Saturday, September 30, 2006

Theology for All Conference

Went to Theology For All conference at Duke Street Church, Richmond today. Also present were Nathan Burley, Rosemary Grier, Gareth Batten (2 sessions already blogged)and our speaker, Carl Trueman.

I'll blog some of the quality things he said in the days ahead as I process them! It was great to hear perspective on the church today from a church historian - I was very struck by the different angle this brings on theological issues. "A church without church history element is doomed to be irrelevant...". This was supplemented by a strong desire for a growth in humble orthodoxy in the church.

Today inspired me towards full-time study - too many problems occur because of doctrinal shallowness, and lack of grasp of church history. Though, this from David Field makes me query whether the CofE route would be the best option. The jury is out on that for now.

MP3s of Carl Trueman's lectures today will appear in due course. Given the ocpious notes that Grier, Burley and I were taking I guess you'll be able to read up on them soon too. A personal highlight was conversation with Miss Grier over coffees (and hard to handle muffins) on a range of issues during the day.

Advance to Go!

Preached tonight for Reading CU's pre-Freshers meeting. I gather an MP3 will be forthcoming. Whether this achieves its purpose will be seen in the rest of this week and beyond... God is sovereign and he speaks!

ADVANCE TO GO! Acts 4:23-33
It starts with a prayer meeting. But we're going to get this we need to rewind a bit. What was going on - we had Peter and John and the beautiful gate calling a man to be healed in Jesus' name. Peter then preached and was hauled up before the authorities.

Think for a moment, why would this happen? How could any of God's people end up in front of the authorities for their preaching? One way is by being stupid, rude, foolish. That happens. Christians are sometimes really dumb and it gets us, quite rightly, in trouble. But that wasn't what happened here.

This was different. The Saduccees had Peter and John arrested for preaching the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. Everyone had heard about the man they'd healed (in Jesus' name). It was undeniable. The only hope for the authorities in stopping Peter and John was to ask them to be silent. What did they say? (4v20) We're just telling people what we witnessed... its undeniable! And they're released. What happens next? They return to their friends. What would you do? Hide? Leave town?

They prayed. What would you pray? For peace? For favour with the authorities? For protection? Its their priority in prayer that I want to consider here. Two key things. First who they prayed to, and second what they prayed for.

Why is this relevant to us today? This is about the church under persecution. We might say we don't get persecuted in the UK. But let me tell you a couple of stories. Let me tell you about Birmingham CU. They hit the BBC headlines in January when the students union seized their funds because they only made provision for two gender categories in their constitution, banning them from using students union facilities. Or another CU, this week, where protests fill the students union papers. Protests against what? Against the CU running Pure. The promotion of Spirit-filled Christian freedom in relationships being opposed as immoral.

Brother Andrew tells the story of a meeting with a Romanian pastor. The pastor asked him - "Are there any pastors in prison in Holland?", receiving an answer in the negative, he was asked why... Andrew replied: "I think it must be because we do not take advantage of the opportunities God gives us". Then the difficult question: What do you do with 2 Timothy 3:12. Andrew opened his Bible and read aloud "All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted". Closing his Bible he said, "Please forgive me. We do nothing with that verse". (Cited by John Piper in Future Grace)

Something is missing if we're not persecuted. What? The absence of “a godly life in Christ” - a life utterly wrapped up with Jesus. Now, I'm not saying "go looking for it". Nor generating opposition by being dumb. I'm saying God promises persecution if we're seeking godliness. That desire is supposed to yield in persecution. Pursue Christ, get persecution. And when the cost is flagged up that clearly at the start you better believe that getting Christ is worth it.
Paul doesn't write to Timothy to scare people away from godliness – he's telling them upfront what it'll cost and then saying go get it – gain Jesus because he is better than even the pain and struggle of persecution.

It should be happening. And if we pursue godliness then we better know how to deal with what God has promised will follow that. Which brings us to the way the church prayed in Acts 4:23-33. My title here is: ADVANCE TO GO! Two things we'll see – that we pray because God is sovereign, and we preach because God is speaking.

1. The Sovereign Lord.
They pray to the Sovereign Lord (v24). When your preaching is met by persecution that might not seem the obvious thing to remember about God. Wouldn't we often ask "aren't you sovereign?" rather than basing our prayer in the sovereignty of God. But they did. This is the Sovereign Lord who created the heaven, earth and sea and everything in them. The sovereign creator.

This sovereign Lord is the one who spoke ahead of time and then had his word fulfilled in the death of the Lord Jesus. The Lord who is sovereign over creation is also sovereign over the work that leads to new creation... headed by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Jesus, "anointed" by God. Killed at the hands of those (Pilate, Herod and the Gentiles and Israel) who did "whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place". Everything happened as God planned in creation, in new creation... in the life of the church.

The death of Christ was the plan of God. It was no accident. It was no plan-B. It was exactly what God intended. We need not be ashamed of the crucifixion of Jesus as if it were an embarrassing after thought to the greatness of his life. In God's terms the cross was the culmination of all that God planned to do in salvation. Martin Luther said that the cross is the standard by which we test everything. The cross is our theology.

Everything has reference to that. Its the basis on which God's people pray – the basis of our access to God in the first place. And it is the basis on which we pray because God is sovereign over all things – we appeal to the one who can take action. If we do not believe God is sovereign then there is no point praying. No point asking of a God who cannot do anything.

John Piper gives some examples of prayers that can't be prayed if we reject the sovereignty of God... “ They can't ask God to actually save anybody. They cannot pray, "God, take out their heart of stone and give them a new heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 11:19). They can't pray, "Lord, circumcise their heart so that they love you" (Deuteronomy 30:6). They can't pray, "Father, put your Spirit within them and cause them to walk in your statutes" (Ezekiel 36:27). They can't pray, "Lord, grant them repentance and a knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25-26). They can't pray, "Open their eyes so that they believe to the Gospel" (Acts 16:14). The reason they can't is that all these prayers give God a right that they have reserved for man - namely the ultimate, decisive determination of his destiny.”

But the early church knows that God is sovereign. They've not invented God's sovereignty so they can pray. But because they know God is sovereign they can pray! They ask of the Lord who planned and worked the death of his Son, they appeal to the one who did this. And they ask of him to stretch out his hand (v30).

They ask for his power to be exercised. But not power to protect his people, nor power to prevent persecution. Their concern is elsewhere. Some want to undermine the Sovereignty of God. Thinking that things such as the relational aspect of prayer are lost if God is utterly sovereign. Piper concludes.... without the sovereignty of God... “what you have left is a kind of lifeless vestige that most people think of as "the prayer meeting" - weak, uninspired, small-minded. A heart of prayer and a movement of prayer for missions is sustained by focusing on something else first that life is war and that God is sovereign.”

As a new year begins we must be a people who believe that God is utterly sovereign. If so, we'll pray. We'll be compelled to lay seige to the gates of heaven for God to act. God is sovereign so we must prioritise prayer. Too often prayer meetings are booked in small rooms, declaring that they're not for everyone. Let us book big rooms for prayer together. And let's pray.

There is no point praying if God is not sovereign. But since he is, then we can and must pray. Asking him to covert people. To save people. To turn atheists into lovers of Jesus. To renew hearsta nd minds. To open eyes to the gospel. God is sovereign, so we pray.

2. The Speaking Lord.
There is no point praying if God isn't sovereign. Furthermore, there is no point preaching if God isn't speaking. No point preaching if God isn't speaking. Who is this Sovereign Lord. He is the one who spoke through the mouth of David, by the Holy Spirit. What did he speak? Psalm 2. Before we consider what that Psalm says...

A brief aside... A reminder of what this book is. Do you see? v25. God speaks Scripture, through men by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is a human book – literature in various genres. But its also God speaking, through those writers... by the Holy Spirit! And when God speaks big things happen. Remember what happened when God said: let there be light. Bang. Universe. Let's be those who open God's word with people we meet this week. When God speaks universes get created. What might happen if we open God's word with people, even this week

What did God say in Psalm 2? He spoke to prophesy the death of Jesus (v27). David wrote about the nations opposition of his throne. More was going on! God was foretelling the day when the nations would kill Jesus. No accident. It was his salvation plan. God said that people would oppose Jesus. And now his people are likewise opposed. Christians thoroughly wrapped up in the story of Jesus. United with Christ in his resurrected life, and his sufferings...
What happens to Jesus, happens to his people. We are in union with him – united to him. We share in his sufferings, looking forward to a share in his resurrection.

What do they ask for? They ask, v29, "look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness". To continue to speak with boldness? Well they certainly have boldness, they stood up against the authorities. What help do they need to do that? And why not ask for escape from the situation. Remember how the book starts though. Jesus, whose Acts are told throughout the book of Acts, said in 1v8 that the Holy Spirit would empower his people to witness about Jesus. God's church would be clothed with the Holy Spirit to become witnesses.

And that happened 2000 years ago at Pentecost The Spirit is poured out in power, announcing the coming of the Day of the Lord... and empowering God's people to be witnesses of Christ.
The Holy Spirit through God's people. Any speaking they have done has been God speaking through them. And they may be opposed, as Jesus was, but God would have them continue - and they are compelled to request power to continue to be bold. They could hide away but God's word must be spoken... the word must increase.

What happened next? v31. The place was shaken, like Sinai - God speaking to his people. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (the power to witness) and continued to speak the word of God with boldness! The prayer was answered... what follows shows that the rest of their request for healings and signs and wonders was also completed in the name of Jesus. This was God's hand being stretched out. No-one saunters into the presence of God, you come with fear and trembling. When God speaks the most confident of people must be humbled. And, v33, "with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all" If we are to pursue a life of godliness, persecution should follow. Prayerfully let us be prepared.

Let us call upon the Sovereign Lord to Speak through his people by the power of the Holy Spirit... so that we would testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Acts 6 tells us that as the word increases, the number of disciples increases. God speaks and new life happens. God speaks through his people and more people become disciples. Prayer was an essential part of the apostolic ministry, as was the preaching of God's word. And Acts 4 tells us that a key focus of their prayer was seeking power for preaching the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. What will we give ourselves to? Not to seek persecution as an end in itself. Rather, let us also devote ourselves to prayer for power to preach Christ, and then to preaching Christ by the power of God.

This means that when we pray we need to pray for power to preach. That doesn't mean you can't pray about work, or for healing... but our priority should be for God's power to give us boldness to continue to speak his word. The Holy Spirit is given for this purpose... what will we be saying without his empowering?

And this means that we then need to devote ourselves to proclaiming the word of God to people. Verbally explaining the good news about the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, carefully explaining the meaning of it. Take note of American, Voddie Baucham's words: "‘Speakers come from Radio Shack; I come to Preach!’ I believe that our unwillingness to use the term ‘preacher’ today is due to the fact that preaching has fallen out of favor." God has determined that people will be saved through his word being preached. God is utterly sovereign, but God uses means. He uses men and women who will preach his gospel. Heralding the reign of God. Pleading with those we meet to “behold your God”. Announcing far and wide that “our God reigns!”

People will not guess. But the amazing news about Jesus can't be worked out. It's counter intuitive. When people invent religion they don't get the Christian Gospel. They don't get Trinity. They don't get the Cross. No-one guesses that God sent his son to die in our place. No-one guesses that he had to suffer and be raised. No-one guesses God's grace.

We must preach it. But how? Not cold or clinical. Not detached and derogatory. No. Passionate. Heart-felt. Joyful and weeping. Preaching the Lord Jesus Christ with delight and with tears.
And when that happens things will happen. God's word is like rain, it produces harvest. When God said: “let there is light” it wasn't that nothing happened. No God said, and light happened. God breathes out and things change.

The Bible is not dead, dry or out of date. It is God speaking today. We need to open it with us. Imagine what could happen! God's word created the Universe, it will re-create sinful hearts. If the word of God is silenced there will be no new disciples... when the word increases, the number of disciples increases. There is no point praying if God is not sovereign. But he is. There is no point preaching if God is not speaking. But he is. Let's be a Mission Team. Let's be a praying people. Let's be a preaching people. Our God is Sovereign. Our God is Speaking.


Further reading, by Fred Saunders: Agrippa on the Damascus Road.

Wealth Redefined

My ongoing thinking about money, for my book project, has left me with a stack of mp3's to listen to in the next few weeks. Among them several from Christ the King, Brighton (including this one by Tery Virgo: Planning your future - 8th Jan 2006), and this one from Matt Chandler...

Matt Chandler - The Letter to Smyrna - Wealth Redefined - 8th August 2005

"Because if people, here’s the thing, we’ve just been given this great mercy of being born in this country and so nobody in here knows poverty, Nobody. If you are homeless in here tonight and someone invited you in, by the world’s standard you’re still pretty wealthy*. You’re still pretty wealthy. Most of us ate something today. You tracking with me? Most of us ate something today.....Could you have great physical wealth, and be completely safe and comfortable, and have an impoverished soul that’s in danger?.... So what happens here is Jesus just redefines wealth for us... I want us to look at this idea tonight that wealth, real wealth, has very little to do with finances but real wealth is this thing that occurs in the soul... the wealthiest people we see in Scripture don’t seem to be wealthy at all... Maybe instead of jetting out of here, we check our accounts."

* and of course no "poor" bloggers...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Taste and see! Life-giving theology

Gareth and I decided today that these books will probably be our core resources as we prepare our conversation about Calvinism and Arminianism at the end of October,to be held in Guildford for the benefit of our Relay workers. We'll centre upon the nature of God's sovereignty as we consider this issue - chiefly, how does God act sovereignly - how does he elect - how does his knowledge of the future affect things...


We want to keep it friendly as we discuss the issues involved. I don't want it to just be theoretical because theology is about who our God is, and its about how we live, its about whether God gets glorified or downgraded. I love Mike Reeves' definition of theology, he says it is what Gideon does in Judges 6, its about smashing up idols altars and restoring the worship of God in the hearts of God's people.

Theological issues such as this are not obscure and irrelevant... they're a matter of vital spirituality, faithful worship and Christian joy. Bad theology is gangrene (2 Timothy 2:14-18) and must be gotten rid of because it causes immorality. Good theology is like being a tree planted by streams of water (Psalm 1:3-9) that causes people to prosper and have joy. [Paraphased from Daniel Strange, The Necessity of Theology]
"If theology is not only abouyt knowing God and what he has done, but also about knowing God and what he has done for me in Christ, then how can I be apathetic about it? How can I not love my God with all my heart? I want to praise God and thank Him, to be enthused about learning more about him. Notice that after the most difficult theological discussion that Paul engages in the book of Romans, his response is one of praise and worship. The more we learn about God and his gospel the more we will want to praise Him! So many Christians don't get excited because they do not see the gospel in all its polyphonic and glorious Technicolor but rather settle for a little mono 'black and white' version." -- Daniel Strange
By engaging in careful theological conversation we will be able to taste and see the glory of God in the gospel. We'll be confronted in our sin and required to be humbled, we'll be fed and nourished. This is why I'm passionate about the Calvinist/Reformed teaching on the Sovereignty of God - I believe it magnifies God, in accordance with what God has revealed in the Bible. God is jealous for his name and so we need to discover who he really is. We need BIG GOD THEOLOGY!

Beginning With Moses is designed to help the church think theologically. So is The Theologian. See these articles:

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My life is hid with Christ in God

Hebrews 2:5-3:6.

What is the world like? v15&16 tell us that the world is in lifelong slavery because of the fear of death. It doesn't always show, but things are not always how they seem. And this feeble power is wielded by the devil. He offers us the best he can and it is a pathetic life of slavery. And we buy it. He wants us to despair.
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
But then Jesus. Then Jesus! The one who is higher than angels. But for a time be became lower than angels. He became a man. In coming lower he tasted death and suffering for us - and is now in glory and honour. In doing this he becomes our perfect priest and sacrifice. The propitiation for our sin - God's means of becoming favourable towards man. On Jesus fell God's wrath that I deserved. God's justice satisfied.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
Jesus is superior to angels, and also to Moses. Moses served God's house. Jesus is the Son over it. He is the Son over us, God's house, but we're also Jesus' brothers. We share in his glory. We're no longer living in lifelong slavery. Instead we're brothers with the Son. Inheritors along with him. Knowing life not death. Knowing joy not misery.

So what do to? Consider Jesus (3v1) and put all confidence in him, and all boasting. In heart and mind dwell on the one who suffered, died and rose for us. God's one perfect high priest who stands between us and God. Not a church leader. Not an ordinary man. The perfect God-man full of saving love!
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
Where is my life? In Christ. I'm dead. But he lives! And I live in him! Our brother, Jesus the exalted Son of God! Whatever testing or tempting comes our way - dwell on him. Fix your eyes on him, or drift away with dire consequences. Enjoy the favour of God rather than his displeasure. Enjoy the pleasure of God towards His Son!
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!
(Song: Charitie Bancroft, Before the Throne of God Above; Music: Steve & Vikki Cook - Songs for the Cross-Centered Life)

Youthful Passions

What are the main sins of youth? Alcohol? Internet pornography? Flirting? Ambition? Self-centredness? As Paul writes to Timothy he has something else in mind that Timothy must flee to be a faithful minister of Christ. "Youthful passions".

2 Timothy 2:20-26.

Until earlier this month I'd presumed that the warning for Timothy to flee youthful passions meant that he should steer clear of sexual immorality - which is an issue in our day, and may well have been then.

Then Mo flagged something up at Relay 1 that suggests otherwise. Paul says, have nothing to do with foolish and ignorant quarrels... because
...the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his oopponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil...
. Similar words are in view earlier as Timothy is instructed to be an unashamed workman, free from quarrelling.

As Mo said (or at least the way I noted it):
"...youthful immaturity engages us in arguments, turning into quarrels. The fix everything mentality... is an evil desire of youth..."
Could it be that what Paul has in mind is the youthful passion to pick theological fights? The stuff of blogwars and church splits? The fight-club mentality that feeds of hitting out and spilling blood? The way of thinking that doesn't care for the hearts, minds or souls of God's people but would rather score points.

What is the alternative? Kind and patient teaching. Gentle correction. A trust in the sovereign power of God to change hearts and minds. Trust that repentance (total change of heart and mind) is a gift from God. Trust that God reveals himself. This approach lacks the thrill of the chase and the adrenalin of war. But, this approach is restorative and loves God and his people.

Youthful passions look godly - they pursue truth with a passion. But they love to pick fights. They love to cross t's and dot i's. And they'd love to fix everything immediately. When youthful passions are put aside some battles can be avoid, some fights delayed.

"What Paul is warning Timothy about is the seductiveness of endless theological speculation! The tendency of the young, in both the enthusiasm of their emerging faith and of being over-impressed with their own theological capacities, is to become engaged in endless theological speculation. After all, it is in college that one engages in countless bull-sessions, not when one is in his fifties or sixties. In one sense, this is good – because these endless arguments both test and hone our faith. But it can also lead to endless speculation, worrying with words, and theological sophistry (after all, the word “sophomore” literally means “wise fool”). Paul calls this “youthful passions” (v. 22) – not referring to sensual desires but to one’s fascination with hearing his own voice parsing the Christian faith!" source
And as Stott says in his BST on 2 Timothy:
"The combination of unbiblical speculations and uncharitable polemics has done great damage to the cause of Christ"
It is not that all controversy is to be avoided. Paul makes frequent confrontation of error. But, he does not revel in responding to error. Nor does he take joy declaring people apostate. Such declarations are a last resort. Rather his manner is to plead for gospel with those he writes to. That is his concern. Galatians is a letter that need not have been written. Paul could simply have abandoned them to their folly. Instead he writes with heart and careful argument to plead with them to return to the Cross of Christ and to the freedom that is theirs by it. Such is his concern for God's people and God's gospel.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Piper is bad?

Prayer: The Work of Missions



From John Piper, in 1988...
In order to mobilize a movement of prayer in the church and in order to sustain a will to pray in our hearts, we must think and talk about other things besides prayer. This is the key lesson I have learned in recent years.

1. We must talk first about war. Because life is war. And it is utterly impossible for people to know what prayer really is until they know that they are in a war, and until they know that the stakes of that war are infinitely higher than the stakes in the Persian Gulf or in the Reagan-Gorbachev consultations.

2. We must talk about the Sovereignty of God. Because only from this great truth can we know that we will win the war. And only then will we have hope and strength to press on in a life of prayer.

3. Then, when we have spoken first about the war we are in and next about the sovereignty of God, then we can come to what I will call the awesome place of prayer in God's purposes for the world.
"The modern missionary movement did not arise in a theological vacuum. It grew out of a great Reformation tradition that put the sovereignty of God square in the center of human life. This we must talk about first. Without it, the confidence of prayer, the largeness of prayer, the boldness of prayer, and the perseverance of prayer vanish. And what you have left is a kind of lifeless vestige that most people think of as "the prayer meeting" - weak, uninspired, small-minded. A heart of prayer and a movement of prayer for missions is sustained by focusing on something else first that life is war and that God is sovereign."


Read the full article. Prayer: The Work of Missions

glorying Christianity

"...we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human remains useless and of no value for us."
-- p537, Calvin ICR III.i.1

"...how can there be saving faith except in so far as it engrafts us in the body of Christ?"
-- p576, Calvin ICR III.i.39
Calvin conditions his extensive discussion of Christian life upon union with Christ. The life set free from sin by grace is reborn united to Christ. He is now our life. Inseparably. He is counted to us as righteousness, and is our life. No mere lifestyle choice or shallow creed, but a new existence. Piper hits the mark when he asks us to consider the prospect of heaven without Christ - we would not be happy. Our eternity is not some self-indulgent hope, but forever face-to-face with Christ.
"...it is a token of the most miserable blindness to charge with arrogance Christians who dare to glory in the presence of the Holy Spirit, without which glorying Christianity itself does not stand! but, actually, they declare by their own example how truly Christ spoke: 'My Spirit was unknown to the world; he is recognised only by those among whom he abides' ...such glorying is so far from arrogance that if any man is ashamed to confess it, in that very act he betrays his extreme ungratefulness by wickedly suppressing God's goodness, more than he testifies to his modesty or submission"
-- p587-8 Calvin ICR III.i.40-41
New life marked by the Holy Spirit is the essence of our Christian life. We glory in the Cross, we glory in the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (boasting, humbly).
"...we must not treat the atonement as if its direct benefits to the believers are the whole of our salvation, for they are not. Benefits that the atonement brings us directly are forgiveness and justification, that is, full cancellation of our demerit and present acceptance of our sinful persons into the covenant fellowship of our holy God; permanent peace with thsi God and adption into his family, establishing us as his heirs... But the taproot of our entire salvation, and the true NT frame for cataloguing its ingredient, is our union with Christ himself by the Holy Spirit"
-- Packer, The Atonement in the Life of the Christian, in Hill and James, Glory of the Atonement, pp409-425.
The Cross achieves our liberation from this present evil age, freeing us from the slavery of sin and idolatry, religious zealotry or more obvious evil. And set free from that old life we are bought into union with Christ. New Life. The application of our redemption. A cross-centred life!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Seven

This is not the start of a 365 just some highlights of the last seven days in no particular order.
  1. Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. I really, really like this book.
  2. Coffee and conversation with Dad on Thursday.
  3. Hedge cutting. Though my arms now ache from it. Thanks for the tools Dad.
  4. Orlando. Saer not Bloom, talking about Jesus at Surrey CU.
  5. Freedom! Studying Galatians 1 with my Relays and with Ben.
  6. Junebug and Brick.
  7. PCC (Church Leadership Team) meeting. Quirky things to discuss at times, but great to partner with such godly people in God's work.
Memorable (but not a highlight) is eating hot homemade curry whilst watching X-factor. The joys of being married to a music geek! But, why do these people's friends hate them so much that they don't tell them they are painfully talentless? I know I can't sing, which is why I'd never do that sort of thing. And there were even some Christians on the programme. Whoever is pastorally responsible for them needs to toughen up and start telling people the truth, lovingly. If nothing else proves that tolerance is bad this does programme does. Further, why do people react so angrily when they're turned down - if they were really that talented they wouldn't have to submit to such a process. Not to mention the fact that someone ever thought that this was good TV... Still there is always the OFF button. Rant over.

Low-point of the week, see above - but also, losing my copy of James Sire's Why Good Arguments Fail, somewhere on campus at Surrey last Thursday. And not realising until the train pulled out of Guildford station. It's not that I really care about losing stuff, but I was re-reading it and it was helping me brush up my apologetics. I also have a seminar to write on the topic in October and I can't plagiarise a book I don't have anymore ;)

Meanwhile, Ed wants me to do a meme, and I can't really be bothered. At least not tonight. I should probably get on with my quest to repaint the blogosphere, or just get some sleep. God doesn't sleep. I need to. Therefore...

Dawkinsgod?

(HT: Mark Crossley, reader of this blog)

Richard Dawkins is promoting his religion again with his usual bluster and inflamatory language: The God Delusion
"they are religious idealists who, by their own lights, are rational. They perceive their acts to be good, not because of some warped personal idiosyncrasy, and not because they have been possessed by Satan, but because they have been brought up, from the cradle, to have total and unquestioning faith."

If we add the word "in science" perhaps these words are Dawkins' confession of his own creed.
Dawkins may well be drawing on real believers who are lazy and brash with their use of scripture, but he hardly draws on the best examples, those who take the Bible as the literature it is, handling it with due care and attention - and careful doses of humility. We must take the Bible literally, as history where appropriate, elsewhere as poetry, law, letter or gospel.

What is plain is that Dawkins has failed to understand what the Bible is about - inevitable since doesn't want to believe it. Jesus himself said that a right grasp of the Old Testament leads to belief in himself, and that if we're to understand it we ought to seek to obey what it says.

This afternoon I was sat in Sorrento's espresso bar at Surrey University, carefully considering Galatians 1, The Bible. The essential thrust of the chapter seems to be concerned with the freedom from "this present evil" age that is achieved in the death of Jesus Christ. That evil age is not as we might imagine purely rampant sin, but slavery to any kind of idol ("not gods") - whether science, ambition, power, money etc - or even Paul's former religious zealotry. Paul is set free by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the man who once persecuted the church becomes its greatest advocate. He who once denounced the cross as blasphemous folly proclaims it. Calling people to die to their old life and its slaveries, and find a new life in union with Christ. Many have likewise been humbled. Many will be in future.

If Dawkins teaches me anything it is that we better pursue rigorous defence of the Christian faith with warm hearts and generosity. And further, Christians ought to become the outstanding scientists of our day, as we have been in the past. God's world bears much study. The same diligence should be shown by Christians in the arts and all areas of life.

There are many Christians who act foolishly, and many atheists alike. There are many religious warmongers, and many who wage war without "religion". I'd love to think that Dawkins would engage with the best of those who stand opposed to him, rather than just the wacky fringe... James Sire reports in Why Good Arguments Often Fail one of his interchanges with Dawkins that yielded little. Maybe one day...

Think further at www.bethinking.org.
Specifically: articles concering Richard Dawkins

A thousand songs proclaiming the glories of Calvary

Bob Kauflin posts very insightfully here:...summarising with 10 reasons why Christ Crucified is often lacking in the songs that we sing. May God raise up a generation of songwriters who are not ashamed to sing of the Lamb who was slain, who would rather plough their creativity into songs that boast in the Cross, than in themselves.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Christian Union (continued)

I'm reading and re-reading Richard Gaffin's essay in Always Reforming (Edited by A.T.B. McGowan): Union with Christ: Some Biblical and Theological Reflections which interacts strongly with John Calvin's writing in Book 3 of his Institutes of Christian Religion that deal with The Way We Receive The Grace of Christ. It's brilliant.

"Certainly, this Christ, his death and resurrection, including his ascension and Penetcost, as the culmination of redemptive history, are the heart-core of the gospel. They are, as Paul says, 'of first importance' (1 Cor 15:3). He and other New Testament writers make that abundantly clear. The controlling centrality of Christ's work is not at issue here.
But to punctuate the gospel, particularly its proclamation, with a full stop after Christ's death, resurrection and ascenion, allowing for his future return, does not do the gospel full justice, as 'thepower of God for the salvation of everyone who believes' and as that gospel involves the revelation of the righteousness of God 'from faith to faith' (Rom. 1:16-17). In fact, as Calvin intimates, that sort of parsing of the gospel misses and integral component, something absoluetly essentail. Or, as subsequent Reformed theology affired with aphoristic pointedness: 'Without application, redemption is not redemption'." (p278)
Gaffin stresses, along with Calvin, the centrality of Christ's death achieving for us Union with Christ. What is it to be a Christian? To be in union with Christ. Joined irrevocably to him - that is real new life! To live is Christ. And in this life, I will boast in the cross.

He presses on in the theme with some great thoughts about the role of faith, the Spirit's power and the doctrine of justification.
"We observe 'that not all indiscriminately embrace that communion with Christ which is offered through the gospel'. Why is that? Not because of some differentiating factor on our side. The answer is not to be found by looking into ourselves or contemplating the mystery of human freedom and willing. Rather, consistent with his uniform teaching elsewhere about the total inability of the will due to sin, we must 'climb higher' and there consider 'the secret energy of the Spirit'. Faith then is Spirit-worked, sovereignly and effiaciously. The union Calvin has in view, then, is union forged by the SPirit's working faith in us, a faith that 'puts on' Christ (citing Gal 3:27), that embraces Christ as he is offered to faith in the gospel. Faith is the bond of that union seen from our sin. 'To sum up, the Holy Spirit is the bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself.'" (p279)
Gaffin pursues this further here: Biblical Theology and the Westminster Standards (at BeginningWithMoses.org. Next, to Calvin: The Way We Receive The Grace of Christ.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Song of Songs

David Field draws our attention to:

Lanyardspotting

Matthew Parris at his witty best:

Lib Dem anarchists are coming – and they may have exploding mobiles

The Times - September 21st

Theology for All

I've plugged this before but thought I'd plug it again... also if you want an idea of quite how insightful and quality Carl Trueman is, listen to this interview - from 9marks.org - A sweeping conversation with Carl Trueman

"Church and Theology Today:
What is Really at Stake?"
Theology for All: Annual Day Conference
Saturday 30th September 2006
10.00 am - 4.00 pm


Speaker: Professor Carl Trueman,

Carl is currently Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He previously served on the Faculties of the University of Nottingham and the University of Aberdeen. A specialist in 16th and 17th century theology, he has also written extensively on contemporary evangelical theology, edits the student journal Themelios, and has a monthly column in the ezine, Reformation 21. Dr Trueman's books include Luther's Legacy: Salvation and English Reformers, 1525-1556; The Claims of Truth: John Owen's Trinitarian Theology; and The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historic and Contemporary Evangelicalism.

Programme
(details t.b.c.)

10.00 Arrival & coffee
10.30 "1. Theology and Everyday Life: The Reformation and Beyond"
11.30 Coffee break
12.00 "2. Contemporary Challenges to Theology and Church life"
1.00 Lunch
2.00 "3. What should a theological church look like?"
3.00 Tea break
3.20 Q&A
4.00 Finish
Location:
Duke Street Church,
Richmond, West London, UK.

Cost £10.00 TFA members
/ £15.00 non-members
Lunch and refreshments are provided.

For Details and Booking (required) contact:
rtsf@uccf.org.uk
0116 204 7682

Location and Directions can be found at www.dukestreetchurch.com



*Theology for All is the new name for the Tyndale Fellowship Associates.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Portfolio

I like blogs to look nice, here's a few of my attempts at making the blogosphere look a bit nicer on the eye.










Young, restless and reformed

Christianity Today's Young, Restless and Reformed article is now online.
(HT Justin Taylor)

"Why would God choose any of us? You are so amazed by grace, you're not picking a fight with anyone, you're just crying tears of amazement that should lead to a heart for lost people, that God does indeed save, when he doesn't have to save anybody." - Joshua Harris

Coffeehouse Conversation : The Law

The conversation is ongoing, come and join in at The Coffee Bible Club



Last night we began to study Hebrews at our homegroup. A light-bulb came on about the use of the law. See Hebrews 1v1-2v4.

When a parent disciplines a child it helps to prepare them for a teachers authority. When a teacher disciplines a child it helps to prepare them for the authority of employers, the law of the land etc. We see the consequences of infringing the authority of those with limited power to punish... and it helps us to listen to those who have greater power.

This lesser to greater argument seems to lie behind the seemingly bizarre argument of Hebrews 1v1-2v4. The writer initially seems to have a major Angels hang-up. He tells us how God has spoken definitively through his Son Jesus. The Son who holds all things together by his word, and who sits enthroned in heaven.

He could then simply conclude, therefore listen to Jesus. He's the boss. Wouldn't that be enough?

But, he then goes off on a seven quote excursus about how Jesus is better than angels before drawing his conclusion in 2v1-4.
1Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
This angel argument is supposed to make us "pay closer attention to what we have heard". That hearing is God speaking through Jesus (1v2). Why pay closer attention? Because "the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience recieved a just retributinon.". What is the message the angels delivered? The Law. (Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19).

So we should look at The Law, and see what happened to Israel when they disobeyed it. The consequences were tragic for Israel. Now God has spoken again. But this definitive message was not delivered by an Angel. This message was delivered by God's Son. And Son is far, far greater than the angels. How much more should we listen to the word of Jesus?

In terms of how this helps us understand, apply (and even preach) from The Law perhaps it means we need to preach bigger sections. We need to beware of isolating the words the angels delivered from their consequences. We need to hear the story of how God spoke to Israel (through angels) and how they failed to pay attention, and so were judged. Their story serves as an example that points us to Jesus, turning up the volume on what he says - showing us the deadly results of failing to consider what God speaks through Jesus.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Advance to go: Guildford!

Surrey freshers week is in full-flow. Tonight is the first Christian Union meeting. Christian Unions are Mission Teams, so when we meet the aim is to get equipped for mission. To hear what God has been doing, to pray - and then to have God speak through his word. And then to head back out together into the missionfield to live and speak for Jesus.



Orlando Saer is down tonight to preach from this, in Mark's gospel!
Jesus began telling his disciples what would happen to him. He said, "The nation's leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses will make the Son of Man suffer terribly. He will be rejected and killed, but three days later he will rise to life." Then Jesus explained clearly what he meant.
Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. But when Jesus turned and saw the disciples, he corrected Peter. He said to him, "Satan, get away from me! You are thinking like everyone else and not like God."

Jesus then told the crowd and the disciples to come closer, and he said:

If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me and for the good news, you will save it. What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What could you give to get back your soul?

Don't be ashamed of me and my message among these unfaithful and sinful people!
If you are, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.


Take it further. Advance to go. Enjoy John Piper - Doing Missions When Dying is Gain

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Christian Union

Where would you go to explain the gospel from the Bible. I can honestly say that Romans 7 isn't high on my list of places to try. But that was where Peter Kingston took us.... held within the context of chapters 6-8 of the same letter.

Romans 7:1-6

So the image is marriage. The union between people, a fading image in our culture but one that still does exist. The image needs to have remembered that marriage is supposed to be "until death us do part". Our culture might have forgotten that but take that as an underlying assumption for the sake of argument here.

So it starts with a marriage. Not with some way of living but a question of identity. And it starts with us married to law. Married to a bad spouse whose best guesture is to make us feel bad and guilty, and lead us into soul-destroying rebellion against God. And we're stuck in that marriage. Why? Because marriage is until death us do part, and that spouse ain't dying.

If we try to escape and live with Jesus we'll be committing spiritual adultery (see the book of Hosea for what that looks like when people married to God go off with sin). Why? Because its adultery to be with someone else if you're married.

Only death can break this. And for now, sin and law aren't dying. So the only option is this. Jesus comes into our marriage with sin and takes us all down. We all die.

So the old marriage is finished, but we're dead. Until, Jesus rises from the dead and brings us with him - in a new marriage to him. And now because of Jesus' death on the Cross we're union with Jesus. A new marriage in which we're in union with him.

And being "in Christ" we have everything that is his. We belong to him (and not to sin). Like him we reign. We will inherit all things. We gain eternal life. We gain God. We belong to righteousness not to sin. In fact to sin we have to commit spiritual adultery, walking back past the cross to rekindle sin's dying corpse. Of course we do that, and then must return again to the cross and to our new life in Christ.

Further, since our relationship with Christ is union with him nothing can separate us from him - we're joined inseparably. And now our new life in Christ is lived in the Holy Spirit - a new existence tied up with God.

In this we must recognise our sin, remember we're in union with Christ, repent of sin, renounce it as worthless, receieve Christ's acceptance and then rejoice and rejoice! This is a gospel that transcends cultures - we bring much of our culture into our union with Christ (whilst rejecting some what is sin). And this gospel transcends any other offer. It transcends the oppression of struggle in sin, the monotony of life, the offers of religiosity. Life in Christ is better. We don't have all its benefits and blessings tangibly now, but they will be ours!

Life that includes a share in the father's glory: John 17:20. Nothing gets better than that. Lloyd-Jones was right, the gospel is union with Christ. John Piper is right, God is the gospel. The good news is Jesus.
"So turn me tender again
Fold me into you
Turn me tender again
And mould me to new
Faith lost it's promise
And bruised me deep blue
Turn me tender again
Through union with you."
- Martyn Joseph

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

You mean God doesn't want some people to repent?

I've spent this afternoon rubbing my face in the Parable of the Word in Mark 4. And then I read this by Dan Phillips: Doomed Evangelism. Makes very helpful, if sobering reading. The Parable-Principle in action as Moses meets Pharaoh in Exodus 10.

When Paul writes about this doctrine in Romans 9, with his own people group in view, he writes with devastation and tear-stained face. We struggle with this doctrine because we don't like the idea of people not believing when we preach. But the weight of Biblical evidence seems to be that God is active both in hardening as well as in showing mercy, in both cases for his glory.

Approached from a different angle

Preaching to Felt Needs. Mohler cites William Willimon:
"Jesus doesn't meet our needs; he rearranges them. He cares very little about most things that I assume are my needs, and he gives me needs I would've never had if I hadn't met Jesus. He reorders them."
At Forum we sang Tim Hughes' song The Rising Sun which includes these words.
"Almighty God, in every way
You are above and beyond understanding"
Its a decent song that captures something of the spirit of 1 Corinthians 2. If you'll forgive the slight critique the song misses the fact that our Almighty God has been revealed. The same niggling feature is found in Wonderful so wonderful. I really like both songs but seem to be missing something.

The gospel, the revelation of our God is beyond our understanding and invention. This is true. We would not come up with it. Freud was right that religion is a projection of our desires. But Christianity is not. No-one comes up with a God like the Trinitarian God of the Bible.

At Relay 1 Mike Reeves spent two hours burning and bubbling with the heart of the gospel.
"When people have invented religion they've pumped up versions of themselves... The Cross of Christ defies this... The cross defines love... It defines justice... The Cross separates doctrine from demonic teaching... God without the cross is an idol, is the devil..."
We don't know what we need. We don't figure God out. He is "beyond understanding". But God reveals himself to us! He reorders what we think we know and what we think we need. The cross is our theology! As Paul said, he resolved to:
"...know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor 2v2)
We think we know what works. Its why we try to be religious. But, Mike asked: "Why did Jesus go to the Cross if a quiet time could do it?". The Cross is counter-intuitive. It is God's weak-looking power and God's foolish-looking wisdom. We would not work it out. We would not think we need it.

Crux probat omnia. The cross, as Luther said, tests everything. It is our theology. Crucifixion is not the ultimate offense, it is the meaning of the crucixion of Jesus that offends. Its not the kind of thing we would come up with. But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2v16b) The Spirit of God teaches us God's thinking. And then it all begins to make sense.
"“Glorious God.”
So far above all earthly things"
In closing.... Bob Kauflin on "Father, Spirit, Son" in our songs - a warning against being lyric police but in favour of being true to what God has revealed of himself. And more on the topic of this post. Covenant Life Church are preaching from 1 Corinthians. Hear this from Josh Harris. Proclaiming Christ-Crucified: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

Branding & Blogfinds

I spent yesterday at University of Surrey at the start of Freshers Week. It was great to meet Christian freshers who are keen not to waste their time at University, to catch up with the returning 2nd & 4th years. And many thanks to the Partridge family for dinner.

Pod introduces the official UCCF iPod nano's here. These are surely the official Bible's we should be adopting to remain under the rule of Pod.
ESV TruGrip Edition

Meanwhile, Becci resumes 365. Thabiti feels like preaching. Ievin's is thinking about reprobation. Adrian Reynold's is excited by God's desire in salvation. At the Castle is worth a look for audio downloads. (HT: Dave K)

Making good arguments: Tom on Pope wades into fight, Albert Mohler on The Pope, the Prophet and the crisis of truth. John Mark Reynolds is on the same case:
"The obvious question is to wonder about how easily our foes are baited by a very clever pontiff. Is there a radical Moslem with a sense of irony? When they threaten to kill the Pope for “saying” that they are violent, don’t they get a bit concerned about how that appears? ....the second less obvious set of questions hinge on fears about media education when some American papers and reporters are shocked to discover that (perhaps!) the Pope believes Islam is wrong."
Re-reading Sire's Why Good Arguments Often Fail, yesterday, reminds me again that it is so easy to argue poorly... we need to bethinking harder. Sire pleads with us to make heathly arguments, and then pray that God changes hearts.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Bread and Wine; who's on your mind?

Mark Lauterbach tells us about how his church has stopped making us the focus of communion, and instead started remembering Jesus more.
"There are two ways to see my sin -- I can look at Jesus through the filter of my sin or I can look at my sin through the filter of Jesus... at the foot of the cross I am remembering Jesus and applying that remembrance to my sin -- rather than starting with my sin!"

FAQ: Advice for Christian freshers

This time last year I wrote a list of 10 top tips for Christian Freshers, this is my list this year... basically similar but with a few changes and a dose of sunscreen style advice.


1. Sleep at night, and eat fruit and veg in the daytime. These will help you to study and live more effectively. Your body belongs to God, treat it well. Get a smoothie maker. Put fruit in it, and then consume. Budget well. If you spend everything in the first week you will have no money later. If you have no money you can't eat. You need to eat. A credit card is not free money, neither is an interest free overdraft. It all has to be paid back. Use it if you need to, not because you want to.

2. When you don't know, ask. This is called humility. A lot of time, particularly on my course, I didn't ask. This was pride. Because of that pride things quickly went over my head. In freshers week everyone looks self-confident. Most of these people wear it as a mask. They really are and feel as clueless as you. Be a dolphin. Dolphins swim against the current. Notice that student life has its struggles but there are many harder times of life. Even with your debt you have it fairly easy. Whatever else you wear, wear humility. Admit your mistakes quickly.

3. Preach Jesus, and get accused of preaching lawlessness. Christians need to be living for Jesus, but they also need to be speaking for Jesus. No one is going to guess their way into the kingdom of God from the way you live. When God speaks Universes get created, so don't be ashamed to open the Bible with people. They might get re-created by God! Preach the gospel to yourself every morning. Be thankful for the little things. Start a 365 blog.

4. Find your Christian Union. Christian Unions are Mission Teams designed to equip you to live and speak for Jesus. Christian Unions are led by students - you can do that. Christian Unions are cross-denominational, take the opportunity to learn from people who are different to you. Be teachable. Pray with other Christians.

5. Local Church Matters. Most University towns have at least four good churches. Visit a couple and then settle in one before the end of October. Don't date the church, love it. What matters most is that everything is conditioned on what God's word says. If its just human ideas, leave. Find a place where people love the gospel and live it out. But, be gracious and generous. Perfect churches don't yet exist. When you're there mix with older and younger people. Break out of the bubble, don't just hang around with the students. Old people are great. Some of them used to be students. Tell your home church about the joys and struggles of University life.

6. Grace is sufficient. Many implications and applications. Grace means God doesn't want you try and impress him, and it means you can't be too bad. So don't be a dirty miserable legalist. And don't play with the low-grade pleasures of sin. Learn to repent quickly. See that the Cross of Christ is the centre of the Christian faith because God looks at Jesus blood instead of you. Enjoy that reality... and think ahead of time how to explain it to your sinful heart, and to other people. Find someone in the Christian Union who will study the Bible with you each week - you can't get enough of God's word. Get your mind renewed!

7. Dying is gain. John Piper preached this excellent message: Doing Missions When Dying is Gain. Make sometime to listen to that. University networks are fast - you can download good teaching like this very easily. Discover that Jesus really is better than the fleeting pleasures of sin. Sin is rubbish, don't mess. You can't do better. You can have Jesus.

8. Join a club and get to know people on your course. Don't just make Christian friends - there are lots of great people to get to know. We all need friends, and not just to witness to. Enjoy the time you have to pick up a new hobby or interest. If you can do sports, join a sports team - and then tell the Christian Union so they can support you in it. Start a Christians in Sport group. Also, befriend international students - meet the world on your doorstep.

9. Plan your time. Lots of students say they don't have time to spend with non-Christian friends, study or do other things. Simply not true if you plan your time. There are 168 hours in a week and you'd be amazed at what can be done in that time. See point 1, get good amounts of sleep and then study when you're most alert and you'll get it done better and more quickly. Block out whole mornings, afternoons and evenings for certain activities. Work hard. Play Hard. Sleep well. Be flexible. Be ready to change todays plans if God has something different for you to be doing.

10. Live all of life for the glory of God Get careers advice. Think about how you'll live and speak for Jesus in the workplace when you graduate. Think about where God might be calling you as a Christian. Invest in eternity by thinking about how to keep living for your whole life. Get into good habits with money and relationships. Money belongs to God and is to be used for him, enjoy the good things of life but don't turn all your money into beer. Sex belongs in marriage, don't play with it before that. God is interested in your degree, but your lecturers may not agree with what he says. When anyone disagrees with God, they're wrong. That includes me, and you. Use BeThinking.org to help you live and think for Jesus. Whatever you do, do for the Lord Jesus. Keep your eyes on him, and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bring my books...

The Pyromaniacs highlighht Spurgeon on Paul's request for his books! (HT: Etrangere - Amen & Woohoo! indeed!). Rosemary is looking for suggestions for good books.

Have a look at this review of James Sire's Why Good Arguments Often Fail. A good new book that points us back to Jesus.
"The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains, proves that he has no brains of his own." - CHS
Over coffee we're begining a discussion on the law at The Coffee Bible Club. Come join the fun"

Also loving this from Spurgeon - on the breathtaking splendour of Jesus, in Hebrews 12 which I quoted today.
"“Where shall language be found which shall describe his matchless, his unparalleled love towards the children of men. Upon any ordinary subject one may find liberty of speech and fullness of utterance, but this subject lies out of the line of all oratory, and eloquence cannot attain unto it. This is one of the unutterable things — unutterable, because it surpasses thought, and defies the power of words.”
At the end of October I'm engaging in a debate on Calvinism & Arminianism for the benefit of our South East relay workers in their Core Study programme. I'm arguing the Calvinist case "against" my team leader! Our hope is really to argue scripturally and in a God-exalting way to help our Relay grow in understanding and in living in God's grace.

So, I'll be digging into my copies of Michael Horton's Putting Amazing back into Grace, Piper (various), Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology and Calvin's (ever-so-readable) Institutes of Christian Religion in preparation.

We were struggling for good Arminian books - any one got a recommendation? Roger Olson's Arminian Theology looks promising but not really found much else to go on. Pray that we both prepare well and argue in a fashion that is free from "youthful passions" and marked by humility, Biblical argument and clarity.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Don't Waste Your Life

Script from student send-off at Cranleigh Baptist Church last week and Fresh at Reading today.


Jesus, in You're in the departure lounge. About to board your flight to University. About to fly off to a whole new world, waving your family off... En route to a whole new world... Some sit impatiently, they want to have already arrived. Others are looking for excuses not to fly. Some have heard about the risks of flying, about terrorism... they're scared. Others are lost somewhere in duty-free and haven't really connected with what is about to happen. Where are you?

My departure lounge experience for University was enough to shock me into becoming a Christian in the Summer of 1997. Waking me up from being a church-attender to believing that Jesus Christ is Lord.

University life has many exciting opportunities... a blank canvas waiting to be painted. Stories are told of unconstrained sin in the student world... but the reality is that sin simply mutates to fit its environment. Our problem is not the student world or leafy Surrey, but the sewer of our sinful hearts...

The student world is ever growing thanks to Tony Blair's Education, education, education policy... what will it be like for you? Unmatched opportunities for living for Jesus and speaking for Jesus. Work, rest and play in the same place. A time and place to speak about Jesus. There are dangers. But sin is rubbish. Where ever you are. Its always a waste of your life. Hebrews takes us on the ride of our lives... above all it shows us a mind-expanding portrait of the glory of Jesus, and a terrifying display of the stupidity and evil of sin. It shows us what it looks like to “live for Jesus and speak for Jesus”...

Two things from Hebrews 12v1-2. Listen to the crowd of martyrs. Look at Jesus the champion.


Listen to the crowds of martyrs, hear their stories of grace (12v1)
The writer imagines Christian life in a stadium. A great cloud of witnesses surrounding... a great crowd of martyrs... witness meaning martyr – not suicide bombers, but people who lay their lives down to speak of Jesus out of love for Him and those they meet. People who have held their lives cheap for Christ's sake. The crowd tell us stories of God's grace in their lives.

The Hebrew Christians (10v34)
Flick back a page to 10v34. As you prepare to go I guess you've boxed up some of your stuff to take with you. A car-load or so on average. You might already have taken out some insurance to account for security risks.

Hear what happened to these Christians. They had their possessions stolen. This was an age before insurance – they weren't going to get them back. This happened because: v34, “they sympathised with those in prison”. They identified themselves with Christians in prison, meeting their needs and so put themselves on the line.

Were they reluctant? v34, they “joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property”. Joyfully. Willingly. Why? V34, “because you knew” what? “you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions”. They lost their worldly goods, but were happy because what they really treasured was something else?

What makes people do this? What could help you look at that car-load of your stuff and say “I could happily lose them”. We need that. Most of the stuff we have is good, but its makes us drown as we try and hold onto it whilst swimming against the tide.

“Stuff” is the middle-class dream and it threatens to suffocate our faith. You know how to boil a frog? You don't drop it in boiling water – it jumps straight out! No, you put it in cold water and slowly heat it, boiling it alive before it knows. The culture wants to slow-cook you to its way of living. What is this lasting possession? The Lord Jesus – our Saviour, Treasure and righteousness.

Another story... Moses (11v24-26)
Moses, the Prince of Egypt. He could have it all. All the money, sex and power he wanted. But he called them “fleeting pleasures” and walked away. How? v26 – “he regard disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead and saw the reward”. How valuable is Jesus? Better than the treasures of Egypt. And those treasures were vast and available to Moses.

And the history of the church is littered with people like this... Let me tell you one more story. Another face in the crowd. This is one from the student world, a man called Howard Guinness.

Howard was there at the start of UCCF: The Christian Unions some 80 years ago. He and his friends were determined to establish Mission Teams in the world's Universities who would live for Jesus and speak for Jesus.

What did they do? They sold their sports kit, used the money to buy Howard a warm coat and a one-way ticket to Canada. And off he went to establish Christian Union's there, in the USA, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa... Establishing Christian Unions as Mission Teams.

Later he wrote a little book called Sacrifice, challenging students.... He asked “where are those who will hold their lives cheap for his sake?” - How do you do that? Only by filling your vision with Jesus Christ.

A recent song has these words:
"As saints of old still line the way, retelling triumphs of His grace, We hear their calls and hunger for the day, when with Christ we stand in glory"
You need the support of your church here, at home. You need the support of a church at University. And you need the support of your University Christian Union. Christians cheer us on. As a six week old Christian in Bath my church and CU were vital support.

And remember the tragic tales – the story of Esau. Esau isn't in the stadium, he's remembered by a plaque outside the stadium entrance. A warning to anyone who wants to run the race. Hebrews 12v16. He was a poor fool.... he traded his eternity for a single meal. His god was his stomach and he looked for a quick thrill. Its how sin almost always works – the offer of short-term pleasure instead of trusting in Jesus. He was sorry the morning after but God didn't grant him repentance. Which is hard for us to swallow. He got the values wrong – like imagining a student loan was loose change. His offense was vast.

Many things could entangle us as we seek to – 12v1 – “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” And all these cheap things must be “thrown off”. If not they will “hinder” and “entangle us”. All these things are like eating Tesco Value food when you could have not just food but M&S food. Of course on a student budget you'll get used to cheap food... but don't let that mark your attitude to Christ.

You're stood in the check-in queue. Luggage in hand. But do you have too much? Are you weighed down, preferring low-level pleasures from sin... the air we breathe says get whatever you want. God says, you can do better than that – don't be so easily satisfied. Look at Jesus.
If you want to fight sin you need to listen to the crowd in your church, and in your Christian Union... and you need to look to Jesus.

A heart and mind filled with the Bible's teaching about Jesus will be able to have the right approach to money, to sex, to power... to throw off cheap-thrills and grasp hold of your eternity.

Look at Jesus the champion (12v2)
The crowd has one voice: 12v2. “Fix your eyes on Jesus”. At University don't take your eyes off of him. As you go to the Students Union bar, the lecture theatre or your tutorials... have Jesus on your mind. Think hard about how a Christian worldview impacts your living there. Make use of the resources of your church and your Christian Unions. Use the bethining.org website that will help you think hard about your life and studies.

Charles Spurgeon spoke on this verse and said:
“Where shall language be found which shall describe his matchless, his unparalleled love towards the children of men. Upon any ordinary subject one may find liberty of speech and fullness of utterance, but this subject lies out of the line of all oratory, and eloquence cannot attain unto it. This is one of the unutterable things — unutterable, because it surpasses thought, and defies the power of words.”
Jesus. Look at him.
Who is Jesus? The author & perfecter of your faith.

Jesus is where your faith begins. Its where it ends. And He is everything in between. He has won the race and is your life. He doesn't ask you to perform for him, just to trust in him. Trusting that he has counted you righteous. Perfect in his presence. You can't undo that – His work is done at the cross. You can't be corrupted... though by turning again and again to him you'll need to kill off your sinful heart. So live for Jesus. Live in the SU bar, in the sports teams... Engaged with student life. Think hard about how to do that.

Who is this Jesus? The one who endured the cross.
Everything we do comes back to the Cross of Christ. Mel Gibson's film The Passion showed us the physical suffering of Jesus, but his life was really about hanging under the wrath of God in our place. How did he endure that? He endured it because the “joy set before him”. The joy of those he died for being in the presence of God, perfect forever. Like Jesus be heavenly minded. Don't live for the hope of a graduate job, but to the hope of a life lived for Jesus, and the hope of heaven.

Who is this Jesus? The one sat in the throne-room.
Jesus work is done. “It is finished”. Accomplished. Achieved. Its all done. This is our hope. And he now rules over everything. He rules over all things, all of life, your student life, social life, studies. The academy will say the world is a cosmic accident – but God says it is his ordered creation, its worth studying. The academy will say that words have no meaning, though they'll expect to be understood. God says He has spoken, his word is sharper than a double-edged sword and will equip you for every good work. The world will say God is dead, but God says Jesus is alive and rules over all. There are scare stories of people falling away... but you don't fall from Jesus – people turn away... they prefer sin to Jesus: but there is no good reason to do that. So don't.

You don't need to be ashamed of Jesus at University. Don't waste your life. In 151 nations, and on 300 campuses of this nation students have formed Christian Unions as Mission Teams, living for Jesus and speaking for Jesus as the live and study. Count your life cheap and make these words from Thomas Haweis your prayer:

“If on my face for thy dear name,
shame and reproach shall be,
I’ll hail reproach, and welcome shame,
my Lord, I’ll die for thee.” Amen.

The T-Shirt everyone wants?



Available soon from: The Jonathan Edwards Blog


... Much more profitable might be these notes by Edwards on Galatians: here. Or his Concerning Religious Affections and The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Glad

Dan Hames posts the lyrics and audio to his most excellent song glad on his blog. As performed at Forum's Open Mic Night and the Relay Fun Evening. Also there is his song All my love is not enough.

Dan Hames: Glad

Congrats to Dan & Steph


Dan Williams & Steph Ruck got engaged in style

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Union with Christ

Today at our UCCF South East Team Days Peter Kingston, ex-Wycliffe Bible translator in Brazil, came to teach us about World Missions. The missions stuff was cool - basically an overview of God's mission in the Bible and some stuff on being sensitive. It was good. But better, was session 1 on what is the gospel - a key question for anyone doing missions.

I'm too tired to type it all up but basically we looked at the start of Romans 7 and the surrounding arguments and concluded that the essence of it was Union with Christ which is of course won for us at the Cross. From this everything else flows - life in the Spirit, eternal security, reigning in life, not having to sin etc. All of which our dying sinful nature tries to thwart by tempting us back.

But, union with Christ is better that everything else - its not like Islam that can offer you 70 virgins, or Buddhism that might offer nothingness, or Hinduism offering a shot at paradise... this is guarenteed getting everything as a free gift.... freedom from sin, freedom from trying, freedom from the struggle of climbing a ladder. It was life-giving stuff and connected a few dots more clearly than I had before, particularly in Romans. I need to think and live this more.

Like Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, the gospel is union with Christ.

Tomorrow, prayer and some early church history.

Mark 4 - Jesus' Powerful Word

Part 1 - Jesus' Parable of the Word (v1-20)
Looking at the parable and its interpretation....
What is the seed?
Where is the seed sown?
Who should the word be sown to?
What will our evangelism need to look like this year?

Part 2 - The effects of the word (v1-20)
Why is it not surprising if someone hears the gospel and doesn't believe?
What causes people to reject the word?
How does the interpretation of the parable give massive encouragement in evangelism?
How does this encourage us to sow the word in evangelism?

Part 3 - The purpose of parables (v10-12)
What two kinds of people are there?
What does Jesus say is the purpose of parables?
How will we respond to Jesus' hard words here?
What does that say about the kind of person I am?
Look at v21-25 - Is Jesus making it difficult for us to believe?
So, why wont people believe then - e.g. Mark 7v21-23?
How will this teaching affect the way we approach the word?

No Squirrels

Jared Wilson is reading the gospels...
Here is my guiding principle for reading the Gospels: The point is Jesus. Every saying, every story -- Jesus. If the main point you're getting out of the story doesn't center squarely on Jesus, I respectfully suggest your aim is off.
Example: Lots of people look at the story of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple and think this is about how it's wrong to sell stuff at church....the point of that story is not "commerce and temple don't mix," because up until that point, commerce and temple had to mix for the temple system to work. No, the point of that story is that Jesus replaces the temple system.

Example: The point of the parable of the man who built his house on the sand is not "be prepared" or "have a solid foundation" or "think ahead." The point is that building your life on anything but Jesus is making rubbish of your life.
Elsewhere Caleb Kolstad has read the Christianity Today article, Young, restless and reformed... He observes the positive influence of John Piper in promoting Reformed theology, but thinks that a return to expository preaching is even more significant - because it leads us to carefully consider key texts like Romans 9 and Ephesians 1. And when you look at them carefully, they, like the gospels, are all about exalting Jesus!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Enjoying the old, old story

Chris Pixley has been citing from .Daniel Block's essay in Giving the Sense (ht: Milton Stanley). I bought the book a while ago but never really got around to reading it, until now.

We're warned against rushing to preaching Biblical narrative, looking for points for personal application without carefully considering the text.

This stops us in our tracks when we're searching for immediate devotional application from small sections of narrative - sometimes we need to take more time, slow down, read bigger and longer and wait a while. Delayed gratification. Careful study will yield authoritative teaching from God's word.

Block makes a number of points but concludes with two very helpful tips:
  • Read more, not less of the Biblical text. We're challenged to read plenty of the text. Get the Bible open and read plenty of it outloud. And read it well, with expression and right emphasis.
  • Develop the sermon around the theological overflow that derives from the passage. Pay careful attention to grammer and syntax in the study but then bring the point of the passage to the people.
Preachers and pastors, he says, are
"vested with the awesome priviledge of telling and retelling the old, old story in new and fresh ways, but unless with grasp the intent the authors of the stories were intent on communicating , our proclamation may be no more than popular pyschology and ethics in spiritual dress."
Five questions to ask:
  • What does this passage tell us about God?
  • What does it tell us about the world and society in general?
  • What does it tell us about the human condition, the nature of sin, the destiny of humankind?
  • What does it tell us about the way God relates to human beings?
  • What does it tell us about an appropriate ethical and spiritual response to the work of God in one's life?
One last quote:
"In the final analysis, the subject of the entire history of salvation is God, and the metanarrative of biblical revelation is nothing if it is not about the grace and the glory of God who reveals himself in history, and whose record of revelation is preserved in the Scriptures"
As I spend time in 2 Chronicles at the moment these are useful things to keep in mind. It's all to easy to pursue doctrine in the more obviously teaching books (like the NT Letters) but the narrative has much to teach us, enfleshed in its characters and story.

One of many highlights at Relay 1 this year was having Mo teach the grace of God from the narratives of Luke 15 (ok, parables) and Gideon. It's easy to go to Romans or Galatians (and I love those books) but it's also great to get off the beaten track and into the Old Testament story, a genre in which much of God's salvation plan is unveiled.

All of which is part of why Jonah is one of my favourite books.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Closed System

Countless ages and stages on history's pages
Walk down the street as the leaves are falling
The shops closed down to be restyled and rebranded
Can't lets us think the world is decaying
Maths geeks and mystics tell our future
They paint a facade, wise men pretending
The air saturated with what we want to hear
Afraid of our silence, paranoid dreaming

Free lunches and free money without faith to be happy
Find the hero within if you keep self-improving
Scarred by the memories of starving children
Progress can't keep us from killing
Silence the cries of the old man and the unborn
Ignore the fact that its happening
Numbed by confort and ease, walk around in a stupor
To hide form the pain of choosing

Trample all under foot so only the fittest survive
We learned to vaccinate against carying
The great and the good, the bad look the same
This dejavu wont stop repeating
Luke the glory of sunrise and its inevitable sunset
Can't keep our empires from falling
Space age or new age, reload another web page
Its the same sad words we're speaking

Don't want to go to the hospital or graveyard
It's more pleasant to forget that we're dying
Don't want to stop and look into my own soul
Cold front should keep me from crying
Would it be easier to just be a tree
Sway in the wind without choosing
Written a million words on the screen
Does anyone know what I'm thinking

Monday, September 11, 2006

What to do in the face of disaster

In light of 9/11, I thought I'd post this talk on Luke 12v54 - 13v9 about how we should respond in the face of disaster.


What do you make of what’s going on in the world these days? Maybe you think things are bad. There is the threat of terrorism, crime is on the increase, there’s no job security and can’t be sure that when we retire we will have a state pension. Perhaps though you’re not so pessimistic. You know there are problems, but see that we have warm houses, healthcare, access to food, freedom and prosperity.

Whether things are good or bad though depend on your point of view, the way you interpret the times. We have to interpret the times quite often don’t we to make good decisions in our life. For example, we try and work out which part of town is best to live in, what clothes would be appropriate to wear to work tomorrow or what company we should buy shares in to maximise our profit,

How is it we answer these kind of questions? Well, we look at the world around us, we understand the times we live in and try and figure out what the right decision to make is. If we read in the paper that there has been a mugging outside that house for sale, we might interpret that currently that part of town is a bad place to live. If we looked at the weather forecast and found out it was going to rain tomorrow might interpret we should put on a raincoat when we went to work tomorrow. And if our stockbroker tells us about the big returns we’ll get from a banana farm in the Highlands of Scotland, than we might interpret that it would be a bad idea to pour in our cash.

We see things and make decisions based on the way we interpret what we see. Sometimes our interpretations will be right, and sometimes they’ll be wrong. For instance, from what you know about Scotland, you could think that growing bananas outside was stupid and choose not to invest your money. But maybe you could think that because of global warming, and how in the future Scotland would be a perfect place to grow bananas, and that buying while the shares were cheap was the right thing to sink your savings into. Rightly interpreting what the time is like is really important so we can make good decisions, because we have to live with the consequences of that decision forever.

And this is what comes through clearly in Luke 12v54-13v9. In this passage Luke asks big questions of us. Have we correctly interpreted the times? Have we made a good decision?
Have we understood the consequences of our decision? And answering these questions rightly is important, because as Luke is going to show us:

We need to correctly interpret the time and repent, else we’ll perish. We need to correctly interpret the time and repent, else we’ll perish. It’s only when we see this that we’ll be able to see what the right answers to those questions are.

Luke begins to do this in vv54-59 by revealing that the present time is an important time. The present time is an important time.

When I studied geography at university, I fancied myself as a bit of a weatherman because I learned a little about interpreting the weather. But being clever with the weather is not difficult; it’s just a matter of learning to read the signs.

And as we read vv54-55 we see the crowd had this down to a fine art. They could tell what the weather would be like tomorrow based on what happened today. But for all their skill with the weather, can you see what Jesus said they couldn’t do in v56? Though they could read the signs and work out the weather, they either couldn’t or wouldn’t see what should have been obvious. They were hypocrites because they couldn’t interpret the present time. You see their present time had been very special, because it had been full of signs pointing to something amazing.

If you’ve been here while we’ve been going through Luke, you’ll have an idea of what those signs were. The crowd had heard Jesus teach and make amazing claims about having authority to forgive sins and about being the Son of Man, the supreme judge of everyone.

They’d seen Him do amazing miracles like feeding 5000 from 5 loaves and 2 fish and healing a paralysed man with a word; he’d also driven out demons and brought the dead back to life. They’d heard Him claim to have the power of God, and do things that showed He had the power of God; that in fact He was God’s king who would save his people from their sins and judge the earth.

If you look at v49 you’ll see that Luke has just reminded us his readers of that. READ v49
Jesus would bring the fire of judgement, but first would go through the baptism of death on the cross, and provide a way for people to escape that fire.

But for all the crowd had seen and heard, and for all their skill in seeing signs and interpreting the weather, the were blind to who Jesus was and what He was doing. They’d failed to see that the present time was an important time, because in their midst was an important person.

Imagine if you knew the queen was coming to St. Neots tomorrow, and you went into town on the day. All around there were police, barricades, flags and crowds. And then you saw a woman walking down the street wearing a crown, walking her corgis and doing that little wave thing.
It would be daft to think despite all the signs, ‘I wonder what’s going on here’. But that’s just what the crowd did with Jesus. But we do it too don’t we?

You see, we might think that when it comes to interpreting the times we’re pretty good. Tomorrow morning, when we get up we’ll find out what the weather forecast for the day is; we’ll open the curtains and see what it looks like outside, and in light of what we interpret from that, we’ll pick out clothes. And we generally make the right choice because we’ve interpreted the signs correctly.

But if for all our skill in that if we can’t see who Jesus is and what He’s come to do from all the signs we see in the bible, than Luke says we’re just hypocrites; people who think we’re good at understanding the times, but actually are no good at all.

Now maybe we don’t see Jesus is because we’ve never really looked at Him. Well why not spend some time doing that? Why not take away a gospel and read it, or maybe sign up for our Christianity explored course and look at all the bible says about Jesus. But if we have looked at the evidence and our interpretation is that Jesus was a great religious teacher, a force for moral good, or even an amazing miracle worker than we’ve got it very wrong.

If we don’t see Him as God’s king, the one who had come to save his people from their sins and judge the world, then we’ve failed to correctly interpret the times. The present time is an important time because Jesus is revealed as God’s king. But the fact of who Jesus was made the times even more important. Because He was the one who had come to save his people from their sins meant that this was the time people could be saved.

And even the crowd had to see salvation was a good thing. So Jesus told them a story to get them to see the situation they were in and told them to judge what they thought was the best thing to do by comparing them to a man who was in debt and had to decide what to do.

See what you think the right option is as we read Jesus’ words in vv58-59 The answer is obvious isn’t it? It’s better to settle out of court and get on with life than go to jail until the debt is paid in full. But Jesus wants the crowd to see that this applies to them too. They have a debt to pay to God for all their sins, but now in this present time they can settle that debt out of court.

Because Jesus has come to save his people from their sins, they can be reconciled to God. They need to interpret that the present time is the time they can be saved from their sins, because Jesus is the saviour. It’s a bit like being in a restaurant. You spend time looking at the menu and deciding what you want. But you can’t order the food until the waiter gets there.
But when he comes to the table, because of who he is, you have the opportunity to order and then eat. Who He is means that eating can happen.

And similarly, who Jesus is means that salvation can happen. And it’s the same today as it is then. We have the offer of having the debt of our sin cancelled and being reconciled to God because today still is the day of salvation. But the day of salvation won’t last forever. Jesus will return to judge the world with fire. On that day He will call in the debts of those who haven’t settled out of court with God, and they will have to face His punishment for their sins themselves, which is a terrible prospect.

How do we know if we’re good at interpreting the times? Well, if we’ve interpreted the items correctly, we’ll realise that we need to reconciled to God in Jesus, and we need to do that today.
Even if we have realised that though, we still need to work hard at understanding the present time.

As Christians we can think we know all about the present times. But though we might know a lot with our heads often we know less in our hearts. We know people need to know about Jesus, but what do the times we decide not to share the gospel with people show us about how much we understand the seriousness of judgment? Or how about those times when we knowingly sin and please ourselves instead of Jesus? Don’t they show us how little we understand about what it means to be saved by Jesus and call Him our King?

We can be theologically sound in our heads, but we can so easily be carried along by the media and those around us that in our hearts we can become practical atheists. I know that because sometimes I feel that way myself. Maybe you’ve felt like as well? If we do, it’s crucial that we go back to the bible and ask God to help us understand more of how things really are. When we work hard at reading the bible, it’s like putting on a pair of glasses that bring everything into focus and help us see clearly. For it’s His spirit working through His word that gets our hearts back on track and help us really understand the fact that the present times are important times.

But, secondly, in light of these present times Luke shows us that in 13vv1-9 that:
We should repent or perish. We should repent or perish.

Two recent tragedies had grabbed the headlines in Israel and had become a talking point.
Some Galileans had been murdered by Pilate while they were worshipping God. There had also been an accident, when a tower fell on 18 people killing them. Now the idea of the day was that bad things happened to bad people. And the crowd wanted to know if that’s what they should learn from these events.

But see what Jesus thought of this answer in vv1-5 Jesus said that the crowd had got it wrong.
These people didn’t die tragically because they were worse sinners than everyone else in Galilee or Jerusalem They were all just as guilty as the rest in Galilee and the rest in Jerusalem. You can imagine how this would have stunned the crowd. But Jesus didn’t stop there. Do you see the repeated phrase in v3 and v5? “But unless you repent you too will all perish” Jesus didn’t get involved in a discussion about why tragedies take place. Rather He put the spotlight back on them.

He tells them that they shouldn’t be looking at the people who’d died thinking they were better than them, but rather that they were just as bad. Jesus told them that these tragedies shouldn’t be a talking point, but a wake up call to repent, to turn away from the life they’ve been living and turn back to God. But why is it that Luke includes this story here? What is it He wants us to see?

Well, he tells us that if we’ve interpreted the times rightly and have seen that now is the time we can get right with God, the way we do that is by repenting. But Luke also wants us to see that the consequence of not repenting is that they will perish. What is perishing? Well in John 3v16 and 10v28 it’s the opposite of eternal life and in 2 Peter 3v9 it’s the opposite of not being saved. And Jesus shows us that unless we repent, it’s the future that we all face.

I’m sure last July some of you who go to London saw the huge number of flowers laid outside Kings Cross station, and the ‘missing’ posters stapled to the hoardings and lampposts about the area. 7/7 was a tragedy. Things like 7/7 are a wake up call to us, because they remind us of the frailty of life, and the fact that one day whoever we are we will die. They confront us with death and say ‘are you ready?’ But more importantly, disasters also remind us that we too need to repent, because we don’t want to perish. And that is the worst thing that could happen to anyone.

But if we haven’t repented here today, that’s where we are headed. Repenting isn’t just about becoming a member of a club. It’s not ‘take it or leave it;’ it’s a matter of eternal life and eternal death. As much as we might interpret the weather correctly as we work out what to wear tomorrow, if we get dressed tomorrow without having turned away from our sins and back to God, than we show that our take on the world is way off.

Repenting is the thing that shows that we’ve really understood the true situation in the world because it means that we’ve understood that we can have life, and don’t have to perish.
And that’s great news. The question is, what will you do with it? Maybe it means that you’re going to have to repent. Maybe though it means that we have tell others that they need to repent.

Though our family and friends, neighbours and colleagues look fine, they’re actually in danger from perishing, and they need someone to tell them about that danger. And that someone might well be us. Why not decide this week to do something about it? Maybe we can think a person that we’ll see this week who we can pray for and try and have a conversation with about what the world’s really like.

And when we worry about them not liking us, of we get those butterflies in our stomachs, let’s remember how important what we’re doing is. And if like me you would find that a scary prospect, than why not ask someone to pray for you, or practise what you might say with them.
But let’s not forget that people need to hear so that they can repent and not perish.
And God will not let them rebel forever.

Luke wants us to see that there is only a limited time to repent. Have a look at vv6-9. The fig tree in the story was a picture of the nation of Israel who had turned away from God, but was being given one last chance to see if fruit would come. Fruit is something Luke used in 3v8 to describe what flows from people who repented. But Jesus made it clear, that if nothing changed in a short time, and the nation didn’t repent and turn back to God than they would be rejected by God and cut down.

God in his mercy was giving his people one last chance to turn back to him, but there was a time limit on that. And as we read the rest of the NT we see that as a nation, Israel didn’t change their ways. They rejected the gospel, God rejected them as His people and eventually in AD 70 the nation was destroyed by the Romans. But Israel had the chance to repent, because God is a merciful God. And because God’s merciful He deals with us today in the same way He dealt with Israel then. Though all we deserve for turning away from Him is to be cut down, He gives us time to change our minds and repent; but that time will run out one day.

It’s a bit like buying CD’s. Normally, if you bought a CD and didn’t like it, you’d be stuck with it. But if you were to buy your CD’s from Time Life, because they care about us so much, we have 30 days to try the CD’s, and if we don’t like them we just send them back. But on the 31st day, we’re keeping them for good.

Do you see how good God is that in his mercy you’re here tonight? Think back to the number of days you’ve woken up in your life without having repented. Isn’t God a merciful God? He offers us so much time to change our mind and; but we can’t take His mercy for granted. Like Israel, we won’t get away with it forever, and we don’t know how long there is left. We might not even have 30 days before Jesus returns or we die. Why not find out more of how merciful God is tonight and repent, come and talk to Mike or myself at the end, or sign up for Christianity Explored. But please don’t ignore His mercy.

But those of us who have repented also need to keep responding to God’s mercy. How can we do that? Well, when we wake up tomorrow, shouldn’t we thank God that in spite of all we did yesterday He doesn’t cut us down and that today we can still enjoy His mercy? And shouldn’t we thank Him that though the world deserves to be cut down, God has given us one more day to share the gospel, and one more day where people can repent, so that they won’t perish.

We all have a lot to be thankful for because God is merciful, especially in telling us that we must repent or perish. What should we make of what’s going on in the world these days? Well, above everything else, we need to see that we need to correctly interpret the time and repent, else we’ll perish.