Monday, January 24, 2005

Labouring to waken a taste for God

This from Piper, God's Passion for his glory (p38-39)

"If the exhibition of God's glory and the deepest joy of human souls are one thing, then evangelism means depicting the beauty of Christ and his saving work with a heartfelt urgency of love that labours to help people find their satisfaction in him. The most important common ground with unbelievers is not culture but creation, not momentary felt needs but massive real needs. Augustine's famous prayer is all important: "You made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace till they rest in you." If a person realises that the image of God in man is man's ineffably profound fitness to image forth Christ's glroy through everlasting joy in God, then he will not gut the great gospel of its inner life and power.

The gospel is not the good news that God makes much of me; it is "the gospel of the glory of Christ." And evangelism, St. Paul says, is the outshining of "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor 4v4). And when, by the agency of prayer and witness and the illuminating gradce of the Holy Spirit, unbelievers suddenly see the glory of God in Christ and rejoice in hope, it is because the Creator of the universe "has shone is [their] hearts to give the Light of the knowlegde of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor 4v6). Our evangelistic task is not to persuade people that the gospel was made for their felt needs, but that they were made for teh soul-satisfying glory of God in the gospel."

Michael Spencer ponders this Piperan question:
"Do you believe that God's love is to "make much" of you, or that God's love is to enable you to "make much" of him, and his son, Jesus"

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Secularist Agenda


From Mr Andrew Armitage

Sir, Does the justifiable concern of David Bell about Islamic schools (report, January 18) not strengthen the case for an entirely secular school system in which religions are taught about rather than taught? Children should learn about the role religions have played in the lives of peoples, but should not be expected to take part in any indoctrination or rituals.

All schools should be either brought into the state sector or severely scrutinised as to what they are teaching or, moreover, preaching. Religion would then be left to the private sphere of home and meeting house, sectarianism would be dealt a severe blow and harmony given a fair chance to thrive.

This from The Times on 20th January. Can someone please take note - the secularists are as religious as the rest of us... One wonders whether they would like it if we insisted that Secularism had to be a "private faith". Then we could just teach about Secularism rather than it being taught!

Christianity operates on the level of worldview, and concerns every aspect of life - truth, ethics, values, authority, education, politics... We cannot turn Jesus into a leisure pursuit, he is not a novelty or a hobby. And he's not irrelevant or out of date.

(And for Mr Armitage's information, indoctrination is Education... either we indoctrinate people with Secularism, or Christianity, or something else... there isn't a neutral option. Everyone has "doctrine", the question is whether it is good doctrine or bad doctrine.)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

eBay Spirituality

"We believe people are basically good."

This is the first value of the eBay community. Having recently made our first acquisition on eBay it was interesting to come across this. The whole process was quite tricky for Em, she knows what's wrong with the above statement and found it very difficult to assume we weren't being conned or ripped off.

Because essentially the eBay community principle number 1 is false. It's just not true. People are not basically good. And yet from many Christian meetings its the impression you could easily get. We talk about people needing to know God's love and comfort. The gospel begins to sound like some kind of cotton wool that we can wrap around the poor innocent people of the world. That would be a very popular message. Very Politically Correct, very unobtrusive.

The response to the Tsunami has largely been twofold. On the one hand many have testified to their new respect for the planet and its power, becoming worshippers of creation. And the second we've seen the quite right generosity of the rest of the world to help. Except its been largely self-congratulatory, how good we are to be helping... though we remain so much richer than most of the world, easily overlooking the on going death toll of poverty and disease....

From a Christian perspective the root seems to be the assumption that the Christian gospel can be expressed as "God is love", and thus we are lovable creatures. I'm not doubting the phrase - it is even a direct quote from the Bible. But is this really what it implies?

The thing is, that in 1 John 4v15 - where we learn that "God is love". We also find that "This is love..." in 1 John 4v10.

"this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

That is to say, This is love, that God should have poured out his wrath on sinful people like us, but he sent his Son to bear that judgement in our place. God is love. The base assumption of Biblical love is that all humanity is sinful, opposed to God. Insolent creatures who reject their creator. God shows us love through the death of his Son, by whom we can be spared judgement and brought into eternal pleasure in the presence of God. His love is salvific. And that is a very good thing, not something to be obscured - even if the world finds the plain truth offensive.

The implications of this then would seem to be that we do want the world to know the love of God, but that this is going to be more than a cuddle and a blanket. (More than, not necessarily less than). To know God's love is going to mean knowing that we are sinners deserving judgement. To know that God is love is going to mean repentance.

A few faithful preachers reminded the world after the Tsunami and 9/11 and at other times that what the world needs most to do is to repent. It's the last thing the world wants to be told, and the first thing it needs. This is our greatest need - to repent and find forgiveness through the death of Christ.

And this is true for Christians as much as non-Christians. One of the things I love at our church is that I know that every week I will be called back to my loving God in repentance. It was the cornerstone of Jesus message. And as I battle on in the war between sin and the Holy Spirit I fail and need to repent - to come again and recieve grace at the Cross. There is no where else to go. There is no where else I'd want to go.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Simeon Lumgair

Following up on my thoughts on Christian protests at Jerry Springer, let me suggest an alternative strategy... I conceed it may be necesary to take a stand on things, for the good of humanity (since sin damages people and God's ways are what we're made for) but there must be a more positive approach.

And here is the mind-blowingly obvious solution... Christians in the media, Christians in the arts, Christians in academic... People who will stand in the midst of the world holding a Christian worldview and engaging thoroughly with the world around them. Christians who will get in the middle of the things for the long term and produce the best quality films, drama, documentaries, literature, art, design etc... this is no quick fix and will take time but it's time to make a start!

This wont be my field but there are people who will be able to get in for the distance. The same applies to the sciences and politics etc. All the above is one of the key reasons I believe in student ministry.

How do we get there? Firstly students need to be encouraged to get into studying their subject well, to understanding thoroughly a Christian worldview and also the worldview that the discipline being studied presents. Undoubtedly those worlds will collide and Christian students need to be able to handle that collision with care, creativity and integrity. Mere polemics will not be sufficient, its time to be far more positive.

Those who know the creator have the greatest mandate for creativity and careful study of creation. Sadly for too long those who care most about the Ceator's good news have scorned the arts and engagement with the world out of fear. This has left us with an etherial evangelicalism which exists in the sunday service but knows little of monday morning.

This is a matter of having Jesus Christ seen for the beautiful and wonderful King of all that he is. This is a matter of communicating the creator's story in the heart of the culture.

For more see:
Simeon Lumgair, going for it in film.
Marcus Honeysett, who inspired me towards this post and is on the case.

Meltdown



Meltdown is a superb resource for the church. Marcus Honeysett takes us through case studies, discussion questions and careful insight to help us wake up to the world we're in. He then goes onto explore the impact our culture has had upon contemporary Christianity - ultimately we either establish a solid Christian worldview or we will end up falling beneath the worldviews of our culture. Meltdown shows us how we can not only survive but also thrive as we develop a more thorough and consistent Christianity in today's culture.

Review of Meltdown at www.uccf.org.uk
Being a Christian in Today's Student Culture (Marcus Honeysett)
Postmodernism at www.cmf.org.uk (Marcus Honeysett)

Friday, January 14, 2005

Self-Starting Discipleship

2 Timothy 2v2 - Paul teaches Timothy to teach what Paul has taught Timothy (the gospel) to people who will be able to teach others.... Paul has in mind an unending chain of disciple makers... the challenge then I'm finding for ministry is to disciple people with the expectation and sufficient investment that they can go on to disciple others.

When I struggle with this, I remember a story an old missionary re-counted to me. He taught the gospel to an illiterate people, he preached a message to them and returned a month later. One of the congregation he'd preached to was there, and he said - "you're preaching this week". To which the man said, "I don't know what to say". The missionary then said, "do you remember what I preached before". The man said "no". And so the missionary told him again, and said - now preach that.

We have an amazing message, God's good news about Jesus death... we just need to get telling people...

Friday, January 07, 2005

Jerry Springer

This week I have recieved several emails inciting me to protest against tomorrow's screening on the BBC of Jerry Springer: The Opera. This despite the fact that I don't actually have a TV, and am therefore neither able to watch it nor do I pay the BBC License fee.

But let me offer a few observations nonetheless...

1. Talk about what you know - It strikes me that my fellow Christians are protesting about something on the basis of heresay. That is a little unwise, particularly as some of the Radio Times' original comments about the content of the programme are now reported as a little exagerated.

2. There's no such thing as a Christian country - Critisism is made on the basis that this is a Christian country. Whilst technically 70% (ish) of the nation call themselves Christian when it comes to census... the statement is patently false. Not primarily because it is obvious that the vast majority of that 70% aren't actually Christian, but because the term Christian country is thoroughly unbiblical. The only Christian country is the church. So, please lets have an end to that myth. I know the UK was once run on supposedly Christian values - but you can't legislate "Christian" values... because living Christianly only works when you have the Holy Spirit.

3. Don't moralise unbelievers - People who aren't Christians cannot be expected to be morally good. You can't make them be moral and it actually doesn't achieve anything. God isn't most concerned that people be moral and respectable, he's looking for sinners to repent and recieve grace. That is a different matter. Trying to make people whose hearts are fundamentally sinful act morally leads to legalism and a perversion of the gospel - according to the Bible. So, when the BBC (supposed christian constitution or not) or anyone else, Jerry Springer for that matter, acts immorally I am not even remotely surprised. Since the Bible tells me that Christians will sin, I'm not exactly shocked when people who aren't Christians sin. Non-Christians don't like being moralised anymore than Christians do, and it doesn't help them get to heaven.

4. Less pro-test, more pro-claim - External Moral Respectability isn't really the point. Whilst I concede that some things can me more explicitly anti-God than others, that isn't really the point. The big issue is that for most of that 70% and the other 30% of people in the UK they are utterly anti-God in thought, word and deed, by negligence, weakness or deliberate fault. That is because they are not Christians, and thus by definition they (explicitly or implicitly) declare the death of Christ to be meaningless. Whether or not a TV programme is shown doesn't really change that. What people need is to be told more about the Cross of Christ and their need to repent, than to be told they should be morally decent.

5. Less Anti and more Pro - It is high-time Christians started being known for being pro-God, pro-grace, pro-love, pro-faith, pro-forgiveness, pro-creation, pro-marriage, pro-mercy, instead of constantly portraying themselves as anti-everything. Christians more than anyone should know how great God's creation is, and how it is to be embraced and enjoyed with thanksgiving. How about we start acting like it! :)

6. TV is optional - TV has an off-button. And you don't even have to have a TV.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Let our hearts be broken


"The point of every deadly calamity is this: Repent. Let our hearts be broken that God means so little to us. Grieve that he is a whipping boy to be blamed for pain, but not praised for pleasure. Lament that he makes headlines only when man mocks his power, but no headlines for ten thousand days of wrath withheld. Let us rend our hearts that we love life more than we love Jesus Christ. Let us cast ourselves on the mercy of our Maker. He offers it through the death and resurrection of his Son.

This is the point of all pleasure and all pain. Pleasure says: “God is like this, only better; don’t make an idol out of me. I only point.” Pain says: “What sin deserves is like this, only worse; don’t take offense at me. I am a merciful warning.”

But the topless sunbathers amid the tsunami aftermath in Phuket, Thailand did not get the message. Neither did the man who barely escaped the mighty wave with the help of a jungle gym and palm-leaf roof. He concluded, “I am left with an immense respect for the power of nature.” He missed it. The point is: reverence for the Creator, not respect for creation."

Extract from John Piper's latest Fresh Words response to the Tsunami. I find this incredibly humbling - what difference could be made if in pleasure our eyes were turned to the greater pleasure that can be found in God, and in pain to see that what sin deserves is far worse. What if the events of Boxing Day 2004 taught us reverance for our Creator? Rather than us presuming we can overcome everything. This is not the time to exalt man, it is the time for us to bow down low before our maker.

An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens




No one in the village of Paulersbury, England, expected William Carey to become a missionary, especially since Carey was a boisterous teenager. But on the 10th February, 1779, he experienced a spiritual transformation.

Only three years after his conversion, William Carey was speaking regularly at Earls Barton Church, a tiny Dissenter congregation that relied on visiting lay preachers. The apprentice shoemaker had studied the commentaries and books of his employer - and with the help of a friend, even taught himself New Testament Greek.

Carey soon began to question the church's reluctance to take the Gospel to foreign lands, but was told that that was the responsibility of God. Crushed, Carey remained silent for the rest of that meeting, but six years later he wrote a pamphlet: An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, which refuted the five major arguments against missionary work. Carey reminded the ministers: "It only requires that we should have as much love for the souls of our fellow creatures...as we have for the profits arising from a few otter-skins."

Since I became a Christian and began to grasp something of God's passion to be enjoyed among all peoples I've found the story of William Carey interesting. Carey is hailed as the father of modern missions (though Zinzendorf and his Moravians were probably at it a bit earlier).

In addition to his vision for the nations the other thing that captures my imagination is that Carey used to preach in the little baptist church in the village where I grew up. I can visualise Carey plodding his way up to the village to preach every other week. Suddenly this isn't just a story from the depths of history but the story of a fellow saint, a brother in Christ. How much we can learn from those who went before us.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Seeing the big story....



Just finished the first update of BeginningWithMoses.org for 2005, with new articles on Jesus' temptation, Prayer and several new books profiled.

Its about two and a half years since I joined the project and it's great to see it still growing and going strong. It fits with my big passion (see previous blog post) to get people into the big story of Jesus, the story of God-people-and-place as Charlie Peacock calls it. Or the story of God's People, in God's Place, under God's rule and blessing to borrow from Graeme Goldsworthy and Vaughan Roberts.

Bible Overviews which are designed to get people into this big story are the highlight and distinguishing feature of the Spring Harvest Word Alive Students week, and something that we all need to get into. Word Alive is once a year, so the best bet is to get into some good books to help along the way. My big recommended reading at an entry level on this would be Vaughan Roberts Bible Overview books - God's Big Picture and Life's Big Questions, both from IVP. Vaughan writes very readably and each chapter ends with a Bible study making this ideal material to study with a friend. GBP looks at the big story chronologically, and LBQ traces six major themes through the whole Bible.

Beyond that Charlie Peacock's book New Way to be Human is introduction though like Goldsworthy's books it will leave you asking how this works out in how we actually handle the Bible. In terms of what it looks like to consider things in view of the big story, I've found David Peterson's Christ & His People very clear - as he deals with applying Isaiah 6-12 from a Christian perspective as are the Apollos New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT), and of course BeginningWithMoses.org is specifically designed to get Biblical Theology into practical Bible reading and preaching.

Only when we start to view things from the angle of the big story will life make sense in the way that it was always intended to.

Coffee, Piper and the Big Picture



Mmmm. Coffee and a Piper book. Recipe for a good afternoon. Browsing it reminds me I must diary in planning my christian union leaders seminar on evangelism. A real highlight later this term, to share the biblical vision of spreading a passion for the supremacy of God through missions.

As a south east team in December we looked at Psalm 67 (which I'd preached at Reading's houseparty in November), facing the challenge as to whetherwhether the joy and gladness that the peoples of the world are supposed to have knowing God is normal for our Christian experience, and if not why not. And likewise for non-Christian expectation of what Christian life should be.

Charlie Peacock in New Way to be Human, poses the same questions - ultimately concluding that we are not gripped by the big story that being student-followers of Jesus puts us in, in other words - a lack of Biblical Theology.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Scrabble


Lost at scrabble this evening. Not by much and it should have been a lot more, except Em missed a really obvious opportunity to use all her letters with SOLDIER just before the end....