Monday, January 28, 2008

Review: The Gospel and Personal Evangelism

This is a really helpful little book on evangelism by Mark Dever. At 128 pages it is brief and that inevitably means it's both frustrating (you want more) and challenging (you have to think more). Above all the brevity of the book helps to make it accessible. The first Christian book I read was Bill Hybels & Mark Mittelberg's Becoming a Contagious Christian. That's a good book but Dever provides a more concise primer. It lacks the detail of John Chapman's Know & Tell the Gospel or Will Metzger's Telling the truth but that is more than compensated for by its quality.

Dever works through the general issues of evangelism from why we don't do it. This was particularly challenging to me since, like Dever, I find myself in the kind of job where regular relational non-Christian contact is difficult. Dever is known for his intentional patterns of living to help him develop relationships - I know I need to think more about how to work that into my irregular life. He wisely suggests talking with others about this. I would have liked more detail on this area of his life.

There is helpful clarity about the content of the gospel and motivation to evangelism. Very useful is the chapter on what to do next, about how people respond. A particularly striking story is from Martyn Lloyd-Jones who said that he was confronted by a listener who complained the next day that he'd not given opportunity to respond publicly. Lloyd-Jones invited him to come and meet with him but the man declined the offer. The doctor replied: Whatever affected you last night was only temporary and passing, you still do not see your need of Christ. How true. This echoes Sam Storms interpretation of Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections (Signs of the Spirit). Dever identifies negative responses hopefully before dealing with positive responses, still warning of false yeses. The approach is cautious but wise. What he says here would be helpful to any missions context, local church or otherwise.

Motivation is outlined in terms of obedience, love for the lost, love for God before giving helpful ideas to encourage evangelism. The previous Dever book I read was on church, similarly clear and concise. Given his record of producing short booklets and expanding them to small books and on to more substantial books I wonder whether we'll see a bigger version of this in due course. For now, it worth having on your shelf.

Trinitarian skylarking

The cross is foolishness. Of all the aspects of the gospel message to pick as the summary word the cross is nuts. It's weak and unimpressive. Yet, Paul summarises his message as "Christ Crucified" but we know he says all the other stuff too about God's promises to Abraham, about him being king over all, about us inheriting all things with him, about wrath and resurrection etc.

The cross makes an idiot of the world who thought they'd beaten Jesus by the cross. It also stops us being proud because no one looks big when they say that Jesus on a tree is where our hope comes from. The cross is the Bible's gospel-code. When we talk about being cross-centred we mean being about the gospel of salvation history from Genesis to Revelation.

Likewise look at Esther. Purim is the festival to celebrate the victory over the Amalekites. You'd think GALLOWS would be the symbol cos they hang their enemy and his sons on Gallows (Haman the Amalekite from the family of Agag). What do they pick as the symbol - PUR - because their enemy thought that by casting lots (pur) and trusting in chance he could beat the Jews. The symbol mocks the enemy. Luckyman lost and it's celebrated by building Vegas. It's comedy as God tramples his enemies under foot without being mentioned.

You'd think that an empty tomb or a throne would be the best symbol of Christianity but that's a power statement. The cross makes a fool of the watching world but it's everything to us. No one looks clever when they they sing of the wondrous cross where Jesus was cursed to bring us blessing. There is comedy as God mocks the world and wins the victory.

See also: Watch Mark Driscoll making some similar points about humour/satire in the Bible, Read a outline of main points of Mark Driscoll on Humour by Brian Lair.

Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

I first heard about this book about five years ago when Don Carson was speaking at an UCCF theology conference and he said he was working on this. This morning it arrived! Sadly, no time to explore it at the moment, except to scan read the index for nuggets that might be relevant to what I'm currently working on.

Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (editors)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Seven Days

1. Creation. "The little birds that sing, sing of God; the beasts clamor for him; the elements dread him, the mountains echo him, the fountains and flowing waters cast their glances at him, and the grass and flowers laugh before him." John Calvin, cited by Ray Ortlund.

2. The Universe. "the universe is one continuous explosion of the glorious happiness of God and that, through union with Christ, I have been included on the inside of this mega-miracle forever" Ray Ortlund

3. 1979-2008. The death of a celebrity I never met and of whose work I'd only seen a couple of films, but who was born a few weeks before me just makes you stop and remember that the number of your days is in the hands of God.

4. Sonship. "By clinging to circumcision and the Law instead [of allegiance to Christ] the Galatians were in fact putting back the clock of salvation history" Trevor Burke in Adopted into God's family (NSBT). More on this soon.

See also:
TBFP: Three Ways to Live
Peter Day - Overturning the tables of legalism

5. Starbucks. Welcome to my office. Happy times with Rupert, Jonathan, Su Ann, Abi, Chris, Dan and Rob.

6. Topsham. Walking around sunny streets and exploring quaint shops on a Saturday morning. And good scones.

7. Happyness of Hospitality. Eating with new friends from church over the past three evenings.

Funkypancake photo of the week "Eat Brita"

Which way to serve?

Jollyblogger on Spiritual gifts:

First of all, do you want to do something and enjoy doing it? (1 Tim 3v1)
Secondly, are you good at it (Exodus 31)
Thirdly, does the body of Christ recognize your giftedness and desire to see you serve in an area?
And lastly I'm a big fan of trial and error.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Review: The Supremacy of God in a Postmodern World

They say the church has jumped on the postmodern bandwagon just as the world has begun to jump off it. I'm not sure, it seems to me that postmodern thinking is alive and well in much of our culture, in our additudes to tolerance, truth and the consequent apathy to all things significant.

Thus, this short volume is helpful. It's a write-up of one of John Piper's Desiring God conferences. I've found earlier DG Conference books on Suffering and Sex to be helpful and this one joins the party.

The talks whose scripts are in the book are available to listen to and I'd already listened to several before I got hold of the book. Piper on the Supremacy of Christ is always a joy to hear and read, and here infamous for branding Steve Chalke's words about penal substitution blasphemous. Mark Driscoll's chapter on theology and contextualisation is clear and witty, and introduces his two-handed principle of essentials and non-essentials.

The key chapter for me however is by Voddie Baucham, the writer I knew/know least about. He's a bold apologist but speaks clearly and frequently at Universities. Hence my resonance with him. Most striking are his examples of engaging with the problem of suffering. He speaks of people posing the problem of theodicy, revealing that they've studied a term of philosophy. His next move is to say he wont answer the question til they ask it rightly, which is to say he asks them to recognise that the real issue isn't why suffering but why am I still alive, given my rebellion against Christ. That's a great example of enagaging the supremacy of Christ with the issues of our day. Much more detail is given in the chapter - and I'm sure he'd enagage more gently with someone more obviously asking out of personal pain.

Add Don Carson, Tim Keller and David Wells to the mix and you're reading short chapters from some very wise men. The bonus, as in previous books, of transcription of discussion between the speakers is a five star extra.

Other books on postmodernism exist, notably Marcus Honeysett's Meltdown, and Don Carson's The Gagging of God. By nature of being a conference book the approach is more introductory than Honeysett though comparably useful. Carson's book is just vast in size and one for those who want to pursue the subject much further.

Desiring God Conference 2006: The Supremacy of God in a Postmodern World - audio/video

Preaching centred upon God

"Ultimately, preaching is a reflection of our theology of God. If one believes that God is all-sufficient, and that all things exist in relationship to him and for his glory, then preaching will center itself on God. If one has a lesser view of God, then that preacher will speak on lesser things." Daryl Dash, ht: Milton Stanley

Thinking about the preaching I do and the preaching I hear, it's all too easy for the main subject to become me or the congregation when it'd be much better if the preaching was actually about God. About his gospel, which is about him. About his Son. About his problem with us. About his salvation plan. About his glory. Easy to be desperate to find 'application' (see blown wide open - Ed Goode on Exodus 12) and things for us to do, when all that's needed is to wow our hearts with the glory of the gospel.

In Psalm 63, which my supervisior Tim opened up with me recently, I saw afresh that David's desperate situation was turned around by his memory of what he'd seen in Jerusalem. His vision of God's glory at the temple. When he would have seen the altar in front of the curtain with it's two angels blocking the way to the Holy of Holies. When he would have seen the blood poured out for the sins of the people. There he says he saw the power and glory of God. How much more we see it in the sacrifice that tore the curtain open! This remebrance turned the parched soul of David to sing out the name of God.

David could have gone soul-searching in his desperation, mulling over how he'd managed to get himself into such a situation - but instead he turned to God and the sacrifices God instituted as the shadow basis of relationship with himself. That really stirs worship. That really stirs mission. That's what Christian Unions need at this stage of a term that is often dominated by major events where the gospel of Jesus will be taught - they need the memory of the cross and they need to draw near to God and enjoy his glorious grace. Without that the mission will be fueled by effort and duty, with that it'll be fueled by delight in grace and concern for the reputation of God.

What's more useful, skills training on how to speak about Jesus or being told that Jesus is The Man, the one who came from God to us, who died to tear apart the curtain where the angels barred the way to the presence of God. The Man who walked back up the mountain into the presence of God, into the garden and who invites us to hide in him and get back into the garden with him?

He who did everything necessary to secure divine favour for people who deserve divine wrath. He who stands with an iron-rod to rule the nations. He who has eyes of blazing fire. He who has a sword coming out of his mouth. He who is called Faithful, True, Word of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lord - and has the latter name tatooed on his thigh. He who tramples the winepress of God's wrath. Something tells me that when we get a vision of Jesus-Saviour-and-Judge whether you can remember two ways to live or some other gospel outline isn't all that important.

Man-centred preaching will either become self-esteemism that tells us what we want to hear, or it'll be sin-focussed which will unwittingly end up convincing us that our sin isn't quite so bad as it actually is. By contrast God-centred preaching that cries 'Behold your God' and feeds on the grace of Christ will be reviled by sin but delighted with the gospel of Jesus. It'll drive changed living out of clear conviction about who God is and our new life in him.

As Pete Greig writes in Awakening Cry (p160): How desperately this nation needs a new generation of preachers who will proclaim the Gospel inventively, persuasively and passionately, with minds razor-sharp, tongues attuned to the culture and hearts aflame for God. A generation who will cry 'Behold your God'. A generation of preachers who say 'Look at Jesus. See Jesus. Savour Jesus.'

Why don't Christians swear or gossip?

In a few months I'm giving a seminar on the above title.

Where to begin? First thing that occurs to me is that, in my experience, we Christians often do both - maybe we swear in our own language and we gossip with good motives, but nonetheless we do do them. We are warned about our speech - not to slander, or indulge in coarse talk or to bit and devour... but why? Why is that out of step with gospel living? How would you approach this subject? How can I give a gospel-grace motivated answer?

Answers on a postcard, or at least in comments... please!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Getting it done

“ is to no purpose to contend with the judgments of God;
for when God judges he will overcome.
Stopping the mouths of God's ministers
will not stop the progress of God's word,
for it shall not return void.”
(Matthew Henry)

Which rings true with Ed's review of Charlie Cleverley's The Passion that Shapes Nations. Many of God's ministers have lost their lives but the progress of God's word has not been stopped. I remembered that last night as we had dinner with Sim & Rebecca, remembering my own conversion - largely through the liturgy of Cranmer & co. The Bible was read week by week but not taught, yet the progress of the word could not be stopped.

Adrian asks at the Coffee Bible Club whether we read the Bible too much. Not that he's saying we have too much Bible in the church. Always need more of what God says, whether it's reading it personally, hearing it read together. Living within the sound of the word of God is the only place to live. Having spent today studying scripture I realise afresh how priviledged I am to have this job - sadly I don't always appreciate that as much as I should.

Oodles of doodles

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lauterbach on Acts

Mark Lauterbach: "What does it look like to trust the Spirit of God? Where does my practice of the Christian life look like I believe in the present work of the Holy Spirit?"

Mark Lauterbach - Acts 1

Mark Lauterbach - Acts 2

Helpful expositions that go looking for what God is doing rather than methods for church growth.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sacrilegious audacity

I'm working on a preach on Amos 7 for our church soon. I'm really struck by the attempts of Amos and Amaziah to avoid God's word of wrath against his people. Amos does it heartbroken and appalled, with confession of sin and appeal to God's promises and gains a partial relief. Amaziah does it by trying to silence the prophets. He sets himself up in direct opposition to God, which is what this cow-priest has been doing by ministering at the altars of Bethel. John Calvin is brilliant on this:

Amaziah was indeed worthy of being destroyed by God a hundred times, together with all his offspring: but Amos intimates that God’s wrath was especially kindled by this madness, — that Amaziah dared to put a restraint on God, and to forbid his Spirit freely to reprove the sins of the whole people. Since, then, he proceeded so far, Amos shows that he would have justly to suffer the punishment due to his presumption, yea, to his furious and sacrilegious audacity, inasmuch as he set himself up against God, and sought to take from him his supreme authority, for nothing belongs more peculiarly to God than the office of judging the world; and this he does by his word and his Prophets. As, then, Amaziah had attempted to rob God of his own right and authority, the Prophet shows that vengeance had been thereby increased.
Keep me from restraining the word of God. Keep me from forbidding the Spirit to expose the sins of the church. Keep me from setting myself up against God. Keep me from taking authority from God. Let God be judge of all people by his word. That is his right. That is his authority.

Charlie Wilson's War - "We'll see"

Charlie Wilson's War (directed by Mike Nichols - Closer) tells the story of covert operations by the USA that supplied Afganistan with the weapons needed to kick out the Soviet Union, contributing to the end of the cold war amongst other things...

The cast is led by Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams and the excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman - who probably steals the show with an Oscar nominated performance as CIA agent Gust Avrokotos. This was the first film we've seen at the cinema for a couple of months and it wasn't a disappointment. It's a political drama written by Aaron 'West Wing' Sorkin so it'll not be everyone's idea of entertainment.

With the help of Hofmann and the story of a Zen master it's a good lesson what can be achieved when people are prepared to act, but more importantly about not judging history too quickly. Success shouldn't be celebrated too quickly, but reflected on later. In a culture that demands instant reflection on rolling news 24 hours a day it's a helpful message to consider. Can we really evaluate circumstances immediately? It's a message Sorkin clearly wants us to consider about present political involvement in Iraq etc. It's one thing to get Saddam, but will we stay to rebuild? What will be the consequences if we do, or don't...

Pete Dray offers a more in depth discussion

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Three ways to live

I've thought this for sometime, initially because I recall someone preaching in Poland on the older son back in summer 1998, but also from some time studying Luke's gospel a couple of years ago, but Tim Keller has refreshed my thinking about it with some extra clarity.

In Luke 15 Jesus tells three parables. The first two and a half are basically the same thing repeated. Something is lost, and then found and there is great celebration. The odd thing is the chapter should end after that, but it doesn't. It doesn't because the third parable is about a man who has two sons, and there is a whole big bit about the other son. We meet the bad kid who repents of blowing his inheritance and gets salvation at his Father's feast, and we meet the good kid who has never done anything wrong, he however refuses to join the party. Tim Keller helpfully exposes the idolatry of the good kid. He's respectable. He's acceptable. He's sound. He's reliable. And yet he's lost.

What's striking is who all these parables are told to (v1). The sinners are of course there, always following Jesus around. But so are (v2) the pharisees, complaining about the way Jesus welcomes sinners (again). The parables are often applied to the benefit of the sinners - and of course there is good news for them, however lost they are they can come into the feast, heaven will rejoice over their repentance. The shocker is the application to the pharisees who could have it all but miss out on the gospel by their grumbling and good life. There are 'three ways to live', the gospel way, the bad way, the good way (which is really only two, but the 2nd & 3rd need some separate attention).

It's not the first example of this in Luke's gospel, in chapter 10 Jesus hits the same sort of note. He warns his disciples about joy in their evangelistic endeavours (which were pretty impressive) telling them that their hearts should instead rejoice in their salvation (names in heaven, Jesus revealed to them), and then we're shown two good people - the lawyer (who is exposed by the parable of the good samaritan) and Martha who are missing out blinded by the idol of their own goodness and busyness, compared with the third Mary who has got the one thing she needs as she sits and listens to the teaching of Jesus, the soul-satisfying word of God.

Keller also makes an interesting observation about the Sermon on the Mount (I think he credits it to Dick Lucas) which I need to think further about. He observes that the Sermon on the Mount ends with 'two ways to live' - two roads, two houses, two trees. What's the path people are warned off in the SotM? Jesus is one of the ways, what's the other? Not primarily 'bad life' more, warning against pharasaic religiosity, man-impressing piety - all the kind of things that 'good people' love to do. The kind of people who might just cry out 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'. As Jesus addresses his first disciples they have a choice between two ways of living - either they can go with Jesus, or they can go with the sand that is being pious. Life in Jesus leads to life, bears fruit and survives the storm. (Matthew 7) which is a better way than do-gooding.

In February I'm travelling to Plymouth to teach from one of my favourite books, Galatians. I've drawn 4v8-5v1 in their series. That's interesting because the second half is the bit where Paul uses allegory!! Whatever the methodology his point seems to be to show that slavery has already been shown to be futureless, and so they should live a free life in the gospel. The first part of the passage focusses more on the present joylessness of being a slave when they could have the joy of Christ being formed in them by the Spirit. Before hitting that note Paul plays the first part of a melody that might sound dischordant to some, but is really sensational. He accuses the Galatians of going back to their old slavery (4v8).

The thing is, before being Christians they would have been slaves to pagan idols, now as Christians they're enslaving themselves to aspects of the Jewish law. Jewish lawkeepery looks very different to pagan idolatry. It really does. And yet it's actually the same. One puts a religious idol above God, the other puts the idol of religiosity above God. Both are idolatrous. So it was for Peter when he put the idol of a food law above the gospel-created fellowship he as a Jew could enjoy with a Gentile, the day he jumped out of step with the gospel and thus out of step with the Holy Spirit. So too for the Galatians when they bought into circumcision from the silver tongue of their visiting speakers who no doubt had compelling arguments why it would be worth them adding just a little something to Jesus.

Oh, the deceit of our trust in our goodness! Firstly my own goodness is no different from my badness, it's all idolatrous. Secondly, such idolatry is no match for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus is better than it, and his death is enough to provide all the forgiveness required for religious posturing on my part. In an age where people are into spirituality and everyone assumes that if there was a heaven God would of course let them in, we need to preach the gospel to older brothers, good kids, religious ex-pagans, pious environmentalists and self-deceived UCCF team leaders.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tim Keller (

Tim Keller -Exclusivity: How can there be just one true religion? (

Tim Keller - Suffering: If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world? (

Signs of the Spirit : Christians in the charts

Bob Kauflin - can Christian musicians play secular music for God's glory:
A Christian’s success in the general marketplace is no sign one way or the other that the kingdom is advancing or the Gospel is being proclaimed. A chart-topper isn’t necessarily a sign of God’s blessing. It might be the result of savvy marketing or great musicianship.
An interesting application of Edwards 'religious affections' logic on what proves nothing about the nature of Spiritual life, and what proves everything. Plenty to think about in terms of music to the glory of God - for example, what does it look like for my wife to make music to the glory of God in her classroom at school?

Seven Days

1. Illness and recovery. When the body fails I learn, the hard way, that my health isn't my god. God is. In case you're wondering how ill I was, I couldn't read and I couldn't face coffee... along with not being able to sleep, talk, walk etc. On the mend now, hence the blogging etc. Thank you to the care of my wife, prayers of staff, the wonders of paracetamol and cough mixture.
2. Relay Day. Having nine Relay and one member of staff in the house - I love that we can open up our home. And I love the way my team are going to excel at Relay 2 karaoke this year. Go South West!
3. Relay interview. That was a real pleasure, even though I kept coughing.
4. iPod. Train journeys with my fave Christmas present (from my lovely wife). That's better. Mostly re-listening to Tim Keller's Evangelists Conference & Two Sons talks, Snow Patrol, Valley of Vision and Aimee Mann.
5. Hat. It was seriously cold on Monday morning at the station. I love my hat. Catching the train on Friday it was very mild. No hat.
6. Christmas thank you letters. Received. Smiley moments.
7.Funkypancake photo of the week:

Friday, January 18, 2008

Eyewitness accounts

Chris Hillcoat: Eyewitness accounts of the plane crash.... perspectives vary but the event is clear

"The different angles actually add to the story,
especially those inside and outside the plane."

£17.99 (24 hits the magic number)

Right on schedule, unlike the broadcast of Day 7, drops their prices on 24 down from £50 to £17.99.
Excellent - I knew it was worth waiting for Day 6.
All other seasons at the same price too.

Slowly changing together

Paul Tripp & Timothy Lane:
Life is seldom simple. Growth in God's grace is a process and not an event. Tough things are not going to turn around overnight because you have entrusted them to the Lord. The Bible is honest in its description of how grave and comprehensive our war with sin is. Individuals, friendships, churches, marriages, and neighbourhoods don't turn around in a moment. The Bible describes the Christian life as a journey that often takes us through the wilderness. You will get tired and confused. You will have moments when you wonder where God is. You will struggle to see God's promises at work in your life. You will feel that following God has brought you more suffering than blessing. You will go through moments when it seems like the principles of Scripture don't work. It will sometimes seem like the wrong side wins. There will be moments when you feel alone and misunderstood. There will be times when you feel like quitting.
For all that present difficulty, Tripp & Lane point us forward to our destination. The place where God's people don't sing of the troubles and victories of life but of Jesus. That's a big picture perspective our hearts need when we can't see above street level. A big picture where change is a community project, and a slow one but where change is nonetheless really possible. Possible because I have a new identity, I'm married to Christ and can know and enjoy his grace.

Deriving core principles from Jeremiah 17v5-10 Tripp & Lane invite us to consider:
1. Heat - life's situations that test us (whether positively or negatively)
2. Thorns - unholy responses to situations
3. Cross - the presence of God in his redemptive glory and love to comfort, clense and provide power to change.
4. Fruit - different life growing from a heart renewed by grace.
How that plays out is the 150 pages I've not yet read.

Pastoral Refreshment Conference (UK)

Living Leadership presents The Pastoral Refreshment Conference
5-7 February 2008 at Hothorpe Hall, Leicestershire
Main theme: Enjoying God’s Grace in Leadership, and the main sessions are as follows: Grace, weakness and power, grace and glory, grace and integrity, along with a pastoral main session on loneliness and team work and an outstanding set of seminars:

1. Grace, Marriage and Ministry
Hosted by: Peter & Judy Comont
2. Faith and Doubt on theFront Line
Hosted by: Philip Warburton
3. Looking After Your Spiritual Life
Hosted by: Graham & Cate Cooke
4. Loving Your Church
Hosted by: Pete Lowman
5. Listening to Lessons from the Church Around the World
Hosted by: Jonathan Lamb
6. & 9. Nurturing and Developing Leaders
Hosted by: Marcus Honeysett
7. Woman to Woman
Hosted by: Debbie Hardyman & Alison Risbridger
8. Leading with a Forgiving Heart
Hosted by: John & Alison Risbridger
10. Man to Man
Hosted by: Dave Burke


One of the great things about doing gospel-work (for lack of alternative name to differentiate from the equally gospel paid by non-christians kind of other work) is partnerships with other believers. One of the great things about UCCF gospel-work is partnerships with people outside of my local church. Two of my most beloved gospel-partners are Sean Green and Scott Taylor. And they've just started blogging. They're elders in a newfrontiers church. I love them and I love their passion for the gospel. When we moved to Exeter it was heartbreaking to leave our local church, and just as gutting to move 150 miles away from these brothers. Reading their blogs is no substitute for seeing the gospel at work upclose in them, but it's better than nothing.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

How people change

"A changed heart is the bright promise of the gospel. When the Bible talks about the gift of a new heart, it doesn't mean a heart that is immediately perfected, but a heart that is capable of being changed."

I started reading how people change today on the train to Plymouth. Interview with Paul Tripp & Timothy Lane. As they say, it's about how to apply old things in new and fresh ways.

Gospel-centred change is what we need in the church, change that comes from beholding the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus - the kind of life that can confess "I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory." - entering into the presence of God, where the blood of Jesus is poured out and because of that blood.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Guild overturns vote in favour of Christian Union

Before Christmas I reported that Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union had won a vote at the emergency general meeting called by the Guild.

Last night the Guild overturned that vote so everything is back up in the air again. As I watch from a distance without any direct involvement in the situation I've always hoped for some kind of amicable solution. Now, considering the reasons given it's hard to imagine the ECU ever being permitted to win a vote in their favour on this matter. Where things go now is anyones guess...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dry stubble before devouring flames

Early thoughts on Amos 7 which I'm preaching on in a month... any comments welcome.

What do you do with bad news. Early on in our time living in Exeter we got a parking ticket for having our car parked opposite our house, because we forgot that it was a time-restricted bit of the road. What should we do with the ticket? Two options aren't there? Face it and pay it, or put it in the bin and hope it goes away. Bad news is never great to face but we know which one is the productive route to take.

Here we find, in Amos 7, two ways to face the problem of God's anger. And it is a real problem. Jonathan Edwards famously put it when preaching 'Sinners in the hands of an angry God': There is nothing that keeps wicked men, at any one moment, out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God. The threat of divine judgement is deadly serious and not something to be taken lightly. Amos is deeply aware of that as God's word comes again and again to him.

Martin Downes notes: Robert M'Cheyne and Andrew Bonar were once talking about what they had preached the previous Lord's Day. "On Hell," said one, to which the other asked "did you do it with tears?"

1. Avoid judgement by seeking grace

Here, in chapter 7, he is given visions. He sees locusts coming to strip the land clean (v1). He cries out for forgiveness. The cycle repeats this time with the threat of fire. The imagery is shocking and devastating. Amos the shepherd-prophet understandably tries to avert God's judgement from his people. And he succeeds in part. The third cyle does bring an inescapable judgement - the plumb line is hung and there will be no further restbite for them. The idols will be destroyed and the king will fall by the sword. That third cycle triggers the second episode here, but before turning to that return to the first two cycles. See Amos' attempt to avoid destruction.

1. He pleads for forgiveness. Surely this implies that he acknowledges the sin of the people. They need to be forgiven else they die.
2. He seeks forgiveness. That is, he turns to the LORD who is angry for grace.
3. He pleads promises. He asks "How can Jacob survive?". Reading all their prior offenses we might ask - who cares if Jacob survives? - let him be judged. But God has made promises to his people. They must continue. For all their sin, they must survive.

Aside: Did God change his mind? This could be argued - he is said to relent or even repent in response to Amos' prayer. It seems to me that this is a common way of revealing God and his ways to his people. A similar occasion is Exodus 32 after the idolatry with the golden calf. These verses report a non-event. Nothing happens. But, by revealing himself this way we see both the threat of judgement and a way of salavtion which the passing of time would not have shown.

This seems to be the only way to escape judgement, and yet Amos is ultimately unsuccessful. Judgement still comes (v7-9). Only when God sends his Son to be a propitiation will crime and punishment give way to grace and favour. Only then will God's people escape the judgement that they deserve. As we look back on this let us be humbled - confessing that we need God's rescue from his judgement, we have no other hope. We are no better than the people in Amos day, if anything - worse for we live in clear view of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.

2. Avoid judgement by silencing the prophets?

The second episode here is another attempt to avoid judgement, but this has a very different flavour. Amos is still on stage, and the LORD continues to be present by his word. And we're introduced to The Priest of Bethel who summons Amos writes to the King to accuse Amos of conspiring to have the King killed. Not the last time a faithful preacher will be accused of speaking against the authorities.

He takes Amos aside and tells him to go away, to prophesy in Judah instead. Go spout your judgement against them!! No more of your gloom and doom talk here, Amos! Amaziah is committed to a crime that Israel have already been accussed of (2v12), of silencing the prophets. Amos responds: I'm just a shepherd - I was no prophet, or son of a prophet, but the LORD sent me to prophesy. So, Amaziah - you will not silence me. And then Amos pours fuel on Amaziah's fire with more words. "You say don't prophesy, don't preach therefore the LORD says judgement on you and certain exile for Israel."

Amaziah is a classic example of a man with itching ears. He hears a word he does not like and so he tries to silence it. Like Amos he tries to avert judgement. But unlike Amos he has not even begun to reckon with the reality of wrath. He wants talk of judgement silenced because he neither likes it or believes it will come. He wants prophets who will speak happy thoughts to him. And so he confirms himself judged by God for preferring his own words to the word of God.
You can't live like that, sending back bills, exam results or medical results that you don't like. And on a vastly more serious scale we can't send back God's words preferring something a bit lighter or more cheery. Edwards: What are we, that we should think to stand before him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom the rocks are thrown down? Now while there is time let us like Amos seek refuge in God, confessed sinners who seek grace. Let us flee the wrath to come and find life in the LORD who speaks and saves through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.

FAQ: I get all this teaching but my wife doesn't...

I've been musing on this for a little while, and it'd be more pressing for me if last week's UCCF Staff Conference hadn't been written-off for me by illness. Instead of arriving home full of the word I was full of the lurgy.

But, what you you do when you're in the priviledged position to be able to go to lots of training events, conferences etc, to spent hours each day studying God's word - but your partner isn't? You get to the end of the day excited and overflowing with the stuff and yet somehow vomitting it onto your partner when they walk in the front door from a long hard day at work doesn't seem to work!

Then I thought about the effect God's word is meant to have on us. It's meant to transform us to make us more Christlike - through teaching, instructing, encouraging, rebuking, correcting us as we behold the glory of Christ in the word. So, could it be... that the best way to pass on the hours in the word would be to be changed by it. And then, at least from a gospel-miniter husband perspective the best way to pass on the teaching I get would be to love my wife better. To be more kind, patient, servant-hearted... to more consistently make decisions that are for her benefit.

There should be corrollories for the rest of church life too. Many times I've found myself about to grumble about the way something is done in church - because the books I've read or conferences I've been too, or Bible I've studied shows me a 'better' way. And yet all that study should make me a joy to be led, less grumbling, more humble, more inclined to bear with others and so on.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Guy Davies interviews Dave Bish

Er, yeah...

Guy Davies interviews Dave Bish

Thanks for the questions Guy, nice to get a chance to talk about that stuff. Still a bit befuzzled that I was considered worth interviewing!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Staff Conference

Pete Dray posts five highlights from what sounds like a good UCCF Staff Conference. Sadly I spent the second half of the week in bed ill so I can't really say it was much of a week for me. Now thankfully I'm on the mend and should be back at work tomorrow. I look forward to catching up on the sessions I missed on MP3 but nothing can recover the best part of the conference, all the in-between-session conversations... Bring on '08 where Don Carson joins us.

As I reflect on the last week I guess it has been a humbling reminder of my own weakness. Heading back to the study, out on the trains and into interviews, preaching, training and mentoring it's good to remember that I break. I can't to everything. And some days I can't do anything.

Joining the not perfect church

David Field writes about being an infant-baptist in the other kind of baptit church: If the sovereign God is cheerfully taking his time advancing the empire of his Son and is doing so while (and by) showing remarkable grace to his muddle-headed and immature children then it would be silly if some of those muddle-headed and immature children were marked by untrusting hurry or ungracious judgmentalism in their relations with others.

I found that very refreshing as we continue to try and settle into life at our new church here in Exeter. (Trying to settle being my impatient way of talking about the obvious that relationships take time to build.) It's really easy to spot things that might not be the way we'd want them, or aren't how our previous church in Reading did things. I'm aware that I have the potential to make it's an absolute nightmare for my pastor to lead me rather than a joy. My sinfulness would love to grumble and pick at things and bite and devour. But, but... church is too important to be torn apart by the remnants of my sin and it's apparent diagnoses of problems and issues (which are prone to being terribly erroneous). To death with my sin.

Bonhoeffer is right - church only works on the basis that we're all forgiven because of the cross of Christ. It's the blood that reconciles me to God to his people (and his world)- the Eden-style life that we're made for. We've found the best church we think we can - one that loves the gospel and loves the word. Does it do everything perfectly? No. But then I don't even actually know what doing church perfectly means (and it's not like the NT gives us a whole lot of detail on what doing church perfectly means either). I'm in the church. I love the church. And I'm sticking with the church. No such thing as church-less Christians, that'd be Christ-less Christianity which is (appropriately) I-anity...

Daniel Newman on church outside the BIG churches is worth a read too.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Blood, blood, blood!

It's late and I'm up at UCCF staff conference. Today we've had part 2 of Dick Lucas on 1 John (I confess no temptation to live-blog that for you, sorry!). Justin Mote on Mark. And Jason Clarke on Worship. Interspersed with an early morning run, prayer, and lots of good food and conversation particularly over a beer with Dan Blanche this evening.

In the absence of anything more substantial than a little late night rambling, here's an mp3 worth hearing from Ed Goode on Exodus 12 at Reading Family Church. All about the blood!

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Elephant of Kettering

I've been staying at my parents house for the last few days and Dad and I have been talking about Christian heroes from the county. That drew my thinking to Andrew Fuller who has probably surpassed William Carey in my heart, not that I'm really drawing lines. Fuller was the theologian-pastor behind the modern missionary movement that sent William Carey to India.

Fuller wrote: The doctrine of the cross is more dear to me than when I went. I wish I may never preach another sermon but what shall bear some relation to it. I see and feel, more and more, that except I eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man I have no life in me, either as a Christian or as a minister. Some of the sweetest opportunities I had in my journey were in preaching Christ crucified: particularly on those passages, “Unto you that believe he is Precious.” – “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” – “He that hath the Son hath life,” etc.– “That they all may be one,” etc. (191). Cited at The Elephant of Kettering

See John Piper's biography of Andrew Fuller for more.

2 Timothy (mp3)

I had the immense priviledge and pleasure of preaching from 2 Timothy for some student weekends last term. Exeter was for a group of about 20 students in a small venue on the edge of Dartmoor, Reading was for about 100 students in a conference centre in Ledbury.

Scripts: 2 Timothy - blogged scripts

(from Reading CU)
2 Timothy 1v1-2v13- 30mins
2 Timothy 2v14-26-- 34mins
2 Timothy 3v1-17- 43mins
2 Timothy 4v1-22- 50mins
(from Exeter CU)
2 Timothy 1v1-2v13
2 Timothy 2v14-26
2 Timothy 3v1-17
2 Timothy 4v1-22

Downes on Lamentations

Martin Downes is also writing about Lamentations:

Ask most Christians to list their favourite Bible books in order and Lamentations would appear at about the same place that the Welsh national football (soccer) team does in the FIFA world rankings...somewhere near the bottom. However, it is an important book to help us understand wrath and sin, righteousness and judgment, Law and Gospel.

Interview: David Gibson (EngagingWithBarth)

Guy Davies interviews David Gibson about Engaging with Barth.

Gibson is also an editor at

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Look where you're going

They say that opposites attract. Somehow a maths graduate who can't sing married a singing teacher who can't do maths. Nonetheless my wife and I can play scrabble.

The other day when we were playing I noticed how she wrestles with the scorekeeping, which for some reason she always does. And then I realised the problem - she tries to work out the calculations by staring into space instead of at the paper where the numbers are. Everything she needs is on the page in front of her, yet she looks elsewhere for the solution. Then I realised that I can readily try theology the same way, looking anywhere except in the book that God provided. No wonder I don't get answers. The answers are in the ink. Road signs are for finding the way. The Bible is for knowing who our God is. Without it we're left with our own ideas. Without what God has revealed we're left with nothing.

The Bereans (Acts 17v11) were a noble church, they diligently searched the scriptures for life. Rubbing their faces in the text. Immersed in the rain and snow of God's word that brings forth a harvest, never returning empty. Why would they want to look elsewhere?

Jesus says in Luke 10 that only the Father knows the Son, and only the Son knows the Father. Which sounds like the end of the road for us. Except, that one other group know the Father (and the Son), those to whom the Son reveals the Father. Not kings and prophets but disciples ('little children') like Martha who sits and listens to Jesus, or like those who will receive the gospel-preaching disciples, or those who will ask for the Spirit. And not those who think they should be able to figure out who God is without revelation. Not those who presume to know the answer without revelation. God is there and he has spoken. Jesus has come into the world, and he tells us about his Father and gives us his Spirit. Now things start to make sense. Now the numbers start to add up. Now the game can continue.

Postscript: My wife nonetheless has got her GCSE in Maths, I on the other hand still can't pitch properly.

Cousin Tom

Friday, January 04, 2008

They did not expose your sin

There have been those in recent years who have tried to say God doesn't get angry. There are others who would claim God is angry in the Old Testament but not in the New Testament. Jesus being the lovey-dovey one who never spoke about hell... right?! Actually, God's angle on the question is plain to see in Romans 3, in the Old Testament days God isn't angry enough. There is a scandal brewing because God keeps forgiving people without apparently good reason - how can he leave sin unpunished? Why is he so 'slow to anger' when the people are so sinful. In Jesus we see God's wrath turned aside from all those forgiven people before the cross, and after. At the cross we see how it's possible.

In Lamentations 2 we see what happens when there is no other remedy (2 Chronicles 36v16). When prophetic ministry is exhausted and divine patience can endure no longer. When the one who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love finally executes judgement. And it cames relentlessly. The first eight verses of this second lament leave no room for confusion. Wrath came from the LORD against his people. He was aggressive. He was without pity. He was fierce. He was burning. He devoured. He destroyed. He who would have been their husband became their enemy. They are rejected. They are defeated.
Here is the LORD active in judgement on the people. Destructively opposed to his people. The terrible plight in which they lament has come from the LORD himself. It could be no other way. The LORD had said to them that if they rebelled he would curse them. Unlike them, he has stayed true but the effects for them are terrifying and heart-breaking (v17). God's covenant promises guarenteed blessing for obedience, and curse for rebellion (Deut 28) - they should have seen this coming.

The same LORD had given them opportunity and safety by giving them leaders to care for them and teach them. So this situation should not have arisen. But - v6: The priests are spurned. v9: The princes are gone and the prophets have lost their voices

Why and how? Because (v14):
The visions of your prophets were false and worthless;
they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.
The oracles they gave you were false and misleading.

They were sent true prophets but prefered false ones. Prophets who did not do what prophets should have done - prophets who should have called sin sin and exposed it. Who should have kept them out of exile and away from wrath but instead misled and deluded the people about their relationship with him. They gave the people exactly what they wanted to hear by telling them that all was well. Discernment and error were needed but all that was found was well wishers and ego-massagers and people-pleasers. They wanted facebook-life, where everyone puts their best photo on their profile. The word of God works like HDTV, and shows up every wrinkle. It's not pretty when the light of the gospel of God shines into the dark hearts of sinners, but it's very necessary. Wrath came from the hand of the LORD but the fault lay with her leaders, with those given to teach and lead.

Leaders must expose sin, but that is always done by the light of the gospel, showing the gospel to people. Without such vision of the gospel and our hearts God's people will perish. God's people cannot afford for their leaders to shirk this responsibility. We need leaders who will honestly admit that sin is among us. That though saved we still sin and such sin must be replied to by the word of God. There is precious too little of this today. Sin is out there somewhere but how infrequently we confess that we too sin. That we need the restoration that comes only from the heart-exposing, soul-reviving word. This poem is instructive for leaders and for those who are led.

Back in the days of wrath we rejoin the people in their pain. What can they do under such devastation? Shockingly, v18-19, they turn to the Lord. The same one who is so vigorously opposed to them is the one they seek. Such is the model of Christian religion. Salvation comes through wrath. Salvation is found in the same holy God who is wrathful toward sinners. Not that they turn to him with any boasts or extenuating circumstances - no they can only turn to him in his anger and ask for him to rescue them though they deserve nothing of the sort. No record or future resolutions can enter into the equation. I come acknowledging that he alone can count me righteous or I stay under wrath.

My sin is appalling. The magnitude of divine wrath against the people shows the horror of their sin. So too the wrath poured out on Christ shows how bad we are that this was the right response. That Christ went to the cross doesn't primarily show how valuable we are, it most supremely shows how evil we are to make such a remedy necessary. Sin is not a light matter. That's why leaders need to expose it. That's why the LORD get's angry about it. That's why we need the cross of Christ.

Have a read of - Ed: the legalist within, musing on passover

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The greater laments of the Christian

This is a bit of a tangent from my posts on Lamentations, sparked by comments at Neil Bennets blog. I'm thankful for Neil's blogging and for his responding to comments.

1. Lamenting Christians? It seems to me that possibly the greatest laments are for Christians. First, there are the lamenting groans of Christians in a world given over to wrath and sin ahead of the new creation. We see the dehumanising effects of divine wrath revealed in human sin. Then, there is the even greater lament that flows from one of the most exhilarating moments of the New Testament (Romans 8-9). Paul is caught up in the clouds of joy over the way Christians are in Christ caught up inseparably in the love of God forever. A most ecstatic moment of worship. No sooner has he uttered this glorious song than he caught up in the deepest of despair over the plight of his Jewish brethren who remain given over to sin under God's wrath. His heart is broken. The tears flow, before he walks us through the sacred courts of divine election in Romans 9.

The world carries on singing her pop songs and hollywood harmonies that tell us we'll be ok if we're just true to ourselves, search for the hero within (etc) and claim all the good thinsg we're surely entitled too as evolution's greatest mutants. But the Christian, caught up in the love of God in Christ, raised to life, enjoying all the blessings and favour of God now groans. The Christian confesses the bewilderment of Qoheleth's cry of hebel! The Christian weeps at wrath observed all around in a world that charges headlong into sin, and experienced in the sufferings of life that come upon the good and the evil, and the sufferings given for the benefit of us knowing our suffering Saviour all the more. Lamentable circumstances that continue until the world is renewed on the great day of blood-bought jubilee that our laments long for. Until then, surely the Christian knows greater laments, but also greater joys.

2. Afflicted by God? A second brief tangent - on sovereignty, suffering and laments. In no way attempting to do justice to such a vast question in a couple of paragraphs. Bennetts writes: I am also finding it hard to believe that in any way God wishes hard times on us 'to make us appreciate what is good'. This may be a consequence, but I'm not sure that our pain and suffering emanates directly from the heart of God. (or as someone once said - God may let us walk off the edge of a cliff, but he wouldn't push us off himself).

I see where he's coming from and I appreciate his honesty and his response to comments, but I can't help wondering whether the comfort is actually better if God pushes us into troubles, in which we lament, trials in which we rejoice, sufferings which bring perseverance. Paul certainly reports great trials in his ministry and life. And that he sought to share in suffering. The suffering of our supreme example Jesus was no stranger to divinely-planned hardship. Share in his suffering and his resurrection! Whilst the idea of God letting us walk off the cliff sounds comforting isn't that careless of him? Isn't it better to know that he sends trial upon us for our ultimate growth in Christlikeness and that the good God still yet holds tight, loving us as he loves the Son whatever is thrown at us? Isn't that better than being allowed to stumble and slip and fall.

In an age where man has become expert in overcoming troubles and disease (except for wars, political assassins, fires in Kenya, MRSA, AIDS etc...) we might want to leap to God's defence and say that he wouldn't bring such trouble on us. Yet, under judgement the Lamenter confesses that her trouble has come from the LORD. He has afflicted her. That's not to say it's God's greatest joy to afflict his people - the LORD sent messengers again and again and again before his slow anger eventually judged them. And he was right to do that. The Christian's trials aren't punishment at all, for that is borne by Christ - but they are for our joy and perseverance (James 1:2-4). And they take us deeper into the heart of our God - into the sacred courts where he reveals the riches of his wisdom, his unsearchable judgements and untraceable paths (Romans 11:33). Suffering gives substance to our spirituality. I'm not sure I fully understand it. I know I don't, but when we can't lament, and when we can't share Qoheleth's cry of 'hebel' I think we're left with a superficial spirituality.

Expository Preaching

Erik Raymond writes about expository preaching. It's being advocated at any number of conferences, but is the message getting through. I do find it a bit strange catching all these conference mp3s that aren't exposition. I'd love to have these guys doing that! What I've found over in the UK is that it's often much more expository series at these conferences - reflecting back on a few recently there's been Terry Virgo on Romans, Justin Mote on Leviticus have been a couple of great highlights. And I'm looking forward to Don Carson on 1 John at Easter 2008. Largely it's exposition that these guys are so good at, and it's so refreshing to go home at the end of the conference thinking I've heard the message of Leviticus!! Bring on the conferences where Mahaney teaches through Lamentations, where Dever takes us through Hosea, Piper through Exodus... or any number of variations on that theme. Things like that implicitly defend expository preaching by modelling it. And it's why I want to do lots of expository-blogging rather than just writing about topics... like this one! Books work the same - there are doctrine and theology books I know keep coming back to but it's the books like Don Carson's The Cross & Christian Ministry and Showing the Spirit that have probably helped me more than most with his expositions of 1 Corinthians 1-4, 12-14. Or, likewise Piper's The Justification of God expounding Romans 9, Terry Virgo expositing Ephesians in Does the future have a church? To name just a few.

Free mp3s:
1. @ the Castle: @theCastle - including series from Don Carson on Jeremiah, Andy Gemmill on James, David Jackman on Zechariah, Simon Manchester on 1 Timothy, Justin Mote on Leviticus, Melvin Tinker on Matthew, Dick Lucas on Psalms, Don Carson on Revelation, Melvin Tinker on Ruth.
2. UCCF Terry Virgo on Romans 7 (one of a series of four), Justin Mote on Leviticus 16 (one of a series of four),

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Review: The Divine Spiration of Scripture

The Divine Spiration of Scripture - A.T.B.McGowan
Extract at IVP website

I've done some thinking about the doctrine of scripture over the last few months and it's place in my life and ministry. In that context it was good to receive this book from IVP a few weeks ago. McGowan is Principal at Highland Theological College. The book is an Apollos one so it's got a more academic readership in mind but I found it readable. There's loads here that I found immediately helpful. Two big take homes are :

1. Spirit & Scripture. McGowan calling us to set our doctrine of scripture within our doctrine of God, under the Holy Spirit. This is helpful because it allows us to think systematically from a Trinitarian foundation and because it keeps in view very clearly that the scriptures come from God.,

2. Divine-Spiration. This is McGowan's alternative to translating theopneutos as 'inspiration' as some translations of 2 Timothy 3v16 do. He argues that inspiration is too soft a term and we need to see that the Scriptures are breathed out by God. All our subsequent handling of scripture changes when we get this clearly [see blogging on the authority of scripture] .

That said, I was always taught that Inspiration meant what he means by Spiration, however softly our culture might think of the term... do we need a new dictionary, or can we just stick to our definitions more carefully...

McGowan goes on to give some very helpful thinking about Preaching Scripture, centred on John Calvin's view of preaching and handling of the Bible. Having spent time reading the Institutes of Christian Religion in 2007 it's helpful to get some more background, and I'm keen to read some of Calvin's sermons in 2008. The Divine Spiration of Scripture is worth it for this seventh chapter alone.

The big question at the centre of this book is McGowan's thinking about concepts and language of inerrancy and infallibility. He says that inerrancy is neither Biblical or helpful -he asks, what is an inerrant poem or proverb, for example? McGowan proposes we think more in terms of Scripture being everything that God intended it to be. He doesn't argue for errancy instead of inerrancy, but rather for a more helpful language and terminology. Could we speak of the scriptures as being authentic. Both in speaking of original manuscripts and what we have today.

The UCCF doctrinal basis says: "The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God". Which is a standard European confession about scripture. McGowan's proposals would change this to The Bible is the authentic Word of God. This may be a helpful and positive way of speaking about scripture but something is lost along the way.

I've appreciated this stimulating book, and whatever I finally think about McGowan's proposal the chapters on the Holy Spirit, divine-spiration, preaching and Calvin are beneficial.

Any thoughts?

See also:
Uninspiring inspiration - a more detailed review.
Mike Reeves responds in the course of his lectures on 'Christology & Revelation'

The bright day

Something of a follow up to my riff on friendship at the foot of the cross last Christmas.

In Galatians 6 Paul considers the community of the cross. A member of the church sins. No shock, rather the spiritual are to restore the sinner. Like Paul with Peter they walk the one who has gotten out of step with the Spirit/gospel back to the cross. The presence of sin among Christians always has this opportunity for glorying in the cross together. In the house of law sin is an opportunity for condemnation and one-up-manship, in the community of the Spirit it is the day of grace.

Bonhoeffer: Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Christ Jesus? Thus, the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by the one Word and Deed which really binds us together–the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship . . .

The presence of sin, as Paul told Peter doesn't make sin ok. It's just that it sin isn't the end of the road. My life in the flesh is finished and my new life is as a Son of God in the family of God's people. In that new life I belong to my brothers - I can care for them, and them for me. That's no excuse for spiritual-laziness, and indeed I need to watch myself because getting out of step with the gospel is all too easy to do. The lies of sin are very tempting because they often look so holy and self-righteousness tastes so sweet.
The way of the cross is harder but brighter, costly but richer. Gathered around the cross, honest about sin and seeking to restore one another we can enjoy the bright day of fellowship at the cross. I'd love to enjoy lots of that in 2008.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Pierced for our transgressions (CHBC)

Mark Dever has started a long preaching series on the cross. Shame he's only doing three weeks on the Old Testament, but should be good nonetheless.

December 23, Pass Over, Exodus 12
December 30, Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16
January 6, Crushed for Our Iniquities, Isaiah 52:13-53:12
January 13, A Ransom for Many, Mark 10:45
January 20, Forsaken, Mark 15:33-34
January 27, Save, John 3:14-18
February 3, Die for the Children of God, John 11:47-52
February 10, Propitiation, Romans 3:21-26
February 17, Delivered Over to Death for Our Sins, Romans 4:25
February 24, Justified by His Blood, Romans 5:8-10
March 2, Condemned Sin, Romans 8:1-3
March 9, Becoming a Curse for Us, Galatians 3:10-13
March 16, Bore Our Sins in His Body on the Tree, I Peter 2:21-25
March 21, Christ Died for Sins, I Peter 3:18 (Good Friday Communion Service)
March 23, He Was Raised!, I Corinthians 15:1-8

New year, new posts

I don't really go in for new years resolutions, mostly because they tend to be 'try harder' things which are bound to fail and not really change anything. That said maybe it's a good idea to set direction of travel afresh. Here's a selection of what others are thinking.
  1. Dan Philips - Prepare to die
  2. David Powlison guestblogs at BetweenTwoWorlds
  3. Colin Adams - questions for preachers
  4. Matt Harmon - resolved with Jonathan Edwards
  5. Timmy Brister - read the puritans in 2008

My stomach churns, my heart is wrung

I suppose it would be usual to start the year on a positive note. Not here! Christian Hedonists, joyseekers... turn to Lamentations at the start of 2008! Songwriter Neil Bennetts writes about laments. "when I hear the voices of theologians or songwriters insisting on the language and form of lament in gathered worship, I am naturally cautious." Should we lament? What place lamenting in the Christian life?

In recent weeks I've been studying the book of Lamentations ahead of opening it with members of my team this term. I expect I'll blog a number of times on this over the coming weeks. It's five poems, mostly acrostic, mostly of 22 verses (except ch3 which has 66, and ch5 that is not acrostic). They express the experience of the community of God's people undergoing judgement, under divine-wrath as they're sent into exile by Him for their sin. This is experiential theology. If 2007 was a year for 'recovering the glory of penal substitution', contending for the reality of divine wrath at sin, and the cross as propitiation then in 2008 come to Lamentations and feel a little of what that much debated, often denied, wrath felt like when it fell on God's rebellious people.

One of the many questions about this book is what place can it have for a Christian? Before we can find answers to that question we have to hear it as it is - the heartcry of God's people under judgement. Where 2 Chronicles 36 reveals the folly of God's people as they ignored his word and were exiled, Lamentations reveals the gutwrenching heartbreak and pain of going through that experience. Unimaginable. Their experience is recorded for us and it must be instructive, useful and able to direct us to Christ. Somehow. Come into Lamentations and catch the emotion of this bitter song. Whatever has happened it is awful. The city is broken:

Lonely. Fallen. Bitter weeping. Abandonment.
Afflection. Restless. Distressed. Oppressed.
Degraded. Mocked. Defiled. Groaning.
Despised. Sorrowful. Stunned. Bound.
Crushed. Desolate. Deceived. Sickened.

Running through the poem is a repeated refrain of 'no comfort'. (v2, v9, v16, v17, 21) - witnessing the pain of being so opposed and yet without comfort is deeply disturbing in itself. Being in the situation must have been even worse. Watching her suffering, helpless to do anything about it we're bound to ask how did this situation arise? The answer is shocking - v5: 'the LORD has afflicted her'. Why? 'for the multitude of her transgressions'. This terrible affliction is suffering from the hand of God for her sins. This is punishment. For some this is outside the bounds of acceptibility, but this is the confession of those who suffered it.

The confession is repeated:
v12 - 'the LORD inflicted'
v14 - 'the Lord gave me into the hands of those whom I cannot withstand'
v15 - 'the Lord rejected all my mighty men'
v15 - 'The LORD has trodden as in a winepress the virgin daughter of Judah'
v17 - 'the LORD commanded against Jacob'

Undeniably these terrible things came against the city from the hand of God. That horrific image of people thrown into a winepress that is repeated in Revelation 14 makes me shudder. Yet in this situation she says: v18 - 'the LORD is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word'. She looked for help from her old lovers (19) [idols], and the leaders but none came. All she can do is to turn to the same LORD who has afflicted her for help. She has sinned - rebelling againsts God's word brings God's wrath deservedly.

v9- 'LORD, behold my affliction'
v11 - 'look LORD and see'
v20 - 'look, O LORD'

Under the wrath of the LORD it is to the LORD that she turns for comfort. Still it is not found and her stomach churns and her heart is wrung but now she cries for justice - the same punishment she has faced to be given to others. The Christian may quickly say - I will not pass through such judgement because Jesus bore wrath for me. Phew. No lamenting! But, I wonder whether we should dwell there a little before leaving it behind. Not least we see here something of wrath on many, which is only a tiny fraction of the wrath borne by Jesus. How his cry of desolation is given depth by these laments! The full-favour of God is all the richer when we see the full-wrath of God poured out.

Lamentations is Christian Scripture not because we can distance ourselves from it but because it shows the horror and seriousness of sin that required such horrific, destructive wrath to be poured out by the covenant keeping, slow-to-anger LORD.I should face the same terror that the city faced and yet I don't. For me, comfort is found. For me the wrath has been turned aside - and how thankful I am not to face such wrath. But, justified, comforted, saved, I need to dwell in the courts of Lamentations and feel the terror of divine wrath as I enjoy the benefits of the gospel. Lamentation is depth. Lamentations is ballast. Lamentations helps turn superficial happiness into deep rooted joy. The LORD was rightly wrathful toward me but he provided comfort for me by the death of Jesus in my place. Lamentations calls me to survey the cross.