Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Love, Jealousy and Wrath

ht: Glen Scrivener, here's a great illustration of why the love of God should be jealous for his people and so express in wrath at adultery... whereas in this sketch Peter Cook's character demonstrates the exact opposite of love through his indifference and ambivalence towards Dudley Moore's characters adultery.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Francis Chan at UCCF Forum

"We are pleased to announce that Francis Chan will be with us at Forum this year. Clive Parnell will be hosting a seminar with Francis called "Let worship be the fuel for missions flame". Francis Chan is the former pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, CA. He is the author of Crazy Love and The Forgotten God."

More on Francis Chan at Christianity Magazine

Having heard Chan at Passion London earlier this year I think this is great news. So: Book now for UCCF Forum: National Student Leaders Conference if you have a formal leadership role in your CU or are just keen to see the CU's vision implemented, i.e. to see students at your uni reached with the gospel.

Other speakers include Vaughan Roberts, Richard Cunningham, Mike Reeves. And of course the really exciting thing is that I'm even doing a track "Transformed by the Gracious God" :)

Preaching that goes beyond what I've imagined

Glen Scrivener quotes Henry Ford saying “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” in a brief post that he tags on the subject of "preaching". It's a brilliant connection to make.

When the preacher begins to speak I know what I want, I want instruction, I want inspiration, I want to have the passage taught, I want to be reminded of Christ....

What I should find is that I'm shown the beauty of Christ in a way that my heart never imagined was possible.

And that's what the Holy Spirit delights to do through a preacher, to cast new light upon Christ from his word. To enable me to see with eyes of faith that Christ is more beautiful than I could have imagined.... such preaching would be jaw-dropping, would be eye-widening, would be heart-enflaming. Such preaching does the important task of persuasively showing what the text says and then continue to doing what the text does.

Such preaching says: believe in Jesus, and shows me Jesus that I might behold and believe in him with my heart...  as J.I. Packer found under the preaching of Lloyd-Jones that came to him “with the force of electric shock, bringing . . . more of a sense of God" As I prepare to preach I want to be asking the Holy Spirit to do that, not for my sake, but for the church. Longing that the Spirit would reveal Christ and impress Christ upon the hearts of his people, though my weak words. And I hope I pray that as I sit under preaching my prayer is the same - for the preacher and for the church. Such preaching goes beyond what I could ever imagine, to what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit reveal, chiefly themselves.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I will cover you

David Anderson writes (Gracism, p71):
"How different would your life be if you lived each day committed to the dignity of those around you, especially those in need of special care? What would such a day look like in your world? Instead of families, communities and churches being filled with backbiting or suspicion, how about their being places where believers seek to help each other look and feel their best? How about an environment where I seek to help you succeed and you seek to encourage me? Or more, if I fall or fail will you exploit me and embarrass me because you can, or will you cover me? Is there not a balance somewhere between my sanctification and my missteps? If I ask the wrong question, use the wrong language or hold an unpopular view, will you label, exclude and dismiss me, or will you cover me while inspiring me to new levels of education and growth?"
Challenges the way I am with others, in view of the gospel. Is my greatest concern covering my own back - or do I want to cover others? Do I shift the blame or do I take the flack? Do I advance myself at the expense of others? Do I assume the worst of someone else, or assume the best of them? Do I treat others more harshly than I'd want to be treated? Am I generous with others?

In the gospel Jesus covers me, and helps me die to self and live to the interests of others. But change is slow, so along the way, please cover me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shrek, Mamma Mia! Ian McEwan and the Bible?

This is a working draft of a seminar I'm doing later in July. The idea is to introduce people to the idea that we all have stories, and to the shape of the Christian story. And then to examine the way that narrative works within the overall narrative of the Bible. It's a really fun subject though it's not been easy to figure what to cover...

Comments and feedback very much sought after:
What's Your Story: Introduction to Bible Narrative Seminar
(updated Monday 26th July)

The Wedding Feast: Intimacy secured by blood (Exodus 24v9-11)

DOWNLOAD MP3: Exodus 24

In Exodus 33v20 Moses will be told no-one can see God and live. The Triune God is holy and people are not – and so in the presence of God bad people die. Let’s see what happens next. The law ended oddly with an invitation, Exodus 24v1-2 for the elders to come and eat with God. And so they go up despite the fact that no-one can see God and live! And they see God. And they eat with him!

Q1: How are they alive?
Q2: Not only can no-one see God and live, but John tells us
- John 1v18: “No one has ever seen God,” So what is happening here?

Well, John goes on to say: “…but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.”  God the Son makes the Triune God known to people. No-one sees the Father, but the Son makes him known. It's always the Son who makes the Father known. #

Notice they see him - v10 - on a sapphire pavement, just as Ezekiel would later see one like a man, in the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD enthroned on a sapphire throne (Ezk 1:26). One described as Jesus is described in 2 Corinthians 4 and elsewhere. They see the one who saved them. They see Jesus (See Jude 1v5).  It is always the Son who makes his Father known.

That’s how they see God, but how are they alive?
v11, God did not raise a hand against them. No blood is shed. This is the gospel.
These blood-splattered leaders trust the blood thrown over them, a model of Jesus blood that would be shed 1400 years later in his death outside Jerusalem.## Jesus doesn’t kill these sinful people in his presence, because he lays his own life down for them. He dies for them – and so
v11: “they saw God and ate and drank”.
Let the paint dry on that for a moment: v11: “they saw God and ate and drank”.

This is the way to think about Christianity. The gospel is an invitation to see and eat and drink. It’s all about intimate fellowship with God. But this bites, because having the meal is only possible because of the blood. We can’t eat because we’re worth it, or deserve it – but because of Jesus blood.

The whole of Exodus is a prophecy of the cross. The whole Bible tells this same story – of the Triune God who fights for his people to dwell with his people. Man and God lived and ate together on Mount Eden until humanity committed (spiritual) adultery. Their sin was not firstly disobedience of a rule but a wandering heart that saw what was desirable but not to be taken and snatched at it.

Sin is deeper than we like to think it is. Consequently, the jealous God kicked them down the hill and away from fellowship with God.

Now in Exodus 24v11, the leaders- representing the people - go up the holy hill and they eat a meal with Jesus.... one day God's people will eat with him in the renewed creation Between then and the future... if we had to sum up Jesus’ mission strategy it’s probably Luke 7v34:
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking”.
To be around the table together is to enjoy intimate friendship, and it’s this that Jesus continually did, as he journeyed to the cross…. And even after his resurrection Jesus breakfasts with his disciples, in part because he was physically raised and could eat, but also to eat with them. And we’re invited into be involved in the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is a Christianity that is altogether relational, warm, welcoming. And of course, it’s natural enough that this becomes the pattern for the life of the people of God. To be involved in one another’s lives, celebrating our differences, sharing our joys and sorrows. Eating together, often.

If we’re inclined to think of God as aloof and distant and unrelating, then we’ll see that reflected in the life of our community, we’ll keep apart from one another. But that is not the gospel way. In the gospel, The Triune God, establishes a marital relationship with his people by the blood of Jesus… and so we receive our invitation, sealed by the Holy Spirit to the eternal marriage supper of Jesus.

We taste this as we share communion together here – remembering Jesus blood shed for us – but reminding us that one day we’ll eat together with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the renewed heavens and earth too. And we live in light of this gospel when we open our homes and our lives to one another.

Imagine, if we were to open our homes for normal food to one another, to friends who are Christians and those who aren’t 3-4 times a week we’d probably be 90% of the way to reaching this world (ht: Tim Chester)…. Not as an alternative to speaking the good news about Jesus, but as the context into which that happens, and as the demonstration of the reality of it – as we love one another, and those beyond the church too.

Our culture tells us not to do this – we live a wall apart from our neighbours but most of us barely know them. The gift of hospitality has been hijacked by the middle class dinner party that makes people think the only option is to lay out impressive feasts that take all day to prepare… Nothing wrong with good food, but what is to stop us just sharing some of the ordinary 21 meals we’ll eat each week… Not because Christians are naturally especially friendly, but because we know our God is warm and relational, and seeks to eat with us.

We’ve been trying this as home group leaders at our church in Exeter – I’m asking “what does an open-door, open fridge life look like?” A work in progress as we fight against the closed doors and closed fridges of our culture, and against my selfishness and laziness too. Imagine...

Let’s pull everything we've said together.
Let me ask a question: Is it good to be a Christian?
If we, like most of our society, still have a view of God that is some distant deity, a heavenly Hitler, a slave master or an angry high court judge then we’re bound to consider Christianity a necessary evil. The right thing but not so much a good thing. And that inevitably contains our Christianity within certain boundaries, in the same category as visiting the Dentist or paying taxes. God will be someone to avoid speaking of, to be a bit embarrassed about, someone who is really a bit past it, a bit irrelevant. But Exodus 24 shows that

to be a Christian is to EAT WITH JESUS and his people, because of Jesus.
Nothing is better than to be invited by the Triune God, caught up into his loving community. The invite is open to anyone. Is it good to be a Christian? Yes it is!

Someone asked can we really say this is Jesus? Perhaps it's an interpretative leap to say it's Jesus. What we have to say is that it's the second person of the Triune God, who exists from eternity past in the loving community of his Father. As we look back, through the cross, the person they eat with is the same person we know by the name Jesus, the Christ, who came from the Father. I stand guilty of short-handing a little but I did explain my logic from John's gospel and from Exodus.
## Someone asked why if Jesus appears to the elders in Exodus 24 did they have to wait 1400 years for his coming? Everything in Exodus is a model for Israel of what is to come, as the tabernacle would be - they'd see altars, and names graven on the priests breastplate etc. In the Old Testament, God is giving them the grammar of the gospel so that when Christ comes they'll be able to understand what he is does. The question of why the law matters here and is both complex and very important. Abraham had to wait 400 years to get the land, now Israel will wait 1400 years further. God gives reasons to Abraham in Genesis, and we're told much about the purpose of the law in the Scriptures. Galatians 3 for example tells us that the law would establish Israel as a distinctive people, unlike the nations and like their saviour, it would show them patterns and models for atonement for sin, under the law the categories of kingdom and exile would be established which would shed further light on the gospel and further urgency for the Father to send the Son into the world. I had 25 minutes to speak on this passage, and there are questions you have to leave unanswered.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Wedding ceremony: Promises sealed in blood (Exodus 24v3-8)

DOWNLOAD MP3: Exodus 24

In Exodus 24 we’re in the middle of the giving of the law, what we're expecting from God might not be very attractive... but we find ourselves at a wedding. Moses comes down the mountain and v3: ‘told the people all the LORD's words and laws’  

And: they responded with one voice, "Everything the LORD has said we will do."’ They hear the word of God and they respond with faith. Result! That’s what the word of God does – it produces faith in the hearer – a gift from God when his word is proclaimed. Beautiful when that happens – you’re reading the Bible and you believe it!!

The Triune God is present through his word – and in the presence of God they make their vows. They trust Jesus who saved them out of Egypt as he calls them to a distinctive life, until he comes to save the world. Next day Moses reads the words again and they response the same way, and then Moses throws blood on them.... 

Why? What is going on? They have faith in God’s word but wont be faithful. They grumble against God. They’ll run adulterously after other lovers in Exodus 32 in giving their hearts to a golden calf. They are more loved than they can begin to imagine – the LORD has fought for them, to have them out of the clutches of the tyrant Pharaoh but their hearts are stubborn and adulterous towards their God.

Because the love of God is real he is jealous for his people. It’s even a name reveals for himself in Exodus 20v5: “I the LORD your God am a jealous God.” And Exodus 34:14: “the LORD whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” He is not ambivalent to (spiritual) adultery – and in his jealous love, he rightly burns in anger against their unfaithfulness. Sin isn't just rule-breaking it's a matter of the heart.The rebel heart and the sinful flesh must be put to death. Either they die or a substitute dies in their place, Here, v5, a burnt offering – the blood of bulls.

In the presence of God they have made their vows, promises sealed in blood. We were at a wedding yesterday in Southampton on our way up to Arborfield – a Christian marriage, whose integrity isn’t finally in the ability of Brian and Becca to be faithful to one another, but in Jesus whose blood was shed for them.
Their hearts will wander but Jesus blood will never fail them.
And that’s the only way marriage works isn’t it?
I’m not saying you can’t do marriage if you don’t believe in Jesus, but I’m just not sure how it’s possible. Without the gospel of Jesus I wouldn’t be called daily to die to my sin, to lay my life down for my wife, and wouldn’t have the forgiveness and power for such a cruciform life…
The integrity of God’s marriage to his people doesn’t depend on their faithfulness but upon the death of the divine husband, Jesus. All of this points forward 1400 years to the death of Jesus in history.
There we see that we’re not Christians because we’re devout enough.
It’s not that we have more faith than other people.
We are not Christians because we can be like the Queen of Diamonds in Alice through the looking glass – taking a deep breath, closing our eyes and managing to believe six impossible things before breakfast.
No – we are Christians because of the blood of Jesus.
Or, as John Calvin put it:
 “without the gospel, everything is useless and vain, without the gospel, we are not Christians”
At the wedding ceremony of Exodus 24 promises have been sealed in blood, so next the food – to intimacy secured by blood....

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Eating with Jesus! (Exodus 24)

We spent the weekend at Arborfield Church, with whom we're mission partners. It was an encouraging time to catch up, share on the work, share our lives together again, to be fueled for prayer. On Sunday I preached in their Exodus series on Exodus 24 - Eat with Jesus (25mins). I really enjoyed this thriling passage.
Central to it are these wow verses in the middle of the giving of the law (ch20-31):
...they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. (24v9-11)
1. The Wedding Ceremony - Promises sealed in blood
2. The Wedding Feast - Intimacy secured by blood
Main application point - it really is good to be a Christian, it's intimate friendship with God by the blood of Jesus. Secondary point, a challenge to hospitality since the Triune God seeks to eat with his people.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The whole of Exodus is a prophecy of the cross.

An brief attempt to summarise Exodus... It's all about the purposes of the jealous God to establish his relationship with his people, crushing the serpent seed who rules Egypt and who seeks to strike the woman's seed Israel (all very Genesis 3:16).

There's lots of fire... a firey bush, a plague of fire, a fire roasted lamb, a pillar of fire, a devouring fire on the mountain, offerings burned with fire, an idol burned in fire...

There's a lot of blood... the blood of firstborn sons, the bridegroom of blood, the river turned to blood, the blood of lambs, blood of bulls thrown on altars and on the people...

In chapters 1-18 Jesus fights for his people to save them through the blood of a lamb painted over the doors, and through the death and resurrection of the reed sea, bringing them to the Mountain. The jealous God will have his first born son and defeat the tyrant Pharaoh. It's about liberation from slavery through dark skies and blood and water to reach a mountain.  It's about the cross.

And in chapters 19-40 it’s all about the Triune God dwelling with the people Jesus saved out of Egypt. There is law but it is evidently a way of distinctive living for the liberated - until Christ comes, and the bulk of isn't the ten commandments but the instructions about the tabernacle which are prophetic of Jesus' ministry through the cross. Moses goes to see the heavenly tabernacle so that he can construct a model of it. To see the place where Jesus forever establishes through his death fellowship between the Triune God and his people, catching them up into his life. It's about the cross, where ultimately intimate friendship between the jealous God and his people will be established.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Using Biblical Narrative in Conversations

That's the title for a seminar I'm doing at the end of the month. I have some ideas floating around my head for it.  I think I'll want to cover something on the overall shape of the Bible's narrative, and on the brilliance and importance of narrative in the Bible.

But beyond that, what would you cover?

Preaching is about the How? And the Wow!

“they saw God and ate and drank” (Exodus 24:11)

That's the centre of the text I'm preaching on Sunday (Exodus 24).
Two key responses: First, wow! And then how did that happen?
My sermon must unpack the how? And the gospel really drips off the page in Exodus 24 which leads to the next thing... Preaching is for the wow too.

Being informed about how isn't enough, the Scriptures reveal God and so they drive us to worship, otherwise as a wise man once said my sermon would be an idolatrous abomination.
So I'm crying out:

Praise to Jesus who saved a people out of Egypt. Praise to Jesus who invited the elders to come into his presence.  Praise to the one who revealed himself to Moses, and came to them by his word.  Praise to the one who called them to be holy as he is holy.  Praise to the one who who revealed himself and his gospel through the law. Praise to the one who would come from this people, imprisoned under law for 1400 years.  Praise to the one who the blood Moses threw over the people points to - blood of bulls and goats couldn't cleanse and perfect and bring forgiveness, but Jesus blood has done it all.  Praise to the one by whose blood we can come too. Praise to the one who didn't kill the unholy blood-splattered elders but laid his life down for them.  Praise to the one who stands on the sapphire pavement (and sits on the sapphire throne - Ezk 1).  Praise to the one whose glory shines, and who comes to be with his people. Praise to the one who appears unapproachable, but whose next word was to reveal the tabernacle. And praise to the one who would offer himself in the heavenly tabernacle and consign Moses' model tabernacle to being obsolete. Praise to the one whose appearance is the appearance of the glory of the LORD, like a devouring fire but who says come, see and eat and drink. Praise to Jesus, and his Father, through the Spirit.

Taste the story of God: Because the Father sent his Son we get to eat with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, by the Spirit.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What to say about the Holy Spirit?

In September I'll be teaching at UCCF's national student leaders conference, with a colleague, on the subject of Transformed by the Gracious God. Sessions 1 and 2 focus on the Father and the Son, and so on the third day we'll focus on The Holy Spirit. What to cover? The track is meant to give a gospel-centred, Trinitarian take on discipleship and change in the Christian life.

I'm finding David Watson to be helpful. He was a charismatic Anglican evangelist who died of cancer in 1984, aged 50. Converted under the Bash camps of E.J.H. Nash he was encouraged to pursue baptism of the Spirit by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. His 1973 book One in the Spirit is based on talks done at a UCCF conference in 1972, and 38 years on the material is still fresh and helpful, thoughtful, engaging widely and persuasively.

So far, I'm thinking we'll talk about

1. The Spirit and the gospel - regeneration, conviction, being sealed, and in relation to our relationship with the Father which is expressed in the Son by the Spirit). We'll have covered some of this in the previous sessions so this will be a brief treatment in the introduction.

2. Being filled with the Spirit - on which Watson is particularly helpful. This remains controversial but I tend to find it more fruitful to consider than ignore things. I'd like to consider varying positions, how to be filled with the Spirit and what the evidences of that would be.

Watson argues that all Christians agree that all Christians have the Holy Spirit (Rom 8v9), and all Christians agree, from Ephesians 5, that we're not all filled with the Spirit but need to go on being filled. We don't need something different to what we started with - but we all want more. Rooted and built up and filled. All by grace.

He agrees that not all Christian agree about the term baptism in the Spirit but goes on to argue that baptism is linked with Christian initiation, is a plunging word, implies being initiated and overwhelmed, and that love and power are more important that which terminology we use (whether receiving/baptism/filing with the Spirit)

Leaning then on Watson to some extent... there seem to be a variety of different ways and evidences in what follows. The Bible is a bit messy on this. It's evident I'm drawing doctrine here from narrative, but if we can argue from Acts for persuasive preaching I think we can ask what Acts teaches us about the ministry of the Spirit in our lives too.

How do we get filled with the Spirit?
Repenting in response to hearing the gospel (Acts 2v38),
Or, Ask in the Father in the name of the Son (Luke 11v1-13),
Or, Hear the word of the gospel (Acts 10v44, 11v15),
Or, Thirst/desire after the righteousness of Christ (Matt 5v6),
Or, By the laying on of hands (Acts 8v7, 9v17, 19v6)
Or, Hearing the gospel with faith (Galatians 3v2)

How do you know if you have been?
Others can tell (Acts 10v45)
Or, Speaking the gift of tongues and praise to God for his gospel (Acts 10v46)
Or, Comfort and encouragement in the gospel. (Acts 9v31)
Or, Power to speak the gospel (Acts 1v8)
Or, Ability to speak in other languages to people about Jesus (Acts 2v4)
Or, Speaking in tongues, prophesying (Acts 19v6)

3. The fruit of the Spirit - being transformed to love the church. The whole track is largely rooted in Galatians and this will consider Galatians 5. As Galatians 3 says we start by the Spirit, and we go on by the Spirit. Saved by grace, live by grace. And that's not a work but the fruit of the Spirit in our hearts. True freedom.

4. The gifts of the Spirit - to serve the church, from 1 Cor 12-14. Grace gifts from the Spirit to build the church up as the body of Christ to the glory of Christ.

We'll be speaking to a broad evangelical constituency which means I want to honour a range of positions but doesn't mean I have to hide my own convictions. If you were me, what would you want to include? 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Preachers Toolbox: A Sense of Humour

Preachers get taught skills but it's obvious that without a changed heart it doesn't matter how technically skillful you are. Peter Leithart take things from a fresh angle - considering texts like music and jokes.

He argues in Deep Exegesis that Shrek is a goldmine of hermeneutical insight. Everything funny depends on knowing information that the film doesn't provide from the canon of nursery rhymes, fairy tales and pop culture... you can see that in the torture scene about the muffin man, or the matrix scene in the forest and so on:
"Shrek is impenetrable unless the viewer comes armed with a chase of nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and recollections from pop culture. a view ignorant of these resources does not miss some marginal features of the film; he misses the entire meaning. He does not get it." (p115)
So it can often be when we come to the text of the Bible:
"Every text is a joke, and a good interpreter is one with a good sense of humor, one with a broad knowledge and the wit to know what bits of knowledge are relevant. All interpretation is a matter of getting it." (p115)
Filtering the knowledge is surely a spiritual matter. And so:
"If interpretation is more like getting a joke than it is like dissecting a frog, then only certain kinds of people will be good interpreters. If texts are jokes, no strictly procedural hermeneutics will do. Rather, a "humorneutical" approach emphasizes instead the character of the interpreter. What, after all, can one do with someone who has no sense of humor? Analysis and teaching might improve things marginally, but that person's main problem is not technical but a spiritual one: somebody without a sense of humor suffers from a contracted soul, and the only real solution is conversion. Interpretive skills can be taught and improved, but only the glad of heart makes good readers."  (p139)
The preacher needs a lively heart to read the Bible. And, to laugh heartily when looking in the mirror too.

Buy: Deep Exegesis - Peter Leithart

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Simple Things

Carla nails the heart of the preacher:
"It's silly but I feel a self imposed pressure to be able to say something smart or original when it comes to talking about God, but time and again it's the simple things he inspires or challenges me with... grace, love, the gospel... if it's my lot, to only speak simply, for the rest of my life. To be unimpressive and at times probably quite obvious, then I am still in. Even the simplest things about the Father, Son and Spirit are engrossing when my mind is switched on and my heart is ready to be moved."
More of that please! And you can download Carla Harding on Trinity and Community at Revelation Church, Chichester (27mins):
"...a glimpse into the nature of God... Trinity... Father, Son and Spirit...   not an inanimate object but personality, we're supposed to spend our whole lives getting to know Jesus, falling in love with him... at the centre of this Trinity is relationship, God is a community. Father, Son and Spirit loving... we see them together... they work together, they love each other, God didn't create us because he was bored or lonely, he created us as an overspilling of his love...  and this love propels us with the world and one another..."

REVIEW: Rescuing Ambition (Dave Harvey)

Dave Harvey is a leader within Sovereign Grace Ministries and the author of When Sinners Say I Do, which is an excellent book on marriage. A rare example of seriousness about sin and abundance of grace. Last week I spent 24 hours at the Sovereign Grace Ministries church planting conference in South Wales. Dave Harvey was the guest speaker and delivered some of the content of this book. The book was a conference freebie.

Ambition has a bad reputation but Harvey distinguishes between selfish-ambition and gospel-ambition. The former is clearly bad, but the gospel frees us to pursue the glory of God. We prefer the glory that comes from man, but God has shown us his glory in the person of the Lord Jesus (see John 12 for more on that). Hearing Harvey preach this material was a piercing experience, knowing Jesus expose the subtle tendency I have to draw attention to myself, to steal glory from God and advance my own name.

Harvey teaches out of his own wrestle with the application of the gospel in this area. He is a self-confessed Daveaholic, a lover of Daveology and I can really sympathise with that! And yet the gospel calls me on to pursue Jesus, and Harvey is a welcome help along the way. I highly recommend this book. It's scriptural and it's marked by a clear gospel-centredness that I see evident in the lives of others in Harvey's church family, and from his own preaching. I will benefit from giving it a slow re-read. Not spotless but unmasked and open to show weakness and inviting challenge from others.
"the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day" (Isaiah 2:17)
In Harvey and those around him I see people who do not take themselves seriously though they take the gospel very seriously - the polar opposite of selfish-ambition which results in a lack of concern for the gospel and a high view of self. Rescued ambition is the opposite of haughtiness and the embodiment of humility. Such people are determined to see the church built and the gospel advanced, and to play whatever role in that God would have them take.
"[Isaiah] saw his glory and spoke of him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God." (John 12:41-43)
This book sits well alongside CJ Mahaney's books Living the cross centred life and Humility as an example of how to carefully apply the gospel. It'll be a bit uncomfortable but you'll know yourself taken deeper into the grace of God, with a focus on the life and work of Jesus and the overwhelming priority of character change.

See: and Co-mission conference - audio/video to follow. Sermons from Dave Harvey's church on ambition: Part 1Part 2Part 3

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Together on a Mission 2010

TOAM Highlights 2010 from Newfrontiers on Vimeo.

Divine design is an ever spreading goodness

Genesis 1 and 2 paint a picture of the world. Who knows if they're a decent science text book or not, what they are is brilliant literature. In chapter 1 we see a empty, formless, dark world overcome by the Triune God who establishes the beginning of fullness, form and light - coming out of himself with overflowing blessing, through the Son, and creating a world of other-cented fruitful, multiplying blessers...

In chapter 2 we take a different camera angle. We see the formless and empty wilderness. Then two things happen. A garden is planted in the east, on Mount Eden - from which rivers flow to spread life to the world. And in view of the commission of the previous chapter, this garden will be extended to fill the whole world.

From the dead dust of the wilderness the LORD makes the first man, breathing life into him. Life flowing from God to man, always a spreading goodness. Through the word, by the breath, let there be man. Man is then placed in the garden to work and keep it. This is temple language, appropriate to a mountain where Man and God can meet. One man in the temple from which blessing should flow to the whole world. The first Adam foreshadow's the second Adam - in whom a vast people will fill the world with blessing.

So far so good. Then not so good. Not because there is moral corruption but something isn't right. We were shown the man alone to point to Christ, but no longer should the man be alone. Instead he should have a helper. A necessary other. Just like the persons of the Trinity aloneness isn't right - life comes in relationship. The creatures aren't the right helper. So a deep (deathly) sleep comes on the man who is then wounded, and from his wounds comes woman, from man. The LORD could have made woman from dust like man, but she is made from him - they belong together. They were one flesh and are then rejoined in marriage. The passage points beyond itself to establish human marriage, leaving parents to join together which Adam and his bride never did. Their union is perfect - naked and unashamed in the first temple, sent to fill the world with life.

Then Paul commentates and says this is truly about Christ and the church (and marriage), for a vision of the man with his bride in Eden is nothing less than a prefiguration of gospel reality. A picture to make wilderness-wandering Israelites ask what has gone wrong - they're not in Eden any more? And to make us long for the better global garden and the perfect marriage of Christ and his bride.

Images of Eden by Falmouth CU members Anna Tabori, Steven Feven and Elisa Cunningham.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

In the company of his people

Helpful post from Mark Thompson: The priority of relationships.
He cites D.B.Knox:
The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him in the company of his people forever.
Which is probably an even more welcome modification to the Westminster Shorter Catechism than John Piper makes. In the company of his people is of course not going to be a closed fellowship - since the relationships of the Triune God are a spreading goodness, the Father sending the Son, the sending of the Spirit... there is intimacy and there is expansion. Both tie in with the observations that the son of man came out from his Father sowing the word, and eating and drinking...

ht: David Kirkman.

Monday, July 05, 2010

REVIEW: Gracism (David Anderson)

One of the best books I've read this year is Owen Hylton's Crossing the Divide. David Anderson's Gracism stands influentially behind that book. David Anderson is a leader of a multicultural church and is seeking to overthrow racism and other similar divisiveness in the church by proposing the art of inclusion, called gracism.

"I define gracism as the positive extension of favour on other humans based on colour, class or culture"

Which might sound like an annoyingly Christianised version of positive discrimination.  And  you could read it that way. But actually what we find in this book is a careful unpacking of 1 Corinthians 12's teaching on the body, which is far more subversive than some kind of politically correct agenda.

From 1 Corinthians 12 Anderson develops seven sayings of a gracist: I will lift you up, I will cover you, I will share with you, I will honour you, I will stand with you, I will consider you, I will celebrate with you.

Too rarely are these my instincts, yet they are the instincts of the gospel. Anderson paints an attainable picture of the application of the gospel, set in ordinary church life. Much of it is filtered through racial examples but there are challenging illustrations from other areas of life too, and the applications and implications to other contexts are easy to do. If you're involved in University Christian Unions this would be a very good book to read to think well about unity.
"When you or I have the power to criticize another denomination, ministry, class or group, let's not take aim and fire. Let's power down and cover the body of Christ with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Attitudes and behaviours such as these will lead us down the road to reconciliation much faster... it is incumbent upon those with power or privilege to take on the responsibility to protect and cover those who don't have them" (p67-68)
This book is a breath of fresh air for the church that would help us to treat one another more lovingly. Like Hylton's book this helps us to embrace rather than ignore diversity, to respect one another more seriously and therefore to love better. The kind of communities that attempt gracism might just get close to Jesus' vision of a people who love one another.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Jesus comes out from his Father to sow the word (Mark 4:1-20)

This morning I kicked off a summer series in parables at with church. It was a great meeting - great prophetic words calling us to come and listen, and meet with Jesus which I felt really set us up for The Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:1-20. The Father says of his son (9:7) that we should listen to him, so that's what we sought to do. Mark 4 is all talking and about talking, listening and hearing.

DOWNLOAD MP3: Listen to Jesus (35mins)

I'm not sure how good a preach it was, it has been a real wrestle to prepare it mostly because it gets to the inner workings of parables and the doctrine of election, which are neither easy on the mind or on the heart. The passage forces you to speak of Jesus the judge whilst seeking to convey the lavish grace of Jesus coming from his Father to sow the life giving word. It's about 18 verses of the former and only two of the latter, so it should feel hard work, but I'm not sure I gave enough air to the "good" - did I have people believing in the word to judge and blown away that Jesus has given them life through the word? I'm not sure. The feedback has been positive but I found it one of the hardest to have preached.

All that said, it'd be easy to dodge or overlook it - but the only way to go is to ask Jesus to give you ears to hear and listen in. Mark 4v12 we're forced to face up to Jesus saying he uses parables to stop some people from repenting - and he tells of how many will turn away, seemingly reasonably, because of the world, the flesh and the devil. Outsiders hear and go no-where. The loss is devastating and weighty.
We asked the question: Why does Jesus use parables.
Answer 1: to tell us where we stand with him
Answer 2: to call us to know him.
At the same time the shocking punchline is that there will be a vast harvest which almost looks like exaggeration. But it comes from the mouth of the one who told all creation to be fruitful and multiply - so it's not all that strange. I think it partly equates to "the word spread and the number of disciples increase" but perhaps more to the relational fruitfulness that Jesus would have with us as he comes to us by his word. Insiders are given, by the great giver, the secret of the kingdom, namely the king.
God comes to us clothed in the word of gospel as Jesus speaks to us. Here is the beloved son of the Father. Here is the bridegroom. His Father loves him and sends him out in love, and he loves us by laying his life down to bring us to himself. 
Here is the God of Isaiah 6; the one who sat on the throne burning in holiness. Isaiah saw him on his throne. Isaiah didn’t block his ears. He didn’t walk away. He didn’t look for something more attractive. No, he fell down on his face and wept for his unclean lips – his unclean heart. The one on the throne came out and atoned for his sin, gave him clean lips, a new heart. The beloved son came and laid down his life for him.
Faced with Jesus, he knew he had a hard heart – and he cried out to Jesus to save him.
He didn’t try to fix himself – all eyes on Jesus. Jesus who, this morning, walks off the pages of Mark’s gospel into our lives. Jesus comes from his Father to give himself to us – speaking his fruitful gospel word to those who will trust him.
It seems to me that here in Mark 4, the one who is on the throne in Isaiah 6 and comissioned Isaiah to go and harden hearts, comes out from his throne, sowing the seed that is the fruitful word of the gospel, and through it he judges those with hard hearts but also invites any who will 'listen' to hear, accept and bear fruit. He invites me to listen and to keep on listening - not to gather knowledge but to actually know him, relationally. Those who walk away don't misunderstand, they mislove; they're not stupid, they have hard hearts. And we all start out dead hearted - but Jesus comes out looking for us. The one who spoke the world into being, comes out to engage our hearts - to win us to himself - to give us new hearts, to give him himself to us.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Different Stories of Pixar and Dreamworks

Alex Charchar compares the stories and branding of Pixar and Dreamworks.

"Pixar is a billion dollar company because it knows how to tell a story. They know how important it is and that without a strong story at the core, all the technical wizardry and aesthetic mastery of their films would be overly sweet... When there is a lack of a story—of an idea—there is nothing but average design to be found." Stories their brands tell

Friday, July 02, 2010

Tongues, Prophecy and Parables

I'm not including this in Sunday's sermon on Mark 4:1-20 but it's been a thought I've had along the way about these three forms of verbal communication, all of which take their foundations from the ministry of Isaiah.
"22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you." (1 Corinthians 14)
Tongues without interpretation are a sign for unbelievers of their hardness and judgement. When an outsider comes into a Christian meeting and hears an uninterpretted tongue they walk away saying Christians are crazy. This is not a good outcome.

When tongues are given an interpretation they surely operate like prophecy as a sign for believers. A sign pointing towards belief - to repentance. A sign that, because the prayer or prophecy is gospelicious, leads to conviction of sin, repentance, worship and awareness of the presence of God. This is a very good outcome.
"11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.” (Mark 4)
Parables lurk somewhere in between tongues and prophecy. In the way they function in relation to the human heart. They're a language that can be understood but they stop people from perceiving and understanding spiritually (since real spiritual understanding is a matter of heart not of thinking). They do this to stop the hard hearted and spiritually dead from repenting, instead hardening them for judgement. Whereas for the soft hearted a parable sown brings the secret of the kingdom, the fruitful gospel of Jesus.


REVIEW: Pursuing a heavenly vision (Stewart Keiller)

Charismatics can have a reputation for being theologically-lite but Stewart's pokey office in the recesses of the vast Art Deco cinema that Bath City Church own was stacked with serious books, including a desk lined with an an ESV study Bible and a Grudem Systematic Theology etc. Some stereotypes just need breaking.

That said, what Stewart gives us in this book isn't dense theology but a well rooted call to action. He's not showing all his working but he is taking texts seriously.

"This isn't really a 'how to have a vision' book, it is a 'poke' to live life a different way... a provocation...[to] cause the army of the people of God to get up, move out! ...We are a people who have got a mission and mandate from the King of kings..."

This book is a punchy rallying call to the church to be who she is. To take seriously what the Bible says, and to live in the heavenly reality that Jesus and the apostles knew.

In his chapter on Open Heaven he observes how Stephen saw heaven torn open, how Jesus said the same of himself, and raises expectation that this should be normal for the church - an outpost of heaven on earth. He calls for an expectation for signs and wonders but above all "The real deal is conversions. The real sign of an open heaven is multiple conversions - people literally propelled into faith and the kingdom...  I am not interested in increasing numbers on the basis of selling them a life-after-death insurance policy; no we are called to 'make disciples'... believers with guts and passion." (p53-54)

This call to action is rooted in the reality of who we are in Christ. The chapter Staying on track is a refreshing reminder of this... "As the Father's adopted kids, we have the privilege of gaining access to him whenever we want." This book isn't clever or full of caveats and expectation-lowering-exceptions, it's straight-forward evangelical taking the Bible seriously stuff.

Stewart Keiller is leader of Bath City Church which was the church I was a member of as a student between 1997-2000. I also worked for him for a few months during the dotcom boom, lodged with his family, and he gave me a free copy of this book when I caught up with him this week.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Tri-Unity is Relational

There's this phenomenon in the evangelical church of conservatives and charismatics who too often stand opposed and apart from one another. There are many ways to characterise these groups, but one is this: conservatives tend to do their unity on paper with clear doctrinal statements, where charismatics favour relationships and are less concerned about writing things down. I'm generalising....

I work for UCCF and we have a "doctrinal basis" which is a statement of core evangelical doctrine. It's often called "the DB" which beyond the comedy association with my initials is a nonsense. Why? Because a "basis" on it's own is nonsense. As "basis" must be the basis of something. And in this case it's the basis (in doctrine) of the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship. Which, to state the obvious, is a f-e-l-l-o-w-s-h-i-p.

A fellowship isn't something that comes about automatically. It's true to say I can gladly have fellowship with anyone who agrees with the doctrinal basis of the UCCF. It's not true to say that I have fellowship with everyone who does. Fellowship is about relationship. Paul and Peter could have fellowship but they didn't until they started having fellowship (Galatians 2) - they met, they spoke, they shook hands, they agreed, and they ate together until Peter stood up, broke fellowship, and denied the gospel, but that's another story.

The unity between the persons of the Triune God certainly has agreement on the doctrine of the gospel - obviously, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are on the same page about the plan! But they have fellowship because they love one another. They find their identity in their relationships with one another, they find their life in one another. 

I'm not saying that doctrinal agreement doesn't matter. Trinitarian fellowship is inherently missional since our God is, and if you're pulling in different directions you might be "friends" but fellowship is too strong a term to use. But doctrinal agreement is never enough. Relationship is what is needed. And that takes one person reaching out to another in friendship - saying it's not good for me to be alone, I want to walk with you, I want to learn from you, I want to serve you, I want to pray for you, I want to stand with you, I want to lift you up, I want to work for your success even if it cost me mine, I want to cover you, I want to defend you, I want to celebrate with you. I make no claim to being the great peacemaker, but I'm offering my hand.

As someone who has a foot in both classic evangelical camps - which fits my churchmanship in Newfrontiers, and my work in UCCF - I want to stand holding out my hand in both directions - who am I to stand apart from those Jesus has put together? Who am I do to "my own thing" when there are brothers and sister I could stand shoulder to shoulder with? Who am I to divide what God as joined?

My marriage was confirmed in writing. We signed documents. We wouldn't be married without that. But a marriage that exists only in documents of registration is no marriage at all. A marriage takes love and relationship and the joining together of what God has joined. The Triune God means for us to stand together - not pretending the differences and difficulties aren't there, but nonetheless standing together in love.

My perception is that the divides are narrower than they used to be but it's still going to take some faith to build and cross the bridges. A piece of paper wont fix it - it'll take dying-to-self men and women to reach out surprisingly, to risk being rebuffed, to "risk" forming relationships. To be people who go out of ourselves, just as the Son was sent into this world to gather us up into the Triune life, and not just to some vague association and paper-thin connection, but into intimate fellowship - the-eat-and-drink-together, I'd-die-for-you kind of fellowship.

What's stopping you?

See also: Exercises in Trinitarian Community and Jesus had a mission strategy