Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Present-continuous Reformation

Rob Bell says (in Velvet Elvis) that we protestants are always reforming because no-one puts God in the corner. No-one puts God in a box. No-one puts a full stop after God. Except, of course God has revealed himself to us definitively. Not exhaustively, but he has revealed his glory to us in the gospel of the glory of God in the face of the Lord Jesus (2 Cor 3:18-4:6). Having spoken in many ways previously he spoke to us in his Son (Heb 1:1-2). Whatever the postmodernist want to say, God has spoken. And he knows how to communicate.

Today the protestant church marks 'Reformation Day' in memory of the ministry of Martin Luther. Luther who was at the heart of the Reformation, and as I become increasingly familiar with him you do get the sense that he knew he was involved in something significant. My favourite Luther quote is this: I taught the word, apart from that I did nothing. While I slept and drank Wittenberg Beer, the word did everything. That suggests that Luther wasn't really doing anything new. He was doing what faithful people had always done...
Luther stood with Moses calling God's people back to his word. Luther stood with the Judges who drew the people of God back to his promises again. The prophets and teachers of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron 17:1-10) did the same, travelling around teaching the Book of the Law to God's people. Generation after generation God's people being called back to God's word. Always reforming, not because God is evolving but because people keep devolving back to sin. Thus it was, thus it continues to be.

The ultimate Reformation Day was the crucifixion of Jesus (Hebrews 9:10). Then change really happened. Then the shadows of law were swept away and we were welcomed into the presence of God by the blood of Jesus. One of the two key issues at stake in Luther's day (Justification by grace by faith and the Authority of Scripture)! Nothing that needs reinventing about that, the gospel doesn't move. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13). I'm the one who keeps changing, reverting to the easy path of walking out of step with the Spirit. What I need is men and women who will rub the grace of God in the gospel into my heart. Not just once a year, but daily. Not because I don't know it but because I do.
I need to be suspicious of myself - the word of God functions to correct and encourage, to rebuke and instruct. Through his word God demands change of me in areas that I've never considered. Not because it was never making those demands, but because God is working to change me from one degree of glory to another. Slowly renewing his image in me by calling me again and again to behold the glory of the gospel. The Spirit's ministry is reminding (Jn 14:26). Paul writes Romans to remind them (Romans 14:15) and tells Timothy to do likewise (2 Tim 2:14). Peter writes his second letter (1:12 and 3:1):

I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have... I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking
Remember the gospel, full stop.

Tim Challies:
Reformation Day Symposium 2007
See also: Orthodoxy - Reformation Day 2006

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Listen to King Jesus

MP3: John 6v1-15 - Listen to Jesus (Dave Bish) @ Exeter CU.

[CONTINUED FROM:Listen to Jesus]

Jesus' authority makes all the kings and rulers and authorities of the world in all of history look powerless. Of course you'd want him to be your king! So why does Jesus, v15, know that they have got it right and slip away? It's not that he's not king. John will go on to show us the coronation of King Jesus later in his book. We've not seen a coronation in this country for over half a century, and even when Charles takes the throne it wont exactly be a great political event. The crowd with their full stomachs envisage a political revolution. Jesus-The-Prophet overthrowing the occupying forces of the 1st Century Roman Empire!

Wouldn't you want him as king? Healer. Water into wine. Bread out of thin-air. Unmatched wisdom and authority. Jesus will be enthroned. But not in a Palace with a throne. Not in the way the people expect. His coronation will be in the shame of a Roman cross. Emblazoned over his head the words: “THE KING OF THE JEWS”

Crowned as their passover lamb – dying in their place. Bearing God's wrath so that we might receive his abundant favour – not just more food for today but life upon life with Jesus forever. All that John has written points towards this – the lamb who takes away sin, the stairway to heaven, the snake to look at, now – the bread from heaven. Different picture, same point. Jesus brings sinful people to God. They want Jesus but they want him on their own terms. And that's the problem. As John Calvin observed the human heart is an idol factory. We love to invent imaginary gods for ourselves. Gods that fit our requirements and ideas of what God should be like.

That's like shooting an arrow and then drawing a target around where it hits. You always get what you want but it's not real.

  • If you want Jesus for a political revolutionary then you don't want Jesus.
  • If you want Jesus because that makes you part of the CU crowd you don't want Jesus.
  • If you want Jesus to make you happy, wealthy and healthy then you don't want Jesus.
Jesus is no man's puppet. Instead we're to do what everyone is supposed to do with The Prophet – v29: Listen and believe. Believe what? Believe he is not just the prophet but also the bread – two images of the same thing. Two images illustrating where Jesus has come from and why he has come.

They ask for more signs but he wont appease them. He has come to give life and it's theirs if they want it. Not life by filled stomachs but life by rescue from sin. The Jews were given bread from heaven - 6v58. The Exodus Bread. But they died. The bread Jesus offers guarantees life for those who eat it. By Jesus' cruciform coronation in 19v21 we may live.

What do you do with Jesus?

Option 1. 6v66. 'MY JESUS'.
You can take offence because this preacher, and more importantly, the Bible, wont let you have 'my Jesus' because you have to have the real one. You can take offence because you wanted the cool-Jesus, the revolutionary-che-guevara-t-shirt-Jesus, the boyfriend-Jesus, the bless-me-Jesus... You can take offence because all those 'my Jesus''s don't exist. They're figments of your imagination. It is unbelief to set the glory and excellency of Jesus at nought in favour of your own pocket version of Jesus.

Or, Option 2. 6v68. 'THE JESUS'
You can stand with Peter. And you can conclude that there is no-where else to go than to eat the words of Jesus. No-where better than to gather at the foot of his cross. Nothing better than to revel and delight in his death for you. Nothing more precious than the words that he speaks. And you can feast your heart on Christ – feeding on the one who came from heaven to bring us life forever. Feasting on Jesus as portrayed in the page of the Bible. It's easy to drift away from that but that only ever ends with a fake-Jesus who will be a lesser-Jesus.

So let us gather around the word and invite others to do likewise. Make use of next week's events with Michael Ots. Do diagnostics like House and inviting others to do the same. House doesn't get to decide what's wrong only to examine the evidence. Likewise, none of us gets to decide who Jesus is. He is who he is. By his word, by the Holy Spirit he penetrates into our hearts and persuade us about Jesus. Open up that Life book with friends this week – ask them to consider Jesus for themselves, tomorrow.

Watch Jesus walk off the page speaking with supreme universe-creating, glory-revealing, life-changing authority.

God made the originals, and cloning is only making photocopies

Mark Meynell reflect on Coupland's The Gum Thief

"The book ended up being much more
satisfying than I expected in the early pages -
and throws up Coupland’s same old questions
about truth, identity, hope and meaning,
but in an innovative and provocative way.
Still, this is Coupland’s 12th novel.
I can’t help wondering... "

Listen to Jesus

MP3: John 6v1-15 - Listen to Jesus (Dave Bish) @ Exeter CU.

My new favourite TV show is House. It's not quite the West Wing or 24 but there aren't any new episodes of either on at the moment. What I love about House is that it's clever TV. Or at least it tries to be. House is a modern day Sherlock Holmes – House, Holmes.... who uses differential diagnosis and the Socratic method to solve medical cases. I have no more idea about whether that's good medicine than I know about the medical jargon they throw around. But it is fun to watch... What I do know is that sitting and staring at a problem for ages is something I like to do. It was what I enjoyed most about studying Maths at Uni. I wasn't all that good at it but working on it was fun. Sometimes. Problem solving is fraught with wrong trails but is glorious when it reaches its solution.

It's a bit like that coming to a passage like John 6. We don't come to triumph over the passage and cast our judgement on it – but to see it unlocked. We come to understand have the Holy Spirit persuade us about Jesus, penetrating our hearts to believe. In John 6 the people face a problem to solve – the same question as on every page of the Bible: who is Jesus? They get many things right but draw some wrong conclusions or applications. It's a remarkable incident that all the gospel writers record. John has something unique to tell us though.

We begin with Jesus, very popular. By the end of this incident they want to make him king. It's not an impossible route to travel from celebrity to political ruler, but something has changed here. What? Why? How? Let's investigate. We find Jesus (v1), just under 2000 years ago by the Sea of Galilee in Israel. V2, huge crowds are following him because of his miracles. He's the local celebrity preacher. In v3 he sits to teach as was the custom in his culture, and by the time the incident is over, in v15, the crowd want to force him to become their king. What on earth happens in between?

The feeding of the 5000 is what happens in between, v5-13. It's described as a miraculous sign, v14, not just a miracle. From five loaves and two fish the whole crowd, 5000 men plus women and children are amply fed with twelve baskets to spare. Just stop for a moment and consider what happened there! This is no ordinary picnic. Some have explained it away as just a spiritual feeing but that doesn't explain the filled stomachs or the net increase of food – more afterwards than before. Don't ask me how the Physics of that works but here it is. The crowd are amazed. Clearly they should take note, but, v15, they seek his coronation?

Why? You'd could understand if they wanted to make him the new Chief Executive of Tescos. You could understand if they lauded him as the Jamie Oliver of his day doing wonders with packed lunches. But king? Notice, v14, it's a sign. It points to something else. This is John's approach – evidence to show us who Jesus is. Jesus meanwhile is, v6, testing his disciples. Teaching what? Consider the clues – the when, where, what...

First, V4- passover. Not just where, but when. This event is near the festival of passover. Passover recalls God's rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt 1400 years before, when he rescued them. How? By the death of a lamb in their place that they remembered every Passover. The blood of which was spread over their door, and turned away God's wrath. He passed over them when judging Israel. They think they're needy because they're hungry but the when of these events shouts out that they have much bigger need than filling their stomachs. They're in need of rescue from wrath. That might sound a bit serious. And it really is.

Second, V3 – the hills, wilderness and mountain. Hence no food. Much like Israel in the wilderness after they left Egypt. Think when, where and what...

Thirdly, V14 – the people conclude Jesus is 'The Prophet'. We'll come to that in a moment. What do we know so far? Passover, wilderness, mountain, Exodus. Rescue. Jesus provides bread from heaven in the wilderness. Like Moses. The details point towards Deuteronomy 18:

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my word sin his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account”

This is who the people mean when they say Jesus is The Prophet...
This is

  • Jesus through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that has been made. He who spoke light into the darkness.
  • Jesus who saw Nathanael at a distance and whose words penetrated into his heart like a double-edged sword to discern the motives of his heart.
  • Jesus who spoke to the woman at the well and read her heart and her history.
  • Jesus who came from the Father with words that Nicodemus should have understood, revealing God's salvation plan in words more precious than gold.
  • Jesus who simply said the word to a royal official about his son: 'Your son will live' and he did. Or to a lame man - 'Pick up your mat' and he walked.
  • Jesus whose words carry universe-creating broken-life re-making authority like the words of no-one else who has ever walked on planet earth.
Every other religious figure is out of their league – no-one has this sort of authority.
This is the Prophet Jesus who doesn't just speak the word of God but is the very fulfilment of all the Jewish Scriptures. He is the one Moses spoke of. He is The Prophet. And John doesn't disagree with the conclusion of the crowds. Neither does Jesus. With all the evidence considered they have draw the right conclusion! So what's the problem? Right conclusion. Jesus the Prophet must be King. Of course he is the King! He has authority like no-one else. The kind of authority that makes presidents look like they play with toy soldiers, and billionnaire businessmen look like they're just swapping monopoly money.

Continued here...

Grace: The bedrock of absolutely everything

From Finding Joy: A radical rediscovery of grace, by Marcus Honeysett:

...I came to realise that knowing and experiencing the grace of the Lord is the bedrock of absolutely everything else in the Christian life and in the church. It is the heart of the gospel. Why should that group have been motivated to do enthusiastic and heartfelt outreach if they were not thrilled and gripped by the grace of the Lord? Why should Christians want to pray to God unless we are convinced that he graciously want to answer and pour out blessings that will help us and glorify himself? Is it possible to be an effective Christian teacher or preacher unless we are awestruck by the magnitude of grace dealing with our sin, inadequacy and bankruptcy? I doubt it.

Preachers who preach without an overwhelming knowledge of grace in their lives don't proclaim grace to their people. They are more likely to teach moral behaviour and how to be an acceptable part of the Christian subculture.... whenever that happens, that place is a haven for legalism, for slavery, for being desperate to be seen to have the right outward religion. It is likely to be a desert of grace.
Chapter 3 - From slavery to freedom: p45-47.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Grace: Normal Christian Living

From Finding Joy: A radical rediscovery of grace, by Marcus Honeysett:

...there is a dawning realisation that talking about God's grace and celebrating it together is normal Christian living... Growing as a Christian is always corporate. It is never individualistic or selfish. Bearing each other's burdens and reminding each other about the Lord doesn't happen when Christians are isolated. Whatever hurdles we find to genuine fellowship, we must commit ourselves to overcoming them. It may mean summoning up the courage to ask a few others believers if we could meet together to encourage one another in prayer. It may mean that we need to ask if some core teaching on grace can be included in our church's preaching scehdule. (p76)
...Paul prayed for [grace] and anticipated that God would pour it into the lives of the believers. They knew the same Lord and the same grace we can know. We have the same hope of heaven that they had. We live two milennia later, but God has not changed. He still overflows with extravagant grace to all who believe, and in provision of joy for all those who live, love and witness out of hearts brimful with that grace. Glory in the Lord Jesus, worship by the Spirit of God put no confidence in the flesh - and rejoice! (p84)

(From Chapter 5: Discover a sweeping panorama of joy)

Grace is other centred

The Grace of Giving - Dave Bish (8mb)
Continued from Grace thinks of self less.

2) 6-9 Grace is other centred.
Paul tells the story of the Macedonians for the Corinthians. He observes, v7, that they excel in everything, particularly in spiritual gifts. They are a church who excel in charismata, they excel in grace. But he wants to see, v6, the completion of the same act of grace in them. That they, v7, would excel in this grace of giving.

How does he not motivate them? Look at V8. “I am not commanding you”. He wont give them a rule or an obligation. Surely telling them to tithe, giving a generosity-tax would be the best way to serve the saints who need relief? It seems he has higher concern! He's interested, v8, in the sincerity of their love. The state of their hearts. As he goes on to say in 9v7, God delights in cheerful givers – if they don't give from overflowing joy in God's grace then it'd be better for them not to give. He looks into their hearts and the test is what they do with their money. And he goes looking for evidence of grace.

In a church where the good news is upside down he'll never see it. If a church thinks that Jesus loves the good people then there will be no evidence of grace. It'll be impossible. How? Because when God loves the good people we have to clamber over one another so we shine above them. But when anyone can receive God's grace it's always encouraging to see that others have gained that grace too. We need gospel-eyes like Paul – seeing the treasure in others hearts. Seeing their evident joy in Jesus Christ.

How does he go looking for grace in them? V9, by telling them about Jesus. Notice the for at the start of the verse. Giving will be evidence of grace. And so he tells of Christ – Jesus who was rich but became poor so that they though poor might become rich. Famous words, this is their context.

Christ Jesus whose eternal authority makes all presidents and CEO's look like they're playing with toy soldiers and monopoly money.

Christ Jesus whose eternal riches make all the bank accounts and ancient treasure troves look like the change in your pocket.

Christ Jesus who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Christ Jesus who was found in appearance as a man, and humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Words surely dear to the hearts of the Macedonian churches who had come to share in the riches of God's grace instead of the wrath they deserved.

We're used to the idea of the rich giving. Charity happens. Last year it was reported that the two richest men in the world – Bill Gates and Warren Buffet had set aside vast amounts of their fortunes for charitable causes via The Bill Gates Foundation. What's the difference between them and Jesus and the Corinthians? Gates and Buffet gave from excess and still have plenty. Jesus gave into the poverty of death. Overflowing in joy the Macedonians gave in extreme poverty, beyond their ability. Grace is in a different league to human giving.

Only divine intervention does this. Only grace sets us free from self-preservation, and expectations about our finances. Grace sets us free to disregard self and benefit others. In 9v8, Paul writes, God is able to make grace abound to us! Let it flow like a gushing river.

Jesus surrendered the riches of his eternal glory to embrace 30 years of poverty, even to death, for our salvation. The scale of change in us might not be as sacrificial but it could have long lasting impact. Why did he surrender his riches? So grace would abound to us. God is able, 9v8, to make all grace abound to us! Earlier in this second letter, in 3v18 - Paul invited them to behold the glory of God – by which he means fixing their gaze upon the the crucified Lord Jesus. Stopping to enjoy the view. Being transformed by the Holy Spirit into Christlike grace.

Grace sends shockwaves into our lives. For the Corinthians it'll translate into definitive action, v10-11, when Titus visits them. Planned, considered giving as an overflow of the hearts of a graced-up community.

When you stop and think about it God could have arranged things so that everyone had enough. Instead he made the Corinthians rich, gave Macedonia extreme poverty, need of relief in Jerusalem. Why? Why not give everyone enough. So we might learn the grace of giving.

Our actions reveal our treasure. Our money tests our heart like nothing else. Without grace we must hold onto what we have and climb high. By marked contrast the gushing river of grace sweeps away old fiscal rules and expectations. The Northern Rock collapse was shocking and exposed their customers. Yet even when the money was secure still people queued, clinging onto their treasure. When we treasure Jesus we are rich beyond our imagination – whether rich or poor here and now Christians freely inherit the universe with Christ. And that begins to overflow in otherwise unthinkable actions. It's what we should expect and desire in our church.

When grace is evident we can expect to find people who think in terms of the church family more than self. Not necessarily in attending meetings, teaching Sunday club or giving to the P.C.C. - though it could be that. Being a charismatic church isn't easy to calculate. No rules or percentages. The only rule of grace is disregard of self and, v4, pleading to benefit others. When grace is the currency, 'Church' isn't them it's we.

In the house of grace we'll prioritise others – how can I serve you? Encouraging words. Practical helps. Financial gifts. Shared possessions. Time given up. Grace looks at what God has given me and says, how can I benefit others with this. Grace takes my eyes off me, becoming other centred. Where are the needs in our church family? The person who can't get on the property ladder. The couple who've not had a night out for months for lack of a babysitter. The person for whom the gift of receiving hospitality or a practical help would make all the difference.

I'm aware of grace I've received from others – I thank God for the evidence of his grace in those who partner in the work I'm doing, for those who helped us to move to Exeter. We might want definite rules for what action to take but God doesn't work in quick-fix holy laws. The river of grace flows to transform hearts and overflow into changed living. Grace is really more concerned with the act of grace than the relief of need. From a grace-less perspective the cost looks too high, but graced-up people plead to serve. This isn't about trying harder – it's not about more effort – it's about the grace of God in Jesus. I want more of that in my life. Let grace by evident in us. Let grace abound to us from God.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Grace thinks of self less

We were up at Arborfield Church today where I was preaching on 2 Corinthians 8v1-9. We had a technical problem with the recording but this is a re-record for them.
The Grace of Giving - Dave Bish (8mb)

What kind of people does God love? What does it take to be a Christian? A myth persists that God loves good people. It's time that was killed off. The subversive message of Christianity is that no one is good. No one is holy before God. We all need saving and that is what Jesus Christ did dying on a Roman cross 2000 years ago. The good news is that God rescues bad people. As a gift. This is what we call grace. Grace that took my curse. Grace that paid for my sins. Grace that gave me life. And grace that changes my life.

One way is that it removes any ground for boasting. God's free gift means we can't say we're in favour with God because of our race, class, education, fincance, image or anything else. There is level ground at the cross – our rescue is a free gift not a reward. Christians are equal and yet it's evident that some are more equal than others – some have more, educationally, financially, physically.... What does this grace have to say about that? Come to the first century church of Corinth and see evidence of grace.

1) Grace thinks of self less (v1-5)
Richard Dawkins says it's the force of evolution but whatever you call it, we are hard-wired for self-preservation. We want to look out for ourselves. And yet, here we find a subversive story about Christians in Macedonia, probably the recepients of his letter to Philippi. Paul had been gathering money from churches around the Mediterranean to relieve need in the Jerusalem church.

We find, v2, that the Macedonians – like those in Jerusalem were in extreme poverty. Paul didn't expect to collect anything there, v5. Yet, something made them be, v2, rich in generosity. They even gave irresponsibly, v3, 'beyond their ability'. Which I take it to mean that real Christians in Philippi in the first century went without basics like food so other Christians could eat. Doesn't that seem inconceivable in our age? Paul says it is remarkable – it was remarkable 2000 years ago. Far from ordinary. So much for self-preservation!

How did it happen? V3, they weren't coaxed or conned into doing it, it was their own decision. In fact, v4, they pleaded to be able to give to God and to others. How did it happen? Were the Macedonians amazing? Why tell this story? Are we to stand in awe of them? No! V1, we're to see what Paul sees – the grace of God in them. What happened the day Paul went to Philippi is only explainable by divine intervention. God powerfully and freely worked in them in such a way as to release them from self-interest.

Look how many times the words like give, joy, gave occur here – v1, v2, v3, v4. These are all the word grace, as is the service in v4. There is evidence of God's grace in them. Abundant and overflowing grace. In Greek the word for grace is charis, they were a charismatic church, in that they were full of God's grace. The same word recurs verse after verse. Grace. Terry Virgo observes (in God's Lavish Grace) that grace is not like a stagnant pond but a gushing river. All Christians have received the gushing river of God's grace in the death of the Lord Jesus. Grace makes a difference as God makes his home in us by his Holy Spirit. A free gift of life, bubbling up in renewed hearts. You'd expect some evidence of it. Some, v2, overflowing.

This reflects in Paul's letter to the Philippians – he told them of the all surpassing worth of Christ, so much so that they could say dying is gain, because whilst they would lose everything else they would gain Jesus. Grace gave the Macedonians a wreckless disregard for their own lives. The economic principles of grace look senseless to the watching world. The grace-filled church is not a self-preservation society. The grace-filled church overflows with generosity. Notice, v1, Paul sees this grace. Notice his gospel eyes that observed the scene when he visited Philippi and said that's grace. What if we gathered with the intention of doing that? Identifying and encouraging evidence of grace in one another.

[to be continued]

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Day 7

24: Day 7 - Trailer

Pastoral Refreshment Conference 2008

Peter Comont, Julian Hardyman, John and Alison Risbridger, Marcus Honeysett and Philip Warburton write:
The Pastoral Refreshment Conference is designed to be an oasis for Christian leaders and spouses, a place for receiving spiritual refreshment specifically tailored to those in ministry. We believe there is a close link between flourishing in leadership and caring for the hearts of leaders and spouses. Those involved in leadership can often find that they constantly give out but have few opportunities for others to encourage them to feed on God themselves. The aim of the conference is to provide sustenance for heart and family life, and an opportunity for developing intimacy with the Lord and close bonds of friendship with others in leadership.

This year we are welcoming Jonathan Lamb, Lady Elizabeth Catherwood, Mark Bonnington and others who will lead the conference in the theme of enjoying God’s grace in leadership. There will be a great mixture of inspiring pastoral preaching and seminars, warm fellowship and a grace-filled, prayerful ethos as leader seek God together for the on-going refreshment of life and ministry.

We are writing to ask if you would pass this note on to those leaders and their spouses you know who you think might appreciate the conference. Please feel free to forward this email as widely as you can, and perhaps especially to church officers you know who might think it would benefit their pastoral staff. If you think that it would benefit the leaders in your church, why not think about sending them?

One third discount available until October 31st.

Booking Forms for the Pastoral Refreshment Conference

Test the talker

Adrian is thinking about Discernment... as is Phil Johnson (Willow Creek, Charismatics etc). Challies - The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment is forthcoming. At 6.20am I found myself waiting for a train to arrive and thinking about what to do with false teaching, an ever present in the life of the church...

How do we respond to teachers? How should we respond to sound teachers? How should we respond to false teachers? If we're to capture anything of the ethos of the first century church then we will have to wrestle with this. Part of Paul's final comissioning of Timothy was to do with how to deal with false teachers who were ravaging the church at Ephesus. Before turning to them, it seems to me that we need to think about how we deal with those humble men who are seeking to teach faithfully.

1. When someone preaches a true message with true motives.

Rejoice and commend them for their faithful ministry. Identify grace in them and encourage it. Faithful ministers rarely receive encouragement for things done well but are frequently criticised for inevitable imperfections.

Every faithful preacher teaches what they think the passage says - sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes we think they got it wrong but actually the word was correcting us. Let us honour our leaders. Gladly partner with them in the gospel, like Paul with Epaphras in Colossians 1v7.

2. When someone preaches a true message with false motives.

Rejoice that Christ is preached like Paul did with those who capitalised on his imprisonment. Whenever Christ is preached there is reason to rejoice. Philippians 1v18.

When Christ is preached we should be delighted, and when he is preached out of true motive let us abound in joy.
But, not every preacher gets it right, not every ministry is faithful... what then?

3. When someone preaches an inadequate message from the best of intentions.

Instruct them with patience and kindness like Priscilla and Aquila with Apollos in Acts 18v24-27. It's easy to get things wrong because no-one has ever taught us better - I'd been a Christian for 4 years before I realised context was important when approaching the Bible, and to my shame I gave my first talk a year before that moment... the penny had just not dropped before.

It wasn't that I wanted to get it wrong I just didn't know any better. That's not an excuse but it is the kind of consideration that can temper critique. The instinct of some would have been to throw Apollos out of the church for the gaps in his theology when all he needed was someone who loved him enough to correct and instruct him. And what a gift to a church his ministry became.

4. When someone preaches a false message because of fear.

Don't shrink from saying they're out of step with the gospel but then gently walk them back to the cross like Paul did with Peter at Antioch. Paul's approach in Galatians 2v11-3v1 is a classic example of love for the person and the gospel. Care for right teaching out of care for the gospel, but also respond carefully out of concern for the out-of-step teacher to be restored.

We know Paul didn't take false teaching lightly - he called down curses on those who perverted the gospel, but that wouldn't stop him from careful pastoral conversation to bring restoration. Leaving Peter in his heresy would help no-one. Immediate separation from him would not have helped either. But, the restoration of Peter (again) was glorious.

Worth noting that the one who got it so badly wrong that day at Antioch was the church-building apostle... His otherwise faithful ministry (which Paul accepted fellowship from - 2v9) wasn't without value because of this bad day out with a bacon sandwich.

5. When someone preaches a false message from bad motive.

Call it the gangrenous defamation of the glory of God that it is, don't let them teach and still seek to correct them in hope that God might grant repentance, as Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:25. As before, care for the church by caring for the gospel, and care for the false teacher by seeking to bring them back to the gospel.

I'm struck in this chapter by the danger of a youthfully arrogant response to false teaching. Timothy is to respond to false teaching but without youthful passions. He could quarrel and fight but instead he is to teach enduringly and patiently with ink and kindness.

The antidote to quarrelling is a 'big-God-theology' - trusting that God knows his people and God grants repentance liberates the Lord's servant from arrogant theological fighting to be able to minister the word of God unashamedly.

Water of life

At church today I was talking to someone involved in club outreach. This is a new venture by the OICCU, in which people give out free water outside clubs every other Friday night. I believe there might also be information about talks as well. I think this a great way to demonstrate Christian love, and possibly initiate some gospel conversations and build relationships. Apparently, lots of people are “up for it” as the saying goes. I remarked that I wished lots of people were “up for” the open-air work on Cornmarket that has been going on for years here, and with which I am involved. The response I got was that club outreach is a lot less scary than the work on Cornmarket and it’s not really evangelism. Pretty much says it all really.
Daniel Newman

'Servant Evangelism' ?

See also Preach the gospel and if necessary use words

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

CSI: Gospel Eyes

Steve Saint son of the Ecuador-martyr Nate Saint (who died with Jim Elliot in the 1950s) reflected that the death of his father was only explainable by divine intervention. It should not have happened and yet it did, and so sprang forth great progress for God's gospel among the Auca people.

When Paul went to Macedonia (Philippi?) very little should have happened in terms of his vision to collect money to relief the suffering of the churches of Judea. The Macedonians themselves were in extreme poverty. And yet, so great was their abundant joy in the gospel that they pleaded to be able to share in the grace of giving. And then they gave beyond their means, going hungry to meet the needs of others. They showed a wreckless disregard for their own well being. They went without basics like food so they could give to others in need. It should not have happened.

And yet Paul tells the story. It did happen - 2 Corinthians 8v1-5. Why tell the story? To highlight the outstanding charity of the Macedonians? No - because, v1, Paul saw the grace of God in their lives. He surveyed the scene and was able to identify the gracious work of God in their lives by it's fruit. He couldn't help himself but to see it! The gushing river of grace flowing in a people in extreme poverty to give them such joy and contentment and satisfaction with Jesus that they could consider their money not worth holding onto. It was thoroughly remarkable then, and it would be today. Grace isn't ordinary.

When I read this story (and prepare to preach it in a few days) I yearn to have gospel eyes. Eyes that see the gospel at work in peoples lives. We tell our Relay to encourage the good wherever they find it. The good - the grace of God! Evident all over the place - God's fingerprints will always be there in God's people as they overflow in abundant joy and rich generosity - let those be the mark of my life, let the grace of God be so evident in me and in the students of the South West. And Lord, let me see it and let me live it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The sin of boring people with God

"...imagination is a Christian duty is that when a person speaks or writes or sings or paints about breathtaking truth in a boring way, it is probably a sin. The supremacy of God in the life of the mind is not honored when God and his amazing world are observed truly, analyzed duly, and communicated boringly. Imagination is the key to killing boredom. We must imagine ways to say truth for what it really is. And it is not boring. God's world - all of it - rings with wonders. The imagination calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of his beauty beautiful.
Imagination may be the hardest work of the human mind. "
God is not Boring


"Where lonely people gather together
to drink burnt coffee
and ignore one another in community."

Mark Driscoll
The Rebels Guide to Joy

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Grace is for losers

England lost in the Football.
England lost in the Rugby.
England lost in F1.

Losing should keep us from boasting. Sadly it just makes us whine about suspect penalties, denied tries or bad luck. Such self-pity is just pride in disguise.

Well, I'm a loser and that's ok. It's ok because the grace of God found me. It didn't find me because I'm a winner but because I was a sinner.

I didn't earn it. I didn't deserve it. I didn't figure it out. Instead He penetrated my heart, subdued my rejection and opened my eyes to behold his great majesty in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Me: happy loser.

Pete Dray takes a slightly different approach...

Authority Displayed

CREATION - Genesis 1
We see the evidence of God's authority in speaking to create.
V3. And God said “Let there be light” “and there was light”
v9 . And God said “Let the water... be gathered...”
“and it was so”
v11. Then God said “Let the land....” “and it was so”.

God speaks and we get the universe. Ever walked in the dark and said “let the be light” and succeeded? Ever sat in the bath and said “let the water be gathered” and had the water obey your voice. The word of God is so authoritative that God simply has to speak “and it was so”. Said and done. This is the authority of God's word.

2 Corinthians 3v18v4v6. Paul picks up on the creative word of God in 2 Corinthians 4v6.
God who said “Let light shine out of darkness made his light shine in our hearts” How does this light shine in our hearts? V2, v5. The plain and undistorted preaching of Jesus Christ as Lord. A word, 3v18, in which we see the glory of the Lord. A word, 4v6, that opens our eyes to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, 4v4, the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

God speaks and we get a universe. God speaks and blind eyes are open to see the glory of God in Jesus. The work of God should send shockwaves into your soul. What's the place of the Word in my discipleship? Is it focussed upon seeing the glory of Jesus, because that's the focus of the word. “God's aim is to ravish our affections with an irresistible display of his glory” (John Piper, The supremacy of God in Preaching.)

God's authoritative words are not oppressive but creative and re-creative and glory-displaying and affection-ravishing and heart-warming.

UNBELIEF - Numbers 14, Hebrews 3-4
Yet, The word can be resisted by unbelief. That is called hard-heartedness. When Israel do it at Kadesh Barnea. They were rescued from Egypt by God. They reached the edge of the promised land. Their spies saw how good and glorious it was. Taste and See! And yet they say – we can't take it. They take a gallup poll and God loses. When you ask people to rule God always loses.

God has promised them the land but they don't believe it. And they say – we'll go skulking back to slavery. God says – then you'll not have the land. And so they say we want it. We want it. We want it. And they fail a second time to believe God's word. They charge on in against the Amalekites and Canaanites and they are cut down, cut down by the double-edged swords of the enemies of God.

And in Hebrews 3-4 that is applied to God's people in the sound of God's word. Today. Today and every today. Check your heart that it isn't hard. Because if it is then the word can cut you down. The same word of God comes to us against unbelief to expose our thoughts and attitudes. Hearts that have itching ears that easily follow their own desires. What's the big deal about unbelief? Jonathan Edwards the puritan pastor who saw revival in New England wrote:

“[Unbelief] sets all
the glory and excellency
of Christ as nought”

God's authoritative speech is designed to reveal his glory to us – the glory of Jesus Christ the Lord. Unbelief in God's word sets this at nought, which is evil. It says I can be indifferent and apathetic to his glory. Like the Israelites at Kadesh is says, my desires take prominence over God's promises. He says NO ENTRY, but I want to go in and so I will. Unrestrained, such an attitude in reality despises the glory of God in the Lord Jesus.

Authority foundations

Part II: Assumptions & Foundations.

The Authority of the Word of God. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3v16: “...All Scripture is God-breathed...”

Against all these we gather to establish the Authority of Scripture – Scripture over us rather than under anything. Paul asserts this as one of his final words to his protege Timothy. It stands as one of the last affirmations that the apostle makes as he heads to his death. One of the final foundations for the church as it rests upon the apostolic teaching. It is asserted into Timothy's context where the gospel was being denied, false teaching was spreading like gangrene, persecution was rising and people were increasingly following whatever teachings they liked. One generation hands on to the next and the future of the church was at stake, our salvation was at stake...

Basic Assumptions

We cannot cover everything here so as we proceed we need to make some basic assumptions. I'll comment briefly on each. If you're not convinced of these then some of the rest of what we say will not stand as firmly for you – however there is no substitute for further study and reading and I'd encourage you to pursue that.

1.Scripture = 66 books we call the Bible.

It is evident that Paul in 2 Timothy 3v16 is only referring explictly to the Old Testament – it is the only scripture at that point. However Peter later recognises Paul's writings as scripture which shows some growing awareness of the New Testament as Scripture. And if Scripture, then God-breathed. We can't explore this further today.
See Wayne Grudem's chapter on Canon.

2.Scripture is God speaking. God never lies.

Wayne Grudem observes that all the words in scripture are God's words in such a way that to disbelieve any word of scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God. They are so closely related. We see this in the case of Ahab. Jehoshaphat is judged for forming an alliance with the man who hates God's word. But the charge against Ahab is not that he hated God's word, but that he hated God (2 Chronicles 19v2). We can't claim to love God if we don't love his word. We cannot draw lines between God and his word – that's not to say we worship the word. Since God doesn't lie we conclude that scripture is inerrant.
See Grudem on Inerrancy for further study.

3.Scripture is the basis for our doctrine about scripture's authority.

We must also assume Scripture itself to be self-authenticating. It is the highest authority we appeal to in our study. If our convictions about scripture rest upon external evidences like archeology or manuscript quantities then it is those rather than scripture that become our authority. Calvin is very helpful here:

“God alone is a fit witness of himself in his word.
The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. The Spirit must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that [the scriptures] faithfully proclaim
what has been divinely commanded...
(p79, I.VII.4)

Scriptures obtain full authority among believers
only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven.
(p74, I.VII. 1)

That's why I'm a Calvinist !
let the Spirit penetrate
into our hearts to persuade us!!

And subsequently, we argue from scripture to our understanding about doctrines. And the authority of scripture is a doctrine, it is an article of faith, something to be believed.

The credibility of doctrine is not established
until we are persuaded beyond
doubt that God is its author...
(p78, I.VII.4)
No one can get even the slightest taste
of right doctrine unless he be pupil of scripture...
(p72, I.VI.2)
The majesty of God subdues
our bold rejection and compels us to obey.”
John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion
We only believe a doctrine because it's from God. Only scripture ever gets us to true doctrine. Human logic or evidences cannot get close. For it is in scripture that we find the majesty of God revealed which subdues our sinful rejection of God's authority. We can't really explore this further now though I'd love to.

For further study see David Gibson 'For the Bible tells me so' at

What we will do is put Calvin's claim into practice. Setting ourselves as pupils of scripture to be persuaded by God and subdued by his majesty. As John Piper puts it:

“God's aim is to ravish our affections with an irresistible display of his glory”.
(The Supremacy of God in Preaching)

And let us stand with Martin Luther's logic as he confronted Rome and led the Reformation for us - “My conscience is captive to the word of God” - Martin Luther. If there-in we find reason to change those assumptions then let us do so, but if in Scripture we find what Piper, Calvin, Luther and others tell us we will find then let us expect our affections ravished by our God, our hearts captivated.

2 Timothy 3v16 leads us to argue incredibly simply but life-givingly. Get this and it will change the destination and the journey of whatever ministry the Lord gives you in the years ahead.
1. All Scripture is God's words +
2. The words of God are authoritative ->
3. Scripture is authoritative.
So our focus is to examine the words of God. What does it look like when God speaks – what we find about God's words in scripture will establish for us the authority of scripture for us. Start your engines, open your Bible!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Prophecy on Sunday?

Bob Kauflin offers
some helpful words about:

How Do We Make Room for the Gift of Prophecy?

Religion vs. Gospel

I'm not the only blogger in the UCCF family... try these:
Pete Dray highlights some contrasts here from this seminar track:
Digging Deeper: Secure in the saving God (Tim Rudge & Alison Williams)
Mo McCracken has a quality reflection on Jonah vs. Existentialism

Authority Challenged

This morning I had the honour of teaching on The Authority of Scripture for Reading Family Church. In an act of cheap blogging I'll post the script here over the next few days.

In Acts 13 we find the Jews rejecting the apostles teaching from the scriptures. They refuse it's call to believe in Jesus. They reject it's strong judgement against them and their sin. Consequently the Apostles then turn to the Gentiles who honour the word and embrace it's teaching. The word of the Lord continues to spread. Such is the story of the church as Luke reports the acts of the ascended Jesus through his church by the Spirit.

As Pete Lowman puts it (in Gateways to God):
in every sense, the growth of the church
is inseparable from the spread of the Word,
as we read it personally, as we gossip it,
as we feed on it at home groups,
in public exposition and proclamation.
This is depth, this is power,
this is spirituality.
Such statements only make sense when we have secured the doctrine of the authority of scripture, the scriptures by which – as we'll see – Jesus rules his church. As we gather to consider the doctrine of the authority of scripture let's say we are coming to consider a doctrine. That is, an article of faith – something to be believed. We come needing to have faith – faith which comes by hearing the word of God. It's my desire that we come to see faith rise in our hearts not just to understand this foundational doctrine. All theology study should be like that – seeking Spirit-transformation through the word as we behold Jesus together in his word.

Yet, from generation to generation right back to Eden the authority of the word stands challenged and denied – from Adam and Eve to the people of Reading today. Before we come to the doctrine itself let's paint the scene we find ourselves in.

The Authority of “the World”
Here dwells Richard Dawkins. Like any good scientist he observes the physical world, but he takes his interpretation of it to be authoritative with no regard for the scripture.

Liberal traditions in the church have followed this in the past, denying miracles for example as impossible given our experience of the world.

John Calvin responds by saying that the God delusion is deluded – simply we need to view the world through the spectacles of scripture – others like Richard Baxter go further suggesting that we no nothing of the world without theology.

When the world has authority then it is allowed to critique our interpretation of the word and define it.

The Authority of “the Church”
For some this comes in the form of Roman Catholicism and the authority of the Majesterium, casting their authoritative interpretations of scripture. This is fairly freshly popularised by Dan Brown and his opinions in The Da Vinci Code.

As Protestants and Reformation people we stand clearly against that – we affirm the authority of scripture, but it's all to easy for us to replace it with the authority of Protestant Popes, what does Terry Virgo, John Piper, Don Carson etc say... we find it when Bible teaching contains more of the preacher than it does of the scriptures, more of his opinion and view and less of what God himself says.

We have our heroes and our celebrities, and we're right to honour teachers in the church, but we cannot and must not be uncritical as we do this. I must remind myself that something is not true because Piper said it. Substitute for your own hero. Likewise prophecy must be weighed and tested against the word lest we recreate the catholic majesterium in new clothing. If we're to lead in the church of God we must beware of this – the church does not need our insight, it needs the word of God – and so we must rub their faces in the word of God. Keep it inky.

The Authority of “the Christian”
Now more personally, we ask 'what does this passage say to me?' - which is a fine question if we mean what it is mean to the original audience and therefore what does it mean to us today. But when each person is able to form their own meaning of a text the authority ultimately resides with us.
We say the Holy Spirit is saying this to me through a passage, but forget that the Spirit of Truth is not going to contradict himself.

Think also of the story of King Ahab of Israel. The king of Judah, Jehoshaphat formed an alliance with him. Ahab wanted to go to war. Jehoshaphat said, not unless God says so.

Ahab produces 400 prophets who support his decision. Jehoshaphat isn't satisfied – 'got any more prophets' he says. Ahab says, there is one but I hate him because he only ever says bad things about me (2 Chronicles 17v7)

So easy for us to twist and distort scripture to suit ourselves. We pay lip service to it but in reality it's us mastering the word rather than it mastering us. A good cure to this is to read in big chunks, keep the context in view because it's harder to turn a big ship than a small one. Postmodernism lurks around us diverting us from seriousness about the scripture – telling us that we can't trust the Bible – often pushing scripture to the margins in favour of pragmatism and experience.

Just look into any Christian bookshop and we find self-help Christianity that flirts with the Bible, or actively denies it's core doctrines. In every ages people have followed what their itching ears want to hear. Our age is no different. We find the Bible treated as a guidebook or manual for living, using it to support what we want to do – like Ahab. Our Christianity skews and distorts and the glory of Jesus stands diminished.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Preaching the cross

I've just spent the afternoon with one of my staff. It's such a priviledge to be able to mentor them, hearing what God has been doing them and reading the Bible together. Today we turned to Galatians, chapter 3. Here Paul is turning the Galatians from their folly back to the message of the cross. I was struck by a number of things here:
1. When Paul directs them to recall his preaching of Christ crucified there is a assumption that they know the story of Abraham. The only way this is likely is if he had preached about this. But we know Paul only ever preaches "Christ and him crucified". Thus, when Paul preaches the cross what seems to be meant is a Biblical Theology that tracks back at least as far as the promises to Abraham. Preaching the cross then means preaching redemptive-history not just the event outside the city walls of Jerusalem... the cross casts it's shadow back through all of Scripture.

2. The gospel, which Paul is so keen to contend for can be summarised in terms of God's blessing through Abraham for the peoples of the world. Granted this is Biblically coded language that we can expand to talk about in terms of blessing rather than curse, and about justification and about the Holy Spirit this is notable in it's positivity (blessing) and it's focus upon the peoples (ethos) - his gospel is and always was a global one not just for individuals or some peoples. This is big, and ultimately overcomes human dividing lines to unite peoples in Christ.

3. Being a Christian means being justified by faith in Christ's death and having the Holy Spirit. Receiving the Spirit is what was promised by God - possible because by the cross we are justified. Without justification God's presence with us would be destructive. Without the Spirit what would be the good of being justified? Like Piper says, God is the gospel - justified to come to God.

4. The core of Christian life is hearing with faith. It's the way we begin and the way to continue. This thwarts reliance on the law which can only lead to curse rather than blessing. And it means that gospel-ministry must be about giving people opportunity to hear with faith - and that in turns means teaching the word of the cross to people. Again and again we're to call people to boast in the cross. Obsessively. That warms my cold heart and lights my way.

Seven blogposts

It's been a bit of a quiet week on this blog cos I've been away up near Oxford... but there are plenty of other good blogs around you could have been reading instead:

1. Andy Shudall on Hypothetical Kate
2. Ed Goode picks up the Sunday School baton
3. Martin Downes on what happens when you take away doctrine
4. Dan Hames on Osteen in the words of Driscoll
5. Adrian Reynolds on good and bad Acts theology
6. Adrian Warnock interviews Greg Haslam
7. Milton Stanley highlights some grace words from Mark Lauterbach

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What about the children?

Today on Five Live the pre-match build up was about securing the future of football - with stern warnings that if we didn't get childrens football right then there would be no England vs. Estonia in 15 years. Matches will of course still happen, the standard might just be lower... It's a good thing to ask about the future of English Football. Likewise we ought to ask about the future of the church.

The pyromaniacs just started talking about children and church. Including the exciting story of a youth worker teaching church history to teens! Bring that on... But, that's not really my point in posting. We were talking the other night about the place of children in church - and particularly the line between church being free parenting and childcare and parents themselves being responsible for teaching their children the gospel as part of the church.

You should know that I became a Christian when I was 18 having been part of a liberal church sunday school up to the age of 11 and with some involvement in a loosely evangelical youth group. My wife, with whom I was talking about this, became a Christian at the age of three. I accept that this means I've not seem any great example of evangelical youthwork first-hand, but I'm still not convinced that the best youthwork does anything that being part of a congregation with excellent preaching for 18 years wouldn't achieve...

The normal model in the UK seems to be that children are kept out of all or most of the sunday morning meetings of churches to attend a sunday school. It'd probably not fair comment on the quality of that kids teaching, though I'm sure much of it is excellent. That's also supplemented by midweek youth meetings. I remember listening to an Al Mohler interview sometime back that suggested that this really isn't the norm in the US (is that true?).

My concerns with this are:

1. The church meeting is then an adults only thing rather than a multi-generational gathering which would look more like church seems to in the Bible. Didn't Jesus say let the children come to me, rather than let them go out to the church hall?
2. Parents teaching their own children the gospel is delegated. If in the old covenant it was the parents job to raise their children in the gospel shouldn't that be all the more important now? Which isn't to say it doesn't happen - but when did your church last run a course to equip parents to teach the gospel to their children?
3. Youth leaders miss out on preaching - whilst being 'employed' to teach each week. If preaching, and indeed the rest of corporate worship, is of any value surely that's going to strip them of life.
4. When the kids are kept in the preaching tends to disappear only to be replaced by something aimed at five years olds, which implies very low confidence in preaching. I know the counter argument is that the kids need to understand it - but I'm not sure I care if the kids don't get everything in the sermon - hopefully they'll notice the high value of Christ is what is said. And since when did the adults understand everything in the meeting?
5. When the youth work ceases and sunday school kid arrives at university he still expects to find a youth group to belong to and struggles to find his place in a church because up to that point it's all been made entirely consumer friendly rather than being something he belongs to. There are without doubt other reasons why there is a big drop off from church at age 18 but I'd bet on this being part of it.
What's the alternative?

1. Keep the church together on a Sunday morning so that everyone worships together but don't patronise the adults with dumbed down preaching. Talk about Christ and some how make it accessible enough for kids to pick up the gist. I know of one (blogging) pastor who seems to do this well (Ahem - comment please when you read this).
2. Keep the church together on a Sunday so that half the congregation don't have to spend the week preparing for Sunday school (or a stressful Saturday evening). I'm not saying that youth groups are unhelpful or should be scrapped altogether but think of the great gain of the Sunday meeting. And, in those other meetings teach the Bible don't just play games!! I remember talking with my Dad a while back about how it'd be great to have whole families in homegroups and not just the adults - there are some logistical hurdles to get over there but why not?!
3. Keep the church together so that the preaching of the word and it's power to gather young and old together is evident to everyone. Help young people to love the church by being included in it. Why shouldn't a seven year old understand the message of Ephesians or Judges or Genesis? Why shouldn't a teenager add church history to the history they're learning at school? Taking this approach must mean helping parents to teach their children - setting up occasional meetings for this though has got to be less work than the effort required to run several simultaneous age-divided meetings every sunday.

I'm not yet a parent though God-willing I'd like to be one day (the prospect of it scares me a lot) but if I'm going to add the ministry of being a parent to the ministry of being a husband then I really want to teach any children I have about the LORD. At the very least that makes me think I need to get into the word and get them on my heart.
"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
Deuteronomy 6v6-9
The good thing is that God has already secured the future of his church. It will prevail. Jesus wins! What's not so secure, like the future of football, is whether it'll be secure here and how sound, faithful, dynamic and effectively advancing the church will be here in the future...
Those were some of my sketchy thinking, what do you think?

Trinity 101 UK

JT has highlighted Grudem's work on Trinity - Trinity 101.

Mike Reeves has had a big impact on us in UCCF over the last couple of years in his role as our Theology Advisor. I think he's helped us particularly in four things.
1. Helped us see theology is exciting.
2. Church history. Particularly his love of Luther.
3. Doctrine of creation - which gets Jesus' rule over all of life not just some narrow piety. It recovers art and study, humanity and enjoyment as part of Christian life. Sanctify the ordinary!
4. Trinity. Easily enough for a six year old. Do away with the absurd illustrations about impersonal objects like clover leafs and water and eggs. If you want to know what God is like read the Bible - and if something in creation must illustrate God then it'll be the climax of creation (humanity in relationship).
And the Trinity stuff is essentially available here -

Depending on the living God (includes outline of talks)
MP3s: Session 1, Session 2, Session 3.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Grace: Anti Climb Paint

"Let the paint dry.
Let the wonder of
God's grace overwhelm you.
Let it bring you to a deep sense
of his total acceptance"
Terry Virgo
...and therefore stop trying to climb up to God, or to climb over his people. The grace of God liberates us to stand where we are and enjoy the view - to behold the glory of his glorious grace that is all we need from first to last, for 'salvation' and for life.

Up and over the rollercoaster!

The last two days I've been in Galatians 3 with Claudia, Ed, Steve and Andy. We've looked at the role of the law and God's promise to Jesus. The scale of the gospel is stretched back to Abraham and outward to the nations but at all times centred upon the curse bearing death of Jesus. It's wonderful news!

In Galatians 3v15-25 is like climbing up a rollercoaster, clunk, clunk, clunk. "Driving you up the redemptive historical timeline to Christ" (DA Carson) And then when you reach the top you start to fly, and soar and rejoice! Why? Because by God's promise we can be sons of God by faith in Jesus (v26). God's promise saves us! No law keeping required. The law was a temporary measure that was necessary for Israel because of sin to ensure that the Christ would come and the promise come to us! Now, anyone can be counted righteous and enjoy the promise of God's Holy Spirit - filled and clothed with Christ and so sharing his status.

Terry Virgo says (God's Lavish Grace, p41) seeing this is like painting in watercolours. You have to "let the paint dry. Let the wonder of God's grace overwhelm you. Let it bring you to a deep sense of his total acceptance". Enjoying this grace it should become normal conversation for sons to be "delighting in what the Lord is doing in life, conversation that would help [us] to remember about grace and be thankful for it every day" (Marcus Honeysett, Finding Joy, p47). As Virgo puts it, grace is not a stagnant pond but rather a gushing river.

It's been a joy over the last twenty four hours to see God's grace at work in people - in staff and relay and in the unity and joy of church leaders in Plymouth. It's a delight to see men and women who love the gospel of God's grace and to stand with them.

Famous bloggers

From the ever sharp Cartoon blog by Dave Walker:

Kodak my Mediator

Yesterday we had a water meter fitted, I got the train to Plymouth and read the guardian and finished reading The Gum Thief, at one point the book comments on the peculiar way people take digital photos and then immediately relive the moment by looking at the picture rather than enjoying the moment they were so desperate to record.

With Facebook we'll change the world

I just got invited to this facebook group...

Lets get Tim Hughes to number one - Its about time some Christian music was all powerful in the charts and therefore on our national airwaves. So the plan is for as many people as possible to download one song two weeks before Christmas and get Tim Hughes into the charts on downloads alone!! The song we thought is most suited for was Happy Day on the Holding Nothing Back album. Please please please support us on this mission all it will cost you is 79p on itunes!! If Chris Moyles can get Billie Piper Honey to the bee and Peter Andre Mysterious Girl back in the charts this is not beyond us!!

I remember the buzz when I was a student as Delirious attempted to break into the charts. Funny to see it coming round again. Raises questions for me about what is Christian music? Even if we can define it, what's gained by having it in the charts? Underlying the group I'm sure is a desire to see our nation impacted by the gospel which is brilliant.

I just can't help wondering if there might be a better way! How else could eight thousand pounds be invested? From with UCCF's ministry that buys about six months of a Staffworker on the ground, armed with a Bible, serving a CU by investing the gospel week in week out with students so they can better enjoy the gospel and live and speak for Jesus in their course, corridor and clubs. That's certainly not the only way to use that kind of money and it's not going to draw as many headlines in the Christian Press. Likewise eight grand would feed a large number of starving children for a while. It could help give one average British adult out of debt and let them have a fresh start financially... or a whole host of other things, like the newspaper this sanctimonious blogger just went and spent 80 pence on... :)

Not that there's anything wrong with downloading a Tim Hughes song though. God made us creative so there's nothing wrong with enjoying that. Tangentally I wonder what would happen if he did a Radiohead with his next album? What would Christians pay for it if it was up to them to decide?

Red letters and responsibility

I have an American Bible, a free lime green TruGrip ESV (curiously 'sound' and 'gimmicky'). The only problem is that it's a Red-Letter Bible - which highlights the words Jesus said. The problem with this is that all the words in the Bible are Jesus' words not just the ones that the Bible writers recorded as direct quotes.
Tony Campolo says we need to highlight Jesus' spoken words because they're more important - he says in Jesus we have more important words than the OT law. I see where he's going with that but the Bible gives us in built hermeneutic tools - like Jesus saying that the OT points to Jesus, Paul says the same. Not every command ever uttered is one for me to keep - not because some commands are less important but because they weren't intended for me. Biblical context is the key to that. All scripture comes out of the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3v16) not just the ones that came from Jesus' mouth. Classic example - Mark 1v11 in my funky ESV is black text - when the Father speaks about his son, but 1v15 is red as Jesus announces his kingdom.... aren't the Father's words important? And what about all of them spoken by the Spirit. Actually Jesus' words in the Bible are the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul as they record them in their books and letters... but they're all exhaled by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

John Frame adds another angle in No Scripture, no Christ - John Frame:
"Lord­ship and Saviorhood, without authorita­tive Scripture, are meaningless expressions... the authority of Scripture is so important... we cannot say we love Christ while disowning the Bible. And that is why, when we present the gospel, we must present it as a word of authority and sure promise—a word which demands precedence over all other words, a word which will not be judged by the criteria of modern philosophy and science, but which demands the authority to judge all the thoughts of men."
Why must we pit Jesus against scripture when we cannot have one without the other. It's the same thing Rob Bell does in Velvet Elvis (which I will finish reviewing one day...) where he pits Jesus against doctrine. This requires some reflection and the rest of Frame's paper is worth reading. See also: For the Bible tells me so by David Gibson. The implications of thinking this way for apologetics and discipleship are vast, when we see the proximity between Christ and the Scriptures. It's all Jesus speaking and we'll never truly believe in him without all scripture, nor will we ever believe in scripture without belief in Jesus. Utterly circular but without that we end up with logic or evidence or something else as our authority instead of Jesus.

I'm challenged that I need to consider myself under God's words rather than over them. And the more exposed I am to the word in my job the more accountable to God I am. I remember being struck by a pastor who preached to a lot of Bible college students and professors who was asked if he was intimidated by the congregation. He said that it was a help to him to know they they knew their stuff - it helped him to know that he was unlikely to lead them astray. Likewise the more I hear the more accountable to God I am. Responsible for putting the word into practice. Dan Phillips is in great form on this...
Easy to come and judge the word, to listen arrogantly, to sit and judge for style and content when God is speaking through the reading and preaching of his word to build faith in me. All of them, not just the ones in red.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


South West Christian Unions Missions Conference
Saturday 24 November, 10am-4.30pm - Belmont Chapel, Western Way, Exeter
Glorying in the cross of Christ, with Mike Reeves

Transformission : facebook event page

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Radiohead: what's it worth?

So you can download Radiohead's new album today for whatever you decide to pay. It's a fascinating marketing exercise and challenge to the music industry - what should music cost? Can you decide before you hear it? And how do we decide what anything is worth?

Can they expect anyone to pay for the download when they can have it for free? One music journalist confessed he'd feel guilty if he paid nothing for the album - but why?

Value is a major theme in the Bible - it makes stunning statements about the value of possessions, life and death, and Jesus Christ. Paul can write in Philippians that death is gain and that he counts all his prior gains as worth nothing to him. Jonathan Edwards comments that the problem with 'unbelief' is that it 'sets the glory of Christ at nought'. Everyday we set the value of things - by what we pay for them and the way we treat them.

Also in today's "news": Jack will be in jail during the next season of 24. (or at least Kiefer Sutherland will be). Good to see someone facing the punishment for their offense, and that he cares for the jobs around him. Keen as I am to see the next season of 24 I can't help wondering whether we shouldn't have to wait for him to finish his sentence, and face some of the consequences of his behaviour.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Mark Virkler and the voice of God

I encountered Mark Virkler's teaching on communion with God in the late 1990s. His approach is reviewed in Christianity Magazine this month. Only the start of the article is online so I don't know what the magazine conclusions are but Virkler's resources are available: Four Keys to Hearing God's Voice. Even if you've never heard of Virkler you'll recognise what he writes as being woven into the general consciousness of British evangelicalism today. Mark Virkler says that if you want to hear the voice of God you should "begin with the Bible" - which is great, until you read on a bit:
Begin with the Bible. Think of people who heard God speaking, about whom the Bible describes a little of how they began to hear. Who comes to mind? Moses at the burning bush, Samuel in the Temple, Elijah on Mount Horeb are three characters many think of. You may have others in mind. Now think: ‘Where were these people?’ Moses was on the far side of the wilderness, a long way from his father-in-law’s home. Samuel was in the Temple at evening. The lamps were lit but the work was all done. Elijah was at the end of a long journey running away from likely retaliation. Each was away from home, away from the routine of the day, in an out-of-way-place or an out-of-the-busyness time. The same is true for most Bible characters listening to God.
The problem here is that it's begin with the Bible as a book of examples rather than because the Bible itself is God speaking to us. The examples do have something to teach us but what we're left with is hear God by getting away from things rather than by getting the book open. I don't doubt that a bit of peace and quiet is helpful... but we're on sinking sand if we're listening for God away from or beyond the Bible. John Frame is helpful here:
"The God of the Bible directs his people to a book. To be sure, he does speak to some men individually—Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Paul; but he instructs his people as a whole to find his will in a book. When God first led his people out of bondage in Egypt, he gave them a book..."
The Virkler approach depends on an entirely subjective divine voice. I do believe in contemporary prophecy for the strengthening of the church, but it has to be weighed and tested by the church (not away from everyone!) against the Bible in full accordance with 1 Corinthians 14. The Virkler approach seems to puts more confidence in the individual experience and whilst his website encourages retrospective testing of what is written in "journalling" I'm not sure that's practiced much by those I've known who've practiced it. And indeed in my experience of doing it several years ago. A fatal flaw is that my heart is deceptive above all things. Left alone I don't get a"flow of spontaneous thoughts that comes.. quite definitely from God." My heart is an idol factory not a reliable discerner of the will of God. The voice I hear from myself doesn't know God. I need an open Bible, and I'll be well advised to be reading it in the company of his people - knowing that the centre of all God's speaking is Jesus.

Another reflection on Mark Virkler

For some more useful words on hearing God see:
Peter Adam - Hearing God's Words
John Piper - This Morning I heard the Voice of God
Pete Lowman's Gateway's to God
Lowman observes. "Life comes to us as we learn to pioneer in his Word: exploring its unknown regions, discovering what his Spirit has stored there to show us God's glory"

The Legal Rights of Student Christian Unions

Julian Rivers (Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Bristol) responds to Adjudicator Mark Shaw’s QCs ruling that Exeter Christian Unions that non-Christians should be able to head up the Christian Union at Exeter University:
The Legal Rights of Student Christian Unions

Rosemary Grier highlights very helpful paragraph on discrimination in a pluralist society

Please pray that an amicable solution can be worked out on the ground in Exeter. As you can see from Professor Rivers and the NUS-UCCF guidelines this should be entirely possible.

More on Engaging with Students Unions

Mahaney interviews Dever

Grab a coffee (for an hour) and listen in to two partners in the gospel enjoying one anothers company, talking about being a pastor and reading The Valley of Vision in the middle of the night among other things.
A 9 Marks interview with a difference, this time Dever is guest... CJ Mahaney interviews Mark Dever

Subverting the charismatic debate

Is your church a charismatic church? I don't mean, does your pastor have personality. Nor do I want to ignite a debate about prophecy and speaking in tongues. Rather, is your church one where the charis of God is at work. (Charis being the NT Greek for grace) Is God's grace at work in your church? Is it charismatic?

We see the charis of God at work in the church primarily at the cross of Christ. Throughout the old testament God had shown grace to his people. But a question remained. How could God forgive people. In the death of the Lord Jesus on a Roman cross he answered that question. Jesus bore the wrath of God that we deserved so we might justly receive God's full favour. Paul explains this in Romans 3v21-25. This is a free gift of God's grace, charis, to all kinds of people. It's not earned or deserved. And this means it removes all kinds of boasting. Rich or poor. Upper class or working class. Educated or uneducated. White or black. Male or female. Though Jesus was crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem, the ground around the cross is level. Everyone comes on the same terms and so no one can boast about themselves. I'd love to explore that further but the glories of penal substitution and propitiation are a subject to explore in another post. [See Romans 3v21-30]

That said, difference exists! Look around your church. We're all equal, but some seem to be a bit more equal than others. How do we deal with the real differences that exist in the church? Why didn't God just make us all equal? Looking around any congregation we find a great range of affluence, some struggling to make ends meet while some enjoying lavish holidays and fine foods. It's always been like that.

The answer is found in God's desire to display his grace in the church. As Paul writes to the Christians of Corinth, in Greece, he wants to tell them about God's grace (2 Corinthians 8v1,4,7,8,9). He wants them to become charismatic! There is already much charis in the church. They serve one another in word and deed. But he has in mind another aspect of grace that he longs to see in them, the "grace of giving" (2 Corinthians 8v7) and for them to excel in it!

He begins with a true life story of the Christians of Macedonia (2 Cor 8v1-5). A story of the churches of Philippi and Thessalonia, who he writes to elsewhere in the New Testament. In the first century the Christians of Jerusalem experienced great famine. Paul was sent to teach God's good news to the non-Jews but he had commited himself to help provide for the Jewish Christians. The Macedonians knew of this commitment and Paul tells of how they begged and pleaded to be involved in this giving. The problem was that they too were experiencing extreme poverty (v2). Nonetheless, God's grace was so powerfully at work in them that they gave generously. In fact, they gave beyond their means (v3). And I take that to be saying that they gave financially in a way that meant they went without some essentials for a period of time. There were real Christians who went without food for some days because of the grace of God in their lives. They became financially irresponsible but Paul can't condemn them for it - rather he celebrates the effects of God's grace in them (v1). God's charismatic work among these Christians.
"Grace by it's vary nature overflows - more a gushing river than a stagnant pond" (Terry Virgo, God's Lavish Grace, p140)
God was at work in the Macedonian churches and they were displaying their treasure. Showing off what they most valued. Not the coins they pressed into Paul's hands but rather that what they most valued in this world wasn't food and money but Jesus Christ and his gift of grace to them. These were the Christians to whom Paul had written of the all surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ, in Philippians 3v7-11, and here we see it in action. He had told them of how dying was gain (Philippians 1v21) - how losing all the things of this world and being left only with Jesus would make him richer than he'd ever known - and they exemplify it in their actions. They treasured Christ above all things - which isn't to say physical things are bad but rather than Jesus is very valuable.

And Paul longs that the affluent and charismatic church of Corinth might share that kind of charismatic gift (2 Cor 8v7). This isn't however illicited by commands and regulations (v8). Paul refuses to issue such demands. Rather he tells a second story. This story is about Jesus (v9). Jesus who was infinitely rich. Jesus who knew in eternity past the riches of life in the presence of his Father. And yet, Jesus gave up his riches and became poor, humbling himself to a life of poverty on earth and a criminals death. Why did he do that? So that we might become rich. Not financially rich, but rich in God's grace - rich in enjoying God's favour towards us in Jesus. And this is the lesson of grace for the rich - that they might immitate Jesus, displaying their treasure - not just in going without a meal but, like Jesus, adopting a lifetime of less affluence.

Often today we think of charitable giving as something that we do with our excess money. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have shown this in recent years - so rich they didn't know what to do with their money so they started giving it away in vast quantity. The grace of God works differently and Paul's desire is that it would liberate the rich Corinthians from their riches to serve the starving Christians of Jerusalem. The Macedonians in their poverty gave beyond their means and yet the quantity given was probably quite small, they had so little. In Corinth the grace of God could cause them to give in vast quanity without even noticing - or it could work even more powerfully to lead them to adopt a lower standard of living for years to come - like Jesus' 30 years of poverty. Not just giving out of excess but perhaps giving up on some of the fine things of life, again not because those things are bad but rather in order to serve the needs of others in the church. It might mean giving up the size of their spacious home or their holidays. It seems uncomfortable and unthinkable to talk this way but what else can be meant by the words Paul writes here. They have the great opportunity to display how great a treasure Jesus is to them by releasing their great wealth for the sake of others.

Why not just give everyone enough - God could do that! God's ways are different. He works in our hearts so that the plenty of one might meet the need of another. Why? Because when we give up the money we have we show that Jesus is worth more to us than money. And when we give to another we display the grace of God in Jesus who gave up his riches to make us rich. That's what the grace of God looks like in a church. No rules can losen our grip on the contents on the money, car keys, house keys and other things in the pockets of the people of God. Only grace sets us free to treasure Jesus above all else. Elsewhere - one Christian has plenty, another has need - and only by God's grace will the plenty meet the need (v14). So the rich should consider what they have in the light of the cross of Christ (v12) so that the grace of giving might be completed (v6) in them. Only the grace of God can produce such radical change. Only what we find in the death of Jesus can kill boasting and release the gift of giving, working the grace of God so deeply into our lives that it even effects our money. Then we start living on the level ground at the foot of the cross.
"It is God's grace from beginning to end. He favours you with amazing kindness and then makes your heart willing to abandon possessiveness and freely give... ever increasing grace to the giver and making you a channel of grace to many." (Terry Virgo, God's Lavish Grace, p151)

Wise words from Luke Wood on giving and Should students tithe their student loan.