ever stand. My heart remains fickle, but the ground has never moved. A decade is a long time but what Jesus did is enough to stand on, not just for a decade... the cross is what we'll sing about for all eternity. And that wont even begin to do justice to quite how brilliant God's great salvation plan is.

I've spent the last few days reflecting on the hebel in life. The meaningless. The futility. The emptiness. Jesus hasn't taken away the boredom or the humdrum of life. He's stepped into it. Into history. Into geography. And into my life. Right inside it. And what? Life still sucks some of the time. It's still even dull some of the time. But it's also laced with sparks of life and vitality... and one day the darkness will be fully overcome by light and that's going to be quite a day. Reflecting on my Christian life it's easy to get introspective, but actually the best thing is to get outrospective (?) and fix my head, heart and everything else on the greatest thing that ever happened in history. Not the bit about me. The stuff about Him.

Underlined Bits

Mark Heath has launched a new team blog - Underlined Bits -a one stop shop for inspiring and thought provoking quotes.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Seven Days

Links of the week:

Mike Russell on Raping the Bible

And the oddity of...
Fifty years of the John Frum cult...

1. Providence

Double booked rooms that meant we could fit more people into our venue.

2. Changed hearts

Seeing the gospel change lives among students!

3. Freeway

Em's band playing their first gig. Next gig - April 21st, The Swan, Arborfield.

Also enjoying the singing of Caroline Bridges, Drew Hunt and Pete Sene.

4. Lyricism

Got back into doing this again. Yay.

One Hit Wonders, Bit Part Superstar, Teenagers write introspective songs... now they just need music...

5. 24 delivered

Glad to be of service to Becci and to Tom. Enjoy.

6. hebel

Playing in Ecclesiastes 1. And William Lane Craig on meaninglessness without God. Ecclesiastes expresses something that Craig says: "...people occupy their time and their thoughts with trivialities and distractions, so as to avoid the despair, boredom, and anxiety that would inevitably result if those diversions were removed"

And Christians have to live in that too. As Barry Webb says... Ecclesiates means we can have "joy anchored in reality". It's a "garment for those who are through with triumphalism and cant, and are willing to face life as it really is."

7. Pic of the week

Surrey Mission 2007 - belonging

Thanks to Dave Partridge and Facebook.

Find out more from: University of Surrey Christian Union

Twenty-four: Integrating Faith and Real Life

Twenty-four: Integrating Faith and Real Life - Krish Kandiah, published March 9th, 2007.

"Twenty-Four" is designed for Christians everywhere to gain an exciting new perspective on all parts of their lives. It works through a normal day: getting up, commuting, working, shopping, cooking, family, fun, exercise and sleeping. Each chapter is filled with illustrations from modern culture and the biblical viewpoint on each area is considered. Through Krish Kandiah's thoughtful and original teaching we see how to serve and worship our amazing God in each of these.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Day Four

Today, Surrey CU mission for lunch. A packed out LTB for Debbie Cordle speaking clearly on 'Christians love sex, don't you?'... hearing of God at work in Aaron's life from him at lunchtime (Aaron was the guy I met on Monday), and then of him becoming a Christian tonight! Evening event at Reading CU where Em's band played their first grown-ups gig - including one of my songs too many hours. Big gospel preaching from Dave Burke. Much encouragement.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

All Authority (where 'all' includes over everything)

So, on Tuesday morning I got the train down to Surrey mission with Drew and Paul. As we travelled I wondered whether I'd be better off being in Reading, having been to Surrey the day before. I'm not much of one to take account of 'providential' details... But then
  • ...we were double booked on the venue we'd used on Monday (capacity 50, attendance 48 of whom about 30 weren't Christians), and moved to a new venue (capacity 80, attendance about 80 - with about 50 people who weren't Christians).
  • ....and then, in the venue I sat down next to David. That might seem unremarkable to you. But, David is someone I went to school with. I've not seen him for the best part of 10 years and had completely lost touch with him. Turns out he works at Surrey Uni... Of all the lecture rooms in all the world, he comes and sits down in the one where the CU I work with is holding an evangelistic event. I hope to meet with him in the next week or so, we have 10 years of life to catch up on!
Many other good conversations had, and lots of Jesus stuff. On the train home with Drew and Paul at the end of the day my spirits were somewhat higher. And then we revelled in Jesus lots, because he has all authority. All authority over atoms and molecules. All authority over timetabling offices. All authority over seating arrangements. All authority over all other authorities. Jesus is the supreme King. Not just any king, he's the king on David's throne (Matthew 1v1) - the one God appoints to reign forever... and over all peoples (as Abraham's son - Matthew 1v1).

God has given Jesus all authority. All. Every. Total. So says, Matthew 28v19. If we try and do missions by brute force going and disciplemaking it tends not to happen. But if we let the river of Jesus authority build up behind the dam, it breaks easily. Behold the king of the nations! See the one who rules over absolutely everything. He who stakes his claim on every life in his universe. He who will reign forever over all. v20, therefore, go...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Dawkins Parody

I enjoyed Richard Dawkins' book, although I disagree with many of his arguments. His book obviously requires more serious engagement, but a bit of fun is good sometimes...

Today at Surrey University, Gareth Davies will be seeking to engage with some of Dawkins argument's more seriously, in addressing the question: 'has science disproved God?'

Monday, February 12, 2007

Hamsters on a wheel, stuffing our faces and getting nowhere

Dawkins et al say that life is progress. They're still loving the modernist dream of a scientific utopia. They remind us that we've advanced beyond previous generations in our genertics, innovation and ethics.... This point of view is clearly appealing to the human ego, we're the best yet, it's never been better and will keep on getting better... we are simply the best. And proud of it.

Now, it's true that in our 'life under the sun' we do make progress. But we also lose ground. We have new technology that has created the global villiage and helped us to keep in touch with people more easily. And, I now have 307 friends ('it must be true, it's on facebook'), and yet so much of that is utterly superficial. We great new ways of treating illness, and yet we're now more efficient than ever at killing one another.

It's all been done before, for all our progress we're just running on a treadmill. Hamsters on a wheel, stuffing our faces and getting nowhere. Perhaps we're running faster than at other times in history, but we're still going nowhere. And into this, some 3000 years ago, wrote Qoheleth, the teacher of the book of Ecclesiastes. His verdict on the human condition is simply: meaningless. Futility. Vanity. Vapour. Emptiness. We're going nowhere and nothing is new.

It strikes me that this should lead to a profound sense of humility. We're not the climax of history, we're just the latest people to live on planet earth. At the same time, life under the sun isn't quite all there is. There is life above it, and there is one, Jesus who comes in from the outside. He comes in and lives in the emptiness with us, and ultimately promises an escape from the futility, showing us a bigger story where we're not the heroes we thought we were. That escape is not yet. But it will come. In the meantime we groan, and we live in the midst of the emptiness of life. Put in our place, not in an empty void, but as bitpart players in the biggest story ever told. The story written from above and beyond the sun, the story of God.

Photo: The education of Bildad the Shuhite, by Becci Brown.

Together on a mission

Today was the start of the Surrey and Reading CU's mission weeks... I'm splitting my time between them. We have about 25 guests standing along side the students in the CUs, and I have the priviledge of just floating between both places... plugging into the advancing of God's good news!

  • Getting volunteered by Ben to help him with the Q&A after his talk at Surrey on 'can we trust the bible?' - it's great to engage with real questions. Tomorrow Gareth's speaking on Science.

  • Talking with one of the questioners afterwards and having my heart broken at how hard and blind he was to the truth. How blind to think that eternity with Jesus sounds like dull retirement...Only God can change that situation and open eyes to see and love the glory of Jesus.

Jesus is the King!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

EMA 2007

Evangelical Ministry Assembly 2007
27-29 June 2007
Bookings before June 1st, £30 per day.
St. Helen's Church, Bishopsgate, London
  • Tim Keller - Defining times: what is an evangelical?
  • Dick Lucas - ‘A strange fellowship!’ expositions from Philippians
  • Vaughan Roberts - Daniel, expositions for expositors
  • Richard Cunningham - Persuasive preaching, EMA address on preaching
  • David Jackman - Release the Word, in church training
  • Panel - On the record, off the cuff! Tim Keller, Vaughan Roberts, Richard Cunningham
  • Tim Keller - Ministry in the City
  • Declan Flanagan - Rural ministry
  • Jason Clarke - Emerging Church
  • Christopher Ash - Who decides what the Bible means?
  • Richard Simpkin - Music and the Word: developing Word centred Music and musicians in the local church

The Sign of Jonah

Salvation is a popular term these days. People might not be flocking to Christian salvation but everyone is offering salvation of some kind. It's the theme tune of advertising. Everyone has the magic elixir that will save you from misery, aging, emptiness... Look inside, ouside, anywhere...
As we come to Jonah 2, we lean upon those who have gone before us. I want to follow Jesus' preaching of himself from this book. Jesus considered the whole Bible to be about himself.. and so if we're not finding him then we're sub-Christian in our study. What we find should not be acceptable to a Muslim or a Jew. Before we learn the meaning we need to catch up on the story. At the end of Act 1 we found the sailors caught up into God's story of saving grace, and Jonah was dead in the middle of the Med.

We find him in 1v17. We find him swallowed up in God's grace – the death wish rebel rescued by the LORD, in the form of a big fish. Most people, when they think of Jonah think of this big fish. The danger is that we get so obsessed with the fish that we fail to see who sent the fish: the LORD, the saviour. The prophet couldn't save himself, and he didn't want to. But God rescued him. Grace was inescapable for this rebel. And in the stench of the fish stomach Jonah writes a Psalm, what else was there to do? Briefly let's see what he was singing about.

Once more Jonah knows his God. V2. The LORD. The God of covenant promises. The God who had bound himself to his people. And he sees – v2, v5, v6, that his situation was helpless. He was v2: in distress. He was v5: closed in, with weeds around his dead. v6: barred in forever.
Jonah is out of control. He can't save himself. And it seems at last he knows it. This is more than can be said for many of us when God saves us... but as we look back with the eyes of faith it becomes clear that He was saving us. And so, v6, Jonah sees. “you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD, my God.” God saves. And we can take no credit for it. The LORD appoints a fish to save Jonah. God always does the saving. A fish for Jonah, the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for us. Salvation to helpless sinners, by something beyond us.

But what does it mean to be saved? Salvation is equated with access to God's Holy Temple – v4 v7. He is confident that he will see God's holy temple, and that his prayers reach that place. The temple is what? The place where God is. Salvation is about seeing God. God is our gospel.

Some imagine being a Christian is good because you avoid hell. Some imagine being a Christian is good because it means an eternal escape from pain and suffering. Neither of these reasons is good enough. John Piper asks the key question in his book, God is the gospel. Simply, would you be happy in heaven if Jesus was not there? Eternal life is good because it's forever with Jesus. He is the centre of John's vision of heaven. Notice that the book of Revelation isn't weird stuff, the first verse of the book says it's the revelation of Jesus. And in every vision Jesus is the central figure.

Eternal life is Jesus forever. And that's why idolatry is so evil. V8-9, Idolatry forsakes salvation. It says, I wont worship God but something else. Idolatry is the human disease. The rot in our hearts leading us to bow to anything and everything else. Jeremiah called it the double-sin of abandoning the life the LORD gives, to bow down to the dirt that cannot bring life. Vain idols. Worthless idols. That's all our heroes area. They cannot rescue us. And as Jonah sees he turns to thanksgiving, and a glorious admission: “salvation belongs to the LORD!”

Jonah's track record is based on the philosophy that says, Jonah-saves! Now he sees that it is God who saves. And not just 'God' but the LORD, the covenant promise keeper... the LORD, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. He still has some big issues, but he's made a little progress.

And with that he is vomitted out onto the land. It's a disgusting image. The stomach-acid-bleached vomit-fragranced prophet. Once dead, now resurrected. And Jesus says that's a fair parallel to these events – using them as an image of his own death and resurrection, calling that the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12v38-42). Jonah's death and resurrection points us forward to Jesus' death and resurrection.... And then, Jesus does the same with what happens next, the preaching of Jonah in Nineveh (Luke 11v29-32)... the preaching of Jonah pointing forward to Jesus' preaching.

God re-comissions Jonah in 3v1. But this time, v3 is different: he goes!! He does “according to the word of the LORD”!! Something has changed radically for Jonah! Problems remain (we'll see in Jonah 4) but for now, grace has exploded into his life.

Once dead now intoxiated by the grace of God. On arrival in the great city of Nineveh he finally starts to preach, v4. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” - five words in the original Hebrew.

He didn't want to do it. We might think he didn't want to preach judgement. In fact he was glad to proclaim judgement on them (as we'll see in Jonah 4). The shock is what happens next... V5. “And the people of Nineveh believed God – not Jonah – but God - They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least.” They give up on their riches and their food. Like the sailors, they give up in themselves.. and once again Jonah is leaving a trail of grace, v6... from the King to the poorest Ninevite.

The law of the city becomes repentance, v9. They don't know if God will save them. They lack self-assurance. “who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” They cannot trust even in their own repentance. Their only hope is if God acts beyond them to save them. It was like that for everyone til the cross. Men and women trusting in God's word. Now we trust in his word, and see the specific outworking of his saving grace at the cross. A sure testimony that God will save those who look to it. And, v10. God saves!

The biggest revival ever – at least 120,000 people according to Jonah 4.. possibly that's just the children, so maybe this is the salvation of five hundred thousand people from the five words (in the Hebrew) of the reluctant prophet. And today the Christians of Iraq are mostly found on the plains of Nineveh. That day, sending shockwaves through history, because salvation belongs to the Lord.

They weren't looking for salvation. And Jonah didn't want them to be saved. But if God decides to save them saving is what he will do. Which is great news. God is in the business of saving.
Jesus preached this story. He called it the sign of Jonah, and he proclaimed it against people who were refusing to repent. They demanded proofs and signs, they wanted belief on their own terms. They put conditions on God. But Jesus was not going to play their games.

It's easy for us to do the same isn't it? We want to assert our free will, our cleverness to work it out, our superious spirituality. Or we trust in a prayer we prayed... a Christian family.. status as a leader. Or we put conditions on our ongoing belief... academic success, the fulfillment of our dreams, of money or family or healing. We see it in our friends, “I'd believe if...”

But salvation belongs to the Lord. He wont be manipulated or controlled by us. And Nineveh is cited as an example to humble and convict us of our sin. The evil of evil cities repented at the death, resurrection of preaching of the prophet. Now God has down us so much more... the death and resurrection of Jesus, preached in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It's The Spiderman Principle: “with great revelation comes great responsibility”. We're without excuse. No ifs, no buts. We're accountable and we need to believe. We need to take God at his word. And hold to that. Consider what God has revealed. Four things....

The Cross – Punishment for sin
The Sailors. Jonah. Nineveh. All of them doing great evil. The Sailors trusted in idols – in gods that were not real instead of their Maker. God acts graciously towards all of them... Shouldn't he have punished them for their sin? That would have been just, but the other way is to punish Jesus in our place. And he does that! Inviting us to come and 'see and savour' Jesus forever.
Charles Simeon said that nominal Christianity is happy to prove that The Cross matters. But the true Christian loves the cross. Revels in it. Boasts in it. Delights in it. And shudders at the thought of boasting in anything else. The cross is not just the basics. It is everything. The blood in the veins of our Christianity.

The Resurrection – New Life!
Richard Dawkins neglects this entirely in his reasons why God exists and yet it is our chief ground of evidence! The one event on which Christianity stands and falls. No resurrection, no hope and Christians are just pitiful fools. But – if the resurrection happens then it not only proves that Jesus defeated death but brings us into resurrection life. We've been seeing that, I hope, in Ephesians. That just as Christ died, rose and ascended and was seated... so the same things happen to us. In Christ we reign in life by grace. That's why the resurrection is so vital – without it we're still dead in our sin. By the resurrection we come to new Spirit-led life!

The Proclamation – God is verbal
The first and last things God does in the book of Jonah is speak. There are some around who want to say that words aren't necessary, but words are God's way of working. What happens when God speaks? Universes get created – in Genesis 1. And when God speaks to sinners then another creation miracle occurs. The same words that spoke the world into being, speak to raise us from the dead to new life. Without words there would have been no repentance for the sailors or for Nineveh. None of which is to say those words should be delivered carelessly, unkindly or rudely. That said – God's man in Nineveh has rotten motives, and is thoroughly godless as we'll see this evening. Yet his five words save half-a-million people. Because it's not about them believing Jonah – but 3v5, they believed God.

Repentance – Metanoia – Turn Around
The people of Nineveh repented. The greek word means a total turn around. Starting with a change of mind, but then the mind changes the affections of the heart, and the action of our hands. A change of worship – from idols to God. What does it mean to repent. Before we repent we're “starving for the greatness and glory of God” - we didn't realise it because we thought idols could satisfy us. But when we hear the gospel spoken, and repent everything changes. Grace exploded into Jonah's life at the point of death, and turned him into a grace preacher. We'll discover this evening that Jonah was still desperately struggling with that grace, but nonetheless God used him to save the people of evil Nineveh. They all repented. The Lord saves. He's the God of promise who invites sinners into his presence. I bring nothing to the table – he did it all through the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Seven Days

Links of the week:

Maurice McCracken on Serving the Local Church

1. In praise of Vitamin C

Thanks to Ed for the overdose story. Maybe if Mike Reeves had done the same he wouldn't have got Flu. We'll never know.

2. The verb: "to 2 Corinthians 3:18"

As in... "They can be saved, they can be 2 Corinthians 3:18'd because i was. And here's the other thing, what has a nihilist or a transcendentalist actually got to be happy about? What has anyone got to live for without Christ?"

3. Hove Actually

Team in Hove. John Piper comes to visit and we learn about persevering in ministry. Hanging out together as weak people who need and have God's grace. Yay.

And watching Little Miss Sunshine, again!

4. Teaching God's word

An excellent talk on Daniel 4 at Reading CU by Simon Pethick from Carey Baptist Church. Also enjoying 2 Corinthians 9 and Galatians 3 with the lads.

5. Party at the funkypancake's house.

Talking theology with Big-eye. Pie and pudding. And Russell's gameathon.

Photos to follow no doubt.

6. Carolina sees snow

We missed most of it, by being in Hove. But there was plenty in the fields as we got the trains home.

7. Book of the week

Em and I are reading this together. It's v.good:

Friday, February 09, 2007

Writing 'Treasure'

this is not a real book cover... the book hasn't even been written yet, let alone published!

I've once again done some book writing this morning. After a few months away from the project I've found a fresh enthusiasm for it. The last two friday mornings I've been trying been working on 7000 words in the chapter on Giving, provisionally...

Chapter 3 - Giving: The art of displaying your treasure.

I've found getting the words on screen relatively easy (though it may all be utter drivel). The hard part has been feeling the effect of God's word on my heart, cutting deep at my priorities and true passions. God's word cuts deep. The thesis of the chapter is that far from being a miserable burden, giving is meant to be both a work of God's grace in us and a great display of that same grace which is found in our treasure, Jesus. This however utterly reorders our economic ideas and does havoc with our ideas about what we need in life.

My fresh energy for it is partly thanks to former Reading CU chairman Tom Riches, with whom I've been doing some Bible study in 2 Corinthians 8-9. After next weeks mission week we'll resume with some study on Contentment, probably from 1 Timothy and Philippians, which should lead me to get on with:

Chapter 4 - Contentment: Learning to stand in all weathers.

I expect this to be just as concrete and practical as the one on giving. Here the idea is that we gain contentment not from our circumstances but because we know the all surpassing worth of Jesus Christ.

If this ever get into print Tom will be due an acknowledgement as official project guinea pig. My plan is to study this material with the other guys I do 121 with over the coming months, nothing beats getting the Bible's message into the lives of others, and there's no surer way to find out how this stuff really works than to try putting it into practice.

Paul Huxley has some thoughts on the GenerationNext report about gospel workers
Nathan Burley on GenerationNext (ht: Dan Hames)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Can you handle the word of God?

JONAH 1:1-16, Reading CU cell leaders weekend 2007 (session 1)

Welcome to cell leading. Some of us feel we don't belong here. Some feel we've made it. But our foundation is God's grace, so you're welcome. This weekend begins a years training – we'll give you some skills but the key thing is deep roots in God's grace, deep foundations in God's word. And that begins with three studies into Jonah, one of my favourite books of the Bible.


Normal start in v1. God speaks. The Word of the LORD to the prophet. Straightforward and clear. It's a true story, from the time of King Jeroboam II. Jonah is in the history of Israel in 2 Kings 14 and Jesus treats these events as history. Jonah is an odd prophet. A short book. Mostly narrative and psalm with minimal prophesying. Full of suspense and surprise, a classic tale like all your favourite films. The story of a rebel on the run from God... a man about to be ruined by the grace of God. Someone we'll grow to love.

God gives him a simple message, v2: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” - Straightforward and simple. But then, v3. A problem. The word “But”. It should say “And Jonah obeyed and went to Nineveh”. But it doesn't. It says “but”. It says “But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish from the presence of the LORD”.

Jonah goes extreme. Offer him a Salad and he'll go to McDonalds for a large Burger meal. In the immortal words of Natasha Beddingfield:
If you're gonna jump, then jump far, fly like a sky diver
If you're gonna be a singer, then u better be a rockstar
If you're gonna be a driver, then u better drive a race car

To see his rebellion – check the geography. He was sent to Nineveh. Genesis 10v11 tells us that Nineveh was built by Nimrod the first Mighty Man. The mighty city of the mighty Assyria, in todays Iraq. And it was full of evil, see what Nahum says to a later generation:

...Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots! Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses- all because of the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft....

Israel were hardly better. And neither are we. Everyone was doing evil in the sight of the LORD. Jonah is sent east, he goes to Tarshish. Where? Over the Med. Spain. The ends of the earth in the opposite direction. And Jews didn't really do sea-travel...

But why? Why run? The ultimate answer is in chapter 4... so wait for that! For now v3 says enough. He's trying to run from the presence of the Lord. God says go. Jonah says no.
We might imagine that Jonah simply misunderstood. But he could have asked for clarifications, and he could have just stayed in Israel. But he runs, and the doors open for him to go down to Joppa, down into the boat, down into the land of nod.


Jonah's asleep as a storm hits. A storm from the LORD, v4. God lets him run for a bit, but now he's gone far enough. The hardy sailors are terrified. V5, they chuck their cargo overboard and they cry out to their gods to save them – their pagans with many gods. But none of it works. Eventually, v6, they want to try Jonah's god. Then v7, they cast lots to see whose god is at fault for the storm – and it falls to Jonah, v7. They confront him, v8 – tell us who your God is? And Jonah proclaims the Word of God. The prophet does some prophesying – announcing who God is! He says:

“I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD,
the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land”.

This is our God. The LORD. God of Everything! Heaven and earth, land and sea. Wherever you go, God is sovereign there. How terribly self-deceived Jonah was! The sailors are petrified, v10 – they understand. They know Jonah is running from this god. Bad idea. Jonah is trying to run away from this God? How exactly was he expecting to be able to do that?

The LORD is the God of everywhere. There are 400,000 CCTV cameras in London. You basically can't move without being filmed. Jonah's God is God of everywhere and yet he thinks he can find somewhere where God wont be looking?? Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper said: There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

Our God is the Sovereign Lord of everything. Land and sea. Heaven and earth. Our God is the one from whom you cannot run and hide. Jonah gives theology in story. Do we have a big enough view of our God? He looks at our heart and mind and says 'mine'. At our bank account and our hard drive and says 'mine'. Our study and our shopping and says 'mine'. Our friendships and politics and says 'mine'. Our hopes, dreams and ambitions, our greatest passions and says 'mine'. This is our God. And we can't run away from him. We can't hide from him. Sure, the LORD let Jonah run for a bit but he's got no-where. It was like him being on a treadmill – he thought he'd travelled a long way away from God, but actually he was right back where he started. Jonah is as much within God's universe as he was when he started.

This is the evil of God's people at that time. They viewed God as small. Unseeing. Unaware. They were self-deceived. And Jonah is caught in the act with many witnesses. We all do it in different ways. Some of us have more cunning than even Jonah. But, everyone will spend forever with God. No-one will ever escape him. Either we spend forever experiencing the intense personal anger of God forever. Or we can face an eternity in the loving personal favourable presence of Jesus.

The LORD. Unavoidable. Inescapable. Yet Jonah cons himself into thinking he can hide from God... running from the favourable comission of God into his wrath. Example: Relationships. We know the truth – it's simple. Christian's should marry Christians... sex is so important it's to be kept in marriage. Yet we con ourselves by praying about things, and by anecdotal evidences that it's ok. Everyone has a story of a time when 'flirt to convert' worked. God's grace in our disobedience doesn't stop it being disobedience.

The human heart is expert in justifying sin. It could get a degree in self-deception. And a PhD. My heart is deceitful above all things. It's world-class at it. Left to it's own devices it sins for the shear fun of it. "The heart is a factory of idols" as John Calvin said. And so we have to rub the word of God into our hearts... and others. Exposing our disobedience and self-deception to God's word. Putting our hearts to death – exposed for the sewer of evil it is. Confronting ourselves with one question: Who rules – me or God?

And in the sight of God we stand guilt on all accounts. Guilty of disobeying God by failing to worship him in everything. Guilty of self-deception and half-heartedness. Of imagining that we're not as bad as we are. Hopeless in and of ourselves. Deserving his judgement. Jonah tells the truth and they want his counsel. He's self-obsessed and just wants away out of this embarrassing situation. They want to stop the storm – v11, and Jonah says – kill me. The death wish is how Jonah deals with getting in trouble.

Jonah wants a Darwin Award. The Darwin Awards named for Charles Darwin, father of evolution commemorate those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it. He runs from God... no chance. Now he suggests that killing him will solve the problem of the storm. He always tries to run away rather than face up to his sin... rather than face up to God. But he just preached the gospel – the sovereign rule of God – to them. They're not all that inclined to kill him. V13. They aim for land. But when that too fails, v15, they follow Jonah's instruction – pleading for mercy from the LORD. And the storm stops.


They loved worthless idols but now they believe God. Saved through a man who doesn't even believe his own message. Their idols couldn't save them... a 'god' has to exist to be able to help you. Their livelihood has gone. All that remains is to trust the LORD, God of heaven, land and sea... God of the Hebrews. They fear the LORD. And the camera stays with them... it abandons Jonah. Jonah's name is on the page, but grace has a different priority. The real action is on deck. They're devoted to the LORD – v16. Jonah said he feared the LORD, v9, but they really do. Jonah hears from God direct and runs, they hear from God through the dodgy prophet and believe. What grace. What good news.

This would be abhorrent to Jonah, but whatever he wants God is leaving a trail of grace behind him. The sailors aren't self-confident – they don't have enough evidence to know if God will save them. But they trust that he can, and that's enough. Being able to recite God's name isn't enough, taking him at that word is the key...

None of us is spotless. None of us lacks weakness. None of us has not and will not fail. Not me. Not the committee. Not you. We're at least as bad as Jonah, at least as disobedient and self-deceived. But God speaks grace to the disobedient and the self-deceived. This year I'll screw up. I'll write bad bible studies. I'll make pastoral blunders. I'll convince myself that I'm better than I am. I'll want to quit and run away. We'll do terrible evil... all the worse because we know Jesus, we should know better. Be a sinner! Admit you can have no confidence in yourself. Admit you're doing infinitely better than you deserve. Throw yourself on the grace of God at the cross. Take him at his word.

Vitamins, emptiness and anti-intellectualism

In other news, this morning I started work on two projects due in the next month - one is a talk on Ecclesiastes 1v1-11. Ecclesiastes 1 by Mark Driscoll has been a helpful resource to spark my thinking on the first of those projects. One challenge here seems to be how to apply it's message faithfully... the outlook is very bleak, and yet I find myself uncomfortable with leaving things simply diagnosed as meaningless... How do I herald the victory of the King and speak of the objective and subjective emptiness of life. My mandate after all is the proclamation of the gospel and yet that cannot be at odds with what God's word teaches here. I'm getting a taste for wisdom literature but feel totally out of my league with it.

The other talk is a lunchbar on Is Christianity Anti-Intellectual? It's a challenging topic to enage well with. I plan to engage with Richard Dawkin's arguments in The God Dellusion. Kicking off with his citing of Martin Luther saying that 'reason is the greatest-enemy of faith'. Luther of course wants us to consider revelation in the equation and not just human thinking - which is something along the lines of Paul in 1 Corinthians 2... where he concludes that far from groping around in the dark we may have the mind of God if we listen to revelation. In the box there are limits, but God comes in from outside....

Monday, February 05, 2007

Jonah and new cell leaders

On Friday and Saturday I was in Southampton teaching Reading CU's new cell group leaders. It was an intense five session bootcamp, with seminars on skills for Word Leadering and Witness Leadering, along with three talks on the book of Jonah.

Jonah is one of my favourite books and it was a great priviledge to be able to unpack it for them. The book reveals theology in story, and shows the absolute sovereignty of God over his universe, and that he is full of grace - he is the LORD who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. And he will show grace! The big ideas in application to new leaders were these:
  • 1.God uses losers to get his work done. So you qualify. Not because you're worth it but because God is gracious. So get on with getting into God's work. Keep the attention on him. People don't need us, they're starving for the glory of God so let's get God's word into their hearts.
  • 2.God does saving. No conditions. No contributions required. You're always doing better than you deserve...
  • 3.God is gracious. And he invites us to embrace that. Jonah learnt it the hard way through a storm, a fish and some sunburn. The easier way is to take God at his word from the outset. Which is now.

I'll probably blog the scripts eventually. But for now, it's my day off - so time to make some coffee, read a book and wait for a friend to come round.

February Update at

The beginnings of a Biblical idea

(Paul Williamson)

A critical evaluation of Kath Bath's suggestion that Biblical inerrancy is theologiclaly indefensible

(Jonathan Gibson)

And in books....

Will Lind reviews Graham Beynon's Experiencing the Spirit... and Graham Beynon reviews Keith Hacking's Signs and Wonders, Then and Now.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Preaching Christ

Mark Lauterbach is on form again, blogging about The Measure of a Sermon:

"What NT preaching does is bake the cookies and let the Spirit empowered fragrance draw them to the Savior, stir hunger, and provoke godly motive.... we are to point them to Christ, and out of a reflection on his grace and sacrifice, bring them to see their sin as on offense against his love. If I think carefully, I can use the cross as an argument about the seriousness of sin, even with a secular person. What evil requires this death by this Jesus? I am to point them to Christ and his generous grace as what they have already experienced and draw them to yield themselves to God in response." (from Part 4, within which are very examining words for young preachers - how easy it seems to force change by guilt... when the better way is to show people Jesus Christ!)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Seven Days

Links of the week:

10 Things to look for in a church

1. Two hours of 24

And feeling really tired from being away at Relay2. What a shocker at the end of the fourth hour....

2. The Day Off

Monday. A precious concept and a relaxing day reading Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 in Starbucks for a couple of hours.

3. Team

Tuesday was time with Gareth, Ed and Carolina... and Jehoshaphat.

4. Treasure

Finally, getting on with doing some work on 'the book' again. Acknowledgement to Tom Riches for being a guinea pig.

Chapter 3 - Giving: The Art of Displaying Your Treasure

5. Providence and Ruth 4.

Or, Rich Fairbairn giving an outstanding talk on Ruth 4 at The University College for the Creative Arts CU on Thursday, and then being able to give me a lift home.

6. The Cell Weekend

The excitment of hanging out with Jonah and the new cell leaders - studying Jonah together! Costa Coffee with 7/8 of the new committee.

Big Thanks to the May's for cheese & biscuits and a beer. A bed instead of a church floor. And for the breakfast... and the memorable pre-Jonah 2 baby-vomitting experience.

Ed and Nicola's evangelism seminar, without the boxes.

7. Photo of the week

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mike's tips for students...

I don't know Mike Gilbart-Smith. I should know him. He was working for one of the churches on my patch (in Farnham, Surrey) when I began working as a Christian Union staffworker in 2003. We never quite got our diaries to match, and then he left the country. Our loss would appear to be America's gain. He's been blogging for a while on the whole students and church issue at his loving church blog. Two of his latest posts here::

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Story of Gideon and his fleece...

Maurice McCracken - Gideon and the fleece - Judges 6

I've had the pleasure of hearing this talk a couple of times - very encouraging gospel challenge.

On testing prophecy

From 2 Chronicles 17-19...

King Ahab loved his false-prophets because they always said good stuff about him. All 400 yes men would would stand and tell him how much God approved of his plans, loved him and would bless him. Always encouraging, always affirmative. True prophecy in contrast can be both encouraging and convicting, affirming and correcting.

Above all it includes messages like that of Micaiah to Ahab... That true prophet told Ahab that his people were sheep without a shepherd. They had no king. They were like the people in the days of the judges - unruly and unruled. Self-ruled and doing whatever they felt like. They were people in need of a true king, the true king.

It's here that Micaiah is proved a true prophet - his word is one that proclaims the need for God's King to rule. In Ahab's case he exposes that the Messiah has not yet come. Neither Ahab, or Jehoshaphat for that matter, are Great David's Greater Son. They had to keep waiting... Ahab failed to listen and so he died. Judged by God through the King of Syria and the 'random' shot of a soldier.

Jesus repeats the observation of God's people being sheep without a shepherd. He looks on the crowds and sees their need to come and live under His rule. In Jesus the king has come. His kingdom is near, and when he returns it will be fully manifest. Paul writes to the Corinthians to tell them that the Holy Spirit leads people to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord - declaring the Kingly rule of Jesus.

That's true prophecy. Fixing our eyes on the everlasting rule of God's King. That rule is comforting. That rule directs our footsteps. Gospel prophets are what the church needs. This is the prophecy we need to eagerly desire.