Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Limping over the line

In 1992 Derek Redmond pulled up in the Olympic Semi-Finals of the 400m, eventually carried over the line by his father. It's one of the most iconic sporting moments, not of joy but of anguish. A million miles from a Usain Bolt decelerating to a 100m world record, for example. Which is more glorious?

As 2011 comes to its close I feel myself limping over the line. By the grace of God I'm alive. I'm welcome in the family of the Triune God.

I'm still doing a job I love and I've received some brilliant support and training in the last year which has increased both my knowledge of God and of myself.  I've has the privilege of working as a Bible teacher and Evangelist in a wide range of contexts, opportunities I feel very thankful to have received. I'm probably playing to my strengths more than before, because I feel like I know what some of them might be now. And at home, we've received the gift of a second son and seen our first son turn into a full-blown toddler.

In many ways its been a great year, but it's also been hard.We're in the fog of sleep-deprivation. I'm not complaining. I have. I do. I've ranted. I've grumbled. Today I just identify the hardness of it and accept it. Tomorrow I might well grumble about it. Learning to repent quicker is part of maturity. I've been wrong. I am wrong. Will you forgive me?

The fog is a weakness that is a side-effect of one of the best of blessings. And becoming a Dad has done wonders for a lots of things in my life. Additionally, we went through a few months early in the year in which it seemed like everything we owned went wrong at substantial cost. It was relentless and a big portion of the money we'd put aside to pay the mortgage during maternity leave ended up being used to pay for other things....    Etc.

All of which is context to an evening at the end of June when I sat in a CU meeting and heard the word of God. The letter to the Laodiceans (Revelation 3) was preached, of those who would say: I need nothing.
And it pierced my heart, how readily I like to be self-sufficient; how much I liked to think I could handle my life. How I'd portray our circumstances as OK; how I'm reluctant to ask for help, preferring to fix things myself. This has it's advantages - driving me to achieve and accomplish things. But there are times when I'm never going to press through. My response such struggles in the past has been to bury my head in the sand rather than asking for help - when I struggled at University I didn't talk to my tutor, I stopped going to tutorials. Evidence that I'm a sinful idiot abounds when I'm prepared to admit it.

Jacob spent his years acquiring, taking, winning. Until on the edge of the land (in Genesis 32) he spent a night clinging on to the LORD and came away limping. And had to limp back into the promised land. And he was richer for it. He and I limp into our inheritance following our wounded Saviour. Ours is the God who shows his power not in displays of grandeur but in the naked vulnerability of becoming a baby.

Its easy to be confident and come across better than others. God has blessed me a lot and I take a lot of it for granted. I'm learning (I want to say 'I've learned' but that's the thing...), I'm learning that I have need and I have weakness and that the outworking of the gospel of Jesus in need and weakness is important.

Marcus posted: "I vividly recall a leader of a large ministry saying to me “you guys always criticise what I do and my Bible teaching but you never offer to come and help me improve. Wouldn’t that be the better thing to do?” He was right. I was chastened. I think my answer to Paul’s concern would be to say to a UCCF team leader whose team was clearly overbalanced one way or the other “can we work with you to help lift you up in the areas you are weak at the moment.” It is hard to see how that isn’t a win/win situation." 

Going into 2012 I desire to be more ready to receive the help of people who can lift me, and I think more prepared to go and ask them for help in the first place. I need my Heavenly Father to carry me over the line. And I need his people to carry me too. I don't want to live in Laodicea in 2012. The more of Christ I have the less I can possibly say 'I need nothing'.

So, when you see me in my weakness - whether via what I write here, or more likely as you're on the end of 'gospel ministry' from me, or just in conversation and everyday situations of life in which I'm sinful, weak and stupid. Please don't criticise me - though it'd be understandable for you to do so - please instead come and help me. I should have asked for your help in the first place. Please offer your strengths to help me in my weaknesses. Come share life with me. Put yourself in the line of fire. Help me with grace and encouragement and practical assistance, so that I would see my Christ more clearly and know his loving embrace more deeply.

I like to think the glory is in winning... but with Jesus there might just be more glory in limping home, carried by the Generous Father who gives himself to me.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Praise be to Woody Allen Zombie Jesus

Tim Minchin wrote a song for Jonathan Ross's Christmas show about Jesus. And the ITV bigwigs cut it. That's the story. The assumption being that the song is considered to be offensive, presumably to people like... who knows really. What's true can handle a little satire. You can't watch it on ITV but it's on Youtube (see below).

Minchin likens Jesus to Woody Allen, Derren Brown, a Zombie, Superman and other stories and references in our culture.The story of Jesus is very like all our stories. Stories that speak of the need for a Saviour, even a suffering Saviour, that recognise we can't save ourselves.

None of them as audacious as the story of Jesus, of a Triune God, one who is self-giving love, who comes enters into our flesh to put it death and create a whole new humanity who will be filled up with God and who will fill up God with his people.

Some will say Christianity is just a derivative story among many stories, but perhaps it is the original story - and all the other stories we love are just like the Jesus story. Tim Minchin wrote in the New Statesman:
"Our lives would be empty without stories, and the story of this Jesus character is quite a nice one. One that – in theory, and sometimes even in practise – promotes compassion and humility and wisdom and peace. Jesus is real… in the imaginary world. A five year old could tell you that."
The Jesus story persists because its the greatest of stories. The question is does the story exist in the world of imagination, or is this as JRR Tolkien argued to CS Lewis, this is the Myth that came true. The story captivates us and is echoed in all the stories we love even today... the question is is there truth in the claims about Jesus. Is Jesus just a myth or a true myth? That's a question open to study of historical evidence.
CS Lewis in Myth became Fact wrote:
"but Christians also need to be reminded . . . that what became Fact was a Myth, that it carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a myth. God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. . . . We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic . . . shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight..."
Watch the Tim Minchin video here.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Podcasting is not Pastoring

There is more to pastoral leadership than a podcast. This is my own reflection on Trevin Wax's thoughts

In recent weeks my pastor has been able to observe a behaviour in my life and offer quite specific correction and instruction, he's been able to deliver me specific and detailed encouragement about my own service of the church, he's preached God's word for me to hear as I've sat with the rest of the church at our church weekend away. He's prayed and prophesied and strengthened our faith.

He has prayed for me, and my family during a difficult week - which I know because he told me. He's probably also prayed for me and not told me about that.

I've sat with him and other young men as he's shared his dreams and ideas and taken feedback. I've taken a train journey with him. We've talked and prayed and eaten around the same table.We learned together in the on-the-job training course we're doing. I've observed him with his wife and his children. I've seen the tiredness on his face because his kids haven't slept well. I've seen him laugh at himself. I've sought to learn from him as he's interacted with other Dads at the Father's Group we attend.

I recognise that as a leader in the church myself I've probably had slightly more access to my pastor than might be the case for everyone in our church - but as he pastors us in our situations we're better able to pastor the rest of the church with him.

The point is, if pastoring was *just* preaching I could just download his podcast, because in my view he's one of the best young preachers around. And preaching is a massive part of pastoring - leaders are meant to speak the word of God to their people. But there is more to being a pastor, and I'm very thankful for that. Paul and his team shared his life and gospel with the Thessalonians, and as he mentored Timothy it was both Paul's doctrine and example that had helped Timothy to grow in Christ.

The same is true more broadly - strangely to me there are lots of people who read this blog. Some of them I know, some I don't. And I appreciate the opportunity to serve the church on a broad scale through social media, along with conferences and books etc... but nothing beats the opportunities for life-on-life-on-mission with my family, my home group, others from church and my team and others. These are people who know my faults and foibles, the people I sin against and have to ask forgiveness from. People who "gospel" me and whom I can "gospel".

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

All that I have I share with you!

We enjoyed witnessing the beginning of the marriage of Harri and Chris on Saturday, it was great to share their wedding day with them. Our friend Mike led the service, his rich and booming voice relishing the opportunity to have Christ proclaimed through the vows and commitments of a wedding.

It was particularly poignant to be reminded that when a couple make their vows to one another its like the commitment Christ makes with his church, it's like when someone becomes a Christian - to take all that is ours, and give us all that he is. And you can bet he makes that vow with even more joy than a couple of their wedding. Not to mention that the proclamation that no man put this union asunder is another way of saying, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

That we can be wed to our Saviour is unspeakably beautiful, to enter into such a union as to make us one with our Saviour, and to know that union leads to a very real and experiential communion with him. Vivid reminder of the gospel reminds me to be attentive to my Saviour to entrust myself to him, opening my heart to him as Jeremiah Burroughs notes: "One converted to God lets out his heart into God in a fuller manner than any creature can do to another." 

When I entrust myself to my Saviour, letting out my heart to him, then I truly love him, honour and worship him. The brides submission is her entrusting of herself to her husband, and in that she knows most truly his love. She will no longer have doubt or insecurity that he will cast her aside, for she knows him. And as we entrust ourselves to him, so: "Christ rejoices, and his very heart even springs forth, to present his church to his Father. He says, “Father, behold my spouse that I have married to myself.”"

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas: Always Scrooge and Never Kirstie?

I love our church. I love the opportunity to be with God's people who are our family, and when we gather (and when we're scattered) to find ways to serve one another in drawing near to Christ. It was my privilege to serve our church by preaching.
My text was Genesis 3:15 asking What's Christmas About? You can listen here:  
Download mp3 - "Always Scrooge and Never Kirstie" (30mins) (low quality recording taken on my phone on the lectern behind me - hopefuly the church website will have a better version soon)

I attempted to dig into some of the common views of Christmas, where there is much to affirm and console, and also to explore how those resonate and point towards the hope of The Promised Son.
  • Beginning with Scrooge's misery - which is both justified and overly morbid, we see there really is war and evil in the world, and yet we long for hope of victory - why is that?
  • Considering the festivities offered by a Kirstie's Handmade Christmas we saw that it's good to have a holiday, but you need 'salvation' to celebrate truly... which is what's wrong in Narnia where it is Always Winter and Never Christmas, until finally it is 'Winter Passed and Guilt Forgiven' (as Lewis' poem summarises)... you need something to happen to make that possible.
  • And we considered the nitpicking leery vision of Santa, everything that the Triune God isn't... and so that leads us to look for the Christ... one who can overcome evil and give us cause to celebrate - truly, without it depending on whether we've been naughty or nice.
We need the promised son who will both suffer with and for us, and win for us and come to us. When God shows up he's not aloof and clean and making 3pm speeches... he's naked and weak and vulnerable and in the line of fire. He suffers with us, and for us. God is a victim. And God wins - slays the giant, puts a tentpeg through the head of the enemy, takes the sting out of death. He wins and begins a whole new human race who aren't condemned to the curse of Scrooge, Kirstie or Santa but live in his blessing with his Holy Spirit.

Christmas invites you to ask is the baby whose birth we're remembering the long promised Christ? Is this Jesus that Christ?
Download mp3 - "Always Scrooge and Never Kirstie" (30mins) 

I preached without notes but I had this outline in my back pocket in case I bottled it. Many thanks to Glen Scrivener who helped my thinking a lot as I prepared. And huge thanks to my pastor for his detailed encouragement this afternoon.
More on the imagination of Lewis in Michael Ward's Planet Narnia

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Everyday Church MP3s (Steve Timmis)

As a gospel principle my desire is not to hold on tight to God's gracious gifts, but to share them as widely as I can.
I think Marcus Honeysett taught me that.
When I managed to persuade Steve Timmis to to spend 48 hours with the UCCF South West team that meant looking for ways to open our doors.

Steve spent four sessions (including Q&A) with us as a team along with a number of guests. Additionally we were able to open our doors for an evening event for the Exeter CU and other members of local churches, and a breakfast for local church leaders. We recorded the sessions and I'm posting them here for your encouragement - find yourself over 8.5 hours to listen in. I'm deeply challenged and looking forward to implementing ideas that flow from Steve's rich Ecclesiocentric gospel theology.

Session 1 (80mins)
Session 2 (84mins)
Session 3 (90mins)
Everyday Church Evening Talk (53mins)
Everyday Church Evening Q&A (30mins)
Church Leaders Breakfast - Talk and Q&A  (94mins)
Session 4 (90mins)

There were great moments about forgiving because we're forgiven, welcoming because we're welcome, finding your true rest in Jesus not in your home. How to gospel one another. I love that gospel community is a phenomenon, inexplicable without the gospel of Jesus, where you find yourself doing things you don't like with people you don't like.... and the thought that The New Creation is The Church.

Steve Timmis is involved in leading The Crowded House churches in Sheffield, and is the director of Acts 29 in Western Europe, in addition to being the co-author (with Tim Chester) of Total Church and Everyday Church.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Hugo: If you ever wonder where your dreams come from

Yesterday I took my wife to see Hugo 3D. I can't remember what the last film we saw at the cinema was, possibly Inception more than a year ago. Hugo is a wonderful fantastical story set in a Paris station in the 1930s. It's about machines and dreams, about finding purpose.

Hugo says: "I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason."

Which might all sound a little mechanisic and predestinary but really its about imagination and knowing you have a part of play in the world, however seemingly small. It's a Martin Scorsese film about film and the way the big screen unleashes the imagination. It's about adventures and about love. Dashed and recovered dreams and  boys who live in the walls of stations.

Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Monday, December 05, 2011

Think: Did Humanity fall on Day 6?

A month ago I received some excellent training on Genesis 1-11 that helped us understand different view points and engage with different questions that people might have. Our speaker was aimed to make us agnostic about these chapters, or at least to not make any particular reading a necessary thing for someone to be a Christian.

Some approaches major on fitting the text with scientific approaches, others lean more to a literary approach to the text with less concern for fit with science. There are choices to make. Sometimes not much is at stake... sometimes a lot is at stake.

What follows is an argument I heard from a theology student last week, from the more literary approach to the text, approaching the question of when the fall of man happened.
The events of Genesis 2 occur in "the day" that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens (Gen 2:4). You could say thats some period of time, but what if a day is just a day. And if finished means completed then we can speak of what is finsihed on that day, 2v1.
When was this? Genesis 1 says the work of creation was completed on Day 6.  There is evening and there is morning, man is created. Animals are named. Woman is created. As that day comes to its close, The Word of the LORD prepares to come and walk in the garden, in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8) before the beginning of the seventh day. But when he comes, man is hiding in shame... the fall has happened...

Why? Could it be that the serpent turns from God and strikes at humanity out of jealousy that man, God's image bearer, is receiving the love of God and ruling over the world.

And so it still remains for man to enter into God's seventh day, through Christ. And so to walk with God. 
Its good to have been able to wrestle with the text a little further. It's a challenge to interpret a text well but far from impossible - and its useful to remember what's at stake in an interpretation. The same student also put forward something like this argument that Melchizedek is Shem. and several other tasty morsels from the Pentateuch... thoughts to ponder, what do you think?

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Old Testament is Christian Scripture

I've found myself in a few conversations recently about how to read the Old Testament. This is a passion of mine.In 2002 I became one of the founding editors of BeginningWithMoses.org which is designed to equip people to get into the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.

Seems to me there are six common approaches to the Old Testament. Three mistaken approaches are surely...

1. The god of the OT is a primative brute.
2. The OT teaches children to be moral, or at least some of it does.
3. The OT teaches a Messiah who isn't Jesus of Nazareth. (like the Pharisees did)

Better are these three, and FWIW I don't think these are necessarily alternatives to one another.

1. The OT teaches a Messiah will come. Revealed through the story of God's people in God's place under God's rule (Graeme Goldworthy's approach), the end point of these lines is Jesus.
2. The OT gives some examples for believers to learn from.
3. The OT shows us the Triune God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit revealed personally - before the Son is incarnated. Some range of views as to how clearly the this God is revealed.

I hear the first two taught often and people seem to baulk at the third as if the OT god is something lesser than the God you know when you know Jesus... which could easily land you back at the top of the first list...
David Peterson's work 'Christ and his People' and Sidney Griedanus 'Preaching Christ from the Old Testament' are helpful for showing that there are many ways to see the gospel from the Old Testament, from allusions to quotations, from God himself seen on stage, to many types and models... some explicit, some more implicit. Peter Leithart's Deep Exegesis has been a great friend in seeing some of this - at risk of over-reading details, but perhaps we're prone to miss things that would have been obvious to a reader steeped in the Pentateuch.

The key it seems to me is like the stones in the jar - get the big stones in the jar first. Who is God? What are the big models in the Old Testament that point to Christ (Tabernacle, King, etc)... and then start to fit the rest together.  Feed from Tim Keller, Graeme Goldsworthy, Don Carson and the NSBT series he edits, Ed Clowney, Glen Scrivener, Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, read old writers, read new writers. Enjoy the far fetched bits and hold onto the gold.
One of my favourite Old Testament books is Esther which isn't on the main storyline, more a spin-off series. It has no mention of God, happens in exile away from the Temple and land, which centres on a family from the tribe of Benjamin not Judah and isn't quoted in the New Testament still resounds with the gospel as its language and plotline allude to Genesis and Exodus and louder gospel themes. It takes a whole Bible to help make sense of Esther. And Esther will subsequently cast light back on the other 65 books...

I love the Old Testament for two reasons. Firstly, it's about The Christ. Secondly, it's stunning literature. It'd be a good book if it was either, but having both together is beautiful. How you handle it as having that ultimate theme expressed through such a range of literature is an art to learn, and like food to enjoy.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The story that all humans know in their bones they want to hear

"Being a Christian means living from within a particular story,. It is the subversive story of God and the world, focussed on Israel and thence on the Messiah, and reaching its climax in the Messiah's death and resurrection.

No Christian can ever tell this story too frequently, or know it too well, because it is the story that has shaped him or her in baptism and that must continue to shape thought, life and prayer thereafter... the exodus sttory, which stands behind so much of [Romans 6] remains decisive... Just as Jewish people discovered in the exodus story the character of their rescuing God, so the covenant faithfulness of this same God has been fully unveiled in the paschal events of Golgotha and Easter.

Learning about the Christian life and learning about the God revealed in Jesus Christ are two sides of the coin... the exodus story offers itself as the true story of the human race, and the Christian retelling of this story in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus Chirst must do so as well. This story, if true cannot siply be one little story among others, as tohugh it could take its place happily on the cultural smorgasbord, offering a certain kind of religious experience, alongside other stories that effectively enslaved humans and led them off to die.

Even the postmodern critique that insists that all large metanarratives are instruments of slavery appeals to, and gets its power from, one story that, it assumes, is not and that story is precisely is own version, filtered through many layers of cultural accretions, of the exodus narrative, the freeing of slaves from Pharaoh's yoke. The Christian gospel is, at this level, telling the story that all humans know n their bones they want to hear."

NT Wright, The Bible Interpreter's Commentary on Romans, p547-8

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

MP3: Noteless Preaching

Since August I've been trying to preach without notes, although I've bottled it a couple of times and reverted to a short outline that I've reached to from my back pocket.

On Sunday morning and evening I held my nerve as I preached from Acts 2:33 on Jesus Ascended for my good friends at Reading Family Church. You can listen to the morning mp3 here: RFC Resources. I think the evening one was slightly better and a few minutes longer than the 30min first run.

The whole experience of going noteless has huge advantages - no lectern, no notes to look at, no need to break your eye-contact with people, no formality of words... and everything seems to flow better. The cost is sometimes a little lack of precision in language, though not much if you work at it and continue to love language and reading as I do, because really the cost is in much more preparation time, internalising the message and believing it... which is no bad thing! It means that what I preach isn't the transfer of my notes to the congregations notes, but rather a message that has affected my heart, held out to their hearts. The downside is it might be an excuse to prepare less and wing it, but if we take preaching seriously it'll require more preparation not less to go without notes.

Might not be the best way for everyone but I'm enjoying it.

Noteless preaching means you can't be complex (though that doesn't mean you can't have depth), you need a coherent argument - a story even - and you're going to benefit from really letting the text shape your message...

I'm still learning. How do you do it?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

He Loves Us (Hosea 2:14-20)

I had the privilege of preaching for Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union tonight from Hosea 2:14-20. Here's the recording and my notes:
Download mp3: He Loves Us: Hosea 2:14-20 (31mins)
Download pdf notes: He Loves Us: Hosea 2:14-20 (31mins)

He Loves Us.
1. He Woos.
2. He Betroths.

By his wounds we are healed

Last Tuesday Anna Mason preached at Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union from Isaiah 53. She showed this video before helping us to see the new life and sonship we have because of the cross:

Monday, October 31, 2011

Why God Loves Halloween

Pete Dray has some cracking thoughts to give a different angle on Halloween. And fwiw I think this is exactly the kind of event CUs should be putting on at this time of year. Read 3 parts - Pete Dray: Why God Loves Halloween
"So why did celebration of All Hallows’ Day and All Hallows’ Eve emerge? What did they originally mean? In short, they were a celebration of the victory of those who trust in Jesus over the devil and over all evil..... What has happened for centuries on All Saints’ Eve – or Halloween – is quite simple. God’s people act out a drama – a drama in which the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is seen for what it really is. What is the means by which the demonic realm is seen for what it is? In a word: mockery. According to the Bible, the devil’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. And so, to remind themselves of Satan and the evil realm’s ultimate defeat because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians ridicule them. In fact, this is why the Medieval custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thought that the devil really looked like this; indeed, the Bible teaches that he is a fallen arch-angel. Rather, the idea of portraying him in this way is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thank God for The Law!

My boys are the 22nd generation of Bish's in Britain according to a distant relative who did some genealogy research about 20 years ago. That this rare name has been carried onwards for that long is cool to a geek like me... developing as it has from 'de la Bysse' to 'Bysshe' to 'Bish'.

As the New Testament opens we find that Jesus is the culmination of an 1800 year genealogy from Abraham via David and the exile. It's remarkable that this has happened and is traceable.

The Bible is a relentless search for The Seed (Gen 3:15) and so genealogies are mines in which to search for the gold of the gospel.... in which to search for The Christ.

What's The Law got to do with all of this? God made a promise and then 430 years later gave The Law. Later additions don't cancel or modifying the terms of a promise so why give the law?

For 430 years Abraham's family have been a family, a small family in Canaan who grew to a large nation contained in Goshen... and then they were set free as a vast nation with an inherited sinful desire for the gods of other nations with whom they began to intermarry.

The Law locked Israel down and ensures that a distinctive and identifiable remnant is preserved despite their best efforts to vanish into the nations and the pursuit of their gods. Much of Israel disappeared into nations (the Northern tribes) - but Judah (with Benjamin and Levi) survived. Imagine what would have been left without the restraining influence of the law...?

Thanks to The Law, 1800 years after Abraham, the promised Seed could come from a people carrying the grammar of the gospel (particularly around the Temple) "so that" (Galatians 3:22)  Jesus can be identified as the long expected Christ.

The Law helps us to see his life, death, resurrection, ascension and the pouring out of the Christing Spirit and know that Jesus is the Christ. Moses knew, and Jesus would preach himself from The Law to make his disciples hearts burn as they heard of The Seed, The Tabernacle... of Jesus leading his people out of slavery, of his meeting with his people, of the way that the air Israel breathed was meant to preserve her identity, and should have made her long for the Christ, and die to self-righteousness and sinning and everything (Gal 2:19). It put the nation death and in the end it put Jesus to death too...

Galatians 3 demonstrates the scope-limited, time-limited, purpose-limited but necessary role of the law for Israel, to bring the Christ - for all the nations. Not a complete theology of The Law, but a vital one, that served the gospel and has now completed it's purpose. The Law remains as Scripture from which all nations in Christ can benefit as they step into the promise made to Abraham concerning his offspring 'The Christ' in whom peoples from all the nations can become Sons of God.

Thank God for The Law given to Israel that ensured that the Christ came for the nations!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Isn't the Bible's god violent and evil?

Here's the tension. Jesus shows us the phenomenal love of the Triune God, the loving face and heart of his Father, annointed with the love-bringing Holy Spirit. And that's sweet.

But, doesn't the same Bible that shows us this God also reveal and angry and nasty god who told his people to commit genocide so they could acquire the land of Canaan for themselves...?

The Bible's claim is that God is a Trinity of love, revealed by Jesus - from beginning to end. It knows no sense of disunity between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. One Bible, one God. No half-time reinvention. No plan B.

When the Bible itself evaluates what we see of God it doesn't say - the OT god is nasty and the NT god is nice. It says, the OT shows the Triune God looking excessively patient, forgiving beyond the bounds of reasonable love. And it's not til the cross of Jesus happens that we have the event that helps us see that abundance of love was truly legitimate.

The same story holds when you look at Jonah's story. Jonah wants Nineveh to burn. He runs because he knows the Triune God wants to lavish his love upon them. People are more nasty than God is. When it comes to Canaan... this is about a patch of land that has been at the centre of controversy for thousands of years. For 400 years it was occupied by the Canaanites, who are a cursed people (Gen 10) who are perpetrators of great evil and child abuse. They're given 400 years in which to turn from their evil - or be judged...

When Israel are set free from their slavery in Egypt they arrive and send out the message that the Canaanites should leave the land. They don't have to die - they just have to get out of the land they've been polluting with their evil. The Bible is more physical than we tend to be - when Israel are booted out for their evil at the end of 2 Chronicles we're told the land breathes a sign of relief. The people of Canaan are invited to join Israel and discover life in the Triune God - there's no exclusivity, all are welcome.

Rahab the prostitute is perhaps the most notable example, joining Israel's royal family and becoming an ancestor of Jesus. They've heard of what the Triune God did in setting his beloved son free from slavery in Egypt - they've heard the gospel and can respond to Christ.

Against those who remain defiant it's the commander of the LORD's army (Jesus?) who leads the army (Joshua 5:15) in against the rebels. The sameone who led his people out of Egypt, who fights for his people and gives himself up for them.

But, should a god of love judge anyone? Might be we ask this because we want to avoid the possibility of ourselves being judged. Whatever our motive, what's a God of love like? The Bible shows us God whose love isn't dispassionate and indifferent to evil. He is no unmoved apathetic deity. His love burns for his own, and against evil,  especially evil done against those loved. When evil is done to people, to the LORD's adopted son Israel, to The Son, to the Holy Spirit (who his own people grieved in their grumbling) then his jealous love should rightly burn against evil. We expect justice to be done - and if not don't we then minimise evil and say it doesn't really matter...

If you want a god who is indifferent then you don't want the god of the Bible - but if you want to be cared for by a God who is passionate and warm and giving to his people (and will accept anyone into his people), who is compassionate and pleading and weeping to draw people out of darkness and into his light, and who hates evil with as much passion and he loves his Son, then you're onto someone real, with real love, burning love.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

See for yourself.

This year we're inviting students to invite other students to see for themselves who Jesus is, to uncover the evidence about him in Luke's gospel. Will you join us?
Evangelist Becky Pippert spoke at our national leaders conference to launch this initiative and she has written the resource and already 15,000 copies of it have been delivered to Christian students who are beginning to use it to read Luke with their friends. I hear of an Exeter student who has already seen a friend become a Christian through Uncover, has started reading with another friend and has another in mind soon too. Brilliant.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

If God is good, why so much suffering?

I spoke on suffering at Bristol University today. I began with Marcus Brigstocke's quest for god triggered by the death of his best friend James... considered the denial of suffering suggested by the western physical-only and eastern non-physical worldviews that are woefully inadequate... contemplated the horrifying karma approach before turning to the god we see in the face of Jesus, a god like no other god we've ever heard of...   This is the subject I've been asked to speak on most often and its not going away yet - so your feedback and thoughts are very welcome.

mp3: If God is good, why so much suffering? (33mins, inc Q&A)

My Notes 

In the Q&A the following questions arose. I don't think I gave the best answers to them when I was in the room, so here's some "after the event" responses that I wish I'd articulated....

1. Wouldn't an omnipotent god end suffering?
I don't believe in the omnipotent god. I believe in the god revealed by Jesus in person. And this god is powerful and he uses his power against all the suffering, evil and sin in the world not by wielding it but by yielding it. He takes on all that's bad in the world by Jesus dying to put the world to rights. Jesus weakness at the cross is the answer to suffering. Today we don't see the world fully put to rights but his resurrection is the evidence that one day newness is coming.

2. Why create suffering in the first place?
The world was good when it was created, and it's hard to think of suffering as a creatable thing - it's more a decreation, a corruption of things. Why allow that? Because to bring us into the life of god isn't just about us being creatures who associate with god, but means passing through death, seeing all sin and suffering put to death, so that we can be given a new flesh, a new life in god. Death is invented because Jesus had to die.

3. If Jesus suffered for us, shouldn't life now be free from suffering?
This relates to the first question. What's required has been achieved, we just await the fulfillment of it. Why wait? To give people from all over the world the opportunity to come into the life of God. When everything is set right that isn't automatically good news for the human race, because some of us push Jesus away - these days of suffering are days of patience in which we can come into God, and that's a huge price to pay - but a worthwhile price.

This morning I asked some tweeters to help warm me up for the Q&A. They asked me:
However you package it, your God is still responsible for suffering. Why should I believe in the God of cancer, tsunamis & aids? Does God just sit back and watch? Do God actively ordain/will personal suffering for each person? If yes, does this make God evil? A question from Text A Toastie in Bristol last night: If God exists why did he create cancer yet give us the power to cure it? Does God suffer?
Is God sovereign in our suffering? Does that mean it is His will for us to suffer?  I  read re Noah & was inspired thinking re the alternative to how God does it now - what would you prefer, forgiveness or flood?
I wont answer them here now, but I think having thought about them slipped into the talk at various points. So thanks team - you helped me and shaped the talk!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

JESUS: Transformission 2011 MP3s

Students from across the South West and many friends met in Exeter to be transformed for mission. Mike Reeves brought the word of the Lord to us concerning Jesus. Listen here:
1.Who is Jesus - is your God Jesus-less? See why many thing that joy is found without god but why real life is found in Jesus.

2.What has Jesus done - do you really know the gospel? Challenging simplistic gospel outlines with a beautiful portrayal of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. Plus a brilliant illustration of the gospel from child-birth... plus an intruiging observation that most Gentiles who joined God's people joined royal Judah... except one in 1 Chronicles... but who was it?

3. How does Jesus really feel about you? Inspired by the tender puritan Thomas Goodwin's writing on The Heart of Christ. At our worst and weakest, Jesus is most for us.

"Men call me Probus, my real name is Christian"

I'm thankful for Mike's service, he's a humble brother who is ahead of me in Christ but thankfully he's a first class preacher who brings the Christ he knows to us. Thankful also for Suzanne from IFES, Louise from Student Alpha, Jenny from Friends International and Peter from Cor Deo who exhibited, Owen and his band, James for selling books, the UCCF team who served selflessly, and the students who made it all happen.

Previous MP3s here from Transformission 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Day About Jesus

You're invited to join us in Exeter on Saturday 22nd October for Transformission. This year the conference is all about Jesus. We'll see how Jesus reveals, redeems and ask 'how does Jesus feel about you"

10.30-4.30, Belmont Chapel Exeter.
No booking required, free entry.
Catch a flavour from this video with our speaker, Mike Reeves:

A chat with Mike Reeves about Transformission 2011 from Dave Bish on Vimeo.

Friday, October 14, 2011

God hates you?

A video has been going around online featuring a prominent pastor telling his people (or at least those in his church meeting that day) that God hates them. This leader is someone I've benefitted much from, though I don't see eye-to-eye with him on a number of issues.

All events have context and in recent years, even this year, some well known leaders have wanted to say God doesn't get angry and hell will be empty and such like. To which others have piped up that we must re-emphasise the holiness and wrath of God. And make no mistake God is wrathful towards some and Jesus is the clearest teacher on hell.


God isn't a set of attributes to keep in balance. A bit of love, a bit of holiness and so on. God is a community of persons, and we know who he is as he comes to us in the person of Christ. Jesus loves us and gave himself for us (Gal 2:20) and he said, John 16:27, the Father himself loves us. He is all love.

Which means, however frustrating and unchanging people are, the answer isn't for a preacher to stand over and against their people. Behaviour frustrates, budgets can be pressing but harrassing people into change is not gospel ministry. As Christ makes his appeal through preachers they call people to come and be welcomed, loved, drawn, cared for. You can't microwave maturity by blow-torching people, tempting as it is. And I've tried it. It's not nice to do, and its horrid to hear.

The Triune God is all love. When he burns its passionate love in jealous protection of the Son against whom the world rages, the Spirit who is grieved by love spurned, and the Sons bride who he protects with his life. In the end justice will be done, but these are days of patience and mercy and love, as is true also when the NT summarises the OT (in Romans 3). His forgiveness is excessive. In these days of patience the preacher is to offer Christ who came out in love to find us. Such a preacher speaks the word of God and nourishes the people and offers life to the dead.

The preacher will be like their Christ, which is disturbing if your Christ is isn't full of love. The Biblically revealed Christ doesn't quench the smouldering wick or break the bruised, and preacher who sets Christ against people may have strayed from him. The Christ is no mean, spying dictator who is over and against people, he's the shining light and spreading love of his Father who came and was afflicted with and for us. His love is most seen and enacted, felt, and known in the Sons incarne life, death, resurrection, ascension and outpouring of the Spirit into our hearts.

Divine holiness is extreme personal love not scary power. Divine wrath is what happens when perfect love is refused. God was not eternally wrathful, he was always love. He always will be. So why speak otherwise? Why do anything but invite, woo, allure even hardened rebels with tender words of Christs love. People will either receive Christ and doubtless be radically transformed, or they'll refuse him to their own doom. Ours is to portray Christ and him crucified in the full technicolor of the Scriptures, in the full beauty and loveliness that is his.

Sitting under such preaching will soften hard hearts or harden them - depending on the Spirit's gracious movement upon his people. The Spirit-filled Christian will be comforted and encouraged, and warmed and helped and loved. Heavy handed exhortation wont be needed, because they'll be well nourished and strengthened. It might seem peculiar to pull back from exhortations and applications in favour of proclaiming Christ, but nothing changes someone more than meeting Christ, and nothing less than being told what to do, and nothing is more Christian than to be invited to receive Christ.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Richard Sibbes for Today

Over the past year or so I've been working on some lightly edited and modernised versions of material by the sweet puritan Richard Sibbes. I've self-published two volumes which you can order online via Lulu.com.

The Sunshine of the Gospel (151 pages. £4.99 + p&p) is a foundational introduction to warm Sibbesian thinking. Catch his emphasis on Christ, and on the heart being changed with these seven sermons on Josiah, on the Matchless Love of Christ, on The Song of Songs and on Lydia's heart being opened.

A Fire Kindled from Heaven (125 pages, £4.50 + p&p) builds on the first volume by bringing you some of Sibbes loveliest material on The Song of Songs.

P&P works out at about £3 if you just buy one book reducing to £2 per book for two... and if you buy 25 books it drops to about 69p per book etc. Lulu often have discount codes available that can take 15-25% off the price. Google for them. Use code CYBERWEEKUK305 at the checkout to save 25% off book price until 28/11/11

Covers designed by James Watts. Inevitably self-published books have some glitches in them so please bear with that :)

Reviews online: Admiral Creedy's Review of The Sunshine of the Gospel
Cat Caird's review of The Sunshine of the Gospel

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Game Changing Moment: Offer them Christ!

UCCF teams are made up of evangelists in the sense that they are made up of people who love to make Christ known and to equip the saints for evangelism, all for the good of the churches.

We gathered as a regional team for a couple of days this week, and were joined by two evangelists whose ministry includes working with Christian Unions. Glen Scrivener joined us with a brief for 'proclaiming Christ' and Michael Ots spoke on planning and strategy for missions among students. Between the two of them I think we're better skilled to help CUs plan for mission, and massively moved to offer Christ to people.

Proclaiming Christ 1 (90mins)
Proclaiming Christ 2 (78mins)
Proclaiming Christ 3 (81mins)
Proclaiming Christ 4 (65mins)
Proclaiming Christ 5 (81mins)

We considered Luther's categorisation of the three-fold word of the LORD (Christ, Scripture, Preaching) throughout the Bible, the life-giving way that the LORD is not needy but full of love, an overview of the LORD in Exodus in 20mins (Session 2) and the Trinity in Isaiah in 10mins (Session 3).. and then had that fleshed out from 1 Samuel (Session 4) and Luke's gospel (Session 5) which were real game changers for many in the room.  The ripples from this for our word ministry and service of the church will I hope be significant - feeling as we did the burning sense that Christ must be offered to this generation, and can be!

Breath-taking reflections (opening of Session 1) on how its better to have the Scriptures today than to have been in the room with the resurrected Jesus like Thomas (as in John 20)... the way that the word of God doesn't need experts but creates heralds... a wonderful clarity on the character of the Triune God and the Father's shining, loving, giving word. It's 6.5 hours of training material but I'd highly commend it to you. A helpful voice, among many who I feel privileged to benefit from.

Next time we meet we'll be joined by Pete Lowman who will share from his book A Long Way East of Eden on engaging with culture - which I've heard characterised as being like Keller's Reason for God, but better and published earlier but less well known. I'm inclined to agree. Lowman pioneered student mission in Russia 20 years ago and now leads a church in Reading.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I'm an atheist

I was asked on Sunday how I'd recommend responding to those who are 'new atheists' (followers of Dawkins/Hitchins etc). I want to listen and love them and invite some conversation. Often it goes this way:

Person A: I'm an atheist.
Person B (often): Oh. 
End of conversation.

What if we could try this:

Person A: I'm an atheist. 
Person B: Can you tell me about the god you don't believe in?

This is a way of opening conversation that was probably being closed down, and it doesn't require expertise, just a listening ear. If the invitation is accepted what you'll often then hear is...

Person A: god is big, nasty, accusing, condemning, unstable, against us...
Person B: Interesting, sounds horrible - I don't think I'd want to believe in that kind of god either, where does that view of god come from?
Person A: ...
Person B: Can I tell you about the god I know, would you take a look at Jesus with me...

Which presupposes that a Christian gets that their god isn't "big, nasty, accusing, condemning, unstable, against us" which he isn't. That view verges on the demonic and is very ugly, whereas if we take a look at Jesus we something very different. Turns out for many people that this issue isn't so much whether a god could exist but a passion for a certain kind of god not to exist... and again I'm keen to engage with the historical person of Jesus whom investigation of might end up with us using (redefining) words like god, but in a very different kind of way.

And when we get talking I'm not convinced Richard Dawkins has that many followers. More people are like Marcus Brigstocke who have been put off hard-core atheism by Dawkins, have taken a cursory look at the options and are left without a god they're happy to believe in, but also left with a fear of being alone and without any good answers to the problem of suffering.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Only Jesus doesn't make demands

Elliot Morley was released in September after serving four months of a sixteen month sentence for fraud to the amount of £32,000.
Prior to that he was the MP for Glanford and Scunthorpe. One of those caught in the expenses scandal. And we're disappointed. Leadership is entrusted to people and they seem to fail us... sometimes they're corrupt, sometimes they're conspiratorial, sometimes they're abusive...
Morley is just an example, and the same can be seen closer to home. .

My first experience of leadership was as a Scout. I was overlooked for leadership as a 13 year old and was furious, frustrated and angry. When a year later I was finally given an opportunity to serve I seized it with a clenched fist, a bad temper and a stamping foot. Not everyone has had authority but invariably, we're all either in authority over someone or under someone elses authority. Some carry that well but many fall short. Yet we hope and dream for more. We long for someone to lead well.

And then one Saturday Jesus walked into a Synagogue in Capernaum and people's verdict was - what stunning authority. It's worth asking whether that's off-putting or something that stirs optimism?

Listen on... MP3: Dave Bish - Jesus' Authority (24mins + a reading from Mark's gospel first)
1. You need someone who will give not take. In contrast to the demanding lurking and imposing 'teachers of law'
2. You need someone who will get you into God. Someone who wont fail us like religion has - who can deal with our uncleanness.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Isn't the Bible unreliable and irrelevant?

I gave one of the lunchtime talks on behalf of the Evangelical Christian Union at Exeter University today. These are public events, with food, a talk and Q&A.

The talk is a mix of Ian McEwan's melancholy stories, John Gray and Brian Cox on the story of progress, the speeding neutrino moment, a smattering of manuscript evidence, an introduction to Luke's gospel, and a bit of the parable of the sons.

Download mp3 including the Q&A (40mins) 

I was basically pleased with how it went, feedback was positive and the four questions asked were good questions. I went in with a bit too much material and full-notes which I dipped in and out of - less would have been more helpful. Live and learn. Hopefully I can use a version of this again at other CUs in the South West this year.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Sub-Atomic Particle That Was Caught Speeding (or, what could convince Philip Pullman to believe in God)

BBC takes five minutes with Philip Pullman in which he speaks of his love of storytelling and plot - which I love, life is a story. We all have a story to make sense of life's big questions - about how we got here, about what (if anything) is wrong with the world, about how to fix things, about where we're going... What's your story?

Ian McEwan gives Bryony Tallis a tragic story that she wants to give a haappy ending, but can just make up a story. Facts and evidence matter. And experience.

Pullman admits that it's not a rational argument that could convince him to believe in God but rather a direct experience (which suggests its his experience of a lack of experience of God that means he doesn't believe) - experience drives so much of what we believe!... and of the stories we love.

 Meanwhile, four minutes with Brian Cox on the particles that might have been caught speeding: Brian Cox on the possible rewriting of a century of physics. I'm guessing we'll find that there was an error in the experiment but it's worth checking it out. What if something happens that doesn't fit with what we know? What can we do... check the evidence thoroughly but also be prepared to see our world turned upside down. What if people met a man who had died and now appeared to be alive? What if the evidence stacked up and you had to re-write the story you previously had? Would you investigate the evidence for yourself?. What might you uncover?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Spirit Break Out and 10000 Reasons

This week I've been enjoying the recent worship albums from Matt Redman and Worship Central. The roots of both albums are the youthful Spirit-filled life of Soul Survivor church and festivals, though both are now more directly connected to Holy Trinity Brompton or it's Brighton church plant St Peters. This is what comes out of the Church of England at it's best.

We've been using some of the Redman songs in church and last week at UCCF Forum, and I'm taken by them - songs like Bless the Lord O My Soul (or, 10000 reasons) are melodic worship songs that allow the heart to be lifted, and Here For You is the heart's cry to meet with God. I also love We could change the world - what if the gospel is as good as it seems...

Spirit Break Out has a slightly different feel - it's a more edgy live album, and features several different lead musicians from the Worship Central collective - and even a bit of Graham Kendrick's Shine Jesus Shine turned into a rap by Myles Dhillon - a welcome revival of his great lyrics that call for the Spirit to blaze in our hearts and our nation. Songs like Ben Cantelon's Saviour of the World are great expressions of the greatness of Jesus, and the title track gives words and music to express my desires.

Personally I'm still waiting for the next Matt Giles album but in the mean time these two offer some great new songs about the old old story. They serve the church because the people of the Triune God are a singing people.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

You're Welcome

Why is the church in China growing? The BBC report:
"But in church people feel warm, they feel welcome… they feel people really love them so they really want to join the community, a lot of people come for this."
Of course the church grows because the Triune God builds it, but the least you can expect if that's happening is a relaxed and warm welcome. Jesus is friendly and the church imperfectly reflects that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins?

I'm intruiged by Richard Dawkins new teenager-targetted 273 page book (released Sept 15th) which attempts to dispel the beautiful myths that humanity loves - aka the world's religions. Evolution he says is "more poetic than the bible" (so much for it being science then....)

Jeremy Paxman interviews him (from about 37mins onward) on Newsnight. He's persuaded that evolution tells a better story than the old stories we love... I'd have loved to have seen him debate with JRR Tolkein on Fairy Stories. He admits to being affected by Genesis, but wont believe its true... because only "stupid and ignorant people" would believe it... instead he says, believe the better story of science.

The best story should win - and will win - and shouldn't just be the best story but the truest story too - he's right about that. Now we can talk about both the quality of our explanatory stories and the evidence for them.

Further Reading: The Magic of Reality - Richard Dawkins - Amazon 
On Fairy Stories - JRR Tolkein - PDF

ps: the bit when you ask in your book where did the light come from before the sun in Genesis 1.... Richard, that'll be Jesus.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Transformission 2011 - a chat with Mike Reeves

Last week at Forum 2011 I had a chat with Mike Reeves about Transformission 2011, a free one day conference happening on Saturday 22nd October at Belmont Chapel, Exeter, 10.30-4.30pm. Targetted as a launch to a year of united student mission but open to the wider church. No booking required.
Shot on the campsite, hence the chatter and wind noise. Unedited.

Monday, September 05, 2011

#FORUM2011: Leaders in Mission

 Today 121 students, six staff and seven Relay from the South West will join with around 900 others at this year's FORUM conference. This is a leaders conference for students, to equip them for mission. A leader in that case isn't someone who has a "job" in a Christian Union but someone who is on mission, influencing others, leading the line to win students to Jesus and see the local churches built.

You'll be able to follow along at #forum2011 and UCCF on Facebook where I'd expect an outpouring of social media. I'm camping so subject to getting access to enough power I'll tweet along.

Teaching will be delivered by CU staff - I'm co-leading a track with Jo Larcombe and Cat Caird on Being Disciples of our Transforming God which will be an adventure into espousal and adoption theology applied to our lives and mission. Worship will be led by Canterbury CU Staff / City Church Canterbury worship leader Olly Knight. And we'll be joined by guest speakers Mark Meynell and Becky Pippert. I'm looking forward to catching up with Adrian Holloway who'll be a guest during the week ahead of his involvement in student mission this term.

I'm looking forward to praying for the spread of the good news about Jesus. I'm looking forward to everything about it. This will be my 12th time at Forum and I love the way it's shaped students lives, launches us into effective mission in Freshers week and beyond. I love that some CU's send 20-30 students along to catch the vision.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Plentiful: The Taste of the Gospel

Something about tight-fistedness, smallness, monotony, lack of progress, lack and loss of life grates against us. It feels out of place. Not proof in themselves of how things are meant to be, but a hint engraved on our hearts that this world isn't meant for frustration.

The story validated by the historical life, death and resurrection of Jesus is different. Tracking backwards it says the Triune God created a world in which there is fruitfulness and multiplication, in which emptiness is filled by beings who will spread outwards. The love of the generous Father is like this. A fountain of life, flowed from the hills of Eden and from the heart of the Father to his Son and to the world. He gives his son, and he gives the Spirit. He gives and goes on giving.

When people curve in on themselves he comes out to them, and keeps on coming. And when he wins their hearts he turns them inside out so they cease to overflow with sewage and begin to overflow with spirit-filled life. When invitations are refused the word goes out to the highways and byways, always reaching, always drawing, always inviting, always embracing. In love he stands waiting and looking for the irreligious and climbs the hillside to plead with the religious - longing to embrace them that they might enjoy his joy. The love of God overflows and overflows.

His ways are not neat and calculated, his steadfast love is not dispassionate and measured, the gospel is not a mathematical formula to fix things. His salvation is not merely a functional rescue but relational welcome. Salvation is not a pill or a pass or pattern for living that he gives us, for he gives us himself. To know, and to know more. To fill us and fill us more. When we speak of the gospel we mean the news which needs words yet struggles to find words wonderful enough to express the heart of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Plentiful is an adjective meaning existing or yielding great quantities; abundant: as in 'the wine is plentiful'. A gospel word.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
Psalm 130:7

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Can you help with my training?

Dear Blog Reader,
I'm learning that its all too easy to say "I need nothing" (Rev3:17) and that is rarely true.
I'm writing this because I have need and, in Christ, you might help. Please feel no obligation to be the answer to my prayer.

I'm half way through a two year leadership training course which has been very helpful for my development. The course covers training on leadership and preaching, doctrine and Biblical studies. Thus far I've raised about 66% of the course fees so far but that leaves a shortfall of about £800 (or £640 + giftaid).

If you'd like to help me towards that total please drop an email to dbish@uccf.org.uk and I'll let you know how you could give via my church.
Thank you. Dave.

Normal blogging will resume shortly and sink this post into the archives.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Can you make good decisions?

At the recommendation of  @stualred I've just read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. It's a storytelling exploration of decision making, of "thinking without thinking".

 Gladwell considers that we can make good decisions based on very thin slices of information - if we know what we're looking for (finding out might take enormous amounts of research - something Stu's Rugby coaching Dad has done for his PhD).

But we don't always get those moments right...
  • Sometimes we have too much information - drowning out what we actually need to see.  This is compellingly illustrated from the case of a hospital discovering that three questions could help them work out who needed immediate care for risk of a heart attack, for example.
  • Sometimes we develop an "in the moment autism" that stops us from reading the situation. So, in the moment we might get it wrong because of the heat of the moment. We choke. Whether sportsmen or policemen caught in a tense situation.
  • Sometimes our subconscious biases blind us. As when Orchestra's used to consistently overlook female musicians until a screen hid this at audition - then numbers rose. Are job interviews fair? Is justice really blind? For right or wrong first impressions are very significant.

For me it raised lots of questions for the work I'm doing among University students, to introduce them to Jesus. I'm faced with leadership decisions in my work.
  • Do I have the information to make them rightly?
  • Am I able to read the thin slice of information I need to do that well? 
  • What moments throw my instincts in the air and stop me making the right calls? 
  • Where do I have information overload that drowns out what matters? Myers-Briggs tells me I'm extreme on the Intuition side of the scale - as opposed to Sensing (INTP though almost an ENTP fwiw).
  • How can I grow in being me - but also avoid blindspots? 
  • What about the context we set as a team, church or CU at the front door, at the first point of contact - are people able to make a good decision or are there things we do that distrupt that unhelpfully?
  • What about the way I supervise my staff - what are the key questions I need to be asking them to serve them well when I'm with them? They don't tell me everything about everything - and they don't need to - but what information do I need to get an accurate picture of the work, and more importantly how they are? What are the different questions for the different people?
  • To what extent does the six page monthly review my staff omplete really get to the information that matters? Does it serve them and me, or does it fail to get to the heart?
  • How can I equip young evangelists to not choke in the situations they face - whether conversationally or in public debate?
  • How can I equip young leaders to analyse situations well - to capture the right information and not to choke the opportunity they're called to whether as a member of my team or as a student missions leader? 
  • How as friends, colleagues and partners in the gospel should we respond when 'in the moment' we make the wrong decisions? How can we lavish grace upon one another, forgive, comfort and advance together?
And what are the theological implications / theological perspectives on this issue?
  • I know that I'm prone to fallibility and bias and discrimination because I'm curved in on myself - how can the grace of God overcome that? How does being in Christ shape my relationships?
  • How can I love people better? 
  • Am I just my decisions? 
Blink is a helpful "look at self" resource, one not to live by but one which can be a helpful tool alongside ten looks to Christ.

Have you read it? Your thoughts? Questions? Answers?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is your ministry manipulative?

"I'M A COW... COME PLAY WITH ME... HUG ME." Kids toys have this strange way of sounding both patronising and terribly needy and (after a while) annoying. Though kids love them the rest of us can only live with them in short bursts....

No gospel minister would want to be so soul-destroying? When Paul is reminding the Galatians (Galatians 4:8-5:1) of the contrast between his ministry and that of the incoming Slave Teachers he follows a long theological argument with one drawn from their experience.

The slave teachers come in to "make much of you" - which is ok (genuine encouragement and affirmation are vital), but they only do it so that "you'll make much of them". I'll love you if you'll love me back. That's to say - they're manipulative ministers. At first everyone likes to be made much of but after a while this power play gets tiresome. Paul observes it has drained away the Galatians joy, it has cast aside "the blessing they felt" when they first received the gospel. It's ugly.

It's filled with false teaching but it's form is problematic too. Indeed it's form is shaped by it's theology. The Slave Teachers enslave people to rules and religion and systems and behaviour. They are their own god. And people don't make very good gods. We're too power hungry and insecure.
And so I-am-god (aka I'm-a-cow) ministry loves to micro-manage people and situations...
...trying to pull all the strings, every decision needing to be supervised and run past such a minister.
...seeking the last word in everything, whether to affirm or caveat or just to HAVE MY SAY.
...trying to keep everything looking "perfect" with all the right labels and big names and associated nonsense so that the right people will think the right things about me and my miinistry.
Looked at that way, I think you can make a case for micro-management being heretical - or at least that it's one of the fruits of effectively believing a false gospel. 

In the end it turns to being mocking ministry, which is what it was all along. Paul knew persecution inside-out, he used to be a persecutor. And slaves manipulate and mock the free... and that carries on until Christ is revealed and then everything changes.

Paul's Christian ministry by contrast is motherly. He is anguished and perplexed. He doesn't seek their fan-mail. He doesn't want them to turn to him for everything, but rather to see "Christ formed in you". Not Paul's plan, not Paul's ideas - good as they might have been - but Christ in you. A Christian knows God, and is known by God. Blessed because the cursed is turned onto Christ. Joined into Christ's death and resurrection, and with the Spirit of the Son living within. Motherly ministry hurts the heart and hurts the head but it's fruit is incredibly sweet when Christ is formed in people. 

Paul is free to do one thing only: free to preach Christ to them. His ministry is about Jesus and people. And it will refresh people, it will enlarge their freedom, it will renew their joy, it'll restore their sense of God's blessing upon them in the gospel . Such gospel ministry isn't about driving people or giving them every last detail and plan, it's about casting a vision, capturing their imagination and their heart, trusting the Spirit to change people. Such gospel people are refreshing company, and theirs is the kind of ministry you can never have enough of.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Preaching to Yourself (Not really a review of Note to Self)

This is a cool book. It's RELIT. It's 48 tiny chapters in a pocket size book. I had this planned to be my bathroom book for 48 days. It's aim is to address the question of what it means to preach to yourself. This isn't a review of the book, it's more a thought that sparked from reading it. 

PREACHING TO YOURSELF has become popular of late. Mostly I think lifted from Biblical example, mediated by Martyn Lloyd-Jones' exhortation in Spiritual Depression to spend more time talking to yourself than listening to yourself. Which is a great thing. There is a need to address our souls, to speak to our hearts. Joe Thorns book seeks to show HOW to speak to yourself.

The introduction immediately threw me off with it's call to not just preach gospel to ourselves but to preach law and gospel too. There are several evangelical approaches to law, and my disappointment is probably that mine isn't the same as Thorns. My view (Modified Lutheran) shoots for law being Scripture that shows us Christ (though it originally had other purposes for Israel).

Note to Self follows a Reformed (possibly even Lutheran) approach that says we need the law to show us we're sinful before we come to Christ. I say: I need Christ to turn me to Christ. And the books of law can do that as well as the rest of Scripture. I think that's the root of my problem with Note to Self. Thorn is a cool Classic Reformed guy which is fair enough. And from that view of law/gospel this probably an excellent book. More than that he's a brother who can teach me a lot. A lot. I'm not really picking a fight with this book.
It just got me thinking about how to preach to myself. The book is framed as law then gospel, but it felt more like law. Much like many of my encounters with more classic reformed approaches in preaching.
Thorn repeatedly assures me I'm sinful and that change is needed, and even that the hope I need is in an aspect of the gospel. What's happening? I'm being told to believe the gospel, rather than having Christ publicly portrayed to me that I might believe in him. It's one thing to tell me I'm loved, it's another to be apprehended by his love...to be stopped in my tracks as my heart is confronted with the beauty of the Christ. I think the difference is significant.

I hoped Note to Self might be a little sweet 21st Century puritan number... 48 chapters that would preach Christ to my heart, not necessarily hitting my sin head-on, but causing me to embrace Christ again instead of sin because I see Christ so wonderfully. I wanted to taste that honey was sweet rather than be told that it was. I need the Christ, I need to see how he's loved by his Father, and loves and catches me up in his love in the Spirit... Christ is my life not me.

I'm wretched in my dead old self, I know that all too well. When preaching to myself I need Christ. The key is not in learning and remembering, nor the failure in my failing to do that. One look to self with ten looks to Christ. I do not... but Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ. The fault may well be in me, but for me this was a book that - to borrow from Antoine de Saint-Expury - taught me about boat building rather than making me dream of the sea.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

We're praying for our vicar to be saved!

On Friday at Together at Westpoint Terry Virgo told an anecdote of his experience of meeting someone who had been awakened to the grace of God and the work of the Spirit at a major Christian conference. As they thanked Terry for his teaching on this they said, "now we're going home, praying that our vicar will be saved".

Terry's reply was of some bewilderment. Reminding us that "just because it's called St. Something's" doesn't mean it's a church.... and if the leader isn't a Christian then the thing is probably failing some sort of test of being a church, right?

Obviously praying for the vicar to become a Christian is good, but the observation suggests that these newly revived believers need to go and find a church they can thrive in - and from there look to win the world for Christ, even the bits that call themselves churches.

If your "church" doesn't love the gospel then it's not a church right? And a Christian has got to be rooted in a church. We, understandably, develop such strong allegiance to our communities...  but there is a world to win for Christ who need to hear the gospel and see real church happening. Sometimes you have to hear the Spirit's stirring and get out of Babylon to go and build the house of God (Ezra 1) - you have to get where God is present.

A Christian leader coming into a religious institution to win it for Christ is probably also not leading a church at first - though it might yet plant a church among the religious. If you're not the leader can you really get very far - and even if you can, don't you need to be part of a church in the meantime? And wouldn't that make the mission more effective? Wouldn't that mean you could stand with others pulling in the same direction - it's fair enough to expect someone who isn't a Christian not to believe in your mission, but when we kid ourselves that the religious are the church don't we betray the gospel, don't we defame Christ?

Do good believers in dead churches just prop up bad institutions? Or might they win them for Christ?
Or, should they get out - plant a new church - and seek to win the religious and the irreligious in their community? 
Got me thinking - what do you think?

If you've ever wondered what the church could be, I cannot think of a better book than Terry Virgo's The Spirit-Filled Church (£4.38 at Book Depository)

What makes a leader?

At the recommendation of David Capener I got hold of a copy of HBR's 10 Must Reads: On Leadership. A collection of papers from the Harvard Business Review. The first chapter is by Daniel Goleman, you can read it online here What makes a leader?.
"Every businessperson knows a story about a highly intelligent, highly skilled executive who was promoted into a leadership position only to fail at the job. And they also know a story about someone with solid-but not extraordinary-intellectual abilities and technical skills who was promoted into a similar position and then soared. Such anecdotes support the widespread belief that identifying individuals with the "right stuff" to be leaders is more art than science. After all, the personal styles of superb leaders vary: some leaders are subdued and analytical; others shout their manifestos from the mountaintops. And just as important, different situations call for different types of leadership. Most mergers need a sensitive negotiator at the helm, whereas many turnarounds require a more forceful authority. I have found, however, that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence."
What is this Emotional Intelligence?
1. Self-awareness - knowing yourself.
2. Self-regulation - self-control, restraint when things don't go well etc.
3. Motivation - drive to achieve
4. Empathy - ability to understand other people and their feelings
5. Social skill - the ability to win others over and move them.

Which is both interesting and probably quite obvious. I'm wondering how this impacts the work I do. My team's work is two-fold, firstly front-line evangelism with students, and secondly leading leaders into leadership. Encouragingly he says we can grow in these areas. I know I need to, and I want to help my team to do the same themselves, and to serve young leaders in that.My approach to leadership development is seeking to be gospel-shaped, so where does Emotional Intelligence fit into that?

Seems to me that Strong Gospel-Shapedness isn't far off strong Emotional Intelligence? Gospel-shapedness is bigger and broader bit there is certainly major overlap. Those shaped by the gospel are aware of themselves and others, they're people who, being caught up in the love of God, become other-centred. Leading for the good of others and the purposes of the gospel to see the love of God further spread.

Goleman calls it EI but it looks like the fruit of the Spirit... does that mean every Christian could lead? Perhaps! Though perhaps not in every context - motivation to succeed is costly and we all make choices - to favour family or money or power or geography etc. But those becoming like Christ surely become influencers. And that influence isn't ruthless and unpersonal, as with EI it is relational as well as robust. How does a leader with strong EI lead - for the good of others and the work they're involved in...  through partnerships and trust and respect, even with love.

It may be that every leader needs emotional intelligence, but of course not everyone with strong emotional intelligence will be a leader. Or that leadership will not be in every context. Sometimes another is leading, but bringing our strengths to that situation will serve that leadership well. Much of what I'm reading in this HBR book is simply helpful wisdom for everyone - worked out and applied to leadership but useful and easily applicable to all kinds of contexts.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fairy Tales: Eternal hope in a melancholy world

We don't read fairy tales to escape reality - think CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein or JK Rowling (initals required) - but because they are able to draw us out of self love and cynicism into bigger stories, even while we remain in our small situations. By carrying us into their semi-reality they take us into underlying reality.

Erik Davies observes that Tolkein's stories offer "eternal hope in a melancholy world". Tolkein argues that "people sense that such stories point to some underlying Reality. As we read or watch them, we are being told that the world is certainly filled with danger . . . nonetheless there is a meaning to things, there is a difference between good and evil, and above all there will be a final defeat of evil . . .the gospel story of Jesus is the underlying Reality to which all the stories point. . . it is the true story; it happened".

Don't we long for such stories?
Wherever we find ourselves looking we long for better, for more... what if someone could come and console those hopes with a true story?
Wouldn't you want that?

Tim Keller (afterword to his book King's Cross) "Steven Spielberg was refused any Oscars until he stopped making movies with only happy endings, yet his fairy tale-ending movies are his most popular. . . critics observe this and scowl that, of course, "escapist" stories will always be popular".

Personally, I want my boys to grow up with fairy tales, the fictious ones and the one that came true. I'll read Lewis and Tolkein and Potter and The Jesus Storybook Bible with them. I want them to dream and imagine - you can't suppress those things so it'd be better to enflame and encourage them.

In The Return of the King Tolkein has some of his most famous writing (The Fields of Cormallen, Book V, Chapter IV)
Sam lay back, and started with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last has gasped: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” “A great shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then as sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed. “How do I feel?” he cried. “Well I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel” – he waved his arms in the air – “I feel like spring after winter....
A bit like Michael Ward's observation that The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe tells the story of "winter past and guilt forgiven". For some reason, we long for the Spring and Summer... for new life, for longer days and sunnier skies... ours is an inconsolable longing. That frustrating sense of eternity in our hearts that makes us perceive more without being able to get our hands on it ourselves. Which makes us long to climb the ladder without ever reaching the top. We need someone who can satisfy us, one who can fulfill the great stories, a true hero who wins through weakness, a suffering and sacrificial servant... a true and better Frodo, a true and better Aslan, a true and better Harry Potter...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You need the rejoicing King

Part 3 of 3 of my script from my sermon on Psalm 63: Finding Satisfaction. MP3: Finding Satisfaction - Psalm 63 


V11: The beloved king rejoices! This David had appointed priests to “raise sounds of joy”. The King Rejoices in God. And isn’t his joy infectious, you look at his smile and you can’t help but begin to smile… And the point?

Andrew Bonar observed: “when we read this Psalm as spoken of and by Christ, how much is every verse enhanced?" 

This is David’s prayer of his desire, but truly it is the prayer of the True David, the True Beloved. Of G reat David’s greater Son: King Jesus. Here him sing this song. Here the voice of the one who has always been satisfied in God – even in the wilderness of his great suffering at the cross. King Jesus rejoices. Hear Jesus’ thirst for God, My God! Jesus’ vision of God! Hear his estimate of God’s loving kindness, for the Son always enjoyed his Father’s steadfast love, from eternity past. Hear his soul satisfied with his Father’s food! His mouth is full of praise! He follows hard after God! The King Rejoices!

In Exodus 28:29 God says the names of the people should be written on the breastplate of The Priest so that he can carry them into the Sanctuary on his heart. Remember, a mere king could not do this. David couldn’t.
But, the Lord Jesus Christ is both KING and PRIEST. And he will carry us to his Father - at whose right hand he sits - carrying us on his heart, on the basis of his blood shed for us.

Horatius Bonar’s hymn says it well:
  “Upon a life I did not live, upon a death I did not die, 
 Another’s life, another’s death – I stake my eternity” 

This is good news if you are in the wilderness. Longing for change, this song says: Don’t look within, look to the rejoicing king. See his joy in the Father. See Jesus dancing in the presence of the angels as another person is given him by the Father. See his joy as he draws you to himself. See his delight as he reveals his Father to you. See Jesus happiness as your name is written on his heart. Share in Jesus happiness as he carries you into his relationship with his Father. We don’t have to whip up joy in ourselves, nor just watch his joy from outside the window – he invites us in. Psalm 63 is a call to be carried into the society of the Triune God. To look upon him, away from ourselves, and find our joy and our life in the King’s Life! Taste and see the love of God in Jesus. And now picture the effect of this on the church.

 How does this shape us as we pursue the vision God has given us to LOVE, EXPLAIN and INVITE? Consider Marcus Brigstocke. Love. When I read his book I wept – and that’s what I’d want to do if I was sat with him, or the many like him our city – who have suffered loss – in his case his best friend died, who fear being alone, who wish there could be a god but can’t bear the gods they’ve heard of. The same could be said of many in our society, rioters and their victims. People longing for more – not to escape their situation, but to truly live in it. After much listening and weeping I’d want to explain that the god people are searching for, the one all our desires and searching point to is called Jesus.

And then I’d want to invite him into what? To formal miserable religion? No. My God quenches the thirsty as they receive the Son he loves. My God fills the hungry as they feed on him. My God meets your inconsolable longing, not saying save yourself, not saying search inside yourself. But simply: Behold Rejoicing King Jesus! Here is good news: When you don’t desire the LORD, the King does. His joy is open to all – when your heart searches for satisfaction, look to the God of love – look to Jesus who rejoices in God his Father. The story of Jesus is the fairy tale that came true in space and time. The story of Jesus says: you’re not alone. The story of Jesus says that the one we’ve been looking and longing for is the Lord Jesus Christ.