Sunday, October 31, 2010

Knocking on the door (Halloween & Reformation Day)

Richard Walker recommends James Jordan's take on Halloween - take the opportunity to laugh at evil in it's defeat as the gospel triumphs....  something similar to what a confident reformer might begin to celebrate since today is traditionally both All Hallow's Eve and Reformation Day, marking the day Luther nailed his second set of theses to a Wittenberg door. The 95 contended against Catholic abuses, the former 97 against doctrinal errors of Scholastic theology, a mixing of Christianity with Aristotle.

Richard Sibbes reflected on Luther's Reformation as a good thing but one that can quickly fade:
"For over 60 years (since the Reformation began) we have lived under the ministry of the gospel. This land has been Goshen, a land of light, when many other places are in darkness. The light shines in a more abundant measure. Ministers have been sent, and variety of gifts. There has been piping and mourning, as Christ complains in his time, that they were like froward children, that neither sweet piping nor doleful mourning .would move to be tractable to their fellows. ‘They had John, who came mourning,' Matt. 11:17, and Christ comforting with blessing in his mouth. For all the ministry of the gospel, how little room is given to Christ? Many are indifferent and lukewarm either way, but rather incline to the worst. What judgment will come! Let us labour to hold Christ, to entertain him. Let him have the best room in our souls, to dwell in our hearts. Let us give up the keys to him, and desire him to rule our understandings, to know nothing but him, and what may stand with his truth, not to yield to any error or corruption. "
Christ knocks at the door, open it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

How do I become a Christian?

When people hear the gospel the Holy Spirit works in them to persuade and convert them to a whole new life in Christ, but it's then good for them to voice what has happened, to speak to their Father in heaven. Evangelist Joseph Alleine (1634-1668) in his book "Alarm to the Unconverted" (now published as "A Sure Guide to Heaven") offers this 1000 word prayer that someone becoming a Christian could pray, or indeed any old Christian would benefit from...
'O most holy God, because of the cross of Your Son, accept Your poor prodigal now prostrating himself at Your door. I have fallen from You by my iniquity, and am by nature a son of death, and a thousand-fold more the child of hell by wicked practice. But of Your infinite grace You have promised mercy to me in Christ, if I will but turn to You with all my heart. Therefore, upon the call of Your gospel, I am now come in, and throwing down my weapons, submit myself to Your mercy. And because You require, as the condition of my peace with You, that I should put away my idols, and be at defiance with all Your enemies, which I acknowledge I have wickedly sided with against You, I here from the bottom of my heart renounce them all, firmly covenanting with You, not to allow myself in any known sin—but conscientiously to use all the means that I know You have prescribed for the death and utter destruction of all my corruptions.
'And whereas formerly I have inordinately and idolatrously set my affections upon the world, I do here resign my heart to You who made it, humbly declaring before Your glorious Majesty, that it is the firm resolution of my heart, and that I do sincerely desire grace from You, that when You shall call me to, I may make it my resolution through Your assistance, to forsake all that is dear unto me in this world, rather than to turn from You to the ways of sin; and that I will watch against all its temptations, whether of prosperity or adversity, lest they should withdraw my heart from You. Help me against the temptations of Satan, to whose wicked suggestions I resolve by Your grace never to yield myself a servant. And because my own righteousness is but as filthy rags, I renounce all my confidence therein, and acknowledge that I am of myself a hopeless, helpless, undone creature, without righteousness or strength.
'And forasmuch as You have of Your bottomless mercy offered most graciously to me, a wretched sinner, to be again my God through Christ, if I would accept You; I call upon heaven and earth to record this day, that I do here solemnly avouch You for the Lord my God, and with all possible veneration, bowing the neck of my soul under the feet of Your most sacred Majesty, I do here take You the Lord Jehovah, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for my portion and chief good, and do give myself, body and soul, to be Your servant, promising and vowing to serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of my life. 'And since You have appointed the Lord Jesus Christ the only means of coming unto You, I do here solemnly join myself in a marriage covenant to Him.
'O Blessed Jesus, I come to You hungry and thirsty, poor and wretched, miserable, blind and naked, a most loathsome polluted wretch, a guilty condemned criminal, unworthy to wash the feet of the servants of my Lord, much more to be solemnly married to the King of Glory. But such is Your unparalleled love, I do here with all my power accept You, and do take You for my Head and Husband, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, for all times and conditions, to love, honor and obey You before all others, and this to the death. I embrace You in all Your offices. I renounce my own worthiness, and do here avow You to be the Lord my Righteousness. I renounce my own wisdom, and do here take You for my only Guide. I renounce my own will, and take Your will for my law.
'And since You have told me that I must suffer if I will reign, I do here covenant with You to take my lot, as it falls, with You, and by Your grace assisting to run all hazards with You, truly supposing that neither life nor death shall part between You and me.
'And because You have been pleased to give me Your holy laws, as the rule of my life, and the way in which I should walk to Your kingdom, I do here willingly put my neck under Your yoke, and set my shoulder to Your burden; and subscribing to all Your laws as holy, just, and good, I solemnly take them as the rule of my words, thoughts, and actions; promising that though my flesh contradict and rebel—yet I will endeavor to order and govern my whole life to Your direction, and will not allow myself to neglect anything that I know to be my duty.
'Only because through the frailty of my flesh, I am subject to many failings, I am bold humbly to request, that unintentional shortcomings, contrary to the settled bent and resolution of my heart, shall not make void this covenant, for so You have said.
'Now, Almighty God, Searcher of hearts, You know that I make this covenant with You this day, without any known guile or reservation, beseeching You, that if You espy any flaw or falsehood therein, You would reveal it to me, and help me to do it aright.
'And now, O God the Father, whom I shall be bold from this day forward to look upon as my God and Father, glory be to You for finding out such a way for the recovery of undone sinners. Glory be to You, O God the Son, who have loved me and washed me from my sins in Your own blood, and are now become my Savior and Redeemer. Glory be to You, O God the Holy Spirit, who by the finger of Your almighty power, has turned about my heart from sin to God.
'O high and holy Jehovah, the Lord God Omnipotent, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, You are now become my covenant Friend, and I through Your infinite grace am become Your covenant servant. Amen, so be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.'
You'd be fairly well discipled, married to Christ the life-giving husband, by the time you finish praying that!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sam Storms on Spirit-led pastors

Sam Storms is well worth listening to. I highly recommend his books Convergence, Signs of the Spirit, and others.

The Spirit Led Pastor from Acts 29 Network on Vimeo.

Anointed with the Spirit of Grace (Richard Sibbes)

Here's some Sibbes from his sermon "Yes and Amen"
As the ointment that was poured upon Aaron ran down to 'the skirts of his garment,' so the weakest Christian is established with grace by Christ. Grace runs from the Head to the poorest member, 'the hem of the garment.' Every one that even touches Christ, draws virtue and strength from him.

What are the virtues of this ointment?

1. It has a cherishing power; it revives the drooping soul, and cheers a fainting spirit. When men are ready to sink under the burden of their sins, this eases them.

2. Anointing has a strengthening power. It makes our limbs vigorous. Grace fortifies the soul. Our life is a combating life with Satan, and temptations of all sorts; therefore we need continual anointing to make us nimble and active in resisting our enemy. Oil has a suppling quality; so the Spirit of God makes pliable the joints of the soul. It supports us with hidden strength, and enables us to encounter great oppositions, and to be victorious through Christ over all. Grace is little in quantity, but it is mighty in operation. It carries the soul through difficulties; nothing can stand in the way of a gracious man, no, not the gates of hell. The spirit of grace that is in a Christian is stronger than he that is in the world. 'A grain of mustard seed,' the very least measure of true. holiness, is stronger than the greatest measure of opposition. A Christian's strength lies out of himself. He never over comes by his own power: 'He can do all things through Christ assisting him,' Philip, 4:13. ' Otherwise he is a most impotent creature, unable to do or suffer anything, ready to give over at the least trouble, and sink under every pressure of affliction.

3. Ointment does excellently delight and refresh our spirits; as we see the box in the gospel, when it was opened, the whole house smelled of it, John 12:3. Grace is a wondrous sweet thing. Before we are anointed with the Spirit of Christ, with establishing grace, what are we but a company of nasty, abominable persons in the eyes of God? That which makes a man sweet is grace. By nature we are noisome and offensive in the nostrils of Almighty God but his grace in Christ makes us pleasant and amiable to him.. A wicked man is a vile man, an ulcerous, deformed creature but grace is of a healing nature.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is Trinity just a System you're imposing on God?

Something has changed in my thinking in the last few years. Trinity has moved from p226 of Systematic Theology (as in Grudem) to having to be on page 1.
Am I just imposing a system?
Yes, but I had a system before. The question is, is my system Biblical or not? Everyone is a theologian, the question is am I a good theologian or a rubbish theologian. The same applies to atheists and their atheology.

As I've got into church history I've been humbled to find that my old approach was shaped by a lot of philosophical thinking that seems to persist in the church, the legacy of the Aristotle-shaped Aquinas and others. This meant my view of 'God' was a being with attributes rather than one who makes himself known to us personally.

In this I was prone to an error of Arius who considered God firstly as the 'unoriginate'. Arius would pray "O God, the Everlasting God, Uncreated One, always the same..." but Jesus taught us to pray to his Father and our's, as "Our Father in heaven" a daddy prayer taught by the one who came down to find us to bring us back. Athanasius addresses this and reminds us that the place we come to know God is in the person of Jesus who comes to us as the Son, who has a Father. Here God is not the divine law-giver, the decree-maker, the powerful-creator or the block-of-concrete who rules and never changes, but the Father who is well pleased with his beloved Son. Here Christianity is going to be all about Christ.

This approach means my 'system' is centred upon the gospel, and cashes out with God who is personal, and whom I know firstly as the Father who sent his Son to the cross to bring me, with the rest of his people, into relationship with him, in his renewed creation. It's this gospel-dynamic that then shapes everything else. This is warmer and bigger than the alternative angle which tends to sound more like a Jehovah's Witness, High Church, Islamic approach to thinking about a god who is distant and impersonal - and ends up being individualistic religion rather than life in community with God and people. The God of the Bible is the one who we live to know, to find our life in his sheer love for us  - the God who is the loving Father with a beautiful Son who sends the person of the Holy Spirit to live within us.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How come new Christians are so full of joy and then that fades?

I had the privilege of spending several hours with Cat at Starbucks in Plymouth today. Part of our time was guided by Paul from Galatians 3:1-14. We're reading through this this year as we seek to lay foundations for ministry, and I'm loving it.

We reflected on how amazing it is to see the joy of new Christians students and also how it sometimes seems those who have been Christians longer lose some (or all) of that joy. You know the kind of Christian who says, "you should be a Christian, it's rubbish and I feel really rubbish but you should be a Christian, just like you should go to see the Dentist."

Paul's question in Galatians 4 of "what has happened to your joy?" seems alarmingly relevant.
Paul sets up two approaches to Christianity in Galatians 3.

Christianity is concerned with having received the Spirit and continuing, and this happens by "hearing with faith" and the alternative is labelled two ways - "works of the law" and "flesh". The Galatians started as people receiving the Spirit and seeing miracles happen, not because they performed but all because they heard the gospel and believed. A gospel that is concerned with God's blessing for all peoples that comes as he gives himself to us - the promised Holy Spirit. Just as with a marriage the great thing is you get the person you marry, their stuff might be great but we marry to have the person, so the gospel is about bringing us to God. Great grounds for joy!

Confusingly and foolishly and bewilderingly the Galatians swap faith in the gospel word and hence life in the Spirit for works of law and flesh. For religion and do-it-yourself living. What happens? Joy disappears. Life fades, and you get the kind of phenomenon that we observe happening as a Christian apparently "matures" and we pat them on the back for getting over their early enthusiasm and getting on with joy-so-deep-you-can't-see-it. Except Paul wouldn't call it a move to maturity - he'd call it the drowning out of the gospel, the sinking of the gospel, the abandonment of the gospel.

I suppose what happens is that well meaning Christians start to nudge the new Christian in all kinds of directions to stop doing certain things and start doing other things, you know like "don't sleep around and don't get drunk and do read the Bible and do pray" which makes being a Christian all about not doing and doing. Yet, being a Christian started out being "hear with faith the good news about Christ crucified, the one who loved you and gave himself for you so that you no longer live but only Christ lives..." which was noticeably all about Jesus rather than about us, and was cause for boundless joy.

Paul's word to us would be let's start with the gospel and grow up with the gospel, please don't poison new Christians, or older Christians, with the filth of religion and effort - what good is that? - let the gospel change lives, let the Spirit change lives, help one another with that by walking one another back to the gospel, loving and bearing with one another rather than rushing people to something that has an appearance of godliness but nothing more than a veneer. Win hearts to Jesus rather than to a miserable lifestyle.

Spurgeon on Acts 8:
"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, wants converting again."
(or at the very least needs a fresh filling with the Holy Spirit)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Love of God - Mike Reeves - mp3s

Today around 300 students and friends gathered from across the South West for our annual Transformission conference, where Mike Reeves preached Christ on the subject of the love of God. We challenged the idea that God is a Blancmange and a Speed Camera (who ever loved a speed camera?), not fundamentally a Law-Giver but a Lover.

Download the mp3s:Taste and see the loveliness of the Lord!
Love of God 1: The Loving Father 38mins
Love of God 2: The Glorious Son 36mins
Love of God 3: The Heart Melting Spirit 35mins

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

There is a Kind of Omnipotence in Faith (Richard Sibbes)

Richard Sibbes said that faith is about apprehending the love of God in Christ. He then writes in Bowels Opened 8 of 20 of the effect this love has upon us. Sibbes offers eleven answers in this sermon to the question of how we may come out of spiritual laziness to attain a spiritual taste and relish of heavenly things again, expounding from The Song of Songs 5:3.
This is from the ninth part of his answer which is to see that sin is the greatest evil and grace and goodness are the best things in this world:
"There is a kind of omnipotence in faith, 'woman, be it to you as you will,' Mark 15:28. We have abundance of strength in Christ. Faith is but an empty hand, that goes to Christ to draw from him what it has need of; 'In Christ I can do all things.' So, to have our hearts warmed with love to him. This grace of the Spirit will make us pass through all discouragements, for it has a compelling power. 'The love of Christ compels us,' says the apostle, 2 Cor. 5:14.
If our hearts once be warmed with the love of Christ, this will make us to think nothing too dear for Christ, and will cut off all excuses and pretences whatsoever, which come from coldness of affection. 'Love is strong as death,' as we have it in this book,  'much water cannot quench it,' Song 8:6. All oppositions and discouragements whatsoever, all the water which the devil and the world has or uses, cannot quench the heavenly fire of love, when it is kindled in any measure.
What carried the blessed saints and martyrs of God in all times through discouragements? The Spirit of God, by the spirit of love, from a spirit of faith, and heavenly conviction of the excellence and truth of the things. They saw such a light, which wrought upon their affections, and carried them against the stream of the times in which they lived so that the worse the tunes were, the better they were."
We need to know this love strong as death, this unquenchable love. Let us take up the prayer of Ephesians 3:13ff, and invite the Spirit to show us the love of the Father in his Son to us afresh, he who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, in the church and in Christ...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

God is for us

Getting 'the gospel' right is key. It's a matter of much angst for us evangelicals. Galatians is so often my go-to book, and here's a little of why, from Charles Cousar

"The fundamental nature of the gospel is grace... the preaching of Christ's gospel will inevitably convey God's grace not in an abstract of theoretical fashion, but in terms of the particular human situation. It may include judgement as well as mercy, imperative as well as indicative, and appropriately so, if arising from or leading to the word that God is for us. If there is a test to be applied to preaching, it is this: Does it declare Jesus Christ as the unqualified liberator - from religious legalism or secular cynicism, from paralyzing apathy or frantic anxiety, from being oppressed or being the oppressor, from coward fear or brash self-reliance? And as Paul will go on to say in Galatians, does this preaching clarify what Christ as freed us for? Secondly, the gospel is more than a set of propositions about Christ, his death and resurrection (though obviously it can and must be so stated); it is a divine activity my mean of which people are drawn into the realm of God's grace. Paul makes a surprising equation. The Galatians who depart from the message they had previously accepted and followed the theology of the agitators are deserting not merely a doctrine but God himself, "him who called you". To abandon the gospel is to forsake God"

Charles Cousar on Galatians in the Interpretation Commentary

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Binding of the Heart with the Cords of Christ (Francis Quarles)

My sins made thee a cruel bondage prove
O bind my heart to thee with cord of love

Hosea 11:4 - I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.

My sins, I do confess a cord were found, 
heavy and hard by thee, when thou wast bound
Great Lord of love, with them; but thou hast twin'd, 
Gentle love-cords my tender heart to bind

What! could those hands,
That made the world, be subject unto bands?
Could there a cord be found,
Where with Omnipotence itself was bound?
Wonder, my heart, and stand amaz'd to see
The Lord of liberty
Led captive for thy sake, and in thy stead.
Although he did
Nothing deserving death, or bands, yet he
Was bound, and put to death, to see thee free

Thy sins had ty'd
Those bands for thee, wherein thou should'st have dy'd
And thou didst daily knit
Knots upon knots, whereby thou mad'st them sit
Closer and faster to thy faulty self.
Helpless and hopeless, friendless and forlorn
The sink of scorn,
And kennel of contempt, thou should'st have lain
Eternally enthrall'd to endless pain

Hand not the Lord
Of love and life been pleased to afford
His helping hand of grace,
And freely put himself into thy place
So were thy bands transferr'd, but not unty'd
Until the time he dy'd,
And by his death, vanquish'd and conquer'd all
That Adam's fall
Had made victorious, sin, death and hell,
Thy fatal foes, under his footstool fell.

Yet he meant not
That thou should'st use the liberty he got
As it should like thee best
To wander as thou lists, or to rest
In soft repose, careless of his commands:
He that hath loos'd those bands,
Whereby thou wast enslaved to the foes,
Binds thee with those
Wherewith he bound himself to do thee good,
The bands of love, love writ in lines of blood.

His love to thee
Made him to lay aside his majesty,
And, clothed in a vail
Of frail, though faultless flesh, become thy bail
But love requireth love: and since thou art
Loved by him, thy part
It is to love him too: and love affords
The strongest cords
That can be: for it ties, not hands alone,
But heads, and hearts, and souls, and all in one.

Come then, mine heart,
And freely follow the prevailing art
Of thy Redeemer's love.
That strong magnetic tie hath pow'r to move
The steel'st stubbornness. If thou but twine
And twist his love with thine
And, by obedience, labour to express
Thy thankfulness;
It will be hard to say on whether side
The bands are surest, which is fastest ty'd.

The Majesty of Christ and Two Different Kinds of Puritans

Bobby Grow, with Ron Frost on Richard Sibbes vs. William Perkins:
"Sibbes’ emphasis on the immediacy of the Spirit, instead of promoting an incipient Pietism, allows the person to be obsessed and consumed by the beauty and majesty of Christ. This approach emphasizes a Trinitarian approach to salvation, which has a high pneumatology, leading to an even higher Christology — as the person of Christ and his works are magnified in the bride/bridegroom relationship, between Christ and his Church."

To see what this looks like get a copy of Richard Sibbes - Glorious Freedom: The Excellency of the Gospel over the Law. 

Frost writes: "Christ’s communion with a believer is in some sense perceptible. Such experiences of communion, generally regarded as spontaneous increases of affection for Christ, transcend the law as a guide for behavior. As in marriage, the mutual commitment of love, rather than rule-driven behaviors, was seen to be the point of spiritual union. The Christian’s behavior is increasingly shaped by a devotion to Christ as accomplished by the Spirit...."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is Christianity Blind To Suffering?

Marcus Honeysett spoke at Cambridge CU on Is Christianity Blind To Suffering last week, and also on Is Christianity about being religious. Marcus writes:
I tried to set the subject in the context of real-world suffering and urged the students that the right response is not merely understanding but compassion. Instantly a very bright philosophy student accused me of being insultingly anti-intellectual, saying that it is critical to understand suffering from a philosophical point of view. The only reason that suffering people aren't interested in doing so, he claimed, is that their sufferings prevent them from seeing this clearly. If they weren't suffering they would see the matter clearly, as he felt he did. He vocalised the exact response I was trying to get them to avoid, in the process defining comprehension as the appropriate response to suffering.
I couldn't disagree more. Suffering and comprehension are in different categories. Comprehension is desirable, but it isn't an adequate response. Indeed I think it is a category mistake.
After the event I read an essay online by a young-ish graduate who was once part of of Cambridge Christian Union, on how he lost his faith and now believes that Christianity is false. It is a very thought-provoking piece of writing .. he says that evangelicals presented him with a faith that smoothed out rather than struggling with inconsistencies, that deliberately avoided the supernatural and offered easy, reductionist formulae when thoughtful depth was called for. He believes that he was presented with intellectual answers rather than with a living relationship with God, leaving him with a what he described as "brittle faith." Or possibly a definition of Christianity that equated having intellectual answers with having a relationship with God.

Beginning With Moses

Sean Green is taking Reading Family Church into a series called "Beginning with Moses", words describing Jesus' explaining of the gospel from the Old Testament. He introduces his series here.

For several years I've been part of a project called which exists to serve the church by gathering resources that show us how the Bible is Christian Scripture. We've recently rebooted the site and there is regular new content there. Paige Britton's Reaping the fruits of redemptive historical reading is a good introduction to this. As is this review of Graeme Goldsworthy's Preaching the whole Bible as Christian Scripture.

There are a lot of Bible Overview's on the market these days, the most recent one I read is Remaking a broken world, by Christopher Ash which follows the theme of church through the Bible.

It's readable and shows well how God is always gathering a people to himself, a great book if you want to see how church fits into God's purposes. He uses nine steps along the way from Eden to the new creation. If you've never read an overview before or you want to think more about the church this will be a good book to get.

I don't believe in "the baptism of the Spirit"

I've spoken about this earlier this year in Baptism in the Spirit and the UCCF doctrinal basis, but I've been reflecting again on the subject and besides what's blogged five months ago is quickly forgotten...

Terms in the New Testament are used in different ways, and the New Testament certainly speaks in Acts of people "receiving the Spirit" and of the "seal of the Spirit" in Ephesians and of having being baptised with the Spirit in 1 Corinthians. These seem to be described as normal Christian experiences that are part of the Christian life, as indeed baptism in water is, though plenty of Christians are not baptised in water, yet. There's a good case that baptism in the Spirit and in water (in either order) should happen close to if not at conversion - why wait... though many do wait.

John said that Jesus would baptise with the Spirit, as did Jesus (Mark 1:8, Acts 1:5). Peter uses the term for what happened when he preached in Cornelius' house and the Spirit fell on those listening to the gospel (Acts 10:45, 11:16). And Jesus says, ask and you'll receive the Spirit (Luke 11). There does seem to be some distinction Biblically between having the Spirit which is just being a Christian (in a Romans 8 sense), and an observable experience of particularly receiving the Spirit which brings power and praise and gifting - all of grace - to the Christian (which we see in Acts for example).

Language of Baptism does imply a one-time event and one that can be recognised, as Peter does with the household of Cornelius. The Bible also speaks of going on being filled in Ephesians, and Jesus spoke in John 7:37-38 of those who thirst having streams of living water welling up within them - the latter happening as we believe the Scriptures in what they say about Jesus (i.e. continuing faith in the gospel). As we come to the gospel and apprehend Christ we should come expecting the Spirit to 'bubble up' within us.

Some object:

I've not experienced this, therefore it doesn't happen.
That's an argument from experience and all it proves is that you may not have been baptised with the Spirit, not that you shouldn't be or couldn't be.

Isn't this a Galatian or Colossian heresy of "Gospel plus"?
To deal with Galatia, the whole problem in Galatia was people starting with the Spirit and then abandoning the Spirit in favour of works. Any receiving of the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit, being fallen on by the Spirit or being baptised in the Spirit is more of the Spirit not of something other. And would be by faith through grace. Our question should be, if I'm not receiving the Spirit am I departing from the gospel...
To Colossae, there was a gospel-plus mentality there that said "start with Jesus and then add spiritual experiences, hidden knowledge or rules". This isn't that. This isn't pursue an experience, it's know the person of the Spirit more fully in your life. I think the way Paul would describe receiving more of the Spirit to the Colossians would be in 2:6-7 - "just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him". Receiving Christ is something that happens by faith as is receiving Christ (Galatians 3:2). The pouring out of the Spirit isn't a swerve from the gospel but a journey deeper into it.

Are you saying those baptised in the Spirit are better Christians?
No, all in Christianity is of grace. But, we all want to know God better and progress in our relationship with him. I want to know the Lord better today than this time last year. And the more of the Spirit's work in my life the more I'll be humbled and self-forgetful.

I remember years ago a colleague saying how someone had taught at a student meeting on the sufficiency of the cross and then the worship leader struck up Tim Hughes' song "There must be more than this..." which had seemed kind of inappropriate. Actually though, the sufficiency of the cross says you can have much more of God. There must not be more than the cross, but therefore there must be more of God for us to know - since the way is open, the curtain is torn, the Spirit is poured out.

(this next bit is derived from David Watson, One in the Spirit from UCCF Conference in the early 1970s)
How do we receive 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) ** The Lord’s Prayer is an ABBA prayer – use your Sonship to receive the Holy Spirit.
Or, Hear the word of the gospel (Acts 10v44, 11v15) – the gospel that catches you up into the life of God, and as you hear the Spirit might fall on you. Your heart changed on the spot. Your eyes opened. Praise and joy overflowing, and even stepping into Spiritual gifts like worshipping with the gift of tongues
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)
Notice here that it’s not one-size-fits all – but the initiative comes from God – the gracious answer to a prayer, something that happens as the word is preached. This is always a grace not a reward or a work.

Q2: How do you know if you have been?
Seemingly, 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)
Or, Galatians 5 – love, peace, patience, joy… etc. Changed character – over time.
Again not one size fits all - but always of grace, and always to a higher view of Christ expressed in changed character, worship and evangelism. We need more of the Holy Spirit.
There may be other questions (comments are open), but as for me and my house - we love the gospel and therefore want to pursue more of the Spirit's work in our lives, and so we want to be about the gospel and be believing God, thirsting for him, for we can do nothing ourselves.

Richard Sibbes “we may see that those that do not desire the presence of Christ are those the wind of the Holy Spirit never blew upon… It is from the Spirit that we desire more of the Spirit, and from the presence of Christ that we desire a further presence and communion with him” (Bowels Opened Sermon 1)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Contrition of the Heart (Francis Quarles)

"in thousand pieces would I break this heart,
which leaves its Lord, and acts a Rebels part"

Psalm 51:17
"A broken and contrite heart; O God, you will not despise"

How gladly would I bruise and break this heart
Unto a thousand pieces, till the smart
Make it confess, that, of its own accord,
It will wilfully rebell'd against the Lord!

John Gillespie & Gospel Partnership

Last Monday I took my team to the PGP Conference, an outworking of a gospel partnership between churches in Devon & Cornwall. Jon Marlow hosted the day and we enjoyed being with partners in th egospel and sharing about the work we're doing on campus.

The highlight of the main sessions was John Gillespie speaking on 1 Peter 2 on being Jesus-is-the-issue peopleDon Carson also spoke. All audio available here

Download more sermons from John Gillespie, pastor of Grace Community Church, Morval, Cornwall - I'm told his Ecclesiastes series is stunning.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I believe in God but I don't need the church

Preached at Grace Church Truro yesterday on "I believe in God but I don't need the church". 
There are many reasons why we would take a negative view on church and we explored them initially, and asked what kind of God-without-church we might believe in, before turning to the Bible to see what the God-of-Christianity says (Ephesians 2:13-22).
Audio available here soon though I didn't think I was as clear as it should have been in places.

#1 The God who came to us. 2000 years ago, in human history to make peace and end the hostility between God and people, and people and people. Jesus body is broken to put us back together. It's an Eden-reboot as the One-New-Man is invited back into the presence of God. There aren't 6.8 billion people in the world who can say "every man is an island". We're more connected than that. The human race is the broken One-Old-Man (Adam)- and then Christ comes and makes in himself a One-New-Man. He catches us up to himself.

#2 The God who comes to us now. Though a building can't confine God he chooses to be present in a holy temple. Follow the thread from Eden to the tabernacle, the temple, the Incarnation, by the Spirit in us - and in the construction site of the church whose members are being built together gradually, until finally he comes to live on the renewed earth with us. No Jehovah's witness end to the story for us - with a peaceful world and God still in heaven. He came to us, he comes to us, he will come to us forever.

It's a beginning to end story of the church from Eden to the renewed creation, centred but Jesus whose body was broken, whose blood was shed, so that he himself would be our peace. In this story we find our identity in our relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and with the church. I closed with a story from CS Lewis that demonstrates how interdependent and connected we are as we're caught up into the life of the Triune God, not alone any more but with God and with his people:
"In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald's reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him 'to myself' now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald.... “
Related link:
Haddon Robinson: The Big Idea in Preaching. In my opinion, I fell short on that yesterday.

Transformission 2010 (Full Promo Interview with Mike Reeves)

Transformission 2010 from Dave Bish on Vimeo.

Mike Reeves: How would knowing the love of God change our CU?

Dave Bish: What difference does the love of God make to a CU? (or local church...)
Mike Reeves: For a CU that doesn't understand the love it's going to have quite a sense of duty driving things. There will probably be a lot of pharisaism, a lot of legalism. A harshness, a judgementalism. People will be trying to climb up on each others failures. Offering a gospel of a system of salvation. Which isn't captivating their hearts. And the evangelistic message will be pretty loveless. People wont want to hear it. People wont want to proclaim it.

Flip it around and have a CU that understands the love of God. A very different world. People captivated by the love of Christ who simply desire to speak of him, no onerous duty. I long to speak of the Jesus I love. I don't want to climb on the failures of my brothers and sisters. Jesus loves them, I love them. You find a joyful delight in communicating the love of Christ rather than the harshness and sense of duty and grudgingness.
More on this theme from John Hindley Why it's ok to stay in bed for the whole of mission week

Friday, October 08, 2010

The New Wine of the Heart out of the Press of the Cross (Francis Quarles)

Christ the true vine, grape, cluster, on the cross
Trod the wine-press alone, unto the loss
Of blood and life. Draw thankful heart, and spare not:
Here's wine enough for all, save those that care not

Leave not thy Saviour now, whate'er thou dost
Doutbtful, distrustful heart;
Thy former pains and labours all are lost,
If now thou shalt depart
And faithlessly fall of at last from him,
Who, to redeem thee, spar'd nor life nor limb.

Shall he, that is thy cluster and thy vine,
Tread the wine-press alone,
Whilst thou stand'st looking on? Shall both the wine
And work be all his own?
See how he bends, crusht with the straiten'd scrue
Of that fierce wrath that to thy sins was due

Thy Saviour being prest to death, there ran
Out of his sacred wounds
That wine that maketh glad the heart of man
And all his foes confounds,
Yea, the full-flowing fountain's open stil
For all grace-thirsting hearts to drink their fill:

Thy Saviour hath begun this cup to thee
And thou must not refuse't
Press then thy sin-swoln sides, until they be
Empty, and fit to use't
Do not delay to come, when he doth call;
Nor fear to want, where there's enough for all

Thy bounteous Redeemer, in his blood,
Fills thee not wine alone
But likewise gives his flesh to be thy food
Which thou may'st make thine own
And feed on Him who hath himself revealed
The bread of life, by God the Father sealed.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

"Piper" Framework or a Gospel Framework?

I heard someone say a few months ago, of another Christian, speaking generously - "he's got more of a Piper framework than a gospel framework". It wasn't especially meant as a slight on John Piper but a reflection of aspects of his influence. Probably what follows is more a question on some who've learned from Piper - like me - than on his teaching.

I think what he was getting at can be answered with the question
- what is the glory of God?

On the one hand is the conviction that God's glory is about him being big and wow. Which he is, but seems to me that the gospel defines things a bit differently. But, the centre of God's revelation of his glory isn't found by looking out of the window and seeing a big world and concluding a big God, it's found by looking at the cross and seeing the God who comes to us, lays himself down for us in love.

Piper gets that. But for a while I think I missed it, and I might not be the only one. Piper says:
"God's design is to make you a showcase for Jesus' power. But not necessarily the way the market demands..." (1980) "...not the power of a May Day in Red Square; it is not the power of big business or bloc voting; it is not the power of personal savvy and cool self-assertion. The power in which saving faith rests is the power of divine grace sustaining the humble, loving heart and radiating out through weakness. That is the inimitable power that we see in Christ—meekly, humbly, lovingly mounting the cross for our sin." (1980)
Puts a different spin on Psalm 19:1-8 - the heavens declare the glory of God (v1), yes to inspire worship, but perhaps creation doesn't just speak power and awe but of love. It is not just absolute power that provokes the heart - so also power relinquished in the supreme humility of Calvary.
"the message of the skies is the glory of God. God is beautiful in his perfections, God is awesome in his power, God is beyond comprehension in his wisdom and knowledge." (1990, Piper)
In the gospel we see the one who comes out from his Father, who goes out as The Word from him. The one who came an tabernacled amongst us in his incarnation, just as (19:4), a tabernacle not just a tent is pitched in the heavens for the sun. And just as the sun marches its course with all the purpose of a bridegroom, spreading it's warming influence throughout the world (6), so too the Word comes with spreading goodness as he sets out for his cross, running his race to the finished (19:5). The perfect law certainly revives the soul and rejoices the heart, he gives himself for us to bring us back to himself. There is glory most seen. The glory of the one and only who comes from the Father's side to bring us acceptable into his sight (Psalm 19:14). Less wow with power, more woo with love.

Here's another example. In John 2 Jesus says "zeal for your house will consume me" quoting Psalm 69, where innocent David is being destroyed for being zealous for God's house, a house meant for prayer for the nations.  He suffers for the gospel. When the people ask for a sign Jesus says destroy this temple and it'll be raised. The cross and resurrection are not a wow-miracle, it's about him laying himself down in love for the nations, to clear out the temple, to open the way for the nations to come to his Father. That's glory displayed, displayed in love. It's break your heart stuff as we see the extent of his love for us, to make the way for us to come to his Father, might we live the same - loved and laying ourselves down in love for others, in gospel-shaped life.

Change, then, in the gospel, is not simply a reflex to awe, not just a prizing of what is infinite, but the response of a changed heart to love, through the death and new life of Jesus, in which we share by faith - which is our "apprehension of Christ" (Sibbes). Gospel ministers don't wow they woo. I think this is a pathway from a stiff and cold evangelicalism towards a warm and generous people. Our God isn't just massive and awesome, but welcoming and humble, loving and personal. Glory really is all about the cross, and as John Piper says, the company of the loved who love one another will sing:
"may the center of our singing be the same as the center of the new song we will sing in the age to come, namely, the song of the Lamb who was slain" (2008, Piper)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Warmth of the Gospel makes us Sing!

"As the shining of the sun enlarges the spirit of the poor creatures, the birds, in the spring time, to sing, so proportionately the apprehension of the sweet love of God in Christ enlarges the spirit of a man, and makes him full of joy and thanksgiving. He breaks forth into joy, so that his whole life is matter of joy and thanksgiving."

Richard Sibbes, The Matchless Love & In-being
cited by Mike Reeves at Forum 2010

Listen to my reading of Richard Sibbes - The Matchless Love & In-being, 65mins mp3

Image: Jen Allison

Confident in the Truth of the Gospel

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Eagerly desire that you may prophesy

Steve Tibbert of Kings Church Catford is writing some great stuff on prophecy at the moment the measure of gifting and that nugget of gold have helped me to obey God's word to eagerly desire to prophesy in the last week. I recommend them to you.

Is there anything truly and cordially hated but grace?

Richard Sibbes, Bowels Opened 6:
For God in Christ, having condescended to the terms of friendship, nay, to intimate terms of friendship in marriage with us; therefore the church in her right temper, has never enough of Christ, but desires further union, and communion still. It being the description of the people of God, that 'they love the appearance of Christ,' 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 22:20, as they loved his first appearance, and waited for ' the consolation of Israel,' Luke 2:25; so they love his second appearing, and are never quiet, till he comes again in the flesh, to consummate the marriage begun here. So Christ also he is as desirous of them, yes, they are his desires that breed their desires. ‘Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove,' etc. Again his love and pity moves him to desire further to come into us. Christ knows what is in our hearts.
The church loves Christ's appearing, but the world...
What indignities endured they in the primitive church, that were the publishers of the gospel! Those sweet publishers thereof, drawing men to open to Christ, were killed for preaching. So cruel is the heart, that it offered violence to them that love them most, that love their souls. And what greater love than the love of the soul! Yet this is the Satanical temper and disposition of men's hearts. They hate those men most, that deal this way most truly and lovingly with them. It is not that the gospel is such a hard message. It is the word of reconciliation, and the word of life; but the heart hates it, because it would draw men from their present condition; and ' therefore condemnation is come into the world, in that men hate the light, because their works are evil,' John 3:19. Is there anything truly and cordially hated but grace? And are any persons heartily and cordially hated in the world so much as the promulgers and publishers of grace, and the professors of it? Because it upbraids most of all, and meddles with the corruptions of men, that are dearer to them than their own souls.
Let us preach it well, preach it warmly, but nonetheless always preach the grace that is in Christ.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The heart of being a godly leader is...

" be obsessed and thrilled with God. To so have him before our eyes that he fills our gaze and utterly satisfies us with his presence. Our leadership is meant to come out of the overflow of that. If we are going to lead other people to be more and more in love with him, more and more enjoying him, more and more eager to closely follow him, then we have to be falling more and more in love with him. Numbers 13 scares me because it shows it is possible to play the part of a respected leader, maybe for years, and yet not know God. And for it only get revealed when...."
Marcus Honeysett on Numbers 13.

Mike Reeves Video: How does knowing the love of God effect us?

Richard Sibbes argues we can know the love of God, and is infuriated that some say we can't. He observes we're already prone to doubt that we're loved without people telling us we can't know God's love. At Transformission Mike Reeves will lead us to know more of God's love for us in the gospel. Can't wait.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Video: Relational Church (Terry Virgo)

‘A gospel-preaching church that is loving, righteous in its lifestyle, involved in world mission and reaching the unsaved in its community by both public and personal evangelistic activity.’

1a. Building churches that are evangelistically relevant: Relational from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.

No pressure: That's one way to persuade people

Richard Curtis tries an interesting approach to persuading people to cut their carbon emissions, now withdrawn by the organisation that comissioned it... Personally, I'd go for a more winning approach.... but this one will certainly have drawn attention and started conversations, and has already drawn much anger, one imagines people from another religion (since Climate-Changeism seems to have some hallmarks of religion) using this form of argument...

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Softening of the Heart (Francis Quarles)

This Icy, Marble Heart, like Wax will melt
Soon as the Fire of heavenly Love is felt

Job 23:16 "God makes my heart soft"

Mine heart is like a marble ice,
Both cold and hard: but thou canst in a trice
Melt it like wax, great God, if from above
Thou kindle in it once thy fire of love


Nay, blessed Founder, leave me not
If out of all this grot
There can but any gold be got,
The time thou dost bestow, the cost
And pains will not be lost:
The bargain is but hard and most.
And such are all those thou dost make with me:
Thou know'st thou canst not but a loser be.

When the sun shines with glitt'ring beams,
His cold-dispelling gleams
Turn snow and ice to wat'ry streams.
The wax, so soon as it hath smelt
The warmth of fire, and felt
The glowing heart thereof, will melt
Yea, pearls with vinegar dissolve we may
And adamants in blood of goats, they say.

If nature can do this, much more,
Lord, may thy grace restore
Mine heart to what it was before.
There's the same matter in it still
Though new inform'd with ill,
Yet can it not resist thy will.
Thy pow'r, that fram'd it at the first, as oft
As thou wilt have it, Lord, can make it soft

Thou art the Sun of righteousness:
And though I must confess
Mine heart's grown hard in wickedness,
Yet thy resplendent rays of light
When oce they come in sight
Will quickly thaw what froze by night
Lord, in thine healing wings a pow'r doth dwell
Able to melt the hardest heart in hell

Although mine heart in hardness pass
Both iron, steel and brass
Yea, the hardest thing that ever was
Yet if thy fire thy Spirit accord,
And, working with thy word,
A blessing unto it afford,
It will grow liquid, and not drop alone
But melt itself away before thy throne

Yea, though my flinty heart be such,
That the sun cannot touch
Nor fire sometimes affect it much,
Yet thy warm reeking self-shed blood,
O Lamb of God's so good,
It cannot be withstood.
That aqua-regia of thy love prevails.,
Ev'n where the pow'r of aqua-fortis fails.

Then leave me not so soon, dear Lord,
Though I neglet thy word,
And what they power doth afford;
O try thy mercy, and thy love
The force thereof may prove
Soak'd in thy blood, mine heart will soon surrender
Its native hardness, and grow soft and tender