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Showing posts from November, 2010

How does "The Law" fit in to Christianity?

I've been back in Galatians again, dwelling on the joys of being a Christian ahead of a couple of Christian Union weekends that I'm speaking at next month. As some context for preaching on Sonship a bit of background is needed to answer the idea that Christian life happens through keeping the law. By "The Law" I mean the Biblical law that God gave to Moses via angels 430 years after Abraham.
Galatians 3:14-26 shows us how the Father made a promise to Christ directly, how promises cannot be modified once they've been made, and therefore whatever else the law was for it wasn't to change the promise. In fact it was a temporary measure to imprison (guard/protect/preserve) Israel until Christ, after which it remains useful and sweet-tasting and beautiful Scripture that testifies all about Jesus, but once he has come Jews need not be enslaved to law nor Gentiles enslaved to sin - for they can by faith be Sons in Christ, as is unpacked in 3:27-4:7.

Adjusted diagram w…

You are his disciple!

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

Stu quoted this on Sunday in his sermon from the Epistle to Diognetus about early Christians:
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing,…

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

What would you ask? (Comments open)

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

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

More at CCK Reason and

What is Jesus' yoke that he offers to us?

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

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

Darrell Johnson offers his take on Jesus' yoke, p66-67.
"The Father trusts the Son so much that he gave him the weight of the grand enterprise of salvation. And the Son trusts the Father so much that he went to the cross knowing it was the way to accomplish salvation. The Father draws near to me to draw me into his trust in the Son; the Son draws near to me to draw me into his trust in the Father. This, by the way, is what Jesus is referring to when he c…

JFK, Aldous Huxley and CS Lewis

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

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

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

God draws near to us

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

We become co-lovers with God of God, of one another, and of the world. He goes on to challenge the …

Preacher, did they meet God?

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

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

I've not finished it yet but this is striking from the first chapter:
Your task is not to send people away from church saying, 'That was a lovely sermon' or 'What an eloquent appeal!' The one question is 'Did they, or did they not, meet God today?' There will always be some who have no desire for that, some who rather than being confronted with the living Christ would actually prefer what G.K. Chesterton described as 'one solid and polished cateract of platitudes flowing for ever and ever.' But when Peter finished his first gr…

Generous Justice?

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

Exodus 21:2 secures freedom for those who are indebted, 21:22 protects pregnant women, 21:26-27 prevents those in debt from being abused, 21:33 protects the community from others recklessness etc. 
This is the mentality for God's people - a place where widows and orphans are protected and fought for. Imagine a community like that? Where else would you expect to find God living than with a people living like he does, like the God who comes and puts himself in the place of his people...  I'm told this is some of where Tim…

Happyness and Jealousy

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

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

Is your Christianity killing you or giving you life?

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

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

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

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

The One Big Question

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

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

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

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

The Law has Served it's Purpose

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

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

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

Principle 2 - The law is of a les…

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

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

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

54. As the sun, by rising out of darkness and from under the earth raises the whole world with him, raises mankind out of their beds, and by his light as it were renews all things and fetches 'em …

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

DOWNLOAD MP3: The Gospel Gathers.
Here's part 3 of my notes on Acts 8:26-40.

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

Let not THE FOREIGNER who has joined himself to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not THE EUNUCH say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the LORD: “To THE EUNUCHS who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
6 “And THE FOREIGNERS who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who kee…

What happens when Preaching happens

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

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

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

I spoke at Cardiff University CU on Acts 8:26-40 on Wednesday
DOWNLOAD MP3: The Gospel Gathers.
Here's part 2 of my notes.
In Samaria Philip encountered Simon the Sorcerer who was into power and impressiveness. The Ethiopian is also a powerful and influential man, the treasurer of Ethiopia. He’s educated, he’s reading Isaiah 53.
Ever wondered if we have something impressive enough? Thought to yourself - “will this guy impress my friends?” See God’s way:

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

In a world addicted to being impressive – salvation comes through humiliation. Like baptism, through the waters of death before rising to the joys of new life. The glory of the God of Christianity isn’t some wow-powerful shock and awe, No, God c…

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

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

The Myth of Babel and the assumption that Christianity is false

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

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

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

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

Aren't Christians Just Ignoring Suffering

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

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

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

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

Christian Leaders Need Cookbooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

What gift has Jesus given me?

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

Doing what God has for us do to might not improve our life. In The World Needs More Apostles PJ Smyth cites Barney Coombes on apostles, the gift Paul tends to list 'first' for the church:
“Let me give you a biblical picture of an apostle: he is a weak little chap with a poor voice (2 Corinthians 10:10), a jailbird (Acts 16:23). He looks under-nourished and his clothing is disreputable (1 Corinthians 4:11). If you look at his hands, they are stained and cracked by the hard work of softening skins and sewing them into tents, for that is his livelihood (Acts 18:3). At times he is very ill, even despairing of life (2 Corinthians 1:8-11; Galatians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 11:30). Perh…

Jesus gives gifts to build the church

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

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

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

1. The Olympic Lift. To complete this lift the whole body must work rightly. If one part is out of action or not able to contribute then the whole body loses. The whole body loses ground where it could …

John 9: Sent to an Unseeing World

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

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

The Synagogue can't see because (1)  it has alrea…

Passionate Justice

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

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

Thinking about upcoming opportunities for student mission Lindsay Brown says in his Christian Persuaders podcast that the top five issues to eng…

High and Lifted up: Subversive Gospel Logic

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

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

Seeing the Lord enthroned, the powerful saviour who is the servant I'm reminded afresh that divine power is shown not in absolute power but in service - God's power isn't wielded but yielded, life-giving power as the Father raises his Son who came to serve us, power as Jesus is placed as head over the church to …

Calvinism, Arminianism, and The Father's Heart

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

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

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