Thursday, June 30, 2005

Grace in Changing Times

Preached tonight at Reading University Christian Union on Hebrews 13v7-9 - God's Unchanging Grace. Great to see that in changing times, at the end of an academic year, the grace of Jesus remains unchanged forever. It cannot be shaken by bad behaviour or circumstance, it cannot be improved upon. Let our hearts be strengthened by grace!



End of year meetings are photo moments. See full post for a few faces of RUCU 2005. And now they're gone. Some into the workplace. Some to "ministry". Some to return in the autumn.

tim caird
samrosie
relay steve
roz
fletch
fish
jersey liz
fern
ceryn
ed
arwen
andy tuck

Million Dollar Baby



Last night we watched Million Dollar Baby. It's beautifully filmed and superbly acted by Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman & Clint Eastwood. A tragic story about achievement, ambition, forgiveness and life (and not really about boxing). Well worth its four oscar (best Director, Film, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor) - even though it left Eternal Sunshine with just one (Screenplay).

Top films seen this year then: (in no particular order, yet) The Village, Garden State, Enduring Love, Million Dollar Baby, Closer, Collateral, Hitchhikers, Batman Begins, The Interpreter...

Most of which are really last years films. Halfway through the year I'm not very optimistic of much improvement.

Thanks Justin, book received.



At the start of this week I recieved my free review copy of Sex & the Supremacy of Christ. Many thanks to Justin Taylor for that. The book comes with a free DVD of the two John Piper's talks that are the basis of his chapters in this excellent book.

Reviewed by thebluefish on May 30th.

Desiring God are keen to make this material widely available. That being the case, you can download reasonable quality videos of most of the content, and also audios.

Conference Videos from Crossway
Conference Audios from DesiringGod.org

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Team Days in Washington

Been away since Monday, in Washington (Sussex, UK) on team days with the UCCF South West & South East Teams. We looked at "The Happiness of Jesus Christ" with Jim Paul from L'Abri. See full post for photos and reflections...

*** Home now to celebrate three years of marriage! Hurray! ***












We considered the ethics of Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham and of Jesus Christ. How did they determine what was good? And what is the role of happiness within that?

Aristotle considered things that we pursue for their own sake to be good. So, we pursue medicine for the sake of health. Health then is greater than medicine. But we pursue happiness for its own sake so it is a greater good.

Kant inflicted society and the church with a stoic duty. Cold rationalism, acts of goodness devoid of passion and happiness. All that counted was duty. This remains prevalent today. Thankfully the likes of John Piper are doing much to counter this as they call for a passionate joyful church, acting out of delight more than duty.

Bentham was a contemporary of Kant but argued differently. He looked for good being what is best for most people. For him happiness and pleasure were the same. And the goal was always to maximise pleasure and minimise pain. This is a very self-referential way of thinking. It just doesn't work in practice.

Finally, we turned to the happiness of Jesus Christ. From the beginning God has looked for mankind to live under his blessing - to be flourishing, happy, celebrated. And God invites humanity into rest with him - into a state of flourishing in relationship with him. Sin is the enemy of happiness - it brings curse rather than favour. But to those who come to Jesus there is rest - a forever happiness in intimate relationship with the ultimate One. In this not only are we happy, so is God.

Also, during our time together we were able to pray, giving thanks for another year of God's faithfulness. To say goodbye to this years Relay, and to staff member David Skull who are leaving us after four years to study at Oak Hill College. As a South East team our Relay gaves us feedback from their elective studies. Between the three of them they'd covered Postmodernism/Studying Art, Polish Language, and Christian Hedonism. Varied and fascinating.

The end of the year is an encouraging and sad time. Many goodbyes. Many thanks. Many joys. Many sorrows. But one thing remains the same - the happy one, Jesus Christ, is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Scandal of God being Just

Everyone loves a scandal. Today's tabloids publish yet another Diana scandal (almost eight years after she died...) But there is one scandal the papers always neglect. One that is truly scandalous. One that is truly relevant today.

The hardest book I've ever read (so far) is John Piper's The Justification of God. It's also one of the best. The thesis is that Paul's concern in Romans 9 concerns whether God is righteous. Ultimately God is seen to be righteous because he acts to elevate his own reputation. This is not vanity, since God is the most valuable, most worthy being. To fail to elevate God is the essence of evil.

Over at Wood Chips and Text Musings, A B Canedy arges that The Gospel is Principally the Announcement of God's Own Justification

Very often we look at the gospel as being all about us. We focus upon our justification. Our benefits. Our standings. And to some degree that is all well and good. God's good news is greatly beneficial to us.

But, primarily the gospel concerns God. It is chiefly occupied with the great scandal of how a just God can spare any sinner. How can God allow sins to remain, apparently, unpunished. And the answer is found in the death of Jesus. Without that the one who justifies is unjust.

We take offense at times that God does not save all. The true offense is that God saves any. He would be within the bounds of his own justice for God to judge all. But he takes the scorn of humanity generation after generation, patiently allowing people to turn and trust him - such people are then counted irrevocably as righteous. They are classed as people who always glorify God. How? Because God looks upon Christ and sees perfection.

The only reason he can do this is that God's judgement on those repentant people is taken upon Jesus. At the cross of Christ God is found to be fully just and also the one who can count a sinner righteous.

It's the greatest scandal in history. God is just and justifies sinners. It is the greatest good news in the world. And it is more relevant to your life than you could imagine.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

God's Global Eden Project

Yesterday was our Orientation for a summer team to Bulgaria. 10 of us will be going, and Kath and I will lead the team. We looked at Mission, Team Life, Working Cross-Culturally, and at Bulgaria.

Here's our first session, on mission. God's Global Eden Project - Psalm 67
The Talk is a complete revision of one I did on Psalm 67 for Reading University Christian Union's Weekend Away in November 2004. Looking at God's grace, God's fame and joy in God as the foundations of missions.

Enjoy! And let's go!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Tim & Dave



These are two of the guys I've discipled this year.
They're both graduating this summer. It's a sad time of year for me.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Aircon for my Soul (Part 3)

When I was first in leadership I was an arrogant idiot. I'd not have admitted that. You might not have noticed it. But I was. I was self-confident. I was proud. I was a very young Christian. Many traits remain.

During that first year in leadership, 1998, I made some right stinkers. I failed to see the big picture. I failed to see the implications of my ideas. I got it wrong. The guy who was our CU Staffworker, Chris Sinkinson, had the confidence in the gospel to rebuke me. May 1998. It was the first time that anyone had ever told me I was wrong. And for it, I am forever grateful.

I got it wrong. And the Chris picked me up and invested time in me. And he could do it because the gospel makes it possible. The gospel means permission to fail. The gospel is a display of God's perfect patience to sinful people. Its a message that says - If God can save Dave Bish he can save anyone. And it's true.

This has huge implications for ministry and ministry training. Above all it means permissio to fail. It means we can afford to let people get stuff wrong. It means we can let people try and fail. And it means that we can pick them up and let them try again. And again. And again.

Grace for leadership means that people don't have to get it right first time. It spells generosity and freedom. To often I'm harsh. To often I expect too much. Where's my heart? Where's my desire to encourage? Where's my confidence?

One of the key mottos of our Relay training programme is: encourage the good whereever you find it, and if you can't find it look harder. When God is at work there is always good stuff to encourage.

A grace filled environment that makes space to try and fail could change the world. Free from having to perform perfectly we can step out and do big things for God. Free from fear of failure we can shoot for the sky.

And because the sound doctrine of the glorious gospel of the happy God defines who I am, I can even look stupid and it'll be ok. For me that is difficult. I'm proud. I don't like looking stupid. But the gospel says - you are an idiot - you get stuff wrong. But the gospel says - you're granted repentance, it's ok. It says, Dave, let the glory go to God. Stop trying to steal glory for yourself. Come, enjoy God's grace!


Aircon for my Soul Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Four, Five, Six... Listen to the good news!



Four Spiritual Laws. Five Points. Six Pictures. We love to summarise the gospel. To some degree we need to be able to do so. Perhaps our summaries don't always need to be complete. Perhaps they can't ever be complete.... without the summary being the whole Bible.

Emerging Church Blogger, Scot McKnight thinks about Jesus' kingdom and four spiritual laws...

All our so called summaries are deficient to some degree. Many are far too individualistic. Most miss enough of the glory of Christ. McKnight, if I understand him, worries that we don't start with Jesus. Ultimately the gospel centres upon the person of Jesus. I'm not sure I understand what McKnight is saying about the place of scripture and church in this. My slight concern is that he's committing a red letters error and pitting Jesus against Paul and others.

Two summaries are find quite refreshing are John Piper's Quest for Joy, for its focus on glory and joy. Too many summaries are just cold. I think Two Ways to Live is good, but it's more of an appeal to avoid hell than to come and know and enjoy Jesus. Jesus is the core content of the good news.

I also find The Crowded House' The World We All Want, which is more of a course than a summary - but one that truly captures something of the community element of becoming a Christian. They pursue a Bible overview starting at the end with God's perfect world, full of people who know Jesus, and then works back.

Some one is bound to throw a question at me the eleven point uccf doctrinal basis. The basic point to make there is that it's not an evangelistic tract but a statement of Christian Unity for the guarding of God's glorious gospel. (And, yes on that page it is currently me and my students in the picture)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Aircon for my Soul (Part 2)

When we train leaders first and foremost we are called to teach them the gospel. To apply it to their lives. The gospel is the most practical training in the universe. To have our eyes lifted from lies and sin to reality is the best food for the soul.

One of the key areas in which I train young leaders in how to handle the Bible well. This is essential training. Its essential because without the right approach to scripture we probably wont see the sufficiency of the gospel. We'll focus on minor details and miss the big picture. But there is a danger. It's my greatest fear in training leaders. That we rob them of innocence by giving them essential skills.

Let me explain. I think it's very easy to teach good technique for Bible handling without applying it. It's very easy to help people to see what passages don't say. It's very easy to foster a critical attitude in Bible reading. It's only a short step from this to loving the truth and longing to apply it. But it is a step. Without it we rob people of their life in Christ. Sermons that once fed them no longer do. Study notes that were once daily bread to them cease to be. And keen hungry young Christians can easily turn into ugly judgemental critics. Bible handling ought to lead them into better food. It ought to lead to greater fellowship with Jesus in the word.... we just need to watch that it does!

True handling of God's word is only done when it is applied to life. When it is responded to. Its easy to process the word of God into a neat structure and set of doctrines. Its a whole other matter to apply it and see our lives changed. A bloated head does not glorify God. Let us digest. Let us move.

Charles Simeon says
"A nominal Christian is content with proving the way of salavation by a crucified Redeemer. But the true Christian loves it, delights in it, glories in it, and shudders at the very thought of glorying in anything else."
Mere knowledge is not enough. It's not even close.

We risk building ugly monsters. I risk developing the most highly trained assasins only for them to be cold and lifeless. I invest about 100 hours of gospel-centred training in the small group leaders I work with each year. Training ought to benefit them but it might not.

Elsewhere I see young students stepping out in faith. I see them stand to teach their CU each week. Speaking not out of good technical training, but from the heart. They share regurgitations of messages that have deeply affected them. I could stand and pick wholes in them - but what I see is the fruit of lives that love Jesus perhaps more than I do. These often clueless fanatics may actually demonstrate the marks of true gospel leadership.

Training is clearly useful. I wouldn't do it if I didn't think it important. But it has to impact life. It has to grow joy in the Lord. It has to transform lives. And that is a work of God by the gospel. The gospel is God's power to change lives and so I can persist. I can persist with arrogant leaders. I can persist with them because they remind me so much of me. A sinner being changed by God. A sinner saved by God.

Ian Stackhouse says that when we lose sight of, and cease to enjoy the gospel of Christ then life is futile. And that is true however technically proficient we are. What we need, says Stackhouse, is to be continually evangelised by our gospel. So, let the sound doctrine of the glorious gospel of the happy God ring loud in my soul and refresh me. And you too! Let it change us. Let is be aircon to our souls on a summer day.

Aircon for my Soul Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Abraham Piper

Coming Soon - Songs.GloryToGodAlone.com

Aircon for my Soul (Part 1)

You know the feeling. Its a baking hot day. And man is it today! Topping 30 degrees. A couple of hours ago I was standing in London Waterloo station waiting for my train back to Reading. I'm sure it was well over 30 degrees there. For a few minutes I dived into WH Smith, book browsing to justify my presence there. But what relief. Superb air conditioning. Thankfully the train was equally well equipped.

Good aircon on a day like this is so refreshing. Just like a log fire in midwinter. Though I'm finding that hard to imagine right now! I've spent today with the UCCF London Team. It's be a real joy. They're a great example of a group of people united by Jesus. I feel like I've been basking in the refreshing breeze of the gospel today.

My charge was to share with them about developing leaders. I struggled with pride in preparing. Torn from wanting to impress to not wanting to get stuff wrong. In the end I was arrested by the gospel of Christ.

Developing leaders is the best part of my ministry. Whether its supervising my relay worker, training cell leaders or mentoring other CU leaders, I love it. But how do you do it effectively? There are endless volumes of management techniques, group dynamics and other skills we could teach. But these are nothing compared with the gospel. All the skills in the world can't combat the disease of legalism, the weight of guilt or the rollercoaster of human emotions. But the gospel can.

Jim Elliot, the 1950's martyr, did a translation of 1 Timothy 1v11. The verse speaks of the sound doctrine of the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Elliot translated it as the gospel of the HAPPY God. He said he couldn't escape it. It was to him, in times when he felt downcast, a pill of praise from the Lord. And he was write.

This healthy teaching about the glorious gospel of the happy God is all we need. It is the message of God's appointment of wretched sinners to service. It is the message of God's salvation of the worst sinners to display his perfect patience.

Grace is deadly to legalism. Legalism is like plate-spinning. We spin a plate for church. One for worship experience. One for devotions. One for evangelistic conversatiosn. Perhaps one for leadership. And the glorious gospel says you can stuff your plate spinning stick up your......... the glorious gospel says you stand perfected because of Jesus death. Legalism robs the gospel of life and turns God into a kill-joy.

Here's what Graham Johnston says in Preaching to Postmoderns:
“Legalism wrenches the joy of the Lord from the Christian believer... nothing is left but cramped, somber, dull, and listless profession” (p126) Then... “The glorious name of the Lord becomes a synonym for a gloomy kill-joy. The Christian under law is a miserable parody of the real thing” (ibid).
That might appeal to you. But I can live without legalism.

Grace is deadly to guilt-trips. Few Christians are wracked with total guilt. Legalism is a great guilt-breeder. Most common is low-grade guilt. Stuff that adds caution and sobriety where there should be joy. We know the truth yet its hard to believe it. Ask yourself what your answer is to the question: Are you perfect? and then square the answer with Hebrews 10v14. Guilt is out of place because Jesus saves sinners completely. He perfects us.

Grace is deadly to subjectivism. Grace allows me to stop listening to my feelings. No longer must I say "My mind's made up by the way that I feel". We are free to stop listening to ourselves and instead to talk to ourselves. To address our souls with the gospel truth. Gospel truth that says arise, my soul, bless your maker.

Graham Johnston again says....
“Community grows out of authenticity of living. Grace needs every person to be real, “warts and all”. Yet, authenticity in the churches will begin in the pulpit and filter down throughout the congregation. Those in leadership will set the tone either for depth or shallowness” (ibid, p129).
Grace sees off all these rivals, and Paul says - I THANK GOD. What application. What refreshment. Let praise resound. Let praise overflow from our lips.

Aircon for my Soul Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Finding Life on Jerusalem Road



Tuesday morning was my final supervision with Steve before he finishes the Relay programme. 80 miles away on the South Coast Kath was doing her final supervision with Lou with a bit of pottery painting and Psalm 23. Not something that had crossed my mind to do.

Over the last two months Steve and I have been studying Luke 9v51-19v27, following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. This big section of Luke's gospel is concerned with some massive questions.
How do you inherit eternal life?
Who gets eternal life?
What is eternal life like and how does it impact life here?
Along the way we've had our gaze turned to Jesus. We've been excited at the prospect of eternal life with Jesus. We've been relieved and delighted to find that sinners like us simply get life by asking and recieving it from Jesus. I look forward to teaching the same material to Reading CU cell leaders in the Autumn.

The journey from Luke 9v51 (where Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem), and 19v27 (when he arrives) is full of familiar stories and incidents. We were surprised along the way to see the difference that context makes to meaning as we travelled in large sweeps through Luke's book.

A classic example being the good samaritan. A story often used to teach Christians to be merciful, but actually a parallel to the Rich Young Ruler, as Jesus pushes a lawyer beyond his limits. Jesus shows the man that there is nothing he can do to get eternal life. Mary and the Disciples provide the key as bookends to the parable, as they simply know Jesus and listen to his teaching. They discover the things that prophets and kings had longed to find.

Steve and I have met about 25 times since September to study, pray and talk and good coffee. We've journeyed through Galatians, Jonah, Ruth and Luke. It's been a long journey full of encounters with God. It's been the highpoint of my week this year, and something I'll miss. Thankfully gospel partnerships can be renewed and continued, and Steve is staying in Reading next year which is good.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Song of Songs

I'm working my way through the Sex & The Supremacy of Christ videos.
Here's a couple of really good resources on Song of Songs.



Andrew Jones on The Joy of Sex (BT briefing)
Note that this isn't Andrew Jones the TallSkinnyKiwi, but Andrew Jones of Grace Church Hackney.

CJ Mahaney on Sex, Romace and the Glory of God (video)
CJ Mahaney is well worth watching and listening to on this, and many other things. CJ is director of Sovereign Grace Ministries and former pastor of Covenant Life Church.

The Rejected Stone

Jonathan Edwards preached on Acts 4v11, on Christ as the stone the builders rejected. This is a quote from Psalm 118v22. These are my notes from his outline.

"This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone." (Acts 4v11, ESV)

Doctrine/Teaching
Jesus Christ is rejected by people. This is easily observable in the world today. People claim some affinity to Christ but even this is a rejection of him. We cannot claim his teaching without his person. The result is that the excellency and glory of the person is rejected. People also reject his death - his primary work. Again this rejects his glory and excellency. People may not want to admit to rejection of Christ but in fact that is what they do.

Evidence
This is Edwards argument for saying the above:
1. Unbelievers never give Christ any honour on account of his glory and excellency. Often Christ is respected but not exalted.
2. Unbelievers never love him on account of his glory and excellency finding no food or delight for the soul in him, no beauty or loveliness.
3. Unbelievers have no desires after enjoying Christ. They cannot conceive what happiness there can be in beholding Christ and being with him.
4. They seek no conformity to the glory and excellency of Christ. They may seek to be holy to escape God's wrath, but not to be conformed to the glorious beauty of Christ.


Application.
Edwards then says that such teaching ought to result in:
1. Unbelief is heinous because it is the rejection of Christ.
2. To bring conviction of:
a) The greatness of guilt in rejecting Christ
b) The danger of unbelief towards Christ
c) The worthlessness of other things for joy
d) That God might justly refuse to give you an interest in Christ

Read Edwards sermon: Unbelievers contemn the glory and excellency of Christ

Sunday, June 19, 2005

See His Glory!

The greatest teacher the world has ever heard
With words that still resound around the world
Calling mankind be loved and forgiven
To enter eternity with him in heaven
His miracles shine beyond anything we've seen
Free to release the captives he came to redeem
Look at his works and listen to his words
No greater man ever was ever seen or heard

The people gathered around to enquire
From dawn to dark they conspired
Seeking to kill him with total distain
They refused to believe his astounding claims
Our greatest offense is neglecting his way
God steps into creation and we turn away
No greater crime was ever done
Than the rejection of God's saving One.
Those given to him, will hear and follow
Those known by him, gain eternal life
Inviting sinners, freely forever
He opens blind eyes, to see his glory
Cannot come myself nor earn a place
Takes his sovereign grace will I see his face
He was sent to be lifted up so we'd look
And see the foolish path we'd took
His greatest hour proclaims our defeat
Our futile searching exposed as deceit
The judgement we deserve falls upon him
For he came to save us from our sin

© Dave Bish, June 2005

In the bleak midwinter....

Today is probably the hottest day of the year so far here in the UK. And this morning I've preached from John 10, a confrontation with Jesus in mid-winter.

Basic Outline:
HOW CAN YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?
1. Listen to Jesus' Words
2. Look at Jesus' Works
3. Are you a sheep?
God exists. His name is Jesus.
John 10 (Script, PDF)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Batman Begins

Firstly, this is way better than all the other Batman films. This has to do with a few key things. Namely, it's excellent Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) and key cast members like Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Liam Neeson. Sadly Katie Holmes doesn't quite carry off her character.

Secondly, it raises a really interesting question.
What do you do with something that is decadent and corrupt?
a) destroy it,
b) try to save it?

There is life, in the red letters

Paul writes to Timothy that all scripture is God breathed. All of it is useful to teach, correct, rebuke and encourage. All of it. These are the red letters. Words of life. Words from Jesus. Every last word of the Bible shines as a message from God. Paul goes on to say that Timothy ministers in a time where people will gather around them those who will tell them what their itching ears want to hear.

Welcome to the 21st Century! This is our age also. Since the beginning of time people have gathered around them those who tell them what they want to hear. Ego ergo Sum. It's all about me. Since the serpent decieved Eve we've not stopped.

And when someone comes along going against the grain they are marched out of court. The Old Testament recounts the tales of the prophets. Messengers from God who spoke of judgement and of the hope of salvation for sinners. The prophets were killed. Finally, God sent his Son, and they killed him to. And the apostles. And generations of Christian martyrs.

Today we again fall prey to the temptation to massage our egos. We shape our messages to be inoffensive. Many are scared to speak of sin lest people get annoyed... more so, lest they walk away. And yet God's gospel - the message about Jesus includes talk of sin. The Bible is unashamed to admit the dark state the world is in. It is in terminal decline.

Some of course will speak of sin but redefined. Sin becomes character weakness. Sin becomes human conflict. Sin becomes pain. Yet Biblical sin is all this and more. Biblical sin is offense against the great majesty of God. It is infinitely wrong. Infinitely offensive. And carries and infinite penalty from an angry God (another part of the red letters we'd often like to omit).

These are God's red letters. These are God's words of life to us. And yet the same red letters not only speak of sin but of it's cure. God does not merely pass judgement on the world, but also provides a saviour. One whose death will carry sin's punishment and count believers righteous. Those who barefacedly scorn God's majesty are made perfect forever.

This message is not popular but it is true. And truth is the mark of gospel teaching, not whether we like it. Tomorrow I stand to preach from John 10, it'd be a crying shame if people liked what I said. It's be a mark of my faithfulness to the truth if it said the things our sinful nature hates. A mark of faithfulness is Jesus shines gloriously from what is said. And it'd be a mark of God's work if repentance was granted, and so then the gospel accepted. All of it.

See also Jesus' words in red.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Ruth

A set of four student Cell Notes on Ruth are now online thebluefish.org.uk/cell, Ruth Cell Notes. Used by Reading University Christian Union.

Taking the gospel down-under...



Andy is the Relay co-ordinator. He has been very influential in the life of Em and myself. He spoke at our wedding. Later this year Andy will leave UCCF to work for TSCF, the New Zealand Christian Union (IFES) movement, along with James Allaway and Nigel Pollock.

Jonathan Carswell's interview with Andy Shudall is now republished at Evangelical's Now. Worth a read.

(Interview previously published in theblurb as an interview with the three wise men, along with Nigel Pollock and Marcus Honeysett)

Jesus' words in red

A while back a group called the Jesus Seminar decied to colour code the Bible. Marking some parts as true, others as maybe true.... and some stuff as untrue. They took scripture and stood over it to determine which bits they were prepared to keep.

Evangelical's often read the Bible as if some bits are more important than others. A few books will appear very dogeared in most Bible's which others are untouched. We're good with the gospels and some of Paul's letters but much of the rest stands neglected.

And then there are Jesus' words in red editions. These Bibles highlight the words that Jesus said by putting them in red text rather than black. On the surface this is fine, but actually its a problem.

What it ends up doing is to say that the words in Bible that matter most are the ones that Jesus said. But the whole Bible is Jesus' words. Every last word of the Bible is God speaking. When a gospel writer selected (inspired by the Holy Spirit) what bits of Jesus' life and ministry to record the events, descriptions and their structures and context are as important as the actual words the Lord Jesus said.

The Gospel is Key
The whole Bible is a revelation of Jesus. Everything in the Bible is either predictive, prefiguring, reflective or resultant from the death of Jesus Christ. The heart of God's revelation of himself to us is the gospel of Jesus. That revelation doesn't give special place to the specific words that Jesus said. And when we come to specific Christian teaching it must always be in view of the gospel. Teaching about prayer is not first driven by what Jesus said about it - but by prayer is view of the gospel of Jesus. So, the first lesson in prayer is that we are called to a relationship with Jesus that is made possible by Jesus' death.

Context is Key
This weekend I'm preaching on John 10. In this section Jesus says - "I and the Father are One". My Jesus' words in red Bible highlights this but not the context. On its own this statement could mean lots of things. Eg Jesus and the Father have the same vision or mindset. But in context we see the Jews reacting by attempting to stone him for blasphemy. They see that he just claimed to be God. But it's not actually a claim to be God when we just take Jesus words out of context. The question when we read John's gospel is not first "what did Jesus say?" but "what is the Holy Spirit revealing about Jesus/The Gospel through this book?".

The Whole Book is Jesus speaking
What does this mean? For a start it means that we need to read the Bible as if its all God speaking. So the genealogy in Matthew has something to tell us about Jesus. So does the genealogy in 1 Chronicles. Ruth testifies about Jesus as does Jonah. Revelation is Jesus, so is Genesis.

Let us reclaim the lost scriptures. Let us reclaim the de-emphasised scriptures by seeing that all scripture testifies about the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ. And let us drive the gospel into the heart of all Christian life - seeing that all Christian teaching must be in the context not of the words Jesus said, but in view of the big message of the good news about Jesus.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Neglecting Jesus' Return?

Gareth writes his Relay study response on Jesus' return is the great neglected doctrine of our day - discuss

Study Bibles



I'm not really a fan of study Bibles, largely cos I'd rather just have the Bible text in front of me, and then turn to commentaries as and when. My impression is that a lot of the added-notes in Study Bibles is poor quality stuff that rushes into application which just isn't there.

That said, the new ESV Reformation Study Bible looks a good bet if you want one. There's a good team of pastor-scholars writing the study notes alongside a really good translation. This might be the resource that wins me over...

www.reformationstudybible.com

Update: My TruGlo ESV no longer smells quite so rancid (its the rubber cover). I'm loving using it, but the "Jesus-Word's-In-Red" is a very annoying feature. Still, big thanks to ESV Blog for it, it is by a mile the most trendy Bible I've ever owned and my friends seem to love it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

View the world from God's perspective

"How many wrestle with the apparent injustice that God is lenient with sinners? Indeed, how many Christians wrestle with the fact that our own forgiveness is a threat to the righteousness of God? ...The secular mindset does not even assess the situation the way the Biblical mindset does. Why is that? It's because the secular mindset thinks from a radically different starting point. It does not start with the Creator-rights of God - the right to uphold and display the infinite worth of his glory. It starts with man and assumes that God will conform to our rights and wishes. But in the context of Romans, the issue is: how has the glory of God been treated and what is God's righteous response to that?"

The Demonstration of God's Righteousness, Romans 3v21-26
Download the MP3

Convicting. How man-centred am I to take God's mercy to a sinner like me for granted. How distorted my view of reality that God's kindness does not shock me. How mindblowing and humbling to face God and recieve Christ's propitiatory death. It makes me weep to think of my distain for his glory. And to weep with joy that Jesus death takes God's wrath from me, and grants me his righteousness.

Bookshopping

Paul, who I spent some time with today in Guildford studying Galatians, muses this evening about Christian Bookshops. What future for the Christian Bookshop? What place discernment in stocking the shelves? Where do you get your good books?

Two sins

Songs for Christian Hedonists: Two Sins, by Sam Chaplin

Two sins have we committed,
Two sins that we cannot deny,
We've turned from you, the fount of living water
And have tried to drink from cisterns cracked and dry
What fools we are, how blind we are!
Have mercy Lord, mercy on us. Forgive us Lord and help us see.
Change our hearts that we might live
For you O Lord, for you, O Lord, always
Two sins have we committed,
Two sins are plain before your eyes
We've walked away from the truth that brings us freedom
And have settled for those sweet enslaving lies

Two sins have we committed,
Two sins at which you stand appalled/
We'veturned from you, our glorious Creator
And have worshipped things that are no gods at all.

© Sam Chaplin, 1999.
Jeremiah 2v12-13, Romans 1.
Recorded on Sam Chaplin: You're My Every Breath, 2001

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Stupid Me

Somehow, when I sin my first instinct seems to be to realise how stupid I am. How ignorant of God's glory. So stupid to go elsewhere for satisfaction.

The greater tragedy is that my sin makes a mockery of God's glory. My pride is concerned that I have been a twit. Against God I sin. My heart ought to be more concerned for what I've done to God's reputation. O, how I scorn the one who came and died to give me himself.

All Sufficient Grace

Fallen again, forgot the truth.
Thought I knew better than you.
Closed my eyes, and turned away,
Made a twit out of myself.

Listened to me, and walked away.
Made a mockery of my king.
I've no defence, without excuse.
Fell for my stupid lies again.

Can grace extend, to cover me?
Mercy for this foolish wretch.
I run to you, the perfect one.
By your death gave me yourself.

Been so blind, been so lost,
Yet you found me and now I see.
Been so wrong, been so proud,
Humbled to meet life's true delight.

Let the world see, you rescued me.
In you I stand unashamed.
No greater joy, than knowing you.
To share eternal life in God.

My only hope, is your grace.
All sufficient for my soul.
My only plea, is Jesus Christ.
Who reigns supreme forevermore.

© Dave Bish, 2005

Monday, June 13, 2005

London, England




Spent today in London with Rich. Walking along the Grand Union Canal into central London wrestling with what it means to live by the Spirit. What does it mean to be people of grace not legalists. Enjoying the sunshine. Enjoying good friendship.

How to make good news bad...

The good news about Jesus isn't perverted by talking about God's anger at human sin. That is essential and undeniable. But it is perverted by turning grace into legalism. When we start imposing rules on people we do deny the gospel. As Paul writes in Galatians to add rules is to say that Christ died for nothing. And that is what I call losing the message of Jesus.



Dominic Smart writes excellently on this in Legalism & its antidotes over at beginningwithmoses.org. Dominic is pastor of Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen and author of Grace, Faith & Glory

Sinners in the hands of an angry God?

Christian Counter Culture has sadly just published an extract from Steve Chalke's The Lost Message of Jesus (more like "losing the message of Jesus"). Chalke again quotes from Jonathan Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:
"The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten I thousand times more abominable in his eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else that you did not go to hell the last night; that you suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell."
A sermon which also contains this great appeal for repentance and encounter with the Saving God...
"And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God"
Whether Chalke likes it or not the Bible issues both appeal and warning. Chalke's starting point seems to be that since judgement is unpopular we best avoid it. But he fails to see why it is unpopular.

People hate talk of judgement like criminals hate the law of the land. Judgement-talk rams up against human sinful pride with a verdict of guilty. Only the humble can embrace talk of God's just judgement. Knowing the depth of sin but also the breadth of God's mercy to which we fly. Sin is no social condition it is offence against the Creator God. Its serious.

Edwards knew much of scriptures warnings and talk of hell. But he knew also of heaven's mercies and joys. And you can't have talk of one without talk of the other when in the company of sinners.
"God hath had it on his heart to show to angels and men, both how excellent his love is, and also how terrible his wrath is"

Chalke asks:
"Why does the Church believe that it is preaching "good news", while the public invariably thinks its message is "bad news"?"
The answer is that as a community of redeemed sinners the church encounters the gospel as good news. It is good news because the death of Jesus offers escape from judgement and entry into the riches of heaven. Jesus gives himself to those who will recieve him.

But for those who are still perishing the gospel is bad news. The same message that speaks life to one, speaks death to another. The cross speaks great offense to proud hearts. The cross says game over to those who will not humble themselves. Christ is offered to the repentant - the greatest of treasures. Those who decline the offer remain guilty and facing judgement. The appeal is turn from sin to Christ, your situation is more perilous that you realise, the prize is greater than you can imagine. You are more sinful than you know, and God's grace and love to you is more than you can comprehend.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Athlete: Discipline & Integrity


"An athlete is not crowned unless
he competes according to the rules"

2 Timothy 2v4, ESV
Paul writes to Timothy to instruct him about his discipleship and the kind of people he should entrust the gospel to, future leaders of the Ephesian church. He must look for people who will be faithful, able to teach others faithfully. Paul sets out the image of a soldier, an athlete and a farmer: of suffering, of discipline & integrity, and of patience.

1. The Image - an athlete
The image is simple. Athletes who don't play by the rules don't get the prize. History is littered with fallen heroes. Ben Johnson. Dwayne Chambers. Mark Lewis-Francis. Rio Ferdinand? The simple truth is that sport rests upon fair play. It requires competitors to play by the rules. And Paul says - so too for the trustworthy disciple of Christ.

But what does it mean to have discipline and integrity as a Christian? Is integrity about being whiter than white? Does it mean being perfect? When Paul wrote earlier of there to be "not even a hint" (Ephesians 5v3, NIV) of sexual sin or covetousness in the Ephesian church what did he mean?

2. What he can't mean - no sin.
The Bible makes it clear that there are no sinless Christians. Sin is everything that is opposed to God. Christians sin. Part of becoming a Christian is recognising that you are a sinner. Remaining a Christian does not mean you're now sinless. Christians who claim to be sinless are liars (1 John 1v8). And Paul says elesewhere (Galatians 2v17), that the presence of sin doesn't mean that Christ endorses sin. Sin is quite simply a reality in the life of Christians. That comes as an assurance not to encourage it. Habitual and tolerated sin is out of place (1 John 3v4).

3. The rules that are sin - legalism.
Our instinct in trying to avoid sin is to ask for rules. We seem to instinctively ask: how far is too far? What can I get away with? What are the restrictions? What are the rules? Such questions are sin-centred. They look to sin and say I will overcome. They place confidence in me to beat my sin. And in the long-term they lead to guilt, failure and legalism. Ultimately, they declare the Cross of Christ to be meaningless. Such an approach is sin. The legalist must only draw attention himself. The legalist's only hope is his knowledge, his performance and boasts.

4. The rules of grace - walking by the Spirit
If not rules then what will discipline look like in the disciple's life? It must surely look like God-centred living. It must be living by the Spirit. Living by grace. Such an approach focusses upon God more than on sin. It says - I will not look for lines that I can't cross. I will only look for my Saviour.

5. Spirit-led Integrity - the sweeter songs.
Life by the Spirit knows that sin happens. As the sinful nature battles against the Holy Spirit within us then sometimes we lose to sin (Galatians 5v17). All too often sadly. Spirit-led integrity will be honest about the presence of sin in life. It will weep over sin.

Such a life delights in grace. It will delight in the sufficiency of God's grace that has perfected already forever the believer. It knows nothing better than to be reminded again and again of the glory of Christ. It knows nothing greater than the transformation of the Spirit that comes by adoring the Saviour in the Word (2 Corinthians 3v18). The Spirit-led disciple knows that the best way to avoid sin is to "fight fire with fire". To fill life, heart and mind with the glory of God, the gospel of Christ. To let heavens songs resound and drown out sin's appeal. The true disciple knows that you beat the taste for McDonalds by eating the finest food, not by eating just a few fries.

Spirit-led integrity need not cover up sin. It need not be ashamed to confess sin. It need not be ashamed to admit to getting things wrong. It will not revel in sin, but will be readily confronted in it. It will long for the correction and rebuke of the Word of God. It will be obsessed with the cross of Christ, boasting in it alone. And it longs for the fruit of the Spirit to grow. Such a life points soley to the work of Christ as its only hope.

Discipline & Integrity
True discipline and integrity comes not from human effort but from Jesus' achievement. True discipline and integrity point to Jesus not to man. True discipline and integrity is not sinless, it is Saviour-exalting!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Approved Workers

Just home from this week's Relay conference. This was the third and final Relay conference of 2004/5. We gathered at Quinta, Shropshire for five days to reflect on the year - about 65 graduates on our discipleship training programme plus the dozen or so staff.



The key theme of Relay as a year is the sufficiency of God's grace, in life and ministry. Living by faith in the Sovereign Lord, trusting in him to provide in all situations.

Each Relay gave a 3 minute presentation reflecting on what God has done in their lives this year. Let praise resound to God for his glorious grace. This year's Relay have suffered beyond your imagination, through illness, tragedies, opposition and more. Suffering that it seems hard to believe a group of people in their early 20's could have been through. But, in God's grace, this is what they committed to do 10 months ago. To suffer like soldiers for the gospel. To run by the grace of God. To labour for the harvest. They have suffering but have also been strengthened by the grace of God in the gospel.

We also worked through 2 Timothy, led by Relay Co-ordinator Andy Shudall.
We saw the precious treasure of the gospel. Something to be guarded, but also our guardian.
We saw the need to live and work out of God's approval of us in the gospel. Not seeking approval from man or God. Rather, patiently teaching of God's grace, entrusting it to reliable workers who can teach others.
We saw the need to stand firm in the truth of the gospel. Knowing that opposition to that gospel comes from within the church, and from without. From within from those who seek to hear only what their itching ears desire instead of gospel truth. From without from persecution )(note: and Paul writes from death-row).
Finally we saw the need to proclaim the gospel - the promise of life in Jesus. And to do so in the company of trustworthy workers.
God's word never ceases to amazed, challenge, confront, corrent and exhort. Once again reminded that grace is what starts me out with Christ, and what I live by. That the gospel is the reason. The reason I live, the reason I decide anything. The gospel is the core of my marriage and my ministry. The gospel declares without doubt that I am a wretched evil sinner. So, only let Christ be praised for his glorious gospel of grace!

Steve

Reflecting my year supervising Steve on Relay. I think I'm starting to comprehend Paul's works in 1 Thessalonians 2v20 when he calls them in his joy and crown. His delight on God's presence....

Over the past 10 months I've seen Steve transformed from an arrogant legalist of a Christian, into someone living in the freedom that only God's grace can provide. For his first seven years as a Christian Steve had been trying to get God's approval by the way that he lived his Christian life - saved by grace but living by works. This year, as he testified on Wednesday, that has changed.

This is a transformation that I cannot claim credit for. A tranformation rooted in the Word of God, the word of the gospel powerfully working in his life. The word that has been taught to him, and through which God has granted him repentance. He is an approved worker, walking by the Spirit, living in God's grace. He is someone I'm delighted to have been able to entrust the gospel to this year.

Steve and his fellow Relay, don't need to seek my or even God's approval. By way of the gospel of grace, they already have God's approval.


PS: Thanks to Fellowship Group 10: Andy, Anne, Rosemary, Eleanor, Ian and Adam for buying me a kite as a thank you gift. The pleasure has been mine to travel with you this year, to walk alongside you as your group leader. Keep running the race in God's grace.

The Purpose Driven Life

I read The Purpose Driven Life in 2004. I have to say I agree with Phil Johnson's Marginal Observations about PDL®

Monday, June 06, 2005

Looking for a Loophole?



At last week's Reading Christian Union meeting the question of "Can you lose your salvation?" was raised. We were studying Hebrews 10.

What can we say about such questions? My feeling is that the question comes either out of doubt - in which case assurance is sought (and can be found). Or the question rises out of the same mentality that asks "How far can I go?" with regard to holiness. In the second case the question is seeking a loophole. How unfaithful to Jesus can I deliberately be... and get away with it?

Our speaker Andrew Waugh helpfully said that if there is a line it is the kind of thing you have to go and look hard to find. You don't stumble over it accidentally. The antidote would seem to be: look to Jesus.

When my attention is on Christ I have no desire or need to be asking about whether I could lose him. I see only him. Likewise when it comes to holiness. If Christ fills my vision then why should I be seeking to get away with sin. Sin has no appeal compared to Christ.

Michael Spencer said recently over several posts that we may need less of much of our theological questions, and more of Jesus.

More of Jesus in all our theology would simplify many of our questions. More of Jesus will show us how empty our sought after loopholes are. More of Jesus in all our theology would add life. More Jesus in our theology ensures worshipful application.

Rob Wilkerson talks about Gospelisation of our approach to the Bible. Always turning to Jesus. Let everything point to Jesus. Where else could we want to set our gaze?

Make Heresy History?



Midge Ure was interviewed on Radio Five Live this morning about the Live8 concert. In a slip of the tongue he said that their cause was "Make Government History". Got me thinking about things I've love to see irradicated.

Meanwhile in recent days I've had several of my students come and talk to me about concerns in their churches. Things they are being taught that don't seem to match up with scripture. On the one hand I'm concerned - the church ought to seek to be true. On the other I'm not surprised. The church has always been riddled with error.

I'm not so much talking about slip of the tongue error. Error that counts is the stuff that distorts the good news of Jesus. Every Bible teacher is fallible so there must be generosity and teachability. And indeed when error is identified, in word or deed the Christian goals is always restoration. We seek to be set back on the truth, to stop the drift.

Truth always exists alongside error. Little teaching is merely stating truth. Much is also concerned with the prosecution of error. When you learn to stop at a red light you're also learning not to go at a red light. When our sinful hearts hear truth they will often long for error. Truth fights sin. Error tolerates and permits it.

Jesus talks about his kingdom (Matthew 13v24-30), saying that weeds would grow up among the good crops. And at the right time, his return, they can be separated. Til then we live in a mixed bag. It has always been this way. A good quantity of the New Testament exists to refute error. Or at least to state truth because error has arisen.

The same errors afflict the church generation after generation. A few years ago I stood on the streets of Reading talking with Mormons. Painfully aware that I was confronting "Colossian-Heretics". People whose false teaching should have been refuted when it first appeared. Joseph Smith' visions should have be subjected to scriptural testing and would then have been found wanting.

It would be easy for us to become heresy hunters. And that surely is not the intent of God's word. Instead we ought to be truth seekers. People who are keen always to have Jesus look good, in accordance with his revealed written word. When our hearts and minds are full of truth then errors will be exposed as the cheap immitations they are.

The same errors keep coming back. Almost always errors that offer radical breakthroughs against sin, greater experiences of truth or greater insights. All things we would long to have. All things we will one day have. Some errors are obvious. Many, the great many, are dressed up in evangelical clothing. On the surface they look like, smell like and even seem to taste like truth. But they are a shell with a hollow interior. They have no real power.

We must test ourselves and others. We must hold each other accountable to the truth. With the help of the Holy Spirit we must keep reminding ourselves of the good news of Jesus. As a preacher I am glad to speak into a congregation that will test my words. There are few greater pleasures in preaching than a "Berean" audience who will test everything they hear against scripture - looking for truth to believe about Jesus.

We must heed David Gibson's warning against assuming the gospel. We must become explicit evangelicals. Always coming back to the good news of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Longing to see Jesus. Longing to be transformed by the Spirit.
"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." Colossians 2v6-7, ESV

There is nothing new to find, but only more depth and more height to explore within Christ. There is nothing better than to remain faithful. And what is the result? Abounding thankfulness!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Wedding of Paul & Christina Spencer



On Saturday we were been in Bath at Paul Spencers wedding. Legendary. Great to see Ruth, Tim, James & Sally & baby Abi, Damo & Pet. Also managed to drop in to "Bar Chocolat" with Matt Dorey, catch Oli Griffiths on the phone and see Neil Pidduck at The Boston Tea Party. Great day.

(Photo: Minipics - My wife Em (that'll teach her to pull faces at the camera!), Neil Pidduck, Ruth Densham and James, Sally & baby Abi Taylor). Centre - Paul & Christina, of course)

Are you blind to the evidence?

The jury in the Michael Jackson trial holds his life in their hands. Evidence must decide his future. Matthew Syed writes in the times that religion is "never esullied by anything as sordid as evidence". Is it true? Is it just nice-but-dim to be a Christian? Is it intellectual suicide? And is it also moral suicide? Why should you believe that Jesus is the Christ? What alternatives are there?

Consider the question: Are you blind to the evidence? (PDF)

Talk script from Arborfield Church, Sunday June 5th.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Thanks to Rob

Rob Wilkerson says...

I have recently explored the world of Dave Bish's blog The Blue Fish. Dave is a fellow blogger with me, Paul Schafer and a couple of others at The Glorious Gospel of Christ. Get introduced to Dave on his blog, and then peruse his search engine for items that interest you. Dave is Christ-centered, gospel-focused, and Bible-saturated. Dave is also an editor/contributor for the Biblical Theological Briefings, a website that has occupied hours of my time as I seek to continue my lifelong pursuit of biblical theology.

We say thanks Rob!

Sex and the Supremacy of Christ: Conference Videos

Sex & the Supremacy of Christ: the website for the book - with videos of the talks from the conference... now available.

Joshua Harris says:
“Another Christian book on sex? This is so much more. . . . We don’t need another book on sex that’s all about us. We need to have our gaze lifted. We need to consider the God who made us sexual creatures for his glory. This book will help you form a Christ-centered, Bible-shaped understanding of sex. This is something we all need.”

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Words We Sing Do Matter!

When Christians gather to worship God do the words matter?
(or is it all about the music? should we raise the poetic bar? does our music express the words we're singing?)

I. The Theololgy of our Songs
Matt Redman says
"I'd never write a song just to teach something, but I am waware when writing a song that it could end up teaching somebody" (p57, Ian Stackhouse, The Gospel Driven Church)

And yet, Colossians 3v16 says...
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (ESV).

Which would seem to suggest that our singing has a key part to play in teaching each other the truth. And this would seem to make sense. Graham Kendrick once quipped:
"Show me your songs, I'll show you your theology"
And, that what we've sung is often better remembered than what is preached, sadly.

The sad truth is that some of our songs, even some of our favourites, are plain bad and wrong theology. I've long had a bug-bear about "Lord, let your glory fall". I was encouraged to see Ian Stackhouse agree with me that this song demonstrates a "peculiarly pre-Christian hermenutic" (if you know what that means!). Likewise, we don't need another pentecost (though I agree with the sentiment). And I honestly don't think its particularly helpful to view the cross as the place where Christ "...took the fall, and thought of me, above all." Actually, I think Christ's chief concern was the glory of God (though the cross does concern us too).

Implications?
1. Songwriters ought to write lyrics before music. And those lyrics ought to express Biblical truth, whether the song is subjective or objective in focus.
2. Worship-leaders ought to check the theology of their song choices. Would we happily preach what we sing? If not then perhaps we ought not to sing that song. Worship leaders would also benefit from looking at which person the song is written in... is the song addressed to God or each other... And how does that affect how we sing it.
3. Sometimes at least (when the song is addressed to each other... hint: "He is..." is a good indication), we ought to sing with our eyes open and try to make eye contact with people in church. Let us sing to each other!

II. The Language of our Songs
Nick Page has written brilliantly about the art of songwriting in his book "And now for a time of Nonsense". His basic point being that much of what Christians sing is thoroughly imcomprehensible.

Sometimes our songs are incomprensible in the jargon we use. How many of our songs use images that we do not understand that fail to illustrate doctrines we don't understand. (Agricultural images abound in suburban churches).

Sometimes incomprehensible in the bad and trite poetry we use. Images that conflict and contradict... do rivers flow over seas? Does the Bible portray Jesus as a "rose trampled under foot"?

Implications?
1. Let us think about the words we use. Let them express the gravity and glory of the subject they speak of.
2. Let us write good poetry (and as a songwriter, I must remember this too)
3. Let us use images that actually help us to understand the doctrines we're singing about. Page comments on the simple success of Amazing Grace in doing this, which stands behind its longevity.

Here's some I can actually imagine of elevation & excavation...
"A star, Lit up like a cigar, Strung out like a guitar...
A mole, Digging in a hole, Digging up my soul now"
(U2, Elevation)

Or these, on doing things properly...
"If you're gonna jump, then jump far, fly like a sky diver
If you're gonna be a singer, then u better be a rockstar
If you're gonna be a driver, then u better drive a race car"
(Natasha Bedingfield, If you're gonna)

Conclusion
The Word we Sing do matter. They matter because they should express a thankful heart. And we need good words to do that. Words that are true. Words we understand. Words that we can sing with joy and thankfulness. Words that will build up the church. Words that will tell of Jesus.

Songs that show that Jesus is worth more than all the money in the world.
That Jesus' love lasts longer than all the possessions I own.
That Jesus justice is in stark contrast to the injustices of this world.

Diet of Bookworms

Tim Challies presents this really good book review site Diet of Bookworms

One of particular help at first visit were these reviews of Wild at Heart which became a favourite among many of my male students in recent years. Unfortunately it only confirms my fears. As well as some good honest critiques the site also recommends many good books.

I have a whole load of stuff on my shelves, some good, some not so good. I'm quite happy to read stuff that is wrong and unbiblical (though increasingly less keen to buy such stuff), but it can only be done with a Berean attitude:
"Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed", Acts 17v11-12a, ESV
Testing books will find some to be wanting, and others to be of great encouragement. Let everything be tested. And let us hold to what is good.

The Words We Sing

When I was a student I was a "worship leader" in our Christian Union. That was my doorway into thinking theologically. I started to wonder what it was that I was doing. My keyboard synthy sounds seemed to transfom people in front of me but was that good? What was really going on? What was I supposed to be doing?

I have found some answers and hopefully I can share some of them over the coming weeks. For now, this morning, I have questions.

When Christians gather to worship God do the words matter?
(or is it all about the music? should we raise the poetic bar? does our music express the words we're singing?)

How many of our song words would we happily use as our doctrinal statement?
(where do we find the words in the Bible? are they actually true? are our songs even coherent? and what do words like hosanna, magnify, glorify etc actually mean?)

How can our worship be used to teach each other about Christ?
(doesn't the Bible tell us to sing to each other as well as to God... how do i sing to my neighbour with my eyes shut... and who is each song even addressed to?)

How can we ensure the focus is God not us?
(so many songs are all about me aren't they...i,i,i...? if God doesn't need our praise then what is going on when we worship? how can we ensure that God looks as big as he is?)

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The World We All Want

Just got my copy of The World We All Want by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester. I first saw this course as a rough Word document a few years back, still sitting on my computer somewhere. This is the polished tried and tested version, published by Authentic.

Its a great seven part introduction to Christianity that walks us through the Bible story and invites us into God's community. I think thats the big distinctive - community. Becoming a Christian is viewed not merely individualistically but as becoming part of the people of God. I need to work through the course again but from this mornings brief scan through this is excellent.

More info from The Crowded House, Sheffield. Loads of other good resources on their website too.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Phil Johnson arrives!

The much anticipated arrival of Phil Johnson in the blogosphere has come. And what an entrance: Quick & Dirty Calvinism

The Purpose-Driven God?

Many of us are familar with Rick Warren's excellent books The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church.... but what about God - what are his chief purposes? Once we have considered God then perhaps we consider ourselves and the church.

I did a study on "Divine Sovereignty" last year that centred upon Romans 9. As I worked through the passage my attention was drawn to not so much to the question of "to what extent is God sovereign?", but more "how is God sovereign?", what is it that governs his sovereign behaviour....

I was intrigued by Romans 9v14. The scene is set. Following Paul's great expositions of Justifcation by Faith and reigning in Life Paul tackles the question of unsaved Jews. Paul talks about God's grace being shown to people and then the objection rises - "Isn't God unjust?". Why? Isn't it unfair for God to save unconditionally?

He answers with quotes from Exodus 9 and Exodus 33. To add further clarity led me add Exodus 32 into the mix.

Firstly in defence of God's righteousness in saving Paul turns us to Exodus 32-33. This is the aftermath of Israel's idolatry with the golden calf. We find Moses appealing to God, in ch32 to save Israel, and ch33 to be with them. Moses logic is the same both times.
32v12 - why should the Egyptians mock God for saving and then killing his people
32v13 - remember your promise to Abraham
33v15a - how will the nations know you favour us
33v15b - how will we know you favour us
Moses first argument concerns God's repution with the nations. And his second his reputation with his people. The basic point is - God save your people for the sake of your reputation. That is, your glory. Thus we see that when God saves he does so for his own glory. Is that unrighteous? No, because the definition of righteousness is to glorify God.

Likewise when God doesn't save. Paul illustrates with the hardening of Pharoah's heart.
9v13 - let my people go to worship me
9v15 - Pharoah hardened to show God's power to the nations
Here again, God acts for the sake of his glory among his people and among the nations. The same purpose. And thus God is righteous.

My instinct is that we find it easier to swallow God saving for his glory. And indeed the focus of this age is surely to make that salvation known. And surely this must compel us to preach the gospel - longing for God to be glorified by sinners repenting (and that makes God very happy - Luke 15 - so too let us rejoice!). When people are saved by God they become worshippers. Let God be praised for working salvation in sinners like me! Makes me want to turn to God and lift up the cup of salvation and ask for "more" and "more" of him! How wonderful his ways!

Its harder for us to deal with God also not saving for his glory. At the end of time that will become clearer to us - as those we long to see saved face the judgement they deserve for a lifetime of mocking the glory of God. I do find that hard to stomach and get my head around... but I think thats what the Bible is saying.

Packer says that the answer to every "Why does God...?" type of question, is for his glory. And it is. When God saves. When God does not save. Always he acts righteously. Always he acts to make God look big. It is his chief end. Let God be praised!


Further Reading
Roger Forster & Paul Marsden - God's Strategy in Human History (for an alternate interpretation of the texts above)
John Piper - The Justification of God (much in line with my observations here)
J.I. Packer - Knowing God
John Stott - The Message of Romans (Bible Speaks Today)