Friday, 11 December 2009

The Cross and Christian ministry

This book is marvellous. Not that Carson has an inovative powerful thesis of his own; he merely preaches 1 Corinthians, on the cross and Christian ministry. But God's word is powerful. Nor is that merely for the professional Christian minister: this is a message for all Christians who would in any way minister to others. And I know of no Christ-ian who would not serve others, given that our Master came among us as one who serves. So then, get it and read it. Ask for it for Christmas. It may have a bad cover, but it's worth every penny, and it's short & easy to read, too - incredibly, for the riches of it. I've been fitting it in in lunchbreaks at work.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Deeper than shame; further than far, far away

Matt Redman's new song:
Who, O Lord, could save themselves
Their own soul could heal?
Our shame was deeper than the sea
Your grace is deeper still.

You alone can rescue
You alone can save
You alone can lift us from the grave
You came down to find us
Led us out of death
To You alone belongs the highest praise


You, O Lord, have made a way
The great divide you healed
For when our hearts were far away
Your love went further still
Yes, Your love goes further still

We lift up our eyes, lift up our eyes
You're the giver of life.
[HT: Dan Hames]

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Quote of the day: Not because of me

"Look, don't believe in Christ because I'm a marvelous person with wonderful experiences and morality. Look at Christ, because you and I both are so sinful and so prone to evil that we need a Saviour."
- Michael Horton, in
an interview with Christianity Today which is well-worth reading.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The irony of saying there is no God

I was watching a Horizon programme which I'm told will be interesting on linguistics, which I find fascinating. But I've just stalled on the opening premise, which is the complete mystery of how humans uniquely have the innate ability to speak! "How did this ability evolve? Why is it uniquely human?" "When you start to think about it, it seems miraculous!" "We know an enormous amount about the first few fractions of a second at the commencement of the universe, but we really know very little at all about what makes us human and where language comes from."

There's an elephant in the room. He's called the Word. We're made in His image. In the image of a God who spoke and the universe happened. We're his testimony to the rest of creation, to the animal kingdom, of who he is - truth in community, the one who speaks graciously to make covenants which depend entirely on his speech-action, the one whose words always does exactly what he sends it to do. He breathed into us his breath, and we became different to the animals. We speak, we communicate, we commune. We are in the image of the God who is self-revelatory community.

We have rejected the author of our speech, the Word, so our speech is frustrated, and we mis-communicate and lie. We have refused the one who spoke in self-giving love to build the universe, and we use words to hate and murder rather than to love and build up. We are like the talking animals C S Lewis portrayed in
The Last Battle: we refuse to worship the Word, the one who gave us his breath, so we become dumb. So when he wanted to redeem us to restore that image, the Father sent the Word, who took the lies, the mocking, the murder, and the broken communication of silence into his very heart, so that together they breathed again into us, dumb and bestial as we are, to give us his Spirit.

"How did this ability evolve? Why is it uniquely human?"
"When you start to think about it, it seems miraculous!"


Sometimes it really seems like we're sitting in a room, chatting, and asking aloud, "Why is this room so cramped? How did it become so dark and smelly in here?" "It seems almost miraculous!" But above all, let no-one whisper that there may be an elephant in the middle of the room. That's not scientific; we don't believe in elephants.

As C S Lewis said, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because
I see it, but because by it I see everything else." But for 'Christianity', replace it with Christ himself, the Word, and the one the universe is bursting to reflect and praise.
"From the mouth of babies and infants you have ordained praise, to silence the enemy."

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Trinity is good news!

I deleted a comment yesterday, which is rare, but I won't allow spam by unitarians pointing to videos denying the eternal deity of Christ, and the Trinity. This new & readable article by Tim Chester on theologynetwork.org goes some way to explaining very positively why the Trinity is good news. Amen!

We aren't embarassed of this reality, nor do we keep it as a slightly curious hidden gadget no-one knows how to use. We rejoice in it, celebrate our life in it, embody it as His people, and worship the one true and triune God: Father, Son and Spirit.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Three in One, One in Three

Three in One, One in Three, God of my salvation,
Heavenly Father, blessed Son, eternal Spirit,
I adore thee as one Being, one Essence, one God in three distinct Persons,
for bringing sinners to thy knowledge and to thy kingdom.

O Father, you have loved me and sent Jesus to redeem me;
O Jesus, you have loved me and assumed my nature,
shed your own blood to wash away my sins,
wrought righteousness to cover my unworthiness;
O Holy Spirit, you have loved me and entered my heart,
implanted there eternal life, revealed to me the glories of Jesus.
Three Persons and one God, I bless and praise you,
for love so unmerited, so unspeakable, so wondrous,
so mighty to save the lost and raise them to glory.

O Father, I thank you that in fullness of grace
you have given me to Jesus, to be his sheep, jewel, portion;
O Jesus, I thank you that in fullness of grace
you have accepted, espoused, bound me;
O Holy Spirit, I thank you that in fullness of grace
you have exhibited Jesus as my salvation,
implanted faith within me, subdued my stubborn heart,
made me one with him for ever.

O Father, you are enthroned to hear my prayers,
O Jesus, your hand is outstretched to take my petitions,
O Holy Spirit, you are willing to help my infirmities, to show me my need,
to supply words, to pray within me, to strengthen me that I faint not in supplication.
O Triune God, who commands the universe,
you have commanded me to ask for those things that concern your kingdom and my soul.
Let me live and pray as one baptised into the threefold Name.

- From The Valley of Vision, puritan prayers [BoT]

Monday, 9 November 2009

Quote of the day: God for scumbags

An unusual source for today's quote of the day: from the News Quiz on Radio 4 -
God spends all his time hanging around prisons waiting for scumbags to find him."
Spot on, in so many ways! But there are a great many more prisons around than he might have meant - people trapped in povery, in oppression, in despair, in consumerism... And not only external forces imprison us: everyone becomes a prisoner to the desires to which we give in [2 Pet.2.19] And we all know how that works - they're not our most wonderful, selfless, godly desires! If we're honest, those things aren't just us on a bad day - they're the emprisoned us spilling out when unguarded. We're emprisoned and we're scumbags.
So the good news! "God spends all his time hanging around prisons waiting for scumbags to find him." Or as God said through a poet a long time before the News Quiz was recorded:
"You who seek God, be encouraged, for the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners." Psalm 69.32-33
How come? Does it seem a bit strange of a holy God to hang around our sordid prisons, our hearts which fester, our minds which leak scum, so that we could find him? And who would want to find God in such a state?? Wouldn't we rather run away and hide from God if we're in that condition?!

Ah, but when God came to earth, it turned out that he'd rather emprison himself, absorb all our filth and take the whole sentence himself, to set this scumbag prisoner free. That's not just a God who hangs out around prisons vaguely hoping someone might find him. That's the God who moved heaven and earth to break into the prison and rob it of all its prisoner scum. This is the God who lived perfectly as a man in order to take away our prison uniform and give us his own clothes to wear. Here is the God whose Son agreed to be murdered so that his murderers could be adopted as sons.

I worship that God, not a holy philosophy for people with uncharacteristic moments of weakness, but the God and Father of our Master Jesus who came [as Mark recorded]
'not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'
The God revealed in Jesus explodes the walls of our inner hatred and self-reliance, plunders the prison, and takes us as free prisoners of Jesus. Our old prison ID is gone. There weren't multiple new IDs available, though: just the One. So from now on, it's not prisoner #57829. It's Jesus. If I'm free in the presence of the kind of God who hangs out round prisons looking for scumbags like me, it's because he's given me Jesus' identity. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Quote of the day: The unknown God

The christological question, as to whether the statement 'Jesus is God' is true, and if so in what sense, is often asked as though 'God' were the known and 'Jesus' the unknown; this, I suggest, is manifestly mistaken. If anything, the matter stands the other way around.
- N T Wright, Preface, The New Testament and the People of God.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Calvin addressed the Pope in June!

I missed it at the time, but it seems that Calvin addressed Ratzinger in June! With a little help. Read the Christianity Today article: Christ Alone.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Quote of the day: bursting with thanksgiving!

“To be bursting with thanksgiving is a true witness of the Spirit within us. For the voice of thanksgiving speaks without ceasing of the goodness of God. It claims nothing. It sees no merit in man’s receiving but only in God’s giving. It marvels at his mercy. It is the language of joy because it need look no longer to its own resources.

The Christian rejoicing in this blessing of a thankful heart will have his eyes fixed upon the right person and the right place, Christ at God’s right hand. He cannot be taken up with himself without being immediately reminded that everything he possesses is the gift of God.”

R.C. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Quote of the day: What are you wearing?!

It matters what you wear. Whatever you do, don't go making your own clothes. You'll only be constantly wondering if it's enough. Or proud enough to imagine that it is, when everyone around you can see right through it.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. [Isaiah 61.10]
I've enjoyed listening to Mike Reeves' talks on Union with Christ on my way to & from the office lately! [Oh, and if you're looking for the quotation, it's from God's word this time. Lush.]

PS Just read Stephen Dancer's paper on Calvin on Union with Christ - a helpful addition to Mike Reeves' talks.

Quote of the day: God wants his picture back!

The sacrificial system addressed the negative aspect of the problem, the penalty of sin; the prophetic system speaks of the positive, atoning element. Let us look at how these two work together. Suppose a painting is stolen from a private collection. The police track down the thief who is sent for trial, found guilty, and put in prison. The penalty is exacted for his crime. But this does not put matters right. The art collector says, ‘I want my picture back’. And only when it is returned can the matter rest. For full atonement two things are involved: the punishment of the crime and the repair of the injury.

Christ paid the penalty for our sin, but God, as it were, wants his picture back - the image of himself in human beings, before that image became marred by sin. In Christ’s life of grace and beauty, God had the picture returned. Full atonement.
- James Philip, The Glory of the Cross

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Quote of the day: blasphemy & treason!

But why a trial at all? Was it only a pretext to get rid of Jesus? Why not hire a hit man, or arrange a secret poisoning? Surely this would have achieved the same result? But God decreed otherwise. As Christ stood on trial in our place, these particular charges had to be brought. In Revelation 20:11-15 we see the great white throne at the final judgment; here the books are opened. This is the trial which awaits all who have not put their trust in Jesus Christ, as their substitute and sin-bearer, all whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
The two charges against Christ, blasphemy and treason, are the very charges against the whole human race. In every sense, he stood in for us, and bore what was ours, and gave us what was his.
- The Glory of the Cross, by James Philip

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Flipping homes

The MPs have been flipping their homes, and we can be like that too: flipping our home between earth and heaven, not sure if our hearts' desires are here or there.
- Chris Thomas, on the unstable person of James 1.2-12. [Sermon available here until 25/10/09.]
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

So our comforts, or lack of them, are a test case again: where's your treasure stored? If you want it to be in heaven, then when things get rocky, you'll ask God to give you his perspective through which to see those trials, so that you can persevere. But take care that you're not really double-minded, wanting to flip your main place of residence back to earth when it suits you.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Not faith, but Christ

"Why should I let you into my heaven?"

Clue: the answer does not begin, "Because I..."

I’ll bow and be silent. Then I’ll hear a voice,
“Father, he’s mine.”

Do you see? It’s not your faith that saves. It’s Christ.

Read the rest of Glen Scrivener's helpful post.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The ugliness of idols

Searching through a 'Christian' publisher / distributor's website, for work, I came across this:



A comprehensive guide to safeguard your livelihood, income, and standard of living through the ups and downs of any economy. Middle Class Lifeboat is a guide to living a more stress-free lifestyle.




And I was horrified. That is supposed to be Christian? Since when did Christ die to procure for his followers a safe, comfortable lifestyle, free from stress? What an idol! I felt slightly ill.


And then it hit me: on that book, it might be writ large for all to see its ugliness, but that's what my heart so often wants. A nice, middle-class lifestyle. I know the Christian life is the way of the cross; I know it's service of others; I know love is costly. But somehow my heart, left to itself without constant doctoring by brothers & sisters wielding the Word, will veer towards this idol. The advantage of such a book is to show how ugly and un-true this aspiration is.

I have better things at which to aim:
For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

That I may know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death [Phil. 3]

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Quote of the day: Christian community isn't an ideal

Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.
- Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Grace for today

O God, the Author of all good,
I come to thee for the grace another day will require for its duties and events.
I step out into a wicked world,
I carry about with me an evil heart,
I know that without thee I can do nothing,
that everthing with which I shall be concerned,
however harmless in itself,
may prove an occasion of sin or folly,
unless I am kept by thy power.
Hold thou me up and I shall be safe.

Preserve my understanding from subtilty of error,
my affections from love of idols,
my character from stain of vice,
my profession from every form of evil.
May I engage in nothing in which I cannot implore thy blessing,
and in which I cannot invite thy inspection.

Prosper me in all lawful undertakings,
or prepare me for disappointments;
Give me neither poverty nor riches;
Feed me with food convenient for me,
lest I be full and deny thee
and say, Who is the Lord?
or be poor, and steal, and take thy name in vain.

May every creature be made good to me by thy prayer and thy will;
Teach me how to use the world, and not abuse it,
to improve my talents,
to redeem my time,
to walk in wisdom toward those without,
and in kindness to those within,
to do good to all men,
and especially to my fellow Christians.
And to thee be the glory.

From The Valley of Vision, puritan prayers [BoT]

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Global Conversation

This month, a Global Conversation kicks off from www.lausanne.org/conversation. What would be worth a year-long Global Conversation involving a series of articles in dozens of publications worldwide? What would we need to discuss across the world, that we couldn't just talk about in our cozy conferences locally?

The whole gospel of God, given to the whole church to speak and live in the whole world.

The Global Conversation - Intro October 2009 from The Global Conversation on Vimeo.



Read the first article, in which Chris Wright raises the question of whether evangelicals really use the whole Bible in the mission God has given us - Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World. The conversation has started - have a read, and do join in in the comments and in your churches, constructively engaging with these topics to build up Christ's Church.

I would appeal to you personally to note that as this is a global conversation, writers and commentators come from a great variety of backgrounds, so please give special consideration to understanding and communicating well, rather than assuming the worst or using local humour.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Moral Therapeutic Deism

Of late I've become quite distressed at how often I come across moral therapeutic deism masquerading as Christianity. "I believe in God generic, maker of heaven & earth. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic church; the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting." It seems to infect evangelicalism to an astonishing degree. Those who know me well might have heard my concern! I couldn't remember who'd first named the disease - but Christianity Today have an article addressing it, from which I quote:
Many other studies say the same thing, but the most important is Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton's Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

Published in 2005, it is already a classic.

Smith and Denton conducted extensive interviews with 267 American teenagers, and concluded that a new religion had emerged in America whose chief tenets are as follows:

  • A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

Smith and Denton noticed that this "de facto creed" was particularly prominent among mainline Protestant and Catholic teenagers, "but is also visible among black and conservative Protestants."

Since the authors found that this faith is learned from parents, they conclude, "We have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity's misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."

But it isn't enough to name the beast. The rest of the article is worth a read.

On another note, on a site of creeds and confessions, the side menu included an advertisement which was less subtle than moral therapeutic deism. I can only presume it to be an advertisement from the devil, who has left the second tree and sidled into cyberspace: "CHRISTIAN WOMAN, TAKE DOMINION." No. I rejoice that my head is Christ, whose is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever, amen.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Quote of the day: We're still here!

From Ray Ortlund, on the Gospel Coalition blog:
“If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.” Isaiah 1:9

Did you notice how God intervened this week? The Church of Jesus Christ did not go completely apostate. The Gospel Coalition did not disown its Confessional Statement. Acts 29 did not repudiate church planting. Together For The Gospel did not fragment in mutual recriminations. Sovereign Grace Ministries did not deny the new birth. And I did not walk away from Jesus.

We all sinned this week, and a lot. No surprise there. After all, original sin means our wills are unfree. But we held fast to Jesus our Saviour, and for a whole week.

Truly, the age of miracles is not over.

[HT: Bish]

Finding history on a disk in the desert

You find some historical documents on a disk in a desert cave.

Is it a stone disk with markings, or a compact disk of files?

Which would you be more likely to trust as a reliable source?
The stone disk may be verifiably more ancient. But the CD could contain old data, accurately copied & pasted many times onto new formats, losing none of the original. Would you penalise a community who used advanced technology, presuming that because they did so, they hadn't kept an accurate record of their history?

That seems to be the question behind assumptions on the reliability of the Old Testament with regard to ancient records and manuscripts. Read Peter Williams' short & helpful theologynetwork article.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Insurance salesmen are good

...for something, anyhow. Heading my work email as a sponsored link, came the following quotation.
"I detest life-insurance agents; they always argue that I shall some day die, which is not so."
Stephen Leacock, Canadian economist & humourist (1869 - 1944)

On radio 3 the other day, the presenter asked an interviewee (paraphrased), 'This composer died so young: do you think that he was aware of his own mortality?' It was asked as if mortality was something which only afflicted those who die young. My answer would be, 'Pity the fool who is not aware of their own mortality.'

We should be aware of more than mortality, however:


Friday, 25 September 2009

Love me, love my church

The man who baptised me thinks that the One into Whom I was baptised would say this: "Love me, love my church."

That's not a general, 'Oh yes, The Church worldwide is grand.' No, that's those people to whom I was joined on believing and meet with locally to encourage each other in the Lord. It's those with whom I sit under God's word and seek to live it out together. It's the local body of which, with all my failings and lovelessness, I'm an inseparable part.
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. John 4.19-21
'Love me, love my church.'

And the love isn't just a fluffy feeling, either. It's called service. And what a joy!
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. John 3.16-18
Love me, love my church.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

"Thou shalt not be unhappy"?

Is our main problem sin against God and his right anger at that, or life's threats to my happiness and my hurt at that? Do we live in a way that fits our answer to that? Carl Trueman mentions how our therapeutic culture has fed into some of evangelicalism in a White Horse Inn broadcast.

In a wide-ranging conversation, he also addresses some problems in "traditional" church worship. Preaching is not an explanation of the Bible for information transfer or moral advice: it's declaring God's word to the transformation of his people. A worship service isn't just a handy gathering, it's a drama of worship.

And since we were speaking earlier of the Hibernian mentality, Carl says of the Scots and assurance, "Few Scotsmen can believe they're going to heaven; no American can believe they're not going to heaven, in my experience!"

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Quote of the day: battling for the unborn (again)

John Piper brings an article to our attention on why the pro-life battle isn't being won by appeal to humanity. It's concise, powerful, and true. He concludes:
[A] “case against sexual libertinism” is good, but by itself powerless. “Cases” don’t affect hormones and passions very much. But there is a power to “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). His name is the Holy Spirit. And he moves through faith by making Jesus Christ the supreme treasure of life - including sexual life.

So, at bottom, the battle for the life of the unborn is the same as the battle for the life of the un-born-again.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The allure of alliteration awry

When a TV programme on Calvin's influence on the Scottish psyche started with a pronouncement that Calvin's theology was, "Dark, dour, and all about discipline," I knew the programme wouldn't be worth watching. You'd think that they'd have read some Calvin for their research!
Joy and thanksgiving expressed in prayer and praise according to the Word of God are the heart of the Church's worship.

Christians rejoice even while they truly sorrow - because their rejoicing is in the hope of heaven... While joy overcomes sorrow, it does not put an end to it.

However many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts." [Commentary on Ephesians 3.]

Christianity is not a matter of the tongue but of the inmost
heart. [The gospel] is not apprehended by the understanding and memory alone, as other disciplines are,
but it is received only when it possesses the whole soul and finds a seat and resting place in the inmost affection of the heart. Institutes III.vi.4.
Dark, dour and all about discipline, my foot. That probably just comes from a lack of sunshine.

Billy Graham in 1974

The fascinating and challenging keynote address by Billy Graham to the Lausanne Congress on world evangelisation in 1974, is available to listen here - Why Lausanne? In this wonderful snippet from evangelical history, Graham addressed the opportunities and challenges of the time, as well as speaking of how mistakes of the past led into a lack of evangelism due to liberal theology. He introduced some central expected affirmations of the congress and the interplay of evangelism and social action which was so key in Lausanne. Not a dry introductory session, either, but Graham on fire preaching with vision! Slightly at random, a taster from the middle:
"The source of salvation is grace.
The ground of our salvation is the atonement at the cross.
The means of our salvation is faith.
The evidence of our salvation is works."
[The covenant produced from that '74 congress is well-worth a read, too.]

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Quote of the day: Don't go to the Bible to find yourself

My pastor Chris Thomas, preaching on Psalm 119 Daleth, spoke about causes and dangers of feeling low, and had urged us to express our low-ness and use psalms of lament. He then gave the warning:
If you are low, don't go to the Scriptures to find your low-ness. That can be a real issue, can't it: we can go to the Bible always to find ourselves in it. Go to the Scriptures to find God, and especially in the person of Jesus Christ, in the Scriptures.
[Sermon available here until 20/09/09.]

Monday, 7 September 2009

Quote of the day: the purpose of redemption

The purpose of creation, redemption, and consummation are seen holistically as God’s purpose to glorify Christ by fulfilling the Adamic creation mandate, the universal Noahic promise, the patriarchal covenants, and the Israelite monarchy in Him, thus exalting Jesus as preeminent over the entire cosmos as the agent of creation, the true imago Dei, the Davidic subjugator of all rival powers, the firstborn of the eschatological resurrection from the dead, and the atonement through whom final cosmic peace is found at last (Col. 1:15-23).

- Russell D. Moore, The Kingdom of Christ (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2004)

[HT: Of First Importance]

ROUS found in Fire Swamp

Sometimes myth becomes reality, and fiction springs to life. It appears that people have found a giant rat in a volcano. Brilliant. Tomorrow: The explorers escape from the Fire Swamp, only to find themselves arrested by a 6-fingered man.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

"Speak the word, and your servant will be healed."

While we're thinking about the ins & outs of yet another Bible translation in English, Viggo Søgaard has written an interesting article for Lausanne on advancing Bible translation for non-reading audiences, particularly thinking about translation into audio formats. It's well worth a read.

I find this interesting, both because I think that our culture is a lot less text-based than we might assume, and because I've been led to explore this more through seeking to serve visually impaired and non-literate people in Christian Union work, church and home. I may be known as a reader, and even write a blog(!), but it has broadened and deepened my Bible study over the years to
not rely on reading text, but to memorise passages / books, sing Scripture, and listen to chunks of Scripture as well as 'reading' it more traditionally (I currently use the ESV website with its passage 'listen' function for this last).

I sometimes joked that my job with UCCF involved teaching students to read - and certainly, we regularly had the coloured pens and highlighters out for students to scribble away on printed-out Bible passages, underlining, circling, colour-coding: all tools to read properly, noting the main themes, the flow of argumentation or drama of a text, the poetry or repetition, etc. But I wanted them not objectively analyse the text, but to hear it, to drink it in, to live in it and be transformed by it. Something of that may be helped by considering it in an aural way, rather than stopping with reading & analysing.

And lest you're daunted by the task of ministering to the non-literate, an example from my own church: a married couple have been with us for a while now, whom we invited along from a council estate in the area. Thinking doesn't come naturally for him, or following a flow of thought; and he's certainly not a reader. She's blind. We got them resources on video and cassette, and a large print Bible for him. We also started 'storying' in the little meeting we have on their estate - using a short story from the gospels, telling it simply, getting the 'audience' to tell it back, contributing various bits & correcting each other, then to tell it to each other in 2s & 3s, then to reflect on bits of it with directing questions from the leader. We expected the lady to find this useful: she's fairly quick in thinking, and has the aural experience from being blind. What we didn't expect was for him to be able, a month later, to recite the story almost word for word, and to correct others. He was transformed by it. He reads the Bible to his wife every day, and discusses it, loving it. He testifies: "My mind's so much clearer when I read the Bible." Not a lot involved - just a few resources, a style of 'preaching' that didn't assume the text but instead concentrated on being able to remember the passage by the end, and patient care. But these dear people are hearing the word of God - and by His Spirit, who opens the eyes of the blind and clears the ears of the deaf, they're responding in faith.

Have a read at the article for more on the Bible for non-literate people.

TNIV going off the market

Biblica (IBS & STL merged) have announced that the Committee for Bible Translation is to revise the NIV, to be published in 2011 by Zondervan, and will take the TNIV off the market at that time. The announcement is here, and Justin Taylor as usual summarises it well here.

As I think that the NIV was too male chauvinistic, and the TNIV too far in 'gender neutrality,' this should be interesting. I wonder how much the ESV has harmed sales of the TNIV in the USA? Certainly it seems here that the NIV remained the main translation of choice, so to replace both makes commercial sense.

[HT: Rob]

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Quote of the day: WWJD is not gospel

I've never found WWJD bracelets particularly inspiring - rather, I think if I wore one I'd find it a bit depressing! The gospel says not, "What Would Jesus Do? Go and do likewise." No, the gospel says, "What has Jesus done? Rejoice and live in Him!"

So I was interested by this snippet of discussion in the White Horse Inn broadcast from last week:

Michael Horton: So, "What Would Jesus Do?" is not the gospel?
Retired Episcopal Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison:
It is contemporary adoptionism. ... It's an ancient and classical heresy in which it reduced the work of Christ to giving us a good example. ... Jesus was baptised and we heard the Father say, "This is my beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased,"... according to the adoptionists, He did what none of the rest of us have ever done, which was to be perfect. And therefore he's like a kind of Roger Bannister, breaks the 4-minute mile, and he becomes the image by which if we just try harder, if we are scolded enough, then we will run the 4-minute mile: we will be like Jesus. And it ignores the complete OT presentation of a Messiah who came to take away the sins of the world: that God did something that we were unable to do. The Messiah came and made it all right by his actions. It leaves out 2/3 of the whole meaning of the gospel.
And yet, let's get this: neither is the gospel, "God has accepted the unacceptable: so now go and do likewise - accept yourself."
Horton, summarising Allison: It is law to tell people, "Accept yourselves," it is gospel to tell people, "This is how God has made you acceptable to Him."

So what isn't law? What is gospel? Allison says the key is imputation - not known or loved as a word because it's so awkwardly and variously translated into English (account, credit, reckon, etc.): we have no good translation for it. Of this, Allison says,
The word itself, λογιζομαι (logizomai),... is the verb form of λογος (logos). ... It's not merely that God by His action in Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to have mercy, but I am imputed as righteous, even though I am not righteous, and by that wording of me as righteous, I begin to become the kind of righteousness that we see in the second person of the Trinity.
Horton: So it is actually a speech-event: God has declared us righteous.
Amen!

Christ the key and cornerstone

I've been pondering lately a couple of key critiques, which are actually one. A friend in church said of a children's talk of late, that a Muslim would've been happy with it. My Mum would sometimes critique a service, that a (non-Messianic) Jew would've been happy with it. It may sound extreme rhetoric, but passing over whether or not these critiques were true in those instances, it is the key critique. What does our service, what does the talk, what does our church life, make of Christ? If the good news of Jesus Christ weren't true, would the talk still hold? It shouldn't! The hymn below is a new one to me, and I know I shall enjoy singing it with church this morning!
All praise to Christ, our Lord and King divine,
Yielding His glory in His love’s design,
That in our darkened hearts His grace might shine: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Christ came to us in lowliness of thought;
By Him the outcast and the poor were sought,
And by His death was our redemption bought: Alleluia! Alleluia!

The mind of Christ is as our mind should be –
He was a servant, that we might be free,
Humbling Himself to death on Calvary: Alleluia! Alleluia!

And so we see in God’s great purpose how
Christ has been raised above all creatures now,
And at His name shall every nation bow: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Let every tongue confess with one accord,
in heaven and earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord,
and God the Father be by all adored: Alleluia! Alleluia!

(by F. Bland Tucker, 1938, alt. ©The Church Pension Fund)

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Quote of the day: Christian counsel

David Powlinson, interviewed by C.J.Mahaney, made the following comment on his exploration / teaching of the dynamics of Biblical change:
"It makes the high truths that we confess walk on the ground where we live."
That could be said of any one of the books recently written from that school - Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, When People are Big and God is small, Seeing through new eyes, You Can Change, The Ordinary Hero, etc. It could also be said of the New Testament... Given that the Bible is about Jesus, whom we confess as Truth, who walked on the ground where we live. That's Christian theology.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

I belong to a Master

A hymn to go with my previous post on being Slaves of Christ - by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-79):
Jesus, Master, whose I am,
purchased yours alone to be,
by your blood, O perfect Lamb,
shed so willingly for me:
let my heart be all your own,
let me live to you alone.

Jesus, Master, whom I serve,
though so feebly and so ill,
strengthen hand and heart and nerve
all your bidding to fulfil:
open now my eyes to see
all the work you have for me.

Jesus, Master, will you use
one who owes you more than all?
As you will! I would not choose;
only let me hear your call.
Jesus, let me always be
in your service, glad and free.

Jesus, Master, I am yours;
keep me faithful, keep me near,
shine on all my days and hours,
all my homeward way to cheer.
Jesus! at your feet I fall;
be my Lord, my all-in-all!
It occurs to me what a privilege it was to grow up singing this, and other beautiful hymns. It lodged such truths and expressions in me, so that reading them, they didn't seem strange to me, but right and familiar. Challenging, yes, but not perculiar or alien. Praise God for His gift to His church, of hymn-writers!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Slave of Christ

On recommendation, I read Harris' Slave of Christ on holiday, and now heartedly recommend it also. In our culture, we tend to be wary of using slavery to describe our relationship with God: when we think of slavery, we think of non-personhood and of dreadful mistreatment of humans by others.

Harris examines the Biblical evidence to show that the imagery of slavery is pervasive in Scripture, and that ultimately, we are slaves of Christ. Most of our English translations have softened it to servants, but the idea of slavery is very much there. Why slavery? It denotes complete ownership, command, protection and dependence (rather than autonomy). The slave must obey his Master's commands, and also seeks to please his Master.

I once attended a seminar taken by a leading Christian apologist to Muslims, who made the case that while in Islam the primary man-God relationship is that of slave, in Christianity we don't see ourselves as slaves of God. But this isn't the contrast that the NT makes. We are slaves - in fact, everyone is a slave to whatever masters him, as Peter wrote. So becoming a Christian is gaining a new master - Jesus is Lord! The difference with Islam is not that we do not see ourselves as God's slaves, but that we are slaves of the living and true God who revealed himself in Christ,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Phil.2]
As Horatio Bonar's hymn asks, "It is the way the Master went: should not the servant tread it still?" We are not slaves of an arbritrary and capricious despot who only insists at length in writing that he is merciful: we are slaves of the one who came and was among us as one who serves, to give his life to purchase us for God. And that makes all the difference!

There are Scriptural limitations in the metaphor of slavery: Harris considers being friends of Christ, who are given revelation of his business, and adopted co-heirs of Christ. But we mustn't simply reject the image because it's not comfortable to us. As Christ's, we are his slaves, owned totally by Him, to obey Him fully and to live to please Him.

This may be despised by men, as if we might as well be dead, as live in slavery to a Master, following His will and living to please Him. But that's the point: I have been crucified with Christ: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. [Gal.2] What a joy and privilege!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Quote of the day: be afraid

'Sometimes people ask us if we're scared, living in the inner city,' say Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. 'We usually reply with something like, "We're more afraid of shopping malls." The Scriptures say we should not fear those things which can destroy the body, but we are to fear that which can destroy the soul (Matthew 10.28).'
Paul Tripp says: 'Jesus demands everything, not just so we would submit to his control, but to free us from the control of things that were never designed to control us.'
[...]
Someone mentioned on the phone to me recently the death from cancer of a prominent Christian leader in his fifties. She described it as a tragedy. But his death wasn't a tragedy. It was certainly a loss to his family, friends and the wider church. But it wasn't a tragedy. It was gain. Let me tell you what is a tragedy: Someone who gets a good education, secures a well-paid job, buys a house in a nice area, marries and has children, and ensures his children get a good education, so the cycle can begin again. Someone who treats Christ as a hobby or an insurance against hell. Someone who leaves behind and rusting car and children who've been trained to be self-indulgent. Someone with no gospel legacy. That's the tragedy.

[...]
  • What did you do yesterday for your present comfort or security? What did you do yesterday for God's future?
  • What did you do last week because you saw an advert or you saw something someone else had? What did you do last week because of your confidence in God's promises?
  • What will you do tomorrow to store up treasure on earth? What will you do tomorrow to store up treasure in heaven?
  • When did you last take a risk for God? What did you risk?
  • Hebrews 11.25 says the pleasures of sin last only for a short time. Psalm 16.11 says that at God's right hand 'are eternal pleasures'. What gives you pleasure? Is that pleasure fleeting or forever?
  • Death separates us from every source of happiness except Jesus. Can you say with Paul that 'to die is gain' (Philippians 1.21) because Jesus is your ultimate joy?
  • What about big life decisions you've made? Your job? Your home? Your relationships? Did you make them on the basis of God's promises for the future?
  • What about the decisions you're facing now? What would it mean to make them on the basis of God's promise for the future?
[Tim Chester, in The Ordinary Hero - living the cross and the resurrection.]

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

All in Jesus

"The Name of Jesus" (From The Valley of Vision)

All-Searching God,
Thou readest the heart,
viewest principles and motives of actions,
seest more defilement in my duties than I ever saw in any of my sins.
The heavens are not clean in thy sight,
and thou chargest the angels with folly;
I am ready to flee from myself because of my abominations;
Yet thou dost not abhor me
but hast devised means for my return to thee,
and that, by thy Son who died to give me life.

Thine honour is secured and displayed even in my escape from thy threats,
and that, by means of Jesus
in whom mercy and truth meet together,
and righteousness and peace kiss each other.

In Him the enslaved find redemption,
the guilty pardon,
the unholy renovation;
In Him are everlasting strength for the weak,
unsearchable riches for the needy,
treasures of wisdom and knowledge for the ignorant,
fullness for the empty.
At thy gracious call I hear, take, come, apply, receive his grace,
not only submit to his mercy but acquiesce in it,
not only glory in the cross but in him crucified and slain,
not only joy in forgiveness but in the one through whom atonement comes.

Thy blessings are as secure as they are glorious;
Thou hast provided for my safety and my prosperity,
and hast promised that I shall stand firm and grow stronger.
O Lord God, without the pardon of my sin I cannot rest satisfied
without the renovation of my nature by grace I can never rest easy,
without the hopes of heaven I can never be at peace.
All this I have in thy Son Jesus; blessed be his name.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Reasonable or wise?

You would think we needed a reasonable leader. Sensible. Wise. But being wise is quite different to being reasonable. Saul was a reasonable leader - he did what was expedient and he had an explanation for everything. He even listened to the people, to see what they wanted. And he 'did God,' unlike some of our politicians:
“When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” (ch.13)

...one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint.
Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.” (ch.14)

"I have obeyed the voice of the
Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal." (ch.15)
It all seemed so reasonable, and duly religious, at the time. But Samuel said, "You have done foolishly." It seemed reasonable, but it wasn't wisdom. Why? Because Saul forgot whose servant he was. He forgot the LORD was God. He behaved as if there was a god of mere religion - you should make him happy before a war with a sacrifice, or during a war win him over by fasting, or after a war make up for compromise by sacrifice. Samuel said, "To obey is better than sacrifice." This reasonable leader knew how to do religion, but in fact, he acted as if God wasn't really there and hadn't really spoken.

The people had asked for a man to be king over them like the other nations, and that's what they got. The other nations had kings who believed the gods could be disobeyed or ignored - the king was the real sovereign - and then appeased by sacrifice and fasting. Gods who could be swayed, who served the king. So that was how Saul acted. As if YHWH had been surplanted by him. As if YHWH had never spoken.


That can seem like the reasonable thing, today, too: everyone around us acts as if God isn't really there and hasn't really spoken. We can even do it while being religious, while saying we're on God's mission! But how easily we're foolish, forgetting his word, his prerogative. We imagine we're passionately about his work, while shutting out his rule.

Saul realised his foolishness to his cost:

"...you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel." (ch.15)
[...] Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the people. And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him. And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them. (Ch.18)
The Lord was the One who led the people, whom they followed in and out. That was what they would do for a King: he commands, and you willingly follow him in and out. (See also Numbers 27.15-23) But as YHWH left Saul, and was with David, His annointed King (Messiah), in effect, he was their leader, their King. The difference? David acted on the assumption that YHWH was living and had spoken:
And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”
No matter how reasonable it can seem to be like people around us, wisdom is to act on the truth that the LORD lives, and has spoken.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Bless the Lord, my soul - in Christ

Making chicken creole this morning before church, singing:

O Thou my soul, bless God the Lord;
And all that in me is
Be stirrèd up his holy name
To magnify and bless.

Bless, O my soul, the Lord thy God,
And not forgetful be
Of all his gracious benefits
He hath bestowed on thee.
All thine iniquities who doth
Most graciously forgive:
Who thy diseases all and pains
Doth heal, and thee relieve.
Who doth redeem thy life, that thou
To death mayeset not go down;
Who thee with loving-kindness doth
And tender mercies crown:

Who with abundance of good things
Doth satisfy thy mouth;
So that, even as the eagle's age,
Renewèd is thy youth.

God righteous judgement executes
For all oppressèd ones.
His ways to Moses he made known,
His acts to Israel's sons.

The Lord our God is merciful
And he is gracious,
Long-suffering, and slow to wrath,
In mercy plenteous.
He will not chide continually,
Nor keep his anger still.
With us he dealt not as we sinned,
Nor did requite our ill.

For as the heaven in its height
The earth surmounteth far,
So great to those that do him fear
His tender mercies are:
As far as east is distant from
The west, so far hath he
From us removèd in his love,
All our iniquity.

Such pity as father hath
Unto his children dear,
Like pity shows the Lord to such
As worship him in fear.
For he remembers we are dust,
And he our frame well knows.
Frail man, his days are like the grass,
As flower in field he grows:
For over it the wind doth pass,
And it away is gone;
And of the place where once it was
It shall no more be known.

But unto them that do him fear
God's mercy never ends;
And to their children's children still
His righteousness extends:
To such as keep his covenant,
And mindful are alway
Of his commandments just and good,
That they may them obey.

The Lord preparèd hath his throne
In heavens firm to stand;
And every thing that being hath
His kingdom doth command.

O ye his angels, that excel
In strength, bless ye the Lord;
Ye who obey what he commands,
And hearken to his word.
O bless and magnify the Lord,
Ye glorious hosts of his;
Ye ministers that do fulfil
Whate'er his pleasure is.

O bless the Lord, all ye his works,
Wherewith the world is stored
In his dominions every where.
My soul, bless thou the Lord.

[Psalm 103, from the Revised Scottish Metrical psalter]

And bless the Lord, my soul, that vv.17-18 was true of the Messiah Jesus:
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,

and his righteousness to children's children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
And we, in Him, are bound up in his covenant-keeping, his obedience, and his righteousness - my soul, bless thou the Lord!

Friday, 17 July 2009

1 Samuel 1-liners

I've been listening to chunks of 1 Samuel recently, and several one-liners have stood out to follow what's going on.

chs.3-4: The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.
ch.6: "Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?"
ch.7: The Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel. [...]
"Till now the Lord has helped us."
ch.8: "No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles."
ch.9-10: But some worthless fellows said, "How can this man save us?"
ch.11-12: And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

In one-liner thinking this morning, I'm left thinking,
- They need God to be King!
- They need a man who can save them, a man who forever won't do wickedly but righteously, so that they won't be swept away for their sins.

But how can they have a righteous man to save them, and God to be their King?
How will God do this righteousness - this honouring of His name? He has so bound himself to his people in covenant, in promise, that to not do so would dishonour his name and thus be unrighteous! They must have God as king and, now, a man who will rule in righteousness.

So God spoke, later:
"I will save my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken." (Ezekiel 34)

But David failed to live righteously, so who is this King to come who would mean that actually, God was King?

"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?" (Malachi 3)

And Jesus came.

Monday, 13 July 2009

A global people

Jesus, with global authority, gave us a global commission to be carried by a global people. The church in one country can never be self-sufficient, without need of the church in other countries in its mission. It is in that framework that the following press release is important:

"At its biennial leadership meeting in Korea in June, The Lausanne Movement named the expositors for Cape Town 2010. This Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, held in collaboration with the World Evangelical Alliance, will take place 16-25 October 2010.

"The Revd Doug Birdsall, Chairman of the Lausanne Movement, stated that the six Bible expositors will reflect the demographic, theological and cultural composition of Cape Town 2010.

"‘The Congress will be truly global while at the same time being distinctly African in nuance and feel. Two hundred years ago, William Carey proposed a congress of similar scope for Cape Town, South Africa. In a very real sense, Cape Town 2010 will be the fulfilment of his dream. Each day, the Congress programme will begin with expositions from the book of Ephesians. The six Bible teachers we have invited to Cape Town 2010 come from six different regions of the world and represent some of the finest Bible expositors of our generation.’

"The expositors have been named as Ajith Fernando, Director of Sri Lanka Youth for Christ; Calisto Odede, Associate Pastor of Nairobi Pentecostal Church, Kenya; John Piper , senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis , US; Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, UK; Ruth Padilla DeBorst, General Secretary of the Latin American Theological Fellowship (Costa Rica); and Ramez Atallah, Director of the Egyptian Bible Society, and his wife, Rebecca, who has a grassroots ministry among children and Sudanese refugees in the ‘garbage village’ in Cairo.

"Lindsay Brown, Lausanne Movement International Director, spoke of his hopes for the Congress:

"‘We are hoping for clarity on the nature of evangelism; for clear-sightedness on the critical issues to be faced by the Church in the next 20 years; for many new international partnerships and initiatives such as characterise The Lausanne Movement; and for decisive action as the gospel is taken to the ends of the earth, by which we mean both the geographical ends of the earth, and every area of society.’

"The Congress will draw 4,000 participants onsite, from 200 nations. In addition, capacity is being built for virtual participation by churches and theological colleges around the world, through the Cape Town GlobaLink. From October this year, the Church on each continent is invited to join The Global Conversation at www.lausanne.org, the first of its kind to draw the world’s evangelicals together in engaging critical issues in world evangelization. Peter Brierley, founder of the UK body ‘Christian Research’ said, ‘I suspect this will be the best-planned, technologically-led global conference ever.’"

In the UK and the USA, undoubtedly we have celebrated various conferences and movements which have sprung up in recent years around the gospel. A friend rightly asked whether this isn't just one more conference for those who live off conference highs rather than in the real world and real, daily, weekly, church. But I'd suggest that is far too UK/USA-focussed. We do have excellent conferences which equip us for daily ministry and life focussed on Christ. We have churches, colleges, inter-church organisations and books which help prepare us for evangelism and world mission. But what of getting together from across the world, as hearers and do-ers of our Father's word? Weren't the ancient councils to address how to preach Christ for us and for our salvation, sharing together across the known world with its pressures of Greek cults, high philosophy, Islam, politics, and internal heresy? I look forward to hearing of the congress, and its subsequent influence in the world. The Lausanne Covenant, drafted by John Stott as an outcome of the 1975 conference, can be read here. You can see within it how they addressed key issues in evangelism in various parts of the world at the time.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Quote of the day: participation in God

Calvin, seeming (in my estimation) to answer the Pelagian question, "May we not, like Adam, establish ourselves as good by doing good actions?"
[Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Ch.2]
"At the time when man was distinguished with the noblest marks of honour through God's beneficence, not even then was he permitted to boast about himself. How much more ought he now to humble himself, cast down as he has been - due to his own ungratefulness - from the loftiest glory into extreme disgrace! At that time, I say, when he had been advanced to the highest degree of honour, Scripture attributed nothing else to him than that he had been created in the image of God [Gen. 1:27], thus suggesting that man was blessed, not because of his own good actions, but by participation in God.

"What, therefore, now remains for man, bare and destitute of all glory, but to recognise God for whose beneficence he could not be grateful when he abounded with the riches of his grace; and at least, by confessing his own poverty, to glorify him in whom he did not previously glory in recognition of his own blessings?"

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The scarred God

I've just started trying to get to grips with 2 Corinthians - or rather, to understand it more so that it grips me. Listening to Mark Dever on it, he spoke of how the gospel completely reprogrammes our concept of God - a God who revealed Himself in weakness, rather than wow-ing us with how impressive He is. Dever quoted a poem of Edward Shillito (1872-1948), a British Free Church minister in time of war:
Jesus of the Scars

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars we claim Thy grace.

If when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know today what wounds are; have no fear;
Show us Thy Scars; we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong, but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

It speaks powerfully of the goodness of the scarred God. Also reminded me of a song of Martyn Joseph about the 'strange way' of the cross, which culminates in the line: "So unlike the Holy to end up full of holes." There is no truth and no hope in the generic impersonal power of the universe assumed to be the subject of the word God. There is only truth and hope in the God who was crucified and resurrected, and bears the scars to this day.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Sin allergy

This past few weeks, hayfever has been rather a pain. A constant irritant, disrupting my life. Interrupting social situations, stopping me from enjoying the lovely weather, depriving me of sleep, impeding my sight.

So it is for many, I'm sure - enough of the catalogue of moans! So I thought, how can I not waste my hayfever? It's such a small thing, in the scale of things: such a very small part of the frustration to which this world is subject. But if the irritation of hayfever is such a very small part of the curse on our sinfulness, and yet disrupts my life so much, how is it that the sin itself which is at root, affects me so little?

So my hayfever prayer is that the Holy Spirit would give me a sin-allergy.
That every morning as I wake I would be aware of the suffocating nature of sin, so that rather than trying to breathe its air...
That I would turn to Christ as quickly as I down an antihistamine, and meditate on his word more automatically than I reach for the tissue-box.
That I would constantly be irritated by my sin, that it would be painful to me.
That I would go out of my way to avoid sin being stirred up in me.
That I would be aware of how sin spoils relationships far more than hayfever interrupts social engagement.
That my sight would not be blearied or blinkered by sin, but by the light of God's word I'd see the world truly.

In other words, that as my Father is so pure he can't look passively on evil, so I would be allergic to sin. As I look forward to my Father recreating the world no longer subject to frustration, so I look to him to purify me from the roots of that frustration - my refusal of his way.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. [1 John 3.1-3]
Pray that I wouldn't waste my hayfever, but that it would be a reminder of the sinfulness of sin, and the righteousness of Christ, accomplished for us and still to be applied to all creation. That I would be allergic to sin.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Incorrigibly plural

Snow, Louis Macneice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Creation regained

I've enjoyed reading Wolters' Creation Regained in our staff study programme. It's a great call to a reformation wordview, rather than an all-too-gnostic division of world into sacred and secular. He helpfully gives categories of structure and direction, with which to analyse - structure is what we might think of as substance, material (whether physical or not); direction is essentially how it's used or acted upon - in conformity to God's good creation or in a distortion or perversion of it? This thinking prevents us from throwing good babies out with bad bathwater, or from drinking dirty bathwater just because sometimes it's useful for cleaning babies.

However there seemed to me to be a drawback with the book - a looming absence. It might have been because of the subject material, but God seemed rather distant. Impersonal. His power acts in Jesus Christ by the Spirit to transform the world. He's Trinitarian in formula: "God is renewing the creation and the whole of human life in the work of Jesus Christ by the Spirit." Yet somehow this comes across as impersonal. It's a project to renew creation and human life. To this end Jesus defeats sin and evil in his death and resurrection. But what about, "Eternal life is to know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent"?

There is a problem when salvation is reduced to the realm of personal communion with God, and our role as God's glory - his image-bearers, his vice-regent representatives of his rule over creation under him - is forgotten. But we mustn't neglect the place of personal reconciliation as well as cosmic: of not only restoring creation but knowing God as Father in Christ by the Spirit. God's Kingdom is not merely that God is renewing the creation and the whole of human life in the work of Jesus Christ by the Spirit. The good news of God's kingdom includes the announcement of how one may take part in this kingdom in repentence and faith - i.e., how this kingdom's arrival is indeed good news for you! And that involves the Trinity covenanting together to call and provide a way for us to come to Himself. And it centres on a cross and empty tomb. Not merely a place of victory over evil, but a victory over evil because it is place of satisfaction of God's justice, of taking of his curse on creation on himself, so that we who were once not only failed-caretakers but hostile are reconciled by his blood.

I'm not writing off the book for that - on the contrary, it's a clear and persuasive introduction to its stated topic. But when the authors have taken the opportunity of a second edition to write a postscript describing the gospel more broadly than their remit, it was disappointing that they didn't bring in this glorious personal aspect, indispensible for their topic.

Perhaps I'm being unfair, on a first reading. It got me thinking, though, of this null hypothetical: Say you had reformed all of life - church, family, politics, business, art, education, journalism, thought, emotion, plants and animals, inanimate matter - in a Godward direction, so that, by God's power in the work of Christ by the Spirit, it was as it should be in God's good creation. And you did not know the Father in Christ. Would you be happy? Would you have fulfilled the gospel? The kingdom? (It's an impossible hypothesis, of course, but perhaps worth pondering.)