Sunday, May 28, 2006

Emptiness & Eternity - Ecclesiastes 2

Sermon Script. Ecclesiastes ch2. Preached at Arborfield, 28-May-06
ENTERTAINMENT was EMPTY? (v1-11)

Once it was said - Cogito Ergo Sum... I think therefore, I am... Today? Perhaps “Tesco, ergo sum”. I shop, therefore... I am... or even, iPod Ergo Sum... I am entertained, therefore I am.... The entertainment industry offering the keys to happiness wherever we turn.

And we shop, not because we need things but because we think it might satisfy. The Teacher sets up a grand experiment. Richer than Roman Abrahamovich or Bill Gates. He had a flair for pleasure greater than Elton John. It's said of certain things, “that if you have to ask, you can't afford it”. For The Teacher money was no object.

Look at verses 1-11. v1, he turns his heart to consider pleasure. Why? v1, to find out what is good. A noble plan?
v1, but it was meaningless. Why?
v2, what does it accomplish?
He tries wine, v3, and folly. You can imagine him, stumbling out of a pub on Friar Street in Reading on a Friday night... and yet as he walks away, shaking his head in despair... meaningless.

Ah, we say, that's the folly of youth.... we know that's limited. Aim higher! So he did.... v4, he undertook great projects – houses, vineyards, v5, gardens, parks, trees, v6, reservoirs, groves, v7, slaves, herds, flocks, v8, silver, gold, singers, a harem... “the delights of the heart of man”. That's more like it!! Indeed, v9, he was the greatest man of his day.
v10, he denied himself nothing. Refused no pleasure. He enjoyed his work and its great rewards. He pushed the limits further than us. He did well and worked hard.

Surely with all these great projects and accomplishments he was the happiest man on earth? And that's what v11 concludes isn't it? “I gained the world, and retired with my fortune, truly happy.”

v11. “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was.... meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” Meaningless?! Chasing the wind?! He surveys his empire and with refreshing honesty says – its empty.

Instinctively I don't believe him. Give me the money – let me show you how to be happy. Yet, across the nation are miserable lottery winners... He tried it all, and yet his words are like those of John Reid this week. Much like the Home Office... earthly pleasures are not fit for purpose. They can't truly satisfy. We're left “amusing ourselves to death”

A church bigger than Westminster Abbey once stood in the centre of Reading. Now, only ruins remain. A new cathedral has arisen... a cathedral of consumerism, offering satisfaction to any who worship there. Culture cries “Let me entertain you”. Yet another series of Big Brother begins... “13 weeks, 14 freaks” as someone has said. Offering us escape from emptiness.

I'm not immune to the lure of materialism. Easily deceived as I walk through that cathedral of consumerism, The Oracle. Even on a modest budget gathering an alarming amount of earthly possessions.

The Teacher stops us in our tracks. He says “wake up”. We want more, but entertainment is not fit for purpose. It's empty.

EDUCATION was EMPTY? (v12-16)
If not entertainment, how about education. Wisdom... Today 43% of 18-21 year olds are herded into University by our Government... rising towards 50% by 2010. “Education, education, education” was the cry back in 1997.

A better world by means of better education... plausible enough... and more education might mean more money... which might help, but we'll come back to that in a few minutes.

v12, The Teacher says he tried wisdom. He also considered folly. A fair test. What does he observe?
v13. Firstly, it is probably better to be wise than to be a fool. Its better to walk in the light rather than in darkness. Safer. Some glimmer of hope. Ignorance is not bliss...
But, secondly, v14, the same fate awaits the wise and the fool. That is, everyone dies. v15, he is wise, but like the fool he will die. “what ultimate gain achieved?”
Thirdly, v16, the wise and the fool are not long remembered. Both will be forgotten, when they die.

Two examples from the early years of the 19th Century... a mere 200 years ago. The first a poem, by a distant relative who lived from 1792-1832. He recalls a great Egyptian King, Rameses II, known here as Ozymandias.

I met a traveler
from an antique landWho said: Two vast and
trunkless legs of stoneStand in the desert.
Near them, on the sand,Half sunk,
a shattered visage lies....
...."My name is Ozymandias,
King of Kings:Look upon my works,
ye Mighty, and despair!"Nothing beside remains.
Round the decayOf that colossal wreck,
boundless and bareThe lone and level sands
stretch far away

Once great, now forgotten in the sands of time.

How about Henry Hodgkinson? Surely you remember him? 42 years Rector of this church from 1797-1839... A man who, presumably, preached in the old Arborfield church building over 2000 times.

What remains? A small metal plaque by the door.... and one next to it for his wife, who died two years after they married. All his work and life forgotten. All his sermons. He served from the age of 44 to 86, and then died. Forgotten, but for a bit of brass by the door.

The best that education can do is to dull the pain... And yet as The Teacher writes there are things to be learned. And he would direct us to a knowledge worth gaining... to knowing the Lord Jesus Christ. The Teacher reflects, entertainment, education... both were empty.

ENRICHMENT was EMPTY? (v17—23)

Third time lucky? Perhaps we've not looked hard enough. “Get rich, be happy!”. But, money doesn't grow on trees – so work harder, and eventually you'll be happier.... The Teacher's despair is transparent – v17. He hated life. Life under the sun, life in this world, was grievous to him.

Why does he hate life so much? v18. His work brings him money. And money brings him possessions. And he has to leave them all behind. Old King Rameses was rich, buried with his treasures... and yet he's gone, and they remain for others to gain.

v19, and perhaps that person may be wise, but they may be an utter fool... squandering the fruits of HIS labour. v19, owning all he worked to gain. It is,... meaningless. v20, his heart despairs at this labour, “under the sun”. Life in this world, lacks lacks happiness. v21, meaningless.

Consider Paris Hilton. Famous for being famous. Rich beyond her own imagination. Has she worked for it? No. Another man worked, but she reaps the benefits. Hilton Hotel Heiress, Paris Hilton.

Meaningless? v22 – Surely some gain for all this striving? “What does a man gain for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labours 'under the sun'?”. v23, the only gain, under the sun, is grief and pain. With a refreshing honesty The Teachers describes the monotony of work.

We resonate with him, don't we? Some perhaps literally working on a production line... others experiencing the repetitive cycle of housework, clinching another deal, teaching another class, driving another mile... Paining us by day, preoccupying us by night.

We say, “no pain no gain”. And yet it seems more like “much pain... no gain”.
Sure, you gain money, but you can't take that with you... and someone else benefits from your suffering. Life under the sun seems hopeless... is there no other way?

ETERNITY need not be EMPTY! (v24-26)

The Teacher reflects and concludes. v24. “there is nothing better then than to eat, drink and enjoy your work”. Look he says, on reflection – there are some good things in this world. They're not ultimate realities.

They're not finally satisfying. But, embrace life. Live life to the full. In fact, v24 – the good things in life are gifts from God.

What else is there to do? Some despair deeply, wondering if its worth going on living at all.... Today most approach it a bit differently. We “live on the surface, not in the depths” (Wells/Kundera). Keeping things trivial and shallow. Allowing only the kind of despair that "requires little more serious than a sitcom to escape" (ibid). Fighting emptiness by keeping life light.

We consider ourselves free, unaccountable to God. Such a life is described as that of the sinner in the second half of v26. A life of “gathering and storing” up whatever we can... taking what we can from entertainment, education and enrichment.... only to have it taken from us in the end. Maintaining only the illusion of meaning. Misery.

The alternative is to concede that we are accountable to our Creator. Required to fear him. That's terrifying, because we know we're far from innocent. Some of us so aware of that that even sitting here in a Christian meeting is uncomfortable. Uncomfortable guilt might fill some of the emptiness, but that is much less than God offers.

There are those, v25 who please him. Notice the subtle shift, from seeking to please ourselves... to seeking to please God. Such people gain wisdom, knowledge, happiness and, v26, the fruit of sinners' labours – not so much financial gain, but heavenly treasure. Surely better than utter emptiness?

Yet who pleases God? We all rebel against him. But he offers forgiveness. A new start. Not for the religious. Nor the good and the decent and the proper. Forgiveness for sinners. Forgiveness from Jesus.

Jesus who entered into this world, in history. Jesus who experienced the struggle and emptiness. And who died and was raised to life. “It is not that life loses its emptiness because there is life beyond the grave, but that what has made life empty is destroyed by Christ's death and resurrection”. (David Wells)

Futility is defeated, though its experience remains. And we stand forgiven, able then to enter into eternal life. We can stand forgiven. Forgiven so we can come to God. Entering into eternal life with Jesus. Away from absolute emptiness, into eternal joy.

If Jesus had not died and were not raised, we'd be left with this empty existence... seeking pleasure, “gathering and collecting” but never satisfied. Never finding a “fit for purpose” solution to our desire for joy. BUT, Jesus has both died and been raised... and now offers resurrection life to any who trust in him. Eternal life.

Not self-indulgent entertainment and self-satisfaction. Not a heavenly bank vault... but pleasure forever in Jesus. Seeing and savouring him forever. Finding rest from our emptiness. Abandoning the pursuit of pleasure in self, and seeking pleasure in the Lord Jesus.

Which is worse? Which is better?
Living without accountability to God. With nothing more than fleeting pleasures and emptiness. Or, concede accountability to God. Accept his free offer of forgiveness... and come to know the resurrected Lord Jesus, now and forever.

Gaining eternal life, and living life accountable to God doesn't make this life easy. I can make no trite offer that “Become a Christian and all your troubles will be gone”. Life remains hard for all of us. Hard, but marked by knowing Jesus. In the struggle saying, “to live is Christ, to die is gain”. Experiencing emptiness, but also anticipating eternity.

The Teacher set up a vast experiment. He tested the limits of what the God's world has to offer.

Those who enjoy the menu of life are warned. Fear God, know that you're accountable to your Creator. Enjoy what he gives... and know that what seems like freedom away from him, has no future.

Those wearied by life are comforted. Your diagnosis is shared by God, here in his book. But remember also, v25... Life under the sun, v25, includes good gifts from God to be enjoyed. Don't chase the wind, but enjoy God's gifts, in the emptiness.

Hear the Teacher. Consider life. Consider your Creator. Counsider yourself accountable to Him. Consider his offer of wisdom, knowledge and happiness in relationship with Jesus now. No easy answers. But, what stands is an invitation to know the Lord Jesus.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

An Eye for the Mundane

I'm convinced one of the convictions all Christians must have is that life matters. Not just the big things, but the little things. Dave Simpson has been illustrating this for some time with his photo-blog... now Becci has started something that records the details... one post per day for a year, to see something beautiful. I love this idea. I love it because it is a great way of encouraging the good whereever you find it, and of learning to look hard for good thing. There's no way I have the time to do it en blog. I already risk missing life because I blog too much. These guys help me open my eyes and see all the stuff that God has his eyes on... he who counts every hair on my head... who knows everyone and every situation.

Dave Simpson - Funky Pancake
Becci Brown - Yeah, that was cool
Kath Arnold - Delighting in the Details
Pod Bhogal - Maybe Life Doesn't Suck
Ceryn Oakes - Amazaaaazin
Issy - madfoodscientist
SteffyB - Itsnotsobadafterall

Maybe in a week or so I'll aggregate some of these... collate some highlights.

The Songs we sing... must be Christian

What is happening when Christians gather to sing together? Firstly, they may be singing to themselves. Addressing their own soul, calling it to worship the Lord. This isn't the highest priority in corporate worship, more reserved for private worship. Regardless of form or style, what is essential is that we believe the truth about our God and worship him appropriately. It is quite appropriate that our times of worship should not only prepare us to hear God's word, but also begin with it. God's people gather together from their various circumstances, we need to be reminded of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The leader may be prepared, but the congregation may not be.

When we come together - we are to be together, not alone. Solo-Christianity is no-Christianity. We are called to be God's people together, and true fellowship is a magnificient statement of God's gospel. But it only occurs when we serve one another in love, which requires some interaction. Corporate singing is a time for open eyes. A time for eye contact. A time to meet with another, and remind one another of God's gospel.

Secondly, Christians will sing to one another. Addressing each others souls, calling one another to worship the Lord. This is a vital element of corporate worship. Its eyes open stuff, where we sing distinctively true things about the gospel and our God. We need to instruct one another in the gospel. Reminding one another of its truth. Serving one another by pointing one another to Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, Christians will sing together to the Lord. Addressing God directly, together. This needs to be more "we" than "I". We stand together as the company of God's people proclaiming the gospel. Having called one another to worship the Lord, it is entirely appropriate for us to stand together and declare our praise of the Lord together.

The New Testament teaching about corporate singing is minimal. We have only a few verses in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5. In both cases the goal is to build up the body of God's people. It concerns being a Spirit-filled community growing in God's word. And it concerns having God's word dwell richly in one another. Always a corporate activity.

Another place we can learn from is 1 Corinthians 14. We should observe that only one person in this chapter is ever described as worshipping. This person is the non-Christian who comes into a meeting, is convicted of their sin and becomes a believer.

What is the setting of this response? It is an interchange between the corporate affects of tongues-speaking and prophecy. This is not first about singing, but it does concern speech in a meeting. And our times of sung worship always include words.

When tongues are spoken they act as a sign of judgement on those who don't understand. This is taught as an application of God's word in Isaiah. When what is said cannot be understood its only benefit is a declaration of the judgement of God. An unbeliever comes in and proclaims that Christians are mad, thus they exclude themselves from God's people. This is not a desirable effect!

When prophecy is spoken understanding abounds. When an believer comes in they can be convicted of sin. This tells us something about the content not just the clarity of what is said. For someone to be convicted of sin they need to hear the disctinctively Christian content of the gospel spoken.

What does this have to say to our song choices? We should sing songs that make sense. They should be able to be understood. That means the grammar and the words need to make sense. There are vast numbers of songs that meet this standard, but also vast numbers which may have a good tune but simply make no sense. We should ask ourselves - what am I singing? What am I asking of God? Is this song true? What would it look like if this prayer was answered? If we don't know then this song is simply inappropriate for use.

We should sing songs that are distinctively Christian. That is to say several things. Firstly they should be songs that could not be sung by a Muslim or a Jew or an atheist... true to the gospel not just the words of a love song. Christian songs concern Christian truth, and should therefore be saturated with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Too many of our favourite songs are nothing more than love songs, lacking any distinctive Christian content. They do nothing to have God's word dwell in us more richly. They do nothing to lead us to true Christian worship of our God. Either by leading us to emotionalism or to the worship of some god other than the LORD. To do the latter is idolatrous. Why be subtle and implict when teaching one another about Jesus - let's be explicitly Christian!

Secondly, they should teach us truth in proportion to the emphases of God's word. That is we ought to derive them from scripture - where one doctrine is taught alongside another, our songs should reflect that. This need not mean our songs are always expositions of a passage. But either that or an accurate reflection of a Biblical doctrine. Too many songs over emphasise one aspect of doctrine at the expense of another.

In conclusion, our songs must be Christian. Their content must be clearly understood and clearly Christian. And they must be sung in a Christian manner - sung to one another so that God's word dwell in us more richly, and leading one another to delcare the glory of God's gospel together. Lets not be subtle... let's be explicitly Christ-ian in our songs.
"Teaching and encouragement may be necessary at times, but directing people’s gaze toward God’s glory in Christ is our ultimate motivation and goal." - Bob Kauflin


Related articles here:
The Words We Sing
The Words We Sing Do Matter
Worship Leader: Influential Theologian
Worship Conversation
Not to us... Psalm 33
Not to us... Psalm 115

Further reading
Bob Kauflin - www.worshipmatters.com

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Soul Food of the Gospel

Al Mohler quotes The Christian Century Editorial:
[The Da Vinci Code and Left Behind....] trade on a fundamentally gnostic premise: that most of the church has been duped and that the real Christian belief is a secret that will now be divulged to the privileged reader.... The early church rejected gnosticism and its purveyors (as in the case of the recently rereleased Gospel of Judas) because the gnostics were telling a fundamentally different story from that narrated by the texts that became the New Testament..... When the junk food of the gnostic stories fails to satisfy, churches should be there with the soul food of the gospel.

Meanwhile, John Schroeder notes:
...the church is not here to produce my salvation. The church is here solely to praise God and to reflect His glory and grace. Make no mistake, many will find salvation in that, but bringing that salvation is not the church's purpose... (HT: Milton Stanley)

Nothing like a bit of God-centredness to put the flavour back into life. Man-centred religion is light and trivial and makes me important. Christianity, is Christ-ianity. Its about him, not me. And it always seeks to make much of him, not me. It's emphasis, its melody, its recurring theme: Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Freedom!

This evening I met Adrian Reynolds from Yateley and had the pleasure of hearing Ant Adams preach Romans 6 at Reading University Christian Union. I'll let others comment more on what was said (several RUCU-bloggers were present e.g. Ed "Into the blinding light").

I was struck by two quotes... one from John Murray observing that union with Christ is at the centre of salvation, and the other by John Owen, commenting on our constant struggle to have the redeemed believe that they are redeemed (and the unredeemed believe that they are unredeemed). In Christ we are free from sin... it's a master we do not have to obey, a phone we need not answer...

SCRIPT: Posted by Ant on his blog: Homeward Bound

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Meaningless?

"Postmoderns live on the surface,
not in the depths, and theirs
is a despair to be tossed off lightly
and which might even be alleviated
by nothing more serious than a sitcom"
-- David Wells, Christ in a meaningless world, in Above all pow'rs p177
Preparing Ecclesiastes 2, on the emptiness of life I read David Wells reflection on how Sartre and Camus were terrified of meaninglessness, and how today it's kind of accepted and shrugged off... life becomes trivial. And Big Brother begins another series...

Meanwhile, try these old links again to put a bit of depth in your life:

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Walking with God?

Adrian is plugging the Newfrontiers Leadership conference which I was at last year courtesy of RFC. It was brilliant particularly hearing CJ Mahaney speak on the cross. Considering a day visit this year... except, no space for day visitors at the moment, I'll keep an eye out for that.

Yesterday I got my booking confirmation through for a couple of days at the Evangelical Ministry Assemby in London at the end of June.



with Peter Adam, Christopher Ash, David Jackman, Simon Manchester and John Piper.

More information on the Evangelical Ministry Assembly

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Pure Course

This was launched at Forum in September 2005... Today reported in the Daily Telegraph: Students are given lessons on how to keep their virginity. The article is ok though its not all that accurate and makes it seem like our ultimate goal is to spread a "gospel of sexual abstinence".. whereas its pretty clear that the course is actually about forgiveness and life knowing Jesus.

The actual course information is here: The Pure Course (NB: requires Norn Irish pronouciation to be authentic). Written by Linda Marshall, UCCF Midlands Team Leader.

We ran it at Reading University in the autumn with upto 40 students turning out at 7.30am on a Monday morning for the course. The same happened at Surrey University on Wednesday mornings with a smaller number.

The Spirit and the People of God

Mo has written:
1. Homogenous Church
2. Ephesians & Homogenous Church

Whilst preparing for a talk on the church for Reading Family Church, in June, I found this by Ian Stackhouse:
"As [Gordon] Fee asserts, unity 'requires heterogeneous people to submit their diversity to the unifying work of the Spirit. Homogenous churches lie totally outside Paul's frame of reference. After all, such churches cannot maintain the unity of the Spirit that either Ephesians 2 and 4 or 1 Corinthians 12 call for'. Arising out of this tension is the challenge to live true to the way of the Spirit in whom we have been immersed, rather tan the way of the flesh. The success of the church community in living this way, and not any other way, is precisely what constitutes the witness of God's grace in the world. Unspectacular though it may be, and unpopular hough it may be, it is the maintenance of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, reinforced in the fellowship that surrounds the word, the breaking of bread and prayer, that witnesses to Christ's victory in the world over the principalities and powers, and becomes the source of endless missionary possibilities."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Third best aroma in the world


If the greatest aroma of all is that of Christ, from believers (2 Cor 2)... and the second is the prayers of the saints (Rev 20)... the third must be freshly ground coffee beans.

Christology

In the end, I realized that we labor with the exalted Christ, which gives us authority to proclaim the gospel of freedom. And we labor like the incarnated Christ, which gives us humility and grace to creatively demonstrate and proclaim the love of Christ to fellow sinners in our culture. And though I needed to be like Jesus and lead our people in kind, I also needed to remember that there is one way in which a Christian should not be like Jesus. Jesus never sinned and, therefore, never repented, but because we sin, we must continually repent if we are to be faithful missionaries. This simple point is important because, while the many emerging pastors I speak with have rightly focused on following the example of Jesus, if they fail to recognize this vital difference between us and Jesus, they will diminish the acknowledgment of sin and the urgency of repentance." - Mark Driscoll

People want practical ministry tips and life advice, but what we really need is doctrine. In Romans Paul begins his practical exhortations therefore, in view of God's mercy, give your bodies as a living sacrifice....

We'd rush into the instructions, but he says the key to transformed living is a response to God's mercies. And not just a brief reflection. No, Eleven whole chapters of detailed teaching about the mercy of God. Backed up like water behind a dam, and then exploding in a cry of extravagent praise and detailed practical instruction.

Real change comes from the doctrines of grace.
Get the doctrine wrong and everything else falls apart.
Know Christ, make Christ known.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Reaching for the Invisible God?

The serious problem I see with “law two” in most booklets is the diagram showing men trying to reach God through ethics, good works, philosophy, other religions, etc. This is completely false. The purpose of ethics, etc., according to Romans 1 is to help man escape God and suppress all knowledge of Him. Rebel-lious man never tries to reach God.

(James Jordan, HT:Mark Horne. This is an endnote in the context of positive reflection on "gospel summary" tools...)

The Da Vinci Code (Film)

This year we've seen very few films at the cinema. (Match Point, Syriana, Inside Man, M:I:III). This one was long awaited, and actually we had to wait an extra hour cos we decided not to book in advance and the previous screening was sold out. We got our first glimpse of the new James Bond in action and the news that Captain Jack is back (soon). And then came the film we'd been waiting for.

The story is no surprise and Ron Howard sticks close to the book. Its a classic hollywood film with big sweeping views and great settings - particularly when it comes to the Louvre. The action of course moves on fast from there to several lesser locations, before landing in some classic London spots... and along the way it feels like he's joining up lots of different films without much cohesion.

Hanks and Tautou work well in the lead roles, though it is McKellan who steals the show. Meanwhile, Bettany is pained in his flagillations as Silas, accompanied with a slightly odd accent. Reno and Molina provide good support. The film suffers from the books flaws, travelling from a murder in Paris to a church cellar in Scotland, its always slowing down - albeit with occasional bursts of pace through a Parisian woodland and the streets of London.

The dialogue is pretty wooden and it sticks loyally to the book's riddles, to which we already know the solutions... further diffusing tension. They were clever enough first time around, but this isn't the first time. Essentially, it's a victim of its own familiarity... even with the grand vistas of the Louvre it was never going to be as gripping as those pageturning moments late at night when we first read it.

Much of the hype has been over the way that the history of the early church is distorted - and that fault remains in the film. I can't see it swaying too many people. The Catholic Church has a bed reputation as it is... and personal contact is more than capable of reversing bad corporate image. Further, Silas' efforts at self-atonement are easily refuted from a few minutes with an open Bible... and present possibly one of the most straight forward opportunities available.

All Christians ought to know enough church history to know what the council of Nicea actually did, along with the simple business of refuting the gnostic gospels that Leigh Teabing cites to support his theories. It does matter whether Jesus had a child or not... it does matter whether he is divine or not. And we Christians really should have answers to those questions. The conspiracy theories are pretty vaccuous, but they might just get people thinking... we'd like the world to be full of significant symbols and deeper meaning...

After 2.5 hours we're left man who wont worship Jesus as divine but is happy to kneel before Mary's dead body.... a "serious" historian who thinks sentiment matter more than facts and sense.

At the end of the day its not the worst film ever made, though given the quality of the people involved the scandal really is how bad it is (rather than the big scandal the "story" is trying to reveal). Its softer round the edges and lacks all the tension of the book. The ending goes all gooey and sentimental and existential... and throughout its pretty slow and saggy. Mr Howard, The Da Vinci Code is not the best material in the world to work with, but we know you can do better than this.

Other reviews:
Robin at Long for Milk
Matt at Darkmatters
Michael Spencer, Internet Monk
Amy Wellborn
Michael Collender, Audio Review

Friday, May 19, 2006

Breathless Gratitude

Ian Stackhouse spoke at the last Surrey CU meeting of this year, last night. I think it was the first time I'd heard him preach in person (rather than mp3), though we'd met a number of times and I loved his book on being gospel-driven as a church.

Anyways, during his talk he quoted PT Forsyth, something he does a lot in his book:
..."We have churches of the nicest kindest people but who have never known the soul's despair nor its breathless gratitude..."
Which is to say that as we consider the gospel we must know the misery, curse and blame we have been under due to sin - and also the unmeasured, amazing, abounding and unending grace that is ours in Jesus Christ.

Earlier I'd met with John Ross in Farnham and he'd shown me a session from Dominic Steele's Introducing God course - in it he describes sin, from Genesis 3, as a our declaration of autonomy. A very helpful term, which leads to the corruption of all our relationships with each other, this world and our God. The situation is dire, and yet, and yet... grace, paid for my sins, and brought me to life... clothes me with power, to do what is right... leads me to heaven, where I'll see his face...."

John's deep rooted passion for the gospel and for developing gospel-centred-partnerships is somewhat reflected in Mark Lauterbach's comments on new churches
....I knew godly older people who understood Gospel humility and Gospel freedom try very hard to understand and appreciate the new wineskin -- and they could not make the adjustment despite their best efforts. There is a place for new churches as new generations rise. Those new churches will look quite different to older churches. But humility will call us to look on each other with charitable judgments and to ask a few basic questions -- Is the true Gospel being preached? is the church faithful to the Scriptures? Do they seek godly and qualified leaders? Do they practice discipline? If these things are present, then how they dress and what kind of music they use is insignificant. The issue is always the Gospel.
I confess I was also sitting rather covetously looking at the well stocked shelves of John's study office.

I'm sobered to have been reminded of the depth of my sin once again. Without that, grace is cheapened and life's gravity is reduced. And I'm glad to have tasted again the glory of God's grace. And I'm really looking forward to indulging in, delighting over, and generally gorging myself of Romans 11v30-12v2 with Tom and Ed later today.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

xxvii

Kept for another year by the grace of God.

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior
-
Habakkuk 3v17-18

Whatever the circumstance,
Hallelujah, what a saviour.

Humbled. Amazed. Silenced. Rejoicing.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Emptiness & Eternity

Why is life empty? Why so monotonous?
What is the point? What is success?
Why are comedians depressed? Why are the rich unhappy?
Why is the search for meaning so fruitless?
Is there any hope? Why are even Christians miserable?
Why are we dissatisfied? Why...


1. ENJOYMENT was EMPTY? (v1-11)
God tells us that our pursuit of pleasure wont ultimately satisfy... however much we gain. The Teacher ate, drank, built and shopped... and still saw his pleasure as unsatisfactory and empty.
...what hope for our materialistic culture?
...are the adverts that we're constantly exposed to just wrong?

I said in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself." But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, "It is mad," and of pleasure, "What use is it?" I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine--my heart still guiding me with wisdom--and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the children of man. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

2. ENLIGHTENMENT was EMPTY? (v12-16)
God tells us that wisdom is better than folly... The Teacher was wise and so could see, which is better than walking blind... and yet:
(i) everyone dies, wise or foolish
(ii) everyone is forgotten (e.g. Ozymandias)
...half of 18-21 year old are being herded into University... to what end?
... we meet to pursue wisdom from God... to what end?

So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. Then I said in my heart, "What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?" And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!

3. ENRICHMENT was EMPTY? (v17--23)
God teaches us that work seems vain and grievous
As the Teacher observes,
(i) the fruit of his labour is left to those who haven't worked for it, (Heiress Paris Hilton?)
you can't take it with you (...all that you can't leave behind.. no U-Hauls..)
(ii) work is hard and ultimately fruitless
...vast amounts of life is spent at work... why?
...collecting money and possession, to what end?

So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.


4. ETERNITY need not be EMPTY! (v24-26)
God's way as observed by the Teacher is
to make the most of this life's pleasures

it is still empty... and only those who please God gain eternally
so: pursue joy, knowledge and treasure in Jesus Christ.
what will it look like to live in the emptiness whilst pleasing God?
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

--Ecclesiastes 2, The Bible, ESV
...with my first thoughts, as I begin to prepare to preach this later this month.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Storytellers

Tom asked:
What is it about The Da Vinci Code story that grabs people, causes people to rediscover reading, enjoy the story, reading late into the night, engrossed by the tale? How can we move away from merely evaluating The Da Vinci Code story, merely in terms of - Is it true or false?

Why do we love stories like these? Why have so many of us stayed up late to read that book.... I put off reading it for ages and then read it inside 24 hours, I couldn't put it down. Similarly why did I really enjoy the mindless drivel of M:I:III last week?

Surely part of it is that we have imagination. Our minds buzz with creative thoughts. We love to look beyond where we are, for better worlds and brighter views. Its the same spirit that leads us to write and create, to explore and investigate. We're deeply curious beings who know that we're made for more than the humdrum of life.
...for a better world and a brighter view, some would leave all else, trying to find heav'n on earth... (scared of aeroplanes)

And life is such humdrum. The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible paints a depressing view of daily life. Life in which the pursuit of pleasure, stuff and wisdom that proves ultimately futile and empty. A painting that describes our real experience of life. Life that makes us cry "there must be more than this"... or we settle for dullness and plod on subhumanly.

The humdrum of this life is not all there is. The experience of life has its futility, to deny that is to decieve ourselves. We long to escape from the futility of it all.

Whether its stories of hidden secrets or strange new worlds. Stories of conspiracy and adventure. Momentary escape from this life.... Some of our imagination leads us away from reality into fantasy... other imagination leads us closer to what life is supposed to be.

The question is what is it supposed to be? How can we tell the difference between fiction and fact in our search for the real story? What happens if the real story doesn't fit our expectations?

What if we could hear the story of God? What if we could hear from the mind of God? What if God chose to reveal his story to us? Couldn't he do it? Wouldn't it be what we were made for? What if that story surpassed all the stories in the world?

What if we gained a new start? What if we were invited into a whole new world, the world we were made for... a world stretching into the mind of God and into eternity? That would be a story worth knowing.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Tony Robinson says...

Just watched Tony Robinson's The Real Da Vinci Code on Channel 4. Robinson is a great entertainer but also serious about history. He carefullly shows us that:
...the Da Vinci Code is basically, "rubbish"

...without any factual basis...derived from lots of appealing ideas... not particularly well written (though he concedes thats not a crime)... a story that we might like to be true, but simply isn't. No more reliable a story of history than Monty Python... something that belongs in the realm of imagination.

Good fiction is not a bad thing. The problem here is that it can divert us away from the real story. I'm sure we'll go and see the film, and I'm sure it'll be entertaining... meanwhile the real Jesus story, the one found in the Bible is way more compelling than the fictious gnostic alternatives. Why not take an hour to read one of the gospels in the New Testament?

paulhuxley.blogspot.com



Huxley's blog relaunched. Much more readable, and as he finishes his exams and heads into Relay I'm looking forward to lots of quality blogging:
paulhuxley.blogspot.com

Conspiracy

A first draft?
Shaking civilisation to the very core
A crucial moment in our history
What once was hidden now finally revealed
The greatest story that was never told?
Once before the earth was shaken
Another crucial moment occured
A man nailed to a Roman cross
In the greatest story ever told


Longtime suppressed by authority
Passed down to a sacred few
Complex conspiracy to decieve
Restoring dignity and power to all!
Once again God is dethroned
As men prefer themselves to the King
Offended by God's scandalous plan
Mercy offered freely to any man


With slight of hand and ambitious claim
What was kept secret now made known
Self-proclaimed prophets of truth
Without demand or cost to pay
Elsewhere a word was clearly said
Men speaking of what they'd seen
They would not be silenced or stalled
From calling everyone to the new life
© Dave Bish, 2006

Friday, May 12, 2006

Let grace be grace!

When I've not been in the New Forest with the team this week, I've been studying Romans 11 with Tom and Ed... awesome stuff - when you take time to study it you can tell why Paul explodes in praise at the end of it. Study it for yourself, and take John Piper along to help you...
"God’s aim in history to stop the mouth of human pride and magnify the greatness of his absolutely free mercy. Jews were prone to boast over Gentiles, so God humbled them by making their disobedience the means of Gentile salvation. And more than that: he humbled them by making their own salvation the fruit of Gentile salvation. By the mercy shown to Gentiles they receive mercy. Jewish boasting is ended. And what about us Gentiles? We are prone to boast over the broken off branches of Israel and brag that their disobedience was for our mercy. True. But then God stops our mouths: by making our mercy a means of theirs and our salvation a stepping stone to theirs. And all Gentile boasting is ended." (John Piper)
Three Piper mp3's to listen to:
For God's sake let grace be grace
Pastoral thoughts on the doctrine of election
God's design for history: The glory of his mercy
Romans 9-11 magnify the doctrine of election (quite rightly!) and they do so to silence our boasts, and to show the glories of God's grace.
"[Election] is not mainly a doctrine to be argued about, but a doctrine to be enjoyed. It's not designed for disputes; it's designed for missions. It's not meant to divide people (though it will); it's meant to make them compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and forgiving." (John Piper)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Proving it

Reading Acts:
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. - Acts 18
Loving the story of the Holy Spirit at work in the early church... it was full of struggle and challenge, but also packed with the preaching of God's word, which is matched by people rapidly becoming disciples...
Its great to see the example of Spirit-filled people like Apollos, Stephen and Philip explaining from the scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. There's an example I want to follow.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Homogenous Church

Mo writes again on Homogenous Church, and Ephesians. The great thing about Mo's blog is that though he doesn't write often, when he does its brilliant.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Da Vinci Code



It isn't some great new threat to the church, just another person unearthing gnostism to offer us a cost-free Jesus...

Endless books have been written about The Da Vinci Code. All a little unnecessary. Its a good blockbuster type book. Save your cash and have a look at this:

www.thetruthaboutdavinci.com

Westminster Theological Seminary have put together this website with some good stuff on it if you do want to think about it by people like Garry Williams, Tim Keller and Darrell Bock:

Big promises


The lovely people at Good News Crossway have added a free copy of Mark Dever's The Message of the Old Testament, to the NT volume that they sent me a few months ago.

Review of The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept. A review of the Old Testament volume will follow in due course - when I've digested at least a reasonable proportion of the book (which is huge!).

You might remember the box that Humility arrived in. By contrast this book arrived in a box barely big enough to hold it... in all cases, I'm very thankful for free books.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Increase

Acts 6. Church-growing:
The word increases, the disciples increase...


We went to Guernsey on our honeymoon, four years ago this summer. On our first evening we decide to walk into the town of St. Peter's port to get a meal. I'd been
to the island before so I confidently led the way, leading my wife through the country lanes into town.

We needed no map. I knew where I was going. I would lead my wife with confidence! Sadly what I percieved as a straight and familiar road was slightly curved and my
bearings were a little off. Soon we were lost. In the evening sun it was pleasant enough but it was our first tense moment.

Eventually we found our way back to where we began, picked up a map from our room and began again... things are not always “romance and righteousness” in marriage, and nor were they in the early church.

The story in Acts begins with great glory, the Spirit sweeping in and changing lives... but the honeymoon doesn't last long and soon tensions and challenges appear. Nonetheless, we must remember as Paul would preach in Acts 20v28 Paul that Jesus bought the church with his own blood.

This is the glorious story of Jesus' bride... bought with the blood of calvary... rescued from the fires of hell to know the eternal pleasures of being in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ forever. We dive back into Acts this summer term in chapter 6.

Let's recap last term.
Josh Harris writes: "Acts 1 is the first page of church history... you and I trace our spiritual ancestry to that page. There, Jesuscharges his followers with being his witness to the ends of the earth. Then he returned to heaven. A few
paragraphs later the mighty wind of the Spirit blows into a meeting of 120 waiting expectant believers.. and the church is born"


This is our story. The story of the church. By Acts 6 there are 10,000 disciples... today... who knows. Its unstoppable. But how does it grow? The church is not out there – its us, you and me together.

Our obituary is published frequently – but reports of our death are greatly exaggerated. It will triumph. Jesus said so. Terry Virgo asks if the future has a church - and he knows it does! Harris pleads: fall in love with the church.

But how does the church grow?
Many succomb to lies in this matter. Some to inaction – concluding if they wait and perhaps pray God will bring people flooding in.. and yet we're still closing more churches than we're planting.

William Carey exposed this for a lie. God uses means. William Carey sparked the modern missions movement when he defied the inactivists. They said if God wanted
to save the heathen he would. Carey knew that God always uses means... he uses people to pray and to preach. In rural Northamptonshire, near where I grew up, missions flame was reignited. And it continues to burn... and it must burn on!

Others say go for relevance. Knock off the edges. Be cool. But we're not cool we're Jesus' people. We need not make the gospel relevant. It is. But mankind has never wanted to hear the gospel. People prefer junk to jewels. They prefer idols to Jesus.

As John Piper observes, and Matt Redman has put into song. Missions exist because worship doesn't.

One more remark before Acts 6.
Why am I talking about church growth here in the Christian Union?

• Firstly, because second to talking about God's grace there's nothing I'd rather talk about than the church. I love the church.
• Secondly, because Acts 6 tells me I must - I have no choice!
• Thirdly, because although the CU is not The Local Church it cannot be divorced from the church. We all represent local churches – sending and receiving churches.

As the Christian Union we are at work in church growth, but not in growing a campus church. We have no interest in building a campus church. Why not?

• Firstly, its unsustainable because you'll move on fast. No one can stay for long.
• Secondly, its unbiblical – church cannot be homogenous. It must be diverse to display the glory of the gospel. The more diverse the better... a student-only church does not do that. So, we say no to campus church, instead we form a mission
team growing our churches in Guildford and nationwise.

So, to Acts 6.
These are the Acts of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit empowering God's people to testify. As Jesus said, testifying to his resurrection!

See 5v42, daily, unstoppable. Spirit-sent from Jerusalem, to Judea & Samaria and out to the End of the Earth. In Acts 6 they are numerous but they're still in Jerusalem. By Acts 28 they'll reach Rome, the ends of the earth... Everything else is Acts 29, at the ends of the earth.

Among the Acts of the Spirit are the acts of satan. The devil is defeated at the cross, but he fights on. He has but two strategies.

From outside – stiring persecution against Jesus. Twice Peter and John have been arrested and told to stop testifying. But they will not be silenced.
From inside, turning disciples back to sin. Ananias and Sapphira are satan-filled when they should be Spirit-filled, in Acts 5.. they lie to the Spirit and die.

The devil wants to silence the church so that God's rule will not be manifest in this world. If the church stops testifying to Jesus' resurrection then the lie that satan still has a claim on us can be maintained.

Now in Acts 6 another internal issue. Its financial again. And if it cannot be resolved then the very mission of the church is at stake. Get this wrong and the church silenced. Silenced so that satan's influence goes uncontested.

1. Growth brings Struggle
The church unites sinners. The Jerusalem church comprises of Greek and Hebrew Jews. Two languages. Two cultures. One Christ.

Sinners called out of idolatry to the worship of Jesus. What a work of sovereign grace! The same work that has happened in us. Corrupted to enjoy sin, when we were made to enjoy the Lord Jesus Christ.

What an Almighty Saviour we have. Among those 10,000 were the worst of sinners. Among that number were members of the mob who once cried out "Crucify Him!" and now cry out “Magnify Him!”

Churchless Christianity is no Christianity at all. You cannot be a churchless Christian. Someone said you may be going to hell if you're not a member of the local church you attend. They push the point strongly, but the point is true. God's plan is corporate. Its not me and Jesus, is me, you and Jesus. Its not
easy, but church is not optional.

And we should grieve to see the church spoken ill of. And we should weep when God's people speak ill of the church. Jesus loves the church... we must also. And yet, putting sinners together under the same roof is never easy. Its true of marriage. And it is true of the church. The early church was fraught with trouble. The church grew, but it was forever fighting against sin. The New Testament is predominantly correctional against pain and problems.

In Acts 6 division arose. v1. Greeks complaining against Hebrews because their widows were being overlooked in the distribution of food. It was a failure in funding. The money was kept centrally and it was not being distributed aright.
Widows were being overlooked.

God cares for widows, as he does for all his people. Growth was an administrative nightmare, and Christians were going hungry. When one part suffers the whole body suffers. The unity of the Spirit in the church is at threat. One faction complains against another.

There is daily crisis in the church to maintain what Jesus blood as wrought for us. It will happen. Parties and factions form within the body. And it is terrible. One party considers itself wronged – rightly or wrongly. Division arises. The gospel is refuted in the life of the church.

How we must examine ourselves... how we tolerate sin when we ought rather have the Holy Spirit lead us into war against our sin. Today the needs in the community of believers, here on campus are not physical, generally speaking. We have debt but we are well provided for. The global church is different but we are terribly priviledged. There are needs – loneliness, depression, academic pressures... and they matter. We must care for one another.

The needs are less but nonetheless we opt to divide. Friendship groups become cliques and factions. Divided over image or church...campaigning for our own agendas when we ought to be delighting together in the grace of God. Standing together to speak of that grace. And when we resist the urge to fight, we separate and divide... we stand apart.

The Incident with the Unfed Widows could have split the early church in two, on racial grounds. Would we do that? Divided over trivial matters of image and style? Opinion and selfish preference? What a precious priviledge to be united in Christ.

A friend working with Christian Unions outside the UK reports on one campus some seventeen evangelical student groups. Seventeen! How do you divide that many ways? The Holy Spirit calls us to unity, we must maintain the unity of the Spirit. The idea of Christian community is great, said Bonhoeffer, the experience is hard. Really hard. We're to be together, not tribal. Struggling in Spirit-unity.

2. Growth needs Spirit-filled service.
The complaint comes before the leaders. Quite rightly. Yet there is a problem. The leaders have already been set apart by the Holy Spirit for a particular work.
They are holy for the chief work of the church. They're set apart and empowered, like the rest of the church, to testify that Jesus is the Christ. And they did it daily.

They assert and prove, preach and persuade that Jesus is the Christ... with great fruitfulness. They could give this up and turn to what they call "waiting on tables" - or "table-ministry". Not so much being waiters, but bank clerks. But they have to say no. They will help resolve the problem, but they cannot be the answer to the problem. Our church leaders are drowning under countless good causes that would lead them away from prayer and preaching.

Speaking and teaching and explaining about Jesus cannot be neglected. And, neither can prayer - see v4. They must "give attention to prayer and the ministry of the
word"
.

Prayer and preaching, the church's chief priority. Preaching and prayer cannot be neglected. Practical needs matter, but the mission of the church must not be neglected. The Spirit's sword must not be taken away.

They learn from Moses after the Exodus and delegate. He too was a minister of God's word:
Firstly, nominate qualified people: known to be Spirit-filled and wise.
Secondly, bring them to the leaders for approval.
Thirdly, v6, everyone prays for them. Some think that says the apostles prayed, but the translation is better put that the whole community laid hands on them and prayed.

Let's explore that qualification:
What does it mean for a disciple to be Spirit-filled?
Remember that: "Bible words have Bible meanings".

In Ephesians being Spirit-filled describes those who love the
church relationally.
In Galatians being Spirit-led describes those who love God's people and God's ways.
In Luke's writings?
In Luke 11 it is about being a Christian. Those who have eternal life have the Holy Spirit. But it seems unlikely that that is the meaning in Acts 6. How can it be? It wouldn't need saying.
By Spirit-filled Luke means those who are empowered by the Holy Spirit to testify about Jesus. It can be all Christians, it may not be.

That's what Jesus said in Acts 1. And its what happened in Act 2 - in all the languages of the world the Spirit-filled disciples testified about Jesus, and chief among them Peter.

Seven Greek's are chosen. We know that from their names. They're Spirit-filled. The apostles accept the nominations and then the whole church prays for them... Five are
only remembered here, but two will recur.

Firstly Stephen. Stephen gives the longest sermon Luke records. Its a brilliant explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ - the story of God's salvation of his people. The Holy Spirit empowers Stephen to testify boldly. So boldly
that he goes to his death as a martyr.
Secondly, Philip. We find him on the road explaining who Jesus is from Isaiah 53. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament.

These men were bank clerks and yet they were among the greatest preachers of the gospel that the church has ever known. Spirit-filled, marked by depth of character and conviction.. who cares about skill and image... these men were full of the power of the Holy Spirit and God worked powerfully through them.

The church is the best place on earth. The idea is great, the experience is hard. But Jesus died to buy us for himself. He is at work in us by the Holy Spirit, by his glorious grace. The Lord Jesus came to live, die and rise so that his name would be proclaimed to the ends of the earth – the earth full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ!

And the word about Jesus Christ will be the means by which the nations are reborn. Growth brings struggle, it requires spirit-filled service... and it will grow by
speaking!

3. Growth is by speaking of Jesus.
v7. "...the word of God spread, the number of disciples increased rapidly... " Or rather, "the word increased, the disciples increased"

The Spirit-exhaled word of God taught by Spirit-empowered people leads to the new birth of many. It is the enduring word of God that recreates people. It is by the Word of God, the Spirit's sword that men become disciples... students of Jesus.. obedient to the gospel!

And even Priests obey. Significant because Stephen will be martyred on the charge of preaching against the temple. And yet he preaches the true temple of God – the Lord
Jesus Christ!

There is direct correlation – spread the word of God, people will become disciples. Shut up and stay silent and people will not be saved. Not saved by effort. Nor desire. Nor works. Nor image. Nor race. Nor religion.

Saved only by the sovereign grace of God by the preaching of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin and calls men to eternal life – to Jesus Christ himself forever.

This is and has always been the story of the Kingdom of God. John Stott puts it clearly: the kingdom grows as the Lordship of Jesus Christ is consciously acknowledged.

The early church knew this. Satan knows it – its why he conspires to silence the church from inside and from outside.

How will the church grow?
The Lord Jesus lived. He died. He rose. He is ascended. And the Lord Jesus gives the Holy Spirit so that by means of the prayer and preaching of his disciples his fame
would spread, his word would increase and his disciples would increase.

There will be struggle. We need the Spirit's power. And we must speak. Satan conspires to stop us speaking – we must not give in. The gospel will triumph unstoppably, but we could step away from it... wandering off the main road of God's purposes and lost in the country lanes of division and distraction.

The spread of the word will bring an increase in the number of disciples – individuals, one student at a time becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ! These are the Acts of the Holy Spirit in his church! If we are to grow the church of Guildford, of this nation and beyond then we must give ourselves to the work the Holy
Spirit has for us.

Spirit-people and therefore word-people.
Praying people who are preaching people.

Josh Harris again: "..their faithfulness to the Saviour is directly connected to the fact that two thousand years later, you and I know Jesus. If they hadn't stood for the gospel in their generation, we wouldn't be here in ours. They lived out God's word, they met in fellowship to give witness to the gospel; they proclaimed Christ Crucified with the word and their lives. Through them God saved and discipled the person who shared the good news with another... who witnessed to another... and another... on through the generations til we come to the person who shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with you and me... and so here we are... this is our time..."

And for 40 years, generation after generation has grasped that baton here at the University of Surrey. They ask us, will we hold our lives cheap, even to death, for Jesus' sake? They ask us, where are the lovers of Jesus, who love the souls of men more than their reputation, comfort or lives? They ask us, where are the men and women of vision? They ask us, where are the men and women of prayer?

This is our time, what will we do with it? Will we stray from the the work of spreading God's word? Here or elsewhere... or will we be obedient to the Holy Spirit, empowered by him to pray and preach the good news that Jesus is the Christ.


Note this is the script I spoke from not a transcript of what I actually said. There are a number of differences.
Delivered at University of Surrey Christian Union. May 4th.
Intro idea from CJ Mahaney on this passage - but the story is mine and is true. Josh Harris quotes from Stop Dating the Church as is the "You may be going to hell" quote. Terry Virgo reference is the title of his book. Closing questions from Howard Guiness Sacrifice. Much helped in preparing by Chris Green's book The Word of His Grace.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

fire and blood

Last night I listened to the John Piper talk from T4G. Afterwards I sat and shuddered and almost wept... on Thursday night I'm suppposed to be "preaching" at Surrey CU. Please pray that my preaching would be glorifying to God... I don't need to be John Piper, nor preach in a particular style or structure... but I want to burn with the gospel like him as I preach Acts 6v1-7... I want to feel the weight of the glory of the gospel... to point people to Jesus.... to exult in Jesus, tasting the satisfaction of the gospel over all things.

the mantle of preaching is soaked in the blood of Jesus and singed in the fire of hell.


Download the talk for $2 from SGM: God-glorifying preaching

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Elias Csaba Szabo


Congratulations to Daniel & Ahrna Szabo!

T4G 2008


Together for the Gospel
2008 Conference / April 15-17
Louisville, KY / Registration Opens Summer 2006

Can I raise the funds to go between now and then?
(i.e. Flight to USA, Accomodation and Registration)
Even if I could, would that be a wise use of money?
(given we don't have much, and theoretically I might be heading off to Bible College at some point in 2008, which is hardly a cheap thing to do)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Christ is an almighty Saviour

“When struggling against the corruptions of our own hearts, buffeted by temptations, and mourning over the weakness of our faith, and the coldness of our love, let us still remember, that Christ will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax.

As Captain of our salvation, he combats and conquers our rebellious inclinations, as well as our outward and spiritual adversaries, and hath furnished us with the shield of faith, wherewithal to defend ourselves, and enable us to repel the fiery darts of the devil. Satan, however, will sometimes endeavor to persuade us, that we have no faith, that we are destitute of love to Christ, that we are great sinners, and that the mercy of God, and the love and compassion of Christ, are blessings we have forever forfeited.

To all these suggestions of the enemy of mankind, we are warranted and encouraged to reply: That albeit we are great sinners, Christ is an almighty Saviour; and though our faith be weak, and our love cold, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, but fan it into a flame that shall never be extinguished. Abimelech could not endure the thought, that it should be said concerning him, after his death, that he died by the hands of a woman; and how mortifying must it be to Satan, to find that all his arts have been unavailing, his threatenings vain, and his power inadequate to the task of extinguishing an almost imperceptible spark.

To find that the soul, influenced by the grace of God, stands secure as an impregnable fortress: that the wiles of Satan cannot sap the foundation, nor all the artillery of hell batter down the walls of her defense; and that a weak child, a silly woman, or a decrepit old man, should, by the exercise of faith, force all his veteran legions to a shameful and precipitant retreat. Let us therefore rejoice in the promise—'My grace is sufficient for you;' and let the assurance, of an ultimate triumph, invigorate our resolution to fight the good fight, and lay hold on eternal life. For though the warfare be arduous, if we strive, Christ will help us. If we faint, he will cherish, animate, and support us. If we follow the directions of our Leader, we shall assuredly overcome; and, overcoming, the crown of unfading glory awaits our reception"

Richard Sibbs, The Bruised Reed.