Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Martin Luther

Listened to Piper's 1996 biography of Martin Luther, man of the book. It's a great exhortation to the labour of studying God's word and the great rewards of doing so.

Some say that if we put time into study that we minimise the work of the Spirit. Luther and Piper differ. "One might argue that emphasizing the brightness of the sun nullifies the surgeon who takes away blindness. But most people would not agree with that. Certainly not Luther." (Piper)

"It is a sin and shame not to know our own book or to understand the speech and words of our God" (Luther)

How we must get deep into God's word. Tomorrow I start a series of three training sessions with University of Surrey Christian Union. Entitled UniSword they're designed to get us deep into God's word. This might seem a bit odd for a Mission Team training session. Should I not just train in apologetics and evangelism? Good question. Yes we need such training, and on other days it will come. But if we are not Book people we will have little longevity, little depth, little life.

MP3 Version | Text Version

Monday, February 27, 2006

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Today, listened to. John Piper's biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MP3). Lloyd-Jones was a pastor in London and is widely regarded as the greatest preacher of the 20th Century. He was also president of UCCF from 1939.

Piper's 1991 biography looks at theology of the Holy Spirit and God's power to transform us. It's very challenging - does my charismatic theology match my practice?

Once again I see the helpfulness of church history, and learning from those who have gone before me. I've not read much Lloyd-Jones first-hand (only one of his Romans 3v1-3v20 sermons and Habakkuk)

A Passion for Christ-exalting power - text version.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

CU Leaders 2006

Back home from our South East CU Leaders weekend 2006... great to see more students than we've ever had before... and four of my CU's represented. We gathered together in the gospel, John Risbridger taught us from 2 Corinthians to be:
  • Faithful in weakness
  • Confident in the gospel
  • Passionate in Mission
  • Committed to holiness
Exhilerating stuff. And very exciting to imagine what God might do through the CU's this year... and to hear what has been happening. We were humbled and inspired by them, what a pleasure to serve.

This week I'll blog Principles for Biblical Ministry from the seminar that Ruth Norbury and I did. It was quite a task to do a seminar for leaders and administrators, hopefully our broad brushstrokes were helpful.

Was also heading up the band for the weekend, joined by the very gifted Drew, Rich, Sam and also my lovely wife. For those wanting a copy of Grace Unmeasured it's here, from the CD, Worship God Live.

Friday, February 24, 2006

14 in a Million

Just in case there weren't enough ways to waste time on the internet...

Surname Profiler reports that there are only 14 Bish's per million people in the UK. A mere 515 of us in the country.

I wondered if there was anyone rarer... turns out our CU leaders speaker and pastor of Above Bar Southampton, John Risbridger is... with only seven in a million. Are you more rare?

Forget google-whacking, are you one in a million? (The system only records those where there are over 100 people with the name... so if you're one in a million you wont show up, but two should... )

UPDATE: My best man is a Harwin, only five in a million.... as is my mate Mr Carding.

The Necessity of Atheism: Q12

Completing the series... on Shelley's questions on the necessity of atheism...

Q12: If the knowledge of God is most necessary, why is it not the most evident and clearest?

Knowledge of God is indeed most necessary and most precious. Is God mysterious?

No. God has spoken at many times and in many ways to make himself known. And he has spoken definitively through the man at the centre of human history, Jesus. His words are recorded on all the pages of the Bible.

Who God is is plain for any who would investigate. The Bible is comprehensible. A child could understand it's narrative and its concepts.

It is simply not the case that God has left us a lack of evidence. We simply find his words distastful. Polly Toynbee and Richard Dawkins have both spoken out on this in the media in recent months. Notable atheists at confession. They have grasped the basic content of the Christian gospel. They see that the crucifixion of Jesus is central. However they look at it and call it "repugnant" and "barking mad". They are offended by such a message from God. As are countless others throughout time.

Do not be fooled into thinking the gospel is unavailable or inaccessible, neither vague nor mysterious.

The problem is not in God's revelation but rather in the human heart. A heart that looks at the grace of God and refuses it. It is human pride that blinds Toynbee to the truth. It is the sheer simplicity that so befuddles Dawkins.

The Christian gospel is good news and bad news for us. It is our only hope of rescue, and simultaneously the defeat of our self-assertion and proudness of heart.

Shelley was evidently incensed by the gospel. Venomous and determined to refute it. He was not unaware of it. Like so many others he was offended. The Cross is not a message we wanted to hear. It did not fit the mould of a god he wanted to believe.

Perhaps he never really saw the true gospel. Perhaps he never saw it truly lived out in the Christian community. His questions were good and honest. My answers are too late for him, hopefully not for others.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Something worth talking about...

Evangelism makes me shudder. I'm a scared introvert so starting conversations with people about anything isn't exactly my idea of fun. Jesus is sufficiently amazing that much of the fear is overcome, but if I'm honest I'm poor at it most of the time. iMonk is getting to the core of the theology of things.... Considering Calvinist Evangelism.

God's word is more powerful than my weakness, and is even displayed in my weakness. Its when I stand in the shadow of guys like these, and sit at their feet that I hear my creator speak, through them.... Calvinists all. I've not spent all that much time with the works of Driscoll and Keller, but Mahaney and Piper have been of great benefit.

Nonetheless my confession is that even in a Christian Union mission week, and with theology that drives me to speak I still find it really difficult to actually do. What I do find much easier is talking with people where some relationship is already established, gathering and growing church.... maybe my part is not to be the Evangelist, but a pastor.... but I still want to speak of what I have seen and heard, of Jesus in his word. The honest reality is that its wrong of me not to speak more.

As Joe Thorn says: "Our problem, both for the Calvinist and the non-Calvinist, is a lack of “heart religion.”. Graham Daniels reminded us, at our event (John 4- Confessions of a Man-Eater!), that Jesus knows us for who we are. My confession may not be considered that vile a sin (though I think it is). Nonetheless, Jesus is not unaware of it. He knows everything I ever did. And yet he offers me forgiveness! That is worth talking about...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Coffee Bible Club

Andy and I have started an occasional blog-conversation at The Coffee Bible Club Blog. (HT to Mo who sort of led us to the idea of doing this)

This isn't meant to be a regular blog but something tasty to drink occasionally. It centres on a mutual love for God's word and for good coffee.

Currently chatting about worship.

The Necessity of Atheism: Q11

Continuing the series... on Shelley's questions on the necessity of atheism...

Q11: If he has spoken, why is the universe not convinced?

It is plain that the universe is not altogether convinced of the Christian gospel. The Bible would say in fact that the Universe broadly speaking is convinced and speaks loudly about God. It is the majority of human beings that are unconvinced.

The Christian contends that God has spoken. God's speech is a central theme of history. According to the Bible, God spoke the universe into being. He speaks to man to commission us. He speaks to tell us how we should live. He repeatedly speaks to call us to relationship with himself.

Man stands, tempted, believing God's word is unreliable and unsound. Man bends God's word to suit his own ends. God is branded a liar and attributed with words he did not speak. Man talks himself out of the knowledge of God.

Failure to be convinced by God's word is the pattern of human history. We are "free" to reject God's word."Free" because we rather enslave ourselves to the words of others. Failure to accept God's words is a moral crime with due punishment and consequences.

That man is not altogether convinced does not deny God's existence. It raises deep questions about us. God is there and he is not silent. We fail to listen, but a time will come when we can block our ears no longer. A day when if we have not heeded his word we will hear words of judgement. He has spoken and his words proclaim to us who he is. The fault, lies with us.

J.Gresham Machen on God's Word

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Review: The Message of the New Testament

The Message of the New Testament:
Promises Kept
- Mark Dever, (Crossway 2006).
Foreword by John MacArthur

This book is sure to become an essential resource for preacher in particular, but also for any Christian wanting to read the Bible. Its vital for us to read the Bible slowly, spending much time on the details.... but we also need to be able to read the detail in context.

There is a burgeoning market in Bible Overview books, a parade led by Graeme Goldsworthy, Vaughan Roberts and Tim Chester amongst others. Their work is vital to help us think about Biblical Theology.

All those brief overviews lack something however. And that is where Mark Dever steps in. This book steps into the void between detailed ongoing expositions of single books and Bible overview books. Dever invites to fly high and get a birds eye view. What a view!

This book is a write up of 28 sermons by Mark Dever taking one book of the Bible per sermon (plus one on the whole New Testament overview). These sermons have been delivered over the course of many years and must have been wonderful to hear.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Overview has the potential weakness of having too little detail and accuracy. This is not a weakness Dever has - he has clearly dug deeply into each book in his preparation and then put much care and attention into presenting that memorably and accessibly. There is less technical detail than a Commentary, more brevity than a Bible Speaks Today exposition, more useful framework and application than a New Bible Commentary introduction.

One of Dever's great strengths comes in his introductions to each sermon - his illustration and connection with the main theme of the book is exemplary. He then carefully handles the text of each book.

The danger of any book like this is that it might stop us from doing the careful work ourselves. That would be to misuse Dever's work. Rather it should drive us into the texts ourselves. And that is his intent. Having read through a book of the Bible a few times Dever's book comes into its own showing us some of the landmarks and helping us enjoy the view and sit humbly before God's word.

As we work our way towards understanding the the word of God more thoroughly this birds eye view of the New Testament, and the forthcoming Old Testament volume, are a great gift to the wider church. He demostrates a passion for God's word and a desire to help his congregation get to grips with God's word for themselves.

I hope that this book will be readily available in the UK in the near future. Until then I'm thankful to have this companion with me as I read God's word.

Download the Audio Sermons that comprise this book

Twenty One

I've been discipling Ed for the last year at Reading University and even on the farside of Europe, and now he's 21.

Happy Birthday mate! Landmarks like turning 21 aren't all that important, what matters is to keep running the race, testifying about God's grace.

This week has been a bit nostalgic for me. Seeing people back as CU Guests who started at Reading when I was a fresh-faced 21 year old Relay worker makes me think about where I've come from.

I can only hope that those last six years have been ministry in love, ministering God's gospel of grace to people. I've failed much, and I hope been used much. Enough of my navel-gazing, listen to Paul:
"...I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God..."
(Paul, Acts 20v24 - ESV)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Esther - shining star? (2)

In the last post I tried to explore some of how Esther works as a book. I said that it points us to Jesus' deliverance of us as God saves his people. I then posed several questions - some of which were wrong, and some of which I'm still searching for answers too. Thanks to Andy for his rebuke for my idiocy - been missing that.

Some practical implications of Esther?

1. God's deliverance of us in Christ
Against all apparent odd's God saves his people in Esther. They're strangers in a foreign land. Not strangers because they choose to move but because God exiled them. They're under God's judgement for their previous sins. And they're under the rule of a great human ruler who rules from Ethiopia to India. When an old enemy manages to pass a law to eliminate God's people from existence it looks like its the end of the story - but it's not. God's salvation plan is unfolding irrevocably whatever public opinion might say. The church is not dying, nor a generation away from exstinction... God is saving his people.

2. God is sovereign
We cannot speak of our saviour without speaking his rule. Some want to speak of God not being utterly sovereign, but if we surrender our convictions of God's sovereignty then we surrender salvation. If God is not sovereign, he cannot save. This world is not man's world - it is God's world. God made it, owns it and rules it. And no man is going to thwart God's purposes. If God wants to save then no human law is going to stop him. And God does want to save his people. Even when his name is explicitly absent, as in a book like Esther, he is not out of the picture. In a godless society God remains sovereign. In a society where Christian Union's have been banned from gathering, God remains sovereign. Sovereign in every part of life - even over individual conversations and exchanges between people. He is not just macro-managing the universe.... his sovereign rule is concerned for all of life in all places. The Saviour is the Sovereign Lord.

3. I am not sovereign
Not only is God sovereign but I am not. This should be another obvious implication. But I easily forget this. I presume that I rule when it comes to me & God, or me and my life. But thats drivel - God is sovereign. That makes my life his. When I face the decisions later today to stand for Christ, or not - I have no right to stand instead for me. For that matter - I have no rights. I stand accountable to the ruler of the Universe. My sinful heart imagines that I am sovereign, this is a deception. I like to hear that voice. Lord, teach me to tremble at your word. Let your word be the only light to my path.

4. God saves his people
God's purpose is not just to save individuals but to save his people. In Esther God's people are scattered over the Middle East and their existence is becoming illegal. But God is gathering his people to himself. And they belong to one another. I was very encouraged last night to see 80 students gather for the mission launch evening at Reading, and even seeing in that number one person who became a Christian less than two weeks ago - now gathered with God's people in training for proclaiming him on campus. God is at work gathering his people to himself.... a great multitude, not just from Ethiopia to India,.... but from north, south, east and west his saving grace reaches out to save his people.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Esther - shining star?

Five Festal Garments
Esther. Calvin and Luther didn't preach it. John Piper hasn't published a sermon on it... though he has written two narrative poems on it. I really wish he would give us more on it - 200 on Romans, and none on Esther... C'mon, please show us how to do this book in a God-exalting way!!

Anyways, its a bit of a challenge. Its a book in the Bible that doesn't mention God, and yet we want to say that every book is about God. So how does that work?

Most of time its treated as an exemplary book for girls - "be like Esther"... except Esther is a really questionable hero. A Jewish girl who colours herself beautiful so she can be the wife of a foreign king. Commentator Barry Webb suggests that that makes her barely Jewish anymore. She and her step-dad/cousin Mordecai are both masters of deception and manipulation. Hardly models of godliness for Christian living...

So what do we do with it? I've come around to thinking that they key is in who the story is about. What? Well it starts with Mordecai who is a Benjamite, Son of Kish. The most famous Benjamite Son of Kish is King Saul. Up against the Son of Kish is Haman. Haman plots to destroy the Jewish people, trying to have them killed off. Once again God's people under fire. But there is more going on. Haman isn't just some enemy of God. Haman is an Amalekite, and moreover a son of Agag.

In Exodus 17 the Amalekites attacked Israel and war is declared against them in the LORD's name because they delayed Israel's progress into the promised land. Later in 1 Samuel 15 Saul, Son of Kish goes to war with Agag of Amaleke. Saul is sent to destroy the Amelekites but King Agag is preserved. For this Saul is rejected as King. And so when it comes to Esther we're plunged back into that old conflict once more. Only this time the Agagite is vanquiushed and the Jews are preserved by the Benjamite.

In Five Festal Garments, Webb suggests that Esther is a "garment of deliverance", a celebration of God's rescue of his people. In Esther we see God save the children of Isaac rather than have them destroyed by the sons of Esau (from whom Amalek comes). The memory of Amalek is blotted out and God's people can once more find rest - even as they stand in exile at Susa (Iran). God's people are judged but preserved. They are outside the hope of rest with God, and yet that promise remains. The hope of eternal rest for God's people with God still stands, Esther reminds us of that.

Today as we read Esther we are drawn to that same promise of rest - a promise that finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. A star shining much brighter than Esther, (whose name means "star")... Jesus shines at the blazing centre of all things for eternity. The hope of rest is the hope of Jesus Christ.

Is that all? What else? How does this shape our Christian worldview? And what do we do with that today, or on Monday morning? At work, at play? Esther is God's word useful for believers today.... gotta find out how...

Relatedly, something useful from David Field: God cares for cattle.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Mark Kermode's Film Reviews

The best thing on UK radio is Mark Kermode's film reviews with Simon Mayo on FiveLive from 3-4pm on Fridays. And the genius is that its available to download if I'm working then. Its worth it for the banter between Kermode and Mayo, but also for the review of what's out at the cinema. Unfortunately this has been a slow start for films. We've only seen one film at the cinema in 2006 (Woody Allen's Match Point). Hardly a classic. Hopefully things will improve as the year goes on...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Bring the books, join the cry!

Wayne Grudem - Christian BeliefsAmy Orr-Ewing - Why Trust the Bible?Nigel Beynon, Andrew Sach - Dig Deeper
"The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. YOU need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works... Paul cries, "Bring the books" — join in the cry. "
Ligon Duncan is quoting Spurgeon on the need to read. I've always loved books but theological books are the best. My first read was in my first year at University when I first became a Christian... Bill Hybel's Becoming a Contagious Christian and then Search the Scriptures.

The internet isn't all that good for books. It encourages us to scan read and also to publish on the door of the web the fruits of shallow study. The alternative would be to read carefully and study deeply. Of course the internet also makes things more accessible and helps us engage widely.

When Christian Union members set up UCCF they also set up IVP to ensure that students could match university education with Christian education from good Christian books.

That side of our work remains. It's a great pleasure to resource my students with good books to deepen their faith. There is a limited amount of work I can do face to face... the hours of private reading a student can do add to that exponentially. Spread the love... the love of books, the love of learning, the love of deep thinking about God.

Bring the books, join the cry!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Necessity of Atheism: Q10

Continuing the series... on Shelley's questions on the necessity of atheism...

Q10: If he is inconcievable, why occupy ourselves with him?

It has been said that if we cannot know something fully we cannot know at all? If this were so then we would have no knowledge of anything. No study would be worthwhile.

We cannot concieve all creation but it is wonderfully satisfying to investigate. The human heart is beyond comprehension but that does not prevent us from loving others.

God is infinite in excellency, in goodness, justice, love, kindness, faithfulness.... we cannot know everything of these things but we can know much.

It is patently obvious in our day to day experience of life that partial knowledge is possible, particularly with people... but also with objects and ideas.

The Bibel says that no mind has concieved God's character and purposes. God cannot be postulated from human enquiry and speculation. We cannot by love of ideas determine what God would be like.

However, we are not left to vain imagination. God has spoken by his Holy Spirit, in the Bible, to reveal himself in the person of Jesus Christ. And those who believe are called to know him. To know the mind of Christ.

I cannot conceive what you are thinking as you read these words. But by the Holy Spirit we gain direct insight into the mind of God - by way of his indwelling and his written word to us, the Bible.

This is offered freely and undeservedly, yet at a price. God chooses to make known his great salvation plan through the death of Jesus Christ, a message "Christ and Him Crucified". This message is foolishness to the proud mind that wants to imagine what God would be like. But to those who will humble themselves before God it is the way to life and intimate knowledge of God.

That knowledge is mediated now through the pages of the Bible and by faith rather than sight. But hope is secure that one way believers will see God face to face. They are not promised complete knowledge then, but unmediated relationship with God forever.

God is not unknowable, he makes himself known, and commands that the knowledge of his promises be made known to all. Come and know him too.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Best of Blogs

Aww, blog-love

Becci and Pod quality bloggers the both of them.

The Necessity of Atheism: Q9

Resuming the series... on Shelley's questions on the necessity of atheism...

Q9: If he is unmovable, by what right do we pretend to make him change his mind?

Is He unmovable? When we think of someone being unmovable what comes to mind? Is it someone who is rigid, static and unable to relate? An unbibilcal view of God is rooted in the idea of some divine substance behind everything. The unchanging divine stuff. Nothing in scripture portrays this.

What then? God is unmovable in his character. He is consistent not whimsical or unpredicatable. He never acts out of character. Yesterday, today and forever his promises stand. In this sense he is unmovable - in that he will not contradict himself or deny himself.

Does this imply he is static and rigid? No. God the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is alive, relational and personal. The Son is always sustaining the universe by his word, but he was once on earth and is now in heaven. Somethings change, something remain the same. The Spirit was once over the waters, then on some people and now within all believers. In all these different ways God remains acting for his own glory.

If he is personal and invites prayer does that mean we can change his mind? Christians are wont to say that "prayer changes things". Is this true or is God playing games?

God does invite us to ask him for things. To pray for his intervention in our lives or others. Does he change? Not in the sense that we can ask him to change his character and think that he will comply. In his sovereignty he does act when we pray in a way that he wouldn't otherwise. In the absence of observable parallel universes however, it is difficult to measure the difference prayer makes.

Is God subject to our whim and request? No. He is not constrained by us. He is in no way powerless in the face of prayerlessness. Yet fervent prayer appears to yield changed lives.

Does God repent? Not in that we might err and then be corrected, but we do observe him proposing one course of action, only to hold back from it. This is seen in the threat of judgement on the unrepentant. He holds back his anger. Always this is conditioned - where there is repentance he will justly save, where there is not judgement is sure only to have been delayed not avoided.

In Exodus 32 we find an example of this. God speaks with Moses after Israel have created a golden calf to worship. They've attributed their salvation to this work of their own hands. We fail miserably to see how abhorent this is becausse we fail to see how glorious God is. Moses appeals against God destroying his people on the basis of God's reputation. If they are destroyed the nations will mock God for saving them only to kill them, and Israel will find God's promises to keep them to have been false. Does this mean God was wrong to rise in wrath against them? No. He was fully justified. And yet constrained by his concern for his own reputation - the same thing that arose his wrath against them will lead to their salvation. Throughout the Old Testament we find wrath and mercy in tension. A tension only resolved in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. That was the breaking point of history for God's reputation - establishing that he is indeed judge and justifier.

Did God change his mind? No. Was God wrong? No. Through these events however God's concern for his glory is revealed. This I believe is why we find such stories. They invite us to feel the tension of a righteous God sparing unrighteous people from judgement - and everyone is unrighteous. God is unflinchingly committed to his glory. And that glory is displayed as he enters into salvific relationship with people he has created.

Relationship is not defined by God not knowing the future, nor constrained by his unchanging character. Rather, we are invited to know this God who is I AM. The God who is beginning and end. This God who is other that us. This God who is above and beyond us, and yet condescends to live with us. To serve us by saving us, he invites us to personal relationship with himself.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Christian Spirituality: 1 Corithians 12:4-11

  • What does the Spirit do?
  • Why does the Spirit work?
  • Who decides who gets what gifts?
  • Application: How does this set our thinking about and using any gifts?
The church is diverse. It must be so. These verses teach this. There is great range of difference. But this diversity is in gifts, works and service not convictions. The Holy Spirit brings one common conviction - "Jesus is Lord".

But, the same Spirit brings wide ranging gifts, service and workings to the body. Verse 4-6 follow much the same pattern as verses 7-11. Just as in v4-5 we have a long list in v7-10. Different gifts. Firstly, we must see where these gifts come from. They are gifts from the same Spirit (4), manifestations of the Spirit (7). They are from God.

Secondly these gifts are for the common good (6). They are for the benefit of the body. This is vital in the Corinthian context where gifts were pursued for personal glorification. Paul refutes this and says the gifts are misused when they are for such purposes. They are for the benefit of the church, the common good.

Thirdly, these gifts are given as the Spirit determines (11). God decides who gets which gift. This theme continues through the chapter with God arranges (18), God combined (24) and God appoints (28). This goes not negate the command in v31 to eagerly desire higher gifts, but we're ahead of ourselves.

So we see that gifts are from God, for the common good as the Spirit determines. What gifts? Here we see wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, powers, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, different tongues and interpretations of tongues. This is evidently not an exhaustive list. Others will appear at the end of the chapter.

Nothing here suggests that any of these gifts would not continue today. These are the ways that God by the Spirit builds his church, and the church surely still needs to be built up. We must understand this. Whatever my gift I must see what its use is for and where it comes from.

The church will be diverse, not in confession but in charismata. Not in convictions about charismata, the church minus charismata will be sadly immature and lacking in gifts that God would give for its benefit. All gifts will be needed, in their full range so that the church can be built up. This theme will be developed in much more detail as the chapter continues. I find myself asking, what will this look like in practice? Paul will explore this.

Talk of charismata brings some to abject fear - fear of charismatic chaos. Paul knows about charismatic chaos. It was happening in Corinth. He does not quake in fear, rather he educates, he teaches. He says - charismata should not be divisive or scary. They are grace-gifts from God for our corporate benefit.

To be continued...

Blogging in parallel with Adrian Warnock.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Something "not true" from the Bible?

Justin Taylor highlights the church website that has Luke 4v7 as its tagline. I'm not convinced of the merits of Bible quotes as taglines. This one however shows up either terrible Biblical illiteracy, carelessness or a really postmodern approach to the Bible that is all too common. Some examples look harmless enough. This one surely shows up as a classic case of the need for context

Of course the section of Luke's gospel that this verse comes from is very important to any church. Its a section that is all about establishing that Jesus is the Son of God - by his genealogy, his baptism and his restsiting satans temptation. Any true church must surely proclaim Jesus, Son of God at the heart of its message. Worship him and gain eternal joy.... In the face of that, satan might offer the earth but he cannot deliver.

The Bible can be twisted to say that "there is no God", or that you should date someone called "joy". Its meaning can be totally perverted by treating it as something you can just grab a phrase from without treating it as a text that needs to be read in context. The Bible is not a disconnected encyclopedia of divine utterances... it is God's word, if we read it carefully in context.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Amazing Grace

I had the priviledge of preaching on Ephesians 2v1-10.
Here's the script: Ephesians 2: Amazing Grace.

It's really struck me working on this the God-centredness of election in action. I'm seeing with deeper conviction that grace is amazing because it makes much of God rather than making much of me. John Piper has been ringing those words in my ears for years but I'm a bit slow!

Update (Monday 13th):
If you're going to take time to read my 2000 word sermon you might want to be aware that this is the feedback I got on it this morning:
"Thanks for yesterday - 2 clear points , well communicated. I think you could have done more explaining on following the ways of this world and the cravings of our sinful nature - not a lot but tell us what that looks like. And I think you could have nailed grace nore succinctly - I heard you say giving life to us who were dead...free gift of life - but I didnt hear you say at that moment that the gift is undeserved. Maybe I have a thing about grace at the moment! I am quite sure that people struggle more with the idea that we get something we dont deserve than with their sinfulness"
Words I'm happy to take as constructive criticism for the future.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Making Music!

Spent today practicing with the band for the CU leaders weekend. Drew, Rich, Sam, Em and me... Great to spend time making music and singing truth about God.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Christian Spirituality: 1 Corinthians 12:1-3

Adrian is blogging through 1 Corinthians 12-14. And I was teaching the same verses this lunchtime to Christian Union Cell group leaders. We're about to study them in cells in March, and this served as part of our learning to prepare Bible studies ahead of that. Over the next week I'll post on the rest of chapter 12, and then onwards into chapters 13 and 14 of 1 Corinthians. Its high time the blogosphere pursued the continuationist vs cessationist debate with some exegesis.
I'm persuaded that the "spiritual gifts" is better put as "spiritual things" or "spiritual persons" or "spirituality". Either way Paul's first intention is to dispel ignorance. The Corinthians loved gifts with a passion, particularly any that impressed. But what they lacked was understanding. He doesn't say - hold off til you understand. Rather he teaches them. This is one of my great convictions in ministry - that it is always worth teaching people, however wacky or wrong they may be.

As chapter 12 unfolds there is application to affections and to actions. But as things begin it is understanding that must be challenged. There is something to understand about spiritual things, about the Spirit of God, about the Holy Spirit. That will form the headline for these chapters.

There is an evident contrast between v2 and v3. The mute idols and the speaking/saying that can or cannot come by the Holy Spirit. And what is that distinctive - it is the testimony about Jesus being Lord. Its plain that you can speak the words with or without the Spirit. Paul has in mind confession of Christ, or these things as life-changing convictions.

Essentially, Paul wants his reader to know that being spiritual is about proclaiming Jesus as Lord. Put another way: Being spiritual, is being gospel. We cannot consider anything about gifts of the Spirit without this as the foundation. No gifts will be genuinely manifest without the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is only sure to be present when there is genuine confession of Jesus as Lord.
  • Why does Paul write these words?
  • Why is having the Holy Spirit important?
  • How will this set the agenda as we think about spiritual gifts and being spiritual?
For all our potential differences as we read these chapters, this much at least I'm convinced we can be in agreement on. Whatever else we say about gifts we can stand together in the gospel. By the Holy Spirit confessing Jesus as Lord.

To be continued....

Hearing the Word of Truth

Excited to be teaching new Cell leaders how to handle God's word well at the moment. Its a daunting task for me. And I imagine they're daunted by the prospect of it. However, when we get to grips with what God is saying we hear him speak! And we are able to behold his glory! That has got to be worth it.

You know you're a UCCF Staffworker when...™

You order so many books from IVP that the delivery man from DHL knows who you are.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Empowered by Election

At the weekend I made some remarks about the doctrine of election, in the context of teaching the book of Titus. Titus describes Christians as God's elect - those who were promised the hope of eternal life before time.

My remarks were:
  • Personal responsibility to believe is not excluded by election. In fact it gives hope in evangelism. People look like they wont believe, but God chooses not us. Do evangelism! Persevere with hard hearts. God changes lives. The gospel is powerful.
  • Faith is a gift from God to prevent our boasting in it. Do don't boast that you're a Christian. You can't take credit for it. Give God the credit.
  • We're chosen by grace not desire or effort. Know that God chose you for his glory rather than for your sake. Christian life is about God not about me.
  • Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are not two equal sides of an equation, or two sides of the same coin. The balance is in God's favour. God is not limited by our weaknesses or faithlessness or sin. Worship the sovereign Lord. Be amazed at his sovereign grace!
This document from sovereign grace ministries is helpful for further thought. As would be the writing of John Piper who has helped me see clearly about this doctrine. His book The Justification of God is particularly helpful if you can get past the Greek and Hebrew.... As we've begun to study Ephesians at our church I'm increasingly seeing the practical and life-giving implications of this glorious doctrine of election. We are poorer if we deny it.
"Far from undermining evangelism and church planting, a
proper understanding of the doctrine of election invigorates both
these activities and assures us of their ultimate success. How good
it is to know that the gospel of the crucified and risen Savior does
not return void."
- CJ Mahaney

The God Who Is There

Picked up a copy of Francis Schaeffer's The God Who Is There in Oxfam Bookshop yesterday for £1.99. Its great! I'm sure I should have read some Schaeffer before, but better late than never. I plan to re-read it and perhaps I'll blog some reflections then... along with maybe finishing my series on atheism soon.

Schaeffer at Bethinking.org on Apologetics:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Cross in a Girl's World...

Information from Katie Vivyan.

PS: This is my 500th post. How did that happen?

The Theologian

Lee Gatiss has got The Theologian redesigned.
Some useful articles on current issues.... at least a couple of which are also available at www.beginningwithmoses.org

Church Discipline and the Gospel

In our handling the Bible workshop on Saturday we looked at Matthew 18v20. That verse is normally used to justify Christian prayer meetings. A quick look at the context shows its actually about Church Discipline. I flagged that up as an example in my study skills a few months ago.

The thing is, that we're not all that familiar with church discipline most of the time... and so the question is how does it work in practice and in the context of the gospel of grace.....

My advice, let Dan Cruver explain:
Matthew 18v15-20, in the context of the gospel.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

J.Gresham Machen

Its as long as a football match but a much better use of time. A God-centred, God-exalting response for engaging liberalism.

Download John Piper's 1993 biography of
J.Gresham Machen - Responding to Modernism (mp3).
Read the Script. Now published in Contending for our All.

Christianity and Liberalism (read it online)

(HT: Pyromaniacs)

24 Day 5

9pm tonight 10 minute prequel on Sky One, starts properly next Sunday..... seven days is more than enough to catch up on Days 1 to 4 if you've not seen them. Going cheap at Play.com - £70.69

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Church Discipline

Mark Dever - Church Discipline @ Duke Street Church, Richmond.
(HT: NeddyB)

About Baptism

I spent my childhood attending a liberal anglo-catholic Church of England church. There are learnt the very basics of Christian faith from the liturgy that was spoken each week. I also defaulted to several other assumed positions, such as paedobaptism.

I became a Christian around the age of 18 just before going to University. There I found myself in a credobaptist church, connected with Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. As I began to search the scriptures for the first time myself I never encountered much of a case for paedobaptism and became fairly convinced about credobaptism. That church was followed by four years in a Baptist church in Reading where the same convictions were reinforced.

Now back in the Church of England I'm beginning to think about baptism once again... David Field cites Peter Leithart on paedobaptism whilst Justin Taylor and Rick Phillips are debating the same. Andrew Sach writes about it.

Considering arguments, and spending some time chatting with Bishop Wallace Benn has put me on the fence in this matter. If pushed I'm still fairly convinced by the credo position but I'm starting to see that the case isn't quite as black and white as I thought. Hmmmm.