Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How does "The Law" fit in to Christianity?

I've been back in Galatians again, dwelling on the joys of being a Christian ahead of a couple of Christian Union weekends that I'm speaking at next month. As some context for preaching on Sonship a bit of background is needed to answer the idea that Christian life happens through keeping the law. By "The Law" I mean the Biblical law that God gave to Moses via angels 430 years after Abraham.

Galatians 3:14-26 shows us how the Father made a promise to Christ directly, how promises cannot be modified once they've been made, and therefore whatever else the law was for it wasn't to change the promise. In fact it was a temporary measure to imprison (guard/protect/preserve) Israel until Christ, after which it remains useful and sweet-tasting and beautiful Scripture that testifies all about Jesus, but once he has come Jews need not be enslaved to law nor Gentiles enslaved to sin - for they can by faith be Sons in Christ, as is unpacked in 3:27-4:7.

Adjusted diagram with a bit more detail...

You are his disciple!

I'm struck preparing to preach John 9 soon that the man born blind is accused of being one of Jesus' disciples, as if it was a badge of shame - which it was later for Peter at his denial. I wonder if people would accuse me of this, and if so what they'd mean.

Stu quoted this on Sunday in his sermon from the Epistle to Diognetus about early Christians:
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. 2 Corinthians 10:3 They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Philippians 3:20 They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. 2 Corinthians 6:9 They are poor, yet make many rich; 2 Corinthians 6:10 they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; 2 Corinthians 4:12 they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

If you could ask God one question what would it be?

What would you ask? (Comments open)

Glen Scrivener tackles three of the hard questions some people ask today. You might not agree with his approach or his answers, but they're worth a bit of thought. I love to see how other people approach questions because it sharpens me up in my thinking, my asking and my answering.

Questions of Faith:
1. Is homosexuality wrong? What is your position on Gay Marriage?
2. How should ‘faith schools’ be treated in a multi-cultural, multi-faith society?
3. Should there be blasphemy laws? Who should they protect?
4. Can there be a place for Sharia law in our multi-cultural society?
5. What common ground do you share with the other panelists?
Notes from the Questions of Faith event that Glen spoke at recently

More at CCK Reason and Bethinking.org

Monday, November 22, 2010

What is Jesus' yoke that he offers to us?

"Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

These instinctively feel like comforting verses. But what do they mean? What easy yoke is being offered to us? What comfort for the heavy laden and those like Israel in Exodus 6:9 with "broken spirit and harsh slavery" who struggle to hear the word of God.

Darrell Johnson offers his take on Jesus' yoke, p66-67.
"The Father trusts the Son so much that he gave him the weight of the grand enterprise of salvation. And the Son trusts the Father so much that he went to the cross knowing it was the way to accomplish salvation. The Father draws near to me to draw me into his trust in the Son; the Son draws near to me to draw me into his trust in the Father. This, by the way, is what Jesus is referring to when he calls us to take up his yoke (Matt. 11:28-30). Yes, "yoke" is a common idiom for work. And yes, some used it to refer to the Torah, the Law of God. And yes, some argue that Jesus uses the metaphor to speak of his new Torah, his new Law as developed in the sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:7). But from the context of Matthew 11 we see that Jesus' yoke is his relationship with his Father. Jesus is speaking to the Father. He is praising the Father (even though his preachin is being rejected). He is speaking about no one knowing the Father except the Son, and no one knowing the Son except the Father. That is, Jesus is praying. And as he prays he turns toward his disciples and says "come to me, take up my yoke." My yoke. Something he himself wears. As it turns out, he has worn it from all eternity. He wore it during the days of his flesh on earth. He wears it even now. So his yoke is his relationship with his Father; relationship of affection and trust and intimacy. And - wonder of wonders - he calls us to enter into that relationship with him: "Take my yoke upon you." Another way to say it is that Jesus come sto free us for adoption - to become his real brothers and sisters in his relationship with the Father... I find myself shaking my head in wonder many times a day!"
Jesus, who is the only one who knows the Father and makes him known, and invites us to come in and know him, to learn from him about his Father.
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:25-27 ESV)

JFK, Aldous Huxley and CS Lewis

Today it's 47 years since these three men died. Most people will remember the day for JFK who I probably know least about - apart from what's speculated about his death.
Huxley painted a vision of a Brave New World, of what Neil Postman described as "amusing ourselves to death" (think #xfactor...) while Lewis invited us to step inside the sunbeam and look along it to see the reality by which we see everything. Each life has a legacy, though Lewis more than the others was able to offer substantial hope in the person of Jesus.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Forbidden Fruit: seeing what's good and taking it?

A helpful spot from Darrell Johnson on a parallel between Genesis 3 and 6.
"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate." (Genesis 3:6 ESV)
Which is an example of crossing a divide that shouldn't have been crossed, of spiritual adultery.
"the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were good. And they took as their wives any they chose." (Genesis 6:2)
Same thing happening? Leans towards supporting the idea that this isn't human marriage (which is positively encouraged) but perhaps an example of angelic sin - with the "sons of God" being an angelic title (Job 1). When the LORD sees the aloneness of man in Genesis 2 he provides what's good for him - he doesn't have to take. Sin is usually the taking of something we see to be good - which probably is good, just perhaps not good for us. Just because something is good doesn't mean we're allowed to take it. Sometimes we're to wait and receive what's good. Elsewhere the LORD sees that things are good and blesses, and a wife will be found for Isaac who is seen to be good, and is then given to him.

In Genesis 6, the divine response to people crossing the divide is to remove the divides between sky and earth, land and sea, to answer human destruction with de-creation, taking the earth back to a formlessness (Genesis 8) awaiting a fresh wave of spreading goodness from the rest-bringer (Noah) and his seed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

God draws near to us

Darrell Johnson in his Experiencing the Trinity (Regent, 2002) writes of reading Thomas Torrance's Trinitarian Perspectives:
"God draws near to us" - wonderful enough! "God draws near to us in such a ways to draw us near to himself" - fantastic as well! But here is what startled me, and brought it all into focus: "God draws near to us in such a way as to draw us near to himself within the circle of his knowing of himself." I almost dropped the book! I was stunned. Tears began to flow. I wanted to get up and dance and fall down on my knees.(p60)
 Johnson shows how the centre of the universe is a relationship and a community, into which we're invited as 'co-lovers' in which "as real sons and daughters in the family, we, like the eternal Son, get filled with the Spirit, who moves us to, like the Son, cry out 'Oh, Abba!'" (p63).

We become co-lovers with God of God, of one another, and of the world. He goes on to challenge the notion of think of the Trinity as "Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer" on the grounds that, for example, it's not just the Father who creates. But more so, these are not relational terms. Whereas there can be no Father without the Son. We're lovers made for relationship by the God who is relational.

Cor Deo would like to give you the chance to get a free copy of Experiencing the Trinity

Darrell Johnson sermon mp3s

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Preacher, did they meet God?

Robert Rayburn's lecture on Preaching as Mystical Event introduced me to James S. Stewart's book on preaching 'Heralds of God' (1946).

 Darrell Johnson, author of Experiencing the Trinity, says of this book "Stewart brings us back to the incomparable Christ and into the drumbeat of the apostolic preaching. The reprinting of this classic will fan the flames of preaching in our time into white-hot joy!"

I've not finished it yet but this is striking from the first chapter:
Your task is not to send people away from church saying, 'That was a lovely sermon' or 'What an eloquent appeal!' The one question is 'Did they, or did they not, meet God today?' There will always be some who have no desire for that, some who rather than being confronted with the living Christ would actually prefer what G.K. Chesterton described as 'one solid and polished cateract of platitudes flowing for ever and ever.' But when Peter finished his first great sermon in Jerusalem, reported in the Book of Acts, I do not read that 'when they heard him they were intruiged by his eloquence' or 'politely interested in his literary allusions' or 'critical of his logic and his accent' or 'bored and impassive and contemptuous'; what I do read is 'when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart' (p31)
We might ask, how would we know if we met God in preaching? Stewart points to the response at Pentecost and we might also look to Jesus in John 10 who tells us his sheep recognise his voice. If we meet God, hear his voice, we know if it's happened. And when it does it'll be something more than just hearing words spoken from a pulpit, though it may not be less than that.

Stewart also tells of Robert Wodrow hearing preaching saying:
'that man showed me the majesty of God... the loveliness of Christ... and showed me my whole heart' (p72-73).
Sounds like preaching to me. Something to aspire to, by the grace of God and the working of the Spirit. Do I come to the gathering of the church expecting that kind of encounter with God? And when it's my turn to preach do I prepare and pray and preach with the expectation that God will speak, that the preaching of the word of God will be the word of God to his people?

Generous Justice?

Exodus is a book about God fighting to set his firstborn son free from slavery under the tyranical serpent Pharaoh. Much of 'the law' he gives his liberated firstborn is about how to treat slaves and widows and foreigners. It's all stuff that protects and fights for the weak and the oppressed, just as God's salvation plan does for his people. This is God's kind of justice - that pleads the cause of those who can't stand up for themselves.

Exodus 21:2 secures freedom for those who are indebted, 21:22 protects pregnant women, 21:26-27 prevents those in debt from being abused, 21:33 protects the community from others recklessness etc. 

This is the mentality for God's people - a place where widows and orphans are protected and fought for. Imagine a community like that? Where else would you expect to find God living than with a people living like he does, like the God who comes and puts himself in the place of his people...  I'm told this is some of where Tim Keller goes in his latest book which I hope to obtain soon.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happyness and Jealousy

Today our Relays are spending a day with Alex Banfield Hicks from Christian Persuaders, giving sample evangelistic talks and receiving feedback. Our hope is that we might unearth some evangelistic gifting and that at least some of them will go on to give these talks for real. This evening Alex will speak at a 'Nightbar' at Exeter Uni on Happyness 'Jesus & Will Smith'.

On Wednesday Alex will train the whole team for a couple of hours and then we'll dive into Exodus for a couple of sessions  - to warm their hearts and to prepare them for some ongoing study in Exodus.

Is your Christianity killing you or giving you life?

The gospel we believe shapes the kind of community we form. You can pretty much read belief off behaviour, whatever people say they believe.

One way of characterising the two ways of living is by a picture of marriage, as Paul does in Romans 7:1-6. He paints a picture of law marriage which bears fruit for death and stirs up sinful passions. By contrast a Christ marriage bears fruit for God and is the new way of the Spirit from the husband who was raised from the dead.

Translate this into having an evening meal with two couples. What would it be like to have dinner with Mr & Mrs Law? What would it be like to spend the evening with 'The Christ's"? 

An evening with The Law's would surely be very stressful, you'd be worrying whether you're using the right cutlery and saying the right things, your hosts always worrying about whether you're happy or whether they've left anything in the oven, it'd all be about keeping up the etiquette. You'd be checking your watch often to find a moment to excuse yourself.

Meanwhile spending an evening in the Christ household would surely be refreshing and life-giving. The time would fly by as the stimulating conversation revitalises you just as the food does. The food might well not be so fancy but the absence of a stuffy and heavy atmosphere makes it taste so good.

The question is - what kind of household is your church, your home group, your home, your CU like? Where would you want to spend the evening?

How do you change from one marriage to the other? The only way to end a marriage is by death. The law wont die so we need to die, and with Christ we can die - and then rise married to him. The answer to change your household is to get to the cross of Christ - to get after the gospel, after the Spirit, to be a people of faith rather than trying and doing.

More on Romans 7 from Richard Walker

Monday, November 15, 2010

The One Big Question

@MarcusHoneysett I have one main question in my mind as I prepare to meet the Reading uni students: are their hearts bursting with love for God at the moment? If so it will be because they are recipients of his love first. If not I want to see if I can help them get fanned into flame. This is the whole point of speaking to CUs

Steve Timmis on Church Planting: Taking No Man's Land

On Saturday 20th November Steve Timmis of The Crowded House and Acts 29 will be in Cardiff for a church planting conference.

Worth going if you can. New Breed Church Plnating. £5 for normal people, £2.50 for students.

The Law has Served it's Purpose

Imagine a couple who get married, unconventionally in our culture, who weren't living together before they got married. Imagine they decide - ok we're married but let's still live apart... that'd be weird right?

Found myself in Galatians 3:15-26 again on Friday afternoon, with Cat - loving reading through this great letter again. As Paul drives us back to a Christianity that is about our hearts being captured by the graphic verbal portrayal of the cross of Christ, faith in God's promise was Christianity for Abraham, and still today. All of which raises a question: what was the Old testament law for... and where does it fit for us?

Principle 1 - You can't modify covenants.
The covenant in view is the one made to Abraham and his offspring. That offspring is singular. It is Christ. (3:16). And the promise is above all to Christ (v19). Doesn't matter what happens, say like the giving of the law, you can't change the promise.

Principle 2 - The law is of a lesser order than the promise
The law was because of transgression - v19. We're not told immediately why - though the common answer of 'to show Israel they were sinful' seems dubious to me - their sin was pretty apparent and obvious, and sin is better revealed by encountering Yahweh, though there is Romans 7:7.
The law was until Christ came, from 430 years after Abraham. A temporary measure between about 1400BC and Christ. The law came from Yahweh via Angels to Moses to the people. The promise was made from the Father to his Son. Yahweh is doing two things, and it's clear that in terms of purpose, duration and delivery, the law is lesser than the promise.

Principle 3 - The law and promise aren't two ways to do the same thing
The law doesn't give life. If Yahweh wanted a law that could give life then he could have done that, but he didn't. Life comes in the promise. Yahweh is doing two different things here.
Law is for transgression v19
Law is to imprison v22 until Christ.
Law is to imprison v23 until Christ.
Law is a guardian v24 until Christ.

Question - how did the law imprison and guard those to whom it was given?
The law made Israel distinctive. Imagine they come out of Egypt to Sinai and then Yahweh doesn't give the law - whether it's commands or the tabernacle which will make them distinctive as a people with whom Yahweh is present. Think what happened with the law - the golden calf, marrying other nations and following their gods...  that's with the care of the law. Without the law by the time you get to 1800 years after Abraham there would surely be no Jewish people, they'd have merged into the nations, and where then would you find Abraham's promised offspring and know what he was about??

This makes the law a restraining influence which set the terms of Yahweh's dwelling with his people, for their preservation and distinctiveness. And to some degree it achieved this. When Jesus came there was a grammar to make sense of who he was and what he came to do, set in the context of the Jewish people.

And now?
v25-26 Christ has come, the guardian has done its job. Now by faith we, like Abraham, can all become sons of Yahweh! Adopted in Abraham. No more need for the law. It was good and helpful, a scaffolding to support and serve the promise, but now the building is complete it's obsolete. It's still Scripture - and we can learn much from seeing what Yahweh said to them then, but that doesn't mean he's directly saying to us now what he said to them then, since we are neither them or then. To adopt the law is to go 'BC' and negate and void the cross, as Paul says in Galatians 2 and Galatians 5. To adopt law is like a married person who decided to go back to "being engaged" after their wedding day...

The question remains - how then do we live? And Paul will get to that, it'll be about faith in the gospel and the work of the Spirit... about seeing again our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, of fixing our gaze upon the portrayal of the cross with faith, it'll be freeing and life-giving as the Spirit produces fruit in us. Life in the Spirit raises the bar beyond anything the law might have led us to - to a deeper, from the heart, sacrificial life of self-giving love, produced in us by the Spirit, by faith in Christ.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Indescribable: Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light

Jonathan Edwards, president of Princeton and one of the foremost thinkers in America, was a student of creation in his Images of Divine Things.... Edwards, like CS Lewis later, believed in and observed a meaning-drenched universe. He was a keen scientist and a theologian, a man with imagination and a keenly developed eye for beauty. Here he is on the sun, which as Psalm 19 shows the glory of God which is his bountiful beams of love to us, as a bridegroom in the sky...
14. The sun's so perpetually, for so many ages, sending forth his rays in such vast profusion, without any dimunition of his light and heat, is a bright image of the all-sufficiency and everlastingness of God's bounty and goodness.

50. The rising and setting of the sun is a type of the death and resurrection of Christ.

54. As the sun, by rising out of darkness and from under the earth raises the whole world with him, raises mankind out of their beds, and by his light as it were renews all things and fetches 'em up out of darkness, so Christ, rising from the grave and from a state of death, he as the first begotten from the dead, raises all his church with him; Christ the first fruits, and afterwards they that are Christ's at his coming. And as all the world is enlightened and brought out of darkness by the rising of the sun, so by Christ's rising we are begotten again to a living hope; and all our happiness and life and light and glory and the restitution of all things is from Christ rising from the dead, and is by his resurrection.

128. As the Sun is an image of Christ upon account of its pleasant light and benign, refreshing, life-giving influences, so it is on account of its extraordinary fierce heat, it being a fire of vastly greater fierceness than any other in the visible world. Hereby is represented the wrath of the Lamb. This is a very great argument of the extremity of the misery of the wicked, for doubtless the substance will be vastly beyond the shadow. As God's brightness and glory is so much beyond the brightness of the sun, his image, thus the sun is but a shade and darkness in comparison of it, so his fierceness and wrath is vastly beyond the sun's heat.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Our Far-reaching Salvation (Acts 8, Part 3)

DOWNLOAD MP3: The Gospel Gathers. 

Here's part 3 of my notes on Acts 8:26-40.

The man asks who is Isaiah talking about, but this text makes us ask: who is the man reading Isaiah? He is an Ethiopian and a Eunuch. Which isn’t just incidental but something important. And it’s inconceivable that Philip when he was explaining Isaiah 53 wouldn’t also have glanced down the scroll to Isaiah 56:3-8.

Let not THE FOREIGNER who has joined himself to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not THE EUNUCH say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the LORD: “To THE EUNUCHS who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
6 “And THE FOREIGNERS who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
8 The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”

Foreigners were kept at a distance from God – as this Ethiopian would have experienced when he visited the temple in Jerusalem. Eunuch’s were even more excluded. The Eunuchs were outsiders and dry trees – castrated, impotent, but through the gospel – no more! Though they don’t have their own sons and daughters they gain a better name in the gospel. No more cursed but blessed. They’ll be more fruitful than if they had sons and daughters. Once excluded from God’s house – something this man on his way home from Jerusalem would have been acutely aware of now “gathered to God’s house, a house of prayer for the nations”

A foreign Eunuch is the epitome of the outsider. What good news it was for him to hear from Philip the good news about The Servant who suffered to bring life to people like himself. Picture the joy as he sees in his heart that even he can now be gathered in to God’s people. Spirit-filled missionaries take the good news about the humiliated Saviour to outcasts – this is our mission Cardiff CU. We have good news for all peoples - this is no sectarian, western 'religion' - God's plan has always been for the whole world.

It is though a hard pill for those who are self-respecting, religious and confident in themselves, those who presume God would accept them – how humiliating to have a humiliated Saviour. But to the life-less how wonderful to hear of the potent Father who will give life to the dried up, the Father who is a fountain of life for them with abundance of life for the nations. The dry and life-less are immersed in the water. This is why Jesus came. What’s the outcome? V39: Joy! And so it should be!

Those who see the Humiliated Saviour in the Scriptures and hear that he is Saviour who makes the dry become fountains of life and the excluded welcome – how could we not be joyful?!

Spurgeon preached on this passage: "if you have read the Scriptures with a clear understanding, they have made you glad, for this eunuch "went on his way rejoicing." The man who gets up from reading his Bible, and says, "I am a believer in Jesus; what a solemn thing it is!" and then goes forth with a pious resolution that he will make everybody as miserable as he can all the day long, needs converting again."

Friday, November 12, 2010

What happens when Preaching happens

Steve Jeffery points to an excellent lecture: Preaching as Mystical Event by Robert Rayburn. Rayburn argues that preaching is an event in which we meet God - something mysterious, a revelation of God himself to us.

Rayburn cites:
"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"
(Romans 10:14 ESV)
And notes, as with the ESV footnote, that the "of" isn't there.
"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"
(Romans 10:14 ESV)
Which is to say, in preaching we don't just hear of God, but we hear God. Paul says if you want to hear God then you need a preacher. Preaching is the word of God. You want to hear God? Certainly read the Bible, listen to others, pursue prophecy but we're playing games if we do all of that and don't take a really high view of preaching.

Terry Virgo says: “In my praying before I preach, I am asking God “lord please let people feel that their Father in heaven is speaking to them”

I find Peter Mead and Ron Frost arguing for the same in their ministry. Peter Mead has uploaded some recent sermons at Poured Out. Peter blogs at Biblical Preaching and heads up Cor Deo a unique training and mentoring programme based in Chippenham, UK. Peter and his side-kick Ron Frost are a pair of 21st Century puritan-minded win-the-heart guys whose ministry is worth receiving from.

Our Humiliated Saviour (Acts 8, Part 2 of 3)

I spoke at Cardiff University CU on Acts 8:26-40 on Wednesday
DOWNLOAD MP3: The Gospel Gathers. 

Here's part 2 of my notes.
In Samaria Philip encountered Simon the Sorcerer who was into power and impressiveness. The Ethiopian is also a powerful and influential man, the treasurer of Ethiopia. He’s educated, he’s reading Isaiah 53.
Ever wondered if we have something impressive enough? Thought to yourself - “will this guy impress my friends?” See God’s way:

• 8v9-11 Simon: amazed... somebody great. …paid attention to him… power of God that is called Great… they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them
• 8v32:33 Jesus: Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter… silent… humiliation… justice was denied him… life taken away.

In a world addicted to being impressive – salvation comes through humiliation. Like baptism, through the waters of death before rising to the joys of new life. The glory of the God of Christianity isn’t some wow-powerful shock and awe, No, God came as the lowest to be high and lifted up to death for us. The man is reading this passage and asks Philip:
V34 About whom is the prophet speaking?
V35 And we’re told Philip opened his mouth and beginning with this scripture and explained the good news about Jesus.

What would he have said? The text is Isaiah 53:7-8 but it’ll be there as a scroll in front of him so he’ll have a bit more to draw on. The answer to the question is that this text isn’t about Isaiah but about a figure called The Servant whose name is Jesus.

What good news can Philip explain from the Scripture?
Isaiah 53:4 speaks of how The Servant would be considered smitten by God – abandoned and punished by God. And that’s exactly what people thought of Jesus in his death, they mocked him for it.
But 53:5 says: “but he was wounded FOR our transgressions, he was crushed FOR our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought US peace, and with his stripes we are healed”

He wasn’t punished for his own sin, but for ours. 53:6 tells of how we’re like sheep who have wandered away from our shepherd, lost and helpless. Which isn’t just pitiful but evil, picture a bride wandering away from her husband… “ and the LORD has laid on him, the iniquity of us all” In his death, recently to Philip, 2000 years ago to us, he was led like a lamb to slaughter. His death was with the wicked and the rich – a criminals death and a rich man’s borrowed tomb. And in all of this, 53:10 - “yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him” or more accurately, the pleasure of the LORD to crush him.

Death is not the end of him for “he shall see his offspring”. How? He was raised, bodily, physically, by his Father. As if, like Jonah he was drowned in the water and then vomited back out onto the land. And, 53:11-12 “my servant shall make many to be accounted righteous, he shall bear their iniquities… he was poured out to death, numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many & makes intercession for the transgressors”
Jesus is this Servant, serving through his death, destroyed for his people, and raised to see his offspring, to stand for his people to intercede for them by the power of his indestructible life.

Ever heard people say religion is a power-play to control people?
Not Christianity. Power here isn’t wielded but yielded. God shows his sheer love for us, to take upon himself what we deserve. This is not manipulation and control but the passionate action of a God of love, determined to have us back. In February you’ve got me in all my weaknesses, and together we’ve got our humiliated Saviour. And that will be enough.

Have you received this? Do you know this great love that he has for you? As he has loved you would you give yourself for others – even to humiliation?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Our Spirit-filled Mission (Acts 8, Part 1 of 3)

I spoke at Cardiff University CU on Acts 8:26-40 last night, and then popped down to Swansea to bring the same word to the UCCF Wales team. A really enjoyable 24 hours in South Wales.
DOWNLOAD MP3: The Gospel Gathers.
Here's part 1 of my notes.
It’s the evangelists dream. When we first met Philip in 6v6 we’re told, he was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. Now, the Spirit-filled Philip fresh from revival in Samaria is walking along the road and hears the prompting of the Holy Spirit, v29, “go over”.
Some think we hear the Spirit often, and sometimes its just a hunch, but others of us always think it’s a hunch – and we should recognize that the Spirit is nudging us – when it’s going to lead where this leads it’s definitely God. What does he find? A guy reading the Bible! And Isaiah 53 at that, and he asks you to explain it to him (v30-31). The scripture is read, and the Eunuch asks: “About whom does the prophet speak, himself of someone else?” to which Philip gets the opportunity, v35: “beginning with this scripture he told him the good news about Jesus”.

Spurgeon said: “I try with all my might to preach my Lord Jesus Christ, and I love to meet with people who delight in this theme…. and he is always fresh. If you have Jesus Christ, you have everything. Have Christ and nothing else but Christ. If you want to understand the Scripture, test yourself by this: Is Jesus Christ everything to you? You understand the Scripture if you make everything of the Lord Jesus Christ”

Philip took his text and did not deviate from speaking good news about Jesus. And almost matter of fact the guy believes with his heart – for God is not seeking intellectual assent but seeks our heart, he repents, is baptized and rejoices, going off to found the church in Ethiopia while the Spirit carries Philip off elsewhere, v40, to preach the gospel. Which is great if you’re Philip and your course, house, team mates are reading Isaiah 53, but not so good if you’re me or you and they’re only ever reading Facebook.

Nonetheless, this is the logic of CU gospel projects. Say to your mates, you know me, you see how I live, you know it is because of Jesus, you’ve never consider Jesus as an adult. Why not take an hour to read Mark’s gospel, and then to chat about it with me for an hour over a coffee or a beer.

Why would we do that? Why did Philip think that explaining the Scriptures would be a good idea? This is how God works – the Father is a potent life-giver – who gives life through his word. As Peter says – we’re born again by the word of God.

The recurring theme of The Book of Acts is – “the word of God increased, the number of disciples multiplied” which is a nifty reworking of the 1st commission in Genesis 1 to increase and multiply. For Adam and Eve that was to be life-givers by making babies. And the church can do that. But even more so by announcing the word of God, the good news about Jesus – by explaining and unpacking the scriptures to show people who Jesus is. Persuasively, convincingly, passionately, lovingly. (More at Preaching is the 'new' sex)

Sometimes that’s planned at an event, sometimes its chance encounters whose significance only becomes apparent later – like the first time I met my wife, at a CU weekend away… or the moments that led me to study in Bath or to get certain jobs. Imagine the significance of an encounter with an International Student – just passing through Cardiff for a term or a few years whom you could introduce to Jesus… someone like this Ethiopian, who could go home with a degree and the gospel.

In February it must surely be our goal to get the Scriptures open with those we meet, friends and strangers, to seek to unpack the message of the whole Bible concerning Jesus that people would believe with their hearts and come to God. In the mean time will you give yourself to hearing the Spirit’s nudges and taking opportunities to open up the Bible with people – start with something like Mark’s gospel – and see where God leads?

But… I’m not sure that this is primarily what Luke is doing here. Its great but there is more.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Myth of Babel and the assumption that Christianity is false

Read the Guardian's guide to the ancient world on the Mesopotamians this morning. I think the Guardian because of it's design, it's provoking articles and because I frequently disagree with bits of it - much rather than than reading The Telegraph...

The booklet is fascinating stuff, especially after spending three days last week studying Isaiah at our Newfrontiers Leadership Training with Andrew Wilson. Isaiah prophesied in the days when the Assyrians were the superpower.

For all the interesting bits, the booklet is an exercise in dodging the testimony of the Bible. I'm taking as read here that the Bible is a reliable and coherent record of events.

The article on "Babylon: myth versus reality" argues that "a gigantic tower did exist there, and is thought to have been at least the visual reference for the symbolic one in the biblical tale" -  who on earth said that the incident in Genesis 11 is 'symbolic'? The text we have reads like history. The only problem is that you have to concede the existence of Yahweh to make sense of it as history...

The paper edition includes an article on Assyrian army tactics about the taking of the Judean fortified city of Lachish, which meant King Sennacherib would control the road to Jerusalem but ignores entirely why he didn't then managed to take down Jerusalem. Isaiah prophesied he would fail. That is tricky if you don't believe in Yahweh or in predictive prophecy - same issue for accepting that Isaiah is just one book not 2-3... gotta believe he predicted the name of King Cyrus a long time in advance... I don't expect to see it but perhaps one day someone might admit "the Bible says this, but we don't believe the Bible or it's god and therefore we're searching around for other interpretations" rather than just ignoring them. Honesty is underrated! The Bible records this:
And Yahweh sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword. (2 Chronicles 32:21 ESV)
An angel struck down his entire army of 185000 soldiers struck down, and the once unstoppable king crawled home to be killed in the house of his own god. That is extraordinary, and impossible if there is no Yahweh to send an angel. 2 Chronicles says that his failure was to think that Yahweh was just like the made-up gods of the nations he'd conquered. Fake gods can't stop an army, Yahweh isn't a fake god.

The underlying question here isn't could a great tower at Babel be demolished or could a great army be struck down in one night. The question is - does Yahweh exist? Yahweh is the name of the one in the public square of human history brought his people up out of Egypt and formed them into a nation, who struck down Sennacherib's army, and who raised Jesus from the dead. He makes himself available for open-minded scrutiny and examination.

We find this same thing going on in John 9 - where a man is healed by Jesus. His friends and his parents confirm that he was blind and can now see. Something happened. He is then put on trial by the religious leaders, the Pharisees, who we're told had already made it illegal to say that Jesus is the promised Messiah. The search around in the darkness to find some alternative conclusion leaving the now seeing man bewildered before they throw him out of court. Their simultaneous interest in Jesus and deliberate avoiding of the most obvious conclusion would be comedic if it weren't tragic. We all have our presuppositions, Sennacherib, The Pharisees, The Guardian, me. The question is whether they're sound ones or not.

Aren't Christians Just Ignoring Suffering

On Tuesday I spoke at Bristol University on the subject of Aren't Christians Ignoring Suffering.

I invited people to try on Christianity for 20mins, not as a complete answer to but to see how it would be to look at suffering from within Christianity, taking people into the story of Job and drawing out some lessons from that to say that ultimately Christianity's answer to suffering isn't a philosophy or an 'answer' but a person and a community. It's not a perfect response and there are many other ways to do it, this is a 'soft' answer that seeks to invite to encounter the God of compassion and comfort.

A good crowd came and there was some constructive Q&A after the talk relating to the origin and possible purpose of evil, and the role of Satan in suffering.

DOWNLOAD MP3: Aren't Christians Ignoring Suffering (Dave Bish) - 20mins

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Christian Leaders Need Cookbooks

Someone thinks they may have a gift of teaching, we train them and get them reading good books. Someone could be a leader, what do we do? Leaders need character development, they need to be able to teach, and they need to be able to practice hospitality (Titus 1:8).

A leaders study should certainly have books to help them study the Bible, but it probably needs at least a few cookbooks too. IVP are missing a trick.

(Obviously there's more to hospitality than food, but it's part of the picture)

Monday, November 08, 2010

If any young man reads this Book aright, he becomes large-hearted

The Bible is a heart-changing book when we rightly understand it, and therefore draw from it always Christ, Christ, Christ:

"You understand the Scripture if you make everything of the Lord Jesus Christ; if you believe on him with all your heart, and then yield yourselves up to him in his own way.... You have not read your Bible so as to understand it to the full, unless you have learned to be happy by a sweet resting in Jesus. 
I think you have not understood the Bible unless it makes you care about the salvation of others; for this Ethiopian nobleman, when he got home, I have no doubt, spread the gospel throughout his native land: he was, probably, the founder of the Abyssinian Church. If any young man reads this Book aright, he becomes large-hearted, he cannot hold his soul within the narrow bound of his ribs, but his great heart looks out to see where it can scatter benefits." 
From Spurgeon on Acts 8.

What gift has Jesus given me?

A week ago Adrian Holloway spoke to our church and in passing mentioned that our gifting is often related to 'the phone call that we can take when we're exhausted that fills us with life'. Stu recalled this yesterday and said that a similar question to ask is, 'what books am I reading?'

Doing what God has for us do to might not improve our life. In The World Needs More Apostles PJ Smyth cites Barney Coombes on apostles, the gift Paul tends to list 'first' for the church:
“Let me give you a biblical picture of an apostle: he is a weak little chap with a poor voice (2 Corinthians 10:10), a jailbird (Acts 16:23). He looks under-nourished and his clothing is disreputable (1 Corinthians 4:11). If you look at his hands, they are stained and cracked by the hard work of softening skins and sewing them into tents, for that is his livelihood (Acts 18:3). At times he is very ill, even despairing of life (2 Corinthians 1:8-11; Galatians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 11:30). Perhaps these infirmities have come from the terrible sufferings which he has undergone (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)”.
It seems wise to look at our natural and supernatural strengths (Strengths are not just what we're good because strengths often need to be developed, a better question is: what gives you life?). Biblical gifting a matter of grace given to us by Jesus, and is something to be content in and ambitious, content to be who we are but ambitious for the body - and to exercise whatever gifts will most build the body. Purpose and goal really matter more than which part we particularly play in the whole.

Gifting is probably most often recognised rather than assumed. The Christian who is secure in the gospel will be able to ask others: what are my gifts, and how do I need to grow? (An evidence of immaturity would be not asking either part of that question.)

And then gifts are to be used rather than left wrapped up and hidden away.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Jesus gives gifts to build the church

Our assistant pastor Stu preached for our church this morning on Ephesians 4:7-16. He ran out of time a bit so skipped through some things which was a shame because it was a really good preach with things I definitely benefited from hearing today, in the context of a time together in which God spoke to us through prayers, prophetic words, tongues & interpretation, songs and the Scriptures - all concerning his great gospel.

Jesus is our victorious leader who gives gifts to his church having descended to death and ascended back to his Father for us. He especially gives apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds & teachers to equip the church for its ministry. We need these gifts so we can each do what Jesus has for us to be doing.

Two images helped me to grasp what's going on.

1. The Olympic Lift. To complete this lift the whole body must work rightly. If one part is out of action or not able to contribute then the whole body loses. The whole body loses ground where it could have been growing stronger and going further. What can I contribute?

2. Kevin and Perry. The classic image of immaturity that we can all relate to. The church can be like that, lazy and getting no where, or given gifts by Jesus can grow up together - released and faciliated by its leaders to build itself up. Church isn't about being spoon-fed - Ephesians 4 is a step up and take responsibility for the church moment. Where can I step up?

The sermon is well worth downloading - you might want to ponder further some of the gifts that are given to the church, such as 'apostles' - these are important to consider but more so their purpose to equip the church body for it's ministry and growth.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Friday, November 05, 2010

John 9: Sent to an Unseeing World

I've been wrestling with John 9 on and off for a few weeks ahead of speaking on it to a Christian Union this month. I'm still not there with it. But how's this? At the outset the whole passage reads like 'man walks into a bar and says this is a joke right' in that it's Jesus meets a blind man and the Pharisees buzz around with violence and persecution. The disciples want to make the whole thing a study of suffering but Jesus swings away from that - not that it's not an important issue it just seems to not be his issue here. What unfolds is a fairly long narrative...

Jesus speaks of being the light of the world who was sent by the Father to a man who can't see who he then heals (recreates) via the pool of Siloam which we're told means 'Sent' and then as Jesus slips off stage until the end of the story we see the man sent into the den of the Pharisees where he means those who can't see.

The Synagogue can't see because (1)  it has already legally committed itself to saying that Jesus can't be the Christ (which is the centre point of the telling of the story) and (2) they prove themselves to have missed the point of Moses whom they claim to follow but who should have led them to see Jesus (ch5), instead they leave the sent one astonished at their inability to see, and then they throw him out - a man whose sent life is surely 'prophetic' of what will happen to Jesus before John's Gospel is finished.

As Jesus returns to the man he finally gets to see the one who was sent to give him sight - he was in darkness but now he's light, while those who thought they were enlightened have only been proven to be blind. Those who know they can't see can be remade as they recognise Jesus' voice (chapter 10 which follows on seamlessly).

And so we're left to see that as the Father sent Jesus so he sends us. Jesus came to us in our blindness and sends us to the blind - some of whom will see that they can't see and recognise the beauty/majesty/life/light/love of Jesus, while some who think they can see will become all the more blind and opposed to Jesus.

Nonetheless the one who was sent to us sents us since 'my sheep hear my voice' - and this is Jesus' chosen way for that to happen - his voice must ring out, or to flip back to the original picture - as the light was sent to shine in the darkness, now those who lived in darkness are light and are themselves sent as light, however dark the setting and however little he is recognised and received, knowing that the darkness might kill the light but it wont overcome the light. The light of the gospel was heard and seen by us, the light that was sent sends us to be light, and that light will be life to those who see and believe. As it was for him, so now it is for us.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Passionate Justice

One of the questions in Isaiah is the cause of justice.
I think I've been raised in my culture to think often of justice as dispassionate and that God is dispassionate, and yet justice in the Bible, and particularly in the Isaiah looks more like defending the oppressed, it looks like love and it is strong and passionate, in favour of the victim and burning against the offender. This is fighting justice. This is what you'd expect from a passionate God, right?

This kind of justice will be the end of the enemies of God (I'm seeing that strongly in Exodus too) which is great news for the oppressed but not so good for those who are oppressors of people, of truth, of God, unless somehow the Father takes upon himself what his jealous love for his scorned Son deserves. If only instead of me being led to slaughter he could take my place...

Thinking about upcoming opportunities for student mission Lindsay Brown says in his Christian Persuaders podcast that the top five issues to engage are meaning, freedom, intimacy, forgiveness and hope, and then he adds justice as a sixth key issue to speak into. Somehow questions should be raised and answered - and to be able to speak from God of justice that isn't dispassionate but which fights for the oppressed is surely a powerful apologetic, and an answer to accusations that Christianity is all about powerplay.

I hope to get Tim Keller's Generous Justice soon. And it's worth reading Kevin DeYoung on The Poor and Social Justice and Seven passages on social justice.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

High and Lifted up: Subversive Gospel Logic

Spent today being walked through Isaiah. In chapter 6:1 Isaiah sees the Lord on the throne, high and lifted up. The same description is used in 52:13 to describe the Servant. And in John 12 we're told that Isaiah saw Jesus in his glory, the one who would be lifted up to draw all men to himself.

Jesus is the centre of all God's purposes in salvation and even glimpse of him is salvific, though those to whom Isaiah was sent, and to whom Jesus preached were mostly hardened as I should be... I need to catch a fresh sight of the one who alone can atone for my sin, the one lifted up to give life to the world. I desperately need to hear the gospel freshly each day.

Seeing the Lord enthroned, the powerful saviour who is the servant I'm reminded afresh that divine power is shown not in absolute power but in service - God's power isn't wielded but yielded, life-giving power as the Father raises his Son who came to serve us, power as Jesus is placed as head over the church to give life and fullness to us, power to bring us through death to resurrection life, to sit with the high and lifted up one, the one who is lifted up not as a symbol of power but in the greatest act of service to save people like me, unable to save myself, needing a Saviour.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Calvinism, Arminianism, and The Father's Heart

So, I'm studying Exodus ahead of delivering a somewhat ambitious two session overview to my team in a couple of weeks to get them going on some personal study of it. The more I look at it the more it seems to be a vital book for us to get hold of - with allusions and quotations all over the New Testament, and in various parts of the Old. Misread Exodus and we'll swerve off badly all over the place.

One of those key places it comes up is in Romans 9 where much ink has been spilled in the old Calvinism and Arminianism debate (whether in the Arminian Roger Forster & Paul Marsden God's Strategy in Human History or Calvinist John Piper's The Justification of God - which are both worth a look).

What I think I'm seeing in Exodus is a passionate attack by the LORD (particularly the Father) on a serpent-like Pharaoh who is determined to bruise the firstborn Son of God. The Father is fighting to have his son, and for a global cause of the spreading of his name (his love?) globally. It's narrow in focus but very broad in scope.

What this isn't is some battle of decrees over whether Pharaoh hardens his heart first or whether God hardens it. This is a sworn enemy of the LORD on a cosmic scale, and the LORD is taking him down to get his Son for himself. Exodus reads to me like Genesis 3:15 happening as the serpent & son bruise the offspring of the woman, God's firstborn who sets out to crush the head of his enemy.

But when I encounter the debate over God's sovereignty it seems to revolve around decrees by God and free will by man, neither of which seems to particularly be on the table in Exodus (or Genesis where the Jacob/Esau references in Romans 9 come from).

Then I read Mike Reeves showing me that post-Reformation there is some retaining of Calvin & Luther's warm-hearted legacy by Sibbes, Owen, Edwards etc, but much of it is swallowed up by a rising Reformed-Scholasticism which seems to hold a less-Triune view of God in which law and decree matter greatly. Not sure if the historical analysis holds, but I am sure that much of what passes for Reformed is no-where near as whole-hearted and attractive as the Reformers themselves. Calvin's Institutes show a wonderful portrait of God, and Luther's The Freedom of a Christian shows the gospel through the lense of the King making a prostitute his Queen to have as his beloved. Calvin died when Arminius was four years old so the whole thing doesn't have that much to do with Calvin anyways, but is more a response to his heir, Beza under whom Arminius studied.

And I can't help but thinking that the old Calvinism & Arminianism is a debate within the head of Reformed-Scholasticism that doesn't seem to come up too much in Calvin or Luther, who are more concerned to show the passionate love of God as he fights, in the gospel, to have his people for himself, personally and with the heart of a Father. In Exodus I see a richer picture of the Father's heart for his Son that is winning my heart afresh to the Son and his Father.