Friday, July 29, 2005

More from Bulgaria

Today, here online again. Yesterday we had a bit of a rest exploring nearby Veliko Tornovo and Arbanassi. Beautiful places. Photos to follow when I get back! Great to relax with the team and the Bulgarians.

We've continued to teach English (using Mark's gospel and The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe - today Aslan died). Its great to show people Jesus and explain about his grace. Our discussion groups have continued well. Today I spoke on how can we believe, and about the Holy Spirit. Final sessions tomorrow morning on the Crucifixion and also Having a Personal Relationship with God.

Pray that God would open eyes, using weak people like us to display his power, grace and justice. Much encouraged from reading the Psalms and Romans in recent days. Also being helped by John Owen to see The Glory of Christ! Our Mediator! Our Treasure!

This is probably my last post from Bulgaria. We leave camp on Monday and begin our journey home. See you all soon.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Lyaskovets, Bulgaria

Unexpectedly got to an Internet Cafe here in Lyaskovets co-leading our UCCF Summer Team. This is why I went offline for a while... still since I'm able to get online for a few minutes you may as well know how things are! I don't expect to make any further posts for a while though!

Our journey was fine and we arrived safely last Thursday evening. Its very hot here. The camp is going well so far. We've taught two days of English. Our advanced English lessons seem to be going well - doing manuscript study from Mark's gospel and also acting out The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. After that has been the Visa course. I spoke this morning on Sin and we had a good discussion in our group after that. Its great to see people grappling with the truth of the gospel, for the first time. We have around 20 students here, some of which are not believers. Tom Riches and I are leading one of the discussion groups - it was good to see him leading the discussion today for the first time. Do pray for us as we continue with our group over the final four sessions.

Last night the Bulgarians did us a language lesson - very helpful. The Cyrillic alphabet is a little less incomprehensible now. A little! Tomorrow we have a day trip around the surrounding area before the normal pattern resumes. We have another trip later in the week. Then the camp will end on Sunday night. We'll travel to Sofia on next Monday and fly back early next Wednesday.

I'm missing home but also rejoicing to see God at work here in a very different environment. I feel torn between joy at being involved in the camp and a longing to be back in the UK as soon as possible.

Praise God for his great grace and his work to bring to belief those from all nations. The Bulgarian Christians are a real encouragement - they have a strong belief in God's sovereignty. Please keep us in your prayers.

We shared out outward flight with the England Women's Basketball team Ooo. Minor celebrity, they had no idea they were sharing a flight with us!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Offline til August 22nd.

Everything is still here but I'm taking a five week break from blogging. I moved to Blogger on August 18th 2004 and 252 posts later its time for a short break! There's plenty to read in the archives. I do intend to resume blogging on August 22nd so do return then. Thanks for visiting.

The Wedding of Dave & Ros Cox



Another student wedding! This time Ros Ottley from Reading. Lots of students there and surprisingly a former colleague. So we have, Ed Goode, Ben Prior, Sharon & Ian Coates, Helen Greaves, Adam Davies, Simon Fern, Ceryn Oakes and Chris Foster. I did get a few others but I ran out of montage space.

Also recieved my copy of The Brooms of Destruction: The Dave Bish Project. I am somewhat flattered by an album named after me, and greatly amused by the parody "Staffworker" song that appears on the album. Songs by a variety of talented Reading University Christian Union musicians.

Where are you Luther?

Phil Johnson The Worst of Times in Evangelicalism echoes the thoughts of David Gibson's Assumed Evangelicalism. How do we get out of this mess? Break away from being "Fad-Driven® Churches" and become those "where Christ is honored and His Word obeyed". Ian Stackhouse's The Gospel Driven Church made a similar call, to charismatics, to abandon faddism and get back to preaching the gospel. Is anyone listening?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Cracked Eikons

Interesting thoughts from Scot McKnight:
...for us to believe that Jesus dies "for our sins" we have to be committed in faith to the "story of the Bible" -- that the Creator God make us to be Eikons, that we are cracked Eikons, that God in his embracing grace gathers up the pieces of our lives and glues them together, in the context of a community, through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is our "story" or our "metanarrative," and for Jesus' death to be seen as "for our sins" we will have to embrace that story as our story. This means also that the "story of the Bible" is a Spirit-inspired work of God through the community of faith. (I admit, this is a lot all tangled together.)

Which means, and this I believe with all my heart, faith that Jesus died "for our sins" is the result of God's grace. (I just hope this doesn't make me a Calvinist!) ...

Nothing wrong with being a Calvinist... though it depends what you mean by that - its all about God's grace. I've just been asked to speek in September on Romans 1v1-6... introducing The Gospel of God. All about Him! As CJ reminded me last week, there is divine order... God first, then me. Above all it was for Him! Above all it concerns Him! Above all it is about His grace.

Once a Relay, now a blogger??



It used to be said that when a Relay worker finished the Relay programme, they kept on being a Relay... since the comission to Relay is not to skills or projects or programmes but to ongoing vibrant grace-filled discipleship, passing on the gospel in the style of 2 Timothy 2v2. Remembering to Encourage the good where-ever you find it.

Hopefully that still happens... But in their legions the Relay of 2004/5 are becoming bloggers... To be fair this is only 6 of 68 so there are plenty not doing it... but here's to a growing minority! Time will tell if they become essential reading... lets hope so.

Rachel
Steve LW
Charlie
Gareth L
Rosemary
Gareth B

Steve's elective studies on Christian Hedonism are now online...
Mission
Maturity
Mission

Earl Devine 1910-2005



Earl was my great-uncle. I only met him once, when he was in the UK about 15 years ago.
Earl Devine
Peacefully, following a brief illness, at Pontiac Community Hospital, on Saturday, July 9th, 2005 in his 95th year. Beloved husband of Daisy Devine.Loving father to Andrew (Claire), Linden (Darlene), Shirley (Richard Roy) and Earleen (Jim Stark). Fondly remembered by grandchildren Tamara and Chad Devine, Erin and Megan Roy, Thea and Martin Gregory and Anne Stevens and Sylvie Moore. Proud great-grandfather of eight. Also survived by brother Lee Devine of Florida. Friends may call at the W.J. Hayes & Sons Funeral Home, 134 Centre Street, Shawville, Quebec on Monday, July 11th, 2005 from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Funeral service in the Chapel on Tuesday, July 12th, 2005 at 3 p.m. Interment Maple Grove Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Terry Fox Fund or the Palliative Care Unit at the Pontiac Community Hospital.
Published in the Ottawa Citizen from 7/10/2005 - 7/11/2005.

Last Christmas I was reading Earl's biography. Now after 95 years his life is over. Sounds like a long innings. But this life remains fleeting. It cannot be held onto forever.
"For,
"All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord stands forever." And this is the word that was preached to you."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Painful Beauty



We have a UCCF Summer Team out in New Zealand at the moment. Gareth Batten tells the story. He's been on Relay this year, along with a few others in the above picture. I had the priviledge of sleeping on Gareth's floor as a CU guest in his first year at Bath. The team will soon descend on Massey, where Scott Mackay is a student. Andy Shudall is also in New Zealand blogging.

As Andy reflects:
"It is great to have time to stop and think - and to think of the painful beauty that makes up New Zealand and the challenges that lie here: beauty because of what God is doing and pain because the hard work of the gospel is never easily accomplished or completed."


And then I discovered... Mo, Andy's replacement as Relay Coordinator... also now blogging.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Grace gives permission

Chatting with a Reading graduate I'm reminded of the beauty of God's grace. I remember talking with her years ago, trying to get my head round how even faith is a gift from God. It does not depend upon me!

Since I started out as a CU Staff Worker I've tried to keep in view a permission to fail. Its surely foundational to all Christian ministry. Grace means I can put my foot in it. Grace means I can get stuff wrong. Grace means I can fall flat on my face and be picked up again, and again.

That actually literally happened about 7.5 years ago in my first steps into ministry. I was running to collect some flyers for an event to deliver to the end of a evangelistic course meeting, back in December 1997. It was dark and I was focussed more on my destination than where I was. Next thing I knew I've had an intimate connection with a concrete bollard and I'm flying flat out on the ground in the rain. The grace of God picks us up again, and again, and again.

Meanwhile I feel obliged to note that Ed and Kath are now blogging. Will the expansion of the blogsophere ever end.... still these two are dear friends so its great that you get to share something of them too!

Listening to: Arriving by Chris Tomlin. How great is our God! Indescribible! Full of grace that permits my failure... grace that covers my sin... grace that brings me to my knees in thankfulness. Even repentance, a gift undeserved. Even faith a gift to a sinner like me.

Don't miss: Mike Bullmore - The Functional Centrality of the Gospel in the Life of Local Church

A Generous Reward

Matthew 19v16-20v16. A generous reward is offered to all humanity. Not for the solving of a crime. Not a prize for the greatest competitor. A reward that is freely available to anyone who would come and receive it. But on the path to this reward is an obstacle. That obstacle needs to be overcome. Then, the reward can be received....

A Great Obstacle
A man comes to Jesus, asks a question and goes away sad. He asks – how do I get eternal life? What must I do? He asks Jesus because he considers him to be a good teacher. Jesus enquires of him – why call him good? Only One is good – God.

Does he ask of God? Perhaps better than the man knows, he is asking of God. Jesus puts obedience before him. The man claims to have achieved such obedience. Yet that is not enough. Jesus lays down a final mark – sell your possessions and give them to the poor, then you'll have treasure in heaven. Treasure in heaven meaning eternal life. And the man goes away sad. Jesus responds – how hard it is for the rich to enter heaven! How great an obstacle I am to the very thing I ought most to desire. I stand in my own way to knowing God. I cannot reach.

In fact, camels pass through the eyes of needles more easily. Jesus is not saying that you can gain eternal life by selling riches. Rather, he says – you, man, are not good. You think you can be righteous and good but when the bar is raised you're not. And Jesus finds the one thing that exposes the man's lack of goodness. He will not surrender his possessions. Pride and self-sufficiency stands as an obstacle to great to overcome. We cannot win God over or purchase the reward on offer. The price is too high.

A God of Impossible Things
Jesus' disciples respond – who then can be saved? A question of desperate surrender! And Jesus makes it clear – With God this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Attaining eternal life for yourself is a great obstacle that no man can overcome. It is impossible, not only for the rich but the poor also. The price is too high for any man to pay. And that is precisely the point.

There is no way man can save himself. The problem is with us ourselves. Our inherent pride and self-promotion. But God can save men. The obstacle between us and the reward is one we cannot overcome. The rich man should have appealed for mercy... yet he went away sad. He kept his earthly treasure but lacked heavenly treasure. Getting eternal life is a gift from God. Rather than asking what must I do to get eternal life, we ought just ask for life from the good teacher – from God himself.

A Generous Reward
Jesus' disciples note that they have followed and Jesus assures them of their reward. At the renewal of all things they will gain more than they've lost. 19V30 and 20v16 repeat that the first are to be last, the last to be first. This inclusio contains a parable. It's point is relatively simple.

A reward awaits at the end of the day. But that reward isn't conditioned by hours worked or labour done. In fact the parable shows people coming into a vineyard to work at the end of a day getting the same work for an hours work as those who laboured all day. Why? Because the reward is based upon the Master's generosity not the workers efforts. And so God will exalt the last to a higher place. Reward awaits God's people because of God's generosity. We ought not be envious of God's generosity but to rejoice in our benefit from it. Earthly standing is by the by. God is generous.

We cannot save ourselves – we cannot attain eternal reward. But God generously gives reward those any who will come and receive it. God will overcome the obstacle between us and the reward he offers. Then, when all things are renewed we will enjoy eternity with God.

Harry Potter and Magic-of-Hype



Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince gets released later this week. It's already the number one seller at Amazon. And it's not even available. They report it has 672 pages. I would imagine JK Rowling would be within her rights to release a book with 672 blank pages, or just a short story with 100pages. And maybe if she did that we might learn to be a bit more critical and discerning rather than throwing money at a book which could be total drivel...

Religious Hatred Bill?

Read the Bill at Parliament.uk
BBC News - new effort to band religious hate

This legislation is potentially concerning. The government is keen to implement it. Is it going to become illegal for me to preach the Christian gospel? Will my job land me in prison? What does religious hatred mean? Could people really interpret the preaching of the good news of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as inciting hatred?
In this Part “religious hatred” means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief"
Not sure I quite get what this means.
"having regard to all the circumstances the performance is likely to be attended by any person in whom the performance (taken as a whole) is likely to stir up racial or religious hatred.”
Theoretically this will protect my freedom to preach the Christian gospel. No preaching of the gospel is designed to produce hatred for another faith or person as a response. Christians are to love those of other/no religions. And that love has integral to it the preaching of the gospel to them, appealing to them to believe. As John Piper said after 9/11 Christians are to lay down their lives in love for muslims, not to kill them.

That said... what if my preaching makes people not like Christianity... would that be inciting hatred? And more so - the Bible forces me to say that God hates us in our sin... will that be permissible? However, taken as a whole any proclamation of God's wrath is countered by his loving appeal to us on the basis of The Cross. Repentance and subsequent encounter with the loving God is always the objective. Never am I seeking to incite anyone towards a hatred for other religions... any proclamation of Islam as wrong (and Jesus says as much), is never for the purpose of stirring hatred - but the kind of love that calls them to come and know Jesus. Something they have the responsible freedom to reject.

However in a world that is spiritually blind to the beauty of the good news about Jesus this could all be easily misunderstood. Our tolerant society pours scorn on my claims to believe something absolute... A few hundred years ago, even in this country, John Bunyan spent over a decade in prison for refusing to stop preaching the gospel. For 2000 years around the world the message of Jesus has been made illegal... when that happens we keep preaching. But, know this, religious hatred is not our objective.

Monday, July 11, 2005

New Adventures in Blogspotting

Sven noticed I'd been blogging on the road from NewFrontiers... also noting that Phil Johnson had been recording his visit to London last week. Paul Huxley noted privately that the world might be safer if Phil Johnson stopped travelling and I stopped going to conferences.

Meanwhile newly arrived in the blogosphere Andy Shudall is blogging from New Zealand... where he now has full resident status. Also in New Zealand is Scott Mackay who confesses that he reads thebluefish.

Newly arrived are ex-Relay's Steve, Charlie and Gareth. Along with Reading University graduates Sal and Chris who bow to popular demand to reveal their new images. Finally a belated thanks to Adam for noticing my thoughts on Discipline and Intergrity

Update: Rosemary proved unable to resist the lure of blogging as she heads overseas.... probably a good thing.

Make Poverty History?

Matthew 18v21-35. The so called Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. This is the simplest of parables. Its imagery is vivid. Its message is painfully clear.

The argument of the parable is very simple. A man has his debt cancelled but does not cancel the debts of those who owe him. So, judgement awaits him. And Jesus presents this as an illustration to us of what God has done for us. Our debt against God is cancelled – and the reality of our taking hold of this gift will be shown in the way we live in the light of it...

In this year of Making Poverty History there is a bigger debt at stake. Third world debt is undoubtedly a major issue. It is undoubtedly a just cause. It is undoubtedly an urgent cause. But for every single member of the human race there is a greater debt to be settled. There is a greater poverty to be made history. There is a debt to be cancelled that no world leader can cancel. No bank. No campaign.

To convince you of this I need to show you that you owe God a great debt... then that it is cancelled at the Cross of Christ... and so, if you know that for yourself... then it can affect the way you live.....

1. A Great Debt Owed
There is a divine dilemma. It is this. Everyone of us has sinned against God – we have set our lives against him. We are hostile towards him. We fail to worship the one who is infinitely worthy. And we have no desire within ourselves to be reconciled to God. Sometimes we make a show of being godly but it self-serving. We wonder whether we can win God over. We bargain with him.

We are sinners who have offended the holiness of God. Our debt to God is infinite. And in our sinfulness we do not even desire to settle the debt. Our vain attempts to buy favour with God are simply more examples of our hostility. We attempt to buy God off. We remain self-serving. Arrogant. Ignorant. We may plead our innocence but our conscience is enough to condemn us.

Secondly, and most significantly, God is now opposed to us. The sinless one is opposed to us who have offended his holiness. God is well within his rights to destroy us. In fact he ought. We should be amazed that we are alive. We should be amazed that we have breath within us.

This is a debt greater than the poverty of the third world. And that is not to minimise third world debt in the slightest. If our infinite debt to God it remains uncancelled the consequences are deadly. The parable gives us a hint in v34, uncancelled debtors face imprisonment and torture til the debt is repaid. And it cannot be repaid by us. Jesus speaks through the parable of hell. Know that our debt is infinite. We are debtors to the one who is infinite in holiness – we cannot repay our debt. You cannot stand under God’s wrath for long enough to exhaust it.

2. A Great Debt Cancelled
But there is good news. There is good news. See that the dilemma would be resolved by God destroying us. God is not obliged to save us. Justice would be served by letting the debtor rot in eternal punishement.

But instead God takes that judgement upon his Son. They planned it before time began. That the Son of God, Jesus, would stare hell in the face, undeservedly. The sinless one drinks the cup of God’s righteous wrath that we deserve. He takes upon himself all the judgement we deserve. There was no other way.

There was no other who could have done it. Only Jesus. Only Jesus who is the chief subject of this book by Matthew. He told us 1v1 here is Jesus. And so our debt is cancelled. We find forgiveness. Because he was forsaken we can be forgiven. Because he was forsaken we’re alive and well. Our debt cancelled. Is your debt cancelled? Do you remain in opposition to God? Is the war still on? Or have you received the gift he offers you – the cancellation of your debt.

In the death of Jesus, a substitute under God’s wrath, in our place – our debt is cancelled. God’s opposition to us his history. For the good news first applies to God. Secondly though, our poverty is history. And our hostility is history. If we will accept it! If we will receive it! If we will believe it! Do you believe? Do you believe that your entire debt to God is cancelled by the death of Jesus in your place? Total cancellation.

Three applications for us…

Application 1 Receive the cancellation of your debt
Is your debt cancelled? (Are you forgiven)
Perhaps you’re here this evening and you could honestly say that you do not know the forgiveness of your sins.

Firstly, welcome. It is great that you’re here. I hope you feel welcome. Secondly, do not stay simply welcome – the cancellation of the debt you owe to God is available to you.

It would be foolish not to accept this offer. If you do not accept it you remain indebted to God. Infinitely. And unable to pay that back. That is state whose future lies entirely under God’s rightful judgement.

But… the good news is that you are offered cancellation of that debt! And offer that comes with the guaranteed promise not simply of a zero balance, but of infinite joy in knowing God. Early Matthew records Jesus comparing knowing him to finding treasure…. Treasure that upon finding you’d sell everything to obtain. You can’t buy it – but you can receive it as a gift, if you will. Receive it and your debt will be totally cancelled, with immediate affect.

Application 2 Say no to the debtors ethic!
Perhaps, and this may be many more of us, you know forgiveness. You’re glad of it. You know that Jesus died to cancel your debt. You sing of it. You tell your friends of it.

But somewhere along the line you find yourself feeling guilty before God. You find yourself playing comparison games with other Christians. You wonder whether you’re living well enough. And so you strive hard as a Christian. Topping up your account with God.

Let me urge you as strongly as I can. Do not try and pay God back! Do not try to pay God back. John Piper calls it the debtors ethic. You cannot pay God back - the debt was infinite. And the debt has already been paid in full. To try and pay it back is to dismiss and disregard the payment already made by Jesus. And to do that is simply to incur more and more debt.

The mentality that says… I now owe God. He has cancelled my debt, I must repay that debt with my good works. I must atone for my sins.... or I must keep God on side... It is miserable. Thoroughly miserable. It has no confidence. It has no secure hope. It has no assurance. And, above all it is an idolatrous denial of your debt cancellation. If we live this way we pour scorn in Jesus’ face. If you live this way you are out of line with Jesus. If we live this way, ultimately we deny the value of Jesus death and count ourselves out of the cancellation of debt. Give it up!

Application 3 Forgive those who wrong you
How then do you live? Supposing tonight you turn from either never knowing the cancellation of your debt, or from trying to repay it… how then should you live?

Do, joyful forgive others since you’re forgiven. Jesus message is simple… Peter asked how much should I forgive someone who wrongs me? Not seven, but seventy seven. And Jesus isn’t saying keep count…. 75… forgive… 76 forgive… 77 forgive…. 78 NO FORGIVENESS!

No, he’s saying don’t count… since you know forgiveness from God you have no grounds to hold debt over others. God cancelled your infinite debt… how could you possibly hold debt over another? Do you? Do you let yourself be wronged and say – I forgive you – I do not hold this against you? Or have you let the evil one get a grip on you… have you allowed grudges and bitterness to hold you.

Forgiveness is for your joy in Jesus. You’re forgiven so you can live in a joyful debt free relationship with Jesus. The bitterness of unforgiveness will rob you of joy. More than that such unforgiveness will put you away from God’s forgiveness of you. It would make no sense. See again what he has done for you. See again that your debt is cancelled.

Cancelled irrevocably. Cancelled without possibility of you racking up any uncancellable debt. Every sin past, present and future forgiven. Your poverty is history.

So forgive others. Live in loving relationship with fellow sinners. We will constantly wrong each other. We do. But let us cancel those debts. Let yourself be wronged. Assume the best of people not the worst. Presume that all offense is unintentional. Forgive.

And in the freedom that the cancellation of your debt gives you, step out boldly. Step out boldly to do great things for the kingdom of God. The cancellation of your debt gives you freedom. Freedom to fail. Because you can’t fall out of God’s favour by getting things wrong. You can’t blow it by missing opportunities or explaining the gospel badly. So go give it a shot!

God’s standing towards you is secured. He is no longer opposed to you. Look first to God. The death of Jesus ended his opposition to you. And that debt cancellation is available to any who will receive it. But they will not know unless we tell them. They will not receive it but for the Word of God and the Work of God within them. And God would use you!

You owed the greatest of debts, and you cannot repay it. Jesus died to repay that debt totally. Receive it. Forgive others, and go make it known!

The Wedding of John & Katie Tucker



This weekend we went to John & Katie's wedding. John was one of the first students I discipled at Reading University, starting back in 2000. I found him out in the almost entirely female Bulmershe campus and figured a bit of support wouldn't go amiss. Later that year he hooked up with Katie... its been several years wait to get here but a real joy to see them committing to marriage.

In the picture you can see them, obviously... along with Hannah Chitty and Iain Fletcher. The bottom right picture is the car they left the church in... The top right is the car they left the reception in. The reception was at The West Lodge Park Hotel... that car is parked outside our bedroom window the following morning... at The West Lodge Park Hotel. Seems they drove out through the main entrance and back in again...

Friday, July 08, 2005

(CJ's Talks) from New Frontiers



CJ Mahaney's talks at NewFrontiers Leadership 2005 have been given before, and I've found text/audio's of them! Two are from his series on The Passion (The Cup, The Mediator).

Christ our Mediator - The Divine Dilemma Resolved (HTML)
Christ our Mediator - The Divine Dilemma Resolved (MP3)

The Cup: How did Jesus view the Cross (MP3)

When Life doesn't Make Sense (DOC)

Other Audio's from Covenant Life Church, from Google

Third talk in The Passion series... The Cry

We Weep in Faith

We weep in faith that soon we’ll weep no more—
Assured it’s but a moment, now, before
We will see Christ—the hope in whom we died.
We will see Christ and hope be satisfied.
Awak’ning then from life to life, through death,
We’ll breathe of Christ upon earth’s final breath.

We follow Christ, who did not fear the tomb,
And know when he stands in our dying room,
“Laz’rus, come forth!” we’ll hear him shout, with cries,
Or whisper softly, “Talitha, arise.”
The tears that flowed down Jesus’ face were shed
In faith that, conquered, death will soon be dead.

Christ, help us bear what burdens now we must
With constant hope for what you hold in trust.
And help us weep as you taught us to weep,
Knowing each child you’ve claimed, you’ll kindly keep.
Awak’ning then from life to life, through death
We’ll breathe of Christ upon earth’s final breath.

tune: Finlandia ("Be Still My Soul," "We Rest on Thee")
words: Abraham Piper,


More songs from Abraham Piper

Dear Kenny,

Kenny,

This evening you'll be flying back into London Heathrow airport after four nights at the ChSA evangelistic camp in Poland. Some things have changed since then. Some things haven't...

Last Sunday morning Tim Silk preached at our church - in view of G8 and the Religious Hatred Bill, he reminded us that God rules this world, not man. Then you arrived to stay over en route to the airport. We watched The War of the Worlds. Aliens don't rule anymore than man rules it. Two things I remembered - one: Spielberg is a great director who still makes some rubbish films, two: God rules unchangingly.

If you caught sight of a paper on Monday morning on your way from our house to the aiport all the headlines were about Live8. Tuesday was all about G8, and I headed off to a conference in Brighton. On Wednesday Olympic expectation filled the air like it has so many times... and yet, this time we got it! England won the bid! On Thursday morning the papers where jubilant, and yet before many got to work terror struck London. How easily the mood changes. This morning everything is focussed on the aftermath. Much has changed this week.

And yet one thing remains the same. One thing never changes. Spending this week at the NewFrontiers conference reminded me of that. In the midst of a changing world. When things sometimes don't makes sense. Our God reigns. And Jesus death, a substitute drinking the wrath I deserve preserves my life. As terrorism returns to our doorstep we're acutely aware again of the evil of men. Yet the truth is we're all enemies of God. We're alive, thats the scandal. The divine dilemma of God's opposition to us and ours to him is however resolved. God found the one just way to save us - Jesus Christ drinking wrath in our place....to stand as God's mediator, and our mediator. All the evil of man serves to amplify our need of salvation. And the offer remains open.

Kenny, I wonder how was your trip to Poland, I look forward to finding out later today. What changed this week? What remained the same?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

(Home) from New Frontiers

I decided to leave the NewFrontiers conference a day early. Two reasons. One - I've been away from my wife too much this year. Two - the nine talks that I've been to in three days have been awesome - and I need time to process and apply. It was great to spend time in the company of passionate people, lovers of Jesus who love his word and long for their lives and this world to be changed by him.

I forgot to mention that I'd run into... Andy Bawler (first time I've seen him in about six years), SIAD CU Leader Penny Skeels! and Surrey CU's Jon Carter! Also Ryan from Winchester CU... its great to be with the people of God.

The last twenty four hours have been strange. In the space of 24 hours we heard reports of London's Olympic Bid victory for 2012, and then of the appalling terrorist strikes there this morning. Being at a conference when these things happen is strange. There is a programme. How do we respond? I remember being at our UCCF Forum Student Leaders Conference when 9/11 happened. How do we respond....?

What do we say? We turned again to the same message that our hearts and minds had been turned to throughout the conference. That God is sovereign over all things. He rules. He reigns. This is his world. This is not our world. That we deserve death.... and yet through faith in Jesus we are alive.

Last night CJ Mahaney spoke of The Cup. The terror Jesus faced in Mark 14, in Gethsemane, as he stared into The Cup of God's Wrath at our Sin. As he prepared to drink it in our place. And in doing so he offered us The Cup of Salvation. It was one of the most moving, challenging and humbling talks I've ever heard. Seeing afresh the affect of The Cross on Jesus. We have no suffering like his. We have one who truly sympathises. And one who brings us out of any suffering, offering salvation. One who knows worse suffering than we've ever known, killed at his Father's hands under the weight of the judgement my sin deserves.

This morning at Mobilise Tom Shaw spoke clearly and prophetically into the student generation - laying out the big challenges and the need to think clearly if we are to make any impact on the 2.1 Million young people our government is herding into Higher Education. There is work to do. Great to be reminded again of the increasingly strong links between UCCF and NewFrontiers. :)

Later Joel Virgo gave a great challenge to take responsibility for the challenges facing us as God's people in this generation. As that session opened we were told of the terrorist attacks. Gareth had texted me about it on the way into the meeting. We prayed. And then we lifted up God's name. Praising him in the midst of the situation. The words of Matt Redman's "Blessed be your name" carry new weight when sung in the presence of such events. Yet they remain true. Not in trite stoicism but true conviction of the magnificient sovereignty of God.
"When the darkness closes in,
Lord, Still I will say...
Blessed be the name of the Lord"
It's been great to hang out with 800+ students/20s with such vigorous passion for God, such hunger for his Now Prophetic word, and yet at the same time a seriousness about God's word to rival anyone. So often we find one but not the other.

This afternoon CJ spoke again, on suffering. He took us to study Habakkuk. A prophet who came to see suffering from God's perspective. We focussed particularly on chapter 3. To look more to salvation and less to suffering. Again and again setting today's suffering in the context of final judgement, God's sovereign rule and salvation. As John Piper said six months ago - pleasure and pain should both lead us to repentance... they should lead us to look to the sovereignty of God. They should lead us to see his patience. Our questions of "why did God allow this" must be replaced with awe that God has spared us, for we do not deserve to be spared. God reigns. Let us weep, let us be humbled... and let us praise our God.

More reflections to follow...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

(Blogging) from New Frontiers...

I've dived into the free internet cafe here at New Frontiers Leadership 2005 conference. I only have a few minutes.... So here's a few highlights. To be expanded later...

Monday - Stephen Van Rhyn - a superbly honest talk from Exodus 1-2 on stepping out in faith. He challenged us that:
It's not enough to simply defend orthodoxy,
we need to do great exploits for God
. Terry Virgo was also excellent in the evening with the first of a two parter on Gideon, led into by Isaiah 9 - Christ's victory is like that at Midian. To be concluded on Friday morning. I gather this is the same material he taught at the UCCF Preaching Persuasively staff training.

Tuesday - I'm on the Mobilise (Students/20s) track so I was up at the Clarendon Centre this morning. First up Lex Loizides on Signs & Wonders. And God did some!

Then secondly the highlight so far - CJ Mahaney on Christ, Our Mediator. This was absolutely fantastic - let us look to objective truth and believe that Jesus is our mediator... the one and only Mediator. Christ, the one who resolves the Divine Dilemma. A dilemma that applies to and affects God before it affects us. CJ very helpfully reminded us that we must get the divine order right... God... then us..... Objective truth... then subjective truth.
CJ is also up this evening speaking to the whole conference.... bring it on!

Great to run into Marcus Honeysett, Derek Cross, Kath Arnold, Rebecca Toy, Scott Taylor, Sean Green and Tom Shaw, amongst others... great sense of fellowship and encounter with God. Time to take responsibility. God has given us great things to do...

Monday, July 04, 2005

What makes GOOD NEWS good?

What is the good news? What is the heart of Christianity? What is the best thing in life? John Piper on 2 Corinthians 3v17-4v7 presents the answer. You want to listen to this. You need to read this. You really do. As do I.

"What makes good news good? Seeing the glory of Christ"
MP3 | Script

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God,we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." 2 Corinthians 3v17-4v7, ESV

These are Piper's points from this key text...
1. The Highest, Best, and Final Good of the Good News Is the Glory of Christ
2. We Have All Been Blind to this Glory
3. God Alone Can Take Away the Blindness and Cause Us to See Christ for Who He Is
4. God Uses Messengers of the Word to Open the Eyes of the Blind
5. In the Mouth of These Messengers God Makes Patient Teaching About Christ the Means of Seeing the Glory of Christ in the Gospel

Re-reading the Good Samaritan...

Luke 9v51-10v42- Knowing Jesus

This is a big passage to start the year with - and you have 40 minutes to study it! There is lots of stuff in it and one very familiar parable at the start of it. Remember that when we study we’re looking for the big idea. We don’t have time to explore everything – we need to be disciplined in working through things quickly. This will be rewarding when we see the bigger picture.

The question raised at the start of the good Samaritan parable recurs at the end of our series, with the rich young ruler. This is a key question: how do I get eternal life? The answer is made clear if we will see it....

57-62. The big thing to see here is that following Jesus is costly – but Jesus spells out the cost. Why? Because it is worth it. The costs don’t outweigh the benefits. Hold that thought!

1-20. Here Jesus sends out his disciples. But this is not a mission training manual. You will have to avoid getting bogged down in all the detail here… at least for now. The key place to focus is on what happens when the disciples return from their mission. It’s been an impressive adventure! They’ve achieved great things. And Jesus says – don’t rejoice in these great exploits. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven. In other words, “that’s great! But it’s even better that you know Jesus”. The seriousness of needing to know Jesus is spelt out in his words about “the day” when those who reject him will be judged.

21-42. Now we’re getting to the heart of the issue. 21-24 and 38-42 will give us the key. Firstly we see Jesus speak to the disciples – he tells them that is great that they have come to know him. We see Jesus rejoice in the Holy Spirit because he has been revealed to the disciples (21), these little children. The Son reveals himself (22). And now the disciples see what kings and prophets longed to see. Knowing Jesus is the key!

When we come to Mary & Martha we see the same thing. Martha welcomes Jesus but then gets busy. Mary however sits and listens to Jesus teaching – she simply lets Jesus reveal himself to her. She comes to know Jesus, like the disciples. This is better by far.

And in the middle of these we find the lawyer, (25-37). He comes asking how to get eternal life. He knows the law. He’s an expert. Jesus tells him what he already knows. But the man wants to justify himself, justifying his question. So he presses Jesus’ for legal detail – who is his neighbour, who must he love. The parable then sets up the Samaritan and the victim. Jesus pushes the man beyond his limits. The man wants to try to earn eternal life and Jesus says it’ll take love beyond your limits. Love that all the religion in the world can’t do. Love that is outrageous. Here we don’t see the response, though the man’s attitude suggests lack of genuine desire (29). When the question re-surfaces with the rich young ruler we’ll see explicitly that rather than humbling himself and knowing Jesus the proud walk away sad.

So it is for the lawyer – you can’t get eternal life by what you do. No amount of mercy or missionary endeavour can earn you life. You simply have to know Jesus, to have him revealed to you (21, 22), to let him teach you (39). And that is better than anything else! Better by far!

With that established, we are then free and secure to go and be merciful and attempt great things in mission… for our future does not depend on our performance in these things. Authentic Spirituality is not about what you do… it’s about knowing Jesus!



Notes from forthcoming Cell Notes:
Authentic Spirituality - Luke 9-19
(to be published November 2005 at thebluefish.org.uk/cell
used by Reading University Christian Union, Autumn 2005)

Cruzcentrica

Dan Cruver has a gift for finding great gospel-centred material. Here'a couple he's spotted. You need to read them. Full of practical help to stay cross-centred... cruzcentrica.

The Centrality of the Gospel (Tim Keller) PDF
Gospel-Driven Sanctification PDF

And... my favourite little book on this vital issue:
CJ Mahaney - The Cross Centred Life

Until we see that Christian life isn't about "performance" (Bridges), or "plate spinning" (Mahaney) but actually about the application of the gospel to all of life we will never truly live.

New Frontiers / Leadership 2005



Later this week I'm off to the newfrontiers Leadership Conference in Brighton. Should be a great week - some top Bible Teachers on the bill. Looking forward to hearing CJ Mahaney and Ian Stackhouse amongst others. And hopefullly a good opportunity to catch up a few colleagues who should be there too.

Excitingly Terry Virgo is teaching Romans at our UCCF Christian Unions Leaders Conference, Forum in September - it's great to have him on board for that..... and, big thanks to the guys at Reading Family Church for getting me a ticket for this week. Sadly I don't have the technology to blog the conference while I'm there so I'll just have to catch up when I get back.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Gateways to God



I want to introduce you to a book that I'm sure you've never read. It was published in 2001 but has been cursed with an appallingly designed cover - the death of many good books. Sadly, we judge books by their cover - but the contents of this one deserve attention... As Peter Lewis of Cornerstone, Nottingham, says in his coverword about the book it is "a good and helpful book: sound, intelligent and challenging. Pete Lowman understands his Bible and its place in the modern world as well as in the believer's heart. He read the Bible as a man of his times"

I found it through the author, Pastor of our previous church, Pete Lowman. It's called Gateways to God - Seeking Spiritual Depth in a Post-Modern World. The essential premise of the book is to lead those looking for Spiritual Depth into the one place they can find it. To set us off, pioneering, off the beaten track into the New Testament.

Pete Lowman walks alongside us through Ephesians, 2 Corinthians, Mark, 1 Peter, 1 John, Romans 6-8 and Revelation... inviting us to re-read their pages. The style is chatty, informed and doxological. You can feel Pete's excitement as he shares from his heart what God is saying on the page.

At the heart of the book is an Interlude. When I first read this I told Pete that it was my favourite part of the book. He confided that it was the big reason for writing it! In his Interlude Pete identifies a Spirituality for the 21st Century. One with roots, holistic, Word based, Spirit filled and radical. Authentic evangelicalism. This is the way ahead, written off the beaten track out of Pete's experiences of pioneering Student Ministry with IFES in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Finally, at the end of each chapter are pages of annotated footnotes, extra stories and insights from the road. Pete models the very authentic spirituality he calls us into. This, and Pete's second book - A Long Way East of Eden, are easily missed but we will be poorer if we do. We are in need of Spiritual Depth and Lowman shows us where to find it.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Da Vinci Code



Finally decided to read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code yesterday. Now I'm done. It's a fast-paced escape thriller. Very reminiscent of the Nicolas Cage film National Treasure, particularly with its Knights Templar reference. Less treasure and more religious belief. Its not the best literature I've ever read, but it is clever and gripping. It's a Novel, not an essay on religous theories. But Brown undeniably has an agenda.

My friend and collegue, Tom Price, at our UCCF Bethinking.org resource has written - Dan Brown: Looking behind the Code. I'll explore some of my own thoughts here - particularly about faith/evidence - in the coming days. But Tom's thoughts are worth a look in the mean time. Dan Brown writes boldly against the Catholic Church. I'm no Catholic, but some of the issues he touches on have bearing for me as an Evangelical. From Brown's portraL of the church you may get the wrong end of the stick.

There are issues of knowledge and the basis of belief. There are questions raised about how to deal with sin. There are questions about the role of women within Christianity. And there are questions about church power-plays. The Bible has honest answers for these questions. Dan Brown overlooks, distorts and dismisses them. His questions merit exploration.

As Al Mohler commented...
"G. K. Chesterton reminded us that orthodoxy is not only true; it is infinitely more interesting than heresy. It is alive and compelling and life-changing. Heresies come and go by fashion. The truth is unchanged and unchangeable."
There is no great church conspirary. Examine the evidence yourself - take hold of one of the gospel accounts of Jesus' life - Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Read. Examine. Think. Question. See.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Ruined by Pain? Ruined by Pleasure?

Justin Taylor is thinking about 1984 and Brave New World. Two of my favourite books. He cites the comment of Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death:
"In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right."

Your Worship Leader, Your Most Influential Theologian

Continuing to think about... The Word's We Sing Do Matter, led me to An Essay on Hymnody.

It begins...
"'Tis hard to say if greater harm is done
When heresy is preached or when it's sung,
But I will argue that the latter's worse—
More virulent is heresy in verse.
The simple reality, and a sad one for a preacher to admit, is that what is sung often carries greater weight and memorability than what is preached. The worship leader in any Christian group may well be the most influential theologian there. They could potentially be the best theologian, but that is by no means guarenteed.

As a former* worship leader, let me appeal - we must sort out the theology of our songs. We must consider the words we sing. Too much is at stake not to. Worship that gets it wrong steps away from worship and towards idolatry. We do not want to go there.

See also:
Worship Wars
The Word's We Sing Do Matter
The Words We Sing

*former, because of a calling to preach.

How did you get here today?

Sitemeter tells me the most common google/yahoo searches that get people here are:
1. Preach the gospel and if necessary use words
2. Obadiah Comment
3. Dog Cat Theology
4. Marcus Honeysett Controversy
5. Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words
6. Howard Guinness Sacrifice
7. St. Francis of Assisi
8. Theology of Cat and Dog
9. Preach the gospel. When necessary use words
10. Phil McAlmond
Not sure what the controversy with Marcus is, other than that some people don't like his superb book Meltdown. Meanwhile I guess these two articles are quite popular:

Cat & Dog Theology
(thoughts on a competent introduction to Christian Hedonism, often a bit too black and white, but with some useful illustrations)

Preach the gospel and if necessary use words
(reflections on the distortion of St. Francis of Assisi's words)

Total visits per month now avergae - 2200. Thank you for dropping by.

Worship Wars?

Thanks to Justin Taylor for flagging up this excellent article:
From Worship Wars to Biblical Consensus
by Ligon Duncan. Some well needed sanity for those responsible for worship in church.

My first steps into theologican understanding came as a result of leading worship in my Christian Union. I realised that my synthy-atmospheric keyboard sounds could affect people. Eyes would close. Hands would rise. But I had no idea what I was actually supposed to be doing. Was I leading people into the very presence of God? Was I manipulating them with music? Was I helping them to worship the Lord?

It's very important. The reality is that if we get worship wrong then we become idolators. As Giglio observes worship is really a matter of value. If our worship is valuing anything ahead of God then it is idolatrous. And we really don't want to do that!

More often that not it ends up over-valuing me - "above all you thought of me...???". Our worship must value the one who is most valuable, and who acts for the sake of his own name, above all. Duncan's article is a must-read....



Duncan cities Louie Giglio's book on worship: The Air I Breathe. This is high on my to-read list. John Piper dedicates Don't Waste Your Life to Giglio, and they've both been involved in the US, Passion events.

“Think of it this way: Worship is simply about value. The simplest definition I can give is this: Worship is our response to what we value most. That’s why worship is that thing we all do. It’s what we’re all about on any given day. Worship is about saying, ‘This person, this thing, this experience (this whatever) is what matters most to me . . . it’s the thing of highest value in my life.’ That ‘thing’ might be a relationship. A dream. A position. Status. Something you own. A name. A job. Some kind of pleasure. Whatever name you put on it, this ‘thing’ is what you’ve concluded in your heart is worth most to you. And whatever is worth most to you is—you guessed it—what you worship. Worship, in essence, is declaring what we value most. As a result, worship fuels our actions, becoming the driving force of all we do. And we’re not just talking about the religious crowd. The Christian. The churchgoer among us. We’re talking about everybody on planet earth. A multitude of souls proclaiming with every breath what is worthy of their affection, their attention, their allegiance. Proclaiming with every step what it is they worship. Some of us attend the church on the corner, professing to worship the living God above all. Others, who rarely darken the church doors, would say worship isn’t a part of their lives because they aren’t ‘religious.’ But everybody has an altar. And every altar has a throne. So how do you know where and what you worship? It’s easy: You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your allegiance. At the end of that trail you’ll find a throne, and whatever, or whoever, is on that throne is what’s of highest value to you. On that throne is what you worship. Sure, not too many of us walk around saying; ‘I worship my stuff. I worship my job. I worship this pleasure. I worship her. I worship my body. I worship me!’ But the trail never lies. We may say we value this thing or that thing more than any other, but the volume of our actions speaks louder than our words.” (Giglio, Lou. The Air I Breath: Worship as a Way of Life. Multnomah, 2003)