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

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.