Saturday, December 23, 2006

Back home...

Enjoying getting a better understanding of who Jesus is, as I read Hebrews 1 & 2 and John 1. Christmas truly is a celebration of an amazing event... The Word became flesh! Being encouraged to get a much bigger view of the Lord Jesus Christ - creator, sustainer, redeemer. GOD! Eternal. Life-giver. Know Jesus! These are times when we need to be clear on who he is!

Great to spend a few hours in Don Vegas as The Gentlemen played at St. Mary's Wheatley, and Maz told of the bad news and the good news.

Mike showed his legendary status is well-deserved as he drove the choon-machine all the way to the 'ham, and we enjoyed a full english before driving down to Donny with a big red sun belting through the mist. There's something unique about night-driving. Post-gig we headed back to the north-west with Nancy, another former Durham-er, and it was great to be encouraged by hearing about gospel-work amongst the youth of Liverpool, as well as general post-uni life.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Word Up in the Peak District...

A great time was had this last weekend up at Ravenstor Youth Hostel, on the outskirts of Derbyshire, enjoying a weekend with forty or so students from across the country. The Peak District is beautiful - almost felt like I was in Pride & Prejudice. Bleak horizons with sparse trees standing dark against low-sun winter sunsets. No lakes to clamber out of dripping wet though.

Some more highlights:

- Seeing old faces from camp this last summer, and how grace has been poured out!
- Quality gameage, both old and new... a personal return for the sofa-game, for the first time since SA. Mafia with 25 people was intense, and the animal games never fails to bring everyone to hysterics... "I'm a dog!"
- Brilliant food, including roast chicken and Christmas pud for lunch today
- Being able to osmosize whilst listening to older wiser Christians converse.
- Getting to know some Durham faces a lot better.

On top of all that...
Bible Teaching on the 10 Commandments, and Faith, Hope, & Love were immense.
How the law brings us to our knees - standard and standard not reached, so to have a Law-Keeper! What an amazing thing! So we press on with faith and hope and love - all key as we live for Him.
Also challenged greatly on integrity and encouraged by assurance! Enthused by the gospel as I face tomorrow!

Friday, December 15, 2006

There is A River...

Listening to Jars of Clay's new record, Good Monsters. Here's a snippet:
There is a river that washes you clean
There is a tree that marks the places you've been
Blood that was spilt, although not your own
For all of these things, love will atone

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Necessity of the Atonement...

Reading John Murray's Redemption Accomplished and Applied, which is Christmas reading. Chapter 1 focuses on the necessity of the atonement.

"No treatment of the atonement can be properly orientated that does not trace its source to the free and sovereign love of God." Easy-to-overlook, but totally mega!

And this love is distinguishing: he predestinates (Rom 8.29) and chooses (Eph 1.4,5). It is the determinate purpose of this love that the atonement secures. God is love, truly. Yet the nature of electing love means that God is under no necessity to set his love upon undesirable and hell-deserving objects.

"The atonement does not win or constrain the love of God ... It must be regarded, therefore, as a settled datum that the love of God is the cause or source of the atonement."

But why the necessity of the atonement? Why was the means of accomplishing love's determinate purpose, the atonement? Murray points to two schools of thought: hypothetical necessity and consequent absolute necessity. The former claims there was a way of forgiving sin and saving the elect without atonement or satisfaction, it's just God chose in wisdom to use this 'way'. The latter claims, sure salvation was the good pleasure of God and of no necessity to God, but once God has selected some to everlasting life out of grace, he is under necessity to accomplish this through the atonement.

Is it impossible for him to save sinners without vicarious sacrifice? To help me digest Murray's argument I've made brief notes as below:

1. Hebrews 2.10, 17 :: Implies that salvation should be accomplished through a captain of salvation who would be made perfect through sufferings, and this entailed he be made in all things like his brethren.

2. John 3.14-16 :: This verses suggest the alternative to the giving of God's son are the eternal perdition of the lost.

3. Hebrews 1.1-3; 2.9-18; 9.9-14, 22-28 :: There is a necessity that can be met by nothing less than the blood of Jesus, as he is Son and partaker of flesh and blood. This is due to the gravity of sin, and the required sacrifice to deal with sin.

4. Salvation comprises of justification to those previously condemned, thus a righteousness is necessary. The only such righteousness available is that of Christ.

5. Can the cross be held aloft as the supreme demonstration of the love of God if there another way of achieving salvation, and thus such costliness were not necessary?

6. Sin is such that salvation from sin without expiation and propitiation is inconcievable. Christ was a propitiation to declare God's righteousness.

"The more we emphasize the inflexible demands of justice and holiness the more marvellous become the love of God and its provisions."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Why did Augustine write about grace so much...

"First and foremost because no subject gives me greater pleasure. For what ought to be more attractive to us sick men, than grace, grace by which we are healed; for us lazy men, than grace, grace by which we are stirred up; for us men longing to act, than grace, by which we are helped?"

Letter to Paulinus

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Looking forward to marriage and the present reality of love...

Yesterday 10GS hosted a surprise Engagement Celebration for my housemate Jenny and her fiancee Simon (I can never remember which term has the accented 'e') - it was wonderful to see a number of our good friends in Durham joining with them as we celebrated their forthcoming marriage (1st Sep?).

There's great pressure in student Christian culture to idolise relationships, and I think this arises particularly out of the want to be loved. But human affection isn't bound to the sexually attracted, for the church is a place of costly, sacrificial love, as Jason Clarke explained from John 15.9-17 at BEC on Sunday.

There is a incredible diversity, yet there is a common acknowledgement of sin, and a common acknowledgement of extravagent forgiveness. The one redmedy for failed human love is to know you are loved, and that is Jesus' is claim: 'As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you' (15.9). We can know we are loved, as Paul says in Romans 5.8, not in the words of novel, but in the sacrifice of history. It was whilst we were still sinners - it was then - that Christ died for us!

And this, only this, is the true motivation to love others, 'this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you' (15.12). It is our duty and our joy to love, in obedience to the one who first loved us. Real love is to real people, and is really hard! But it's not to be without heart, for it completes our joy (15.11) and it bears fruit, attracting others the love of God.

It is hard, but it is best. It is a command, but it is a response.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Biblical Evangelism...

Great weekend spent at The Dyke House in Herefordshire on UCCF's Biblical Evangelism Conference.
Really great to think about why the Bible is so important in evangelism and to challenge idle thinking: is what I 'believe' about evangelism based on the company I keep or the convictions I have? I think this weekend has done a lot in shaping my thinking about all of the above. Great too to meet guys and girls from across the UK all excited about seeing the Bible explained to those who are yet Christian, as well as hang out with folk from the 'ham and have some good encouraging chat.

Will post more BEC in the next few days, if I have a spare minute.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Who are you TRUSTING in?

The last few weeks I've been trying to read Jeremiah and sometimes it's clearer than others how I'm meant to respond to the word. But today Jeremiah was pretty clear: there are two ways two live...

"Cursed is the man who trusts in man" (17.5-6)
> he makes flesh his strength
> whose heart turns away from the LORD
> like a desert shrub, he will not see any good come

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD" (17.7-8)
> whose trust is the LORD
> he is like a tree planted by water
> that does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green
> is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit

Who you trust is who you put your trust in - and this results in blessing or curse.

To have my roots in the LORD, the fountain of living water (17.13) - to understand the world as the Bible shows me it, to know I am 'ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven'. To not get depressed when my plans fail, to not buy into the materialist dream, to remove self from the driving seat, to know I'm worthy because I'm loved and not try and be loved by being worthy.

Keep me trusting who God is!

(Also, check this video out!)

St Aidan and Mission...

Tonight dined on delicious roast lamb up at college courtesy of our college chaplain, before hearing Gavin Wakefield from Cranmer speak about Aidan, after whom my college was named, and mission. In Bible language Aidan was a saint, just like you and me, but he wasn't an apostle, despite Bishop Lightfoot of Durham once calling him the 'Apostle to the English'.

Nevertheless it was really interesting to learn a little about a man who probably played quite a big role in God's plan of taking the gospel to all nations, namely north England. One of the characteristics of Aidan that Wakefield highlighted was his 'passion for God', and I suppose it is this that has a domino-effect on everything else. He left Ireland and spent the second half of his life, in the seventh-century, wandering round Northumbria encouraging Christians, and calling on pagans to get baptised.

It made me realise how little I know of post-early-church, pre-Reformation church history, particularly in the UK. There must be so many men and women of faith who'll be in the new creation that played their part in God's plan. I hope some day to be counted with them, for his glory's sake!

One other thing about Aidan that stuck out was his humility and equality in viewing other humans - Wakefield made a great deal of his character. Often I can get worried about my doctrine, how this or that works, how we do evangelism, etc, I long for my character to be shaped.

Also: chats about the C of E, life as an ordinand, and limited atonement...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What the fisherman saw...

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

[2 Peter 1.16]

Thanks Peter!

Wholesome talk...

Today was a good day for wholesome talk...

Talking with Rob and Tom kept grace at the core.
Talking with Benj reminded me that I don't need to play by the rules.
Talking with Steve pointed me to the call for holiness in every area our lives, including transforming inside-out even our most miniscule ounces of selfishness.

I thank God for these blessings. I thank God too that he destined me to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. I belong to the day! Oh, for salvation!

Struck at Impact again by 1 Thessalonians 5.3 - "There is peace and security...": the cry of most Durham students? Yet on it's way is inescapable sudden destruction! Give me more of heart for those who walk in darkness and obliviousness and ignorance.

Also, had fun hanging out with Tom and a video camera around Durham Cathedral.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Emperor's New Clothes...

Was a joy to recieve and be challenged as Justin Mote opened Ephesians 4.17 - 5.20 at CU Central on Saturday night. We need to change clothes! It was helpful to see the thread of Paul's letter stand out as we engaged with this meaty practical passage: All things are going to be united under Christ (ch. 1), including the new one man who makes up the church (ch. 2), which is to declare wisdom of God to the heavenly places (ch. 3), and so to do this the church needs to be united!

We looked at conduct that leads to a united church, and light that emanates from a pure church.

The gospel that was preached to the Ephesians made clear the need for change (4.20), for a fundamental turnaround, and so evangelism must call for a new self. Not like the rent-a-car contract with its miniscule small print!

Conversation afterwards hit on 5.6-10 - and the command to not associate with those who decieve with empty words, for now we are of the light, so need to live like it. And thus, we expose unfruitful works of darkness. I realised that over the last year the significance I place on the local church has grown considerably. When the question of joining a church that you knew dealt in empty words, in the hope you could help it, came up, my natural response was 'that's stupidity!' Surely that would be spiritual suicide? But maybe I could help change it? But if the power and life of the church comes from the preached word, then being part of a lifeless, powerless church would be no spiritual gain, in fact it would have negative effect, such is the importance of the preached word in one's own life.

Praise God that he transforms us. Praise God that our lives in the light are invitations for others to wake-up.
Clothe up in the gospel dress to see unity; avoid scandal to be a light emanating CU!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

All the time in the world...?

Reading Jeremiah 14.1 - 15.9 this morning.
Judah's mourning looks real, but it seems they're more cut up about the drought, and subsequent lack of water, rain, vegetation, than their sin.
Jeremiah's prayers are real: he realises that Judah's iniquity testifies against them (14.7, 20), yet he calls on the LORD to act, 'for your name's sake' (14.7). He calls on the 'hope of Israel, it's saviour in time of trouble' (14.8) and his prayer is bold: why should the LORD be like a warrior who cannot save, like a stranger in the land. But the time for turning away has passed, and Jeremiah is told not to pray for the people (14.11), their fasts, cries, and offerings are to no avail.
And the false prophets who denied God's judgement and told of assured peace in the land? They will face the judgement that they so deceitfully denied (14.14-15).
The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
2 Peter 3.9-10
Time was up for Judah. Time will soon be up for the world.
All the time in the world?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thinking about the Spirit (1)

Some notes from Tony Payne on the Holy Spirit...

- air that moves... my life... who I really am... non-material part of us... the real me.
Gen 45.27 - the ruach of Jacob revived -personality, emotions, lifted.
The Holy Ruach - how is that different? Looking at a life-history of God's spirit...

God the Spirit in Creation

- The Wind of God (Gen 1.2) - is it his spirit or breath? Or wind? Hovering over the waters. God's power and presence right at the very beginning - something is about to happen, and it does (1.3). God is not less presence if wind rather than spirit, for his powerful wind pops up all over to achieve God's purpose (Gen 8 - receding the flood waters; Exodus - wind from the east building up waters, - the blast from his nostrils saves them - Gen 15).
Psalm 33 - by the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host (Psalm 33.6) - God speaks to create, but it is just as important to say it happens by his breath, his ruach, his spirit is active in creation - powerful life-giving spirit, putting his word into action.

- The Breath of God (Gen 2; Psalm 104) - God gives his ruach to give things life, when he takes it they die. C.f. Number 16.22; Gen 7.15-22; Job 27.3, 33.4; Acts 17.25.
So, do all people have the Holy Spirit? Do animals, simply by being alive? No, the groundwork for what God does finally fully in Christ, is laid by what he does in creation. He causes creation to exist and sustains it by his presence - his ruach.

- God's own inner life (Isaiah 63.10) - making someone upset. Israel grieves God's spirit. Spirit of God is God himself - not just an agent/messenger but his very self.

- God's power at work in people (Ex 31.1-5) - in the character, skills, and intellect of people. Numbers 11.24... Moses' ability to lead the people: he appoints 70 and they recieve his spirit, and the sign of this is they prophecy - speak the words of God. 11.31 - ruach again, but this time with quail. Link? His dynamic activity in his world - both are the activity of God working in and through his creation.

What the history means...

> God works in and through his creation...
he relates to his world, and works within it. The power and agency of Him is seen in his ruach. Gracious, active, powerful presence.

> Can't think about his spirit without thinking about his word... he always works through both his hand through his word and his spirit. His word is his mind and will, his spirit is his presence to accomplish it.

> This is a unique view of reality... no incompatibility between God and his world - he's very comfy in relating with his world. He relates to it through his two hands: word and spirit. It's a unique view diametrically opposed to the idea that there is chasm between him and his world - that it's evil and God cannot touch it - platonism, mysticism. We need to rise above physical prison - pure spirituality cannot have contact with messy world - need intermediary, e.g. angels, spirits. But Bible has no embarssment about this - Genesis 3.
Same as enlightenment view of world... the big split view of reality - fact, reason, knowledge, science (Kant: the world of the phononemon). Other world: feelings, values, faith, opinion, God. The world precedes as if God doesn't exist, as if he has no significance. Two ways to cross chasm - 1: Us - leap of faith, rising above the rational - meditation, religious technique, into God area. 2: God - God crosses into ours, by doing something extraordinary. Christians often do this - he is there, and there are ways to get in contact with him, either by us doing something, or him doing something. This is a Big Split worldview - non-Biblical view of world. So, singing, praying in tongues, emotional experience, 'touch of heaven' - this was God at work, not when I'm patient, sunrise, breath, reading Bible... God was to be found in feelings - rise up and go into spirit zone.
Danger of opposite: all emotion is dangerous. No! Common evangelical reaction - both implicitly accept big split view of world. Bible says God made world and is at work in world by his presence: word and spirit. He works through reason, feelings, action, unexciting things, extraordinary things, human skill - not more at work in one than the other!

Is there something lacking if I miss the intense experience? No necessary connection between his spirit and intense experience. Human experience greatly varied: different times, different emotions. God is present and able to work in all of them. Do see God more presence in emotion than reason? Or vice-versa? The barrier to his work is not that we have to rise above it, what stops us from experiencing his spirit? Our humanness? No... something else altogether.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Lamenting for my people...

Reading Jeremiah 8.4 - 9.6 this morning...

How can you say "we are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us"?... behold they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them? (8.8-10)
No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. (8.12)

Pending judgement, and Jeremiah's response:
Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!
Oh that I had in the desert a travellers lodge, that I might leave my people and go away from them! For they are all adulterers, a company of treacherous men. (9.1-2)

Weep for the people, weep at their sin.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Parables... what they don't tell you in R.E.

We were looking at the first half of Mark 4 at church last night, where Jesus begins to use parables to teach. Jesus' commands to "Listen!" (4.3, 9, 24) boom right out of the text.

It's those that follow him and ask him about the parables, who have been given the secret of the kingdom of God. What a secret! "But for those outside everything is in parables, so that...
"they may indeed see but not percieve,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven."
(Isaiah 6.9,10)
The big point is Jesus' sovereignty, not that different soils show the inability of Jesus' power. The kingdom of Jesus is sovereignly revealed to those who'll listen and deliberately concealed from those who reject Jesus. He will see that the word is removed if we reject it, in line with the principle of 4.25 - to those who have, more will be given, but to the one who doesn't have, what he has will be taken away.

To the one whom the secret has been given... well, what a privilege. Opened eyes! And so the assurance of fruit, thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Calvin on faith...

We are not to concieve the Christian faith as a bare knowledge of God which rattles around the brain and affects the heart not at all... But it is a firm and solid confidence of the heart by which we securely repose in God's mercy promised us through the gospel"

(1538 Catechism, article 14; c.f. Inst. III.2.36)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

South Africa all over again...

I think the last time I saw the sunrise was probably two and a half year ago over the Indian Ocean. This morning I watched the same sun emerge over a bleak horizon and breathe colour over little Durham. Frazer, Heidi, Tarbs, Tammy, Sarah Elizabeth Brown and the Salzwedels were nowhere to be seen, instead I was left to reminisce about rusks and Gonubie with two guys I've been totally blessed with having around this last year, Rob & Tom.

'Something about the sunrise, reminds me of your faithfulness'

We were filming the sunrise for an evangelism training video looking at the Resurrection, and then spent a few minutes doing off-focus shots of our feet for 'disciples-running-to-the-empty-tomb'. It was a special morning: watching the morning break in is always a special experience.

I don't think about South Africa a lot, I suppose that's the nature of memory - you're only taken back when a moment/sound/smell/taste/joke suddenly makes you recall what once was. I love remembering SA, but how I wish I didn't need sunrises and memory-joggers to point me to God's faithfulness.

My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."
Lamentations 3.20-24

Friday, November 10, 2006

I'm feeling good...

Mike Kendall spoke on 'If it feels good, can it surely be wrong?' this lunchtime at Hot Pots.
In short, he said this:

- God invented pleasure
- We pervert pleasure by pretending to be God
- Trusting Jesus is key to perfect pleasure

As well as this classic quote from C.S. Lewis...
'Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.'

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
... he also mentioned that line from The Screwtape Letters, which I began reading this week, where Screwtape warns Wormwood to 'never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in asense, on the Enemy's ground. I know we have won many a soulthrough pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours.'

God invented pleasure - and that's a surprise to the world around us! I, someone who has been graced to understand in part God's blessing to me, too easily forget that actually life to the full is life under God's good and loving rule. As the Psalmist wrote:
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Ps. 16.11)
And yet I too often turn this down, for what I desire, and ultimately that desire is me usurping God. Perverting pleasure by pretending to be God. What should I do? Trust Jesus and know perfect pleasure. See the blessings of this world as not the end, but a means to see God's glory. Know pleasure as God knows pleasure.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Big Pride... in the law (more on Romans 2.17-3.8)

I suppose the Jews face a more direct charge, in that they are being judged by the law - it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Is not the big match law vs. legalism? The descriptions in v17b - 20 are all 'good' things, and things ordained by God for the Jews to be. 17b - 18 seems to focus on being instructed by the law, whilst 19 - 20 is instructing others in the law. Hence, the charge of v21.

I'm a little confused by the examples given of the law being broken: stealing, adultery, robbing temples. Are they random acts selected by Paul, or were they specific charges against the Roman Jews? The language is very personal, it's as if Paul knows they know what he's talking about. In Acts 19.37, Paul is charged with robbing temples in Ephesus, it may have been something Jews were big on. Sure, they would have abhored idols, but would this have led to them actually robbing pagan temples? Or is Paul just bringing the Jews back in line with 1.18-32?

Either way in v24 Paul explains the significance of it, quoting Isaiah 52.5, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Not a Marketable Message...

Those were Al Mohler's words as he opened up Romans 2.17 - 3.8: "you're not going to write a high-street best-seller on sin."

This evening I've been trying to get into the aforementioned passage and what Paul is saying in this part of his argument to the Romans. Last week at FOCUS we looked at the righteousness of God's judgement, for it is based on truth (2.2), and it's impartiality for Jew and for Gentile.

Now, in 2.17 onwards Paul addresses Jews specifically, and begins with (v. 17-20) a towering resume ready to topple at any moment: relying on the law, boasting in God, knowing his will, approving the excellent, instructed by the law, guiding the blind, light to those darkness, instructing the fools, teaching the law, possessing the truth... and then verse 21: 'you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?'. Ka-boom!

Actually these people who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law (v. 23). Paul quotes Isaiah's cry (Is. 52.5), instead of being a light to the nations as was the command of Gen 12, the Jews have caused God's name to be blasphemed.

It seems they've missed the point in circumcision and that's why Paul flags it up. It's value lies in obedience to the law, but if there is disobedience then circumcision may as well be uncircumcision. And v. 26 strikes at the heart of Jewish pride - the uncircumcised is in exactly the same position.

Enough for one night, but a timely reminder that outward religion is no replacement for Christ's mercy. Church appearance and good form at CU will not mean a jot when one disobeys the law, when one suppresses the truth.

God, bless us with humility to see our own condition, and to abandon pride. Cover me I pray!

Just a man in the name of Glory...

I don't think Jeremiah was anyone special, just a priest in Anathoth, but then 'the word of the LORD came' to him (Jeremiah 1.2). The message he was to bring to Judah was that of the boiling pot of God's judgement (1.12, 16), as the kingdoms of the north were to descend on Judah and Jerusalem. What had Judah done? Forsaken God, made offerings to other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands (1.16). Idolatry! Sin! Rebellion!

It's the same message that Paul brings in Romans 1.18-32: Man is without excuse before God, for suppressing the truth of who God is and not responding to Him as He is due. Israel had already been taken captive to Asyrria in 722 B.C., and now it was the turn of Judah.

The command to Jeremiah was big enough: to say everything that God has commanded, and to not be dismayed by those he is to say it to. And the assurance was equally massive: God would make Jeremiah a fortified city, an iron pillar... 'for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.' (1.19).

Little Jeremiah and BIG God, a God-given message in a jar of clay, 'to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us' (2 Cor 4.7). The gospel, a message of reconciliation, has been entrusted to the church with the duty of holding it out to this generation.

Will I take up the challenge of telling a world in rebellion they need a Saviour?
Will I be indifferent to whether or not the One who deserves all glory gets it?

I'm Gonna See The King

There is a bless├Ęd home
beyond this land of woe,
where trials never come,
nor tears of sorrow flow;
where faith is lost in sight,
and patient hope is crowned,
and everlasting light
its glory throws around.

There is a land of peace:
good angels know it well;
glad songs that never cease
within its portals swell;
around its glorious throne
ten thousand saints adore
Christ, with the Father One,
and Spirit, evermore.

O joy all joys beyond,
to see the Lamb who died,
for ever there enthroned,
for ever glorified;
to give to him the praise
of every triumph won,
and sing through endless days
the great things he hath done.

Look up, ye saints of God!
nor fear to tread below
the path your Savior trod
of daily toil and woe!
Wait but a little while
in uncomplaining love!
his own most gracious smile
shall welcome you above.

Words: Henry Williams Baker, 1861

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Faith: Obeying the Promise

At Digging Deeper this morning we were carrying on our Bible overview by looking at Genesis 12 onwards, focusing on the Patriarchs. It seems these chapters of Genesis are so rich in looking at stuff so important: again and again promises and faith, promises and faith.

For me, living after the cross event and waiting for God's Son to return for heaven, I need to be a promise-truster, and ultimately faith in God's promises shows itself in obedience to God's word.

'Faith is doing what God says, when everyone and everything around you is screaming 'Don't!' We sin when we don't trust God.'

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Biblical Dating...

Have been listening to an online audio discussion from 9marks with Al Mohler, Josh Harris, and co., talking about Biblical dating, marriage, courtship, singleness, etc. Refreshing stuff - thinking about the local church's role in training men and women up to be husbands and wives, growing them up in Christ.

There's definitely a lot of thinking going about that encourages the sort of consumer-relationship regarding the opposite sex. In our Augustine lecture yesterday we learnt that A thought that remaining celibate was the ultimate self-denial. He had a mistress and a concubine, yet thought ultimate self-denial was celibacy. Thank God that's not the case! In fact Paul writes in Ephesians that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... (Eph 5.25).

Ultimate self-denial! Loving one person as my own body, for if I love her I love myself. That's pretty cool huh! Pretty hard work too.

They also talked a lot about unrealistic expectations, distorted by culture's obsession with the cover model.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Be a God-pleaser...

Paul: didn't decieve, didn't use his title as 'apostle' to powertrip, didn't use flattering speech to win people over, didn't get phased by suffering, didn't try and please men.

Paul: spoke with boldness the gospel message that he'd been entrusted with, wanting to please only God.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A gospel that came in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit...

Was reading 1 Thessalonians 1 this morning, before having my first lecture in my Augustine and his Age module. It was simply an intro lecture to Augustine's upbringing, but we touched on his conversion. I figured it was pretty amazing that God chose Augustine - he was loved by God - (v4) and I'm sure if Paul had been living next door to him, he would have written about the evidence of faith, love, and hope (v3) in his life that was evidence of the gospel's life-changing power (v5).

What a great gospel! It has changed my life, and it changed Augustine's! I'm excited about learning more about Augustine and his writings, but more than that - praise God for a sinner saved, for grace at work!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Remember who you are...

This morning we hosted In At The Deep End, an event put on by the CU geared to encouraging Freshers to survive and thrive as Christians at Uni.

The first five verses of 1 Peter were opened up and explained: Remember who you are! Peter clearly believes in aliens as he tells God's elect they are 'strangers in the world'. Our identity is totally wrapped up in Jesus and what he did as he died on the cross was raised to life. Our identity is not bound by popularity in college, how much we can drink, how well we get on with the laydeez. No, our identity is in Christ Jesus.

And we're strangers in this world. This here is not our home (v1), for we are born into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (v3) - an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading! Heaven - the new creation!

Remember who you are! Remember your identity! Like the toothbrush holding cup in the bathroom, we too are set apart (sanctified) for a purpose - obedience to Jesus.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Announcing the Kingdom!

It was really cool to spend nearly two hours today looking at the gospel, the Bible, and evangelistic preaching, and to find that all three are totally inter-linked (as one might imagine if one thought about it!).

The Good News of God, the gospel, is that the time has come - the kingdom is near - because the King is here to rule, and salvation is possible in his kingdom through forgiveness of sins. It seems the gospel, the good news about the King, cannot be taught unless the rule of Jesus is taught.

And, as we announce the King, we look for repentance and faith: people are to change their minds about who's in charge for they recognise Jesus is King, and trust his promise to forgive them, thus abandoning any idea of self-righteousness.

So in evangelistic preaching, we aim to present Jesus as Lord and also as Saviour. Of course both have to be told, for if he is Lord without Saviour then we have on our hands a religion of works, and if we omit his Lordship then we have a state of being where we can do whatever we like (anti-nomianism?) - though of course if there is no Lord, then really we needn't be saved anyway.

Similarly we can't substitute repentance or faith - if there is no faith then there is no real trusting God for mercy, so actually repentance will not have been understood. Likewise, an understanding of forgiveness will include being ushered graciously into the kingdom, of which of course there is a King and kingdom life.

Paul firmly believes in the gospel, not a gospel, and that is the apostolic gospel. Is it a big issue? Well, in Galatians 1.6,7 Paul says he wishes that those who twist the gospel of Christ be accursed. Yet when we unleash the true gospel, it is the power of God to save - in it the righteousness of God is revealed, the true character of God.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The boat belongs in the ocean, but God help it if the ocean gets into the boat...

So there we were, at the Freshers' Fair, jammed tight up against the stage at the Student's Union with the latest Club Night being promoted through the medium of 'officially-too-loud-unless-you-have-earphones' dance anthems (according to the engineering students next door and their krazy sound measuring devices) and outrageously scantily-clad dancers on stilts.

I guess that's what being a Christian Union is about - ok, so the music was
very loud - but we were in the heart of the world. Lots of sign-ups is very encouraging, and hopefully over the next few days we'll be able to encourage Freshers to stand up for Jesus.

Freshers are very young and their perceptions of what Christianity is are all over the shop. I suppose they've every right to be all over the shop, given what's going on under the banner of 'Christianity' across the UK. I am excited about what the next year brings, and seeing disciples made.

As we were walking across town, we passed two old men in the marketplace who regularly give five-minute talks to the collection of people who are sitting on the benches for whatever particular reason. There really didn't seem to be any engagement going on between the men and the message, and those to whom they thought they were speaking.

I'm thinking now of our plans for the CU this year - we want to hold out the word of life, knowing that it is folly to the perishing, but we want people to be able to engage with what we're saying.

Where is that line? Do we change our vocabulary? Do we change our 20 minute address vehicle? Where does the apologetic distrust the power of the gospel to save?

Monday, October 02, 2006

God is Love

...God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. [Romans 5.5.]
"With a perversity as pathetic as it is impoverishing, we have become preoccupied today with the extraordinary, sporadic, non-universal ministries of the Spirit to the neglect of the ordinary, general ones."

Just been reading Packer's thoughts on The Love of God - it is the Spirit's ordinary work to give peace, joy, hope, and love, through the 'shedding abroad in our hearts of knowledge of the love of God'. It is Paul's prayer of Ephesians 3.14, it is John's statement of 1 John 4.7.

His love finds expression in everything he says and does, and we have assurance of this in the cross of Christ (Gal 2.20), so we can trust the promise of Romans 8.28 - everything that happens to us expresses God's love to us! That is it tells us that God is love; all that happens can be used as evidence that God is love, and love is how God defines it.

I grumble and moan at my circumstances, I become distrustful, I grow half-hearted in service of Him, I split my loyalties until their no longer loyalties. God's love is ultimate. And since God loved me I ought to love others.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Wisdom and Ecclesiastes...

Wisdom is not seeing all the reasoning and mechanics of God's sovereign world, but doing the right thing in the actual situation that presents itself. It's not looking at the station platforms from the bird's eye view of the signal box, but facing obstacle after obstacle behind the wheel on the road itself.

That is Packer's explanation of Wisdom and Ecclesiastes in particular: all our work is to be judged 'vanity and a striving after wind' if we expect to find the divine purpose in everything. Murder and car-crash, cancer and tsunami; is a Sovereign God running this world? The prodigy dies young, the criminal gets the lucky lottery ticket. This is life. This is the real world - realise it, or "you will have no true wisdom till you do".

I should not claim to understand the dealings of the world. Can I really see at once the reason for anything that may happen? I do not know all the ways of God in providence (11.5).

But I can be sure that God does all things well - that he knows what he is doing. I can trust him, and rejoice in him, even when the path is hidden by weeds. Wisdom is being able to confess he is wise; humbly, joyfully. The fruit of wisdom is Christlikeness, and the root of it is faith in Christ, the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1.24, 30).

Wisdom... humbly trusting; not neglecting faithfulness in searching for a kind of knowledge which is not available this side of the Great Day.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Words from Miletus...

Having Acts 20, Paul's final words to the guys in Ephesus, opened up to us this afternoon was thoroughly defining in thinking about gospel ministry.

Paul's work amongst the Ephesians was serving the Lord and this meant humility, tears and trials. What mattered, however, was whether he testified to the gospel of the grace of God. It is more blessed to give than to recieve. That's a big shout. It's other-person centred, it's laying myself down, it's not my need first. I cannot do that on my own!

Serving the Lord is serving his people - testifying of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ - for the church of God has been obtained with his blood. That is their price, that is how much they're worth. Nothing could be more exciting, and nothing could make you feel so helpless.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


After meandering round Sedburgh, and some afternoon tea in Kirkby Stephen, I'm back once again in Durham. Excited by what God has in store for this next year, for this final year as a undergrad.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Post-modernism post-pudding...

Good food, good friends, and good discussion were on the menu at 10 George Street tonight. Much chat about the gospel, how we present, do we present it the whole gospel in a fair balance. Here's a brilliant quote from Marcus H that I found as I was pondering it all - kinda spun our discussion the other way round for me...
“The real shock is not that God punishes, but that he provides any way out at all. The unfairness is not that he doesn’t rescue everyone, regardless of their deeds, but that he rescues anyone, in spite of our rebellion… Postmodernism has turned the offense of the gospel upside down. It says that Christians are offensive in proclaiming only one way of salvation. The reality of the situation is that we should be offended that there is any way of salvation. We should be offended by the cross, offended by our sin and guilt, and then immensely grateful, from the depths of our souls, for such a great and magnificent Saviour” (Marcus Honeysett, Meltdown p191)

Also, some words from the big J himself...
“…whoever does not believe stands condemned already
because he has not believe in the name of God’s one and
only Son…. whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but
whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath
remains on him” (John 3v18, 36).

But the saints of the Most High shall recieve the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever, for ever, and ever'.

What an exciting promise from Daniel 7.18 - it's been really exciting to get stuck into the first seven chapters of Daniel this term. As the series drew to a close last night it's incredible to look back on so much fulfilled prophecy, and looking forward to it's total fulfilling when the Lord Jesus returns!

It's been sad to say, or avoid saying, 'goodbye' to so many leavers this week - the old classic 'See you in Heaven if not before' couldn't be more true, and it certainly helps to cement the fact that we are a people who have a hope. One day we shall share in the kingdom of the Most High - 'the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High' (7.27).

I was reading an article about a burglary at Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek's house, and how so much of his medals, football shirts, and other memorabilia had been stolen. A Liverpool FC spokesperson made some remark about it being the "memorabilia of someone's career and also a lifetime". But the reality is that nothing on this old earth can match the treasure of being in Jesus, of possessing the new heaven and earth. No CD collection, no hoard of KCB's (keen Christian books), no nothing!

"I've thrown it all away, that I may gain a life in you. I've found all else is loss, compared to the joys of knowing you. Your beauty and your majesty are far beyond compare, you've won my heart, now this will be my prayer: Take the world but give me Jesus - you're the treasure in this life. Now I've seen you as the Saviour, I will leave the rest behind..."

Matt Redman, with a little help from Fanny Crosby and Paul and Mark and Jesus.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A flippin' brilliant book...

Have been reading Dig Deeper! by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach - it's really, really brilliant! Billed as a toolbox of tools to help you unearth the Bible's true meaning, it does exactly what it says on the tin. In fact, I can't recommend this book enough; short chunky chapters each focus on a different 'tool', e.g. 'the Repetition tool', 'the Bible Timeline tool', before giving a worked example of that tool in action and a passage to apply the tool yourself. Definitely a great resource enabling individuals to get to grips with the Bible in their own time, and to help others.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Ryle on Assurance...

I believe we have here one chief reason why so many in this day are inconsistent, trimming, unsatisfactory, and half-hearted in their conduct about the world. Their faith fails. They feel no assurance that they are Christ's, and so feel a hesitancy about breaking with the world. They shrink from laying aside all the ways of the old man, because they are not quite confident they have put on the new. In short, I have little doubt that one secret cause of "halting between two opinions" is want of assurance. When people can decidedly say, 'The Lord, He is the God,' (1 Kings 18.39) their course becomes very clear.
J. C. Ryle, Holiness

Friday, June 09, 2006

Complete in Christ

Just arrived back from a few days in Appleby, Cumbria, where a group of us from two of the college CU groups spent time reading and digesting Paul's letter to the Colossians.

Despite my initial proud and shallow thoughts, studying Colossians was wonderful. It's such a clear book, and just hit me with it's simple but awesome truths. The absolute supremacy of Christ, the encouragement and rebuke that our salvation is complete, the call of the gospel to a new life.

We were very fortunate to have a top guy journey up from London to open the Bible with us and to point us to Christ honestly and passionately. Often Colossians is ear-marked as a quality book to ground new Christians in the faith, but to pridefully suggest that is its only purpose is so wrong.

We have been genuinely transformed by the genuine gospel, and continue to be as we continue in Christ, the One who is supreme in creation and supreme in reconciliation. Heaven is our destination, so to heaven we must set our compasses, relationships, and lifestyle.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory... And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3.1-4,17

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Old but never out of date...

Have been reading Ryle's brief account of the life and death of John Bradford, one of the English reformers of the sixteenth-century who was burnt at the stake.

Here are some words of Bradford's in a letter to the Earl of Bedford in 1554:

Remember He lost more for you than you can lose for Him. Remember you lose not that which is lost for His sake, for you shall find much more here and elsewhere. Remember you shall die; and when and where and how you cannot tell. Remember the death of sinners is most terrible. Remember the death of God's saints is precious in his sight. Remember the multitude goeth the wide way which windeth to woe. Remember the strait gate which leadeth to glory has but few travellers. Remember Christ biddeth you strive to enter in threat. Remember he that trusteth in the Lord shall recieve strength to stand against all the assaults of his enemies.

These are the words of a man who would rather be burnt to death than compromise the gospel message. Immense grace at work.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Grace and truth, always grace and truth...

I think it was Richard Baxter who said...

In essentials unity,
in non-essentials liberty,
in all things charity.

One exam to go. New Testament Greek.
They said Rome wasn't built in a day.
Thankfully they didn't say that Greek couldn't be learnt in a day.
Elpis is Greek for hope.

Monday, May 29, 2006

A gospel that works...

Despite the mind-numbing connotations one may, justly, associate with a day full of revision, I actually enjoyed today. I read Chuck Colson's book 'Justice that Restores' in prep for my 'Theology & Ethics' paper tomorrow morning, and it was a really encouraging read. Colson used to be an advisor in the White House, before facing a spell in prison after the Watergate scandal. Since then he's been part of a ground-breaking ministry in prisons, as well as being an ambassador across the world for principles of restorative justice.

Restorative justice is basically a method of justice that focuses on repairing harm caused by crime and reducing the likelihood of future harm. His book is based on the understanding that only with a Biblical worldview can we produce true justice, and that truth is evidenced with a lifetime of examples. Only a biblical worldview:

i) holds individuals responsible for their actions...
ii) ...under an objective rule of law (rooted in revelation)...
iii) the context of community
iv) ...and with the chance of transformation of the individual...
v) ...and healing of fractured relationshops and of the moral order.

Colson writes that when justice is not realized, then one of the above has been neglected or thrown out of balance. It's not a dreamy utopianism, for crime and sin will never be eliminated on this earth, but we should work for true justice. He dismisses a whole host of theories that have been thrust about in justice legislation and theory. He calls for the church to be the church: a community of the redeemed, living and practising Christian teachings.

It was exciting to read of Colson's experiences of the transforming power of the gospel in prisons across the world, but it was really powerful to benefit from his ability to see the world around him through gospel-goggles. Naturally, for the gospel always is, it was challenging too.

We must take the lead and present the gospel, transforming individuals and one-by-one reanimating the culture. We must bring Christian truth to bear in all aspects of our common lives. We must stress the importance of the family. We must encourages cultures that teach and expect virtue. We must teach responsibility for actions, and thus affirm human dignity. We must be real about who we are, and through Christ who we can be. We must love our neighbour with biblical love. We must trust what the Bible says about God, us, and God's world.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Keeping it brief

Yesterday I ate a bacon and honey sandwich. For lunch, 10GS enjoyed our first barbeque of the summer, with do-it-yourself Sangria. After SBR it was really cool to see Menaz again - it's been a while - I look forward to spending more time with the people I love as exams draw to a close.

Must work hard!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bring on the summer...

The Bench, George St.

He is very kind...

God is very kind. In Jonah 1, His judgement upon Jonah's rebellion isn't also cast upon the pagan sailors. Instead the whole process has God's hand over it - the wind (4), the lots (7), the raging waves (11, 13), and instead of sinking the ship and all its inhabitors, the LORD keeps safe the sailors. In fact, they turn from crying out 'each to his god' (5), to fearing the LORD 'exceedingly' (16, ESV), and making a sincere sacrifice and vows to Him. The Creator's loving kindness!

This inner assurance of the grace of God is accompanied by outward indications such as gladly to hear, preach, praise, and to confess Christ, to do one's duty in the station in which God has placed us, to aid the needy, and to comfort the sorrowing. These are affidavits of the Holy Spirit testifying to our favourable standing with God.

If we could be fully persuaded that we are in the good grace of God, that our sins are forgiven, that we have the Spirit of Christ, that we are the beloved children of God, we would be ever so happy and grateful to God. But because we often fear and doubt we cannot come to that happy certainty.

Train your conscience to believe that God approves of you. Fight it without doubt. Gain assurance through the Word of God.
Martin Luther, from Commentary on Galatians

Friday, May 26, 2006

Humility is found at the cross

The ridiculous length of yesterday's post was made all the more superfluous by the absence in the Pauline section of this morning's New Testament exam of any question on justification or righteousness. Megadoh! Half way through now, with a hectic three-in-three-days gauntlet starting on Tuesday.

The boys and I carried on digging into Mark 14 last night. As the hour approaches and indeed arrives (v. 41) it's incredible to see just how in control Jesus is: he foretells Peter's denial and his own resurrection (28, 30), and his betrayal into the hands of sinners (41).

His fulfilment of Zechariah 13.7 shows the significance of Jesus' death: he is the shepherd going ahead and bringing in the kingdom. His prayer in Gethsemane is out of this world. And we see just how far we fall short.

Peter's response (29, 31) is probably nothing short of what mine would have been: 'I will turn over a new leaf for you this week Jesus', 'I will conquer this sin from now on'. It's echoed first in the contrast between Jesus and the disciples as he commands them to pray but they patheticly fall asleep, and then in the actions of Judas.

I'm not clear what Jesus means by 'the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak' (38) - is he just highlighting the impossibility in our fallen nature of being able to follow Jesus?

It was striking to look again upon the uniqueness of Jesus - it was striking to see the importance of prayer, as we are humbled before God. By ourselves we are very, very helpless. Yet we still think we can do it; we want to read this and think we can leave this place and give him what is his due.

Not 'I can' or 'I will', but through Jesus - be humbled, be little, be driven to the cross.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Justification, Faith, and the law...

These are some revision notes for my exam tomorrow on Pauline theology, very heavily indebted to Stephen Westerholm's essay, which can be found here. Apologies if I've messed up his argument! My bad.

Romans 3.28 reads 'For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.'

Recent debate about this verse, and Galatians 2.16, has revolved around whether here Paul is answering the question 'How can a sinner find a gracious God?' (Luther, Augustine), or whether he is answering 'On what terms can Gentiles gain entrance to the people of God?' (Stendahl, Sanders, Dunn, Wright). In other words, the Lutheran position is that Paul is explaining how the individual can be righteous in God's sight, whilst the New Perspective position holds that Paul is explaining on what grounds can Gentiles participate in the people of God in the last days.

The New Perspective position therefore argues that works of the law (WOTL) means, for Paul, the likes of circumcision, food use, festival laws, and thus Paul is showing how these distinctively Jewish practices need not be observed by Gentiles in order for them to be part of the people of God. In other words this position is infering that Paul is not making a statement about how humans can come without condemnation before their maker. WOTL, according to Dunn, are not the acts like those of first-century Pelagian heretics who believed they could earn their salvation, but rather distinctive practices that distinguished Jews from Gentiles. Thus, to affirm justification by WOTL would be to affirm justification is for Jews only.

This New Perspective position has gained much support in recent times, but is it a correct understanding of Paul? Has it done what it achieved, 'to put Paul back into his first-century Judaism context'? Have Augustine, Luther, and conservative Christian theologians 'modernized Paul'? Or was his point that sinners are declared righteous by faith alone, apart from righteous deeds that the law requires?

The Evidence of the disputed Pauline Epistles (Eph 2.8-9; Titus 3.3-7; 2 Tim 1.9)
Eph 2.8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; 9it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Titus3.3For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

2 Tim 1.9who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

Whatever the authorship of these three letters, there is no doubt that they choose to reformulate the justification texts found in Paul's undisputed letters, particularly Romans. They show a God who justifies (Tit 3.7; Rom 3.26,30; 4.5), by his grace (Eph 2.8; 2 Tim 1.9; Titus 3.7; Rom 3.24) through faith (Eph 2.8; Rom 3.22, 28; 4.5), not through works (Eph 2.9; 2 Tim 1.9; Tit 3.5; Rom 3.20, 28; 4.2,6), thus eliminating any grounds for boasting (Eph 2.9; Rom 3.27; 4.2). In Ephesians and the Pastorals, the 'works' repeatedly rejected as playing a role in salvation are good 'works' in general; deeds done 'in righteousness' as Titus 3 puts it. Those saved/justified are sinners: slaves of sin and otherwise destined for divine judgement, that is not Gentiles enquiring about entrance requirements.

The undisputed Pauline justification texts have been invoked for the purpose of addressing sinners facing God's wrath, of insisting that God offers sinners salvation in Jesus Christ by grace, through faith, apart from demand for righteous deeds. If this is modernizing Paul, then modernity must occur prior to the completion of Ephesians.

The Evidence of non-Pauline Epistles

James 2.24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
One, James' formulation, that one is 'justified by works and not by faith alone', must ultimately be based on the justification texts of Paul, for it was Paul who introduced this language. Two, whomever James is refuting, the position that he dismisses is that God approves sinners because of their faith, regardless whether or not it leads to righteous behaviour. Three, we can assume Paul would not have held for the position that James is refuting (Gal 6.7; 5.6,19-21).

Yet it is clear from James and Paul that some held to this antinomianism (Rom 6). The terms of Gentile inclusion are not an issue for James, but it is an issue as to whether people can be justified by faith apart from any accompanying works. Works in question here are not circumcision, food, festival laws, but, as we see in 1.27, good deeds like clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry. Is James a modernizer of Paul?

The Evidence of undisputed Pauline Epistles

There is no trace of justification or WOTL in 1 Thessalonians, are the two linked? The message of 1 Thessalonians would have been something like 'How can I, a sinner facing divine judgement, find a gracious God?'. It seems the answer is in turning from idols (1.9-10) to God, placing faith in his Son Jesus, who would deliver from the wrath to come (1.10). Paul tells the church to 'belong to the day' as they are not destined for wrath but to obtain salvation through Jesus Christ (5.9-10). Yet, if Paul's core thinking was about how Gentiles were to be included in God's purposes, then this letter would not have informed them. In fact it seems here that Paul is answering a question that, so the New Perspective assumes, the Thessalonians were not at the right time, nor in the right place, to ask. It seems that there is a danger in modernizing Paul, but part of this danger includes the danger that one displaces sin, faith, judgement and salvation from Paul's message, all of which were present here in the Epistle to Thessalonica.

Moving onto Corinthians, Paul makes it clear his goal is to do whatever it takes to 'save' those who hear his message (1 Cor 9). In Thessalonians salvation meant deliverance from God's wrath and judgement - its seems it means exactly the same here in Corinthians. The world (1 Cor 11.32) faces condemnation and its people are 'the perishing' (1.18; 2 Cor 2.15; 4.3). Why? Because their deeds merit perdition (1 Cor 6.9; 2 Cor 6.14). So to the perishing Paul brings a gospel of salvation from sin, and its condemnation, for all who 'believe' the gospel message (1 Cor 1.18, 21; 15.1-2; 2 Cor 2.15-16; 6.1-2).

The language of righteousness and justification may be absent from 1 Thessalonians, but it is certainly present in thought if not prominence in 1 & 2 Corinthains. Paul cannot judge himself, so cannot justify himself. To be righteous is to have lived as one should have, to be unrighteous is to not have (1 Cor 6.9-10). Thus the world is full of unrighteous people, who cannot hope to survive divine judgement. The gospel offers the righteous a means by which they may extroadinarily be declared 'righteous' or 'justified'. Gentiles and WOTL are not an issue in Corinth, nor is how Gentiles can be made equally acceptable before God as the Jews (for the Jews still need to be saved - 1 Cor 9.20-23; 1.18-25). Corinthians makes it clear that Christ Jesus is our righteousness (1 Cor 1.30) - the means by which people, themselves unrighteous, can be found righteous by God.

It is clear from 1 Cor 6.11 that justification here has to do with removal of sins that would otherwise condemn the unrighteous. Similarly in 2 Cor 3 Paul explains the new covenant as a ministry of righteousness, for Moses' covenant was a ministry of death and condemnation as it blesses those who obeyed (Rom 10.5; Gal 3.12) but curses those who transgress (Gal 3.10). It can only be a covenant of condemnation if all subjects are sinners who transgress its prescriptions - this seems to be Paul's conviction (Rom 8.7,8). In Adam all die (1 Cor 15.22), and the law only pronounces this condemnation. The New Covenant involves bringing a message of righteousness (or justification) and life to those who are otherwise condemned by the law.

Thus, the Corinthian epistles are crucial in this argument for their link righteousness and justification to the message that the Corinthian and Thessalonian epistles identify as the central concern of Paul's mission: how sinners can be saved from merited judgement. Justification represents Paul's answer to the question inevitably provoked by a message of pending eschatalogical doom. This is not a new question - Job 4.17! - but the perennial concern of the religiously alert.

Ephesians, the Pastoral Epistles, and James all read Paul's justification texts as Augustine or Luther would do, and 1 Thessalonians and 1&2 Corinthians shows the central question of Paul's mission is precisely the question that Paul's justification language, on their understanding, is designed to satisfy. And in Corinthians Paul clearly uses justification language for precisely that purpose.

So, on to the texts in question:
a) Galatians

In Galatians 2.16 we come across the first use of the formula, and also the first time in Paul's letters that he debates re: Gentiles and circumcision. Our question must be 'what is the link?'.
Presumably Paul's history at Galatia had little difference to Thessalonica and Corinth - he presented Christ as God's answer to the dilemma faced by sinners otherwise condemned by divine wrath (1.4). This deliverance must at least include, if not be equated with, deliverance from judgement hanging over the 'evil age'. Presumably he didn't raise the WOTL issue.

So, how was circumcision ever made to be a convincing demand on the Gentiles? The bigger picture shows that it was a sign of the covenant, and part of the law - to become one of God's people you would start by getting circumcised. The Jews who had understood Jesus to be their Messiah had no reason to abandon the Jewish way of life, that is the way of life under the Mosaic covenant and laws, for the only difference was they had faith that Jesus was their Messiah. This must have been the framework for those teachers of Galatia, the framework in which God's people were to live remained that of the Mosaic law and covenant.

Paul's opposition to this position is summed up in 'a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Christ Jesus' - but what part of the position does he oppose? Is he only denying that Gentiles be circumcised and submit to the distinctively Jewish laws of the Mosaic covenant, thus justification by faith being the answer to the question of whether Gentile believers in Christ should adopt a Jewish way of life?

Or is it that circumcision is not to be required of Gentiles, not because this is still part of a valid Mosaic economy but is inapplicable for Gentiles, but that because the Mosaic economy has lost its validity?

Paul's writings suggest that at the best of times righteousness was not achieavable, but that all were cursed and enslaved. The law had an important but temperal role - Jesus' death is the sole way by which Jews and Gentiles can find righteousness, for otherwise Jews would have been embracing life under a covenant that could only condemn.

1. For Paul 'justification' was how sinners can be counted righteous, if Jews like Peter & Paul sought justification in Christ, then they too proved to be sinners. As Paul writes, if there was another means for justification then Christ need not have died. His death represents the only way a sinner, everyone, could be justified (2.21; 3.22-24). If righteousness is only possible through the death of Christ, then it is not possible by means of the Mosaic law (2.21; 3.21-22). The principle of the law was that life was given by living by it (3.12), and Paul sees no need to dispute this further.
A humanity, the desperation of whose sinfulness is illumined by the death of Christ, cannot possibly meet the measure of obedience required by the Mosaic covenant (Lev 18.5; Deut 10.12-13; 11.26-28). Sure, he is denying that Gentiles (2.16) ought to be circumcised, but the reason why is that God's favour cannot be enjoyed by sinners under a covenant that demands compliance with its laws as its condition for blessing. 'By' the law (2.16) and 'through' the law (2.21) is the same - this is not a rejection of justification by certain parts of the law, but by the law itself (3.11-12; 5.4).

2. The problem of the law is not simply its inability to give life (3.21-24) but that it curses all who transgress (3.10). All are cursed, imprisoned, and deliverance is only in Christ's death.

3. Paul underlines this with the examples of Hagar and Sarah (Gal 4); two covenants. Hagar's child was in slavery, and is of Mount Sinai, the 'present Jerusalem'. Paul clearly sees the subjects imprisoned under sin and curse, whereas Isaac is the free offspring of Sarah.

4. But why a law that can only curse? This is what Paul answers in 3.19, and surely a Paul who feels the need to explain the law, can only be a Paul who has denied the law serves the function others attribute to it. In effect, it supervises the imprisonment of people who would later be set free (3.24): its hegemony was temporary.

Thus the Mosaic economy and its laws no longer provide the framework with which God's people are to live, and was never the means by which they were justified. In 1.13-2.24 Paul portrays Judaism, the devotion to ancestral law and the pursuit of righteousness based on certain observances, as a temporary stage in history: it is clear that it belongs to his past.

It is fair to say that he is answering the question of whether Gentiles should be circumcised, but justification why they shouldn't, and a justification that is still the extroadinary means by which God declares sinners righteous. Paul clearly sees it important to articulate the gospel wherever he goes, and the language of this in Romans is summed up in language of justification or righteousness (Rom 1.14-17). The formula of Gal 2.16 is repeated in Rom 3.20, and the importance of faith in Rom 4. Again, it is justification language that is the answer to the human dilemma already apparent in 1 Thessalonians, and the end of the law is repeated (10.4), for there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (10.11,12). He once pursued righteousness by the law (Phil 3.8,9), but this did not allow him to stand before God.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The student and the church...

The New Testament's thinking on 'church' is something I really want to dig deep into in the future - I've heard Graham Beynon has a great little book out on exactly that. In the meantime here are a collection of bits and bobs about 'church' that my friend TB asked me to dig out...

Firstly here are some words we wrote to encourage Freshers at our home church to get stuck into a church where they were at University (with much credit to UCCF's 'fresh' pack)...

It’s very important to be part of a church; this is for your own discipleship, but also to encourage other Christians.

It may seem like for the amount of weeks you’re at Uni it’s almost not worth getting stuck into church – however don’t underestimate the way God works in power through His church (Eph 3:10). It’s also valuable to part of a Christian body that isn’t exclusively students.

Have a think about what you feel is important for a church, and also what ways you could contribute. Don’t be afraid to ask a church leader what his church is about, and how he’d be willing for you to get involved.

Most students do ‘church-hopping’ for the first few weeks at a new Uni before settling down at the one they found most suitable. Certainly pray about it!

- Is the church faithful to the good news of Jesus Christ, and proclaiming it, and does it teach the Bible, and do the church leaders submit themselves to God’s word (Titus 1:7-9)?

- Is there a genuine concern to spur one another on in faith (Hebrews 10:24-25)?

- Is the church obviously a Christian community where people love one another (1 John 3:11-18)?

- Can I imagine feeling at home here and getting involved in the life of the church (1 Cor 12:24-27)?

I've heard a number of guys talk recently about how our consumer culture has spread into our thinking about church - maybe our intention in going to church has morphed into something along the lines of getting our 'fix' of worship? Surely our view of church needs to encorporate servanthood a whole lot more. To say we go to church to worship must be a bit like saying we go to work to breathe - the point is that we're always meant to be breathing. I think some of the best ways we can worship God as part of a church family are by exercising gifts to build one another up, devoting ourselves to listening to God's word, encouraging one another to obey it...

I was encouraged to think through the following situation by a church leader...
You are moving to a new area and are told by a friend "St Mary's is good for teaching but St Martha's is good for worship". What is the primary way you should decide which church to attend? Why?

How practically can we work at spurring one another on when we meet together? What steps can we take to listen well to God's word when it is preached?
The whole topic of the role of Christian Unions and local churches is frequently visited. My friend James Barbour has some wise words to say on the matter, with church leadership being something CU's obviously lack.

Praise God for his church, his bride whom Christ gave himself up for, for each local gathering of believers! May he make his manifold wisdom known to the world through us, for his glory alone!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"The world has many religions; it has but one gospel." (George Owen)

After our bible-study on Daniel 4 (see yesterday's post), and after looking at Nebuchadnezzar's (and Daniel's) response to Daniel's interpretation of his dream, I have been thinking about what we present and live by as the gospel, and whether or not it is the gospel...
Firstly, I think we need to examine our own attitudes...
"If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself."
St. Augustine

"The gospel begins and ends with what God is, not what we want or think we need." Tom Houston

"A gospel that elevates man and dethrones God is not the gospel."
Will Metzger
That's very hard. I shudder to think of the reaction of my friends. I wince when someone mentions judgement/sin/hell. I shy away from its relevance outside of my Christian bubble. I would rather speak of today's news than of the glorious riches of Christ to the gasman.

Yet for myself, and my neighbour, the gospel is what matters.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 2.6-7

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
Romans 1.16-17

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Blessed be His name on the road marked with suffering...

Our church family meeting tonight was awesome! We were looking at the Bible's teaching on God's sovereignty, especially in relation to suffering. It's such a real topic. In fact, to call it a topic is to stray dangerously close to something we tried to get away from tonight: neat, theological, mathematical answers. Instead, suffering is part and parcel of our life on this earth and the fact is that some people will suffer horrendously more than others with no clear reason.

But despite this, the Bible has some really awesome, and I mean awesome, things to say about suffering and where God is in the midst of it...
  • It is very amazing that God is sovereign over His world, and thus over all evil and suffering - in Acts 4 His hand is at work, and His plan working out, even in the evil and sinful acts of Herod and Pilate...
  • In Luke 13 Jesus presents suffering (both tragedy and murder) as signs of His coming judgement, and as loving calls to urgent repentance. His very wanting us to repent is his mercy, his kindness, his love - does that just make you go 'Woah!'?
  • Throughout the life of Jesus we see Him knowing firsthand the agony of personal pain: weeping with indignation at Lazarus' death, and the unimaginable pain in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14.32...). Peter writes that the cross (1 Peter 2.19...) should be our example in our suffering, that we'd entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly.
  • And this last one's good news too: God has acted to save us, promising a new creation with no more suffering or death. I think John puts it better:

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21.1-4

There is a promise telling of an end to suffering, by a God who keeps his promises, with the cross and the Spirit as guarantee.

And we know that for those who love God ALL THINGS work together for GOOD [God's good, which is the best kind of good incidentally], for those who are called according to HIS purpose [again, the best kind of purpose].

Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapter 8 verse 27.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Da Vinci Code: a bad mullet, a few twists, and a handful of lies about Jesus...

I was fortunate (I think that's the right word) to be given a ticket to see The Da Vinci Code last night, and after an evening of digesting here are some thoughts...

I have to admit, I was going into this movie with at least one eye on how as a Christian, someone set free by the Truth, I was to respond to it. In a clever opening scene Robert Langdon (Hanks) asks a packed lecture-hall, 'How do we sift truth from belief? Tonight this will be our task'. It's a question that sure-enough plots the course of the movie, as the notions of truth, belief, and history are pitted against each other.

If you've read the book then you'll realise what all the fuss is about. Simply put, if the book didn't orientate around the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, they had a kid, and that the bloodline continues today, then it wouldn't be half as popular as it has been. But that is exactly what the book does 'claim', and as the movie continues 'fact' after 'fact' is thrown at us as Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellan) unveils 'the greatest cover-up in history'.

There's enough places on the net that explain why the evidence given isn't evidence at all (see my previous post for resources) and if you saw Tony Robinson's repeated documentary on Channel 4 you'll understand why. An extremely fanciful use of the gnostic gospel of Philip, a generally twisted use of history, especially when it comes to the canonisation of Scripture and Constantine's role (although the brief flashback scene of the Council of Nicea is worth a watch for its hilarity) is Dan Brown's not-quite-original way of creating a rather exciting plotline.

There's debate as to how the Christian is to respond to this film. Surely, there's no point getting worked up about it, after all it's only a film? That view would be easier to hold to if there weren't reports that it is changing people's minds. The crowd I saw the film with didn't seem particularly interested in whether or not it was true. Instead they turned to discuss the variations the film has from the book (...sadly the book of the Da Vinci Code, not The Book).

I feel like it is my responsibility to point people to the Truth, and to do that I need to be ready to defend and present the gospel, and thus the gospels. Some have pointed to the 'disappointment' of the church's 'bandwagon boarding' response to Gibson's 'Passion' of 2004, but things like Paul's willingness to react with the cultures around him in Acts makes me think that we can't be ignorant of the contexts in which we seek to proclaim the message of the cross.

Aside from the predictable questions about the reliability and authority of the New Testament, it's also worth bearing in mind the horrific self-flagellation scenes in which Silas, Paul Bettany's monk, attempts to atone for his sins. Although the Opus Dei bishop (Alfred Molina) points out this is a different practice to that of "cafeteria catholics", it's also miles away from biblical Christianity. Your friend knows that you don't wrap a cilice around your thigh, but they probably haven't thought through the understanding that only Christ's death is sufficient to atone for sin.

As the film draws to a close Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), the supposed great, great, great (x 100?) daughter of Jesus and MM, is left with the dilemma of exposing Christianity as a lie or not. Hanks' character leans over and whispers the apparently reassuring words 'The only thing that matters is what you believe.' For a film that's been plugged with the tagline 'Seek the Truth', it does seem a bit of a cop-out to come to this conclusion. But the real irony is that what you believe does matter, and it's of eternal significance.
'Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life. but the wrath of God remains on him.'

Jesus, The Gospel according to John, Chapter 3, Verse 36.