Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Armageddon?

Mike Reeves - Where are we heading - Armageddon or Apocalypse?

45mins to blow your mind about eternity. You need to register for free with allsouls.org to download this sermon from April 2006 and hear Mike riffing on the future.

A lot of the material here is similar to stuff Mike taught the UCCF South Team in April 2006. And that was v.good!

New Adventures in Cosmic Broadcasting

Another big view of God's plans in the book of Ephesians. This time, 2v11-3v13. It's all about being together in Christ - seeing the church as God's all frequencies transmission of the message of his immense grace.

2v11-22. God has made a new humanity - “one new man” through the dead of Jesus (2v16). This removes the hostility between man and man, and between man and God. All who come in Christ can now have access to the Father, by the one Spirit – The whole trinity involved in bringing us to God. The result of this is that we belong with God (19), members of his household. That house has Christ as Cornerstone – everything built on him and upon the “apostles and prophets” so that the church becomes the place where God now dwells. We, the people of God, are the new temple of God – not a building but the people.

3v1-13. Paul then turns to speak about “the mystery of Christ”. This mystery however isn't something mysterious, mystic and inaccessible. The mystery is something that was hidden and is now revealed. It wasn't understood before, but now it is. And it is this: v6, ...that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ.

Essentially, that Jews and Gentiles alike can belong to God's people through Jesus Christ. This is what Paul preaches. And he's in prison because of it. He speaks of Jesus to all people so they can come to Christ. He's the least of God's people but he is God's messenger, of God's unsearchable riches - “making plan to everyone the administration of this mystery” which God had hidden but now revealed. He has to speak about Jesus so that people will understand.

This however has a massive cosmic effect. Paul doesn't preach to the “heavenly realms” but through his preaching the church comes into existence – 3v10 – and the church makes known God's manifest wisdom (the gospel) to the heavenly realms, by it's existence. By the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ. This will dumbfound the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. God has achieved what seemed impossible. God has united enemies in one new man.
All of these new people together have access to God – through Jesus we are free to approach – free to pray. Not with caution but with confidence. God's plan gives us complete access.

Paul imagines the Ephesians to be discouraged. Perhaps by his imprisonment. Whatever the reason, he wants them to be encouraged by what he has said. Notice the “therefore” in 3v13. All
that he has told them is for their encouragement. Paul is absent but they are a new humanity, they have access to God and the heavenly realms have heard about it. Everything has changed. They're not in the dark anymore – God's mystery isn't hidden anymore. It has been made plain. God is making his church in Christ, calling us to participate in his new adventures in cosmic broadcasting - displaying his grace in high definition, blow your mind glory.


A note on “apostles and prophets” (2v20, 3v5, 4v11)
There's much debate about what this means and whether it has the same meaning in each place. Context helps us know what words mean... what we can see is that these a+p are foundations of the church (2:20), to whom God has revealed the gospel (3:5) and are themselves gifts to the church to prepare her for service and growth (4:11-12). They could just be the original a+p of the 1st Century in which case they are with us today through scripture.
Others would say that new a+p remain in the church today in person. Whomever they are, they get the gospel into the church – they're the kind of people who love the effects of the gospel in God's people.



2v11-22 Living together in Christ as the church.
What was life like for the gentiles? (11-12)
How is it now? (13)
What changed things? (14-18)
What' is our life now? (19-22)
What difference does it make to know that we are “one new man” not just individual Christians?
How does this effect our view of other Christians?
What's the cornerstone of the church? How?
What's the foundation?
What does it mean for the church to be built on the apostles & prophets (also 3:5, 4:!1)?
Why is God building his church? (21-22)
What will it look like for the church to be on Christ and in Christ? (20-22)

3v1-13 “The Church” preached to the heavenly realms
What is the mystery that Paul preaches? (3v6)
Where did he get the mystery from? (3-5)
What are the effects of Paul's preaching? (8-10) What are his aims?
What is the cosmic impact? (10)
How might the heavenly realms respond to hearing about this?
How does the mystery help Christians? (6+12+1v18+22)
How do we use this freedom?
In v13, Paul is concerned that the original readers might get discouraged – he doesn't say why. How does what God has said here combat discouragement?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

From prostitute to princess

Mike Reeves - belief from a brothel (Joshua 2v1-24)

Mike preached this at the end of our 2006 staff conference, you have to register to download the free All Souls version (dated 2003) but it's worth a listen if you have a spare 20mins.

Coming back to the heart of worship?

This thought originates with Dr. Stephen Dray, though anything erroneous is my doodling over his brief thought at our UCCF team gathering in December. So.... there are three underlying principles in how churches do 'worship' - that is in the limited use of that word to describe the content of their church meetings.

Firstly, there's Calvin's Regulative Principle. This basically says you only do what the Bible commands. This has it's roots in the Old Testament where we see some of God's people gettting flamed for offering unauthorised sacrifices. Clearly we don't want to worship in ways God hasn't said to do, they argue.

Secondly, there's Luther's Normative Principle. This basically says you do anything unless the Bible forbids it. This is the flipside of the regulative principle. It notes that we're given very little detail about New Testament church meetings - sure the regulative principle gives us instruction to have Bible teaching, singing, fellowship, prayer and prophecy in our meetings but it doesn't tell us much about the form or the length it should take. We don't get to see many meetings in action - and even if we did, should we just immitate things. Anyone for the Six-Hour-Bible-Talk from Nehemiah? (bring it on!)

Thirdly, there's the Spirit Principle. This basically says - ask God and do what he seems to be saying. This runs around spirit-led wisdom, and we see the early church doing what they consider to be right and at times being given specific instructions by the Holy Spirit (albeit mostly in the context of mission). This principle kind of fills in the gap between what's forbidden and commanded... we know that anything the Holy Spirit says outside of scripture is subject to what the Holy Spirit says in scripture - so asking for God's help in the unrevealed gap is a reasonable idea. Some might just want to call this middle ground a place for exercising wisdom.

I was not aware of any of this underlying unspoken rules of worship until recently. It helps explain a few tense situations over the years. We're very easily shaped in our decisions by the underlying assumptions of our church, local or denominational. Mike Reeves helped me to see this in the issue of justification by faith - in the way that Catholicism is shaped by Augustine's errors, and Protestantism by Luther's Biblical correctives to Augustine's thinking. But, that is another topic all together....

Anglican's by an large are Calvinists (the Church of England, believe it or not, is basically founded on Calvin's high views of Scripture, God's sovereignty, election etc), but they depart from him in this area. The church of England is essentially normative in worship. That probably goes some way to explain the broadness of the CofE in it's practice. Baptists tend to follow Calvin's regulative principle which often leads to a much simpler and more formal approach to meetings.

One could recognise the Spirit principle misused among Quakers (where's the Bible?) or Mormon's (yes, ask for wisdom Joseph Smith, but then test what you hear...) but misuse isn't a reason to get scared. We replace misuse with right use (not non-use). Today the Spirit principle is a mark of charismatic worship in particular, and that muddiest the water because charismaticism reaches into both Anglican and Baptist circles and can easily override both previous principles (rightly, or wrongly).

Seems to me that we do need a combination of all three. Our priority should be to do what God has commanded (preaching, prayer, prophecy etc), and certainly to avoid what is forbidden. But we have to admit that God has given his church very little specific instruction about corporate gatherings. One conclusion for us is to say that 'form' is not all that important beyond the regulative/normative constraints mentioned. This gives us freedom. But it also gives us the opportunity to exercise prayerful wisdom and seek God for guidance about form.

Anything we think God is saying outside of scripture must be tested and held to losely. What seemed to be the Spirit's leading this year can quickly become enthroned in unshakeable tradition. In all worship we must let what God has definitively said, in scripture, be our overriding rule.

And, the core principle must then be the God principle. That is, our worship is less concerned with form and more with content - more with who God is. Who God has said he is, and isn't. And must be appropriate to that. Thus our worship will be marked by sorrow and repentance at our rebellion against our God, it will be marked by awe and reverance at his glorious holiness, it will be marked by shouts and singing, rejoicing and exulting over his mighty salvation.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Seven Days - Relay 2 Special



Links of the week:

Jason Clarke recommended:

Derrick Olliff: The Gospel: The Return of the King

(hosted by David Field)

From Monday to Saturday I was at UCCF's Relay 2 conference at Ledbury... Very little happened to me this week that didn't happen there.

1. Anna Mac says...

"God is still God. The gospel is still true..."

...and that's reason #1 why I look forward to Relay 2. This is the model for missions conferences... feasting on God's grace together. Reason #2 is family fun with the staff team... and seeing all the relays again.

Anna ♥ Mo

2. The gospel is the announcement that Jesus Christ is Lord

"Evangelism is announcing the gospel; the gospel is the declaration that the crucified Jesus is Lord of the world; yes, I will always, gladly and as fully as I am allowed expand on the component parts of that announcement - why crucified, who is Jesus, what does lord mean, how do we know, what good does that do us, what response is required and so on. But just look at the Acts sermons or the minimal explicit (there's loads for those with eyes to see) atonement theology in a whole book called a 'gospel' and calm down, O critic. When it boils down to it we're saying (if I'm allowed to be fairly individualistic about this): things aren't right with the world and you are morally responsible and that has consequences; Jesus has put (and is putting) things right and he is the Rescuer-King by cross and resurrection: come to terms with Jesus - submit and receive" - David Field, as quoted by Jason Clarke in "Knowing the Gospel"

3. Telling the gospel

Beware: Romanticism - appeal to feelings, beyond God's promises.

Beware: Relativism - a take it or leave it 'gospel'.

...and then talk about how big Jesus is!

4. Mission without borders

Psalm 96: God's mission - no borders.

The whole world should be responding with joy to God... go because God is there and he's great. Yeah!

5. Decal.

Duly delivered by Paul Huxley from Phil Johnson. Woo!



Cream-'tea' (coffee) with Jo and Dan.

The grandest bus-shelter in the world ever.

6. Getting 'closure' on Zephaniah:

God is bigger than we think he is... Only God can change us through the gospel... Joy comes by accepting this...

...'exult', like I do with coffee, but in God, so bigger and better.

7. Photo of the week

The Spice Boys. Disturbing.


Chosen for Life



PDF of Introduction and Chapter 1


Sam Storms has a new book out... on divine election.

CHOSEN FOR LIFE

Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. What Is Divine Election, and Why Is It So Controversial?
  • 2. The Arminian Concept of Election
  • 3. The Calvinistic Concept of Election
  • 4. Freedom of the Will (?)
  • 5. Faith and Repentance: Gifts of God or the Fruit of Free Will?
  • 6. Amazing Grace
  • 7. Unconditional Election (1): The Gospels and Acts
  • 8. Unconditional Election (2): The Epistles and Revelation
  • 9. Unconditional Election (3): Romans 9:1-13
  • 10. Unconditional Election (4): Romans 9:14-23 (1)
  • 11. Unconditional Election (5): Romans 9:14-23 (2)
  • 12. The Order of Salvation
  • 13. Crucial Questions Concerning Election (1)
  • 14. Crucial Questions Concerning Election (2)
  • 15. A Defense of a Defense of Divine Election
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix A: Three Problem Passages
  • Appendix B: Who Can and Who Cannot Pray for God to Save the Lost?
  • Appendix C: The Divine Decrees
  • General Index
  • Scripture Index

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Cruciformity

As I head away with work for the week, these are on my mp3 player.
From what I know of Tim Keller these outght to be v.good.
Always good to fill your ears with the sound of the cross.



The Cross and suffering (Tim Keller)
The Cross converts us (Tim Keller)
The Cross changes us (Tim Keller)
The Cross unites us (Tim Keller)
The Cross transforms us (Dan Doriani)


Second Presbyterian Church Media

Brothers - Feel, Think, Preach God

This looks like a quality resource:

Brothers—Feel, Think, Preach God (DVD)
The Happy Necessity of God-Centeredness in the Pastor's Feeling, Thinking, and Preaching

Man-centeredness pervades our world. Even in the church, a gospel is often preached that makes man the focus and puts God at the edge. People become God and he becomes their lackey. Into this context, the Bible levels a radical challenge to feel, think, and preach with absolute God-centeredness.

In these three messages from the 2006 Phoenix Seminary Pastors Conference, John Piper preaches to preachers, urging them to lead in a way that keeps God where he belongs – the center. Also featured is an hour of Q & A with John Piper and Wayne Grudem.

Bethinking Notes


Core Foundations
Devoted to Christ Crucified
Ready to answer
Reason for belief
Gentleness and respect
(1 Peter 3:13-18a)


Q1. Contradictory, Unreliable and Irrelevant: Why not bin the Bible?
What is the Bible?
Basic facts. The Canon & Authors. Translation.
What claims does it make of itself?
John 20v30-31 + 21v25. (Luke 1v1-4, 2 Cor 4v1-6, Acts 4v25)
What is it's message?
John 5v45-46. (1 Cor 2v2)


Q2. Egotistical restrictive and out of touch: what kind of a God demands so much
Is Egotism always wrong?
Are restrictions always bad?
Why did God make us?
Genesis 1:26-28 Isaiah 43:7, Revelation 4:11
Does God need us?
Acts 17:24-29
What does Jesus demand of us?
John 3:3-5, Ezekiel 36:25-27. Matt. 4:17, Acts 17:30-31
If God isn't out of touch what's the other possibility? Chew over: Romans 9v20-21


Q3. Condemning, hypocritical, and arbitrary: What kind of God sends sincere people to hell?
How does it feel when you're in trouble?
What comes to mind when you think of hell?
Why do we find hell difficult to cope with?
Mark 12v1-12: Who is who here? What does Jesus understand about our rebellion against God? What crimes are we accused of ? What does Jesus understand about God's reaction to our rebellion?
Jesus talks about hell more than anyone else, but his call is to come to know and enjoy God forever.
(1 Peter 3v18, Psalm 16v11, 27v4)


Q4. One Bible, Two Testaments: Two Gods?
Who is God in the Old Testament?
a. Naham 1v2 b. Jonah 4v2.
What does Jesus say about the Old Testament?
a. John 5v46 b. Luke 24v45-47
Who is God in the New Testament?
a. Mark 9v42-48, Rev 14v17-20 b. 1 John 4v8+10, Rev 5v9-10
What does Peter say the Bible is about?
Acts 10v42 – OT & NT...
What God reveals in the gospel (in Romans)?
How does God reveal the different aspects of his character?
a. Righteousness 3v25 b. Love 5v5+8 c. Wrath 1v18+24


Q5. Crucifixes at Check-in, Christian Unions in the headlines: Why can't Christians keep their faith private?
Who is Jesus, and what is he doing?
Colossians 1v13-19
Which areas of life is Jesus concerned about? Why?
Colossians 3v12-4v1, 1 Timothy 2v1-6, Genesis 1:26
What will it look like to live all of life to the glory of God?
e.g. On your course. Can that be private?
(notice in all of these references the repeated word: all)


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Caffeine for the soul

What does it mean to be a Christian? What is God doing in the world today? Ephesians is the book that more than any other shows the cosmic and corporate scale of God's salvation plan through Christ, and for Christ – which results in the exaltation of Jesus above all (1:22-23) through the establishment of God's church. We're a Christian Union, not the local church, but we're are part of the church, and involved in building the church locally, and globally – part of God's big plan!

God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:22-23)

We could spend a year in the book of Ephesians but we don't have the time! Instead we're going to take a birds-eye view – to fly high. We'll have to overlook some of the amazing detail (take time to zoom in sometime soon) but what we'll gain is the big picture. We'll find that God's purposes in Christ are much bigger than we might have imagined. The gospel is about a lot more than just my personal relationship

1. Christians have every blessing, for his glory. Paul begins in prayer – praising God that the Ephesian Christians have every blessing. Not on earth, v3, but in the heavenly realms (see also 3:10). These blessings are numerous (chosen, holy, blameless, predestined, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, lavished with wisdom and understanding, the Holy Spirit as a deposit). We don't have time to explore of each of these though you might want to consider some of them. Notice that they're all “In Christ” - the phrase is in almost every verse! This is an even more important 'location' than the 'heavenly realms'. We have all these blessings because we have union with Christ. And notice why we have these blessings – v3, v6, 14 – for the praise of his glorious grace. Not ultimately for us, but to show how amazing his grace is.. The appropriate response seems to be to praise God!

2. Christ raised and seated over all. Paul turns to a need for God's power to work in us to reveal God to us – but is distracted and ends up at the climax of the letter in 1:22-23, telling us that God's great power has raised Christ from the dead and seated him over all for the church. He then prays for that resurrection-ascension-seating power to work in us! Power that brings revelation of this amazing plan. Revelation that leads to belief and more praise. Pray!!

3. We are raised and seated with Christ. Everything is still in Christ, and it turns out that what happened to Christ has happened to us in the heavenly realms. We were dead (under sin and wrath like him) but now He has raised and seated us! Why? V7 – to show his grace! V8 – he did it, so we couldn't boast – except in his grace. Even the faith we have is a gift - God has done it all. He blessed us. He adopted, redeemed, forgave and predestined... he raised and seated us in Christ. Because he already raised and seated Christ.

And to do whatever his has prepared for us. We've been flying high and seeing his cosmic plan in Christ, and it is complete – including even the detail of our lives. When he says (1:22) that Christ is head over everything and filling everything, and 1v10, having all things under Christ he means even the very details of our small lives. Yet we too easily consider our lives to be ours... and boast in ourselves. See from a different angle. See God's big plan in Jesus Ephesians shows us God's great plan from high altitude. It is caffeine for the soul.



Ephesians 1v1-2v10
Theme: Christ over all!
Transformational-Faith-Aim: Boast in his grace in all things.

1v1-14 Every blessing in Christ
What has God done for us? (v3)
Where has this happened – why does the where matter?
In pairs – look for any repeated phrases in this sections.
Why are we blessed? How do we get these blessings?
What is God's big plan as he blesses us? (v9-10)
(Lord, how glorious is your plan in Christ!)

1v15-23 Christ seated over all!
What has happened to Jesus?(20-22)
What does this show us about God's big plan? (also 1:10)
How did God do this?
What will be the result of that same power working in us? (15- 19)? Pray that!
(Lord, work the same power in me to show me Jesus!)

2v1-10 Us, seated with Christ!
What has happened to us? (1-6) (Where were we, where are we)
Where has this happened? (v6 + 1v3)
How is this like what happened to Jesus? (1v20-22)
How does this add to our understanding of the in Christ's in ch1?
Why has God raised & seated us? (v7)
What will we do because of this? (v8-9 +1v13)
Does this mean we can now claim some contribution to God's big plan?
How detailed is God's big plan? (1:10, 1:22-23 and 2v10)
How will God's big plan effect the way we consider our lives?
How will the 'all things' & 'everything' of effect friendships, studies..(1v10 + 2v22)
How does the scale of God's plan effect our mission on campus?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Seven Days



Links of the week:

Anthony Bradley - Don't forget to talk about hell

Carl Trueman - on pride

John Piper - On Kermit

1. Caffeine for the soul
Otherwise known as Ephesians 1v1-2v10 with baby-cell leaders. Soaring on the waves of the gospel. Mmmmm.

2. Public Transport
This was the week I should have caught four trains. I caught none. Thanks to the weather and other interuptions. Nothing you can do about that though!

Lengthened journeys held up several other things like preparation... this is a pressing issue.

3. Adcomm.
I'd hoped to get to Surrey CU's advisory committtee. Ended up at Reading's - see point 2.
Partnership with local church guys (Scott, Stan, Pete, James and Simon) is a great blessing.

...and then the lady arrived with cake.

4. Promises
Esther. And divine intervention as Sophie picked a load of songs about God's promises just before I told her that the talk was about God's promises.

...love, magic and sparkle

5. Relays
Back with my Relay - 2 Chronicles and stories of God's grace.

...freshly ground coffee

6. Students
Chris, Claire, Anna, Nu, Tim, Tom, Matt and God's word.
And thanks to Charl for the lift home on Thursday.

7. Photo of the Week:
Funky Pancake says:

RUCU welcomes anyone to attend their informal courses and lunches

A helpful article in this week's Students Union paper. The title looks a bit inflamatory but the story is accurate and positive. And the quote on the right is great!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Caroline Bridges

Go listen:
Caroline Bridges

Good food at high altitude

I have some confessions to make, though I'm not particularly ashamed of them...
  • It was me who suggested Reading CU should study 10 chapters of Luke's gospel in seven weeks, in autumn 2006. Sometimes that was 80 verses a week. Some people complained that it was a bit too much. But, we were able to put the most familiar stories back in context and discover grace on the road with Jesus. Jesus is full of grace, and that's worth feasting on.
  • It was me who suggested Surrey CU should study Esther in three weeks. But from a good height a strange story reveals the promises of God in the face of circumstantial crisis. The book might not mention God but he shines from it's pages when you fly high enough.
  • It was me who designed a term of Bible studies for Reading CU cells this term in Ephesians. Studies that mean that today a group of brand new cell leaders prepared their first ever Bible study on Ephesians 1v1-2v10. It's a lot to eat in one go. But how amazing God's big plan is, catching us up in union with Christ as he is placed over all things. Sure, we're passing over some of the details but what a magnificent view.
As I say, I'm not exactly ashamed of this. Look, it's the word of God and it's very tasty. It's more precious than gold. It's sweeter than honey. Better than the finest food in all the world. There are times to eat small amounts and savour all the details. But there are times to see the big picture. Try it.

Reasonable Faith - William Lane Craig


Reasonable Faith: lectures and debates with William Lane Craig
presented by Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF)

Bill Craig is an instinctive communicator as well as a fine thinker. He is in great demand across Europe and the USA, yet remarkably is largely unknown in the UK. His lectures and debates are world class and appeal to sceptics and believers alike.

No tickets, free entry.

Is God a Delusion? MAJOR DEBATE with Prof Lewis Wolpert
7.30pm, Tuesday February 27th, LONDONCentral Hall, Westminster SW1H 9NH

Reasonable Faith: The Evidence for Christianity LECTURE
7.30pm, Wednesday February 28th, LONDONAll Souls, Langham Place, W1B 3DA

Does the Christian God Exist? MAJOR DEBATE with Dr Andrew Pyle
7.30pm, Thursday 1st March, BRISTOLUniversity Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building. BS8 1RJ

Reasonable Faith: Does God Exist? LECTURE
7.30pm, Friday 2nd March, OXFORD Town Hall, St Aldates, OX1 1BX

Reasonable faith: Is Life without God Absurd? LECTURE
7pm, Monday 5th March, MANCHESTERManchester University, Roscoe Building LT A, Oxford Rd, M13 9PL

Was Jesus Bodily Raised from the Dead? MAJOR DEBATE with Dr James Crossley
7.30pm, Tuesday 6th March, SHEFFIELDUniversity Student Union Auditorium, Western Bank, S10 2TN

Is God a Delusion? MAJOR DEBATE with Prof Mike Begon
7.30pm, Wednesday 7th March, LIVERPOOLUniversity, Mountford Hall, 160 Mount Pleasant L69 3GJ

Reasonable Faith: Who Was Jesus of Nazareth? LECTURE
7.30pm, Thursday 8th March, NOTTINGHAMLecture Theatre B52, University Jubilee Campus NG8 1BB

Reasonable Faith: How Can a Good God allow Suffering and Evil? LECTURE
7.45pm, Friday 9th March, CAMBRIDGELecture Theatre, Dept of Materials, CB2 3QZ

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Esther 1-3 - Prize God's Promises!

Surrey CU - January 18th

It's early in a new year, and people are full of predictions of what 2007 will bring. Many of them, keen to proclaim the end of the church, the end of faith and consign Jesus Christ to the history books... I've been reading Richard Dawkins book, The God Dellusion. Brian Eno writes on the back cover writes: “I see this as a book for a new millenium, one in which we may be released from lives dominated by the supernatural”.

People love to predict the future... “Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for further developments.” Julius Sextus Frontinus, Roman engineer, A.D. 10.
“Despite the trend to compactness and lower costs, it is unlikely everyone will have his own computer any time soon.” Reporter Stanley Penn, The Wall Street Journal, 1966.
In 1823, British scientist, Dionysius Lardner, warned that rail travel at high speeds was not possible because “passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.”
Captain E.J. Smith of the Titanic said, “I cannot imagine any condition which could cause this ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” (gathered from blogs...)

Some proclaim utopia. Some proclaim doom. Some of might be down to nothing more than personality... is the glass half full or half empty?

Esther is a story of impending crisis. A true story of great humour and suspense. It's firmly embedded in the pages of the Bible and yet stands alongside the Song of Songs as one of only two books in the Bible that don't mention the hero, God. You may then think it odd that we choose to feast here for three weeks before events week – before our most intensive opportunity to live and speak for Jesus...

This is theology in story, and unexpectedly we will find here an unshakeable confidence in the promises of our sovereign God. And the fuel we need to stoke the fires of our hearts to love our God more deeply, and speak more boldly.

We begin this strange tale in Esther 1-3. A compelling comic tale, certified 18 for scenes of sex and violence. Now as we turn to it, remember the words of Mark Twain who said “The rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated” the day after his obituary appeared in the paper. Crisis is on the horizon... the clouds of Dawkins and doom gather but it's not over yet....

Esther is a story. Meet the key players!

Xerxes the Muppet?

On the face of it these pages look like they should be the story of Xerxes, also known as Ahasuerus. We begin with him, 1v1, and we're told he rules the world from Ethiopia to India - 127 provinces. By any estimate he was the King of the World. But don't be too impressed.
To celebrate himself he holds a lavish half-year party – 1v5 - But when he summons his wife, she refuses - 1v12. He wants to parade her before his friends wearing her crown 1v11. Some suggest this means "come wearing only your crown". Either way she wont entertain them.
Xerxes counsellors - 1v13 - fear that if the Queen can defy the King that their wives and all the women of the kingdom will follow suit.

The king furious - 1v12 - and is advised to irrevocably banish his wife - 1v19. He shows his power, but he'll never see his wife again. He's a muppet. A puppet on the strings of his advisors ...it's not immediately obvious why we're told this story – but it will be later.
His anger subsides but he wants a wife so he launches The Xerxes Factor. Sizzling Esther arrives in his quarters one night. He knows nothing about her, but can't resist her beauty and seduction. So Esther becomes the new Mrs Xerxes - 2v17.

All is not well in Persia though, his subjects plot against him - 2v21 – and then his Prime Minister Haman defied – 3v2. Defying the PM is tantamount to defying the King... And remember what happened last time someone defied the king! He hasn't learned, and this time he rashly sanctions a holocaust 3v8-9 - every Jew must die at the end of the year. It's hugely out of proportion. He's a muppet. But it's not his story. He has his own book - 2v23 – and in the Bible God is the hero – even when he's unmentioned and silent.

Esther the dubious beauty queen?

An orphan of the Jewish exile into Iraq – 2v6-7. That exile happened as God's judgement on his people for their rebellion. But he'd promised a full restoration. It hadn't yet happened. Esther is adopted by by her uncle - 2v7 - who oddly keeps her ethnicity a secret - 2v10. She volunteers to join Xerxes harem. She's pretty hot – 2v7b “lovely in form and features” - and then beautified for a year - 2v12 - ...the most beautiful woman in the world.

Finally she's sent into see the king at night - 2v15 - seduces him - 2v17 - and becomes his wife. A young Jewish girl becomes Queen. Seducing the most powerful foreigner in the world. Jewish girls were only meant to marry Jews so that's not good.

Some make Esther a role model... Be Esther?
Step 1. Young Christian girls should make themselves look gorgeous. Physical appearance is what counts!
Step 2. Find the most powerful non-Christian you can. Sleep with him. And whatever you do, don't tell him you're a Christian.

Ouch! If this was the content of the pure course that'd be interesting!! She's no hero. As yet, just slightly dodgy eye-candy, though things do improve a bit later on.

Mordecai the twit?

This man is - 2v5 - a Son of Kish and a Son of Benjamin. He's part of the line from King Saul. He adopts his orphaned niece, but then lets her join the royal harem. Later in 2v22 he saves the king, and the history books record it. He then defies the Prime Minister – 3v2. Unlike Esther - 3v6 - he has gone public about being a Jew so this brings about disaster on all his people 3v12. An inconsistent man, he's a hero one day and a fool the next...

Haman the villan?

The Prime Minister. 3v1. He's vain – everyone has to bow before him. An Agagite, descended from King Agag the Amalekite. So, – 3v10 - an enemy of the Jews. And he uses he first opportunity he gets to release the King's wrath against them. Plainly, the villan.

So, what's the story?

Events reach crisis point. Esther has joined the Harem and become Queen. And now this wily Jew has taken his stand against the Prime Minister with deadly consequences... The rash despot Xerxes has made his unchangeable vow.

This raises two key questions:

Why doesn't Mordecai bow? - He could have kept it a secret that he was a Jew... like Esther. And besides what's the big deal about respecting the Prime Minister? He had to know it'd be disastrous.

How can God's people survive? God had sent them into exile for their sin, but promises restoration... Not very easy when you're dead... which is what the King of the World has said will happen by the end of the year.

Q1. Why doesn't Mordecai bow?

Relatively obvious to a Jew, if not for us. Genealogy is everything to a Jew – that's why we get Jesus' genealogy in Matthew 1. Most of us don't care about genealogy... But look at my Relay worker, Ed. High Wycombe's own Edward Northey Goode has both his Father's surname, and his mothers. His name tells us about his identity. So too do our protagonists. Its' not just Mordecai vs. Haman. It's:
2v5: Mordecai, Son of Kish, Benjamite, Jew.
3v1: Haman, Son of Agag, Amalekite.
Which clarifies things doesn't it?!!

Three bits of Biblical history will help us...
1. Exodus 17. God resuces Israel from Egypt but King Amalek comes to oppose them. This is the one where Moses prays on the hilltop. When he lifts his hands they win, when he doesn't they lose. Afterwards the LORD says:
Amalek will be blotted out of memory.
Israel and the Amalekites will be at war forever...

2. Then, 1 Samuel 15. King Saul – the Son of Kish, the Benjamite.... is sent to kill King Agag, the Amalekite. But he doesn't obey God. So God kicks him off the throne.

3. In Numbers, Balaam of Beor says that God's people will triumph over Agag. But now Mordecai is required to submit to an Agagite... and he cannot and will not do it. It would fly in the face of his very identity.

Q2. How can God's people survive?

There are two faint glimmers of hope in the story... did you notice them?
2v23, Mordecai is a hero with his name in the book of Xerxes.
2v10, one Jew will survive this holocaust, the secret Jew who is sleeping with the King.
Not much to go by though both things will be vital later. However there is something more than the finger of God's providence. Haman has the advantage, but Esther is a Bible book – set among God's promises:

The bigger story in which God promised through Jeremiah that they would come back from exile. The bigger story in which God promised Abraham that God's people would be a blessed global people. And the bigger story in which the Jews triumph over the Amalekites.

And Esther 1-3 force us to believe those promises against the might of the United States of Ahasuerus and the venom of Haman. Circumstantial evidence says that at the end of the year God's people will all be dead.

And so here is the teaching, the doctrine, that the story of Esther 1-3 requires us to believe:

“The people of God must
prize the promises of God
against the current circumstances”

For the rest of our time we'll consider three uses of this doctrine. Three ways in which holding to this teaching will help us to be those who live and speak for Jesus:

Use 1. “The people of God must prize the promises of God against the current circumstances by prizing the promise of the cross.”

All God's promises are YES and AMEN by way of Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus was punished in our place. And he was raised so we would reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. We have a choice. It's windy and we can either disregard the promise and be swept along like leaves, or hold to it and be like trees that stand. The current is strong, if we disregard the promise we're jellyfish swept along... if we prize it we're dolphins who can swim against the flow.
Esther 1-3 is of immeasurable use. In it God directs us to remember that he is God. His gospel is true. His promises don't fail. We need to be aware not to prize what God has not promised, for example:
God has not promised great revival here.
God has not promised all our ills will be healed.
God has not promised you will pass all your exams.
Great desires and things to pray into, but not promises. But far above them is the promise that we reign in life through Christ. Heirs of the universe with him.

Use 2. “The people of God must prize the promises of God against the current circumstances that tell us to conform secularism and political correctness.”

Mordecai was under pressure to bow to the authorities. On other things he submitted, saving the king, giving Esther for marriage to the King. But here he drew the line.
In the early church the apostles lived under the authorities – except when they made it illegal to speak of Jesus. They broke that rule and went to prison for it. Prison might not await us – but social ostracism of raising the subject of religion can seem much worse... And consider the cause of our brothers and sisters at Exeter CU – contending for the gospel by saying that a Christian mission team – a CU – must have Christian leaders. Their example, like Mordecai – is humbling. They don't want our attention – they direct us to our God. Daily living and speaking for Jesus is fueled not by the example of others – but by God's promises. We do live out of step with the majority. We are few among many. But our culture, like the fickle human heart, is sinking sand. One thing never changes. That which we will sing of for all eternity: the lamb who was slain!

Use 3. “The people of God must prize the promises of God against the current circumstances that might lead us to doubt that the gospel is true.”

Some scorn Christianity... after all they say, it's getting on for 2000 years since Jesus “ascended”... why isn't he back yet? Statistically the church has shrunk in number in this country during our lifetimes. And simple maths says that we're a tiny minority on campus.
We might be tempted to cling to church growth in South America, Asia and Africa... and we should be encouraged by that! It's encouraging, but not ground to stand on.

Instead we hold to God's promise. The promise that because of his death on the cross, Jesus will build his church and not even the gates of hell can stand against that. Predictions come and go. Some whip us up into excitement, others lead us into despair. Xerxes had great power. Brian Eno thinks that in this millenium... we may be released from lives dominated by the supernatural”. No, no, no. Jesus Christ loves his church, gave himself up for us, and is gathering his global people. And he's even doing it here!

We don't know if God will graciously save people this term. We cannot stand on our self-confidence. Our desire. Our intellects. Our innovation. Our fame. All of these are sinking sand. We look outside ourselves to the cross of Christ. To God's ultimate and final promise of life to sinners. And on that we take our stand. “The people of God must prize the promises of God against the current circumstances.” And all His promises are Yes in Christ And so in Christ we say Amen, to the glory of God.

Group discussion questions
What would it look like for us (individually and corporately) to prize the promise of the cross? What false-promises might we cling to?
What sort of things make us doubt God's promises?
How will God's promises at the cross help you to live and speak for Jesus this term?
Pray.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

IVP Award

Last week Ben Carswell inexplicably didn't win IVP's bookseller award. He came third. Bewildered I came second. But my bewilderment was nothing compared to that of the Award-WinningTM Cathy Midmer.

Thanks are probably owed to the wonderful book-buying (and hopefully book-reading) students of Reading and Surrey CUs. Like Carswell Sr. says, leaders are readers, readers are leaders... and all that! My angle is simply that reading books is great.

Anyways, I'm merely blogging this for the comedy value. Would have been in my last seven but I'd forgotten about it...so there you go.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Send revival start with me?

"We're looking to Your promise of old
That if we pray and humble ourselves
You will come and heal our land"

I love the 'spirit' of this Matt Redman song. It's desire for God's people to be revived - as expressed in it's chorus is wonderful. The chorus borrows from Isaiah 6 and the story of Isaiah being confronted with his sin in the presence of God, humbling seeking atonement. I just wonder if we ought first to consider what this meant to them, before we try to apply it to ourselves:

"We're looking to Your promise of old
That if they prayed and humbled themselves
You would come and heal their land"

My query is whether we can just claim a promise to them, for us. The people of God live by the promises of God so getting them right is very important. This promise is part of an answer to Solomon's prayers for God to regard the temple as the people's meeting place with their God.

The promise for healed land on the condition of repentance is in the specific context of the land being blighted with famine and drought by God. Land is a key theme in God's word, and indeed when Israel are sent into exile it is partly so that the land can have 70 years of rest from its cursed people.

God's promises to Solomon for Israel guarenteed that they could be come and find forgiveness. As God continued to speak to Solomon he also warned that if they persisted in unrepentance they would be kicked out of the land and made a byword among the nations.

What did the promise of 7v14 mean for them then?

God's people should have committed themselves to being repentant because of God's promise. But, the unfolding story of 2 Chronicles says that with only a few exceptions they wandered away from the Lord. They persistently did evil in the sight of the Lord. Scoffing at his promises and scorning his word. It's a tragic tale. And I can certainly relate to their falling.

What does this mean in Christ?

God's people gathered by the cross are a scattered people. We have no 'land'. That immediately alerts us that this promise is tricky to apply. We also no longer have the temple to come and humble ourselves at. God's people today are scattered among all nations not in one particular land. Jesus is the temple, and indeed the priest and sacrifice that makes humble repentance possible... and the land we seek is eternal rest.

Their story stands as a great warning to us not to take God's promises for granted. It's a sober word for us to prize God's promises and adopt a persistent posture of repentance forcussed on Christ. We would do well to borrow Isaiah's confession:

"Lord, send revival, start with me
For I am one of unclean lips"

And we make our confession not by introspection. We make it because we know the King. Our King has died for our sin. Our King secured our forgiveness. God promises that his word revives the soul. The word of the gospel calling us to repentance and the promise of eternity with the King. We would do well to seek it, but, like marriage, not to enter into it lightly.

A church marked by repentance will love the rebuke and correction of God's word. We would seek that. Repentance wants the preacher to speak against sin, though it will be fueled all the more by talk of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The repentant church is full of people who will openly confess our error without excuse making (the sinful heart resists with creative protest and extenuating circumstances). Repentance is prepared to let the Spirit examine our hearts like a careful surgeon to root out the rot. Repentance is the Spirit-filled life.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Lessons in Biblical Application in Today's Culture (2)

By The Book MP3s
What about “Today's Culture”

What has changed in 2000 years since the last events in the Bible? At the end of the day.... Nothing. "Today's Culture" is an overblown concept. It's good to address it - we do need to apply some thinking to the discern the air we breath, but ultimately the Bible isn't about our culture today anymore than it's about me. It's the book of God.

What else? God is still the same. He has not changed. His character is the same. What he has done does change throughout the Bible. So, in reading the Old Testament we need to remember that we're before the cross – for example. But since then all is the same. Nothing of ultimate significance has happened since the end of the Bible – we're still waiting for Jesus to come back. And in the mean time he's still holding all things together by his powerful world. He's living and active, like his word – but 2000 years hasn't degraded or enhanced things.

About a century ago the dutch entrepreneur and prime minister Abraham Kuyper said: "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'" That conviction is as true today as then. Why? Because it's based on God's clear word in the Bible. Colossians 1v17 – Jesus the supreme one, who holds all things together by his word. As in the first century so too today. Christianity isn't just a lifestyle or religion - it is a worldview. And it is this Jesus who claims our lives. Nothing holds together unless he holds it together. Taste that for a moment. Behold!

And see what flows from that: 3v17 – whatever you do, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Whatever you could possibly too, anywhere in the universe Jesus is thoroughly concerned with it. He stakes his claim on our lives. When we behold the majesty of Jesus we'll know how his claim on our lives looks. And Colossians is very detailed about that – even down to our attitude at work. No Jesus... no wholehearted work... no Jesus no love, no kindness, no thanksgiving... when we're frustrated with non-christian immorality, let us remember that we're only changed because the veil is removed... otherwise we would be just like everyone else. Or worse.

Trying to live without Jesus is like the scientists who challenged God to a creation competition... only to be reminded that they would need to provide their own dirt. Jesus owns the whole universe. And he stakes his claim on every square inch of it. Mine! And every square inch includes politics, money, work, shopping, entertainment, health, education, family, humour, arts as well as church. And we should be asking... how does what I am beholding of Jesus Christ impact politics, money, work, shopping etc...

This kind of rigorous – extensive Christian worldview – reaching to all areas of life is the kind of answer that we need to make to Richard Dawkins who wants to say that Christianity is irrational... and instead to celebrate the triumph of the human mind to solve all problems... A key way to do this is to slow down on the application – say in Colossians 3... and work hard on what the details mean in practice – in view of the big revelation of God we find in Colossians 1.

People haven't changed. We're still people made in God's image but badly marred. Social structures and political systems are a bit different - but they're not really a major theme of the Bible. And Sin is still the same. Sure it can have fun manifesting itself in speeding cars, shopping queues and in the realms of google. Sin may have new clothes but sin is sin is sin. And the biggest issue in sin isn't how it manifests. Sin is rejecting God's word. So when we come to sin we better look at God's word not our world, to find our definitions and issues.

It's when we reject Jesus' claim and we say our own feeble “mine” except we don't own our lives... and if you take what you don't own that's called stealing! Sin does mean that when it comes to application we may find some things hard to apply – because we're sinfully blind to the reality of our wealth, our feeling that we have certain rights, our confidence that we're right in a situation, our desire for vindication, our pride, our intellect.

Take 1 Timothy 2 for example. I'm not saying I have an answer on this one... When I read words about not letting women speak or have authority and find myself saying “it's difficult to interpret and apply that” - is it because it actually is, or because I'm so sensitive to feminist agendas in our society that I'm scared to read it plainly???? What if I apply the same to what I see in 1 Timothy 2v5 about there being only one mediator... after all, that is very dodgy in "today's culture".
Further thoughts : Simon Manchester on 1 Timothy 2 at BeginningWithMoses.org


All Scripture is useful - all of it... that means even the genealogies have something to say to life today. God hasn't changed. Sin hasn't changed. People haven't changed. Sin hasn't changed. We must still remember that God's word is the word of God about God... so if we want instant personal application we're going to struggle. Take that neglected Biblical genre - the Genealogy. It doesn't yield well to meology. Take the start of Matthew's gospel for example.... traditionally Matthew gospel starts with the words ...This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph... but it actually begins A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham... It's apparently of no use, but if we're coming to God's word to behold Jesus... then we've found the book of Jesus... the God who flies in the face of postmodern anti-metanarrativism (is that a word?). The God who has a big story. A historical story. And a story that is full of grace (notice all the "shady ladies" and bad boys in the list) as everything leads towards the birth of Jesus.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Seven Days



Link:

How to Deal with the Guilt of Sexual Failure for the Glory of Christ and His Global Cause - John Piper at Passion '07


Online Book:



Relay Blogging:

Ceryn blogs on:

Prayer 1, 2, 3.

1. Church History

Mike Reeves' passion for church history. Luther and Augustine - brilliant stuff and fresh clarity about justification.

"talking yourself clear" - the deep value of conversations with other staff between sessions.

New Zealand. Catching up with James Allaway and meeting Mark Grace; Clive Parnell's creativity; Staff Conference report from Kath Arnold - 365-style.

2. Ant and Dec

Or, Iley and Povey's quiz. Pod vs. Jason; When Gareth sold Grudem; Motsy's Christmas present; The theological significance of baldness; youtube moments; and the evidence of why we're such a cutting-edge missions movement; Eats, Shoots, Leaves and Alan.

3. Bookgirl



Rosemary's enthusiasm for Lindsay Brown's Shining Like Stars, before we discovered we'd get a free copy!

4. Jim Walford

Always warrants a mention. He'll be embarrassed by this but I wanted to say thanks for the encouragement regarding the blog.

Also good to see a preview of the new uccf website.

5. Home

Great to be back home with my lovely wife. The Pursuit of Happyness; Filter Coffee; Window Shopping (i.e. buying 24 with the help of Windows XP);

6. By the Book

By The Book MP3s

Probably not the way to rest at the end of the week but great to see about 100 people gather to get into God's word. Great also to have Rich, Tim, Andy, Tom, Miriam and Lou there. Seeing students on a Saturday morning. Outstanding.

7. Photo of the Week:
Funky Pancake says:

Lessons in Biblical Application in Today's Culture (1)

Download MP3: Apply the Bible in Today's Culture - Dave Bish
We know the Bible applys to our life today – but the question is how... especially when we're often told that our Bible either teaches “love and tolerance” or “bigotry and intolerance” Meanwhile Richard Dawkins simply considers it a mess of contradiction, barely worth considering in the quest for God.

Classic evangelical application looks like this...
  • Reading the Bible – well yes, but that's what we're already doing... Some of the Bible tells us to read it – but that's not the usual application.
    It is possible that reading the Bible might make you less inclined to do it again. However, that is called having your heart hardened... and that's not exactly a desirable “transformational faith aim” for our study of the Bible...
  • Pray – yes, would be strange if we hear from God and don't want to reply..
  • Do evangelism – yes, again strange to hear from God about himself and not want to share that...
All of which are fine, but God didn't need to give us a vast book, written over two millenia in three continents with story and law, poetry and prophesy, letters and biography to tell us to do those three things. His way is different. It's bigger and better. And if we're not careful those classic applications of read the Bible, pray and do evangelism, could turn out to be idolatry.... but, more on that later...

There are 400,000 CCTV cameras in London. That basically means where-ever you go, someone can be watching you. When we come to the Bible we're being watched. We read it in the sight of God. But also within the sound of his voice. And that voice comes sometimes tenderly to encourage, sometimes to strengthen, sometimes to correct or rebuke. As we come to it He does the talking and we need to know what to do about that. Our conviction is that all scripture is God-breathed and useful. The question is how.

Principle 1: All Change
Our study of the Bible is to be:
“Transformational Faith-Filled Beholding of Jesus”
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” -- 2 Cor 3v18
(1) And we all, with unveiled face
Who? See 3v16 Christians! How are we unveiled? Ch4 – by a universe-creating miracle. What happens when we become Christians is nothing less than the creation of the world in it's magnificence and world-changing significance.

(2) Beholding
See, Savour, Gaze, Worship. This is heart affection stuff. Like burning hearts on the Emmaus Road as the risen Lord Jesus taught the gospel to his disciples. None of which is to say anything less than careful reading... but that we need to read with reverence. To let our hearts feel the weight of what we're reading... letting our minds weigh the majesty. Stopped in our tracks.

Apart from the Lord, our thinking will get us nowhere. We must handle the Bible prayerfully, asking the Author of Scripture to grant us understanding in everything. He must open our eyes to see clearly what he is saying. The psalmist realized this when he wrote Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law (Ps 119:18). Application begins on our knees.

(3) the glory of the Lord
The what? See 4v4,6 Jesus. The face of Christ. The Gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Crucified Saviour. The resurrected Lord. Where? See 3v15 In Scripture. Paul makes a clever move from Moses being read to Israel to the same in our experience.

And of course – Jesus is the subject of all scripture: Jesus says so in Luke 24 and John 5. Colossians – let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. We come to Scripture not to learn knowledge, but to behold the glory of the Lord. To take God's word and “...Put it under your tongue like a lozenge and let the favour seep down your throat and into your heart...” (Piper paraphrased) This is not a brisk business. It's time-intensive and vitally important.

(4) Are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
What's the aim? Resulting in Transformation. But not just change for the sake of change. Too often we come to the Bible determined to find a change in us. Change is vital but a particular change is required. Transformation to what end? Changing us into the “same image” - the image of God – Christ. Renewing us to become fully human again.

(5) For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
How? By The Holy Spirit. When we come to the Bible it is human author's words but these are also God's word – and we are hearing God speaking to us, about Jesus. And it is the Holy Spirit that enacts change here. But that work is the Spirit by the word. The word plainly taught and understood 4v2, not messed with. Simply applying grammar will help us when it comes to application! Though there is a bit more to it than that! Seeing Jesus is transformational. That means informational Bible study falls short. In fact it's idolatrous. If we see who Jesus is but fail to behold him – to worship rightly we're being idolatrous. It's evil.

Likewise if we take action to read the Bible, pray or do evangelism without that being based on our hearts being affected by the gospel then we may well be acting in self-righteous legalism... in sin. Dressed up to look like godliness but doing no more than parading ourselves, instead of responding to our Saviour!

The Bible is not a mirror to come and gaze upon our own beauty. It's the window through which we gaze upon God's glory. Pete Lowman of Wycliffe Baptist Church puts this helpfully in his book on Bible Study, Gateways to God:
“True spirituality isn't a passive consumption of stimulants. It sets out actively to interact with God: to discern the fuel for today's worship in what God has spoken, then to express a response worthy of him – being sure that, somewhere along the line, God himself will warm our hearts”
We can do worse than to ask: “what is worship God for here?” and then to make that prayerful response! And remember that beholding is part of the Holy Spirit working transformation in us! All transformation in the details of life begins with beholding Jesus. And we'll see that the motives and reasons for the changes that God requires of us are very important.

If our Bible reading is to have any impact upon our life in Today's Culture then it needs to become radically God-centred. Our Bible reading must start with who God is, with Jesus and his cross... with his big gospel story from Genesis to Revelation.... and from that our changed life derives. It is God's book of God. The book that reveals Jesus Christ to us in glory and grace, by the Holy Spirit....

In addition to expelling mere informationalism, this approach should also warn us against an individualism that searches scripture to find self. The Bible is God's book of God. Even on the one occasion I do appear in the Bible I'm found worshipping Jesus (in John's vision in the book of Revelation - itself titled "the revelation of Jesus Christ"). The Bible tells the story of many people but I'm no more Joshua or Jonah than I am Jesus. Their story is the story of God, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit - drawing our eyes to Jesus who is enthroned over all... calling us to behold him.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Authority of the Bible

Download MP3 - The Authority of The Bible
2 Timothy 3v14-4v4

Why should we listen to what the Bible says? We've heard it read, sung parts of it... but in 2007 isn't it time to accept that the Bible is a relic that's best left in the past? It might be the all time bestseller but shouldn't we just let it collect dust on our bookshelves?

One newspaper recently said “The Bible is about love and tolerance” - which ought to make it very popular in our day and age... Another said: “Thankfully society as a whole - has realised that the Bible is not the literal word of God and believes that the bigotry and intolerance within its pages is unacceptable”. (1st - The Sunday Times, 2nd - Edinburgh Uni Student Paper)

And don't we say the same? I don't like what the Bible says, so I wont listen to it. Or more subtly – there are the pages we love, and the pages we overlook.... My opinion about the Bible isn't really the point – what matters is what it says about itself. This is what it says about itself: 3v16 “All scripture is God-breathed”. God-breathed. That's a strange phrase! What does it mean? It means that what the Bible says, God says.

How so? Words come on our breath. To say scripture is God-breathed is to say it comes from the mouth of God. Not by dictation but by human authors, like Paul who we see in 1v1 wrote this letter to Timothy – written by men, breathed out by God.

3v16 only explicitly refers to the Old Testament, the scriptures Timothy grew up with. But the rest of the New Testament shows itself to be scripture too. And so we're to take all 66 books as scripture, and all scripture is God speaking. (I appreciate that this needs much more justification - but in a short talk I had to leave that one hanging!)

When God speaks it's always significant. He doesn't waste words. He spoke into the darkness – let – there – be – light. And there was light! When God speaks universes get created. And it was good, good, good, good, good and very good. His word gets things done.

And no-one can be divided from their words. Like him or not, George Bush, is probably the most powerful person in the world. His word has authority to wield nuclear weapons and economic influence.

On a much greater scale God's word, in this book, carries the full weight of God's authority. His words represent him. And God is the authority, not just on war and economics but on all of life.

1. The Saving Word
Look at 3v14, this powerful authoritative word of God came to Timothy, through the tenderness, weakness and gentle patience of his mother Eunice (1v5). The universe creating word from parent to child...
From the scriptures,
v14, Timothy learned.
From the scriptures,
v14 he was convinced.

About salvation: 3v15. Of “salvation – through faith – in Christ Jesus”. A weighty word from God's mouth, from Eunice to her son Timothy. ...what a priviledge, opportunity and challenge for those who are parents - to teach God's word to your children...

By his word the LORD stakes his claim on our lives. In 1v8-10 we're told of his good news (8), his purpose and grace (9) and the abolition of death to bring eternal life
(10).
The Bible is God's book of good news, about Jesus.


Marcus Honeysett comments:
“There is one God,
- with one plan of salvation
- through the one man Jesus Christ,
- that he tells us about in one book
- and illuminates by one Spirit”

(Source, Meltdown, IVP)

We shouldn't be surprised! God spoke to make us, and he speaks to save us. Human ideas and innovation don't change the world, God's word does. Delivered from mother to child, from one person to another... The word of God - doing the work of God. All the scriptures publishing God's saving word... From Genesis to Revelation, in law and history, songs and prophecy, biography and letters. All packed with the good news that Jesus Christ is our Saviour!

And, notice - 3v16-17 – Not just to get us started... The Bible is not just for Christmas, it's for life, all of life: 3v16-17... “...useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Our creator speaks with authority in his word. Not mystically but through the commands and instructions and explanations of his story. And we need it! But, personal Bible study doesn't always feel great. It doesn't always feel like the universe-creating authoritative word of God. It can seem difficult, even dull, or just overwhelming as we don't know where to begin... For some here it may be days or weeks since we last opened the Bible. Because of the pressures of life... or just out of carelessness. It happens.

And the point here is not to feel guilty about that. It's not a sin if we don't read the Bible every day. But – this is God's authoritative word. It's food for life. If we're neglecting it we'll drift into trouble. God has given us his word in a book for our benefit. Sometimes it's difficult, but it will yield to “faith-filled” study.
When we're struggling, let's help one another, ...On reflection one of the reasons I didn't do well at University was that I was too proud to ask for help... Let's share our discoveries and difficulties together.

Let's get God's saving word into our busy lives. Prayerfully asking questions of the author as we read it. Lord, what are you saying here? What does this mean? How must I change?
God stakes his claim on our lives, teaching us about our Saviour Jesus Christ.

2. The Judging Word
Jesus is our Saviour, v15, but also 4v1: Judge. God's word is life to those who accept it, but the stench of death to those who reject it. Paul charges Timothy, 4v2 - “Preach – the – word”, 4v2. Cry out to all the people - “Hear ye, hear ye... Jesus is Saviour, and Judge!”

Now, you'd think that since all the people need a Saviour, that all the people would embrace this good news... who wouldn't want eternal life with Jesus? But, 4v3... people do not and will not put up with sound doctrine – 'sound' means healthy, 'doctrine' means teaching... we wont put up with healthy teaching. We don't know what's good for us, and we don't want what's good for us...
That's where everything went wrong in the first place - It wasn't eating fruit that got Adam and Eve in trouble – the problem was they stood over God's word. They judged what God said, and thought they knew better.

It was the same with King Ahab of Israel. He gathered around himself 400 prophets who would tell him whatever he wanted to hear. Four-hundred yes-men, to feed his ego and drown out God's word... There was one true prophet who spoke from God. And Ahab said
“I hate him because he never says anything good about me, only bad”.
Can we do that with a bank statement we don't like?
Or a medical report? Like isn't the point.
So, God judged Ahab.
Not as a man who hated God's word,
but as a man who hated God.
God will not be divided from His word...
(I'm grateful to Mark Dever's The Message of the OT for the above insights)

And we can do it, even without 400 friends... I read the Bible and see clearly the Word of God saying “be humble”. But I prefer the Word of Dave – which says “be proud!”. And when I follow the Word of Dave I reject the Word of God. But, since what the Bible says, God says then I'm disobeying God by disobeying his word... Prefering, 4v3, to serve my 'itching ears' instead of my glorious God. Praying “my kingdom come, my will be done...”

A man visited the Louvre in Paris,
He took a look at the Mona Lisa.
He examined it from several angles, before turning to the security guard and saying: “I don't like it”.
The guard replied:
“Sir, these paintings are
no longer being judged,
the viewers are”.

(Illustration from Mike Bullmore, Feeding on God)

So too for God's word. It stands. The saving word. If we listen to it, we find life in Jesus. But if we stand over it, judging it, then it judges us, God judges us by His word. We wont always like what God's word says – because of that we need to pray that our hearts are changed, and we need to hear God's word preached. To be confronted with it.

That's why the constitution of our church says this:
“the visible church of Christ is
a congregation of faithful men,
in which the pure Word of God is preached...”
(Church of England, 39 Articles)


The preaching isn't meant to be “the boring bit” of our meeting – it's the time get refreshed, as the good news of Jesus Christ is heralded in our hearing. Piers, Ian, Steve and myself are committed to preaching the word week by week. Not to just picking out what we want to say.
As we each listen we too must not pick and choose what we're prepared to hear. If we come to judge God's word it will sound worse than fingernails on a blackboard, to our itching ears. The judging word.

But it need not be that way. If we will come to listen to God's word, it may sound uncomfortable, but also glorious. As should our response in songs and liturgy, filling the air with the aroma of Jesus. The same will be true, day by day, decision by decision, living under the authority of God by living under his word - leading us to salvation - through faith - in Christ Jesus.


Person of the Year?


The God Delusion
- Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins has been named BBC Religion's Person of the Year 2006... amongst other reasons

  • For raising questions that need to be answered by any intelligent religious believer wishing to develop a coherent worldview.
  • For being a scientific fundamentalist and the worst advert for atheism currently doing a book tour.

In the mean time, I'm still enjoying reading his book.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Seven Days




MP3 of the week:

Mike Bullmore at NA2006
Feeding on God:
Cultivating a fruitful life in the word

The best $2 you could spend this week.


Quote of the week:

"There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"Abraham Kuyper

Biblical Theology:
Sinclair Ferguson on
Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

and also a new update at:


Question of the Week:



Is £32.99 as good as it's going to get for Season 5 of 24, or do we hold out for the price to drop further in the next few weeks?


1. Jonah

A great friend to losers like me who can't handle God's grace. It's amazing that God even bothered with him. Nineveh could have been saved more quickly and then better discipled through the ministry of someone a bit more sorted.

But our gracious God prefered to work with this petulent prophet whose first way out of trouble was to express a death wish.

Amazingly this approach didn't just saving Nineveh, it also left a trail of grace among a crew of pagan sailors and ultimately in the life of the son of Amittai.

(for Reading CU Cell Weekend in Feb)

2. Esther 1-3

Lessons in believing God's promises, against circumstances.

(for Surrey CU in January)

3. Ephesians

God's big plan - the church and Christ over all! Working through this in cells over the next term is going to be a lot of fun. Bring on the first one - Ephesians 1v1-2v10. The first study for our new CU cell leaders - gonna blow your mind and stir your heart!

(for Reading CU cells)

I'll blog from each of the above studies in the weeks/months ahead, along with some material on the doctrine of scripture that I've been working on concerning the authority and application of God's word.

4. Chris and Tony.

Wednesday afternoon, getting out of the house... first student meeting of the year with Mr Painter. And then, whilst walking home, dropping in unannounced for coffee with Ol' Big Eye.

5. Scott and Ed.

Chewing the cud for 95mins with a great partner in the gospel in the v.nice new Fam offices.

Then coming home to eat and chat with relay Ed. It's a great blessing to stand with God's people in God's work.

6. Books

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion.
Readable and often reasonable so far, even if I'm ultimately in disagreement with him. It's a shame he thinks Christians don't want to think rigorously, and that he's met people who actually use the arguments he refutes.
It'd be nice if he'd engage a bit more with the actual reasons we believe in God... nonetheless its good to read things we disagree with.

7. Not blogging

This is my first blog post of the year. Nice to take a few days out - thanks to those who asked me to resume.

I'm speaking a couple of times during in the next week so I suppose I'll post notes from them but that might be all for now.