Monday, March 31, 2008

Young, restless, reformed - UK?

Challies reviews Collin Hansen's Young Restless & Reformed. It's something of a biography of this movement of the new Calvinists in America. Think Louie Giglio & Passion, think Piper, think Driscoll. I've not read it, though I'd love a copy. I wonder how it'd go down in the UK. Piper and Driscoll appear to be influencing a good number of the students I encounter though there are plenty of other voices in the crowd too - like the altogether less helpful Eldridge, Bell etc.

There is something compelling and attractive about Driscoll's confidence in the truth and Piper's passion for the glory of God that should rightly resonate with any Christian (whether or not you buy into all seven points of Piper-Calvinism).

In the UK, many in UCCF and Newfrontiers have long been journeying with Piper&co (There are lots of non-Calvinist's in the UCCF family, and I'd guess that Newfrontiers isn't entirely Calvinist either.) and there are plenty of churches in Anglican and Free traditions who would hold to strong reformed theology. Translating that into the 21st Century is the question - what does it look like to be Young, Restless & Reformed in the UK? Or just what does it mean to be Reformation-Christians, whatever your age, state of mind etc.

[edit: I think I want to concede that reformed is a term that needs careful definition, and in the UK it seems that whilst there is tension/disagreement on the Calvin/Arminius issue it doesn't seem to be that much of a cause for division where there is unity more clearly on high view of Scripture and unity about the centrality of the cross. That might mean we talk about more about being evangelical than reformed in the UK... I dunno.]
Ventures like next week's New Word Alive conference offer some possibilities of what it may look like to be together for the gospel in the UK, but these things have to be worked out in local communities not just at conference centres. It's a common commitment to the Cross and the Scriptures that birthed this new conference. Who'd have thought that would bring people together!! Seeing families like UCCF and Keswick with Newfrontiers and Soul Survivor partnering together is greatly encouraging for those of us who have a passion for God's glory, a love of the doctrines of the gospel, and feel the drive of the Spirit to go and re-evangelise this once-churched nation.

If this is going anywhere we need to engage with questions like these from Martin Downes about confessional statements. T4G-2006 in the states took the bold step of composing a confession for those who want to unite around the gospel. New events don't necessitate doing that, new word alive already works on the basis of the UCCF doctrinal basis of fellowship. Confessions and their persistent use help us to stay gospel-centred and avoid the drift that so easily catches us. Far from being opposed to relationships they strengthen them by prioritising the gospel above all else.

Lift your eyes...

Genesis 13 - The Choices of Lot & Abram (Stu Alred)
Excellent preach from our church.
See also: the exercises of faith.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Vintage Jesus (Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears)

I'm only just starting to read Vintage Jesus and it looks good so far. What's striking at first though is the cover design work, which is reflected inside too. I'm no fan of Rob Bell's confusing books but I do like that he's put effort into how they look. Crossway have done well with the design here, and the content looks good too, as I'd expect from Mark Driscoll. Cool plastic dust-jacket gives way to the hardcover which has all the classic images and ideas of who Jesus is. The Amazon pic does not do this justice.

Rob & Debbie Honeysett

Easter weekend was crazy. We travelled from Exeter to Northamptonshire on the Thursday, then to Coventry and back on the Saturday, and then back to Exeter via St Neots on Easter Day. And it snowed. And we went to Debbie & Rob's wedding in Coventry. An Easter wedding to remind us of the marriage of Christ & the church. Brilliant.

Friday, March 28, 2008

On the third day

A first draft...

Let their be light, he said and there was,
Bringing order to chaos, light into dark.
Forming his creation the Lord spoke,
Bringing seed bearing plants, on the third day.

Offer your one and only son, said the Lord,
Obeying Abraham journeyed, to the green hill.
Receiving his son back from death's altar,
Confessing the Lord will provide, on the third day.

Wait at the foot of the mountain, he said to Moses,
Shaking the earth in holiness, a consuming fire.
Chosing them as his treasured possession
Revealing his salvation plan, on the third day.

The Lord's annointed was rejected and despised,
Wandering around in the deserts in search of life.
Conquering his enemies, rescuing captives,
Enthroning the new King, on the third day

Hezekiah reformed the nation, from their sin,
Gathering in humity, to call on the Lord
Falling into pride he was afflicted until,
Rising to meet with God, on the third day.

A decree was passed against his exiles,
Dying for the faithfulness of Saul's heir.
Interceeding for her people before the King,
Receiving victory over the enemy, on the third day.

The prophet ran away from the Lord, yet lived,
Delivering pagans from death before Jonah died.
Saving him freely from the death he deserved,
Arriving back on dry land, on the third day.

The nations conspired to take him to the cross,
Bearing the wrath of God for the sins of the world.
Fulfilling all God's promises to bring us life,
According to the scriptures, on the third day.

on the third day according to the Scriptures

At home group on Wednesday someone asked about why Jesus rose on the third day. And then on the train today I was listening to Jim Hamilton. First some Biblical Theology / Typology that connects up the Books of Samuel (which I'm loving reading at the moment) with Jesus:

[In David's rise to power we see the ] king who would be anointed, who would save God’s people, and who would restrain their evil. This king would be something of a surprise—he would come in an unexpected way, and he would be opposed by the establishment. He would follow in the footsteps of those “of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb 11:38). This coming king might be expected to take responsibility for wrongs done by others, be betrayed by those whom he had blessed, and refuse to lift his hand to defend himself but rather entrust himself to God, who judges justly. This king would almost certainly be expected to crush the head of the serpent, and in so doing he would have his heel struck. And something remarkable might be expected to happen “on the third day,” [for David: see the end of 1 Sam and start of 2 Sam] after which, like not only David but all the righteous kings of Israel, he would seek to build the temple.
James Hamilton, The typology of David's rise to power, MP3.

- listening to this somewhere between Taunton and Reading this morning on the train I found myself beaming at the scale of God's salvation plans! A mystery once hidden and now revealed... and simultaneously foretold in the Scriptures.

And then add a dash of Reevesian attention to detail by following of language through the Old Testament. This doesn't always go anywhere, but in the case of third day it does...

Nor are these the only two significant “third days” in the Old Testament: Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac “on the third day” (Gen 22:4). Yahweh came down on Mount Sinai to meet Israel “on the third day” (Exod 19:11, 16). The Lord raised up Hezekiah “on the third day” (2 Kgs 20:5). The second temple was completed “on the third day” (Ezra 6:15). Esther interceded on behalf of the Jewish people “on the third day” (Esth 5:1). And perhaps most significantly, Jonah was in the belly of the whale “three days and three nights” (Jon 2:1 [ET 1:17]), while Hosea prophesied that the people, having been torn by Yahweh as by a lion (Hos 5:14–6:1), would be raised up “on the third day”

(See Matthew Henry on: Hosea 6:2)

Big stuff happens on the third day. And that's before you connect the third day of Genesis 1 with 1 Corinthians 15 and Jesus the first-fruits / seed...

As Hamilton notes from NT Wright, it's not so much that Paul is proof-texting or thinking of one particular reference that the resurrection on the third day fulfills, but rather the whole story points forward to something big happening on the third day. Hamilton references GK Beale's excellent The Temple & The Church's Mission which is a seriously helpful (if long) book. Particularly helpful is what Hamilton draws on in terms of the mandate to expand Eden to a global temple. A temple extended out from Jerusalem by the disciple-makers from Matthew 28 forwards.

More from James Hamilton at

Allberry : Islamic Christianity?

From my new facebook friend, Sam Allberry: A penetrating diagnosis of what happens to the church when we miss the Trinity, including: "A unitarian view of God will lead to a monochrome view of the church. Maturity will be understood in trying to make everyone a certain kind of Christian. Christians will look the same and sound the same. They'll be encouraged into the same kind of ministry. Particular gifting will be the hallmark of the spiritually advanced. In Corinth (reading between the lines) it was the gift of tongues. Today, in many conservative evangelical churches, it is the gift of teaching. Those who are really committed to the gospel will become Bible-teachers. There will be cultural and vocational flatness."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hold the rope

Today we sent a team of South West Relay & students to Gdansk, Poland for a week of on-campus mission in partnership with the Polish IFES movement ChSA. Hold the rope by praying for Stephen, Kate, Esther, Paul, Scott, Ed, Paul, Joel, Tim, Alexandra and Andy.

The exercises of faith

Genesis 13.
Lot settles in plentiful Sodom.
Abram, a pilgrim in a barren land.
What do we make of that?

Matthew Henry:

"Lot perhaps had the better land, yet Abram had the better title. Lot had the paradise, such as it was, but Abram had the promise. Lot had lifted up his eyes and beheld the plain of Jordan, and he had gone to enjoy what he saw. God says to Abram "Come, now lift up your eyes, and look, and see your own." That which God has to show us is infinitely better and more desirable than any thing that the world has to offer our view. The prospects of an eye of faith are much more rich and beautiful than those of an eye of sense. Every repetition of the promise is a ratification of it. To you and your seed— to you to sojourn in as a stranger, to your seed to dwell and rule in as proprietors."
Jesus will rule and dwell there with his people. Lot is taking hold of his own eden, in the lush valleys of Sodom, but Abram has God's promises. He's then told to walk the dusty plains of the land God has promised... Why? Henry comments:

"God is willing more abundantly to show to the heirs of promise the immutability of his covenant, and the inestimable worth of covenant blessings. He walks, confirming his status as a pilgrim."
And John Calvin:

"God commands Abram to travel till he should have examined the whole land. To what purpose shall he do this, except that he may more clearly perceive himself to be a stranger; and that, being exhausted by continual and fruitless disquietude, he may despair of any stable and permanent possession? For how shall he persuade himself that he is lord of that land in which he is scarcely permitted to drink water, although he has with great labor dug the wells? But these are the exercises of faith. For faith is the beholding of absent things, and it has the word as a mirror, in which it may discover the hidden grace of God. It is nevertheless their duty to lay hold on the inheritance which is promised."
This is the inheritance of Jesus, offspring of Abram. This is His awesome inheritance! A land. A people. The promises of his Father! How great are the promises of God that are YES in Jesus! And which come to us as we are found in Abraham's offspring, Jesus! Let us lift our eyes, not to the pleasures of now, but to the vast abundant promises of God that we find in Jesus. Let us lift our eyes, even more than Abram did let us overflow in praise because of Jesus.

Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land...
Musing on my habitation...
Fills my soul with holy longings:
Come, my Jesus, quickly come;
Vanity is all I see; Lord, I long to be with Thee!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Only he brings life

Once she was called the joy of the earth,
Til her people abandoned the word of God.
And in justice he burned against her,
Faithful to the promise he'd spoken.

Her inheritance was given to the nations,
Once glory shone out but now they mock.
Words that should have delighted her heart,
Sounded in bitter songs of lament.

The LORD reigns forever
Outside of his favour is only death and despair
Only he can restore, only he brings life

The city will rise from the misery of sin ,
And he will be the new city, coming from heaven.
Those he has saved will live with their God,
When the old passes away and all is renewed.

Why did Jesus come? 2. he came for the sin-sick

We live in an age that loves scandal. Tabloid headlines greet us as we walk into the newsagents. In his day, Jesus was the great scandal-maker. We might imagine him to have been meek and mild but people were regularly outraged by him. One reason for that was the company he kept. He regularly ate with those considered to be the worst in society, and people labelled him guilty by association. Do-gooders and lovers of respectability were outraged. His response was to say: Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

Many have imagined that the way to be ‘holy’ is to withdraw from the world and avoid being corrupted by all the ‘less holy’ people and things around us. Such people imagine that if you get rid of your worldly mp3 library, avoid pubs and cinemas and people who aren't Christians then you'll get more holy, particularly if you replace them with only listening to online sermons and 'contemporary christian music', only being involved in Christian events and only having Christian friends who can help you be more spiritual. Jesus takes a totally different approach. He doesn’t avoid sinners. He comes into his sinful world, right into the heart of the most scandalous situations and says that these are exactly the kind of people he has come to save.

The temptation in the Christian life is to become isolated from God’s good world, to avoid things that might somehow pollute us. There were people in Jesus’ day who did this and he criticised them for washing the outside of their cups (Mark 7v4) but not dealing with the real problem which is the heart (Mark 7v23). Sin doesn’t come from being in particular situations, or listening to particular music or spending time with people who aren’t Christians. Sin comes from the human heart and we need someone who can deal with that. We need Jesus who came for the sin-sick.

Christians are free to enjoy God’s good created world, to be thankful for what he provides. The world is marred by sin but is not dangerous to us. We can stay living in God’s world. Because of Jesus Christians are free to enjoy food and art with thanksgiving to the giver and ultimate creator. Christians can enjoy the pursuit of study in God's world, and discover the joys of marriage and work. Christians get to really live, to be the most human people on earth. Enjoyers of the life God has given to us. That's a scandal that will arrest the attention of our world, just as Jesus did.

Stay living in God's world.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ibrahim sacrificing his son?

So, the kids at my wife's school are studying sacrifice this week.
As part of that they were taught today "the Islamic story of Ibrahim" (that'll be Abraham) being asked to sacrifice his son, a story celebrated at Eid ul-adha. Application: be sacrificial. Lots of questions from that.. of which two:

1. When's Christianity going to get some air-time? I'm not all that fussed about this, because I don't really expect it. But, in a pluralistic society, surely Jesus should at least have a seat at the table. A table in the world that he made, owns, sustains and stakes his claim on.

2. If that's the Islamic application of Genesis 22 how come Christians tend to teach it the same way? Similarity from the same text isn't too absurd, but Jesus did say that a right understanding of Genesis (and the rest of the Old Testament) means believing in Jesus, and I don't see the Muslim doing that. How often do we teach the Old Testament in a way that Jews and Muslims (or even Atheists) would have no issues with, rather than being thoroughly Christ-centred?

Genesis 22 is Christian Scripture about Jesus Christ! Praise God that he so loved his world that he provided his One and Only son, who is also Abraham's offspring, to die in our place. His glorious sacrifice to save us for himself - not so we can try to be more sacrificial but so we can live!

See Mike Reeves - Enjoying the Cross (1) for some excellent unpacking of Genesis 22 from a Christ-exalting angle.

"If you're biblical you'd be at least a bit charismatic..."

Walking to Exeter University today for a meeting I listened to Mark Driscoll: Religion Saves... The Regulative Principle which was a refreshing preach on worship, church meetings and includes Driscoll talking about his experience of being challenged by Mahaney & Piper about how much he makes of God's grace in his ministry.

Listening to Bob Kauflin's Hymns Project: Upward, on the way back was pretty exhiliarating - cos it's not a sin to sing about Jesus.

What is a legalist?

Dan Phillips is raising the question about 'what is a legalist?'. It's a problem and it does need careful answering.

I suppose there are issues around what view of the law we take, which determine what part we think the OT Law should take in the Christian life, and then there are the broader issues of legalism and Christian living.

Phillips raises the question well (by providing some thorough observations of what people say around this area), and it'll be interesting to see what answers come in the comments.

Dominic Smart's article at is worth a look on this topic:
"Legalism isn’t a matter of having rules, structures, limits or instructions in our congregations or individual lives. While they can be overdone, and often are by people of a certain temperament, they are necessary for godly order in any fellowship: God has given many to us in the Scriptures. The opposite of legalism isn’t lawlessness (antinomianism, as some like to call it), which is nothing more than anarchic pride. Nobody is delivered into that. Christian freedom isn’t freedom to do whatever you want: down here none of us is safe to be let loose with such a freedom; up there - well, we’ll be different then! Legalism is primarily a God-ward thing. It’s a way of making and keeping yourself acceptable to God."
ps: Tom, on our previous conversation about what is a human being? - how about kicking off the discussion in the same sort of way Phillips does here.

Why did Jesus come? 1. to preach

One of the big challenges for Christians is that we claim to believe in a God we cannot see. It's not all that unusual to believe in things you can't see, but there have to be pretty good reasons. Especially if that unseen 'thing' you're talking about is meant to be personal. How can we know God? How can we know that we’re not believing in someone who isn’t there? When we’re first introduced to Jesus in Mark’s gospel he is preaching to crowds, and healing many. One day a whole town gathers to have their sick healed (1v33). But, very early on Jesus gives priority to his preaching when he says: Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came...

This is the first of three clear statements (in Mark's gospel) of intent from Jesus about why he came. Why does he give priority to preaching?

Firstly, to reveal himself to us. Jesus knows the problem we face about how it can be possible to know God. And so he comes to show God to us. He comes as a lamp (4v21) to be put on a stand to light the room. Later in the Bible Jesus is described as being the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1v15). If we want to see God we need to see Jesus. As he comes and preaches he shows himself to us.

Secondly, to declare his rule of us. The first thing Jesus says in Mark’s gospel is in 1v15, he says “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. All the expectation of the Old Testament has been fulfilled and now Jesus says that God’s kingdom is near. God’s rule is at hand. It’s time to respond to Jesus, turning from our rebellion to believe his good news. As he speaks to us he stakes his claim on us.

Stay listening to God's word.

Biblical preaching that speaks into everyday life

This is a helpful paper on how to connect the Bible text with life in the way that we communicate what it says. I think I have a lot to learn in this area.

Brian Jones - teaching students the applicational power of the big idea.
"It is crucial to realize that the big idea of an expository sermon must be in concert with the exegetical big idea of a passage. Just as a chef cannot make mashed potatoes out of glue, so the preacher cannot justifiably preach that “God wants you to have a new boat this summer” from the Noah narrative. There must be a foundational correspondence between the exegetical big idea of the passage and the homiletical big idea of one’s sermon. Despite their linkage, there are important differences between the exegetical big idea and the sermonic big idea. Understanding these differences is the first step to crafting a big idea that can serve as the applicational core of the message."
ht: Colin Adams

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Snow, resurrection and Egypt

Having woken up this morning to remember that Jesus is alive and then looked out of the window to see snow, and then travelling around 250 miles from Northamptonshire to Devon via Cambridgeshire I got pondering about the curious details of God's geography in Genesis. Again.
So, Abram of Shem faces famine in the land of Canaan of Ham that God promises to his offspring. He goes to Egypt of Ham to get food.
Issue 1 - he's out of the land so God's promises are under threat.
Issue 2 - he's in the land of Ham once more. Ham whose son Canaan should serve his offspring, yet Egypt is in control, and threatens to take away Abram's wife. No wife, no offspring... though his wife is barren so that's not a new problem.
Issue 3 - the recurrence of Egypt in the story of God's people. What's going on there?
I love the curiosities and questions. Questions remain. Snow dissolves - and I recall John Newton's imagery. "The earth will soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine, but God who called me here below, will be forever mine". That's how amazing grace ends, the marred creation dissolving into God's renewed world. And I'm very glad of his that God has given us new birth into this living hope by raising Jesus Christ from the dead. Living hope for today, and for eternity.

And big thanks to Mike Kendall at St Neots Evangelical Church for preaching on that this morning!

Mike Reeves MP3s

I had a request for a reference point for Mike Reeves' MP3s. Mike is UCCF's theology advisor. As you can see from the list Mike loves doctrine and church history. So here goes:

Cambridge CU - Psalm 42
UCCF Evangelism Podcast 2
John Calvin 1
John Calvin 2
John Calvin 3
Trinity Lunchbar (Reading CU)
Augustine 1
Augustine 2
Martin Luther 1
Martin Luther 2
Martin Luther 3
Martin Luther 4
Armageddon or Apocalypse
Enjoying the cross 1 - Transformission 2007 (South West CUs)
Enjoying the cross 2 - Transformission 2007 (South West CUs)
Enjoying the cross 3 - Transformission 2007 (South West CUs)
(read a taste: Ode to joy, transcribed by Rosemary Grier, from Enjoying the Cross 3)
Trinity 1
Trinity 2
Trinity 3
Trinity 4
Depending on the Living God 1, with Jo McKenzie
Depending on the Living God 2, with Jo McKenzie
Depending on the Living God 3, with Jo McKenzie
1 Corinthians (1)
1 Corinthians (2)
1 Corinthians (3)

More at All Souls, Langham Place, see especially Student Weekend on Proverbs, Song of Songs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes. Plus sermons on Joshua. Free registration required.

Many articles by Mike are available at UCCF Theology Network.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Geography of the cross, finding the way back into Eden

On a day that remembers the darkest day (from which floods of hope breakforth!) I thought found my self riffing on some Biblical Geography. This is the Cross meets "We've been feeding on Genesis with our local church" with a twist of Reeves...

Man in the garden, walking with God. Everything is as it should be. Man ruling the world under God's rule. The glory of that really requires more than three sentences.

Then man overthrows God and incurs just curse for his rebellion. The curse manifests in many ways, one of which is being kicked out of the garden and sent East. Two angels with swords block the east side of the garden. Don't think light-sabres, think the most tragic picture as man is shut out from the presence of God. Ejected from Mt. Eden into the wilderness he was meant to rule under God.

A garden in the west. Man to the east of it. Man continues to multiply and fill the earth until the flood when things are reset due to sin, but sin remains. Less than 100 years after the flood comes Babel and man once more attempts to overthrow God. Man is scattered. These are the days of Shem. A man blessed by God.

Shem is told that his family will be served by cursed Canaan. But, Canaan occupies land in the west (Eden?) and Shem's guys are out east in Ur. Then God calls Abram of the house of Shem to a land. We're meant to see the connection between Shem and Abram, hence the genealogy in Genesis 11 that connects the two. The land God leads Abram too transpires to be Canaan.

Two problems. First, the land is occupied by the Canaanites who will have to be overcome. Secord, the land is promised to Abram's offspring. Abram has no children, he's old and his wife is barren. Shem is waiting on God's promise but it's hard to see how it'll come through. There are hints but how's it possible?

Nonetheless Abram's offspring is made the conduit of divine blessing to the nations. If you curse Abram's offspring God curses you. If you bless Abram's blessing God blesses you. What you do with Abram's offspring is really really important. And the direction of travel is blessing - God designs to use Abram's offspring to bless the whole world. Against all odds, via the offspring of a moon-worshipper (Abram - see Joshua 24v2) God will bring blessing to the world. You'd expect curse but God is the blesser - and he speaks to Abram... and he appears to Abram (as The Lord of Glory - Acts 7v2). It's stunning. It's absolutely stunning that this man isn't struck down dead but God - such is God's glory that he blesses and promises more blessing!

The challenge then is to have offspring and to stay in the land. The people multiply but keep finding themselves out of the land. It's like trying to solve a rubix cube - you fix one thing and everything else moves out of place. Somehow they've got to get back in the land. Before long they're out in Egypt for several generations but eventually they're bought into the land and this time with some models. Models of God's big picture. Models including a tent with a curtain on which are two angels - Eden, right? - that represents the place you want to get to but can't. The place that is where God is.

Only centuries later when Jesus who is the one 'Abraham's Offspring' dies on a Roman cross. As he dies, in Mark's account, Mark moves the camera from the hill outside the city where Jesus dies to the curtain at the temple. This initially looks like an unnecessary interuption to the narrative. But, look closer: we see the curtain torn - the way that had been blocked by the angels is opened wide. Mark is telling us that the death of Jesus is about getting God's people into his place... back into the land promised to Jesus. This is the good news of the gospel - that in Jesus, Abraham's offspring, we can get back past the angels and into the presence of God. The journey completed! All the pieces in place. And we did none of the work, it was all him.

Genealogy matters. Who are they? Abram, of Shem.
Geography matters. Where are they? Canaan, in the west.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

More than nothing

The gospel could say: God is favourable to you. The Christian future could happen by God just doing everything secretly and beaming his Christians into his new creation. But that's not what happens. That could just be 'because' with no further reason. But I can't help but think there is more to God's way of doing it, to God's motive in doing things the way he lays them out in the Bible. The beam the holy to heaven approach would carry truth of God's favour but it would also surely meet with general apathy. It would leave us not knowing God until the future, and thus leave us utterly unaffected with him. It would also avoid the horror of sin and the cross.

God has spoken, and so there is more to say. Just saying 'God is favourable to you' sort of presumes we're all living in Eden and so enjoying that favour by default, which we clearly aren't.

Actually the gospel is subtly (though not that subtly) different, and richer too. The gospel says: God who made you is rightly wrathful towards his sin marred good creation, and takes the action to justly secure abundant favour towards us, through Jesus, which you can enjoy with him when he renews the heavens and the earth [and can be enjoyed in part today!]. Put it that way and you start to see the glory of the gospel. Put it that way and you start to see that Jesus is truly glorious.

This is the logic of revelation. Last month I preached on Amos 7. Verses 1-6 threaten judgement and then withhold it. Some call that contradiction and change of mind by God (which it isn't, for reasons beyond the scope of this brief post). It looks like "nothing happening" - on the face of it. But actually, far from being nothing happening, it's wrath and mercy revealed. A hint of grace in judgement withheld. That river of wrath can't be stopped in Amos' day, and so flows in v7-9.

At the Cross of Jesus the river is well and truly dammed up with a wall of grace. And of course it's not "nothing happened" because the start position wasn't the abundant favour that we presume to deserve from God - God was already forebearing with human rebellion excessively. Things fundamentally change. We need to see the reality of wrath and the provision of grace to appreciate the utter glory of God's gospel. He is altogether favourable to those in Christ and that is no small feat, given who we are. I don't think that means we have to preach law then preach grace... because by preaching Jesus we preach the glory of God, his wrath, justice and love. And that sight, as Sibbes puts it, is a transforming sight. And that is more than nothing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Biblical Theology Briefings have gone a bit quiet recently - the editors have been a bit busy. But, there's a few new things now online from Jim Hamilton and we just spotted an mp3 from Goldsworthy.

We're gonna change the world in one day, and it feels good

If one extreme that threatens the church in being underwhelmed with the gospel, merely understanding without engaging the heart there is another problem. As Mo frames it: "what about the people who spend all summer jumping up and down and getting very emotional about their faith and then don't do any evangelism? In other words, there's also a big problem with fluffy emotionalism and no doctrine. Maybe, I would say, a bigger problem than the one you highlight."

If one extreme is called Sandemanianism, I'm not sure what to call this. Usually minus the visions of angels it's something like Colossians 2v18: such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen. Where the focus is mostly on what we have experienced more than the substantial reality of the gospel. As said earlier, experience is essential but like faith the issue is what's the object of it. We all have experience - life is experience.

Two issues in the question - one is emotion without doctrine, and the second is talk that doesn't translate into action. The two are very much connected. If it holds that high truth should be matched by high affections then it's also true that high affections should only happen when there is high truth. If truth without affections is outlawed then so are affections without truth.

My first steps into thinking theologically came in 1998 when I was leading worship in the Bath University Christian Union. I played keys and loved those synthy strings. I realised that music could effect people massively - the right notes and eyes would shut, arms rise and faces turn mushy. And so easily it has more to do with the music than with the words. It's this sort of symptomy that led Matt Redman to write 'when the music fades' though the song actually is prey to the same problem it seeks to critique. The music fades when we stop singing and start living in the cold light of day in the normal situations of life.

As a newcomer to evangelicalism at the age of 18 it occured to me that this feelings-driven approach that despises doctrine only works where there is a good backdrop of Bible. I met feelings-driven brothers and sisters who could just about carry it off because of their sunday school and summer camp christianity. I on the other hand hadn't read the Bible til I was 18 and so was somewhat lacking in the language and concepts. Doctrine to me came as precious treasure and tasty food. The feelings-driven approach was Tesco Value to the M&S food that the Bible offers me. Emotions that don't arise from sound doctrine are mere hype. Because contrary to the rumours of the feelings-brigade doctrine isn't dry and dull - doctrine is what God has revealed about himself, without which we would not know him. The feelings-driven guys may occasionally have affections that correspond to truth but generally they wont. They'll just be the ever fading ripples of past encounter with what God has revealed.

Such great emotions are a sign of nothing. Great movement of heart that doesn't necessarily prove the reality of life. Moreover they tend to just be vapour. Which is the second problem - they don't last any longer than the breath coming out of your mouth on a cold winters day. And affections that don't last don't change lives. The more conferences I've been too the more suspicious I've become of radical claims to change, by myself or others. It's easy in the buzz of a conference, festival or meeting to feel deeply moved. Even with the very best of intentions. But, it's only if this desire if rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and consequently the transforming one-degree at a time work of the Holy Spirit that the change is going to last. God, it seems, works more in gradual change, in bearing fruit more than impressive claims.

Recently I was in a Christian Union meeting where sang Tim Hughes' lyric: Live to feed the hungry, stand beside the broken. keep us from just singing, move us into action. I'm not critiquing Hughes or Redman or their ministry, rather this about the evangelical world we inhabit together. Sadly good songs, like so many things lose their content and context as they're replayed elsewhere.

Anyways, the song got me thinking... are there any hungry or broken people at this University? If so, do we know them? Are we befriending them? Or are we just asking God to fix things out there while we party in here? While we make big inspiring claims that wont translate into action. And if the answers are really no's, then what will 'keep us from just singing, move us into action' - a move to action is a good intention but why would I want to do those things? With whom? When? The logic of the song is based on gratitude (freely received... freely give) which is fine - but sung without context that draws us to see and savour the glory of the gospel blessings we've received, not to mention the one who blesses. My heart needs much convincing and reminidng about what I've received. Songs need content. Or at least they need outstanding context so that it's God-breathed truth that can translate into Holy-Spirit-driven-transformation.

Head and heart have to go together. We each have different tendancies to err in this. Some tend more towards being deeply affected without good cause, others to being unaffected when there is deep cause to be. The more chance there of hype slipping in the more it needs to be diffused. Mike Pilavachi is a great example of hype-diffusion in my experience. Being part of a big crowd whilst being deprived of sleep can cause people to say all sort of things, and really mean them. But claims to great change must get translated into specific action. It is possible to change the world but it usually happens through a very long series of small right decisions rather than one big one. Which isn't to say an altar call is always going to be wrong, but I'm almost more inclined to say - come back tomorrow to pray about this with someone if you're really changing.

I'm not sure whether cold-intellectualism or fluffy-emotionalism is the big issue of our day. Probably depends where you're sitting and who you're mixing with. Genuine deep-rooted gospel-driven affections would seem to be a way to avoid either extreme. The New Testament seems to talk a lot about the gospel and a lot about us having joy. Perhaps those things are connected...

Safeguards to your soul

I was struck at our CU leaders weekend by John Risbridger's observation that we're kept safe by joy (Philippians 3v1).

...rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you...

Now Pete Dray observes another safeguard - generosity.

People talk about the value of so called 'disciplines' like prayer and Bible study and I don't doubt the vitality of them. But the practice of gospel-joy and gospel-generosity need to be in the mix too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Afraid of our emotions, lacking any passion for worship or missions?

Chatting with a friend over lunch at the weekend I realising afresh that there are two parts of preparation for teaching the Bible. First to get it accurately. That's essential because without accuracy and understanding we don't have truth, we just have imaginations which will tend toward idols. But, secondly there is a need to feel it. To have the word of God detonate the heart. To have the word of God shine in our hearts to see Jesus. To have the word of God warm our hearts, revive the soul and awaken our affections in proportion to the truth being considered, as Jonathan Edwards put it.

Less than that would be idolatrous like lacking understanding. Less than that would be worse that lacking understanding, because it would be to see the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ and to remain unmoved. That's to treat him with contempt, that's to mock God. I'm not saying it has to overflow absurdly. Being (in this sense) charismatic is not the personality disorder otherwise known as being an extrovert. But, what comes out of the mouth is the overflow of the heart, the fruit borne depends on the tree. The visible signs are normally signs of nothing, but if there is no heart-beat you have to wonder if someone is alive.

The church doesn't encounter new problems. This has happened before, over 200 years ago and it got called Sandemanianism. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes on this: And the result was that the Church became entirely lifeless, and it really was not delivered from that condition until those great revivals took place under William Chalmers Burns and Robert Murray M’Cheyne, and people like them, in the 1830s and the early 1840s. For almost a hundred years, the Church of Scotland was in a parlous and lifeless condition, very largely owing to this kind of barren intellectualism.”

Andrew Fuller faced this down over 200 years ago from his church in Kettering. His other great gift to the church was to undo the anti-missional hyper-calvinism of his day and see it replaced with the kind of God-glorifying Carey-to-India sending missions that has got us moving toward seeing the whole earth filled with the glory of God.

John Piper's biography of Fuller shows... how his engagement with Sandemanianism recovered and preserved a kind of vital faith that is essential for missions, and his engagement with Hyper-Calvinism (or what he more often called High Calvinism) recovered and preserved a kind of preaching that is essential for missions. And in both cases, the battle was distinctly exegetical and doctrinal even though the all-important outcomes were deeply experiential and globally practical.

Observing that... To sever the roots of faith in regeneration, and to strip faith of its holiness, and to deny its active impulse to produce the fruit of love (Galatians 5:6) was to turn the church into an intellectualistic gathering of passive people who are afraid of their emotions and who lack any passion for worship or missions.Therefore, Fuller, the lover of God and missions, waged another battle against Sandemanianism for the sake of the church and the nations.

Piper concludes: Therefore, devote yourself to experiencing Christ in the gospel biblically and authentically. And devote yourself to understanding Christ in the gospel biblically and authentically. And may God ignite that experience and that understanding in such a way that your life will count like Andrew Fuller’s for the cause of world evangelization to the glory of Christ.

Mere understanding is not going to be enough when I come to study the Bible. Not enough by far.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tim Keller - belief in an age of skepticism

When you have a spare 90 minutes, this is better than watching a football match:

ht: JT

This is the only lever which has ever turned the world upside down

JC Ryle (cited by CH Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes, p259) -

"The cross is the strength of a minister. I, for one, would not be without it for the world. I should feel like a soldier without weapons, like an artist without his pencil, like a pilot without his compass, like a labourer without his tools. Let others, if they will, preach the law and morality. Let others hold forth the terrors of hell and the joys of heaven. Let others drench their congregations with teachings about the sacraments and the church. Give me the cross of Christ. This is the only lever which has ever turned the world upside down hitherto, and made men forsake their sins. And if this will not do it, nothing will.

A man may begin preaching with a perfect knowledge of Latin, Greek and Hebrew; but he will do little or no good among his hearers unless he knows something of the cross. Never was there a minister who did much for the conversion of souls who did not dwell much on Christ crucified. Luther, Rutherford, Whitefield, M'Cheyne, were all most eminent preachers of the cross. This the preaching that the Holy Ghost delights to bless. He loves to honour those who honour the cross."

Scribblings on Shem, Canaan and a long wait for a promise

God blesses Shem and promises that Canaan will serve him (Genesis 9v26). Shem lives to see many generations of his family and a world that is filled with problems. Ninety-four years after the promise man conspires to overthrow God at Babel before being scattered. Shem's descendants head east while Canaan settles in the west. How will the promise be kept?

And 262 years after the promise later Abram, descendant of Shem, arrives in Canaan from Ur via Haran, to be to be promised that his offspring will inherit the land (Genesis 12v7). This isn't a great likely candidate to be the one who sees God's blessing come to Shem's line. Abram is a worshipper of false gods, but God has spoken to this sinner and appeared to him as 'the LORD of glory' and he becomes one who calls upon the name of the LORD!

When Shem dies, 138 years later, he's surely still holding to these promises in a world where the land of Canaan is promised to the offspring of an old man with a barren wife... and yet, contrary to all expectations, this Abram has two offpsring, Ishmael and Isaac. Offspring to inherit the land of the Canaanites, to rule it and enslave them... to bring blessing to the house of Shem.

It looks like the promise is kept! It's just a taste. Millenia later Abram's offspring Jesus comes to bring God's people into their land, triumphing over God's enemies and their enslavement to idols... and enjoying God's blessing to Shem, God's blessing to Abraham.

Virgo & Driscoll / Together on a mission

I'd like to go to this...

...but do I need to go to New Word Alive, Together for the Gospel, Together in Taunton and Together on a Mission in one year. And can I afford it. Hmmm.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Wherein lies the offence of the cross?

CH Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes p257-8 -
The religion of Jesus is most peaceful, mild and benevolent. Yet its history shows it to have been assailed with bitterest hate all along. It is clearly offensive to the unregenerate mind. There is no reason to believe that it is one jot more palatable to the world than it used to be. The word and the gospel are both unchanged.

1. Its doctrine of atonement offends man's pride
2. Its simple teaching offends man's wisdom, and artificial taste.
3. Its being a remdy for man's ruin offends his fancied power to save himself.
4. Its addressing all as sinners offends the dignity of Pharisees.
5. Its coming as a revelation offends 'modern thought'.
6. Its lofty holiness offends man's love of sin.

... Herein is grace, that we who once were offended by the cross, now find it to be the one hope of our hearts, the great delight of our souls, the joyful boast of our tongues. Herein is heart-searching. Perhaps we are secretly offended at the cross. Perhaps we give no offence to haters of the cross. Many professed Christians never cause offence to the most godless. Is this because they bear no testimony to the cross? Is this because they are not crucified to the world? Is this because there is no real trust in the cross, and no true knowledge of Christ? Let us not follow those preachers who are not friends to the cross. Let us have no fellowship with those who have no fellowship with Christ.

Theology is The Revolution

On theology d'apr├Ęs Gideon (Judges 6.22-27) [Sourced from Mike Reeves is my Theology Advisor]
"Theology is smashing up idols - smashing up the idols in our minds and in our world. And not just smashing them up but replacing them with (v26) proper kinds of altars to the Lord our God: replacing them all with Jesus Christ.

"The story here is: Gideon is surrounded by the idolatry of the Mideonite regime. And he begins the revolution against it by bulldozing Baal. And that is theology! It's not just reading books, studying languages, whatever. It is about rebelling against the world order, not just the Mideonites' little regime; rebelling against the whole world order as it rebels against God. Rebelling against it, bringing down the system, utterly replacing it; that is theology. Theology is The Revolution."

"Theology is washing our brains by the Mediator rather than being brain-washed by the media."
See TheologyNetwork for more of that!

MP3s to reload that iPod:
Matt Chandler - Skeptics Welcome
Matt Chandler - Glory Thieves

Other things that are not here:
Gospel Prism - Long sermons?
Ed Goode preaching on Revelation 2v8-11
John Piper on radical living from the NT Wright book
Joel Virgo interviews Mark Driscoll

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lamentations 5 - The LORD reigns

This morning Andy and I finished five studies in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. The book is made up of five laments written while Israel were being exiled by God for their sin. They show the terror of wrath, the pain of enduring it and why it happened. They provide an anatomy of God's attitude to sin.

Judgement removed gospel benefits.
The final poem appears to be a repentant prayer that calls on the LORD (Gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love) to see their situation. Verses 1-18 give a summary of the situation faced as God judged his people (and the earlier poems make it very clear that the judgement came from God's hand, as God acted in accordance with his own word and in response to their sin). The detail centres upon a loss of inheritance, joy of heart, crown, sight and heart. These are the benefits of being God's covenant people.

The Christian lives inseparably in these benefits - it's unimaginable to think of the loss of fellowship with other Christians, the loss of access to God, the loss of the presence of the Spirit, the loss of God's word, the loss of the status of sons... how appalling it would be. God's people in the days of exile forfeitted their benefits and it was tragic.

In the exile they lost their land and homes but this was more than the loss of territory, it was the loss of the home that God had promised them. The loss of joy of heart is a loss of God's word. Jeremiah writes in his book (15v16) of how the word of God was a joy to his heart because he was one of God's chosen people. In judgement that status is gone, and with it their joy. The crown was honour and priviledge for God's treasured people. And loss of sight is further loss of God's word that once lit their path. The loss of gospel priviledges works out in the loss of life.

Restoration only comes from the sovereign God.
Concluding this final lament (v19-22) the people turn to the LORD and declare that he rules forever. They have lost all things but he reigns forever. He is God. Their God reigns - hear the gospel! If God remains exceedingly angry (v22) with them then they are doomed. Only if God's wrath is turned aside will they live. And yet (v21) if God will restore them they can be restored, if and only if God who rules acts to save them. This encapsulates the tension of Lamentations, wrath and mercy meet - how can the tension be relieved? Only by way of the cross can God be both just (as the exile shows) and the justifier (who restores his people). Only at the cross can the coming near of God's kingdom rule be good news of great joy and peace for people - only their will restoration and reconciliation come.

Wrath, reconciliation and opposition (the X-Media cross/hell discussion continued)

Sometimes you get the feeling that whatever you say you're not really getting anywhere. A wiser man than me might give up, but I can't quite resist yet here's three more thoughts.

1. Is God wrathful towards us, therefore needing to be reconciled to us?
Or, is the problem all us?

Stanley writes at x-media:

"And here you have said it yourself: Christ takes us back to God by justifying us, He does not bring God back to us by changing God's attitude toward us. God does not need to be reconciled to us, but we to Him."
Erm. I said, he justifies us and he is just by putting Jesus forward as the hilasmos (which I'm translating as propitiation) for our sins. Because God takes punishment upon himself in the death of Jesus he acts justly toward our rebellion and so he is no longer wrathful towards us but instead favourable.

2. Is the context of the word hilasmos in Romans 3 one of wrath and justice?
Or, is God only loving towards us?

"The context of Romans is about wrath and justice needing to be satisfied" And that, as far as I can see, is your stumbling block, because that is not the context given by the Holy Scriptures, nor by Holy Tradition, both of which clearly state a context in which Man must be reconciled to God, not God to Man."
I'm not saying man doesn't need reconciling, but that both are required and that both are achieved. Romans 1-5 say that God is demonstrating his wrath, his righteousness and his love towards us. That's the context for hilasmos in chapter 3 of that letter. That's not a bad context more broadly from the rest of the Bible, though there is much more to be said than a revelation of those things.

God is vast in love for man and God is opposed to man (for example his cursing of man in Genesis 3? Or, Ephesians 2 - man as the object of God's wrath?) which is a tension through the Old Testament, only resolved when he shows how he can be both just and the justifier. At the same time, man is opposed to God and not even remotely interested in seeking God. To form relationship God must be reconciled to man, which is what the cross secures - AND man reconciled to God, which is what the cross makes possible by faith in Jesus.

The cross presents good news to us by saying that God is rightly angry with human sin and that by the cross that anger is turned aside from us on to God and so God is abundantly and unwaveringly loving towards his people. You could say that that's saying nothing - and prefer to say only 'God loves us' but that's a lesser message. It's one that we could reply to with apathy. When we hear of wrath deserved, wrath averted, favour secured and favour enjoyed we have a substantial gospel which cannot be lightly dismissed but is always either rejected or accepted. See a little more on that in my recent talk on Amos 7, I may write further on this soon.

3. Does opposition prove anything?
Or, 'Was Hitler a gospel-preacher?'

Stanley continues, and demonstrates that he's now a regular reader (hello!):

"Well. all I can say is that if having people get angry with you proves your Apostolicity then Hitler, Stalin and the likes must have been great Christians!"
This is in reference to my recent comments about Christians being rejected and opposed when they preach peace (Luke 10). I didn't argue that persecution proves apostolicity, rather than apostolicity leads to rejection and acceptance - which is self evident in the world as some people accept the apostolic gospel and others reject it. Thus response is proof of nothing.

I cited the example of the anger provoked by my talk as an illustration because I think I was basically being true to the gospel and so though I am saddened by it not being received, I wasn't surprised by the opposition.

I didn't immediately conclude this however. My first approach was to go back to my notes and check whether I'd spoken carelessly or in ways that didn't match The Bible. I also asked others who had been present for feedback (and received some fairly extensive constructive critique, mostly on structure rather than content and manner). I also examined my heart to see whether I'd been aggressive or rude. I really don't think I was but it wouldn't surprise me if I wasn't as kind, clear and humble as I'd want to be, and as I should be. Sadly evangelicals like me don't always express the gospel we proport to love as well as we should. I found it to be one of the most heart-wrenching subjects to speak on and sat in Coffee Express the morning before wrestling with my notes.

It's my view that my content was basically Biblical and my attitude gentle, though any listener is free to disagree about both of those. Those listening were also free to ask questions (and some did) and to search the scriptures to see if what I said matches up. Stanley no doubt thinks his view derives from scripture and that his own motives are positive. I don't deny that. What is left to do is to be Berean, and to search the scriptures and see what The Bible teaches teach about the cross of Christ.

The whole process has made me want to speak more thoroughly and has reminded me how much it matters for me to come at God's word with humility and to teach persuasively and with much kindness, without wavering from teaching hard things. As I think I said in the talk, it'd be convenient to not talk about wrath but it seems unavoidable.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Michael Ramsden MP3s.

From Reading CU:

Michael Ramsden - revelation?
Michael Ramsden - exclusive?
Michael Ramsden - contradiction?
Michael Ramsden - righteous?
Michael Ramsden - meaning?

Mike Kendall MP3s.

Online sermons from Mike Kendall of St Neots Evangelical Church, Cambridgeshire.

Mike is an excellent preacher who communicates with great clarity and application.

See also: Mike Kendall at Reading University Christian Union

The Reason for God (UK)

A few weeks back I reviewed Tim Keller's The Reason for God which is an outstanding defence of belief in God and Christianity specifically, alongside being a great engagement with the questions of our day.

The Good Book company are now stocking it in the UK for 12 quid, which is a mere NINE POUNDS if you have a UCCF Student Card

Tim Keller at Google event

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Community of the Spirit

Galatians 6 - Plymouth CU.

The community of the Spirit is the community of the cross. Sin is not fatal or scandalous because restoration is possible, and the members take responsibility for self and one another. We then live by the Spirt not mocking God with self-indulgence or growing weary of self-righteousness. And our passion is not cross avoidance and impressing people but glorying in the wonders of the cross and our subsequent new creation.

This preach is definitely a bit more rough & ready than tightly scripted, a felt like I ended up labouring the point in places where with more time to prepare I could have nailed things in more firmly and more quickly.

See Jesus and rejoice (part 4)

Download MP3 - Dave Bish - Luke 10:1-24 at Grace Church Bristol

But there is a second joy for Jesus, v22.

Who knows God? Anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him! Like who? V22, revealed to little children! V24, Kings and prophets longed for this. Desperately seeking it. I know Nathan has been enjoying Ranaulph Fiennes biography – a modern day king and prophet. Yet, Fiennes may search forever and never find Jesus.

Jesus is a rare jewel, greater than the most awe-striking places on earth, places whose grandeur is mere testimony to the greatness of the crucified king of peace. Even the great minds can think and think and think and yet only imagine idols rather than the glory of Jesus. We often do it. We say – man is like a big version of people. So we might think if I were god I’d let people do what they want, and so God is even more permissive. Such talk and such thinking is just hot air. The grand, the clever, the rich and the mighty are denied one thing. They can’t find it. They can’t win it. They can’t buy it.

Who then can know? It is childlike disciples are those who receive the gospel. They see salvation! See the pleasure of God to hide himself, and to reveal himself. V24. How blessed they are that they see! They behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Eyes open. Nothing compares to this. And it is no attainment. No, v23, these are those “to whom the Son chooses to reveal” the Father. They don’t think their way to God, he broadcasts to them, by the message that he teaches his disciples. The message of peace from God by way of the death of Jesus. God has been revealed to them in the person and words of Jesus himself.

In the subsequent two passages we see three first century illustrations of this:

• First, a lawyer tries to earn a revelation of Jesus but goes away confounded.

• Second, Martha tries to housework her way to heaven.

• Thirdly, Mary who does nothing. Nothing except one thing. The one thing that is necessary, v42: the good portion. What? V39: she sat at the Lord’s feet and listen to his teaching. As he sat and taught ‘Peace’ she received the word. The word of the cross that secures peace with God.

She listened to the gospel and her eyes were opened. How blessed were her eyes to see!

• Will we stop searching and start listening?

• Will we rest from our effort and hear the Disciples Message, the Apostolic Gospel?

• Will we pursue joy in Jesus?

• Do you share in the joy of the Trinity?

Nothing is worse than rejecting this for that incurs terrible judgement. But to eat it up will delight your heart. Stick this gospel under your tongue like a lozenge and let it drip down into your heart. The Spirit penetrating our hearts to enflame them with joy in Jesus. See Jesus and rejoice.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The genesis of the Evanjellybean...
"As we sat in our seats, twitching, a few people came round with baskets of jellybeans.. an illustration of Grace. We didn't do anything to earn the sweeties, they were just a really nice gift. It hit me - Jellybean Grace - I couldn't think of a better illustration of the shallow, trite, cheap, unsatisfying version of The Faith offered by the post-modern, emergent, purpose-driven church. Grace as a nice gift in a fairly neutral setting, not Grace as phenomenal, extravagant mercy to those who are wicked God-haters. And so, the Evanjellybean was born."
I guess this just got me wondering whether our Christianity is big enough for the Biblical gospel. Thomas Bilney wrote of the word of God detonating his heart (in A Passion that Shapes Nations, Charlie Cleverley). That's the sort of clarity and conviction that Paul concludes Galatians with, as Luther paraphrases it: “God forbid,” says the Apostle, “that I should glory in anything as dangerous as the false apostles glory in because what they glory in is a poison that destroys many souls, and I wish it were buried in hell. Let them glory in the flesh if they wish and let them perish in their glory. As for me I glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Big, cross-exalting grace. This is what I want to be preaching as I attempt to reach Plymouth on the train this evening to unpack Galatians 6, and herald the glory of God in the cross of Christ. Not mere lip-service to the cross but a Simeon-esque revelling in it, delighting in it and shuddering at the faintest possibility of glorying in anything else. It's that kind of cross-centredness that brings real Christianity community, free from playing comparison games and free to enjoy real fellowship at the foot of the cross.

A solid substantial joy

"Power to become the children of God is to be valued more than a power to work miracles; for we read of those who did in Christ's name cast out devils, as Judas did, and yet will be disowned by Christ in the great day. But they whose names are written in heaven shall never perish; they are Christ's sheep, to whom he will give eternal life. Saving graces are more to be rejoiced in than spiritual gifts; holy love is a more excellent way than speaking with tongues... Nothing rejoices the heart of the Lord Jesus so much as the progress of the gospel, and its getting ground of Satan, by the conversion of souls to Christ. Christ's joy was a solid substantial joy"

John Calvin (on Luke 10)

Which is not to reduce the glory of miracles or any spiritual gift. Rather, his gift of life is greater. Likewise, when Jesus speaks of the necessity of leaving behind things of this world at the end of Luke 9 is he saying they're worthless. Rather, life in Jesus is all the greater. And Jesus' own joy demonstrates the same.

See Jesus and rejoice (part 3)

THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD: to have Jesus reveal the Father to you

V17. They come back from their evangelistic mission and report that it went well. In fact they exceeded their mandate and expectations. They were sent to preach and heal but they ended up casting out demons. V18. Jesus explains what happened. The gospel preached defeated Satan decisively. Jesus saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Which either means:

• Jesus saw Satan fall from heaven – and we do get something like that happening in the book of Revelation.
• Or, Jesus is saying he saw Satan fall. Falling the same way lightning does from heaven – i.e. decisively, instantly, completely.

Either way, Satan has been overthrown by the disciples preaching. V19. They in fact have ‘serpent-crusher’ authority with Jesus. Get the idea – Satan is beaten by the gospel. But, v20 – shock! Jesus says:
• Don’t rejoice in your exploits.
Not, don’t rejoice. But rather rejoice in something else.
V20. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven, not in what you’ve been doing.
My name is written in many places.
• It’s written on webpages.
• It’s written in the records offices that record my birth and my marriage.
But the most defining mark of who I am is of my name written in heaven – written in the presence of God. Written on the hands of Jesus.
• Not a reward for my deeds.
• Not in recognition of my performance.
Life is variable and brief but Jesus wants to secure our joy in something that lasts and does not waver.
• A river that wont run dry.
• A WIFI connection to joy that won’t waver or drop out. Unbreakable.
This is wonderfully warm gospel-centred pastoral care in the midst of a moment of great joy.
This is Jesus working for their progress and joy.

As Martyn Lloyd-Jones, probably the greatest preacher of the 20th Century was dying of Cancer someone asked him: How are you managing to bear up? You have been accustomed to preaching several times a week. You have begun important Christian enterprises; your influence has extended through tapes and books to five continents. And now you have been put on the shelf… how are you coping with the stress of being out of the swim of things?
[Sourced from For the Love of God, Don Carson]

Lloyd-Jones responded by quoting Luke 10v20. A truth no doubt learned in his more active days that sustained him into his last days. How kind of Jesus to speak into their celebrations and prepare them for harder days – days when they’ll be hauled before authorities and persecuted. In days of relative ease we need to get our joy rightly anchored. They needed to know then that the gospel-won writing of their names in heaven is an unwavering source of joy for God’s people! Taste the sweetness of this word. How precious is the prize won by Jesus’ death.

And then, v21 we find Jesus joyful too! Don’t ever think that joy is what is found outside of Christianity. Real joy is a Christian priviledge. V21. The Son has joy in the Holy Spirit as he prays to the Father.
• A glimpse of Trinitarian joy!
• See the pleasure of God in his gospel.

Our happy God who will, 15v10, dance in the presence of angels over those who turn to receive his peace. What makes the Son happy? His first joy, v21 is that the gospel is hidden from the wise and understanding. Jesus rejoices as his kingdom comes in judgement on some. Hard as it may be to believe in the atmosphere of 21st Century tolerance it is the pleasure of God to veil the gospel from some. Indeed, V22 no-one knows the Son except the Father. And, no-one knows the Father except the Son. The knowledge of God is not to be taken for granted.

Question: Who can know God? It’s a crisis point.

Monday, March 10, 2008

See Jesus and rejoice (part 2)

Download MP3 - Dave Bish - Luke 10:1-24 at Grace Church Bristol

v10-16. When peace is not received
In some villages, v10, peace will not be received. Then, v11 they’re to cast judgement on such people. But nevertheless – the kingdom of God is near. The gospel word always brings the kingdom of God to people. God comes near to give life. Or God comes near to judge. When the gospel is preached there is no third option. Life and death stand before all people.

Tragically, men and women have what Calvin called the “sacrilegious audacity” to treat God’s word as if it were on a par with all the other words. Scan reading the page. Pressing ‘mute’ to what he says. Yet, look at v12-16, how terrible it is to refuse the grace of God! Such rejection is worse than the infamous sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon.

Indeed. they would have repented at such an offer of peace, v12, compared to those who reject the disciples teaching the fate of Sodom will be more bearable “on that day” of God’s final judgement. Too often we Christians speak of this with lightness and disengagement. Surely only because we’ve not engaged with the scale of the offence committed. God's judgement is a subject to speak of with tears and anguish. It's gut-wrenching. Heartbreaking. The gospel isn’t just a product for sale – it’s not a matter of ‘take it or leave it’. God declares his rule. His rule either means peace for you. Or his rule means wrath for you.

Question – why is rejecting the disciples teaching so bad?

Notice in v16 the closeness of the disciples, their message and the Son and the Father. This is astounding logic from Jesus:
• First, to reject the gospel is to reject Jesus.
• Second, to reject Jesus is to reject the Father.
• Like the heralds of Isaiah 40v9 they’re saying “Behold your God”

The disciples come speaking the word of God. When it is ignored it remains living and active, staking God’s claim upon every one. This challenges any multi-faithism that wants to align the ‘great faiths’ and say they’re all the same. To reject Jesus is to reject the Father. Such is the intimate closeness of the Trinity, the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father. Any ‘way’ that rejects Jesus as God differs fundamentally from Christianity.

Caught up in the love of the Trinity, in Christ, are the disciples by their teaching. So that the following three questions are all the same:
• What are you doing with God the Father?
• What are you doing with God the Son, Jesus?
• What are you doing with the disciples teaching, with the apostolic gospel of peace secured by the cross of Christ?

The Father comes to us by the apostolic teaching. God comes to us clothed in his gospel word. And he comes speaking of blood-bought peace. Recently I preached this good news of peace with God at Exeter University, one student wrote in response: "I rarely want to use physical violence on people, I could even remain numb around paedophiles at court but he made me so angry"

God speaks peace through his disciples. Christians can expect to be opposed for speaking peace. The preaching of God’s word exposes the animosity people have toward God. Deep rooted hatred of humanity for God’s message of peace in the cross of Christ. This message stirs otherwise rational and nice people to foam with fury… why? Because God offers peace!
How darkened is the human heart?
How confounded is our thinking?
This is more than ordinary communication because the word of God has power to expose the human heart, to remake it so it can see the glory of Jesus or to declare God’s curse. The worst thing in the world would be to reject the disciples teaching. Boot camp lesson one - take the disciples teaching, the apostolic teaching more seriously. Engage heart and mind with God’s word to his rebellious world. What we do with it is what we do with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
To be continued (Luke 10v17-24)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

See Jesus and rejoice (part 1)

Luke 10v1-24 at Grace Church Bristol, part of Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Download MP3 - Dave Bish - Luke 10:1-24 at Grace Church Bristol

How would Jesus equip his church for action? What would evangelism bootcamp look like Jesus as the speaker? That’s what we find here in Luke 10. First the preparation to preach, and then the de-brief. What we see here is what makes Christian Evangelisation different from Muslim mission and McDonalds marketting. Remember Luke is always seeking to give us certainty about Jesus – carefully arranging the events of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection to persuade us to believe. Boot camp on the road to the cross is no mere training session it’s a stunning revelation of the one with whom they’re walking. This isn’t skills training it is heart-examination and so there are two things to see:

1. The worst thing in the world – to reject the disciples teaching (v1-16)
2. The best thing in the world – to have Jesus reveal the Father to you (v17-24)

[edit: I was a bit torn as to whether to develop the 'evangelism bootcamp' idea which fits the shape of the narrative, or to focus more on the 'best/worst thing in the world' theme... probably didn't do enough with either...]

THE WORST THING IN THE WORLD: to reject the disciples teaching

v1-9. Go and preach peace.
V2, notice he sends them to a vast harvest field. Not unlike today, Britain is incredibly un-churched in the early 21st Century. God’s new people are sent out together giving us a foretaste of what we find in Luke’s second book. Just a taste! Here, v4, they are ill-equipped but in time they’ll go to preach, weak but in the full power of the Holy Spirit. Lambs among wolves, sent by the good shepherd Jesus. In danger yet protected. As they go, V5, they’re to preach “peace”.
Why peace? Peace is God’s good news for this world. As they angels said in 2v14, it’s God’s message of favour towards his sin-corrupted world. And, 4v19, Jesus came to announce the day of God’s favour.

Today that’s a surprise because it’s assumed that God, if he exists, would be peaceful towards us. By announcing peace Jesus is exposing war. Everyone thinks they live in peace time but he brings clarity. The sea may look calm but dangerous currents, and hungry sharks lurk beneath the surface. How does Jesus bring peace? Can he just announce it and there it is? No. Since 9v51, we’ve been with Jesus on the road to his death in Jerusalem, on a cross. Why? To secure God’s peace towards his people. Something necessary because God is at war with us because of our rebellion against him. Pained by our rejection of him, justly angered by our worship of self and creation but not of him.

And in the most astounding act of love Jesus goes to his death, bearing the wrath we deserve so that God will be abundantly favourable towards us. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit working together in perfect and joyful unity to bring rebels like us to intimate knowledge of themselves. Jesus came to secure peace. He secures peace at the cross. The cross is why Jesus came.
V7. When they preach “peace” and it’s received then they’re to go and eat with people. This is the natural overflow of peace with God – peace with one another. Moreover, v9. And there will be healing. The gospel rehumanises.

Bible words have Bible meanings and ‘Human’ or ‘Man’ is no exception. Man is made in God’s image. Made to enjoy God, God’s people and God’s world. People say “to err is human” and we see people wasting away. But the Bible says this is abnormal. We’re made to enjoy favour from God in his world with his people. Peace is announced by Jesus’ death. The war between God and man, and man and God can be ended. Man was cursed by God but now blessing is offered. And that blessing is rehumanising in everyway – healing our bodies and drawing us into relationship with God and his people. Experienced imperfectly here, but nonetheless real.

No wonder Isaiah prophesied: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news, who publish peace, who bring good news of happiness, who publish salvation – as Isaiah said (52v7).
How beautiful those who say: Your God reigns!
The disciples announce: “The kingdom of God is near”.
They announce the reign of God: Your – God – reigns!

The King who brings peace comes near by his gospel. Jesus comes to these towns and villages clothed in the teaching of his disciples. You’d think that this would be a message loved and embraced by all peoples… this offer of peace with God, of Jesus born at Bethlehem to die in Jerusalem as our Saviour.... but we’ve only see half of the story. Look at v10-16....

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Mark Dever on Church (

"The church ultimately exists for the glory of God. Whether pursuing missions or evangelism,
edifying one another through prayer and Bible study, encouraging growth in holiness, or assembling for public praise, prayer, and instruction, this one purpose prevails. The church is the unique instrument for bringing God such glory."
Mark Dever - The Church -

Notes from my Moleskine

This week's lack of posting is largely due to mostly being no where near my laptop. This is because I've been invoved in some interviews for new staff (with some really outstanding candidates!). Can't really comment on how they're going, but here's some expanded notes from my moleskine notebook. At the start of the first interview candidates are asked to present the gospel for 5minutes as if to non-Christians followed by Q&A.

I find myself thinking -
How nice it is not to hear 'two ways to live'.
How many different ways there are to tell the story.
How amazing that it's my job to hear young gospel-ministry willing people revel in Jesus.
How good it is to hear about this being God's world.
How good life is meant to be in his creation.
How glorious and central the cross of Christ is.
How great it is that we can share in Jesus' resurrection life.
How great the hope of the new creation is.
How wrong, painful and and evil sin really is.
And, how powerful the word of God really is to remake cursed people for blessing.

I've pondered how easy it is to use jargon, catch-phrases and concepts that have more to do with the company I keep than with convictions written on my heart by the Holy Spirit. How vital that there is depth beneath the words I say - not just in the mind but in the heart. I've been delighted at the outworkings of grace in people I've spent time with, not least the other members of the Leadership Team. The outstandingness of spending time with them enjoying food and beer and quirky conversation about how doctrine of church means that a husband shouldn't make his wife have a red kitchen...

I've been reminded afresh that there is a real difference between stating 'when we look at the world it's obvious there is a God' and actually arguing the case persuasively. How easy it is for me not to really hammer in the nails so that they stick.

And this week I see again how much I love this ministry, how great is the need for the good news about Jesus to be spread, and I see how much I still have to grow. And yet how much I love being in this family where grace and glory matter and where people like Mike Reeves will spur me on in faith and joy.