Friday, October 31, 2008

Genesis 6-9: Everything changes but you? A post for "Reformation Day 2008"

For Challies' Reformation Day Symposium, continuing reflections on the book of Genesis.

As we move into Genesis 6-9 we have high expectations. Though in chapter 4 the seed of the serpent seem to dominate (Cain, 1 John 3v12), now there is a growing line of people who call on the name of the Lord (Gen 4v26), including the prophet Enoch (Jude 14) and Lamech who prophesies (5v29)  that his son will bring relief from curse. How will it happen?

Just as we turn the corner into chapter 6v1-4 we run into the origins of the Nephilim. A bit slippery but it doesn't look good. The Nephilim and their fellow Giants always smell trouble for the Seed of the Woman (Gen 3v15). It's not immediately obvious why they're mentioned here other than to highlight the terrible state of the world. The Nephilim will be taken by the floods though they will recur generation upon generation (Numbers 13v33).

The world should be being filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord (Hab 2v14), namely the gospel (2 Cor 4v6), and yet it is instead filled with violence and evil (6v5-13). Though people call on God and prophesy, still the serpent slithers and spreads his influence.

Amidst this is Noah. The one prophesied to bring relief from curse. The Lord finds him righteous. A justified man! One acceptable to God. Rightly clothed. Noah is to build a boat in which he will be saved when the judgement Enoch prophesied comes. After many years of building in which Noah is a Preacher (herald - Hebrews 11v7) for God there is no repentance and he goes into the boat with his family, and the Lord closes the door (7v16). The righteous are saved, the rest are taken by the flood-waters.

The world is deluged in water by the word of God, once more formless. Then the LORD remembers Noah and the waters begin to receed (8v1). We find the man on his mountain (8v4 - like Adam on Mt Eden in Gen 2) - a dove (like the Spirit) hovering over the water confirms that life begins again. A new creation! A new 'first family' to begin to fill the earth once more with the LORD.

And yet, man remains as evil post-flood as before. The clock has been re-wound back to the beginining. Yet the human heart is still corrupted (8v21). The LORD knew this. There is salvation through judgement, relief from curse and yet this flood isn't the ultimate relief. This has not reached the heart of the human problem. Another Curse-Relieving Son will be required (See Lamech's prophecy about his son Noah in Gen 4). Further judgement will surely come, though not by flood waters (9v15).

A final reformation in which men and women are clothed in righteousness and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. A final reformation in which salvation will come through judgement, not just for one family but for many. One that will result in a final re-making of creation beginning as The Son (Jesus) emerges from the waters, with a dove hovering over him (Mark 1v10-11), leading to his bearing of the curse for his people (Mark 15v33), and then gathering his people back to his Mountain where they will live with God forever (Rev 21v3). Noah's story paints the picture vividly, the gospel gives a more glorious story. The ultimate reformation that doesn't just sweep away evil but brings glorious new life into God's world.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Reading films with Pete Dray

Pete Dray on questions to help read films:

1. What was your immediate reaction to the film at its close?
2. What's the story?
3. What sort of 'world' has the film-maker asked me to enter?

(a) What counts as good or bad or beautiful or evil or unacceptable in this world? What makes relationships in this world work or fail?
(b) How has the film-maker built up this world?

* How does the movie's first shot introduce the world? 
* How does the last shot leave us with a lasting impression?
* What were the recurring images or visual motifs?
* What patterns were there in the dialogue? 
* How did characters interact? 
* Were there words or phrases that were repeated?
* How does the film use music to guide you to know how to respond?
* How do characters grow and learn and change? (this is known as a 'character arc' and is a good pointer towards the message that the film maker is seeking to make)

4. What’s true, good and beautiful in this film? Because the film is made by people in God’s image, there will be moments when the truth shines, where beauty is unveiled (what Turnau calls ‘the footprints of God’). What elements of God’s grace do we see?
5. What’s false, ugly and perverse? Where does the movie lie? Film worlds are a mixture of grace and manipulation, truth and lies. A film's lies will betray where its root idolatry is. (Often there is a direct relationship between where common grace is strongest and idolatry e.g. a chick flick celebrates romance, but often presents it as the one thing to live for).
6. How does the gospel apply (or give an answer)? (the gospel provides real answers to desires).

Damaris CultureWatch read films for their day job

Preaching 2008


Staying in the World - Frontiers Church Exeter - Student Night (not recorded)
Stay Free 3 - Through the Curtain - University of West of England Christian Union
No Starbucks at Golgotha - Hebrews 13v13 - Frontiers Church Exeter
Stay Free 1 - Listen to Jesus! - University of West of England Christian Union
Small Ambitions - 2 Corinthians 3 - Frontiers Church Exeter
Stay Free 4 - Stay with the gospel - SW Small Group Leader Conference (not recorded)
Stay Free 3 - Stay at the cross - SW Small Group Leader Conference (not recorded)
Stay on Mission in Small Groups - SW Small Group Leader Conference (not recorded)
Stay Free 2 - Stay in the world - SW Small Group Leader Conference (not recorded)
Stay Free 1 - Stay in the word - SW Small Group Leader Conference (not recorded)

Death and the Smell of Jesus - 2 Corinthians 2 - Frontiers Church Exeter
Passion for the Cross - Galatians 6 - UCCF South West Team
Passion for the Cross - Galatians 4 - UCCF South West Team
Passion for the Cross - Galatians 2- UCCF South West Team
Study for Jesus Seminar - UCCF Forum Conference
Love the church Seminar - UCCF Forum Conference

Discipleship Seminar - UCCF Relay Conference, with Claudia Chan (not recorded)
Evangelism Seminar - UCCF New Staff Orientation, with Nay Dawson (not recorded)

JULY 2008

JUNE 2008
The incomparable grace of God - Micah 7 - Grace Church Bristol
The incomparable grace of God - Micah 7 - Arborfield Church

MAY 2008
Let us go to him - Hebrews 13 - Bath University Christian Union
1 John 3 - Reading University Christian Union (not recorded)
Round 3.5 Jesus - Pub Quiz Talk - Bristol University Christian Union (not recorded)

APRIL 2008
Why don't Christians gossip Seminar - New Word Alive, with Alison Williams

MARCH 2008
The Community of the Spirit - Galatians 6 - Plymouth University Christian Union
The worst and best thing in the world - Luke 10 - Grace Church Bristol
Transformissional Communities - Being Human - UCCF South West Leaders Conference

Transformissional Communities - Mission - UCCF South West Leaders Conference (not recorded)
Transformissional Communities - Transform - UCCF South West Leaders Conference (not recorded)
The self defeating strategy of rule keeping - Galatians 4 - Plymouth University Christian Union
Avoiding the word? - Amos 7 - Trinity Church Exeter (not recorded)
Hell - Evangelistic Talk - Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union (not recorded)


This Doctrine produces a Reformation

"When you feel yourself declared righteous on the basis of the righteousness of Christ because it has imputed to you by union with Christ you are liberated for huge undertakings for God. You can risk anything for God. It produces a Reformation. The western world. It produces the protestant work ethic..." John Piper in the Theology Network Podcast, Table Talk #4.

It makes all the difference to life whether I'm living to impress people or knowing I'm accepted by God because of Jesus. In the first case I have to show off, cover failings and go into denial. In the latter it's not that I boast in my sin, but I can be honest about it and proceed to repentance.

I'm struck that in Genesis 4 Cain is a sin-denier as he attempts to cover up his crime of murder. His descendent Lamech is also a killer, but he boasts in his sin. Where God graciously protected Cain - for Vengeance is the Lord's not for man to claim, Lamech presumed to proclaim his own vengeance. One legalistic generation can easily give way to a licentious one. Such are the ways of The Serpent.

But those who are justified need not swing to one extreme or the other. The justified live in The Seed of the Woman, the defeater of the Serpent who gifts right-standing, new-life, new-status, new-present and new-future to his people. Those "justified by faith" look deeply different to those who make their own way. They are truly liberated people.

Their lives will look different in all areas. It effects work. The sinful mind imagines that if someone is already fully accepted then they will become lazy. But, this is far from the truth. Justification by faith produced "the protestant work ethic" - liberated from a performance ethic, knowing that work matter and can be done to the glory of God the justified person is free to work hard and motivated to do so. Not because I have to, but because I get to. Not because I get my identity from what I achieve, but because it comes from the work that he has done. Justification overflows into work.

Monday, October 27, 2008

No Starbucks at Golgotha (mp3/script)

Download MP3: No Starbucks at Golgotha, Hebrews 13:13 - Dave Bish at Frontiers Church Exeter

I preached an earlier version of this at Bath University Christian Union in May 2009 titled "Let us go to him"  - inspired in part by John Piper's T4G08 preach.

On Friday, January 12th 2007 at 7.51am a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap emerged from the Metro and positioned himself against a wall.... Pearls before Breakfast (The Washington Post) offers a unique experiment in context and beauty through the music of Joshua Bell.

Last week we closed with the words of The Puritan, Jonathan Edwards: “We should endeavor to promote spiritual appetites by laying ourselves in the way of allurement… There is no such thing as excess in our taking of this spiritual food. There is no such virtue as temperance in spiritual feasting.” Edwards says don’t pass up beauty when it’s placed before you. Pursue it deliberately. Pursue it diligently.

This morning we come to a five word melody from the book of Hebrews – near the back of the bible – a symphony that should resound in the perfectly designed cavities of our hearts. Don’t walk on by, oblivious. Come, cast aside “temperance” and gorge yourself on this feast! Hebrews 13v13 says this: “Let us go to him…”

WHOM? Him is the subject of this letter.... He is Jesus Christ, and as John Piper observes: “All of this supremacy of Christ is poured into the word “him” in Hebrews 13:13:" And this vast array of his glory is set before us to arrest our attention, lest we walk on by. Heavenly anthems resound here.

The Washington Post offered the world a free performace from Joshua Bell. The world ignored him. We're that caught up in our own lives. We might do the same with Jesus. But - if we catch just the slightest glimpse we find the antidote to self-absoption.

The only viable option is to get down on our faces in awestruck, jaw-dropping worship of Jesus. The only rational way to respond to this glimpse of glory in the face of Jesus Christ is to embrace a Copernican revolution on a scale much vaster than the mere specks of light that form our solar system. We thought we were central just as people thought everything orbitted around the earth. The Spirit is our Copernicus, setting us aright. We are not the centre. Jesus is. This is Christianity. We can no more move stars and planets than we can make Jesus central. But He can do it.

He displays himself to drag us down from the high-horse of our own self-importance, that we might adore Jesus rather than ignore and defame him. As we hear of him we should feel his word revive our souls. The experience of beholding Jesus Christ is one in which the Holy Spirit pours petrol on the dying embers of our affections to set them ablaze. And yet here is where the potential problem lies. The real test of the heart is not just whether we’ll embrace glory and majesty but on what terms we’ll do so.

Here is where we may have a problem. Frontiers Church Exeter is one that loves to gather and worship Jesus. And we love sound doctrine so we love to hear the Bible preached. And those are very good things. I would not want us to ever be without them. We must never be without them. But we have only looked at half of v13.

Let us go to him is not written in the comfort zone. v13, “let us go to him // outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured...” “Outside the camp”… and “the reproach he endured” is a reference to some where very specific. The place in view is Golgotha, where in the midday darkness of divine curse Jesus died in our place. John Piper picks up on this and observes helpfully: Golgotha is not a suburb of Jerusalem. It’s not the comfortable place. Not respectable. Not middle class. Not “your best life now”.

The banquet doesn't come in comfort. It's served at Golgotha.What does that look like? Like early Christians in Hebrews 10:34 who joyfully accepted the confiscation of property to serve others. Or Moses in 11:25 who gave up all the world's pleasures because he preferred "the reproach of Christ". He thought Golgotha was better than everything the Prince of Egypt was entitled too. Don't reach for the stars, we sink to the bottom.

God has things to say to us individually on this. But, I sense he would address us as a church.
"Golgotha is not a suburb of Jerusalem." It's where they executed criminals. It's death row. Going to Jesus at Golgotha is at odds with our suburband expectations and sense of entitlement, for life, work, money, relationships and for church. Golgotha is not nice. Going to Jesus will not make your life nice.  

We live in a strange era. When we wan a coffee we don't put the kettle on.  Instead we go to Starbucks and sit on a comfy sofa and pay someone else to serve us coffee. There are no starbucks sofa's at Golgotha. Pursuing our own building is not to build a Starbucks church to meet our consumer-comforts. No, it's so that we can establish an outpost at Golgotha. A place to make substantial in-roads into our city. So new people can come in which will disrupt what we have already. We'll do it, if and only if going to Jesus is irresistible.

That's future. "Let us go to him" is a present. It's doubtful that going to him in Exeter will cost us our lives, but what's at stake may seem more costly, exposing how British we are - our reputation and our preferences. But God says: This church is not for you. It is for Him. And 200 people worshipping Jesus is not nearly enough. And 200 people hearing the Bible preached is not nearly enough. Not nearly, when you consider the infinite worth of Jesus. 

I'd love to think that I'd have noticed Joshua Bell. But I wouldn't have. We default to curving in on ourselves. That's Martin Luther's definition of sin. Man curved in on himself. Oblivious to the beauty before our very eyes.  We can try to pursue Jesus in comfort but neither we nor the people of Exeter will find him there. No we have to come on his terms and then we can have him forever. Let us go to him!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Beholding Him in the book of Hebrews

Developed from an idea by John Piper 

Him is the subject of Hebrews, come read with me!
• He is, 1v2, God’s supreme revelation, and the inheritor of all things.
• He is, 1v2, the one who made the world by speaking.
• He is, 1v3, the radiance of the glory of God – the exact imprint of God’s nature. The one on whom to look to see precisely what God is like. The magnificent manifestation of God.
• He is the one who holds the whole universe together by the word of his power. Holding together even every molecule and every atom and every electron and all the depths of subatomic physics, that make the scientists at CERN look like they’re playing with a child’s science kit.
• He is the one who made purification for sins. Washing clean his people who were once indelibly stained and marked by the odour of putrification due to the sewerage of their hearts.
• He is the one who has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High because he has done his work. Finished.
• And He has a name that is more excellent than all the angels. Incomparably glorious.
• He is, 1v6, worshipped by the angels and, 1v8 rules forever with the sceptre of uprightness. A rule more powerful, just and beneficial, than all the rulers, in all the annals, of human history and politics.
• He is greater than the angels by whom the law was given. And therefore he is the one to whom, 2v1, we must pay much closer attention, for those who neglected the law died and how much worse the fate of those who neglect him.
• He was for a little while, 2v9, made lower than the angels but is now crowned with glory and honour, because of the suffering of death, which by the grace of God, he tasted for everyone.
• He is the one, 2v10, by whom all things exist and who brings many sons to glory, since he is the founder of that which is greater than every human institution, corporation and nation.
He is the founder of our salvation. The supreme reason, goal, purpose and end of all things.
• He has, 2v14, destroyed the one who has the power of death and, v15, delivered us from the fear of death because he is, v17, our merciful and faithful high priest who has made propitiation for our sins, turning aside the wrath we deserve and bringing us into the abundant fullness of God’s everlasting favour.
• He is the one whose achievements require big words like propitiation to describe them, for small words cannot contain him, and only mind-blowing words are sufficient to stir appropriate worship toward him.
• He is, 4v15, our high priest who is sympathetic with our weaknesses. A friend who does not just listen, but is able to meet us in our weakness and need. It is Him who offers acceptance independent of our performance and solely on the basis of what he has done.
• He never sinned.
• He enables us – any of us - to draw near to the throne of grace and receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need, whatever the need or situation.
• He, 5v5, was appointed as the final and forever high priest.
• He offered up, v7, prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears. Anguished to save us.
• He was, v8, obedient, his every work fulfilling the word of God.
• He is, v9, the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. The only way, door, gate, road.
• He, 7v16, holds his priesthood by the power of an indestructible life and is able, v25, to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him since he always lives to make intercession for them. Always pleading the cause of his people on the basis of his own never changing death.
• He, 8v6, has a ministry much more excellent than the old covenant, based upon better promises. The old is a pale reflection and a mere shadow by comparison.
• He, 9v12, entered once for all into the holy places by his own blood and secured an eternal redemption that, 9v14, purifies our conscience.
• He, 9v28, now appears in the presence of God on our behalf and will, v28, return to save those who are eagerly awaiting him.
• He has, 10v12, offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins and then sat down at the right hand of God, waiting until all things are under his feet.
• He has perfected for all time his people. Perfected, past tense. Done.
• His blood is, 10v19, the confidence his people need to enter into the most holy place.
• He is the one, 13v8-12, fulfills all the types and shadows of the Old Testament and where they could not benefit people.
• He is the one, v9, who strengthens our hearts with grace.
• And, 13v8, he is the same yesterday, today and forever.
He is Jesus Christ, and as John Piper observes: “All of this supremacy of Christ is poured into the word “him” in Hebrews 13:13: And this vast array of his glory is set before us to arrest our attention, lest we walk on by. Heavenly anthems resound here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stay in the Word (UWECU)

Began working through a four part series in Mark's gospel called "Stay Free" at the University of the West of England Christian Union last week. Part 1 is titled "Stay in the Word" and looks at Mark 4. A technical fault meant I had to re-record the last five minutes so that's a bit inauthentic.
Download MP3: Stay in the Word (25mins).

I gave a much longer version of this talk at our recent South West CUs Small Group Leaders conference. I preached Mark 4 at Warwick CU (where I met Sammy) a couple of years back. On all three occasions I've not been massively happy the talk...

The Song, The Man, The Feast

Ed is reading The Song: I just struggle to believe that the wisest man in the Old Testament didn't have an eye on the bigger, better, eternal covenant, when writing about the one between a man and a woman.

Dan Hames writes about The Man: And this True Man, Jesus, invites us into his family. He offers us a life of meaning and purpose with Him. In fact, he is that life and humanity, and when you or I come to him the significance and fullness of Jesus' life can be ours too. He offers us that restored place of real humanity before God and in the universe. On a personal note this reading of the Song warms my heart, and untaps a flow that is often short of water.

Marcus on feeding your soul: Sitting down with no other thought than savouring goodness and spending a long time at it. Giving it time to digest and fully nourish my heart and body. Talking about it for weeks afterwards, so wonderful was the experience and company... What would it mean to reorient the life of busy western Christians and busy western churches to allow for real, regular, deep spirituality in our busy western world?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Genesis 4-5: Searching for the Seed

Genesis 4-5. Three chapters into God's story the Priest-King and his bride have been kicked out of Eden. Excluded from the presence of God. Cursed. And yet shown grace and given promises. There will be a seed. And then they have sons. Cain and Abel. Both these priests offer worship. One is accepted the other isn't. Abel offers worship in faith (Hebrews 11v4), which must be in response to the word of God (Romans 10v17). Cain however is idolatrous in worship. Cain is of the evil one (1 John 3v12) - a seed of the serpent. Is he then not responsible for his action? No, he is accountable. Sin crouches at his door and as human being he should rule over sin. He's made to reign in life. And yet he succombs to it. Sin rules him. And he kills his brother. The darkness of Genesis 3 is darker still.

Confronted by the LORD who still relates to his excluded priests Cain denies responsibility for his brother, the one he has killed. But, the LORD hears the blood of Abel speak. It speaks curse from the ground onto Cain. One day there will be a seed of the woman, murdered by a seed of the serpent, whose blood will not just speak curse but curse-averted. For now this murdered man's blood speaks of curse. He is Hebel (meaningless - Ecclesiastes 1 etc) and all hope seems to be lost. The serpent's seed is striking the woman's seed, and is seemingly victorious.This line was promised and it's coming is heart-breaking and defames the LORD.

Graciously the LORD protects Cain under the weight of curse as he faces the second exile (our 'first parents' to use Calvin's term were exiled from the garden, now he is exiled again). If anyone kills Cain the LORD declares a seven-fold vengeance. Vengeance is the LORD's, even for Abel's murder. Cain's family go and then settle. They build a city instead of scattering over the whole earth, and presumably it is like the next city (11v4) where men gather to make a name for themselves rather than filling the world - though city will come to be a term of great redemption in the new creation (Revelation 21-22). Cain's line comes to Lamech. This brute marries two women and rules as a tyrant. Where is forefather Cain denied murder, aware of it's wrong Lamech glories in murder. And then usurps the LORD again by declaring vengeance not seven but seventy-seven times (contrast Peter's query about forgiving seven times, Jesus would say seventy-seven). This serpent's seed is horrendous. And these are the people multiplying. Things are bleak.

But, then we rewind. Another seed of the woman - Seth! And in his day human beings begin to call upon the name of the LORD. From this line come a truer people. Outstanding among them Enoch and another Lamech. Enoch walks with the LORD and then is not. Unlike all the rest he does not die but proceeds to be with God - returned to Eden? A great hope! We know him to be a prophet (Jude 14) declaring that God will come in judgement. It will happen, when? Surely soon. Sin will not go unpunished though Lamech of Cain revels in it. Then just as Seth was a son, and named so too is Noah of Lamech. This SON will bring relief from curse. Judgement is coming as Enoch prophesied but there is hope of relief. What a sweet sound! What a moment. How? When? We wait to find out. But there is hope. Though the serpent has been striking the woman's seed God's promise holds true. Next: Genesis 6-8.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Well worth the £5.30

Yesterday Jen, Jim, Tim, Hannah and I went over the bridge to spend some time with Pete and Dave at ChristChurch Newport.We were there to build some relationship ahead of a conference that I've invited Pete to serve us at in 2009. As we sat in his office (surrounded by some outstanding books as would be the case in many a pastors study) I invited Pete to share his story with us and was deeply encouraged by his honesty about his mistakes, about the way he's grown and changed over the years, what Jesus is doing among them as a church at the moment, and most of all that he's loves Jesus and is keen to serve the wider church and UCCF's ministry.

I consider it a huge priviledge (and also rather ridiculous) that I've been able to spend time with so many godly pastors over recent years through serving churches in UCCF. The thing that strikes me again and again is how unassuming God's leaders are. And, I observe that the more these men seem to love the gospel the more humility they seem to display... That's real spirituality and I want that in my life.

But the, like Sammy says: "Arrogance. What does a filthy rotten sinner have to be feeling superior about? Nothing much the Bible reckons. So if we are at all arrogant, it’s out of ignorance of our true state (without Christ)." And now we enter into life in Christ - as part of his bride the church in many localities!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Burn After Reading: The Idiots Implosion

On Friday evening we went to see the latest Coen Brothers film Burn After Reading. For better or for worse this is something we keep doing - though I've not yet seen their previous film No Country for Old Men. The cast is outstanding including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and Richard Perkins, all playing the fool.

In a world that often takes itself very seriously the idiot is a welcome figure. This is another Coen's screwball comedy, this time we leave the divorce lawyers (of Intolerable Cruelty) behind and set up camp between the CIA and Hardbodies Gym in Washington D.C. in a tale of unintelligence stamped "burn after reading" because what else can you do with such peculiar incompetence.

Humility begins with a good dose of not taking ourselves seriously and for that reason among others I liked this film.

As always the Drays watch good films too

Small ambitions - glory beheld!

DOWNLOAD MP3: Small Ambitions (Dave Bish, 2 Corinthians 3)

SO LET US BEHOLD! Stop and stare at the sublime beauty of Jesus Christ. Gaze on Jesus in his word, beckoned by the Holy Spirit.

V3. Jesus comes as the one who doesn’t just write external rules but writes deep in our hearts – shining in our hearts so we can see him. Beckoning us to come and be with him.

V6. Jesus comes as the one who doesn’t kill but brings life. We have more than enough in us to deserve death, but Jesus gives life.

V9. Jesus comes as the one who doesn’t bring condemnation but righteousness. He clothes us in his perfect righteousness, so that God doesn’t attempt to accept us as we are, but accepts us in Jesus! He is not just an image-bearer, he is the very image of the invisible God. He is the perfect representation of God. He is the supreme revelation. To look on Jesus is to see what God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit looks like.

V11. Jesus comes as the one whose work is just temporary like everything else in this world. What Jesus does is permanent. Secure. Unchanging. His work never fades. His blood never fails.

God tells us here in v18, and our hearts should be bearing witness to the same. We should feel this!

3. Glory, beheld!

v18. TRANSFORMATION! Beholding, v18: “we are transformed”. See Jesus in the word – and the Holy Spirit changes our desires. And it’s not that the Spirit dampens our desires – far from it. He inflames them! But, notice – v18, this doesn’t all happen in an instant. The change is “from one degree of glory to another” – it’s a gradual transformation. This is the tender hand of the Holy Spirit in us – drawing us to Jesus, shaping our appetites and desires.

Change: In our thinking. In our hearts. In our relationships. People no longer to be abused for our gain – but rather they are as Lewis wrote “the holiest objects presented to your senses" – which should make the community of the church the “happiest place on earth”- where together we live as people changed by the Holy Spirit and being changed. This is freedom. Freedom to enjoy God’s world. The Christian is the most free person, able by the Holy Spirit to enjoy great music, magnificent landscapes, savour food, good company, marriage, work. Gifts from God, enjoy with thanksgiving. And most of all: freedom to enjoy God Himself!

The Puritan Thomas Chalmers called this: “the expulsive power of a new affection."  Chalmers knew the inner workings of the heart, as we do from our own experience, that we don’t lose our old tastes by being told that they don’t satisfy. A garden pond is nothing when you’ve gazed upon the Atlantic Ocean. The greater expels the lesser.

Earlier we met Odysseus who denied himself what he wanted – like a clenched and miserable religious person… really no different from the person who indulges every slight desire.Now meet another figure of Greek Mythology…. Jason, of ‘the argonauts’ fame, also had to sail that way. His approach was different, he had the musician Oedipus with him. Oedipus struck up his lyre and played greater songs and they remained safe. The Christian hymn captures this kind of vision: “Hark how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but it’s own… awake my soul to sing of Christ who died for me….”

Ropes and restraints won’t change us. We need the greater song! Without it the old pleasures of a good degree, career marriage, kids will please us, all too easily. Into that speaks the Holy Spirit. He says, don’t have such small ambition. He comes to awaken our souls, stirring our hearts– inviting us to something greater, to Jesus. Jesus in whom are fullness of life and real freedom. The Holy Spirit loves nothing more than to cultivate in us a taste for the glory of Jesus. Winning our hearts to what they were made for.

Jonathan Edwards:
“[We] need not and ought not to set any bounds to [our] spiritual and gracious appetites.”
Instead we should:
“to be endeavoring by all possible ways to inflame [our] desires and to obtain more spiritual pleasures. . . . Our hungerings and thirstings after God and Jesus Christ and after holiness can’t be too great for the value of these things, for they are things of infinite value… [Therefore] endeavor to promote spiritual appetites by laying yourself in the way of allurement… There is no such thing as excess in our taking of this spiritual food. There is no such virtue as temperance in spiritual feasting.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

Paul the Apologist

Henry Chadwick, cited by Michael Green in Evangelism in the Early Church, p118.
"Paul's genius as an apologist is his atonishing ability to reduce to an apparent vanishing point the gulf between himself and his converts and yet to "gain" them for the Christian gospel"
Paul had "as much common ground as possible with his audience - even while he is at work undermining their position" (Green, p192). This is a skill I want to develop. 

Tim Keller on deconstructing defeater beliefs is a helpful example. "The leading defeaters must be dealt with clearly and quickly but convincingly. Defeaters are dealt with when the person feels you have presented the objection to Christianity in a clearer and stronger way than they could have done it."

Small Ambitions - in search of glory?

DOWNLOAD MP3: Small Ambitions (Dave Bish, 2 Corinthians 3)

1. Glory, inaccessible (v7-11)

Paul tells us that God revealed something definitively beautiful to Moses, 3000 years ago. God had rescued his people from slavery in Egypt to that they could enter into a wonderful land where there would have abundant life and relationship with God. On the way God met with them via their leader Moses at Mount Sinai. When Moses returned from the presence of God (v7) to face the people and they were unable to look upon his face. Being with God had rubbed off on him. He had been with God and it was evident – as was noted of the first Christian martyr Stephen whose face shone as he announced the good news about Jesus before being dragged out to his death.

Moses’ face shone and the people couldn’t gaze on the glory. WHY NOT?

v13. Moses veiled his face so they couldn’t see.
Moses prevented them from seeing. Why? Because they had hardened minds toward God. They opposed God. And so they were denied the life this glory point towards.

v14-15? Same when the Books of Moses were read.
Even 1400 years later in Paul’s day there was still a veil. Not a physical barrier, but a real one.
The words of the Bible were read but with (v12) “hardened minds” they couldn’t understand the words.
Not because there was some meaning beyond the plain sense of the words on the page – but because their rebellious hearts were unable to believe.

(John 5v44-45) Same with the religious leaders.
Jesus exposed religious leaders, theological experts who knew the Bible but missed the point.
The Bible is meant to lead us to believe in Jesus, but they’d already decided that was unacceptable, so they missed what is plain to see.

And, 4v4, Satan blinds unbelievers minds.
More broadly than just the Jews, Satan has blinded the minds of all unbelievers so they can’t see the glory.

What was it that they couldn’t see? It was something glorious from God that:
• (v3) Is written in ink and carved in stone.
• (v6) That killed.
• (v9) The “ministry of condemnation”
• (v11) Was temporary: “being brought to an end”

Words that damn with faint praise, and yet even this was too glorious for them to see!!

What was it? The message of the Old Testament books of Moses. These five books, like the other 61 in the Bible are a revelation of God. They give us types and models and shadows to show us the way for people to return to relationship with God. A clearly readable signpost and yet they couldn’t see where it was pointing.

Why? Because reading the Bible takes more than the ability to string words together, a believing heart is required. And so what we find is something utterly heartbreaking – inaccessible glory. The finest art hidden in a private collection. But now, God has revealed more glory.

2. Glory, revealed (v12-18)

And this time, v12, “we are very bold” and confident to approach. The Christian is confident, having heard and believed the news about the death and resurrection of Jesus we’re not backwards in coming forward to approach God. Our hope gives us confidence – and you see that as the church gathers to sing and speak to God – very unlike the people in Moses’ day. What glory does the Christian see?

We learn that it…
• (v3) Isn’t on ink and stone but fulfils what God promised through Ezekiel and Jeremiah that he would purify the hearts of his people, that he would write on their hearts, making his home within his people by the Holy Spirit.
• (v6) This doesn’t kill it gives life!
• (v9) Doesn’t bring condemnation, but righteousness.
• (v11) Isn’t temporary but permanent.
That he would cause them to be born again, born from above and receive the Holy Spirit – God with his people, living in us!

How is it we can see this? We can see this greater absolute glory
• (v14) through to Christ
• (v16) turn to the Lord
• (v17) entering the freedom of the Spirit.

Do you want that? Walk out the door and you’re offered a million different destinations for your SATNAV, all offering to satisfy our thirst for beauty… The Holy Spirit comes to provide a new destination. Whoever you are, however you’ve lived. He invites us to turn from our feeble ambitions, and come. To come boldly:

• (v18) with unveiled face!
Unveiled we "behold" – which isn’t just understand, see, comprehend – it’s the language of awestruck , jaw-dropping worship as we :  (v18) “behold the glory of the Lord”
This is the freedom the Spirit brings us into. Still, what is this glory? What is it?
• Not some abstract ‘sense’ of glory.
• No, this is something substantial and personal.

All our searching for beauty points to this glory. The lesser glory pointed to this glory. The Bible was written to reveal this glory. This glory is what unbelievers – 4v4 – cannot see, namely:
“…the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.”

In the Bible we find God’s revelation. That revelation is of glory. No Bible, no revelation – no revelation, no glory. The hero of every page of the Bible is Jesus – and as Sam Storms says :
“Every syllable of every statute, every clause of every commandment that ever proceeded from the mouth of God was divinely designed to bring those who would obey into the greatest imaginable happiness of heart”

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Small Ambitions? (Preached at Frontiers Church Exeter)

DOWNLOAD MP3: Small Ambitions (Dave Bish, 2 Corinthians 3)

Glory, sought.
Why do they call Devon the graveyard of ambition? Why do coastlines and the moors make it a haven for retirees, and make kids turn down Oxbridge opportunities to stay and surf? Why do we try to improve ourselves with fitness and fashion? Why do men turn their heads when a beautiful woman walks past? Why is pornography a billion pound industry in the UK alone? Why do we stand back in awe of great architecture –  no-one complains if a 60s office block is demolished, but if someone proposed demolishing Exeter Cathedral there would be uproar... Why do we marvel at fine music, literature or art? Why do we savour the taste of good food?

Of course, there may be many causes and reasons but I’d submit to you this morning that there is at least one common thread. There appears to be a universal taste for beauty. We thirst for it. We hunger for it.. We type “beauty” into google and go wherever we’re led, always convinced that we’re going to be happy. Always doing what we think will satisfy, and yet the eye never has enough of seeing. And you might expect to be told that those desires are bad. Isn’t that the Christian way? Curb your enthusiasm, limit your zeal?

Frontiers Church is part of the Newfrontiers Movement. If Frontiers Church existed 300 years ago, which it didn’t, I reckon it’d be part of a movement known as the Puritans. Now, there is a caricature that suggests that Puritanism is the fear that someone somewhere might be happy, and the determination to make sure it doesn’t happen. But, actually they were more likely to say:
“What could the most merciful being have done more for our encouragement? All that he desires of us is that we would not be miserable, that we would not follow those courses which of themselves would end in misery, and that we would be happy”
…which is Jonathan Edwards in a sermon called “Christian Happiness”. The puritans were God’s happy people! We’ll return to them later…

The critique is unfair to the Puritans but it might not be so unfairly attributed to Christians today. The media depicts us as a joyless crowd who lack appreciation for the beauty and joy of life.

Aren’t Christians despisers of culture whose “Contemporary Christian Music” and “Christian Fiction” is all too often just an excuse to publish works that aren’t good enough to sell to a mainstream audience.

And in addition, isn’t it Christians after all who are always telling people what they can’t pursue? And don’t Christians limit sexual desires and freedom, and don’t they view the sensory pleasures of high literature and art and music as unspiritual?

And isn’t it Christians who say all the things that make people happy are sinful? Clearly the charges don’t come without warrant. Some of the evidence is well meaning effort to avoid the potential for sinful indulgence that dehumanises people and defames our God. But there is more to say. I don’t think we can just attribute the way the eye, the ear and the human heart are tuned to aesthetic beauty to sin alone.

The common Christian approach to desire sadly looks like that of Odysseus sailed home from the battle of Troy - played by Sean Bean in the film Troy - past the island of the deadly but seductive sirens. The Sirens sang songs to lure men to their death. Odysseus had heard of the sweetness of their music and he wanted his ears to take in those sounds, but didn’t want to die. So, he tied his crew up and blocked their ears, and he tied himself to the mast without blocking his ears. They sailed safely by but he lost his heart to the sirens. Though alive, he was dead. He wanted to have what was on offer but denied himself – a tortured soul, with the same desires as everyone else but none of the happiness on offer.

The classic clenched hypocrite – in reality indistinguishable from those who acted upon their desires and died at the hands of the sirens. I look at my life and often I’m like Odysseus. Like him, we thirst for beauty, we thirst for glory. ..

Could it be that the presence of all this desire and passion and thirst for beauty is points to something more than just human corruption and sin? Could it be that there is another approach to life, that isn’t just about tying ourselves to the mast while our hearts are destroyed by unfulfilled desire?

Professor and children’s author, C.S. Lewis, was magnificent at painting pictures with words to capture our emotions and raise our desires. He writes in The Weight of Glory (p32-33),
“A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread… but surely a man’s hunger does prove he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist… A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called “falling in love” occurred in a sexless world”
The presence of desire points to reality. And the problem isn’t our desires – it’s where they are directed. As Lewis notes (p26):
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised… it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased
Far from running from our desires they should be embraced – but they need to find a worthy object. Jonathan Edwards said that his goal was always to raise affections, the hearts desires, in proportion to the truth being considered. And so there appropriate differences between the joy of finding a parking space, scoring a goal and getting married. Affections in proportion to what’s in view. You should be able to hear that in our singing here. The volume always rises in this room when we sing songs with substantial words. When we sing the Puritan inspired song The Grace of My God the volume of singing in the room goes up. Not just because we love Matt Giles and the songs he writes for us, but more because it’s saturated with substantial truth – and has music that helps us to express how affected we are by that.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mike Gough, Sparks Arts

Do it properly, don’t settle for the christian community 
as your primary audience/customer, 
engage with the real industry coal-face,  
(God really has got enough guitar-based worship albums)

SPARKS designed the new UCCF Annual Review and this award winning video for Duke Special's Freewheel:

Freewheel, Duke Special from Sparks Studio on Vimeo.

Friday, October 17, 2008

David Powlison: The Gospel is better than unconditional love.

"The Gospel is better than unconditional love. The Gospel says, “God accepts you just as Christ is. God has ‘contraconditional’ love for you.” Christ bears the curse you deserve. Christ is fully pleasing to the Father and gives you His own perfect goodness. Christ reigns in power, making you the Father’s child and coming close to you to begin to change what is unacceptable to God about you. God never accepts me “as I am.” He accepts me “as I am in Jesus Christ.” The center of gravity is different. The true Gospel does not allow God’s love to be sucked into the vortex of the soul’s lust for acceptability and worth in and of itself. Rather, it radically decenters people—what the Bible calls “fear of the Lord” and “faith”—to look outside themselves."
David Powlison, Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair from the CCEF

This so helpful - as David Powlison invariably is! So often we judge our status, our standing, our well-being based on how we feel. But the gospel is different. What counts is how we are in Jesus Christ. This is the great beauty of the doctrines of justification and adoption which the cross of Jesus secures for us. The centre of gravity is different in Christianity compared to absolutely every other worldview.

Preaching Reformation-style

Preaching is: "to so open up the Bible that you see Christ there and apprehend his glory. And 2 Cor. says that when that happens there is going to be gospel transformation."
"No Bible, no revelation. 
No revelation, no glory. 
No glory, no transformation."

And when you put it that way it's simple really. Thanks Marcus

400,000 Mark's Gospels for students (The FREE Gospel Project explained)

This year UK Christian students are giving 400,000 copies of Mark's gospel to students who aren't Christians so they can meet Jesus.

More on FREE

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reading the Bible like Piper (Bible Arcing)

"Arcing is a graphical tool used to determine, document,
and discuss the flow of thought in the Biblical text."

Bible Arcing: Graphical Exegesis
ht: Fools Gold

Seven questions friends could ask me that would serve me

Stephen Altrogge:
  • Have you been consistently pursuing the Lord through scripture reading and prayer?
  • Have you diligently pursued your wife/husband this week?
  • Have you seen any persistent patterns of sin in your life recently?
  • Last week you confessed struggling with [insert sin]. Have you taken steps to fight it this week?
  • When you gave into [insert sin], what were you believing about God in that moment? What were you believing about yourself?
  • What is the truth that you need to believe in this situation?
  • When you had the conflict with [insert person], what were you craving at that moment? 
ht: Cawley.

Which isn't to say I'm always going to want to be asked them, but a little examination of the heart is healthy - in the context of the oceans of God's grace and the all sufficiency of the blood of Jesus. Similarly useful are Powlison's X-Ray Questions ht: Buzzard or pdf: X-Ray Questions at Monergism.

It's possible to use these kind of questions rigidly or legalistically or fault-findingly, but also to use them to facilitate growth. What's probably most useful is if I ask them of myself when looking into the glory-revealing scriptures, or I invite others to ask them of me. What's not so helpful is me decidingly to go probing into others lives uninvited.

UCCF Evangelism Podcast (Clive Parnell with Julian Hardyman)

Helping students to live and speak for Jesus all over Great Britain.


How do we glorify God when playing football, cooking, studying and going to Church? How can living lives that glorify God help in evangelism?

Clive chats with Julian Hardyman (Author of Glory Days) and music comes from Charlie Hall and The Dave Crowder Band.

Download | Subscribe with iTunes

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nothing much to blog except...

I'm away at The Mill with the leadership team. After a day and a half of meetings I have nothing to blog, except: Zephaniah is great and I want to go study it. On which McCracken wrote: "The horror of events like that should be enough to teach us that human self sufficiency is foolishness - this is a picture of everything in the world, created by God, and put together by men reduced to nothingness. How foolish we are to think that we can ignore a God like that. How very ignorant to live in this world, as if we can get by, by ourselves, when the real God who made the world can and will wrap up the whole thing, like that."

As as been said. God is God, and we are not. Live accordingly. 

Monday, October 13, 2008


Richard Cunningham (mp3s)

From City Church, Birmingham (on October 12th) by UCCF Director Richard Cunningham:

Driscoll down-under, quote:

"..the Jensen brothers, ...are the two barrels of the gospel gun for Sydney Anglicanism."

Getting on Mission: Avoiding a wimpy worldview that would lead to wimpy Christians

So, over the weekend I found myself in the company of some heroes. Students from five Universities in the South West who have stepped up to the mark to lead mini-mission teams at their Universities, small groups of Christians who will gather to meet with Jesus so they can go and spread the news about him. To do that they need backbone. They need anchors. They need steel in their bones. Mark's gospel is a great source of such backbone.

“Wimpy Christians  have wimpy worldviews” John Piper

Together, we saw that Mark 7 tells us that sin comes from in our hearts not from the world around us. That sets us personally to turn to believe in Jesus the saviour of sinners. For mission it means that we need not live in desperate fear of being corrupted by the world around us. Fact is, we'll sin with Christians, we'll sin out in the world. In both cases we can repent. But the world won't if they never hear of Jesus. That means going to to the difficult places.

“We are all on a mission with Jesus everyday,  and we are either good missionaries or bad” Mark Driscoll

I hear people say "I'm too busy to spend time with those who aren't Christians". I wonder if really that might be a front for the underlying fear of being sucked into the sin of others...   Likewise it may be our disgust at the sin in others, let us be disgusted at ourselves who sin though graced. And then, distressed at those outside of Christ, distressed that they don't worship Jesus. And so moved to change our patterns of life, to strategically go. (Observe the strategy of the church in Acts 5v42-6v8 - decisive action to ensure that God's word continued to go to God's world).

But, I think it means even more. Biblical convictions about what is wrong with the world, and what God is doing about it should give us the backbone to become leaders in this world. To take initiative. To engage with people where they are, and to create alternative contexts and agendas.

A CU small group leader is the leader of a mini-Mission Team. And with their group they have the potential to be leaders within a much greater context than just the 5-10 students in the team. They have the opportunity to influence many, many more people through the relationships and opportunities that team members have.

And in this we don't go as sinless people. If that was the requirement we'd all be excluded.

“God's mission is not to create a team of moral and decent people but rather  to create a movement of holy, loving missionaries who are comfortable and truthful around lost sinners...” Mark Driscoll

And through that to add daily disciples to the local church as the word of God spreads through the witness of forgiven sinners, Saints who live in the world, found like Jesus among sinners & tax collectors... bearing penetrating, world-defying, world-saving news about Jesus.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Caught in the headlights

Jesus meets the Pharisees head on. They critique his followers for not washing their hands. Jesus' boys cross the holy line and don't keep the house rules. They square up to Jesus and he looks them in the eye (Mark 7v6-7) and says:

"'This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'

And exposes that those who thought they were the holy ones are disposing of God's word, ignoring and cancelling out his word in favour of their own authority. They spent their time looking in the mirror to find the wisdom of God and they found whatever they wanted to find.

Jesus applies Isaiah 29v13 to them. The next verses speaks of God doing wonders to destroy the wisdom of the wise. Paul quote that in writing to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1v19-24) and identifies Christ himself as the wisdom of God. That's a major problem for the Pharisees. They think they have Jesus exposed but they just set themselves up for the biggest fall of all - The Wisdom of God is looking them in the eye and his name is Jesus. And his gaze penetrates right through to the heart.

The Pharisees, like most of us, thought that sin was circumstantial, and so avoidable by hand washing and the like. Today we think it might be overcome by better education, or money, or by retreat from the dark and dangerous world. Jesus diagnoses differently - the issue is the human heart - a pit of sewage that overflows out of us on a regular basis. And that leaves us in a desperate situation. We cannot fix our hearts. We cannot reform our hearts. We cannot save ourselves. We're lost.

Except, Jesus came into the world for sinners. He loved to be found among them because he came with authority to forgive, secured by his death. My only hope is to believe in Jesus.

Next: the implications of this for missional living.

West Wing Update

So, the price of food is going through the roof... but you can now get the Complete West Wing seven series for £49.98... just over £1 a disc.

 In other top US-TV... Heroes 3.2 The Butterfly Effect on iPlayer

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Genesis 3: In search of wisdom

In the garden, waiting for the King and his bride to fill the world, to extend the garden into a global temple in which God lives with his people.

And then one of the animals speaks to the women and questions what God has said. At first it might sound like an honest question. Did God actually say? But soon we see that this is a stunning overthrowing of divine authority. God's word is distorted. The doctrine of the authority of scripture is cast aside, and with it the inconvenient doctrine of divine judgement. And the woman plays along.

She is caught up by the appearance of a tree that looks good to eat from, that delights the eyes (a blessing from God!) and is good for obtaining wisdom. Wisdom is a good pursuit. God says that it comes from fear of the Lord, he says that it's found in the person of Christ. She reaches out and takes wisdom for herself. The ultimate Man would have given it to her, she casts that aside. And the man follows along.

She is deceived. He sins. Both are accountable for their actions. Their eyes open and rather than being helped by this wisdom they are full of shame. They begin to love darkness. They thought they'd be wise but they have become fools. They hide from each other. They hide from God. The bliss of Eden is interupted by the consequences of sin.

And then God acts further. Not to kill them immediately, but to bring curse upon sinners that will lead to death. The serpent is cursed. The woman is cursed in childbearing - more pain than before. The man is cursed in work - as he goes out to extend Eden it's going to hurt. Moreover dust, from which he came, will overcome him.

“Adam would never have dared oppose God’s authority unless he had disbelieved in God’s Word… Adam, carried away by the devil’s blasphemies, as far as he was able extinguished the whole glory of God” Institutes, Calvin II. i 4

Yet the curse is laced with hope. There will be a serpent crushing seed. There will be a seed! They might yet fill the earth! There will progress. And Adam has faith in God even in his curse, naming his bride Mother of All. And God kills animals to clothe them properly - blood is shed to remove shame. That points somewhere!

But, they're driven out of the garden into the wilderness. They're kept from the tree of life from which they could have eaten. God will not let these rebels live. They will die. But, they will work and they will have offspring. Hope remains.

Yet still how will they live? Angels bar the way - just like the temple curtains (Exodus 26v31) - this great temple where God and man are meant to dwell is inaccessible until the seed will come. The serpent-crusher. The garden-enterer. The one who can take his people back in to eat from the tree of life.

Friday, October 10, 2008

BabyBish at 20 weeks

Baby's are amazing. This morning was our 20 week scan. Amazing to see how God is knitting this child together, and it now looks a whole lot more human than the last scan eight weeks ago. Baby is developing well which we're thankful for.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

John Piper's Spectacular Sins

MP3: 40min interview: “wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians”

ht: Crossway blog

"John Piper poignantly shares what God wants us to know about his sovereignty and Christ's supremacy when we encounter sin or tragedy. These bold, biblical assurances and joy-infused declarations will bolster your trust in the utter sovereignty of God and strengthen your surety in him."

This is a book many are going to disagree with - given responses to snippets I've picked up from his preaching at New Word Alive and at Forum this year. But, as with anything, the best approach is to hear someone out and then weigh up whether what they say fits Biblically.

Church on a mission (Stu Alred)

Arts: Of Mercy not Moralism

"Christianity is not about moralism, and Christian fiction shouldn’t be either. Christianity revolves, not around good behavior, but around God’s mercy shown to man in the death and resurrection of Christ. However, even though we know this to be theologically true, I think we struggle to remember this as we go about our daily lives, and one of the places where we really struggle to remember it is in our engagement with the arts in general, but as fiction is our topic, we’ll limit our reflection here to that. I’m constantly surprised at how often fictional stories are judged to be Christian or not, based more or less on how well the characters behave themselves..."

LB Graham, ht: Milton Stanley.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Death by Love (Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears)

Mark Driscoll's latest book DEATH BY LOVE (with Gerry Breshears) is about the cross. It's a bit different to other books on the cross. Like other Re:Li: books it's well designed. And like Mark Driscoll it's pretty hard-hitting. But, this one is Pastor Mark in action, writing letters to members of his church and applying the different facets of the cross to their lives (a bit like Leon Morris' The Cross of Jesus). It's warm but hard stuff - pastoral care that's unafraid to go head-on into the issues. Pastoral care that really loves. I've not finished reading it yet, but so far so good. And if Driscoll's humour isn't your thing, this doesn't have it. This one is serious the whole way.
£8.61 from The Book Depository

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection (Thomas Chalmers)

I'm preparing to preach at our church in a couple of weeks time on 2 Corinthians 3. Approaching that I've found myself drawn back to Thomas Chalmers' famous sermon on the expulsive power of a new affection (pdf) if you've not read it, I'd highly recommend it.
"The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good to expel the love of what is evil. Thus it is, that the freer gospel, the more sanctifying is the gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness."

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Some of the best: Gray hair is a crown of glory;

In the era of eternal youth we're prone to despise our elders, to imagine we're the great generation, the innovators who have nothing to learn from our past. That however is stupid. This is not the first or greatest generation. History is a long old story. And if we don't learn from those who've walked before us we're going to make a big mess of our lives.

Here are a few of the elders who have influenced me in my 11 years as a Christian for whom I am deeply thankful.

Oliver & Daisy Barclay (late 70s/early 80s). Oliver worked with UCCF for about 35 years after doing a PhD in Zoology at Cambridge around the same time as John Stott was there. I first met Oliver and his wife Daisy in January 2002 when they accomodated me at a Relay conference. They've been a frequent encouragement to me in ministry. Here is a man who has great experience and yet great on going interest in what we're doing today with students. I'm convinced that the presence of UCCF has had an immeasurable benefit on the British church in the last 80 years, and Oliver probably did more than most to lead that.

Bill & Shirley Lees (70somethings). More Cambridge Alumni and contemporaries of the Barclays, Bill & Shirley were missionaries in Borneo, where they saw revival, and were my home group leaders between 2002-2004. They have a spear hanging on their lounge wall, which is pretty awesome alongside decades of God's work in their lives. Shirley is increasingly frail and recent sustained a broken arm in a fall, so you could pray for her.

Michael Green (78). Michael is a theologian-evangelist who I met for the first time two weeks ago, though I'd been familiar with his ministry for many years through his books. At 78 he's still going strong in mission and in training young evangelists. I love this charismatic Anglican's passion and humility. Evidently a strong influence on the life of Lindsay Brown.

Terry Virgo (68). Leader of Newfrontiers, aged 68. I met Terry for the first time about four years ago when he spoke at the UCCF leaders conference Forum. I was assigned to help him find his bearings. We've only met twice since then and I don't expect he'd really remember me. His teaching on grace has been a great encouragement to me, not because it was new - UCCF have instilled grace in me since I became a Christian - but however many times you hear of grace you can always hear it again. The domino effect of his ministry established our local church which we love.

John Piper (62). Pastor for preaching, Bethlehem Baptist Church, aged 62. I met John Piper briefly at our Forum conference this year. I had absolutely nothing to say to him except thank you. More than many he's helped me develop a God-centred Christianity. He doesn't know me. He has no reason to know me. His ministry shows the power of the internet to be used for the spreading of good stuff.

I thank God for these men and women and others like them, for his work in them.

I think this, by Marcus, probably inspired me to write this post

Monday, October 06, 2008

Pastoral Refreshment Conference 2009 (UK)

Why do so many people in long term ministry run dry? Some fail to run the course, pulling up early. Others stay in leadership but end up just treading water. The levels of attrition among long term leaders are a national disgrace for the UK church, but one over which we frequently draw a discreet veil of silence. After all, which member of a congregation has the confidence to question whether their leaders and families are enjoying a good walk with God? Who will ask them whether they are spiritually flourishing or languishing? And which leaders would be brave enough to tell them if they did?

I am really excited with the way this year's Pastoral Refreshment Conference is shaping up. It's designed precisely to answer those kinds of questions. It's not a conference about ministry skill or theology, but about leaders' (and spouses) spiritual lives and walks with Jesus. This coming February Andrew Page (Innsbruck Baptist Church, Above Bar Church, Southampton) is preaching on "Leaders as Disciple". His brief: be real, earthed and practical, please. Andrew isn't well known in the UK, but is among the most helpful, inspirational and down to earth preachers I know. I can't wait to be fed by him.

You can download publicity for the conference here. If you would like to know more drop Living Leadership a line. Why not think about paying for your church leader and wife (or husband) to come as a Christmas present. They would find it encouraging and refreshing and your church would feel the benefit for the year ahead.

Download publicity

Sunday, October 05, 2008

On giving critique of sermons

This post was originally guest-blogged by me at Digital H20 this summer:

Alfred Poirer helpfully observes that the cross helps us to receive criticism as beneficial. Giving critique is another thing.

Firstly, it's really easy to give critique to others. Spotting planks in other people is easy, while the dust in our own eyes is hard to see. When I want to critique someone elses sermon for not getting the point I need to remember that I have my blindspots - if I differ with the preacher I should at the least seriously consider that my prior understanding is wrong. I should assume this until further study says otherwise.

Secondly, pride loves to critique others and find their faults to elevate ourselves. A sermon should humble me as I encounter the grace of God - how tragic to allow my pride to seize upon it. How desperate to sin in the pew at the very point I'm being called back to the cross of Christ for grace.

Thirdly, the work of observing someone else and saying how they could do better is infinitely easier than the hard hours a preacher spends in the study seeking the Lord, wrestling with the text, under all the pressures that God has providentially arranged that week.

Sermons are to be heard and applied. They present a tangible encounter with God as the preacher announces from the scriptures that Jesus Christ is Lord, constrained by a text, liberated by a text, empowered by the Holy Spirit and ruled by the word of God. The preacher might not say everything I would say. Thankfully he wont say most of the erroneous things I quickly glean from the text but which are rightly dismissed by hours in the study. Furthermore, that morning he is called to preach not me. He preaches what he has seen. He preaches what he has believed. He preaches what he is able to articulate. And, if through the word of God I am directed back to behold Jesus Christ then what complaint can I have?

Sermons are always imperfect, and every preacher wants to be faithful - no preacher wants to stand up and lie to God's people when they might speak the words of God. As Peter puts it "whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ"

Preachers need critique but they also need prayer, that as they labour over the text they might understand clearly, have soft-hearts to believe what they see and be changed by God, and then to speak from God - portraying publicly the Christ who was crucified.

Linked with helpful commentary by Michael Jones

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Bruised Reed (Richard Sibbes)

The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes at Theology Network

...he is so gracious to those that yield to his government, we may make the right use of this grace, and not lose any portion of comfort that is laid up for us in Christ. And may he grant that the prevailing power of his Spirit in us should be an evidence of the truth of grace begun, and a pledge of final victory, at that time when he will be all in all, in all his, for all eternity.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Able to teach

Paul writes to Timothy... (1 Timothy 3v2-7) overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
And again... (2 Timothy 2v15-17)
...Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene...
And to Titus (Titus 1v5-9)
...appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it...
Evidently, the main qualification for leaders is character. In each of these lists we also find mention of ability to teach. I've been taught many times that this is about skill in ministry. Which tends to mean ability to do basic grammar and speak understandably. I don't doubt those things are useful.

But, what if 'able to teach' is another character trait? What if 'rightly handling' isn't so much about grammar and more about teaching with kindness and patience and without quarrelling and arrogance (as the 2 Timothy 2 context would seem to say)?

What if the ability to 'give instruction' really is the 'so that' of holding firmly to the trustworthy word - which must include being transformed by it.

What if when we train young men and women to lead we put everything into character, by developing Biblical convictions in the heart that should overflow into life? A generation who so tremble at the word of Jesus that they dare not misunderstand lest they misapply and so defame the glory of God.

What if when we trained young student leaders (and other leaders) to do Bible study we weren't only concerned for accuracy, good questions and methodology, but chiefly for them to believe the (rightly-understood, thoroughly-exegeted) gospel afresh. And so to teach what they believe. Would they not then burn with the gospel as they lead? Would they not then, as gospel-believing repentant sinnners be able to lead the small group of forgiven sinners around them into mission together?

And, what if we saw a generation raised up who scorned the expectations of human greatness and embraced life in the shadow of the cross rather than in the shining light of their own competence and ego? A generation who couldn't care less about their own reputation but cared everything for that of Jesus.

What if  we followed the lead of Jesus that true greatness isn't being impressive but rather is a matter of cruciformity, a path that leads to the presence of God but does so via the wrath-averting blood of Jesus? A generation who lead for love of Jesus. That would be a generation who were truly able to teach.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Heroes (Season 3)

Episode 2, "The Butterfly Effect" (coming soon)
Screens on Wednesday BBC2 at 9pm, with the next episode on BBC3 at 10pm.

That Gobsmacking Purpose (Honeysett on Preaching)

"...we, ourselves, are not producing spiritual life in the heart. But the Holy Spirit is, through the Bible word preached, and we are involved in that gobsmacking purpose, as His servants..."

The one with the three evangelists on a train (in praise of "not taking ourselves seriously")

Have you heard the one about the three evangelists on a train?

So, last Wednesday, Nay Dawson, Michael Ots and myself spent the day in Salzburg, city of Mozart and the Sound of Music, enjoying the atmosphere, the street markets and the views. And at about 3pm we paid our 14 euros and boarded our train to Mittersill from which we were due to arrive at 5.45pm.

Simple eh!

An hour later we passed through Schwartzach St. Veit and continued to enjoy the views of the mountains and the lakes. Awed by the handiwork of our creator. Thrilled by the views. Enjoying the journey.

At 5.40pm with our destination almost in view we asked a passenger "is Mittersill the next station" to which we received the interesting reply "never heard of it". We checked with the guard, who laughed! He advised us that we should have changed trains at 4pm. The lights went on.

We'd almost completed a 200km journey from Salzburg to Klagenfurt, which is down near Slovenia in the south of Austria. Our intended destination, Mittersill is in the north of Austria near Switzerland. Our diversion should have cost us about 35 euros but thankfully the amused Austrians allowed us to get back on track for no extra cost. Some grace.

For almost two hours we'd been heading south east instead of west. Ignorant of the truth, with no idea where we actually were, though we were perfectly happy. It's full of spiritual illustrations about how the destination does matter, about what it's like to live in ignorance - we were loving the journey. The application the three of us took to heart as we waited to correct our error at Klagenfurt was the need to not take ourselves seriously. We must take God very seriously. We dare not take ourselves seriously. What do we know? Who do we think we are?

Our error exposed and repented of we finally arrived in Mittersill about 6 hours late. Journey's are great, but destinations are actually more important. In an amusing sequel Nay and I were driving back to Southampton from Stanstead on Monday night and managed to get within about 1.5miles of running out of petrol at 2am...