Thursday, May 31, 2007

Circles?

From six boxes to eight pictures with circles, from a colleague in UCCF. This is a work in progress and he'd appreciate any constructive feedback. May I suggest starting by encouraging the good wherever you can find it in this, and then offering critique.
Click to enlarge:

Anglican Doctrinal Basis


Chris Watson Lee has composed a Doctrinal Basis for the Church of England, modelled on the UCCF one but derived from Anglican documents:

The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures… In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.

a.There is but one living and true God… And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons… the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
b. God [is] of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things.[He] hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning We bless [Him]… for [His] inestimable love in… redemption [He is the] most worthy judge eternal.
c. The Scripture… is the word of the living GOD… His infallible word.[The] Holy Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
d. The fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is… of his own nature inclined to evil… and therefore in every person born into this world… deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.
e. The Son… begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God… took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin… so that two whole and perfect Natures… the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person… [The] Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried.[He] was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which He was clearly void Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again His body, with flesh, bones, and… He ascended into heaven, and there sitteth [and] liveth and reigneth… now and for ever.
f. Christ… was crucified, dead… to reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men. [The] offering of Christ once made is the perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual, and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone. For our sins this most innocent Lamb was driven to death… he suffered the penalty of them himself, to deliver us.Christ… is the only Mediator between God and man.
g. We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings… we are justified by faith only. And this justification… we so receive of GOD’S mercy. The merits of Christ’s death and passion, who became man for our sake… if we have… faith… shall be as truly imputed unto us for righteousness.
h. It is the holy Ghost, and no other thing, that doth quicken the minds of men. Man… cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God… without the grace of God by Christ preventing us that we may have a good will.
i. [The] sundry offices proper unto… the holy Ghost [are] to sanctify and regenerate… He do also dwell and abide in [the born again]. By His Spirit working in due season… they be made like the image of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works. By the mighty power of the holy Ghost… the… Gospel… may be truly preached.
j. The… holy Catholick Church [is the] body of Christ. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men.
k. Jesus Christ… shall come to judge the quick and the dead.Our manifold sins and wickedness… provok[e] most justly [God’s] wrath and indignation against us, [there is] condemnation to death everlasting, by [people’s] own sin. God, our heavenly Father… hath promised forgiveness of sins to all them that with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him… and bring [them] to everlasting life.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Proving that Jesus is the Christ

Jesus posed the question: who do you say I am? It's the key question. And in the setting of the Jewish Bible and the New Testament Documents that challenge is specifically centred upon the question: is Jesus the Christ. Christ is presumed to be Jesus' surname but actually it's a title. And it's The title. It's a title centred upon, though not limited to, asking who is 'great David's greater son' - promised in 2 Samuel 7:14.
"When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever."
This is the first of many posts I want to write on this. It's not an abstract question but a genuine question from a friend of mine who isn't a Christian because he concludes that Jesus is not the Christ. Firstly, we should ask, do the New Testament writers think that Jesus is the Christ? The answer to this is an emphatic yes. We're presented with the Apostles preaching their message, frequently framed as 'proving Jesus is the Christ' in the book of Acts. Similarly we see the gospel writers arguing the case in some substantial detail. They don't always present it this way - to audiences (like most in the 21st Century) the Old Testament isn't always used explicitly. That said, it's story is broadly argued and presented. I find Don Carson's apologetic approach of telling the full Bible story to be a compelling approach. Where categories for the gospel don't exist - let us teach them!

To the issue at hand. Given the promises of the Jewish Bible, were the New Testament writers correct to conclude that Jesus is the Christ? Well, either Jesus is the Christ or he isn't. To answer the question about Jesus requires us to at least suggest the reliability of the New Testament Documents. If we're to see whether Jesus is the Christ we need to consider what evidence we have about him. If we take them as reliable then we have to ask: Are they deliberately misleading us? Are they willfully writing fiction? Are they unwittingly misled? The best approach seems to be to study their writing in detail and examine their arguments. On what bases do they make their claims? How do they show us that the promises of the Jewish Bible are fulfilled in Jesus?

Here's the plan. Future blogposts on Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts, to consider the case these books make for Jesus being the Christ. Right in the middle of the table are questions about Jesus' genealogy - is he David's Son? And what is the shape of his rule compared to the political rule of King David? This isn't the only theme the New Testament is concerned with, they see Jesus as the fulfillment of every promise God makes in the Jewish Bible, and indeed the fulfillment of the whole story. Detail to follow...

Atheist Warlord?

The Times today greated me with the question:
Is religion a poison?

Move-over Professor Dawkins...

Chrisopher Hitchins arrives with his new book:
God is not great.

Introduced today - Man vs. God - ahead of an exclusive extract tomorrow.

God is not Great - from Amazon.co.uk
Albert Mohler on Christopher Hitchins

Douglas Wilson & Christopher Hitchens, letters in Christianity Today

Three Six Five

Becci, Ed and Kath have completed their 365 Blogs:
365 Delight in the details - Kath Arnold
365 That Was Cool - Becci Brown
365 The Little Owl Project - Ed Goode

Yeah!

Mo McCracken is all loved up:
"Well, it seems to be quite de rigeur to say all sorts of rude things about my employers on the old interweb at the moment. Fair enough I guess. However, reading one of said critics the other day ("in a post charmingly entitled "UCCF: a clanging cymbal") I feel moved to say something.
I LOVE UCCF!
"
...go read the rest of it to see why.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Breathless and heart-broken

Yesterday I spent two hours with a friend who isn't a Christian, seeking to demonstrate the Jesus is the promised Messiah (though not Jewish he adheres strongly to the Old Testament). I then spent two hours teaching Romans 9 to Christian students at Surrey. These are two of the five introductory remarks I made, preparing the way to study this passage:

Soaring
We'll focus our study on Election upon Romans 9. It's not the only passage that speaks about this subject but it is a fairly substantial one. I'm less concerned that we reach a fully formed theology of election today, and more that we begin to savour the taste of it. It's a notorious chapter that has a reputation for being impenetrable. I think that is unfair. It's actually relatively simple on the head. The argument is mostly not very complex. The problem is the way it cuts into our hearts.

It's a classic example of how God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Enter the banquet halls of Romans 9 with pride and we'll find nothing but ash to eat. Enter with humility and you will find a feast, tables stacked high with delicacys. Fine wines. Mouthwatering dishes.

As we prepare to knock on the door of that room we need to dwell a moment in the lobby. That lobby is the end of Romans 8. In Romans 1-8 God has, through Paul, been outlining in some detail the freedom that comes from being justified by faith.

That is, having Jesus' perfect righteousness counted to you - though your status ought to be wrathworthy rebel, simply on the basis of grace - on the basis of his wrathbearing death that brings to us God's full and abundant favour. Such that we now reign in life. No longer wedded to sin, but to Christ instead.

That life is free from all and any condemnation and is lived in the Holy Spirit. And so, Paul concludes this part of the letter to Rome soaring on the clouds. The phrase "on eagles wings" refers to the way God saves his people out of Egypt. And Paul is certainly lifted by the Lord into the heights of God's glorious salvation.

We need to see the joy of this if we're to have any appreciation of election. Michael Horton speaks has written an excellent book on Election entitled "putting amazing back into grace". It is quite rightly amazing. Picking up in verse 30. We see that the predestined are called. The called justified. The justified glorified. He speaks of a completed salvation. And so, v31, what can be said! The Father is for us - so much so that he didn't even spare his own Son to achieve salvation - so lavish is his grace toward us in Christ. v33, no charge can stand against God's elect.

No condemnation. Christ died - he bears all that condemnation. He intercedes for us. So, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ - not trial or distress, not famine or nakedness, not danger or sword. And that is a real threat for God's faithful elect. Though opposed, we are more than conquerers through Christ who loved us. Not death or life, angels or rulers, present or future, height nor depth, nor indeed any thing else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

You feel him accelerate as he climbs to the summit of the gospel. Throws his arms up in the air in inexpressible joy at God's great salvation. Breathless, stand and take in the view.

Sobbing
And yet as Paul takes in the view he continues. 9v1, speaking the truth. 9v1, not lying. 9v1, with the Spirit as his witness. Of, v2, the "great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart" So deep that, v3, he might wish to be accursed and cut of from Christ - the Christ to whom he is inseparably bonded by the Spirit because of the Cross.

What could possibly grip Paul's heart so much that, were it possible, he would give up his own salvation? v3 - his kinsmen, his own nation. The Jewish people who are not in Christ. Real people outside of Christ. Real people under God's wrath. See him weep over them. Feel it. They have every priviledge that God gave his people throughout the Old Testament. Much knowledge. Much blessing. Even blood relatives of the Christ. And yet cut off from Christ.

This page of the Bible is tear-stained. Never let it be said that this is a room for dry and abstract theological debate. Romans 9 is a banquet hall both for a wedding feast but also with a house of mourning.

It is a passage we dare only study if we can soar breathless on the heights of the gospel, and if we are heartbroken over the plight of those who aren't Christians. Then, and only then, may we humbly study the hard words of Romans 9 - words that will explain to us why people aren't Christians.

Interacting with Matthew McMurray on this area.

Suffering Servant

Peter Dray on Jesus the suffering servant:
"God can’t just forgive sin and magic it away. God is not omnipotent in the sense that he can do anything. God can only do those things which are consistent with his nature. And so can’t readily pardon guilty people, because he has revealed himself as a God of infinite fairness and justice. He is a holy God. He must punish sin. And through sending his Servant, this is what he does. Through sending his Servant, and placing his punishment on him, pouring out all of his wrath against the Servant as he is made sin for others, God has found a way of forgiving guilty people like us whilst remaining holy and pure."
See a A reply from Matthew McMurray and ongoing discussions about Bible & Coffee

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Peter Williams on Dawkins on Dawkins

Dawkins new preface to The God Delusion: How dare you call me a fundamentalist - The right to criticise ‘faith-heads’ with commentary by Peter Williams author of I wish I could believe in meaning.

Carl Trueman Interview

Martin Downes continues his outstanding interviews:
Sin in High Places - Carl Trueman (Part 2).
Here's a flavour:
What signs of potential doctrinal drift and danger do you need to keep an eye out for in ministerial students?

I am increasingly convinced that pride is the root of problems among students. I was convicted recently by a minister friend quoting to me 1 Tim. 1:5-7 (ESV):

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

My friend made two observations about this passage.
  • First, the drift into dubious theological discussion is here described as moral in origin: these characters have swerved from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith; that is why their theology is so dreadful.
  • Second, their desire is not to teach but to be teachers. There is an important difference here: their focus is on their own status, not on the words they proclaim. At most, the latter are merely instrumental to getting them status and boosting their careers.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Tim Suffield - Clothed in righteousness

I confess I've not read all 48 pages of this yet,
but Tim has posted his dissertation on justification:
Tim Suffield - Clothed in righteousness

Word Alive - the past and the future

Statement issued by the UCCF, 21st May:
Word Alive - the past and the future

Since the recent Word Alive event in partnership with Spring Harvest, there has been much print given to the reasons for the split and these have unfortunately led to a range of complexities, distortions and disputes about the issues. In the meantime, UCCF, Keswick Ministries and Spring Harvest were approached with an offer of independent, formal mediation with a view to producing a joint, clarifying statement. UCCF and Keswick both accepted this offer but Spring Harvest unfortunately declined.

Since there is now no prospect of a formal objective procedure to clear up some of the details, we see no point in perpetuating this dispute any further. We admit that we have unwittingly contributed to it by giving the impression that the Word Alive committee rejected a specific request to allow Steve Chalke on the Word Alive platform in 2007. A request for Steve Chalke to be acceptable to Word Alive (following his signing of the updated EA Doctrinal Basis) actually had been made in general but not in specific terms to the Word Alive committee on 17th May 2006. We apologise for unintentionally being misleading about this.

While there had been niggles with Spring Harvest on other matters over the years, all parties had managed to live with them. It was made quite clear to us by Spring Harvest that the decisive issue, which caused them to end the partnership now, was our refusal to allow Steve Chalke to share our platform because of his unorthodox views on the atonement and the way he expresses them.

Other statements, which we previously made, have been disputed but on reviewing those matters, we see no good reason to change them, but we will not rehearse them again here. Others are responsible for their own statements, and although they may have emerged out of genuine misunderstandings, we feel they have not helped. (We note that not everyone was in attendance at every relevant meeting.) Since we cannot achieve the all round clarity we desire, we do not want to look backwards any longer on this unhappy episode but press on towards the future, which is a new Word Alive event in partnership between UCCF and Keswick. Furthermore, we want to wish Spring Harvest well and thank them for all they have done to make Word Alive the great success it has been.

The new Word Alive event will take place at Phwhelli in North Wales (it is pronounced something like “Porth – helly”) from 7-11 April 2008. Confirmed speakers include Don Carson, John Piper and Terry Virgo. A full programme for all the family, including crèche facilities, children and teens groups as well as our vibrant student track, is currently being arranged. We are greatly looking forward to the new event and the opportunity it gives us to develop the Word Alive conference.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Gospel-centredness

Dave Cruver interviews Mark Lauterbach

Good questions, good answers...

Q1. Would you explain your journey toward Gospel-Centeredness? Was there a watershed moment or sequence of moments?
Q2. Has your understanding of "the Gospel is for Christians" altered other facets of your theology? Why? Why not?
Q3. In your opinion, why do many Christians view the Gospel as only for unbelievers?
Q4. How do you stay Gospel-Centered in your preaching without allegorizing?
Q5. What is the most challenging aspect for you in preaching? What have you done to overcome these challenge(s)?
Q6. What advice would you share with people who are aspiring Pastors/Elders/Counselors within a church?
Q7. What are some of the challenges you face as a Pastor in California?
Q8. Who are your past/present heroes of the faith? What draws your attention to them?
Q9. You have written a book called The Transforming Community: The Practice of the Gospel in Church Discipline. Can you explain why you wrote it and what your hopes are for the book?

Mark Lauterbach's Sermons
Mark Lauterbach on Gospel-centredness


To niche or not to niche?

Tim Challies has been blogging about blogging. He notes a long tail effect:

As in music sales etc so in blogging. A popular core with a very long tail of niche blogs that are read by few.
"Quite high up on the tail of the Christian blogosphere we see Justin Taylor writing a blog that covers news that is of interest to conservative or Reformed Christians--it is primarily an information blog. A little further down we see Carolyn Mahaney and her daughters writing a successful and influential blog for women interested in learning issues surrounding biblical womanhood. We see Bob Kauflin writing a blog that seeks to help worship leaders and any of us who love and value worship. Further along we see Colin Adams, a pastor in Edinburgh, Scotland, writing a blog targeted at expositors. And on and on it goes. Each of these people have, either deliberately or inadvertently, identified an audience and are now providing content that is interesting and important to these people. With more and more people reading blogs, there are endless opportunities to begin a blog that allows you to be influential in an area that is of particular importance to you." Tim Challies, Wrapping it up
Popularity of course isn't everything - and there are no rules as to what constitutes something worth blogging about. The stats say that some people run very popular blogs within the evangelical stream of things (Tim Challies, Adrian Warnock, Phil Johnson & Co, Justin Taylor and a few others). I'm more than happy with the 200+ a day that come to read here. The blog is to help me think, but published for others benefit. Get's me thinking though - what's my niche? Should I become more focussed on a particular theme or type of article? Or should I just carry on day to day as I have been...

There are a few blogs that are under-recognised in my mind - always high quality writing:There's some high quality student-graduate blogs that are writing great stuff about the gospel - these are the guys I check regularly:

Box Five

Something I love about two ways to live is that it follows God's big story. Another thing is that it is simple and memorable. But, it's easy to take it individually, i.e. without reference to the church as God's new people under his rule.

The accompanying text is written in plural 'us' language but that's probably just to be inclusive.

The 'church' absence could also be because it's an Anglican invention and according to Mark Dever the Anglican's don't have any ecclesiology - just thinking that church is the plural of Christian (9 marks interview) !!

The 'church' absence might be due to the apparent jump from Genesis 3 to Jesus - without Abraham, Israel and a whole lot of other stuff. Granted you can't say everything in a six box outline the people of God is a pretty big theme in the Bible.

Either way, 'church' looks like a pretty big theme biblically - a people who are Jesus' body, once divided now united in him. Church has a bad reputation with our society but that's not so much a reason to avoid mentioning it, rather it's a good reason to talk very positively about it!

I'm aware as I offer this minor critique that I don't tell anyone any of the gospel anywhere near as much as I could / should. O, that I was more courageous. More compelled. More graced:

"...grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."


There are two ways we can live, and one message that the heavens and the earth need to hear - as the unsearchably rich Christ builds his church, all things come under his rule!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Sennacherib's folly

It's no joke to say that God's word is sharper than a double-edged sword, discerning the heart and exposing us. People speak today of bringing unity between the three monotheistic faiths... but God is having none of that. Sure there is room for much mutual understanding but the God of The Bible speaks with reference to the boasts of Assyrian King Sennacherib. He boasted of having defeated all the gods of the earth:
"And they spoke of the God of Jerusalem
as they spoke of the gods of the peoples of the earth,
which are the work of men's hands."
2 Chronicles 32:19
Soon after his army was defeated and he died in the house of his own god. A god who, by his non-existence, could not even protect Sennacherib from the wrath of his own family who killed him in his temple.

Pluralism is a doomed project. And it's one that it seems only the Secularists want to see happen. They who believe that all gods are false would ask us to put aside all our differences so that we all agree. But when you remove the differences we do agree. But that 'unity' is completely insubstantial. It's a vaccous nonsense. A Muslim and a Jew would not accept that Jesus is God, and get a Christian dare not speak of the Godhead without all three persons of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If the Jews are right, then Christians and those who proclaim any other god are wrong. So too, the Christian must say that the 'monotheistic' non-Trinitarian gods that men follow are figments of human imagination, the work of human creativity rather than of ultimate reality.

How do I know that I follow the right religion? How do I know that God exists?
Not because I presume it - though Richard Dawkins might beg to differ. Firstly, I believe in God because I have no other explanation for the resurrection of Jesus other than divine intervention. And secondly because the God who raised Jesus from the dead is the Only God. There is no other. And he has spoken in his Son, through his word. There are no other real options to follow unless I want to worship my own imagination.

That is incredibly offensive to say. It sounds arrogant, but I say it humbly. Humility today seems to be divorced from certainty, but it shouldn't be. I laud it over no-one to confess my trust in the God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. I'm a wretch, hauled out of my rebellion by a loving God to whom I am truly thankful. He who rescued me into a new people, a people of His word - united in Jesus Christ, raised from the dead with Him.

I could not have seen this had he not opened my eyes. I did not see this until he did. Consequently I expect those who aren't Christians to find these claims highly dubious. Even offensive in some cases. And yet, I'm equally convinced that some will find Jesus as irrestible and unavoidable as I did 10 years ago. What he has to say is unsettling and uncomfortable and yet when Jesus speaks he has an uncanny ability to discern my heart like no-one else. And what he says bears serious and careful consideration.

The Destruction Of Sennacherib

A poem by Lord Byron (published 1815)

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strewn.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart

MP3 - Dave Bish - Hebrews 3:7-4:13

This is a talk you probably don't want to hear. It doesn't appear to speak to the daily concerns of exams etc and yet it is the one thing you need to hear. If you'll listen. It concerns being prepared to die. That might not seem like the most pressing concern in the middle of exams, and it's hardly the kind of topic that dominates polite conversation in the 21st Century. Nonetheless it is vitally important. Birthdays strike me as a good opportunity to reflect on our mortality. Another year away from birth, and closer to death.

During a mission week in the 19th Century Cambridge CU challenged everyone who became a Christian to sign up to take the gospel to Africa. They didn't tell the Mission Agency who were soon overwhelmed with 200 candidates... They contacted the CU to advise them that they should tell these young missionaries that people they sent to Africa didn't return, and would usually die within 8 years.

On average these young graduates would be dead by the age of 29. The next year, 400 signed up. A year short of that life-expectancy I have to ask myself if I'm ready to die. Am I prepared for that? One day, by martyrdom, disease or some other cause it will happen. I need to be prepared for that.

Which brings us to Hebrews 3:7-4:13. Two things on being prepared:

  • Firstly, hear God's word with your heart.

  • Secondly, hold to the hope of God's rest.

  1. Hear God's word with your heart

(3v7-19)

What does God tell them to do?

v7, a word from The Holy Spirit. It's David's Psalm 95. Scripture. Which is Spirit-exhaled. And so is the Spirit's Psalm. What the Bible says, God says by the Holy Spirit. Then and now.

v7. What the Spirit says is 'listen'. Listen now. Not tomorrow. But Today. Prick up your ears. Pay attention. We're on holy ground. We can't take this lightly.

  • What does God want us to hear?

  • Why is this so urgent?

  • What is so important that it can't wait until tomorrow?

V8. 'do not harden your hearts'.
The state of your heart.
We're used to what's important being set by The Media – headlines driving our priorities. But why should they set the agenda? History says humanity has rarely been good at setting priorities. God says our hearts matter. Urgently. That needs to be enough.

What do we mean by 'the heart'?

Emotions? God thinks – 4v12'thoughts and intentions', motives, attitude. The very core of your being. The litmus test of my heart is it's attitude to God's word. Hard hearts hear God's word, and don't listen. It's the human story. Adam & Eve heard what God said and they presumed to know better. The expression was eating fruit, the cause was unbelief. We've never gotten over that.

How are we to understand this?

God draws our attention to a specific and heart-breaking case of heart-hardening: v8, 'as in the rebellion' – that should mean everything to us but we might miss it. The Spirit is speaking Psalm 95. A song about, v8, a 'day of testing' where Israel were shut out of the promised land.

That happened at the rebellion at Kadesh in Numbers 13-14. God rescued his people from the slavery of Egypt, in The Book of Exodus. Rescued into the wilderness they immediately wanted to be back in slavery.

God persevered with these rebels and now in Numbers 13 it's 1400BC and they're about to enter the land. Spies are sent in to get a foretaste. They report a land flowing with milk and honey.

They also report that it's populated by great enemies – the cursed Canaanites, descended from Noah's son Ham, and the Amalekites who are God's sworn enemies since they opposed God's people at Rephidim – in Exodus 16.

But, God has promised them the land. So even though the present occupants make the Israelites feel like grasshoppers among giants, there should be no problem. The problem was that they hardened their hearts. They didn't think he'd give them the land.

Hebrews 3v9: They 'test' God. V10, they 'provoke' him. And consequently he shuts them out of the land. V11, in his wrath he says, 'they shall not enter my rest'. There is no rest under God's wrath. Apart from two believers - Joshua & Caleb - it was game over for that generation.

What are Christians to do with this?

V12, 'take care' – too easy to drift through life without even thinking, to live on autopilot. The Holy Spirit spoke to them and said wake up – don't follow their footsteps... An echo of 2v1. Don't drift:

Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts. Take Care!

V12, specifically take care because a hard heart is an 'unbelieving heart' and an 'evil heart'.

How would we watch for such unbelief?

It's difficult because unbelief is a master of disguise. The heart's thoughts and intentions produce our actions... and unbelief, v12, causes us to 'fall away' or to 'turn away' from the living God. Which is the opposite of what God requires: 3v6: Hold fast to your original confidence.

How would that look in your life?

We have to get beneath the surface. The rebels at Kadesh did some obviously wrong things, but much of what they did looked caring, pious, wise and even godly. All of it masking deep unbelief.

Common sense said that The Wilderness Generation couldn't triumph over such great enemies. They followed the pundits instead of God's word. Unbelief.

They presumed to say in Numbers 14v2-4 that it would have been better to die in Egypt. They presumed to doubt God's provision, and to find someone to take them back to slavery. They deluded themselves. Too easily pleased with the prospect of slavery, because they couldn't believe God would give a good gift.

The same can happen to us. We can prefer the 'common sense' priorities of those around us. To do that is to harden our hearts to God's word. We might want to plead that our hearts aren't so fickle, but they are deceitful above all things. Easily dancing to the rhythm of the world.

Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts. Take Care!

Moreover, 14v3, they masked unbelief with false piety... 'our wives and little ones will become prey' Genuine concern, but totally unnecessary because God had promised the land to them. We might have similar concerns but within the promises of God everything is secure.

Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.
Don't make pious excuses.

Having been shut out of the land, 14v39, they mourned. They mourned their folly. What have we done! They see what they've lost. But it's only selfish sorrow. Mourning lost reward rather than the way they've made fools of God. Real repentance weeps over the defaming of God and his word.

Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.
Watch for selfish sorrow.

How do we know it was false repentance?

God offered the land and they refused.
God refused them the land,
and they went to take it for themselves.

Forbidden fruit always tastes sweeter! And so they went to fight in their own strength and against God's word. The Canaanites & Amalekites cut them down. This is a true story. People died that day. This is serious.
There was no confession of rebellion. Just self-destroying delusion.

Sin has to be treated at the source. Cosmetic solutions only paint over the cracks. Our hearts remain full of deceit and rebellion. We can't shift the blame, we can only listen more carefully and deeply:

Today if YOU hear his voice,
do not harden YOUR heart.

The second way to watch your heart in relation to God's word is with God's people. The Christian life is lived in community with God's people. We need one another's help. We could record the Bible teaching from this meeting an pipe it to your room, but we need to be together. V13, exhort one another. When? Sundays? Yes. Thursdays? Yes. But also, every day. Every today. When should you exhort another Christian to believe God's word? Check: 'is this today?'

We must a Bible Generation. Whenever and where-ever we are.

They say True Cockney's are those born in earshot of the bells of St Mary-le-bow in the City of London. As the city noise increases the possible area gets smaller.

True Christians are those who live in earshot of God's word. In a noisy world we must do everything we can to get close to the sound of God speaking. Keeping God's word open. Keeping God's word taught.

Today if yous hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.

If we're to be a Mission Team this is vital. A team of hard-hearted evangelists will only lead people to God's wrath, not his rest.

If we harden our hearts to God's word it's game over for this generation, just as it was in the rebellion. Our hearts can't thwart God's plan, but the advance of the gospel could pass us by if we wont treasure his word.

Together, we can share in Christ – 3v14 – if we'll hold to our original confidence in Jesus. Turned to Christ. Once more, v15:

'today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.'

And don't presume that can't include you! Just look at v16-18. Those who died in the wilderness were the same rescued from Egypt. They saw the plagues. They walked through the red sea. They were supplied with water from rocks and breach from heaven. None of those priviledges spared them because of their rebellious hard hearts.

3v19. Here's the conclusion of the matter: Unbelief kept The Exodus Generation out of God's rest. It could happen to us. We live in a generation like every other where God's word is held lightly, but:

Today, as WE hear God's voice
by the Spirit, in the scriptures...
what's the state of OUR hearts?

  1. Hold to the hope of God's rest

(4v1-13)

My Heart. God's Word. And 'rest'. But what is this 'rest'? We're warned in 4v1, that while the promise of rest still stands we should 'fear' lest we fail to reach it. Notice:

  • 4v2 – they heard the gospel.

  • 4v2 – we've heard the gospel.

  • 4v2 – the gospel didn't benefit them, because they didn't believe it.

  • The question is: will it benefit us?

So, 4v11strive to enter God's rest.

Strive. Fight. Take urgent action to avoid falling by disobedience. We've heard warning from God's story, now we see an encouragement about the availability of rest: v3-10. This is a story we need to discover and pay closer attention to:

  • V3-4. Rest. Genesis 2. The 'foundation of the world' – the Seventh day of creation that never ended. God entered it. Simply, rest is where God is.

  • V5-6. Israel in the wilderness failing to enter the promised land.

  • V8. Joshua did take the next generation into the land, but the land wasn't actually 'rest'. Real rest was still to come (8b).

  • V7. In David's day as he wrote Psalm 95 was another 'Today'.

In the land. With the Tabernacle.
But still not in 'rest'.

  • V9. Today. In these last days in which God has spoken through his Son.
    Rest remains.

  • Not a weekly sabbath, that was only ever a shadow of the real seventh day.

  • Not a patch of land in the middle east that the spies saw.

  • Not angels and clouds an airy-fairy happy place where we'll be fine.

  • Not some dull retirement with Jesus. I spoke to someone in a mission week last term and that was his view of eternity. I nearly wept at his hardness of heart – thinking that to be with Jesus forever would be dull. Joyfully three days later he became a Christian and would testify differently today!

Rest begins now, and is forever. And rest is about being with Jesus. Unmatched glory. A genuine rest in peace with God and his people, centred upon Jesus. Now and forever, entered and to be.

The promise of rest stands, how do you enter it? How do you strive?

Not by force. Israel disregarded God's word and went up to take the land by force. They couldn't escape God's word. God said 'No Entry' and the swords of the Canaanites & Amalekites enacted that with bloody reality.

And, Hebrews 4v12-13, tell us that the word that comes to us in the gospel is an even sharper sword. I've seen a student try to demonstrate that by swinging a double-edged sword around in a meeting. Very scary, but actually nothing compared to how lethal and piercing God's word is. A sword can kill you. God's word is sharper.

How seriously are you taking God's word?

God's word takes you very seriously. Like a mirror, exposing us as we look into it. The Bible is not a book to be taken lightly. It's to be heard – read – and believed. It exposes us in the presence of the one to whom we will all give account. (13) Exposed in the presence of the one who judges.

And yet the promises of God in the gospel of Jesus are more glorious than anything else. As we open God's word we see the Lord. We savour his promises. Promises that present the only way to enter God's rest – Jesus blood. The only way to 'rest' for rebels.

Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.

How? Not by becoming a Bible expert, but by being examined by God. 'Rest' is for the weary and burdened who come to Jesus.

'Rest' is for rebels who confess. Who hear the gospel word and put all confidence in Jesus. If we trust ourselves, God's wrath awaits us. If we trust Jesus' blood, God's rest is ours. The rebels road to rest is soaked in the blood of Jesus, just as the path to God's presence has always run deep with blood, as at the Tabernacle and Temple. Jesus blood is poured out and he goes ahead of us into 'rest'. Already there!

His death, enough for any past or present hardness. You can't fix your own heart – you can't fix the mess however sorrowful. That's just more rebellion, like Israel.

Instead we
strive for rest by
hearing the gospel word and believing it. Bringing God's word to bear on our rebellious hearts again and again and again. Confident that because of His death, Jesus has and will bring us into 'rest'. If we catch this we'll not only be prepared to die, but also prepared to live.

Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.

Holding to a high view of Scripture DOES NOT MEAN…

Stephen Murray gives 10 wise words on holding the Bible highly

Bethinking.org

Music by Caroline Bridges.

Changing what we eat?

Martin Downes is interviewing R. Scott Clark:
"The patient needs an immediate bone marrow transplant from Martin Luther and John Calvin. Next, the patient will need after-care provided by Francis Turretin and Johannes Wollebius. Finally, the patient needs to make immediate lifestyle changes. He must stop eating Bill Hybels and the Purpose Driven Life for lunch. These are the theological and ecclesiastical equivalents of the worst sort of cholesterol."
R. Scott Clark - Defence against the dark arts. Part 1
R. Scott Clark - Defence against the dark arts. Part 2

XXVIII


Many things to be thankful for.
One thing on my mind:

"Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Books.

Luke Wood is reading on a mission.
"I long to be in a place where my mind is more and more robust,
thinking right, therefore doing right."

Duke Special - Shepherds Bush Empire


Early-birthday outting last night to experience Duke Special.
A bit different to the small gig at Reading's South Street Arts Centre a few years ago where he was the support for Martyn Joseph. Good support from the man with the old tunes before, and from Beth Rowley before the real show kicked in. The songs are brilliant, the band were amazing (Ben Castle and others). Pete Wilson is a guy who really knows how to perform. Buy his CD. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Reformed and charismatic


Calvin has a bad reputation with some, which is totally unwarranted. Most of this is because people think that the aberration known as 'hyper-calvinism' is what Calvin taught. It's not. The other is because many haven't read the awesome Institutes of Christian Religion which is the both warm and readable. Calvin wrote to his day and so doesn't talk about many subjects, but with a Bible and an eye on the church today we can look for the implications of the high view of God in salvation that Calvin so clearly asserts.

With reference to holding a high view of God's sovereignty, Peter Day asserts:
  • Reformed theology should motivate evangelism
  • Reformed theology should encourage seeking after spiritual gifts and healing
Spot on, in my opinion. Read more at Charismatic Hypercalvinists?
See also: John Piper's biography of Andrew Fuller who refuted 'hypercalvinism' in his day, setting William Carey free to birth the modern missions movement

Dawkins' rebuttals & Bell's brushstrokes

The paper back edition of The God Delusion arrives and Richard Dawkins offers a few rebuttals to the main criticisms he's faced, in The Times today.

Richard Dawkins - How dare you call me a fundamentalist
  • I’m an atheist, but I wish to dissociate myself from your shrill, strident, intemperate, intolerant, ranting language...
  • You can’t criticise religion without detailed study of learned books on theology...
  • You ignore the best of religion and instead . . .
  • You’re preaching to the choir. What’s the point?
  • You’re as much a fundamentalist as those you criticise...
  • I’m an atheist, but people need religion.

Also in The Times today:
Rob Bell - Repainting the faith with a broad brush which describes Bell's ministry and the way Don Carson contrasts Bell with Mark Driscoll. Is Bell the new Billy Graham? Or someone to be concerned about...

"Carson contrasts him to Mark Driscoll in Seattle who, curiously, also runs a large church called Mars Hill. Driscoll, unlike Bell, responds to the “postmodern turn” by being “unwaveringly confessional” while remaining contemporary in speech and worship styles. Bell, on the other hand, is a “work in transition”, Carson says, who is less reflective on the concept of sin and how to communicate it."

Then Carson suggests a reason for the growth of Bell's Mars Hill Church to 10,000 members from nothing (reputedly without any advertising):

“He serves in Grand Rapids — home of many Reformed churches, many of them very traditional and more than a little stuffy. To people from that background, Rob is a breath of fresh air.”

I'll continue my series of posts on Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis in due course.

Seven Days






Conversation continues about the glories of Penal Substitution



.

1. Hosea

Tim Rudge taking 'Team Without a Leader' through this amazing book of the Bible. How awful our spiritual adultery is, how amazing thatthe Faithful One lives the repentant life so we can return in him.

2. The Bickersteth Trampoline

Bounce.

3. Grill-a-Christian.

Knowing that Christianity can take serious examination. That sandcastles are better than mudpies. That the new creation is about Jesus. That marriage is good. That the Bible is reliable. That the first comission is good. And that we did need that one copy of Why Trust The Bible to give away.

4. Still flying.

Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers with Will.
The allegorical bit of Galatians with Matt.
Humility in Christ, from the story of Uzziah
It wasn't tongues, it was Spanish.

5. Sean & Liz

Enjoying hospitality. Feeling blessed.

6. Pierced for our transgression

Finally, 10 copies arrived.

7. Photo(s) of the Week






Musing this morning about an seminar on 'Election' in a couple of weeks... this is a doctrine we can only with our hearts engaged in the exhiliration of the gospel promises and the anguish of those who don't believe... Election only makes sense when humanity is seen as in God's image and yet under wrath for our foolish rebellion... And delighted that this isn't a theoretically obscure thing but fuel for humility and evangelism.

Friday, May 11, 2007

We are not professionals







Martin Downes interviews Derek Thomas

How should a minister keep his heart, mind, and will from theological error?

We are all capable of goofy ideas and sloppy exegetical insights. I try to make it a rule (and often tell my students) that I don’t teach or preach ideas that have no basis in creedal/confessional formulation and have not passed the test of time... Of equal importance are things like: maintaining a close and daily watch on my own heart (1 Tim 4:16); don’t allow my calling to become a mere profession (to cite John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals); read and read and read oneself into a warm relationship with Christ by a balanced mixture of biographical and theological literature (I have found few ‘devotional’ books of any help, to be honest); keep the hymnbook close by; read and engage in an exercise of self-examination, something on justification on a regular basis ( Lloyd-Jones on Romans 3:21 – 4:25 has been my regular way of doing it); maintain a love-affair with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; a pastor to the pastor and the importance of friends with whom we can be straightforwardly ‘in your face.’

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Departures

"I ask you to accept one thing. Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong. That is your call. But believe one thing, if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country... It has been an honour to serve it. I give my thanks to you, the British people, for the times I have succeeded, and my apologies to you for the times I have fallen short."
Tony Blair, May 10th 2007

I was thinking today about the commission given to me 3.5 years ago as I started as a UCCF staff worker - something I'll finish doing on August 19th - that day Martin Downes preached from Acts 20...

"I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you"
Acts 20:18-24, ESV

It's challenging and humbling to reflect on whether I've fulfilled this commission. I hope I have to some extent and yet I feel I've passed up so many opportunities out of disobedience and cowardice.
I'm thankful for God's faithfulness along the way, and glad of the great works he has done through my weaknesses.
Tonight I sat on a grill a Christian panel with seven weeks of student ministry here remaining, fourteen as a CUSW. After that I move into a new role in UCCF with it's own challenges and opportunities and the same mandate. May my life be worth nothing to me, if only I can finish the race and testify to his grace.

TerryVirgo.org

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Atonement for Dummies?

Andii asks:
"I have to ask whether in our cultural situation we can actually do 'right use' on a popularly-accessible version of PSA which can be grasped in essence by, eg an intelligent 9 year old, and convey the important points in such a way as not to easily lead astray (in our cultural situation, I emphasise). I'm coming to the conclusion that we cannot."
The first question for our message isn't whether it can be understood, but is it true. Is our message what the scriptures teach. If it isn't we need to go and sort that out. If it is, then we come to communication.

Peter Bolt, in The Cross from a Distance (p128):
“It is the temptation of the teacher to clarify what seems difficult. Interpreters have often sought to this by inventing illustrations of proposing analogies for Christ's work on the cross. This is a temptation, however, that should be resisted at all costs. The track record of these manufactured illustrations has nmot been a happy one; they have been sometimes obscure, often bizarre or inhumane, and usually just plain heretical. Any illustration can get into trouble simply by virtue of the fact that it requires saying God's Word in other words, entalining an automatic shift away from God's Word. Although the preacher needs to 'illustrate' the world to which the Word is addressed, the Word itself should probably be permitted to speak for itself. In addition there are some thing that should never be illustrated. As with the Trinity, given the unique nature of the cross, analogies simply do not exist. We understand the cross, not by finding soem contemporary illustration that clinches the deal, but by listening carefully to the biblical context in which it makes sense. This may leave us with some unexplained mysteries, but, even so, we shall be closer to the truth when we live with the rough edges of God's Word that when we try to impose the smooth lines of our own fancy illustrations."
I don't have to try and twist the cross to be understandable - but to explain it with care. We're sharply warned against twisting it to make it easier to hear. Doing it carefully will take time. But, with all due urgency we do have time. We can afford to lay out the story. Jesus was incarnate into the world he created and the community he created (both by his word). God spent 1800+ years (or indeed all of history before Jesus!) setting the framework in history to give us all the categories we need to understand the cross perfectly well - and indeed everything else about God. (Try the tabernacle to understand aspects of the trinity for another example.)

The problem is that we often buy into a quick decisionism which needs to clinch the deal in a few soundbites. That doesn't lend itself well to telling the story of God in detail. I find Don Carson's 10 part telling of the gospel story (as outlined in his The Gagging of God) to be a compelling approach - laying out the gospel story at length rather than jumping straight to the centre of it. Paul speaks to the Galatians about how he only preached the Cross but writes like he expects they'll remember vast things about God's promises to Abraham, how and why the law was given and other subjects that the average Christian today may never learn. We need the big story.

We simply don't need to twist the cross to make it easy to understand. It isn't that difficult. And even if it were we simply need to teach the categories to understand it. And it doesn't seem to just be that 9 year old's can't get their head around it - many who are much older and better educated can't either. My experience, and I think scripture's testimony, is that it's rarely the head that struggles with the meaning of the cross. It's the heart that can't understand it. We must argue and prove the meaning of the cross (and we can), but it will take a re-creation miracle to open the heart's eyes to adore the cross. And after all, the cross is God's wisdom to shame our wisdom - it's designed to make us look stupid by giving us something so 'primitive' and simple that we can never boast our intelligence for having figured it out.

More on the meaning of the cross at The Coffee Bible Club blog

Monday, May 07, 2007

Flying high with hearts on fire

Part 1: Genesis 1-Exodus 2.

It kicks of like most stories but this one is more emphatic than once upon at time. We start at the start - in the beginning. God. God. We don't know who this is yet but it's sensational because this God created the heavens and the earth. This earth was formless and empty and dark. The Spirit is over the waters - now we have two persons. The darkness is swiftly despatched. God says let there be light. Everything we know says that that's going to fall flat, but the author continues without sensation 'and there was light'.

God continues to form and fill his creation. And on the third day seed bearing plants are added. Step by step everything is spoken into existence. Enlightened, formed and filled. And then the climax, everything is good but day six ramps up the volume to make it very good.

God says 'let us make man in our image'. Once again personal plurality. Man is to rule over the creation and it's done. Man's commission is to be like God - imaging him to the world. Personal. Plural. Creative. Filling and forming. Fruitful and multiplying, ruling and subduing God's world.

The newly created human race, all two of them, are placed in a garden. Eden. A place in the east from which the rivers flow. A planted garden in the empty world. And they're called to fill the earth and subdue it. To cultivate the garden and extend it to fill the world. And so they're placed in the garden to work. First man, and then soon after woman. At first work is a good task, but soon after it becomes a hard job outside of Eden...

One 'not good' is found - a creation where there is just man is not quite right. Man can't be alone. Creatures are man and presented to the man. Like God he names creation, lions become lions, rats rats and so on. None is a suitable companion. None a person to image God rightly. And so at last, woman. And at the highpoint of creation we see man and woman in perfect union - two persons as one flesh and everything is unashamed glory.

Soon after man and woman stand deceived. God has spoken to them, but they choose instead to pursue what they desire, a wisdom beyond God's wisdom. Perfect relationship between humanity and God and man and woman is fractured. Man and woman shift blame and as God walks through they hide rather than live together. The comission to fill the earth and subdue it remains - but childbirth will be hard and work will be hard. Outside of Eden the comission remains but imaging God is a painful task that man may not be able to accomplish. Death was promised for disobedience but they remain alive, for now.

A seed is promised who will triumph and so we'll be on the look out for this son. Adam and Eve have two sons but that doesn't work out well. One kills the other. As the story unfolds humanity multiplies but everyone dies. One after another. They live and die. All except one, Enoch who walks with God and doesn't die. Everything is going downhill - everyone does evil. Noah arrives on the scene and is counted righteous by God. The promised seed? He's to play the fool by building an ark in the desert so that through judgement humanity can be saved. Everyone washed away and yet to no ultimate effect. The first comission is restated and evil remains unabated.

The nations grow and further their evil, even plotting to climb to heaven and proclaim their own greatness. Man had been given the earth to image God - to show how great God is and yet they can't resist self-promotion. They're struck down and scattered, language confused and set back on course to fill the whole earth. New generations continue to come and we meet Abraham. Could this be the seed we've been waiting for? God promises a global blessing through him. It's Babylon revisted but God writes the terms. A promise is made of righteousness and global blessing to Abraham and his seed (emphatically singular). It's not Abraham, but his seed is one to be looking for.

Abraham miraculously has a son in old age and then God tells him to kill him. Abraham and the seed arrive on the third day. A Moriah (Temple mount, Jerusalem?). Abraham is insistent that God will provide a lamb and when he does he can't stop looking ahead. He calls the place not God provided, but God will provide. So the seed lives and the promises unfold another generation. We follow the story with the deceptive son Jacob and soon he has twelve sons.

Famine strikes which the world-creating God could have averted but he is with his people. He sends them to Israel to seek provision through the exiled son Joseph. Generations pass and as we move into the second book of The Bible the people are vast in number. They have multiplied. They're not in the land promised to them, but they are many. They cry out to God for rescue - could he bring them to everything they've promised? The fruitful global land where the many can live?

They're under the rule of a foreign king who is determined to kill their seed. Sons are on death row. One seed is hidden and pulled up out of the water. A levite, Moses. Could he be the awaited seed? He's exiled and has a son called Foreigner. The problem is clear to see. What hope of rescue? Is From-the-Water or Foreigner the one who will restore God's people to the divine-imaging they were made to display. Expectation is high.