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Showing posts from March, 2010

The Royal Observatory (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2:11)

Having spent the winter months in The Song of Songs and Proverbs I figured that the coming of Spring was a good time to embark on the third volume of God's wisdom books - Ecclesiastes. Chirpy eh!

The great king carries out a vast experiment. He is the Dean of the University of Life. He has near infinite resources at his disposal. This is how the son of David considers the world. Welcome to the royal observatory. His study considers four areas. He looks at Geography and History, at Wisdom and Pleasure. The verdict in each case is very similar. He writes up his report in the language of wisdom literature, words to ponder, parallelisms to chew upon.
Geography tells him that the world is desperately cyclical. Things go no-where. The sun rises and sets, again and again. Like the sea, even eyes and ears never get filled up. Repetitive. Monotonous. Some of us hear it as refreshing honesty, some of us don't want to admit that the world is like that.History is much the same. Things don&#…

The Ordinary Work of the Gospel (Reflections on a weekend with the IFES team in Paris)

I spent the weekend in Paris visiting members of the IFES team who support students doing mission together in Paris. It was a deeply encouraging weekend.

I loved seeing them stage the Mark Drama (Mark L'experience) by Andrew Page, which tells the story of Mark's gospel - accessible, funny, engaging and creative to show the story of Jesus to people who have never heard it before. Abnormally big for France, great opportunity.

I loved hearing that the team and students are doing the ordinary work of opening up the Bible with one another and with non-Christian students. It's not a new idea. It's a very old idea. It's the way people become Christians, through friendship and seeing Jesus walk off the pages of Scripture and into their lives. There is nothing new, and that's great.

I was encouraged to catch up with a good friend Matt who is on the team. It was great to see his wrestle with God through the challenges of being struck dumb (i.e. having to learn the languag…

Heroes: Athanasius of Alexandria

In our journey through church history we spent time with some heroes - people who wouldn't exactly be at home in our churches but who can certainly teach us.... Athanasius & Augustine, Luther & Calvin, Sibbes & Edwards.

Athanasius is our first hero...

296/8 Athanasius born
303-5 Diocletian’s great persecution
312 Conversion of Constantine
318 Arius begins to teach that there was a time when the Son was not
325 Council of Nicea “begotten, not made, of the same being of the Father”
328 Alexander dies, Athanasius becomes bishop of Alexandria`
335-7 1st exile of Athanasius, writes Against the Heathen and On the Incarnation
336 Death of Arius (born 256)
339-46 2nd exile
356-62 3rd exile, writes Against the Arians, Life of Anthony (and sparks a legacy of monasticism)
373 Dies following two further exiles.

Athanasius finds himself caught up in a great fight - against the world - and against Arius. The key idea of this comes in Against the Arians, 1.34: "Therefore it is more pious a…

Where there is no vision, the people perish? Thoughts on reading Proverbs

So, Hebrew poetry is big on parallelism.
Say something once, then say it again another way.
So, Proverbs 31:10
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.

And given that "more precious than jewels" is the Proverbs way of talking about Wisdom (3:15, 8:11) this is a way of saying that the excellent wife is found when wisdom is found. And therefore, as previously blogged here - not ultimately about finding a spouse for yourself. The rest of the acrostic poem / riddle in Proverbs 31 point us in the same direction - much to learn about marriage but ultimately looking to the most excellent bride and her glorious husband...

Or take the famously half-read Proverbs 29:18

"Where there is no vision, the people perish:
but he that keepeth the law, happy is he" KJV

Which isn't about general vision but, prophetic vision.
Where God's word is found - via prophets and supremely in Scriptures...

"Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast …

Five things you need to know about church history

Had the opportunity to teach 'The Story of the Church' for FP Impact Training. This from our first session together...

1. One big romantic comedy, with songs. No, not Mamma Mia! It's the Bible. The story of the church isn't a footnote in human history from Pentecost to today. It begins with Adam and Eve on the slopes of Eden, before that in the heart of God, and runs into the renewed creation at the wedding supper of the Lamb.

2. Warning. Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 tells us that we're not the first people or the only people, there's no memory of us - history administers a strong dose of humility... the gospel through creation. History is laced with frustration and the lost hope of Adam's son Abel personifies this.

“You may have heard the story of the Mennonite Brethren movement. One particular analysis goes like this: the first generation believed and proclaimed the gospel and thought that there were certain social entailments. The next generation assumed the gos…

Cor Deo - Gripped by God, Sharing His heart

This week we've gathered as UCCF teams in the South for some fellowship and fun, training and prayer. We're joined by Peter Mead of Cor Deo. Peter blogs at Biblical Preaching and Mike Reeves guest for the latest Theology Network Table Talk interview, on teaching the Bible.

"Central to Cor Deo is a conviction that God’s triune love – as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – gives us a wonderful model for human relationships and ministry. Combining study and ministry in a relational setting, Cor Deo is for those with a heart for God, and a passion for ministry... Our calling is to participate in the glory of God’s triune love. We live in response to the revealing and redeeming work of the Son. We are captivated by God’s love, which the Holy Spirit pours out in our hearts. Our guiding resource is God’s Word, which sanctifies us in his truth. As God transforms us we share his heart with others, both near and far. We embrace the biblical priority of life to life ministry. We esteem an…

REVIEW: Raised with Christ (Adrian Warnock)

Readers can hardly fail to be familiar with Adrian Warnock. The UK's most prominent Christian blogger ( who bridges past involvement with St Helens Bishopsgate, London and a present very much involved within Newfrontiers churches. Now the blogger, as they do, turns published author.

Two things: I'm one of the people in the acknowledgements for this book, and subsequently I received a free copy of Raised with Christ. That said, I'd gladly have paid to get a copy of this book.

Adrian's punchy and provocative style combines a deep reverence for Scripture, a love of citing with Martyn Lloyd-Jones and a passion for experiential Christianity is well known on his blog, and throughout his book.

The first half of this book is a fairly standard defence of the resurrection of Jesus including some interaction with extra-Biblical sources, a harmonisation of the Gospel accounts and an overview of the resurrection in the Bible - including from the Old Testament which …

Proverbs 31: The Eternal Song of the Spotless Bride

Today we completed our six month series in Proverbs. It's been a refreshing journey in wisdom literature. I've had the privilege of preaching on chapters 1,4,8 and 31 which have to be some of the major high points of this book, the great book of royal sayings, the Bible's version of The Little Mermaid. Classic Disney, classic Bible.

We finished today with the excellent wife in chapter 31.
Here's my outline and the mp3.

Download mp3: Proverbs 31 (2nd service) - 33mins

Intro - love stories, the way people love and hate this passage.
1. The excellent wife is precious
2. The excellent wife is productive
3. The excellent wife is profusely generous
4. The excellent wife is perfect?
Jesus and his bride, Proverbs 31 stirs our eternal song.

"the whole of your life is marriage preparation, 
you belong to a groom whose name is Immanuel"
Paul Tripp, Instruments, p241

The answer to Paul's prayer is the gospel (Ephesians 3)

Recently had the joy of preaching on Ephesians 3:14-21 for Exeter ECU.
Download mp3: Getting caught up in the love of God - Ephesians 3:14-21(35mins)

“so that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith” -
That's already true of a Christian - yet Paul longs that it'd be the case. Strengthening the Ephesians hearts is the outworking of the gospel - God at home in their hearts by faith - Christ present by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

This is about experiencing what's already true. They have union with Christ but do they feel it? Paul has told them how Christ died, was raised and seated in the heavenly realms - and so too they've gone from being dead under wrath, raised and seated with Christ. This is true but do they know it? The answer to Paul’s prayer is the outworking and evidencing of that gospel reality in your life and mine.

“that they'd have strength together with all t…

Can you be over affected by the gospel? (Ephesians 3)

I had the joy on Tuesday night of preaching Ephesians 3:14-21 for Exeter ECU.
Download mp3: Getting caught up in the love of God - Ephesians 3:14-21(35mins)

On his knees before the Father to pray for, v16, a strengthening, a heartening, an invigorating of God’s people. Keep in mind as we look at this prayer: what is prayed for and what would it mean for this prayer to be answered? Paul prays for the Ephesians v14-16 that they’d be:
WHAT? Strengthened with power. With God’s power. What does God’s power do? Not oppress or control. What does the pinnacle of divine power look like? We might think of making the world, but Paul looks higher: 1v19-20: “the immeasurable greatest of his power… according to the working of his great might… in Christ, when he raised him from the dead”.  The power of God in a person does resurrection. Taking what was dead and making it alive.
FROM WHERE? When I give a gift I give according to, or out of, what I have. What does the Fathe…

Getting caught up in the love of God (Ephesians 3)

I had the joy last night of preaching Ephesians 3:14-21 for Exeter ECU.
Download mp3: Getting caught up in the love of God - Ephesians 3:14-21(35mins)

What will move this Christian Union to fulfill its mission of giving every student at this University the opportunity to hear and respond to the good news about Jesus? What will keep this Christian Union united rather than splintering into shards? What does a normal Christian experience look and feel like?

On a vast and cosmic canvas these are among the concerns of Ephesians – written to address the heart with the gospel. Charles Spurgeon approached preaching this passage saying:
“If I could make any of you feel your mouths a-watering after Christ by what I have said, I should be pleased indeed” 

And CJ Mahaney notes:
“If you want to feel deeply, you need to be willing to think deeply.”

Are you up for that?
 See, what is often lacking isn’t the gospel but our appropriating of it.
We have, according to Ephesians 1-3 every glorious spiritual…

Jesus: The Bridegroom

Jesus uses titles to describe himself to us. This one is surprising and yet stunning.
Look at Mark 2v19-20 - And Jesus said to them,
“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?
As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. Jesus calls himself “the bridegroom”.

It’s an overwhelmingly positive image of a lover on his wedding day. Besotted and devoted. Mark tells us, in line with many of the other writers of the Bible, that when God comes and stands in the room, he does so as the bridegroom. We find the bridegroom in Genesis, Ezekiel, Hosea, Song of Songs, Ephesians, Revelation... and in the gospels.

He comes as one who loves us. When he is among his people they feast – though they’ll mourn and fast in his absence.

The image here isn’t Jesus the husband to individuals – that could be icky for some of us – but of the husband to a people, to his peop…

Jesus is Unacceptable, Unsuitable and Inappropriate

This is the sermon from our son's dedication service on Sunday. It was great to say with the church that he's a gift from God, to be prayed for by elders and our home group overseers and to have the church pray to support us.

Download mp3: Mark 2:1-3:6 - No religion, only Jesus

Religion finds Jesus to be...
1) UNACCEPTABLE (2:1-12)
2) UNSUITABLE (2:13-17)
3) INAPPROPRIATE (2:18-3:6)
Jesus calls himself
4) THE BRIDEGROOM (2:19-20)

I'm struck by the way the religious respond to Jesus - they couldn't be more right about who he is, and yet couldn't be more wrong as they grumble at his claims, his welcome of tax collectors and sinners, his feeding of his followers and his saving and doing good to a man. Religion is so small-minded, picky and tight-fisted and anti-people and anti-God.

Jesus however is God standing in the room to give people life - any who will taste and see his gospel. God turns up as bridegroom, the one who gives himself for his people to give himself to…

Salvation is having the Lord himself (Song of Songs Commentary - Robert Jenson)

I'm really enjoying Robert Jenson's commentary on The Song of Songs in the Interpretation series as I read it for a second time. Jenson's approach is very different to contemporary approaches to The Song but that's it's greatest strength. He draws deeply on the church fathers, reformers and others, rooting his interpretation in the history of the church rather than the culture of our day.

His approach is simple and easily accessible in a series designed to equip preachers. He takes The Song passage by passage looking at the overt story, then the theological allegory, and then thirdly an application to marriage.

The Song is taken seriously as a text and the applications in revealing the gospel and to human relationships are outstanding. This on 1:2-4:
"Our poem's soteriology is thus that of the church fathers, especially those in the East - and indeed exposition of the Song was a favourite way for them to describe salvation. Israel does not here long for fo…

Ezekiel 36 - Why Does God Do Anything He Does?

We moved from Ezekiel 1 to Ezekiel 34 (recording corrupted, sorry) and then concluded our weekend with Ezekiel 36 which is just breathtaking.

Have a listen to Adrian Reynolds on the gospel from Ezekiel

Ezekiel 36 - Why does God do anything he does, or the one thing you need to know (again)

We had a great weekend digging into this great book, and I'm encouraged that some CUs are now choosing to study it on the ground in the near future. Adrian recommends the IVP BST Commentary on Ezekiel, by Chris Wright for further study.

Gospel Leadership: From the throne to the cross

Jim is a member of the South West staff team, and has been wrestled with by God as he's studied Mark 8-10 over recent months, as he's studied it with students at Bristol. In light of this I invited him to take one of our main sessions at the South West CU leaders weekend, on gospel leadership. He served us well, and I recommend this to you.

Mark 10:32-45: Gospel Leadership - Jim Walford

The Gospel from Ezekiel - To know the LORD

Over the weekend we gathered with about 85 student leaders from across the South West to... well you'd think to do leadership and evangelism training. And in a manner of speaking we did, by spending a weekend digging deeply into the gospel, beholding the glory of God in the gospel, and working out together the applications and implications of this.

We were joined by Adrian Reynolds, previously pastor of Yateley Baptist Church and now working with the Proclamation Trust, training preachers. Last summer I asked him to preach the gospel from Ezekiel - and he agreed. Here's the first session.

Ezekiel 1: To know the LORD - Adrian Reynolds

Sadly the recording of Ezekiel 34 didn't work, but I'll share chapter 36 later in the week, and also a plenary session by Jim Walford on Gospel Leadership.