Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Lessons from Mark #01...

To follow is to leave.

(Mark 1.16-20)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Theses on the megachurch door...

This post by Jared Wilson, a teaching minister at a church in Nashville, TN, got me thinking. It's 27 theses to post on your brand-spanking-new glass doors at church. Here's three that struck me.

3. Honest Christians will differ on what constitutes a “biblical church,” and while disagreement is understandable and okay, beware of any church that says, explicitly or implicitly, “we do it right” or “we do it better” than the church down the street.

12. Church leaders don’t really need to choose between fidelity to the Gospel and engaging the culture. They just need to make sure they put them in order. First things go first and inform secondary things. Fidelity to the Gospel should inform your cultural engagement, and not vice versa. If your first aim is to please man, you will please some god, but it won’t be the God you want to please. But if your first aim is to please God, you will please some men.

14. Decide if you’d rather give people what they want to hear or what they need to know. People need to know they are sinners in need of a Savior. People want to hear that deep down they’re okay and their good buddy J.C. affirms them in their okay-ness, which is b.s. that helps nobody.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A good point...

"A church's understanding of evangelism will flow from its understanding of conversion and its understanding of mission."

Paul Clarke

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Last Nun Standing (a Reality Check)...

The most popular news story on bbc.co.uk at the moment is this one - a pretty comic tale of a three-woman strong convent that has now been reduced to one remaining member after the other two attacked her. I suppose the reason that it's heavily clicked on is because it's funny, unusual, and pretty ironic.

The article dubs the nuns as from 'the most austere order of the Roman Catholic Church, devoted to a life of prayer, penance and quiet contemplation.' The theory of a special sacred life may look nice and spiritual but the practice, three nuns not being able to get on without physically attacking one another, kind of shows up what life, and even the Christian life, really looks like. You can live in a convent for 44 years but you can't escape the flesh, the world, and the devil.

I reckon the temptation's there for all of us - especially with blogs - I want to point out the sacredness of my routine, the holiness of my actions, but in reality I'm only kidding myself. I might not use the garble of 'devoted to a life of prayer, penance, and quiet contemplation', but I'm equally as likely to spin on about how often I'm captivated by God, ham up the prayerletter to make my exploits look extra devout. Maybe the balance is hard to strike - we are pressing on towards the goal, trying to let go of every hinderance, and we are living in hope that day by day we are being changed by God, and made more like his Son. But with that comes the brutal truth that we are sinners crying out for rescue.

Back to the nuns' story... now the local Archbishop has got involved and written to the Pope to get his permission to call the bailiffs in to force the last nun to take down the barricades. The remaining nun's response? "She has written to the Pope telling him she will only leave when God decides it is time to go." Can't leave this story without questioning the seeming madness of that comment (if the press quotation is accurate).

She's nailed the issue in one sense; God is sovereign and when He decides it's time to go, then it definitely will be (and that could be in the shape of the local authorities banging on the door and forcing her out!). But the manner in which she seems to be using that phrase gives me the creeps. Maybe I'm taking her out of context, but I reckon it's symptomatic of what Christianity looks like all too often in our culture - all too easily reckoning God's will is this or that without giving much time to what God has declared his will to be in his written word. We have to rescue the foundational truth that God has ordained what pleases him and what doesn't. Without even getting into whether or not being a nun is a good thing to do, the point in question seems to be whether I can defend my actions on the basis of what God has said to me personally, with little thought to what's he's spoken in Scripture.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

So, what's the gospel?

It's been about three months since I last whacked some thoughts up on the blogosphere. So, what's brought me back from the cold? I wanted to take a look at some thoughts on Brian McLaren's soon-to-be-released book Everything Must Change.

Every few weeks I get some circular emails from a couple of Christian bookshops and it seems stuff by McLaren, Rob Bell and others that are often put under the 'emerging church' label, is ever-present. If these are the books and DVDs that an increasing number of people in the UK church are buying (and that makes sense if that's what the likes of Wesley Owen are heavily plugging), then we need to be pretty clear as to what's at the heart of them.

So, Tim Challies gives us an insight here as to how McLaren sees his gospel, his good news. And if we want to be gospel-guarders, as Paul desperately desperately urges us to be, then it would be good to give it a read.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Tim. 4.1-5

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Men Behind the Book...

Great interview with Sach and Jeffrey, writers of Pierced For Our Transgressions, over here. Normal Christian people contending for the faith. It's what it's all about.

Monday, May 28, 2007

“You’re supposed to be helping him, ‘getting him off the streets’…”

Here's a refreshingly unacademic post worth a read from the blog of Frog and Amy Orr-Ewing; it's a piece written by Rachel Hughes, a youthworker in Peckham, and speaks of the realities involved in reaching unchurched young people with the gospel - always an exciting thing! It's a conversation between Rachel and two young people at one of the youth clubs she runs, and it rings true with what is fairly normal outside middle-class Britain I guess. I'm always indebted to having the camera zoom-out and being reminded that there is more to Christian ministry than student work.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Something For The Weekend...

'Humility is not a mere ornament of a Christian, but an essential part of the new creature.'

Richard Baxter

Bish has a great post here on the soaring and sobbing of the doctrine of election as we read Romans 9-11.
Al Mohler has some interesting observations on the increasingly popular
(yet as yet absent from my bookshelf) The Dangerous Book for Boys here.
HT: Ed

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Music in a CU context...

At Focus tonight we're looking at Romans 14, as Paul shows how the gospel affects how we relate to brothers and sisters who have different views on disputable matters (in the passage it's food and special days). Where often such differences can quickly end-up causing frustration and friction, Paul calls all to seek the edification of others, following Christ's example. As Paul has shown since the start of Romans 12, the gospel brings about sober-minded selfless thinking with enemies, with authorities, and here across individual churches.

In the context of Christian Unions, student mission teams dedicated to speaking the gospel of Jesus Christ across campuses and colleges, often secondary issues can hamper such critical primary aims. One of these issues is often music/worship; does the way we concieve of music at our CU meetings hamper whether our brothers and sisters feel held back, restricted, left out, relegated, ignored in the work of the CU? The great thing about Romans 14-15 is that everyone is addressed and called to be selfless, which like the marriage in 1 Cor 7.1-4, is the result of gospel-thinking in the believer.

Mark Stone, a UCCF staff worker in the north-east, did a really practical seminar session on the topic of leading music in a CU context, up here in Durham in November. You can download the two files here (1) and here (2).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bits and Bobs...

Martin Downes hosts an interview with Carl Trueman here who has some important things to say about humility. The internet is a unique portal, where words can be seen by all and brought up long after they were issued. We had a quotation on our bathroom door back home that read 'Keep your words tender, for tomorrow you may have to eat them'. It's true; the bathroom quote page rarely lies.

HT: The Bish

Also, the latest press release from UCCF on the Word Alive issue can be found here.

The definite lack of original content on the blog in recent weeks has been due to the fact that revision is well underway for finals (finishing June 1st). However, I have posted two pics of my own handcrafted dinner-for-one from Saturday night. On the left we have leftovers of my homemade lemon ice-cream, and on the right we have a fish-finger, peas, and lettuce sandwich, with added mayo.

A Year Ago: At church we were looking at God's sovereignty and suffering; where the rubber hits the road and theology is shown to be truly practical.

Friday, May 18, 2007

It Makes Sense...

We are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it... Disregard the study of God and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfold, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.

J. I. Packer, Knowing God.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The skill of humility...

Yep, that was intentionally ironic. Five suggestions from Michael Ramsey, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Durham, on staying humble...

1. Thankfulness... 'Thankfulness is a soil on which pride does not easily grow'.
2. Co
nfession... be honest about your sin; criticise yourself in God's presence.
3. Accept humiliations... however hard that may be.
4. Don't worry about any status you have apart from how you are in God's sight.
5. Use your sense of humour:

'Laugh about things. Laugh at the absurdities of life. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at your own absurdities. We are, all of us, infinitisimally small and ludicrous creatures within God's universe. You have to be serious, but never be solemn, because if you are solemn about anything there is the risk of becoming solemn about yourself.
Ramsey's words as quoted by John Stott.

Creation waits with eager longing...

BBC Washington correspondent Matt Frei has an interesting article and film on how climate change is dividing evangelicalism in America here.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Packer on the Word...

Mark Driscoll blogs on a lecture he observed from Jim Packer (or 'J.I.', if you know him well) here. Reading Knowing God again has made me realise how brilliantly rich Packer's writings are. You just long to keep devouring the pages as he throws his flashlight on the glorious God of the gospel, inviting us to grasp something of who God is, and marvel and change. Driscoll writes that Packer's address ended with three exhortations, which I'll quote here:

  1. The hope of our glory must always lie beyond this world and to nurture that hope a reading of the Puritan Bunyan's book Pilgrim's Progress is essential.
  2. Total and continual immersion in the Psalms is exceedingly good for the soul and too infrequently practiced.
  3. Studying the lives of those who faithfully handled God's Word is helpful and Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd-Jones must be included at the top of that list.
HT: The Resurgence

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Gardeners' Questiontime

Reading Genesis 3 again this evening with pizza and brothers.

It simply sums up in narrative form the absolute arrogance of human rebellion, the casting aside of the Creator God and the willed decision to become gods ourselves. Sin is in essence an act of revolution: to replace God with myself.

The woman, knowing that the serpent had outlined that eating the fruit will make them 'like God', still chooses to eat of the forbidden tree. That's despite both the implications laid out by the serpent and it being an act of straight-forward disobedience to God. The narrative also picks out the subtle exchange of authority from what God has said, to what humanity judges to be right; the woman sees the fruit looks good, 'a delight to the eyes' (3.6) and that it is able to make one wise, and it is this that takes preference over obeying God's word.

The clear difference between the actual command God gives in 2.16-17 and the woman's version of what God said (3.3) is peculiar (the lack of 'neither shall you touch it' in the original). Sure, woman hadn't been created when the command was given, suggesting man had passed the command on, but either he'd got it wrong, or she'd not paid enough attention to it. Either way, God's words are not as familiar to the couple as they need to be, considering they are the very words of the God who created them, the very words that previously spoke life into nothingness. Consequently the serpent is able to cause mass confusion by first questioning God's word (3.1: 'Did God actually say...') and then casting doubt on the reality of God's judgement (3.4: 'You will not surely die...').

He's made God out to be incoherent, twisted in intention, and a liar. To read this passage is to see graphicly in a snapshot moment how sin works. And it's easy to point the finger and throw our hands up at this evil anonymous passerby, whom we call 'sin'. But in reality it is us, our hearts, it is me who does this. And then I remember that moment this afternoon when I doubted whether the real world actually needs the gospel. Or that time yesterday when I was reluctant to believe God's desire that I be sanctified was true, rather fancying my own will for myself. Or when I questioned whether the Bible was clear in what it said.

I love that closing line from Chris Tomlin's song 'Indescribable', it speaks so simply of the wonder of Jesus' death for sinners, sinners like Adam, and sinners like me.

'You see the depths of my heart and you love me the same; you are amazing God'

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Goldsworthy and the Bible...

Having spent most of the last few weeks trying to submerge myself in the writings of Graeme Goldsworthy for my dissertation, I'm now a massive fan of his work. He's passionate about understanding the Bible as a whole, and a whole that points to Jesus Christ, which is what he calls biblical theology.

Justin Buzzard interviews Goldsworthy on his blog here and it really brings out Graeme's heart for biblical theology to be pastoral, that every Christian might long to see how the Scriptures testify to Jesus Christ.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Faithful workman...

John Stott announced his retirement this last week, at the age of 86. Imagine spending a lifetime devoted to pointing to someone else. A life well spent.

“If He is not who he said He was, and if He did not do what He said He had come to do, the whole superstructure of Christianity crumbles in ruin to the ground.”

Basic Christianity

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Probem solving...

"The greater the problem, the greater the gospel.
The smaller the problem, the smaller the gospel.

"We need to be very clear on the problem, and its magnitude, to understand and be thrilled by the gospel that solves it... many heresies stem from having the gospel without a problem. To have a Jesus who is the ultimate answer, but to not understand the problem, means we come up a problem resembling whatever
we think the world's greatest problem is."

Michael You

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Being Fishers of Men...

I like Mark Driscoll. He's a thirty-six year old pastor of Mars Hill church (not to be confused with Rob Bell's Mars Hill Bible Church...) in Seattle, Washington. For those of you who like the labels, he describes himself as first Christian, second evangelical, third missional, and fourth reformed. Apart from that you really need to listen to him to see what he's like.

He's big into church planting. A good thing. And he's big into reaching the totally unchurched. Those for whom church is another world. Church planting for the unchurched. Bigtime. To blow away those cobwebs, take a look at an eight-minute video he made for a church-planting conference here. He also said this:

So the question is if you want to be innovative: How do you get young men? All this nonsense on how to grow the church. One issue: young men. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. They’re going to get married, make money, make babies, build companies, buy real estate. They’re going to make the culture of the future. If you get the young men you win the war, you get everything. You get the families, the women, the children, the money, the business, you get everything. If you don’t get the young men you get nothing. You get nothing.

He's got a point, and he's doing everything he can in response to it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Morning I Heard God Speak...

Cracking article by John Piper here. Read and marvel.

HT: Nathan

Monday, April 16, 2007

From Times Eternal...

Uploaded some very basic demos of three songs I recorded with the help of my friends Vicky and Gary last week. You can listen and grab the lyrics to them here - I repeat: very basic stuff, but it was great fun to do. Here's the words to one of them, From Times Eternal. It's pretty much the back end of Romans 8, a chapter I've grown to take great delight in since we did it at Focus a few months back. I've noticed that too often the rock solid assurance God has given us, rooted in God's faithful character, displayed in his gracious act of predestining his own, and centred on the cross of Christ, is missing from the pulpits, songbooks, and generally, the churches of our land.

It's no reason for pride, that's clear. It's total grace. And yet without it, without being bathed in the plan of God, without taking time to grasp God's acted-upon will for us (as Romans 8 tells us) we rob ourselves and others of the comfort, security, refuge that the Psalmist loved to sing of. Anyway, here's the song:

From times eternal you have chosen me
Fixed by your counsel secured by your will
I see your purpose in saving me
I marvel at such undeserved mercy

No condemnation in Christ,
No separation from the love of God,
I can claim assurance tonight,
It is your work; it is your will

Your word tells me of my destiny
Planned long before my first breath
And it's destined through all history
The king of love; that he should die for me

Neither death nor life, neither depth nor height,
Can separate me from the Love of God in Christ

To know your working through everything,
That is my good, that is your will.
To make me more like Christ
To bring him glory, to be his family

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Word Alive and the Atonement...

Hundreds of students are returning from Word Alive, and Dan Hames reports here from the event with news of the doctrine of the atonement being brought to the fore, as it should be. Consequently, the student Word Alive track will be departing from the Spring Harvest weeks into a new Bible-focused family holiday week, with a student section running alongside it. The current site for the new week is up here.

Pierced for our Transgressions, the new book on the doctrine of penal substitution from Sach, Jeffrey, and Ovey, is already out of stock at publishers IVP having only been on sale for a month. Beginning with Moses are offering a special discount on it - it will be one of those books you'll still appreciate having on your shelf in thirty years, I'm sure. If you haven't checked out the site, or you're not really sure why so much of a big fuss is being made out of what happened on the cross, then do click here. It's packed full of info, downloadable sermons, and even some free song downloads.

HT: Dan

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Just discovered Boundless, which is a site full of Christian articles, aimed at 'those in their college years'. There's heaps of stuff to look at on everything from relationships and how you use your time, to encouraging you to form a Biblical worldview. Why there aren't similar sites this side of the Atlantic, I don't know... maybe there are and I haven't found them... or maybe us Brits have trouble dealing with the cheese factor. Boundless is run by Focus on the Family, so its search engine taps into a vast network of documents, book reviews, etc... Worth taking a look at.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

'One in 10' attend church weekly...

Christian charity Tearfund has polled 7,000 people, actually not that big a number, and found that '1 in 10' attend church weekly, and '1 in 7' monthly. That actually struck me as quite a high figure. Two-thirds of those polled had not been to church in the last year, except for baptisms, weddings or funerals - the results put the UK among Europe's four 'least observant countries'.

Tearfund said 53% of people identified themselves as Christian, compared with almost three-quarters who had in the last census in 2001. But it said that its survey indicated that three million people who had stopped going to church, or who had never been in their lives, would consider attending "given the right invitation". This could be a personal invite, the chance to accompany a relative or friend, or the offer of help during difficult personal circumstances, it said.

This is encouraging news - that both the term 'Christian' seems to be being abandoned by those who ten years ago would have used it to classify anyone white and British, and that still many are open to 'considering church'. People draw graphs and pie charts and try to work out what 'the church' will look like in 10 years, but so what? The Bible teaches and shows that God is faithful and will keep his church from falling, and then on the last day the true church will be revealed as those who are saved by the name of Jesus Christ, for 'there is salvation in no one else' (Acts 4.12).

If, as many say, it becomes increasingly harder to proclaim his name, and remain on the right side of UK law, then surely many will leave gospel-believing churches, and yet, as has always been the case, people will hear the word of life and believe, for it is God who will gather his elect. As Joel spoke of our day, 'it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved'. Great hope, despite whatever trials and tribulations may - no, make that will - lie ahead.

Tearfund's president, Elaine Storkey, told BBC Radio Five Live that a lot of people would be unsure what to expect if they did visit. "The church for a lot of people is a very strange place these days. They're not familiar with what's going on inside the building, with the form of service, with the way people gather, with what they say, how they pray. "So the first thing they have really got to wake up to is that there is this big cultural gap between churched and non-churched." I've no doubt all of that is true. UK churches must seem incredibly weird to someone who hasn't grown up in that environment. Paul was concerned for the non-believer in the church gathering in 1 Cor 14, and so should we be. We should be only boasting in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; there is the foolishness.

More on the tearfund report here.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Calvin and Avocado...

Thus it is that we may patiently pass through this life with its misery, hunger, cold, contempt, reproaches, and other troubles - content with this one thing: that our King will never leave us destitute, but will provide for our needs until, our warfare ended, we are called to triumph.

John Calvin, Institutes II. xv. 4.

Enjoying life's small pleasures: Baby moorhens taking their first steps among the rushes of the local park's pond; Avocado spread thickly on toast with a little pepper and vinegar.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lust is a dissatisfaction with God...

Listening to Joshua Harris' series on Purity at the moment. Really good stuff.

I remember reading his first book I Kissed Dating Goodbye when I was 17, and being appalled at his hardcore attitude to relationships. It didn't help that one of my guy mates gave it to the girl I was 'dating' at the time. However, five years later I'm convinced he's the bomb. If you've never digged into his books (Boy Meets Girl, Sex isn't the probem (Lust is), and Stop Dating the Church) they're well worth getting your hands on. A married friend recently told me Boy Meets Girl has been the most helpful book he's read on the issue of relationships. It's worth bearing in mind before you read your first one that he is an American (cue scary music), and, surprise surprise, his books are American too. Don't be put off by the fact that he's clearly addressing an American audience - the truth is his priorities, principles and attitudes will pack a punch in whatever culture you're in. Be aware of the ease and danger of using the Americanisms as an excuse for not applying the Biblical truths to your life, like I did five years ago!

Anyway, the series on Purity is a collection of six sermons he gave at Covenant Life church, which he pastors in Gaithersberg, Maryland. They're available free here, are each about 45 mins long, and he sits right under God's word, preaching grace and repentance. Purity 2 is the only sermon on lust I've ever heard and is absolute gospel-centred gold-dust, and a brilliant summary of his latest book. Listen to it with your friends. He quotes Piper partway through, saying 'Lust (/Sin) is the dissatisfaction with God'. Really got me thinking. We choose to sin because we think it will satisfy, and thus because we think it'll satisfy more than God (we're dissatisfied with Him). We're wrong, and time and time again we're left feeling empty. Surely then, we need to fight to find our satisfaction in Him. Discuss.

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.
Psalm 34.8-9

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Once let him see his sin and he must see his Saviour...

First day back home, after a few days out in the sticks with my fellow two muskateers, and then church's annual Mid-Year Conference for students in the Lakes. Much to 'mull over' from the time away, and no doubt much to blog too.

A seminar on unity was really thought-provoking... how clear are we on the essentials of the gospel that has saved us, the gospel that unites God's church... what truths would we fight for? What would we want to hold fast to when everyone else has deserted?

The doctrine of sin has to be one of those things. Was watching The Simpsons last night with my sister and it was the episode where Bart and the family travel to the Itchy & Scratch World amusement park. The theme was all about whether or not violence on kids' TV actually caused children to be more violent - it made me think about our society: we're so quick to point to this or that as the cause for society's 'downfall'. Our communities aren't like they used to be surely? Things have changed, right?

J. C. Ryle didn't think so. Writing about the church in the nineteenth century, he stated that one its chief wants 'has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin.' That is, sin, 'doing, saying, thinking, or imagining anything that is not in perfect conformity with the mind and law of God.'

And from where does this vile offence against God come?

'Let us, then, have it fixed down in our minds that the sinfulness of man does not begin from without, but from within. It is not the result of bad training in early years. It is not picked up from bad companions and bad examples, as some weak Christians are too fond of saying. No! It is a family disease, which we all inherit from our first parents, Adam and Eve, and with which we are born.


'Search the globe from east to west and from pole to pole; search every nation of every climate in the four quarters of the earth; search every rank and class in our own country from the highest to the lowest—and under every circumstance and condition, the report will be always the same. The remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, completely separate from Europe, Asia, Africa and America, beyond the reach alike of Oriental luxury and Western arts and literature, islands inhabited by people ignorant of books, money, steam and gunpowder, uncontaminated by the vices of modern civilization, these very islands have always been found, when first discovered, the abode of the vilest forms of lust, cruelty, deceit and superstition. If the inhabitants have known nothing else, they have always known how to sin! Everywhere the human heart is naturally "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9). For my part, I know no stronger proof of the inspiration of Genesis and the Mosaic account of the origin of man, than the power, extent and universality of sin.

John 3.6; Ephesians 2.3; Romans 8.7; Mark 7.21.

The practical applications of such a doctrine:
a) one of the best antidotes to the 'that vague, dim, misty, hazy theology which is so painfully current in the present age.'
b) one of the best antidotes to the 'extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is much in vogue at the present time'.
c) one of the best antidotes to that 'sensuous, ceremonial, formal kind of Christianity...'
d) one of the best antidotes to 'the overstrained threories of Perfection, of which we hear much in these times...'
e) an admirable antidote to the low views of personal holiness which are so painfully prevalent in these last days of the Church.

'Once let him see his sin and he must see his Saviour... We must sit down humbly in the presence of God, look the whole subject in the face, examine clearly what the Lord Jesus calls sin, and what the Lord Jesus calls doing His will. We must then try to realize that it is terribly possible to live a careless, easy–going, half–worldly life, and yet at the same time to maintain evangelical principles and call ourselves evangelical people! Once we see that sin is far viler and far nearer to us and sticks more closely to us than we supposed, we will be led, I trust and believe, to get nearer to Christ. Once drawn nearer to Christ, we will drink more deeply out of His fullness and learn more thoroughly to "live the life of faith" in Him, as St. Paul did. Once taught to live the life of faith in Jesus, and abiding in Him, we will bear more fruit, will find ourselves more strong for duty, more patient in trial, more watchful over our poor weak hearts, and more like our Master in all our little daily ways.

All quotes from Holiness by J. C. Ryle.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Marvelling at sovereignty...

Been reading Romans 9 in prep for tonight's study... it's pretty hectic as the South Africans would say.
Logically I'm finding it one of the most easiest strands of Paul's argument to understand, but theologically it's a brain-twister, and not just brain but heart too. Just the way Paul brings up the issue of the Jews brings his true colours to light, 'I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers...' (9.2-3).

I love reading Paul, because just when you're wrapped up in understanding his doctrine, his theology, his understanding of how it all works, you're smacked in the face by the way he takes it as the reality it is. It's not simply textbook theory, for actually that's not theology, it's heart, mind, and soul, engaged, enwrapped, involved. What a big rebuke to thinking it's possible to get a grip on God's election without it twisting your heart. Does it make us concerned? Am I gonna stand up and speak the 'truth in Christ' and feel anguish? Not anguish that the word of God has failed, but anguish that so many don't seem to be children of promise (8.9), that so many have rejected the only one who can be their sacrifice for sins (Heb 10.26-27).

The mercy of God, absolutely free, totally unwarranted. Choosing Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob not Esau. Forgiving a people who turned to building a golden calf just hours after recieving the law. Blinding grace. Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! And yet we are chosen, as vessels of mercy, prepared beforehand for glory, to make known the riches of his glory.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"I've lost many arguments, I've never lost a re-run..."

Last night was the CU's Easter Celebration Service. It marked the final event of the One.Hope

Today's been a real encouragement. This morning we had the monthly church student prayer meeting, a great way to begin the day, being reminded from Hebrews 4.14-16 that we can approach the throne of grace, and bring our prayers to a High Priest who sympathizes with our day-to-day weaknesses. Also, been trying to nail my final essay of term, looking at the use of the Psalms in the NT to interpret the passion of the Lord Jesus. main event. I'll blog about that later this week.

Walking here and there I've been listening over some Carson on Ezekiel 37 & Romans 8. Great to go over some of the truths we've been sinking our minds into at Focus, and see the OT groundings for the desperate need for the Spirit to bring life from death. Carson's a joy to listen to and really hammered home the fact that for Paul it's absolutely nonsensical for a Christian to still be living according to the flesh, i.e. always wanting to be number one.
'Thinking apart from God. Goals and ambitions apart from God. Desires apart from God. Desperately sad and utterly hopeless.'

Instead we're called to set our minds on the things of the Spirit. To have the mindset of Christ, as Carson said,
'someone so touched by the Spirit of God that you can't deny the effects.' He had some really practical applications for how we view conversion, sanctification and revival...

Biblical conversion has to be life-transforming. It is. Yes, there is a decision. Yes, there is growth by grace. But, from a biblical point of view conversion without life-transformation is a contradiction of terms. The Spirit makes us ashamed and fearful in the presence of a holy God. It makes us love what was previosuly unattractive. It is God's work. Not pressing a cheap-decision, where one things one has done God a favour. It is the work of the Spirit of God.

Biblical ethics turns on keeping in step with the Spirit. God changes your mindset, now work it out. You can't wander away! It's unthinkable to strive to be number one - that's fleshly thinking. It's theologically ridiculous. It's biblically ridiculous.

And thirdly,
revival is nothing other than a fresh out-pouring of Spirit. Every conversion is the work of the Spirit. Every step in sanctification is the work of the Spirit. When God's Spirit comes on his people by powerful display, the cheap and the dirty is percieved for what it really is, i.e. it is viewed from God's perspective. From the Spirit's perspective, and so we'll be ashamed. 'Stop asking stupid questions betraying our desire to know what we can get away with'. Real guilt. God have mercy on me, as a sinner. There is revival. You cannot organise it, you cannot ape it or whip it up. And biblical revival is achieved by the transforming power of proclamation of the Word empowered by the Spirit.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Servants, Builders, and Fools...

Church hosted a 9:38 lunch on Sunday with Pete Gaskell, who works for Gloddaeth Holidays. Pete looked at how Paul describes his ministry in 1 Corinthians.

Christian workers are servants (3.5-9)
Paul couldn't be clearer to the Corinthians: it doesn't matter who does the ministry, whether Paul or Apollos, for they are both servants (5). It's so easy to fix our eyes on the minister, the famed teacher, the top cat in the big evangelical ministry. But actually they're all servants. Servants. That is how we are to think of ourselves (cf. 4.1). Crops are for one thing: growth, so we're to put our eyes on the only one who gives growth, and to remember our place in gospel ministry.

Christian workers are builders (3.10-15)
We're called to build on Jesus Christ in gospel ministry - he is the only foundation (11). And Paul says we're to build well, for how we build will be shown to be what it is on the last day (12-13). What is the quality of our work, what's the state of our efforts, what's the reality to the gospel ministy we're doing? Am I doing a ministry of gold, am I cutting corners, am I struggling hard to understand the Bible; being vigorous as I submit my life to it? Shoddy work will one day be shown to be what it is, and the warning is real: 'if anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be
saved, but only as through fire' (15), whilst if anyone who has work built on the foundation that survives testing by fire 'he will recieve a reward'.

Christian workers are fools (4.8-13)
These are striking words - words that cut deep as we examine our own lives and attitudes to ourselves. Paul says that he is like the man sentenced to death at the end of the amphitheatre procession... gospel ministy requires you to be a fool, 'a spectacle to the world...' (9). Becoming the 'scum of the earth, the refuse of all things' (13). Hated, despised, mocked, not taken seriously. It has to be part of my thinking - I'm a fool. There is no room for pride, for puffed-up reputation. I remember in SA, a friend told me that in some communities the sign of being a pastor was driving a Mercedes. That's not gospel-ministry according to Paul: 'we are fools for Christ's sake...'.

I must have this view of myself... God's word is so sharp and active... change your thinking now!
Paul may have been going place to place, as apostle to the Gentiles, but like him I too am called to be a servant, a good workman, a fool, here and now.
A servant of Christ, a builder on Christ, a fool for Christ. Am I that?
To extract every ounce of pride and to remember I am serving the Lord Jesus. To see my actions in light of the last day, doing a ministry of gold on the foundation of Christ. To consider myself as a fool, ready to be seen as nothing in the eyes of the world. To not be concerned with how I'm being compared with others, but instead to fix my eyes on Him who grows His crop. Change me!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Depression and the body...

This the second of two posts of a few jumbled up notes from a seminar on depression. This section looks at the medical side of things, and was given by a Christian GP.

This GP said around 80% of her patients were stress/emotion/anxiety related cases. Now, stress is needed in balance. Too little and we're lazy, slack. The right amount and we perform well and stay alert.
Stress often comes in the form of adjustment reactions, which can be caused by any loss or change. Depression is often multi-factorial, i.e. it's not simply caused by just one thing. There may be a history of it, genetics, triggers. We've all felt sadness and lowness, not feeling great about ourselves, depression is just different in volume and length of time. Often it's typified as 2 weeks of persistent low-mood.

What do you feel/think?
Sleep disturbance; early waking; appetite disturbance; being 'so tired'; lack of energy; not making an effort on appearance; how we treat ourselves; very negative thinking: 'I'm no good'; lack of concentration...

Often if we're physically unwell it will effect how we feel, and vice-versa.

Healthy habits...
Exercise (endorphins); eating good food; rest/sleep ('sleep hygiene': waking up at same time every day but only going to bed when feeling tired); expressing emotion; support/family/friends; achieving things; being creative; being outside (1o mins outside - 3hrs uplifted!); knowing it's ok to laugh/cry.

Negative habits...
Social isolation; alchohol; drugs; spending £££; deliberate self-harm (although this is often a logical progression from wanting to feel physically the distress you feel inside); guilt...

Remember, life is full of little pleasures! Here's an example to get you thinking and delighting in small things.

Getting better...
Support and love - it's important to feel safe. We need 20 strokes a day! Hug, touch, physical support, feeling loved. Counselling - talking through things. Realigning your thinking (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), i.e. helping people to look at their negative thinking. Medication... we don't say you shouldn't put a plaster on when you get cut, yet we seem to think medication for depression is wrong. Why!? Medication will stimulate the brain to make more of what it needs, and maintained treatment (usually 6 months min.) allows body to get used to it thus acting as a safety net.

Walking with Jesus (or Reading with Matthew)...

Over the last week or so I have realised I am very unfamiliar with the gospel accounts of Jesus' life. I read through Mark in second year, and I've got a bit of a grasp of John, but as for Matthew and Luke, I'm pretty clueless. And the consequence of that is I don't know Jesus very well.

If he is my King, my Saviour, the one for whom my salvation will bring glory to (as we learnt in Romans 8.29 last night), the one who will return to bring about my glorification and the new creation I'm longing for, the one who makes God known and makes him knowable... then if all that is the case which I'm sure it is, then I want to spend more time studying the gospels, delighting in who Jesus is, changing my thinking so I'm crystal clear what he said, what he did, why he did it (not just what Paul said, etc).

So I'm spending some time, however long it will take, reading Matthew's gospel account and feasting on what I find. Here goes...

Matthew 1 is awesome! It's flashing with big bright lights: 'He's here! He's awesome!'. 'The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.' A mouthful and a half for any Jew to read. Literally, in the Greek, 'the genesis', the new beginning... of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, God's chosen King! The son of David... the king of 2 Samuel 7, the son of Abraham, the promised offspring blessing the world of Genesis 12. I've just been knocked off my synagogue pew (or whatever seating you have in such places). 'Wake up guys, he's arrived!', is Matthew's message. And just when you were catching your breath it continues: 'Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob', Jacob, Judah, Perez, Tamar, Hezron... Boaz, Ruth, Jesse, David! David? 'David the king'. Oh, that David.

David, Solomon... and on and on, all the way to the exile to Babylon. Then what? The end of the line? No: Jechoniah, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel (big sirens going off... Haggai 2.23... shaking the heavens and the earth, overthrowing kingdoms), all the way down to Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

With child from the Holy Spirit (1.18, 20), adopted by Joseph into the Davidic line, and named Jesus because... 'he will save his people from their sins' (1.21, 25). Well, there we go. Day 1. In fact not even Day 1, he hasn't been born, and yet his mission is as clear-cut as they come: he will save his people from their sins. He came preaching love, to help us love each other, to understand ourselves, teaching mercy to the world? He will save his people from their sins. Understanding Jesus is about understanding his message of peace, we can all be one in Christ.... true, but because
he will save his people from their sins.

And if child of promise, chosen king, saviour, wasn't enough. Immanuel: God with us. The promised immanuel of Isaiah 7-9. This is the start of something massive.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Bible and Depression...

Here are some rough notes from a seminar on Depression. They're disjointed notes, but there's some helpful stuff in there I feel. This isn't an A-Z of depression, and it doesn't touch on the role of the fall, and it doesn't point forward to the new creation, and I would be interested to hear of any other Christian resources available.

The Bible addresses negative emotions a lot; the implication is they are part of life. Jesus was anxious in Gethsemane... it's not a sin. In fact the capacity to cry is a reasoned creation, just like the capacity to laugh.

Unhelpful worldview ideas...

'Good things happen to good people & bad things happen to bad people'... this may sound absolutely stupid to us, but the reality is all too often it creeps into our thinking: 'why is this happening to me?!'

Positive Confession Theology ('Name it & Claim it')... this teaching says that if we have enough faith then we'll get what we ask for, so healing has been made available through the cross and Jesus dealt with human illness and all we need for healing is to ask for it. This is close to truth, because Jesus' death has beaten death, but the blessings of that are not all this side of his return, and this theology often leads to a 'if I'm not healed then I can't have enough faith' guilt.
It all stems from our self-gratification culture that says if someone prayed for me then we should immediately be better... this just wasn't the case a few decades ago. Job & Jeremiah are long books... yet our culture wants instant effect.

We are permitted to express negative emotions to God (cf. John the Baptist in prison, Mary & Martha after Lazarus' death, Abraham, Hannah)... no point hiding it... do we think God doesn't know? Often we, as the caring friend, are distressed about their pain, and we want to fix it right here right now, and it is good to want people to feel better, but not just because we can't cope. In Cor 12.26 we're called to 'mourn with those who mourn'.

The Psalms are all about modelling honesty and not pretence... in fact one of the most powerful points of counselling is in getting the emotion out there. There's power in prayer... get people to pray with and for you, notice in the gospels Jesus prays a lot! Prayer reorientates our perspective, as we understand who God is.

Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, and the Bible...

Rob Bell's book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith has seemed to have the marmite effect as it's spread through the US, and now folk are starting to talk about it here in the UK too. You may have seen his short thought-provoking NOOMA dvds which are available in most Christian bookshops. He's very much a major player in the Emerging Church movement stateside. Here's a review worth reading that highlights some of the concerns Velvet Elvis has caused.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

McGrath on Dawkins...

On Tuesday night I went along to a public lecture given by Oxford Prof. and General-Wise-Theologian Alister McGrath. His subject was a brief look at some of the big ideas in Richard Dawkins' work, and particularly those of his latest book The God Delusion (on which McGrath's latest offering, The Dawkins' Delusion is a critique). McGrath was articulate and stimulating as he identified and rebutted four of Dawkins' key ideas:

1. Faith is d
elusional... Dawkins' bills faith as 'non-thinking' or a 'refusal to engage with evidence', but McGrath showed that actually faith does think, see Lewis, Swindoll, Plantinga. There are plenty of worldviews in which faith makes sense, and which explain our world. To look at the world and remark that it can be interpreted in an atheistic way holds no more ground than to say the same about a theistic approach.

2. Science disproves God and/or illuminates the conceptual space God once occupied... In short McGrath said this view is riduculous as there are plenty of scientists who in no way see their faith as irreconcilable with their scientific background. In fact there are limits to scientific evidence, especially in the area of metaphysics and religion; 'the ultimate questions' as Karl Popper called them. Of course science may lead to atheism, and science may be interpreted with an already present atheistic worldview, but neither are the only option.

3. Origins of religions can be explained naturally/scientifically...
The cry of the 1960's was that religion was on it's way out, and yet now it is evident everywhere. Dawkins summarised goes something like this: There is no God, yet people believe there is, so therefore they have to offer an interpretation. Obviously, wishing something to be true does not make something true, yet wishing something to be true does not also mean it cannot be true. Dawkins' tries to explain religion by describing it as a virus, and also bringing up the meme theory. However both these ideas are merely exactly that, ideas for which the evidence is not at all great, and both can be turned around at pointed at to explain atheism.

4. Religion leads to evil... Empathising with most people's thoughts no doubt, McGrath was quick to point out that there is no doubt that religion has and will cause violence, but this capacity is also present in anti-religion, races, politics. Noting that Dawkins' was motivated to write the God Delusion after the suicide terrorism of 9/11, McGrath quoted Robert A. Pape who has written extensively on suicide-bomber-mentality. Pape writes that religion is neither necessary or a sufficient cause for suicide attacks, with it often bottling down to a group of minority people faced with a vastly suppressive enemy and no access to a military voice.

McGrath pointed also to the life and death of Jesus, who suffered great violence against him yet no violence came from him, and he noted that Dawkins' discussion of Jesus in his work is 'tantalizingly inadequate'. Sure, violence is evil, and religion can lead to violence, but it is not typical. A thoughtful pointer to the Amish community in Pennsylvania that last year faced the murder of a handful of school-children, showed that violence can be met with forgiveness. McGrath also asked for evidence: 'if religion is destructive, the evidence must show that, but it doesn't'.

So, overall all then, McGrath's message to the Christian was:
a) there is nothing to fear from Dawkins' book, and
b) think about your faith. This was certainly a big challenge to me, and is part of the reason why I blog, to become more skilled at articulating what I believe.

His word to the atheist was that actually Dawkins' isn't the great example of atheism that pop-culture makes him out to be, and consequently much of the secular left in America has distanced itself from Dawkins.

A couple of things that struck me during the lecture and the question-time...

i) Actually often Christianity is billed as wishful thinking, 'simply choosing the worldview you like'. Now, I love the fact that I'm adopted by God, a c0-heir with Christ, destined for the glory of God, so in one sense Christianity is a worldview I like. Yet there are many aspects that I wouldn't naturally seek to choose from a world view: self-sacrifice, hardship, unpopularity, rejection, not living for my worldy happiness.

ii) McGrath's lecture seemed to spend much time, particularly in his fourth point, discussing 'religion' without any distinction made between religions. Now this may work on some levels as a rebuttal to Dawkins' work, but surely it is a major mistake to classify all religions as equal, especially when weighing up whether 'religion is destructive', for anything must be destructive ultimately if it is not about the Lord Jesus.

iii) McGrath was an engaging speaker and performed well within his remit (a critique of Dawkins), yet I wonder what the role is for the Christian theologian in such a context, after spending forty minutes knocking down the false-idols, is there not a duty to then point people to Jesus Christ. McGrath had little time to mention the reasonableness of Christianity specifically, and did touch on his own conversion as a student ('I had to work out what is the best way of making sense of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth'), but it seemed many may have left the lecture with no sense of urgency to bow before the one name under heaven by which men may be saved!

Dave has some more thoughts on Dawkins' here.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A groaning hope...

Just been trying to get to a grip on Romans 8.17-27 for Biblestudy tonight. I've found this the hardest part of Romans to logically grasp so far.
Paul makes it clear in 8.17 that sharing in Christ's glory, being heirs of God, requires us to share in his suffering, so the big questions are, as we begin 18-30, 'Is it worth it?' and 'How do I know I'll make it through the suffering?'

He kicks off straight away with his reckoning, that the sufferings of this present time, that is the believer's battle, are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (NIV: 'in us'). The glory to come is far greater than the battle of 7.14-8.17. What is to come is incomparable with life now.

Creation Groans (19-22)

In fact it's so awesome that creation too is waiting for it, creation is groaning in hope of our glory. Subjected to emptiness and purposelessness back in Genesis 3, creation has been suffering knowing one day it will be liberated.

Christians Groan (23-25)
And we're groaning too, for we have the firstfruits of the Spirit (i.e. the firstfruits are the Spirit). We're groaning inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. It's like we have the adoption papers signed and sealed, but we're still waiting to be shown off at the family gathering.

We have the Spirit, the firstfruits, but are waiting for the full harvest... (23a)
We are battling, groaning, therefore we have the Spirit... (23b)
We are waiting eagerly for adoption to be complete, and our new bodies revealed... (23c)
We have already been saved... (24a)
We are waiting patiently for we cannot grasp it yet... (25b)

This is the hope in which we were saved, adoption, redemption, justification... And of course hope that is seen is not hope, rather we hope for what we do not see. Our hope is not here yet! But it's coming, and we're groaning for it, for even creation is longing for it. Why hope for things that are now?! We hope for what do not see... patiently... knowing we have the firstfruits, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God (5.2) and rejoicing in these sufferings knowing they bring us hope, and hope does not put us to shame (5.3)!

The Spirit Groans (26-27)
And so creation grows, we too groan, but how do we know we will not give up in our weakness? Can we have assurance that we won't give up? Because our groans depend upon God and not upon ourselves! We walk according to the Spirit, having it in us, it killing sin in us, being led by it, having recieved it for sonship, and now... it groans for us. We are weak. We do fail. But the Spirit cries out for us on the battlefield... it is the true first-fruit... ensuring what is to come!

There must be suffering now, for without it we wouldn't hope. The glory's going to be far greater than this battle, than this life now, for even creation is groaning for it. We too groan, for we have the Spirit, as we eagerly await adoption as sons, for it is in this hope we were saved. We're hoping for something more than this battle with our sin, and the fact that we're hoping, groaning, waiting, is evidence that we are changed and have the Spirit and are saved!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I've found Jesus...

Making the news over the last few days has been James Cameron's (yes, the man behind Titanic) new documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus. I guess the Da Vinci Code has kind of fizzled out now, with just enough momentum to mean that this new film/documentary/archeological finding gets big press around the world. Mary offers some thought here, but surprisingly the actual findings at the bottom of all the fuss don't really offer much warrant to believe that it is Jesus of Nazareth's tomb/DNA/child's burial place (delete as applicable).

Monday, February 26, 2007

Grace questions...

Grace nurtures souls. Grace saturates hearts with joy. Grace is not about grudging obligation.

"Knowing and experiencing the grace of the Lord is the bedrock of absolutely everything else in the Christian life and in the church. It is the heart of the gospel.

When our hearts overflow with the knowledge of his goodness to us and the experience of his favour, then we do all these ['good Christian things'] and many more, expecting to know more grace as we step out in his service."

Living by grace in Galatians...

1. Know your identity in Christ (Gal 3.26-4.7)
2. Live out your identity in Christ (Gal 4.30-5.1)
3. Eagerly look forward to the new creation (Gal 5.5)

If I really understood the impact and goodness of God's grace, would I not be constantly asking for more? To grasp the gospel more, to be more convicted of my sin, to be more assured of forgiveness, to have a greater desire to grow, to have more fruitfulness?
Do I desire the work of the Holy Spirit in my life? Am I eager to live by the Spirit, displacing the desires of my sinful nature? Do I long for God to take hold of my character and shape it to be like his? Am I desperate for the fruit of the Spirit? Today have I counted myself dead to sin and alive to Jesus? Have I realised my uselessness before grace in my minute-to-minute thinking?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Deserting the gospel of grace...

A few friends and I are reading Marcus Honeysett's Finding Joy this term. I read it over the summer and its focus on the gospel of grace as the means for finding joy is really refreshing, but am really valueing being able to give it a second read. Tonight I read his second chapter, The Terrible Tale of Legalism in Galatia; these will be a few thoughts to help me taste and begin to digest.

People pleasing is something I suffer from greatly. And in short it says a lot about how much I've really understood grace. But judging myself through meeting people's standards is
not Christian growth. And one of Honeysett's points is that although we're tricked into thinking meeting people's targets is growth, actually those are the very things that will inhibit our Christian growth. There's no joy in seeking to please others. Like any other false idol, there's momentary satisfaction at the raised smile, pat on the back, or the brother who's been fooled by your biblical spiel, but it's hollow. We're ensnared by the expectation of others.

According to Paul, we're justified, not by working for salvation, but by trusting God and putting faith in him. Trusting him means we
don't think we have to pay back. And life as a Christian, growing in holiness is no different. Saved by grace, live by grace. (Can I caveat here and say Honeysett does acknowledge the emphasis in the NT on working out one's salvation, but picks this up later in the book and says it's still a reliance on God's power).

Honeysett draws on the false teaching recalled in Galatians, with Christians being told that fullness of Christian living came from obeying the law of Moses. But measuring our performance of good works alienates us from Christ, and encourages us to forget about grace and trust ourselves. We're thus robbed of assurance and the Holy Spirit's power to sanctify us.

Grace is criticial for joy: when we realise there is
nothing we can do to make ourselves holy, then we recieve God's grace with complete and utter joy. Grace stops us being people pleasers. Remembering grace means that we don't see a need to people please. People pleasing misleads, and it undermines the good news of grace. Neglecting grace saps power from the Christian life: when we bank our hopes on other things, we're distracted from the place where real righteousness if found: Jesus Christ.

I think it's terribly difficult to identify how the legalism of Galatia translates into 21st century evangelical Christianity. In fact the very process sort of becomes a legalistic ticklist. It could come under anything: judging yourself on how much you've read the Bible this week, doing something simply to look good, hiding sin to appear more godly. There are tonnes of great things to be doing as Christians, which arise naturally out of a desire to serve each other and to serve our Father in Heaven, but a quick intention slip can transform them into legalistic pitfalls where we're simply feeding to expectations of our Christian subculture. I guess we just need to stay close to the message of the cross, the gospel of grace, the word of life. For in view of Jesus Christ we will be humbled and realise once again that it is by grace that God works in us.

Pierced for our transgressions...

This book is making quite a buzz across the country at the moment. Released next month, it looks set to become the must-read as we see how the wonder of the cross has become sidelined and shamed over the last few years particularly in Christianity.

Steve Chalke's comments in The Lost Message of Jesus are probably but the visible tip of a mammoth iceberg that is subtlely undermining Scripture's rich but clear revelation about what God was doing at Calvary 2000 years ago. Garry Williams has written a few articles recently that I found very useful when defending the penal and substitutionary nature of Jesus' death in a Theology essay last year, and Jim Packer's RTSF monologue What did the Cross achieve? is a classic work of recent years. But I can't think of such a systematic study of the biblical texts, the history of the doctrine, and the common ways in which penal substitution is called into question that has been quite so extensive. I hope in fifty years, God willing, I'll have a well-worn and much-prized copy of this on my bookshelf.

You can read John Piper's foreword on the book's site here, but here's a snippet that caught my eye:

There was only one hope for me – that the infinite wisdom of God might make a way for the love of God to satisfy the wrath of God so that I might become a son of God.

This is exactly what happened, and I will sing of it forever. After saying that I was by nature a child of wrath, Paul says, ‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ’ (Eph. 2:4-5 ESV). What a grievous blindness when a teacher in the church writes that the term ‘children of wrath’ cannot mean ‘actual objects of God’s wrath . . . [because] in the same breath they are described as at the same time objects of God’s love’. On the contrary. This is the very triumph of the love of God. This is the love of God – the ‘great love with which he loved us’. It rescued me from his wrath and adopted me into sonship.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Crossing Cultures

It's been a quality couple of days. Dinner with good friends yesterday evening: lemon chicken, white chocolate cheesecake, and truffles all came out of the archives to work their magic once again.

This morning a few of us took the short train journey up to Newcastle, and then the metro to Jesmond, to hear Chris Wright from Langham Partnership International, and Vijay Menon from St. Helen's speak at Crossing Cultures, an event put on by Friends International. It was a great day, and a great chance to have my eyes opened to the massive plans God has for the whole world, and to see those plans being unravelled before my very eyes.

Chris' work on reading the whole Bible in relation to Mission was really insightful, with the big point being actually mission is more than our 'mission' activity, for actually God's committed to his mission. Interesting interlocking with my reading on Goldsworthy over the last few weeks: Wright says that the Bible points to Christ, for the Messiah is God's 'anointed agent' to fulfil the mission of Israel, which was to bring God's blessing to the nations. It helped me to see how Israel fits into God's plan, as well as looking at Jesus' role within that plan, and then our role as the church.

5 tips for reading the whole Bible for Mission:

Reading it in light of:
1. God's purpose for the whole creation (guilty of rarely bringing this into focus)
2. God's purpose for all human life (not really thought-through this before)
3. The election and role of Israel in God's purposes for the nations (have barely considered this, apart from a glance at Romans 2-3)
4. The messianic identity of Jesus (often don't see this so tangibly)
5. The mission of the church to the nations (very often don't see the church like this)

Vijay spoke about Hinduism, which is something I've never encountered, and also reminded us of the importance of prayer (Mark 10.27) and the word of God (John 6.63) in witnessing to the nations. Why is it that golddust is so often disregarded and left in one's pocket?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Pancakes and 1 Peter

Pancake day! Pancakes with mince-and-onion-and-peas-and sweetcorn, and pancakes with lemon-and-sugar-and-genuine-canadian-maple-syrup. And parents too. Good times around the eateries of Durham, lastly at 10 George St for the best egg, flour, and milk can offer.

Elsewhere today:
Some Psalms essay prep on the use of the psalms in interpreting the passion of Jesus in the NT.
Some reading on the history of typology in Biblical interpretation for the dissertation.
And polishing off a report on sociological approaches to the household codes in 1 Peter.

My Dad asked us last night if we'd change our degree courses looking back at two and a half years of 'study'. I don't think I would exchange reading Theology for any other subject. It's hard to judge where Theology has indirectly affected my thinking, and even more so where it has shaped my living (and I would not want to be so ignorant as to say that there has never been any connection, especially a negative one, for the subtle hardening of the heart to God's word will affect one's life). Yet Scripture should always make sense. Not in a sensible worldy sense, but in a as-logical-as-the-cross-can-be sense.

I mean looking at these household codes in 1 Peter, the argument went that actually all they are is the writer using a standard form of writing (the household code) to get across the message that the Christian sect should assimilate to the pagan way of life to keep the pagans happy and to ease persecution. And it looked like a convincing line.

But actually, give the Scripture some space and it'll tell you what's really going on. 1 Peter isn't about assimilation at all - sure there are times when the Christian is to act in a way that could easily look like a pagan (general obedience to the governor), but at the same time there is a distinctness that is attached to the fact that the Christian community are living for a different value, a living hope.

The gospel calls people to live differently, and that's the same 1900 years ago. And you can see that as you sociologically, historically, psychologically pummel away at these documents. They make sense, because they're real. They happened. They're living proof that the gospel changes people and makes history, and they're changing people and making history today.